New research on Brother Walfrid, Founder of Celtic Football Club

In 2017 Michael Connolly, a research student at Stirling University in Scotland, was awarded a bursary to investigate the life and work of Brother Walfrid (Andrew Kerins, 1840 – 1915), who was best known as the Founder of Celtic Football Club in 1887/1888. Michael was awarded a PhD for his research in February 2022. As a result of original research in archives in Ireland, Scotland, London and St. Genis- Laval, France, Michael has been able to construct a narrative of Brother Walfrid’s life from his childhood in Ireland during the years of the Great Famine (1845 – 52), to his decision to emigrate to Glasgow at 15 years of age to seek work, his participation in night classes run by the Marist Brothers, and his decision to join the Brothers, which led to his novitiate in Beaucamps in 1864.

Michael Connolly presents detailed information about Brother Walfrid’s early years as a teacher in Glasgow, and shows how his early experiences of poverty and lack of education led to membership of an order dedicated to the education of poor children and the alleviation of poverty. Walfrid also desired to support the Irish community in Glasgow which was struggling to emerge from poverty and discrimination. Football emerged in the late nineteenth century as a way of providing leisure and entertainment for the masses. Brother Walfrid saw the potential of football to support the Irish Catholic community and to raise money to provide meals for poor children in the East End of Glasgow. Celtic Football Club quickly met with success in Scotland and became a focus of pride for the Irish Catholic community.

Brother Walfrid moved to London in 1892 and worked in schools there until 1906. Connolly shows that he continued to show concern for poor children, raising money to pay for uniforms. He also continued to promote football as a healthy way for these young people to use their energy and build relationships with each other.  

At sixty-six years of age, Brother Walfrid’s leadership and organisational skills were called upon when he was asked to go to Grove Ferry in Kent, where the French Brothers had established a school as a result of the Combes Laws which resulted in the expulsion of religious orders from France. He retired to Dumfries in 1912, where he died three years later on 17th April 1915. He maintained his connection with Celtic after he left Glasgow, and in his later years he received a telegram every Saturday to inform him about the results of that day’s match. He is commemorated with statues in his home town of Ballymote in Ireland, and outside Celtic Park in Glasgow, reminding the players, staff, and fans about Celtic’s original charitable purpose: to provide food for poor children. Celtic continues Walfrid’s charitable work through the Celtic Foundation.

Michael Connolly provides a narrative of the work of the Marist Brothers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which provides a fuller picture than we had previously of the early pioneering Marist Brothers in Scotland and England. He successfully demonstrates that the foundation of Celtic FC was consistent with the three core features of Walfrid’s life: his religious vocation, his desire to care for poor children, and his love of sport. He could see the potential of football to provide a healthy focus for the energies of young people and, more importantly, to raise money to feed poor children. We are in Michael’s debt for this thorough and inspiring biography, as well as for unearthing a great deal of new information about the work of the Marist Brothers in Scotland and England. Michael is currently working to arrange for publication of his research so that it can be shared with a wider audience.


In the photo: Michael Connolly with a painting of Brother Walfrid by Peter Howson, a well-known Scottish artist.

Video of the Inaugural Brother Walfrid Dinner which was held at Grove Ferry on 28th May 2022, where Brother Walfrid helped to establish the Boarding School in 1906, when the French Brothers had to leave France. The event raised over £8,00 for the Celtic Foundation which continues Brother Walfrid’s charitable work:


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