THE CELTIC, Glasgow Irish and the Great War series by historian Ian McCallum covers the social and political history of the Glasgow Irish community from their arrival in Scotland over the course of the nineteenth century on up to the end of the Great War in 1919. The Great War experiences of the Glasgow Irish and Scots Roman Catholic community between 1914 and 1919 are highlighted and examined in detail. The major British and Irish political, social, military and footballing events over the course of the war are covered. All the subjects are examined through the prism of the Celtic Football and Athletic Club and the team’s sporting performances over the five football seasons of the Great War.


McCallum’s first book in the series, The Gathering Storms, sets the scene. He paints a picture of the origins and life experiences of the Glasgow Irish community in their adopted homeland over a period of 100 years. Labelled “Glasgow Irish”, the title was at the time a colloquialism for an Irish Roman Catholic or their descendants. It was a term of derision, hatred and contempt given them by the wider Glasgow community, from whom they had been effectively ostracised, set apart socially because of their race, religion and their perceived social neediness.

Central to the social history of the Glasgow Irish from the last decade of the nineteenth century is the community’s relationship with the Celtic Football and Athletic Club. Founded, built and supported by the Glasgow Irish, by the eve of the Great War, the Celtic Football Club, a Scottish team based in Glasgow, playing football in Scotland and comprising mostly Scottish players, was still regarded by most people, certainly in west central Scotland, as an Irish team. The reason for this was simply because over the course of twenty-five years the Celtic Club itself had emerged as a definition of Roman Catholic Irishness and was the single greatest ethno-cultural focus for its Irish and Glasgow Irish supporters.

By 1914, the Glasgow Irish community had coalesced into a cohesive, in many ways autonomous, society of around 200,000 souls, which mirrored in almost every aspect the wider Glasgow community. The marginalisation of the Glasgow Irish, allied to the constant topping up of the community with new immigrant “Irish” blood ensured that the community retained enormously strong cultural, political and emotional bonds to the auld country. The political, financial and emotional support given by the Glasgow Irish to John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party as they attempted to introduce Home Rule and land reform in Ireland is portrayed.

The book sets into context the social conditions in which generations of the Glasgow Irish lived their lives, which in turn largely shaped their political opinions and their attitudes and interaction with the wider Glasgow community as the clouds of war – both in Ireland and Europe – gathered overhead.

The Glasgow Irish on the eve of war was a community in transition toiling with overlapping identities – ethnic, religious and political. Just how Scottish or British did third- or sometimes even fourth-generation Glasgow Irish feel and how much loyalty did the Scots-born Glasgow Irish feel they owed to their new homeland? How were they supposed to respond to the British nation’s call to arms having suffered decades of bigotry, derision, racism and marginalisation?

On a very personal level, the dilemma for the Glasgow Irish was just how much loyalty they felt they owed to their local community, to their neighbours and workmates. Exactly how marginalised and under siege did they as a community feel? Was it enough to stand on the sidelines of the war? For the first eighteen months of the Great War, enlistment was entirely voluntary and a matter for an individual’s personal choice. Just how much moral pressure did the Glasgow Irish feel as they watched their neighbours march off to defend the community, including their wives and children?

With cultural ties to Ireland still immensely strong, what of the old maxim: “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity!” Over the course of the Great War, the Irish and by association the Glasgow Irish came under close scrutiny regarding their loyalty and commitment to Great Britain and to the British war effort. Conditioned for over forty years by Church and political leaders to strive for respectability, advancement and inclusion into the wider society, the Great War would provide an opportunity for the Glasgow Irish to demonstrate their commitment to their host society by contributing their share of the blood sacrifice. The question was would they take it?

Just Exactly Who are “The People”?GW878H738

Here McCallum describes the history of the Glasgow Irish Roman Catholic community from its arrival in west central Scotland over the course of the nineteenth century. The arrival of the starving Irish during the Great Famine and Glasgow’s reaction to the flood of desperate humanity are highlighted. Socially marginalised because of their religion, race and social neediness, the Glasgow Irish community, led by the Roman Catholic Church, embarked on a forty-year campaign of social respectability in an attempt to find acceptance by the wider Glasgow community.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries race hierarchy and social class were an integral and absolutely fundamental part of British social and political thinking. The chapter looks at the importance of race and social class in defining the wider Glasgow community’s attitude to the Glasgow Irish. The chapter also examines the largely ignored Protestant Glasgow Irish and their relationship with the wider Glasgow community.

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McCallum explains the organisation, development and very sociable aspects of Scottish football over the early years of its existence. It looks at the formation of the Celtic and the political, social and religious ethos established at the club by the founding fathers. Within a year of the formation of Celtic, the club membership was split over the manner in which the club was developing. The rift caused some disgruntled members to break away and form Glasgow Hibernian FC.

The story of the new Glasgow Irish football club, which threatened the very existence of Celtic FC, is told. The Celtic club came into being at a time when it was common for organisations outwith the world of politics to hold and express political views. The influence of John Ferguson and his Home Government branch of the Irish National League on the leadership at the Celtic is highlighted. Also examined is the club’s relationship with and support for Michael Davitt and his Irish Land League. While the causes of Irish Nationalism, Home Rule and land reform lay at the heart of the club, the founding fathers also flirted with Scottish nationalism and socialism. Two of the most politically minded of Celtic’s founding fathers and three Glasgow Irish socialists associated with the club are presented.

The Founding Fathers

This is the story of the creation of the Celtic Football and Athletic Club from a slightly different angle than the norm. In addition to the best-known half dozen individuals associated with the founding of the club, another dozen less well-known individuals are introduced. All have detailed biographies describing their backgrounds and political and religious affiliations, the part they played in the foundation and early history of the club and their positions and attitudes in the social club versus limited liability dispute. The largely ignored or unrecognised contribution and influences of Scots Roman Catholic founding fathers are highlighted.

Charity versus Profit

At a time when football was morphing from an amateur game into a very lucrative arm of the entertainment industry, Celtic club members formed into two opposing factions: the traditionalists, determined that the club remain a community-based asset, and the modernisers, who wished to see the club converted into a limited liability company. The two factions fought for over six years to gain control of the club. The long-running struggle for the soul of the Celtic club is examined in detail, as are the consequences for charity, the club’s original raison d’être.

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The social, industrial and military situation in Europe, Ireland and on mainland Britain is outlined. In Europe, Germany had emerged as the most powerful industrial and military nation on the Continent. Its belligerent Kaiser was determined that Germany should have an empire and would attempt to use war to achieve his aim. Fear of German power saw the other nations tied into mutual protection treaties and alliances. Far from preventing war, the treaties would eventually drag them all over the precipice, like prisoners manacled at the ankles.

In Ireland the Home Rule debate had taken the island to the brink of civil war as both Unionists and Nationalists armed their followers. The Home Rule Bill had passed through the British parliament, but the Unionists refused to take part in any devolved Irish government. Amazingly, in the spring of 1914, five armies existed in Ireland; only a spark was needed to cause the explosion. In Glasgow, both Ulster Volunteer Force and Irish Volunteer battalions were formed. They attended military training and practised shooting and in the summer of 1914 they were parading in the streets.

Far from being the Edwardian utopia that most Great War historians tend to depict, Britain and Ireland were going through massive social unrest. As the capitalist and landowning elites fought to preserve their privileged positions, the seething masses of the working class boiled with indignation at the massive differentials in wealth and lifestyles. Between 1910 and 1914, the working class in Britain and Ireland launched successive waves of mass strikes of unprecedented breadth and ferocity against all the key sectors of capital, strikes that blew apart all the carefully promoted myths about the passivity of the British working class and of the stability of comfortable middle-class England. Even school children went on strike. In Glasgow they marched through the streets demanding the end to corporal punishment and the cessation of homework. By the summer of 1914, millions of workdays had already been lost to industrial action and the government was preparing for another autumn of discontent.

A Nation One Again

McCallum covers the social attitudes and political allegiances of the Glasgow Irish and the Celtic founding fathers, and later the club’s directors, in relation to the Home Rule for Ireland and Irish Land Reform. Central to their political support was their long-term commitment to constitutional Irish nationalism, which from the beginning of the twentieth century meant Mr John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).

He looks at the depth of their unconditional support for the IPP and includes a biography of John Redmond and an overview of the other contemporary Irish political organisations like Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and James Connolly’s socialist party. The political situation in Ireland on the eve of the Great War, from the Nationalist and Unionist perspectives, and the formation of the Nationalist and Unionist militias in Ireland and in Glasgow are explained. He concludes by describing the gunrunning episodes in which the Unionists landed weapons at Larne and the Nationalists at Howth. The chapter concludes with the Bachelor’s Walk incident when three civilians were shot dead by the British Army.

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Ian McCallum sets out the political, diplomatic and strategic positions of the main European nations leading up to the declaration of war. Insights into the social, industrial and military characteristics for each of the major nations are provided. The complex series of treaties and agreements designed to prevent war in Europe is explained, as are the reasons why they failed. The military systems and strengths of the various armed forces are listed, and their strengths and weaknesses highlighted. A detailed breakdown of the organisation of the British Army of 1914 is provided.

Taking the Shilling

In some detail, the complex and often paradoxical subject of Irishmen serving in the British Army is examined. There is an outline of the history of Irishmen serving in the British Army. The chapter examines the push and pull factors that saw tens of thousands of young Irish and Glasgow Irish working-class men voluntarily enlist. Their reasons and options for enlistment are contrasted with those of the middle- and upper-class officers who led them. The social structure, attitudes and power of the men who made up the British officer class are examined.

The chapter also explains the complexities of the British Army’s unique regimental system. It was a system that instilled an institutionalised loyalty, which bound soldiers to their units and to each other and which crossed nationalities, politics and religious affiliation. Regimental and caste loyalty proved the biggest threat to any Irish soldier’s Nationalist sentiment. The subjects of religion and sectarianism in the British Army are also looked at.

Celtic FC on the Eve of War

By the time of its 25th birthday celebrations in season 1913/14, the Celtic Football and Athletic Club had succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its founding fathers and faithful supporters. The Celtic was arguably the most powerful and wealthiest football club, certainly in Scotland, if not the whole of Great Britain.unspecified-15

The chapter provides some insight into the personality and character of Celtic’s legendary manager Willie Maley. The son of a professional British soldier, his character and personality are examined from a different perspective than is normally given, instead looking at the influence that his military upbringing had in the development of his domineering character and towering personality. It also underlines his and the entire Maley family’s ongoing affection for the British Army and its regiments. Allied to Willie Maley’s close association with the military, some light is shed on what is often hinted at in Celtic histories, but never examined, the very close relationship that once existed between the Celtic club and the British Army.

Finally, there is a detailed insight into the Celtic club on the eve of war, including, a summary of their very successful 1913/14 season, a report of their 1914 European tour, followed by pen pictures of the directors and the Celtic squad including reserves.


Here McCallum describes the diplomatic situation in Britain, Ireland and Europe in the late summer of 1914 as the belligerent nations toppled into the abyss. The reactions of the people of Britain, Ireland and Glasgow, including the Glasgow Irish are highlighted. Detailed extracts from Glasgow’s newspapers, including reports and editorials from the Glasgow Catholic Observer, are provided. The effects on the players and directors and the Celtic club itself are shown. A number of individuals that figure prominently in the following books are introduced.


Although it may come as an uncomfortable fact to some of the contemporary Glasgow Irish, almost every modern Celtic supporter who can claim a historic connection to the Glasgow Irish community will almost certainly have had an ancestor or close family relation who, like millions of other young men, was sucked into the maelstrom that was the Great War.

For political, religious and financial reasons, this period in the history of Celtic FC and the Glasgow Irish community has long been ignored or at best skimmed over by Celtic historians. Ian McCallum’s books are an attempt to explain and emphasise the massive and completely voluntary contribution made by Celtic FC and the Glasgow Irish community to the British war effort.

The Celtic, Glasgow Irish and the Great War is highly recommended, is available to order direct from the author on Amazon HERE and is available at Celtic stores and at Waterstones in and around Glasgow. 

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