Brother Walfrid Memorial

Published on Sunday 6th November, 2005 by Celtic Trust

Eddie Toner's speech at the unveiling of the statue at Celtic Park, 5th November 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished guests, fellow Celtic supporters, It is a great honour to stand here today as the Chairperson of the Brother Walfrid Memorial Committee to witness the unveiling of a lasting memorial to the great humanitarian that was Andrew Kerins. The memorial committee have worked tirelessly over the last few years to see their dream of a statue to Walfrid become a reality. There has been, over the years, many discussions about the idea of erecting a memorial to a Celtic legend, with a variety of suggested subject matters: football legends at our club, some famous for their skills, some for their longevity and others because this club really meant something to them – they were fans gracing the hoops, the guys who really did play for the jersey. All of these were considered. But for our committee, and clearly for all those Celtic supporters who have got behind this project, there could only be one person: Andrew Kerins from County Sligo in Ireland, the Marist Priest known to us all as Brother Walfrid. This memorial should also be seen as a tribute to those who shared in Walfrid’s vision and came together with him to form this great institution. Irish immigrants like John Glass, John McLaughlin, Arthur and Hugh Murphy, Dr. John Conway, James Quillan, William McKillop, John O’Hara, Pat Walsh, Joseph O’Shaughnessy and the many other activists who helped shape Celtic in its formative years. We should also pay tribute to people like Archbishop Eyre and the great political and social campaigner, Michael Davit, both of whom became prominent patrons of the club in its early days. This monument recognises all of their efforts. All of those activists witnessed the suffering and starvation of their fellow countrymen who had settled in Glasgow’s impoverished East End and, along with Brother Walfrid, they came together to form a football club whose principal aim was to help combat and alleviate that poverty and give their community something to be proud of. I wonder what Walfrid would make, not only of the modern day Celtic, but also of the society in which we now live. A society where, for some, greed, avarice and self-preservation come before charity and a willingness to help those less fortunate than ourselves. A world where football has been taken over by many of the values and philosophies that Walfrid and his co-founders of this club would have undoubtedly opposed. Having lived and worked in the East End all of my life it saddens me that poverty still abounds and that hostility and intolerance is still shown to the new immigrant communities that come to settle in our city. We should never turn a blind eye to the inequality and intolerance that continues to be directed at some of our citizens. In fact, our history dictates that we should do all we can to challenge the inequities that still exist. It would be a lasting tribute to Walfrid’s memory, probably greater even than this impressive monument being unveiled today, if we could makes those challenges, through the medium of this great football club. I am sure that Andrew Kerins is up there somewhere, looking down on us and charting the progress of his football club. Do you think he will be happy in what he sees? Can he be proud of what we have become? Celtic has, without question, enjoyed tremendous success on the footballing field over the years and Walfrid and his fellow founders should rightly be proud of these great sporting achievements. They should also be proud of the fact that the football club has provided a symbol that has helped nurture a community that now reaches to the four corners of the globe. On the downside I think he might be saddened by the amount of money being paid to some individuals in the game. He also might feel despondent at the imbalances football has created where some can earn more in a week than the average person earns in a year! He might not be happy about big business and commercialism dominating the game to the extent it does. But it would be naïve of us to ignore the fact that we need to be business-like to help achieve the footballing success that we the supporters clamour for every year. To help achieve that success we need to be in a position, financially, where we can continue to stay ahead of our competitors. Success on the football pitch is important to any club. But is it crucial to its existence? I would argue that in Celtic’s case it should never be. Success can be measured in different ways and how it is achieved can vary also. Walfrid gave us a vision, it was Christian, it was charitable, it was about never forgetting our roots and indeed, maintaining them. It was about being happy, about celebrating and about making our fellow man and woman welcome. It was about openness and inclusiveness. Many Celtic supporters do not have their roots in the same land or religion as the majority of us do, but they are an equal part of our family and are just as proud of our origins and history, and of Brother Walfrid, as the members of the Irish Diaspora are. The continuation of these fundamental principles, laid down by Walfrid, should, in my opinion, be seen every bit as much a measure of success as the footballing pinnacles we reached in places like Lisbon, Milan and Seville. They can all be seen as a measure of success that surely links the present incarnation of Celtic to the original vision of Brother Walfrid and, indeed, to those who today love this great club with such passion. Celtic has a responsibility to the community that surrounds it and we should never lose sight of that. The status of football clubs in the modern day world would be a million miles away from what Walfrid envisaged when he sat at the table in St Mary’s Hall Calton on the 6th November 1887, 118 years ago tomorrow, at the meeting to formally constitute Celtic. But although society has changed, with some changes good and some not so good, it gives me an enormous sense of pride to be part of a community that still holds the Christian charitable principles of Walfrid as well as its culture and identity so dear. That community in the last 118 years has grown to become, what I call, the Celtic family. A community spawned from the Irish Diaspora and represented around the world. The supporters of this club are the ones who have written, at home and in their travels across the globe, the story of Celtic. So what is it about Walfrid that makes him so important to the Celtic support of today? I think the answer to that is quite simple. By establishing this club Walfrid gave our Community a beacon in a dark, harsh and intolerant world. Celtic was to become an institution that the community could become proud of. It gave us a sense of identity, a sense of importance. It has provided us with a tangible link to our past and a sense of who we are in the present. I anticipate that this memorial will act as a permanent reminder of our humble origins and will continue to be a beacon for Celtic supporters in the future. Contributions to our fund have come from all over the world, from a community eager to emphasise the importance of Walfrid in their history, in their culture and in their identity. This monument has been funded entirely by donations from the Celtic supporting community and I would personally like to thank each and every person that has made a donation. No donation was too big and none too small. Every penny raised was used directly to fund the erection of this impressive sculpture being unveiled today. Although all of the donations received were important there are one or two individuals or groups that I would like to publicly acknowledge and personally thank for their support over the last few years: Brother Walfrid Memorial Committee. Kate Robinson the Sculptor. Brother Walfrid memorial committee (SLIGO) Iain Jamieson and PR dept at Celtic FC Local schools and art projects for designing the veil. Mr Brian Dempsey who cannot be with us today. The support we have received has been overwhelming and I could go on all day signalling out individuals. But most of all I would like to thank you the Celtic support for helping to make this dream a reality. This is your monument to Walfrid and you should all be proud of the part you have played. 'Thanks for attending today and may God bless you all'

 
 

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