This is part one of a two part review included in issue 44 of TAL Fanzine. The first part is more of an overview which also compares and contrasts the approach of Celtic & Ireland… with that of the Celtic Minded books.
The second part for the next issue will be more specific with references to parts of the books and particular songs and stories.
At least 10 years ago, or maybe even a bit more than that, a guy called Raymond Daly from Tullamore wrote to TAL and talked about this idea he had to write a book that gave a definitive account of Irish ballads, rebel songs and Celtic songs. His project would chart the history of the ballad alongside the popularity and power that such music had with the Irish diaspora, and in particular with the Scots-Irish community and the supporters of The Celtic Football Club. At the time students looking for us to complete surveys and questionnaires they were doing for theses and other related academic projects often contacted us. We had no idea whether Raymond was one of these academic types, or even just some mad eccentric dreamer who we’d never hear from again. However, over the years we would receive occasional dispatches from him about the progress of the project and through others connected to TAL who Raymond had befriended during his research we gradually came to realise that this indeed was a serious endeavour and a great labour of love for Ray.
Fast forward 10 /12 years, add the legendary musician, songwriter and balladeer, ‘WolfeTone’ Derek Warfield as his partner and collaborator on the project and you now have a serious body of work to contend with and a heavyweight from the Irish folk world to champion it. The addition of Warfield to the mix undoubtedly cranked the concept up and on to another level, altogether. The research that had been so painstakingly carried out by Daly became part of a literary and musical adventure for the co-authors with Derek Warfield recording two double album CDs of material that is complimentary to the book project. Many Celtic fans will already know the Warfield CD’s very well as they have become an essential addition to the musical collections of our supporters. They are of course Songs For The Bhoys and the follow-up More Songs For The Bhoys a collection in total of 70 songs and ballads most popular among the Glasgow Irish community and among Celtic supporters in particular.
The importance of this book cannot be underestimated, especially by those of us who have ploughed a lonely furrow in the last few years as we have fought an increasingly rearguard action against a PLC board and local and national government institutions that have sought to ethnically cleanse our club and its support of everything that made it unique in the world of football and gave it and the people who follow Celtic their identity; an identity incidentally that is inextricably linked with the political, cultural and religious experience of the Irish in Scotland as a minority community trying to make their way in a country whose church and state was hostile to their very existence as a people.
Celtic & Ireland, which on the surface may appear to be simply about the tales that lie behind popular songs and ballads, is an even more important work than both of the recently produced volumes in the Celtic Minded series. This is because despite the academic accreditation of those involved in the collation of articles and writers for the Celtic Minded project and the Celtic and Catholic credentials of many of those who contributed to it, Celtic & Ireland in Story and Song places the experience of the Irish community in Scotland – and the Celtic Football Club as a cultural expression of that community – in its proper political context, as opposed to Celtic Minded’s narrower definition of the community along mainly Catholic religious lines; and its avoidance of how politics and particularly Irish republican politics and indeed Irish republican militarism, its organisations, its legends, its heroes and its songs have played every bit as important a role in the development of our community as any priest or bishop or sermon delivered from the pulpit.
In the sense that the Church used its power to control the people, so it can be argued that Irish republican political involvement liberated them from its shackles and gave them another explanation of their mother country and how it might be changed by political action rather than blind faith. Sometimes the Church and the political activists were as one in their endeavours to create a better level of existence for their community – Celtic Football Club is one such example where political and religious interests combined for the betterment of the lrish community – but often they were at loggerheads because each viewed the other as rivals for the hearts and minds of the Irish people. In that sense I would argue that the Celtic Minded books are very much a reflection and interpretation of Celtic as representing the Catholic community in the west of Scotland, whereas Celtic & Ireland is a political book that advances a republican perspective of the Irish community and its support for Celtic FC as demonstrated by the political nature of the songs they sang on the terraces.
That faith played an important role in the lives of Irish republicans cannot be denied and indeed you only have to look at the words of the rousing Fenian anthem God Save Ireland which eulogises the Manchester Martyrs as martyrs for faith, freedom and nation. There are those on the republican left who are uncomfortable with such notions of the Martyrs as ‘holy warriors’ but time and context are important here. The past cannot always be judged and assessed in today’s terms.
This book along with the Celtic Minded volumes is essential reading for Celtic supporters. We will explore the detail of the book and the songs in the next issue of TAL.
Reviewed by Talman (Issue 44 TAL Fanzine)