A son of Sligo

A childhood lasts a whole lifetime.

Andrew Kerins from County Sligo lived through the most catastrophic years in Irish history.

Born in 1840 in Sligo he was seven years of age when An Gorta Mór fell upon the Irish people.

At the height of the Famine those fit enough to provide a decent burial for the dead were overwhelmed and hundreds of thousands were interred without shroud or coffin in mass unmarked graves.

It was the final indignity of a people dispossessed of decent lands centuries earlier and ethnically cleansed by Cromwell’s troops into the boglands of Connaught.

My father was a Mayo man and his mother reared me on tales of those terrible times.

Family research I carried out some years ago revealed that her father’s brother had died as a four year old during the Famine years in a Mayo village where no household escaped the ravages of the great hunger.

Such events leave can leave a psychic wound that never fully heals.

Brother Walfrid’s grave in Dumfries is suitably humble for a man who would have been horrified by anything ostentatious or grandiose.

Yesterday he was remembered in a ceremony organised by the Celtic Graves Society.

Although we gathered around his graveside in Dumfries yesterday to honour the man who founded Celtic it was An Gorta Mór that commanded my attention as we travelled back to Celtic park.

I suspect that those awful years never ever left Walfrid in peace.

Childhood trauma is like no other.

The wound is seared into the most vulnerable of psychological tissue.

The emotional pain never really goes away.

Was this the fuel that drove him to provide food for hungry children?

He was certainly a driven man possessed of great energy and focus.

The Irish who escaped to Glasgow left an impoverished land and found themselves in probably the most anti-Irish city on the planet.

As a fifteen year old immigrant to Scotland Andrew Kerins experienced that racism first hand.

It was in that awful situation that Brother Walfrid grew to manhood and entered the church for a life of duty and service.

As the football club he founded steps out on Wednesday night to the strains of Zadok the priest, Handel’s coronation anthem would make the Sligo man smile wryly as his life was not concerned with those of elevated status.

Celtic football club has a unique narrative that the entire world should be aware of.

An Gorta Mór created the community that gave birth to Celtic.

Brother Walfrid was no dilettante missionary reared in comfort and indulging in noblesse oblige among the starving.

He was serving his own people and doing his god’s work by using any means necessary.

He devoted his life to the service of others.

On Wednesday night in the Lisbon Lions stand this atheist will remember him as I gaze upon a living breathing monument one man’s liberation theology.

Last year the Celtic’s charity foundation helped to feed and save over 60,000 children in Somalia.

The existence of the Celtic family is the wonderful legacy that Walfrid gave to the world.

My childhood was lit up by a love of Celtic and I have a Sligo man to thank for that.

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