James Quillan: The Celtic Founder Who Defected & Formed A Rival Club

James Quillan’s Celtic story is quite astonishing. In my opinion, he is the most interesting character among the founding fathers of the club. In one sense we must thank him for all he did to give us the club we love, in another sense we must curse him for seeking to destroy the club we love and lastly, we must forgive him for returning to the club we love!

It all began in 1856 when Quillan was born in Glasgow to Irish parents. Like many from his background, James was the son of a labourer, Peter Quillan, whilst he married within the Irish descendant community, wedding his neighbour, Roseanne Moore in April 1874. The pair were 18 years of age at the time and Roseanne was the daughter of an Irish master confectioner named John Moore. The ceremony took place at the nearby St Andrew’s Chapel on Great Clyde Street, a parish that was frequented by many Irish Catholics.

Keen to provide his wife with the best possible life, James Quillan rented a premises on High Street in the centre of Glasgow, where he operated as a barrel dealer selling solid oak casks. His initial success enabled him to move to a larger property, which he titled East End Cooperage. The premises took up an entire side of Wilkie Street and was one of his bases for the next 17 years!

Beyond the Wilkie Street HQ, Quillan opened for business on East Nelson Street (now known as Millerston Street), before expanding further onto Janefield Street. His Janefield Street premises sat in the shadow of Paradise, situated behind the site of the Jock Stein Stand at the current stadium. Boasting a 380ft frontage, Quillan named the site Caledonian Cooperage.

His successes go further than simply expanding his business property portfolio. Indeed, by 1881, James Quillan was a master cooper, who owned the largest cooperage in Britain with over 180,000 casks passing through it per year.

Inevitably, such a major player in the business world would soon become a prominent part of his community circles. As a Catholic of Irish descent, who was by then living in the Calton, Quillan became a leading member of St Mary’s parish and an extremely committed personality within the Home Government Branch of the Irish National League. He is described as being always ready with purse or voice in support of the old cause and at the forefront of the Irish battle at a time when it was not fashionable to be so.

Newspaper reports of the time suggest that he was present at the victorious reception in St Mary’s Church Hall for Hibernian FC ,upon their Scottish Cup triumph in February 1887. He was then part of the Home Government Branch of the Irish National League members, who were invited to present the Hibernian players with their winner’s medals three weeks later.

Quillan was involved with the Celtic project prior to the club being founded. Following the club’s fundraising circular in January 1888, he donated 20 shillings as an original subscriber to Celtic and was duly elected to be the club’s first Vice President. His presence on the Celtic committee, as an office bearer and founding father was a great coup for the ambitions of the fledgling Celts. Not only was he a wealthy and influential man; he epitomised the identity and values of Celtic Football Club, in that he was a Catholic, an activist supporting Irish freedom and a charitable individual. Those values were something the founding fathers never hid and are not anything to be ashamed of, for they are part of the Celtic DNA, whilst not excluding others from outwith these traditions.

Within a year, things had changed quite considerably…

Quillanite Quislings:

These days people may have heard the term ‘malcontents’ being used to describe the rebel shareholders of the 1990s. However, the term was originally used to describe those who would later become ‘Quillanites’, after the first Celtic AGM a century earlier.

Celtic’s first AGM was held in Bridgeton Mechanics Hall on 18 June 1889. The hall was bursting at the seams with most members having much to be pleased about. Celtic had scored 217 goals in the 63 matches that the club had played during its debut season. The Hoops also had a trophy to show for their efforts, alongside the impressive record of reaching the Scottish Cup Final. Impressive though the footballing achievements were, the warmest applause was reserved for Dr John Conway’s (Honorary President) announcement that Celtic had raised £421, 16s and 9d for charitable causes. To put that figure into perspective, the sum raised was the equivalent of £25,000 in today’s money.

News of discontent among the custodians of Celtic had entered the public domain on 24 May 1889 though, when The Scottish Sport reported that ‘a group of malcontents from the Celtic Club had met in a public house in Bridgeton.’ The newspaper also alleged that this so-called meeting had ‘two matters under consideration’:

  1. The present committee’s mismanagement and the advisability of those present taking charge of the club.
  2. Should they sever the connection with the Celts and form their own club.

One of the self-proclaimed ‘so called malcontents’ wasted no time in responding to the newspaper. In an anonymous letter, he described the claims of this meeting as ‘purely fabricated’ and ‘spiteful’. In contrast to this response, another newspaper by the name of The Scottish Referee, wrote:

While being neither desirous nor able to discuss the affairs of Celtic, we cannot refrain from putting on record our opinion that the scandals which have been too frequently raised about the club and out of which other people have been making capital, tend to show up the management in very bad light.

That dissatisfaction exists and has existed for some time among certain members of the Celtic is proved by the fact that a short time ago arrangements were all but completed for the formation of another Hibernian club in the east end of the city. A ground had been secured and over £500 had been raised in order to give the new organisation a fair start, when it was resolved to abandon the idea temporarily and await certain developments in the Celtic camp. These developments are expected in the next three weeks when we will discover the settlement to the question as to whether we are to have a new club in Glasgow next season.

Should the new club be formed its objects will be the public distribution of aid to charitable institutions, to widen the resources of the working class and to popularise the game generally.

The prime objective of the club – the public distribution of aid to charitable institutions strikes at being a hit at Celtic. That club holds the position it does towards charity and as we have always held, have made known their dealings with various funds to which they contribute. If Celtic showed the distribution in a public rather than private way the present dissatisfaction may never have come.

The annual general meeting of the Celtic will take place in a fortnight, when there will be no doubt some fun over the election of office bearers. Almost all last season’s officials will be put up again and there are several prominent outsiders anxious for the posts, the competition is likely to be keen. Some of the players are, we believe, so strongly in favour of re-election of John Glass to the President’s chair that they have in private declared that they will leave the club should he be ousted. This says much for Mr Glass’ popularity in the playing section. Among the members he has not so many friends and no doubt he will have to fight for the honour.

It soon transpired that the malcontents were led by James Quillan and he outlined his grievances with the Celtic committee in the letters page of The Glasgow Evening News on 28 May 1889.

SIR – As there have been various rumours circulated in regard to the working of this club, will you kindly grant me space for the following remarks; – On the 2nd May, a meeting of the club was held to appoint auditors and adopt rules. I moved that old members should be admitted on payment of 5s, which was seconded by Mr Howie, and carried by 59 against 42 votes. By the rule as read- This majority (including myself) understood that new members were to be admitted on payment of 7s, 6d. On seeing the new rules when published we were surprised to find that instead of 7s, 6d, the sum of 12s, 6d was stipulated.

I protested – and my protest was duly noted – against members who had joined the club previous to 1st September 1888 being excluded from the meeting in direct violation of rules 10 and 24. On the 9th July, 1888 a meeting was alleged to have been held, notice of which was not given to me, although I then held and still hold the office of Vice President, at which another violation of the rules occurred, a resolution being passed making the entry money 10s instead of 5s. Without acting in any way, the part “the captious critic,” it seems to me that twelve out of twenty four rules have been disregarded. As a sincere well wisher of the club and in its best interests looking to the good it has accomplished and in the hope that a bright and useful future is still in store for it, I take this opportunity of laying those facts before its many friends.

James Quillan – Vice President, Celtic FC

To produce such a letter regarding internal club matters was a very unorthodox and exceedingly unpopular move. Therefore, it is of little surprise that Chairman of the club, John H McLaughlin, responded in kind to set the record straight:

SIR – I read with great pain, but with no surprise, the extraordinary effusion our Vice President treats your readers to in your issue of last night. As the person directly responsible for drafting and printing the rules perhaps you will allow me space to reply to his misrepresentations. I will refrain from commenting on the indecency of an official in his position, who so loudly proclaims himself “a sincere well-wisher of the club,” dragging into print matters which ought never to have been discussed outside of the club but will confine myself to a bare statement of the facts. The rule which Mr Quillan calls in question reads as follows:

“The annual subscription shall be 5s. New members, besides their subscription shall pay an entry money of 7s, 6d.”

Now this rule was read over at the meeting on 2nd May no less than five times, and was moreover, discussed clause by clause, and this last clause adopted unanimously. If Mr Quillan didn’t understand the rule at the time, it can only be attributed to his inability – which was quite apparent – to grasp the terms “entry money” and “subscription”- a difference he has since seemingly mastered. Through the rest of his rambling letter I do not care to follow him. His alleged grievances have been discussed at many committee meetings, and he has again and again been proved to be totally and hopelessly wrong.

Arguments and facts, however, seem to be thrown away on him, and I shall, therefore not recapitulate what has been explained to him a dozen times over; but for the benefit of those of the Celtic members who do not know Mr Quillan, and might therefore be inclined to attach some weight to his vapourings; allow me to state – firstly that the alleged meeting on 9th July was the usual weekly meeting of the committee, and that if Mr Quillan was absent from it, it was entirely his own fault; and secondly, that that meeting did not pass a resolution to make the entry money 10s, but simply resolved that no new members should be admitted on account of the precarious condition the club then stood in, and this was done on the advice of our late agent, a fact which Mr Quillan is perfectly well aware.

What he means when he says that 12 out of 24 rules have been disregarded, I don’t know – probably he does not himself – and until he explains it I shall take the liberty of regarding it as unintelligible nonsense; a fitting ending indeed for a tirade of misstatements, which, in common with the other ebullitions of himself and his friends in print lately, I can only designate as electioneering dodges of the club, or a desire to advertise himself, and to pose as “the poor man’s friend,” (a role he seems to have a special liking for), that has inspired his precious epistle.

John H McLaughlin

Glasgow, 29th May 1889

McLaughlin’s strong rebuttal triggered a lengthy public argument between the pair, which other committee members waded in to. The debate, which revealed much about Quillan’s motives at the time, raged in similar vein to the letters shown above, until the eve of the AGM. This despite the fact that McLaughlin had withdrawn from discussing matters in public on 7th June and opted to wait until the AGM to air his thoughts through the appropriate platform.

Throughout the exchanges it became deducible that Quillan’s decision to delay the malcontents from setting up Glasgow Hibernian, was a tactical one, allowing himself time to build greater support for the notion ahead of the Celtic AGM. His motive for leading the malcontents away from the club in the first place seemed to be primarily based around management and bureaucracy issues. However, there could also be reason to believe that beyond the matter of rule changes affecting the working class, some of the malcontents may have simply disliked people such as John H McLaughlin being able to shape the ideals of Celtic. This theory stems from 3rd June 1889, when Hugh Murphy partook in the public mudslinging and aimed a few choice remarks at McLaughlin.

Hugh Murphy was heavily involved with the Irish National League and had been a good friend of James Quillan, thanks to their shared enthusiasm for Irish Nationalism. John H McLaughlin however, centred himself around religious groups and tended not to indulge in Irish political matters to quite the same degree.

The following is quoted from a letter that Murphy wrote to McLaughlin via the press:

SIR – although a long-time admirer of the Celtic Club since its inauguration, I may state that the last letter of Mr McLaughlin staggered me. Having copied as much American slang as his fertile brain contains, he makes an attack upon an Irishman who through weal and woe has stuck to “Ireland’s a nation.” I may tell him that Mr Quillan has had in the past – and, indeed, at the present time – more honourable positions assigned to him than any position the Celtic place him in.

Ironically, Murphy went on to join the Celtic committee in 1890 and the club continued to express an openly political identity. That said, personality clashes and fear of the political aspect of the club not being given continual attention, may have played a part in the desire for some to stray from Celtic.

The final factor to consider is the prominence of the temperance movement at the time. As many as 50,000 people, mostly Irish, were registered members of alcohol temperance societies in the city. In fact, some of the largest public gatherings that Glasgow has witnessed have been those of the Rechabites, abstinence societies and temperance societies demonstrating together at Glasgow Green. The cause of alcohol denial even united the traditionally Republican and Loyalist factions of the immigrant Irish, who marched side by side to deter enthusiastic drinkers during the Glasgow Fair and New Year celebrations!

The malcontents themselves are unlikely to have been concerned with alcohol issues, considering they often met one another in public houses. However, Celtic Football Club was blamed by a minority for facilitating the alcohol problem and Quillan may have outlined this fact as a basis upon which to attract supporters of a new Glasgow Irish club.

A priest from St Mary’s of all parishes, actually stated that he “Wished the Celtic club had never come into existence,” when commenting on the alcohol problem that was plaguing the east end! Another parishioner, Mr Owen McGerrigan, wrote to The Glasgow Observer and said that football was ‘sapping the morality of the youth in St Mary’s, whilst also keeping them from their religious duties.’ By contrast, a priest named Fr Carroll lambasted Owen McGerrigan for ‘a cowardly attack on Celtic Football Club’, in a letter of his own to The Glasgow Observer. Fr Carroll went on to question McGerrigan’s authority to dictate his version of morality to the club, its supporters or indeed local Catholics in general. Fr Carroll’s comments were further re-enforced by a departing clergyman of St Mary’s named Fr Van Der Hyde. In his farewell address, Hyde said: “There has been an increase in membership of The League of the Cross (temperance society) at St Mary’s by at least 200 members per half year, and the morality of the parish has improved since the advent of Celtic.”

The League of the Cross, to which Celtic fans provided wholesale support, gave birth to the Brake Club phenomenon in 1889. In line with the typically complicated nature of Celtic’s history, it was only a matter of months before there were references to Celtic Brake Club carriages being accredited as ‘mobile drinking parlours.’ The oxymorons that seem to embody Celtic’s history were further evidenced by the fact that some Celtic players of the time were given proprietorship of public houses. Although, in the club’s defence this was prior to the introduction of professionalism and thus there was little conceivability that Celtic could have attracted the top players (such as James Kelly and Dan Doyle) necessary to draw seismic crowds, without using the assistance of the licensing trade.

The Celtic committee would have to wait until the AGM to discuss these factors that were potentially motivating Quillan and his followers, who were now referred to as ‘Quillanites’ rather than the malcontents. Was it simply rule changes and management issues? Was it personality clashes? Could it be a battle for the soul of the club and were they planning to use alcohol abstinence as a means to build support for a rival club?

D-day arrived and after the formalities were complete – John H McLaughlin took advantage of the opportunity to resume the debate with James Quillan in person. Sadly, the debate revealed much less than expected but appeared to suggest that Quillan and his band of Quillanites had formed a clique.

The relevant minutes from the AGM read as follows:

…The secretary was then called upon to read the minutes of the last general meeting. On these being read, Mr James Quillan said he would move the adoption of the minutes if a certain rule, (pertaining to entrance fees and subscription money) were omitted, as said rule was not the rule as passed by meeting. (Mr Quillan read his motion). A seconder being found, the chairman received the motion. Mr Joseph Shaughnessy then rose and moved as an amendment that the minutes be held as a correct reflex of general meeting and be passed as such. About a dozen gentlemen sprang to their feet to second Mr Shaughnessy’s amendment. A short discussion followed. Few, very few, could understand the position adopted by Mr Quillan, for as fast as one portion of his contention was cleared away, hydra-like another reared its head.

The amendment and motion being placed before the meeting and a vote taken, showed that for Mr Shaughnessy’s amendment 104 votes were given; whilst Mr Quillan’s could only total 17. This early presage of the feeling of the meeting caused jubilation and dismay to reign in each of the opposing parties.

The results of the AGM returned that Quillan’s position as Vice President was opposed and he was relieved of his duties to be replaced by Francis McErlean from Belfast. Of the 20 Quillanites, none were elected on to the committee.

Six days later, on 24th June 1889, The Scottish Referee newspaper reported:

At last all is peace and quietness in the camp of Celtic FC. The Quillanites have been squashed and the original leaders of the club now go on their way rejoicing. The doings in the legislative chambers of the Celtic are kept so quiet that it is hard to say what the row was about. The objects of the club are praiseworthy, and it is hoped that the new offices and committee will work towards this end as one man.

Undeterred, the Quillanites decided to explore the possibility of relocating Edinburgh Hibernians to Glasgow. Rumours of a splinter group from Celtic negotiating a resettlement of their club, boiled the blood of Hibernian fans. The Edinburgh club had already begun to view the Glasgow Irish with a degree of contempt, for even though Celtic donated £45 to Hibernian, it scarcely passed as compensation for the signature of players, in the eyes of Hibs fans. This point was demonstrated when the Hibees support angrily invaded the pitch at Easter Road, whilst 3-0 down against Celtic earlier in the season.

In order to silence the rumoured move of the Edinburgh side, Michael Whelahan, (co-founder of the club) said less than phlegmatically: “Hibernian are the Edinburgh Irishmen and will carry on as the Edinburgh Irishmen. There will be no move to Glasgow or anywhere else.” Subsequently, one local newspaper ran the headline – ‘The men of the west are unable to come to an agreement with the men of the east.’

The Quillanites persevered, holding a public meeting in Bridgeton to announce their next move. Before a reasonable crowd, James Quillan revealed that he hoped to establish another club of the Glasgow Irishman, with an almost identical raison d’être to that of Celtic.

By the time the curtain was lifted on the 1889/90 season, a new team had successfully applied to become members of the Glasgow and Scottish Football associations. The club, established by James Quillan, had secured a six-acre site near the Oatlands district, south of the River Clyde, with the perk of an entry point from Rutherglen Road. The venue was level, drained and prepared for the erection of an athletic enclosure, complete with a grandstand and cinder athletics track. The arena would be known as Hibernian Park.

The roots and optimisms of James Quillan’s club appear very similar to Celtic, yet there was one key difference in ideology. Glasgow Hibernians would have an openly exclusive signing policy, which meant that the club would only adopt the services of players from Irish Catholic backgrounds.

As Celtic represented the Irish Catholic community, whose footballers were generally not given the opportunity to sign for clubs such as Queen’s Park or Rangers, the Celts themselves made little attempt to reach outside of the Glasgow Irish domain for players in the first season. However, the door to such possibilities was never closed at Parkhead and despite having an all Catholic team in the club’s formative year, the lack of desire to enshrine a sectarian or exclusive policy may have played a role in some of the Quillanites wanting to depart the club. Indeed, Celtic would complete the signing of their first non-Catholic, a goalkeeper named Jamie Bell, in 1890. At that time the goalkeeping position was becoming difficult to fill and it was beneficial to look beyond the Irish community for footballing talent. A year later, Bell was replaced by Orange Order member, Thomas Duff, who was nicknamed ‘The Cowlairs Orangeman’! Willie Maley further describes the psyche of the Celtic committee, who stayed beyond the 1889 AGM, in his book, The Celtic Story (published in 1938): ‘We have always been a cosmopolitan club since our second year, and we have included in our list of players a Swede, a Jew and a Mohammedan. Much has been made in certain quarters about our religion, but for forty-eight years we have played a mixed team, and some of the greatest Celts we have had did not agree with us in our religious beliefs, although we have never at any time hidden what these are. Men of the type of McNair, Hay, Lyon, Buchan, Cringan, the Thomsons, or Paterson soon found out that broadmindedness which is the real stamp of the good Christian existed to its fullest at Celtic Park, where a man was judged by his football alone.’

There were predictions from some quarters that the serious ambition of Quillan’s Glasgow Hibernian could lead to a decline in gate receipts at Celtic Park. However, any hopes of this feat being achieved by the followers of Glasgow Hibernian, were soon scuppered.

Glasgow Hibernian’s audacious launch in opposition to Celtic began with a glimmer of hope when they defeated Shettleston 3-1 in their first game. Interestingly, Shettleston were drafted in as a makeshift opponent, after Edinburgh Hibernians declined the invitation to provide opposition to this latest Glasgow Irish club.

From debut victory, nothing but desperate despair ensued. The club was eliminated from the first round of the Scottish Cup by Thistle, who defeated the Glasgow Irishmen 3-1 at Hibernian Park on 7th September 1889. A solid fan base was not mustered and as few as 500 spectators were among the terraces. Meanwhile, Celtic were prospering with crowds of over 20,000 on a regular basis. The writing was on the wall. Glasgow Hibernian were declared bankrupt quicker than a Buggati Veyron cruising down an open stretch of the Autobahn.

It may have been the end for Glasgow Hibernian, but for James Quillan the story was very much ongoing. In a remarkable twist of events, he was welcomed back to Celtic Football Club a short time later and he stayed committed to the Bhoys throughout the remainder of his involvement in football! He stood for re-election to the committee in 1896 and failed to win a place, but he did remain a club member and keen supporter.

*Quillanite Quislings story is adapted from the book – Take Me To Your Paradise: A history of Celtic-related incidents & events

Late years and death:

James Quillan’s life was in turmoil in the late 1890s. He lost his wife in July 1897 and was then involved in a slander case with his brother in law and Celtic club member, Peter Winn. Quillan was found guilty and had to pay out £300, which was a gargantuan sum back then.

To make matters worse, Quillan’s once successful business failed in 1901 and he had to sell off assets to pay for court costs. By August that year, the stress had taken its toll and he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Click on the links below for articles on other Celtic Founding Fathers:

Patrick Welsh – William McKillop MP – John Glass – Hugh Darroch – Dr John Conway – Michael Cairns – John O’Hara – Daniel Molloy – Joseph Shaughnessy – James Curtis – Joseph Nelis – Francis McErlean – David Meikleham – Joseph McGroary – John Charles MacDonaldJames McKay

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About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.

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