John Charles MacDonald: The Irish Engineer Of Celtic

John Charles MacDonald was born in Ireland in 1858. At the age of five, he moved to Glasgow with his parents and the family settled in the Irish ghetto that was High Street. Soon after adapting to life in Scotland, the MacDonald’s moved to an Irish boarding house in Springburn, where John’s father, Bernard, found employment as a labourer in the nearby St Rollox locomotive works.

John was educated locally and by the time he left school at the age of 14, he joined his father working as a labourer. It was very much all hands to the pump in the MacDonald household, who worked tirelessly to get by. That was until John defied the odds by  managing to secure an apprenticeship as an engineer in the city. An Irish Catholic being awarded such a thing within the engineering trade was as a rare as a solar eclipse in those days. John qualified as a mechanical engineer some time later and remained living with his parents, assisting the family with their income.

John MacDonald and his uncle, also named John, were founding members of the Catholic Literary Society in Glasgow and through the organisation, the pair met future Celtic founders Dr John Conway, Hugh Darroch and Joseph McGroary. John (junior) was also a member of the League of the Cross, St John’s branch, located on Portugal Street in the Gorbals. As such, he developed a number of contacts relevant to the founding of Celtic Football Club, who invited him to join the project ahead of Celtic’s inception.

Not only was John Charles MacDonald one of the first people involved with starting Celtic, but he was also a keen supporter of Powderhall professional foot-running, which led to Willie Maley describing him, in his The Story of the Celtic book, as one of only two founding fathers who had any sporting knowledge whatsoever.

MacDonald was in the crowd at the grand opening of Celtic Park in May 1888, when Hibernian played out a 0-0 draw against Cowlairs. At a post match reception, held in the Royal Hotel in George Square, MacDonald and O’Hara were the two committeemen who were tasked with securing the signature of James Kelly ahead of Celtic’s first match. Kelly was one of the best players in world football, who played for the world club champions of the time, Renton. The pair travelled to the town and failed to persuade him to join, before John Glass’ silver tongue and heavy wallet did the trick. Nevertheless, it shows the esteem in which MacDonald and indeed O’Hara were regarded among the Celtic founding fathers to be tasked with such a job, after all, the famous saying was ‘No Kelly, no Celtic!’

In contrast to Maley’s comments, there were a few known cycling enthusiasts among the founding fathers of the club. However, few had as rounded sporting knowledge as MacDonald and it was thus unsurprising that he acted as an umpire at regular Celtic sports events.

MacDonald appears on the first Celtic committee and served for several years with the club. Just prior to Celtic becoming a limited company, he left Scotland due to finding better paid engineering work in Manchester, then latterly in Leeds. His stay in England was brief as he returned to Scotland to marry in 1901, but he was not in Glasgow. Instead, MacDonald had settled in Aberdeen, where again the work he did offered better pay.

As a keen sportsman, his interest in football didn’t waver and MacDonald became involved with Aberdeen FC a few years after the club’s formation in 1904. He kept in touch with his friends at Celtic and thoroughly enjoyed meeting his Irish compatriots when the Hoops came north to fulfill fixtures at Pittodrie.

John Charles MacDonald’s last involvement with Celtic came on New Years Day 1910, when he attended Paradise as a guest of the club’s directors. Disappointingly, the Hoops couldn’t give him a send off with victory, but he did witness a 1-1 draw against Rangers that wet afternoon, in a match that was played in front of 47,000 people.

MacDonald passed away in the granite city in 1929. He was aged 71.

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 MeiklehamJoseph McGroary 

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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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