The Incredible Place of the ‘Welsh’ Name In Celtic History

Young Stephen Welsh can certainly be proud of himself after his impressive debut at Hamilton yesterday. The defender, recently recalled from his loan spell at Morton, looked assured on the ball and made some key tackles during Celtic’s 4-1 victory. Whilst the Celtic support hope that he can build on this performance and become an important part of a history-making team, it is perhaps little known that another Welsh (Patrick) already has an immense place in Celtic folklore.

The story of Patrick Welsh is one of both intrigue and importance in terms of the history of Celtic. Welsh was born in the town of Killargue, County Leitrim, in 1848. He grew up to become a revolutionary activist and it was his political action that eventually entwined him with the club.

The tale has its beginnings in the 1867 Uprising. A sister organisation to the IRB had been founded by Irish immigrants in the USA, less than a decade after the great famine. Its ranks were bolstered by the emergence of the American Civil War, in which thousands of Irishmen had taken part, fighting on both sides of the Union/Confederate divide. The experiences that had been gained in the battlefield encouraged a swell of volunteers to enlist with the movement; the organisation’s name deriving from the ‘Fianna’ – a legendary band of warriors in the realm of Gaelic mythology. The Brotherhood’s leadership wasted no time in attempting to strike a blow for Irish freedom when, in 1866, they carried out a series of unsuccessful raids in Canada (then under British rule). The aim of the raids was to seize the transportation network of the country, with the ambition that this would force the British to exchange Ireland’s independence for possession of their Province of Canada.

The IRB soon decided to mount a militant insurrection of their own. The decision was taken following considerable unrest within the Nationalist community, which had largely been instigated by the suppression of The Irish People newspaper: the voice of the IRB.

The Rising of early 1867 was initially stifled due to a combination of poor planning and British infiltration. However, the latter stages of the year saw resurgent efforts in the form of a dynamite campaign and a series of raids.

A youthful Patrick Welsh participated in this effort, which, although ultimately unsuccessful in a military sense, led to the establishment of the Amnesty Association to which he later became Vice-President. The Association was a group set up by Isaac Butt, with the aim of gaining the men of the Rising release from prison.

For his part in the rebellion, Welsh found himself on the run from the authorities in the latter stages of the year. One evening he hid from security forces in Dublin at the docks in the vicinity of Pigeon House Fort, on the banks of the River Liffey. Welsh was hiding with the hope of boarding a ship bound for Scotland. However, he looked to his horror as he found himself being confronted by a British soldier wielding a rifle.

The soldier, who was on patrol with the North British Fusiliers Regiment, barked at Welsh: “Halt he who goes there?” Welsh instantly detected an Irish accent and pleaded, Irishman to Irishman, that he had no sinister intentions and only longed for a life of peace in Glasgow. The soldier, a County Clare man from Ennis, understood the plea as he himself had previously left home to join the army in England. Thus, at considerable risk to himself, he led Welsh to the appropriate ship. Before parting, the pair exchanged names. The name of the soldier: Thomas Maley.

Once in Glasgow, Pat Welsh served an apprenticeship as a tailor before becoming a master in the trade, owning a renowned business on Buchanan Street. The Irishman immersed himself in the local community and built some sound relationships within his local parish of St Mary’s.

Enjoying his fruitful new life, the runaway Irishman maintained appreciation for the soldier who had granted his freedom. Indeed, the pair always kept in touch and after Thomas Maley had completed 21 years of active service with the British Army, he informed Welsh that he had started to view the prospect of life in Glasgow as a notion much more appealing than attempting to raise a young family where he had been stationed, in an Ireland that was still suffering from the effects of the famine.

Approaching his discharge from the army in 1869, on the invitation of Welsh, Thomas Maley and his young family headed to Glasgow, where his Canadian born wife’s parents hailed from. Welsh was glad to be of assistance to the Maley clan and agreed to see to their housing in St Mary’s parish until such a time that Thomas found employment. Thomas soon found a job when he was appointed Drill Instructor of the 3rd Renfrewshire Rifle Volunteers at Thornliebank.

The former Sergeant’s sons, Tom and Willie, (the latter being born in an army barracks in Newry prior to their move) embedded themselves into city life. Both had a keen interest in sport, becoming respected footballers; whilst Willie also earned the title of the 100 Yard Scottish Sprinting champion.

The aforementioned events proved to be of great import when Pat Welsh was among the committee that founded Celtic Football Club in late 1887. During a preliminary meeting between the founding fathers, the name of Tom was raised as a possible player that Celtic could attract the signature of. Welsh had vouched for the family and assured the committee that he would be an ideal fit for the club. Therefore, the decision was taken for Welsh to visit the Maley household in Cathcart, where Thomas (senior) had been transferred, with the accompaniment of fellow founders: Brother Walfrid and John Glass.

It is thought that the Celtic delegation only held intention of securing the signature of Tom when they knocked the door. However, Tom was not at home. The Celtic trio then began to speak with Willie and asked that he would ensure that his brother contact them with a response to their proposition of him signing for the club. As the Celtic delegation left the premises, Walfrid turned to Willie and said: “Why don’t you come along too?”

Although not of the same ability as his brother, who had featured on occasion for Hibernian, Willie had played for Third Lanark reserves. Once his modesty and doubts over a future in the game were shunned, Willie agreed to put pen to paper for Celtic Football Club immediately. Upon hearing of the visit, his brother contacted the Celtic founders and agreed to join him at Celtic Park. It would prove to be the beginning of an enduring 52-year love affair between the Maley’s and the Celts.

Pat Welsh himself went on to become Celtic’s first Match Secretary, which ironically was also a position that Willie Maley took up, the latter having been invited to do so due to his qualification as a chartered accountant.

Welsh also made his mark beyond the direct Hoops domain. He was a much-loved parishioner in St Mary’s, who was a member of a number of groups that held close ties with the club, including: The League of the Cross, the local conference of the Saint Vincent De Paul Society, the Home Government branch of the Irish National League and he was the leading organiser of the Connaught Reunion in Glasgow.

The following extract is taken from Patrick Welsh’s obituary, which appeared in The Glasgow Observer on 12 August 1899: ‘The funeral, which was a public one, took place on Sunday to Dalbeth. The cortege was a very large one, all the societies of the parish accompanying the remains to the cemetery.’

Manager – Willie Maley

 

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About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up in Bournemouth with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic as a young child during the Martin O'Neill era. Still living on the south coast, I have a season ticket at Paradise and also travel to European away matches when possible. At the age of 19, I published my first Celtic book (Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support). Then, last year, I published my second book (Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events), which is sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores.

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