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celtic minded book review

Celtic Minded 3 edited by Joseph M Bradley; Argyll Publishing; 288 pages paperback; £11.99

This is the third in the series of books known as ‘Celtic Minded’: a project that uses football as a window to analyse and explore aspects of the religious, ethnic, social, political and cultural environment that football inhabits in Scotland.

In Celtic Minded 3 a diverse group of contributors address a number of historical as well as contemporary issues around Celtic’s presence in Scottish football and society. The book looks at the Great Hunger in Ireland and the subsequent emigration of millions, including the 100,000 to west-central Scotland that provided the primary impetus for the very existence of Celtic Football Club.

It is in light of the Great Hunger that Dr Bradley subsequently looks at the singing of the infamous Famine Song in Scottish football since April 2008.

Significantly, this reflection considers how the Scottish media have reported and represented this. Bradley’s critique questions the levels of knowledge and understanding that exist in Scotland with regards this devastating catastrophe. He says:
media and public body responses signalled the beginning of inappropriate, inadequate ineffectual comment paralleling a lack of recognition over the depth of hate and prejudice involved in such chanting.

Utilising a range of quotes from the media – whenever it did get around to addressing the song - Dr Bradley analyses the media’s treatment in a social and cultural context:
anti-Irish references are recurrent in Scottish society and the ‘choices’ that Scotland’s multi-generational Irish community is faced with is clear: Celtic supporters, as well as Celtic Football Club, are compelled to forget and eradicate their Irish ethnicity and identities, become British and/or Scottish or, ‘go home to Ireland’.

Finally Dr Bradley says:
Painfully, for those who live or work at creating as much of a non or anti-racist culture in Scotland as is possible, the variety of justifications concerning the song as well as the general denial of it as a serious issue, does not reflect a society that can acknowledge its anti-Irishness and the damage this does to positive ethnic as well as religious relations in society.

Professor Willy Maley of the University of Glasgow and Professor Christine Kinealy of Drew University in the USA, one of the foremost scholars on the Great Hunger, also reflect on the catastrophe of the Great Hunger and some of its impact on Scottish society.

The book contains inspiring stories from and about Celtic people – including from the pen of one of James McGrory’s grand-nephews, Gerard McDade. Lewis Waugh considers supporting Celtic from a non-Catholic and non-Irish perspective while Colin Deeny talks about the club as a cultural focal point for Lithuanians in Scotland, a community that provided Celtic’s greatest ever captain Billy McNeill.

Gerard Gough looks astutely at some of the media controversy around Artur Boruc wearing a tee-shirt with an image on it of fellow countryman John Paul II and blessing himself at football matches in Scotland. Gough’s conclusion is incisive:
‘One Scotland Many Cultures?’ ‘The Best Small Country in the World?’ I am grateful to Boruc for showing us that neither of these statements are, as yet, factually accurate and a great deal of work remains to be done.

Professor Patrick Reilly looks at the possibility of media prejudice in reporting football matches in Scottish football.

The most academic part of the book includes the latest research on the Irish diaspora in Britain by Professors Bronwen Walter and Mary Hickman and Drs’ Sarah Morgan and Joseph Bradley. An important acknowledgement here is the location of the singing traditions of the Celtic fan base as an aspect of the multi-generational Irish community in Britain and that the social and cultural space in Scotland that is inhabited by Celtic supporters:
provides the Irish descended in Scotland with a space to express and celebrate their Irishness, to resist hostility against Irishness in Scotland, and to remember people and events that have partly shaped who they are, why they are, and where they are.

‘Was Shakespeare a Celtic supporter’ is the provocative title to the chapter by Professor Bob Davies and Dr Roisin Coll.

In this section which reflects significantly on the religious history and traditions that lie at the heart of the club, Dr Aidan Donaldson also looks at Celtic supporters’ culture in the context of one of the club’s main founders, Brother Walfrid.

Editor Joseph Bradley addresses some interesting questions in relation to ‘sectarianism’ and Catholic schools, two subjects frequently linked by Scotland’s media.

One of the most emotional and moving parts of the book is in a chapter written by the late Tommy Burns – the book is dedicated to Burns.

Tommy’s chapter, written several months before he died, is essentially a reflection on his Catholic faith and the importance that played in his life. Burns very poignantly states:
I think we are supposed to live on this earth but also remain detached from overly focusing on worldly things. Its about what we can do, what we can achieve, about how many people we can help in the day and lift their spirits and generally try to be part of something that’s uplifting. Faith is good, it’s focused, its true. It also assists us deal with people that might be hostile towards us, like maybe those connected to other football teams with a history against us. We can see beyond that and see them as human first and foremost – as important in God’s eyes. That’s always the number one ingredient before we think of them as supporters of ‘the other’ team. We should not allow ourselves to hate just because someone hates us or belongs to something different from us. As life goes by we are faced with many temptations, but our conscience, that voice inside, keeps pulling us back on track. When God looks at us on our death-beds it is to be hoped that He finds the person He wants to.

Overall the book attempts to encourage society in Scotland to raise its awareness of issues of prejudice and discrimination while also arguing that Scotland should positively recognise and esteem the Irish descended in Scotland: the country’s greatest single ethnic group.

It also challenges the catch-all lazy use of the word ‘sectarianism’, it confronts the ignorance that governs with regards Celtic supporters’ culture, and it questions the prevalence of anti-Celtic, anti-Catholic and anti-Irish attitudes and identities throughout society.

Celtic Minded 3 challenges many to learn more about ethnicity, Scottish and Irish history, how language is used, how it represents power and, how it can be utilised to enhance or to dominate the social and cultural aspects of people’s lives.

It demonstrates that recognition of, and cultural parity for, the Irish descended in Scotland, the country’s greatest single ethnic group, is essential with a view to raising awareness of issues of prejudice and discrimination, and as a means to improve social and cultural understanding, knowledge and tolerance in today’s multi-cultural Scotland.

This book is stimulating, thought provoking and a significant contribution towards Scotland holding up a mirror and understanding itself.

It urges us to help make Scotland a better place to live.

That is the real value of Celtic Minded.