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Rebel Roots

Updated: Feb 13

Its raining again. Wee Margaret cuts a pathetic figure, sitting by the dying embers of a fire, trying to produce milk for her new born baby. She is frantic with worry. Her man John has been away at the uprising. It's the year 1745. The year of The Jacobite Rebellion. She can only pray he returns safe. After all, there are another 3 weans to feed.

John got injured in the first few opening shots. Enough time to crawl into a ditch to try and stem the bleeding. But before he could patch himself up and rejoin the fight it was practically over anyway. From his vantage point it looked like a slaughter. It was pointless going back in.

At this stage in the proceedings, the done thing would be to skulk home bruised and beaten, as was the way when clan differences led to armed conflict. But this was no ordinary highland feud. There would be no survivors. The fight was long over by now, but occasional gun shots or screams still filled the air long into the night as every wounded man on the battlefield was systematically executed. A bayonet to the stomach dispatched John before nightfall. It wouldn't stop there. Every clan that dared to rise against the crown would suffer. The slaughter continued for days and weeks through every hamlet, croft and village. Man, woman or child, if you were caught, you were killed. Simple.

Somehow wee Margaret managed to get the baby to her sister who took him deep into the ancient Caledonian pine. A bit of foraging does ye good so it does! And so, baby Charles survived on pine needle soup with his Auntie for a while.

Time flies when you're having fun. A few decades passed, by the time Charlie was in his 40s things seemed to have settled. But soon enough there was another systematic pogrom picking up speed. In the Glen at Loch Garry where Charlie had somehow managed to rear his own family, trouble was on the horizon again. More soldiers rampaged across the hillsides. By this time the clan Chiefs had the same kudos and pulling power as Jim Murphy standing on an Irn Bru crate in Argyle Street. When it came to rallying the clans... those days were over.

However, ancestral piles aren't cheap and anyway, sheep carried more coin than highland crofters so Charlie and his family were invited to kindly fuck off by foreign mercenaries. Refusal would be met in the usual fashion – houses burnt out, raped, murdered etc, etc.

Charlie had options so it wasn't all bad. Move to Canada or Glasgow. At this point (late 1780s) Glasgow had more anti-Catholic societies than actual Taigs, so maybe that wasn't the best option. The chance to be uprooted and sent 1000s of miles in a boat not fit for cattle, to Canada where they would carry all their worldly goods on their back, to set up a claim in some unknown territory, then think about repaying the crown of whatever debt they incurred by the whole escapade, somehow seemed the better choice.

However, Scottish weather and leaky boats don't mix. For that reason Charlie and the gang ended up stranded in Greenock. The voyage was aborted to avoid the inconvenience of everyone drowning at sea in a shitehole of a boat, and so Glasgow would be home after all.

Thank The Lord for benevolent, altruistic venture capitalists like David Dale. The founder and hero of New Lanark and unshakable believer in the free market. He needed cheap labour for his other factory in Dalmarnock, so he rescued them! He gave them work and shelter! All of them, even the children! 15 hours a day! And a half day on a Saturday for the weans! Elbow deep in stinking dye and dangerous chemicals. Bleaching the cotton, stretching and printing, and making it worth fortunes to be sold all over the world.

What a man was David Dale. He knew that these highlanders were used to subsistence living. He could provide that for them, not a problem.

Dale even remarked how well these highlanders worked and how quietly and without fuss. Isn't it amazing how traumatised, uprooted and starving communities can be broken down into machine slaves with just a little bit of encouragement!

And so life was bliss on the banks of the Clyde, down Dalmarnock way, where the air hung thick with chemicals. Mother England's Empire was running like clockwork. The sheep were in the Glens. The slaves were in the plantations, picking the cotton for the mills of Glasgow. All the free Highlanders were in a corner of Bridgeton they now called Glengarry Field. All the good and free folk of Glasgow building up their wealth... or building up their lung disease depending on how free they actually were.

Alas such good times never last. After only a couple of years, trouble was in the air again. And not just of the chemical variety.

The Empire was getting a wee bit stretched for resources. By resources I mean soldiers. Those pesky Caribbean slaves had a bit of an uprising. There was also a bit of persuasion needed in India to keep the locals productive and the bloody Yanks were bitching about having to pay taxes to the Crown. And of course France, war with France was perpetual. All of that meant that trade in the cotton mills of Glasgow was slow. David Dale and his pals would just about survive in the meantime, but starvation loomed again for the free Highlanders.

As fate would have it, by 1798 some rowdy traitor by the name of Wolfe Tone had started his independence nonsense in Ireland. This required a suitable response. Yet again lady luck shone down on the displaced highlanders. Conscripts were needed urgently and so the rules were bent and the British Military decided to allow Catholics into there ranks. Needs must and all that!

More paid work and a chance to travel for the lucky new regiment! Auld Charlie just missed out on the opportunity due to the fact that he was dead at 53, but all his sons were of good fighting age.

The weird thing about 'The Glengarry Fencibles' was there refusal to take part in the burnings, beatings and hangings that followed the defeat of the '98 uprising. Somehow being brought up on tales of it happening to them only a few decades before, meant that they became renowned in Ireland for their compassion instead. They became active in rebuilding the Catholic Churches in places like Wicklow and Wexford. Strangely enough, the regiment was disbanded in 1802.

When the Free Highlanders returned to Bridgeton and the banks of the Clyde at Dalmarnock, trade was on the up again. After a slow start, the Industrial Revolution was gaining momentum. The factories and mills were ever more mechanical. By 1833 The British Empire also had a new found conscience and slavery was abolished all over the commonwealth. This didn't impact much on these Highlanders who were already free. Freedom meant taking your children to work in factories, mills and coal mines just to survive.

Some of the Irish had heard by now of this place and so a trickle of immigrants started to flow into the area. By the time An Gorta Mor was fully operational in 1845 it became a tsunami. Quickly Bridgeton, Calton and all over Glasgow, the Irish flooded in. Just like the Highlanders before them, they arrived, starving and in rags.

Slum Glorious Slums! Glasgow was a boom town! The Clyde was dredged, shipbuilding took off and the Second City of The Empire was made. In the East End, the cotton mills and dye works were fully mechanised. The rich got rich and the poor got rickets, and dysentery and polio and meningitis and pneumonia. To alleviate the suffering they also got drunk.

Now when you live in abject poverty, when a way out seems impossible, you need someone else to blame, Mother England has a tried and tested method of distracting these poor people. A distraction from the root cause of all their problems. It wasn't poverty wages from the elite captains of industry such as Mr Dale and Mr Orr and all the rest that was the problem. It was bloody immigrants as usual.

It still is, so it is!

People being burned out their houses from Glengarry in Argyll to Allepo in Syria. From Donegal to Damascus. Comin' over ere' stealin' our jobs! Bloody immigrants!

And so it was in Bridgeton. The exploitation of these uprooted children of the Jacobean and Fenian uprisings continued. The very people who rebelled against tyranny and injustice toiled yet again in hellish steam driven conditions. To add insult to injury they were simultaneously attacked by their fellow poor. Seen as the enemy within they were vilified in the newspapers and made scapegoats for all the evils of the world. And the people fell for it as they always do. The overcrowded slums and middens, where disease was rife, were under constant attack. They needed salvation, or at the very least some hope in the darkness.

By 1885 The Statue of Liberty had arrived in New York and Charles Dow had produced the first Dow Jones Index so that people could track their fortunes properly.

At the same time a Marist Brother by the name of Walfrid was busy in Bridgeton looking for a way to avoid children getting sucked into a spiral of drink, violence and hopelessness.

The old Glengarry Park where the cotton sheets were spread out to bleach and dry only a few decades before had somehow survived the growth of tenements all around. It was here that Walfrid found a good place to encourage exercise and healthy sporting pursuits and maybe a chance for some respite from the heaving slums that now loomed over the park. One of the first football teams that Brother Walfrid formed were called Eastern Rovers and all the players were from the parish of Sacred Heart in the heart of what was still known as Glengarry.

Walfrid must have been every bit as astute and visionary as the wealthy Empire Barons of the day. He had just as keen an eye for the potential of these wretched soles. However it wasn't the exploitation of their labour that inspired him, but rather the untapped potential that lay within.

In just a few short years is was obvious that football wasn't merely about the chance to escape for a few hours of exercise. The beautiful game was growing more popular and people were prepared to pay to watch, if the quality was good enough. In Leith a team had emerged from similarly brutal conditions to become a beacon of pride and hope for the community of immigrants there. Surely It was possible. There was a glimmer of opportunity to give people. An outlet to express their identity, faith and pride in who they were. Perhaps a team could be formed that could not only compete, but go on and beat the best there was. If he could get such a team, those who could afford it, would surely pay to watch. If that was true then there was the potential to raise much needed funds for the maintenance of dinners tables for the children and unemployed......after that...who knows....

If you got this far, thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please check out the inspiration for this blog at where you will find a host of well (better)researched and documented Celtic historical content. It truly is a Celtic gift on the internet!

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