John Burrowes (2005) Irish: The Remarkable Saga of a Nation and a City.

I qualify for an Irish passport. My Da was born in Belfast, but lived his life in Glasgow, and fought in the second world war for Britain. When he married my mum, he moved to Clydebank. John Burrowes is telling us something we already know—many of us have much the same story.

How many? Most folk find statistic boring. My Da was born in 1923. The Irish Free State was formed in 1921, with the six counties still part of Britain. Susan McKay 2021 writes, Protestants outnumbered Catholics by a ratio of about two to one in Northern Ireland… A hundred years later almost half the population is Catholic, there are fewer Protestant than Catholic schoolchildren, and the only cohort of the population to which Protestant are in a significant majority are the over-60s. Demographics tell their own story of No Surrender being outflanked by other means.  

The story of Northern Ireland is one of betrayal. The colonisation of Ireland by the English was piecemeal and ‘plantations’ were established in the North, with the richest land for Protestant immigrant settlers loyal to the Crown. Oliver Cromwell, ‘The Great Protector’s’ troops were ruthless in killing men, women and children who opposed his forces. The best Irish estates went to his followers. We all know about William of Orange, but few people acknowledge that he had the backing and blessing of the Pope at the time at the Battle of the Boyne.

This is all background stuff from sources outside Burrowes’ ‘saga of a nation and a city.’ But when we talk about Glasgow we need to speak of the Irish Holocaust.

‘The Great Famine of 1845-51 was to inflict on the Irish misery and degradation so abject that in proportionate terms it was unequalled anywhere else in the world. More than two million were wiped from the face of the land, either dying from starvation or fever, and fleeing to whatever country would accept them.’  

The Great Replacement Theory sprouting from the lips of the moron’s moron Trump and his ilk has its roots in eugenics and religion. You’ll find it in the triumphalism of little Englanders who hark back to the age when Britain was a superpower with a controlling and hegemonic interest in most nations. We were the industrial workshop of the world. Britain made over ninety percent of the shipping with Glasgow at its hub. Trains were exported to these nascent and newly industrialising nations faster than we could build them or lay track. Glasgow was one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, outstripping London. The English gentleman was regarded as the apex of civilisation, worth several foreigners. At the base of the eugenic triangle were Negroes and Irishmen, regarded as workshy and of the lowest intelligence, unable to work machinery without supervision.

Burrowes quotes from Fredrick Engels the father of Communism.

‘Those Irishman who emigrate for fourpence on the deck of a steamship on which they are often packed like cattle, insinuate themselves everywhere. The worst dwellings are good enough for them; their clothing causes them little trouble as long as they are held together by a single thread; shoes they know not; their food consists of potatoes and potatoes only; whatever they earn beyond their needs they spend on drink. What does such a race want with higher wages? …Drink is the only thing which makes the Irishman’s life worth having…’

The Church of Scotland also promulgated hatred and division, regarding the Roman Catholic Irish as a pestilence an ‘Alien Race’ from which the best of Glasgow, the Flower of Scotland emigrated to avoid.

‘the great exodus of the Scottish race was going on,’ Reverend Mair declared to the General Assembly in Edinburgh.

‘Their places were taken by a people of a different race and a different faith, and Scotland was divided into two camps – Scottish and Irish.

In the great Glasgow conurbation there were now at least 450 000 Irish, almost every fourth person. In some areas, it was every third person. The figures speak for themselves. In 1881 there was some 327 000 of the Irish population in Scotland. In the year the report was compiled in 1921, there was 600 000…the Irish population had increased by 30 percent, but the Scottish population had only gone up six percent. Thousands fewer Scottish children were on the educational rolls…

The moron’s moron came out with the same crap. Burrowes points out,  Reverend Mair’s made up his own facts, which sounds familiar (you can have your own opinion, but not your own facts). The fertility of the Scots and Irish were broadly similar, unlike in Northern Ireland, nowadays, for example. And representatives from the Church of Scotland, at the General Assembly in 2002, in a report labelled, ‘Secteranism,’ apologised for their distortions and lies.

Lies cost lives. Many of the passengers packed together on the deck of the overcrowded ship,  Londonderry, fleeing famine on 1st December 1848, for example, thought they had escaped certain death. Many of them travelling from Sligo to Glasgow. Atlantic-gale-force winds and waves, and the engines struggled to cope. 200 passengers on the deck, including children were forced into the hold—for their own safety. Fearing flooding, hatches were closed. Screams and shouts encouraged a ship’s officer to cover the entrance and exit of the hold with tarpaulin to keep down the din and to keep it watertight. The noise stopped as the passengers suffocated. Because of the storm the ship changed course towards Londonderry. Steam and the stench of death rose out of the hold. No survivors. Cattle were better treated, because they had value.

The creation of Celtic in 1888 by Brother Wilfred in the East End of Glasgow is covered here. He modelled the new club on the success of Edinburgh’s Hibernian. Much of the ground being cleared by volunteers. Many of the players being nicked from Hibernian, who played a friendly against the newly formed club to help raise funds, which more fans attended than the Scottish Cup Final. The rivalry with Rangers was a slow burner. But it’s still burning. I still hate those bastards

In ‘Billy Boys and Tim Malloys,’ Burrowes describes the gang killing of James Dalziel (Razzle Dazzle) a runner and collector for illegal bookmaker, Pat Donnachy, and one of the best dancers in the area. The Briggait Boys from the Gallowgate invaded the Parlour Dance Hall, where Razzle Dazzle led his gang, The Parlour Boys. This was the era of No Mean City.

Billy Fullerton of the ‘Brig’ton Billy Boys’ was the kind of true blue commemorated in football chants. He worked for Tommy Gilmour, bookmaker, boxing promoter and manager, who also happened to be Catholic. Fullerton died penniless, in a single end, his funeral attended by tens of thousands, including Tommy Gilmour.

Marching season commemorating the Orange Order parading through Glasgow to remind Catholics who was in charge still goes on. It’s happening now. But whisper it, the poison has begun to seep away. Burrowes reminds of us a time when tens of thousands of Catholics and Protestants rampaged through Partick, meeting their Catholic brethren in street combat, which brought Glasgow to a standstill with rioting. A mate reminded me of the time he used to ease open his window on Kilbowie Road and fire stink bombs with a sling into the throng below. Members of flute bands now are joke figures. We no longer choke on our Cornflakes but snigger as they pass. The school system that educates Catholics and Protestants separately, however, continues. The joke is on us. No one has the political courage in secular Scotland to tackle this historical anachronism.  

John Burrowes gives an idiosyncratic and entertaining look at our past. What remains are the areas of urban poverty he names such as Calton and the Gallowgate. These areas where life expectancy is around ten year’s less than richer areas such as Bearsden. Round up the usual suspects. Whatever index you choose, we lose. Catholics and Protestants having the wrong kinds of children, poor children. In some things we’re number one and remain much the same. Glasgow’s miles better. Fuck off.    

Bernard MacLaverty (2002) The Anatomy School.

I’m a fan of Bernard MacLaverty’s writing. He makes it seem so simple (try it at home) which is the mark of a craftsman. I was well into this book before I realised I’d read it before. There’s no harm in reading a good book again.

It’s a coming-of-age drama. The narrator, Martin Brennan is still at St Colum’s school in Derry. Londonderry if you’re a Prod. It’s set just as the troubles in Northern Ireland were kicking off. He has to re-sit because he failed his ‘A-levels.’ That glorious path to University and a better life.

His mum had scrimped and saved and prayed for him. His da posted missing. She’s sure he can do it, if he applied himself – and she’s sure he would, with the help of God.

Brennan’s not so sure. The book begins with him setting off on A Weekend Retreat with other schoolboys in which they stay in a dorm and examine their conscience. Ask the question, if God is calling them to the religious life. Brennan applies himself and God says ‘No’, a firm ‘No,’ even God doesn’t want him.

A priest, as far as him mum is concerned, is the voice of authority, to be consulted on all matters secular and sacred. Father Farquarson had the best seat in the kitchen. He was first served with tea and her home baking when her friends Nurse Gilliard and Mary Lawless came for supper and polite conversation.

‘Could you use a pepper seller for salt then? asked Mrs Brennan.

‘I suppose you could. There’s no law against it…’ said Mrs Lawless.

Kids today had it so easy and were so ungrateful was a backdrop to other troubles. Brennan found he’d a cock, before he was seventeen, and it betrayed him more often than Judas. His consolation was he was mates with other boys at school that didn’t seem to have the same quibbles. He gloried, for example, in being best mates with Gus Kavanagh, who didn’t get red faced talking to girls and claimed he’d had his hole. Kavanagh’s parents was a doctor, his sister was a doctor, it was a given that he too would follow in their paths and become a doctor. His grades were good, much better than poor old Brennan, but there was no guarantee. Kavanagh was also popular with the local jocks at school that played Gaelic football and met for a fly smoke in the locker room and toilets (the daffs).

‘Any jokes?’ Sweeny asked.

Everybody gathered around and Kavanagh grinned and they all leaned forward.

‘There was this guy, right?’ he said. ‘I kid you not. From the county – a big fuckin ganch – and he took this woman out. She was lovely, a real cracker—beautiful hair, big mouth, big tits out to here. Anyway, after the night out, she says to him would you like to come back to my place? And she takes him up the stairs and into the bedroom and lies down on the bed with her legs wide open. And your man says to himself, Jesus, if I play my cards right I might be onto something.’  

That’s the setup, or plot. Everything is going well for Kavanagh and not so well for Brennan. Schoolboy living much the same life and living in fear of the psychopathic priest,  Condor, head of discipline at school, not a Redemptorist, who had a low view of adolescent boys and was quite prepared to whip them all the way into heaven.

Throw into the mix, Blaise Foley, with the large house and the kind of money that makes Kavanagh look like a car salesman. Foley is a live-in boarder at the school. He’s been expelled from other schools. He’s the catalyst for disequibrium, with strange ideas that are so far out they might even be Protestant. It was Foley’s idea to steal the ‘A-level’ exam papers they needed to sit.   

It’s a heist movie, in reverse. They need to return the exam papers, after copying them, so they don’t get caught.

In the final section of the book we have the return to equilibrium. Our narrator is working as a technician in the Anatomy School of Queens University in Belfast. Kavanagh is studying medicine, but put it off for a year to do a Bsc, while he pursues the virginal, Pippa, who’s  quite prepared to wait, however, long it takes to please and worship God. She too is studying medicine. Brennan agrees to run an experiment for Kavanagh in the Anatomy rooms, an overnighter, and that’s when he bumps into a backpacker from Australia. A real girl and she seems interested in him. Will Brennan find salvation between her legs, is not the whole of the question or the answer. That would be too easy. Fling in the return of a drunken Foley. There you have it. Read on.