Why Are Celtic So Closely Linked to Ireland? [EXPLAINED]

Anyone taking a glimpse at a Celtic match could be forgiven for assuming that the Glasgow-based team is from Ireland. Throughout the ground and supporters, Celtic Park is adorned with Irish colours and flags.

But why is a team in the middle of Scotland so affiliated with Ireland? We’re taking a closer look at why Celtic are so closely linked to Ireland, a history of the Glasgow club and the religious ties associated with supporting Celtic or Rangers.

Why Are Celtic Linked to Ireland?

Celtic’s links to Ireland go right back to the club’s creation. The club was established by Brother Walfrid, an Irishman, to improve the living conditions of Irish communities in Glasgow. Even the name, ‘Celtic’, was chosen to showcase the club’s Irish and Scottish heritage.

The Irish connection to Celtic is at the heart of what the club represents and throughout its history that bond has only grown stronger. It started with Walfrid’s hopes and dreams for making Irish lives better in Glasgow. He wanted Celtic to reflect the club’s Scottish and Irish identity and the club adopted some Irish symbolism soon after its creation.

The Celtic cross was used as the club’s emblem before it was replaced with a four-leaf clover; both are strong Irish symbols. In 1892, when Celtic’s stadium, Celtic Park, was built there was a little patch of Ireland on the playing surface.

The first sod of turf laid at Celtic’s new home had been imported from Donegal in Ireland. When Celtic Park was redeveloped in 1995, that symbolic gesture was repeated when turf from Donegal was once again laid.

Celtic enjoys such a strong Irish connection that many people wonder if Celtic fans support Scotland or Ireland.

History of Celtic

Celtic was founded in Glasgow in 1887. The club was established by Irishman Brother Walfrid to celebrate Glasgow’s Irish population. Celtic would represent Irish immigrants in Glasgow before growing to become one of the best-supported football teams in the world.

As if being founded by an Irishman wasn’t enough, Celtic’s first manager, Willie Maley, was also from Ireland. It didn’t take long for Celtic to taste success and the Glasgow club claimed its first league title in 1893. That was just six short years after Celtic was founded.

Celtic quickly established itself as one of the best teams in Scotland in its early years before Rangers came onto the scene. Once Celtic’s great rival also got a taste for success it became a bitter battle between these two foes.

Without Celtic’s great history of success on the field, the club may never have become as popular as it is today. The club sits second on the all-time SPL titles race with 51, which is just four behind their arch-rivals Rangers. Celtic does hold the record for most Scottish Cup titles with an impressive 40.

Besides domestic success, Celtic became the first British team to win the Champions League, or European Cup as it was known at the time. A famous 1967 victory over Inter Milan in Benfica is a fond memory for many Celtic fans, even if most were not alive to witness it first-hand.

Celtic’s Irish Icons

Throughout Celtic’s history, there have been many iconic Irishmen representing the club. Some of the greats to play at Celtic Park include Packie Bonner, Patsy Gallacher, Aiden McGeady and Tommy Coyne.

Other established Irish names also played at Celtic but won’t necessarily go down as legends. The likes of Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, Tony Cascarino and Mick McCarthy all played for Celtic but arguably made their names elsewhere.

It’s not just Irish players who shone brightly at Celtic Park, there is a rich history of managers hailing from Ireland too. Some of the biggest and most successful Irish Celtic managers include Martin O’Neill, Brendan Rogers and Neil Lennon.

Are Celtic Catholic and Rangers Protestant?

Celtic’s origins are based deeply on Irish Catholicism, and Rangers operate as the antithesis to this with its Protestant leanings. However, both clubs have dialled down their sectarian affiliations in recent times. Despite these efforts, many Celtic fans are Catholics and Rangers fans Protestant.

The Old Firm rivalry cuts deep in Scottish football and, arguably, each team needs the other. For instance, when Rangers went into liquidation and had to be relegated to the lower leagues of Scotland, something was missing from the SPL.

Many rivals question if Rangers are still the same team anymore, due to the takeover circumstances. However, that criticism is unfair. Yes, the club was liquidated but all of its assets were retained and it remains the same club it always was.

Other Scottish Teams with an Irish Connection

Celtic’s connection to Ireland isn’t unique, and there are a couple of other Scottish football teams with Irish links; Hibernian and Dundee United. Celtic wasn’t even the first Scottish club with an Irish identity, that title goes to Hibernian.

The Edinburgh team is called Hibernian as a derivative of the Latin for Ireland, Hiberna. Hibs were established in 1875, over a decade before Celtic, by a collective of Irish immigrants.

Some might say that Hibernian served as inspiration for Celtic, especially as the Edinburgh outfit also wears green and white kits. Hibernian also uses Irish emblems in their badge, the harp which serves as the national symbol of Ireland.

Dundee United also has an Irish connection although it features much less prominently. Before changing its name to Dundee United, the team was known as Dundee Hibernian for the same reason as Hibs and Celtic. However, despite this historic connection to Ireland, Dundee United’s Irish past is much less known than its rivals.

Worldwide Sports Teams Connected to Ireland

The Scottish connection to Ireland is an easy one to make given the proximity of both countries to each other. However, there are sports teams from around the world that also celebrate their connection to Ireland, even if they aren’t neighbours.

A prime example is the NBA franchise the Boston Celtics, which was founded in 1911. Like many other sports teams of the time, the Celtics were reflective of their neighbourhood, which was predominantly Irish immigrants.

That Irish connection runs deep in Boston and the city has a proud Irish heritage that flows through its veins, even outside of sport. The NBA franchise’s mascot is ‘Lucky the Leprechaun’ and he is proudly worn on Celtic’s jerseys throughout the season.

Closer to home, Liverpool is seen as one of the biggest ‘Irish’ football clubs in England thanks to the city’s connection with the Emerald Isle. Many Irish people have moved to England in search of work over the years with Liverpool being a common first stop thanks to the shipping route.

That’s not the only connection Celtic and Liverpool fans share as they are both famed for singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during matches. Other Premier League teams with a strong Irish connection include Manchester United and Arsenal.

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Connor Doyle

Connor is a journalist with several years of experience in the industry covering sport, entertainment, cars and the environment. Football is Connor's main passion. Thanks to the ups and downs of supporting Liverpool FC, he knows how to appreciate the good times when they roll in!

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