From the early 1950s, Jimmy Butler travelled the length and breadth of the country from his home in Falkirk to watch his beloved Celtic. Supporting the Glasgow side was Jimmy’s birthright, and like many of a Celtic persuasion, his ancestry can be traced back to 1840s Ireland.
The unimaginable suffering of the starving Irish in the late 1840s began with an epidemic of phytophthora infestans, which spread across potato fields like an unstoppable plague. The late blight served not only to darken the luscious green potato leaves of Ireland’s fields, but to cast a dark shadow over the already fractured relations between Ireland and the British government. The latter’s policy-makers, spearheaded by Charles Trevelyan, nonchalantly stood back and allowed ‘God’s will’ to prevail. As the potato crop continued to fail and the tubers were repeatedly crippled underground, over a million Irish men, women and children starved to death.
Many of these victims were already indubitably poor and the worst-off lived, and died a slow harrowing death, in single-room mud cabins. Meanwhile, the wealthiest nation in the world made no effort to relieve neighbours who had become monumentally dependant on the potato for survival. As corpses rotted like potato crops all over the country, London’s Times newspaper branded Ireland, “A nation of beggars.”
The human migration from Ireland was estimated at two million, and the vast majority of these starving souls shipped out to North America. They did so to survive what many Irish Nationalists believed was nothing short of genocide, with the in absentia British Government explicit in its execution. County Donegal was amongst the most impoverished of areas during the Irish potato famine and James and Catherine Mochan joined the mass cadaverous exodus as they fled with their family to Lennoxtown, then of Stirlingshire, to seek out work in the thriving Scottish coal mines.
Fast forward 40 years and many Irish immigrants all across Scotland were still struggling to find work to feed their young. This prompted the novel idea of forming a charitable football club in the East End of Glasgow in a valiant effort to maintain dinner tables for those hungry children and unemployed.
By the time James Mochan’s great grandson, John, married Sarah Dempsie, the Mochan clan had spread from Lennoxtown and Campsie into Carron, where John found parochial but stable employment in the world-famous ironworks.
An empire built from the elixir of iron had been the life’s blood of Carron since 1759 and it spawned its huge range of iron wares far and wide. Few then would have argued with Carron Company’s motto, ‘Esto Perpetua’, meaning ‘Be Thou Forever’. From domestic iron baths to iconic red telephone and post office boxes, Carron was an undisputed hotbed of industrial enterprise for generations of Falkirk inhabitants. But perhaps its most famous product was the Carron Cannonade, used in naval warfare. It wouldn’t, though, be the last Carron export to produce fearsome cannonballs.
John Mochan was an imposing figure who stood no more than 5’ 9” and weighed in at 18 stones. A strong man with mammoth legs and arms that lent themselves to such manual labour as an iron moulder in the foundry, he made valley gutters by hand with such skill that they ceased production upon his retirement. His father and two brothers, James and Neil, also made a living in the ironworks and a four-by-six-inch molten burn scar on John’s upper arm was a constant reminder to his family, who may have spotted it during his evening wash in their home’s boil-fast sink, of the daily dangers of such endeavours.
Working with Carron Company also gave the Mochans an opportunity to live in one of the firm’s many houses in the locality, and their West Carron residence was a simple kitchen bedsit before 5 Park Crescent in Carron became home for the ever-growing family.
Rose was the eldest having been born in April 1921, followed by Nan (November 1923), ‘Sadie’ Sarah (October 1925), Neil (6th April 1927), William (April 1929), Mary (September 1931), John (March 1934) and Denis (December 1935).
On Wednesday 6th April 1927, Celtic marked the occasion of Neil’s birth by paying a visit to his hometown. Willie Maley’s side were systematically thrashed 4-1 in a league match at Brockville. 7,000 spectators looked on as Jimmy McGrory was forced to leave the field of play due to injury and, despite the inspired form of Celtic’s goalkeeper John Thompson, Falkirk were inspired to victory by their ex-Celt Patsy Gallacher.
By the age of nine, young Neil, who had been named after his grandfather, was awarded a certificate for perfect attendance by John Farrell, who was the father of future Celtic director James and the headmaster at St Francis’ Roman Catholic Primary School in Falkirk. The school’s motto, Virtute Et Industria, would underpin the values held by Neil throughout his life and career and the disciplined standards he was setting at an early age would prove to be defining characteristics of his entire football life. St. Francis Xavier was himself named co-patron of all foreign missions in 1927, and Mochan would go on to travel on every foreign mission undertaken by Celtic Football Club from 1964 until 1994.
With four young boys in this busy working-class household, football was a hugely enjoyable release from the vapidity of day-to-day life, and the Mochan quartet all showed promise from an early age. With their family steeped in Irish tradition, the attraction of Celtic had suffused them as naturally as anyone whose heritage supersedes such decisions. When an emotional attachment overpowers a geographical one, the connection to such an institution is undeniable and bestows its supporters with an incredible sense of belonging, as Denis Mochan recalled. “On a Saturday my dad would be in the pub and then he would go to the ‘Shire (Falkirk-based East Stirlingshire) games. But we were all Celtic fans and that would basically be because we went to the Catholic school and we came from an Irish background. I went through to the matches regularly and it was always our Neilly’s dream to play for Celtic. I remember a little later, he had brought a big radiogram into the house and it was about the length of the living room with the lid and cupboards at either side. Neilly would come home with about 24 records at a time and in those days it was the big 78s. We would listen to Radio Eire on the radio and then some nights Neilly would put ‘The Soldier’s Song’ on and he would be marching about the living room listening to this record and my dad would be trying to get ready for bed and telling him to get it off.”
When Neilly Mochan finally fulfilled his ambition to play for Celtic, his nephew, Jimmy Butler, watched on with pride. “We used to go through to the games on the Celtic St Mungo’s bus that left from Falkirk,” he reminisced. “We picked a supporter called Paddy Garner up in Camelon. Paddy used to go around the clubs singing and he wrote a song called ‘Rally ‘round the Celtic.’ We used to sing his song on the bus on our way into Celtic Park.”Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
“To the name, to the fame;
To the pages of glorious history.
To the youth, to the health;
Of the lads who will lead us to victory.
To the cups, to the shields;
To the honours we won in the charity.
To the hearts, to the souls;
To the memories we’ll never forget.
Rally ‘round the Celtic, shout til your voice is ringing.
Rally ‘round the good old team; the boys that wear the white and green, God bless them.
Think of all the happy days, think of the honours won;
Celts will rise again to glory, stand behind them everyone.”
Like many others, the Camelon Celtic song has been lost to the depths of time.
The song’s composer, Paddy Garner, was the uncle of Willie Garner, who went on to briefly play for Celtic in the 1980s. When I interviewed Willie in 2017 he had no knowledge of ‘Rally ‘round the Celtic,’ although he did confirm that his uncle was a songwriter and performer.
Paddy Garner’s Rally ‘round the Celtic had been chanted for years on the Falkirk St. Mungo’s CSC bus, and another St. Mungo’s alumni, Jim McDonald, who travelled on the St. Mungo’s bus from 1962 to 1972, also recalled it fondly:
“Paddy Garner was a super singer and Rally ‘round the Celtic was a highlight with everyone.
“The words were set to a 1930’s tune called The Stein Song. How appropriate given what was about to happen to our team in 1965. I believe the music was a Maine University marching song in the 1930s.
“While watching a TV film in the late 1970s, after moving to England through work, I astounded my wife and five-year-old son by singing Rally ‘round when The Stein Song music was being played by a band. Unfortunately, when I explained to my son about the Celtic, the magic didn’t last long as he turned to Aberdeen shortly afterwards. He and my grandson (aged 11) are now season ticket holders there.
“I can’t recall the song ever being sung at any games home or away by the support, although it was a firm favourite on our bus. Happy memories.”
Can any of our other readers recall Rally ‘round the Celtic? Or are there other lost Celtic songs you have a story about?
If so, let us know…
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