A MAJOR university study into the founding father of Celtic Football Club is to be funded by a Glasgow-based arts group.

The four-year University of Stirling study on Brother Walfrid, the “Apostle of the Poor”, is part of a wider awareness-raising campaign on his legacy and importance for Roman Catholic religious, social and cultural identity in Scotland.

Walfrid, a Marist Brother, founded Celtic in 1887 to alleviate poverty and increase pride among Irish immigrants in Glasgow’s east end. He is considered to be one of the most significant Irish immigrants and a major contributor to the emergence of organised football in Scotland.

It is hoped the £25,000 study, funded by arts group Nine Muses, will increase knowledge of his significance for the lives of thousands of Irish immigrant Catholics in late 19th century Glasgow as well as examine his legacy for 21st-century Scotland.

The PhD on Brother Walfrid, or Andrew Kerins, is a world first and will be carried out by University of Glasgow alumnus Michael Connolly. The 27-year-old from Lanarkshire wrote his dissertation for his history degree at Glasgow on the origins of Celtic FC.

“It was then I began to understand the importance of Brother Walfrid – not just to Celtic, but to the wider Irish immigrant population he sought to support by creating the football club in Glasgow,” he said.

“The works of academic authorities such as Dr Joe Bradley and Professor Sir Tom Devine helped fuel my interest in the themes of immigration, Irish identity, poverty, charity and community, which of course motivated Walfrid to found Celtic. I feel excited to be given the opportunity to return to study a subject I am so passionate about.”

Connolly’s supervisor Dr Joe Bradley said Brother Walfrid was one of the “most significant Irish immigrants to Scotland, an outstanding individual in relation to education and charity in Glasgow and a major contributor to the emergence of organised football in Scotland in the late 19th century.”

However, Dr Bradley said that despite being known for founding Celtic much of Walfrid’s personal story remained obscure.

“This PhD aims to substantiate the partial image we currently have of Walfrid and, indeed, of the circumstances that provided the conditions for the emergence of Celtic Football Club: a unique representation of the Irish diaspora in world sport.”

The study has been welcomed by Philip Tartaglia, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, who said Brother Walfrid had been a “champion” for all Glasgow’s people.

“This new study will be a major contribution to the Brother Walfrid story,” he said.

“We have all heard that Brother Walfrid and his associates wanted to make Celtic FC a club ‘open to all’. That purpose sounds visionary and progressive for its time. As such, it can only be good for the present and future of Glasgow.”

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell also welcomed the new research on Walfrid. “He was a man who gave people hope at a time of desperation, and in adversity someone who brought people together by creating a club open to all – his dedication to helping others has left a phenomenal legacy,” he said.

Nine Muses, the arts group funding the research, has already commissioned a giant Peter Howson painting of Brother Walfrid which is displayed in St Mary’s, Calton, where Brother Walfrid founded Celtic FC.

Emma O’Neil of Nine Muses said the new PhD would form part of a wider Brother Walfrid awareness-raising campaign which she was inspired to set up after earning about the Great Irish Hunger of the mid-19th century.

“Andrew Kerins was a pivotal figure in helping poverty-ridden, demoralised and desperate immigrants displaced from Ireland to Glasgow because of the Great Famine, a terrible period in European history,” she said. “Walfrid helped give them food, hope, and, through Celtic, pride, and we want to raise awareness of his life and works.”

To support the campaign, Nine Muses is selling 1,888 - the year Celtic played their first game, - premium Brother Walfrid boxed sets, which include an A3 museum-quality Peter-Howson-signed limited edition print of his Brother Walfrid painting, and a one-hour documentary.