Thousands of Celtic fans sing The Celtic Song every week at football matches or in bars, clubs, schools and factories from Turf Lodge to Timbuktu!
But if you asked them, how many of the green and white choristers would know the history of the song and realize that it actually originated in Belfast?
As the Belfast Celtic Museum prepares to open again on St Patrick’s Day, Terry Dick, son of the famous Scottish musical impresario Glen Daly, who made the song famous, gives full credit to Charlie Tully, Belfast’s Minstrel Bhoy!
Glasgow’s immediate post-war years were bleak, with rationing still in force, but Charlie Tully brought much needed smiles and laughter to the city sporting scene.
Soon he had an adoring entourage to rival anything the High Kings had at the Hill of Tara!
On his arrival in Glasgow, Celtic billeted Charlie in the old Kenilworth Hotel in Queen Street and for years afterwards it became a favourite haunt for Celtic players and football personalities.
The Belfast Bhoy held court with wisecracks about the game and its personalities, tales of Belfast and clashes between Linfield and the great Belfast Celtic.
All this was hungry, thirsty work and the ever generous Celt insisted that the not inconsiderable food and drink bill, being run up by his pals, should go on the club’s account!
However, if Charlie was in a particularly mischievous mood, he would decide to charge it to his team mate Jock Weir’s bill!
When the stories were exhausted and the customary sing-song started, Charlie would invariably sing the praises of his beloved Belfast Celts with; “Sure it’s a grand old team to play for.”
A version of only a few choruses perhaps, but Glen Daly recalled it years later, when he recorded his own ‘Celtic Song’.
In London in August 1961, at Simpson’s in The Strand, the historic restaurant first opened in 1828, Daly had just finished what was reputed to be the best roast dinner in England.
Famous guests of the exquisite London restaurant had included Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, but as the diners on that late summer’s night began to drift away, Daly stared intently at his menu, hoping for inspiration.
He was due back in Pye Record’s Marble Arch Studios in one hour to record The Celtic Song, but the final version of his second verse had yet to be completed.
He stared intently at the menu and tried to think of where he’d first heard the song.
Of course! The Clown Prince of Paradise and good pal, Charles Patrick Tully, had obliged the company one night in the Kenilworth. He smiled as he recalled the magical Irishman and his soft brogue as he sang:
We don’t care if we win, lose or draw;
Darn the hare we care.
Because we only know
That there’s going to be a show
And the Belfast Celtic will be there!
As he walked into the Pye studios, he was determined to give the Celtic supporters something to be proud of! Jack Emblow, the famous Jazz Accordionist, whose music would later penetrate every living room in Britain with his unmistakable theme tune for the BBC’s hit comedy series ‘Allo ‘Allo, played the first few bars of the intro while Glen Daly moved towards the microphone and the Celtic song echoed down the years.
At the Celtic Supporters Association Rally in November 1959, over three thousand fans gathered in Glasgow’s magnificent St. Andrew’s Halls to bid a fond farewell to Charlie on the occasion of his retirement from the Scottish game and his return to St Patrick’s sod.
On stage, Glen Daly recounted every Tully story and joke, as Celtic Chairman Robert Kelly smiled knowingly and in an emotional finale the crowd sang another chorus; “Will ye no come back again?” and cheered the auld yin to the echo!
The programme notes for the evening eloquently conveyed the place Tully held in Celtic hearts.
They read; “Tonight, we pay tribute to Charlie on his retirement from the Scottish football scene and wish him all the best in his new capacity as player-manager at Cork Hibs. Charlie gave all of us many happy hours by his football wizardry and his Tullyisms. It is players of Tully’s greatness that have helped make Celtic great!”
Almost two decades on from his Kenilworth Hotel days, on May 25 1967, as he was leaving the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon, in the hot midst of Celtic’s finest hour, Charlie was mobbed by celebrating fans that still accorded him legendary status.
When asked where he could have played in the team that had just become European Champions, the sparkling wit of Tully was in evidence once more, as he replied; “Sure I could have taken the corners!”.
But Charlie was being uncharacteristically modest on this occasion, for surely he could have added his soft Irish brogue to Bertie Auld’s inspirational chorus of The Celtic Song in the stadium tunnel.
After all, it was the song he’d brought all those years ago from the Donegall Road in Belfast, which has become one of the club’s great pre-match anthems, welcoming Celtic sides onto the pitch for the last 50 years.
Enshrined in song and story, the fame and memory of Charlie Tully remain evergreen - in the pantheon of Celtic Greats, he commands a unique prominence and affection.
Stellar personality, wit and raconteur, supreme entertainer – the darlin’ minstrel bhoy of the Celtic faithful had it all!
The Belfast Celtic Museum at the Park Centre will be open again on St Patrick’s Day, Thursday March 17th, from 12 noon to 5.00pm.