Matt McGinn: The Calton Folk Hero and Famous Tim

That roughly cut gemstone of Glasgow’s East End, The Calton, which has been home to my paternal bloodline since 1910, is an area synonymous with The Celtic.

Like father and son, they go hand in hand.

As most of us know it’s the Calton whereby the founding of the club was to take place in St. Mary’s RC Church halls in 1887 and many decades later it’s the wider Calton community inclusive of the since eroded ‘Mile End’ district which socially sculpted a real Celtic legend – Tommy Burns – after his birth in the now disappeared Soho Street.

Not to mention that the Calton is an area long associated with Irish Catholic migration and the semi ghettoisation of subsequent generations of these fine, industrious and harshly treated folk in the time that followed after the dark An Gorta Mor period (The Great Hunger 1845-1851).

The Irish Catholic migrant and their Scottish born generations thereafter, who would be socially and economically excluded from most major skilled industries within Britain’s alleged ‘Second City’, would come to call places like the Calton their home by mid 19thC.

This led to brick and mortar of St Mary’s RC Church in 1842 being set which, in a sense, legitimised the presence of the Irish and future generations of Scottish born Catholics, within the area.

Clearly the Celtic credentials of the Calton are not, and never will be, in question.

Calton Legend: Matt McGinn

However, what has perhaps been less present within the CaltonTim narrative is the extent to which one of the Calton’s local legends of international significance, Matt McGinn, was also steeped in pure, undiluted Tim culture.

A Youthful Matt with wife Janette

McGinn, the unrivalled Scottish folk singer, would go on to inspire the likes of Bob Dylan, Christy Moore and Billy Connolly whilst collaborating with international folk song revival heavyweights such as Pete Seeger (This Land is Your Land).

There is even a pub named after him at the foot of Glasgow’s Hope Street which is carved into the walls of Central Station currently named ‘McGinn’s’ and previously monickered ‘The Two Heided Man’ in homage to one of his most beloved tunes.

McGinn’s Pub – Hope Street, Glasgow

But the connection between McGinn and Celtic deserves more light to be shone upon it.

Matt McGinn the Calton Tim

McGinn, whose life would sadly and prematurely come to an end in 1977 due to accidental death by fire, was born at the corner of Ross Street and the Gallowgate in 1928. Regular Barras Tim drinkers will realise that this is the opposite end of the street from the famous Tim haunt, ‘Lynch’s Bar’. A site which has recently been commemorated by a very long overdue wall plaque.

After suffering early institutionalisation at the hands of an Approved School system as is documented in the biographical book he wrote entitled ‘Fry The Little Fishes’, McGinn would go on to flourish at Oxford University no less as a result of gaining a scholarship in Politics and Economics which was funded by the Trade Union movement.

Post graduation, McGinn, by this time a card carrying and very vocal Communist, used his music as a platform for his political beliefs and it is here that one can spot a clear Celtic parallel with McGinn.

Regardless of the political persuasion, the idea that music can be successfully used as a vehicle for political beliefs or cultural identity is something synonymous with Celtic and our proud family’s heritage and most likely always will be.

Whether you agree with the Celtic supporters endorsement of various political or cultural viewpoints from the terraces, one thing that cannot be debated is the extent to which it has always existed at some level within the ground through song and chant.

McGinn’s Ode to Lisbon

There are more direct connections between McGinn and Celtic however.

By analysing McGinn’s discography and almost hidden within the plethora of famous political folk song, spoken word, comedic chorus or even nursery rhyme (Jeely Piece Song, Little Ticks of Time) eventually we come across a song about one of his first loves – Celtic Football Club.

Specifically, a song which celebrated the Lisbon Lion success of ‘67 entitled, ‘The Bhoys of Lisbon’, this catchy and melodic chorus consisted of,

‘We’re the Bhoys who shook up Lisbon, we showed Inter some of our tricks,

In the year of ‘67 sure our trophies numbered 6,

Home or away we’ll always play a game that’s neat and clean,

And we’ll give three cheers for Celtic and their guid aul’ manager Stein’

(Check the YouTube link attached at the foot of this article to listen to it in its entirety)

McGinn: The Community Champion

As detailed, the Calton’s Matt McGinn was a vocal, charming and very well respected Leftist who fought the good fight for Republicanism and Independence whilst yearning for the days of Global Imperialism to come to an end.

The downtrodden man was his comrade and his betterment through structural social and economic change was McGinn’s mission to be accomplished through awareness in song.

It should also not be forgotten that McGinn, like many a Glasgow socialist before him such as Wheatley or Maxton, ensured that he made as much of a difference as he possibly could in relation to local issues too.

For example, he was instrumental in securing the sizeable grant needed from the Glasgow Corporation in the ‘60s to help provide for an Adventure Playground within one of the cities, and indeed developed Europe’s, most deprived urban areas of its time – The Gorbals.

The Venny (Gorbals) Source: @statueforbenny

The ‘Venny’ as it was known, was one of the first of its kind in the city complete with rope and large tyre swings, chutes and other assorted shoogly wonders. A wooden and chain mecca for its urban pilgrims in need of salvation from the crumbling Victorian tenements and backcourts of a badly malnourished postwar inner city locale.

The quote from McGinn himself in relation to his Venny superintendent duties sum it all up fittingly,

‘My job here is not to tell the kids to do this or do that, but to be there if they want help. Another important, if unofficial job, is to give them lights for their fags.’

His work as local community champion allows us all to fully appreciate yet another striking Tim parallel. The idea that he should be pivotal in securing a venture which was helping the excluded children of his time is very much cut from the Tim cloth. Clearly his principles and ethos about helping those less fortunate urban souls than ones self are in tune with the origins of Celtic Football Club also.


Matt McGinn, undoubtedly one of Scotland’s finest literary exports and politicised folk heroes, should be much more well known as a famous Tim however, as this piece has argued.

For me, It’s only upon summarised reflection that the Tim parallels of McGinn’s life are stupidly obvious to see.

For instance, let us consider that McGinn was a Calton born working class descendent of an Irish migrant family who experienced social exclusion in his youth.

But through hard work and education he would go on to etch out his own destiny where he would gain success, recognition and admiration for being world famous within his chosen artform, whilst never being shy of offering politicised comment.

Symbolically speaking, McGinn is the personification of the Celtic and their, or rather our, story.

It doesn’t really get much more Celtic minded than that now does it.

Hail, Hail Matt.


7 thoughts on “Matt McGinn: The Calton Folk Hero and Famous Tim

  1. Interesting piece on a great man. Only caveat is over ‘The Jeely Piece Song’ as I believe this to have been written by the great Adam MacNaughton?


    1. Thanks Andy, appreciate the comments and yes, you’re spot on, it was McNaughton who wrote and popularised it. I wasn’t aware of this, never too old to learn 👍


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