Celtic’s French Connection: Deeper Than You Think

In the new academic text by Stephen Millar, ‘Sounding Dissent: Rebel Songs, Resistance and Irish Republicanism’, Millar alludes to the work of Eric Hobsbawm, one of the 20thC’s great Marxist academics, more than once.

The Millar text

To the Tim community who are sympathetic to the Republican cause, the following passage is of particular importance.

‘The French Revolution was a landmark in all countries…and (Hobsbawm) points to the tricolour design of almost every emerging independent nations flag between 1789-1917 including that of Ireland – as a tangible example of the impact of French revolutionary ideals’.

At the core of these ideals were the abolishing of a monarchy and feudal elitism in favour of a rising liberal class under the ruling of a constitutional and democratic Republic.

Put simply, it is the French who invent both Republicanism and the Tricolour – Merci beaucoup mes amis.

When one first thinks of the Celtic and the French, it is reflexive to think of Edouard, Dembélé, Ntcham, Jullien and Réunion Islands ever zestful Didier Agathe – and rightfully so.

Then crops up Mahé whilst only the fanatics who pride themselves in the minutiae of all things Tim player related will detail Kapo, Aliadiere, Charles-Éduoard Coridon or ‘Pointless’ answer waiting to happen, Stephane Bonnes – sacre bleu!

Coridon for Celtic (Daily Record)

However, as hinted at above: there is an altogether more profound aspect to a key piece of Timness which is connected, indisputably, with our friends of the Auld Alliance.

Namely, the tricolour.

Fly the Flag

Not so much the colours of red, white and blue of course (sacre bleu part deux!) but it’s actual form – that being the use of three colours of equal size within the field of the flag and how this had come to be born out of pure people power and republicanism. 

The most recognisable symbols of all that is Tim would consist, for most, of the four leaf clover, a shamrock, the hoops and of course the bold flag of Erin. Indeed, despite all of the flags which fly high at paradise and in the Tim haunts of Glesga from the Gallowgate, Garngad, Govan and beyond, it is a tricolour of green, white and gold (interchangable with Orange) which literally sets the scene.

Even Adidas have picked up on the significance of the Irish tricolour – one of our cultural cogs in this beautiful machine of Celtic – by ensuring their three stripes incorporate green and gold on the new training wear.

How many of us Tims truly appreciate the genesis of this tricolour in relation to its French parental origins however? More than this, the republican connection between the French and the Irish runs much, much deeper than a flag design however.

United Irishmen and the Radical Scots 

Although not all of us Tims subscribe to it, a large part of Celtic’s cultural DNA is intertwined with Irish republicanism. Of this there can be no doubt. We’ve had Republican Flute Bands (RFBs) play at half time in friendlies, historical and contemporary Irish republican singing both home and away and much more concrete connections such as Michael Davitt laying the first sod of turf at Celtic Park in the late 19thC. 

Some of Ireland’s earliest and most well known Republicans, Theobald Wolfe Tone and James Napper Tandy, who would go on to spearhead the United Irishmen rebellion against the British in 1798, were openly inspired and endorsed by the then fledgling French republic.

Created in 1791 the United Irishmen, an all inclusive and wisely non sectarian Irish movement (The British response being aided by several local Orange militias from numerous lodges in Ulster however) was then exported to Scotland and by 1792 the United Scotsmen were a clandestine and physical force republican movement to be reckoned with.

Pikemen of the 1798 Rebellion, Sculpture – Wexford

Castles were taken over, pike plots and weaponry were seized and state executions occurred. It was typical for the members of either the United Irishmen or Scotsmen to be beheaded after hanging with the state executioner proclaiming,

Here is the head of a traitor’

In a mad coincidence one of the rebel sons of the United Scotsmen was actually named Robert Sands – I wonder if he too was known as Bobby?

Militarily speaking, all of these revolts came to nothing in the end of course. But the will, the desire and the absolute hunger for all of those changes which a French style republic (pre Napoleonic empire) brought with it – increased democracy, end of ruling class elitism and a discourse for equality and social justice – were all exported by the French to her Gaelic cousins in both Ireland and Scotland.

Anyone for red, white and blue?

Amongst the thousands who sit at Celtic Park week after week and the obvious millions who support our team from outwith the terrace, there is a sizable number who would truly class themselves as republicans.

More generally speaking, there must be dozens of thousands of Tims who truly do believe in an end to a monarchy system whilst at the same time believing in freer speech and have sympathy for people power led social change movements, if even by the use of necessary physical force sometimes. 

And for much of this, let alone our favourite flag, we actually have the French to thank.

Red, white and blue will never be an accepted sight at Celtic Park on any given matchday but if we really do know our history then perhaps the French tricolour ought to get the odd airing now and again.

I’d draw the line at any outburst of ‘ello, ello’ however.


Thanks for reading.


This is a modified article of my article for the Alternative View, July 2020 edition.

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