Celtic's legendary `Man in the Know' turned out to hail from Tyrone
LEGENDARY is an over-used word in sporting debate, even at a club like Celtic FC which has its own pantheon of legends.
Yet that epithet certainly accurately applies to famed newspaper columnist 'Man in the Know', who chronicled many of the early days of Celtic.
His anonymity allowed him to view matches very much through green-and-white-tinted glasses. For example, in one oft-quoted passage he called his club's fans "models of decorum" while – among a lengthy list of loathsome labels – he called the Rangers supporters "the dregs and scourings of filthy slumdom."
`M.I.K' was publicly identified after his death in 1933, aged 66. However, his name then slipped into obscurity again for another 80 years.
Celtic historians and supporters even speculated that 'M.I.K.' was actually the club's first – and longest-serving manager – Willie Maley (who happened to be born in Ulster too, in Newry), or perhaps his brother and former player Tom.
Finally in 2013 a researcher studying in Glasgow's Mitchell Library re-discovered that the 'Man in the Know' was Tyrone native Charles Quin, who was born – and eventually died - in Pomeroy.
Our attention was directed to him by Mrs Margaret Bleakley from Belfast, who found out while researching her family tree that her father was related to Quin.
Her father was Sylvester O'Neill Lynagh, who was born in the Rock but spent most of his childhood/ youth in Pomeroy; his mother was Bridgid Lynagh (nee O'Neill), her mother was a Mitchell.
Charles Quin's mother was Sarah Anne Mitchell Quin, an aunt of Margaret Bleakley's paternal grandmother Bridgid Lynagh.
Those surnames may send a few Celtic supporters around the Pomeroy hills scurrying to check out their own family trees for possible links to the 'Man in the Know'.
Charles Quin moved to Glasgow as a boy and trained then worked as a teacher before becoming a journalist.
In 1893 he joined the `Glasgow Observer', which had been founded in 1885 and immediately become popular with the Catholic population in Scotland.
That paper had another mid-Ulster connection, having been acquired by Charles Diamond from Maghera in 1887, the year before Celtic FC was founded. The newspaper and the club developed a great affinity,
Quin rose to become Chief News Editor of the 'Glasgow Observer' and its associate papers, the `Catholic Herald' and 'Glasgow Star'; on occasions he was even temporary editor.
Although described as 'slight of stature', he was apparently `an enthusiastic athlete in his younger time' and had varied sporting interests. He was secretary of his college football club, captain of a cricket club which he founded in Glasgow, and captain of Victoria Golf Club. He played football for Loyola FC in the Garnethill district.
Quin had poems published, and even a novel, 'The Sword of O'Malley', the latter under a pseudonym that reflected his mother's family name, `Justin Mitchell'.
It's unclear when Quin began writing about Celtic Football Club in his weekly 'Man in the Know' columns but they quickly became hugely popular.
Over four decades 'M.I.K.' established himself as the authority on Celtic, a partisan voice echoing the thoughts of the club's supporters. Diamond recalled one aspect of that approach:
"I always chaffed him on his pronunciation of the 'Seltic', instead of Keltic. But the difference as to the hard or soft 'C' never led to more than 'Oh, if you said Keltic here in Scotland the people would not know what you were talking about'."
After Quin's sudden death in 1933 due to a brain haemorrhage, while back 'home' on holiday in Pomeroy, Diamond paid warm tribute to his columnist, stating:
"Readers of our sports pages must have formed a strong affection for the `Man In The Know', who week after week described sympathetically and often with brilliance the doings of the Celtic Football Club.
"The 'Man In The Know' was really CQ, who identified himself with the Celtic from its earliest days when it began as a philanthropic sports organisation to raise funds for various charities, an ideal from which in later years it has fallen away.
"But even when it became a purely commercial undertaking out for dividends, the 'Man in the Know' had a keen eye for the merits of the Club and of individual players.
"He always gave praise where possible and turned a more or less blind eye to faults and defects, whether in individuals in control or individual players.
"He had indeed a great share in making the name and fame of the Celtic, and in far off lands his articles, sounding the virtues of his favourite club, were eagerly sought for week by week.
"The appreciation of the followers of the club was manifested in many ways, and no want of it in any quarter could diminish the affection which the 'Man in the Know' felt for the famous football combination.
"He had the soul of a poet, the mind of a philosopher, and better than all, the heart of a child and a sense of humour unfailing and without acidity."
Although as noted above Quin was indeed a published poet, some may quibble about an absence of acidity in his columns, certainly when it came to commenting on Celtic's great rivals Rangers.
In his famous/ infamous description of an Old Firm game from 1924, Quin did as Diamond described and `gave praise where possible and turned a more or less blind eye to faults and defects' in relation to the Celtic support – but quite the opposite for the Rangers followers, writing:
"On the Rangers terracing on Sat, there was congregated a gang of thousands strong, including the dregs and scourings of filthy slumdom, unwashed yahoos, jailbirds' nighthawks, won't works, burro barnacles, and pavement pirates, all or nearly all, in the scarecrow stage of verminous trampdom.
"This ragged crowd of insanitary pests was lavishly provided with orange and blue remnants.
"Practically without cessation, the vagabond scum kept up a strident howl of 'The Boyne Water' chorus. Nothing so bestially ignorant has ever been witnessed, even in the wildest exhibitions of Glasgow Orange bigotry.
"These complaints do not apply to the Celtic brake clubs [supporters' clubs] whose members, reasonably sentient human beings, are models of decorum and possess official testimonials to their blameless behaviour.
"They are fond of singing and to this no one can reasonably object.
On Saturday the boys sang to their hearts' content. They gave us many rousing choruses. 'Hail Glorious St Patrick', 'God Save Ireland', 'Slievenamon', 'The Soldier's Song'.
"When Cassidy's goal made victory sure, it was fine to hear the massed thousands at the western end of the Ibrox oval chanting thunderously 'On Erin's Green Valleys'.
As Margaret Bleakley drily commented, "it is difficult to reconcile this article with some of the lovely poetry written by Charles."
'A Landmark' recalled his boyhood in Pomeroy, beginning as follows:
Yes; 'tis the spot where once I ranged,
The dear, quaint, sleepy Ulster town,
But, oh! machree! how sadly changed ,
All weather-worn and tumble-down!
Prone lies the elm, my boyhood's pride,
Forlorn and silent stands the mill.
Charles Quin ended up back in Pomeroy. During his time in Glasgow it was reported that 'his professional duties brought him into contact with most of the Catholic hierarchy and clergy in Scotland, whose friendship and confidence he enjoyed'.
Forgotten for many decades, at last in recent years Celtic supporters have been seeking out more of his work.
With his name now known, his fame will surely endure, if not quite to the high levels it reached during his lifetime.
* Thanks to Margaret Bleakley for her great assistance with this article and for supplying the image of Charles Quin.