Why Are Celtic Fans Called Fenians? (Explained)

Celtic flag

So you want to know why Celtic fans are called Fenians?

Or maybe you want to know why they are called Tims or Tarriers or Bhoys?

Well, the good news for you is we have the answer to each of those questions here.

So without further ado, let’s get started…

Why Are Celtic Fans Called Fenians?

The use of the term Fenians when identifying Celtic fans refers back to the Fenian Irish republican movement that fought for Irish independence in the 19th century. Traditionally Celtic has very strong connections with the immigrant Irish population, with the club actually being set up in 1887 to alleviate poverty in the immigrant Irish population in the East End of Glasgow.

Two men wearing retro football inspired t shirts with text in between them

Depending Upon Context the Term Can Be a Religious Slur

The labelling of Celtic fans as ‘Fenians’ is another example of the religious divide that separates Glasgow when it comes to football.

The Fenians were an Irish republican movement in the 19th century that fought for an independent Ireland.

The group was in many ways a predecessor to the IRA. It took its name from the Gaelic term Fianna, a band of Irish warriors led by the fictional Finn MacCumhaill.

Traditionally in Glasgow, Celtic has its roots in the immigrant Catholic Irish population, and has connections with Irish nationalism (ie the very thing the Fenians were fighting for).

On the contrary Rangers fans are conventionally seen as Protestants.

In its simplest sense, and depending upon the context in which it is used, the term can be considered a derogatory, religious slur that means Catholic.

In fact, for a short period of time, the term did carry criminal penalties under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

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Why Are Celtic Fans Called Tims?

You might also have heard Celtic fans called ‘Tims’.

The general acceptance is that this is after an Irish Catholic gang that operated in the east end of Glasgow in the early 20th century.

The gang was called the Tim Malloys, supposedly after its leader and a ‘Tim Malloy’ became a generic term given to Catholic Irish immigrants.

As mentioned before traditionally Celtic has a very strong Catholic fanbase.

Unlike the term Fenian, this nickname isn’t seen as derogatory by Celtic fans, many of whom refer to themselves as Tims or Tim Malloys.

It is also used as rhyming slang for the club’s official nickname, the Bhoys.

Why Are Celtic Fans Called Tarriers?

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Celtic fans are also sometimes called ‘Tarriers’. This is another disaffectionate name that plays on Celtic’s Irish Catholic heritage.

Tarriers is a reference to the principal occupant of Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century, working on the building of roads, railways, tunnels and canals in America.

In fact there is a traditional American folk song published in 1888 called “Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill” which is essentially about this very thing.

The chorus goes:

So drill, ye tarriers, drill
And drill, ye tarriers, drill
Oh it’s work all day for the sugar in your tay [i.e. tea]
Down beyond the railway
So drill, ye tarriers, drill

Why Are Celtic Fans Called Bhoys?

The Bhoys is Celtic’s nickname, and in my opinion, it is one of the most memorable and unique in Britain.

The first mention of Celtic as ‘Bhoys’ came at the start of the 20th Century, with a postcard referring to the team as “The Bould Bhoys”.

There are some theories that this was a simple misspelling that gave birth to the club’s nickname, but that isn’t true.

The word ‘Bhoys’ (sometimes B’hoys) was an American slang term used as far back as the 1840s to describe Irish immigrants. Over the proceeding decades, the term passed back over the Atlantic.

There are connections also with the Irish foundations of Celtic FC, which was officially set up with the purpose of alleviating poverty in the immigrant Irish population in the East End of Glasgow.

So whoever wrote that postcard fully meant to use the term bhoys.

But why bhoys, not boys?

In the Irish language the letter ‘b’ is often followed by an ‘h’ to produce a compound sound. For instance, the Irish for library is leabhearlann, pronounced leverlan.

So the extra ‘h’ was added to represent the soft h in the Irish pronunciation of the word boys.

That is why Celtic fans are called Bhoys, and the team are called The Bhoys.

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Final Thoughts

If you are wondering why Celtic fans are called Fenians then hopefully you now know the reason.

As you can see, all four of the nicknames given to Celtic fans that we have outlined here are related in one way or another to the club’s Irish heritage.

Both the Old Firm teams in Glasgow have a strong rivalry, not just due to their proximity but due to the strong religious support that creates tension.

Historically, Rangers fans are predominantly Protestant and Celtic fans are mainly Catholic.

Whatever the differences between them they dominate Scottish football.

As of 2022 the pair have won the Scottish Premier League in 107 of the 136 seasons it has been in existence.

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