As you know, I’m always looking out for what’s on at Kelvingrove, and I notice that this week there is a Let Glasgow Flourish Exhibition celebrating 30 years since the National Garden Festival took place in Glasgow in 1988. I was based in Mount Argus in Dublin at the time as Director of Passionist Postulants, but I came home for my annual holiday in July of that year and still retain two memories from the festival.
The first was that 1988 was the centenary of the founding of Glasgow Celtic Football Club, and that there was a huge floral display representing the original Celtic Crest. Given that the festival was taking place on the Clyde at Govan it was a brave and ambitious project. Earlier in the year I had brought the postulants over to St. Mungo’s for a break after Easter, and at the end of Easter Week two of them joined me at Hampden Park to watch Celtic in the
Scottish Cup Semi-Final against Hearts, when Celtic came back from a goal down to win 2-1, both goals being scored in the last two minutes of the match. Celtic went on to win the cup, again coming back from a goal down to beat Dundee United 2-1 in the final, adding the cup to the league title, in the centenary year, under the stewardship of Caesar, Billy McNeill.
My second memory of the Garden Festival is of meeting up with my niece, Lisa, a young teenager at the time, for the sole purpose of going for a ride on the giant Coca-Cola roller coaster. I was 37 years of age and utterly terrified, and I can still feel my stomach lurch at the initial drop at the start of the ride. My feeling of relief when the roller coaster came to a stop was short lived as Lisa, whooping with delight, insisted on doing it all over again.
Thinking of the roller coaster takes me back once again to my childhood years, when I was an altar server at St. Simon’s in Partick. We had three great priests, each very different, Father Robertson; Father MacFadden and Father Kelly; and I loved being an altar server. Whenever there was a wedding in the church, any donation given by the couple to the servers had to be handed in, as did the little stipend we used to get for cleaning the church brasses, which we did regularly in a room in the chapel house. This money was then pooled together for an altar-servers outing to the circus and carnival at the Kelvin Hall around Christmas time. We would go to the circus first, and I can still remember, before we became educated about animal rights, the roar of the lions, the bareback horse riders, and even an elephant walking a tightrope; I can also still picture the clowns, and marvel at the acrobats and the trapeze artists.
When the circus was over we were given some money to spend on the rest of the shows. We would go on the Waltzers; the Cyclone; and the Wall of Death. We would ride the Dodgems and the Carousel; we would laugh ourselves silly in the Hall of Mirrors; and scare ourselves silly on the Ghost Train; we would stuff our faces with candy-floss, and try our hand at the stalls, ending up with the inevitable goldfish, that didn’t delight our parents one bit. We were very innocent and it was just a wonderful night – always! We couldn’t wait for the following Christmas to come around so as to do it all again. Nowadays we take the altar servers to the panto and eat ice-cream, which is also very enjoyable, but not quite as exciting.
Getting back to the Garden Festival, there was a sense of regret for a time when the massive area was dismantled and let go to ruin, but now we can be proud to see the Banks of the Clyde alive again with the likes of the Science Centre; the Riverside Museum; the Tall Ship; the headquarters of STV and BBC Scotland, the marvellous bridges, especially the Squinty Bridge; the SECC; the Armadillo and the Hydro – but where’s the roller-coaster?
As 1st of May is very close it seems appropriate to end with these few lines: Bring flowers of the rarest; bring blossoms the fairest, from garden and woodland and hillside and dale; our full hearts are swelling, our glad voices telling, the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!