Is Irish Rugby Truly the Beacon of Inclusiveness It Is Purported to Be?

“Brothers, sisters, comrades, I am here because I believe you have made a decision with insufficient information and foresight. I am aware of your earlier vote. I am aware that it was unanimous. Nonetheless, I believe we should restore the Springboks. Restore their name, their emblem and their colors, immediately. Let me tell you why. On Robben Island, in Pollsmoor Prison, all of my jailers were Afrikaners. For 27 years, I studied them. I learned their language, read their books, their poetry. I had to know my enemy before I could prevail against him. And we did prevail, did we not? All of us here; we prevailed. Our enemy is no longer the Afrikaner. They are our fellow South Africans, our partners in democracy. And they treasure Springbok rugby. If we take that away, we lose them. We prove that we are what they feared we would be. We have to be better than that. We have to surprise them with compassion, with restraint, and generosity. I know. All of the things they denied us. But this is no time to celebrate petty revenge. This is the time to build our nation using every single brick available to us – even if that brick comes wrapped in green and gold. You elected me your leader. Let me lead you now.”

Nelson Mandela, played by Morgan FreemanInvictus (2009).

The Ireland rugby team competing against Australia at the 2011 Rugby World Cup (Jolon Penna; CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

The Ireland rugby team competing against Australia at the 2011 Rugby World Cup (Jolon Penna; CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

I don’t have it in for Eamonn Sweeney, honest, but he wrote another piece in the Irish Independent two weekends ago that happened to catch my attention. This one asserted and celebrated the inclusiveness of the Irish rugby team and its ability to capture the imagination of everyone in Ireland, no matter where on the societal spectrum they may find themselves; be they privileged or disadvantaged, or be they north or south.

It was published on the morning of the Irish rugby team’s then-seemingly-impressive 24-9 victory over France at the Rugby World Cup and, in anticipation of the fixture, saluted the purported unifying nature of the team:

Ireland expects. Shoulder to shoulder, North and South, we stand together. This is everyone’s team.

Sweeney dismissed as “faux streetwise nonsense” the “notion that the World Cup has received too much hype and coverage in the national media and that rugby remains a middle-class game to whose charms the Plain People of Ireland remain largely immune”, citing as evidence the average number of viewers in Ireland (956,600) who were tuned in to watch the Irish rugby team take on Italy the previous weekend compared to the average number of viewers who were tuned in to watch the 2015 All-Ireland Gaelic football and hurling finals (875,300 and 739,600 respectively). Actually, he asserted that this notion of rugby as a sport of privilege in Ireland had little to no relevance or currency even as far back as “when Ireland were winning Triple Crowns in 1982 and 1985”.

The opinion that rugby is now “the biggest show in town” in Ireland has been disputed in the recent past by commentators such as George Hook, Declan Lynch, Ken Early and Ewan MacKenna. Hook’s thoughts on the matter were as follows:

No matter how much we think about it, more rugby is played on the southside of Dublin than is played on the northside of Dublin.

Rugby is still primarily the sport of choice of fee paying schools. No matter how hard we try we rugby people can’t actually say this is the game of the people. The game of the people is soccer so therefore [the Ireland football team’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland, which was played on the same day as the Ireland-France rugby game] is a bigger deal in that sense.

But because the rugby World Cup is easier to win than the soccer World Cup because less teams enter, there are only four teams who can actually win [the rugby World Cup], we have a better chance of going further so in that sense the French match has more to offer.

Declan Lynch was of the opinion that rugby is really the game of “Official Ireland” and that the current sentiment of positivity is “a faithless and a shallow love”, whilst Ken Early examined an apparent double standard applied by the Irish media; he perceives there to be one standard, a generously optimistic one, applied to the mollycoddled and “brave” Irish rugby team with a separate much more pessimistic and unforgiving one reserved for the “unloved child” of Irish sport, the oft-ridiculed and pilloried Ireland football team. He outlined some examples of this double standard in effect before stating:

If you were inclined to seek sinister explanations for the apparent double standard you might think it was evidence of a media controlled by the sort of people who went to rugby schools. A personal view is that it’s – well, more personal. Journalists covering rugby tend to see a lot more of the international players than soccer ones do. Only one of the current rugby squad lives outside of Ireland, and he’s coming home this summer. All of the soccer players live in big houses in Britain or America and the relative remoteness of their lives establishes immediate critical distance. The cliche says otherwise but in sports journalism, familiarity tends to breed respect, or at least empathy.

But if footballers are sore about being underappreciated in the media, they can console themselves with the knowledge that as far as the rest of the country is concerned, they’re still number one. [Giovanni] Trapattoni’s belief that the Irish prefer rugby isn’t supported by the evidence. The biggest Irish TV audiences for sporting events continue to be football World Cups and Euros, with Italy 1994 still leading the way narrowly from the defeat to Croatia for Euro 2012.

An average audience of 1.235 million people watched the entire two-and-a-half hours of Ireland’s defeat to Croatia. That’s almost double the average of 697,000 that watched [Ireland’s] victory [over Scotland] at Murrayfield [last March], on what the international media dubbed the Six Nations’ greatest day.

But football is not just a TV show. Irish Sports Council figures say that four times as many people play football as rugby. Soccer is by a distance the most popular team sport by participation, while rugby is currently fourth, behind Gaelic football and hurling.

Whilst success naturally breeds popular interest – it’s very easy for the reward-seeker to get behind a winner – it is worth noting that the Irish rugby team, whilst relatively successful in the Six Nations Championship in recent years, ultimately underachieve in a very small pool. In light of Ireland’s elimination from the Rugby World Cup at the hands of Argentina, the team have been described as “the worst chokers in World Cup history”.

Achieving and sustaining even global mediocrity within international football – a much more populous, diverse and competitive field of play – is a significantly more arduous task than reaching the pinnacle “globally” ought to be in a sport played professionally in only eleven countries worldwide, yet the Irish rugby team have never once progressed past the quarter-finals stage of a Rugby World Cup. This is as far as the Ireland football team progressed during football’s 1990 equivalent in Italy after famously beating Romania in a second-round penalty shoot-out. This in itself prompted a collective outpouring of ecstasy and scenes of wild jubilation on Irish streets, the like of which were never seen before and a reproduction of which would be improbable in a rugby context, even perhaps if Ireland were to go as far as winning a Rugby World Cup. The only other countries that play professional rugby to have failed to make it past the quarter-finals stage are Italy and Japan.

Ewan MacKenna disagreed with Early on the motivation behind the alleged double standard applied to rugby and football, seeing it as being rooted in classism – as being a case of wealth looking out for wealth – and wrote the following:

[T]he idea that this is rugby country remains shunted on top of us by marketing. Only it’s not. And it never was. And it never will be as big-bucks promotion doesn’t transfer to passion amongst the masses. Sure enough, a game against England might occupy Irish minds for a few hours but the reality is that it’s a game that has never gotten near most hearts. In a place where sport has been intertwined with struggle and strife, rugby is still in many ways a bastion of continued elitism.

Let’s get to some facts first. Sure enough, Ireland-France was the most watched sporting event last year but rather than highlight rugby’s popularity, it pointed to its fickle, bandwagon nature. Other than that day, only one other rugby match made the top 10 while more people tuned into Cork-Mayo than Ireland-Wales or Ireland-South Africa. Indeed the 891,000 that looked on at celebrations in Paris wouldn’t have had made the top five in previous years. In 2013, Ireland-England was the only rugby in the top-five, only one other rugby match made the top 10 amidst seven GAA encounters, more watched Ireland-Austria than Ireland-France and more watched Ireland-Sweden than Ireland-New Zealand. And in 2012 only Ireland-Wales from a rugby perspective was top 10.

But mainstream games garnering attention doesn’t make a sport mainstream. Indeed it’s away from the big days where it’s best to see the imprint of a sport on the national psyche. In 2013, research amongst over-16s showed that just 2.3 per cent said they’d attended a rugby match in the previous week yet three times more were at a Gaelic football game, two-and-a-half times as many had been at soccer while even hurling with its shrinking strongholds came in at 2.9 per cent. In terms of club membership, while 21 per cent of the country is a member of a GAA club and golf claims nine per cent, rugby lies at around 3.5 per cent, not dissimilar to swimming and athletics. This is not to run down people’s interests or a popularity contest, but it is about reality and disproportionality. And it’s about rugby being taken out of context via hype and hysteria.

Where GAA is engrained in parish building blocks, where John Delaney is still in a job because he can point to the numbers playing soccer at the bottom, rugby’s pyramid is inverted and top-heavy. That makes it misleading in terms of its place in Ireland, and while there’ll be no shortage of fur coats at Lansdowne Road today [for the Six Nations game between Ireland and Engalnd], ask the clubs about undergarments. Where once 10,000 watched Garryowen beat Young Munster in a provincial Senior Cup final, now you can barely get the numbers because no one is there to count. Rugby country? A house of cards more like, held up only by wins.

Today the old enemy shacking up in Dublin 4 will be the predictable talk, but so much of our rugby is representative of the new enemy within. And if the pitch is surrounded by Celtic Tiger classes and others desperate for association with a fad, on it is still the preserve of the chosen few. In fact of the 21 players schooled in the south that have taken to the field for Ireland in this Six Nations, 66 per cent went to fee-paying schools.

Yet still it punches above its weight and the reason is uncomfortable. Back in the 2000s, while working with a now defunct newspaper, key players in the boardroom had attended rugby schools and a combination of their old alma mater and new advertising money forced their sport top of the pile. Pages wouldn’t be held for key Irish soccer games but presses stopped for minor rugby matches. One journalist paid his own way to the World Cup in South Africa yet three plane tickets were reserved for what amounted to a second-string rugby team heading to Argentina. As for reel and ink devoted to schools rugby, everyone in the media knows why as wealth looks out for wealth.

More recently, MacKenna re-iterated his perspective on the bias towards rugby found to be emanating from within the Irish social and media elite:

I think it goes back to people in key positions in newspapers, televisions stations and whatever else. People at a boardroom level often tend to come from private rugby playing schools and I think they set the agenda… I think that’s why [rugby] gets so much coverage. I think it’s overblown as to how popular it is…

I remember working in the Sunday Tribune before it went bust a few years ago, and we could never hold our first edition for a big soccer match, yet the managing director, who was a rugby fan, would always make sure that we’d pay extra money and hold it if there was a rugby match on.

The World Cup in South Africa was on and a colleague of mine, Miguel Delaney, paid his own way to go to the World Cup because we weren’t sending any of our journalists to cover it. Yet, that summer, a kind of an Irish ‘B’ team toured Argentina and we paid for three journalists to go and cover it. Again, because from on high, this is rugby, this is our sport.

And that’s kind of the elephant in the room. A lot of the people who work in the media know that. They’ve seen it…

The Irish Independent the day before the All-Ireland football final had a picture on its front page of Ireland-Canada and nothing on the All-Ireland football final.

Whilst the debate over whether or not rugby has shed the miasma of privilege that has historically pervaded the sport – only in Limerick is it truly established as a pastime of the working-class as well as the middle-class, whilst, in Ulster, its playing was traditionally confined to middle-class Protestant grammar schools – so as to become a game that is now open to all, that can be embraced by all on the Irish socio-economic spectrum and that is treated equally and proportionately by the media, continues with fiery passion in the south of Ireland, little to no attention is ever paid by the southern media to the veracity of the assertion that the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) transcend the great Irish politico-cultural divide of “North and South”. Indeed, the organisation claim to be representative of “one island, one passion, one goal”.

Historically and generally speaking, there have been and are two main ethno-political or cultural traditions on the island of island. There is the minority unionist tradition, which is predominantly made up of the culturally-Protestant or Ulster-Scots community mainly found in the north-east of the island in Ulster. The tradition’s roots in Ireland are found in the British crown’s plantation of Ulster by Scottish and English settlers in the early 1600s and the Irish identity of its adherents is a regional or sub-national one that supplements to their British national identity. As already mentioned, most rugby in the north has been traditionally played by this community’s middle-class.

And then there is the Irish national or nationalist tradition found mainly throughout the rest of the island of Ireland, although it is also found in Ulster. This tradition, the majority one on the island, asserts its Irish identity to be an independent and all-island, national one. It is, very broadly speaking, predominantly culturally-Catholic and is most commonly associated with the native Gaelic culture, although numbers of Ulster-Scots (many also of Scottish Gaelic heritage) in the past and Protestants in the south have also espoused or also espouse the idea of independent Irish nationhood. Indeed, it should be noted, there do exist Catholic unionists in Ireland too.

Naturally, not every Irish person can be neatly pigeon-holed into two distinct or exclusive categories, nor would it be accurate to suggest that either of the identified groups is monolithic or internally homogenous. They are internally diverse and there does not exist a single orthodoxy within either grouping. Indeed, there is a considerable degree of complexity and communal crossover or overlap. I admittedly simplify in order to provide a brief and succinct explanation of background and context.

The island of Ireland was partitioned by Britain along these perceived lines of division in the early 1920s. This was secured under British Prime Minister David Lloyd George‘s unabashed threat to the Irish representatives visiting London to negotiate for full self-government of re-igniting “immediate and terrible war” upon Ireland. The country was split – crudely or pragmatically, depending on one’s perspective – to create two newly-separate jurisdictions with contrasting political, social, cultural and economic interests: the jurisdiction in the north-east was given the name of Northern Ireland and remained part of the UK, housing a two-thirds Protestant or unionist majority (although a very significant Catholic or nationalist minority also found themselves collaterally caught on the “wrong side” of the newly-drawn border and jettisoned from their cultural kinsfolk in the remainder of the island; this was on account of the drawing of the border being motivated by an attempt to accommodate as many Protestants as possible in an area of land large enough to sustain economic viability but not too big so as to threaten their long-term numerical majority); and the southern Irish Free State (which later became the fully-independent Republic of Ireland), with an overwhelming Catholic or nationalist majority (although a small minority of unionists were also included against their will; many in the south assimilated over time into the wider quasi-pluralist culture of the new state, whilst those around the border region, especially those Ulster-Scots of east Donegal’s Laggan district, still in close geographical proximity to their cultural hinterland in spite of the border, retained their British heritage). The political split remains to this day.

Irish rugby, however, never experienced the effect of partition in the same way that, say, Irish football did, in the sense that the rugby team remains playing as a single unit officially representative of the entire island of Ireland; that encompassing the two political jurisdictions. It is these two entities and their respective British-Irish/Northern Irish and Irish cultural traditions to which Sweeney was referring when he used the phrase “North and South”. Is the Irish rugby team truly representative of both the north (along with the British heritage of the majority of its inhabitants) and the south (along with its Irish national heritage), however? There is a haughty presumption in the south that it does, but perhaps, rather than self-satisfaction, some self-reflection is better warranted by the reality.

The Irish tricolour and the provincial flag of Ulster hang together next to the Canadian national flag during Ireland's 2015 Rugby World Cup pool game versus Canada at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (Jude Collins).

The Irish tricolour and the provincial flag of Ulster hang together next to the Canadian national flag during Ireland’s 2015 Rugby World Cup pool game versus Canada at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (Jude Collins).

At this year’s Rugby World Cup, the Irish team played under two flags; the Irish tricolour, which is the official flag of the southern state and national flag of Ireland, as far as nationalists are concerned, and the sub-national provincial flag of Ulster (also the official flag of the Ulster rugby branch, but not of equal national, state or jurisdictional standing to the tricolour). The six counties of the statelet of Northern Ireland are found within the nine-county province of Ulster, although Ulster is also made up of three counties from the Republic.

Thus, there was no explicit or specific recognition for the entity of Northern Ireland nor for the British unionist tradition when the Irish rugby team played; instead, British-identifying unionists had to settle for being represented by a flag that, in also being representative of the Ulster nationalist community and three southern counties, did not effectively emphasise or solely specify their identity or distinguish the political entity with which they identify from the other three Ulster counties (already represented by the tricolour anyway), whilst the tricolour explicitly distinguished and exclusively emphasised the Irish national identity. There was a clear disparity in terms of the prominence accorded to how the respective cultures were represented.

The choice of symbolism displayed was undoubtedly loaded in favour of nationalism and the south or what was deemed tolerable to the majority. Does the majority realise, however, that its cultural symbolism might be just as contentious to the unionist minority as the preferred cultural symbolism of the unionist minority might be for the majority? Yet the minority, if ever they had the temerity to complain, would most certainly be advised to just get over their “prejudices” or “mopery” and “get on with it”. The attitude of “like it or lump it” is conducive to neither enhancing genuine understanding nor engendering mutual communal respect.

‘Ireland’s Call’, a song commissioned by the IRFU, composed by Phil Coulter and intended as a unifying all-island anthem, was played as the team’s anthem before Rugby World Cup games, as is customary for all Ireland away games. It has, since 1995, acted as a cultural umbrella in the form of a ditty that is inclusive and representative of both of the main traditions on the island; it is exclusive to neither nationalists or unionists.

However, at home games in Dublin, Amhrán na bhFiann, the anthem of the southern state and Irish nation, is played along with the unifying anthem. Just like the one-sidedness of the flag situation, no anthem is ever played that solely recognises or represents the northern unionist or British tradition.

Indeed, the IRFU have avoided organising full international fixtures north of the border so as to avert incurring the controversy of a situation – or the wrath of nationalists and southerners, even – whereby the Irish rugby team might be politically or logically expected to stand to attention for ‘God Save the Queen’, which is, as far as unionists are concerned, the official anthem of the northern jurisdiction.

An agreement was made in secret in respect of this issue in 1954, the last time Ireland played a full international in Belfast for over half a century, in order to resolve an associated dispute over the anthem. The details of the resolution were outlined by Frank Keating:

On February 27, Ireland played Scotland at Belfast’s Ravenhill. The new Irish captain was Corkman Jim McCarthy, flame-haired flanker and British Lion. On the train from Dublin, the 11-strong southern contingent decided enough was enough. Even New Zealand insisted on the British anthem when Ireland hosted them that season.

McCarthy at once told eminent IRFU president Sarsfield Hogan that they would not be leaving the dressing-room to stand next day alongside the Scottish team in their then routine pre-match homage to a foreign monarch. If the anthem was played, he said, only the four Ulstermen in the side – Gregg, Henderson, Anderson, and Thompson – would be lining up to hear it. “Sleep on it, Jim,” advised wily Leinsterman Hogan, but the defiant McCarthy next morning summoned the committee to a crisis meeting with the 11 southerners at the Grand Central Hotel. All were sworn to lifelong secrecy as a compromise was hammered out over nearly two hours.

It was agreed that only an abbreviated national anthem, known in Ulster as “the Salute”, would be played that afternoon; that the Irish team would never again play at Ravenhill – and nor did they, which nicely suited the IRFU coffers for Dublin’s Lansdowne Road was far bigger and more convenient. It was decided all those at the meeting (already causing suspicion among the press and the four Ulstermen in the XV because kick-off was nearing) should say it had been called to offer prayers for Pope Pius XII who, as it happened, was extremely ill in the Vatican.

Thus did the All-Ireland XV stand for the Ulster “Salute” before going on to beat Scotland 6-0, and in the Grand Central bar that night one of his northern players comforted his captain, saying he too would happily have joined in the prayers for the Pope that morning “if only you’d told me the poor wee fellow was so unwell”.

Conor Neville also wrote similarly of attempts since then to find a unifying anthem along with the perceived problems with ‘God Save the Queen’:

‘God Save the Queen’ obviously wasn’t acceptable and hadn’t been used since Ireland played at Ravenhill in the 1950s. Indeed, a dispute over the anthem seemed to precipitate the IRFU’s decision to avoid Ravenhill for home games. In 1954, Ireland played Scotland in the Five Nations up north.

It was customary for the two teams to stand for one rendition of God Save The Queen before games in Belfast. (It wasn’t until 1988 that Scotland stopped using God Save The Queen as their anthem, switching to Flower of Scotland).

However, the night before the game, Irish captain Jimmy McCarthy told the IRFU chairman that the southern based players would remain in their dressing rooms for God Save The Queen. Only the four Ulster players would stand for it. McCarthy was told to sleep on it, but a night in bed didn’t alter his mood.

Eventually, a compromise was hammered out, whereby an abbreviated version of God Save The Queen, known in Ulster as ‘the Salute’ was played. Ireland won the match 6-0. They would not play at Ravenhill again until a pre-World Cup friendly in 2007.

When Ireland did play that 2007 game in Ravenhill, only ‘Ireland’s Call’ received an airing. The proposition of playing ‘God Save the Queen’ (or any other Northern Ireland-specific anthem) was rejected by the IRFU under the rather peculiar rationale that the game, despite being played in Ireland, was an “away” fixture. I am not a unionist, nor is it often that I agree with insidious and inflammatory provocateurs like David Vance, but I can smell blatant double standards a mile off.

Neville’s casual, presumptuous and probably-unthinking dismissal of the prospect of entertaining ‘God Save the Queen’ as “obviously” being unacceptable, without really considering or explaining why this should be so “obvious” or how this might be interpreted by a minority of the teams supporters, especially in light of it being considered acceptable, if not mandatory, by the majority to have players from the unionist community stand to ‘Amhrán na bhFiann‘ in Dublin, is a common sentiment amongst the non-unionist majority in Ireland.

When rugby-supporting Irish nationals expect the entire Irish rugby team to stand to ‘Amhrán na bhFiann‘, would they, in return, be prepared to stand or have Irish national players stand to ‘God Save the Queen’ as a shared anthem of the team, if only to appreciate the sense of alienation and discomfort that the British-identifying players must feel? Of course, no such discomfort is imposed upon the Irish national players.

Whilst the parity-of-esteem principle has been enshrined into public life and politics north of the border since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (although its implementation has not been complete), it would appear that the IRFU have no such intent to offer explicit, tangible or exclusive recognition to the British identity of a significant number of their members and supporters. Of course, they are under no legal or societal obligation to do so (being head-quartered in the south anyway), except for the fact that their claims of inclusiveness, along with the patronising assertions of their defenders, might logically or morally demand it.

Either way, there is no escaping the fact that unionist rugby fans get short-changed in terms of the lack of explicit or exclusive recognition of their identity. They receive no better than a half-hearted cop-out, if a token gesture at all. It’s simply hollow. There is a complacent presumption in the south that, by “giving them” ‘Ireland’s Call’ and the Ulster provincial flag, “that’s them sorted”. And then southerners and nationalists pat themselves on the back for being so “generous” and “willing to compromise”, except it’s not really compromise at all, is it?

The matter represents a parallel of sorts with the Belfast City Hall flag dispute in that the flying of both national flags or none from Belfast City Hall (rather than the Union flag alone on 13 designated days per year) has been proposed by nationalists, republicans, cross-community advocates and, indeed, liberal or progressive unionists as being the preferable option in terms of ensuring inclusiveness for both communities north of the border and in compliance with the concept of parity of esteem. Should not a similar principle be applied to the cross-community Irish rugby team in respect of its anthems and symbols? In the interests of ensuring consistency, I submit that the IRFU should either explicitly and equally recognise both parts of their make-up or they should just play a single shared anthem and display unifying, cross-representational symbolism only.

I fear the sentiment, as duly demonstrated by Conor Neville, serves to indicate just how ingrained in the majority psyche the subconscious aversion towards the prospect of making actual, self-sacrificial compromise with or extending real gestures of recognition towards the minority unionist community in Ireland truly is. If we want to lead the way into the future, let us take the initiative by leading and not forever waiting to take the second step. If we want a truly united and inclusive Ireland, we must surely try harder and aspire to offering better than superficial inclusion for our fellow Irish men and women. It is the very least we would expect for ourselves if the roles were reversed.

A truly civic Irish republic and its various institutions, including the all-island IRFU based in Dublin, ought to fully respect and recognise our island’s century’s-old and now-settled (or perhaps even quasi or pseudoindigenous) cultural duality, irrespective of whether or not it is perceived by the majority that those others in the island’s minority would ever do the same in return. It must also find a way to not merely accommodate the British tradition in Ireland but to embrace that tradition as an equal and one that is just as Irish as the majority tradition on the island. Rather than lapsing into hypocritical whataboutery, let us unilaterally develop and apply our own standards to ourselves rather than wait for the second-hand, or second-rate, cues of others to guide us. If others respond positively to that and view it in the spirit it is intended, then all the better.

A condensed version of the above piece also featured here on Slugger O’Toole followed by further discussion and commentary.


  1. Good piece.

    I’m not an egg-ball fan, partly because it’s hard to find a good 5 minute reel of “tekkers”, though I do like the idea of a pint on the terraces.

    I think it says alot about the type of people who watch rugby vs those who watch football. Many travel to Dubin to watch the Ireland team, and Ulster Rugby players who are very proud to play for Ireland, despite as you say a tip on the scales to those of an Irish Identity given the Anthem and Flag. People just love the sport, and probably a decent day in Dublin, with a few drinks in Ballsbridge. Compare that with football fans/players in Northern Ireland who would cite that the Anthem and flag are 2 of the reasons why they do not support the NI National team. Though i’ll admit that there are those who go to NI football games regardless of anthem and flag. There is definitely a different mindset between football and rugby fans.

    Not to go on a tangent but I think the NI team should have a new flag and anthem. Was actually thinking about this last night, If someone could fiddle the lyrics to Wetsuit by the Vaccines. A job for Lightbody.

    And the same for the Irish Rugby Team. No harm in a Shamrock flag flying and Ireland’s Call being played home and away…No harm at all.

    I would say that the the City Hall flag dispute in Belfast is slightly different in that the flag at city hall represents Jurisdiction and not necessarily the identify of its citizen’s. Reminds me of the when Alex Maskey was Lord Mayor of Belfast and he decided to have a tri-color in his personal chamber alongside the Union Flag. Obviously some objections from Unionists. Maskey cited that the Tri-color and Union Flag side by side made sense as it represented the citizens of the city. Though some retorted that to do so would ignore the 8000 Chinese in the city. No flags or all flags(Chinese, Polish, Portuguese etc…)

    The “like it or lump it” mindset is something that Jude Collins advocates…


    1. Cheers, aRon.

      To be honest, rugby’s not really my sport either. It doesn’t get me all that worked up really. I never played it growing up, as it was never really part of my socio-cultural milieu, as they say, although I do think I would have enjoyed it had it drawn me in. If I recall correctly, I only ever played the game during a fourth or fifth-year PE lesson back at St. Columb’s in Derry when another teacher who was a fan of the game took our class for a week so we could give it a go. Even then, and we all found this comical rather than being particularly surprised or anything, one of my classmates, who was a member of Ógra Shinn Féin at the time, had his mother write him a note to the teacher requesting permission that her son be allowed to abstain from that day’s lesson on the grounds that he didn’t want to be subjected to having to play a “foreign game”. Indeed, he sat out the lesson. Mind you, the following week, he was all togged out on the all-weather pitch in his Liverpool gear and back to partaking in our weekly session of soccer.

      Anyway, that’s where I’m coming from; few in the class took the PE lesson seriously. It was more a sport of Protestant grammar schools in the north of the country and there was a distinct awareness amongst us of that sense it was something a bit culturally-alien or whatever, despite our youth. The perceived privilege or elitism that was associated with it wasn’t quite something we all wanted to dive into head-first; I’ll put it that way. It was culturally-discomforting perhaps. Maybe it was a bit juvenile or myopic looking back, but we were young and, of course, symbols possessed (and still do possess) heightened significance in the north, as far as social or identity marking’s concerned.

      Because I’ve never played it though, or gone to games regularly in youth or adolescence (I’ve only ever been to two Six Nations games; both in Edinburgh), I’ve always found it difficult to “adopt” or properly embrace rugby without feeling unease at the perception of being some sort of outsider, blow-in or johnny-come-lately. It just wouldn’t feel right and I’d feel like a phony as I’m not really all that well-versed in it and the whole culture that surrounds it. Obviously I could do something about that, but I’m not too bothered. Is that a bad thing? Meh…

      I find analysing the socio-cultural side of it interesting though. There’s a sense that its sporting “hegemony” in Ireland, if you could call it that, or the popular or disproportionate media/marketing indulgence of it is a bit forced or artificial. I happen to have a huge deal of time for Ewan MacKenna’s analysis of the game in Ireland and of those pushing its promotion. He backs up his views with facts and statistics. It’s been refreshing to hear a somewhat lone voice of reason and critical thought amongst the blind adulation. He’s the brave one, I’d have thought; not the underachievers who lost to Argentina.

      I do think it’s a great game to watch, however, given its end-to-end nature and the forced emphasis on or requirement to constantly attack so as to prevent a loss of ground. It can be gripping. Nothing could make me shed tears like football though!

      Perhaps football supporters, being predominantly working-class in comparison to broadly middle-class rugby supporters, are more nationalistic in their outlook and cherish their communal/collective identities to a greater degree in light of their relative or perceived material scarcities. It’d be worth a sociological study.

      The flag on Belfast City Hall represents a contested/shared entity/jurisdiction though, in which parity of esteem for the two main communities is now supposed or agreed to be a fundamental principle of public life. I assume Maskey’s rationale was that the two flags would have served to represent the two Irish tribes or what you might call the two cultures (one indigenous and the other what you may now call quasi-indigenous) or sets of citizens in Belfast or the north. Both the nationalist and unionist communities are Irish communities; they are recognised and given special (institutional) status by virtue of the Good Friday Agreement. They espouse different brands of Irishness, sure, but they are still both Irish, which is what would set them apart in terms of representation from other resident groups, such as the Chinese, Polish or Portuguese communities.

      I had read that piece of Jude’s and am aware of his opinion on the rugby situation. I can see from where he’s coming, of course, but it’s an opinion of which unionists will think little (as summarised by the ever-eloquent Am Ghobsmacht) and, for that reason, I don’t think it’s conducive to getting to where we want to be. I think we, as nationalists and republicans, ought to be realistic/pragmatic and look at ways we can move things forward towards the unity we seek, rather than sitting around engaging in crude, ideologically-objectionable sectarian head-counts and waiting for a day that simply isn’t going to arrive if we don’t do something proactive and persuasive about it. There’s no point putting our heads in the sand and pretending that unionists or various other political impediments don’t exist or will simply disappear. We have to acknowledge the reality and challenges, no matter how difficult or reluctantly, if we’re truly to do our ideals justice.

      I think volunteering steps towards recognition and compromise – whether or not unionists are prepared to offer such in return – is the only way of reassuring them that everyone would have an equal place in a united Ireland. I think that’s what the ideal of classic liberal, pluralist and secular republicanism in the spirit of Tone is about. It’s certainly difficult because it’ll involve self-sacrifice whilst maintaining integrity, but I think we’ll have to face up to it eventually. I don’t think it necessarily has to amount to self-apology or self-abasement, as Jude puts it. One can feel great pride in one’s own tradition yet be willing to evolve and make compromise; I think that’s strong rather than weak. Respect is a two-way street, sure, but that will come; someone has to make a move first. In terms of achieving unity, unionists obviously won’t take any first step as they have no incentive to do so at present, as far as they’re concerned. It is we who seek unity, after all, so it is we who must sell it to them.

      I actually find writing about it very challenging because the direction I try to pursue – exploring ideas, possible strategies or ways to win over unionists through listening (I would like to think anyway!) and self-reflection – perhaps goes against my long-held cultural instincts and intuition (it’s always easier and more convenient to just take things for granted, assume you’re right and blame the “other”!), but it’s also rewarding and I’d like to think I could influence thinking in some way without alienating anyone; be that others or indeed myself!

      I sense there will probably be a need to acknowledge that which is cherished by those we seek to persuade, if they are to be won over to trust us. This might entail a reluctant recognition of things some find politically or culturally difficult, but it would appear to be the only key to actually moving ground. If there is another way of convincing people to trust you, whilst simultaneously avoiding communication with them in language that has any meaning for them, I’m not sure of it. What I’m trying to convey is that it can obviously be a difficult step for republicans to talk about recognising the validity of unionism, its symbols and the entity unionists cherish, because doing so has been historically and traditionally seen as being at odds with republican ideology. Republicans have always refused to legitimise the entity of Northern Ireland with full and explicit recognition. My idea of Ireland is an all-island, 32-county one – the status quo is clearly not my favoured situation – and I would like to see that idea become a political and economic reality rather than just a cultural and social one. To get that, however, a necessary aspect, I would think, would be acknowledging the impediment before us or what stands in the way. It also requires understanding the interests and motivations of who will have to be the target audience and, whilst we can speak to ourselves in our own language, as we have always done, we may only be able to appeal to them by conceding to speak to them on their terms.

      Obviously, the other option is waiting for that old head-count to tip in the favour of republican parties, but it’s not really all that inspiring, is it? Nor, being honest, would electoral patterns indicate it likely any time soon. Many nationalists, even though not identifying as British in a cultural sense, or even as Northern Irish, are content enough with the present political situation. Hence, I feel another tack or strategy is required for republicanism. I’m not sure it would be very republican either, after all, to drag a million or so kicking and screaming unionists into a united Ireland against their will. It would feel much more rewarding to have won them over first so as to permit the building of a new Ireland together.

      Ultimately, it boils down to a difference in preferred means, I guess, but myself and Jude seek the same end; you can be sure of that.


  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    Lot of sense in this. I believe that Ireland’s Call or some equivalent should be the sole anthem at all sports that are all Ireland e.g. Rugby/Cricket/Hockey/Swimming/Boxing.


    1. Thanks for reading.

      I understand that ‘Ireland’s Call’ has also been adopted by the Irish hockey, cricket, rugby league, korfball and A1GP teams. Whether or not it is used exclusively in any or all instances, I am not certain.


  3. Good stuff Dan.

    I don’t associate myself as Unionist because I just can’t stand the unionist parties. I suspect if I am that way inclined, then I imagine there may be some default-nationalists who do not consider themselves nationalist because they can not stand the nationalist parties.

    We always refer to the “2 communities” in Northern Ireland but there is a 3rd Community. Id imagine it makes up 75% of Northern Ireland, and it is those who simply want to get on with living, disenfranchised from politics because there is no one who represents them(NI21 were almost on to something). But I think it is this community were the identity of Northern Irish is born. The next census is a long way away but it will be interesting to see how many identity with being Northern Irish next time around.

    If the Ni Assembly continues on current trend, and I’ve no doubt it will, given that the retirement of a political dinosaur is often replaced with another brain-washed idiot, then I think that 75% will grow. If the Northern Irish identity does grow I’d see more chance of an independent NI than a UI or UK, and I would be OK with that…..though I think the last party to suggest that, the Ulster Independence Movement had a young Wullie Frazer in its ranks. eeks!


    1. Interesting pondering. If there ever was to be an independent Northern Ireland, I wonder would the loosening of ties with Britain (or the softening de-entrenchment of unionism from its presently polarised position relative to nationalism, in other words) eventually strengthen or incentivise the possibility of combining with the south then somewhere on further down the line… Who knows?

      I am always reluctant to dub anyone “brainwashed” though. Generally, we all have capacity for rational (and, indeed, emotional) thought and are products of, or reactions to, our material environment. Just because someone else has responded differently to their particular set of circumstances in a way that we struggle to appreciate or comprehend, or just because they might have experienced a different set of circumstances altogether, it doesn’t invalidate their reality or mean they have been “brainwashed”. The difference between what we perceive as “culture” and what we otherwise perceive to be “brainwashing” is, in many ways, a very fine or even purely terminological one, as far as I’m concerned. Obviously, there are different degrees of social influence to consider, the worst of which lapse into abuse, but, generally, we tend to accord sympathy and understanding to those inherited perspectives, beliefs and traditions we do not find threatening or with which we agree – we see those as having been passed on “culturally” – whereas those we wish to stigmatise or marginalise, or cannot fathom because we’ve never endured the same experiences as the holder, we tend to call “brainwashing”. In many cases, there is little difference and the margins of distinction are qualitatively fine or non-existent. The varying factor is the double standard we apply in terms of our degree of sympathy or hostility.

      I suppose it’s a bit like the double standard applied by the Irish media to rugby players and footballers really, to get back to the topic at hand. I came across this post on earlier and thought it pertinent or worth noting:

      While sports journalists will always criticise the national side after a loss in their sport (Fanning/McDonnell on football, Thornley on rugby, etc), it’s the treatment of footballers on the front page of the paper that exposes the bias in my opinion.

      A footballer will make it on the front page for getting behind the wheel of a car after having a drink, losing a bundle on a horse, or spending the night with a woman who isn’t their partner. For whatever reason, this rarely happens for athletes in other codes, not just GAA and rugby, both of which have players with problems with alcohol, gambling and fidelity.


      1. And I could name you a few in rugby on this island!


      2. Are they honestly chastised to anywhere near the same degree as footballers though?


  4. Perhaps I should have used “indoctrinated”, though it still sounds pretty strong. Scrap that. “Narrow perspectives”. Something that could only be corrected with integrated education, something I was thrown into at the age of 4. A discussion for another day. I only fall back on the Jurassic Park narrative because having met some political gents, of similar age to ourselves, I can not understand the ferocity of their views given that they have grown up in areas such as Kells & Connor. Not exactly an interface area. But your right, I don’t know where they are coming from…only that if they were a book, I wouldn’t even look at the cover. But that’s my prejudice.

    An independent Northern Ireland would only be possible following the formation of a self sustaining Northern Ireland. Something that seems a million miles away. The task at hand is simple for our politicians. Work your socks off, get along and turn Northern Ireland in to a Utopia. After all that is their job. If a Utopia was ever a realization, I don’t think people would even consider swapping that for the prospect of an unknown United Ireland behind door number 1. But that’s the perfect scenario seemingly on another planet.

    I think some of the red tops would go even further and have a page 3 featuring the footballers mistress the following day.


    1. Indeed, “indoctrinated” still has the same negative connotations in that it implies that the belief-holder couldn’t possibly have come round to his or her way of thinking were it not for what you assume was the malicious influence of some other stronger or abusive mind. It’s almost to suggest that the belief-holder is somehow “objectively” wrong in contrast to your supposed correctness. We all have different experiences and responses to those experiences; they are real and one is not necessarily more valid than another just because you happen to be more comfortable with it. Hardened opinions are often rooted in tough circumstances, albeit not always, but such is life.

      On the unity question, who knows what people would be prepared to support in that situation? Electorates have voted for the unknown before; they often do it. Has anyone ever done a serious study into the potential economic benefits of unity? I’m not aware of anything significant myself, but it’d be something worth doing as the economic argument will be a key factor for many.


  5. I found your site from the Slugger link.
    To be fair I think you are being very harsh on rugby. Rugby is one of the more progressive sports in Ireland and should be commended for at least trying to make some changes rather than being hounded for not doing more. The people complaining about flags and anthems for Irish rugby are the very same people who would take an old Ulster banner to Ravenhill and not see the irony. On a similar thread a few years ago one regular sluggerite was pushing things so much that he thought the team shouldnt even be called Ireland but should actually be called The British and Irish shamrocks. Was he joking probably but then again maybe not when you read some of his other posts. Point is you cant please everybody. Now if we want to talk about flegs and anthems how about the IFA or is that like shooting fish in a barrel.


    1. Hi Boondock and thanks for your comment. Fair point, but just because I point out what I perceive to be an hypocrisy or a failing on the part of the IRFU to live up to standards they are purported to have, it doesn’t necessarily mean I think they’re anti-progressive or ranked at the bottom of some table of sports organisations in the country in terms of outlook. I can, do and will criticise other Irish sporting bodies too. Rugby just happened to get my attention this week as it’s been in the headlines of late, naturally, and I’ve often thought there to be disparity there in terms of how the two communities are represented.

      I suppose I’m asking nationalists and southerners to self-reflect on the matter as well; I’m not simply having a go at the IRFU. Rather, I’m also encouraging my own community to have a think about our own expectations and then have a think about what we expect the “other” community to accept or tolerate in turn, as I perceive there to be a disparity or discrepancy there on this issue. And then how does that sit against our liberal or republican perceptions of ourselves? It’s an Irish societal issue as well as an IRFU issue.


  6. Reblogged this on Barry Creed.


  7. Here is some further commentary and opinion on my piece from that I would like to note and acknowledge.

    errlloyd wrote:

    Lots of sports are played by elite classes and get next to no media coverage. Indeed field hockey is an outrageously popular sport world wide, and a huge amount of players are concentrated in elite private schools. It gets almost no coverage.

    I see the market for bona fide rugby coverage. Lads born here, play here, train here doing well in a sport that may only be played in a handful of countries, but they’re the countries most culturally similar to ours. The rivalries give it spice.

    Yeah_Right wrote:

    As an outsider living here, I have to ask… why does sport have to be politicised? Why can’t we celebrate achievement? Why does every sport have to be compared and set against each other? Rugby v GAA v soccer v cricket v boxing v horse racing v tiddlywinks v who gives a f***! Back your countrymen/women. Celebrate success.

    Can I be a fan of more than one sport? Is that allowed? If it isn’t, then **** you and kiss my ass because I am and will support those teams till I die.

    On this point, I feel that life is inherently political on account of people’s/society’s competing and contrasting interests coming into mutual contact. That inevitably seems to find its way into sport as well; sport being a human-led endeavour, of course. If it is felt that rugby is treated in a particular way on account of some aspect of its seemingly-integral nature, it is only fair to look at how other high-profile or popular sports are treated in comparison. Distinguished or apparently-favourable treatment will naturally prompt questions. That’s not to say there’s a competition or that you need to choose one sport over the other; certainly not. It’s fine to support as many as one wishes. I am happy to see the Irish rugby team do well myself, even if football is my primary sport of interest, although I’m not sure there was any success to celebrate on this occasion.

    What Yeah_Right advises in terms of “just backing your countrymen and women” is a nice sentiment, but it’s naive. Questioning perceived favouritism, distinguished treatment or hypocrisy in a constructive manner, instead of blindly following “because we’re all Irish, aren’t we?” and assuming all is fair and dandy, isn’t a bad thing, is it? What Yeah_Right is advocating is blind patriotism; it can breed zombie-esque complacency in its most benign forms or it can be positively dangerous for society when it allows those with more malicious intentions “in the national interest” off the hook. It’s good to question things; challenge should be embraced. It’s how we learn about one another and, indeed, ourselves.

    jacothelad wrote:

    A point I’ve made before on here is this. In 2007 Ireland played a game at Ravenhill v. Italy. Since that time, at various levels from schoolboy rugby upwards there have been about 200 representative Ireland games. 1 has been in Northern Ireland. That is ONE. Less than 1% of the representative games have been held in that part of Ireland with about 33% of the population.

    To further poosibly estrange rugby fans in Northern Ireland, are you aware that the IRFU entered into a t.v. deal with Sky in which viewers in the R.o.I get to watch Non-6 Nations games for free but viewers in N.I. have to pay. How is that for inclusivity despite what appear to be mealy mouthed sentiments from the IRFU about being inclusive.

    As for flags and tunes, I couldn’t care less and in reality I’ve never heard anyone in N.I. in any rugby club or pub make any noise about it at all. I’m outraged at the lack of games played here and also about the t.v. deal. I am a Sky subscriber but that is not the point. Again, what is supposed to be one team and one rugby population is tossed overboard. So much for principles. Tossed out the window and beggar those up North. Imagine the outcry there would have been if the roles were reversed and ‘we’ got it free. It’s just of a piece with the philosophy that governs rugby from Lansdowne. Fortunately the game is bigger than the closed minds who run it.

    I responded by posing the following:

    Does the fact that many Ulster rugby fans of the unionist tradition just keep quiet about the symbols matter, possibly because it’s “just the way it is/always has been” or because they don’t want to be seen to be “moaning”, “moping” or “pushing their weight around”, negate the reality or fact that there is a disparity there in terms of symbolic representation? If there is disparity there, surely that is unfair in principle, whether or not some seek to push the issue in practice or not on account of weighing it up with other concerns.

    Although Digifriendly also sought to provide a small item of additional information on jacothelad’s point in respect of the IRFU’s television deal:

    Not strictly true as Ireland’s autumn internationals are available FTA on RTE via Freeview in NI (known as NIMM) and on RTE via Saorview which is available to c70% of viewers in NI.

    It also appears Ewan MacKenna got his years mixed up with regard to his claim about the rugby team’s tour of Argentina. He said it was “that summer” of the South Africa World Cup that the tour occurred, but CatFromHue makes the following point in correction and rationalisation of, or to offer perspective on, why paying to send three journalists off to Argentina for a second-string tour might have seemed like a good idea to the Tribune at the time:

    The rugby team toured Argentina in 07 and 14, the world cup in SA was in 2010. The Tribune shut down less than a year after it, the SA world cup, and 07 was the height of the Celtic Tiger madness.

    The information on the tour years is, indeed, correct:

    Also, the Sunday Tribune did close in 2011:

    Tim Robbins (not the Tim Robbins) wrote:

    I think the reason why Rugby players get a bit more respect is because they give more respect: to the ref, to the jersey and to the opposition usually than those in say Soccer do. Soccer players dive, shout at the ref and sometimes look disinterested even though they make 100K a week. Fans are sick of this.

    In response, I wrote:

    See, I feel this sort of generalised, haughty and self-righteous social superiority complex is an inherent politicisation (or socio-political analysis) of sport and the games of rugby and football, and that’s in what these sorts of claims are ultimately rooted, no matter what way you wish to present it. It’s an overtly contentious remark. But you’ll thank Yeah_Right when he or she tells me I’m the one doing the politicising when I take issue with lazy suggestions like this. Thanking another poster is fine, but some self-awareness wouldn’t go amiss.

    What would Craig Joubert say to the claim that the rugby fraternity respects its officials? He has been harangued since his Scotland-Australia error. He sprinted off the field to avoid a verbal onslaught from crowd and players. Those involved in rugby are not above disrespect, nor do they command the moral high ground because of some insulting notion that the sport is played by an inherently better and more honest stock of person. Any human, whatever their circumstances, has potential for negative traits and all sports are consequently afflicted with instances of disrespect.

    Simulation in soccer is a curse that needs to be stamped out by FIFA, but there’s gamesmanship, dishonesty, rule-bending and foul-play in rugby too. It’s only inevitable that participants in professional sport will push the rules to their limits when winning is the priority. Soccer players who are disinterested don’t make it very far. They’re found out pretty quickly.


    1. Some continued discussion and exchange relating to the piece from

      ‘jacothelad’ wrote:

      I love rugby with a passion. As I approach my 70s I don’t feel and never have felt myself to be a second class rugby citizen because we are ignored by people too thick to notice or too arrogant to think they’ve ‘got away with it.’

      In response, I wrote:

      Good post and fair enough if you can see past it, although identity, representation and symbolism are important to people, whether that be national, social, cultural, political, religious or whatever. That’s why we support Ireland and not, say, New Zealand or Brazil. It doesn’t necessarily mean people are lacking in intellect; nobody, no matter how socially-aware, enlightened or intelligent, likes the sense that they’re not being properly respected. National identity is simply another thing that gives meaning to people’s lives and provides them with a sense of community/being part of something, and that’s fine. The trouble is obviously when it lapses into malice/ignorance/intolerance towards or encroachment upon the identity of others.

      Would you also describe those who decide IRFU policy as being “of little intellect and low self esteem who need to shore themselves up with something to wave”? They choose to use particular exclusive flags and anthems over possible others, after all.

      You say: “Yes, we don’t get a completely fair crack of the whip but the thing is this, by saying nothing or not making any waves it keeps us above those who think we haven’t noticed.” That’s fine, but I assume you would appreciate a real gesture of parity that was volunteered rather than forced, as opposed to viewing it as patronisation? A unionist on Twitter informed me he would feel patronised by such a gesture, but I find that hard to understand; isn’t it the present situation of hollow tokenism that is patronising?

      ‘Tim Robbins’ wrote:

      I actually came from original a Soccer background and I am actually ok at it but find it hard to watch a game. Skill level very high but the other issues put me off the sport. How many middle of the road people are happy to bring their young kids to Bohs V Rovers match? Compared to say a Leinster V Munster game or Dublin V Cork game.

      In response, I wrote:

      There’s little glamour in League of Ireland games. The league is marginalised and stigmatised, not only by the media and public, but by those entrusted with running and promoting it; John Delaney once described it as his “problem child”. I think there are other factors at play in the failure or refusal of the broader public to embrace it rather than this idea that the game of football is morally inferior. See the numbers of Irish football fans who travel to the UK to watch live football every weekend, who tune in on Sky and who attend internationals and even insignificant money-spinning spectacles like the “Dublin Derby”. There’s interest there for watching football, and potential for it – the television viewing figures show that – but the domestic “product” is just seen as sub-standard.

      ‘Tim Robbins’ wrote:

      We don’t want the cr*p from Soccer creeping into Rugby.

      In response, I wrote:

      Soccer isn’t infiltrating or creeping into rugby. If there are aspects of rugby you find unpalatable, that’s rugby’s responsibility. You can’t blame soccer. In all professional sports, there are rules; some of those rules might be more conducive to “bending” and thus such “bending” might be more apparent in certain sports, but it happens in all sports where and if it can. There’s not as much benefit to diving in rugby (like there is in soccer) as it’s a hard-hitting, all-contact sport, so pretending you’ve been touched with excessive force isn’t going to win you any advantage with the referee (in the same way it can in soccer), considering such is a permissible and inherent aspect of the game. There are other means of “rule-bending” or “cheating” though and they do occur. That’s not the fault of soccer.

      In fact, there was actually an incident of simulation by Stewart Hogg in the recent game between Scotland and South Africa, even if the player was scolded for it:

      Sadly, Nigel Owens felt the need to make a denigrating reference to football in order to make his point about a rugby issue.

      Another post worth noting by a poster, ‘Stuttgart88’, who grew up surrounded by rugby:

      3 Plymouth Albion (Championship equivalent, professional) rugby players charged with sexual assault last year. Barely any media fuss. London School of Economics rugby club publish highly misogynistic promo material in rag week and get suspended. Durham Uni rugby team suspended for singing songs about rape. Richmond rugby team members run naked on London Underground. And so on. Not to mention how World Rugby institutionally locks out lesser nations.

      Great sport, but the idea that it’s morally superior especially in this new professional era is daft. That’s not to say there aren’t areas where I think it can claim some moral superiority, but in its totality, no way. How many kids around the world are saved from drugs and gun crime by rugby, for example?

      ‘El_Duderino 09’ wrote:

      I can’t stand this motion towards being more critical of the rugby team. The logic seems to be that Just because footballers get hounded 24/7, so too should the rugby players.

      I think those making the argument are more accurately saying, “treat all sports fairly/equally”, rather than, “pillory rugby too with over-the-top tabloid criticism, just like the football players have to endure”.

      ‘ThisRegard’ wrote:

      I’ve no idea why the author mentioned unionist and nationalist representation, it’s ridiculous. Does he want to go down the religious quota route rather than picking a squad based on merit?

      In response, I wrote:

      That’s a grossly unfair misrepresentation of my argument. If it’s so ridiculous/trivial/unimportant, why do the IRFU have such a hang-up over real symbolic representation for all? I’m just pointing that out. I haven’t concocted something or introduced something imaginary into the field of play. The IRFU claim to be inclusive of all on the island, but the reality in terms of symbolic representation doesn’t match up with the assertion. Of course, team selection is based on merit, but should representative symbolism be chosen on the basis of who shouts loudest? Of course not. The team is 15 of the best players from wherever on the island they happen to be from, but they nevertheless represent the entire island rather than just one culture on it, no?


  8. Very interesting and well written article Dan. Now from other points of view that I heard when this was discussed back in 2007 when the last Irish international was played in Ravenhill. The most notable piece of information came from a comment on a BBC Blog by the son of Jim McCarthy who gave his father’s version of events.

    The reason why some of the players didn’t want to stand for the British anthem was in solidarity with nationalists who were protesting about the the housing situation for nationalists in NI (I think some may have been jailed for protesting). Perhaps you can check that out in the newspapers of the time.

    Secondly he said that his father didn’t feel strongly about not standing for GSTQ – it was others on the team. It would also seem that he was punished by rarely being selected again even though he was a very fine player.

    McCarthy said that De Valera (who was very friendly the IRFU President, contacted them and instructed them to stand for GSTQ). De Valera was a big rugby fan (having gone to school in Blackrock and represented Munster when a teacher in Rockwell) and politically he valued the connection with Unionists through rugby.

    As to why Rugby didn’t split and Soccer did – down to finances really from what I’ve seen. In football, the HQ was in Belfast where football was most popular and where most resources were. It was the other way around for rugby. All the resources were in Dublin (Lansdowne Road) and the IRFU of the time would have mainly been run by protestants who would have wanted to maintain that sporting connection with Ulster protestants. It is mainly down to financial reasons (and the Troubles in NI – some teams wouldn’t even come to Dublin in the 70s) that there has not been any internationals in Belfast and the capacity of Ravenhill. The present Aviva sponsorship of Lansdowne Road prohibits any rugby internationals being played outside of the Aviva (and thus we’ve had an uncapped game v. Fiji in Thomond Park) which has a much larger capacity than Ravenhill. However, there have been plenty of ‘A’ Internationals in Ravenhill where anthems would have been played (including a Junior World Cup).

    Hope this gives another side of these events. Unfortunately I wouldn’t know where the find that post from Jim McCarthy’s son now. Jim McCarthy dies earlier this year I think, aged 90.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you found the read worthwhile, JMo8. Many thanks also for the kind words and interesting information.

      I had a search for the post by McCarthy’s son to which you’re referring and it appears it was actually posted underneath the Frank Keating article in the Guardian, which I quote in my own piece above. Is this it, or was there another post on a BBC blog?:

      I am a little late making a contribution to this discussion but I can offer an unusual insight, because the captain of the Irish team at the time, Jim McCarthy, is my father and we have just discussed the article over breakfast.

      The story is substantially true however his role in the affair is not as recorded. What happened is there was a group of the “Southern” players who were not agreeable to standing for GSTQ, the reasons outlined in the Irish Times article referrred to below had a lot do do with it. This was not unversally the case as my father said that one of the players who was making his debut (Seamus Kelly, I think) was so anxious to get on the pitch that he would gladly have stood for Deutchland Uber Alles at the time!

      Far from leading the rebel group my father was extremely anxious that the teams take the pitch and was afraid that the rebel stance would lead to a division in Irish rugby in the same way that soccer and athletics had two teams representing the island. In getting to a solution, it is correct to say that Sarsfield Hogan used a lot of diplomacy. At one stage Hogan left the room on the basis that he make a phone call to the Rugby Union in Dublin and returned saying that he had secured an agreement that no future matches would be played played in Ravenhill thus ending the GSTQ issue. It seems that this had been agreed a long time previously by the Irish union and had nothing to do with GSTQ and everything to do with ground capacity. As things went on, the Salute was played, as you reported, and more importantly one team continues to represent the island.

      There was a spiteful after taste to the incident. The following year when Irish players were being asked about their availability for the 1955 Lions tour(and this included anyone playing inter-provincial rugby i.e. at least 60 from Ireland) none of those who were considered to have been involved in the conspiracy, my father included (not that he was expecting to get picked), were asked about availability or indeed selected for the tour.

      Interesting stuff.

      What would De Valera make of present IRFU policy? Presumably then he wouldn’t have endorsed either what Frank Keating suggested was a secret compromise never to play in Ravenhill again, if, indeed, the anthem matter was a contributing factor in the coming to such an agreement? McCarthy’s son’s contribution suggests the agreement never to play in Ravenhill again wasn’t specifically or primarily related to the playing of ‘God Save the Queen’, but perhaps the anthem matter was an indirect or contributory factor? Hindsight would seemingly suggest that a distinct possibility, in the sense that the 2007 affair and the peculiar decision of the IRFU to declare the game an “away” fixture so as to logically justify the playing of just ‘Ireland’s Call’ would appear to indicate that there would have been a persistent anthem issue had the IRFU continued playing full internationals in Ravenhill regularly, or would this be an unfair or erroneous assumption?

      I presume also that only ‘Ireland’s Call’ is played at the ‘A’ international and junior games that are played regularly in Ravenhill?

      On the present footballing state of affairs, whereby we have two teams on the island, as opposed to rugby’s one, I wrote a bit on that here:

      It may interest you. Cormac Moore released a book recently entitled ‘The Irish Soccer Split’. I have acquired a copy but haven’t finished it yet.


  9. One neutral flag and one neutral anthem at all venues.

    Wrote about the same thing (also on Slugger) before the last world cup…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sammy. Can’t argue with that. I think this is a crucial point:

      So given that Irish Rugby is surely the best example of successful, non coercive all Ireland-ery and North-Southery surely it is time for those in charge in the IRFU to show sensitivity for the complex and sensitive relationships on the island and surely it is also time for those political parties like SF and the SDLP, who argue for more All Ireland institutions, to campaign for change and prove that when they say they want to reach out to Unionists, that they actually mean it?


    2. How about the flags at ?


  10. It is absolute FARCE that ALL sports don’t represent N.I on the international scene, the current concept highlights the discrimination and disrespect shown towards N.I. Unfortunately I will never support this current concept until it changes. I really hope people don’t respond by hiding behind politics referring to my comment.


    1. AMEN to your comment, it is a disgrace that the people in power arent trying to make this happen in 2015 plus it highlights the lack of ‘forward thinking’. Let’s hope people in power create a campaign trying to make this a reality as soon as possible.


      1. May I ask why you are so keen on division rather than reform? Is togetherness “backward”?


    2. I think to claim that the IRFU would be going out of their way to disrespect and discriminate against northern unionists might be somewhat strong. I suspect any lack of action to be rooted more in cowardice or in the avoidance of a politically-difficult acknowledgement, as opposed to malice.

      If there was consensus, demand or any sense of urgency for what you advocate, I’m sure it would have happened, but if you really wish to have teams specifically representing NI in all sports, you can always set them up for that specific purpose and try to win wider support, recognition and validity for your cause. Or you could join the organisations concerned in the north and campaign/vote for change so that you can feel better represented. If you aren’t prepared to take action yourself, but still want other people to do something for you, it’s up to you to do the persuasion. You can’t just throw your toys out of the pram and shout “farce!” because other people don’t happen to endorse or feel strongly about the same things you do.


  11. Daniel,

    It is difficult to work out the strength of Unionist opinion on the subject – I dont know if any of the former players have spoken out. I suspect it might take a high profile player for the IRFU to act(further). Obviously it would be better if change happened before it became a public issue.

    There is joint North South bid for the rugby World Cup in 2023 – that may open up a number of interesting questions regarding ‘branding’ the event.


    1. I’m not aware of any players having spoken out myself, but just because players might de-prioritise rocking the boat, so to speak, beneath international recognition, or even if they don’t have it in their present consciousness to feel strongly on the matter for whatever reason, it doesn’t mean the present situation of disparity is a fair one.

      As you suggest, gestures are always more effective when volunteered rather than forced, but unfortunately, it is so often the case (generally; not necessarily just in rugby) that changes are made if only they are seen to be financially more lucrative than a prior state of affairs. The chosen ‘status quo’ is so often usually that state of affairs that is most lucrative at that point in time. If the IRFU were to make changes from how things are at present, I imagine they would fear alienating support in the south, thus potentially diminishing income.


  12. People need to understand, I was born in N.I, I am massive sports fan like yourself from a young age, I expect my representation on the international scene within sport to be N.I, as we all know that ain’t the case for most sports. I don’t apologise for saying I will only support a N.I team on the international scene, that ain’t me being political I am just being patriotic. Their has been many talented sports men/women born in N.I who have won many medals, championships etc on the world stage and I have no doubt that will continue to happen, it is long overdue for this not to happen, N.I to represent ALL sports on the international scene.


    1. I think your patriotism also happens to be inherently political, but that’s OK; there’s nothing wrong with cherishing or wishing to emphasise your identity. Everyone does it and you have absolutely no need to apologise. If you want something, however, it’s up to you to work to get it; the onus is on you to sell your idea. As you can probably guess, I wouldn’t be remotely in favour of it, but that’s life.

      “Political” doesn’t have to be a taboo word either; it’s better to discuss contentious matters out in the open with transparency rather than to dismiss certain ideas or shut down debate with inhibiting instructions like, “Keep your politics out of it.” All humans have their interests and concerns; when conflict or disagreement arises, these interests and concerns become inherently political. That’s just a fact of life and it’s good to be able to face up to it. There’s no shame in it.


  13. sir,

    Supporting the Irish rugby team if you are from the North is a bit like supporting the European Ryer Cup team or perhaps more like supporting the British and Irish Lions if you are from the South( something I don’t deny I struggle with a bit).


  14. oooops “if you are a (Unionist) from the North “


  15. Visionary · · Reply

    I will NEVER support this current concept because I believe EVERY sport should be representing Northern Ireland on the international scene, I will never spend any more money on merchandise, tickets, TV subscription until this current concept completely changes. Every thing should be based in Northern Ireland I.E. stadium, academy, training ground to name a few. I am SICK and TIRED of hearing the same old garbage about joining ROI and NIR together, they are separate and I don’t hear about countries which were apart of Yugoslavia or USSR wanting to join together for sport. By just not having every sport representing N.I they are simply disrespecting and undermining N.I by not having this. By agreeing with my idea this would be a chance to unite everybody, design and create a new NI brand I.E. new national flag and anthem to name a few which everyone can identify with, if people still don’t agree then they can decide to represent another country.


  16. I don’t hear about countries which were apart of Yugoslavia or USSR wanting to join together for sport.

    Germany, Yemen and Vietnam are all modern countries made up of two now-unified but previously-separate states. The unification of two states or political entities isn’t historically unprecedented.

    By just not having every sport representing N.I they are simply disrespecting and undermining N.I by not having this.

    Who is disrespecting Northern Ireland exactly? If organisations in Northern Ireland wish to secede or establish anew, they are free to do so and to seek official recognition. Putting that into action is nobody else’s responsibility but those who seek it.

    By agreeing with my idea this would be a chance to unite everybody, design and create a new NI brand I.E. new national flag and anthem to name a few which everyone can identify with, if people still don’t agree then they can decide to represent another country.

    Uniting by dividing? Does that compute? If you want unity between Irish people, all-island set-ups are surely the best way to achieve that, no?


  17. Visionary · · Reply

    I am only interested in uniting people of N.I not the R.O.I, as a sports fan and a patriotic person born in N.I, I expect every sport to be representing N.I on the international scene, it irritates me that it ain’t the case, I will not support an ‘All Ireland’ team because it go against what I believe should already be happening, every time I hear any news referring to ‘All Ireland’ sports team it feels like their are metaphorically gloating in my face. That is one of a number of feelings that is driving me on to make my idea a reality asap.


    1. Who do you feel is gloating in your face and in what ways are you now trying to make your idea a reality?


  18. Visionary · · Reply

    People talk about lack of equality shown towards equal marriage, their is a lack of equality shown towards my idea that ALL sports should be representing Northern Ireland on the international scene, why isn’t is this idea receiving the same amount of media as equal marriage, it is disgusting that it ain’t and I don’t use that word lightly.


    1. Not sure what same-sex marriage has to do with this, although there remains a lack of equality on that issue in the north and same-sex couples are discriminated against in the sense that they do not have access to the same marital rights to which heterosexual couples have access. Who do you feel is discriminating against you though? Who is holding you back from realising your idea? Are you suggesting there should be some obligation upon those in the media to support or provide exposure for your idea?


      1. Visionary · ·

        No ogbligation , when you listen to many debates in N.I a lot of the topics are farcial , I believe their should be at least 1 aired discussion live on television by Sport competitors, coaches and sports fans within Northern Ireland for at least 1 hour, we will know after that how people feel about this matter, if the majority of people agree with this idea then we can proceed with it and try to make this a reality asap or if the majority disagree with it then people in favour of it will just have to accept it ain’t going to change anytime soon.


      2. Sports matters are discussed all the time in the northern media, for hours every day. If there is a pressing issue, it’ll tend to be discussed online, on television, on the radio and/or in the papers. There doesn’t appear to be much consensus or will behind your proposal. Do you know of (m)any others advocating a similar position?


  19. Visionary – do you support Ulster Rugby?


    1. Visionary · · Reply

      No, why?.


  20. re. “No, why?”

    Well we are discussing rugby…and Ulster’s symbols are closely associated with Northern Ireland and they are largely a Northern Ireland team – and they are pretty successful – including winning the European cup and getting to the final.


    1. Visionary · · Reply

      They are apart of the ‘All Ireland’ setup, these type of situations create confusion when Ulster is apart of N.I but it is apart of the ‘All Ireland’ setup within sport. My idea would stop creating confusion plus you could use this as a tool trying to unite everybody of Northern Ireland, for me they should create a national anthem and design a new national flag. The stadium, academy, training ground etc, should be based in N.I, combine that with a new national anthem, flag and a few other things, this should be used to create a new identity for Northern Ireland, uniting everybody and hopefully making everybody proud and hopefully this will lead to gold medals and winning world championships etc.


      1. You would be keen then to use sport as a political tool to further your aspirations?

        Would you aspire to see a separate Northern Ireland Olympic team too, as distinct from a UK team?


      2. Visionary · ·

        Every sport would be representing N.I on the international scene not GB & NI or All Ireland just N.I.


      3. Would the IOC rules allow a constituent unit or region within a state to compete as separate member?


  21. In rugby there would be little support for your proposal – the situation for Northern Ireland(Unionist) rugby players is largely positive – but (as outlined above) could be improved.

    The proposal for a new flag and anthem in football for Northern Ireland – might be popular…


  22. Dave B,

    Not that keen on the designs – but remain very keen on the concept.


  23. Visionary · · Reply

    I wouldn’t agree with those people who just want to pick and chose certain things from the idea I put forward, you either change everything I said or just continue it as it is. Their was a lot of thought put into the suggestions I put forward.


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