The Irish view of history is amazing. We were sitting in McColgan’s pub in Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal, gently internalising some Guinness and watching RTE doing the build-up to the Ireland-England match. They turned to ‘The Stats’ – which said, I think, that Ireland had beaten England four times between 1940 and 1949 ‘with a break for the Second World War’. Good to have a proper sense of priorities.
Meanwhile, all attention has been focused on the playing of God Save the Queen at Croke Park – a truly eye-watering moment because of what it says about political movement and political maturity in Ireland. Historian John A Murphy is quoted in today’s Irish Times as saying, ‘When our English neighbours are made warmly welcome next Saturday in such a splendid stadium in the capital of a mature and sovereign republic, the innocent Croke Park dead of November 21st, 1920, will be honoured, not insulted.
And change continues apace elsewhere. The Northern Ireland Assembly Elections are coming close – Sinn Fein having declared support for the police. I was interested to see that the election slogan for Ian Paisley’s DUP, ‘Getting it right’. Could it really be that empty posturing about the Union is gone and people are being encouraged to adopt a pragmatic readiness to engage and share.
And I should mention the astonishing economic dynamism of today’s Ireland. It’s two months since we were here. Within half a mile of our house, I think I can count 11 houses being built and the road west from Letterkenny is being transformed. I see nothing like it in Scotland. It’s as if we hadn’t been to Blairgowrie for a while and then found that they had moved it while we were away.
Yes – rugby has long had that positive potential. Portadown Rugby Club has always gone to Lansdowne Road in large numbers – I remember sitting with them in the stand and pondering their reaction to the Soldier’s Song. And they have had a really significant cross-community mini-rugby programme for many years. In fact, after Seagoe Parish Church, PRC was probably one of the best things about Portadown.
What BBC viewers will have missed is the RTE coverage of members of Portadown Rugby Club – interviews with them the during the week before about their thoughts on the match and coverage of them as they arrived at Croke Park with their Ireland scarves. There is a sea change.
There was never much doubt about what the outcome of the match would be, only the winning margin. Ireland played with the passion of men proud of their shirt – England were a team of journeymen!
Wasn’t it Bill Shankley who said, ‘Football isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s far more important than that.’
I agree with your comments – some slight gagging on the idea of ‘recent’ injustice but time heals!
But to be serious .. I gradually learnt in my Portadown days that people were amazingly good at absorbing change in things which were quite fundamental. Fair Employment Legislation always seemed to me an example of something really important which has now achieved almost universal acceptance. It is the symbolic things – most obviously in my experience – parades which trip you up – if you will forgive the metaphor.
So what was important about the affair at the Croker was that it was purely symbolic factors – anthems – a place – a game – which were the markers of real and enduring change in relationships. And the ‘not a dry eye in the house’ stuff comes from the joy of seeing it made real before your very eyes.
As an Englishman for whom rugby is only a secondary sporting interest, but whose (Northern Irish) wife relishes every instance of anyone beating the English, Saturday brought mixed feelings, but a general sense that the match did demonstrate how much things have changed. In the overall scheme of things, offering the English a warm welcome to Croke Park… and then giving their sporting backsides a good kicking was perhaps an appropriately symbolic way of showing how the relationship between the Irish and the English has changed and how much more ‘normal’ it is than it was only 15 years ago.
A more confident Ireland, rather than one which still gags on the bitterness of recent injustice, will relish the result and look forward to engagement with the English in future. Long may that continue.
In the meantime, I return to my own four walls and have to stomach what seems to me to be an excessive pleasure in inflicting humiliation on the English, which my wife is still displaying, all of 48 hours after the event. Come on, it’s only a match after all.
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