What if McIlroy’s stance was the prompt for a conversation of what it means to be Irish?

I was struck by Niall O’Dowd’s passionate assay of the Rory McIlroy choses to be British affair, not least where he rather honestly relates that

…the Northern Ireland flag, flown by a Protestant like Graeme McDowell, will never bother me in the slightest, flown by a Catholic like Rory, however, will never seem quite right to me.

I remember being best man at friend’s wedding in the mid 80s. It was a mixed marriage and the plan was to marry in the Protestant church but take a blessing in what we all called the chapel back in the day.

When the local PP suddenly decided not to play ball and refused to bless the marriage it caused not a little pain on the Catholic side. Tribe, politics and religion are a powerful mix, and have the capacity to stir deep emotions.

At the end of the day McIlroy is a golfer, not a politician. As Colin Byrne notes in the Irish Times:

As Ben Hogan so famously said: “I didn’t like the glamour, I just liked the game”. He came from an era where he was allowed be a golfer and not a political or social talisman for someone else’s causes.

Rory McIlroy is becoming as fearsome as Tiger was back in his day and with his recent Fed-Ex form the rest of the field look like they are playing for second place. What he really needs to watch out for is those trying to demolish him off course.

Rory’s honesty, in what is always going to be a difficult decision of allegiance, should not be a reason for the Irish public to turn against him.

Brian O’Connor cuts the real problem, which is the limited sense of what it means to be Irish. As one of James Young’s characters once put it, “nobody cares about what you are, it’s what yer nat that matters…“:

It would be lovely to think a new inclusive Ireland could examine McIlroy’s honesty, digest its implications, and truly continue to regard him with the same fondness as before.

After all, there’s something wonderfully appealing about that fairway strut and the triumph of natural, unaffected talent over a grim, sour-pussed, corporate drive that characterises so many of his colleagues.

That a young fella from Down is the undisputed best exponent of a global game, and manages to play with an appealing freshness that then translates off-course as well, is a thing of wonder, and something everyone on this island should continue to marvel at.

But in this part of the old world the way things should be are often not the way they are.

And there’s no getting away from it: a lot of people on this island will conduct a different relationship with young Rory from now on. It will be a lot more subtle, with what’s left unsaid more significant than what is. To suggest otherwise is a cop-out.

McIlroy might be young but he’s no mug and must have known there would be reverberations arising from his comments.

That they should be so seismic, though, will probably have unsettled him. That they should continue to have such resonance on this island says a lot more about what our various identities continue to be NOT.

It’s worth reading full, not least because it notes that there are dangers in pushing national pride too far in either direction.

But one additional thought comes to mind. Talking to a Tory mate about #London2012, he expressed the hop that the angst ridden conversation about what it means to be British might now end.

Not least with the way black and foreign born athletes had competed for their fully and unambiguously owned country. He earnestly hope that it was the end rather than the beginning of something.

What if McIlroy’s honest stance is the beginning of a similar conversation about what it actually means to be Irish, other than being mostly Catholic or having a granny from Kildare?

It might, for once, could mark the beginning of something rather than an unnecessarily bitter end to has beeb a sublime relationship?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Dec


    You’re aware Godolphin is a racing stable and not a blanket term for Arab, aren’t you Heinz? As to your ancestry point, ultimately we’re all from Africa.

  • HeinzGuderian

    “You’re aware Godolphin is a racing stable and not a blanket term for Arab, aren’t you Heinz? As to your ancestry point, ultimately we’re all from Africa.”


    Oooooh dear 🙂

  • sitarman

    “Up until the 1970s. People with property (were) always Protestants”…!? I find Niall O’Dowd has a typically tiresome Irish-American, green-tinted view of Ireland. Educated by 30 years of propaganda. His take on the original Plantation is a bit skewed as well.

  • GEF
  • HeinzGuderian

    …anybody see what direction Dec went ? 🙂

  • HeinzGuderian

    “I’m a golfer first and foremost and I just want to play well on the golf course. Hopefully people enjoy that and the entertainment that that brings.”

    Indeed !! 😉

  • aquifer

    Tribal herders in a funk.

    As heretics rock and roll free.

    Blood and iron buried under perfect green grass.

  • Red Lion

    About flags –

    Why do we not use or adopt the St Patrick’s Coss more in Northern Ireland?

    It’s the closest thing that we’ve got to a cross-community flag.

  • No Red Lion.

    The atheists are quite a quiet bunch. We wouldn’t want them riled up, would we? 😉

  • Red Lion

    Ha Joe! didnt think of the St. Pat’s Cross in that way, and i’m a….not very religious person.

    But if there’s a flag that increasing numbers of both communities jointly feel comfy with then why the hell not??

    If its good enough for the PSNI….

    Rory, progressive, free thinking (or rather free-feeling) upwardly mobile young chap like he is would be the perfect candidate to stand under it.

  • Yep, Red Lion. I was jesting.

    Final of the FedEx has started. I’m glued to the screen. Just posting during ads.

  • GEF

    “McIlroy’s home on market for £2m

    The sale will heighten speculation that McIlroy will now seek to live abroad permanently, possibly Florida – especially after he caused public controversy in Northern Ireland and the Republic earlier this month when he indicated he would play golf for Team GB in the 2016 Rio Olympics. He has now put that decision on hold.”

    Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/mcilroys-home-on-market-for-2m-16213786.html#ixzz272u2qBuP

  • Mark

    It’s possible Rory feels more Irish then British this week . Could his stance be the prompt for a conversation about what it feels like to be British ?

  • GEF

    Just finished watching the No1 round FedEx, results here: http://www.pgatour.com/r/leaderboard/

    If Rory was to win this final round and lift the FedEx cup he will be the first golfer from GB/UK, Ireland & Europe to win this much coveted millions of dollars award by US golfers since it began in 2007. It would be a pity to see him emigrate & take up US citizenship over this nonsensical political sectarian border issue regards his chosen nationality.

    Good night all.

  • No, GEF. Not a pity at all. Some of us, even those of us who aren’t that fond of “nation” states, have taken other nationalities. Because, if that’s where you live, that’s what you do.
    Just keep cheering the lad for what he does, not because of what other people think he should be.

  • GEF

    Mister_Joe, you can be rest assured I will be cheering all the way and delighted if Rory wins both Tournament and FedEx cup but even if one of the six golfers ahead of him at present wins the tournament Rory may still win the $10 million & cup. See here:

    “FedEx Cup update after second round”

  • GEF
  • GEF

    Just as I touched upon earlier, there may be another “Sporting ” reason than “One’s Nationality” why Rory might decide play golf for GB instead of Ireland in Olympics 2016.

    Padraig Harrington explains in this article today here:

    “Rio call is ‘horrible’ for McIlroy – Pádraig”