Campbell’s angst caused by GAA success?

The naming of streets, bridges, buildings, villages, cities, educational establishments and other places after prominent political and military figures is hardly a practice exclusive to the north of Ireland. Yet in our local context, the maxim that ‘history is written by the winner’ would certainly ring true if merely assessed by a glimpse of any village, town or city road map. Quite apart from the official statues and monuments found at civic sites such as the Belfast City Hall, the ‘British’ identity of the six county infrastructure indicates where the whip hand of history was held.
Take Belfast city for example. Queen Street, King Street, Albert Bridge, Victoria Street, Sevastapol Street, Queen’s University, Royal Victoria Hospital, Twaddell Avenue, Queen Elizabeth Bridge, Wellington Park, Agincourt Avenue, Boyne Court, Schomberg Drive.
Then there’s Craigavon and Londonderry.
This struck me when listening to the rather petulant point scoring of DCAL Minister, Gregory Campbell, in the aftermath of the magnificent Tyrone triumph over Kerry in this year’s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final, made all the more historic with the subsequent victory of the Minor team over Mayo (incidentally, the 15,000 crowd at that game dwarfs anything that could be mustered at an Irish League ground, but still the Minister was a notable absentee.)
Under pressure to perform his duties as a Sporting Minister, Campbell resorted to the ‘dead terrorists’ line regarding GAA clubs and grounds, and in his Live Chat yesterday on the Newsletter, suggested that the GAA needed to address the issue of the naming of clubs and competitions.
Now, the first thing to be said about the Minister’s line of argument is that, taken to its logical conclusion, nationalists should be considering demanding the wholesale change of place names from hospitals to universities and even entire council areas due to the ‘offence taken’ at the practice of glorifying dead British monarchs, politicians and even military battles (a la Crimea, Balaclava and Sevastapol- never mind the Boyne!) by naming places and roads after them. Indeed, Roads Minister Conor Murphy should just about now be drawing up proposals to rename half the Roads, Streets, Avenues, Drives, Courts and Parks across the north to establish some degree of ‘equity’ between the two traditions in the north of Ireland.
Gregory Campbell has clearly been shaken (perhaps ‘stirred’ would be more appropriate) by the Tyrone GAA success, and his ‘international’ snub was clearly part of the play to the gallery the party are engaged in at present- see Limavady and a peculiar intervention into Scottish football for more of this. Indeed, the fact that he has chosen to use the staunchly unionist (and hardly GAA- oriented…) Newsletter to write an opinion piece on ‘what the GAA needs to do for Prods’ says a lot about the Minister’s agenda at this time.
Of course, the desire to honour/ commemorate the political, cultural and indeed military leaders of a people has hardly been confined to the unionist community in Ireland. Whereas partial independence brought with it the ability to do just so with official state imprimatur for Irish nationalists south of the border, the northern nationalist community were denied such a course of action.
Which is where the importance of the Gaelic Athletic Association as, at least in a historical sense, a sporting organisation plus comes into it. The GAA was the largest quasi-official organisation in which the Irish nationalist identity in the north of Ireland could be expressed; and so, where unionism used control of the state to bestow legitimacy on its political, cultural and military icons, reciprocal nationalist efforts were largely confined to the GAA.
The Minister’s rather churlish campaign to date indicates not just a contempt for the largest sporting organisation in Ireland but a failure to appreciate the historical void filled by the GAA for nationalists residing in a unionist dominated state. Perhaps that is unsurprising.
But it also smacks of a certain desperation, as if the Minister- and his party- have been rattled by the friendlier soundings of many protestants and unionists towards the GAA in recent years as the sporting walls have quietly come down around us.
I know that many schools which formerly would have been known for providing sports teams in Gaelic Games and soccer have begun to take a keen interest in rugby. The Feile an Phobail this summer included Rugby training sessions for kids in Twinbrook. In Belfast and Armagh (and doubtlessly elsewhere) GAA and Rugby clubs have formed positive working relationships.
Similarly, I know of several GAA clubs in Antrim and Down in which kids from a unionist background regularly kit out for training and matches for their local club.
Perhaps it is the success of the GAA as an active sporting organisation with a passive nationalist backdrop which has so unnerved Gregory Campbell?

  • alxkintner

    Depens on what you read I guess.

    As for the boardname – google it.

  • congal claen

    Hi Alex/Chris,

    I’ve no doubt they’re all linked. That was my original point. To Gaelicise a version was to politicize it and give a sense of separateness – that didn’t really exist. This resulted in the “ourselves alone” mentality. So, why claim to be so inclusive now? It’s revisionism.

    When I asked about your name, really I was asking are you really Chris Donnelly? If so, why use 2 names?

  • ggn

    “To Gaelicise a version was to politicize it and give a sense of separateness – that didn’t really exist”

    Are you saying that Hurling dis not exist and / or that it is not Gaelic?

  • Oilifear

    “Attaching the term Gaelic suggested that the game was an ancient ‘indigenous’ game. It wasn’t.”

    And I suppose you believe that attaching the words “Rugby”, “American” or “Australian” to “football” are evidence of similar nationalist schemes? Best stick with “Association”, eh? What’s English is natural, I suppose, and what’s not English is perverse?

  • Alexkintner

    Not Chris. Sorry to disappoint.

  • Oilifear

    Just spotted this gem:

    “So, why claim to be so inclusive now? It’s revisionism.”

    Revisionist? Which vision of history? Sam Maguire’s or Edward Carson’s, to name two influential GAA players? Or do you mean revisionism as in partitionist history?

  • Chris Donnelly

    congal claen

    I don’t know much about someone attaching an email to their ‘moniker’ but I can assure you I post here only under my own identity.

    I’ve no problem with the Order using Windsor Park, nor with other Loyal Orders using the Showgrounds; the point I was making was that sporting facilities have been used for political events. Indeed, the Oval recently held a minute’s silence for David Ervine, if I’m not mistaken.

    I also note that very few unionists have addressed the substantive issue raised in the post: namely, that the British/ unionist desire to have political and military leaders honoured or officially legitimised through the naming of public roads, buildings, universities, cities and towns has been satisfied by the organs of the state, whereas nationalists historically used the GAA as the largest nationalist-leaning institution to do likewise. The actions of both communities were entirely natural in a global context- try visiting the States. I attended Madison Heights Elementary School in Phoenix as a child and just about every significant US President has a school and road named after him in that city alone.

    Accepting that would surely lead to an appreciation of just why unionist efforts to demonise the GAA regarding the naming of clubs, facilities or trophies are simply dismissed by most nationalists as just another sectarian rant or as an effort to remove any vestiges of an Irish nationalist identity, in this case delivered by a Minister with a recent history of excelling in that regard (his Civil Rights comments have been classic Gregory….)

    And so to the Order. Unlike the Orange Order, the GAA hasn’t been centrally involved in state-wide road blockages, rioting nor sectarian provocation- indeed, the incidents quoted so far as justification for ‘attacking’ the GAA have related to republican commemorations held at GAA facilities in what can only be described as largely nationalist areas. The GAA don’t march to their matches, nor do the GAA clubs I know of that are sited in predominantly unionist areas fly the National flag.

    Indeed, I suspect that the petty-mindedness of many of the attacks on the GAA emanate from resentment of the success of a northern team, the same petty-mindedness which typified the reaction of some nationalists to the on-field successes of the Northern Ireland team in recent years (though, ironically, nationalist politicians were considerably more generous, for I recall Gerry Adams congratulating the Northern Irish team after the Sassenachs were sent home with tails between legs.)

    The point regarding GAA county teams not having many unionists on them is a bit like complaining that cricket/ rugby teams are not proportionately representative of the six county population; or why the Northern Ireland soccer team remains one supported predominantly by unionists.

    There are obvious historical/ political/ cultural/ emotional reasons for all the above, and that’s not to say that either rugby or cricket have anything resembling the overtly cultural identity of the GAA in this part of Ireland.

    And, regarding Sunday football, I’ve no problem with Jeffrey’s opinion, which he’s fully entitled to.

    I’ve mentioned on Slugger before about tentative changes at school levels, and referred similarly above, but the fact remains that schools remain fairly rigidly divided on which sports they provide at a team level.

    I had occasion to pick up two School Year books- both North Belfast Grammars- recently, one ‘catholic’ and the other State/ Predominantly protestant. The sporting section, including photos of the school sports teams and write-ups regarding their successes or philosophical views on their ‘failures,’ was remarkable for how the starkness of the cultural/ political divide was confirmed by the sports being offered.

    In one, Gaelic football, Hurling, Handball and Soccer featured prominently, whilst the other included several pages on the Cricket and Rugby teams within the school.

    This is where we are, I guess.

    One thing I think Catriona would get credit for introducing in her time as Minister would be the extra sporting coaches for soccer and GAA which I know have been working in Primary schools (don’t know if it extends to post-primary level.)

    However, I can’t help but think it was an opportuniy missed as I’d have personally preferred it if rugby had’ve been selected instead of soccer and a cross-community school element built into the provision of joint training sessions for both sporting codes.

    That said, I know the IFA were big fans of that Sinn Fein initiative…

  • Harry Flashman


    “Most Irish nationalists I know believe that the government in Dublin is the official government of Ireland”

    No they don’t! Most nationalists exist in a place we call reality. Join us sometime Harry – you’re very welcome.

    Er, yes they do! It may have escaped your notice or perhaps you inhabit some partitionist fantasy land but the vast and overwhelming majority of Irish nationalists living in Ireland give full support and recognition to the government in Dublin as the legitimate and proper government of Ireland. This is due largely to the fact that it [i]is[/i] the legitimate and proper government of Ireland.

    It is I who inhabit reality.

  • Oilifear

    “It is I who inhabit reality.”

    And what a tenacious and pedantic reality it is.