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?