Here’s to a united Ireland on the morrow (though not necessarily the day after)…

There’s something deeply gratifying about the way Ireland coach Declan Kidney has melded an unexpectedly powerful sporting force from three of Ireland’s historic provinces.

There’s always one missing!

We may have Eddie O’Sullivan to thank for drawing the provincial successes of Munster and Leinster upwards into the Ireland squad, but tomorrow’s team performance will (win or lose) be wrought from more than a touch of Ulster genius from Best, Ferris, Bowe and Trimble.

International Rugby is one of the few occasions when what it means to be Irish is as deeply felt in the north as in the south of our island. Although deeply felt, it’s often separately consumed. And, for the most part, it is the British Irish who carry ‘the flag’ for Ulster.

The IRFU’s latest attempt to find a solution to marrying the two traditions is to fly the tricolour and the historic standard of Ulster (ie, the nine counties representing the Ulster Branch of the IRFU). It is at least a nod in the direction of a problem Kidney has diminished by the mere act of drawing on the native talent of northern players. But it is, to say the least, a very poor and politically incontinent expression of who we are.

To return again to the novelist Martina Devlin’s question:

…debate about the North should have taken place at the time of the Good Friday Agreement more than 13 years ago, but was sidelined amid euphoria about peace in our time.

John Waters in yesterday’s Irish Times notes that international Rugby matches (let alone, a quarter final of the World CUP) represent awkward moments when some weird form of patriotic fellowship breaks out and, counter intuitively outweighs the exclusive burden of nationalist identity:

The “national” rugby team, by virtue of being an all-Ireland phenomenon, raises questions we normally succeed in avoiding. Not least among these is the rather bracing question: what is Ireland anyway? The rugby team, like the Republic’s soccer team, plays in green jerseys and is followed by hordes of green-swaddled supporters, but this, though seemingly coherent from the outside, is rather less so from within. Though headquartered in Dublin, the “national” rugby team emanates from an entity without any political or nationalistic existence.

He continues:

For us “down here”, the anthem problem is like the problem with virtually all elements of our national iconography and symbolism. The continuing geographical division, with all its consequences, has closed off from us any possibility of a shared remembering of our historical journey. In the Republic, questions relating to our struggle for national self-realisation have become deeply problematic as a result of the “Troubles”, and we lack the will or imagination to tease them out in public. Less than five years from the centenary of our founding revolution, we haven’t the faintest idea how to mark the occasion. Even the broaching of such issues is widely regarded as a reactionary activity.

And concludes:

Had we travelled uninterrupted from our baptismal conflicts to the present, we might today be able to utter the words of Amhrán na bhFiann without difficulty or even undue thought. But there is now far too much self-awareness and discomfort for its rousing lyrics to be uttered in the way equivalent words can be belted out by other peoples.

When I was growing up, Amhrán na bhFiann was the exclamation mark at the end of virtually every notable public fixture but, nowadays, events tend to peter out in a haze of uncertainty. For all intents and purposes, we no longer have a functional national anthem, one that can be sung on all occasions, and joined in on the basis of Irishness rather than allegiance to a particular version of history.

This may not have manifested itself as a significant issue until now. But one of the byproducts of a victory tomorrow is that we may not be able to avoid it for much longer.

A little self-knowledge can be a miserable thing… But for me, I cannot wait till the morning comes…

, , , , ,

  • Republic of Connaught

    Yes it’s noticable there’s no Connaught players near the team.

    I think it’s time the west seceded from the IRFU and created our own rugby team like the NI football team. This partitionist stuff is catchy. 🙂

  • Jimmy Sands

    Sports remain the only acceptable context for nationalism.

  • Mick Fealty

    United in misery it is then!

  • Drumlins Rock

    RoC, wee correction, the south seceded from the North in football, the IFA is the the original, the FAI the breakaway group.

  • “And, for the most part, it is the British Irish who carry ‘the flag’ for Ulster.”

    Mick, IIRC the Ulster 1999 European Cup winning team draped the Northern Ireland flag on the bus in their victory tour, not the Ulster one.

  • Alan N/Ards

    While I would agree that the carrying of the tricolour and the 9 county flag is a step in the right direction, I personally would prefer the Cross of St. Patrick to the 9 county flag. I know a lot of other Ireland fans from the British Irish tribe who believe that this is the flag that represents them. If the IRFU want the British Irish to feel that they belong at Ireland games they need to at least fly the flag that represents us along side the Nationalist/republican tricolour. In fairness to them, I appreciate the fact that Irelands Call and not the Soldiers Sond was played at the World Cup. At least the non republican British Irish can stand and sing this anthem with pride.

  • WindsorRocker

    It boils down to the kind of Irishness you feel you have.
    For unionists that is a pre-1921 Irishness with a close bond across the Irish sea. In Rugby that is the Lions, in Golf it is the Walker Cup and Home Nations games.

    All Ireland teams have survived when that dual identity and sense of Irishness has been acknowledged. In the likes of football, the strains were too great and the FAI broke away from the all Ireland team due to the discord over the Belfast centric IFA and presumably a desire to be “more” Irish and separatist.

    If we were to have an All Ireland football team would the FAI rejoin the IFA, would this island sit as one of the 4 British Associations on the IFAB, would we see the Cross of St Patrick or a rigid adherence to the flag of 26 of the 32 counties?

    Finally, it is worth noting that during the RWC, Ireland’s Call was the Ireland “team” anthem whereas every team we played could call their’s a national anthem without causing problems.

  • Mike the First

    I agree with Alan on this point – while I appreciate the sentiment behind the two flags approach, the use of the 9 county Ulster flag is rather illogical and come across as a little begrudging. The NI flag (i.e. Ulster Banner/former Government of NI flag) should be used, given that it’s NI that’s being represented. (or as Alan says, the St Patrick flag).

    In the last World Cup (and if I recall correctly) the IRFU flag was used, wonder why they decided to change?

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I still find it bizarre they have such an issue flying the Northern Ireland flag. So some stuff happened in NI they didn’t like – do they think the tricolour is value-free for British people? They need to get over themselves and fly the NI flag; or ditch both flags and fly the St Patrick’s Cross; or, as I’ve suggested, be truly post-nationalist and have no flag or anthem at all.

    The nine counties Ulster flag is a bit of an insult really – it’s like saying, while all the political parties and two governments and the United Nations recognise the international border, we the IRFU still don’t. It’s 2011 now, we have parity of esteem, get with the programme.

  • test