“Ulster Rugby – Are you unionism in disguise?”

It annoyed me years ago when I walked into Elvery’s on Dawson Street to find they stocked plenty Leinster and Munster tops but no Ulster ones. Then again, you only stock what there’s a demand for, and for years Ulster was the poor relation in Irish rugby. [Image from BigStock]

So much so that as rugby has become genuinely and broadly popular in Northern Ireland, many Northern Irish nationalists have taken to supporting provincial winners from other parts of the island. Jude Collins, as so often, says out loud what other nationalists fear to:

Funny old thing, loyalty. The commentator on Sky said all of Ulster would be behind the team but maybe not. Two men from Ulster – one Donegal, the other Antrim – who’re living in London were on their way to Twickenham on Saturday when they encountered a father-and-son duo from Bangor, Co Down.

“So who will you be cheering for?” the father kind of demanded. The Antrim/Donegal chaps said they’d be happy enough to see Ulster win, providing it wasn’t accompanied by six- county chants or flags. The Bangor father turned to the son and nodded. “What did I say? You can never tell who they’ll support”.

And he continues with a confession that somewhat underwrites the Bangor man’s suspicions:

OK, cards on the table. I was born in Ulster, have lived most of my life in Ulster, yet on Saturday I wasn’t supporting Ulster. There, I’ve said it. In fact I was rooting hard for the Leinster team. Why? Not sure, actually. Maybe something to do with how the word ‘Ulster’ has been used in this state.

When Northern Ireland was hacked out of nine-county Ulster, the new state was at some pains to declare itself ‘Ulster’. The obvious intention was to make ‘Ulster’ synonymous with ‘Northern Ireland’, and no opportunity was lost. BBC Radio Ulster; the University of Ulster; the Royal Ulster Constabulary; the Ulster Farmers’ Union; the Ulster-American Folk Park; Ulster-Scots…

The list goes on. In every case the title refers to the six counties of Northern Ireland. That can get confusing if, like me, you were born in one of the three erased counties.

Now, in a dazzling back-flip, northern nationalists are being exhorted to support the Ulster team because, blimey, this time it really does mean Ulster, all nine counties.

Except that there is no back flip here. Ulster rugby (in its widest sense) has never been anything other than an integral part of 32 county organisation.

Throughout its long history, there’ve been few defections in loyalty to John Bull’s other island amongst its rugby playing fraternity.

Jude’s conclusion begs the question of just whom this crisis of confidence actually belongs to:

I’ll get out the Ulster scarf when a small, insistent voice inside stops chanting “Ulster – Are you unionism in disguise?”

From previous discussions on Slugger and elsewhere, it is clear that that “small insistent voice” haunts more than Jude. Partition in soccer has led many northern Nationalists to transfer wholesale their allegiance to an organisation that identifies directly with the 26 county Republic.

No such dilemma exists in Rugby. In ‘Ulster Rugby’ most politics is personal rather than organisational. Ironically, those who retain Ulster’s connection with the rest of the island – by metaphorically dying for the green shirt – also largely self identify as Protestant and British.

There’s more than a passing resemblance to Mailer’s ‘psychic outlaw’ in Jude’s inner voice. Then again as a Man City fan who has only the thinnest of relations with that great English city, who am I to talk?

Yet if the ambition “to substitute the common name of Irishman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter” means anything to modern Republicans these days, it seems odd to continue withholding legitimacy from one of few organisations that has walked that talk, regardless of political times we find ourselves.

Or perhaps it is that latter point that is itself the problem?

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  • OneNI

    ‘Northern Irish nationalists have taken to supporting provincial winners from other parts of the island’

    If Northern nationalists are doing that it is pathetic.

    Thankfully Protestants and Catholics from across NI and indeed the 3 other Ulster counties are happy to unite behind the Ulstermen.

    One can only be thankfully that nationalism is waning in NI

  • Mike the First

    Jude would obviously empathise, then, if unionists refused to support the Ireland rugby team.

    Wouldn’t he?

  • Dec

    Dream on, OneNI.

    No doubt you’re an avid follower of your respective county’s GAA teams.

    I supported Leinster simply because there were more Irishmen in the team, including the greatest to ever play the game on this island. And I’d have supported them against Munster. So what?
    For balance, I’d check out the Ulster Rugby forums where there’s more than a little suspicion aimed at the ‘newcomers’ to Ravenhill.

  • keano10

    Sorry, but I don’t buy this.

    As a Republican, I supported the Ulster Rugby team in the final as I feel it is now genuinely inclusive and welcoming of support from across the community. I have a number of friends who now go to games at Ravenhill and they have’nt had any problems.

    Maybe Jude knows something that we don’t?

  • Lionel Hutz

    This is a tricky one. I also supported Leinster. The biggest single reason was that Brian O’Driscoll plays for them – who IMVHO is our greatest ever sportsman and who I want to see decorated with as many honours as possible before he retires. Second was because Leinster had a chance to achieve rugby immortality and become the greatest club team ever.

    But I suspect there is a little bit more than that. Against Munster, I was impartial and that was because I convinced myself that I should atleast be impartial if not support Ulster. My head ruled over my heart on that one.To a large degree its because of what Munster and Leinster have done for Irish Sport.

    But I also don’t feel a great attachment to Ulster. This is probably because at youth level rugby in NI remains largely a protestant game. In time that will change given what Irelands golden generation has done for the sport in this country.

  • Bangordub

    Absolutely agree, as a Dub I was obviously up for Leinster but I watched the game in a pub with a very “mixed” crowd all of whom supported Ulster. No sectarian chanting, flags or point scoring. Which I believe explains the difference between Windsor park and Ravenhill.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Don’t follow sport much, but I understood Ulster is just a regular team, like London Irish, Bath or Biaritz, there is no fixed geographical rules, unlike GAA & National teams?

  • I have to admit that I could not quite bring myself to cheer on “Ulster”…..and mostly it was generation response to the way that “Ulster” is mis-used as a word.

    I recall around the time of “Ulster 1971” BBC Norn Iron did some street interviews in Royal Avenue outside the old main Post Office asking people if this place should be called “Northern Ireland” or “Ulster”.
    One of the young men replied “Ulster” and when asked why simply said “its more Protestant, like”. Cut to Larry McCoubrey raising an eyebrow in the studio.

    About ten years ago Ulster won a European Rugby trophy in Dublin and it did seem rather hijacked by unionists….and I have to say that this time round there was more of a nine-county approach and certainly nationalist support…mostly from young people whose lives are ahead of them rather than old fogeys like myself whose future is well and truly behind me.
    And I welcome that.
    But ultimately wearing a jersey etc, Ulster Rugby, Ireland soccer top, Norn Iron soccer top or GAA shirt says something more than just support for a sports team.

    Id rather think that Ulster 2012 has learned the lesson from Norn Iron soccer in 1982. Presented with a golden chance to be inclusive, they failed miserably and as a nationalist and republican I welcome that. They will never recover.

    “Unionism in disguise?”. No I dont think so.
    But there are three perspectives in the north….unionism, nationalism and “lets get alongerism”. And for once I dont mean it in any insulting way. Its not the “faux” kind. Its genuine and heartfelt (for the most part). I certainly think that a minority of unionists in the rugby fraternity see it as “their” team and are a little resentful that some nationalists are anxious to climb on the bandwagon with their nine-county emphasis. And indeed I think some nationalists have attempted to hijack the Ulster team to something more than it actually is.

    On balance “stand up for the Ulstermen” is harmless. But Ima good twenty years too late for it all. The future is not mine.

  • Jude is wrong on (at least) two points. Firstly, Ulster-Scots is not a Northern Ireland invention (one of its heartlands was Donegal). But more importantly, linking his support of the Ulster Rugby team with the Ulster Farmers’ Union membership policy is just pathetic. If he really wants to encourage people to use the word “Ulster” properly he should be supporting those who agree with him.

  • Dec

    ‘But more importantly, linking his support of the Ulster Rugby team with the Ulster Farmers’ Union membership policy is just pathetic.’

    Not that he did that, but sure…

  • Lionel Hutz

    I meant to add to that:

    It’s not the same situation as exists with Northern Ireland football. Ulster rugby is definately open and I really get behind them against other teams except Leinster and maybe Munster. Northern Ireland purports to be a national team for a nationthat doesn’t exist. Why would I support that team when there is a team that takes players from thewhole island and represents the nation to which I belong in international competition?

    On a final point, many nationalists have just erased the provincial border from their minds. Even in GAA,when commentators are scathing about the brutish Ulster football, most supporters kind of meekly mutter under their breath about. They don’t really want to stand up for Ulster.

    Another one came up with golf at the Masters when it looked as though both Harrington and McIlroy might challenge for the title. Who would I support? On one level McIlroy was the local guy, but only if locality is defined by province as the distance between Tyrone and Holywood isn’t much different than Tyrone to Dublin. Although, you kinda wanted the guy to win who would wrap himself in the Tricolour after winning. But I would support Darren Clarke over any of them.

    To sum it up, there’s little special significance to a team being an Ulster Team or a player being from Ulster. You’ll probably go for the team or player who makes you more proud. Leinster was something to be truly proud of. The pride of our wee country (32 counties is still wee)

  • derrydave

    Good for you Keano. As a republican I supported the Leinster Rugby team in the final despite accepting that Ulster Rugby is genuinely inclusive and welcoming of support from across the community. I have a number of friends (from Ulster) who have or would like to attend Leinster or Munster matches, but who would have no inclination to ever attend an Ulster match at Ravenhill. Yeah, maybe Jude does know something that you appear not to !

    Leinster and Munster are particularly Irish sporting penomena, whereas Ulster are certainly not as Irish and thus many Irish nationalists will feel more of an affinity for Leinster or Munster (their success also plays some part of course).

    ps I wonder does Jude read slugger 🙂

  • BOD

    It would be too simplistic to assume that Jude applies the same ‘logic’ to the Ulster Senior Football Championship.

    Dec, your logic, on the other hand, is impeccable. If only people based their support for Celtic or Rangers on the number of local players fielded.

    In the Heineken Cup final, 10 Irish players started for Ulster compared to 12 for Leinster.  By the conclusion of the game, 17 Irish players had taken to the pitch for Ulster exactly the same number for Leinster.  Indeed, at the end of the game, Ulster had the greater number of Irishmen on the pitch.  I’m not sure if Dec’s logic led him to switch loyalty mid-match. Dec, I’m sure, has pure reasons for being an Ulsterman supporting Leinster. However, his seems the sort of logic someone in self-denial about personal prejudice might also cling to.

    People come with up all sorts or political reasons not to support a particular team – including Andy Murray (or indeed Dec) – and we should be supremely relaxed about this.

    What stands out for me about this particular final was not only that it was an all-Ireland affair, but also that there can be few sports where in a competition of this magnitude the number of ‘local’ players on both sides is so high.

    Imagine ‘L’Arsenal’ fielding a team comprised mainly of players from N London.
    It’s great to have so many people standing up for Irish rugby.

  • Presby

    As someone who has played the game, coached and supported the game for the best part of two decades, I would go so far as to say it is nigh on impossible to have, for want of a term, a ‘6 county Ulster’ disposition.

    If you play junior rugby in Ulster you will play in Donegal, Cavan or Monaghan at some stage. You will be embraced and looked after the game as anywhere else. You will very likely be playing with or against GAA men.

    If your team is successful you will be playing across the island as well as the province. You will make freinds for life.

    I can understand, why for political / historical, even class reasons, why some do not support Ulster. But I would struggle if the same people held to that position after committed involvement in the great sport, either at a club or spectating at Ravenhill.

  • Excellent points there.

  • Dec,

    Read it again. He did.

    as soon as the Ulster Farmers’ Union begins to draw members from Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal… That’s when I’ll fish out my Ulster scarf and join in the cheering.

    I’m not upset that Collins (or anyone else) is uncomfortable with supporting Ulster – that’s just a fact of life. But his penultimate paragraph is a childish list of excuses for refusing to even try.

  • The school one attends more often than not determines the sports one plays, not just the Gaelic Games v rugby divide but also the range of sports from athletics to showjumping, tennis, volleyball, weighlifting, X country, yachting and anybody got a sport beginning with z. Yes all of the above I believe are available in NI schools. (OK Dinghy racing rather than yachting).

    Under the curriculum entitlement framework schools will have to offer pupils access to a minimum of 24 courses, so why not a sporting entitlement framework with all children guaranteed choice and flexibility and access to say 25 sports (assuming we never find that elusive Z sport).

    A simpler solution might be to integrate the schools but hey we have a bureaucratic juggernaut in the making here with plenty of scope for bussing, duplication of facilities, catch up, etc.

  • MartinMac

    You see, I’m old enough to have another problem here, not just with Ulster but with rugby itself. I remember the IRFU’s abysmal, sycophantic and arrogant refusal to join the boycott against South Africa at the height of apartheid. I remember them ignoring the pleas of the then-Taoiseach, the late Garret Fitzgerald and going ahead with a tour of SA any way, aligning Irish rugby with Thatcher in supporting the racist apartheid regime. I remember the anti-Irish racist abuse that regime poured on the striking Dunne’s workers making a principled stand against apartheid the same year the IRFU went to SA.

    Yes, I know, Mandela forgave the SA rugby team, why can’t I forgive the IRFU?

    That’s because, brother, I’m no Nelson Mandela. IRFU – FU

  • Mike the First


    “Absolutely agree, as a Dub I was obviously up for Leinster but I watched the game in a pub with a very “mixed” crowd all of whom supported Ulster. No sectarian chanting, flags or point scoring. Which I believe explains the difference between Windsor park and Ravenhill.”

    Permit me to deconstruct this a little.

    You were watching in a pub, not a stadium.

    You say “no sectarian chanting” – are you really so unaware that you’ll not get this at NI matches at Windsor either.

    You say “no flags” – you would see plenty of flags if you were in Ravenhill, rather than in a pub.

    “No point scoring” – hard to tell what you mean here. There’s point-scoring between supporters in rubgy alright – but yes it ususally doesn’t have the same “needle” as in football. It’s a matter of the two sporting cultures, so don’t try to turn it into a specific NI football v Ulster rugby thing.

    I’m being blind as to your underlying point – I’m mainly a football fan who gets to Ulster games now and again, and enjoyed the atmosphere in Dublin on semi-final day. But you’re not expressing it in quite a fair way.

  • Blissett

    As a Cork man living in Dublin, you can be sure I was full square behind Ulster, as, I suspect many Munster people were.

  • Bangordub

    To clarify I meant No sectarian flags and no sectarian point scoring in addition to no sectarian chanting.
    Yes. I have been in Windsor Park and witnessed it, admittedly, many years ago on a rather heated night with qualification at stake. I’ll never forget it. I doubt any ROI fan will, or has.
    My underlying point is simply that I felt very comfortable in the company of Ulster rugby fans of all backgrounds, yes there was a lot of “Banter”, but no ulterior adgenda. The exact opposite of my experience in Windsor Park. An opinion reinforced by pretty much everything since, from Neil Lennon to James McClean

  • RyanAdams

    “This is probably because at youth level rugby in NI remains largely a protestant game.”

    If you don’t participate in the sport, don’t use the faith of those that do as a reason for why you don’t support your provinces team. Unlike Football and GAA there are no sectarian barriers to overcome in rugby, no excuse.

    “Leinster and Munster are particularly Irish sporting penomena, whereas Ulster are certainly not as Irish and thus many Irish nationalists will feel more of an affinity for Leinster or Munster (their success also plays some part of course).”

    Derrydave, they play for Ireland and to suggest any prejudice against them indicates its down to the fact many wouldn’t want a prod about the place. Believe me, I’ve met the type.

    Also as for what Munster and Leinster have done for Irish rugby, Theres no I in team, but 10/13 of tries in this years six nations came from Ulstermen. Also when the captain Paul O’Connell did get injured, Kidney looked to Banbridge, not D4.

  • boysaboys

    Just a newbee but on the subject of Ulster rugby I was wondering if any of you guys could help me with a question. Did Ulster ever play in the Yellow and Red, or was it always White and Red. Interested to know if there was a change.

  • Mike the First


    “To clarify I meant No sectarian flags and no sectarian point scoring in addition to no sectarian chanting”

    And what, to you, is a “sectarian flag”? Please give actual examples, and explain which of these are seen at Windsor and not Ravenhill.

    Also, what do you mean by “sectarian point scoring”?

    “Yes. I have been in Windsor Park and witnessed it, admittedly, many years ago on a rather heated night with qualification at stake. I’ll never forget it. I doubt any ROI fan will, or has.”

    Oh for the love of God. This was a match nearly two decades years ago played in the most appalling circumstances in NI, the most tense period I can remember in NI. It’s amazing how the imperative to “move along”, to the extent that the mass murderers responsible for the atrocities on the Shankill and Greysteel in the lead-up to that game were released less than 7 years later, still doesn’t cover some offensive chanting and a hostile atmosphere (note: two not completely overlapping concepts; football crowds often try to be hostile to rivals).

    “An opinion reinforced by pretty much everything since”

    Pretty much everything?? So the efforts of NI fans to end sectarian singing, the IFA’s “Football for All” the award given by UEFA recognising these, the fact that you will not hear these sectarian chants at NI matches any more – these have actually reinforced your negative perception. Forgive me, but isn’t that stark raving crazy thinking on your part?

    “from Neil Lennon to James McClean”

    Can you elaborate, more precisely, on what these names mean to you as regards “reinforcing” your perception? You can’t just toss them in like some sort of magic bullet (hmm, magic hand grenade?), or wield them like a trump card.

    I’m not disputing that you feel more comfortable with Ulster rugby – but neither am I going to let you bandy around phrases like you have without challenging you.

    Back to my first point on the particular response, and tying back in to the broader subject, it’s interesting how criticism often falls with regards to the following scenarios:

    – NI football fan with NI flag
    – Ulster rugby fan with NI flag
    – ROI football fan with ROI flag
    – Ireland rugby fan with ROI flag.

  • Dec

    ‘ Also when the captain Paul O’Connell did get injured, Kidney looked to Banbridge, not D4.’

    O’Connell was only captain because O’Driscoll was injured.

  • Dec

    ‘the fact that you will not hear these sectarian chants at NI matches any more’

    Yeah right:

  • sonofstrongbow

    The sectarian bigot will weave the most surreal of patterns. Thus we have the UFU outlandishly woven with Ulster Rugby.

    I suspect many here would perhaps consider supporting Ulster if it was only drawn from the three southern counties and recruited from ‘local parish’ teams.

    There again they may still baulk at supporting anyone participating in ‘garrison games’.

  • williewombat

    sectarian chanting….. its no wonder when one considers the 150,000 plus sectarian republicans/nationalists who give their votes to the murderers and bombers of SF/IRA when they were still involved in their sectarian campaign of hate in Northern ireland. As for the Rugby fraternity they love to think themselves superior because they can play sport across a border and are above all that political stuff well nothing could make them more inferior its no different than welshmen and scotsmen starting to play for england after all they are all living on the one Island which seems to be about the only reason given for teams from Northern Ireland and the republic Of Ireland to play together as Ireland. No wories about neutral attitudes there its the Soldiers Song and The Tricolor or nothing little recognition that Northern Irelands input represents a different jurisdiction.

  • Alan N/Ards


    Looking forward to the day the IRFU drop the horrendus Soldiers Song and remove the offensive tricolour from the Aviva at internationals. I know of another Bangor dub who supports Ulster but attended the final wearing a shirt which was half Ulster and half Leinster. As an Ulster fan since the early 70’s and a NI fan from the 60’s I have no time for bigotry and resent people like you tarring everyone with the same brush. I have been unfortunate enough to have met bigots wearing GAA and RoI shirts over the years but I am wise enough to know that they are in the minority. Along with friends I was ambushed by a gang of ROI fans after the international game in Dublin in 1978. The words orange and bastards were used as they kicked the tripe out of us not far from Landsdowne rd.


    I didn’t know that Jackie Kyle had played for Leinster.


    Are ulster players not irish enough because they won’t sing the SS at internationals or maybe their passports aren’t the same as yours. Maybe you brand of irishness is something they can’t embrace.

  • Mick Fealty

    Lots of good comment, but some avoidance of Jude’s question. Can we try to address that rather than petty irritations with each other?

  • Mick,

    Collins has quite clearly stated that his problem with Ulster Rugby is beyond the power of Ulster fans, players or management to solve. His question is one that only he can answer for himself.

  • salgado

    Andrew – only him or the Ulster Farmers’ Union.

  • RyanAdams


    Maybe a better title for this article of Jude’s should be are Ulster Rugby fans entitled to a political opinion or constitutional aspiration? In fact why single out Ulster Rugby – I’ll assume by his hatred of all things titled Ulster he doesn’t support Ulster GAA? Flipping the point in that direction I suppose do we even dare questioning Jude on what his opinion on the GAA and their inextricable link with nationalism is? Oh woops … that wouldn’t fit the narrative Jude or indeed the BMG pushes. And as for pushing the university of Ulster as a cold house for nationalists – please spare me the crap. There are plenty of students from the lost three attending the UU, and indeed from the other three provinces.

    Jude is judging Ulster Rugby by a minority of fans who fly the Stormont banner at matches – As these loyal fans attend matches regularly why should they be alienated by what Jude seems to be advocating (a ‘ban’ on the flag?). Ulster Rugby aren’t going to pander to the political agenda of a few narrow minded people like Jude Collins and Barry McElduff who make the occasional trip up to a match now and then and Jude who I didn’t even think had an interest in Rugby, unless of course as it appears interfering with its fans and their emblems.

    In short his article is nothing short of a bit of good old fashioned whinging that even Sinn Fein would call pedantic. No Ulster Rugby is not unionism in disguise although it is more popular with the unionist community, and obviously there are going to be elements of their ‘sub-culture’ which are going to make it seem that way.

    Do any of our nationalist commenter’s agree with Jude’s article?

  • Dec


    O’Driscoll – 117 caps, 240 points (to date)
    Kyle – 46 caps 24 points


  • Mick Fealty

    Internationals played? Under very very different scoring rules?

  • Do any of our nationalist commenter’s agree with Jude’s article?”

    Jude was cute enough to dig himself a bigger hole as some of the commentators have done so on here and raise *issues* with the religion of youngsters who play the sport and indeed the “Irishness” of Ulster in comparison to the other parts of the island..because, of course, there is only one version of acceptable “Irishness” as that Wolfetone bloke once pointed out.

    Collins himself is old school; any team originating in Ireland not wrapped in a tricolour humming Amhrán na bhFiann is obviously it’s not worth supporting.

  • “Jude was cute enough *not* to dig himself a bigger hole…”

  • salgado

    Dec. Given that they play different positions and at vastly different times, that may not be the most useful stat. O’Driscoll is certainly the best I’ve seen but I’d offer this stat for comparison

    BOD – Six Nations Championship
    Winner: 2009
    JK – Five Nations Championship
    Winner: 1948, 1949, 1951

  • “The obvious intention was to make ‘Ulster’ synonymous with ‘Northern Ireland’,”

    I doubt it; I suspect it just evolved. Is it not more likely that the use of ‘Ireland’ for the 26-counties was a deliberate choice? Does that get under Jude’s skin?

    According to the UFU website [ufuni dot org – a delightful combo] the organisation was formed in 1918 prior to the arrival of Northern Ireland. It’s a voluntary body so its name was a matter for its members but I’ve no idea why it doesn’t offer its services to other parts of the province. It seems to have a close relationship with other major farming organisations across these islands, including the IFA [ifa dot ie]. Feirmeori Aontuithe na h-Éireann offers its services to farmers in ‘every parish across rural Ireland’ – ie Ireland-26 – and has a webpage of links to its ‘national’ policies. The ‘Southern Ireland’ Farmers Association was established in 1955.

    I’ve probably given poor Jude enough ideas for another diatribe 🙂

  • Chris Donnelly

    I seem to recall a unionist MLA (Ian McCrea?) voicing his delight at Tyrone’s Championship defeat some time back, so clearly those ‘voices’ speak to many. Indeed, the Slugger furore over Philosophy Football’s t-shirt celebrating Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph (recently linked) also illustrates the point.

    Jude’s just being honest in a manner that many find either uncomfortable or inconvenient. Personally, I was delighted at Ulster’s progress through the Heineken Cup and would’ve been thrilled with another victory at the highest level of club rugby for the province.

  • Dec


    Not sure position is that much of an issue but I take the general point. Then again, we haven’t even touched uponBOD’s ‘club’ career.

  • “Jude’s just being honest”

    Chris, Jude’s being honest about himself – but he’s up to his oxsters in glar in the farming and other stuff 🙂

  • Dewi

    Ospreys and Shane fantastic btw,,,,,,,

  • Mick Fealty

    I have a screen shot of it somewhere Chris… and have used it in presentations.

  • john

    I do like Jude Collins as he doesnt beat around the bush but sometimes I do disagree with him and its usually on topics I feel he doesnt really understand and ends up just taking a standard republican stance without actually thinking about it. Lets get one thing straight Ulster rugby is very different to the Northern Ireland football team and those fellow Ulstermen who would prefer Leinster or Munster to win are a little stupid. Lets not forget there are now a few players in the squad like Fitzpatrick, Gilroy and Bowe who learned their basic skills playing GAA. As time goes on more and more young nationalists and catholics will be playing rugby for Ulster . It should also be noted that the sport is growing fastest in Donegal and all this is down to the hard work by Ulster rugby compare that to the IFA who yes have improved matters with the football for all campaign but at the end of the day skip around the big issues such as anthem, flags and stadium location.

  • Ulidian

    O’Driscoll arguably isn’t even the best centre Ireland has produced, never mind the island’s “greatest ever sportsman”.

  • BluesJazz

    I doubt that any of Ulster’s full backs are even aware of ‘unionism’, or that 2 of their best players, John Afoa or Ruan Piennar care much about it. All their players are commonwealth subjects of her majesty however.

    A substantial amount of Ulstermen will be cheering on Croatia on Sunday 10 June, that’s for sure.

  • RyanAdams


    You’d be suprised. Despite the souring of relations caused by the eligibility row, I and I’m sure many others bear no ill will towards the RoI football team and wish them well. One of the biggest agro factors for those that won’t may have something to do with a defector that just couldn’t manage to go in a quiet and dignified manor and unfortunatley rose to the abuse.

  • Shibboleth

    As I walked around Dublin on semi-final day a lot of Dubliners stopped me to wish Ulster well and hoped it would be an Ulster-Leinster final. There was genuine warmth. I wonder if there’s a difference between a Northern Irish perspective and a Cavan, Monaghan or Donegal perspective.
    Apparently in the 70s the Cavan schools competed in the Leinster Schools Cup.
    It smacks of hyprocrisy to expect a certain national anthem to be played at internationals and then complain about a provincial team as being nationalistic. Now if only there was a Northern Irish sevens side in the commonwealth games and if sevens feature in the Olympics which side will Ulster players aim for?

  • RyanAdams


    There has been an agreement that it will work like Rugby at the minute. IRFU and the other associations have agreed GB won’t pick Ulster players. Although I think the football row may have set a precedent – I’d like to assume they had the choice (parity of esteem etc), but ultimatley would like to see them represent Ireland and have a feeling they all will. Wouldn’t be worth the hassle going for GB. We actually don’t really have the calibre for sevens here. 7’s are not really big in Ireland like it is across the water.

  • JR

    I watched the match in Galway, there was a guy from Donegal sitting beside me at the bar and we got chatting to a local from Galway. He asked the man from Donegal “Why are you supporting Ulster, sure Donegal is in the Republic.”

    I don’t follow Rugby but i would support Ireland if they were playing and I supported Ulster last weekend. I suppose it comes from my GAA support the Ulster team mentality.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Can I just say that, as a republican from the north, I completely disagree with Jude Collins here.

    I was supporting Ulster, for the same reason I have always supported Ulster: because I’m very proud to call myself an Ulsterman. I was sorry we lost, though I do also have great love and affinity for the Leinster and Munster teams, who have brought such distinction to our country.

    Anyone who has never been to Ravenhill, should go. It’s one of the best nights out in Belfast.

    And to those who argue that Ulster rugby is now more inclusive than it used to be, I would say that while it’s true there are more nationalists on the terraces these days, that doesn’t mean it was an unwelcoming place before. My first visit was to see a David Campese-inspired Aussie touring outfit run Ulster ragged – and even back then, when Belfast was an incomparably scarier place, and the Ravenhill crowd much more exclusively-Protestant, it was a safe and fun place to be.

    Nationalists (like Jude, and others on this thread) should not slip into spouting the same oul bollix about rugby that all too many unionists still spout about the GAA.

    Nor should nationalists complain about a ‘hijacking’ of the word ‘Ulster,’ as unionists do about ‘Ireland’ and ‘Irish.’ Those unionists arguments are pathetic, and should not find a mirror image over ‘Ulster.’

  • “Now if only there was a Northern Irish sevens side in the commonwealth games and if sevens feature in the Olympics which side will Ulster players aim for?”

    Probably both. If we look at the example of Hockey, there are Ulster players in both the Irish and British squads. The British Hockey teams are in the Olympics as hosts (they would have qualified on merit anyway).
    The Irish teams both lost out in the finalss of their respective Qualifying tournaments (to Korea and Belgium)

  • carl marks

    As a Ulsterman I will happily support the Ulster team, in international rugby as in soccer i will support Ireland then if they aren’t playing then whoever is playing England, the latter sentiment seems to be a constant in Ireland Scotland and Wales.
    I would have agreed with BP, my first experience of rugby was at the invite of a friend to a match at Ravenhill i was a bit hesitant at first and it was more to do with the class difference between myself and what i perceived to be the average rugby player/supporter.
    I was aware that rugby was played on a all island basis and the Ulster team was a nine country team, the sport itself I thought was the preserve of the upper and middle classes who in the north happened to be protestants , I thought a working class electrician from north Belfast might not fit in,
    But I went and had a great time, met some nice people and was glad I done it.
    My point is that the Ulster rugby team has perhaps not got the support in the past from nationalists not because of it being perceived as unionist but instead it was the domain of a certain class (Anglo Irish?) happily this seems to be changing.
    Could perhaps someone tell me how the Ulster team and Rugby in general was historically supported among working class Unionists, i ask because it would be interesting to compare support not along orange/green lines but along class lines.

  • keano10

    Carl Marks,

    In answer to your question, Ulster Rugby has (and is) still a preserve of the mainly Unionist middle- classes for several generations. I am proud that Nationalists like myself gave voluntarily gone along to Ravenhill to begin supporting Ulster. It’s not like anyone invited us. However, sometimes it is the bigger individual who takes the inititiative and takes the first steps.

  • carl marks

    I was invited,
    if you are right (and i suspect you are ) that rugby has in the past been a middle class pursuit is this not the case on both sides of the border with the common denominator being class not religion, would the perception of rugby been all that much different among working class prods than among working class taigs
    I would dearly like to hear from some of our PUL posters particularly those from working class backgrounds as regards their attitude to the sport, I have a suspicion that it would not be a lot different from the feeling in the nationalist community which i believe is or was “ Not really our thing a bit G&t if you know what i mean anyway we prefer our balls round, round here.

  • BluesJazz

    Rugby and Cricket are NI grammar school sports, in state schools anyway. As they are in English public schools. Not so sure about the Republic but Brian O Driscoll went to Blackrock College, the Irish Eton.

    Football (soccer) is frowned upon at most of these schools. That’s why George Best left Grosvenor.
    Some grammars (including my old one) even have golf and sailing clubs. Mine even had an equestrian team.

    Class trumps all….

  • Mick Fealty

    Good man Keano. But before we put the Ulster branch of the IRFU on a pedestal, both the GAA and the IFA are making efforts to get out of their envelopes. It’s as much about opening pathways as nothing else.

    Oh, and just providing a great sporting experience that leaves people begging for more..

  • ForkHandles

    Very weird to read people from Ulster trying to put together a sensible sounding reason why they just couldn’t bring themselves to support Ulster. There isn’t one! It’s normal to support the team of where you are from. It’s really that simple. Everyone and their granny knows the real reason why they can’t bring themselves to support the province that they are actually from, it’s because they have been brought up in the sectarian tribal environment where their tribe is supposed to be the opposite of what any protestants are about. To be supporting a team that protestants support would feel wrong to them simply because they think that what the protestant tribe is into they are supposed to be against. Sad but true. Is there anyone who does not already know this?
    I’ve said it before, many people in NI need therapy to overcome these types of issues. It is abnormal, and is really a sad thing to observe on a public forum. Seek help !

  • Billy Pilgrim

    BluesJazz / Carl Marks etc

    Down south, rugby is very much a game for the upper-middle-classes, and, since the Tiger era, aspirational types from the lower reaches of the middle class.

    The big exception is the city of Limerick, where rugby is number one, and very much the working man’s game. I have no idea why.

  • Mick Fealty


    That’s a pretty dark view of the situation and from what I know if those regulars here I doubt that Protestants on the team is either adequate or correct.

  • How come it says there are 61 comments on this thread yet when you click “older comments” it takes you to a page where there are only a handful of comments? Where are the missing 30 odd comments?

  • Professor Yattle

    I think we could use more evidence that this problem afflicts significantly more people than Jude Collins, who one hopes is not especially representative.
    This is a man who has previously compared the murder of Mary Travers to a traffic accident, and defended the church over the Cardinal Brady scandal purely on the basis that “non-Catholics” were commenting (even though they weren’t, actually). Watching SF outpace him on royal visits has been hilarious.
    I will fondly imagine he is a lonely and ageing figure until proven otherwise.

  • Dewi

    it’s nowt to do with orange and green…..you needed a bunch of south africans to do any good…mind you Mike Gibson was my favourite centre as a child (absolutely fantastic player) – never see him on the tele – what’s he doing with himself btw. ?

  • Mick Fealty

    Tiatia is from the Valleys then?

    Short précis on Gibson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibDNBjoel4s

    It was almost a different game then. Much more open and full of running.

  • Sure wasn’t Tim Horan Irish but just playin for the wrong country.

  • ForkHandles

    Mick, its the tribal thing. People dress up their reasons with all sorts of detailed reasoning, but they are just trying to think of how to explain their views in some type of logical reasoned way, AFTER they have already made their decision. The reality is that they are tribal thinking and just dont feel that being ‘with’ the other tribe is normal. I wouldnt say its particularly dark, just very weird behaviour.

  • Mick Fealty


    Sydney born, I think…

  • Aaron Rainey

    If you are from Northern Ireland and can’t support Ulster then why should should people from Northern Ireland ever be expected to support the Irish National rugby team. By the way I am from Northern Ireland and do support the Irish national team.

  • Barnshee

    “In answer to your question, Ulster Rugby has (and is) still a preserve of the mainly Unionist middle- classes for several generations. I am proud that Nationalists like myself gave voluntarily gone along to Ravenhill to begin supporting Ulster. It’s not like anyone invited us. However, sometimes it is the bigger individual who takes the inititiative and takes the first steps.”

    The usual half arsed comments from people who know SFA

    Ulster Rugby has always been organised on a nine county basis

    The game at every level has tried very hard not to get involved in “the national question” In spite of pressures on (particularly the southern provinces) . Players travelled , fixtures were maintained the IRFU structure held.

    The support base for international and provincial games has however grown beyond the players, ex players and hangers on of old and taken a more nationalistic hue.

    The game itself is however unique (in my view) in the friendships and contacts made and sustained across the island

    That it is ” preserve of the mainly Unionist middle- classes ” is

    1 A result of the game in NI being shunned by the roman catholic community at the GAA direction. (I remember playing individuals under assumed names to keep the GAA sweet)

    2 The games roots in NI are/were the grammar schools (In the dim and distant past I recall playing schools in Dublin and Cork and asking why the equivalent schools in NI did not play rugby ) Shrugged shoulders and or red faces were the result.

    Having refused/declined to take part –from choice– it hardly appropriate for the whinger to complain about all themmuns playing that game ”

    “It’s not like anyone invited us. However, sometimes it is the bigger individual who takes the inititiative and takes the first steps.”

    Having declined open invitations for generations -Rugby clubs open to all with no obligations to support anything other than rugby –do check you facts -it would seem difficult to claim to be the “bigger individual who takes the inititiative and takes the first steps.”

  • Alan N/Ards

    Spot on. Glad to see the irish fans have reduced the number of tricolour’s being brought to the games in Dublin. It makes for a more welcoming atmosphere for unionist’s. If only we had an agreed irish anthem for “home” games.