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