Is Irish Rugby Truly the Beacon of Inclusiveness It Is Purported to Be?

The Ireland rugby team competing against Australia at the 2011 Rugby World Cup (Jolon Penna; CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

The Ireland rugby team competing against Australia at the 2011 Rugby World Cup (Jolon Penna; CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

We often hear that Irish rugby has yet to shed its elitist baggage and that the very significant level of coverage devoted to the game by the Irish media is disproportionate in comparison to the level of genuine national interest in the game across the country – whether this is true or not, it’s a debate that rages on in light of Ireland’s elimination from the Rugby World Cup at the hands of Argentina last weekend – but, amidst all this, another question regarding the IRFU’s purported inclusiveness is overlooked, especially in the south.

That question being; is the unionist or Ulster Protestant community genuinely or adequately represented in terms of the IRFU’s choice of symbols?

We nationalists get the tricolour and ‘Amhrán na bhFiann‘ (at home games in Dublin) whilst unionists get a hollow token gesture; ‘Ireland’s Call’ and the provincial flag of Ulster, both of which are inclusive of both of the two main communities on the island anyway. There is a complacent presumption in the south that “that’s them sorted” and we nationalists pat ourselves on the back for being so “generous” and “willing to compromise”, except it’s not really a compromise at all, is it?

Neither of those latter two symbols are specific or exclusive to unionism, the British tradition in Ireland or the statelet of Northern Ireland in the same way the majority tradition on the island and southern state are given exclusive (and, indeed, doubled-up) recognition. ‘Ireland’s Call’ and the provincial flag of Ulster are very much tolerable to and representative of both nationalists and unionists. Thus, there is a very blatant disparity in the level of prominence accorded to how each community is represented, despite the fact the Ireland team represents two political jurisdictions.

Would southern or nationalist Irish rugby fans ever expect the southern players to stand through the discomfort of observing ‘God Save the Queen’ as an anthem of the Irish team in the same way the northern unionist-background players are expected to stand for ‘Amhrán na bhFiann‘ (which, along with the tricolour, whether we like it or not, causes them cultural discomfort in this context)?

Indeed, when the Ireland rugby team last played in Belfast back in 2007, the IRFU bizarrely designated the game an “away” fixture so as to avoid having to play a home anthem, which one might logically have expected to have been ‘God Save the Queen’ or something else specific to the north and the British identity of the majority of its inhabitants. Is this inclusion, or is it cowardly double standards and an evasion of a difficult political issue?

The parity-of-esteem principle as applied to, say, the Belfast City Hall flag dispute would seem to support the flying of both community flags or none in that scenario; perhaps a similar principle is worth applying to the choice of symbolism of the Irish rugby team if the IRFU’s claim to inclusiveness is to be taken seriously.

Daniel has written more generally and in greater length on the purported inclusiveness of Irish rugby here on his blog.

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  • Zig70

    Actually the mindset belongs to the northern psychosis that Ireland is one country and the flag and anthem belong to all of us. Which is maybe worse. I don’t buy your example, was there a decision made to go along with the Irish setup? The Irish rugby scene would have been culturally very comfortable for ‘northern unionists’. I’d also take issue with the labelling of northern rugby supporters as unionist. A big chunk of protestant middle classes would be fairly ambiguous and straddle both comfortably. Anyone but England. So that Northern unionists made a decision to continue the Irish setup is a stretch? I would be interested to here what symbols you would want? I’d be a fan of the Irish harp than the tricolour as an Irish flag, the tricolour is common as muck.

  • barnshee

    North of Ireland RFC were driven out of Ormeau road by the persistent attacks by the local population its now an extension of the people’s republic of ormeau

  • barnshee

    Because the Ulster Branch of the RFU contains all 9 counties and organises fixtures on a 9 county basis hence MonGhan play in the Ulster league

  • John Collins

    Well I suppose as a former GB said at a famous rally in Belfast long ago ‘There are more important things that Parliamentary Majorities’

  • Alan N/Ards

    It took me a minute to work out what you meant. It is of course Paul O’Connell and not Paul McConnell. Most definitely not deliberate.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Why does doing the right sporting thing depend on political unionism?

    The original arrangement was that ambhran na bhfainn and the tricolour be used in Dublin and GTSQ be used in Belfast.

    This was not honoured.

    Unionism (for once) is not to blame.

    If you want two parts of Ireland to play in a partnership then surely it’s only fair to represent both parts of Ireland?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Sub
    Why not just have an all Ireland team that has no symbols that make anyone feel uncomfortable?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    James
    I understand your sentiment but as someone who spent most of his adult life in Scotland I can say with confidence that most Scots would oppose this, the majority of them see us as Paddies (Lanark and the non-Pakistani parts of Paisley Road West notwithstanding).

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    If anyone wants a proper united Ireland here is the perfect topic upon which they can whet their teeth.

    HINT: Telling one group to suck it up and go with the flow probably won’t be a workable strategy…

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I believe he was a monk who had Rome as his mothership but Rome was also part of a greater Christian chirch with much more important axis’s in North Africa and Asia Minor.

    And the term ‘Catholic’ would be very, very loosely applied.

  • James7e

    Pithy, but an essentially empty comment, JC. Did you have a point?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As Ag says, these “terms” meant something entirely different in the fifth century. You are using them rather anachronistically, Trasna!

    Good heavens, even today the C of I Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Clarke, states he believes in “the holy catholic church” when he recites the creed.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Dan, I don’t know how to break this to you, but Pádraig died at some time towards the close of the fifth century. I’m afraid the boy on Twitter is an impostor………

  • Zig70

    I’m not suggesting there should be no accommodation, there has been. I would argue never playing your anthem in tournaments is actually quite a lot to give. Too much in my view. You can’t whitewash England’s history in Ireland and expect the Irish to get behind gstq. That is a colossal ask.

  • Greenflag 2

    Rugby is a sport -I’d leave the UI business to voters and governments.

  • Greenflag 2

    Dal Riada is dead and gone and thus can’t play rugby or even table tennis . Modern Scotland is not Dal Riada we have gone beyond the 5th century AD . Modern Scotland is not Northern Ireland and does’nt want to be either ..

    While it’s harmless enough to take pride in your kinship with Scotland rather than Ireland you might want to read up on Scottish and Irish history to understand the long historical and population connections between both modern countries .

    If you count your ancestors -direct – just parents and their parents ( 8 generations ) back to the time of Shakespeare you and everybody else would have 16, 384 direct ancestors i.e people without whose timely conjoinings you (nor I nor Gobsmacht nor anybody else ) would be here in 2015 . . If you were to count your direct ancestors back 60 generations to Dalriadan or Roman times your direct ancestors would number
    1, 000,000,000,000,000,0000 or several thousand times the number of people who ever lived . ( the above numbers are from Bill Bryson’s Short History of nearly Everything pp 387 398 the Stuff of Life chapter .

    So your kinship can’t be just Scottish or Irish or any other modern nationality . Like every human on Earth we all go back to the same ancestors . It’s just that people being people generally are kin to where they or their families have lived for the past few generations .

    So wherever you are there you go . Scotland’s a lovely country -nice people but the weather is bloody awful 🙂

  • Greenflag 2

    Is liking a tricolour a prerequisite for being Irish?

    No . But the Tricolour is the preferred flag for approx 87% of the island’s population which can’t be disregarded .
    Under a new political dispensation for the entire island then a new flag would /could /might be appropriate .

  • Alan N/Ards

    It’s a shame that the Tricolour is so divisive, as it would have been the ideal flag if a peaceful united Ireland had come about, pre 69/70. It’s a bit too late for that. Maybe the colours could be kept, but in a different design.

  • submariner

    Aye maybe the IRFU should take a leaf out of the IFA book oh wait on second thoughts

  • Dave B

    Check out http://freshni.org .

    I think they have quite a good flag solution for both Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole (such as for the rugby team), as well ass touching on a few other semantic issues that cause so many unnecessary arguments.

  • Reader

    Zig70: I would argue never playing your anthem in tournaments is actually quite a lot to give.
    The IRFU never plays our anthem. Why should it play yours?

  • Zig70

    Made me wonder what they played before the current anthem. God save Ireland was the previous Irish anthem, doubt it was sung at rugby internationals though.

  • John Collins

    Oh yes I have a point. It is that more people than Nationalists can be inclined, and indeed anxious, to ignore the opinions of a majority. In the case I mentioned the speaker was the Leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and a future Prime Minister.

  • Greenflag 2

    ” if a peaceful united Ireland had come about, pre 69/70.’

    About as likely as Albania landing a spaceship on Mars .

    ‘It’s a bit too late for that.’

    Am not bothered all that much by flags to be honest despite my moniker . I’ve been to countries which no longer exist or their names have changed and they adopt a new flag or unstore an old one .. Life goes on -people adjust – flag colours change -nature doesn’t care .

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Actually, it would be the ROI and NI flag as it is both countries in Ireland. Not the Union flag. But yes I would agree this would be a suitable arrangement. Irelands call can be played at every game. It is unlikely there will be big games played in NI due to the lack of a large stadium. So alternating anthems and stadiums north and south is never going to happen.

  • submariner

    Except for the fact that NO does not have a flag. The old stormont junta flag ceased to have any status in March 1972

  • PeterBrown

    Yes because the IFA is a 32 county body and a completely appropriate analogy for the IRFU – oh wait on second thoughts

  • James7e

    Oh, I see. The cast iron Irish Republican credo that ‘two wrongs make a right’. Lovely.

  • submariner

    You are missing the point. I was replying to AG point about not having symbols that make “anyone uncomfortable” so it is very relevant in the case of the IFA who are well aware of the problem that symbols /anthem causes and have done absolutely nothing to address it. IRFU are streets ahead in this regard.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    What does the ifa have to do with this topic?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    You say it’s maybe too much to give but it appears that it has indeed been given as far as GSTQ is concerned.

    So one side has to give and do what it’s bid by the other.

    I thought we were now all against such things (apart from the TUV & DUP)?

  • Spike

    This debate is just an extreme case of paranoia and the natural siege mentality that is prevalent in Ulster sports (be it in Rugby, GAA or soccer). Before the plantation we were all seen as ‘different’. After the plantation we were all seen as ‘different. British people see us all as ‘different’. People from the south see us all as ‘different’. We even see each other as ‘different’. Whatever flag/anthem/jersey colour solution you come up with offend somebody. Personally, I think they’ve got it as close as they can to keeping everyone happy. The haters always gonna hate.

  • PeterBrown

    But that point is in the context of an all island body as opposed to a Northern Ireland sporting organisation.

    The all island body is surely under a greater obligation to represent all those from both its constituent parts than a body which only has one constituent part is to represent 2 communites who make up that one part? And if it ignores one of those 2 parts then it is falling further short that the IFA is in representing its one constituent part surely?

    You are comparing fruit but they are apples and oranges (OK apples and bananas!)

  • John Collins

    James
    (1) As I have told you emphatically already I am not a supporter of any violent organisation Nationalist, Loyalist or state sponsored – so go easy on the old ‘Irish Republican’ nonsense.
    (2) Just because I showed up a glaring flaw in your argument does not mean that I approve of any wrong or am I influenced by any ‘credo, except the Apostles’ Creed and as I get older I find it harder and harder to believe all that contains.
    (3) I cannot believe that some subscribers here refer to decisions made by the electorate as in some way flawed because of some perceived inferior intelligence of the electorate.

  • James7e

    You didn’t expose any glaring flaw. Essentially what happened is that I said I find something unacceptable, and you said ‘sure the other side do it, too!’.

  • Trasna

    The problem isn’t with ANB, but the fact that NI doesn’t have an anthem. Sort that and the problem is solved.

  • Trasna

    Ser up your own team then.

  • Pint of Plain

    I am sympathetic to this issue but this isn’t without caveats. Firstly, isn’t the Ireland rugby team a combination of the 4 provinces rather than NI and RoI? Are we then saying that ‘Ulster’ is against the status quo?

    Obviously if it’s a 4-province team, there is no strict need for the Irish anthem to accompany it. It does raise the question of what should represent Ulster (assuming we are confident that the majority of Ulster feel unrepresented). What other song should we add? Is GSTQ the ‘Flower of Scotland’ for Ulster/NI component? Really? Happy ‘stealing’ it from another ‘nation’? I think a separate NI anthem would be needed and that brings us full circle to the initial issue of full inclusion as Ulster is more divided than Ireland. Ditto with the defunct Stormont flag.

  • Pint of Plain

    Hi Am Ghobsmacht,
    As I said earlier, I have sympathy and I think the rugby team is to be treasured. I take your point to a certain extent. However, I think it is a big deal for ROI to hold back on their anthem overseas. The geographic coverage of the rugby team compromises a sovereign state and a part of another sovereign state. This other state (UK) has decided to separate itself into different associations to compete in rugby (as in many other sports). They have chosen differing ‘anthems’. Scotland’s and Wales’ ‘British’ identity is not represent by these anthems. So, has NI really had to ‘relinquish’ it’s anthem? What song could represent the NI part in an inclusive manner?

  • Zig70

    You may have a point but GSTQ is just to big to swallow. Can’t abide monarchy, why would God save her, the arrogance of it. But that’s just me, I don’t have any real skin in the game

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    In which case a fair swap? No anthem at all that’s too big for either side to swallow?
    Or a new NI anthem and both could be played?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I think if we are having one national anthem then we should have two.

    With that in mind I strongly advocate an anthem for Northern Ireland (personally, with no clout or influence whatsoever I’d support a reworded version of ‘oro se do bheatha bhaile’ or Dougie McLean’s ‘The Gael’ (aka ‘thon fiddle tune fae Last of the Mohican’s’) but that’s just me)

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    With that in mind I strongly advocate an anthem for Northern Ireland (personally, with no clout or influence whatsoever I’d support a reworded version of ‘oro se do bheatha bhaile’ or Dougie McLean’s ‘The Gael’ (aka ‘thon fiddle tune fae Last of the Mohican’s’) but that’s just me)

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I am not a rugby football union. Seems to me there are two choices:
    – take matters into our own hands and set up a Northern Ireland team on a fair basis
    – do the Ireland thing properly.
    Realistically, I suspect the vast bulk of rugby opinion is in favour of the latter. Fine by me. I’d happily support an Ireland team that properly respected the nationalities of its constituent parts.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    one of the reasons I find it so interesting. And great credit to Daniel and indeed Robin here on this thread for showing they grasp the implications and see the ‘fairness’ argument.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    thanks for this – yes I love their new Northern Ireland flag, that could really work. The St Patrick’s Cross makes much more sense for us than the St George’s Cross; the causeway stone with 6 sides is too good a natural design coincidence NOT to use; and the crown isn’t needed really and it alienates quite a few. One thing I would suggest to make it more cross-community might be some green on there, so maybe the border to the hexagon is green? I’m not so keen on the green personally but I’d accept it if it helped.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    still, if Ireland can’t produce fair symbols for a harmless thing like a shared sports team, with a lot of goodwill behind it, what hope for the much more tricky business of forging a new pan-Irish identity that includes the Ulster British? (And this time, not just the nice polite types that go to the rugby). That is very much the Irish nationalist conundrum, is it not?

    And it begs the question, does Irish nationalism really want to forge a new shared Ireland with a new shared Irish identity, or simply to eclipse the Ulster British and subdue them into accepting traditional Irish nationalist symbols? From what I observe, nationalism tends to say it wants the former, but tends to act like the latter.

  • Zig70

    A new NI anthem, good luck with that. Danny boy did work well.

  • Pint of Plain

    Well you’ve chosen a fine tune from one of my favourite films – Last of the Mohicans. Scottish writer might offset the unpalatable (for some) song title. I’m sure it’d be sung/hummed to by everyone in the crowd, so a winner. Would it suffice for most?

  • Pint of Plain

    You have my backing in principle for this, but think the additional anthem would have to be a NI anthem, not the use of GSTQ – already used by England.

    Out of interest, do you think that Flower of Scotland respects the nationality of the 500,000 English living in Scotland?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    difference is that the British in Ireland aren’t living in the Republic but in a different sovereign territory. So the analogy would be if there were a Scotland + Northumbria team and they only played a Scottish anthem.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    … is one logical consequence of Irish rugby not sorting its act out on this. Alternatively it could sort its act out.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    a ‘junta’ that, strangely for a junta, was regularly democratically elected 🙂 Which makes it not a junta. Not a great government; but not a junta.

  • Pint of Plain

    Hmm, not sure that analogy holds any better. But I think we can agree on principle of another anthem to represent NI. However, this surely should represent the ‘Northern Irish’ and not the ‘British in Ireland’. The rest of the British state dissolved itself (in sporting terms) into separate associations that represent their distinct part of the UK.

    I would back some of the tunes mentioned by others (Last of Mohicans tune!). Then the anthems of Northern Ireland (not UK) and the Irish Republic could be played whenever Ireland plays.

    Can we agree on that?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Sounds awesome on the bagpipes too!!!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it’s not hate, Spike – it’s seeking equality of treatment for all

  • Only eleven countries play the sport professionally though. Out of those eleven, the only three never to make it past a World Cup quarter-final are Ireland, Japan and Italy. Within the sport, I think it’s fair to say Ireland underachieve. Certainly globally-speaking anyway, in spite of recent Six Nations successes.

  • Very much so, AG.

    I was able to properly get into that aspect of the issue in the longer related piece on my blog, as you might well have seen. I’d like to encourage self-reflection amongst fellow nationalists/republicans for two reasons primarily:

    i) it’s hypocritical to demand or expect of others (unionists in this case) what we don’t expect of ourselves;
    ii) we can duck our heads in the sand in hope, but a united Ireland isn’t going to appear out of thin air.

    It’s up to us to convince the unconvinced of its merits. Dragging a significant population unwillingly into our ideal doesn’t strike me as very republican either. It isn’t simply a matter of ensuring unionists or those who identify as British on the island feel accommodated; it’s about ensuring they feel like equal participants. The idea of mere accommodation possesses rather uninspiring connotations of putting up with an outsider, but that’s a second-rate and long out-moded way of looking at it. The notion of us waiting for unionists to take the first steps or waiting for respect to be shown to us before respect is given to them (not that unionists can’t/don’t show respect; I’m simply making a point about the expectations and initiative of nationalists/republicans here) is also counter-productive; why would unionists ever make the first step towards an ideal cherished only by nationalists and republicans?

    I have emotional attachment to our present national symbols, but would Wolfe Tone et al. have allowed them to constitute a deal-breaker?

  • That’s certainly something I hadn’t overlooked. I mentioned that in the longer version of the piece above on my blog, but thought the north-south/nationalist-unionist identity issue was more appropriate for a Slugger contribution.

    I think everyone is aware of that aspect of rugby’s history, but in the south and within nationalism, there is a presumption that the way the team is represented symbolically now is just fine. I sought to encourage (self-)reflection on that front.

  • If it’s a combo of four provinces, then why did the team play under the national tricolour and the sub-national Ulster provincial flag at the World Cup?

  • To be fair, I don’t think it’s malice/sectarianism; I think it’s more rooted in cowardice.

  • The controversy is partition/division; I’m trying to think of ways to bridge matters.

  • Would a hypothetical GB & Ireland (outwith-UK) team line up to ‘God Save the Queen’?

    Speaking as a republican, why wait for unionists to make moves? We’re the ones who seek change, which makes it our responsibility to take the initiative. Plus, fairness/parity isn’t dependent upon what steps you perceive others to be willing or reluctant to take. That’s irrelevant. It’s about expecting for others what you expect for yourself.

  • Inspired. Even I might be able to get behind that idea, and I was born ten minutes over the southern side of the border!

  • Whether it would work as an anthem or not, I’m not sure, but this version’s great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA66buY-wqw

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Is there a lyricist in the house? I’d like someone to pen potential lyrics in the off chance it does catch on but is laden with references to the Boyne and other shackles from the past (I prefer to think about the future).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it’s not deliberate sectarianism, but it happens because of implicitly sectarian assumptions – regarding British nationality on the island as having a lower status than Irish nationality. I get that they have their own hang-ups about Britishness down there; but it’s surely inappropriate for them to insist on their anti-British feelings taking priority, when they are sharing a team with British people and British supporters.

  • Zig70

    I guess the answer from the Lions is that no, they don’t play an anthem. (as far as I know).

  • Alan N/Ards

    The IRFU pre dates the setting up of NI and the Free State, yet it appears to have become (with its emblems) a nationalist body. This is a shame as unionists played for and supported the IRFU (pre partition), and still do to this day. As you know, there have been calls for the IFA and FAI to join together and form one team. Unionists look at how an all island rugby body have insisted on a one sided approach, regarding emblems, and will not even consider a joint football body until this is resolved.

    The NI Commonwealth team use The Derry/Londonderry Air as their anthem and I have yet to hear any unionist complain about it use.

  • Alan N/Ards

    A very thoughtful and respectful post. Much appreciated.

  • Zig70

    What would you want? When is something nationalist rather than just irish?

  • Pint of Plain

    I don’t know why the protocol is the way it is. You’ll see from my previous post that AnB isn’t strictly necessary.

    What I do know is that the governing body operates on an all-Ireland basis and in operational terms ignores partition. Indeed, the Ulster branch and rugby team is an ‘international’ affair.

    If there is a desire for Northern Ireland to be represented with a separate anthem and flag then I am sympathetic to that idea. However, as with the other nations (parts of the UK) the anthem/flag would need to represent NI (and not the UK, or Britishness in Ireland). So, if NI can settle on those, then happy to see this incorporated into the rugby.

  • Alan N/Ards

    I suppose it’s how you define Irish. The tricolour represents the Irish people who give their allegiance to the law makers at the Dáil. I’ve no issue with that. The issue I have is, the Irish people ( who are the minority on the island) and who give their allegiance to Westminster, are not being represented at rugby games. The IRFU have decided that the all island team, made up of Irish unionists and Irish nationalists and supported by both, will only fly the flag of the larger Irish grouping. It’s as simple as that.

    I have never asked for the British anthem or the Union flag to fly in Dublin, or indeed, anywhere, at Ireland games. The flags of the four provinces, with Ireland’s Call, is what I would prefer. If the Tricolour not flying is a bridge too far for nationalists, then the Cross of St. Patrick should be used alongside it and nothing else.

    I am very happy to support an Ireland that not only tolerates its minority, but will go the extra mile, to make the minority grouping as comfortable as possible. We are told that the referendum on equal marriage was to make a minority feel part of the nation. Great. Are Irish unionist rugby supporters not worth the same kind of support and recognition?