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.

Daniel Collins is a Manchester-based writer originally from the north-west of Ireland. Matters relating to sport, politics, culture and identity particularly interest him.

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Daniel maintains a blog of his own at