Rugby lessons: Focusing on barriers rather than bridges only limits the scope for the future.

I was talking to my old friend Trevor Ringland the other day (we’ve been close ever since we co-authored A Long Peace? along with David Steven). The subject of peace walls came up and he said something to the effect that “we should stop focusing on the walls, and think about building bridges”.

That way, he reasoned, people can decide for themselves, when or even whether they wanted to remove them in their own good time. Focusing on the barriers – and not the bridge – only strengthens the power of the former whilst limiting the scope (and the will) to create the latter.

On the verge of Ireland’s first Six Nations match in Edinburgh, The 42 interviewed Ringland and his one-time team-mate (former FF TD) Jim Glennon about how Ireland’s rugby side has, probably more than most codes, found ways to keep people together.

Ringland offered this from England’s first visit to Croke Park (when Landsdown was being refurbished):

Elsewhere in the stands, a policeman and friend of Ringland’s was sitting in the stadium surrounded by ‘GAA men’, most of whom were from Munster. During their conversation, the subject of national anthems came up.

God Save The Queen, Amhrán na bhFiann, and Ireland’s Call were on the playlist that day and in light of this, they reached a compromise.

“He turned around to them and said, ‘Right lads, what’s it gonna be? All three (songs) or none?’

“They all agreed to sing all three anthems and help each other with the different parts. He said the drink was flowing and the banter was great. It was just a very powerful day and we should never let go of the game. We should never let those who hate the most determine what we do.

“It just brings misery to the people of this island, whichever background they’re from. We should keep reminding ourselves of what’s possible.”

Glennon had this to say about the sometimes controversial Ireland’s Call:

“It did nothing for me,” Glennon says. “For me, in Lansdowne Road, the anthem was Amhrán na bhFiann. That was the anthem of my country and it was an extremely proud honour to stand for the national anthem with a green jersey on you.

“I just couldn’t feel the same pride for Ireland’s Call. In fact, I felt it diluted and undermined Amhrán na bhFiann. I saw the idea and I knew what they were trying to achieve, but it did absolutely nothing for me.

“I won’t say it grew on me, it still wouldn’t be my listening of choice, but I’d become used to it and I know now that it means an awful lot to an entire generation who’ve grown up with it.

“And as such, it is now representative of the Irish people who like and accept it. On that basis, I go along with that.”

For Ringland, it’s more personal: not least because Rugby helps assert his strong (still British) feelings of Irishness. Others may feel that that’s been challenged by the shenanigans of the Troubles: wherever Rugby played it retains huge strength as a bridge between to distinct forms of Irishness.

Towards the end of the piece he notes:

“When you think of those who lost loved ones during the Troubles — is it too much to ask that we allow some symbol like Ireland’s Call come through that actually builds relationships?

“Is that not the least we can do for those families who suffered so much, that we could at least start doing things a bit differently to the way that we’ve done in the past?

“We’ve tried the hate route, so why not try friendship? That’s a lot of what people who criticise Ireland’s Call don’t get.”


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