News Analysis

Monday 15 September 2014

Calm down, lads, you do realise it's only a game?

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 18/02/2007 | 00:11

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THEY say the Irish remember too much and the English too little; but why should the Brits bother remembering anything when they know they'll always have us moaning away next door to remind them? And with the England rugby team's trip to Croke Park creeping ever closer, you couldn't honestly expect us to pass up an opportunity to rub English noses in past infamies once again. H

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THEY say the Irish remember too much and the English too little; but why should the Brits bother remembering anything when they know they'll always have us moaning away next door to remind them? And with the England rugby team's trip to Croke Park creeping ever closer, you couldn't honestly expect us to pass up an opportunity to rub English noses in past infamies once again. Hence the plan by Republican Sinn Fein to picket grounds next weekend in protest at the flying of the English flag and the playing of God Save The Queen at "the scene of a massacre of Irish people by British forces in 1920". There were even reports that Northern Secretary, Peter Hain, was considering laying a wreath, or making some other symbolic gesture, to apologise for what his ancestors did to our ancestors all those years ago.

Well, maybe not his ancestors exactly, because he was born in South Africa and didn't come to the UK until his teens, but let's not quibble over details. The point is he's a filthy servant of the Crown and some of us wanted to see him grovel. Both Hain and the Irish Government now deny there were plans to do any such thing, which, on past experience of the two administration's tendency to be "economical with the actualite", probably means it was almost a done deal until the media got wind of it.

Whatever the details, let's just be thankful they called the whole thing off. It's not like a mere wreath would have been enough to appease the righteous tribal anger of those who think English rugby boots on Croker turf are representative of 800 years of colonial oppression.

At the very least, they would have expected Peter Hain to strip down to his smalls before the Hogan Stand and lash himself with whips like that big bald Opus Dei monk in The Da Vinci Code. Or perhaps commit hari kari, his blood symbolically cleansing the sacred turf of its ghosts.

And maybe he should. What the British did at Croke Park was pretty despicable, after all, as they drove an armoured car out onto the grass and opened fire with machine guns on the crowd . . . oh, hang on, that didn't actually happen, did it? That was only in Neil Jordan's movie Michael Collins, a film whose hunger for historical veracity also extended to turning De Valera into a gibbering loon, bringing forward the invention of the car bomb by approximately five decades, and having Ned Broy of the Dublin Metropolitan Police murdered by the Brits when in fact he lived to a ripe old age and became Garda Commissioner.

Jordan must be the only person in Ireland who thinks what happened on Bloody Sunday 1920, with firing by police inside the turnstiles and then at fleeing spectators by police on Canal Bridge, wasn't quite bad enough but needed to be spiced up for the screen.

Of course, all countries go through this kind of thing. As in America, first you have your war of independence, then a civil war, and finally a litany of really terrible movies which reduce historical tragedy to soap opera. But combine the addiction to bad history with our own particular fondness for feeling victimised, and in Ireland you have a toxic mix.

Bloody Sunday was cold-blooded murder, but then so was much of what we grandiosely call our Civil War and nobody in Ireland seems to be apologising to each other for that. It's as if that part of the story is not supposed to be a problem because it was the Irish murdering each other, all good Gaelic lads together, and, sure, it was only a bit of craic. There's something wrong with a country so obsessed by history, but which is content to get that history from Hollywood-style biopics and socialist fairy tales like The Wind That Shakes The Barley.

All it does is cement the idea that these things happened to us and that we are owed apologies for them, when in fact they happened to other people a century ago and the worst thing the Brits ever did to the greener-than-thou throwbacks clambering on the Croke Park bandwagon was increase the subscription price for Sky Sports.

The whole thing is based upon a false premise anyway. What is happening next week is that a bunch of rugby players from England are coming over to play a bunch of rugby players from Ireland in a big football stadium.

That's all Croke Park is. It's not a holy place. It's not sacred ground. It's not the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or Ayers Rock.

That's probably why France won last weekend. To them, it was just another day at the office. We're the ones who put way too much significance into what, when all's said and done, is only a couple of hours kicking a ball around a pitch. Croke Park may play a significant role in Irish culture, but then so does the Abbey Theatre and we don't start chaining ourselves to the railings of Leinster House, Suffragette-style, when they give over their hallowed boards to staging something by that English apologist for colonial aggression, Mr Shakespeare.

To see Croke Park as being in some way sullied by the presence of the English is to buy into a muddled stew of nationalist mythology which puts excessive emphasis on abstract symbols of collective identity rather than normal human interaction. Claiming to be angst-ridden about it is a form of tribal oneupmanship, another version of the old "I'm more Irish than you" game.

In a couple of years time, the rugby and soccer teams will have got their own grounds back again, and Croke Park will be returned to the GAA faithful, none the worse for wear. It won't have been diminished by the experience.

The only thing that would have diminished us was if we'd gone ahead with some patronising and half-baked laying of wreaths or murmurings of regret.

That's the kind of thing which demeans everyone involved, from the people awkwardly making the gesture to the ones smugly receiving it.

As for Republican Sinn Fein, what happened to the old mantra about keeping politics out of sport? And still they say it's women who are the melodramatic ones. Get a bunch of Croker sentimentalists sobbing into their Guinness and it's like they've all got the Gaelic male equivalent of pre-menstrual tension. Calm down, lads, you do realise it's only a game, don't you? But credit where it's due. They're only saying what Provisional Sinn Fein secretly think but which the cute hoors are too pumped up with ambition to say openly.

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