Monday 24 October 2016

Their bigotry is our patriotic banter

Published 26/06/2016 | 17:00

Ireland's Rory McIlroy. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Ireland's Rory McIlroy. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

The 'will Rory McIlroy play for Ireland in the Olympics?' non-story was perhaps the greatest non-story of them all. It has been the Watergate of non-stories. Last week's withdrawal brings the thing to a suitably farcical end.

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From the start this saga has functioned as a lightning rod for jingoistic idiocy. So perhaps it was fitting that McIlroy's announcement that he wouldn't, after all, be joining that gallant band of Plunkett, Pearse and Tone brought reams of the stuff gushing forth. Our own little mini-Farages, perhaps sad that they won't have Rory to kick around any more, seemed determined to give him a farewell present.

Reading all this unpleasant stuff, the #Irishmearse, the references to McIlroy's 'beloved Queen', you couldn't help but feel that the fervent patriotism which comes out when Ireland are in a big sporting event is not without its dark side. When we're all supposed to be marching on the one road singing a soldier's song, people have a tendency to pick on anyone who's seen to be out of step. There are plenty of folk who seem to believe the best way to show your love of Ireland is by expressing your hatred of some other place or person.

McIlroy simply doesn't happen to be the flag-waving type, whether that flag happens to be the Tricolour or the Union Jack. Which, given the history of his native land, is perhaps understandable enough. Yet in terms of practical sporting patriotism he did his bit when competing in last month's Irish Open, thus restoring much-needed credibility to a tournament which had seemed to be on the way out. There's no way McIlroy would have played in a tournament of that calibre had it been held anywhere else but Ireland. That's what matters, not his decision to pull out of something which, in terms of major golf, is a Mickey Mouse competition.

Forget the Zika virus and the withdrawal altogether. They're not the point. What has always irked the keyboard warriors is McIlroy's reluctance to indulge in ostentatious declarations of Irishness. But the thing is that nationalism is not an incontrovertible and non-negotiable part of your identity. It's a choice, a way of looking at the world, an ideology if you like. It's not compulsory to be proud of your nationality or even to define yourself by where you come from.

Just as James McClean has every right not to wear a Remembrance Day poppy, Rory McIlroy has the right not to wrap the green flag around himself. Everyone has the right to an individual choice dictated by their own conscience on these matters. Yet I'd wager that many of McIlroy's fiercest detractors were among McClean's most fervent supporters. They entirely missed the point about why McClean was in the right. It was to do with fair play, not spite.

The gobshite on Liveline ranting on about how McIlroy was obliged to represent Ireland because apparently he'd got some money from the Irish Golfing Union at some stage of his life was making exactly the same kind of point as the gobshites who said McClean should be forced to wear the poppy because 'he's earning his living over there'.

Pressing McIlroy to make a declaration of national allegiance one way or the other is against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement which stated that people from this island can declare themselves citizens of either of the states which inhabit it. That's why James McClean and Shane Duffy were able to play for the Republic against Italy on Wednesday night.

No doubt there are a few people North of the border who regard them as 'traitors' and have said so on Twitter. And no doubt the people who've been putting the boot into Rory McIlroy would regard these people as bigots.

Because when the other side does it, it's bigotry. When our side does it, it's acceptable patriotic banter.

Though surely now Rory sees how much it means to us, he'll be gung ho to represent Ireland next time round. How could he refuse? He knows we love him. Like Glenn Close loves Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction.

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