Monday 24 July 2017

Our dual cultures can proudly sing this time around

Saturday View

Sean Diffley

'IRELAND'S CALL' will ring out at least four times in the Land of the Long White Cloud over the next few weeks -- in New Plymouth, Auckland, Rotorua and Dunedin, and, hopefully, a couple more times.

There has been an amount of criticism of 'Ireland's Call', much of it unfair. It is a tactful resolution to this island's unique position in world rugby -- a merger of different cultures.

The last Test international involving Ireland to be played at Ravenhill was in 1954 against Scotland. After that, the IRFU, with the full approval of the Ulster Branch, abandoned Ravenhill as an international venue and decided to concentrate exclusively on Lansdowne Road.

And in the midst of this upheaval, it is timely, isn't it, to remind ourselves of that first famous Grand Slam in 1948 when Ulster's contribution was composed of Jack Kyle, Ernie Strathdee, Des McKee, Dudley Higgins, Bertie McConnell, Jimmy Nelson, Bill McKay and Bob Agar. Eight out of 15 ain't bad.

Kyle and, from a later era, Mike Gibson and Willie John McBride have graced the sporting world, proud to wear the green.

And, as Willie John has told us: "When I slip down to Kerry on a break I am treated like a god in that heartland of Gaelic football."

Yet, some still begrudge our Northern brethren 'Ireland's Call'.

Back in 1987, in the first World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the Irish team were reduced to standing meekly to a 19th century Irish ballad about a girl called Mary, while the anthems of their opponents -- Wales, Canada and Tonga -- punctured the air.

The organising committee, not too well up on world geography, demanded an Irish anthem and a distraught manager Syd Millar was, metaphorically, tearing his hair out.

The brains trust present, a small media group, tried to help. One phoned RTE's music department back in Montrose seeking help. They couldn't offer anything. Con Houlihan, one of our travelling hacks, offered his priceless contribution to Syd. "What about," said he, "God Save... the Rose of Tralee."

And so it came to pass that 'The Rose of Tralee' was our anthem for that tournament.

Flags and anthems can so often be a bugbear in sport.

I can recall British and Irish Lions tours in South Africa in the height of the anti-apartheid campaigns. There were no anthems played and the teams entered the stadia and the matches began immediately.

The late Noel Carroll held that the Olympic Games victory ceremonies should be devoid of anthems for the victors. He felt strongly that the emphasis should be on the medals, gold, silver and bronze and the only flag fluttering should be the Olympic movement flag.

He had competed in the Olympics and argued his point strongly to anyone who would listen. In fact, the opposite has prevailed. The TV channels that dominate the Olympics now concentrate to a disagreeable degree on pontificating about their own. The BBC coverage is xenophobic to a laughable degree and Channel 4, for these World Championships, is even worse.

RTE are in luck. They have little home talent to be patriotic about, so they must concentrate their analysis on other nations' athletes.

Irish Independent

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