Sunday 16 December 2018

It's high time we silenced Ireland's Bawl once and for all

Bring back Amhran na bhFiann and put passion back into the pre-match anthem, writes Tim Pat Coogan

Tim Pat Coogan

WHATEVER finally emerges from the post-mortems into the death of our hopes for another rugby Grand Slam in Paris recently, one piece of evidence is already glaringly obvious, and damning -- it's time to blow the full-time whistle on Ireland's Call.

I watched all three of the Six Nations matches last weekend and like everyone else who saw the games was struck by the fervour and intensity with which five of the six teams involved gave vent to the passion, pride and intensity of feeling for their nation in the way they sang their national anthems.

The sixth team, Ireland, was the exception. Half of the players did not appear to be singing at all and the rest mouthed the sombre Ireland's Call without any apparent conviction or intensity. Do they even know the words I wondered? Do they care? To paraphrase the song, shoulder to shoulder they may have been but they quite literally were not answering Ireland's Call.

But by God there was no question as to whether the French team knew the words of La Marseillaise and were answering to its spirit. Hands on hearts they belted out their national anthem with a fervour and commitment that was echoed by every French supporter at the ground and no doubt by millions more watching on TV.

Could anyone seriously argue, moments later, when the game kicked off, that the French did not have an immeasurable psychological advantage over the Irish? This was attested to by the legendary Irish international, Trevor Brennan, who spoke eloquently in favour of the restoration of Amhran na bhFiann to Derek Mooney on RTE Radio 1 last week.

Trevor, is a man who can speak with some authority about what La Marseillaise means to the French and to those who play against them.

He is an iconic figure in Toulouse, where he now lives, so well-regarded by the club and its followers that though he was not the captain, in 2003 he was given the honour of leading the team out at Lansdowne Road, for their Heineken Club final against Perpignan. Brennan pointed out that La Marseillaise is a martial song, a sort of choral haka, with roots in the French Revolution, and that Ireland needs to reply to it with a sense of togetherness and pride.

There are two problems intertwined in the refusal to play our national anthem abroad.

One is the nature of the song itself. I have enormous respect for Phil Coulter's musical achievements, but Ireland's Call, or Ireland's Bawl as I think of it, is not one of them.

As a song or a piece of music in its own right it would not merit any great attention, or criticism. But as a substitute national anthem it is completely inadequate, coming across as dirge-like and sombre.

Never mind La Marseillaise, it's not in the halfpenny place compared with the bugle in the blood generated for the Scots with Scotland the Brave, the Welsh with Land of Our Fathers, the Italian national anthem, Il Canto Degli Italiani or, let it be said, England's God Save the Queen.

Even in Irish terms it does not stand comparison, for example, with the power and emotional intensity of the magnificent, uplifting music Shaun Davy composed for the Special Olympics in 2003 and which is still played on occasion at Croke Park.

But the issue is not merely a musical one. There is literally a serious national issue here.

Ireland's Call was commissioned by the IRFU and introduced back in 1995 because northern players from the Unionist tradition objected to having to stand for Amhran na bhFiann, the anthem of the Green tradition on this island.

Henceforth the Irish national anthem was to be dropped when Ireland played away from home and sung only at Lansdowne Road, where the President and the Taoiseach attend matches.

The dropping of the national anthem and the introduction of Ireland's Call coincided with the coming of professionalism.

Ireland's Call was introduced with great fanfare being sung for the first time on The Late Late Show and, north of the border, on The Kelly Show. Former rugby greats from the Republic like Noel Murphy and Tommy Kiernan expressed the hope that the song would help to bring the two traditions together. An admirable objective but how grounded in reality was, or is, it?

The fact is that people of goodwill considered then, and consider now, that the singing of the anthem is part of the package of honour bound up with wearing the green shirt of the sovereign Republic of Ireland.

If one has a certain mindset Ireland's Call won't change it.

Was there any sign during the recent tortuous negotiations at Stormont that any DUP rugby supporters were influenced by Ireland's Call into being accommodating with Sinn Fein? Will it sound in the background in a few weeks time when further trouble and protracted negotiation can be expected over the parades issue?

The irony of the present situation regarding Ireland's Call is that it has not the slightest effect on the tradition to which it was meant to appeal, but is a cause of increasing irritation to the members of the tradition which thought it was doing something worthwhile by introducing it.

If we have progressed to a point in our island relationships where God Save the Queen can be sung at Croke Park and (rightly) listened to with respect, then Amhran na bhFiann should be sung at Twickenham. The IRFU are opening a new stadium at Lansdowne Road shortly which I most sincerely hope will be the start of a great new and successful era for the game and for the country. It should also be taken as an equally great opportunity for the restoration of the Irish national anthem and the dropping of Ireland's Bawl.

Sunday Independent

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