Tuesday 22 May 2018

Billy Keane: No giving in to terrorists as life goes on for the everyday heroes of Paris

Munster captain CJ Stander. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Munster captain CJ Stander. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Days of terror have given birth to the reign of courage. Life goes on and the great city of Paris will not give in. The bravery of Paris, the unity of her citizens, and their determination to get on with their daily lives, is truly inspiring.

It's not that the terror threat has gone away. On Thursday last, a man with a fake suicide bomb strapped to his torso was shot dead in Paris.

The Munster-Stade Francais game was postponed because of the terror attacks in Paris back in November. The game goes ahead today. Sport brings a sense of continuity and diversion. There's a coming-together of a large group of people in a public place with no other ulterior motive than to enjoy the spectacle of it all.

Courage isn't just confined to spectacular feats of heroism. Riding headlong and head-strong on horseback into the teeth of cannon is a noble if often deadly manifestation of courage.

Most acts of courage are everyday ones. The single mother who works day and night to put food on the table for her kids is a hero. There are so many acts of individual and collective courage that go unnoticed.

Back in the time of the Second World War, the Victoria Cross was awarded to the island of Malta. So now we should honour the people of Paris for doing their shopping, bringing the kids to school and going to work.

Strange, in a way, that there has hardly been a mention of the circumstances that led to the postponement in the build-up to this game. That's probably how it should be. We must carry on and show that we as a society will mourn our dead but at the same time will not allow the forces of terror to rule or ruin the fabric of our everyday lives.

We think back to the final game of the Six Nations of 2014 when Ireland barely won in Paris. The fans from both countries were there outside the stadium drinking beer and singing after a truly magnificent Irish display.

France almost won it right at the end but somehow the ball fell from a French hand when a try seemed certain. I remember getting caught for breath such was the excitement of those final moments. To win the Six Nations is a magnificent achievement in itself but to win it in Paris marks the occasion as extraordinary.

Two after-match moments stay in the mind. The Irish supporter who gave his huge tall green hat to the Muslim boy outside the stadium brought a big smile to a little kid. Then there was the journey back from Saint Denis to the city centre on the Metro. It was the battle of the songs with the French lifting the carriage almost off the rails with a rousing 'Marseillaise' and then the Irish responded with 'The Fields of Athenry'. Back-slapping, hand-shaking and drink-sharing were very much the order of the day.

There were so many matches and so many moments that were somehow subsumed into a vast collage of undated memories. That train sing- song was one of those occasions to be placed for safekeeping in an individual envelope in the mind marked never to be forgotten.

When the news of the murder of three people by extremists outside the Stade de France on the day of the Germany-France soccer game came up on our screens last November, we feared our sporting lives would never be the same again.

There must have been some terror threat back in 1973 when England came to play Ireland in Lansdowne Road. My dad, a great man for bringing young lads to games, told me it wasn't safe. He went anyway, as did thousands more. The IRA were bombing innocent civilians in Britain at the time. Scotland and Wales refused to travel to Ireland as they felt the safety of their players and supporters was compromised.

There was a ten-minute standing ovation when the English team ran on to the field. I can recall watching upstairs in our sitting room and listening to the pride and emotion in Fred Cogley's voice as he described the events.

There were two messages sent out that day to the waiting world. The first was that we were a sporting and civilised nation. The second was our people would get on with their daily lives and traditions.

The Irish rugby team will be back playing in Paris again this spring and our soccer team have qualified for the European Championship which will be held in France next summer.


We booked for Ireland and Belgium in Bordeaux. I have this image of sitting outside a cafe on the sunny banks of the Garonne with a glass of Claret in hand and all around us festooned in green as we raise a toast to Ireland who have just qualified for the next stage of the European Championship.

But there's still that worry something could go horribly wrong. Our beloved cousin Fergal spent much of his working life in the most dangerous of places for the BBC.

Fergal is of the opinion the radicalisation of vulnerable young people is a problem we will have to deal with for some time to come.

So in a way the terrorists have claimed part of us. We will worry and take care. But that does not necessarily mean we have to give in. There can be no giving in.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the modern Olympics, was born in Paris in 1863. His words are as relevant today as ever. "May joy and good fellowship reign, and in this manner, may the Olympic Torch pursue its way through ages, increasing friendly understanding among nations, for the good of a humanity always more enthusiastic, more courageous and more pure."

So today when the Munster bus travels through Paris to the Stade Jean Bouin, captain CJ Stander and his players will see a man stroll Saturday slow from the boulangerie with a long loaf of bread under his arm. Svelte women with wedding cake hair are walked by poodles with waistcoats. Cars beep, bikes slalom, pigeons peck, friends meet, coins drop in an oboe player's cap, and kids saddled up on high-flying swings will catch fleeting glimpses of their city streets through privet and tree.

The day will go on, as ever, which is how it should be.

Irish Independent

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