Philly McMahon knows dangers of prejudice
Philly McMahon is a credit to his community, his county, the GAA and Irish sport in general. The former Dublin star’s opposition to anti-immigrant protests in his native Ballymun has been a model of decency and intelligence.
Other sports stars should follow his lead. Because the issue will not remain confined to Ballymun or East Wall or even Dublin. This one will run and run and force people to decide which side they’re on.
His status as an All-Ireland winner has given McMahon the kind of platform people from Ballymun and areas like it aren’t often afforded. He’s used that platform to make outsiders see there’s more to life there than the hopelessly dystopian picture usually painted.
“I would love if Ballymun was a place that welcomed people,” he said last week. “Because we’ve been judged for so many years that if you’re from Ballymun you’re a criminal or whatever. I find it unfortunate that we now fall into the trap of judging people.”
McMahon is defined not by sympathy for, but empathy with the underdog. His concerns are echoed by Ballymun For All, which “stands in solidarity with the vast majority of people in opposing the hatred directed at refugees and asylum seekers,” and is supported by local community groups, public representatives, Bohemians FC and the Ballymun Kickhams GAA Club.
Sport can play a useful role because it’s an area where the contribution made by people from immigrant backgrounds has been spectacularly visible of late. Gavin Bazunu, Andrew Omobamidele, Chiedozie Ogbene, Adam Idah and Michael Obafemi feature prominently on our national men’s soccer team, Rhasidat Adeleke and Israel Olatunde reached the finals of their events at last year’s European athletics championships, and Gabriel Dossen won European gold in boxing.
Adeleke’s enormous promise was illustrated last week when she set not just an Irish indoor 200m record, but the fastest time in the world this year. Yet some on social media used it as an opportunity to declare that she isn’t really Irish.
Adeleke was born here, went to school in Terenure, ran for Tallaght Athletic Club and speaks with a Dublin accent. Denying her Irishness reveals an extremely narrow and bigoted concept of national identity.
Concerns about the lack of consultation and a general frustration about government policy played a part in recent protests. But the outpourings of the most fervent protest supporters are full of the most blatant racism. The ‘Ireland Is Full’ and ‘House The Irish Not The World’ crew don’t bother to hide their beliefs. They see themselves as engaged in an existential battle against Ireland being ‘swamped’ by foreigners who will wipe out our native culture and pose a threat to us all.
This primitive fearmongering stuff won’t be wiped out by hate speech laws and garda activity alone. It needs to be passionately argued against which is why McMahon’s intervention is salutary.
The worldview of the anti-immigration lobby is fearful, joyless, paranoid and based on the old reactionary wish to turn the clock back to an apparently simpler time. But the clock won’t be turned back. Immigration is not going to stop, immigrants already here are not going to leave and Ireland will never return to being an isolated monochrome enclave.
Trying to live in the past will only lead to bitterness. It’s surely better to accept that times have changed and make the best of the country we actually live in.
It’s not a bad country after all. Sporting successes are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the immigrant contribution to Ireland. People from all over have come here, worked hard, put down roots and raised families. Our children don’t find anything remarkable about the fact that they have classmates whose parents come from elsewhere. If they think about it at all, they probably consider it invigorating rather than disturbing. So why not continue making newcomers welcome rather than trying to make life difficult for them?
Those questioning Adeleke’s bona fides unwittingly echo a famous exchange from our great national novel. In Ulysses, a nationalist known as The Citizen won’t accept that Leopold Bloom, a Jew, is properly Irish. Bloom believes that, “A nation is the same people living in the same place”. “What is your nation,” asks the Citizen. “Ireland,” says Bloom, “I was born here. Ireland.” The Citizen spits on the ground in response and eventually drives Bloom from the pub.
That The Citizen is based on GAA founder Michael Cusack is a reminder that Irish nationalism, like all nationalisms, has the potential to exclude. Ourselves Alone means something different to someone keen to keep Ireland white. Maybe it’s no harm to realise that we’re not magically immune from being racist.
But it’s also worth remembering that we have no equivalent of the National Front in France, the AFD in Germany nor the Brothers of Italy, far right parties with considerable popular support and political influence.
Our historical experience of poverty and emigration inclines us towards being generous to those forced abroad. In the long run the decent voice of Philly McMahon and of Ballymun For All can prevail.
Five years ago the Irish women’s 4x100m relay team secured a stunning silver medal at the world junior athletics championships in Finland. A photo taken that day shows Gina Akpe-Moses, Ciara Neville, Molly Scott and Patience Jumbo-Gula smiling, an Irish flag draped over them. The image radiated promise, of what lay ahead not just for the four athletes but for a country where people from different backgrounds, black and white, could unite and achieve great things.
Our future can still be like that photograph or it can go a much grimmer, mean-spirited route. The choice is ours. We should be guided by the words of Leopold Bloom, written by a man who, like many Irish people, spent years far from home relying on the kindness of strangers.
“Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that’s really life. Love, I mean the opposite of hatred.”
GAA objections and replays are as old as the association itself
Glen’s objection following their All-Ireland final defeat by Kilmacud Crokes isn’t against the spirit of the GAA. It harks back to the traditions of an organisation where objections and replays once abounded.
This year is the centenary of a particularly notorious one. On September 9, 1923 Connacht champions Sligo beat Tipperary in the (1922) All-Ireland SFC semi-final.
However, an objection by Galway forced the Connacht final to be replayed. They beat Sligo and were rewarded with a place in the All-Ireland final which they lost to Dublin. The Tribesmen have been in quite a few finals since but Sligo still haven’t reached one and probably never will. That was our big chance. Once we’d got a taste for All-Ireland finals, who knows what might have happened?
As a kid this struck me as unfair. It’s time those Saw Doctors loving cheats made reparations for this injustice. They could start by giving us Shane Walsh. Apparently there’s some terrific courses at the Atlantic Technological University in Sligo.
Hurling season packed full of promise
Has there ever been a hurling season with so many intriguing subplots? It’ll be like Succession on grass.
Can Davy Fitzgerald maximise Waterford’s potential the way he did Wexford’s? After working wonders with the Déise, can Liam Cahill revive a languishing Tipperary? Will Kilkenny be rejuvenated or unsettled by the absence of Brian Cody and arrival of Derek Lyng? After finally getting his chance can Pat Ryan get the best out of a Cork team brimming with potential?
Was the real Clare the one which engaged Limerick in two titanic battles or that which folded against Kilkenny? After an excellent debut season, can Henry Shefflin get Galway to kick on and overcome their antipathy towards consistency?
Above all, can Limerick maintain their hunger and complete a record equalling four in a row, thus rendering all other questions irrelevant in the final analysis? The question of whether or when Aaron Gillane returns from banishment adds further spice.
Best of all, given the importance of a good start for new bosses Lyng, Ryan, Cahill and Fitzgerald the action should be pretty whole-hearted from the beginning of the league.