Will The “West Brits” Win The Grand Slam?

Matt Treacy, writing just prior to Ireland's rugby success, raises issues about the use of flags and anthems in the world of sport. 

As Ireland prepare to face England at Twickenham on St. Patrick’s Day, with a chance of winning the Grand Slam for only the third time, another culture war has erupted over the playing of anthems.

Some eagle eyed chap spotted that the Irish captain Rory Best does not sing Amhrán na bhFiann, the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland. Nor does he apparently sing along with Ireland’s Call, the dreadful ditty composed by Phil Coulter and first aired at the 1995 World Cup. It is played alongside Amhrán na bhFiann for Ireland’s home games at the Aviva, and is the only ‘anthem’ played when Ireland are away.

When asked about the reason Best does not join in the anthem, Coach Joe Schmidt rather implausibly claimed that it was because Best did not want to become too emotional prior to the game starting.

The explanation is actually far simpler. Rory Best is a Protestant from Poyntzpass in County Armagh, and is presumably a unionist of some description in politics. Not that that has anything to do with his rugby, no more than the politics of any other player.

The only Ulster player who lined out for Ireland to openly declare his allegiance was Davy Tweed who was a DUP councillor in Ballymena and one of the leading picketers of the Catholic Church at Harryville. He was later charged with sexual offences against young girls.

The likelihood of Best even knowing the words of The Soldier’s Song, let alone bashing it out with gusto are slim, to say the least. Why would anyone insist that he does? Any more than Northern Ireland soccer manager Michael O’Neill or any Catholic nationalist who plays for the northern team should be expected to join in with God Save the Queen. Indeed can you imagine the uproar if they did. and from some of the same people annoyed with Best.

Why exactly the NI soccer team does not have its own anthem, like Scotland and Wales, is another matter entirely. GSTQ is recognised as the anthem of English international teams and the GB teams that contest at the Olympics and so on.

Some have contrasted the ongoing communal tensions within soccer in Northern Ireland with the amicable manner in which rugby operates on an all Ireland basis. Soccer was partitioned when the island was divided politically, but even before that it had seen bitter disputes between Belfast and Dublin clubs like Linfield and Shelbourne, and violent sectarian conflict in Belfast itself. That led to Belfast Celtic leaving the league in 1949. Derry City followed suit in 1971.

Soccer remains the most popular sport among urban working class males in the north across the sectarian divide, and has an international, if hardly cosmopolitan, dimension with Catholics supporting Glasgow Celtic and Protestants supporting Rangers. Pious hopes for a 32 county international team will remain just that.

Rugby manages to transcend those sort of raw sectarian tensions because it is predominantly the preserve of the Protestant middle class. It barely exists in Catholic or Protestant working class communities. There is also the historical fact that rugby in the southern part of the country began with a similar demographic which was later extended into the Catholic middle class when it was adopted as their main game by Catholic teaching orders, many of whom banned GAA and soccer from their schools.

While GAA players and supporters including prominent county players and officials like Harry Boland from Dublin and Austin Stack from Kerry were also leading figures in the republican movement, the IRFU was clearly on the other side. The then President of the IRFU, Francis Browning, was shot dead at Mount Street Bridge on Easter Monday 1916 when his patrol of Training Corps British army auxiliaries encountered the Volunteer garrison there. I don’t think they did anything to commemorate this in 2016. Lansdowne Road also hosted a soccer international between Irish and Scottish regiments in 1917 and for several years the British army sports days took place there.

So is Dublin Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Micheál Mac Donncha correct in describing the rugby fraternity as “West Brits?” He had claimed that the non playing of Amhrán na bhFiann at the 2015 World Cup in South Africa reflected the “inferiority complex and anti-national attitude of the West Brits who still run Irish rugby.”

While such a depiction of the rugger chaps might have at one time been accurate, it is no longer the case. The sort of people who play rugby are little different from the sort of people who play hurling and football. Indeed, quite a number of professional rugby players have played gaelic games at inter county level.

If rugby remains a mainly middle class sport, especially in Dublin, that has to do with the schools in which it is played and the traditional lack of interest in even the international team among many Dubs for whom the gaelic football team and the international soccer team remain by far the most popular. But there is certainly no view of rugby as being “West Brit.”

Like any other sport, you either like it or you do not. The less anthems and flags have to do with it all, the better.

Matt Treacy’s book A Tunnel to the Moon: The End of the Irish Republican Army is also available @ Amazon. 

Matt Treacy blogs @ Brocaire Books. 

Follow Matt Treacy on Twitter @MattTreacy2

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

17 comments to ''Will The “West Brits” Win The Grand Slam?"

  1. Even soccer clubs have an anthem that defines the identity of their supporters. What you're suggesting is that identity is a bad thing. This is a fallacy. Anyone playing for Ireland should be happy with our great national anthem. The current situation is an utter hypocrisy and a disgrace. But not surprising with the preeminence of shoneenism amongst the westbrit oligarchs who are now vigorously ramming cultural Marxism down the misguided throats of commentators like yourself. Wake up man, and give a thought to those who fed and watered you.

  2. All nice words and all that but back to reality: there is politics in sport and the main people who call on us to keep politics out of sport are usually the main people use sport to promote their politics. Ffs take a look at any major sporting event the Brits organise. It usually involved Brit squaddie terrorists being saluted by politicians/monarchs, followed by their anthem and the usual offensive bunting and flags. Ironically these clowns will state they are not bringing politics into sport and that both should be kept seperate but at the same time they'll be wailing that Russia World Cup should be scrapped.'............hypocrites and liars!'

  3. Good piece Matt. I wouldn't concern myself too much that some political careerist thinks the Irish Rugby team are West Brits: the same West Brits his party is more than willing to play second fiddle to in a coalition.

    We all identity as something. I identify as European before I do as Irish but that is a choice made later in life, more due to European secularism. But it is no less the use of identity than the Irish one is.

    I don't think there should be obligatory nationalism but I think the PC killjoys can suck the life out of everything by their attempt to sanitise and sterilise. If people want to fly flags and sing anthems, fine. So long as it is not compulsory for everybody else. Should Rory Best have to sing? No. But he can't turn out in anything other than an Irish shirt.

    I think the worst case of flaggism at any sporting event that I recall is where it was reported that fans of the NI soccer team were waving swastikas at the Israeli football team. That had nothing to do with identity.

  4. The Soldier's Song is the anthem of the 26 county state and the Ireland rugby team is a 32 county entity. The Soldier's Song is only played before games in the 26 counties, all games outside the 26 it is Ireland's Call. I don't see the problem. Why should Rory sing his neighbour's anthem?

  5. AM,
    I remember that too and they gave Nazi salutes also....their actions were defended by the claim that was fully supported by the IFA that their salutes were 'Ulster Salutes'....never heard of has always been's just another means to dominate rather than go to for singing of many actually know the fuckn words!!!!

  6. We all have our preferences.

    I guess the more parochial the mindset, the greater the need for differentiation ... and the consequent likelihood of intolerance of differing tastes over most domains.

    (That said though, I do remember a time when golf and rugby clubhouses were bombed and it didn't distress me much back then)!

  7. I defense of the NI fans there have been significant improvements and sectarianism has been largely eliminated.

    Good on O'Neil for calling out the sectarian poaching policy of the FAI towards northern players too.

    They got caught out when approaching Paddy McNair only to find out he was a dirty prod and dropped their interest!

  8. mr. treacys last comment says it all. he has taken the cultural marxist 'soup' also it would seem. heres another political dubliner called matthew who has swallowed the spoon and all -

    expect loads of this over the next few years from both 'left' and 'right' - who are all singing from the same cultural marxist song sheet anyway.

    this is just the spinelessness required to make it a piece of cake for our population controller overlords in the eu to send another one million immigrants to our shores and nobody says boo, and if they do they're sent to the racist loony bin. but i can just see u all now as old men in 2040, when ur grandkids are a minority in their classrooms, reminiscing about the good old days when u had a country, an identity, a unique culture that survived centuries of persecution and genocide - which u destroyed urselves in the name of diversity and equality and multiiculturalism - ul all be singing amhran na bhfiann out the window then lads!!! a very old bono will compose a tranny multicultural rainbow sinalong 'anthem' for the squalid little cesspit u will spend ur last days in. the wests asleep, the east north and south too. where are the Gaels?

  9. seo libh canaidh amhrann na rainbowlords -

  10. Matt Treacy says

    Seamus, I have no problem with Amhrán na bhFiann and love to hear it sung with gusto on big days in Croke Park. Not so much at other games when the county secretary's niece murders it with a cringe worthy phonetic version: "Show love cunning around na bean..." and so on.

    Anyway, point in relation to Amhrán na bhFiann and the rugger chaps is that positive side is that it is, along with boxing - albeit based on radically different demographic - an all Ireland team with uniquely cross community support. Attacking Ulster prods for not singing the anthem is surely attempting to overegg the pudding!

    Apart from that public condemnation of Rory Best for not singing it, is on same level as those who would like to force nationalists on IFA soccer team to join in with GSTQ. in fairness, Linfield have made attempts to dampen down the associations with nasty loyalism, but IFA might take leaf out of Scottish and Welsh FAs and come up with their own anthem. Nor will you see too many union jacks at matches in Cardiff or Glasgow, unlike Belfast.

    Of course sport will have a political dimension, but it need not be in your face nor at the expense of including people with different political views. It is no coincidence that some of the less well supported and nastiest European soccer clubs are those in which ultra right and ultra left gangs have created a mythical association between the sport and their ideology. We even have it on an absurd and comical level among certain Dublin FAI clubs.

  11. Steve R,
    Steve, sectarian racism hasn't been eliminated from the IFA league here at all...that is a typical Prod view. The sectarianism and anti-Irish ideology has been cosmetically covered over to add to the false narrative that norn iron is a great wee place to live...not if your Irish and a Taig...just look at the voting patterns and the failure to restore Stormont....sectarianism and racism is alive and well within Unionism and it is ever present at Windsor. Changing an anthem or denying the flying of certain flags will not change's Unionist ideology that needs to change but in order to exist it can't.

  12. Grouch

    we live in an evermore changing world with life constantly presenting new challenges. Responding to complex situations with reductionist, tried and failed approaches will achieve nothing but further grief. Whatever the answer ... "Little Englander"-like responses will, in all likelihood, only bear bitter fruit.

  13. Niall,

    I was referring to the National team of Northern Ireland. Vast improvements have been made to combat sectarianism among the crowd and while the odd dickhead is still about it's largely gone.

    I have no idea about the teams in the IFA League, it's been a long time since I bothered with them.

    By your same token sectarian racism is also alive and kicking, though this time by the Republic. The FAI has been called out only trying to poach RC players from the North, and this salient fact was pointed out by a Roman Catholic manager and former player of the Wee 6!

    And isn't funny how the only time the South pipe up about an All Island team is when they are behind us in the World rankings?

  14. Niall
    Are you seriously suggesting that there is no sectarianism in Irish republicanism?

  15. henry joyless, once again, thanks for this mornings belly-laugh.

  16. Steve R,
    Vast what? Just because they frown upon, sectarian references being lauded from the terraces and not just by the odd dickhead Steve, that's another false narrative, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If it exists outside of the game and is part and parcel of your culture it exists inside the game and on the terraces also...the two are inseparable and that is what Unionism is.
    Unionism is sectarian and racist but it very cleverly portrays itself to the world otherwise. It's only when the veneer slips at elections that its true colours are exposed. And football is no different. That Steve is the brutal reality....not this airy fairy notion you have of La La land here!

    You've lost the plot!

  17. Niall,

    Someone's lost the plot but I doubt it's Peter! Very little in the way of sectarian shite is uttered from the stands these days at the International level due to the demography of the fans changing to a more family orientated ethos. And how do I know this?

    Three Catholic friends of mine who happen to follow wee Norn Iron have mentioned it to me. They've even posted it on Facebook to a worldwide fan group so it's not exactly 'La La Land' they are living in either.

    Insinuating my 'culture' is sectarian is rich coming from a republican, or are you one of the severely deluded 1916 Societies brigade? Sean Bres couldn't handle being told by former Provo's that they were indeed sectarian and made up some shite as an excuse.

    If 'my culture' is sectarian so is yours. Disagree?


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