ballpark As the 6N comes to a sedate close there has been little of consequence to mull over and much that is predictable. Ireland were beaten well by France predictably and Wales played a lot of rugby but generally, the suicidal Scots apart, were pretty.

Pretty but ineffective that is until it was too late. Against Ireland, despite all that possession they were ineffective even when it was expected they would mount the by now obligatory 2nd half revival. Predictably France play for the Slam and Ireland the Triple Crown this coming weekend.

The rest play for the minor placing whilst the old Northern Hemisphere hierarchy is re-established following last year’s blip by the unpredictable France.

This weekend sees the final Irish rugby match in Croke Park before the team’s move back to its revamped Lansdowne Road, the now renamed Aviva Stadium. Once again the teams will line up and roar/wail/bawl or mime through Flower of Scotland, the Scottish anthem, the Presidential salute, the salute to the Irish president, Amhran na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem and finally, finally, Ireland’s Call, the Irish anthem that embraces both traditions of the Island of Ireland.

By the time all the hollering, mime and bawdy bawling is done the players will have stood in a line for about 10 minutes or 15 if you count all the handshakes pre anthems. Predictably not everyone will sing the anthems as some will stare stony faced or sing one of the either Amhran or Ireland’s Call or both and the odd character will look tense with John Hayes often succumbing to the odd tear here and there.

Predictably the anthems cause debate ranging from their necessity to the practicality of 3 different tunes/anthems/salutes. The thorniest of these debates is the playing of Ireland’s Call at away matches in lieu of the Soldier’s Song or Amhran or the Irish National Anthem by another name.

The singing of Amhran was dropped in favour of the all embracing Ireland’s Call as a nod towards the diversity of traditions in the island of Ireland where two separate entities live side by side in two separate countries but play rugby under the flag of the IRFU. It was Mao in one of his more lucid moments, or maybe Confucius, who said something along the lines of a trickle becomes a stream and turns into a flood. This could of course apply aptly to the call for the Irish National Anthem to be again played at Ireland away games.

The calls have been led by the trickles in the shape of Tim Pat Coogan, a tiddler in rugby journalism terms but as always with this kind of phenomenon, how long before we have a tidal flow of voices calling for the reversion to the Irish National Anthem. As is the norm in these ‘debates’ little if any opposition is countered or opposite views proposed, with the players unable, unwilling or disinterested to say what they think on the matter. Thus it is left to the journalist and the fan to promote their views. It is rare outside the raunchier confines of message board cut and thrust to have a view elaborated that espouses of the Northern Ireland ‘unionist’ tradition.

For the sake of clarity, as I do not peddle in politics, religion or socio/cultural matters preferring instead, the green sward and lawnmower to the soapbox, I’m not from a Unionist background. I do however regard myself as British and part of the United Kingdom so I will try and elaborate a view on the anthems from that position which for the ease of communication I will call the ‘unionist’ position with a small u.

The current compromise, for that is what it is, is the most ideal position anyone bar the more extreme elements of unionism could hope for in terms of recognition of the existence of Northern Ireland as an entity. The Aviva/ Lansdowne Stadium is in Dublin and therefore the Irish National Anthem is played due to the location of the stadium. Conversely, where the stadium in Belfast and Ireland played it’s internationals there it is unlikely God Save The Queen would be played pre match even though the location is within the UK . Indeed Ireland playing at Ravenhill is deemed by the IRFU to be an away match. That is an illustration of the one way street that operates at the heart of the anthem saga.

A true compromise would be the singing of Ireland’s Call at home and away games in the way that Scotland sing, Flower of Scotland and the Welsh ‘Bread in Heaven’. As so often with compromises of this nature, it is born out of a position of superiority on one side and inferiority or a lesser position on the other.

There is an implicit feeling that the northern contribution is one of inferiority in terms of powerbase and crucially contribution to the national team. Even at its peak and when the Northern tradition reigned supreme through the Ulster team in the Provincial championships there was never more than 7 or 8 players on the Ireland team, a far cry from the paltry representation of the current 2 and a far cry from the domination of the team by either Leinster or Munster.

The argument of team representation dictating the content of the team anthem is one that has no contribution to make to any debate on anthems. Representing your country at sport and supporting an international team is all about the team carrying your dreams, hopes, aspirations and identity. Thus you see a little bit of self represented in the sporting men and women chosen to represent your country and way of life. What the anthems sung by those same sporting heroes does is elaborate the pride in your country and what it stands for.

What one sees in Irish rugby, where two countries are represented under the one sporting body is tacit recognition of the diversity of the island of Ireland and little more. What one sees in the call for Amhran to be played at away matches is disrespect for that recognition and willingness to press home an ideological and cultural superiority that is threatened by embracing an entity outside the milieu of it’s own confined way of life.

Sometimes a country in economic hardship and recession turns in on itself and indulges in introspection. At times like this diversity and tolerance take a back seat in the face of nationalistic hubris and the re-establishment of bygone traditions and beliefs.

I cannot imagine Tim Pat Coogan and his ilk are in the vanguard of a national movement to re-assert the Irish National Anthem into the away game, match preambles of the Irish international rugby team. It would be a backward step and one I cannot see the IRFU acceding to.

Nevertheless one must be aware of the undercurrent of feeling and sentiment permeating the liberal strand of Irish society so that one is not taken unaware by events that start as a trickle and become an all enveloping torrent.

I am occasionally given to wondering are they open minded enough to see the nature of the compromise on the anthems from a Northern ‘unionist’ perspective. It is a compromise we, the unionista’s are happy to live with as after all we live in a nation riddled with compromises, fudged deals, small ’u’s, capital ‘C’s, De Hont, half baked democracy, inert decision making at a national level and a willingness to sanitise the past for the sake of a quieter future.

No wonder then we see the playing of Amhran and Ireland’s Call at home matches as a better than nothing deal for which we really should be grateful rather than asking the IRFU why they didn’t induct a truly proper compromise and do away with Amhran altogether.

There are more views on Ireland’s Call than there are over Galway Bay . I’ve heard it said it’s a dirge, though if you sing Flower of Scotland in a dirge-like manner it will sound like a dirge. For me I’m happy to maintain the status quo and accept the compromise of Ireland’s Call and Amhran for what it is, another Irish attempt to skirt a problem that will never go away as long as people like Tim Pat Coogan are there to remind you of their supposed cultural and political superiority.

It’s not worth throwing stones over and in the words of Peter Townsend:

I’ll tip my hat to new constitution,

take a bow for the new revolution,

smile and grin at the changes all around,

pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday.

I’ll try not to get fooled again but in the wee small hours one is sometimes given over to thinking on the insanities and inanities of life. The anthem before a rugby is one such inanity.


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