C: Still via YouTube

No, a song in a dressing room does not mean we need ‘re-education’  

First, a confession. I have no interest in soccer, whether it’s men or women playing, partly because I’m an unreconstructed fenian, and partly because the thought of running around a field makes me want to lie down, and so I wasn’t even aware that a World Cup qualifier was happening this week.

The first I saw of the Ladies’ Football victory was the powerful photo of Amber Barrett, in the moment that she scored her decisive, winning goal, touching the black armband she wore for the tragic loss of the 10 people who died in Cresslough. 

“I’m dedicating this result and the goal to the 10 beautiful souls who unfortunately perished, for all their families. I know they touched their lives and they have touched ours. This is for Cresslough. This is for Donegal,” she said.

Her words, a rush of emotion and remembrance, were a unifying moment for a nation in mourning for that terrible tragedy. 

The following day, the  media admiration had soured. A video had emerged of the young women singing in the dressing room after the match. Amongst the songs they were dancing to was one that outraged some commentators – the chorus of Celtic Symphony apparently written by the Wolfe Tones to celebrate the centenary of Celtic Football Club. 

To be honest, the song is mostly nonsense, a jumble of lines about a sailor man from Glasgow town and evil eyes in Paradise. But the ladies team were singing the chorus, ‘Ooh Ah, up the ‘Ra’ in celebration of their victory. 

I think most people realise that the girls likely just thought it was a catchy tune, in the same way  that ‘Come out you Black and Tans’ is enjoying an ongoing resurgence of popularity due to a Brady’s ham ad, an Alan Partridge rendition, and a pumped up remix of the Dominic Behan song which I’m told is wildly popular with teenagers. 

Now, it’s entirely understandable that hearing a song sung about the IRA will be upsetting to those whose loved ones have been killed. That could also be said of songs that glorify Loyalism, and of the many songs in the Orange playbook which exhort that Ulster be rid of ‘Papish foes’, and kept British by use of ‘rifle and grenade’.

In fact, given the now-undisputed role of the British Army, the RUC, and the UDR in killing so many unarmed Catholics, some would argue that the militaristic triumphalism in ‘Rule Britannia’, which praises an empire carved out with violence and conquest, is unacceptable. It is also an historical fact that the murderous actions of the British Army in Ballymurphy and on Bloody Sunday, along with the introduction of internment, both massively boosted the number of people who joined the IRA and left many feeling that guerilla army was the only source of protection on which their beleaguered community could rely. 

Others counter that the IRA has now been disbanded for almost 20 years, and that the controversy around a song in a dressing room is largely redundant, because the weapons have been decommissioned and the Good Friday agreement is in place for more than two decades. And, too often, modern objections to relics of history such as statues or place names are both unhelpful and obfuscating. The past is what it is, better to understand it than to pretend it never happened. 

Of course, as William Faulkner wrote, ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past’ – and terrible cruelties were endured by people on both sides of the conflict. Peadar Tóibín said this week that “In the north we must accept that different communities experienced the troubles differently. If we keep fighting over what happened in the past, we’re not going to be able to work together on the future.”

The song in the dressing room might have been a storm in a teacup, then, except for an interview on Sky Sports where presenter Rob Wotten asked Ireland defender Chloe Mustaki if the incident “highlighted the need for education on issues like this?” The comment brought an entirely predictable reaction.

Dublin GAA star Philly McMahon seemed to capture the majority opinion when he tweeted: “An English person asking an Irish person is there a need for more education on Irish history. Are you for real?” McMahon’s point was an interesting one because, contrary to some assertions, a more comprehensive education in Irish history would make Irish people more, not less, aware of the devastating effect of centuries of oppression and cruelty inflicted on this country by our nearest neighbours. 

Matt Treacy has written powerfully and comprehensively on this platform as to how events such as Cromwellian ethnic cleansing, the Plantations, the Great Hunger, and much more not only left an entire nation dispossessed, exiled, and brutalised, but also destroyed – deliberately and systematically – the Gaelic way of life. It was a miracle that the language and the music managed somehow to survive. 

Rob Wotten is likely unaware of that long and troubled history, and of the deep historical currents that drive Irish patriotism in the same way that love of one’s country is both expected and admired in other nations. That ‘education’ might well be a scab that he would later find he should not have picked at.

And in fairness, why would Wooten have that awareness? He is an Englishman, and under no obligation to understand the history of Ireland. What many found galling however, is that a some Irish commentators seem offended not just by badly-written Wolfe Tones songs, but by any expression of Irish nationalism. 

Whatever about the validity of objections to Celtic Symphony, is notable that many of the same people most furious at the ladies football team also wanted to commemorate the RIC, and seem to object to any songs of Irish freedom. They object to ‘Come out you Black and Tans’ because it’s somehow dreadful for Irish people to sing about overcoming a foreign army sent to wreck terror and burn down the city of Cork. They don’t like renditions of ‘Seán South’ either, and were annoyed at the Tipp team singing ‘The Galtee Mountain Boy’. 

Where does that lead us, to a ban on ‘Oró Sé do Bheatha Bhaile’? Are all our historical songs that speak of freedom under suspicion? What about ‘Rosc Catha na Mumhan’, the magnificent battle cry of Munster –  should it be part of the list of songs that shall not be sung, lest the desire for freedom expressed in its call for a Gaelic Ireland cause offence? 

There’s a trend evident in some of the persistent criticism: a belief that Ireland is always in the wrong, a failure to feel any empathy with the suffering of our own people or to dismiss it in a sneer about the famine or the effects of centuries of colonisation, and a strange, inexplicable desire to assert that Irish nationalism is always a Bad Thing. 

This doesn’t apply to any other nation, it seems. Its wonderful for British people to be proud when they sing ‘Rule Britannia’, or to be proud of their soldiers and their conflicts. Its only Irish nationalism that needs to be stamped down, its only Irish people who have no right to self-determination 

I know that for many people who fear the possible vindictiveness and aggression of a Sinn Féin government, chants in a dressing room might be a sign that the party has overwritten the past. But all true nationalists know that Sinn Féin are not really interested in the uniqueness of Ireland’s culture or on our distinction as a nation. They are globalists, in thrall to Google and the European Union, ideologues who went cap in hand to Westminster to ask the British parliament to foist abortion on the North. They may be on a roll right now, but their day will come. Their empty, meaningless policies, like their adherence to a false vision for Ireland, will fade and be lost in the arc of history. 

This has nothing to do with anglophobia, by the way, or ‘Brit-bashing’. Every country should understand its past and every nation has a right to assert its sovereignty. The notion that Irish people are taught anglophobia in schools is laughable. My experience, and I imagine it was the same for many others, was that we learned very little about the War of Independence and nothing at all about conflicts afterwards. One history teacher said he thought it was too divisive. 

I doubt very much that the girls on the football team had any notion of celebrating the deaths of innocent people. They most likely saw the song as an expression of an Irish victory – and that is where I think they did, in fact, make a mistake. Chants and slogans are not how we express what’s best about Ireland. We have a great, rich and expressive culture that provides us with far more than that. 

Perhaps we do need more education, but not in the way Rob Wotten meant: our young people should know that a real Irish identity is built by by a deep knowledge of a culture that was almost lost to us: a treasure of ancient and magnificent music and song, a rich and unique language, and sporting prowess that has given us what is still the fastest and most skillful ball game in the world. 

Almost nobody wanted the conflict in the north to continue. Peace is always preferable to death and destruction, to bombings and killings. In moving forward, we should not seek to erase what was best in our past. The next time a video emerges from a dressing room, it should be, as Pearse envisaged, of a victorious team singing Oró Sé do Bheatha Bhaile. 

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