Monday, January 14, 2008

A Different Ball Game: The GAA up North

I've written an article on the social and political issues facing the GAA in Northern Ireland for the GAA website "An Fear Rua". It comes in two parts:

A Different Ball Game: Part I

A Different Ball Game: Part II


mope monster said...

Very erudite sounding article. Am impressed.

Chekov said...

An interesting piece. From a unionist perspective I do believe that strides have been made by the GAA and that amongst reasonable people attitudes are softening. I think you’re right in identifying that interest ranges from curiosity to indifference and that there is a minority who are actively hostile to the sports.

I know neutrality is not en vogue in Northern Ireland at the moment and that SF etc would attempt to argue that respect should be accorded to nationalist symbols within the GAA, but I do think that as a sporting organisation it should continue to divest itself of national and political connotations. For example I don’t really see the necessity of anthem playing before fixtures. I don’t know whether this practice is widespread on every level but certainly the county match which I attended at Casemont Park was preceded by the Republic’s anthem. Small things like this become a big problem if the idea is to persuade unionists to become active participants.

Now I know similar points could be made about the anthem at Northern Ireland football matches and I would be the first to acknowledge that and wish to change our anthem to something distinct to Northern Ireland. I think it is encouraging however that there are people within the GAA, Jarlath Burns is one example, who wish to see the sport become more accessible to people of all backgrounds.

You’ve certainly got something with some Dublin types derision of the sport. I was down with a bunch of southern mates who live there and have adopted fairly archetypal young professionals attitudes the day Tyrone played Dublin in that floodlit match. The venom they had for the entire spectacle was far greater than I’ve ever seen from Northern Prods!

CW said...

Some good points there, Chekov. The political climate is certainly changing for the better, albeit slowly. It was encouraging to see Sports Minister Edwin Poots of attend the Down v Donegal McKenna Cup match recently, a move which will no doubt have incensed certain hardliners within his own party - so fair play to him. There are of course certain extremist elements who have a problem with the GAA's very existence and will continue to demand unreasonable concessions. When Ian Paisley Jnr for example called for the mass brawl in the Tyrone v Dublin league match a few years ago to be the subject of a PSNI investigation his words smacked of opportunism. Around the same time a fight broke out in an Irish League soccer match, but Baby Doc remained strangely silent on the matter!

Many progressive reasonable-minded people within the GAA (including Jarlath Burns) would argue that the Association shouldn't have to compromise its core principles for the sake of political correctness or inclusivity - ie citing that cultural differences should be celebrated and not brushed under the carpet in favour of some artificial sugary sweet concept of cross-community unity which doesn't exist. However I think that suspicion and distrust will eventually decline with work on the ground such as in schools through small gestures, but will take time.

However, you seem to know quite a bit about the GAA and the fact that you've taken the trouble of going to a match is encouraging. Any ideas for a new anthem for the NI football team? Personally I think "Danny Boy" is a bloody awful tune, but I feel a rousing and energetic anthem such as "Alternative Ulster" by Stiff Little Fingers would be perfect to get the crowd going! ;-)

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