Sunday 21 January 2018

A tough Call but anthem can stay!

THIS septic isle of ours would break your heart (and wallet), what with the continual drip feed of stories concerning doomsday IMF scenarios and dodgy bankers and hairshirt budgets and ... oh, enough!

Fact is, it could be worse. We could live in the Philippines.

This land of passionate singers is apparently cracking down on warblers who make a pig's ear of their anthem national. So much so that offenders who strike a bum note could end up behind bars (of the non-cocktail variety) for up to two years and be left paying a hefty fine of more than $2,000 (€1,450).

A ban on the improper singing of Lupang Hinirang (Beloved Land) and unpatriotic displays of the Philippine flag is now just a Senate vote away from becoming law after the lower house voted 196-0 in favour of this new legislation.

Which got us thinking -- just imagine if the same zero tolerance approach was adopted by the high king of Clara and his embattled band of Fianna failers (that absent fada is purposely omitted, by the way).

Most GAA fans probably don't even know the last two lines of Amhrán na bhFiann. Why so? Because, at major championship matches every summer, those climactic words are forever drowned out by a deafening cacophony of "Up Mayo"/"Up Offaly"/"Up Cavan"/"Up Whoever".

(Editor: Eh, when exactly over the last few months did Mayo, Offaly or Cavan play a major match in front of a deafening cacophony?)

Now, maybe you find the rabble-rousing lyrics of Amhrán na bhFiann offensive to your delicate sensibilities. Or maybe you belong to the sizeable minority who haven't a clue what they even mean. But the fact remains: if we lived in the Philippines, the GAA would have an even bigger problem maintaining attendances in the midst of recession because half of its patrons would be locked up.

As for the alickadoos at the new Lansdowne?

Oh, don't get us started. Suffice to say, Curve Ball intends introducing a private member's bill that will hereby make it a criminal offence for any Irish citizen to sing Ireland's Call -- punishable by 20 hours of community service watching the O'Byrne Cup/McGrath Cup/FBD League/McKenna Cup, and without recourse to a hip flask either.

YOU may take it from the above piece that this column has issues with 'all-inclusive' anthems. Not so -- we just can't stand the contrivance that is Ireland's Call.

With that explanation out of the way, let us salute Trevor Ringland. Once upon a non-professional time, Trevor was our favourite Irish rugby player -- because he was electrically fast and blessed with the happy knack of rounding off back-line moves with an uplifting try in the corner.

These days, Trevor is a unionist politician. Or rather, a former Ulster Unionist Party politician.

The one-time flying wing has now raced from the embrace of the UUP, resigning because new party leader Tom Elliott had refused his offer to bring him to next year's All-Ireland football final if an Ulster team qualified.

The solicitor, who stood unsuccessfully as a recent Westminster candidate in East Belfast, is heavily involved in cross-community work. "We are a deeply divided society, yet politicians are pressing the old buttons and that needs to be challenged," he said.

"I wanted a leader who was confident, who would say if he was invited to a GAA match, that he would have the confidence to go there. The GAA has changed, as have many people, and it is important that we recognise and reciprocate that change."

Well said, Trevor. As an organisation the GAA may still carry negative connotations for many unionists, and clearly football or hurling will never be the sport of choice for most Ulster folk of the Protestant persuasion.

But times have changed; Rule 21 has long been banished to the dustbin of history. Moreover, it behoves all political leaders to do everything in their power to chisel away at the sectarian divide that still permeates society at the northern coalface. Even Curve Ball is willing to play its part -- by grudgingly accepting that Ireland's Call is here to stay!

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