GAA President out of tune in anthem debate

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Amhrán na bFhiann, I will readily admit, stirs something in me. And as someone who has had the privilege of singing our national anthem at several GAA matches of significance in Walsh Park and Fraher Field, it has taken on additional significance for me in recent years.

Granted, the rush from offering pre-match opinion live on WLR, then dashing to the Public Address, singing loudly and proudly before darting back to the press box for the day job represents less than ideal big match preparation for a reporter.

But it does, however, provide this columnist with a mini-adrenaline rush on many a County Final Day, and it’s always an honour to sing it.

And as long as I’m asked to perform the anthem at the request of the Waterford County Board, or by anyone else for that matter, I shall proudly do so.

Like a great many others, I found myself bewildered by some anthem-related comments made by GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail in Dubai on Tuesday last, where he had joined the GAA/GPA Football All-Stars Tour.

But it’s important not to jump on the hyperbolic gun here, given that the President initially suggested – and nothing more – that the Association might, at some stage, seek to relax the use of the anthem and the flying of the Tricolour, primarily at GAA events held outside the island.

Now I can’t see too much hair flying anywhere between Belfast and Ballybricken if the anthem wasn’t played prior to an exhibition match in, say, Hong Kong, Cape Town or San Francisco.

After all, I’ve attended matches where a rickety CD has given up the ghost before the final bars of the anthem were played here on home soil; a Munster Club Hurling Final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh a few years back springs to mind.

But when the GAA President framed the anthem playing debate within the context of Brexit, he lost me. Completely.

“It would be time to look at it in our own island too in terms of an agreed Ireland, which everyone in the GAA and everyone in Ireland looks at,” he told those fortunate sportswriters who also jetted to Dubai for the sun – and some essential copy filing, of course.

Now, news nerd and all as I am, this was the first discussion I’d read since the Brexit vote which somehow suggested there might be an impact on the playing of our anthem and the flying of our flag at GAA matches throughout Northern Ireland/the Six Counties/the North.

Mr Ó Fearghail added: “You certainly can’t look at these issues in advance agreement, that’s for sure. The flag and anthem means a lot to the GAA and will continue to do so…In the future, if there are agreements in place for the whole island, of course the GAA would be inclusive in that.”

In terms of the pre-Brexit Referendum debate in Northern Ireland, I cannot recall First Minister Arlene Foster, outspoken DUP MLA Gregory Campbell or even loyalist clown prince Willie Frazer, making any comment which in any way related to the GAA. Nor would I, to be honest: it’s not exactly a key component in their identity as British subjects.

So why the GAA President, a native of Cavan, which I thought might suggest he’d be more readily sensitive to the significance of the anthem north of the border, would raise this as a potential future issue, completely and utterly escapes me.

He commented: “There could be further agreements politically at home. There is a massively changing world at home. The Brexit is going to affect the GAA the same as it’s going to affect everyone else and it does cause concerns.”

Yes, that may well be the case, but why on Earth introduce the flag (one third orange, lest we forget) into the periphery of a debate where it will surely remain when one considers potential tariffs, Visas, the fallout for farmers and a hard border.

“But in the future if there are new agreements and new arrangements we’d be open-minded about things like flags and anthems but not in advance of agreements.”

Writing in The Sunday Independent, Derryman, barrister and ‘Sunday Game’ pundit Joe Brolly didn’t spare the GAA President the rod at the suggestion that we might need to formally conceal some of our Irishness in Northern Ireland once the UK leaves the European Union.

“Should the All Blacks abandon their haka, with its ultra-violent message?” he questioned. “Imagine suggesting the British forsake their anthem? What with their Queen sending her troops happy and glorious to subjugate the world and ‘like a torrent rush, rebellious Scots to crush’.”

If Amhrán na bFhiann could be played on Ulster Final Day, for years on end, throughout the course of a vicious, sectarian, guerrilla war, and if the only flag flown over the past century which symbolises both traditions on this island, could also be flown on such occasions, then why on Earth even suggest it’s something we should potentially reconsider?

Something I feel we on this island’s most southernmost extremities, and within the mainstream thinking of our national columnists, is the significance of both the anthem and the flag to Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland.

And while I would suggest that the GAA flag should, at the very least, share equal prominence with the Tricolour at all our inter-county and club grounds, the notion of it not flying for fear of offending some with no interest in our games, is absolute nonsense.

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