After GAA chief Aogan o Fearghail called for scrapping the Irish flag and the national anthem from Gaelic sports, commentator Joe Brolly responded. (From Irish Independent)
Just over 20 years ago, the people of Slaughtneil decided to create a community strategy covering all aspects of life. Social cohesion and Irish identity were the foundation stones.
So they quickly established the first rural Bunscoil outside the Gaeltacht areas. They now have a flourishing Bunscoil and Gaelscoil. Everyone under 21 is fluent and an increasing number of the older ones use their native tongue.
To spearhead the community’s move towards self-sufficiency, they founded the Carntogher Community Association, the twin brother of the GAA club. They have their own purpose-built theatre. They run their own community post office. They are about to receive planning permission for a wind farm which will provide all the energy needs of the parish. They have purchased the ancient Carn woodland and a sprawling farm.
The Carn is now used by them as an amenity, with its beautiful woodland trails. An English family with Slaughtneil roots has been brought in to manage the farm for the benefit of the locals.
Every night there are classes in Irish, computer studies, French, Spanish - the works. Go down there at any time and you will see the children wandering about with hurls in their hands, chatting in Irish, playing music or dancing. Moves are afoot to classify Slaughtneil as an official Gaeltacht area. Their chairman, Sean McGuigan, who is prone to shedding a tear when Slaughtneil win big matches (he has taken to buying Kleenex in bulk), will tell you that their success on the field is merely a by-product of community cohesion off it.
They are loyal, generous people, with a peerless sense of place and identity. During the hunger strikes of 1981, they famously withdrew from all club competitions as a mark of solidarity. How could they play our games while their neighbours were suffering so badly?
The whole point of their community strategy is to create a bulwark against the bland, consumer world most people live in. A world where our identity is created by advertisers and products. The rest of the planet supports multi-national corporations like Manchester United or Chelsea or Real Madrid, where support is a one-way street and being a supporter means nothing more than being a consumer of the brand.
Culture is what comes through the iPhone. Leisure is mostly shopping or Weight Watchers or spin class. And if a neighbour is suffering, or has fallen on hard times, fuck him. He’s just another stranger.
In January 1976, three of the Reavey boys were sitting in their house in Whitecross, South Armagh. There are 12 Reavey boys and girls in all. The others had gone with their mother and father to visit their auntie in Camlough. The three boys had wanted to stay behind to watch Celebrity Squares, the 1970s equivalent of The Chase or the Weakest Link. They were settled in the living room when a group of men with guns walked in and shot them to pieces. John Martin (24) and Brian (22) died where they sat. Anthony, who was only 17 years old, fled into a bedroom and hid under the bed.
The assassins followed him in and methodically riddled the mattress. They had expected to find the whole family but, disappointed in their grim task, they carried out a quick search and left. Anthony, barely alive and drenched in blood, crawled from under the bed and somehow managed to drag his shattered body up the lane to the O’Hanlon’s.
Two hundred long yards. When Mrs O’Hanlon opened her front door on this bright Sunday evening, she cradled the boy in her arms, weeping. “They’re all dead,” he whispered, “they’re all dead.” Three weeks later, at the ripe old age of 17, he was dead himself.
The Glenanne Gang did it, a notorious loyalist/RUC/British Army gang that operated in the area with impunity. Their base was the Mitchell farm on the outskirts of Whitecross. They knew the Reavey family was big even by the standards of the time and they were intent on a massacre of a GAA family that would echo down the ages. Billy McGaughey, an RUC man in the ‘Special Patrol Group’, later admitted involvement. At that time he was serving life for the murder of Willie Strathern.
Willie was another Gael who played for the famous Bellaghy club and had a wee shop in Ahoghill. Late one night McGaughey came calling with his merry band. One of them shouted up to the bedroom window that he had a sick child and needed some medicine. Willie, a decent and generous man, agreed to open the shop and help a neighbour out. A few minutes later, he was dead. I played football with and against Willie’s son Kevin for years. He was a hardy boy who played for Maghera Watty Grahams.
Years later, John Weir, another RUC man, implicated a British soldier and two police officers in the Reavey murders in a sworn affidavit to the Irish Supreme Court. No one has ever been brought to justice.
The Reaveys, like the Stratherns, are steeped in the GAA. The three murdered boys played for Whitecross. When I was at the club’s dinner dance a few weeks ago, they were celebrating the Armagh intermediate championship. Their brother Eugene Reavey is chairman of the club. Silver-haired now, in his sixties, he told me he feels the loss of his brothers every day.
On the big screens in the hall they were showing images of the trio. Captured forever in black and white with their long hair, shirt collars touching their shoulders and big smiles. Their flared trousers reminded me of a great line about Niall Hasson, the tailor from Dungiven (and a superb footballer with the St Canice’s club).
It was said of Niall’s tailoring that “you take two steps before the trousers move.” Eugene told me, voice faltering, that when he walked into the hall that night and saw those images, his heart “went sideways” and he had to sit down to get his breath.
Eugene’s brother Seamus gave a short speech on the night. He is the club juvenile referee and over the course of 40 years has become a legend in the county.
When the county board sends out the pack of yellow, red and black cards at the start of every season, he opens the envelope and empties them onto the open fire in his living room. In 40 years, he has never sent a child off. In fact, he has never shown a card. Instead, his tools are coaxing and cajoling. It’s a bit like inter-county hurling.
If a boy steps well over the line, he gets, as Eugene describes it, “A good cuff on the lug and our boy says to him, ‘Hi boy, behave yourself’.” Sometimes if the offence is very grave, he sends him to the line for five minutes. According to the Whitecross boys, this unofficial sin bin works a treat. The Rules Committee should pay a visit.
Given what has been happening to the GAA at the higher level, it is no surprise that the entirely bland Aogan o Fearghail (in Dubai for the All-Stars junket) chose to say publicly this week that the GAA must consider the possibility of getting rid of the national anthem and the tricolour, in the interests of “harmony”.
Sky’s PR division could no doubt come up with something. Or maybe we could hire the creative geniuses at Hallmark Greeting Cards to give us an alternative that would allow us to feel anonymously corporate. The Coca-Cola song would be an ideal replacement. It is, after all, a company that perfectly embodies the ethos of the hierarchy.
You know the one: “We’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.” Think of the goodwill this would create between us and Coca-Cola. Perhaps they could become the exclusive GPA/GAA soft drinks partner?
Alternatively, Phil Coulter could write one for us as well, another Hallmark job with one-syllable words that a two-year-old could sing. Hard to beat those unforgettable lyrics from Ireland’s Call, particularly the ingenious rhyming of “tall” and “call”.
After we won the All-Ireland in 1993, we sang The Town I Loved So Well on The Late Late Show. A fortnight later, Phil (who as far as I know was never at a Gaelic match in his life) arrived at a team meeting wearing a lime green suit and lemon tie and presented us all with a signed photograph of himself at the Grand Piano.
That’s just the sort of man we need to write us a new three-chord anthem. On reflection, calling it an ‘anthem’ is aggressive, patriotic and unwelcoming. It should instead be a ‘jingle’, a corporate branding song, lasting no more than 30 seconds.
As for the tricolour (which incidentally is a symbol of the green and the orange coming together in peace), we could replace it with a flag depicting little kittens tumbling about, made by our official GPA/GAA flag partner. An added bonus is that the GAA/GPA could use the image for their official Christmas cards.
The ‘Sam Maguire Cup’ will have to go too. Maguire, after all, was a member of a team of IRB assassins in London. As Head of IRB Intelligence there, he was the mastermind behind the murder of Sir Henry Wilson in London in 1922. Glorifying the memory of a man who put bullets in the brains of Englishmen just isn’t on.
I think perhaps that in future, it would be safer to call the trophy ‘The Aogan o Fearghail Cup’, on the basis that he has never offended anybody. On second thoughts, the Irish language is extremely offensive to many Northern protestants. DUP Minister Gregory Campbell causes howls of laughter in Stormont with his parodies of what he describes as “a political tool used by republicans to annoy the unionist community”.
“Curry my yoghurt can coca cola-yer,” (Go raibh maith agat Ceann Comhairle) he said in November last year, prompting great guffaws from the unionist benches. As this perennial poll-topper explained on the BBC news later that night: “I was merely exposing the fallacy and the nonsense of people who insist on using Irish in the chamber to begin every contribution, no matter what the topic is, when most people don’t understand what they’re saying.” Safer to rebrand it the Kentucky Fried Chicken Cup.
Aogan is repeating the sentiments of another member of the GAA’s craven inner circle Jarlath Burns, who last year described the national anthem and the tricolour as “divisive” and said he would support giving them up at GAA games if it would help to persuade some unionists to support us. “It wouldn’t cost me a thought,” he said. “If I thought for a moment that Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott would become our greatest fan, I would get rid of them surely.”
It is worth reminding ourselves that Tom is the man who proudly boasted at his Party Conference in 2010 that he would “never go to a GAA game or a gay march”. And Jarlath thinks we’re the ones who should be ashamed of who we are.
The reality is that no appeasement would satisfy the Tom Elliotts and Gregory Campbells of this world. The point of a civilised society is to respect difference, not abandon what we are in order to satisfy bigots.
The world is awash with political correctness. Its main function is to make us feel embarrassed about who we are and what we think, and to create a world that is invidiously bland.
One Christmas, the novelist and journalist Keith Waterhouse wrote a newspaper column viewing the Nativity through the eyes of three wise social workers who had followed the star to Nazareth. When they arrived at the stable, they were so appalled by the conditions in the holy manger that they immediately made a successful emergency court application to have the infant taken into care. Aogan would approve.
All those rebel club names will have to go too. The Donovan Rossas and the Roger Casements and all the rest of it. Kevin Strathern’s Watty Grahams could become the Maghera Tigers or Rhinos, or some other crap. Watty, after all, was a United Irishman who was hanged in the town by the British in 1798. And it’s high time his murdered father’s club Bellaghy Wolfe Tones stopped rubbing the Protestant people’s noses in it. What could be more offensive than a Protestant rebel?
Slaughtneil Robert Emmets will be a thing of the past too. Emmet was hung, drawn and quartered by the British for his part in the 1803 rebellion. In this day and age, we really shouldn’t be embarrassing our English neighbours by reminding them of these things. Cutting his head off was the least they could do. In fact, we should all be wearing poppies, insensitive Fenian bastards that we are. Now there’s an initiative Aogan and Jarlath could spearhead.
Should the All Blacks abandon their haka, with its ultra-violent message? 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’.
Eugene Reavey rang me yesterday. He has a hearing aid, so he shouts. “Did you ever hear the like of what Aogan o Fearghail said in Dubai?”
“ No”, I said. “I didn’t.”
“The worst I ever heard” he said, “the worst I ever heard. I look forward to singing the anthem. I love standing in respect for the flag. It is who we are.”
“I agree, Eugene.”
“It’s embarrassing Joe, to hear that coming out of the mouth of a GAA president.”
“It is Eugene.”
I didn’t bother asking Sean McGuigan what he thought.