Strong public acceptance of the legitimacy of Ireland’s fight against British rule continues to frustrate those seeking to marginalise our cause.
The success of the Irish Women’s national football team in historically qualifying for its first World Cup brought a landmark display of hypocrisy from the political establishment.
Amid joyful celebrations at Hampden Park in Glasgow on Tuesday night, members of the winning team sang a well known Wolfe Tones Irish rebel song, ‘Celtic Symphony’, which includes a chant in support of the IRA. Players were filmed singing ‘ooh, aah up the Ra’ and a clip was posted on social media.
But their uneventful celebration quickly overshadowed their tremendous success. Effusive praise from politicians gave way to attempts to shame the successful team, and intense pressure was applied for the players to apologise. One of the greatest Irish sporting stories of recent years ended with a bid to humiliate those involved.
The Dutch manager of the team, Vera Pauw, disowned the incident. She said she was not in the dressing-room at the time but that there were “no excuses” for it.
Encouraged to go on Britain’s Sky Sports TV, where she was subjected to a patronising interview, Ireland international player Chloe Mustaki was aggressively asked to apologise and then bizarrely asked if he incident showed “a need for education”.
It fell to the author of the song to defend the women’s team. Legendary Wolfe Tones songwriter Brian Warfield accused those who criticise his song of being “cranks and unionists or people who side with them” . He said the song did not necessarily refer to the Provisional IRA, and said the women involved were being “persecuted and bullied for a song they like”.
“What the hell is wrong with IRA? It is the Irish Republican Army. It is the people who put us here and gave us some hope when we had no hope,” he said.
Warfield said critics of the song had no problem with ‘God Save the King’, even though it honours the colonel of the Parachute Regiment which massacred 14 civil rights demonstrators on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.
“There were terrible things that happened on both sides, but don’t give me the argument that it was one sided. Don’t tell that you can’t sing Celtic Symphony but you can sing God Save the King? Don’t give the argument that ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ isn’t a rebel song. It is.
“In England they wear poppies and rise them up to sir this and sir that for killing for English expansionism, but to kill to gain Ireland’s freedom is a terrible crime.”
Manufactured outrage is a weapon often used of unionists to demonise republicanism and normalise the partition of the island.
Earlier in the week, there was another fake controversy over the appearance of an image of Bobby Sands in the background of the offical portrait of Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast Daniel Baker. The image appears as a framed photo in the background of his office.
Portraits to mark a mayor’s term in office is a tradition at Belfast city Hall, where they are a popular curiosity for visitors.
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers refused to accept that Bobby Sands could be a legitimate hero of the Irish people. He insisted the inclusion of the IRA hunger striker in the portrait as “totally unacceptable” and “glorifying terrorists”.
There was another dose of artificial outrage earlier following an incident involving ‘Princess of Wales’ Kate Middleton.
In an orchestrated ‘meet and greet’ in Belfast, Middleton, surrounded by royalists and heavy Crown Force security, encountered an Irish nationalist who politely told her that “Ireland belongs to the Irish”.
The identity of the lady, dressed head to toe in green, remains unknown. Former DUP leader Arlene Foster condemned her as “classless” – but admitted she was “brave” to do what she did and that she would be a “heroine” to republicans.
But it is the huge wave of support on social media for the Irish Women’s Soccer Team which has challenged the smears and lies told about the Irish armed struggle.
Much of the public reaction referred to the well documented lack of knowledge of Irish history in Britain.
“A total whitewashing of genocidal history and colonial past in Britain’s education system but there’s an apparent ‘need for education’ amongst a women’s football team. Right,” wrote Tyrone musician Niamh McElduff.
“British media telling an Irish person to educate themselves on history is laughable,” wrote the Belfast band Kneecap. “Your state is guilty of incalculably more violence pursuing imperialism around the world than anything the IRA or other groups did resisting it You won’t hear that in your schools.”
Cork entertainer Tadhg Hickey summed up the situation: “There’s really nothing like a bit of old fashioned British condescension and hypocrisy to unite the Irish,” he wrote.