24 February 2007
Rugby, anthems and controversy
Not only should today’s England-Ireland match be a great game it will be also make history. This is the first time the fixture is being staged at the GAA stadium at Croke Park rather than at Lansdowne Road which is currently being redeveloped. The GAA had to make a significant rule change to allow “foreign” sports (ie, British ones) to be played there . Croke Park was also the site of a massacre by British forces in 1920 (see this previous post for some brief details of the first “Bloody Sunday”).
However, even if Ireland were to trash England (A result I would applaud despite having a birthplace and an accent that should place me firmly in the England camp!) or England were to rise to the challenge (like the French did two weeks ago) and best Ireland, today’s match is more likely to be remembered for the playing of a national anthem than the rugby itself.
Even though it has apparently been played at Croke Park before without comment (during 2003’s Special Olympics in 2003) England’s use of the National anthem has stirred up a degree of ill feeling. The prospect of an English rugby team being greeted by an Irish army band performing God Save the Queen is still apparently too much for some.
J J Barrett, the son of a famous Gaelic sportsman announced earlier this week that he would withdraw his father's medal collection from the museum at Croke Park in protest at the decision to play the British national anthem this weekend.
"I cannot reconcile the provocative words of God Save The Queen being sung in the very stadium where Michael Hogan and others died at the hands of crown forces on Bloody Sunday," he wrote in a published letter. "… I believe the GAA should have foreseen this problem when they rented out Croke Park and instead insisted on an England's Call type of musical prelude. If we accept alternative anthem, Ireland's Call, as a mark of reconciliation, (because the Ireland team represents the whole island of Ireland it does not use the Irish national anthem, a Soldier’s song) then surely the English followers could forego the playing of God Save the Queen as a reciprocal gesture?"
Meanwhile Republican Sinn Féin, a small dissident faction opposed to the peace process, is planning a protest near the ground. But not everyone feels so strongly about the anthem issue. Michael Hogan, nephew of Mick Hogan, a footballer who was killed during the first Bloody Sunday, has called on Irish supporters to respect the English team’s national anthem before the start of the game.
“The English team and supporters are our guests for the weekend, so we will have to welcome them. We have to respect their anthem as well. If the Irish team was over in Twickenham, they’d respect our anthem. I haven’t anything against them (the English team). Sport is sport. It all happened before our time. We’re a different generation now. We have to move on in this day and age.”
To be honest I do not care for the God Save the Queen. It is a tedious dirge and a Soldier’s Song, is not an awful lot better. I personally think the England team could find a far better anthem but their choice is their choice and to should be respected. It is not intended as a slight to the memory of a terrible event that took place at Croke Park 87 years ago. Like the vast majority of other people who will be watching today’s match my real interest is in what will be happening in the 80 or so minutes after the anthems are played!