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Sunday 4 March 2007

Not the Times I see, Madam

LOOK, lads, I'm glad everything at Croker went so well, but could we ever shut up now about our pride in having behaved like grown-ups and stayed silent for our visitors' anthem? The millions of will-they/won't-they words wasted on speculation worldwide that we might behave like gobdaws and boo God Save the Queen were bad enough, but the self-congratulatory aren't-we-the-greatest-ever-little-nation stuff went way over the top.

An enraged Ulster unionist friend rang me last week.

"Do we not exist?" he cried, apropos the Irish Times leader last Monday.

Where was Madam Editor's blue pencil when presented with a text stained with tears of mawkish pride that said the match ". . . will go down in history as the day that we demonstrated a confidence amongst ourselves as a nation, a generous sense of Irishness, a belief in our sovereignty as an independent state, a pride in our achievements in the Celtic Tiger years and, above all, a national affirmation that we are in command of our destiny. British occupation is a thing of the distant past".

As my unionist friend pointed out, the leader failed to mention that the Irish team contained members who are British, that the crowd included British people from Northern Ireland who had relatives, colleagues and friends murdered in the name of Ireland and who were showing great tolerance by being present, since they hate the political antagonism of the GAA and the aggressive republicanism that distinguishes so many of its clubs in Northern Ireland. As a unionist, would you want to join a local club that commemorated a Catholic bigot who died trying to kill policemen (Sean South in 1957), or smile on Cumann an Fuiseoige (skylarks), a 1998 creation by IRA ex-prisoners whose iconography is hunger-strike related?

Yes, the Croke Park match was a step forward. But - as The Irish Times didn't say - the GAA has a long way to go before it will seem anything but threatening to our northern Protestant neighbours.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards