You don’t have to be Irish to be Irish

Ian O’Doherty of the Indo had one of his periodic cuts at the GAA on Tuesday:

It’s the spirit of the game

One of the things we’re often told by adherents to the GAA is that they are somehow more Irish than the rest of us.

Now, personally, that suits me fine because I don’t want to be the kind of Irish person that they aspire to be, so the more distance between us the better.

And they also point out that the pride of representing your parish is equal to the pride of representing your country in another sport, which is actually quite … quaint.

No, despite a growing, grudging respect for the sport of hurling, I’ll never change my opinion of the football code — it’s just aesthetically horrible.

But it can be quite entertaining.

Just take this weekend’s match between Rathnew and Blessington which ended in chaos and had to be abandoned after the players decided that it would be much more fun to have a pitched battle than actually play the game, and you can kind of understand that feeling.

Ambulances were called, injuries were suffered and footage from the fight, sorry, match show scenes of absolute chaos.

But showing the spirit of Omerta so beloved by the GAA, officials have closed ranks and are refusing to comment on it.

Well, at least the ref wasn’t bundled into the boot of a car and kidnapped.

It reminds me of what the late, great Bill Graham who, on his return from a trip to the then-Soviet Union in the 1980s, was asked what the place was like.

His reply? It’s a bit like America — run by the GAA.

It’s gas how those meeja types who suckled at the teat of Hot Press in their formative years feign complete lack of interest in the GAA yet know about every punch-up that takes place throughout the land. It’s easy to dismiss the thrust of his argument. Events like this happen in other sports on a regular basis – just Google ‘<sport of your choice> brawl’ to see the truth of that. As for the GAA’s code of Omerta, good to see that Ian’s sense of journalistic integrity leads him to decide how Wicklow GAA will rule on the matter before they, er, rule on the matter. The recent hammerings dished out by the Laois County Board – it’s a figure of speech, no physical hammerings were administered – show that the days of the GAA turning a blind eye to violence are on the way out.

That wasn’t what drew my attention to the article though, cookie-cutter predictable as it was. Having read about in a thread on AFR, one commenter was quick to note that:

I’ve never heard of GAA followers claiming to be more Irish then anybody else

And this is true. No-one says it. That doesn’t stop Ian hearing it though. Observe the way he says “we’re told” as people in his echo chamber recount that time when some bigot said as much to them – duirt bean liom go nduirt bean lei.

So what explains Ian and his ilk having these thoughts? People can share so many ideologies yet have one small difference which proves critical in their respective sense of belonging. What shared concepts make us different to every other nationality? There isn’t one you can zone in on and say ‘that’s it, that’s what makes me Irish’. It can’t be coming from the island of Ireland. One million-plus people who were born here consider themselves to be British. Those people also put the kibosh on the idea that it’s religion, or more specifically the Roman Catholic Church, that makes you Irish. Possession of an Irish passport doesn’t cut it, unless you feel an affinity with the gentleman who got one for investing in Albert Reynold’s dog food business. And as for language, let’s not go there for fear of embarrassing nearly everyone, myself included.

So having accepted that there’s no universally shared trait that makes you Irish, there have to be several overlapping concepts on the Venn diagram. And for so many of us, that concept is our beloved Association. Mrs d is not one for believing the Irish are hopelessly Anglicised by a diet of EastEnders, Carling and Manchester United, and the prime reason for that is the GAA. How does an Englishwoman fit in in a girl’s school in South Wexford? Mention how great a goal that was by Ursula Jacob last weekend. It’s a plan of action that could be replicated across so much of our land. Follow the GAA, and immediately you are One of Us.

Now, it must be emphasised for the sake of avoiding a troll war (although no troll would get as far as this disclaimer) that none of this means that you have to follow the GAA to be Irish. Indeed there is nothing more Irish than hating the GAA, just as there’s nothing more Irish than a West Brit. And I completely understand how someone might be put off by some of the more sulfurous elements of the GAA. Still, this habit of trawling the media for every Gaelic games dust-up they can find while studiously ignoring stories like this gets tiresome after a while. It smacks of an inferiority complex and there’s nothing the GAA can do to assuage that problem. Unless it disappears. And that fact that isn’t going to happen any time soon probably only makes the feeling worse. Offer it up, Ian. Although saying that’ll probably only get you more riled . . .