Tag Archives: Ireland

Post-Brexit, where’s our head of state to provide leadership amongst the chaos and anxiety???

When historians come to write the history of Britain’s historic EU exit they will struggle to convey the mood of despondency that has taken over the country.

I felt this the minute I stepped off a plane from New York in Manchester on Monday morning. It is tangible. There is a mood of anxiety, disquiet, and anger but most of all there is a feeling of dejection.

Brexit has thrown the UK into constitutional turmoil. Tension is rising and there are fears of further violent confrontations on the streets. Racism and xenophobia are undoubtedly on the rise. Little England has won but with Nigel Farage in Brussels and the leadership of the Tory party uncertain even the Little Englanders seem to lack a figurehead and are instead turning on immigrant communities.

While there is tension, though, there’s this overwhelming listlessness.

This stems from the fact that politically we are left with a real mess. David Cameron, who has foolishly thrown away his prime ministership by calling this utterly unnecessary referendum, is redundant. His party are tearing themselves apart. As I write this, the Labour opposition is in disarray too with Jeremy Corbyn losing a no-confidence motion by 172 to 40 votes. Meanwhile the economy is at risk and people are seeking answers about what happens next.

In time of uncertainty leadership is needed

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Brexit, it’s happened now. But it’s the mood of dejection and the sense of rudderlessness which is now the big problem. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has rightly condemned the leadership vacuum in Westminster. In this mood of dejection, political leadership is badly needed.

And this ties into the bigger constitutional questions now being raised by the Brexit vote.

The overwhelming point, constitutionally, is that we have no effective head of state who can provide a voice of leadership at times of crisis. We need a leader elected by the people, of the people, who can provide stability and reassurance in this time of confusion and anxiety.

Where is our President to guide us through this?

Instead of a President, elected by popular vote, who can appear across the media to appeal for calm and to reassure the populace, have Elizabeth Windsor.

The Queen is supposed to be ‘above politics’. Since the Scottish referendum, as she hits 90, she has increasingly let the mask slip on the nonsensical notion of her being above politics, with reports of her remarks on sensitive issues leaked by the press. And when it comes down to it, of course she’s not above politics – the very idea that the Queen, in her weekly meeting with the PM, discusses the racing form or the weather is a joke.

But the problem is this: she must be seen to be above it all, effectively gagged from intervening.

This is just one of the paradoxes about a hereditary head of state – because she is unelected and because of the history books displaying what can happen to an overly political monarch, the Queen must keep her mouth shut on political issues.

But at the same time, she is supposed to be a unifying force. The head of state should be the first to step forward at a time of crisis like this – to smooth the unease, to provide political leadership that is not partisan but in the interests of the people. To be a force for stability and reassurance in testing times.

No Constitutional Clarity

We have none of this.

The British people currently have no clear leadership and no clarity about how the constitution should now work.  We need a written constitution that is clear and we need a head of state who can provide national leadership during times of great uncertainty like this.

The far-reaching consequences of Brexit may deliver changes I would welcome – an independent Scotland, a united Ireland. But in the interim we need a head of state with leadership, political nous and clarity providing calm.

This speaks to the fact that in the constitutional shake-up provided by Brexit we now need real change that puts real power in the hands of the people and which provides the means to weather political storms.

The Queen and the Windsor family are both unable and unwilling to offer leadership during a time of unprecedented turmoil.  Instead of a monarch motivated to protect her own position we need an accountable head of state who can speak to the nation and help guide us through the turmoil.

If Brexit delivers one positive thing in the long-term, let’s hope it might be this.



Filed under Uncategorized

Trying to sanitise the #EasterRising insults people’s intelligence #1916Rising

Take a look at the above front pages. On the left is the original Irish Times cover from April 1916, reporting on the Rising in Dublin. On the right is today’s Irish Times special edition reprint. Can you spot the difference?

It’s this: in today’s reprint, the heading ‘Sinn Féin Rebellion in Ireland’ has been removed.

This has caused something of a Twitter-storm (look it up: it’s similar to a storm in a tea cup).

In the red corner, people are alleging that the Irish Times is censoring its former self for political reasons: the newspaper has a traditionally critical line on today’s Sinn Féin party (Adams, McGuinness et al) and many have seen in this an attempt to stop today’s Sinn Féin capitalising politically by further claiming ownership of this founding moment of the Irish state.

In the blue corner, the paper’s defence is that this is simply a matter of space. It is a reprint, not an exact replica of the historical source, and therefore it is not a carbon copy.

I can see both sides of this argument here. If you look at the original, there is also a fairly prominent advertisements for ‘FURS’ (top left) – now you wouldn’t expect the paper to reproduce that, would you? (Actually, let’s leave furs out of this entirely because that is another kettle of fish entirely and I don’t want to start a twitter-storm involving PETA).


On the other hand, you have only to look to the uneasy political situation in the Republic of Ireland to see why the Irish Times might be determined to expunge any mention of Sinn Féin, even historically. While we are still without a government, the Irish Times – which prides itself on its liberal image – is loathe to hand any gains to a party which many on its staff regard as green fascists.

Add to this the fact that Sinn Féin have been fairly shamelessly going about ‘owning’ 1916, the same way they ‘own’ the 1981 Hunger Strikes, and you can see a clear motive for wanting to remove ‘Sinn Féin Rebellion’ from the headline in today’s edition. If I have to view another nauseating picture of the Sinn Féin party elite posing next to rebel re-enactors in Boer-inspired slouch hats and Sam Brown belts I may actually gag. If you haven’t had enough, there are plenty more to view here.

Trying to sanitise the 1916 Rising, however (or de-SinnFéinise it) is a dangerous game.

The writer Colm Toibín, interviewed last night on Channel 4 News, made a good point about why the Irish state must commemorate this event. To do otherwise, he argued, would hand the initiative to dissident republicans up north determined to take out prison officers or police as a commemorative souvenir, and he raised the spectre of balaclava-clad young men marching past Dublin’s GPO in place of the Irish Army.

That is fair enough. While the fiftieth anniversary (1966) commemoration is now viewed as a tad triumphalist, the Irish state has, this time, tried to strike a balance this time. But only – it should be remembered – after the public and media commentators baulked at the watered down, corporate crap originally offered up along with ill-conceived plans to invite a British royal along for the day.

In fact, the bien pensants in charge of things as Ireland hits its ‘decade of commemorations’ seem determined to push the ‘look how far we’ve come’ narrative by throwing in gratuitous references to British royalty and the Queen’s ‘historic’ visit in 2011 at every turn.

OK, no one can deny the above was a significant moment. But when I hear people who assume leading roles in all this wondering, on a BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast last week

“would James Connolly have thought that the room he spent his last days in, just round the corner, would be where the Queen prepared herself for the big momentous speech she gave here? And would he have believed that she would have opened that speech in the Irish language”

then I am tempted to bark back at the radio just what I think Connolly’s reaction would be:

  • “Unelected heads of state? What a barbarous relic. Have we not got rid of the British royal family yet? I was born in Britain after all!”
  • “Did I die for the sort of wealth inequality and corporation tax rates that make this wonderful country now resemble a banana Republic / tax haven?”
  • “I couldn’t give a feck if she spoke in Irish – please see my oft-quoted remarks about how merely painting post boxes from red to green doth not a revolution make!”

But then, that’s just my opinion.

And that’s the very point: commemorating or remembering 1916, or any historical event for that matter, is all about differing opinions because of course we don’t know ‘what Connolly would have said’ or ‘what Pearse would have done’.

In this era of eclectic media – especially digital media – we do not need the old dead-tree press or the old state broadcaster telling us what to think any more. We’ve moved beyond the idea that people are unthinking dupes beholden to print headlines. Haven’t we?

To give the mainstream media its credit, I think that most coverage of 1916, Irish Times included, has not shied away from the fact that it was a violent ‘terrorist’ act, pretty undemocratic [as we today understand the term], and carried out by a minority of a minority. As usual, and as I write this, it has taken a priest to chip in with an opinion that is pretty ill-judged and harks back to heavily revisionist interpretations of the Rising, but the overall tone – in this writer’s view – has not been disagreeable.

But if The Irish Times did indeed remove the words ‘Sinn Féin Rebellion’ for political reasons, whoever took the decision needs to take a long hard look at themselves. Not everyone will know that the current Sinn Féin is the latest incarnation of a political brand that has had several different, and separate, existences in Ireland in the twentieth century. But for heaven’s sake, most Irish people realise that the Sinn Féin of today is not the Sinn Féin of Arthur Griffith of one hundred years ago, the small ‘dual monarchy’ party to which the Rising was mis-attributed in the first place.

To assume otherwise is to insult the general public’s intelligence.

And if the 1916 Rising teaches us anything it’s that treating the mass of people as subalterns will, eventually, give rise to unexpected outpourings of anger.




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The infantilisation of the Brexit debate

This morning I was listening to a radio debate around British membership of the European Union when one of the participants dropped a bombshell. We’d all heard the big news that, during the week, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiations with his fellow European leaders had dragged on so long that breakfast was postponed, then lunch, then dinner. But now came the revelation that in the absence of formal dining what had ‘fuelled’ Cameron and his team during the tortuous process  was Haribo Fangtastics.

303105   b19adcf2-9592-458d-9445-c0334b766a42-2060x1236

For the uninitiated, Fangtastics are a chewy jelly snack manufactured by a German (yes, German) confectionery giant. A playground favourite, they take your tongue on a sensory journey from extreme sweetness to extreme sourness. And they pack a fizz, too. Perfect sugar hit to get you through Double Maths or, if you’re Mr Cameron, high powered political negotiations.

Fangtastics-gate illustrates the fact that, thus far, the debate around whether the United Kingdom will leave the European Union has been characterised by infantilised rhetoric.

By now, we’re used to this when it comes to politics. ‘It’s just too boring’ fret television and radio producers. As a solution you get programmes like BBC’s Daily Politics, all cheap graphics and smiles to break up the serious stuff. The Daily Politics duly delivered today: Cameron’s cabinet were crudely depicted as rival sets of football fans, with bobble hats and scarfs bearing either the words ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ depending on their stance. Chortle.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage – leading figure in the ‘out’ campaign – has in the last couple of weeks delivered rejoinders to Cameron of which a school bully would be proud. He first called him ‘a chicken’ over his trifling reforms to Britain’s conditions of EU membership. He then went further in deploying schoolboy taunts: Mr Cameron, Farage informed us, had secured but ‘tinsy winsy’ reforms.


Over on Sky News, anchor Dermot Murnaghan was busy reducing the debate to a matter of personalities. Boris Johnson versus David Cameron, Murnaghan told viewers, would be like ‘a superhero movie’, ‘like King Kong fighting Godzilla’. Sounds light? Well, this was actually taking the debate up a notch. The previous segment of the show had featured ‘in’ campaigner June Sarpong (she formerly noted for presenting shows about pop music on Channel 4 which brought with it tough interviews with the likes of Britney Spiers over what she eats for breakfast). June’s argument for staying in the EU seemed to be largely based on an image of ‘out’ campaigners Nigel Farage and George Galloway linking arms. She goaded the Tory ‘out’ campaigner sitting beside her in the Sky Newsroom with that classic argument that goes something like this: ‘Euuhhhhh! Look at the state of your friends’. Or, to directly quote Sarpong, ‘look at who you hang out with!’


What does all this suggest about the state of political rhetoric?

It speaks to the fact that the British negotiations over questions such as migrant benefits, sovereignty, movement of labour, law-making etc actualy turned out – unsurprisingly – to be slow and boring. Very boring.

Now, The News doesn’t like this. So even the most high-brow news magazine shows stooped to the tabloid. Thus on Thursday BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning politics show ‘Today’ wheeled out an excitable American commentator to spice things up. Suddenly a boring set of negotiations sounded like Superbowl showdown. ‘Cameron’s going in there on the offense’ he enthused ‘and how is Denmark going to respond?’ Pass the popcorn!

More worryingly, it shows that some of the profound consequences that will follow the British people’s decision on European have been reduced to the sound-bite and dumbed down to an alarming degree.

I would argue that this is part of a broader infantilisation at work in society. Young-ish people are penalised and neutered by house prices, age-geared benefit restrictions, the early debt burden of study, and austerity politics. They become infantilised, some living with mum and dad well into their thirties and forties (and beyond?) because there is little other option for them. They’re also spoon-fed a diet of computer games and superhero movies so that infantilisation has become masked beneath the new respectability of the 40 year old nerd.

Does the infantilisation of the debate around Brexit, with cartoonish and pop-friendly rhetoric, reflect this? I would discuss this further, but the X Factor has just come on the telly. Sorry. Have to go.






Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Modern Irish History: two audios #1916

As the centenary of the Irish Easter Rising approaches, it seems to be reigniting historical debate in Ireland and, hopefully, these isles.

The ‘four nations’ approach to modern British and Irish history is gaining traction and in this spirit I’ve been reading a fascinating book on Scotland and the Easter Rising (eds. Kirsty Lusk and Willy Maley) sent to me by my old chum Frank McShane.

There’s much in it on James Connolly, as you’d expect, but also a reminder of the British origins of four of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic (1916), all of whom were subsequently executed. Alongside Connolly’s Edinburgh background there’s Tom Clarke’s infancy on the Isle of Wight, Patrick Pearse’s English father, and Thomas McDonagh’s English mother.

For those interested in the 1916 Rising, I’ve recorded a short lecture on the experience of the rebellion through the eyes of future Irish Taoiseach Seán Lemass: accessible here

I also delivered a lecture this week on the consequences of 1916 with the formation of the Irish Free State / Eire, which chiefly concerns the experience of growing up male in Ireland in the 1930s and 40s, but which touches on Patrick Pearse’s concept of revolution as a generational duty. This is accessible here 





Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why the Rose of Tralee is reaching a sort of postmodern unassailability

As a child I spent deliciously long summer holidays in Tralee, County Kerry, my mother’s hometown. And every year holidays in Tralee were punctuated by the town’s most famous event: the Rose of Tralee festival, which is taking place now.

For the uninitiated, the Rose of Tralee bares close resemblance to a beauty pageant but it is supposed to be much, much more than that. To quote the eponymous 19th century ballad ‘it was not her beauty alone that won me’; no, the Rose of Tralee is supposed to be a celebration of the talents of exceptional young women of Irish birth or ancestry who represent different places in the world. Here are this year’s hopefuls: http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/festivals/summerfest/meet-the-65-roses-of-tralee-2015-31449603.html

Pass the sick bucket

Now, as entertainment it’s chintzy and horrendously un-alternative. As I write this, I’m watching the sort of nauseating documentary Irish state broadcaster RTE churns out in a futile attempt to keep pace with Anglo-American celebrity trash. It’s about the Rose of Tralee, specifically Alabama’s hopeful of 2014, a woman who appears to ooze vacuous white right wing America from her every pore and who was proposed to – live on air – by her boyfriend during last year’s festival. It’s resolutely the tiara and tears school of femininity.
As this indicates, the whole thing is, of course, very dated in its conception. Emanating from the reimagining of the town’s Carnival Queen contest by the local bourgeoisie in the 1950s, it’s a wonder that the event has survived at all, weathering the massive social and cultural changes of late twentieth century Ireland. 

For even back when I was a kid, the festival was being pretty mercilessly lampooned. The most famous piss-take is probably the ‘Lovely Girls Contest’ featured in the ‘Rock a Hula Ted’ episode of Father Ted from 1996 which featured various parodies of homespun sexism (virginal young women on stage awkwardly undertaking competitive bouts of sandwich making, displaying their ability to walk between cones and to giggle coquettishly) with girl-next-door ‘Imelda’ eventually crowned winner by Ted. This was predated by Christy Moore’s 1987 song ‘Me and the Rose’, a brilliant ditty that satirises so much more than the Rose of Tralee but in its crooning rendition of the Victorian love song captures the erstwhile staidness of the Tralee event. 

And I read in today’s Irish Times that there’s now a new Dublin stage comedy taking the mick, featuring characters such as the ‘typical Rose’ (Ashling, 24, lovely brown hair, spent three months in San Diego but oh how she missed her Irish creature comforts like Tayto crisps, loves her boyfriend and her mammy); the ‘unconventional Rose’ (butch, combative, wild farm girl from the Aran Islands) and the ‘escort’ (brash young local ladykiller).

One day, when you grow up, you could be an Escort
On this latter role, the Escort is another curiosity of the event. Every aspirant girl taking part in the competition gets a local male chaperone. Some of these lads are like rural stereotypes who have walked off the pages of a John B Keane satire: ‘eligible’ bachelors, Gammon-steak skin tone, probably set to inherit farm land with road frontage. I can safely lampoon them now (aged over thirty I’m debarred from ever becoming one) but as a kid we were half-jokingly encouraged to aspire to this role – hair neatly brushed, dickie-bow on, leading a gorgeous young woman around on your arm all week. And as a young lad, I’m afraid that the lipsticked beauties of the Rose of Tralee exerted some sort of pre-sexual fascination for me. These smiling young things paraded for the TV cameras as ideal specimens of conventional gender roles the nuances of which I didn’t fully understand. This was of course before I realised that the Rose of Tralee definitely wasn’t cool.

And maybe it’s because my teenage-honed and adult- perfected cynicism now bobs straight to the surface when I come across any coverage of the Rose of Tralee that I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s pointless to point and laugh any more. In fact, at this stage, the Rose of Tralee’s detractors and defenders both appear a little ridiculous in some of their earnestly held opinions. 

Too easy to point and laugh

While skits on the Rose of Tralee like that in Father Ted retain their humour, the satire is now itself dated. It’s almost too easy to take the piss out of the Rose of Tralee. 
Meanwhile, the pious protesters who maintain that the event is sexist are, in my opinion, correct in their view. But to point this out now appears so obvious as to be pointless. Of course the thing is cringey and of course it’s sexist. But like those cultural commentators who trot out Eamon de Valera’s 1943 St Patrick’s Day speech (complete with comely maidens) as evidence of the conservatism of Ireland at that time, one might respond “yeah, obviously” – but the idiom was, even for its time, self consciously escapist in its conservatism. To point and guffaw seems just a tad churlish at this stage.

Some of the festival’s defenders are just as bad. In response to the piss-takers, last year the festival chairman hit back, claiming the event is not about “paddy whackery, colleens on parade, Stepford wives tricked out as national stereotype”. Ah come on, of course it is, isn’t it? 

Well, the festival organisers certainly won’t admit as much. As if to prove his point (and to demonstrate just how ‘with it’ the festival now is) last year, anticipating Ireland’s recent acceptance of gay marriage, we got the first openly lesbian Rose of Tralee. Look, the girls are no longer making sandwiches, they’re career women who don’t need no man to hold them back. 

Like an aunt who has had Botox dancing wildly with young men at a wedding, the Rose of Tralee festival is now middle-aged and, like men and women of a certain age who are starting to fear the grim reaper and feel the need to desperately prove they’re still down with the fashion and dance crazes of the kids, the festival organisers’ attempts at modernisation are embarrassing.

What I’m getting at here is the fact that the Rose of Tralee, in somehow persisting through Irish social liberalisation, the ascent of materialism and the decline of Church power has – by virtue of its longevity – passed into the realm of postmodern unassailability. Because when it’s not trying ever so hard to keep up with the pace of modernity, the event self consciously parodies itself. In doing so, it ensures its success and defies the critics. It might be terrible, but, as the festival website puts it, the contest …

‘is based on the love song The Rose of Tralee, by William Mulchinock, a 19th century wealthy merchant who was in love with Mary O’Connor, his maid… When William first saw Mary he fell in love with her, but because of the difference in social class between the two families their love affair was discouraged. William emigrated, and some years later returned to Tralee only to find Mary had died of tuberculosis. He was broken hearted and expressed his love for her in the words of the song.’ How’s that for cloying romanticism? And why be ashamed of it? The Rose of Tralee need not strive to battle the modern tide. In continuing to embrace the mawkish sentimentality of its conception, it will safeguard its future. 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dispatches from the Rockies

To get to the Rocky Mountains, if you’re coming far, you have to fly into Denver. After you’ve disembarked at Denver airport, you are greeted by the voice of Olympic champion swimmer Missy Franklin, telling you how great Colorado is. Franklin is exactly the sort of American golden girl you’d associate with this part of the world. A smiley, white, uncontroversial Stars and Stripes queen. An appropriate face and voice to propagate this quintessentially American slice of the States, what with its dude ranches, cowboy hats, and gas guzzling monster vehicles emblazoned with ‘God Bless America’ slogans. I can’t imagine the Pope’s recent plea to stem the spewing forth of fossil fuels has been heeded much here.

Until you hit the mountains, the landscape is dry and uninspiring. The highways are long and straight and, as you pass cars and trucks, drivers tend to stare at you, not with malice but with a sort of curiosity. Those little oil wells which feature so prominently in the Daniel Day Lewis movie ‘There Will Be Blood’ peck away like birds nibbling at seeds. You still get that sense of Virgin territory, the promised land from which the native Americans were so ruthlessly displaced, with many new towns dotting the highways. It’s pretty idyllic, though, and even more so as you start to climb into the Rockies, where the rivers run fast and birds of prey circle overhead. Signs for tornado shelters are the only reminder of the destructive potential of Mother Nature. Breakfasts in diners. Gargantuan egg-based dishes. Struggling. Got to get through this. More toast? No thanks. Waffles? No thanks. No, I really don’t want any more coffee either. No, really, I’m OK, I don’t need a refill. Oh, I see you’re ignoring me and refilling my cup anyway. OK. More coffee. OK then. More cream as well. More sugar. Sure, why not? When in Rome…

I’m here to speak at the Rocky Mountains Irish Festival. Odd to locate an Irish festival in this part of the world, you might think, but the event is a big one, drawing in thousands. Mainly a music festival, the event also features lectures from academics, writers, journalists. I’m speaking alongside prolific author and journalist Fintan O’Toole and others such as Miriam Nyhan (New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House) and Grace Brady of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum. Today I enjoyed a good chat a over lunch with my fellow speakers, spanning everything from Irish water charges to Donald Trump. Less cerebrally, the festival also features your predictable slice of Celtic tat, from stalls selling kilts, to a genealogist, to a man who has come to show off his three Irish wolfhounds. The wolfhounds look hot, agitated and unhappy.  

It’s a great public forum in which to speak but also a little bizarre. In a good way. Estes Park, the location of the festival, is a beautiful spot geared towards tourism since Victorian Anglo-Irish landlord Lord Dunraven settled on it as a good spot to open up. The snow capped mountains look down on glistening lakes. I get chatting to a local cop. “Any crime here?” I ask. “Not really” she replies. “So what do you do all day?” I ask. “Traffic issues mostly”. Traffic issues indeed. It’s a far cry from the horrific shooting in Charleston which is dominating the news. The only discernible link to violence here comes in the form posh hotel on the hill, the Stanley, was Stephen King’s inspiration for horror movie The Shining. 

Weird and wonderful little Estes Park only has a population of 4,000 and so thrives on touristy events like the one I’m speaking at. And so, given the location and context, I’ve decided to indulge in the spirit of this thing in two ways. 1) Delving into my Irish ancestral connections to this part of America and 2) embracing the cowboy chic

1) Here’s a picture of an impressive looking man. John Healy, Denver fire chief 1912-1945 and an antecedent of mine. Courageous, apparently, bit of a tyrant, allegedly; I just love the hat.

And, finally, 2) embracing the frontiersman spirit, here is a cowboy ancestor of mine. Brycey the Kid. Fiercest cattle rustler in all Colorado. Fearsome.



Filed under Uncategorized

This Sunday England play Ireland in Dublin and it’s twenty years after THIS happened …

In February 1995, just over twenty years ago now, England travelled to Dublin to play Ireland in a football friendly.   

But the match was abandoned after nasty right wing hooligan troupe ‘Combat 18’ started smashing the place up.

Working alongside Irish soccer hero Alan McLoughlin on his memoir of a life in the game, here’s how we captured the fateful moment it all kicked off at Lansdowne Road:

February, 1995. Ireland versus England at Lansdowne Road. An international friendly in the wake of our World Cup campaign and in the middle of our battle to qualify for Euro ’96 – the forthcoming European Championship to be held in England. It was a crisp, cold Dublin evening; the stars were lighting up the clear dark sky, and I was looking forward to the match. This would be the fourth time that I’d faced England while turning out for the Republic. This fixture always seemed to have a little more bite, a bit more fizz and tension than other international friendlies. For me, of course, it was extra-special. All the players knew one another from playing in England. And although England were supposedly technically superior, at that time we seemed to have the stranglehold over them. It was us who had graced the world stage the previous summer, while England had failed to qualify, and that gave us some extra confidence. Moreover, we’d already eased to victory in our first three European qualifying games, beating Latvia, Liechtenstein and Northern Ireland.

The atmosphere in the tunnel that evening was one of competitive rivalry, not hostility. Ireland were doing well in the European qualifiers and England, as the next host country of the tournament, didn’t need to worry about qualifying. But as we walked out that night, one thing struck me as strange right away. I looked over my right shoulder and up to the stand behind the dugouts. There were the green ranks of Irish fans. Then I looked up to the highest tier. There, to my surprise, were the Union flags and Saint George’s crosses … the England fans. This immediately struck me as bizarre. Why had the English fans been plonked up there? They seemed almost to be teetering on a precipice, arms aloft, piling forward as excited crowds do, squeezed against a single safety rail and within spitting distance of the Irish fans below. The booing and whistling during the anthems, which followed, was nosurprise. ‘God Save the Queen’ was drowned out by jeers. ‘The Soldier’s Song’ was met with anti-IRA chants. That was normal, though, and was nothing compared to that night in Windsor Park, 1993, when I’d sent Ireland to the World Cup finals with my goal.
We took the lead after half an hour. David Kelly scored a great goal from the left hand sideafter a lovely passing move starting deep from Steve Staunton. ‘You’ll never beat the Irish!’ rang around Lansdowne. And then it started. I was warming up, stretching on the touchline, when a ‘missile’ – an apple, in fact – stung the tip of my nose as it hurtled towards my head, before coming to rest in the turf at the edge of the pitch. For a second I looked at that apple, nestling in the soft turf, and thought how much it looked like a golf ball settled in the sand of a bunker. For a moment, strangely, in my mind I was back the golf links, thinking about how I would play the shot out of the sand. Then, reality kicked in. I looked up to where it had come from and saw fists flying, the unmistakable surge and jostle of crowd disturbance, and – everywhere now – big bits of plastic and wood raining down on the Irish fans. Some of those poor fans were now trying to clamber over the advertising hoardings, desperate to get away from the volleys coming from the English supporters above.
The referee blew his whistle and led the players back to the changing rooms via the centre of the pitch, thus avoiding the touchline where it was kicking off. The Irish players were actually in quite a buoyant mood. We were one-nil up and it was all to play for. We assumed that all the nonsense would die down in five minutes or so and we’d be back out there. But five minutes became ten. Then ten became fifteen. By that stage it was obvious that the match would be abandoned. Jack Charlton, meanwhile, was outside trying to calm things down. As a World Cup winner with England he thought that he would hold some sway over events. But in appealing to the English supporters he was just met with chants of ‘Judas’. He looked forlorn, cap drawn low over his face, as he re-entered the changing room.  

 When I saw the pictures on television afterwards I was outraged, like everyone else. It was reported that the English fans had been infiltrated by the neo-Nazi group ‘Combat 18’. On the night, though, I didn’t notice the Nazi salutes being thrust about and the ‘Sieg Heils’ being yelled: it was all part of the background noise behind me. One image really saddened me. The news clips kept featuring a wide eyed young boy, in his Ireland jersey, the picture of innocence and disbelief, seemingly turning to his daddy to ask him what was going on, as if the fun and beauty of football had been forever robbed from him in that instant. I shared that feeling of having been mugged. We were one nil up and had effectively had the game stolen from us by a small group of fascist thugs. The whole episode left me incredulous as to the decision to house those English fans in the top of the stand since the Gardaí were well aware of the far right element travelling to Dublin for the match

Some time after Combat 18 had announced themselves at Lansdowne Road that evening, they were mannerly enough to take the trouble of writing to me personally. Two envelopes arrived at Fratton Park one morning, one addressed to me and the other to Pompey’s Jamaican international Paul Hall. I thought mine was fan mail at first but, unfurling the letter inside, it was soon clear that it was anything but. Both Paul and I were English-born but playing for foreign countries, the letter proclaimed. Signed simply ‘Combat 18’, it warned me to expect trouble on account of my ‘treachery’. The club reported the letters to the police, who took the threat seriously. Soon, two special branch men were at my house, instructing me carefully on how to check my vehicle for a car bomb: a solemn ritual I performed diligently for a few months before deciding that I couldn’t live my life in fear of Combat 18 and their bigoted threats. Were they even aware of my parents’ nationality? Whatever the case, I couldn’t allow their reductive logic of national identity to scare me.  

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized