Thursday, February 15, 2007

Slugger and the Rugby

Slugger O'Toole, our friend up North, has a penchant for stirring things up a little, but one has to admit it's strange the things that stir the soul of the less thuggish element of society (assuming in an entirely elitist kind of way that most blog contributors are at least marginally less malnourished and fractionally better educated than the great unwashed, and therefore capable of rational thought and reasonable dialogue). In this instance, it's the rugby, with its 32 country protestant origins and the symbolism attached thereto.

Ironies abound in this one. The all-island nature of the game, the 'true' provincial separations and national unification with the oval ball, came about through privilege. Rugby, an English game for the fee-paying schools and young men of the social elite, has always been the protestant game. And because the protestants ran it, the protestants in the North could agree with the protestants in the south how best to run the game. And so we have this clarity of purpose, undimmed by politics, unclouded by cynicism and blind loyalism, that has brought us to a point where we have an extraordinary day out in Croke Park.

If in the six counties GAA is dominated by the Catholic nationalist, and soccer by the protestant loyalist, for so long rugby has been in the preserve of the progressive unionist. Not, of course, the late lamented David Ervine's breed, but rather the gone-but-not-forgotten David Trimble variety. These are ordinary unaspiring pragmatists, the undogmatic and pea-eating middle classes who don't even ask 'why everyone can't just get along' when politics comes up at a dinner party, they rather recoil into themselves and ask whether anyone would like more coffee. These are good people.

Now, there's a quote from Edmund Burke that goes along the lines of 'all that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.' The implication is that we all have responsibilities that extend beyond ourselves into the broader realms of society; this is altogether true. However, some people are weak, one could perhaps argue cowardly. Whether that is a failing in themselves, or within their culture is not for me to say, but there is a certain amount of that shirk of responsiblity in all of us, and we should therefore not be too quick to judge.

So, back to the rugby. These good people took it upon themselves to organise games across the island, and upon partition chose to ignore politics and acknowledge that the political division of the island could not separate the sporting ambitions of men who had more in common than not. That it has persisted to see the day when rugby is welcomed into Croke Park is indeed encouraging.

But such a skirmish on Slugger. The only organisation on the island with the cohones to push a compromise anthem through, leading the way for others to follow, and it is pilloried. Such demented, enraged, mind-numbingly myopic (an innovative construct, I grant you), and pitiful arguments, occasionally descending into farcical name calling, often boiling over into heated and vitriolic rejection of another man's point, one wonders where it will all end.

One wonders whether the inanity of the subject matter gives space to the intellectual rejectionists - for example, if a Catholic kid is blown up by a Protestant pipe bomb, it is intellectually (or perhaps sensitively) repulsive to use that subject to exercise one's politics. Even arson attacks, as have happened all too often of late - dangerous, potentially deadly acts that everyone needs to condemn.

Yet for a sporting event, the most measured, meek, mild-mannered men come over all tattooed and loyalist. The calm, collected, considerate folk of 'the republican tradition' don the balaclava of indignancy and the kalashnikov of struggle. And they have a set-to.

There is a latent division, something that we all have to recognise, something that we all have to open ourselves to, that needs to be wiped away. I'm not talking about the border, I'm talking about our comfort with ourselves. There is a tribalism that is too exclusive, an identity that is too defensive, on each side that must find solace and reason.

But I guess at least we're only arguing about it, mostly, and not killing each other any more. And maybe robbing the odd bank.

No comments: