Monday, 30 January 2017

The GAA and the Secretary of State

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State attended the 2017 final of the McKenna Cup, a GAA trophy that was presented by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher, Patrick McKenna, back in 1927.  The match took place on Saturday in Newry and the teams taking part were Tyrone and Derry.

Although the game was between two teams from Northern Ireland and took place in Northern Ireland the event included the playing of the national anthem of the Irish Republic, known as The Soldier's Song.

The McKenna Cup competition involves teams from the old nine-county province of Ulster, the six counties of Northern Ireland, and the three southern border counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal, so it could be argued that there should be two anthems, The Soldier's Song and God Save the Queen, reflecting the fact that the participating teams are drawn from counties in both the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom.  However only The Soldiers' Song was played, as set out in the constitution of the GAA.

Irish version
Amhrán na bhFiann
English version
The Soldiers' Song
Sinne Fianna Fáil,[fn 1]
atá faoi[fn 2] gheall ag Éirinn,
Buíon dár slua
thar toinn do ráinig chugainn,
Faoi mhóid bheith saor
Seantír ár sinsear feasta,
Ní fhágfar faoin tíorán ná faoin tráill.
Anocht a théam sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil, chun báis nó saoil,[fn 3]
Le gunna scréach faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh canaídh amhrán na bhfiann
Soldiers are we,
whose lives are pledged to Ireland,
Some have come
from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free,
no more our ancient sireland,
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the "bearna baoil",
In Erin's cause, come woe or weal,
’Mid cannon's roar and rifles' peal,
We'll chant a soldier's song

James Brokenshire arrived after the anthem had been played and has now been criticised for this by Labour MP Conor McGinn, who said his action was 'regressive'.  However this incident highlights the inherent Irish nationalism of the Gaelic Athletic Association and illustrates why it is an organisation that excludes unionists.

Back in December the GAA president Aogan O Fearghail was asked if the GAA would change its position on flying the Irish tricolour and playing The Soldier's Song at at home games and he was quoted in the Irish News (5 December 2016) as saying:
I replied we wouldn't, that it was very much part and parcel of our culture, it was very much valued by us and that it was a key part of our heritage, and it will remain.
He also went on to reaffirm the political stance of the GAA and spoke about 'the future we all aspire to, certainly within the GAA, to a new unified Ireland.'

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