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Graeme McDowell: 'Am I Irish or am I British? There's no right answer, but truth is it never mattered to me'

By Amanda Ferguson

Published 28/04/2015

Graeme McDowell with his US wife Kristin Stape
Graeme McDowell with his US wife Kristin Stape

Graeme McDowell has spoken of his conflicted identity and the challenges facing someone from Northern Ireland growing up with parents from different religious backgrounds.

G-Mac, as the Major-winning golfer from Portrush is known to fans, said growing up with a Catholic mother and Protestant father gave him a unique perspective on life.

Back in 2012 McDowell (35) said the Rio 2016 Olympic Committee should step in and tell golfers 'you guys are playing for Ireland' or 'you're playing for Great Britain' after he and Rory McIlroy found themselves in the impossible and "extremely sensitive" position of trying to please everyone.

"You can't really understand what it's like to live in Northern Ireland and have a Catholic mum and a Protestant dad," he said.

"When I grew up as a junior golfer, I wanted to wear the green blazer. Golf was an all-Ireland sport; we wore the red hand of Ulster for the inter-provincials and you stuck the green jacket on (playing for Ireland) and never gave it a second thought.

"But when the whole Olympics thing came up, it just felt like a banana skin where there was no right answer. I, typically, don't sit on the fence, I try to be honest and give an opinion but I didn't have an answer."

McDowell chose Ireland and, after much controversy, eventually so did McIlroy.

"One of the things I love about living in the States is the patriotism," McDowell said in an interview with the Sunday Independent.

"I'm not proud of Northern Ireland in many ways, because of what we've been through, and what we've fought over, and the things we've done to each other.

"Am I Irish? Am I Northern Irish? Am I British? I'll be honest and say that when I travel around the world I say I'm Irish, because people love the Irish."

On whether the sportsman felt Irish, the father-of-one who is married to US designer Kristin, spoke of his lack of patriotism in general.

"I don't feel anything and, as I say, I hate my lack of patriotism," he said. "Do I want to be an American? No. Are my kids going to be American?

"Well, they're going to be American citizens but I'm very passionate about them having a sense of where their dad's from.

"I'm very passionate about taking them home for the summer and for them to meet their cousins and to understand their history and culture. I love Ireland and I love the north coast where I'm from and I'm very proud of that and the beauty and the people but it's . . . (pauses)"

When the interviewer asked McDowell if "it's conflicted" he agreed.

"Conflicted, that's the word," he said. "It's weird . . . I mean, I've got an MBE. I'm a Member of the British Empire."

In the wide-ranging and frank interview, McDowell talked of the love he has for his parents and also opens up about his mother's battle with MS.

"I always assumed my dad was the strength of the family but in the last 10 to 15 years, I've come to understand dad is the soft, emotional one, mum is as tough as nails and just seeing her dealing with her illness and everything that goes with it... she's amazing," he said.

McDowell's parents were born-and-bred in Portrush. His father Kenny grew up in Islandmore and mother Marian in Glenmanus.

"Dad was a member of the Orange Order club and got a letter saying he would not be welcome back because he was seen walking into a Catholic Mass with mum," he revealed.


Golfer Graeme McDowell is married to US interior designer Kristin Stape. They have one daughter, Vale Esme. The 35-year-old was educated at Caranalridge Primary School in Portrush and Coleraine Inst. He studied mechanical engineering at Queen's University Belfast. In 2010, the Ryder Cup hero won the US Open, his first and, so far, only Major title.

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