Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Rejoice in Rory McIlroy ... everyone knows where he's from

Rory McIlroy's mother Rosie rushes onto the 18th green to hug her son after he won The Open at Hoylake yesterday
Rory McIlroy's mother Rosie rushes onto the 18th green to hug her son after he won The Open at Hoylake yesterday

Maybe we get carried away with the achievements of individuals from Northern Ireland. But at key moments in our history over the last decades those have indisputably managed to brighten our lives.

Regardless of our political differences, which are deep and sometimes extreme, it's nonetheless true that those successes have managed to cross the barriers and be shared by everyone or at least those inclined to regard sport, the arts or invention or just common humanity as sources of interest and joy.

Sometimes those moments have been coloured by grief also. I know I've written about many of these, whether it be Oscar Knox, George Best, Alex Higgins, Michaela McAreavey or Seamus Heaney, because I happen to believe that occasionally individuals can lighten the load of a society or manage to light a way through particular dark experiences or just help us in some small, important way in our own adversity.

Maybe, too, we are particularly taken with such things. Whatever anyone thinks about 'Ulster' or 'Northern Ireland' or 'the North' or 'this part of Ireland' or whatever the term is, it cannot be questioned that the shared daily experience of the last 40 years and longer has fashioned a space which is unique in these islands. That understood, it is not surprising that a global success will be registered here, among us, with an especial regard, have multiple meanings ascribed to it, have resonance and impact beyond the simple scoreboard or record book or roll-call of winners.

This isn't New York or London any more than it is even Dublin or Paris. It's a little city in a little vexed corner with a little population staring at each other across little streets still and living, mostly, still, in little houses. And all around are other little locations in even more condensed cities, towns, villages and still remote homesteads where people live their lives with more or less to show for it.

This is us, for better or worse, lodged side by side with all our small but important values and ambitions and the usual human roster of pride and hurt and joy and disappointment and simple getting on with it.

I don't happen to believe, amid all the trouble, that most of us have lost sight of our common condition and the simple fact that most of the world doesn't really bother all that much with us.

So, I can be forgiven – we can be forgiven – if the opportunity is taken when it occurs, and my, my, doesn't it occur quite often! – to revel unduly in the big time success of one of our own.

Rory McIlroy follows in the footsteps of other individuals – several of them vying with him in the very same arena for the honours – in making our place known globally for something other than trouble.

And, like Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell and a handful of our very best sportspeople and artists and entrepreneurs, he manages to reach his own goals, his own very high-altitude ambitions, while being aware also of the huge impact 'at home'.

We would never seek to pile on the shoulders of anyone with talent the ridiculous additional burden of lightening the days the rest of us struggle through in workplace, schoolroom and home. We don't demand that people busy about their own skills and careers should remember who they are and where they are from. It's up to them and we don't badger them for some kind of success by proxy.

But when it happens that great success is achieved by such people and they themselves volunteer on our behalf to showcase their own place and their own people, that is always met among us with even greater acclaim, even deeper joy.

And I make no apology for joining my voice to the chorus of simple happiness which greeted Rory's Open Championship win at the weekend. It is tremendous source of pride that, in addition to there being a day last week when all three of our top players were in the top 10 on the leaderboard, the youngest of those pressed on like a veteran, like the very greatest practitioners of that sport, to win out in the end, having led the way.

Surely that would be something which would meet with acclaim across all our borders? And, happily, it has been.

A few months back when McIlroy let it be known that he would be representing Ireland at the next Olympics, there was little or no fuss here. How ironic it is that one of the phone-ins on a GB radio station on Sunday night was about the alarm that decision was causing in Britain over the fact that this bright star was not, at least for those Games, in their firmament.

No matter. We know who he is. He knows who he is. Everyone knows where he's from.

Given the prizes showering on him and the promise of more to come, that's maybe not Rory's greatest triumph.

But it's pretty close.

Follow me on Twitter: @GWalker9

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