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Alex Kane: James Galway has tarnished his broad appeal


Right note: Sir James in his younger years

Right note: Sir James in his younger years

Right note: Sir James in his younger years

Up until yesterday morning, James Galway was "one of our own": loved by all in Northern Ireland and claimed by all in Northern Ireland.

He was the man with the golden flute; the man who had first learned to play in the unionist/Protestant heartlands of Belfast and then taken his gift and genius to an international stage.

It didn't matter that he had inflicted his version of Annie's Song upon us, or that he lives in tax-friendly Switzerland: all that mattered was that he came from here and was someone we could all be proud of. One of that small pantheon of sporting/cultural/entertainment icons deserving of the title of a "national treasure".

And then yesterday morning, he took sides. He had a go at "the Presbyterians" for dividing the educational system (he doesn't seem to realise that the Catholic Church remains a champion of segregated education) and providing poor schooling for Protestants.

He had a go at the late Rev Ian Paisley for being responsible for deaths; he claimed that most Protestants were brainwashed; and, for good measure, he accused the British of "occupying" Northern Ireland. Not a bad outburst for someone who said that he didn't take "much interest" in politics.

All of this tumbled out in response to a question about how Northern Ireland has changed in the past few years. So all he had to do was give us the usual platitudes about the progress that has been made, while arguing that there is still more to do.

But no, he decided to point the finger and lay the blame on the doorstep of unionism, Presbyterianism and the British. Surprisingly, there was no mention of the IRA or Sinn Fein. No mention of a terrorist campaign. No mention of the fact that war/conflict involves more than one side.

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One got the impression that he wasn't confused, jet-lagged or, as American politicians like to say, guilty of "misspeaking", or "misremembering". This is what he really thinks.

It clearly bothers him - albeit not to the extent of refusing an OBE and knighthood, or declining an invitation and payment to come to Belfast as a guest of the British Broadcasting Corporation. He wasn't trapped into taking sides. He chose to nail his colours to the mast. He must have known that he would offend people, including many who have been able to enjoy his music without thinking about his political views.

Will he care? Probably not. Why should he? He doesn't live here and hasn't lived here for decades. He will still be invited back, though.

People, even those he has offended, will still listen to his music. He remains one of the greatest musicians of his generation. But something has changed. He will no longer be "one of our own" in the collective sense of that term.

He has crossed the Rubicon, allowing himself to be identified with one side and with a particular interpretation of history. He first hinted at his beliefs in October 2013, when in Dublin for an award: "It's special for me, because it's in the Republic. This is real Ireland. Well, the other bit is real Ireland, too, but they won't admit it."

He went further, much further this time. In so doing, he struck a loud, harsh, discordant note.

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