In Scotland last week to speak at the Edinburgh Book Festival about the 1916 Easter Rising, I read in The National, the pro-independence daily newspaper, a fervent defence of the hundreds of Celtic supporters who flew Palestinian flags at the Champions League match with Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
Like Northern Irish republicans and loyalists, some Celtic and Rangers fans use Israel as a political football.
It helps fill the gap left by the campaign against sectarianism, which for some hardcore supporters has taken a lot of the passion out of Old Firm encounters.
I didn’t get round to discussing this at my gig, but I did touch on Irish tribalism, which I roundly blamed on a Scot.
When James VI of Scotland succeeded Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 as King James I of England and Ireland, he was faced with the problem of Ulster, the province the Queen had most difficulty in pacifying.
It was both rebellious and very underdeveloped — hence his cunning plan to export Protestant Planters in, including a large contingent of Scots Presbyterians.
It was the great historian Lord Macaulay who, more than a couple of centuries later, summed up the essence of the culture clash.
Writing of the 17th century, he made a brilliant comparison between the Scottish and the Irish temperaments.
“In natural courage and intelligence both the nations which now became connected with England ranked high,” he said.
“In perseverance, in self-command, in forethought, in all the virtues which conduce to success in life, the Scots have never been surpassed.
“The Irish, on the other hand, were distinguished by qualities which tend to make men interesting rather than prosperous.
“They were an ardent and impetuous race, easily moved to tears or to laughter, to fury or to love.
“Alone among the nations of northern Europe they had the susceptibility, the vivacity, the natural turn for acting and rhetoric, which are indigenous on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.”
And so it came to pass that — fired up with the Protestant ethic that the Irish despised as tedious money-grubbing — the Scots cultivated their Ulster lands industriously, built towns and began an industrial revolution, while the Gaelic Irish spilled their understandable resentment at having the good land taken off them into song, poetry and an historical narrative of victimhood so over the top that Professor Liam Kennedy named it MOPE (most oppressed people ever).
As Professor Tom Gallagher, a Catholic unionist, put it: “Hamas’s militancy against an alleged oppressor is celebrated just as the IRA’s terrorist operations were defended by a vocal minority of Celtic fans a generation ago.”
His criticism is echoed by the Scots Catholic composer James McMillan, who speaks of their hatred as being “encouraged by edgy, lefty ‘celebs’ who urge the young, semi-educated fans to be radical daredevils like them.”
Pleasingly, Uefa — which bans “messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature” — takes a dim view of such flag-waving.
It fined the club £16,000 for a similar offence two years ago.
In protest against critics, fans have crowd-funded £160,000 to date to pay the latest fine and contribute to Palestinian charities.
Unlike Rangers fans — who are this time on the side of the angels — they show no concern about the shocking treatment by Hamas of women, gays and non-Muslims, which is similarly ignored by those who desecrated Jewish graves in Belfast City Cemetery on Friday.
It’s about time the Catholic Church took a firm stance against such behaviour and uncoupled its creaky wagon from the SNP, Celtic and the old-fashioned, tunnel-visioned nationalism that still exists among northern republicans but is being left behind in the Republic.