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Is desire for anthem flagging?

By Declan Bogue

If you found yourself surprised at the remarks made by GAA President Aoghan ÓFearghail while on the All-Stars tour of Dubai, imagine how the message came across in real time.

For the record, ÓFearghail was responding to a query from a journalist referring to foreign units of the GAA and one-time Director-General Liam Mulvihill's remarks some years back questioning the need for the Irish National Anthem and flying of the tricolour during GAA activities in some more exotic shores.

Again, for the record, here are his comments, verbatim: "It would be time to look at it in our own island too. In terms of an agreed Ireland which everyone in the GAA and everyone in Ireland looks at.

"You certainly can't look at these issues in advance agreement, that's for sure. The flag and anthem means a lot to the GAA and will continue to do so.

"...In the future if there are agreements in place for the whole island, of course the GAA would be inclusive in that."

He took the question and broadened the scope. Pressed on what he meant precisely by further agreements, he said: "There could be further agreements politically at home. It is a changing world at home.

"…But in the future if there are new agreements and arrangements, we would be open-minded about things like flags and anthems, but not in advance of the agreements."

The viewpoint was mildly titillating. Great copy for late November, but hardly earth-shattering. The reporters present all covered the subject with maturity. Some pushed the line way down in their stories, underneath the tense stand-off between Galway hurling and the Leinster Council. By the time it had gone through the cement mixer of Twitter outrage, it became a 'WATCH: GAA Prez Wants To Burn Flags And Make The Birdie Song The New Anthem' clickbait item.

With the Lynchmob gathering at the gates of Croke Park, O'Fearghail clarified his thoughts on RTÉ radio last Saturday, stating he was referring to a united Ireland, and, "In those new political realities which hopefully will happen, who knows what may happen in the future? That was very much in the realms of speculation as to a new future."

Perhaps the President felt he had offended some by letting his guard down while sitting inside a mock-Bedouin tent in a pair of shorts. Maybe he just wanted to test the waters back home.

And maybe, just maybe, it was a tip of the cap to the Stormont Government while Casement Park is still in limbo.

Either way, he attracted a serious bit of flak. This tends to happen when the destiny of symbols are discussed in a mature fashion. Insecurity sets in. Old battle lines are drawn and the usual, predictable responses are bellowed.

That, and the fact that most meaningful Gaelic games action is practically wrapped up for the year. Winter Talk, as one famous Kerryman once coined it.

If Brexit did force major and uncomfortable political decisions and new alliances were formed, if there indeed was a united Ireland (deep breaths now, settle yourself…), then everything would be on the table - flags, anthems, the whole shebang.

From a personal point of view, I am uncomfortable with anyone who identifies himself with a cloth of different colours, arranged in a certain fashion. It's the sort of thing that was widely scoffed at when coverage of the American election brought us to the rust-belts of the States, where people still like to bear arms and fly the stars and bars on their front porch.

And I never understand why Amhrán na bhFiann needs to be played at every single two-bit game in the GAA county calendar.

In this reactionary society, pacifism has become the one position you are not permitted. We all have to be on a side!

A flag is not a culture. Language is culture. Sport is culture. Music is culture. Dance, architecture, drama, food, literature, story-telling, satire and comedy, performing arts, philosophy, rituals, religion and kinship - all of this is culture.

A flag is a piece of cloth. As John Hume often repeated his father's view: "You can't eat a flag."

Belfast Telegraph


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