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The GAA Has A Big Decision To Make About The Irish Anthem

The GAA Has A Big Decision To Make About The Irish Anthem
By Conall Cahill Updated

The GAA is faced with a key decision to make regarding the playing of the Irish anthem before GAA games following president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl's important remarks yesterday.

Aogán Ó Fearghaíl, the president of the GAA, has made a fairly bold statement to media who are in Dubai for the All Stars tour. According to Kenny Archer of the 'Irish News' Ó Fearghaíl actually responded to a question about the use of the Irish flag and anthem overseas by discussing their display before games on the island of Ireland.

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.

Ó Fearghaíl made reference to the "massively changing world" and went on to outline his open-minded approach to the use of the flag and anthem before GAA matches.

There might well be political realignments on the island of Ireland...in the future if there are new agreements and new arrangements we’d be open-minded about things like flags and anthems but not in advance of agreements.

Ó Fearghaíl's comments elucidate the GAA's concern with spreading its appeal beyond Ireland, and they undoubtedly make sense. They also show an admirable broadness of thinking from Ó Fearghaíl in that he appreciates that the 'flag and anthem' issue needs to be discussed with regards to the island of Ireland as much as beyond it.

Edwin Poots became the first DUP minister to attend a GAA game when he watched the McKenna Cup game between Down and Donegal in Newry in 2008, arriving after the anthem in protest at its playing. Four years later, Peter Robinson attended a clash in the same competition between Tyrone and Derry as First Minister of Northern Ireland. At the time, Robinson had the following to say of his experience:

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We have to get away from the ‘them and us’ politics. We have to be able to show respect for each other’s traditions .

The words used by Robinson here are telling. "Each other's traditions." The Irish national anthem is very much an important part of the GAA's tradition and what it celebrates as an organisation. And the way in which Amhrán na bhFiann is celebrated generally isn't done in any overtly, in-your-face manner that should make anyone who doesn't wish to celebrate it feel intimidated in any way. But it is very much representative of the nationalist tradition. Hence, it clashes with the unionist tradition Robinson is referring to. Much like Orange parades might clash with the republican tradition Martin McGuinness (who attended that game with Robinson as Deputy First Minister) sympathises with.

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The GAA itself, in its very make-up, is representative of the nationalist tradition. Preventing the playing of the anthem won't change that. But it will make the organisation that bit more appealing across different traditions. Specifically in Northern Ireland, as Ó Fearghaíl was referring to, removing the tricolour or anthem would doubtlessly make a GAA match that bit more welcoming to someone of a unionist background.

The GAA has to ask itself whether potential members from outside the nationalist tradition could be turned off by the playing of the anthem and the displaying of the tricolour and, if so, whether they view this as important enough that it overrides the desire of the majority of GAA members to have the anthem played and the tricolour displayed.

The answer to the former question is probably, for many people from the unionist community, in the affirmative.

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But, in all likelihood, there are too many of those who love belting out the anthem in Thurles before a Munster hurling final, too many who get teary-eyed in Croke Park when the final flurry of notes is drowned out by the roar of the eager crowd, for the Irish anthem or the display of the tricolour to be removed from GAA matches any time soon.

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