Ireland's new-found wealth is helping to banish centuries of Anglophobia. Next February, you will even hear "God Save the Queen" sung at Croke Parkby Fintan O'Toole / January 14, 2007 / Leave a comment
Among the wonders of the internet is a site offering cures for all kinds of phobias. I asked it for advice on Anglophobia, and was told, “Your fear of England, English culture, etc, can result in the following symptoms: dizziness, heart palpitations, inability to speak or think clearly, a fear of dying or losing control, a sensation of detachment from reality or a full-blown anxiety attack.” Since these symptoms are all too recognisable to those of us who grew up in Ireland in the 1960s, I was happy to learn that “There is a Way Out! Imagine what your life will be like when you know that you are not ‘defective.’ When you can be confident and at ease in situations where you used to feel Anglophobia.” The way out offered involves some sessions of something called Energy Psychology, but in the case of Anglophobia, at least, there is a more effective cure: money. The application of large doses of cash to the Irish psyche during the boom of the last decade has led to a palpable easing of symptoms. The inability to think and speak clearly and detachment from reality that used to overcome a significant section of the population in the presence of perfidious Albion have become notably less frequent. Since the turn of the century, when Irish GDP per capita began to outstrip that of Britain, the possibility of being at ease in situations which would previously have triggered a full-blown anxiety attack has become more realistic.
Like a recovering alcoholic anticipating a first return to a favourite pub, however, Ireland is steeling itself for the ultimate test. On 24th February, England’s rugby union team will play Ireland in a Six Nations match, and “God Save the Queen” will sound out over Croke Park, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). To get a sense of the significance of the occasion, you need only know that many of the fans will be sitting either on the Hogan stand or on Hill 16. The Hogan stand is named after the captain of the Tipperary Gaelic football team, who was shot dead by British forces when they attacked the stadium in November 1920. Hill 16 is built on the rubble of buildings in central Dublin destroyed by British shelling during the 1916 rising. Anglo-Irish conflict is literally built into Croke Park.
Croke Park is also the physical legacy of the great revival of Irish cultural nationalism in the 19th century, when the GAA, along with the Gaelic League and the literary movement, sought explicitly to “de-Anglicise” sport, literature, language, theatre and journalism. Like most 19th-century nationalist movements, this one proposed exclusive options. You could be properly Irish or you could be a West Brit. Any GAA member caught playing, or even watching, “garrison” games like soccer, rugby and cricket would be expelled.
The very existence of such rules was an implicit admission that Irish culture is more complicated than the alternatives offered by 19th-century nationalism implied. The Spanish diplomat Salvador de Madariaga put it well when he wrote, “Most of all, Irishmen are deeply Anglified. They do not enjoy being told so, of course, but that only confirms how Anglified they are, for otherwise they would not care a rap either way.”
Irish sports fans have actually worked out a system of allegiances that is more sophisticated, and more honest, than political statements might imply. Most have great affection for the GAA, one of the world’s most remarkable amateur sporting bodies. At the level of the parish or the county, the GAA teams are the standard-bearers. But rugby teams represent their provinces best, and the national soccer and rugby teams do battle in the international arena. And for the weekly fix of televised glamour, Manchester United, Liverpool and Celtic are followed with passion.
These nuances and subtleties must now withstand a gloriously simple image: “God Save the Queen” being played at Croke Park. The decrepit old national stadium at Lansdowne Road, where rugby and soccer internationals have long been staged, is being rebuilt. The GAA had to vote on whether to allow the hated garrison games to be played at its headquarters. The arguments in favour were strong—the GAA would earn a lot of money from its old enemies, and the alternative (staging Irish internationals in England or Scotland) was hardly patriotic. The argument against was weak in every respect but one: “imagine ‘God Save the Queen’ being played at Croke Park.” The imaginations of many otherwise rational people recoiled. In the blogosphere and in provincial newspapers, they evoke words like “galling” and “unsettling.”
Yet GAA members voted by a large majority to allow rugby and soccer to be played at Croke Park. The Anglophobic impulse can no longer override common sense. The moment in February when the British anthem is played will be a little too self-consciously historic, and it will be a long time before England is just another country for the Irish. But a mindset formed over many centuries is changing for good. The old love-hate relationship is giving way to a healthy indifference.
We’ll miss Anglophobia when it’s gone. We had 800 years of oppression to blame for everything rotten in Irish society. Now we’ve got buckets of money and still have a third world health service, appalling social injustices and a planning system so bad that Dublin is held up by the EU commission as an example to be avoided. If not the Brits’, whose fault can this possibly be?