This week, I had the displeasure to listen to ‘Sheila’ a caller to the (generally rubbish) Stephen Nolan show on the BBC Radio Ulster Channel. You can listen too to the terribleness of the call for yourself at this link and by forwarding through the show to around 41 minutes in.
The context to this call was the security situation which took place on the Antrim Road in Belfast this week. In a callous attempt to kill, Republican dissidents left a bomb on the Road for possibly days, during which time, hundreds of ordinary people from Northern Ireland walked past it… women, children, men, workers and indeed the Police Officers it intended to kill.
‘Sheila’ stated that she would support whatever it took to get rid of the British from Ireland, including the planting of such a bomb. She went on to say that she was sick of looking at “Union Jacks” [sic] in Northern Ireland and that people who report crimes to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that they’re a “traitor” and a “Judas”. When even challenged by the host of the show, Stephen Nolan, about the wrongness of the bomb attack, bearing in mind that a 3 year old girl walked past the bomb, ‘Sheila’ replied with “what difference” is there between that & her niece who was allegedly shot by the SAS and that “one life is the same as another”.
I could go on, but frankly, it disgusts me.
A few years ago, listening to such a call would have made my blood boil, my over-riding emotion would have been anger, but not today. Today, I’m feeling an incredible sadness about my home country. Northern Ireland is a beautiful place and it’s people are a great people, full of wit (albeit sometimes dark), generosity and kindness… and yet there are fools like ‘Sheila’, the morons in Londonderry who put out an Indian family and of course the idiots who rioted for fun back in Belfast last July.
When you see such idiocy, you’ve got shake your head & wonder… why is there so much hatred in the wee place? Is it boredom? Nothing better to do? A poor education? A divided education? Or is there more to it? And more importantly perhaps can Northern Ireland overcome such pathetic behaviour and become a mature place?
I’ve also read a couple of blogs this week regarding sectarianism in Northern Irish football. Firstly, there was this anonymous posting on “Who ate all the Pies” an online football magazine. Now, first up (and ignoring the industrial language) the author makes some sane points. Football in NI (particularly in the Irish League) is in a terrible state. Only recently Glentoran nearly went bankrupt and a few years ago, Coleraine actually did!! Crowds have dropped dramatically, clubs have gone out of business and the quality of the game appears to be at it’s lowest ebb in years.
Yet the author makes some pretty glaringly odd statements… After castigating Irish League Football, the author then says that he doesn’t go because he doesn’t feel safe. Umm… how can you feel unsafe if you’ve not been? How can you make statements about the sectarian make up of a football team you’ve never seen? The author then goes on to say that football is predominately “Unionist” in Northern Ireland. Try telling that to supporters of Cliftonville, Newry, Donegal Celtic or Derry City.
He then uses the bemusing, and unsurprising, comparison with Gaelic Games… which of course is a collections of sport which is predominately Nationalist. The implication is clear from this author: Unionist = Bad; Nationalist = Good. Codswallop, of course. He then talks about violence at Irish League games & mentions that football violence is a thing of the past across the water in England, Scotland & Wales. Codswallop again. Only this season, there was trouble between Aston Villa & Milwall supporters at a YOUTH CUP game, not to mention trouble at the recent ‘Second City Derby’, QPR v Milwall and West Ham v Milwall last season.
It appears, unfortunately that again someone is trying to point score against others within Northern Ireland for no other reason than religion. Internet speculation on the NI supporters website Our Wee Country and indeed a comment on the original blog wonder if failed BBC reporter Jerome Quinn is linked to the blog somehow. He was sacked by the BBC for posting derogatory comments about the BBC on an internet forum from BBC equipment at work… oopsie. He then claimed it was because he was Irish and a Roman Catholic, despite being sacked by someone who was, umm, Irish and a Roman Catholic and replaced in his role by someone who was (yup, you guessed it) Irish and a Roman Catholic. Double and Treble oopsie. Is he bitter enough to have another dig at Irish League Football?
Ryan McDonnell posted a response to the original blog on his own site “clocknhens”. Whilst Ryan deconstructs the original much better than I did, he did something much, much better. He talked about the positives of Irish League football. Yes it has it’s issues, but it is progressing. Clubs are finally getting financial support to upgrade their stadia – remember the Taylor Report was (shamefully) never implemented in Northern Ireland. Portadown, Donegal Celtic, Newry, Glenavon, Ballymena, Derry City have all profited from recent stadia grants. Sectarian Singing at games is now a rarity, rather than the rule. Clubs at all levels of the game are mixed. The IFA is under an independent review which will hopefully create a more professional structure & be the cause of releasing funds to upgrade Windsor Park to international standard.
Sure there are things that need work, like increased media profile, increased attendances and increased quality on the pitch, but it’s not all bleak. There is hope.
Which brings me neatly back to ‘Invictus’, a poem which was written by William Ernest Henley in 1875 whilst in his hospital bed after having his lower leg amputated. The word ‘Invictus’ being the Latin for the English word ‘Undefeated’ and recently the title of a Clint Eastwood movie based on the South African victory at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. I guess each of us who want to make Northern Ireland a better place could take solace from the, sometimes brutal, words of William Henley:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.