Ireland play England in rugby at Croke Park 2007 | The Flag in Arts & Culture

When Ireland played England in rugby at Croke Park in 2007, Justine McCarthy wrote about the tensions surrounding the playing of the English national anthem at the GAA’s most imposing stadium. An accompanying cartoon helped identify some of the major elements in the newspaper article.

Cartoon, “Is This Really What Sport’s About?”

Is This What Sport’s About - Irish Independent,   20 February 2007, p12
Is This What Sport’s About - Irish Independent, 20 February 2007, p12

(Irish Independent, 20 February 2007, p12)

Look closely at this cartoon, and answer the questions that follow

In Your Opinion

  1. Can you locate the colours of the tricolour in the Irish lineout?
  2. Can you locate the colours of the English flag In the English lineout
  3. Why is the player holding a book marked “Anthems” rather than a rugby ball?
  4. The first Irish and English players have their eyes covered a headband. What does this suggest about the opinion of the cartoonist?
  5. The cartoonist has given his own title to the cartoon. How does this help us to understand the meaning and significance of the cartoon?

Few of us relish the prospect, but when the provocative words of ‘God Save the Queen’ clang around Croke next Saturday, it will be genuine Irish republicans who will stand and listen with civility.

Only fake patriots will try deluding themselves that anything other than a polite audience would be an appropriate response to the triumphalist, monarchist anthem. Courtesy has seldom demanded such collective stoicism as bitter and bloody Anglo-Irish history comes crashing back into the here and now. The primary purpose of the afternoon may be for Ireland to vanquish England in a rugby match … but the hardest challenge will be laying the past and the ghosts that haunt Croke Park itself , to dignified rest.

The stiffest upper lips will belong not to the English, but to the Irish. For a country that has been lethally flagellant with its flags, emblems and anthems, Ireland has been utterly hypocritical about them too. We wrap the tricolour round us at football matches while allowing it to be cynically dragged through the political mire by people who equate republicanism with violent disorder. The flag of Ireland has been exploited as a symbol of exclusive, militant, supremacist nationalism.

In the Irish squad for the Six Nations, there are players who are proud to wear the green shirt but for whom “God Save the Queen” is their national anthem. In the stands, there will be supporters ready to roar themselves hoarse for Ireland but who will sing along with “Send her victorious / Happy and glorious / Long to reign over us / God Save the Queen”.

(Justine MacCarthy, “Republicans … now please rise for the Queen’, Irish Independent, 20 February 2007, p12)

In Your Opinion

  1. Why would McCarthy describe the words of “God Save the Queen” as “provocative”?
  2. McCarthy sees the game as more than a sporting event. How does she express that?
  3. What do you understand by the sentence, the “stiffest upper lips will belong not to the English, but to the Irish”?
  4. McCarthy uses the word “hypocritical” to describe people’s attitude towards the flags, emblems and anthems of Ireland. How does she back up this allegations?
  5. How is the complexity of identity reflected among Irish supporters in the stands?
  6. How effective, in your view, McCarthy in conveying the historical significance of this game?

For an English perspective on the game, see Owen Bowcott, “God Save Croke Park”, The Guardian, 23 February 2007. Bowcott gives an indication of the debate surrounding the issue, showing why the tension arose. 

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