McIlroy helps tee up yet another border conflict
Admitting that he felt more British than Irish may have hurt some people, but the world Rory McIlroy hails from is a place created by partition and defined by the Troubles
IF ONLY RORY MCILROY had the consolation of poetry. Had McIlroy or one of his minders been familiar with the work of the Belfast poet WR Rodgers he would have been able to use Rodgers’s wry line about the hazards of dual nationality on this island, about how he felt he had “a foot in both graves”.
The sad, funny reality of that sharp remark might have stilled the wave of questions that swamped the 23-year-old golfer, or might have created a pause long enough for McIlroy to collect his thoughts and discuss with those close to him the likely reaction to his decision. His choice may have been the same, but it would have come with a thorough explanation attached, one sensitive to differing views. People would have understood, or understood more.
What instead came forth last Monday morning was unexpectedly blunt. The line that made ears prick up was: “Maybe it was the way I was brought up, I don’t know, but I have always felt more of a connection with the UK than with Ireland.”
As of September 10 2012 this is McIlroy’s truth and in a sporting week that has taken in the shocking Hillsborough report, no-one can complain about receiving the truth.
Those cherishing the idea that McIlroy would declare himself Irish by opting to play for Ireland’s Olympic team in 2016 were stung. They pointed to McIlroy’s sporting education and funding by the Golfing Union of Ireland. It is a 32-county body, and McIlroy never chose not to represent it during his adolescence. In fact he wore the Irish colours with pride and, of course, success. He was an Irish golfer.
The GUI did not claim him – it is not golf’s style – and that is perhaps why you could sense the anxiety in McIlroy’s words when he said: “What makes it such an awful position to be in is I have grown up my whole life playing for Ireland under the Golfing Union of Ireland umbrella. But the fact is, I’ve always felt more British than Irish.”
The resulting anger didn’t have its roots in sport. It wasn’t the possible loss of a gold medal opportunity in Brazil four years from now that got people worked up. It hurt many people inside and outside Northern Ireland to learn that this was the honest, gut feeling of a Co Down Catholic.
At the personal level McIlroy has a lifestyle that whisks him from New York to Abu Dhabi to Beijing. When he won his first significant trophy it was in Miami, Florida. He was nine years old. With a bag over his shoulder, he has been on the road ever since, and he is now a superstar citizen of the world.
There is a photograph of Miami – along with many others – on the walls of Holywood Golf Club. That is the cosy, welcoming clubhouse to which McIlroy will forever return. But his life is elsewhere.