A new national anthem?


Sir, – Andy Pollak makes an excellent case for change in his article “Let’s have a competition for a new national Anthem” (Opinion & Analysis, March 9th).

In the event of moves to reunify the two parts of Ireland, the nationalist symbolism of the Republic’s anthem and emblems would be obviously unacceptable to those identifying as loyalist or British.

You columnist suggests a competition, open to all, to come up with a new anthem. Given the pervasive hold that cheap commercial music has on so many of our population, such a process would probably end up with a piece with no characteristics of Irish music.

Ireland’s Call, as your columnist says, is devoid of militaristic sentiments, but it is full of innocuous clichés. The melody (with its cheesy key-change) is bland, and could be used as the anthem for any country of Europe or European origin, for it could not be recognised as particularly Irish without the words.

The current national anthem is an anachronism. Its adoption was not uncontroversial, and was opposed at the time. Colm Ó Lochlainn, for instance, campaigned and wrote against it, proposing instead the traditional song Amhrán Dóchais (Song of Hope) to be adopted.

More recently the late Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin characterised the air as more akin to European art-music, and without any flavour of Irish music.

A readily acceptable replacement would be the tune used both for the Irish song Rosc Catha na Mumhain and for the loyalist ballad The Boyne Water. That would surely satisfy both traditions.

There need not be an associated text. It is not unknown for a country to have for its anthem simply an instrumental piece. Having said that, my own preference would be Song for Ireland.

As for the flag, the current national flag of the Republic is just one of dozens of tricolours throughout the world. While the symbolism is admirable, who outside the Irish appreciate its significance? And how recognisable is it around the world?

The national flag should instantly identify the country, like a universally recognised logo.

There is an obvious replacement. The harp has been recognised as a symbol of Ireland for half a millennium. Its use reflected the perceived excellence, throughout Europe, of Irish harpers and harp music. Its use as a national flag should satisfy nationalists as it is already the device used as the seal of the president of Ireland. It should also be acceptable to unionists, as it was the province of Ulster that did most in the 18th and 19th centuries to preserve the music and practice of harping in Ireland.

Unesco’s recognition, last year, of Irish harping as part of the “intangible cultural heritage of the world” is another argument in its favour. Additionally, the Irish harp is featured on the arms of the United Kingdom.

To elevate it from its position there to a separate status would allow unionists to feel that they retained some connection to their old allegiance. Internationally, changing the national flag to feature the harp would make the new Irish flag – the only one in the world that would feature a musical instrument –unique and instantly recognisable.

My own preference, of course, would be to feature the uilleann pipes, but I’m forced to admit that that instrument has an ungainly shape, unsuited to heraldry. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 12.