Time to call a halt to embarrassing ‘Ireland’s Call’

A sop to the Ulster players who won’t sing Amhrán na bhFiann, Ireland’s Call is wrong

Following the Irish hockey team's acapella rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann at the Rio Olympics, Fine Gael Senator Neale Richmond called for the national anthem to be taught in primary school.

 

In Lansdowne Road you do get the glances, the furtive looks, the outrage. You do feel the heat of self-righteous anger, the invisible force field of disapproval. All because you are sitting as they stand.

When you chose to ignore Phil Coulter’s tune, the one that didn’t win the Eurovision for shoeless Sandie Shaw, you do feel a little less patriotic than you did five minutes before, a wee bit disloyal.

But do they not understand in Lansdowne Road that three songs before a game is overkill. Three songs is, at the very least, one Ireland’s Call too many.

That’s the thing with anthems, especially those masquerading as national anthems, they make people feel obliged to stand to attention and shout words.

If you chose to ignore them, if you believe they are meaningless, a confusing fudge of forced unity, they become divisive and bite you back. Yes, you’ve had that look.

Ireland’s Call, it makes you wonder how it ever got there, who it was slipped it into the rugby fixture list, who it was decided it would remain part of the rugby experience and force fed to 50,000 people before every home Six Nations Championship match.

Come the day and come the hour Coulter delivered in 1995 after the IRFU commissioned a song with no political undertone. Since then they have operated a policy of use it or lose it.

Sweet. But let’s face it. Small nations have big anthems. Big nations have giant anthems. God Save the Queen inflates with imperial self regard and breathless entitlement.

The Star Spangled Banner – unless you are San Francisco 49er and man of conscience Colin Kaepernick – is a battle cry.

Croke Park witnessed that in 2014 at the College football game between Penn State and University of Central Florida. Arms across breasts and F16s thundering overhead, made the ground literally move. That’s walking the walk, talking the talk. Hardware in the air ripping the arse out of Dublin city’s skyline. That’s a national anthem.

Audio waterboarding

The Guardian’sRichard WilliamsIl Canto degli Italiani

He has a point. Maybe too Irish fans should not be denied the experience of wonder at the Ladybird Book lyrics of Ireland’s Call and the passive aggressive audio waterboarding of people into believing it actually holds a position of national importance.

A sop to the Ulster players, who won’t sing Amhrán na bhFiann because it’s not their anthem, Ireland’s Call has found a place alongside fracking and puppy farms as plain wrong.

Politically gelded, tunefully on a par with ‘Oggy Oggy Oggy’ and because it acts as a numbing agent as meaningful as ‘I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob,’ it is ‘nothing’ masterfully captured in song and dutifully belted out every February.

Forever standing tall Andrew Trimble, Rory Best and Iain Henderson, what did they ever do to have to sing it before a match. Victims all of gestural politics, has rugby not matured enough to understand the concept of divergent communities and mutual respect, without throwing them the hospital pass of the ever stillborn terrace tune.

That’s the way of anthems, faux or otherwise. They are designed to unite but they divide. Like the Kardashians when the IRFU should be trying to lose them they somehow gain one more.

Look at Martin Johnson. He can punch a man out stone cold on the rugby pitch and get cheered off the field. Then when he stands in the wrong place in 2003 for Ireland’s Call at Lansdowne Road, there’s a hit put out on him.

But to say there has never been a rendition of Ireland’s Call that has been interesting would be untruthful. There was that memorable occasion in November last, when the squeaky, punked up version was scratched out by the soloist in Chicago’s Soldier’s Field.

Long-term embarrassment

It was radical and subversive. It was hard on the ear and thin sounding and barely recognisable. It was surreal and everything that rugby and team sport is not, edgy, individualistic. Most importantly it was not at all something to which you could lock elbows, sway and sing along.

It was the best cover of Ireland’s Call ever played and had no resemblance whatsoever to the copyrighted, shout-out version. That was its beauty.

So we can learn something from Chicago. There is a solution. The IRFU won’t buy it but it could save the jingle further long-term embarrassment and fans irreversible impairment.

It concerns a soccer player called Megan Rapinoe, who has won over 100 caps with the US national soccer team.

Last September Rapinoe showed her support for Kaepernick’s protest at the number of blacks dying at the hands of police by kneeling before a match between her league club, Seattle Reign, and Chicago Fire.

But another National Women’s Soccer League club, the patriotic Washington Spirit, responded by sneakily playing the anthem before the arrival of the teams on the pitch at their next match. It was in order, they said, to avoid allowing anyone to “hijack this tradition that means so much to millions of Americans”.

Sound pollution around the Six Nations has gone on too long. Time to take the song out of rugby politics, put it in its rightful place and sing it to an empty stadium.

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