Sometimes I feel ashamed of Gaelic football. Somebody will kick somebody, somebody will give someone else an elbow, and next you know two-thirds of both teams are falling over themselves to beat the bejaysus out of anyone they can get their hands on. Not exactly a lovely advertisement for Gaelic sport. And I haven’t even mentioned the names of those GAA clubs that so upset unionists.
And then I see something like that article in the Belfast Telegraph the other day. It gave figures about how much it cost to treat people who managed to damage themselves or others in Eleventh Night bonfires over the last five years – somewhere around £3 million. Mmm. Well, I suppose you could argue that it is over five years and there is the question of tradition and culture for a section of the people who feel the things they hold dear are under threat. Only then I notice a picture of a recent Eleventh Night bonfire. It’s the usual massive pile of pallets, and it’s adorned with flags. Irish tricolour flags. I count them – one, two, three, four. And I read the writing that’s been daubed on the sheets that hang from half-way up the pallet pile. ‘Fuck the IRA’ it says. ‘Fuck Sinn Fein’. And ‘Fuck the RIRA’. And there’s something about Bobby Sands as well but I can’t read that.
You get the feeling that the people who constructed this bonfire weren’t completely into the new dispensation where we all try to put ourselves in the other chap’s shoes. Where we all join Trevor Ringland in taking One Small Step. And in a way it’s kind of refreshing, the frank, no-pretending, no-ifs-buts or here-hould-on-a-minutes that usually get draped around expressions of political allegiance here. But it’s not quite so refreshing to think that public money – OK, the part of public money that is MINE – is being used to help these troglodytes continue in their knuckle-trailing ways. And then I think of the whole Orange tradition which is rooted in a celebration of the defeat of Catholicism and nationalism not once a year but for around nine months of the year, at huge cost in police time and attendance, and huge public inconvenience as band practices and band parades block off towns and villages, and all of it paid for once again out of MY purse.
And do you know, when I see that kind of thing, I suddenly feel that maybe the odd fraternal thumping in a GAA game, which is over in minutes and is confined to the field of play – maybe, when you think of it, and compare it, a barney like that isn’t really that shameful an affair. You want shameful? Shameful is getting your jollies by mocking and antagonising the other lot, and making the other lot fund your doing so.