Like many others, I cringe when the Irish rugby team dodge the playing of the Irish national anthem and give us instead ‘Ireland’s Call’. Leave aside the musical quality of Phil Coulter’s (ahem) anthem, Ireland must be the only country in the world that cannot bring itself to play and sing its own national anthem, in case a minority of players and supporters might not like it.
Now we have Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times explaining that we need a totally new national anthem. “Peadar Kearney’s lyrics (written of course in English) and the tune that Paddy Heeney worked out on his melodeon are nothing more than remnants of early 20th-century European popular militarism.”
Fintan particularly dislikes the reference to “Saxon foe” in the anthem, which he says could have been evoked by either the Ulster Volunteer Force or the Irish Volunteers.
I’m in agreement with Fintan that there are people who consider themselves patriotic when they’ve bawled out our national anthem, usually on a sporting occasion. There’s a lot more to love of country than singing. But I’m wondering what Fintan would call a country which for several centuries claimed the right to jurisdiction of Ireland, and which continues to assert its right to jurisdiction over the north-east corner of Ireland, if not a foe. Sometimes there’s no harm in reminding ourselves that a shovel remains a shovel, no matter how many ribbons you tie on it.
As to our national anthem being “popular militarism”, maybe Fintan should do a refresher course on the level of militarism in other national anthems, starting with that of our nearest neighbour:
O Lord our God arise,
Scatter our enemies,
And make them fall!
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks
Later, the English national anthem gets more specific, calling on God to “sedition hush/And like a torrent rush/Rebellious Scots to crush/God save our Queen’
Or take a peek at the French national anthem, Fintan:
‘In the countryside, do you hear
The roaring of these fierce soldiers?
They come right to our arms
To slit the throats of our sons, our friends!’
Or the American national anthem:
‘Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution. /No refuge could save the hireling and slave /From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.’
Yes, they are bloodthirsty lines – more so than the Irish anthem,I’d suggest – but I doubt if French men and women, or English men and women, or American men and women, are lining up to redraft their anthem in case someone might feel offended.
The reason so many anthems are warlike is that most of the countries in question were created at the cost of bloodshed. The south’s independence secure, Fintan is clearly intent on creating an Irish anthem that is politically correct and with a tune that meets the approval of his very modern ear.
A word in that same ear, Fintan: come back when you’ve created a new Ireland that all can be proud of, and we’ll create an anthem all will be happy to sing. Until then, maybe you should mute the self-loathing.