Should the Irish players be singing Amhrán na bhFiann at the World Cup in New Zealand?

Yes, says Donal Lenihan

If both ‘anthems’ are played at home, then why not away?

IT’S 24 years on but the debate still rages. When Ireland played against Australia in Eden Park three weeks ago, they were cheered by possibly the biggest Irish contingent ever to attend a rugby international in the southern hemisphere.

It was a night that will be forever etched in the memory of those of us lucky to be there. Yet for some, stranded over 12,000 miles away from home due to economic necessity, the only blemish was the fact that proceedings on an unforgettable night did not get under way with a stirring rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann.

Irish rugby has come a long way since that first World Cup encounter back here in Wellington in 1987 against the same opposition as today when a somewhat smaller but equally passionate Irish community were treated to a version of the Rose of Tralee by the James Last orchestra to follow that highly-emotional Welsh anthem Land of my Fathers.

We were on the back foot before we started.

I have written about this subject many times since and am driven to do so once again, not only by the promptings of my sports editor but because of questions raised by a large percentage of our supporters out here. Because of the political ramifications that divide the island of Ireland, Amhrán na bhFiann is only played in Dublin where home jurisdiction is respected.

It is never played away from home and that first World Cup highlighted the fact. Our game against Wales was the last of the opening pool stage and after days of watching the other participating countries sing their anthems with gusto, as captain I enquired with our management as to whether ours would be played.

The question may seem strange to some people but up to that point in my career I never had the privilege of having Amhrán na bhFiann played in any international venue other than Lansdowne Road. It was a price that had to be paid to put a united Irish side on the field and having discussed the issue with many of my playing colleagues from Ulster over the years and recognising the sacrifices, and in some cases the dangers, some of them were making to represent Ireland, I, along with countless others, was willing to make that sacrifice.

The advent of the World Cup changed that and after briefing my teammates and putting a negotiating party together, featuring two northerners, Willie Anderson and Trevor Ringland, plus Phil Orr and myself, tried to persuade the IRFU representatives in Wellington to change protocol. Suffice to say the committee representatives weren’t for change and late into the night after hours of discussion the Rose of Tralee emerged as a poor compromise. All I can say now is it was a bad choice motivated by the right reasons.

I will never forget visiting an Irish club after the game with all the kids dressed up in their Irish dancing uniforms and the disappointment on the faces of their parents with the issues surrounding the anthem.

All hell broke out back home. What it did was highlight a serious issue for the next World Cup that Ireland would be involved in away from home in South Africa in 1995. That tournament marked the launch of Phil Coulter’s Ireland’s Call.

Although not my cup of tea, my principal gripe now surrounds the fact that Ireland’s Call is played alongside Amhrán na bhFiann when Ireland play in Dublin.

This has only crept into the match day protocol in recent years. If that is the case then why are both not played in this World Cup or indeed when Ireland play any Test match away from home? In that case both parties are catered for and those in exile here in the southern hemisphere or elsewhere can embrace both.

My message to the IRFU is: if both are played in Dublin then it should be the same on the road.

What do the players think? If you want the answer to that, just reflect on how many of them actually sung Ireland’s Call before this morning’s match.

Surely a case of actions speaking louder than words.

No, says Denis Hurley

Stick with Ireland’s Call, or write a better song

FIRST off, clarifications — I am neither an Ulster man nor a Unionist.

The question asks whether Amhrán na bhFiann should be played before every Ireland rugby game and the answer is no, because it is our national anthem, and this nation does not have its own rugby team. It’s that simple.

This morning, we cheered on our side, but — leaving aside historical and political considerations — strictly speaking it is a side representing two different countries, and those two countries should receive equal billing. If Amhrán na bhFiann is played before games outside of Ireland then why not God Save the Queen, as it is the anthem of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

This is not about musical sensibilities. Praise for Ireland’s Call is in short supply but it fulfils a role and Phil Coulter had to work within narrow parameters when writing it, not allowed to mention anything political.

Much of the hatred for Ireland’s Call seems to stem from the misguided belief that it replaced Amhrán na bhFiann at away games after its introduction at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

A quick straw poll revealed this belief to be the case and while that’s hardly scientific, a national sports journalist made the same mistake in a column last June.

In fact, prior to 95, no anthem was played for visiting Ireland teams — the only time they stood to an anthem for a game abroad was when a crackly recording of The Rose of Tralee was played at the first World Cup in New Zealand in 1987.

For home games, as a mark of respect, the host country’s anthem was played. Most were played in Dublin but, until 1954, Ravenhill was regularly used and God Save the Queen played (not without protests from southern-based players, it must be noted).

A pre-World Cup warm-up against Italy in 2007 was the first match in Ravenhill in 53 years, but the IRFU announced beforehand it was union policy that only Ireland’s Call be played before games outside the Irish Republic, giving preference where it should not exist.

Given that Ulster people had stood respectfully for Amhrán na bhFiann at Lansdowne Road all through the Troubles and Trevor Ringland, Nigel Carr, Philip Rainey and David Irwin were injured in a republican bomb while on the way to Ireland training prior to the 1987 World Cup, this was a slap in the face to them.

You might say the team is named after this country, described in its constitution simply as ‘Ireland’ (the ‘Republic of Ireland’ exists only in international soccer) and we just include Northern Ireland as an afterthought.

The reality is that the team is named after the island of Ireland, and anyway, nomenclature should hardly be used to assert ownership.

The Kerry SFC features a district team known as Kenmare, consisting of the clubs from Templenoe, Kilgarvan, Tuosist and Kenmare. To the best of our knowledge, never have Kenmare (the club) demanded special treatment because of a shared name.

The British and Irish Lions do not have an anthem. Why? Because it is a confederate team, just as, when it boils down to it, Ireland is. Two countries, rather than 26 counties and six counties.

We don’t demand special treatment for Amhrán na bhFiann in the Ryder Cup. Ah, but we don’t have a majority of players on the Ryder Cup team and we do on the Ireland rugby team, you say.

The Ireland team that started against New Zealand in 1989 featured eight players from Northern Ireland: Rainey, Irwin, Kenny Hooks, Keith Crossan, Steve Smith, JJ McCoy, Willie Anderson and Philip Matthews.

If something similar happened again, would we allow God Save the Queen because of majority rule?

Stick with Ireland’s Call, or write a better song. Otherwise, in the interests of fairness, it has to be Amhrán na bhFiann and God Save the Queen.


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