‘Progressive’ Ireland to take on next ‘nationalist shibboleth’ July 30, 2007Posted by franklittle in Art, Culture, Ireland.
I hope one of our newer contributors, Damian O’Broin, doesn’t mind being credited with the inspiration behind this post but a comment he made as a Labour member and Wexford supporter of his delight, one shared by all neutrals I can assure you, at their success on Saturday reminded me of something I have been meaning to post on. It might be particularly interesting in light of some of the comments on nationalism, labour and republicanism in Ireland.
For some time there has been a consistent anti-GAA trend in what passes for liberal intellectual circles in Ireland. Rules 21 and 42 were used for many years as sticks with which Irish liberal thought could chastise the reactionary peasant classes of rural Ireland. With rugby teams playing in Croke Park and PSNI hurlers, it seems that some are looking for the next windmill to tilt at.
Last February, Fergus Finlay opened up the new front with a fairly vile attack on our national anthem that I’ve been meaning to get back to. Confessing that he is unable to sing it, a rather curious omission in one’s education for a former Deputy Government Press Secretary, his argument is based on the sort of extremist literalism so beloved of columnists. The anthem, he points out, uses the phrase ‘Soldiers, are we…’, but “I don’t want to be a soldier, never did”. Fair enough Fergus, nor do I, but the song refers to a struggle of national liberation when an entire people arose and all, to one extent or another, were soldiers.
Finlay concludes with this terrifying prospect:
“In the interests of reflecting the modern, open country we have become, for the sake of giving a new generation a chance to find their own voice, and because it has outlived its usefulness, I reckon we should set about finding a new national anthem rather than worrying about anyone else’s.
“The Soldiers’ Song says nothing to us any more. It’s time we retired it with honour.”
Good grief. Could anyone imagine anything more terrifying than a process of finding a new anthem? We would end up with some monstrosity selected by a committee or, in the worst scenario, a Louis Walsh type “You’re a Star” competition.
Finlay argues that the anthem is out of touch and especially that it is too bloodthirsty and militaristic. Although he does acknowledge that the French Marseillaise is not without some revolutionary imagery. But other countries too take their inspiration from their struggles for independence. The Italian anthem uses the phrase ‘We are ready to die’ four times in its chorus and in one verse accuses Austrians of drinking the blood of Poles, Russians and Italians. Presumably metaphorically.
Greece refers to the ‘dreadful edge of your sword’ while the Mexicans optimistically see a future filled with ‘War, war! Let the national banners be soaked in waves of blood’ in a song that uses the word blood often enough to be genuinely disturbing. The Poles swear to ‘..fight with swords for all that our enemies had taken from us’ and later credit Bonaparte with teaching them how to fight. The Dutch anthem, somewhat bizarrely, contains a reference to an oath of loyalty to the King of Spain. Even that paragon of social democracy, neutral Sweden refers to ‘faith until death will I swear….With God shall I fight for home and for hearth’.
National anthems are not meant to appeal to the intellect or the political correctness wing of Irish life. They are supposed to appeal to the emotions, to one’s patriotism. Despite advancing years I still feel an electricity in Croke Park when the national anthem is sung. They are products of their time and for most countries celebrate and acknowledge struggles for independence, against tyranny foreign or domestic. Stirring national anthems have not yet led to race wars. Mexico is unlikely to be going to war with anyone. Italy is not expected to invade Austria anytime soon.
Irish nationalism and republicanism did not begin when Peadar Kearney sat down to write a new patriotic song. It will not, however devoutly some might wish, disappear if the song is changed. The Irish national anthem might mean nothing to Fergus Finlay anymore, but to be honest, I suspect that says more about Fergus than it does the Irish people.