Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Oh Ah, Up the Ra “One Song Two Reactions – Why is it different when the rugby boys sing Celtic Symphony?” – Joe Brolly, Derry All-Ireland Winner, Gaelic Athletic Association

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This story assesses three sporting activities in Ireland – Gaelic Games, Soccer, and Rugby. It shines a light on a misogynous (woman-hating) West-British media culture.

Thanks to the Dublin Council of Trade Unions for bringing this story to our attention.

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Joe Brolly in the Sunday Independent, January 8 2023 :

‘In May 2019, the Leinster rugby team thundered out ‘Celtic Symphony’ on the plane home from their victory over Glasgow Warriors. I didn’t know this until a few months ago, but I know now it is a song about a sailor who is walking through Glasgow and is describing graffiti on a wall as he passes it.

A video clip was released and did the rounds online. reported on the jolly jinks. Under the headline ‘Watch delighted Leinster players singing Celtic Symphony on flight back to Dublin Airport’, the text continues: “They can be heard singing Wolfe Tones’ Celtic Symphony, led by one of the players at the front on one of the plane’s microphones.”

The report continues: “The video also shows a very relaxed atmosphere amongst plane staff, with a clear view inside the cockpit and flight attendants also taking part in the glee.” The video clip ends just before the chorus of ‘Ooh ah up the Ra’.

These rugby boys are indeed masters of the universe. Even plane crews swoon before them.

​Yet when the Irish soccer ladies sang the same song a few months ago after qualifying for the World Cup, they were vilified and humiliated. It was headline news. An attack that was intense, vicious and triumphant. What should have been a euphoric, once-in-a-lifetime celebration was destroyed. As a friend said to me last week, those girls will never get that fortnight back. Their bewildered team manager, Vera Pauw, a native of Holland, came out in front of the cameras to apologise. She told the media that the player who had released the video clip was in her room weeping. “The girl who posted it is devastated; she is crying in her room.”

Sky Sports News presenter Rob Wotton asked one of the players, Chloe Mustaki, whether the team needed “education” about the IRA. Instead of protecting the girls, the establishment joined with the DUP and publicly shamed them.

In an Irish Times column which I found abhorrent, Fintan O’Toole graphically went through atrocities committed by the IRA (the bad, northern ones), accompanied by a photograph of horses maimed and decapitated by an IRA bomb in London.

Matt Cooper tweeted: “Excellent piece, factual and essential. Getting quite the response”.

I replied to that tweet with this: “Lost Lives [the book] sets out all the grim detail factually Matt. We lived through the horrors. @fotoole wrote this gleefully, like Tarantino writing a script. We could all do this. Forever. And post the bodies from every atrocity. ‘Quite the response?’ Jesus wept Matt.”

I then made suggestions for future ghoulish columns from Fintan, none of which were taken up. The main newspapers were consumed with the witch hunt. Fionnán Sheahan wrote a similar column to O’Toole’s, invoking the Enniskillen.

Neither wrote anything critical about the rugby boys. Why? No one in the media or FF/FG wrote or said anything critical about them. Why? A Fine Gael politician captured the mood of the elites in October when she tweeted that her “heart is breaking today.” Not a word from her about the Leinster boys.

When a journalist highlighted that ‘Celtic Symphony’ was part of the Leinster post-match playlist at the RDS last weekend, Leinster Rugby swiftly apologised.

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, the rugby-obsessed character created by Paul Howard, tweeted that when his kids heard the song playing over the tannoy and asked him what the ‘Ra’ was, he had to tell them it was “short for Rathgor”.

On the Second Captains podcast it was called “a gaffe”, before the crew went on to talk about the much more important issue of Johnny’s injury. That was about it really. No headlines. No column from Fintan. No shocked RTÉ broadcasters. No politicians with broken hearts.

​I asked a Protestant friend of mine about this. He’s a lawyer, a Crusaders season ticket holder and a Rangers fan. He adores Roddy Collins, who played for the Crues and who they still remember fondly as ‘Rod the Prod’.

“Nobody gives a f**k,” he said.

“About the song being sung?”

“Nobody gives a f**k.”

“So, is this a class thing?”

“Of course. It’s an agenda. Attacking working-class soccer girls is part of it.”

He is, of course, correct. The establishment will not attack the rugby fraternity since they are part of the establishment. The rugby boys are not likely to vote for Sinn Féin, so vilifying them would be an act of self-harm.

If you’re outraged at the fact that Mary Lou has a mortgage, you’re likely to have been one of those outraged at the Irish soccer women’s team singing ‘Celtic Symphony’ (Ooh ah, up the bad Ra).

When Jack Charlton was managing Ireland, his favourite song in the team sing-songs was ‘Seán South of Garryowen’, the one with the lorryload of volunteers approaching a border town. That incident, in which South was killed, was an attack on a police station in 1957. Not sure if that was the good Ra or the bad Ra.

​The interesting thing is that, as Leo McKinstry noted in his biography of the Charlton brothers, published in 2005, it was Tory MPs and the English tabloid writers who expressed outrage at this revelation. Not the Irish establishment. It’s probably just a coincidence that Sinn Féin were not a political force at that time. Perhaps it’s now time for the FAI to apologise to Sky and Britain for failing to educate Jack Charlton and the Irish team.

The most famous IRA song is the Irish national anthem. It was written for the Irish volunteers, who by the 1919-1921 War of Independence (another horror show) had become the IRA. (The good ones I think, the ones Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar celebrate). It was actually known as the Sinn Féin anthem. The Taoiseach (whichever one is currently in charge) must immediately make a televised apology to Britain and Fintan O’Toole.

The Harvard historian and Pullitzer prize winner Caroline Elkins’ masterpiece Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire, is one of The New Yorker’s books of the year. It is a rigorously researched real-life horror story of mass murder, systematic torture, detention camps, theft and impoverishment of native populations. The striking features of Britain’s empire-building, as documented by Elkins, are ruthless control of the media, a sophisticated propaganda machine that glorified their actions and a political/legal infrastructure that allowed their troops to do what they wanted.

As Elkins illustrates, what the British did in the North was to create a narrative that the Catholic community were sectarian savages. Under this cover, the British set up detention camps, shot citizens with impunity, ran black murder ops and set up special courts to secure convictions.

I lived through it, so I know that narrative is bollocks. In the Irish Civil War, up to 400 civilians, including small children, were murdered by the two IRA factions. The old IRA went on a fire-bombing campaign of the family homes of their enemies, killing indiscriminately. They buried bodies in bogs all over the country.

In RTÉ’s recent and brilliant trilogy on the Civil War, they featured the Ballyseedy massacre. In 1923, pro-treaty IRA men removed nine anti-treaty IRA prisoners to Ballyseedy Cross. There, the men’s hands were tied behind their backs. Each was then tied by the arms and legs to the man beside him. The men were tied together by a rope and made face outwards. A landmine was placed in the centre of the cordon, blowing the men to pieces, so the trees were festooned with their entrails. Somehow, Stephen Fuller survived to tell the tale. He had been blown into a ditch and was believed to be dead. Insane. Horrific. But it is who we are.

I did not support the IRA and abhor the taking of human life. All war is insane. I am, however, interested in honesty. I saw it all at first hand and what I see now is a dishonest rewriting of the past. The IRA (the bad, northern ones) were our neighbours and friends and relatives. They were drawn into things they would never have dreamed of. My father was held in a British detention camp for four years, without charge or trial.

My uncle Eunan, a Dungiven and Derry footballer, a fine musician and a St Colm’s scholar, spent seven years for arson in the notorious H Block gulag. He never recovered. What a terrible shame. When I say my heart breaks for him, it is real, not phoney propaganda. Our senior hurling captain, Kevin Lynch, died on hunger strike. He was 25 years old. Every day, his sister Bridie crosses the road to the chapel and leaves fresh flowers on his grave. He is one of us. He will always be one of us. The hunger strikers were voted in as MPs and TDs. When the ceasefire was declared, Sinn Féin and the Provos made the transition to peace almost overnight. Look at the North now.

Several years ago, I casually mentioned to my oldest son, who was born in 2000 (so knows nothing of the Troubles) about his grandfather being interned.

Him: What do you mean?

Me: He was held in a detention camp for four years outside Belfast.

Him: F**k off.

Me: He was.

Him: What was he charged with?

Me: Nothing.

Him: F**k off.

Me: It was a detention camp. No charge, no trial.

Him: You’re pulling my leg, da.

War. Then peace. It is an old colonial story, told in countless places around the world, written in blood by the British, leaving us to pick up the pieces. First the south, now the north.

Stephen Travers is the sole survivor of the Miami Showband massacre. In 1975, the band’s tour bus was stopped by what they thought was an army patrol. The group of ‘soldiers’ was actually a mix of UDR and UVF members and there have since been allegations of collusion by RUC men.

As the band members were being questioned on the roadside, a bomb was covertly placed on the bus, the idea being that it would go off later and the IRA would get the blame. The bomb exploded prematurely, killing two of the attackers, at which point they gunned the band members to death. Somehow, miraculously, Stephen survived. In 2021, the High Court approved a £1.5m settlement against the Ministry of Defence and the PSNI.

When Fintan O’Toole wrote his piece attacking the girls, Stephen tweeted: “Behind every atrocity of the so-called Troubles lies unending grief and all too often, despair, so it is beyond cruel and doubly heartbreaking to see the suffering of victims used as political footballs by people who ordinarily do not give victims a second thought.”

Ain’t that the truth’

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