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Showing posts from August, 2017

Holding out for heroes

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Was Richard ‘Dick’ Dowling a racist? And is it appropriate to commemorate him in the middle of his home town in the West of Ireland?                                                                

The thorny issues of white supremacy and slave ownership made their way from Texas to Tuam, Co Galway, last week and the debate has raised some pertinent questions about how Irish people choose their heroes.

Just as quite a few of us are soul-searching over whether or not Conor McGregor is a suitable role model for Irish children – people respect his bravery, but not his bigoted bluster – it may be time to ask whether we have a tendency to hero-worship rather unsavoury characters?

In the West of Ireland, in particular, where the history of poverty, mass emigration, and the decline of our native language can be so sad, we tend to overlook the dark side of those who left oppression and famine behind in order to seek out fame and fortune across the globe.

So what if they were racists or slave-…

This is Galway on a Friday night

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The mood was sombre as we left the ground. Galway United had just lost a crucial game to a last minute goal from Dublin club Shamrock Rovers and the unseasonable drizzle matched the mood of the home fans for the walk back to the city centre.                            

It was the first Friday night in months that Eamonn Deacy Park was in darkness as we left the ground following a home game and the shortening days seemed to bring grim tidings of a long winter to come for the city’s soccer club.

Relegation was beckoning and suddenly, given the biting wind and incessant drizzle, optimism was in short supply.

I normally drive to Galway United games and park my car across the river at NUI Galway. On this night, though, I had brought a group of 22 students from Mexico, Switzerland, Spain, and Brazil to the SSE League game, where they had revelled in the atmosphere and the quality of the football, if not quite the result for the home side.

So I zipped up my jacket and braced myself for the …

Our divided tribal loyalties

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The Basque woman five seats down from me was in awe.                

The stadium was packed. Over 50,000 souls had taken over the place and turned it red.

It was only a ‘friendly’, but the supporters of the ‘home’ team cheered every pass and move with a gusto which was totally out of kilter with the importance of the occasion.

"Why does everyone in Ireland support Liverpool?” she asked me at half-time. “Do you not support your own teams?”

In the city of Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, and St Patrick’s Athletic, she was shocked to see so many Dubliners come out to support a team from the old colonial power.

In the Basque Country, they have grown up on tales of the Irish fight for independence from the British Empire. Now she was shocked to be in Ireland and to find that all the locals were roaring on a British team.

Her team is a total anomaly in modern professional football. They have a Basque-only recruitment policy, even today, and have finished in the top seven of La Liga for eac…

Healing the wounds on all sides

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When I last visited Belfast, the Good Friday Agreement was still a pipe dream.

There was an uneasy tension in the air.

The Troubles had ended, the guns were silent, but nobody knew what was coming next and three decades of conflict had left very visible physical and psychological scars.

Nobody ventured into the city centre late at night and it was quite shocking to contrast the eerie silence on the streets around City Hall with the vibrancy of my native Galway, a much smaller city, at the time.

The military bases, barbed wire fences, and ugly lookout posts still scarred the landscape across West Belfast and it would not be an exaggeration to say that parts of the Falls Road looked like towns in Palestine today.

The locals told me they were a people living under siege and they were weary after so many years of turmoil. At night, they stuck to their own area.

Those who did want to go into town had to face body searches at military checkpoints. "Going to town" for  few drinks w…