If you are reading this and you are a parent then you will instantly get what is about to appear a few lines down your screen. If you are not a parent then you will either dismiss the statement I am about to make or take my word for it, because you certainly wont “get it”. This is a parent thing. There is no way I can explain it to the childless. In fact I didn’t think it is possible for anyone to explain the following to the childless.
Ok here goes.
You will not tolerate a situation for your own kids that you endured as a child.
All the parents reading these words nod inwardly in quiet comprehension.
The rest of you will have to take it on faith.
That is how I felt when the “Famine Song” came to my notice in May of this year.
The UEFA cup final in Manchester had not passed without incident.
Manchester had seen the worst outbreak of civil disorder since the Miner’s strike of 1985.
The rioters were supporters of Rangers’ football club.
I wasn’t surprised by any of this. Anyone who knows the reputation of Rangers support knows that crowd trouble is a camp follower of their expeditions into European competition.
What WAS new was a song that was sung by a section of the crowd in the City of Manchester stadium.
It mocked the Irish famine and implored the target of this ditty “ to go home”.
That the opposition on the night was Zenit St. Petersberg from Russia mattered not a jot. This song was written for back home. It was intended to bait and taunt the supporters of their city rivals Celtic.
Most Celtic supporters in Glasgow can conjure up an Irish ancestor or two.
My own ancestry is a probably not uncommon for Glasgow born followers of Celtic.
One Irish born parent (my father from Mayo) and a settled family in Scotland who came to Scotland during the land war evictions. My mother’s grandparents were from Carlow and Donegal. All were rural poor Catholics. All of my great grandparents were children of the Famine generation. They had held on in places like Mayo and Donegal, just.
Not surprisingly between such a household in the East End of Glasgow and summer vacation on Mayo’s Atlantic coast I grew up with a keen sense of Irishness.
It was a proud rite of passage when the Irish embassy in London posted me my green passport with the golden harp embossed on the front.
Inside I savoured the words “saoranach d’eirinn”. The literal English translation is “free person of Ireland” on the passport it was “Irish citizen”.
I was indeed a citizen and not a subject of someone’s hereditary good fortune.
Citizen was good enough for me and it has been so ever since. One of the reasons I loved foreign travel as a young man was my affirmation at airports and borders of my Irish identity.
I have relatives with an identical genealogy in Philadelphia and in Ohio. There it isn’t a problem in the USA to have an Irish lineage. In fact it is something of a social advantage.
The Famine song would never be sung to Irish Americans. Never.
With the new football season in Scotland the famine song was again sung by the supporters of Glasgow Rangers.
This time it was what they really wanted. They were allowed to sing it inside the stadium of their archrivals as their team comprehensively beat Celtic 4-2.
In this hate fest the excellent performance of the Rangers’ players who fully deserved their victory was a mere sideshow for the Rangers support.
They had the serious business of pouring out racial hatred for those in Glasgow who remember that part of them will always, emotionally, be in Ireland.
A couple of weeks later the Irish Times published a letter by a Mr. Dan Duggan who had been at the game with his children. He was appalled at the anti-Irish racism given vent and fury in 2008 in a British soccer stadium. He was sickened by the “Famine song”.
Reading Dan Duggan’s (Rangers and racism, Irish Times 10/09/2008) reminded me that I made the correct decision to take my young family out of Glasgow in the mid 1990s.
The day that I read Duggan’s letter my son received his Junior cert results from his Gaeilscoil here in Donegal. Like his Mayo grandfather he is a fluent Irish speaker capable of a subtle and nuanced conversation in the first language of this republic.
In sean Dun Na nGall it is not a crime to be called Cathal. His sisters Roisin and Aislinn are in also in a culturally safe place.
The “famine Song” is only the most recent manifestation of Scotland’s oldest racism. It is also the racism that is tolerated by the leaders of Scottish society.
Although Rangers FC are currently subject of a probation order from UEFA for “discriminatory chanting” at UEFA controlled games the club will escape any sanction from the Scottish soccer authorities for their domestic outpourings of racism towards the Irish community in Scotland.
Moreover the Scottish media tend to turn a blind eye to the racism that is all around them.
The Famine is indeed over, although we Irish here in Ireland and in the global Irish Diaspora continue to deal with the demographic and psychological aftermath.
I did come home and it is sad that, in a very fundamental way, the city of my birth will never be home while these racists enjoy official tolerance.
A week or so after the derby match in Glasgow I was contacted by a source inside the foreign affairs department that the Irish embassy in London had received many complaints following on from the soccer match in Glasgow in August.
From my time with the Irish post in London I knew a few people I could call in the embassy.
I found out that the appropriate minister in the Scottish government didn’t know of the existence of the Famine song, never mind the import of this racist ditty.
The Irish consulate in Edinburgh did bring up the issue of the Famine song with the Scottish government.
I dipped into the Scottish soccer debate around the “Famine Song” by giving an interview to Ewen Cameron of Real Radio on the 16th September 2008.
The very mild intervention of the Irish Consulate caused some embarrassment to a sporting establishment who had sought to deal with the Famine song “in house”.
This non-confrontational approach had seen the Rangers songbook not advance an inch towards the enlightenment in decades.
It took a Panorama programme in 2005 and UEFA sanctions in 2006 for “discriminatory chanting” to make the singing of the original Rangers’ battle hymn “The Billy Boys” a banned substance inside Ibrox Park.
Although it is heard regularly wherever the rougher end of the Rangers support is found it is not heard inside Ibrox.
The Famine song was penned within the last twelve months.
It was a replacement for the “Billy Boys”.
Although marching “up to our knees in fenian blood” is no longer publicly acceptable (or legal) the need to bait and taunt those of Irish descent is still a deep-seated need probably best dealt with by a psychotherapist.
After this particular news cycle we know this much.
The Famine song-sung publicly in a soccer stadium in Scotland is likely to lead to the singers arrest for a “racial breach of the peace”.
Here in Donegal it isn’t a crime to be Irish anymore. My children are citizens of a republic and in times to come one of them may even be elected president.
That is why, when I hear the laughter of my children outside in the garden, I know that their mother and I acted in their best interests when they were too young to know that they were the objects of hatred of so many where they were born.
Their laughter is the best antidote to the hatred and bile that created the Famine song.