Kevin McGourty is not a bit pleased about Usain Bolt and in a way I can see his point. It’s not that he doesn’t think Bolt can run very fast, or that he envies the way Bolt does that leaning back thing with his arm pointing up the air when he wins yet another race. It’s that Queen’s University has plans to give an honorary doctorate to the runner. McGourty’s annoyed because ‘it is baffling that Usain Bolt, a man who has little or no connection with this island and none with the university itself, should be chosen at this time’. He goes on to say that the university for years ignored Gaelic footballers and managers.
Spot on, Kevin. But then you didn’t expect it to, did you? Queen’s isn’t called Queen’s for nothing. Of course all aspects of Irish culture were frozen out. It fitted into a pattern. You didn’t hear Stormont worthies celebrating the exploits of Armagh or Down Gaelic football teams back in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s. And you didn’t hear of Gaelic football teams at all on the BBC Home Service from Belfast. If you wanted to get Gaelic games results, you went to Radio Eireann. You still see a hangover from that in today’s BBC coverage. Except a team from within the six counties is playing, even if it’s from Ulster in the shape of Donegal, Cavan or Monaghan, you have little or no chance of having the game covered live by either radio or television.
So don’t go rending your Antrim shirt over the Queen’s decision, Kevin. It’s part of a historical pattern. Maybe just be glad that the university has finally emerged from the political Dark Ages. That’s if you think giving honorary degrees is a good idea. Personally, I think the idea of handing out degrees to people who have never opened a book is spectacularly stupid. I like Roy Keane but when University College Cork awarded him a Doctorate in Law, I didn't know whether to laugh or scream. If universitites want to pin a medal on non-scholars in order to get some publicity, fine; but don’t say a doctorate is a five-year programme of study and then give them away to the rich and/or famous.
Maybe rather than deciding finally to pass a few honorary degrees the way of Gaelic games people, Queen's should announce a complete end to the daft practice. That would be an enlightened step.