Sometimes reality breaks through the mesh of the media and the results are refreshing. They can also be embarrassing or infuriating or revelatory but they are always refreshing, because they’re the voice of real life, not the media’s version of real life, and that in itself is refreshing.
Such a rare moment came yesterday when Joe Brolly spoke about the fact that Dungiven’s GAA club is named after Kevin Lynch, a local man who was a member of both the local hurling team and the Derry county hurling team. He was also a member of the INLA and one of the ten men who died on hunger-strike in 1981. Joe said that he was proud that the club was named after Kevin Lynch and that it was nobody else’s business what name the club chose. “If they don’t like it, they can lump it”.
You don’t hear that kind of blunt language on air as a rule. To be fair to him, when the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore spoke at a function in Derry last night he tiptoed delicately towards endorsing Joe’s stand: “I think these are issues that the GAA decides. What we have to work at here is how we build bridges, how we move beyond the difficulties of the past”.
Joe’s remarks have been greeted with outrage from the TUV’s Jim Allister. And I’d feel fairly safe in suggesting people like Gregory Campbell would be equally aghast. In which case I sugggest Jim and Gregory be taken by the hand and brought on a guided tour of Belfast. They could start at Windsor Park. Maybe view the Queen's Bridge, check out the King’s Hall, look up at Windsor House, make their way down Royal Avenue,drive out to Carnmoney and zip along Prince Charles Way. Lots of people, it’s true, think this royal naming is a very good idea. Others, like nearly half the population of the state, think it’s a pretty imperialist idea. But the bridges and buildings and roads have been named and I haven’t heard anyone from the nationalist or republican community saying they were outraged or demanding a name-change.
Joe Brolly says the Dungiven club was named after Kevin Lynch because he played for the club and for the Derry Senior hurling team. I expect that’s true. But I also expect that part of the reason the club was named after him was that he was one of ten men who died on hunger-strike rather than accept that republicans were common criminals. You have to believe very firmly in an idea if you’re prepared to die for it, in this case very slowly and very painfully. So that kind of heroic resolve may well have been part of what the club admired in this local man. Unionists of course will argue that the INLA and the IRA were groups of common criminals. Republicans, nationalists and most GAA members, I’d venture to suggest, see things rather differently.
The part of Joe’s remark that strikes home with sharp-edged truth is “It’s none of their business”. The ‘they’ he’s referring to are those who would presume to tell the GAA, Sinn Féin, the Catholic Church, Catholic schools, the southern government - all sort of organisations and institutions to which they do not now belong, never have belonged, and have no intention of ever belonging to - that they would presume to tell these groupings how to manage their affairs.
Fact: Gaelic games are not played on a competitive basis in any State/Protestant school, except you include Integrated schools. No unionist politician I can think of plays Gaelic games, no unionist that I know of attends Gaelic games. And yet unionist politicians would presume to tell the GAA how they should act, what names they should or should not use, what rules should govern their organisation. What next - the proposed names of children born into republican/nationalist families to be submitted to the likes of Jim and Gregory for approval, before proceeding with the infant’s birth registration?
There comes a point where, if you dance to the piper’s every tune, the piper begins to feel contempt for you. Joe Brolly has just called time on the dancing.