Opinion

Tom Kelly: I don't often agree with Joe Brolly, but he's right that 'up the Ra' chants must go

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is an Irish News columnist with a background in politics and public relations. He is also a former member of the Policing Board.

The Wolfe Tones have become an annual fixture at Féile an Phobail. Picture by Mal McCann
The Wolfe Tones have become an annual fixture at Féile an Phobail. Picture by Mal McCann The Wolfe Tones have become an annual fixture at Féile an Phobail. Picture by Mal McCann

It’s a rare day for this writer to find myself in agreement with the pundit Joe Brolly. But stranger things happen in life.

So when Brolly says “Ooh, ah, up the Ra” chants must go, he is completely right.

Brolly isn’t afraid to candidly speak out – and increasingly he opines on matters political rather than sport.

His latest intervention is timely. Brolly is confronting what is uncomfortable for many.

Twenty-five years after the Good Friday Agreement, the pause button needs to hit on this constant tit-for-tat merry-go-round of taunts and jeers.

Obviously, it’s not helped when elements of our mainstream media provide a constant feed of divisive discourse masquerading as political debate.

Read more:GAA pundit Joe Brolly says pro-IRA chanting 'has to go'

Read more:Pro-IRA chanting at Belfast Féile condemned

Read more:Jake O'Kane: Let's starve the idiotic sectarian minority of attention they so desperately desire

There will be no new Ireland unless there is an immediate reassessment of what it means to be Irish in all its shades, perspectives, traditions and diversity.

The ability to belt out a few rebel numbers or Billy Boy chants doesn’t make you more Irish or British. If one’s identity is manifested as that, then it’s built on shaky foundations.

The unionist and loyalist reaction to the now annual Wolfe Tones presence at the very successful Féile an Phobail is as wholly predictable as the fever pitch amongst the festival attendees who roar the lyrics of Celtic Symphony with gusto.

There appears to be an almost perverse enjoyment in knowing this rendition will rile the other side and generate masses of free publicity for the artistes.

But this isn’t a one-way street when it comes to causing offence through music.

Blood and thunder loyalist bands are not exactly an example of decorum when it comes to playing sectarian ballads as they stomp their way through contentious areas.

In the north, music is all too often part of the new armoury in the cultural clubbing war of Orange versus Green. In some ways, it’s just shameless sectarianism in song and much of it is never of any melodious value.

In the office of the late Chairman of The Irish News, Jim Fitzpatrick, there was a vivid and celebrated painting of bandsmen taking a leak at the Donegall Street doors of the Irish News on the Twelfth of July. In a way, it neatly summed up the feral disrespect one side can have for the other.

But if faux outrage was an Olympic sport, Northern Ireland’s two tribes would take gold.

Perhaps it’s time for some mature reflection by the West Belfast Festival organisers. The platform events are by and large inclusive (though I have to admit to have never being invited).

Tens of thousand enjoy the Féile and it’s a pity that each year it’s overshadowed by this circular bout of arguing over a song.

Unionists, too, need to wind their necks in over this ballad and group. All they are doing is feeding a base nationalist appetite for it to be played more – and even amplified.

Whether cutting out the “Ra” chant would improve community relations as Brolly believes is questionable. If it was not Celtic Symphony causing annoyance, it would be another rebel song.

Young Irelander, Thomas Davis (no stranger to some rousing patriotic ballads), wrote: “It is not blood which makes you Irish but a willingness to be part of the Irish Nation."

In persuading unionists to willingly be part of any new Irish Nation, Brolly is correct – start by ditching superficial jingoism.