Come on rugby boys, put some passion into it

Ahead of Ireland’s clash with Wales this weekend, reporter Marie Hobbins asks for a valid explanation why Amhran na bhFiann is not sung with gusto?

WHY is the Ireland senior rugby team shy of singing either Amhran na bhFiann or Ireland’s Call with gusto and passion?

And why do spectators feel embarrassed that many of the team appear not to know the words of their national anthem?

Currently in the middle of the Six Nations matches, and in the run up to the parades, band festivals and celebration of Irish traditions associated with St Patrick’s Day, perhaps our sensitivities are more patriotically aroused, which may account for some recent unhappiness with the lacklustre rendition of either the national anthem, Amhran na bhFiann, or substitute anthem – Ireland’s Call, which is sung when Ireland play away from home.

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Watching with a friend the Irish/French match in Paris a few weeks ago, and the Ireland/England game in Twickenham, it was uncomfortable to witness the difference in both teams’ rendition of their respective anthems.

The chests of the French players seemed to swell with pride and passion as they vigorously sang out La Marseillaise but by contrast, half of the Irish players appeared ill at ease and the remainder did not deliver as much as one bar of Ireland’s Call. In Twickenham on Saturday, the English players gave a proud and strong rendition of God Save Our Queen, but thankfully, it was Ireland who rose to the occasion on the field.

Two possibilities come to mind. Either a good deal of the Irish team do not know the words of Ireland’s Call or they do not feel like singing it.

But alas, when it comes to our national anthem, Amhran na bhFiann, which is now confined to home matches only, there is still no rousing, patriotic delivery of our anthem from the boys in Green. Again, only about half the team make the effort to whip up the crowd’s enthusiasm.

Commissioned in 1995 by the IRFU, because Northern players from the Unionist tradition were not happy with having to stand to Amhran na bhFiann, the songwriter, Phil Coulter’s Ireland’s Call supplanted the Irish national anthem when Ireland play away from home.

The introduction of Ireland’s Call coincided with the coming of professionalism in rugby.

Former Mayor of Limerick, Jack Bourke, whose granduncle, Peadar Kearney composed Amhran na bhFiann in 1907, or The Soldier’s Song as it was then called, said it would be preferable if there was one anthem sung.

“I suppose if the northern fellows sang our anthem they would be afraid of the reaction when they got home, but as for people not knowing the words of Amhran na bhFiann, that’s a shame as sung properly and with gusto it rouses the fervour and enthusiasm of the spectators”.

Mr Bourke’s son, Niall of Bourke’s Pub, Catherine Street, points out that when Ireland play rugby they represent the island of Ireland, not the Republic.

“If the IRFU were based in Belfast we’d be singing the English anthem, but it’s two countries playing as one island”.

It came as a surprise to this reporter that our national anthem is not on the school curriculum.

Joe Lyons of the INTO in Limerick, said that while it is not prescribed, children could be taught the anthem by an individual teacher as part of a history or sports class.

Munster and Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery’s succinct comment is: “One is a national anthem, the other is a song by Phil Coulter – I want the national anthem.”

A Castletroy rugby fanatic friend of this journalist said her concern is that whichever anthem is sung, the Irish team should up their act in putting some passion into it.

“I have to be honest – when they sing Ireland’s Call with gusto, I get a shiver down my spine and feel immense pride in the team and the country – I’d love to also hear them giving a passionate rendition of Amhran na bhFiann – with all of them singing and obviously knowing the words, when they play home matches – it would get the blood flowing”.

However, an interesting perspective comes from Cllr Gerry McLoughlin, the legendary former Munster and Ireland forward, who says:

“Personally, when I was playing in a big match, I’d be so pent up and focused on what exactly I’d be doing in those vital first minutes of the game that the last thing I’d want to do is sing with passion, and I’d say that would have been the case with my fellow players – we’d have been too tense. In my time, we weren’t into the scenario of razzmatazz, which is great for TV coverage of course, but we’d have found it surreal and a distraction.

“I’m not in favour of Ireland’s Call though – we’ve broken down the barriers by now and should be able to sing our own anthem.”

As a rabid fan pointed out: “We had God Save the Queen sung in Croke Park and listened to with great respect – why not Amhran na bhFiann in Twickenham”.

Our pictures show the lyrics of Ireland’s Call displayed on the big screen at Croke Park and some of the “razzmatazz” surrounding the modern game as Ireland take to the field against Italy