John Delaney, chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, was in the news this week after he was filmed singing a song called ‘The Ballad of Joe McDonnell’ in a pub. Joe McDonnell was a Provisional IRA member who died on hunger strike in 1981.
It seems to me that, in the predictable controversy that ensued, an important point has been missed, which is that Delaney’s singing of this song was a strange and exceptional act – it stood out. Songs from the most recent Troubles have not entered the Irish ballad tradition and are not widely sung, unlike those from 1916–23 and even one or two from the 1950s.
If one wanders into a pub in any part of Ireland where an informal music/singing session is under way, or a balladeer with guitar is performing on a stage, the only modern ‘Republican’ song that one is likely to hear is ‘Only Our Rivers’ – a vague lament at a perceived lack of Irish freedom, not a paean to the Provos. In fact, a Provo-glorifying song would be likely to cause embarrassment and unease. Personally I have attended and/or participated in hundreds of sessions and have never once heard a Provo song being sung, even though such songs do exist.
It seems to me that this is a silent verdict of the Irish people on the activities of the Provos. These ‘revolutionaries’ were not taken to the people’s hearts because the people, by and large, did not buy into their claim to be a national liberation movement and did not approve of the extreme and often indiscriminate violence they used. (Sinn Féin is an electoral power north and south now, but that is because voters have rewarded the ‘Republican Movement’ for gradually giving up violence – not for using it in the first place.)
Most people have tacit knowledge (which may never be verbalized) and social skills that tell them what is normal and acceptable in a given situation. The highly paid Mr Delaney, it seems, does not.