On The Edge
IT has nothing to do with Sunday’s GAA Championship result but ‘the black and red of Mayo’ doesn’t have the same musical resonance, does it? It had to be done though because of a clash of colours with Kerry’s green and gold but, at least, the 30,000 plus fans were able to stick to the traditional colours of green and red as they sang and urged their team on.
While the national stadium Croke Park is always a waving sea of uplifting county colours, no matter which team is playing, the controversial flying of a red Confederate flag at the Cork-Waterford hurling semi-final on Sunday, August 13 last, clearly showed how a symbolic pattern on a piece of cloth can also evoke negative tribalism, hatred and racial prejudice. Not that there was any such trouble at this match. Apparently, it wasn’t the first time this red flag – which dates from the Civil War in the United States representing pro-slavery states and has since been flown by white supremacists – has been flown by a small number of supporters at GAA matches by Cork fans. Reportedly, some members of Cork’s Rebel Army of GAA supporters have flown the flag for decades, despite its sinister symbolism.
Unsurprisingly, the timing on this occasion ignited a social media storm in the aftermath of the killing of activist, Heather Heyer and the injuring of 19 others when a car ploughed into the crowds who were attending a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, the previous day (Saturday) about a rally by right-wing extremists. The rally was against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee.
While Cork GAA officers quickly condemned the flying of the flag ‘whether out of ignorance or otherwise’ they categorically stated that there was one flag for county supporters and that was ‘the red flag with the Cork emblem on it’. They requested the bearers to ‘refrain from bringing [the Confederate one] into any ground in future’.
During the subsequent radio and television debate about the controversy, it was argued that Cork supporters carried many different flags for matches – including the Japanese Rising Sun flag for example – and that it was not meant as a political statement. However, the consensus seemed to agree that its insensitivities and symbolism outweighed any defence. Those defending the practice were reminded that several southern US states had removed the Confederate flag from official buildings back in 2015 after photos were revealed of white supremacist Dylann Roof, with the flag, on a website he set up before killing nine African Americans attending church in Charleston, South Carolina. Indeed, in 2015, Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI) called on the flag to be banned from GAA games.
Standards and symbols
WE have all seen the flag-like standards used in those epic ancient battles, which have been played out in a plethora of movies about the Roman Empire or later as the heraldic emblems of knights during movies about King Arthur and his heroic army. Interestingly, it wasn’t until the early 17th century that it became customary for ships to carry flags but the use of flags outside military or naval contexts only began with the rise of nationalism in the late 18th century.
There is no need here to excavate the battles and blood sacrifice for sovereignty endured by Ireland under its 800-year colonisation and the pervading power now of the green, white and gold, despite subjugation to the EU and a global economy.
During one of Donald Trump’s victory speeches last December, speaking of globalisation, he said: “There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag and that flag is the American flag.”
Well, eight months later we all know where President Donal Trump’s narcissistic diatribes have brought us. Surely, the first and fundamental symbol for us all as humans must be a flag bearing the icon of equality: equality of race, gender and ethnicity? It is then, and only then that, in our case, we should raise in pride and with positivity the green and red flag of Mayo.