Bill, badminton and ‘standing up for your own’

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Editorial, Issue 5 (Sept/Oct 2012), Volume 20

It looks like my headline for last issue’s article on Olympic boxing—‘Punching above our weight?’—was vindicated by the impressive haul of four medals by our boxers in London (gold, silver and two bronze). Strange, then, that what set the blogosphere buzzing during the recent games was RTÉ presenter Bill O’Herlihy’s observation, in the course of an interview with Irish badminton player Chloe Magee following her first-round victory, that the game used to be considered ‘Protestant’. His ‘gaffe’ was roundly condemned as offensive and sectarian. While an inappropriate remark, made to an interviewee who clearly had no idea what he was talking about, O’Herlihy’s recollection is, in fact, historically accurate. Up to 40 years ago badminton was a Protestant game, if the evidence of Irish Times small ads is anything to go by (see Niall Meehan, ‘Shorthand for Protestants’, HI 17.5, Sept./Oct. 2009, and ‘Bad form for Bill to discuss badminton for Protestants’,


Rather than squirm in discomfort at such reminders of now (thankfully) superseded differences between Catholics and Protestants in the South, surely it would be better if these issues were faced squarely and analysed on the basis of the evidence, particularly as such divisions continue to exist in the North, in spite of functioning power-sharing arrangements. The fact is that this was—and still is in some respects—a self-segregated society, with separate schools, universities, hospitals, social clubs, sports and even boy scouts and girl guides. For the non-Catholic minority this was a matter of demographic survival in the face of the 1908 Ne Temere decree from the Vatican, which required both parents in a ‘mixed marriage’ to give a written guarantee that any offspring would be educated and brought up as Catholics. In such circumstances ‘standing up for your own’ was understandable and, at the time, widely accepted on all sides.


In time Irish society evolved and attitudes changed. To-day we live in an increasingly multi-ethnic and pluralist society where such appeals have lost their resonance. Or have they? What was the subliminal message of the recent Ballyconnell demonstration in support of the Quinn family in which leading GAA personalities and media clerics participated? It was made explicit after the event by former GAA president Seán Kelly, who said they were rallying around and ‘standing up for one of their own’. But why should they have bothered? We will all be ‘standing up’—in fact stumping up—for the Quinn family for many years to come in the form of insurance levies, increased taxes and reduced public services!

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