Current Affairs Politics

Go Lassie Go, Getting It Wrong

The Scottish journalist and SNP politician Joan McAlpine is someone I have enormous respect for. She has worked tirelessly for the betterment of the Scottish people and nation, and she’s been a passionate advocate for the same brand of progressive nationalism that many  in Ireland also embrace. So it is bitterly disappointing to read her latest article in the Scotsman newspaper addressing the divisive issue of sectarianism in Scottish soccer, particularly the long-standing rivalries between the opposing Glasgow teams of the traditionally Roman Catholic Celtic and the Protestant Rangers. Her lop-sided presentation of Ireland’s revolutionary history and her dismissive attitude towards this nation’s hard road to freedom, the same freedom the Scots now seek, is lamentable in a fellow Celtic nationalist.

“As a journalist and blogger I always felt confident about navigating my way through cyberspace with some dexterity – at least until last week when I happened to send a tweet after watching my fellow Scotsman columnist and Labour Party stalwart Michael Kelly discuss the government’s offensive behaviour bill…

I disagree with Mr Kelly’s position that the Offensive Behaviour and Football and Threatening Communications Bill victimises football fans. He attempted to distinguish between different kinds of songs supporting the IRA – an argument I have heard before. This line of thinking suggests that pre-Provisional IRA songs, many of which date back centuries, are historical and inoffensive.

One could argue that the Irish national anthem, The Soldier’s Song, was supportive of the IRA, while The Boys of the Old Brigade was played this year when The Queen visited Dublin. Exactly the same argument could be made for some Ulster unionist songs too. An old favourite such as The Sash is a celebration of religious and political identity which does not advocate attacking Catholics.”

I’m sorry, Joan, but that is an entirely specious argument. Amhrán na bhFiann is the national anthem of Ireland. It commemorates and celebrates our historic struggle for freedom and is indelibly associated with the Irish Revolution – and yes, of course, the Irish Republican Army that fought that revolution. It is not a sectarian “chant” or simply a “pro-IRA” song. It is a national anthem, no different from one that may be adopted by any future Scottish nation. The Sash, a very current folk-song of the British ethnic minority, bears no comparison. And the Sash most certainly does celebrate violence and attacks against the Roman Catholic and the ethnically non-British population of the island of Ireland. To state otherwise is simply untrue.

“But there are circumstances in which these songs, for pragmatic reasons of public safety should not be sung. That includes a football match. The heated atmosphere of the Old Firm means “folk songs” take on a far more sinister tone. And these are the borderline ballads…”

Is Ms. McAlpine suggesting that the Irish national anthem should not be played in Scotland (let alone that it is “borderline”)? Even at a national level? Will international fixtures featuring Ireland and Scotland be, per force, anthem free? Will an independent Scotland deny a visiting Irish head of state the standard courtesy of playing Ireland’s national anthem, if enough militant Glasgow and Borders’ Loyalists object?  I trust Joan is not saying that, but it shows how arguments like this can be abused and misused.

“So I disagreed with Mr Kelly when he appeared to be arguing that IRA songs of a certain vintage were no more offensive than Flower of Scotland. The issue is one of context. Rugby fans don’t attack each other after singing Flower of Scotland.”

Well soccer fans do, and Scottish and English fans did so throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. It seems Joan McAlpine can only see the context she wants to see. There then follows some of the most mendacious writing on Irish history that I’ve seen from a contemporary Scottish nationalist.

“Suggesting that IRA singing is political as opposed to sectarian, and should therefore be treated differently to chants about wading through Fenian blood, is disingenuous. The approaching 1916 centenary has led some Irish academics to re-examine the war that followed the uprising. There were atrocities on all sides and that included attacks on Protestants, including one particularly notorious incident in Cork. The indiscriminate bombing from the 1970s onwards claimed innocent lives on all sides.

It is a disgrace to Scotland that football allows some warped individuals to stoke up sporting rivalry on the back of those killing times.”

The Irish Republican Army fought the Irish War of Independence. The war the Irish fought to free the greater part of our people and the greater part of our country because of the refusal of the British state to accept the democratically expressed wishes of the vast majority of voters on the island of Ireland for independence. Does Ms. McAlpine know or understand this? Or does she, like many on the Right and Left in England, question our very right to have done so?

As for the alleged re-examination of the Irish Revolution, the majority of those who are carrying it out are British nationalist historians and their Neo-Unionist sympathisers in Ireland. These writers, some of whom are completely lacking in any academic credentials, are little more than apologists for the British Empire in Ireland. Does Joan McAlpine realise the debate going on in this country, the level of acrimony and hurt created by these revisionist apologists?

The “notorious incident” in Cork that she refers to, the subject of a recent rather more notorious book claiming to chronicle the revolutionary struggle in south-western Ireland, has been thoroughly debunked by Irish, Canadian and American historians. It is nonsense. Complete and utter. Good God, Joan, you are supposed to be a Scottish nationalist. Have you no understanding or empathy at all for your fellow Celtic nationalists? Can you not see through the same lies and counter-factual histories used against Ireland’s struggle for freedom that are used against your own nation’s struggle too?

While one can reasonably argue that the most recent conflict in the North of Ireland is so controversial and so painful to so many grieving families and communities that any references to it should be rightly removed from the arena of sports, that rule must apply to all sides. Not just one. If some Irish Republican songs and symbols that refer to the thirty-year armed struggle of the Provisional Irish Republican Army are to be banned so too should their counterparts on the other side. The other side, Joan, includes the thirty year counter-insurgency struggle of the British Army. Where do you stand on the presence of the Royal British Legion poppy in some sports grounds in Scotland where it may cause offence or public disorder? Should the poppy be banned from Celtic Park?

Perhaps I feel the pain caused by this article particularly acutely and others will disagree with me or dismiss Joan McAlpine’s views as the result of ignorance (or more worryingly the counter-intuitive strain of anti-Irish sentiment that ran through some SNP members in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s). Yet, whatever justifications there may be for removing references to the most recent conflict between the Irish and British nations in Celtic Park or Ibrox Stadium, and in truth it is a matter for the Scottish people, ignorance is no excuse for gratuitously rewriting Irish history to match the distorted fantasies of contemporary British nationalist historians.

I’m a Gaelic Nationalist and I have many Scottish friends who would describe themselves the same way. We see Ireland and Scotland as two separate nations derived from one historic people, the Gaels. We share a common heritage, ethnicity, language, literature and culture. We celebrate and cherish this. We see it as a strength. However, I fear some in the Scottish nationalist tradition see it as a weakness and would rather that such “alien” links did not exist at all. They see only the anglicised, Anglophone Scotland of recent centuries. This is their Scotland. Not the one that extends across the Sruth na Maoile.

The history of Ireland’s struggle for freedom is also Scotland’s history, one we share together. From the Gallóglaigh to the Glasgow Brigade, the GPO to the Clydeside, Irish and Scottish patriots have supported and fought alongside each other. Joan McAlpine knows that. And if she doesn’t she damn well should.

24 comments on “Go Lassie Go, Getting It Wrong

  1. Màrtainn Mac a' Bhàillidh

    Joan is normally so reliable too. Totally agree with you on this though, bang out of order coming from a Scottish Nationalist. The sectarian issue is a minefield though and as an atheist I try and stay well out of it!

    Saor Alba agus Éirinn aonaichte gu bràth!


    • I have to say I very much have the same view: avoid religion like the plague. The whole Celtic/Rangers thing is so divisive, and largely a Scottish matter for Scottish people to resolve, that I never comment on it. That is until this article appeared.

      The main thrust of it was a fair enough, in terms of the advocacy for creating politically neutral spaces in sporting events. The misrepresentation of Irish history to back up that advocacy, whether intended or not, was most certainly not fair. And quiet unnecessary. A Scottish nationalist should know better.

      Very disappointed in her.


  2. Tha mise ag aontachadh gu mor le na thuirt Seonag.

    Can’t argue with the Irish history as presented here but the crux of the matter is, what TF has it got to do with Scottish football? Religious or political songs – national anthems or whatever – should have no place at Scottish club games. I actually think that Flower of Scotland is a progressive song – read the lyrics – but I wouldn’t sing it a Hearts game. Friends who are Hibernian fans think the same.

    The hamming up of Irishness amongst some Celtic fans in particular is a pain in the toin. Many have little or no connection with Ireland and usually stand out like sore thumbs amongst actual Irish citizens. Certainly, the Irish folk I know, including native Gaels do not feel the need to sing ‘Boys of the…’ or Amhran na bh’Fhianna at every given sporting assembly. The ‘imagining’ of Irishness amongst many Scots is a fkn hindrance – possibly even racist against Scots. And I speak as someone with Irish blood from both my parents’ sides. However for 2 generations at least, I have been culturally Scottish. Plus, with both Catholicism and Presbyterianism having died out in my family, I certainly don’t see an independent Scotland as a threat to my religion or lack of.

    So, I largely agree with Joan above. In fact, i’m more bothered about her statements regarding the ‘rough’ and unwashed kids of state schools in Scotland as her defence for sending her own to private schools – champange socialism anyone?

    Strange though that you didn’t take Michael Kelly to task. He seems to be one of these numpties who can somehow balance a ‘street cred’ level of ‘support’ for Irish republicanism while at the same time being proudly British and pro-Union. He’s just a mouthpiece though. Unfortunately, in some areas, thousands of 2nd gen Irish Scots think the same.

    Air adhart gu saorsa do dh’Alba is Eirinn aonaichte.


    • Thanks for the Comment and your opinion on things, a chara. As I’ve said in response to another commenter here, my own views on the Old Firm rivalry is one of an outsider. It is very much a Scottish affair for Scottish people. If Joan had approached the debate from that angle I doubt I would have paid her article much attention. To be honest songs that are knowingly offensive or advocate violence in the here and now should be discouraged through sheer peer pressure and public opprobrium. Legislation is a dubious route to take.

      What caused me to respond to Joan McAlpine was her views on the Irish Revolution, and related matters, which I felt were unfair and unrepresentative of most Scottish nationalists I know. They were simply ignorant and lacking in the empathy that a fellow Celtic nationalist should reasonably display. I wonder if the British government hijacks the upcoming referendum on independence or refuses to accept a vote for separation what will Joan’s opinions be then? What goes around…

      If Ireland needs to recognise and accept the presence of a sizeable population in the north-east of the country with a significant Scottish component to its identity, maybe Scotland will need to accept a significant population in the west of the country with a sizeable Irish component to its identity?

      Just a thought 😉


      • Can’t argue with most of that. Am not sure about the sizeable ‘Scottish’ component in the 6 counties though. I always understood that most of the Scots who were ‘planted’ were Gaelic speaking. The Galwegian Gaelic of the time being most probably easily understood in Ulaidh. Even today, there are many similarities between Ileach Gaelic and Irish and Donegal Gaelic and Scottish.

        The Irish settled in many places though. A lot around Edinburgh and certain parts of the Lothians. Here, most became Scots and for what it matters supported a variety of fitba teams. Some of my own family included. These Irish were like many of today’s ‘Asian’ population – they became Scottish in daily lifestyle, speech and culture.

        slàn, a charaid.


        • Should qualify the Galwegian bit maybe! Scottish but Gaelic, like their ‘cousins’ across the sea, whatever the religion.


          • All very true, very little I disagree with there. However, if we live under a new paradigm in these Celtic Isles of accepting the labels that communities place on themselves, be they national or ethnic in form, then that may well mean some imaginative thinking on all our parts.

            In Ireland we have some 900, 000 people who identify themselves as British, many of whom have a strong Scottish component to that sense of Britishness. If the reunification of Ireland means (and it almost certainly will mean) the acceptance of a British ethnic minority in the nation, with all sorts of legislative and constitutional safeguards ensuring the recognition and protection of their linguistic, cultural and religious freedoms, then that is simply something we are going to have to do. And to do so willingly and with generosity.

            Likewise Scotland may find itself in a similar position of giving formal recognition to an ethnic minority, an Irish one, within its national borders (or indeed to a cross-border Anglo-Scottish and Unionist minority). I’m not saying it will have to, or that the situations are exact, but similarities do exist.

            Perhaps these accommodations could be made more palatable, and workable, under the umbrella of a shared Gaelic, Irish and Scottish, identity? A celebration of what we share not what keeps us apart? One that national minorities in both countries can also embrace and find expression in?


  3. Very good article. And unfortunately many people I have met in the SNP have rather curious views on Irish history particularly as it relates to resistance to British rule. What has surprised me about this debate is the level of antipathy that seems to exist amongst Scottish nationalists towards the Irish in Scotland, especially if those Irish people happen to be born in Scotland.


    • I agree that some SNP members in times past had worrying views on Ireland, though fortunately I have never experienced it myself (though admittedly I do tend to move in Gaelic nationalist circles rather than simply nationalist circles). Your latter point seems to be the nub of the matter. It is not just a Catholic versus Protestant debate. It’s an Irish versus Scottish one too, when it shouldn’t be.


  4. Derick Tulloch

    Well, cowgate, this Sheltie has been in the SNP for 25 years and never encountered any of the ‘antipathy’ you refer to. Have encountered plenty of antipathy to the British Labour Party in Glasgow’s attempts to assume the ‘Cathlic’ vote is tied to their grubby career path to the banks of the Thames though! Perhaps you confuse the two?

    Seamus – you’re been too sensitive on this one. Joan’s target is the aresholes that pollute Scottish cities on fitba days (and beyond that, the imperial divide and rule from which the sectarian pish comes). She just didn’t express it very elegantly. Threats to your physical existence tend to do that.


    • Thanks for the Comment, a chara. Well, the antipathy towards Catholics and Irish people may have been a phenomenon of the distant past in SNP circles but it is difficult to deny its existence altogether (though it was also part of a general anti-Gaelic and Highlands sentiment stemming from the culture of Protestant and Anglophone Lowland Scots too)

      I fully admit my sensitivity may be as a result of my largely positive experiences with Gaelic Scotland and fellow Gaels 🙂 And, yes, perhaps Joan’s article was the result of the gross over-reaction in cyberspace she experienced. But what did she expect? Was she really that out of touch with the realities of life in contemporary Scotland and the passions this particular issue could raise that she wasn’t aware of the risks involved in commenting upon it?

      It is the journalistic equivalent of the politician who can’t tell the interviewer the price of a litre of milk in the shops.


  5. Joe Stafford

    I agree with Derick 100%

    Sectarianism has been used by the British state for decades to foment division in the West of Scotland and they’re still at it. The Labour party and their cohorts in the press are busy trying to portray Scottish nationalism as anti-Irish, it’s the same old Unionist divide and rule rubbish. The Scottish government are at least trying to tackle it. They’re trying to unite Scots.

    “Have you no understanding or empathy at all for your fellow Celtic nationalists?”

    A quick word on the songs. The reality is that in the context of a Celtic-Rangers game they are highly divisive and inflame nothing but hatred between the respective perpetrators. Now, in an ideal world, these eejits would grow up and cultivate a bit of reason, a bit of perspective. But that won’t happen will it – so the next thing to do is to treat them like the children they act like and stop them singing their songs. If they take the huff then too bad.

    Frankly the rest of us are sick of this pish.


    • Thanks for taking the time to Comment, Joe. I understand the points you’re making though personally I remain unconvinced that legislation is the way to go. It could backfire especially given the possibility of inappropriate application. We’ve already seen a couple of odd cases. Time will tell, I suppose. But maturity, and respect for others, would indeed be welcome.


  6. Hello
    I am enjoying reading your articles,having just come across your blog tonight.
    However, in this instance I feel you have over reacted towards Joan. Perhaps understandably so, given your feelings on your Countries history. You are perfectly correct In pointing out whatever mistakes Joan may have made in her article, and I would do likewise if I were you, or it was a misrepresentation of Scottish history in my own case.
    However, I feel your own lack of understanding with regards to the issues involving Rangers and Celtic in particular, has actually served to make you misunderstand the context in which Joan was speaking. Songs which are rightfully sung In Ireland, can have a completely different emphasis and reaction when sung In an Old Firm game. In which case In my opinion, the baiting and aggressiveness would be drawn out of them entirely in that context if they were entirely banned altogether in Old Firm matches. They really are sung in a manner which you would not recognise in Ireland.
    There is an old expression, It aint what you say,its how you say it. In this case, It aint what you sing , its how you sing it!
    I feel that this whole matter with regards to the sectarianism surrounding the Old firm, would be better dealt with by educating people properly about why this whole matter has become such a thorny issue. Many of these supporters on either side do not know the correct history or circumstances which has lead to this ridiculous acrimony in the West of Scotland. Its about time that that they learned.
    Currently I am trying my best to give a background to the whole Rangers/Celtic Sectarian issue on my blog with a series of historical articles leading up to the present day.
    Perhaps you would be so kind as to have a read, and advise me if I get something completely wrong!
    My understanding is that most of the Scots involved with the plantations were lowland Scots.
    Many other Scots of a different nature had of course been travelling back and forth to Ireland from the Western Isles and Highlands for Centuries, many of them settling in Ireland too. But these Scots were mostly of the Gaelic type and were more akin to the Irish than either the Irish or these Scots were to the Lowland Scots. In fact James II had previously tried his Plantation experiment In Lewis using Lowland Scots to overthrow the native Islanders. On that occasion they had been seen off with the their tales between their legs!
    Ulster was in a poorer state when James did the same thing in Ireland. He had no liking for either the Irish Gaels or the Highland ones.


    • Thanks for the Comment, Rod. Had a read of your blog and found it very interesting, with very few points that I disagreed with. In fact, I found myself nodding my head several times 🙂

      As I stated in my response to the Bella Caledonia article by Andrew Anderson, I had no real opinion on the whole Old Firm issue and the proposed legislation of the Scottish government until Joan’s egregious article appeared. Whatever her sentiments on the matter of sectarianism in Scotland, and in sports in particular, to repeat the falsehoods of British nationalist propaganda on Ireland was inexcusable. The real question is, does she honestly believe them to be true?

      On the broader question of Celtic and Rangers, if songs and symbols that are perceived to be offensive by one side or another need to be removed so be it. It is, after all, a Scottish affair. My only caveat would be this: the application of the law must be even-handed and without exception.

      Will Royal British Legion poppies be banned from Old Firm games along with Easter Lillies? If so the law might have some chance of working. If not, if one side is seen to be favoured over another, the long-term effects may be even worse than what we have now.

      As it is I remain dubious about the matter and worry about the possibility of young men and women being “criminalised” for the idiocy or passion of youth, and from both sides.

      I may add your RSS feed to my blog, if that is ok? You have some very interesting articles and I like to link to regular bloggers in Ireland and Scotland, in the Irish, Scottish and English languages. My own RSS feed to Bella Caledonia that was added by Bella some time ago was removed from their site, from what I can see, along with the link to my blog. I wonder why?


      • Moran taing mo charaid,Link away, I am not much of a dab hand at these things I am afraid, but I am enjoying your blog and have already bookmarked it.
        Sorry to hear your RSS feed was removed from Bella. I see no reason why that would be? Your articles are very interesting and informative, and they are generally open to differing points of view,so it is a puzzler.


        • The Bella thing could be just a coincidence, I suppose. At the end of the day its up to them to decide on their links. Maybe I didn’t fit the profile? Anyway I’ve retained my links to them. Generally an excellent site.

          Have your RSS feed added. Looking forward to the posts 🙂


  7. shaun the brummie

    what really makes me angry is the hypocritical way celtic and rangers to a lesser extent,try and finagle their way into english in the land of your most hated enemy.they’ve tried the anti catholic ploy,the scots football is holding us back,the it’s not safe for us..(your bombs planted by your hero’s weren’t either),look at what’s happening to lennon..(fancy an ira supporter being scared of a little bomb)…we couldn’t care less what happens to (in no particular order)..celtic football club,rangers football club,scottish football,neil lennon,celtic fans,rangers fans,scots fans…we don’t stop begging to be let in,you aint being let in this year,next year,in 10 years,20 years,50 years,100 years…… piss off and annoy somebody else for a change…


  8. Dermie O'Brien

    Football songs aside, it simply isn’t true that all the Irish historians examining the Tan War and that era are pro-British revisionists, or apologists for empire. It wasn’t even true of Peter Hart, who you have singled out above. (Have you read his books by the way? More than one Irish republican found plenty of value in them). If historians weren’t re-examining the evidence, and there is far more sources on the 1916-23 wars now than there was 20 years ago, they would not be good historians.


    • Hi, Dermot. Well, firstly, I didn’t say that all Irish historians re-examining the period of the Irish Revolution are apologist historians for British intervention in Ireland. Some are, some are not. Historians, like everyone else, are shaped by their political or cultural views or backgrounds. Neutral or unbiased accounts are more often aspirational than attainable (and I’m not even sure that they always should be. How would one write about the Holocaust without making a moral judgement? I think most people would rightly argue that it cannot be done). If a British nationalist historian writes a British nationalist account of Britain’s activities in Ireland one would hardly expect a display of sympathy or understanding for the “natives” (or even the truth). Yet that does not mean that one cannot criticise the account for their absence.

      Secondly, Peter Hart betrayed his own academic principals through his later works. That has been well documented (and debated) over the last decade and more. Apologists for Hart are surely on morally dubious ground for attacking those who point out the many faults in his histories. Defending the indefensible has become a means to an end. It serves no good purpose other than to provide a rotting prop to hold up the counter-factual fantasies of the defenders of Pax Britannica.

      And, yes, I have read his books. There was some very worthwhile data in them, particularly in the areas of the socio-economic backgrounds of some of the combatants, etc. But that does not negate the damage done elsewhere in his writing. Falsification cannot be waved away as an inconvenient truth. Especially in history.

      Revisionism is a VERY good thing in history. There should be no scared cows, or subjects that cannot be examined. Questioning and understanding the past is hugely important (and sadly lacking in popular culture). Otherwise we are indeed doomed to repeat our histories. But revising and apologising are two different things. Very different.

      Thank you for your Comment and your views.


  9. Dermie O'Brien

    Thank you for your reply. On Hart I would say that some of the accusations about his evidence regrading Kilmichael, (the widespread assertion that he made up interviews) will not withstand the latest stuff being done on that, from the Fr. Chislom tapes. On Dunmanway I agree with John Regan re the evidence, but with John Borgonovo re the motivation. There is no way sectarian animosity did not play a part. Even if accepting all the men killed were informers (which I don’t) the IRA would not have killed over 10 Catholic civilians during the Truce if a similar case presented itself. And it did lead to many Protestants assuming a general massacre was happening and leaving Cork. An isolated occurrance maybe, but it happened.


    • The Father Chisholm tapes are something of a red herring, see Niall Meehan’s damning critique:

      Furthermore the recent letter of Meehan and Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc in History Ireland addresses the nature of those supporting what can only be described as a British apologist school of academia, with very suspect and very contemporary political motivations.

      Numerous “Catholics” were killed during the Revolution by the Irish Republican Army; men (and women) who were in the service of the British Forces or state. Many served because they regarded themselves as Irish and British, or simply British. Their faith was secondary, their nationality or ethnicity primary. The same could be said of many “Protestants” at that time, though admittedly for most of the British separatist minority in the north-east of the country religious and national identity were intertwined.

      Was there an element of an ethnic conflict to the Revolution? Of course there was. There were (and are) two communities on the island with two sets of identities. Name me a colonial struggle where conflict between “native” and “settler” does not occur. The UVF, RIC and British Forces on one side and the IV/IRA on the other personified that, to some extent.

      But was an ethno-national conflict central to the War of Independence or its immediate aftermath? No. Most certainly not. The complications of relationships in the country made it impossible, unless the IRA and UVF/RIC/B Specials, etc had come to a direct confrontation (following a complete British withdrawal from Ireland in 1921-23 or as nearly happened in 1913-14).

      Simply look at the backgrounds of the Members of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic in 1916 or those who were executed in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. How many had Protestant or British-born parents (or were British-born themselves)?

      I’m afraid we must agree to disagree on this one but thank you very much for your obviously honestly felt opinions.


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