Rory Mc Illroy’s true identity. What Matt Cooper thinks

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McIlroy’s victory: “There’s a time and place for flags and national celebration of identity.”

Matt Cooper in today’s Irish Examiner on the boy the McIlroy, and for whom he won the US Open:

McIlroy is whatever nationality he chooses to be. He was born north of the border, which makes him a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 gives him the right to dual citizenship with the Republic should he so chose to exercise this right. But whatever his personal choice it should be respected, if he chooses to call himself an Ulsterman, Northern Irish, British or indeed Irish.

McIlroy didn’t win the US Open for Ulster, Ireland, Northern Ireland or for Britain. He won it for himself. Others can share in his glory: his family, most obviously, his friends and those who decide to offer their support, from wherever. But it is still his personal achievement.

He goes on though to peel back a peculiar double think in Irish sport, in which the boundaries seem to be in constant flux:

We have had no difficulty in recent years in taking players from Scotland and the North, even if for some it seems to have been a decision of convenience.

Yet, we have a strange attitude to those Irishmen who chose to play for other countries, while at the same time embracing those who often have limited connections to us. But it has changed over the years. Former English rugby scrum-half Kyran Bracken was born in Swords and lived there until the age of 12 before emigrating. In a famous game at Lansdowne Road in 1993, which Ireland won 17-3, the Irish pack trampled over him and one Irish player shouted “welcome home”.

But when Leinster cricketers Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan chose to play test cricket for England, having qualified on grounds of residency, the decision was understood (and Joyce has come back since). Our most famous boxer of recent decades was Barry McGuigan, a Monaghan man who won the British title on his way to become world champion. That wasn’t and shouldn’t have been an issue.

Our captain in the Irish cricket team at the breakthrough 2007 Cricket World Cup was Australian Trent Johnston who married here and became resident and thus qualified to play for us. The Irish team that beat England in this year’s Cricket World Cup was wrongly described in the British media as full of mercenaries, but it had more Irish-born players than England had English-born players.

The Irish rugby team after the world cup is likely to include the South African hooker Richard Strauss once he passes the sport’s three-year residency rule. Much regret in Irish rugby has been expressed about Isa Nacewa’s one cap for Fiji, Paul Warwick’s sevens appearance for Australia and Lifiemi Mafi’s for New Zealand. Had those not happened they would be celebrated in Irish rugby jerseys.

And he signs off:

There’s a time and place for flags and national celebration of identity. Rory McIlory’s victory was not one, given the sensitivity that should be employed in making northern Irishmen feel welcome both from the south and from Britain. Let’s not wreck the buzz for all of us Irish — and British — by foisting national identities onto his personal achievements.

Five years ago, I asked, “is it time, perhaps, for those of us of an uncomplicatedly Irish disposition to recognise that while one-fifth of the island’s population are more than willing to take the field of play wearing the green of Ireland, it should not be at the expense of their deep sense of belonging to the other island?”

Cooper asks even deeper questions of our whole conception of Irishness, and what it means to be an Irish citizen…

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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Former Sportsman on

    I have always been uncomfortable with the nationality issues around sporting achievement. Coming from a Nationalist background, I was a member of a Northern Ireland sports team which allowed me to compete at international events. Politics wasn’t and shouldn’t have been an issue; yet there remained for me some personal discomfort around competing for a country with which I had considerable political difficulty. Looking back now, it seems silly, particularly given that had I been offered the opportunity to compete for any country (Fiji included) provided it meant the opportunity to compete at such a high level.