The Queen of England came to Ireland three years ago, and had a great time. This country’s president, Michael D Higgins, reciprocated a few weeks ago, and he, too, seemed to enjoy himself, going to a whole lot of places in London and further afield. This is good for relations between the two countries, we’ve been told, bringing the two closer than ever they’ve been before.
But let’s hope this new-found friendship doesn’t lead to a diminution in the rivalry that has made the two countries the keenest of opponents – at times, the worst of enemies - in the sporting arena since soccer and rugby teams first went head to head, racehorses lined up against each other, coursing greyhounds vied for the Waterloo Cup, while their ‘softer’ half-brothers and sisters chased prizes at White City and Wimbledon, and boxers sat in opposite corners at the venue which played host to the celebrated concert of a few weeks ago.
Let’s be honest, we love it when the Brits are the victims whenever there’s an Irish victory, and when it’s not out of place – such as on a racecourse or dog track, or, indeed, the golf course – we love to see the Tricolour being waved higher than the Union Jack.
Somehow, it doesn’t seem the same if there’s an Irish win in golf, McIlroy or Harrington pushing, say, Lee Westwood into second place. But give us Houghton knocking the ball past Shilton, or Kearney crashing over the line to deprive the Red Rose of a championship-winning victory, and we’ll shout louder than if it was Wales or Scotland who missed out.
Why mention coursing? Well, at a time when the jackboot was firmly on our neck, an Irish dog by the name of Master McGrath was taken over to Altcar, not far from Liverpool, to contest the sport’s premier event, the Waterloo Cup, and running a succession of fine trials, trumped the local runners, many, if not all, owned by the aristocracy. McGrath repeated the feat, and after a two-year lapse won the title for a third time.
This was back in the mid-1860s. There were no soccer or rugby teams then, and, come to think of it, no Tricolour either.
While news of the Master’s wins would have been slow to get back to Ireland, when it did, there might, just might, have been a rendition or two of Let Erin Remember, or The Minstrel Boy. The Fields of Athenry was still many, many years from being penned.
Let there be handshakes when the battles are won and lost, but let’s not dilute the wonderful feeling of pulling one across the auld enemy. Sure, that’s how they probably feel about it on the other side of the pond.