Moving right along

The ugly word "paroxysm" springs to mind for the recent understandable, but largely hysterical, always disproportionate and sometimes objectionable, media reaction to the legal debacle over "unlawful carnal knowledge".


By the time you read this the noise should have died down, with a combination of panic and hypocrisy producing an Irish solution that we can only hope is harmless in practice. I can also hope it takes the subject out of the constant media reach of my children. And, oh yes, that the whole episode does permanent political damage to Michael McDowell.

It's not a lot to ask. Given that for some years now the media have seemed capable of only one obsessive concern at a time, let's see the World Cup take its rightful place in our broadcasts and papers. (There is clearly no worry about this whatsoever in the British media.)

With Ireland absent from the feast, our hearts, or at least our eyes, will turn to Poland, with its massive support here. (Did you ever think you'd say, "Sure the pubs will be packed: Poland are playing"?) We'll watch, too, with immigrants from other countries. But most attention, and most media agonising, will concern the small matter of England. Among most Irish soccer fans of my acquaintance the dilemma centres on whether we want to see England humiliatingly exit from the group stages or have their inflated hopes crushingly dashed later in the tournament. This hostility will yet again be widely deplored, with the odd thinking-pundit diagnosing it as a pre-adolescent pathology from which "as a nation, we should grow up."

Don't mention the war

So has the nation's voice really broken? It was, in fairness, rather remarkable that April's 1916 commemorations managed to celebrate the men and women who led an armed insurrection against British rule in Ireland while saying virtually nothing negative about, uh, British rule in Ireland. Irish "independence" seemed often to be formulated as a freestanding abstraction, not a complex and conflicted route for addressing a relationship of historic injustice.

People know better, of course, and the majority attitude toward England (which boasts a soccer team full of mostly good, likeable players whom we admire when they're not engaged in their summer jobs) follows naturally enough from this. (Just ask a Scot.) When Bertie Ahern said something nice about England's World Cup prospects a few months ago it made front-page news in a tabloid, partly because it gave readers a chance to speculate about whether it was diplomacy, a joke, or a bit of both. We reckon the Taoiseach's good wishes to Sven and the boys are of a similar order to Alex Ferguson's.

It's intriguing that into what should be an inconsequential debate about football support comes Ken Loach's superb and now well-hyped film about the War of Independence and Civil War, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Its opening weekend in Ireland will coincide with England's first game in the knock-out stages of the World Cup – assuming they go the "crushing" rather than the "humiliating" route.

Black and Tan fantasy

It's not simply that the sight of rampaging Black and Tans will give us ample reason to support Poland, Ecuador, Costa Rica or even Germany that weekend. Loach's film has also already unleashed a reaction in the British press that reminds us that in the unblinking eyes of the 21st-century Sun, the Tans were in Cork doing God's own work. (Keep an eye on how much or little of this vitriol crosses the water into the conspicuously "Irish" editions of papers like the Daily Mail, which "balanced" Ruth Dudley-Edwards British-edition red-baiting of Loach with a piece from Tim Pat Coogan, who did not appear to have seen the film.)

The Wind's main claim to pertinence lies in what you'd imagine would be the uncontroversial, wholly-supported-by-history assertion that occupying armies often behave atrociously (cf. Haditha) and almost always inspire native resistance. This assertion obviously becomes a problem in a country that has been occupier rather than occupied for roughly a millennium.

Civil War wounds may be reopened too. John O'Donoghue has said Fine Gaelers won't like the film, and Ryan Tubridy, on his radio show, took the unusual step of praising it partly on the basis of his own Irregular ancestry. Pundit wars can be expected.

But as well as entertaining and educating, Loach's movie should remind us that history's bigotry and thuggery are scarcely on the side of Ireland's honest and pretty amiable Anyone-But-England brigade.