|Mandan tribal dance - George Catlin (c. 1835)|
I previously wrote about the Northern Ireland dance here. MCB alumnus now in Washington Niall Stanage wrote in the New York Times:
"As I was the product of a family that identified primarily as Irish rather than British — and that was nominally Protestant, yet in reality secular — Barry McGuigan’s Catholic background carried no negative connotation for me. But I was still aware of it. So was everyone else.
At that time, in that place, everyone I knew could identify in an instant the religious affiliation of even the most apolitical people who had propelled themselves from Northern Ireland onto a bigger stage. Van Morrison was Protestant. Liam Neeson was Catholic. George Best, perhaps the finest soccer player of his generation: Protestant. Dennis Taylor, a snooker world champion: Catholic. And on and on.
McIlroy isn’t like that. The only reason I was able to inform McGuigan of the golfer’s religion was because I had made a deliberate effort to discover it.
Of course, McIlroy’s United States Open win was the second in a row for Northern Ireland. The year before, Graeme McDowell had claimed the title at Pebble Beach. McDowell was raised as a Protestant, a religious identity that he wears with just as little ostentation as McIlroy’s Catholicism. But McIlroy is on his way to becoming a global superstar, which makes his case all the more intriguing."Barry McGuigan said:
"Isn’t it funny? People our age always want to find that out. It’s the same way that there used to be all that stuff about ‘How do you spell your surname?’ or ‘What newspaper do you read?’ That is going to take time to eradicate."Stanage continued:
"He’s right — for our generation. For those who are younger, the change is already under way. John Stevenson was McIlroy’s principal at his high school, Sullivan Upper, just outside Belfast. There, as well as witnessing the teenage golf prodigy demolishing much older, bigger boys in inter-school games, he also saw what he terms “the first post-Troubles generation” come to maturity…
As McIlroy continues to navigate all this, he has one considerable advantage: his chosen sport.
The mere fact that golf is an individual sport inures it, to some degree, from the displays of communal passion and tribalism that are commonplace in soccer, in which Northern Ireland’s sectarian divisions are more clearly and deeply reflected.
Golf, at least by Northern Irish standards, is reasonably well integrated in religious terms. It was traditionally seen as a “respectable” pursuit of affluent Protestants — something which may partly account for the doubts about McIlroy’s religious identity — but this has dissipated over time. McIlroy’s home club, Holywood, is in a prosperous, majority-Protestant area. Its membership, locals say, is mixed.
The economic stratification of golf in Northern Ireland has proven more enduring than the religious brand. Clubs and public courses exist in working-class areas, but the sport’s dominant image remains one of relative gentility. Generally speaking, the higher up the North’s social scale one goes, the more frowned upon are full-throated expressions of militant politics or naked prejudice."Eamonn McCann, a veteran civil rights activist and journalist, said:
"It is very, very unusual that someone comes to prominence in Northern Ireland without it being clear from the outset what religion they are. The fact that Rory McIlroy is not seen as part of either camp reflects something that is far deeper in this society.
He certainly challenges the notion that you had throughout the Troubles — even though I would argue that it was never entirely true — that religion in Northern Ireland dictates politics, dictates identity. He has come to the fore at a very interesting time."The late Gerald Grosvenor, the Duke Of Westminster, explained on Desert Island Discs (July 1995) the difference between growing up in Fermanagh and leaving at 7 for Sunningdale Prep in Berkshire:
"Coming from a very divided society, and a very divided school society, which of course Ulster was then, in terms of Protestant schools and Roman Catholic schools, I came from a county which was roughly 50/50 for Protestants and Roman Catholics, and you see it was very much in my culture to wonder who was what and I found myself going around wondering and indeed asking whether someone was a Roman Catholic or Protestant, and that was the biggest cultural divide of course I had to overcome initially. They didn’t understand what I was talking about. Obviously all these young boys looked at me as though I was stark raving mad. I think I would have unfortunately in those days ignored them [Catholics]. I would have made my friends around a Protestant community."