As the GAA competitions move into their final stages, we, who are interested in the national sports of our nation, can readily hear the banter that takes place between those who hail from different parts of Ireland.
Good-natured ribbing is to be expected, but sadly sometimes the verbal interaction moves into the realm of abuse.
There is much rivalry between those of certain counties across the island. I know that there is no love lost between the people of Derry and Tyrone, or the people of Down and Armagh, or Louth and Meath, for example. Yet how many take the time to think about how the county system, upon which all this abuse is based, was created by the colonial English regime more than 400 years ago.
The animosity generated is not confined solely to matters pertaining to the field of play, either, and too often finds its way into myriad inappropriate settings. In Ireland, a person can find themselves roundly condemned at work or play merely because they hail from a particular county.
As to whether such colonial administrative structures generate, or instead simply facilitate, such ill-will between Irish men and women is a matter deserving of in-depth debate not included in this short piece. Some would argue that we have always been a people to inclined towards internecine rivalry. If it wasn’t cattle that we swiped from one another, it was women (feminists please note: I’m not comparing women and cattle, as cattle are much more… nope not going there).
When the English authorities created the Pale, they subdivided it for ease of handling. Those divisions were extended to lands held by the Anglo-Irish, with the entire country eventually falling victim to such separations after the collapse of the Gaelic system, when the well-fed Earls fled Ireland for the continent (leaving their people to face the wrath of the English).
Natural hinterlands were split in many cases. South Derry and East Tyrone are strongly connected via business, schools, marriage, geography, bloodlines and history, yet are at each others throats come All-Ireland time.
The same applies to Armagh and Down. The people of Crossmaglen, that bastion of football, have little in common with the people of Lurgan but everything in common with those in North Louth and Monaghan. Similarly, in Derry, the people of Magherafelt have little in common with those in Slaughtmanus, yet have much in common with those from Kinturk, Moortown and Ardboe.
This rupture of natural hinterlands is to be found across Ireland, and the colonial authorities were to blame. Today in the OSC, we can see how local councils have moved to incorporate hinterlands as opposed to being based upon county lines. It makes logistical sense, although the border is an obvious factor in the lines drawn within the OSC.
There is nothing to prevent the GAA from eventually adopting the same approach. A secondary competition based upon the hinterlands could be run, replacing the Dr McKenna cup, for example. If the trial were successful, it could then be extended to the Championship. If nothing else, it would certainly gather much-needed publicity for an organisation that has seen an overall drop in attendance figures.
It is an unfortunate irony, that the Gaels within the GAA, and those men and women who beat, berate and hate one another, do so based upon a county system created by the English Establishment.
Is it any wonder that the well-fed and corrupted egos in both Whitehall and Westminster laugh at us?