Let me say from the outset, I am not a diehard golf fan. I usually watch the British Open, I will always watch the Ryder Cup, I might get sucked in to some late night final round if Rory is involved. That’s about it. But I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to spend the day at Royal Portrush on Friday; I was gutted for Rory. I was glued to the coverage yesterday afternoon; I was delighted for Shane. But there’s more to it than that. It’s over; done and dusted, there isn’t anything more to say, and yet I was avidly reading the news reports this morning.
Tom English, writing on the BBC web site, summed up why. “Here, there was nothing but positive energy and mutual understanding of a common cause. This was a day of days for Lowry, but also for Portrush and for Northern Ireland. The beauty of the place and the kindness of its people was always there, but it was laid out in front of the golfing world this week.”
It’s the same kindness visitors noticed when the World Police and Fire Games were held here back in 2013. Everyone will welcome you, help you, chat to you. That doesn’t happen everywhere in the world. I was talking to a group of Dutch students recently. I said we were peculiar. Yes, we had deep divisions, but at heart we were very friendly. “We talk to each other at bus stops,” I joked. A deep voice came from the back of the room. “We don’t,” it said with finality.
There was the same mood when the Giro d’Italia came to Northern Ireland in 2014. Iain Carter, also writing for the BBC, commented on this week’s feel-good factor. “This was the biggest and best golfing party I have ever attended. Not just for the craic and atmosphere, which were magnificent, but for the golf course, which is simply stunning… This is a time to party. Lowry’s victory was also Royal Portrush’s triumph. More importantly, the entire week was something for the whole game to cherish and celebrate.” Say what you like about this part of the world, but we do bring the craic.
We’re a funny bunch, being British, Irish and, for most of us, a mixture of both. Our senses of identity and territorial claims have caused us a lot of hassle over the years, but if we could find a way to remove the threat of diversity and learn not just to tolerate it, but to actively celebrate it, in all its forms, we’d be a lot happier! In moments like this, when we’re at our best, this a great place to live.
Is it possible we might just have the best of both worlds with access to and the identities of both neighbouring countries? Irish warmth and craic made the tournament, but the British Open can only happen in the UK. This sounds ridiculously simple, but could we drag ourselves away from point scoring and commit ourselves to a shared future? Is that really too much to ask?
I recently read Seamus Mallon’s autobiography, “A Shared Home Place.” It’s well worth reading, not least for the final section on the future. He makes a similar point, commenting on how the Agreement “has been misused to create … two competing political silos, each looking after their own, with little regard for concepts of equality, partnership and reconciliation.” Mallon calls us to something better. “With total honesty and realism, we now need to put away thoughts of victory and defeat and try, whatever our deep and historic perceptions of difference, to work as one shared community in a way that is fair, balanced and mutually respectful of the other.”
There was another taste of it this week. It’s out there. It’s doable. Wouldn’t it be great if…