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Brolly – Supporting Northern Ireland not an option

Michael O'Neill after he was unveiled as the new manager of Northern Ireland

BBC Northern Ireland aired a fascinating documentary recently. It began with footage of the 12th July parade on Belfast’s Shankill Road in the mid 1960s. As one of the bands passed, belting out The Billy Boys, a girl of seven or eight turned towards the camera and shouted f*** the Pope. The words of the Billy Boys can be found on countless websites. One fans’ version is set out this way:

Hello Hello (bellowed loudly)
We are the Billy boys
Hello Hello
You’ll know us by our noise
We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood (F*** the Pope)
Surrender or you’ll die cause we are the Billy Billy Boys” (repeat until arrested)

The unofficial Northern Ireland supporters’ anthem has echoed around Windsor Park since time immemorial. Until the new millennium, you could buy the CD in the Windsor Park shop. Now, the supporters’ store has been cleansed of overtly sectarian material, but the culture lingers and the ghosts of the recent past still hover over the stadium.

On the 30th October 1992, Loyalist gunmen walked into the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel where a Halloween party was in full swing. Dressed in balaclavas and boiler suits, no one passed any notice until Stephen Irwin, the lead gunman, shouted Trick or Treat and opened fire, murdering seven people. An eighth victim, 76 year old Victor Montgomery, died six months later.

In 1993, Northern Ireland hosted Jack Charlton’s Republic in Windsor Park in a now infamous World Cup qualifier. When Jimmy Quinn’s exquisite volley put the home team one up, the stand rocked to chants of, “Greysteel Seven, Ireland Nil,” and, “Trick or Treat.” The experience prompted playwright Marie Jones to pen A Night In November, a shocking and accurate portrayal of sectarian hatred.

It is only nine years ago that Neil Lennon was hounded out of the national team by death threats from the Loyalist Volunteer Force. His crime? He remarked in an interview that he would love to play for an All-Ireland team.

To read this story in full, buy the current issue of Gaelic Life – on sale January 19 – online, or in your local newsagent


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