I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Book of Two Halves

A Book of Two Halves

Andy Pollak
Sport in Ireland: A History, by Paul Rouse, Oxford University Press, 375 pp., £30, ISBN 978-0198745907 Like so many Irishmen, I am a sports fanatic. I have played soccer and rugby and hockey and cricket and tennis badly, run marathons slowly and climbed mountains tentatively, but always with huge enthusiasm and affection. I have followed and bellowed my support to Irish teams and individual athletes at soccer and rugby World Cups, athletics championships and cycling classics in half a dozen countries. I have stood awestruck in the presence of great athletes like Paul McGrath and George Best and Willie John McBride and Ronnie Delany and Sonia O’Sullivan and Stephen Roche (for whom I once ghost wrote an Irish Times column). The sports of my upbringing were not hurling or Gaelic football, but I have also cheered from the terraces at Croke Park and Semple Stadium and Casement Park. If a fly climbing up a windowpane was wearing an Irish tricolour, I would back it against a fly with no such colours. So I have to take my hat off to Paul Rouse for attempting the Sisyphean task of trying in one volume to capture the complex and contested history of sport in Ireland since hurling was first mentioned in the Statute of Kilkenny in 1366. He is a wonderfully meticulous historical researcher and a most fair-minded and balanced analyst, with a former journalist’s fluent writing style. However in the end his book is a disappointing one. Perhaps I was expecting a different book, one that would appeal more to this late twentieth and early twenty-first century aficionado with an interest both in Ireland’s recent sporting triumphs and in the history and politics of Irish sport in the partitioned island of the past hundred years. There is some of that, but it is the weaker part. The strongest parts are in the early chapters, particularly those dealing with the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Rouse lays the introductory foundations well. The tensions between British sports ‑ “wrapped in the flag of Empire” ‑ and the sporting dimensions of resurgent Irish nationalism “helped to perpetuate and indeed to foster divisions in wider Irish society”. Sport, as elsewhere, was always a “marker of wealth and status”, especially in hunting, horse racing and golf. But he rightly emphasises three things: the sheer joy of playing and watching sport, which at its best has united Irish people regardless…



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