To no-one’s great surprise Feile an Phobail this year ended, as is now traditional, with The Wolfe Tones leading their excitable audience in chanting “oh ah, up the ‘Ra”.
UP MLA Emma Little Pengelly referred to the scenes as “deeply disappointing”. Such is the sectarianism of the chanters, doubtless they’ll see it as a further win that their chanting has so obviously offended unionists.
The mystery isn’t that the chanting is now such a predictable part of Feile. It’s that Feile organisers do not seem inclined (or are able) to do anything to stop those shameful scenes.
And it truly is utterly shameful that, in 2022, people, many of them too young to have any memory of the barbarity on the Troubles, should be singing support for sectarian murderers who inflicted misery on families right across this community.
They’re singing support for the massacre and mutilation of thousands of men, women, children and babies in arms.
They’re literally dancing on the graves of people whose lives were taken for no other reason than that they were of a different religion. They’re celebrating slaughter with mindless, ghoulish fervour, as flippantly as football fans might cheer a goal.
“Oh, ah up the ‘Ra” is rattled out as if it were no more wounding than that fist pumping bit in “Sweet Caroline”. A Larne footballer has even been suspended for appearing to have it on his shirt.
What thinking lies behind this? Short answer — they don’t think. They don’t comprehend.
The excuse that can be made for chanting youths is that they don’t remember the gory specifics. They didn’t live in an era when you woke in the morning to switch on the news and learn of the latest bloodletting.
They didn’t have to walk streets where you never knew when the world would explode around you. They don’t know what it’s like to visit the homes of relatives and neighbours who’d lost a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife, and listen to the gut-wrenching wails of “why, why, why?”
Theirs is a sanitised ‘Ra. A ‘Ra that took on the Brits and fought a “war”. But the full horror of what the ‘Ra inflicted across this community is, like the flags they wave, way above their heads.
The organisers of Feile must be fully aware of, not just the offence, but the real searing hurt those scenes at the festival cause to so many people (and not just from the unionist community).
They talk about the festival’s “inclusivity”, record attendance and clamping down on bonfires. As if that balances out the bigotry displayed.
Those cries of “Brits out” — who are the Brits being referred to there? The same unionist people who are expected to swallow the spiel about “inclusivity”?
It should be stressed that it’s not just the unionist side of the house that finds the lauding of any such terrorist organisation deplorable.
SDLP councillor Carl Whyte describes being “thoroughly depressed” by the IRA chants and cries of “Brits out.” His own family has suffered loss at the hands of loyalist murderers.
It would be every bit as disgusting to hear a taxpayer funded festival audience chant support for the UVF or the UDA or one of the many other loyalist scumbag gangs.
Hate-fuelled behaviour and bigotry, whether it’s showcased on bonfires, or in Orange Hall singalongs, or by paramilitary flags on lampposts or some pathetic attention-seeking band unveiling a mural of a fire-bombed police Land Rover, it’s all equally despicable.
It should be called out universally — but particularly by those who use fine words like “inclusivity” in self-description.
And if we’re going to focus on fine words…
At his trial in Dublin just before his death, the great leader of the United Irishmen, Theobald Wolfe Tone spoke of his dismay at the sectarian violence that had swept Ireland during his exile in America and later, France.
“For a fair and open war I was prepared; if that has degenerated into a system of assassination, massacre, and plunder I do again most sincerely lament it, and those few who know me personally will give me, I am sure, credit for the assertion.”
What Tone would have made of the massacre of the Troubles — and those who committed the most terrible atrocities — we can work out for ourselves from those words of his.
The three oul codgers who took the name of this noble man for their stage act, have totally disrespected his legacy by leading chants that cause distress to the bereaved, incite hatred and foment bitterness. And the greatest shame in all of this? Unless somebody with influence in Feile does the right thing, next year it’ll be just more of the same.