WE have made it to the final week of the Six Nations and we’ve come a long way since the beginning of the competition which began in controversy for the Welsh Rugby Union when they announced they had banned the visiting choirs to the Principality Stadium from singing Tom Jones’ 1968 hit Delilah.
“All the things they need to do and they do that first…” tweeted young Welsh winger Louis Rees-Zammit when he learned of the banning of the song in the wake of allegations of sexism and misogyny within the WRU.
In fact, the song had been removed from the playlist of Welsh choirs many years ago.
The WRU just decided to make a public announcement about it this year to show how proactive they were being in their defiance of misogyny.
Delilah isn’t alone in its status as a controversial rugby song.
For the many Irish fans that will be looking forward to hearing Swing Low Sweet Chariot in Dublin this weekend, they will be glad to know that the RFU actually did conduct a review on this song already and decided not to ban it.
In 2020 they consulted members of the rugby community including Martin Offiah and Maggie Alphonsi who agreed that the review was welcomed but that the song should be kept as an opportunity to educate the rugby community on Black history and racial discrimination.
As a young rugby fan I never liked it because I thought it was boring.
I was never aware of the history of it and I never knew how good it could sound until one night at a sing-song during the Willie Clancy music festival in Miltown Malbay a gentleman with a beautiful bass voice started up the opening lines of this African American biblical song.
Some Munster lads in the corner tried to drown it out with their own, much less riveting, version of The Fields of Athenry.
It was the first time I told someone singing that song to shut up.
Swing Low actually made its way into English rugby as a drinking song.
I saw it performed once during my time there. Everyone tries to complete moves that match the words and if you get it wrong you drink.
However, I think the age group who generally played this game have outgrown it.
And now it exists as a fans’ song and hopefully will educate the kids who ask their parents “What does that mean?”
But what do parents say to their kids who ask “Why do Ireland get to sing two anthems?”
This is a fascinating piece of Irish history that is another opportunity to educate, this time on Ireland’s past.
There were Irish players in 1954 who refused to take to the pitch for a game held in Belfast, because they wouldn’t stand for God Save The Queen. An easy way to sweep this problem under the rug was to not play any more matches in Belfast until 2007 by which time we had Ireland’s Call in place.
Just as there was republican resistance to God Save The Queen, there was unionist resistance to Amhrán na bhFiann, especially strong after an IRA bomb injured players travelling from Belfast to Dublin for training.
The same year the Irish rugby squad that travelled to New Zealand for the 1987 Inaugural Rugby World Cup were without an anthem and sang The Rose of Tralee for their first game before deciding to leave it out altogether for the rest of the tournament.
Phil Coulter was commissioned to write a new anthem for the Irish Rugby team by the 1995 Rugby World Cup and this is where we get our “two anthems” from.
We seem to have been singing them both quite uncontroversially in recent years until I read a tweet the other day by a rugby fan saying that the Ireland team are at an unfair advantage because they “get to sing two anthems and represent two countries.”
An interesting take. I would put the advantage down to the Leinster schoolboy system mainly but there you go.
Come Paddy’s weekend in Dublin there will definitely be no shortage of songs to sing from pitch to pub, but I do think we need something new from the stands.
Nothing controversial please. But the Leinster heads don’t want to sing The Fields of Athenry, and no one else wants to sing Molly Malone.
Rose of Tralee was obviously ruled out. Tommy Bowe did all he could to make Black Velvet Band the new fan favourite but it never quite took off. Caledonia belongs to the Scots and Angels by Robbie Williams to the English.
Whatever song we choose, or probably more like whatever song chooses us, I fear we may all be singing Delirium Tremens by Christy Moore come Sunday given the cross-breed of Paddy’s Day and Grand Slam celebrations.