A lesson for colony cousin - Why Ireland's victory is more than just fun

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  • Published 3.03.11

March 2: What a craic! Thwacked through the cover boundary, England tonight is imperialism’s epitaph: those that you colonise will beat you at your own game.

In pubs across Ireland, “craic” is a universal word. Loosely translated in Bengali, it can mean “phataphati” (explosive), or it can denote a jolly good time or just plain, simple “fun”.

Ireland’s victory over England in this instant’s World Cup game in Bangalore can raise a tumult of emotion, a whoosh of ideas that churn in a post-colonial world, invoking history, politics and sociology — not least because the Irish, colonised first by the British, also inspired the freedom struggle in Bengal and India.

But most of all it is a lesson in life: passion beats powerplay.

There is a wag-the-dog story in England’s crisis today. Even as the game was on, England’s warships were joining the US’s assault and amphibious platforms in the Mediterranean in what could be a military intervention, Kosovo-like, in Libya.

They were headed for the Libyan coast. The stated reason: Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s human rights violations that the Libyans themselves have risen against.

The joke goes that England is going after Gaddafi because the Irish beat England.

In Irish pubs, amid the tiddly-doo music, this is a craic.

Gaddafi supplied arms to Irish militants in the 1980s. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) wanted secession from Her Majesty’s Kingdom (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). That was reason for the UK to brand Libya a terrorist state. (The Libyan link to a hijack and the air crash followed years later.)

In the club in Delhi where I watched tonight’s game, Indians to a man stood as one to watch Ireland’s triumph. History played a marginal role. The mood was of empathy for the underdog. One gentleman remarked: “Wow, this is like India beating Pakistan.”

It is much more than that. This wasn’t a victory. It was a triumph, an overcoming.

The Irish have set an example that has been noted in the West for decades. It has taken cricket and the World Cup in India to bring that home.

The Irish have been better than the English in English. Think James Joyce. Think, in journalism, a hero, the war correspondent Robert Fisk, now the Middle East representative of The Independent, London, who risks the sneers of the elite as he sinks his teeth into the epochal moments in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya even as the Arab world is simmering. Fisk would be hardly the journalist he is today if not for his origins and coming-of-age with the Irish conflict and his time in Dublin.

One afternoon, in the half-year I spent in Ireland on a fellowship, a tennis ball hoicked from a pitch on the tar road hit a second-floor window sill, ricocheted to a fence and plopped into a football field where University of Ulster students were playing in deep winter.

The footballers were angry. Cricket, they said, was banned by the Gaelic Sports Council, because it was an English sport.

In the University of Ulster in Derry/Londonderry, on the edge of the border with the Republic of Ireland, the Catholics were more Irish than the Irish. The cricket gear was gifted to us, a group of South Asians, by the Protestant director of our institute. (Not because she was Protestant but because we were South Asian).

Tonight, a country half the size of Sri Lanka, the first to be colonised by England, where cricket was banned by hyper-nationalism, has ground to dust its imperialist master.

Two nights back, on the self-same pitch, England and India tied. The hype that has overtaken discourse on the Indian cricket team — a clutch that fields sloppily and bowls waywardly — is like the “India Shining” campaign: full of over-promise and unaudited for under-delivery. Tonight the “Men in Blue” are a memory; it is the “Men in Green” who are the toast. India does not know how much it has to learn from Ireland, on and off the pitch.