Days after counter protester Heather Heyer died in the Charlottesville race riots and a car crashed into and injured 19 others, the Confederate flag flew proud in Ireland. The waving red-and-white bunting had nothing to do with the Charlottesville riots, the KKK rally in Virginia, or the deadly car crash though. Irish fans of the Cork hurling and football teams have made the flag their own since at least the 1970s. According to Irish Central, the teams are called “The Rebels” and fans see the Confederate battle flag as the perfect symbol of their rebel players.
Despite repeated attempts to ban the Confederate flag, usually in response to an incident of racial violence, fans insist on their right to use whatever symbols they like. The Confederate icon appeared at Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling semifinal where 72,000 watched live and thousands more around the world saw the southern flag flying during television coverage of the game.
A Rebels fan posted that although he “abhors racism,” he flies the Confederate flag because of its “association with Rebels, and The South [the south of Ireland].” Irish sports fans are known for adopting a wide variety of flags for their own purposes, regardless of other meanings the symbols have in other parts of the world. Rebels fans often wave the Japanese rising sun flag, the Canadian flag, and the Ferrari flag because of the colors.
Aogan O Fearghail, the former president of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), previously said that while any racist words, actions, or symbols are against the rules of the association, it would be nearly impossible to search every person for potentially offensive material coming into a game.
He also pointed out that with the many flags favored by fans, it would cause “unrest” to ban the Confederate flag while allowing others that could also have negative connotations somewhere in the world. O Fearghail suggested that people should take “personal responsibility” for researching and understanding the symbols they appropriate before using them.
The Confederate flag is also used by a loyalist Ulster paramilitary group in Northern Ireland called the Red Hand Defenders. Several counties in the north of Ireland are still part of the United Kingdom (England) rather than part of the independent Republic of Ireland. Tensions between residents of Northern Ireland who are loyal to the crown of England and those want to unite all of Ireland under Irish rule led to decades of violence, especially in the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast.
The Red Hand Defenders group carries Confederate flags during marches to honor the many Confederate soldiers who had family back in Northern Ireland. It is often flown alongside Nazi flags and the Union Jack, but many people who fly the controversial flags are not aware of the original connotations, and they insist that the Confederate flag is intended entirely as a symbol of the Loyalist position in Ireland.
According to The Journal, Brian Killoran of the Immigrant Council of Ireland said that “no malice” is intended by Cork fans who fly the Confederate flag. The red-and-white colors and the rebel origins of the flag are the main draw, and the racist connections just don’t enter into the picture.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]