From famine song to famine memorial.

One of the common themes about memorials to the Irish famine across the world has been a distinct lack of politics or religiosity evoked within bronze, iron and stone.

Right thinking people look back at those awful times and they just see a humanitarian disaster and a criminal failure of government.

The latter aspect has been the subject of an apology from the British government on the 150th anniversary of the Irish famine.

The memorial that I envisaged when I started writing about the subject is something like that one Custom House Quay in Dublin.

There is nothing to suggest in the figures depicted what their ethno-religious background was or their politics.

These are just desperate starving people clinging to life.

I stated that a secular city centre memorial to An Gorta Mór was required and that it would be a good thing to counteract the anti-Irish racism there and in the West of Scotland generally.

The proposed Famine memorial by Glasgow city council is news worthy because of how the Irish famine has been viewed by some people in the city in recent times.

The “Famine Song” is a particularly nasty little racist footnote in the social history of this part of the world.

Rangers were unique in being a senior football club in Britain that did not have a Republic of Ireland play in their first team since the FAI had been officially recognised by FIFA.

The emotional contract seemed be that no one in the light blue shirt would stand under the Irish tricolour on international business.

The connection was clearly made. Here was a group of football supporters singing a racist song who just happened to follow a team that did not have any of the targeted nationality playing for them.

There was a time in late 2008 when I seemed to be the only journalist that was interested in flagging up these issues.

There were questions asked about it in Dáil Éireann and in the European parliament.

Eoin Ryan MEP visited Scotland in November 2008.

It was largely ignored by the Scottish media, I travelled from Ireland to cover the fact finding mission.

On Rangers message boards the legal experts from the Govan stand guffawed that the Famine song would ever be brought before the courts.
It was and a conviction resulted.

It was appealed to the High Court of Justiciary and the conviction from Kilmarnock Sheriff Court was upheld.

The Famine song, in Scots law, is racist.

There is no debate

This has been in case law since 2009 .

I am told that the Famine song has not been totally excised from the Ibrox songbook and appears to have come over on the TUPE bus.

Now that those awful events are in the process of being commemorated in an inclusive and respectful manner in Glasgow then I hope that we have heard the last of this racist ditty.

Those who defended the Famine song in 2008/2009 should re-consider their stance if they do not want to be characterised as defenders of racism.

Finally the “one side is as bad as the other” narrative is stripped away people outside Scotland are starting to learn the forensic truth.

I believe that the general acceptability of Anti-Irish racism in Scottish society back in the day and the absence of a Famine memorial in Glasgow are not unconnected.

The Irish in Scotland were a barely tolerated invisible ethnic minority.

Thankfully the zeitgeist has changed.

Of course some will squeal at the pain that equality is causing them.

The old days at the back of the bus are gone and they’re not coming back.

Feargal Dalton of the SNP in proposing the motion last month also stated that the sculpture should also remember the victims of the Highland Famine and those fleeing modern famines and who want to make Glasgow their home.

Moreover, the proposed memorial is not to recognise the migration patterns from the island of Ireland to Glasgow over the centuries.

Of course, those who now wish to row in behind this laudable project are very welcome to do so.

However, if they have a previous history in defending the Famine song then they must address that issue and do so publicly.

An apology for the offence caused to Glasgow’s Irish community would also be welcome.

Clearly any organisation now wishing to support the Famine memorial project cannot defend a song that mocks the victims of An Gorta Mór or their descendants.

Perhaps they should issue a statement to that effect, just to clarify matters.

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