There had been objections from some to the very idea of the singing of “God Save the Queen” being allowed at the place that witnessed Ireland’s first Bloody Sunday. But times have moved on.
There was obvious and not unsurprising nervousness as the moment neared when the combined Irish army and Garda bands struck up the first chords of the English anthem. But when the final words trailed to silence there was just that – a respectful silence from some, cheering from the visiting English supporters, polite applause from the home crowd.
From that moment on, however, it was like somebody had laced the damp February air with adrenalin. The Irish team, the massed ranks on Hill 16 and in the Hogan and Cusack stands delivered a rendition of Amhr_n na bhFiann that shook the rafters and brought tears to the eyes of some of the Irish players. There followed “Ireland’s Call,” the Phil Coulter-penned song that is both a reminder of the division on the island of Ireland, and an attempt to make unionist-leaning members of what is an all-Ireland team feel a little more comfortable with their Irishness.
And then to cap it all, Ireland thrashed England in a display of power rugby that made the entire afternoon seem pre-ordained. In the end, all came away from last weekend with something to cheer about. The queen was saluted at Croker and inspired an Oscar in L.A. while Ireland’s rugby soldiers showed the world that they have a noble destiny to strive for in the battles to come.