16 FEBRUARY 1991, Page 47


Irrational anthems

Frank Keating

THE Band of the Royal Marines, on duty at Twickenham's rugger international this Saturday, have been practising a brand new national anthem. Instead of God Save the Queen, which has served them on such occasions for well over a century, Scot- land's 15 bruisers in blue will line up before the game to be serenaded and inspired by Flower of Scotland, a modern troubadours' pop song, albeit equally dirge-like. It will be the first time away from their home patch at Murrayfield that the anthem has been accepted as official; it should have been last month in Paris, but that tiddly- om-pom Clochemerle-type band of trumpeting small-town burghers which al- ways does the sprightly honours at Parc des Princes mistakenly came up with some- thing even less catchy called Rose of Prince Charlie, and so bemused the Scots that they scarcely managed a kick or a run.

When the Rugby Football Union sanc- tioned the new tune last year, Twickenham was criticised for playing into the hands of the Scot Nats by giving de facto recognition to the insistence north of the border that the National Anthem was the English anthem only. But in truth the cascade of whistles and jeers from Scots in the crowd whenever God Save the Queen struck up had become an embarrassment.

Flower of Scotland was written 20 years

ago by a couple of nasal-voiced, banjo-ing kilt-swirlers in Aran sweaters, Ronnie and Roy of the Conies folk group. It is a Country-and-Western Isles trill about the 14th-century skirmish at Bannockburn be- tween the armies of Robert, murderer and bastard, and Edward, southerner and sodomite, for which latter proclivity, far more than politics or battle-losing, he was to be most painfully put to death in Berkeley Castle. Anyway, the verses sure stirred the Scottish team last year at Murrayfield immediately before the hither- to swaggering English were scattered to all points. Scotland are looking for a ditto sort of demolition at Twickenham this weekend.

The England XV will be, as usual, launched by the National Anthem. During the match, however, England's staid, sub- urban supporters have recently taken to chorusing something more original than simply He-aye! at a five-yard scrum. For some reason totally beyond me English rugger crowds have taken up the lulling negro spiritual 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot'. Heaven knows what the players think of such unwound-gramaphone diminuendo, for no sooner begun than the words cring- ingly peter out through mass ignorance of even the second, let alone the third, line. There's exhortation for you.

Also on Saturday, down the M4 and across the Bridge, Wales (in the ancient sporting description) 'entertain' Ireland and the pre-match, full-belt, male-voice homage — M-ae H-en wl-ad F-y Nh- adau . will not fail to riddle the spine of the throng and bring tears to the Welsh players' eyes. But that will be it — the Irish team will have nothing for inspira- tion. We all know why, it is an a//-Ireland XV, happily, but when it comes to choos- ing a single battle-hymn, well, long ago the Irish RU agreed that only the home side's anthem would be played 'as the best arrangement of overcoming the dual juris- diction of the Dublin and Ulster rugby unions'.

Nicely put. But if Scotland can write a brand new national anthem for rugger matches, why can't all-Ireland? How about God Save Our Gracious Molly Malone? Or, if you'd prefer, Our Noble Rose of Tralee?