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My father and I are sent to purgatory by St Peter – thoughts on the rugby

Tom Winnifrith
Sunday 15 March 2015

The great day of reckoning arrives and as I wander along the road towards the Pearly Gates I catch up with my father who with his stick and poorly knee has been making slow progress. We chat and before long we meet up with St Peter.

Inside heaven we can see that it is just like Donegal in the summer. Green, wild but stunning. There is Brian O’Driscoll chatting away amiably with Darina Allen who is cooking up an amazing supper for all. Seamus Heaney is reading poems to Michael Collins. It is a free land. But St Peter shakes his finger and says that my father and I have been found wanting. I think that it is a bit harsh on the Old Man but accept that I have sinned and St Peter ushers us down a little path with a sign marked Purgatory.

As we prepare to enter Purgatory we can hear from inside drunken fools baying about Chariots while other imbeciles belt out the greatest hits of Max Boyce. I feel a tap on the shoulder and it is St Peter.  Fear not he says, suffering the unbearable crowing of both English and Welsh rugby supporters on the same day will not last long. You are only in purgatory for a short while. I smile. But then St Peter adds, it will just feel like eternity.

In the days of my youth the, then, five nations was about playing for a mythical triple crown or a mythical Grand Slam. Being the “Champions” did not come into it. And so for me this year’s event is really over. I hope that Ireland beats Scotland but I do not care about mathematical permutations as to who is Champion? The era of league tables is modern rugby, a business not a sport.

In my youth Ireland only ever competed seriously for the mythical wooden spoon. Occasionally at a windswept and rain sodden Lansdowne Road our grim pack of forwards would grind out a surprise win against somebody. Just now and again an Ollie Campbell or a Tony Ward would emerge and we might run in the odd try from the backs and allow ourselves to dream.  

But Irish rugby has historically been about dreaming, about heroic failure and defeat. The modern era has been a bit of a shock to us all. And so 2015 will be forgotten quickly. We put the arrogant Old Enemy to the sword in Dublin which is always a good thing but in the end we waited 60 years for my father’s second Grand Slam and it is those sort of events that I count my rugby life by.

As to my daughter who has been brought up by her Welsh speaking mother Big Nose to become a total cottage burner, the post-match text was really not appreciated. Beating me at table football last week (being Welsh she cheated) was bad enough, but crowing about the rugby is really very poor form.

My dear daughter, I understand that you and your mother have a chip on your shoulder because you and your countrymen remain the colonial servants of the English and come from a nation of welfare-addicted dwarves who must blame their servility and poverty on everyone but themselves and are thus naturally bitterly jealous of a free and proud nation such as Ireland. I understand that the nation that regards as its cultural icons Shirley Bassie, Aled Jones, Max Boyce and Ruth Madoc from Hi Di Hi, naturally suffers a chronic inferiority complex when it thinks of the nation that produced Wilde, Joyce, Behan, Beckett, Heaney and of course Saint Bob Geldoff.

My dear daughter, and Big Nose, I know that as Islington based Welshies you have romantic notions of life back home but that your hearts must sink every time the train passes the Severn Bridge and you gaze out on estates of grim social housing, where the kids have no shoes, on deserted mines, steel works and on factories that lie empty. And that you wish that your vassal colonial outpost could boast the glories of the wild untamed mountains, fields and bogs of God’s chosen land. 

But really, is this any way to treat your old Dad?

PS If that text was not from you I am sure that Big Nose was crowing anyway and I still have not come to terms with the table football.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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