The Police are on the hunt for a dangerous gang, whose crime is – singing a traditional song.
The press have been reticent about naming the song in question but fans were Rangers supporters and it was the ‘Go Home Song’ otherwise called ‘the Famine Song’; a ditty which has for some years had the police and courts all of a flutter. The tune alone when played has caused apoplexy although it is a very popular song in the Bahamas (‘the John B Sails’).
The Famine Song can be hard-hitting, so I am not going to quote it all here, but it is not half as bad as songs belted out in stadiums elsewhere in the land (if you are of a sensitive disposition, do not listen to what is sung at Norwich City supporters, or between East End teams). Rangers’ song is a deliberate wind-up song aimed at Celtic. The High Court itself in an appeal from the sheriff ruled upon singers of the song, condemning them for a public order offence.
Perhaps they should have considered more deeply than the faux outrage of insulted Celtic fans. After all, a court of law must recognise that Athenry Mike was indeed a thief. Whether Large John was in fact fully briefed is an ongoing controversy, but that is another story. While that wee traitor from Castlemilk did turn his back on his own, going to play for Ireland instead of Scotland, it is only ‘traitorous’ in football terms, not legally, but we’re singing about football. The killer, for the court was not the verses about Glasgow Celtic’s great scandal and the misdeeds of the Irish Free State; it is the chorus lines, ending “Why don’t you go home?” Apparently that is an existential threat to all persons of Irish ancestry in Scotland.
A bit of background may be needed.
The man who wrote the song is no hot sectarian- he is an Ulsterman, born in a robust city, Belfast, and who grew up with good pals in both communities. He saw the sectarian divide yawning and growing in Ulster: to see it replicated in Glasgow was distressing. In fact there has been a divide in Glasgow since the ships landed in a fiercely Protestant city and disgorged thousands of left-footed Irishmen, but as it should have calmed down in the later end of the twentieth century, it was growing worse, as an echo of Ulster’s troubles. The song-writer has explained the circumstances leading to his writing it. It was a kick-back response to the sectarians on the other side.
Trying to be more Irish than the Irish is a fault of many living this side of the sea looking back at a mythical past. (I try not to, but the Irish name was lost a couple of generations back so it does not leap out of the page.) The songs sung by Glasgow Celtic supporters were not, are not, direct attack songs, but sentimental songs of Irish nationalism, like the Fields of Athenry alluded to in the Rangers song. Really, the song condemned by the High Court in Rangers supporters’ mouths is not “the famine sing” as if it were the only one – Irish voices and would-be-Irish voices have many songs romanticising the potato famine and blaming all things British for it – that sounds like an attack upon the good citizens of Glasgow to me.
The “go home song” then is a response to the actual famine songs: it says “How much more ungrateful could you be for what your city did for your ancestors?” It does not delight in the dark chapters of modern history, but raises them to burst the bubble of sickly romanticism.
Rage at perceived injustice takes on an irrationality beyond the facts raged against; something we see in many social conflicts of politics, culture, religion or whatever, and reason will not calm the waters but only raise the tumult. I can write my take on the thing, and others will disagree, virulently. They are entitled to, and I can debate or seek nuances and find the common ground or each person’s ideas and unique emphases, because that is how a free and respectful society must work – not with cancellations and bans. You are free to be outraged too, and free to be outrageous.
Therefore, in the name of freedom, let them sing what they like and to mean the words how they like.
As to the line which so shocked Lord Carloway and even UNICEF, I see that as a challenge to the ‘Plastic Paddies’, those who are Glaswegian through and through and still pretend, on the terraces, to be Irishmen: ‘Why don’t you go home?’ has an answer: ‘because you are not Irishmen – you are Glaswegian – and this is your home.’