“Cultural terrorists”, Alan Partridge and “Up the RA”

It has been an interesting week for free speech where the Irish are concerned.  On 21 March, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland rejected a complaint about a discussion on the Tonight show on TV3, alleging that the presenter had used the phrase “cultural terrorists” to describe people interested in the Irish language. The discussants included a prominent Irish speaker. The topic was whether Irish should remain a compulsory language in Irish schools.

The broadcaster’s view was that the presenter had used the phrase to kick-start the debate, as a way of playing devil’s advocate. Thereafter, all the participants were given an opportunity to state their views. The complaint was rejected. It is interesting that no one suggested that the word “terrorists” was offensive per se.

Moving from serious discussion to comedy, Steve Coogan’s reboot of his Alan Partridge persona on BBC1 – This Time with Alan Partridge – included a skit on two republican songs that might have been expected to give offence, especially when the inquest into the Birmingham pub bombing is currently sitting. The songs were “Come Out Ye Black And Tans” and “The Men Behind The Wire”, made famous by the Wolfe Tones.

The first begins:

I was born on a Dublin street where the royal drums did beat,
And those loving English feet they tramped all over us,
And each and every night when me father came home tight
He’d invite the neighbours outside with this chorus

Come out ye Black and Tans, come out and fight me like a man,
Show your wife how you won medals down in Flanders,
Tell them how the IRA made you run like hell away
From the green and lovely lanes of Killashandra.

The second begins:

Armoured cars and tanks and guns
Came to take away our sons
But every man will stand behind
The Men Behind the Wire

Through the little streets of Belfast
In the dark of early morn
British soldiers came marauding
Wrecking little homes with scorn. 

Heedless of the crying children
Dragging fathers from their beds
Beating sons while helpless mothers
Watched the blood flow from their heads

Coogan’s Partridge character responds by saying: “Oh my God, that was like an advert for the IRA.” Cue no outrage at all. There are further layers of irony: Coogan’s mother is Irish, while the Wolfe Tones claim that their rebel songs are still banned from RTÉ radio.

This lack of outrage suggests that TV audiences are rather more discerning than Twitter mobs and sundry complainers give them credit for.

The free speech casualty of the week was the 20 year old footballer Declan Rice, who now plays for West Ham. Rice’s grandparents were Irish.

Predictably, some Social media snitch(es) spotted that aged 16, he had sent an Instagram post to a mate in the Ireland Under-17 team which read: “Up the ‘RA”, followed by some emojis.

Tush and dearie me.

Rice dutifully apologised. The Daily Mail no less (!) hastened to point out that of course Rice had not been speaking literally.  Well, of course he hadn’t. In fact, there is a well-known Rubber Bandits’ song called “Up the ‘RA” released in 2008. Its chorus is:

Ooh, aah! Up the Ra!
Ooh, aah! Up The Ra!
Ooh, aah! Up The Ra!

Paul McGrath, take off your bra!
Ooh, aah! Up The Ra!
Ooh, aah! Up The Ra!
Ooh, aah! Up The Ra!
Cantona, you’re a spa!

The Bandits – as anyone in Ireland can tell you – are a satirical hip hop duo, who shot to fame in Ireland with a song called “Horse Outside” in 2011. In response to Rice’s moment in hot water, the Bandits’ Twitter account commented on 22 March 2019:

Declan rice could have literally said he was referencing our song “Up Da Ra” and saved himself a lot of trouble

On 17 May 2018, their Twitter feed had commented:

When I say up the ra. I’m piss taking. I’m ripping the piss out of the phrase itself. I also say “god bless “a lot . I wrote a song called up the ra that outlines it. I’m absolutely not Supporting them

And on February 21 2018, it said:

When Irish people say “up da Ra” nowadays. It doesn’t really mean that. It’s a post ironic gesture of Irishness that has nowt to do with the actual IRA or what they did

What is satire? It is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the useof “humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize prevailing immorality or foolishness, esp. as a form of social or political commentary”.

Do the Irish have a particular gift for, or tolerance of satire, piss-taking and general mayhem?

There may be some truth in this. After all, Ireland has produced (to name but some) Goldsmith, Sheridan, Swift, Wilde, Shaw, Beckett, Brendan Behan, Flann O’Brien, Father Ted and the Bandits themselves.

But by writing in English, they also form a mainstream of English comic tradition. Like it or not, the British cannot expunge their Irish side.