Saturday, 12 March 2011

Ash. Willow. Hickory. Ash.

A man, in outdoor sportswear and helmet, addresses a small leather ball - a sliotar. He is performing a side-line cut in a game of hurling. He swings his bat of ash, (which is the length of his leg from the ground to his hip-bone), in a graceful arc, his shoulders following the line of the hills behind him, dipping into the gap between Scalp and Eskaheen (55 degrees North, 7 degrees West) as his bat - his hurley or hurl – arrives under the sliotar in a scything, lifting motion that propels it forward and upwards into the Spring air, dirty white against the china-blue sky, sailing and arcing towards and then between the uprights of the opposition goalpost for a score - a point. It is a moment of skill and grace. The man is modern and mythic. The hurley he wields is strong and supple. Ash.
The wielding of a willow bat - a cricket bat - caused great excitement when Ireland beat England in Bangalore (12 degrees North, 77 degrees East). There is always an extra frisson when Ireland beat England, even in a minority-interest sport like cricket. The colonised prove themselves better than the coloniser at the arcane colonial ritual of field, bat, ball, tea and sandwiches. Of course, the Indians love it, colonised themselves, seeing the underdogs put one over on the favourites, the colonisers. The fact that the England team set beer to chill at half-time in order to celebrate their expected victory added further spice to the upset. One TV commentator made reference to leprechauns and a wave of cultural imperialism welled up. Colonialism has a long tail, for both colonised and coloniser.
The clash of the ash and the thock of the ball on willow resonate through the history of Ireland and England. Bats and balls sound from mythological sagas through Plantation and Ascendancy eras into modern sporting jousts. Baseball bats are a recent arrival and are mainly made of hickory, not a native wood in England or Ireland. Baseball bats are put to a niche, non-sporting use here. Wielding them is more about power than skill and grace and is often a prelude to the arrival of the gun. Baseball bats break knees and arms, bruise backs, bust heads and shatter joints. 
Unlike cricket bats, which appear to cultivate joints. The colonisers' game is played in small pockets across Ireland, mainly by Unionist and Anglo-leaning traditions, by diverse people who proudly wear the garish green one-day cricket outfits with IRELAND emblazoned across the front and who sing Ireland's Call. Players close their dressing room door on the world's media, the searing heat of south India and the dented hubris of their defeated English opponents to sing, in unison, 'the four proud provinces of Ireland.'
Does the joy across Ireland at this cricket victory mean anything more than reflexive internalised colonialism venting briefly? Certainly the sense that people all across Ireland enjoyed the moment is heartening. Will it keep the baseball bats at bay?
The rugby and cricket anthem, Ireland's Call, could it ever be a soccer anthem? And might an Irish language version become a GAA anthem when Ireland play Australia under International Rules?
The soccer people remain partitioned, co-operative with but angled to one another, north and south. The experience of the cricket team in Bangalore (12 degrees North, 77 degrees East) underlines the truth that the sporting chances of a small island are enhanced when the whole island is involved. 
Cricket and the thock of leather on willow sounds across the Irish Sea and through the centuries. The player addresses the sliotar on the green grass. Hurling and the graceful swing of the hurley. Supple and strong. Ash.

1 comment:

  1. Realy like the way you portray the relationship of wood to implement, with more subtle connections between the implement and the reaches of place and history.........especially like, "(it) underlines the truth that the sporting chances of a small island are enhanced when the whole island is involved. "