It was one of those days when my bones didn’t warm up so I stopped by the Harbour Inn knowing the fire would be burning bright. As I turned my back on the hot embers a couple sitting close by made a comment about the dip in temperature. Their thick Yorkshire accent prompted me to ask if they were on holidays. “Oh, Yes but I’m from Donegal myself.” His partner laughed and interjected, “He left when he was two but he never fails to rubber stamp his identity.” “Well you couldn’t rubberstamp it at a better time,” I laughed and then we were off, reliving that magic moment all over again… the moment when the final whistle shrilled out across Croke Park sending out a red alert message to the world. Donegal are the Champions.
I doubt if anyone actually heard the whistle but the message was clear from the thunderous roar that erupted in every corner of the globe. ‘Donegal IS DNA. Donegal doesn’t belong to us. We belong to Donegal.’ A game of football had rubberstamped our identity once again! What an incredible message to rush through the veins of our children, our young people, our emigrants and expatriates! Be proud of your identity!
When I first came to live in Inishowen I realized for the first time that I had learned to suppress my identity. Growing up in the North in the seventies and eighties and coming from rural Tyrone with an address and a surname that questioned my beliefs, my values, my neighbours and what foot I kicked with didn’t really help to nurture my identity. It only seemed to bring attention to me wherever I went. The wrong kind of attention. It was difficult at school. The uniform and the bus I travelled on give me away. You just got used to the name calling. At university I rarely offered my sir name and was vague about where exactly I came from. While travelling I was the one that would be pulled in at the side of the road or at security in every airport I ever travelled through to be searched and searched again. I learned to keep my identity low key. …until I wanted to tell everyone I was from Tyrone. Football played a big part in that and the county team’s achievements in Clones and Croke Park give me permission to celebrate and be proud of where I came from.
We should always have a sense of place and be proud of where we come from regardless of the times that we live in or the difficulties we face. In a year when we have had to swallow the news that there will be no new roads or new schools and very few new jobs in the foreseeable future, isn’t it magically that we are all going round on a high? A rubber ball has put Donegal on the map again and I am so proud to identify with my adopted county, a place I call home.
When the Donegal man with the Yorkshire accent got up to leave he said, “I can live in other places. I can even love other places. But something in me says ‘home’ when I am in Donegal.”
I smiled knowingly and turned my face to the fire to warm my hands, feeling snug and warm, but something is niggling me. Due to the luck of the draw my identity is being tested again! What unearth am I going to wear next year when Tyrone meets Donegal in the first round!!!!!!!
© Aileen McGee