Tuesday, December 22, 2015

McGregor Rising

I was around eight years old when I saw 1916 Dublin depicted in a TV offshoot of the Indiana Jones saga, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. It was one of my favourite programmes, probably because it coloured my young mind with things masculine and militaristic. And when this was fused with an historical event that had actually happened in Ireland, I was transfixed. It was the first time I'd heard of the Easter Rising. 

I'm nearly thirty now. And although I'm the same, things have changed. Yes I still think guns and rebellions are cool, but I've also delved a little deeper into things. A few years ago I wrote a blog entry that asked on what grounds people could claim pride in being Irish. I'm not sure I feel quite the same now. But I'm still an uncomfortable side-taker, normally too full of analysis to get down off the fence. (Don't vote for me)

Of course there is one realm that invites even the most uncertain of us to be part of the flag waving group. And things are good in Irish sport. Our footballers have qualified for the European Championship, which makes up for the familiar false dawn of the Rugby World Cup. We also have boxers vying for Olympic glory next summer right? How are the cricketers doing these days? Does Rory Mcilroy still think he's British?

No need for that. Something else has come along. While not being an expert on mixed martial arts, I'm pretty sure Conor McGregor is “the” ultimate fighter. All the experts say so. And anything I've seen of him in action suggests as much. Yes he has an almighty ego, but only because he needs to. Anyone doing what he does needs to draw from mental reservoirs overflowing with self-belief. Quite simply, he wouldn't be as good otherwise.

Honestly though, what I really like about Conor McGregor is how Irish he is. It's something that he refers to regularly. He's even got The Foggy Dew playing over an entrance draped in green, white and orange. It's all very bombastic. Such is the big and bold world of professional sport in America.

Of course, despite McGregor's ability and strength of character, the brutality of UFC is something that can't be ignored. But even though it's not always easy to watch, these fighters embody fitness, technique, focus and discipline like few other athletes. It's not for young children, but it's most definitely a sport.

In fact, it's precisely the danger of UFC that makes Conor McGregor even more interesting. Watching a proud Irishman ruthlessly dispose of his opponents with precision is indeed alluring. It challenges what might be one of our biggest insecurities, that, when all is said and done, we are best known for “having the craic” with pints Guinness on St Patrick's Day.

In the aforementioned Indiana Jones' episode, a young Séan O'Casey questions the protagonist upon hearing him sing a bar of "When Irish eyes are happy". "Indy" tells him he's been to the theatre, whereupon O'Casey presumes he's been treated to a painfully cliché depiction of Ireland laden with shamrocks and shillelaghs. 

"What's wrong with that" asks Indy. 

"Everything" replies O'Casey. "Because it's a phoney. And a lie. The kind of thing that makes us a laughing stock."

'Look at the Irish aren't they a scream'" he jibes sarcastically. 

"It makes my blood boil. Because I am an Irishman."

It's ironic that in sifting through an Americanisation of Irish history, I find one of the best descriptions of my own national frustration. I should also mention that O'Casey himself turned out to be one of the Rising's biggest detractors. Nonetheless, Easter 1916 represents an Irishness that is still so seductive. Maybe it's why we're so preoccupied by it 100 years later. And maybe it's also why Conor McGregor is so appealing. Because, in a strange way, he embodies the same idea of Ireland as a force to be reckoned with.

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