As a child, I would look forward to my birthday or Christmas even more than I usually did if I knew there was a fair chance I would be the recipient of a new Celtic shirt. Having looked forward to the day for weeks previous, my natural reaction to holding a new set of Hoops in my hands was to put them on and wear them with pride.
Subsequently, I would look to meet my friends and play football in the park near my home in west central Scotland. This became a normal occurrence as the years passed and the Celtic shirts gradually grew bigger (as did their owner). However, another thing which became normal were the words of my mother as I prepared to go out – “make sure you’ve got a jumper with you in case you need to cover up that top”.
It was only as I approached secondary school that questions began to appear in my mind regarding this. Until then, it was simply normality.
Why did I have to be ready to cover up my Celtic shirt when countless other children were able to parade around in the colours of other sides, both foreign and domestic? Why were the colours of green and white a matter of concern in Scotland whilst they were nothing to worry about when I kicked a ball about in Spain?
In fact, as a small child, I can still recall one of my favourite aspects of the occasional holiday abroad was the fact I could wander about outside in my Hoops without fear or fervour.
Nowadays, I understand why this is the case, but back then, I just didn’t get it.
Having only taken my first steps into the 140 character world of Twitter in the early months of 2011, I must say that, prior to that point, I had no knowledge of Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, let alone his work.
“Minority Reporter” is split into three distinct sections, covering the Famine Song and the case of Neil Lennon, before asking whether or not an Irish ethnicity is illicit in “the best small country in the world”.
Scotland is changing, as are the views of the people who live here. Only a few generations ago, people of Irish heritage were treated to infamous signs which read “No Irish Need Apply”, and yet, nowadays, such shows of anti-Irish feeling are often less stark and almost entirely unofficial.
However, simply because a problematic situation has improved superficially does not mean that all of the issues causing it have been dealt with.
In modern times, no employer could be seen to harbour such racist sentiments and receive no form of punishment. Of course, that makes perfect sense. With that in mind though, one wonders why certain individuals, often within crowds, are largely allowed to spout whatever bilious nonsense they like without much fear of similar reprimand.
In this regard, the author’s analytical work is impressive. Mr Mac Giolla Bhain tackles the issue of the Famine Song admirably in the first part of the book, highlighting the blatant contradictions in many of the arguments put forward to defend it, as well as exploring the nuances of the subculture which led to it’s penning and vocalization.
Moving on to the second section, which explores the almost endless torrent of abuse suffered by the now Celtic manager and his family, “Minority Reporter” reminds the reader of the terrible magnitude of what Neil Lennon and his family have gone through since the Millennium.
Yes, I knew of each incident, but to see them all laid out in front of me in black and white concisely remains a startling sight. This section also explores the psyche of those who consider the Irishman a hate figure, in a thoughtful, if disturbingly frank, manner.
The final section of the book is intriguing because it has been written outside of the proverbial goldfish bowl of the west of Scotland. To pose the question of “illicit ethnicity” is easy, but to consider it in detail is much harder. Whilst incidences of racism involving for example, Asians or Eastern Europeans, are rightly condemned in Scotland, incidences of racism towards Irish individuals or those with some form of Irish heritage are often considered to be facts of life, and therefore largely ignored.
In summary, “Minority Reporter” is a very interesting piece from an experienced hand. Thanks to it’s structure, any reader can pick up the book and consume it’s contents in bite size pieces or in large chunks. The chronological layout of each section allows the reader to watch as stories develop and change, as well as giving people like myself a chance to enjoy some of the author’s older articles which some may not have seen before. Introductions to each section also enable the author to expand upon his views, before the aforementioned articles begin.
As is always the case with Phil’s work, “Minority Reporter” is straight to the point and hard hitting in terms of content, but stylistic in nature, and I’m sure there are many people out there who would thoroughly enjoy reading it. I know I did.