Irish journalists were out for blood earlier this month. Questions needed answering — but questions about what? The 11,754 homeless Irish citizens? Inflation at 8.5 percent? The prime minister leaking state documents to pals?
No. A lady boxer gaffed on Twitter.
By Jaysus, she was going to pay. To make matters worse, the pugilist in question, Kellie Harrington, looked perfect on paper as a working-class Dubliner and a lesbian to boot. Where did it all go wrong?
To solve that riddle, one must understand that the fighting Irish are an endangered species. The few who are roaming wild in the homeland are unwelcome, but it’s a well-kept secret. Foreigners — particularly Irish Americans — cherish a romantic notion that The Quiet Man was essentially a documentary. Unearned street cred is nice, and most Irish traveling abroad like to imply that the auld sod remains as wild as the days of Donnybrook Fair.
In fact, since joining the Eurozone in 1999, Ireland has luxuriated in the nanny state’s embrace — a grip that is turning gradually into a stranglehold. If the pandemic was the global managerial class’s “come to Jesus” moment, then Ireland answered the call by imposing one of Europe’s most draconian lockdowns.
And nanny hates when children play rough — especially poor ones. It’s particularly galling for Irish swells that the most famous Irishman alive is professional mixed martial artist Conor “Notorious” McGregor. In a world where everyone is self-censoring, it’s not surprising that a swaggering rooster described by commentator Joe Rogan as “the greatest s**t-talker of all time” has transcended his sport to become a pop-culture icon like Muhammad Ali or tennis player John McEnroe.
If Irish attitudes to boxing divide along class lines, then mixed martial arts is truly beyond the pale. In the year that McGregor was the world’s highest-paid athlete, the Irish Sports Council refused to recognize MMA as a sport. Shane Ross, who was then the Irish sports minister, promised to muzzle cage fighters with regulation “to ensure it is as safe as any other sport.”
Like another famous deplorable, McGregor sells papers, and so the Irish Times publishes regular hatchet jobs alongside fawning profiles of rugby stars like Johnny Sexton. Never mind that the Rugby Football Union says that concussion rates at the elite level have never been higher. Rugby is the establishment’s game of choice. Its stars attended the same boarding schools. Their wives use the same D4 Botox clinics.
Notorious naysayers say that this double standard is a matter of principle, not snobbery. They drop innuendoes about McGregor’s private life, which my lawyers insist that I can only describe as “colorful.” But long before the whispering campaign, Official Ireland had convicted McGregor of being from the wrong postcode.
A female boxer punching through the glass ceiling makes for safer headlines and better fits the mood of Tolerant Ireland. Remarkably enough, Kellie Harrington — the woman who found herself trending this month for all the wrong reasons — was Ireland’s second female champ in a decade. (RELATED: Killing Women’s Sports)
Time will tell, but her predecessor, Katie Taylor, is probably the more complete fighter. One of only eight boxers of either sex to hold all four major belts at once, Taylor has clever feet, a tidy hook, and Zen monk discipline. Shane Ross, the MMA-hating sports minister, became a national joke by photobombing Taylor when she flew back to Ireland in 2019 as Lightweight World Champion. It’s easy to see why politicians craved contact with Taylor — she was widely respected and extremely reserved, making her the antithesis of Conor “Notorious” McGregor. This humility initially hamstrung promoters, but her craft and guts in the ring gradually won over doubters.
Aside from a few grizzled sports hacks, the progressive tribe that dominates Irish media evidenced no appreciation of Taylor’s skill. Only her sex mattered. It vexed them that, in interviews, Taylor resisted feminist framing and invariably ascribed her victories to God. On RTÉ, Ireland’s national public broadcaster, her religious faith was a subject of nervous jokes. A practicing Christian is something that tolerant Ireland cannot tolerate.
A sigh of relief was almost audible from the cocktail set when a new female boxer — and a gay one, too! — emerged from the mean streets of Northside Dublin. And what a back story — Kellie Harrington was working as a cleaner in a psychiatric hospital when she won the gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That’s some Rocky s**t right there.
And therein lay the problem. Harrington comes from the class most affected by a particular government policy — go on, guess — about which certain things must never be said aloud. Harrington was competing at the European Boxing Championships last winter when she heard breaking news about Lola Daviet, the 12-year-old French girl who was raped, tortured, murdered, and dumped in a suitcase in Paris. An obviously upset Harrington tweeted that Lola “was sacrificed on the altar of mass migration.”
And with that, as the Joker meme goes, everyone lost their minds.
The mob piled on. After the media got bored and went back to threatening J.K. Rowling, Harrington’s publicists got to work. The offending tweet was deleted. Mea culpas were issued. All was forgotten until journalist Shane Hannon resurrected the controversy in an interview earlier this month. He teed it up by telling Harrington that she had “strongly held views on immigration” before asking, “Are those opinions you still feel strongly about?”
Kellie Harrington discussed her deleted tweet on immigration on #OTBAM. pic.twitter.com/cerleODJNa
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) March 27, 2023
Harrington would have been entitled to say that her only strongly held views relate to girls being murdered. She’s against it, I gather. But a gifted fighter can see a sneaky jab coming before it’s thrown. Mindful of her sponsorships and aware that she was being invited to douse herself in petrol and light a match, she firmly shut Hannon down, saying that she was “not here to talk about politics.”
The Irish fourth estate soon worked itself into a self-righteous lather. Shane Hannon achieved Woodward and Bernstein status among fellow hacks — until the inevitable moment when one of his intrepid colleagues trawled his old tweets and found that he once used a word that nice people don’t use anymore.
American readers will be wearily familiar with this cycle of tattletale chasing. British readers experienced it repeatedly in the years before the Brexit referendum. At first, it was just footballers, boxers, and reality show contestants. Then it was anyone daft enough to suggest on camera that immigration might have any negative effects or limits.
That’s how you keep the plebs in line. If they don’t apologize, call them bigots. If they do apologize, call them bigots again. If they object, get them fired. They kept it up long enough to tear the U.K. apart. They still do it. This treadmill runs forever. What are the chances that anyone brave enough to step into a ring or octagon or to raise a family on minimum wage is going to censor themselves? Zero.
The one unasked question is this: Who cares? I don’t know boxer Mike Tyson’s opinion of trickle-down economics, but I do know that I’m not interested in his opinion. If “Iron Mike” was ever a role model, he was a role model for how to efficiently beat up people who beat up people for a living — and nothing else.
When the fictional hero Conan the Barbarian was asked what makes life worth living, he spoke from the heart: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” It’s not a policy that I would like to see widely enacted, but, by Crom, it’s how a barbarian should sound. Good thing Conan didn’t have a Twitter account!
READ MORE by Aidan Harte: