An Ode to Joy and a Jolly Good Game

It takes something special to make an Irishman move indoors on a brilliantly sunny afternoon. This is because a sunny afternoon in Ireland is as rare as an Irishman without a sense of humor. There are such Irishmen, but like a hot day on this island, they are worthy of special comment.

Every Irish person needs a sense of humor, especially when overseas visitors say, "Gee, your grass is so wonderfully green." The grass is so green because of the abundance of rain that falls in this fair land all the year round, including summer.

Even this Irishman, however, did not begrudge moving indoors to watch the television final of the rugby World Cup in South Africa recently.

Personally, I find rugby as unintelligible as American football, but this was a particularly riveting final in which the home team, South Africa, was the underdog against the massive and massively talented New Zealand team.

But with enormous self-discipline, the South Africans confounded all the experts and narrowly beat New Zealand in a tense and exciting game.

At the end, there was the joyous sight of the South African president, Nelson Mandela, presenting the World Cup trophy to his country's rugby captain, Francois Pienaar, while the chairman of the World Cup Tournament, my fellow Ulsterman, Sir Ewart Bell, looked on. The symbolism, like the joy itself, was almost tangible. Here was the first black president of South Africa presenting a World Cup title to the white captain of his nation's team, in the presence of an Ulsterman whose own country has known such strife, misunderstanding, and hatred.

Not so long ago, I believed that a peaceful solution would be impossible in South Africa. And for a long time in my deepest thoughts, I wondered whether there would ever be peace in Ireland.

So this was a day for rejoicing, not only for the sporting success of the new multiracial South Africa but also for the hope of an equally cherished prize of peace in Ireland.

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