Woodrow Wilson, Rugby and Self-determination

What connects Woodrow Wilson, me, the UK and Ireland and the Rugby World Cup?  I’m glad you ask.

After spending our honeymoon driving through Ireland, I casually keep up with the news in Ireland, especially with the economic problems in the eurozone threatening to eventually negate the sovereignty of the nations of the EU.  I also check in on the IRFU, the Irish Rugby Football Union, the national Rugby team.  The Rugby World Cup starts 9 September in Auckland, New Zealand.  I know.  It seems weird to hear an Alabaman even mention rugby.  When my wife, Emily, and I went to Ireland earlier this year we sat in a pub in Bunratty watching England and Wales in the Six Nations Cup.  We had no idea what was going on but the bartender took time to try to explain the game to us (since it wasn’t that busy in the pub in early February anyway).  While admittedly still a neophyte when it comes to rugby, I was hooked.  The scrum, the no pads, the fact that it wasn’t soccer (sorry futbol fans).  (If players of American football weren’t allowed the excessive pads, they’d be much less likely to go in leading with their helmets and injuring themselves and others…but that’s another blog for another day.)  While rugby is certainly different from American football, there are enough similarities for me to at least enjoy what I was watching and appreciate the game.

This Sunday, 11 September, Ireland plays the US rugby team.  I’ll be pulling for the IRFU.  I’m not pulling against the US.  It’s not like when I pull for whoever is playing Notre Dame or Ohio State. I’ll also be pulling for the teams of the UK – Wales, England, and Scotland (unless they play Ireland, in which case I’ll be pulling for Ireland).

My ancestors came predominantly from England, Ireland (Ulster), some from Wales and Scotland, and many others from Germany (the German rugby team didn’t make the Rugby World Cup).  There are other reasons I choose not to pull for the US team, but I have nothing against the US team themselves.

There’s one more reason I’ll pull for the Irish.  I’m not Catholic (in fact, I’m Anglican, which makes this even more strange) but draw my admiration and respect for their Easter Rising revolt against British rule.  In April of 1916, Irish republicans rebelled against British rule with the intention of setting up an Irish Republic.  Here is where Woodrow Wilson figures into the equation.  With his rhetoric about making the world “safe for democracy” and wanting the world to exercise self-determination, it would seem that the United States and Woodrow Wilson would have been natural allies for the Irish resistance.  Such was not the case.

Monument to those executed for their role in the Easter Rising of 1916 - Dublin

Through the bars at Kilmainham Gaol

Instead, the Easter Rising was put down within a week, its leaders executed in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin.  James Connolly was injured in the uprising and kept in a hospital until he was healthy enough to be executed (at least healthy enough to be brought into the work yard through a back door and tied to a chair so he could be executed by a firing squad).  It wouldn’t be until 1922 that Ireland would achieve freedom (and self-determination, I might add)…no thanks to Woodrow Wilson.

Woodrow Wilson fought to make the world “safe for democracy” and encourage “self-determination”? Don’t tell the Irish that.


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