We need a serious discussion on racism as well as John Mitchel
I WOULD safely say few if any members of Castlebar Mitchels - and they have a membership which numbers over 750 - have even heard of John Mitchel, let alone being aware of his past history as an advocate of slavery and a self-confessed racist.
One or two historians have urged clubs associated with John Mitchel to consider changing their name.
I’m not so sure that such a move would be the right one but it surely would be no harm for clubs to have a discussion on the man their club is linked with.
Some 10 GAA clubs in Ireland, and some in Britain, have associations with John Mitchel and one such club who find themselves in the eye of this particular story is Castlebar Mitchels, who were founded the same year as the GAA itself - 1884.
I have delved into the history of Castlebar Mitchels and I think it is fair to say the founding fathers were unaware of John Mitchel’s views towards slavery in particular when they decided to give the club his name.
Many clubs have associated themselves with Irish patriots and nationalists such as Robert Emmett, Wolfe Tone and Padraig Pearse, to mention a few, but none of them held the views of John Mitchel, who advocated the right to own a slave and vigourously resisted the move to abolish slavery and the slave trade from Africa and other countries in particular.
The issue has created a lot of discussion, particularly on social media, but from my assessment it would seem that there are a lot more people leaning towards no change in the name of the club.
They have some strong points to back up such an argument given the history of Castlebar Mitchels, which is one of the leading GAA clubs in the country with a very proud tradition.
We can’t change what has happened in the past - almost 150 years ago in this case - but there can be no harm in having a discussion on the matter, and learning from the past can only be good for the future.
The Mitchels club embraces all different cultures and included in their membership are numerous boys and girls, men and women, from various ethnic groups.
The club, and the GAA in general, have taken on board the amount of racist abuse that goes on in sport and while it still unfortunately takes place, a lot is being done to weed out those who engage in racist abuse at sporting events, including those under the umbrella of the GAA.
A lot of attitudes and perceptions need changing and raising this John Mitchels issue might yet turn out to be a favour given the current climate following the killing of George Floyd in police custody.
The Mitchels club is part of the social fabric of the town of Castlebar and part of the wider community, a community whose members, old and young, have served the club on the and off the field since its foundation and are proud to be part of the GAA culture at club level and county level.
It would also be wrong that those who play under the banner of Castlebar Mitchels or who are associated with the club in any shape or form should be in any way blamed for something they surely had no knowledge of.
I expect the executive of Castlebar Mitchels will be holding a meeting in the not-too-distant future to discuss the issue and perhaps at some date in the future, when the more pressing matter of the Covid-19 pandemic eases, there may be a broad discussion among members, not just on John Mitchel but on the whole topic of racism, which it seems is pretty rampant in this country.
Joe Duffy's recent show on RTÉ highlighted many issues concerning racist attacks not just on black people, but also on those from various ethnic groups who continue to be the target for some vile racists abuse.