Is the singing of National Anthems on its way out?

Rask By Rask, 6th Jun 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

Do you remember when the National Anthem was played every day on television and at every cinema screening?

Is the singing of National Anthems on its way out?

The arrival in Great Britain of continual 24 hour a day television broadcasting brought about the demise of a national institution. Those who can remember that far back will recall that after the final programme of the day, somewhere around midnight, the final broadcasting act was the playing of the national anthem; other countries may have followed that tradition too. On screen the BBC usually showed a picture of the Queen, sometimes mounted on a horse, or a shot of a fluttering Union flag while the anthem played everyone up the stairs and off to bed, and I’m quite sure that in many homes people staggered wearily to their feet in respectful homage to Queen and country, even if they lived on their own with no-one to witness their nightly show of allegiance.

Those days are gone, but I can well remember when even in cinemas the main feature did not start until the National Anthem had been played while the gathered crowd stood in the dark. Public events in town halls up and down the country were all prefaced by the Anthem, and in many places in Northern Ireland that still happens as a mark of defiant identity.

In my childhood In 1960s Africa I remember this practice too, and it was widely rumoured (not unreasonably) that government spies attended most cinema screenings to see who stood for the Anthem and who did not, and if you were a non-standing foreigner you were given 24 hours to leave the country. Non-standing Malawians were imprisoned.

However I remember this odd practice which amuses my children no end only because of something that I witnessed a few months ago when staying at a hotel in the Republic of Ireland. The hotel was a noisy one, with children pretending loudly to be fire engines in the corridors late at night while their parents drank even more loudly in the bar.

There was no way my wife and I could have gone to bed until the noise died down so we decided in spite of extreme fatigue that we had no choice but to join the noise makers. The parents in the bar that is, not the children in the corridor.

It wasn’t so bad. The bar was fairly crowded and a diddely-dee band was playing. The songs were generally Irish versions of “Mama got drunk and drowned herself in the river” Country and Western dirges which are not to my taste, but there was an infectiousness about the crowds enjoyment. People joined in the singing, called out for favourites, and got up to dance. They seemed to be settled in for a long session so we got our drinks in and settled down for a long wait.

The atmosphere was warm and friendly. Kids ran in and out of the place to check their parents were still around and parents ran out and in to check their kids were still around, and everyone was part of a big family crowd. There were no representatives of the 18 - 30 age group except for the bar staff.

A number of whiskeys later and the atmosphere changed. The lights were turned up to their full brightness, the bar staff threw cloths over the beer pumps and came from behind the bar to line up in front of it like something out of Riverdance. I assumed they were getting ready to do a jig for us. The band started playing and the entire room got to its feet, leaving me thinking that this was the last dance of the night, and I started to look forward to sleep.

However things were not as I imagined them to be. I wondered why the dancing couples were not moving but standing stiffly, hands at their sides, chests out and chins up, and then they started to sing. Slowly I began to register what the familiar tune was and struggled to my feet pulling up my bewildered wife with me just as the crowd arrived at the last line of the Soldier’s Song, the Irish National Anthem.


Hotel In Ireland, Irish Republic, National Anthem, Patriotism

Meet the author

author avatar Rask
I'm Irish.
I've been around.
I believe.
I read Graham Greene and Hemingway.
I listen to Leonard Cohen and Opera.
I watch Italian films.
Married with kids.

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
6th Jun 2011 (#)

Very well written. I think its a good thing that the practice of singing national anthems at the drop of a hat are becomimng a thing of the past. Patriotism breeds nationalism, nationalism breeds hate, hate breeds war. Wasn't it H. L. Menken who said "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels."?

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author avatar Songbird B
6th Jun 2011 (#)

Nicely written article, Rask, as always. I do enjoy your take on life..

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author avatar James R. Coffey
6th Jun 2011 (#)

Particular national anthems, or all countries' anthems? Every major sporting event in the US begins with the national anthem.

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7th Jun 2011 (#)

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author avatar Denise O
8th Jun 2011 (#)

I am old enough to remember the playing the American national anthem at the end of broadcasting, each night. Nice read. Thank you for sharing.:)

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