Monday, 3 June 2013

No peanuts, no Jimmy Carter,
just Lansdowne on my mind

The new stadium is impressive, but Lansdowne Road was not packed for last night’s match between the Republic of Ireland and Georgia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

Georgia was on my mind yesterday. But there was no Jimmy Carter, no peanuts, no Savannah, Augusta or Atlanta, no Gone with the Wind, The Color Purple, Driving Miss Daisy or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and no Ray Charles singing Hoagy Carmichael’s Georgia on My Mind.

The nearest I got to that Georgia last night was a few empty Coca Cola bottles and peanut bags strewn beside the seating at what is now being called the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

No, instead this was Georgia of the Caucasus Mountains, the Georgia of Colchis, the Georgia that might like to forget Stalin, and the Georgia that is not Georgia at all.

The name Georgia is an exonym. In the English language we call many countries and their people by names the inhabitants do not use themselves. Examples of English exonyms in Europe include Germany, Greece and Hungary, the names we give Deutschland, Hellas and Magyarország. And Georgia is another one: the people of Georgia call their country Sakartvelo.

There was no comparison between the two teams last night. But in size and population Georgia compares with the Republic of Ireland: Georgia has 69,700 sq km, and almost 4.7 million people; the Republic of Ireland has 70,273 sq km and 4.6 million people.

Children hold the flags of Georgia and the Republic of Ireland … and ‘Davy Keogh Says Hello’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

There was a low turnout in the stadium last night for the match, and while I could see a few white flags with red Saint George’s crosses, in the middle of the Mexican waves I could hear no-one encouragingly shouting: “Come on Georgia.” Or, for that matter: “Come on Sakartvelo.” Although I almost dhear a few voices trying to sing along with the Georgian anthem, Tavisupleba (Freedom).

Indeed, it is interesting that the flag of Georgia looks so like the flag of England; after all, Georgia traces its Christianity back not to Saint George but to Saint Andrew the Apostle. The Georgian Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient Churches, and claims apostolic foundation by Saint Andrew. In the first half of the 4th century, Christianity became the state religion of Iberia (present-day Kartli, or Eastern Georgia), following the mission work of Saint Nino of Cappadocia. There is even a small Georgian Orthodox Church in Dublin, using Saint Mary’s Church on Bloomfield Avenue, Donnybrook, and served by an Irish-born Priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, Father David Lonergan.

And if that was not enough to confuse and befuddle me, imagine how confused I was inside the stadium last night.

This was my first time back inside Lansdowne Road I was one of 48,000 fans at the last match in Lansdowne Road, when Leinster beat Ulster 20-12. The old stadium closed that day and was demolished.

I looked around last night, and was confused. Where was the Havelock Square end? Without the old Wanderers and Lansdowne pavilions, how could I know which end was which?

They wanted to rename Saint James’ Park in Newcastle, rebranding it as the Sports Direct Arena. It was a failed effort.

Call it Georgia or call it Sakartvelo … but please, don’t call this stadium Aviva. It will always be Lansdowne Road to me.

A friendly warning to would-be parkers on Waterloo Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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