Northern Ireland

DUP Mayor cheers on Loughgiel Shamrocks' hurlers

The DUP Mayor of Ballymoney will be cheering on the club his late grandfather played for in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final at Croke Park.

Cllr Ian Stevenson watched Loughgiel Shamrocks win their semi-final in Dublin and has now discovered a family link with the club.

His grandfather, Sam O'Neill, played for Loughgiel Shamrocks in the 1920s.

Cllr Stevenson said he will take his seat for the anthems before the game.

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson recently attended his first GAA game but arrived after 'The Soldier's Song' was played.

Sports Minister Carol Ni Chuilin watched Northern Ireland's football team play at Windsor Park last year and also took her seat after the anthems.

But Cllr Stevenson said he had no problem standing for the Republic's national anthem at Croke Park on St Patrick's Day.

"Whatever country I am in I will respect their national anthem just the same way I would expect that a nationalist in Northern Ireland would stand for 'God Save The Queen', though they strongly object to it," he said.

Image caption Ballymoney Mayor Ian Stevenson will stand for the Soldier's Song before the All-Ireland hurling final

"At the end of the day, I am confident in my own identity and belief that I should be able to respect others, even though I strongly disagree with them, so long as those beliefs are peaceful and are peacefully held."

Family ties

Cllr Stevenson was the first unionist elected to Ballymoney Borough Council to attend a Loughgiel game and afterwards he discovered his family link to the club.

"I was told my grandfather on my mother's side, the late Sam O'Neill, who was a member of the Church of Ireland, played hurling for Loughgiel in 1926-27," said Cllr Stevenson.

"Only after investigation have I been able to confirm this but I also found out that I have further out relatives associated with the the current camogie team in Loughgiel, who I met earlier in the year.

"I believe it was because it was the only sport that the young people of the area were playing so that is why he got involved.

"I would be surprised, after many centuries together, if many people, even the staunchest ones, didn't find a few surprises in their history.

"I said when I was made Mayor I will be Mayor for all in the borough and I will be back on St Patrick's Day to attend the Loughgiel game.

"It is good to see a team from the Ballymoney borough doing so well in sport and yet another example of the high level of sporting achievement in the borough and in Northern Ireland as a whole."