LEINSTER and Ireland winger Adam Byrne has spoken of his experiences of racism in Ireland and while he says those ‘experiences have been 99 percent positive’ he still feels that as a country we could be doing more.
Byrne grew up in Kill, and played underage GAA for Kildare, and wrote on www.leinsterrugby.ie that he always felt a connection to both Irish and black culture.
“I was born in Ireland, raised by my mom and my adoptive father, with my half-brother and sister. I had a great upbringing in a loving family – I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“Having lived in Ireland my whole life, I’ve mainly only experienced Irish culture, but on the other hand, I also feel a sense of belonging to the black community and black culture. It’s something that’s very hard to articulate but I feel a connection with both.
“The big thing for me is, Ireland’s been great for me. My experiences have been 99 percent positive. I see myself as a really positive person. It’s just there are some remarks and you do feel it. It chips away. It’s little things.”
The fact that it took the murder of George Floyd to bring the discussion surrounding race and equality back into the public consciousness again disappoints Byrne but he thinks that it can be a moment that sparks a permanent change.
“From now on I hope that this is a point where we move forward – everyone’s treated equally. It would grind at me hearing any other race or culture being stereotyped or slagged. I believe in equality.
“At the moment, it’s the black community that is in the spotlight. It’s not about wanting to be treated better than anyone else, it’s about being treated equally and for everyone to feel equal.
“But moving forward from this point there needs to be a sense of awareness. It’s not going to happen overnight. I hope that everyone can be treated equally from now on and that people are held accountable.
“I hope it’s not just something that’s short-lived on Instagram. I’d like to stay positive and think ‘now is the point where we move forward’.”
His experiences in sport with Leinster and Ireland have meant he has seen many cultures and he sees that as one of his club’s best assets.
“I’ve never been prouder in my life than when I represented Ireland, firstly at underage and eventually at senior level. To wear the green jersey and sing the national anthem is something that I’ll never, ever forget. That was a big thing for me. I’ll never forget that day, the number of messages I got from people.
“In Leinster, we have a lot of cultures: South African, Samoan, Fijian, New Zealand, Australian. It’s something that Leinster have always been great at, incorporating everyone. Obviously, we have such a strong identity of people from Leinster representing the province. It’s the club I dreamed of playing for. The sense of identity is so strong, but also so welcoming to other cultures.
“I’ve never, ever experienced any issues in Leinster, from the colour of my skin or my background. I’m just judged on how I play rugby and how I am as a person, from teammates to backroom staff and coaches.
“The rugby community is great. With Leinster, you’re playing against a lot of teams in Europe. With the Ireland Sevens and underage, you’re playing against other nationalities, or you’re experiencing a lot of cultures. I’ve never experienced any kind of racism or any issues like that playing rugby.”
Byrne finished his powerful piece by saying reaffirming his desire for the momentum that has been built up to not just be a passing fad.
“Hopefully, this is sustained and it’s not just a few hashtags or posts on Instagram and then it fades away. I hope, from this point forward, it’s something everyone is aware of and we can make some little steps of change. I look forward to seeing how we progress.”