Although the story of David Healy’s flute gesture is getting a little moldy it has generated enough discourse to deserve another mentioning here. The interesting thing about this flute gesture is how it is part of the history of the Northern Ireland sectarian conflicts. Sensitive catholic Irish republicans will get inflamed over the gesture while others have no idea what the problem is.

Healy Mimicks Playing the Flute
David Healy making the flute gesture. (source)

Orangist Marching Band
These flute bands on Orangist marches are what the gesture refers to.

Get a glimpse of the triumphalist nature of these marches

By coincidence I am currently reading ‘The Irish War’ by Tony Geraghty. He sketches a long and messy conflict which has gone on for more than 300 years. It is clear that these marches are of an inflammatory nature, and therefore a gesture that refers to them is also inflammatory. It is not just a merry band of flute-playing men. They celebrate Orangist protestant dominance in Northern Ireland at the expense of the catholic part of the population.

The conflict carried over to a Scottish football match called ‘the Old Firm’ between the Rangers (protestant) and Celtic (catholic), see this nice historical overview by the BCC. Many Irish people moved to Scotland and brought the conflict with them. Paul Gasoigne made the mistake of making this gesture while he played for the Rangers and paid a heavy fine of 20.000 pounds.

Gascoigne does the flute gesture
Paul Gascoigne made the same flute gesture during the old firm (Picture: BBC News)

David Healy was not playing for the Rangers, in fact I don’t think he ever did, but he is known as a Rangers fan. He is from Northern Ireland and he plays in their national side. However, in this game Healy was playing for Fulham (an English club) in a friendly match against Celtic, which sets the context for the gesture. Healy was ‘provoked’ by the Celtic fans who knew his sympathies and chanted ‘where were you on The Twelfth‘ (a reference to an important march on the twelfth of July). In response, he seems to have made this gesture somewhat jokingly. The strange thing is that he seems to be escaping the sort of fine Gascoigne got. Why is that? Was Gazza perceived as doing it to inflame Celtic supporters whereas Healy was just fooling around? I think many people will take it more seriously than that. As always happens with sportsmen making inappropriate gestures, Healy is now apologizing and his club is investigating. It wouldn’t surprise me if a fine came soon.

The Orange Order
What Irish Political Pundits have to say about it
A similar incident at Belfast Zoo, involving a panda.
CNN reports about the Orange Order marching season

Update: I think an important difference between Healy and Gascoigne is that the latter played for the Rangers who were at that time trying to defuse a tense situation. Gascoigne’s gesture was hurting that effort.