The Healing Power Of Sport: The Open Returns To Northern Ireland After 68 Years

The Healing Power Of Sport: The Open Returns To Northern Ireland After 68 Years
12:00, 17 Jul 2019

Peace is, as ever, precarious. Like an artisan mirror, so thoughtfully and delicately crafted, but with the potential to be shattered in an instant, stability in Northern Ireland is still yet to be taken as given. 

Since power-sharing collapsed in 2017, the devolved government at Stormont has been in lockdown. While talks have begun afresh in the last month, the six counties are essentially still managed by civil servants, insofar as anything gets done at all.  

That does not mean, however, that there are not reasons to be hopeful. For three decades, hope did not live here. 

Now, days on from the most incident-free Twelfth of July in memory – with the PSNI confirming just eight arrests were made - the Open returns to the region for the first time in 68 years. A beacon – not a bonfire, as it were – of optimism and a welcome reminder of how far Northern Ireland has come. 

Portrush will host Championship matches between the 18th-21st July as Francesco Molinari goes in search of back-to-back majors. 

Yet just as it did for Fred Daly in 1951, when the winner’s pot was just £300, an Open on home territory has special significance for Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, and Graeme McDowell.

Portrush is familiar to four-time major winner McIlroy, though it is not a course he has played much in recent years. 

Clarke will tee off first and as the oldest of the three Northern Irish competitors, he has some of the most vivid memories of the Troubles. 

The 50-year-old, who lifted the Claret Jug eight years ago, recalled in a recent interview with the Mail how in 1986, he was yards from a bomb that blew up the golf club where he practiced as a teenager. 

“It’s a miracle the Open is back in Northern Ireland,” Clarke says. 

It is the chance to win golf’s biggest prize in front of a home crowd and the timing could not be better. 

Back in 1951, the region was not quite stable, but was yet to descend into total chaos. 

Now, as talk of a return to the hard border in the event of a no-deal Brexit continues, Northern Ireland needs the healing power of sport more than ever. 

Ulster is returning to the spotlight and is ready to host golf on the biggest stage of all. 

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