For the majority of his career, Rory McIlroy has been pulled in multiple directions as different groups want to claim the golfer as their own. McIlroy grew up Catholic in Northern Ireland, but prefers not to deliver lengthy messages on his faith. It was a topic that came up often during the 2016 Olympics as the golfer was asked to choose between the Irish or British flag.
“All of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am?” McIlroy noted to the Belfast Telegraph. “Who am I? Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to piss off the most. I started to resent it and I do. I resent the Olympics Games because of the position it put me in, that’s my feelings towards it, and whether that’s right or wrong, it’s how I feel.”
McIlroy ultimately decided to pull out of the Olympics because of the Zika virus scare, but did choose the Irish flag. The golfer went on to admit he is Catholic, but does not want that to define him.
“Not everyone is [driven by] nationalism and patriotism and that’s never been me, because I felt like I grew up in a place where I wasn’t allowed to be,” Rory told the Belfast Telegraph. “It was suppressed. I’m very conflicted because I’m a Catholic and I turned on the TV at home and it was the BBC; I did my GCSEs; I used pounds sterling, stuff like that. So I’m a Catholic but I feel very much Northern Irish, and I never wanted it to get political or about where I’m from, but that’s what it turned into. And it just got to the point where it wasn’t worth the hassle.”
McIlroy grew up in Northern Ireland amidst heated conflict, and it is a big reason why he prefers to stay out of controversial topics. Golf.com detailed the difficult position McIlroy finds himself.
McIlroy is Catholic by birth, but is neither religious nor political by disposition. It’s safe to say he remembers nothing of the most violent phase of the Northern Irish conflict over this issue, which mostly ended with ceasefires when McIlroy was 5 years old. But almost two decades on, he finds himself still having to dance through this tedious political and religious minefield.
McIlroy’s family has experienced first-hand the dangers of extreme beliefs as McIlroy’s great uncle Joe was murdered in 1972. According to Fox Sports, he was murdered in his own house with the apparent motive being retribution for Joe’s decision to move his Catholic family into a Protestant neighborhood.
But the McIlroys instead sent their golfing prodigy to a school where children on both sides of the religious divide were welcomed. A school whose motto is Lámh Foisdineach An Uachtar, which means, “With the gentle hand foremost.”
And with a gentle hand, foremost, Rory McIlroy seems determined to bring together his people — whether they be Irish or British.