Just before five o’clock on Saturday afternoon I settled down to watch the Ireland versus England rugby match, and if you had any doubts that it would be an emotional sporting occasion they were removed when the camera focused on Irish player Andrew Porter.

Tears streamed down the face of the Dubliner, a six-foot-one-inch, 19-stone prop forward as he belted out the Irish anthem Amhrán na bhFiann at the Aviva stadium.

It was one of a number of remarkable images over the last week, some of them very varied but with one thing in common. More of that later.

In the 51,000 crowd were many Northern Protestants, including many Unionists, cheering on the Irish team against the English, as they have done for many years because rugby is one of many sports that remained organised on an all-island basis after Partition.

Every weekend, rugby players traverse Ireland to play matches and the same can be said for other sports, the arts and culture and social activity; more so now than ever.

Ireland won the game and the Grand Slam and among the many congratulations from politicians of all shades were tweets from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Michelle O’Neill and Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie. “Fantastic win for Ireland,” tweeted Beattie, who of course is a former British soldier who has no difficulty in embracing his Irishness.

Across the Irish Sea on Friday, British soldiers were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Aldershot, south-west of London when Kate Middleton, now Princess of Wales presented troops in the Irish Guards with sprigs of shamrock in her role as the regiment’s honorary Colonel.

The point is that, like former soldier Beattie, many members of today’s British Army have no difficulty with their Irish identity including many from the Republic who still serve.

Last night (Wednesday) in Dublin, in the same Aviva stadium that the rugby boys enjoyed glory at the weekend, the Republic soccer team played Latvia in a friendly ahead of a big Euro qualifier against France next Monday.

In the Irish squad for the two games is goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, born in Dublin whose Nigerian descent doesn’t prevent the Irish fans lauding him as one of their own.

And not forgetting good old Enniskillen. When it comes to my identity, being an Enniskillen man is right up there. So, I was delighted with the remarkable scenes last Friday in my hometown where an estimated 30,000 people from all traditions got together with one aim…. to enjoy and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Or, indeed, St. Patrick’s week as it’s become. Only the Irish can celebrate in style like this across the world, for that’s what millions were across the world – Irish – including those politicians lining up in Washington last week.

St. Patrick was the common denominator for Andrew Porter, Johnny Sexton, Unionist and Sinn Fein politicians in the US, and all the Enniskillen folk.

We should “hail glorious Saint Patrick” as the man who in humble faith described himself as “a sinner” when he brought Christianity to Ireland all those centuries ago, and his example of faith is an inspirational one for many people of different denominations.

There are, of course, people in Northern Ireland who strictly identify as British only and some of them are positively apoplectic at the notion of being described as Irish. Some to the point where their denials seem ridiculous. While others combine their Britishness and Irishness very comfortably.

But the fact remains that there is a rich diversity of Irishness among people born across this island or, indeed, among many people who have made their home here. In a couple of months, the South will swear in 5,000 new citizens from various countries who have integrated into society to the point they now want to be officially Irish.

The increase in people of different nationalities is also pronounced North of the Border and many of those people are playing key, responsible roles in making society better.

At a previous ceremony in the South, Minister of State, Anne Rabbitte said: “Ireland is a place of great diversity and openness. We do not ask of you to relinquish or replace your own sense of identity associated with your homeland when you become an Irish citizen. We want you to bring your culture, history and traditions with you. By sharing them with us, Ireland is richer for it.”

Sadly, not everybody in Ireland is welcoming and a level of racism exists, albeit we would like to think in a minority of people because most reasonable people see diversity as a real positive.

Aside from the new communities, there are massive changes in what is already a new Ireland. More Protestants are open and confident in their Irishness now, a reminder of the tradition of their co-religionists going back centuries.

Incidentally, the aforementioned rugby player Andrew Porter is a former pupil of St. Andrew’s College, Booterstown near Dublin, an inter-denominational school founded by Presbyterians in 1894.

Among other changes are fewer people taking part in organised religion, a greater variety of faith groups and an increase in the number, for example, of the gay community.

It was revealed this week in the Northern Ireland Census question about sexual orientation, found that 2.1 per cent identified as LGB or other. The figure has been downplayed by some, but still amounts to tens of thousands of people.

Younger people have different attitudes now and many of the younger generation don’t have the hang-ups about flags and national identity that were once the norm.

This is already a changed place.

It all begs the question: what does it mean to be Irish in 2023?

The days of binary identity where the vast majority split into two tribes may still exist to a certain extent. But they are fast receding.

The modern Ireland of today has a myriad of identities. We are Protestant, Catholic and other. Unionist, Nationalist/Republican and other. Christian, Muslim, other faiths and none. Straight and gay. We are British, Northern Irish, Irish, European or a mixture of all of those. Or designate as none of those.

There are many other aspects of identity which define us.

Sport often teaches us about life, and the sport of rugby showed us the way at the weekend. Coached by a much-loved Englishman in Andy Farrell, we roared on a team which included people born across the “four proud provinces” of the island and others born in Australia and New Zealand. All followed by people North and South of different religious and political persuasions.

It is time to value difference and to allow everyone in Ireland to be who they are and respect who they want to be.