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Paul Healy's Week

Paul Healy's Week

‘There were highs and lows, but somehow Rooskey’s very own hotel kept ticking over’




It was known as ‘The Beeches’ – presumably because there were Beech trees nearby.

  I’m probably doing that old building an injustice, but my memory is that it was an eerie and drab place.

  Even by the late 1970s, it was long vacant, a ruin in fact. It had been a public house, in its day.

  ‘The Beeches’ was an intimidating old ruin that night when a few of us decided to get a closer look. The derelict and mysterious building dominated the landscape when you crossed Rooskey bridge, on to the Leitrim side. 

  As young lads, we had to explore it…we were drawn to the very thing that was scaring us.

   Having a name like ‘The Beeches’ added to its auru…as though it belonged to a novel or a movie. That cold and wet night, we were feeling adventurous, brave and apprehensive, all rolled into one.

  We approached the building from behind, presumably to avoid detection. We entered, via an unlocked rear door. We even tiptoed upstairs...jumping with alarm or probably even terror at every sight of a shattered window, every gust of wind, every imagined shadowy image. We survived.

  A decade or so on, ‘The Beeches’ had been purchased…and a new chapter in its history beckoned. The building would be knocked, and in its place, Rooskey would have its very own hotel. 

  The imminent arrival of a hotel certainly caused quite a stir. And in a marketing masterstroke, the owners invited the public to suggest a name for it. Readers submitted suggestions to a local newspaper. ‘Shalamar’ (or ‘Shalimar’) won out. The first owner of Rooskey’s own hotel was Phil McGovern, who was affectionately known as ‘Phil Baby’. The fact that ‘Phil Baby’ had been in America for many years seemed to give him a special aura – sure the locals were fascinated. With or without an American vibe, Phil had a great personality. He was quite a charismatic character, with a ready smile and a great turn of phrase.  

  Some years later, the ‘Shalamar’ (or ‘Shalimar’) became ‘The Marina’. Over the years, the hotel changed hands a few times. There were highs and lows, but somehow Rooskey’s very own hotel kept ticking over.

  In more recent times, the hotel was renamed ‘The Shannon Key West’. This was probably its most successful era…seemingly flying during times of prosperity, hanging in there when the recession bared its teeth. It can’t have been easy to keep going, in such a competitive industry.

  Up to as recently as six or seven years ago, it was usual to see the carvery area packed at weekends (especially Sundays). At night, crowds enjoyed the music of local performers.

  Then came the demise. The doors had closed before, but someone had always come to its rescue. But now, societal trends were a foe. The village was bypassed, the recession had hit hard, big dinner dances were dying out. Many of the young people who might have held wedding receptions in Rooskey’s own hotel were now in Australia, Canada or elsewhere. 

  The years went by, and the doors never re-opened. Hope ebbed away.

  There was talk last March of a takeover by a consortium that would restore the hotel to its former glory (‘A well-managed 3 or 4 star hotel’ the headlines screamed). Nothing came of it. More misplaced optimism.

  Now, this week’s news suggests that long-standing rumours appear to have been built on substance. It’s the news that many people didn’t want to hear. Others may be fine with it. I find it very disappointing. Rooskey’s own hotel is apparently set to become an asylum centre. It will, we are told, cater for around 80 asylum seekers – and it’s all likely to  happen within the coming weeks.

  Although the rumours had been circulating, many local people are stunned. It seems they are not getting their hotel back. And they are concerned that Rooskey – a great village which was devastated by the loss of the old Hanley Bacon factory to fire in 2002 – simply does not have the facilities and services in place to provide for the influx of 80 or so asylum seekers.

  Challenging times ahead. It appears that the music has died, the Sunday afternoon carvery buzz will be no more. It’s an uncertain new chapter for what was the ‘The Beeches’, for what was ‘Rooskey’s own hotel’.


The write stuff from Paul (again)


I didn’t get to Gleeson’s on Saturday for the launch of Paul Connolly’s new book, but I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Mount Talbot man on his latest project.

  Paul’s late brother, Tommy, was a great friend of the Roscommon People (and, in a previous era, of the Champion). Many years ago I ‘recruited’ Tommy as a local notes correspondent (he also submitted excellent hurling reports).

  Paul has taken the Connolly writing flair and love of place to new levels. A few years ago Paul wrote an extensive history of Mount Talbot. His latest work is ‘The Landed Estates of County Roscommon’ and I very much look forward to reading it. The book is a celebration of the history and folklore behind each of the stately homes and ‘Landed Estates’ of County Roscommon. It’s available in local outlets at €30. What a valuable addition to Roscommon’s impressive literary output.


Wanted: Manager, and some positivity…


I haven’t been rubbing shoulders with the barstool experts for ages – and I use the term with affection, not sarcasm – and neither have I delved much into the social media commentary.

  So I’m not entirely up to date with how the Roscommon GAA community feels about the saga surrounding the vacant senior team management position.

  However, from just chatting to people on the street or at a shop counter, it’s fair to say that fans/GAA activists are becoming demoralised with the current impasse.

  Obviously the people mandated to find a new manager are working away behind the scenes, and no doubt a candidate will emerge soon. To which one might add, the sooner the better.

  The delay in making an appointment, which is largely down to the poorly handled Aidan O’Rourke last-gasp withdrawal, is not good for Roscommon football. We all know that.

  It’s probably inevitable in the absence of an appointment that a negative mood, certainly a sense of frustration, would fill that vacuum.  

  Still, an outbreak of positive thinking would do no harm. After all, Roscommon are now a Division One team again. We have a lot going for us. We were Connacht champions in 2017 and finalists this year. We made it to the inaugural Super 8s, and we have some very exciting talent.

  We need to shake ourselves out of this unfortunate (but no doubt temporary) post-McStay era stalemate period and get back on course.

  We need a manager to be appointed as soon as possible – urgently at this stage. There is no denying that the O’Rourke episode left many people angry, no denying that it’s been a highly frustrating few weeks. What we need now is an appointment, and then let’s get down to business. Sideshows like focusing on who is or isn’t leaking to the media are daft – it’s trivial stuff, like complaining of a few draughts when you’re halfway through building a fine house.

  Yeah, we took a few hammerings from the very elite in the Super 8s. But on balance I think we’ve been very much on an upward curve the last few years. We need to regain and then build momentum. We’re in Division One. A new season beckons. Let’s get back to the process of continuing to…er...make Roscommon great again!







Michael D in different league, Casey rattles establishment




In the end, the end couldn’t come quick enough. It was a listless and unsatisfactory Presidential campaign. The incumbent was prone to smugness, and could afford to be; he knew he was in a different league.

  Smug or not, Michael D is a class act, and it’s very evident that he’s a popular President. He did a fine job in his first term and he will continue to represent Ireland extremely well.

  His victory was very comprehensive, but the competition was less than world class. We shouldn’t denounce the other candidates for that; they are decent people who did their best (albeit that some of them have delusions of grandeur).

  Blame for the absence of a proper humdinger of an election lies with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Both parties were too cowardly to take Michael D on, preferring to take no chances, keep their money safe and hopefully hang on to the President’s coat-tails as he sauntered to success.

Here’s my view of the not so famous five who trailed behind Michael D…

Peter Casey

Peter Casey played his cards well, and make no mistake – despite his public aversion to the US President – they were Trump cards.

  Casey’s public speaking style is not very polished, he is full of contradictions, he often seems to be speaking off the cuff, he makes unsubstantiated allegations for fun, he rattles the cosy consensus, talks straight, ruffles feathers and – most of all – he attacks the politically correct culture. I don’t know about you, but that reminds me of a chap in the USA. So yes, Casey cleverly took some pointers from the Donald Trump Guide to Rocking the Establishment and Speaking for A Fed Up section of the Squeezed Middle who resent how society is going.

Sean Gallagher

The big loser of the election. Cut a forlorn figure throughout most of the campaign. I had no sympathy for him, well, not beyond the respect I would afford any person who goes before the electorate and gives it their best. But, long before the end, Gallagher came across as a man living in the past. I thought he was arrogant, presumptuous, and had nothing much to offer – bar waffle.

Liadh Ní Riada

I was quite impressed with Ní Riada’s campaign, and yet she attracted a poor vote. She’s a good speaker and a formidable and talented individual, but ‘Poppygate’ cost her a good bit of Sinn Fein support, and she slipped up badly when claiming that her take-home pay of around €60k was in line with the average industrial wage. This affected her credibility. 

Joan Freeman

Joan is a genuine, warm, sincere individual, but the wheels came off her campaign pretty quickly. The work she has done in relation to Pieta House is phenomenal, but she arguably focussed too much on mental health. She performed poorly in the debates, at times coming across (unfairly, I’m guessing) as quite egotistical (I appreciate that having a big ego seems to be an essential part of the package when it comes to presidential candidates). She also lost her cool a few times in the debates. Freeman clearly did not have a full grasp of the Constitution. She described herself as a “one-trick pony”, which was a tactical error. Ultimately, voters got bored with Joan. They saw her as a very worthy person, but they didn’t see a President.

Gavin Duffy

Gavin Duffy is much better than this paltry 2% that he mustered. Duffy is an intelligent man. On one level he’s a good communicator, but in this instance he got the nuances of his campaign wrong. He was so anxious to come across as a decent, reasonable guy (which he is), he boxed himself into an anonymous space. He became irrelevant. And while he is normally a good communicator, he didn’t, during this campaign, talk in quite the right language, and accordingly did not connect with the electorate. He became the forgotten man of the campaign.

Going around in circles in Roscommon town

Participation in a new game in Roscommon town – it’s for all the community – peaked on Friday last.

  It’s called ‘How do we get our car home/anywhere?’ and involves hundreds of slightly/very frustrated motorists trying to move from one part of town to the other as gridlock grips the county town.

  Okay, we’re tongue in cheek here – it’s not quite Dublin at rush hour – but traffic tailbacks are on the increase in Roscommon town! Mostly this is good news, reflecting excellent footfall as the shopping facilities in town attract customers from adjoining areas. Circular Road (in particular) on a Friday is very slow moving.

  However, traffic build-ups have reached new levels in the past couple of weeks due to lots of those essential roadworks that are underway.

  And so, last Friday, we had this bizarre new ‘game’ as motorists patiently tried to find escape routes from town centre back to their homes or places of work.

  At around 4 pm, the area around McNeill’s roundabout was chock-a-block; I drove back down Abbey Street, headed towards the Civic HQ, then turned right for Main Street. Here I was thwarted again, because there are roadworks at The Square. I turned in the vicinity of St. Ciaran’s Park…back towards the Church…hoping to emerge on to the Fuerty Road. Silly of me. It was chaotic there too; virtually at a standstill. A number of parents who had collected their children from school were turning in the Church carpark, perhaps hoping for some Divine help in the process.

  The whole town was a motoring riddle – with drivers wondering how to get out of the clogged-up centre.

  More of the same on Tuesday (after the weekend respite) where at the roundabout opposite the Arts Centre, a beautiful vintage car – from the 1930s, I’d say – joined the slow moving traffic. Motoring’s sedate past suddenly merging with motoring’s sometimes frantic present.

  So, slow times for motorists in Roscommon town, but no doubt it will all be worth it in the end! At least the schools are off this week!

Tragedy at Leicester

What has unfolded at Leicester City FC in recent years would have been deemed far-fetched if penned by a fiction writer.   

  Premier League players – and sometimes fans of the game – get a fair bit of flak, but there was a touching show of unity by the entire ‘football family’ at the weekend as people reacted with shock, grief and solemn dignity to the awful tragedy at Leicester.

  Triumph, farce and tragedy…it’s been a bewildering few years’ at the club. Their Premier title triumph in 2016 defied belief. It was just extraordinary…unfashionable Leicester doing what appeared to be impossible…strutting to Premier League success with a team mostly made up of journeymen, the world class big boys at more illustrious clubs left in their wake. The following season, Claudio Raniera, the manager who led Leicester to glory, was dispensed with. Poor results sealed his fate: sentiment and the scale of the historic achievement of the previous season wasn’t enough to protect him from the ruthless and unforgiving demands of modern-day football.

  Last weekend, a horrible new twist in Leicester’s recent history. A helicopter carrying five people, including Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha – the club’s very popular owner – crashed outside the King Power Stadium, shortly after Leicester’s draw with West Ham. There were no survivors.

  The tragedy puts sport – even epic sporting acheivements, like’s Leicester’s in 2016 – into perspective. It is such a sad chapter in what is still a great, powerful and emotional story.


Morning after the night before...




Rooskey was calm and serene on a stunningly beautiful Monday afternoon when I took a walk into the heart of the village.

  Opposite McGuire’s garage, the lone fisherman who was there on Sunday was gone, with or without fish, I have no idea.

  The empty hotel looms large, a constant reminder of lively seasons past – and of unfulfilled potential. We are tiring now of asking ‘Any sign of the hotel re-opening?’ – but we live in hope.

  Crossing the bridge, a few passing cars and shoppers popping into Tighe’s Centra were the first signs of activity. It was a beautiful day, graced by bright, warm sunshine. It was the day after the local GAA club dug out a famous county title win. Flags fluttered from poles and windows. A plaque on the outside of the derelict factory – once the heart of the village – solemnly declares: ‘Site of Bacon Factory. Hanley’s/Glanbia. Destroyed by fire 2002’. In the spacious carpark, the markings for car parking spaces are still clear, but there’s no army of men and women in white overalls, no life there, nothing only memories.

  It was a very serene afternoon, but suddenly I could hear loud music booming from further up the village. It turned out that after big celebrations on Sunday night, part 2 of the party was underway. “Most of the team are in there” a local man said to me, pointing at Cox’s famous bar. They were too. It sounded like a great party (I passed, continuing on my walk).

  Next I met Tommy Washington, also out for a walk. Now there’s a great GAA man, and also, aptly enough, a man synonymous with Hanley’s factory. Tommy was a legendary sales rep with Hanley’s in its great heyday. Now we chatted for a few minutes about Kilglass Gaels’ great win on Sunday. “A great boost” we agreed. Tommy went one way and I went the other. Two players emerged from Cox’s, where the music was still blaring. They had earned their party and their great celebrations.

  I was delighted for Kilglass Gaels, for everyone associated with the club, for the village too. It’s my own village, where I spent my childhood. Commiserations of course to Clann na nGael, a club which will continue to prosper at all levels. It’s harder for much smaller clubs, like Kilglass. Emigration, unemployment and lack of opportunity drains places like Rooskey of many of their young people. Kilglass lost the last two County Junior Finals, but, with great perseverance and heart, somehow summoned the resolve to return again and claim the title at the third time of asking. A win such as this is a once-off boost to an area but  also injects new belief that adversity can be overcome. Rural Ireland might be under pressure, but small communities can, thanks to the amazing resilience of the people, still achieve great things. Proof of that in Kilglass/Rooskey last weekend.

  I crossed the bridge again – when I came to it – the blaring music easing with every step I took. Past the hotel, past McGuire’s, down a familiar path and road. In the fisherman’s field opposite the Shannon, still no sign of that lone fisherman. So be it. Kilglass Gaels had landed their own big catch, the one that got away in 2016 and 2017. It was a great weekend for Rooskey.

Meanwhile…in Kilteevan…


While my native village of Rooskey was toasting a great win (Kilglass Gaels) at the weekend, there were similar celebrations in Kilteevan, where we now live!

  Like many other small rural clubs, St. Joseph’s have battled not just for success, but for actual survival, in recent years. The fact that St. Joseph’s have managed to overcome the type of challenges that face so many clubs is a great credit to the very dedicated volunteers involved.

  This season, results have been improving too. The year was already a success before last Saturday, when the team travelled to Boyle to take on the home side in the Division 5 League Final. It had been fifteen years since St. Joseph’s last tasted outright victory in a competition (the Junior Championship triumph in 2003). Remarkably, five of the players who were involved in 2003 were still playing for the club last Saturday!

  Cheered on by a big support from the parish, St. Joseph’s upset the odds and won last Saturday’s final by 5-6 to 0-11. The cup was presented to proud captain, Paul Gilleran.

  This tremendous win is just reward for the dedication of so many people over the years, not least this season, when the players took it upon themselves to do individual training sessions outside of group sessions to help achieve promotion and ultimately win Saturday’s final.

  My brother-in-law, Ronan Beirne (vice-captain), informs me that the celebrations in Paddy Finn’s were very special indeed. At that very calm gathering, a number of club awards were presented, so congratulations to David Gibbons (Player of the Year) and to Paul Gilleran, who received a Special Recognition Award recognising the fact that he was a member of the Roscommon Masters (over 40s) team that won an All-Ireland title this year.

  And congratulations to everyone involved with St. Joseph’s on a great win.


‘It’s malogen’– Brian

Brian Kerr – by now a national treasure – is famous for his distinctive Dublin drawl and his often pricelessly bizarre and entertaining use of language.

  No-one can question Brian’s knowledge of soccer, and he has great and sometimes underappreciated coaching credentials. Now, as a regular media contributor, he is famous for his unique way with words…a combination of Bertie-esque mangling of the English language and Kerr-esque wit.

  Last Saturday, Today FM had live commentary on the Chelsea/Manchester United match. The commentator was UK-based Englishman Adam Lindsay. Kerr provided expert analysis alongside Adam.

  Catching a few minutes of it, and aware of Kerr’s growing fan base, I wondered what English-born  commentators like Lindsay make of Kerr’s accent, wit and quirky phrases.

  As I listened to the polished tones of the English commentator and the unique Kerr, I thought our man is very well informed, very individualistic…this was going well.

  In the final seconds, the commentator asked Kerr if United would be happy with a point, despite conceding a late goal.

  Me: (Go on Brian…you can do it…give us a sophisticated summary…)

  Kerr: “I think so…they were malogen in the first half!”

  You have to love him!


Bill’s well worth tuning into!

A couple of years ago I ‘discovered’ Bill Maher, a comedian/presenter whose weekly show ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ can be seen in these parts on Sky Atlantic.

  I enjoy American current affairs shows, and am well aware that many of them are unashamedly politically biased. Watching Maher, it was soon clear that he was not just anti-Republican Party, but genuinely terrified of the prospect of Donald Trump winning the Presidency. His shows prior to Trump’s win were engrossing; then his worst fears were realised. His shows since the dramatic event have been utterly dominated, week on week, by Maher’s obsession with Trump and the host’s fear that democracy itself is now very much under threat.

  Sometimes Maher’s jokes fall flat, and his pro-Democrat bias is blatant, but more often than not his show is very entertaining and insightful and features excellent guests (usually, but not always, folk who are fiercely anti-Trump).

  Bill’s been around a long time, but I only discovered him two years ago. I wasn’t sure how credible he is, but this week’s show was a 25th anniversary special and some of the highlights of past shows (and tributes from showbiz folk and others) were great. They convinced me that this guy is pretty special, quite a one-off. Readers might like to check him out. Real Time with Bill Maher is on Sky Atlantic on Sunday nights (usually 11.35 pm). 




Dogs in the street (especially the dogs in the Áras) know this is over…


Irish Presidential elections are meant to be exciting – this one is as dull as a Martin O’Neill press conference.  

  I suspect the wider public have little enough interest in a campaign that, so far at least, is tediously uneventful.

  The candidates are waffling…offering us mostly tiresome platitudes. I’m all in favour of every citizen being entitled to put their name on a ballot paper, but really, some of these candidates are just wasting our time. It is downright arrogant of them to think they are worthy of being President.

  The media is no longer interested in hearing about the supposed ‘vision’ and qualities of each candidate – and you can hardly blame the media for that. Instead, journalists are desperately trying to spark the campaign into life by unearthing some dark secrets from the past, or perhaps by forcing a monumental error from a candidate. We are looking for the David Norris moment. Almost every question posed to a candidate is an intended trap, an attempt to catch the interviewee out.

  Have you ever made a settlement with Revenue? What’s this about you being involved in a car crash when you were in your 20s? Who is your favourite poet?  (This latter question was actually put to Gavin Duffy, in the hope that it would expose him and thus present him as being ‘culturally unfit’); Where have you been the last seven years? How much are you spending on your campaign? Where did you get your money? All pretty tiresome.

  I listened to the RTE Radio 1 debate on Saturday, which at least had all six candidates present. For the first 20 minutes, the wannabees ganged up on Michael D, all of them apparently appalled at the alleged extravagance of his term in office. Thereafter, the wily Michael D settled into his stride. Once all that unseemly talk of money was out of the way, his presidential auru descended over his rueful opponents.

  Given that Monday night’s first TV debate was not starring Michael D or Sean G, I convinced myself that I would pass on it, but when the time came, I tuned in. It was so bad it was almost riveting. Fair play to Gavin Duffy, who angrily took presenter Claire Byrne/RTE to task for reading out a response from a spokesperson for President Higgins. (The Áras had the hump about Peter Casey alleging that costs associated with caring for the President’s dogs are covered by taxpayers). How dare all the President’s men, women (and dogs) seek immediate right of reply when he (Michael D) had turned down an invitation to take part in the debate?

  Peter Casey (I think unintentionally) provided some surreal moments, Joan Freeman was solid (if trying too hard to ‘sound’ presidential), Gavin Duffy was slick enough (maybe even too slick) and Liadh Ní Riada did well overall.

  The arrogant absence of both Michael D and Sean G undermined the whole event. The debate was utterly forgettable; and I hope to have utterly forgotten about it very soon.

  One audience member walked out in protest – a gesture that seemed to sum up the mood of the nation regarding this lacklustre presidential election.  

  Zero out of ten to Michael D for not showing up, but it looks like he’s sleepwalking to victory. Even the dogs in the street (and especially the pampered dogs in the Áras) know that.


Where’s Dave when you need him?

I once jokingly tweeted that the scariest words in the English language are ‘And now, sitting in for Ryan Tubridy…it’s Dave Fanning’.

  Radio channel-hopping on Monday, I discovered that Derek Mooney was sitting in for Ryan, the latter no doubt recovering from his much-hyped broadcasting rollercoaster in London.

  Derek’s fine, but it was much too early in the morning (for me) to buy into chirpy, happy and doubtlessly daft musings on life – and so I switched the dial, in the hope that Pat Kenny might have some misery radio on offer. I knew I could rely on Pat for some discussion on Brexit, or on our wobbly Government, or maybe even on the latest Trump controversy. Pat is as polished as ever – an excellent broadcaster. If there’s one thing that’s annoying about him, it’s his tendency to strut the stage and show off his magnificent bulging intellect/current affairs knowledge (the spellbound audience oohing and aahing, while possibly also rolling their eyes). Sometimes Pat isn’t just content to exhibit his expertise; sometimes he seems to answer his own questions.  

  So yeah, Pat does quite a lot of the talking, but at least he knows what he’s talking about, whereas we don’t really want to hear Dave Fanning (or Derek Mooney) pondering on Brexit or the National Broaband Plan or on the alleged murder of a Saudi Arabian journalist.

  (Neither do I want to hear Dave prattling on about what name Meghan and Prince Harry should give to their baby, which is the sort of nonsense that morning radio inflicts on us).

  JF on Shannonside has of course got his pulse on the local (and national) scene – and is always well worth a listen. Still, sometimes you have to channel-hop.

  When I’m on the school run, as 9 am approaches, the temptation is to keep switching the dial in search of the latest breaking news. This usually involves a brief stop at Newstalk. Speaking of which, one of my ambitions in life is to have the will to survive an entire 10-minute exchange between presenters Shane Coleman and Paul Williams, but sadly this would appear to be too ambitious. Coleman is a good journalist/broadcaster, and Williams is a proven crime reporter with a fondness for bombast and sensationalism, but their efforts as a wise-cracking double-act between interviews can be excruciating, mostly because of Williams’ crassness.

  So, thanks to Paul Williams doing my head in, I can seldom stay with Newstalk in the morning for any more than two or three minutes (there’s some excellent output on that station later in the day). Switching to channels where the morning shows apparently require two or three presenters (why?) is not an option either. Why does a radio show need two (or three) presenters? And why do said presenters think they are some magical combination of Groucho Marx, Billy Connolly, Joan Rivers and Jason Byrne? Do listeners really want to hear their inane, unfunny reflections on their lives?

  There’s a lot to be said for the calming tones of Bryan Dobson, the incisive questioning of Rachael English or Audrey Carville.

  It may have been partly responsible for depressing the entire nation from 2008-2010, but that historic act of torture aside, Morning Ireland remains a solid and popular institution. Most mornings, I will end up gravitating towards the ‘old reliable’.

  By 8.40 am each morning this week on Morning Ireland, a new Presidential candidate was on air, ready to tell us why we should invest our hopes and dreams in them. On Monday it was Gavin, on Tuesday it was Sean. Oh God. That didn’t satisfy me either. Gavin, too soothing, too much ‘ask me anything’ nonsense; Sean, too earnest, like a man trying to claim his lotto winnings when he knows the deadline was in 2011.

  Where’s Dave Fanning and those baby names when you need them?


The crisis that keeps on giving…



The chaotic rollercoaster ride continues. On it goes, this not so magical mystery tour in which the passengers, unsure of their final destination or their exact fate, pass the time bickering furiously while wondering how they got into such strange territory in the first place.

  Brexit is the crisis that keeps on giving. With a few months to go to the UK’s EU exit, the sense of chaos is actually growing. Sure, you could expect brinkmanship as we approach the eleventh hour, but to suggest that our friends ‘across the water’ are playing a clever tactical  hand would surely be to give too much credit. More likely, it is what it looks like: utter chaos.

  One has to admire the tenacity of the Prime Minister, Ms. May. She is battling on gamely, despite the fact that her Conservative party is split, her Cabinet partly made up of rebels-in-waiting, some of whom have daggers and letters of resignation lying side by side in their briefcases.

  Widely seen as having been humiliated by EU leaders in Salzburg, the PM responded with fighting talk of her own the next day. Demanding respect from the EU, she is standing by her proposals for a deal on the UK’s exit, while reiterating that no deal is preferable to a bad one.

  On this side of the Irish Sea, we are to some extent at the mercy of others. The EU’s support for the Irish ‘no hard border’ position appears to be absolute. Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has been playing a blinder. He and Leo are talking in calm, measured tones, dripping in common sense. Still, the worry will be that if the critical Northern Ireland issue isn’t resolved/addressed until the very end, the Irish Government could be wrong-footed, forced into some kind of softening of its position by the EU/UK in the interests of a Brexit deal.

  Meanwhile, underlining the sense of last-minute chaos, the British Labour Party appears to be moving towards considering not just a People’s Vote, but maybe even an actual new referendum which would give the option of remaining in the UK.

  Anything could happen. We could even see Theresa May overthrown. We could have a UK General Election, followed by a Labour win, followed by a new referendum with ‘Remain’ as a tempting option. Maybe a bit far-fetched, but who knows?

  For now, the rollercoaster ride continues, hurtling towards Brexit on this not so magical mystery tour.


Great sporting theatre  as Tiger roars back


A magician with a golf club, and a bit of a time travel expert too, it seems.

  On Sunday night, that man Tiger made a lot of people somehow feel a lot younger!

  It was epic sporting theatre…as we watched the great Tiger Woods complete an astonishing sporting comeback.

  It was five years since he had last won on tour, but that ‘stat’ reveals little of this amazing story. The real story is why he didn’t win, why the man who is arguably the greatest golfer of all time couldn’t even dream of winning. Once on a golfing planet of his own, Woods had plunged the depths, to the point where he ‘couldn’t hit a ball further than 60 yards’.

  The darkness descended almost nine years ago. Revelations about his serial infidelities led to the break-up of his marriage in front of a stunned world. Subsequently, catastrophic back spasms led to the complete collapse of his capacity to play golf competitively. Several comeback attempts failed, sometimes in mid-tournament, Woods literally collapsing in agony in front of spectators. It was over, the genius now a memory in the minds of people ‘of a certain age’. Millions of young fans grew up hearing of Woods the legend, but seeing only a traumatised man in a lonely and seemingly doomed pursuit of his past. The odd time we saw Tiger on a golf course, he was a pathetic shadow of what he once was. His efforts to overcome injury and rebuild his game went from heroic to sad. Tiger was gone, replaced by a ghost of his great past.

  Yet… the man’s extraordinary persistence somehow kept him going, and this year he began to tentatively compete again. And, four back operations later, his body has given him a break. All year, Tiger’s consistently good play has stunned the golfing world, leaving us all to wonder if this story might just take us somewhere new.

  It took us to Atlanta, to a scene of sporting fantasy. Last Sunday as he claimed the Tour Championship, Tiger made us all feel a lot younger. We were back in 1997.

  This was the Tiger of old, leading from the front, sinking long putts, his sheer aura seeping the hope from the chasing pack.

  Walking towards the 18th hole with a two-stroke lead, Tiger was suddenly immersed in an image that will define him as much as those runaway major triumphs during his career peak. In extraordinary scenes, thousands of fans walked every foot of the way with Woods as he strode towards his redemption. This was Woods as a sporting Pied Piper, a Pied Piper with a sensational short game.

  When Woods sunk the putt that confirmed his win, millions of fans shared in his emotional outpouring of joy.

  Cue mayhem around the 18th, a kind of Mad Hatters Tea Party as players, fans and media mingled to celebrate the return of the past. Justin Rose, the likeable English golfer who had just won $10m, was good-humouredly apologising to anyone who would listen…because he had collected ten million and kind of crashed the party. But no-one was listening. If Rose had started handing out 50 dollar bills to people, no-one would have noticed.

  He served up some scandals, and he was always famous for being grouchy, but I think we are seeing a more humble man now, a more vulnerable and therefore more likeable person. Anyways, this isn’t a tale of morality or likeability; it’s the story of a sporting icon who captures the imagination of millions, also a story of extraordinary human spirit.

  The ghost is out of bounds, the genius is strutting his stuff in the middle of the fairways again. And the sight of Tiger hunting down the new generations of golfing superstars – the guys who might have thought they had escaped him – that’s going to be some fun. It’s a great sporting story revealing itself in our lifetimes.





A welcome win for decency over thuggery





When ‘Traditional old salt-of-the-earth decency’ met ‘Young, spoilt, pathetic thieving thugs’ in Cork on Saturday, the odds favoured the latter.

  I was delighted therefore to see the former beat the odds – and the thugs – in this unscheduled showdown in a bookmakers.

  When three masked and armed raiders charged into the Glanmire bookmakers shop, they met more than they had bargained for.

  Wielding hammers and “what appeared to be a shotgun”, the thugs ran into the premises on Saturday night, demanding cash.

  However, they were confronted by the manager of the premises, who was joined in the resistance by 84-year-old great-granddad, Denis O’Connor. Indeed, speaking on RTE Radio on Monday, the manager generously conceded that he only challenged the raiders after the brave octogenarian did!

  While challenging raiders is probably not recommended, every decent person in the country will be hailing Mr. O’Connor’s bravery and heroicism.  

  The 84-year-old challenged one of the hammer-wielding raiders, and the manager of the premises joined in. All three raiders fled.

  Described by locals as “an absolute gentleman”, Mr. O’Connor strikes me as being typical of the type of elderly men and women you see in a bookies’; salt-of-the-earth folk who have led good, honest lives and for whom an afternoon in the bookmakers is an enjoyable indulging of a hobby, not to mention a social interaction.

  The thugs, on the other hand, are cowardly layabouts who should be locked up until they learn some manners and decide to contribute positively to society!

  So well done to Denis O’Connor, who bravely ensured that this ill-fated ‘treble’ backed a loser last Saturday.


Harrington heroics

On he goes…away now from the spotlight, but still displaying glimpses of his greatness.

  I suspect some people can’t quite put him in at no. 1 when those ‘Who is Ireland’s greatest ever sports person?’ debates are in full flow. And that’s fine. Because as the years go by and we travel further from Padraig Harrington’s great peak, it is understandable that appreciation of the enormity of his golfing achievements might diminish a little. Also, people can make very legitimate claims for other contenders for the ‘Best ever’ status, such as, for example, the great Brian O’Driscoll.

  For me, it’s always been Harrington, his three majors (won in the 2007-2008 period) sealing the deal. Of course it’s a silly enough exercise, this ‘Who is the greatest?’ speculation. Because you probably can’t really compare a man sinking a pressure putt to beat the world’s elite to a rugby superstar, or indeed to the great middle-distance runner, Sonia O’Sullivan. Can’t we celebrate them all with equal pride?

  What’s great about Harrington is that he keeps plodding away with varying degrees of success, some years on now from the glory days. Two weeks ago, he finished second in Prague, on 20 under par. Last Sunday, he finished fifth in the KLM Open in Holland, on 13 under.

  That’s 33 under for his last eight rounds – life in the ‘old dog’ yet, 22 years after his first professional win. And he’s a gentleman too!


‘Beyonce’s not answering…call Marty and Aine’


There was an unexpected boost for Ireland’s struggling pubs last Saturday night when RTE experimented with a new reality show which is sure to leave living rooms abandoned and pubs with fresh hope…

  Or perhaps I was dreaming…anyways, channel-hopping, I arrived at the Ray D’Arcy Show on RTE 1 on Saturday night.

  In what appears to be a daring new experiment, the show featured a breathlessly giggly duo…a GAA commentator and a current affairs broadcaster…who spoke at length about how they will patronise thousands of welly-wearing people in a field in Co. Offaly this week, where they will offset any sagging in the silly chat with outbreaks of mad dancing.

  The dancing dimension to the Ploughing presentation by Marty Morrissey and Aine Lawlor has been introduced because a bizarre persona has been created for Marty whereby he will forever more be labelled a ‘mighty dancer and party animal’, just because he was a sporting, if leaden-footed participant in a tedious reality dance show. Aine is gamely playing along.

  In case anyone in the open-mouthed audience did not quite get the concept, host Ray D’Arcy invited Marty to remind the captives in studio and the watching nation of just how good his moves are.

  As anguished viewers desperately searched under cushions for the damn remote, a woman was ushered from the audience to have her Marty moment. She was a big fan of Marty’s, but an even bigger fan of Nathan Carter’s. Fortuitously, the producers had Nathan’s ‘Wagon Wheel’ lined up. Cue Marty and Woman from Audience jiving (sort of) while Ray clapped along in the background, possibly wondering if his €400,000 salary needs an upward review at this point.

  Now I know it’s all harmless fun, but for nostalgic fans of the great chat show era, it’s traumatic stuff! Two nice RTE ‘old hands’ are presenting the ploughing; why are they prime time guests on a Saturday night chat show? Beyonce and Madonna not answering?

  As I desperately tried to banish visions of Miriam O’Callaghan and Bernard O’Shea doing a rock and roll routine next week, I (again) fantasised about a time when interesting celebrity guests talked about their interesting celebrity lives on chat shows.

  I dreamt of Muhammad Ali and Bob Hope and Billy Connolly and Bette Davis and Joan Rivers on Parkinson, of Hollywood A-listers on Graham Norton, and of John Cleese, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Tony Curtis on the Late Late Show.

  Alas, all’s changed – utterly. Over on Virgin Media, the most obnoxiously vain and self-centred and idiotic wannabees are taking part in Big Brother; the X Factor is now so staged as to be more or less completely devoid of whatever credibility it once had.

  Back in RTE chat show land, your best chance of getting on ‘the telly’ is if you are an actual RTE presenter who has an RTE show coming up.

  Hence, the painfully dull succession of familiar faces coming on to Ryan and Ray’s couches/chairs to talk about their exciting new series’. Both programmes have their good moments, but the general trend is not great. 

  Meanwhile, Wednesday’s storm-related cancellation notwithstanding, the actual welly-fest itself is dominating the media this week, which is fine I guess. It’s a great event. I didn’t go, for fear of bumping into a cliché-sporting presidential candidate with a fixed smile, an outstretched hand and a vision of Ireland for everyone in the audience.

Councillors get their man...




Inspired by boredom or some grim fascination, I watched the recent presentations of the would-be presidents on the Roscommon County Council website.   

  Sean Gallagher made the most polished speech, but his contribution was a bit too slick for my liking.

  Tulsk man John Groarke was quickly labelled a ‘joke figure’ when he appeared on the national scene over recent weeks. I found his contribution sincere, interesting and relevant. I was also impressed with Senator Joan Freeman, probably the best speaker on the day.

  One by one they came to the podium, nine candidates in search of a nomination by Roscommon councillors (a person going the ‘local authority route’ needs the support of four councils to gain a nomination to contest October’s Presidential election).

  Most of them probably knew they had little chance – but they soldiered on.

  On Monday last, five days after the wannabees had their say, Roscommon councillors gave their verdict. Of fifteen votes cast, three went for Senator Freeman; two for the outspoken journalist Gemma O’Doherty, and ten for the nearly man of 2011, Sean Gallagher.

  And so, partly because of a good leg-up from Roscommon councillors, Sean Gallagher officially became a Presidential candidate (again) this week.

  I don’t consider myself to be a great fan of Mr. Gallagher’s, but he and Senator Freeman and probably Gavin Duffy are likely to put it up to President Higgins over the coming weeks, even if the incumbent remains a safe bet – at this juncture at least – to be returned.

  And, a question: Why do we invest this power in councillors (and Oireachtas members)? Surely anyone who wants to get on a ballot paper should have that option?


Identity crisis


Anyone can make a mistake (see ‘Trump, the American voters’, etc.,) but really, these emails that whizz into our office from ‘PR types’ who clearly know nothing about Roscommon…

  I’ve written before in this column about the cheery PR person who rings the People office and says stuff like: “Hi, our client is launching a wonderful product in Monaghan…er…is that near you?”

  Fast-forward to this week…and I’d advise readers who are involved in promoting tourism in Roscommon to look away now!

  We received a press release from a PR company informing us that Minister Griffin has launched the Irish Tourism Industry Awards…

  …and, the email/press release breathlessly informed us, “submissions for Galway are now open on www.irishtourismindustryawards.ie”.  


You can’t fool me…There ain’t no Setanta Clause!


This is anything but funny. I spent twenty years stubbornly refusing to get Sky Sports, then when I did, well…

  First, I discovered Sky Sports wasn’t showing the golf major that was underway when I signed up (the PGA). Then I discovered just how many soccer games channels like Setanta have. I am not a subscriber (yet) to Setanta Sports. You could say that I was unaware of the existence of the Setanta Claus. 

  A pun which gives me a great opportunity to remind readers of the enduring brilliance of the Marx Brothers.

  In ‘A Night at the Opera’, Groucho (as Driftwood) is going through a legal document with Chico (as Fiorello).

Fiorello: Hey, wait, wait. What does this say here, this thing here?

Driftwood: Oh, that? Oh, that’s the usual clause that’s in every contract. That just says, uh, it says, uh, if any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.

Fiorello: Well, I don’t know...

Driftwood: It’s all right. That’s, that’s in every contract. That’s, that’s what they call a sanity clause.

Fiorello: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You can’t fool me. There ain’t no Sanity Clause!


Fake TV


PH with a wry take on tv…

The Apprentice (American version, repeats late at night)

Channel-hopping before calling it a night – unable to take any more of Terry Prone on the Tonight Show – I was suddenly faced with an old episode of the American version of ‘The Apprentice’.

  Watching it now is slightly fascinating, given what became of the arrogant ‘star’. (Readers may be aware that Donald Trump, host of The Apprentice, has gone on to become a low-key President of the United States).

  I could only watch five minutes of it, part-fascinated, part-shaking head in ongoing bemusement.

  One of Mr. Trump’s key advisors was the comedian Joan Rivers, now deceased. Quite what she would have said if she’d known her colleague would go on to occupy the White House is anyone’s guess.

  On this old episode, Trump actually appeared to listen more than he does now, though the pleas of both non-performing would-be apprentices ultimately fell on deaf ears, as he fired both of them. 

  “You wrote the jingle…you’re fired!”

  “You were project leader…you’re fired!”

  I am aware that we have three ‘stars’ of Dragons’ Den currently bidding to be President of Ireland, but it was still a novelty to watch old footage of a reality show host knowing (as we do now) that he would one day go on to rule the world.

  It’s just made me a little uneasy about the next time I see Nicky Byrne hosting ‘Dancing with the Stars’…

Ireland’s Fittest Family (Thursdays, RTE 1, 7.25 pm)

Obsessed families annoy their relations and friends by getting to appear on an utterly pointless programme, with a national audience expected to take/feign an interest.

  Each team has a celebrity leader who tries to give the impression that they care about the outcome, that a win here would somehow satisfy their sporting hunger. Yeah, like Davy Fitzgerald twists and turns in bed at night over this…

  If we, the viewers, had any energy left after our daily grind, most of us would reach for the remote control…

  (I don’t watch it).

Don’t tell the Bride (Wednesdays, E4) 

The episode we always see: Bride forfeits control of upcoming wedding in return for some short-term tv fame. Groom, careful to appear gormless/funny, appears to be making a complete hash of planning the wedding, ably assisted by ‘hilarious’ friends.

  Cut to scenes of chaos, chirpily explained by annoying Voiceover Lady. Groom and friends decide to host wedding reception in barn/hayshed/on a boat/, with bride collected on a tractor/motorbike and all guests turning up dressed as cowboys. Bride pretends to be shocked, then says “it’s different, but I actually love it”. Bride’s mother (privately mortified) says she never thought the groom had it in him.  

  The episode we’d all like to see: Bride tells groom he’s a pure eejit and storms off, leaving camera crew and producers open-mouthed and Voiceover Lady lost for words…

  (I don’t watch it).



‘He’s got the whole world (and a historic crisis) in his hands…



When the then Pope visited Ireland in 1979, the entire population got the ‘good china’ out. This time it was different. Some people were as enthusiastic now as then; many more were indifferent, at best mildly curious; a small but significant number were critical/even hostile.

  The current Pope is, by and large, very popular. His personal charisma and humility were much in evidence over the weekend, but the fact remains that he is the leader of the Catholic Church at a time of deep crisis within it, and it falls to Francis to address historic and ongoing abuse scandals.

The shadow of the scandals follows him, and the world looks to him…



By the time I tuned in to the television coverage, Pope Francis was sitting on a stage in Dublin Castle and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in full flow. I missed most of the Taoiseach’s speech but have caught up with it since, and I would certainly go along with the positive reaction to it.  

  Readers are being disingenuous if they deny that there was a certain fascination in trying to spot just who was in the audience. The RTE camera zoomed in on Mary McAleese, who did not appear to be planning to storm the stage. Colm O’Gorman had to settle for a spot near the back.

  I’m not sure what the term is for a collection of ex-Taoisigh (mind your language!) but they were there…

  The ex-Taoisigh wear the contented expressions of men who have climbed to the top of the mountain, but with enough melancholy there to reflect the sense of being yesterday’s news. At best, they are the rock stars who once sold out top stadiums  and who are now reduced to ‘intimate venues’.

  Simon Harris had the smile of a man who has momentum, a man who suspects he has a very bright future ahead. Micheál Martin had the half-smile of a man who is less sure of his political future; he might also have been hoping that photographers didn’t capture him alone in conversation with Brian Cowen, the latter a decent man but a symbol of the crash and the smithereens that followed…(which reminds me, Bertie was there too).

Later on Saturday

The ceremony at the Pro-Cathedral, if clearly very scripted, was quite inspiring. This Pope does have a gentle charisma that is very special, not to mention a great smile! When he reached the front pews of the Pro-Cathedral, he singled out a woman who appeared to be in a wheelchair, and gave her a blessing. Then, after some moments of silent prayer, the Pope heard from a handful of married couples. Responding to them, he took up where the late, great Les Dawson left off, i.e. with a mother-in-law joke.

  The Pope quipped that young couples should listen to the wisdom of elderly parents “even mothers-in-law”.

  All weekend, his humour, ordinariness and common touch was engaging.

  Later, another highlight of the Papal visit was the Pope calling to the Caphucin Day Centre in Dublin, where Brother Kevin and his colleagues (and volunteers) serve up to 800 meals a day to people who are homeless and/or in need. The humility of Brother Kevin, clearly a ‘living saint’ to all he has helped, was itself humbling to witness. 

  As the Pope left in his Skoda, a few women standing outside sang the ‘anthem’ that followed Pope John Paul 11 around in 1979 – ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ – they were small in number and tentative in their singing, unwittingly only serving to highlight how much has changed.

Saturday evening

Granted, I’m no singing expert, but I thought poor Daniel blew his big moment and was OUT OF TUNE when he sang for the Pope in Croke Park tonight.

  “You had one job to do, Daniel…”

  Still, Daniel enjoyed himself, and the crowd seemed to love him too. So he remains a national treasure.

  I understand, from people who were present, that the concert in Croke Park was an immensely enjoyable evening. Andrea Bocelli was the star turn of the night (apart from the Pope). Some children from Roscommon performed (as part of Edwina Guckian’s Dance Club), as did Scramogue native Cathy Jordan, the renowned singer.

  Another weekend highlight – a great moment, midst all the words and debates – came when Alison Nevin (12) got the ultimate selfie…with Pope Francis. Croke Park erupted, reminiscent of how it might when a team scores a last-minute winner.

Sunday morning

Knock was a very joyous part of the weekend, going by the television coverage. Rain and heavy mist greeted the Pope’s plane. Pope Francis shook hands with almost the entire welcoming party at the airport, a really nice ‘human’ touch. In the background, Ballaghaderreen native Patsy McGarry, the Irish Times Religious Affairs Correspondent, followed the entourage, clicking away on his phone. At the Knock Shrine, enthusiastic crowds welcomed the Pope. It was a very historic and special day for Mayo and the West of Ireland.

Sunday afternoon

The Festival of Families Mass in the Phoenix Park was only a ‘full house’ in Donald Trump/Sean Spicer speak. In fairness, no-one is claiming that the expected “up to 500,000 people” materialised. There is of course plenty of bickering on social media about the turnout. Most observers are now settling on anything between 130,000-200,000.

  I watched quite a bit of the RTE coverage from the Phoenix Park and have spoken to family and friends who were there. The Pope began his address by asking for forgiveness for Church sins, to applause.

  Later, the Popemobile brought The Holy Father to a final meeting with bishops, then to Dublin Airport for his return to Rome.

  As I drove from Rooskey to Roscommon on Sunday evening, the postmortems were in full flow on radio, Joe Duffy hosting.

Joe was on the same job again that night on RTE television. There are, suffice to say, conflicting views on the trip and on how satisfactorily or otherwise Pope Francis addressed the Church scandals.

  As a man, Pope Francis is very charismatic, humble and likeable. We can really only judge what we see and hear. Much of what he said was inspirational and will have proven so for many people. Of course the shadows of scandal loom large. And, charismatic and humble or not, it is this Pope’s duty to show leadership on addressing the challenges facing the Church. I was glad he told single mothers who searched for the children they had become estranged from that it was not a mortal sin to do so. Pity this wasn’t made clear decades ago. It was good too that Pope Francis met with abuse survivors. But calling for forgiveness for the sins of people in the Church, while welcome, is far from enough. What is really needed is for guilty parties – abusers and Church leaders who covered up for them – to be removed from their positions and indeed to be handed over to police/state authorities. There should be no hiding place, no ‘canon law’ veil.

  It was a historic weekend. A changing Ireland gave a mostly positive, but undoubtedly nuanced, welcome to Pope Francis. Time will tell if he has the energy, time and determination to address the scandals’ fall-out. His ‘track record’ in so many other areas is impressive. His humility is genuine, his words inspiring. I think, on balance, he offers real hope for a Church in crisis.

  Back at Dublin Airport, RTE had a great shot of the Papal plane disappearing into the clouds.

  Clouds and shadows…the humble man with the whole world in his hands was gone into the clouds, out of sight for a while, but with the whole world watching his next moves.




Villages under threat: Can we shout stop?



When we first holidayed in France, about eighteen years ago, we were stunned by the sight of so many abandoned villages.


  Many towns and villages in rural France are full of life; but hundreds more aren’t.

  When villages wilt in France, they do it pretty starkly. It is not unusual to drive into such French villages and see almost no sign of life. Many of the buildings are dreary and tired looking, as are the pavements and walls. There is a beauty and stillness about these places, but also a sadness, a mystery.

  It’s happening for a variety of reasons. There’s significant depopulation because of the age profile of the residents, lack of jobs, cultural changes. A factor, no doubt, is the reality that in a large country, many of these villages are a long way from the nearest big town. Young people are abandoning such villages. Most young people have no interest in farming. Many older people have moved to bigger towns, including to holiday homes. Businesses which are no longer considered relevant have closed their doors and shrunk into the shadows of their past. 

  This ‘village dying’ is not unique to France but it’s very striking in France. Small farms are disappearing. Once-vibrant houses are emptying. The lure of the city is all-powerful. The young are leaving and the old are left with memories.

  France is beautiful, and these dying or dead villages have a wistful charm, but ultimately it is a sad, indeed heart-wrenching sight.

  Could it happen here? Has the process started? Such a bleak landscape – actual dead villages – is a long way off, but it may happen if current trends continue. 

  Already, some of our tiniest villages have had the lethal injection applied. Some villages with two or three landmark buildings in them only needed a closure or two to seal their fate. Thankfully, even most of our very small villages still have a beating heart. But they are under threat.

  Bigger villages and small towns will also be under threat in the coming years if things don’t change. Sometimes when there’s a birth, there’s also a death. Thus, a new multinational arrives in Roscommon, and it coincides with post office closures. The post offices are going the same way as the shops, pubs, banks, Garda Stations, bus routes, dental services, small farms and much more.

  Much of this may be unavoidable, and much of the change may be manageable. And of course nothing stays the same forever. But not everyone can live in cities. Rural Ireland ought to have a great future, cultural/societal and other changes notwithstanding. But to have that future, infrastructure needs to be enhanced, not stripped. And people need more proactive input and less lip service from politicians.

  Rural communities themselves, they won’t be found wanting. We’re still a long way from the silent, abandoned French villages. But the stillness will descend in decades to come if we don’t continue to make enough noise now.


Can anyone stop this man?


I had a bit of a go at ‘The Special One’ on Twitter last weekend. Maybe I was a bit unfair this time. But he’s really been getting on my nerves lately, with his silly, tedious outbursts…

  The so-called ‘Special One’ is of course José Mourinho, the manager (for now at least) of Manchester United. If neutrals like me find his behaviour boring/annoying/childish, I can’t imagine what it’s like for Manchester United fans! I am assuming that most of them are well and truly fed up with ‘Sideshow José’.

  Still, he may have had a point at the weekend. José hit back at Manchester City before last weekend’s games. A master of deflection, he himself raised the issue of a new documentary film which celebrates the shifting in the balance of power in Manchester, where City are currently top dogs. It seems the film, while essentially about City’s rise under Pep Guardiola, features some fun-poking at the expense of United and Mourinho.

  ‘The Special One’ moaned about all of this to the long-suffering media. The Mourinho soundbyte that stood out? “If you are a rich club you can buy all the top players but you cannot buy class”. Nice one José, in fairness!

  From what I’ve read since the weekend, it does seem that City took some relish in poking fun at Mourinho in the film. So his frustration is understandable. That doesn’t take from the fact that his conduct of late has been childish, self-centred and arguably detrimental to Manchester United.

  On Saturday, where it matters, the fortunes of City and United were revealing. Manchester City 6 Huddersfield 1. Brighton 3 Manchester United 1. Pep doesn’t have to play the Deflection Game.

  The fans live for the glory on the field, not for the soundbytes in the studio. It will be a surprise if the marriage of The Special One and the second best team in Manchester doesn’t end in tears and recriminations – maybe even before Christmas!



Warning: It’s an alternative TV Guide…


Introducing an occasional series, PH provides a wry ‘preview’ of some of this weekend’s tv highlights…


Eastenders (Thursday & Friday: RTE 1, 7.30 pm; BBC 1, 8 pm)


Probably episode 25,000 (or is it 25 million?) of the great BBC soap. Most men say they’ve never willingly watched it – proof that fake news existed before Trump. It’s the East End of London, where bizarrely, there’s only one pub. Only one café too, I think (I really don’t watch it!). How can this be? Luckily, all of the main characters frequent the pub and café…and you can enjoy their strange tendency to discuss the most personal issues in either location. Also, look out for the tense exchanges at the market, where residents of Albert Square – instead of just saying hello or buying bananas – confront one another and bicker, before one of them storms off and the other person stares into space.

Daniel and Majella’s B&B Road Trip (Thursday: RTE 1, 8.30 pm)


Another chance to see Daniel O’Donnell and his mortified wife book into rural B&Bs, host wild parties and throw televisions out the window before storming off and leaving the bill unpaid. Actually that was the original idea, but Daniel and Majella rejected it. Instead, it’s a more sedate concept, whereby our hero and heroine call to charming B&Bs, causing no havoc, other than heart palpitations for swooning hostesses. Each show features Daniel singing and dancing in ‘the local’, but don’t let that put you off. In fact, joking aside, Daniel and Majella are good sports, the hosts are salt of the earth (and it’s nice to see how much it means to them). All good fun – and no televisions were hurt in the making of this ‘Could only happen in Ireland’ series (bar maybe one or two belonging to viewers).

Francis Brennan’s Grand Tour (South Africa) (Sunday: RTE 1, 8.30 pm)


Comedy/thriller/horror in which a mad Irishman (played by a hyper Francis) kidnaps unsuspecting people from the Midlands and keeps them captive on a bus, only releasing them for short breaks, and entirely at his own whim. Deceptively cheerful yet ruthless, ‘Francis’ forces his victims to walk behind him, allowing them to speak only when he raises a small flag in the air. The ‘South Africa’ episode is particularly compelling. Initially the locals fear for their lives, before Frances shows a more relaxed side, saying ‘Afraid of me? Go away out of that!” before continuing on his merry way, setting new land speed records in the process. Unmissable (not).


Race to the Park missing a spark!



All week

Please don’t worry(!) – the presidential election, once we officially have a contest, will spark into life. It may seem unlikely now, but in a few weeks time, we’ll all fall into the trap, and for two or three weeks, we’ll talk of little else!

  It always happens. Well, maybe not always. But certainly since 1990, presidential elections always create a momentum, once they’ve started, that didn’t seem likely before the starting gun sounded.

  It will happen again – and I doubt if the 2018 version will be the one-horse Michael D flavoured race that many people have been predicting for a long time.

  Of course the incumbent is still the hot favourite, but the presidential election will feature rows, gaffes and controversies, wall to wall media coverage, and swings in the direction of different candidates at different times. 

  The more candidates the merrier, I say. If we’re going to pay a fortune to have a figurehead in ‘the park’ for another seven years, we might as well have the distraction of an entertaining, interesting campaign.

  1990 was the year when presidential elections in Ireland took on a showbiz-type feel. Before then, it was an austere business. I have very vague memories of seeing ‘perennial president’ Éamon de Valera on black and white television around 1970, and presumably the odd time after that up to his passing in 1975. It was all very sober, serious and, in fairness, impressively ceremonial. In later years, we saw very little of Erskine Childers, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh or Patrick (Paddy) Hillery, who between them held the role from 1973 to 1990. Black and white days indeed.

  Everything changed in 1990. At the Roscommon Champion, we couldn’t hold the late Angela Doyle back; our reporter was out of the blocks quickly to interview fellow Mayo woman Mary Robinson, then seen as a no-hoper. Angela was very impressed with Mary, who went on to win and change the presidency for all time.

  I interviewed candidates Austin Currie and Brian Lenihan during that campaign. The former was a pleasant man who made a distinguished contribution to the search for peace in Northern Ireland, but he was incredibly long-winded! Lenihan, in contrast, oozed folksy charm, and attracted several hundred supporters to a massive rally in the Abbey Hotel, where there was much razzmatazz.

  Readers will recall that the elections of 1997 and 2011 (Mary McAleese was unopposed in 2004) brought us into the new age, whereby politicians, ‘celebrities’ and other wannabees went for it hammer and tongs in full media glare.

  This time around, much of the early focus is on businessman and reality tv ‘dragon’ Gavin Duffy. And yes, if he was a marshmallow, he would have devoured himself long ago.

  Others who may try to get on the ballot paper include artist Kevin Sharkey, Senator Joan Freeman (of Pieta House renown), businessman and Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, an as yet unnamed Sinn Fein candidate…and God knows who else. There is some speculation that Éamon Ó Cuív will seek a nomination, while citing the need for a new champion for rural Ireland. I have my doubts. If he does, that loud sound you’ll hear from the direction of Cork will be Micheál Martin groaning (before regaining his composure and preparing for possible civil war within the Fianna Fáil party).

  Meanwhile, Michael D has all the advantages of being the incumbent, and a very assured one at that. Unlike Mr. de Valera, Michael D. is constantly ‘on the telly’, most recently seen greeting players in the All-Ireland semi-finals, then off to Drogheda to mix it with the Fleadh set. Just now, all Michael D can do is wait, trust in his own brilliance, and hope that the All-Ireland hurling and football finals both go to replays!

  Trust me, this upcoming campaign will have its own momentum…it will get interesting, even if in reality it’s much ado about nothing…as Eamon Dunphy might say, it’s all showbiz, baby!


Reaching for the Sky…then this happens!


After years of fearing he’d end up watching Rochdale in some meaningless match from the lower leagues, PAUL HEALY finally got the old Sky Sports in…and looked forward to the golf…


It’s all Rochdale FC’s fault. Well, Rochdale… and maybe Grimsby.

  Over twenty years ago, I made a decision: I won’t join the Sky Sports bandwagon. My logic was perhaps strange, yet arguably kind of noble. It went as follows:

  ‘If I get Sky Sports, I could end up watching Rochdale v Grimsby on a Friday night’.

  And life is too short to end up watching Rochdale v Grimsby on a Friday night.

  Truth is, I didn’t trust myself. Yes, getting Sky Sports would give me access to Monday Night Football (live Premiership coverage, which started in 1992) and to big games on Sundays. But Sky Sports would also play with my mind; it would make me watch obscure games when I could and should be doing something else.

  It wasn’t just football: Sky Sports (I suspected) would make me watch all types of other sports that I didn’t have any interest in and didn’t need to see.

  I feared I’d end up watching too many rugby league matches, too much bowls, too many racing cars, too many men throwing darts and fist-pumping to delirious drink-fuelled ‘punters’ in a giant arena in Stoke. And Rochdale saved me from this terrible fate.

  Why Rochdale?

  When we were growing up, poor old Rochdale came to represent what we then considered the unfashionable and doomed lower league clubs in the English football world. (These days, I appreciate that such clubs actually represent the heart and soul of ‘the beautiful game’).

  Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, we hardly ever saw live soccer. We survived on Match of the Day (Jimmy Hill, later Des Lynam) and, if you had UTV, The Big Match (Brian Moore) on a Sunday. We occasionally saw Irish games live on television (Jimmy Magee), sometimes having to settle for the radio commentary of Philip Greene, which was usually as joyless as the football (“Paddy Mulligan plays it back to Mick Martin, Martin to Giles, back to Mulligan”).

   What really gave us a tantalising link to the English soccer world was BBC Radio, which provided evocative commentary on midweek matches on great European football nights at places like Anfield and The City Ground (home of Nottingham Forest).

  And every Saturday, it was a ritual to listen in to hear the ‘classified’ football results read by James Alexander Gordon.

  And that’s where we discovered just how  unfashionable and seemingly doomed Rochdale FC were.

  Not very fair on Rochdale…but their results were so terrible, their annual plight so predictable, they became the symbol of the lower league club that was going nowhere.

  And I didn’t want the Sky Sports revolution to bring the ‘Rochdales’, the ‘Grimsbys’, the ‘Darlingtons’ and the joys of synchronised swimming into my life.

  Damn it, life is short: last week I gave in… and finally signed up to Sky Sports!

  I gave in because life is short, and also because of rugby and GAA, but mostly because of golf and soccer.

  So I got Sky Sports on Wednesday of last week, and the PGA Championship (the last golf major of the season) started the next day.

  Unbelievable, Jeff! (a Sky reference). Sky Sports weren’t showing the golf!

  It turns out that you could only watch the golf via the Eleven Sports website/app (no, I hadn’t heard of it either).

  As (most) golf fans mourned, I took some comfort in the start of the soccer season. Manchester United v Leicester on Friday night was quite good, and I saw bits of Liverpool v West Ham and Arsenal v Manchester City on Sunday.

  My weekend Sky Sports highlight, of course, was Leeds United’s superb 4-1 win away to Derby on Saturday.

  And Google now informs me that this mysterious golf-providing/denying entity called Eleven Sports is actually owned by Andrea Radrizzani, the owner of Leeds United.

  Not by the owner of Rochdale, needless to say.




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