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Paul Healy's Week

Paul Healy's Week

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…

 

Saturday

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!

 

FAKE TV!

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.

 

 

 

In praise of August Bank Holiday weekend…

 

 

 

On the August Bank Holiday weekend, the whole country is conscious that summer is perhaps beginning to ebb away…and autumn is limbering up in the background

 

On Sunday, at Cemetery Mass in Bornacoola, the man reading the Prayers of the Faithful was wearing shorts and a ‘California’ t-shirt; no-one blinked.

  It’s that time of year…

  At Castlerea Show on Monday, old men in short sleeves talked about the mundane things in life – and football – and the memory of rain-lashed shows in summers past had all but faded.

  Playgrounds and parks dotted around the county bustled with vibrancy, the good weather and school holidays ensuring peak numbers.  

  It’s that time of year, that kind of summer, that kind of weekend.

  Yes, there’s something special about the August Bank Holiday weekend. The country just seems to chill. And communities expand for a brief, heartwarming period. In many households, sons and daughters (or other relatives) are visiting. The dynamic changes. Impressive cars nuzzle up to country houses and confident young couples emerge with their wide-eyed, gadget-clutching children and their updates from the city. The August Bank Holiday has its own rhythm.

  Those who aren’t hosting visitors relax on this weekend too. Many people are on holidays themselves. I think we all sense that summer is beginning to ebb away; Autumn is limbering up on the ‘second pitch’, preparing to take centre stage.

  The August Bank Holiday weekend is probably special too because it’s this subtle confluence of events and feelings. The Galway Races are like a particularly dazzling lighthouse in the sea, drawing in the nation’s attention. Many communities focus in on the August Bank Holiday weekend as a focal point for their festival, carnival or show. The GAA season moves up one more gear and it’s time for teams to surf the increasingly unpredictable and demanding seas, or disappear into the distance and a winter of conversations around what might have been.   

  It’s a milestone weekend, a time for people to enjoy being off work, feed off the buzz from the various activities, and of course for parents to try and salvage some quality time with kids before the school bell sounds.

  Of course we’ll be particularly sorry to see this summer go. This summer has been so good, that while we’ve certainly enjoyed it, we’ve been unable to avoid that Irish thing of being distracted by always fearing the wonderful weather might break at any moment.

  Still, it has been fabulous…that weather never properly broke…and the big holiday weekend stayed loyal to this summer’s trends.

  Bank Holiday Monday in Roscommon town was perfectly peaceful, just like Bank Holiday Mondays are meant to be. The Bank Holiday is not like a normal weekday and it’s not like a Saturday or a Sunday either. Quietness descends.

  I drove up Main Street at 10.30 am. As befits the times we live in (cycling being ‘massive’ now), three men, kitted out in the very best cycling gear, cycled three fine racing bikes past ETL (the well-known landmark premises). Just as they proceeded to turn into the entrance to Gleeson’s (the well-known restaurant/B&B), a middle-aged man cycling an ordinary old bike (the well-known High Nelly type) eased past them. You’d understand it if he had a chuckle to himself. 

  The town was brimming with walkers – like cycling, a phenomenon of our times!

  The weekend itself had been incredibly busy all over the country, but the actual Bank Holiday – the Monday – is a day of calmness, a day for relaxing (unless you happen to be working). On Bank Holidays, we catch our breath.

  Still, it’s just the 6th of August, as I write. Still a few weeks to go until the early mornings, the rushed lunches, the search for uniforms, the twisting and turning of cars outside schools. Still some weeks of summer to savour.

  Then, when September comes, a new season (and we often get excellent weather in that month too). But we will miss this amazing summer of 2018, with its epic heatwaves, its consistently good weather, the World Cup, the trips to the beaches, the barbeques, the hurling, the hockey too!

  Back in Roscommon Town on Monday afternoon, there was hardly a movement in Abbey Street at 3.30 pm. Doors shut…businesses at one with private houses. A drop of rain, but not convincing. An odd car moving here and there. A young couple pushing a toddler in a pram. Roscommon flags still fluttering.

  The town was so quiet, I could hear nothing but the hum of lawnmowers from somewhere in the distance on this lazy August Bank Holiday Monday.

 

Saturday & Sunday

 

It’s become a cliché now to say ‘It was a great weekend of sport’, but there you go. Most people have a degree of interest in sport; many of us are passionate followers. Worldwide, we are now consumers of sport on an unprecedented scale.

  These days, we are blitzed with sports action (and stories) like never before; all sorts of sports too. The relentless media coverage of actual sporting contests is followed by 24/7 reaction and debate on social media…

  Last weekend was good, very good. I dipped in and out, I have to admit. On Saturday I just had to try and get the grass cut. Every now and again I went for radio updates on the GAA, as Kerry dramatically fell from the championship and Monaghan marched on.

  On Sunday, I adopted full ‘armchair critic’ mode, savouring the hurling and gaelic football, and keeping an eye on the hockey.

  It has become the norm just now to describe each new hurling game as ‘a gift from the Gods’, but the start of the Galway/Clare replay suggested that the Gods felt we had been spoilt the previous weekend. Sure, Galway were good, but the first half was nothing special; indeed there were many errors. We don’t have to call every hurling game a classic!

  The second half, however, certainly was thrilling. After falling well behind, just as they had done in the drawn game, Clare rallied back and exposed a recurring weakness in this undoubtedly formidable Galway team. In the end, Galway won by a point, but Clare had self-destructed, hitting a shocking 19 wides.

  I didn’t see that much of Donegal v Tyrone (well, I kept an eye on it), staying loyal to Roscommon, who faced the immensely daunting task of playing Dublin in Croke Park. These two matches were entertaining enough. Dublin easily saw off Roscommon in a high-scoring, irrelevant match. Roscommon never gave up, got some great scores and left the pitch well beaten but with pride intact.

  I was rooting for Donegal, but Tyrone were deserving winners; they are a formidable team. And yet it is hard to see any of Galway, Monaghan or Tyrone stopping Dublin. 

  In London meanwhile, Ireland’s sensational run in the hockey World Cup ended with an honourable defeat to the greatest team on the planet, the hockey heroines from the Netherlands. Ranked 15th of the 16 competing nations at the start of the tournament, the Irish team had made history with their extraordinary feats. Defeat in the final, but the World silver medals and the memories are there forever.

  I never find the Charity Shield (won by Manchester City) of any interest, but on Sunday night I enjoyed reading online accounts of a great start in The Championship by Leeds United.

  There is barely contained excitement at Leeds these days following the appointment of acclaimed manager Marcelo Bielsa. A 3-1 win on the opening day of the season over the bookies’ favourites for promotion (Stoke) will do nothing to control expectations!

  However, long-suffering Leeds fans like myself know perfectly well not to count chickens until they have completed their process of hatching. We’ve waited several years for that return to the Premier League. It will happen at some stage. Maybe this season…

  A very enjoyable weekend of sport then…still, those genuine hurling classics of the weekend before last apart, probably the most enjoyable sporting event I’ve seen in a while was one of the many underage GAA blitzes which are held around the county.

  The one I attended, hosted by St. Dominic’s, was superbly organised and attracted lots of eager teams. It was a credit to all concerned. And the kids had a ball.

  There was no blanket defence, no feigning injury, no diving and no verbal abuse of opponents or the ref.

  Just joy, innocence, carefree football, soft drinks, crisps…and daydreams of what might be in the future…

 

 

 

All bridges can be crossed…

 

Sunday

A great buzz in Rooskey today. On our first attempt to cross the bridge, we had to give way to a group of guests who had gathered for an unveiling ceremony. And we were very happy to wait. A plaque was being unveiled in honour of Bridie Clyne, ‘An Irish Revolutionary’ and native of the area. Amongst those on the bridge for the formalities were her son and extended family members, as well as almost enough councillors to form a majority on Leitrim or Roscommon Council. We have a report on that event in this week’s issue.

  On our second attempt to cross the bridge (a half an hour later) we were held up by quaint old-style ‘technology’.

  In my youth, it was always a big event when the bridge in Rooskey was being raised. Yes, we had a magical bridge that could rise up when required, halting the world in its tracks. This would happen rarely enough and always attracted onlookers. Raising Rooskey’s futuristic mechanical wonder was required whenever the water levels were very high and there was a particularly large cruiser coming through. The man from the nearby locks (i.e. the lock-keeper) would arrive in his car and come to the rescue of the tourists, circling in their inconsiderately tall but beautiful boat. As kids, we marvelled at the sight of this giant structure floating into the skies to allow the boat pass under. Delayed motorists abandoned their cars on the stone part of the bridge so they could savour the sight. On the cruiser, intrigued Germans (it was usually Germans) enjoyed being the centre of attention, waved grandly and then continued with their holiday/lives.

  Well, we finally crossed that bridge last Sunday, and by 2.30 or so the village was indeed buzzing. After Friday’s heavy rainfall, I was delighted that Saturday and Sunday stayed dry; indeed the weather was lovely on Sunday. There were huge crowds in Rooskey for the 4th annual Heritage Festival. As ever, the organisers had worked tirelessly to create a varied schedule. The Big Red Barn was the focus for music and dancing and kids’ shows. There was a pet farm, lots of colourful stalls, a few stilt-walkers, arts and crafts, etc. At the river, kids queued for water sports and other fun activities.

  Mostly, Rooskey Heritage Festival – like all festivals across the region – was about people getting together, about old friendships being reignited through chance meetings on the street, at the river, in a pub or in the barn. Rooskey was scarred over the past decade and a half, firstly by the devastating factory fire in 2002, then by the recession – but the village is fighting back. The bridge of despair is being crossed. It is a special village with a great history. Like all small villages, it has a battle on its hands, swimming against the tides of change. The re-opening of the hotel, further development of its tourism potential and maybe a new business or three, they are the lotto numbers the village had marked. 

  I digress. On Sunday, as friends and neighbours thronged into the heart of the village, it was a reminder of the village’s proud past, its ongoing appeal and the potential that still remains. It can take time and can require imagination, but surely all bridges can be crossed?

Last weekend

Everything about the Demesne in Castlerea is stunning, including a delightful Fairy Village, which I hope readers have visited! (It’s a beautiful place for children and adults like).

  I was glad to hear of more positive developments at the weekend, with the official opening (by Minister Heather Humphreys) of a new community facility, Somers Park.

  This is a great credit to the management of Harmac Medical (which employs about 300 people in the town) and to all the individuals and agencies who helped make this project possible.

  It’s another great addition to the facilities in the fabulous Demesne and, following the recent re-opening of Tully’s Hotel in the town, another welcome development in Castlerea.

Every day

It’s happened to us all at some stage…

  You go into a bar near closing time, for one or two drinks. There’s hardly another person there, maybe one or two. It’s grand. You expect a quiet half hour.

  Then, the door opens and four or five ‘loud ones’ burst in. They’ve been somewhere else. They’re in good spirits. And what’s left of the night isn’t going to be as peaceful or straightforward as you’d assumed (which is not to say it won’t be good craic or enjoyable).

  Michael D Higgins might feel a bit like that this week. Although he’s not lacking political acumen, the thought must have crossed his mind at different times over recent months that this Presidential matter could be dealt with quietly and peacefully.

  Michael D (who has been an excellent President) calculated that he would announce his intention to run again relatively late in the year. He had kept potential rivals guessing. He had the main parties onside. He might even have a free run.

  Then, just as he was beginning to think it just might be a quiet one, the whooping started at the front door.

  Now, Michael D realises that it wasn’t quite closing time.

  A few ‘loud ones’ have indeed come in. Michael D will still expect to get home early and for common sense to prevail, but sure anything could happen now!

 

Yes, the Irish do Cemetery Mass well…

 

Saturday & Sunday

 

On Saturday evening in Kilteevan, as the rain dithered about its intent – sharing the spotlight with sunny spells – a large crowd turned up for Cemetery Mass.

  Then, on Sunday, driving to Rooskey, I was met with a (brief) traffic jam in Scramogue, as people began to leave on the completion of the Cemetery Mass there.

  Similar gatherings and scenes are common all over the country at this time of year.

  It is, by definition, a sombre and sad occasion, the Cemetery Mass, and yet it is also a special and dignified ceremony and gathering.

  We are commemorating those loved ones who have passed on, keeping their memory close, celebrating their lives and everything they meant and mean to us.

  It strikes me too that this annual ceremony, all over the country, impressively showcases the life that goes on…and the vitality that remains in rural Ireland. 

  Just seeing how many people attend Cemetery Mass, with all generations present, and with such dignity evident, is heartwarming, and a sign too that there is great life, energy and community spirit in rural Ireland.

  At every such gathering, we see the love and care of families as they assemble for the blessing of the graves. It’s a great example of community togetherness. The volunteers who maintain the cemeteries so well are to be commended; of course they are just doing what good community activists do in rural Ireland; they are putting the shoulder to the wheel without a second thought, generosity of spirit a given.

  I think the Irish do the Cemetery Mass particularly well.

How we do it, the importance we attach to it, reveals much that is positive about our people, our communities. The Cemetery Mass is our families and our communities – past, present and future – supporting, bonding…being.

 

Donegal defeat and genius at work in Clones

 

 

Saturday

The Hyde looked wonderful on Saturday; the Man from the Connacht Council would surely have been impressed!

  It was easy enough to forget the trauma of Tyrone (the previous Saturday) as anticipation built before throw-in.

  The Donegal fans had travelled in great numbers and there was a good atmosphere in the Hyde, where the flags and jerseys of the two competing counties created great colour in the stands.

  Roscommon started with fire in their bellies, as we expected they would. A massive point from Ciaráin Murtagh was a declaration of intent from Roscommon.

  We do belong in this company, it seemed to say!

  Moments later, more excitement as Conor Devaney found Diarmuid Murtagh with a wonderful diagonal pass…a goal chance perhaps, but Diarmuid, soon swarmed upon by indignant Donegal defenders, had to settle for a point. Roscommon led 0-4 to 0-2 by the 12th minute or so. It was very encouraging…but change was coming. 

  Donegal took almost complete control of midfield. In the stand on the Athlone Road side, we watched with a sense of the inevitable: another defeat slowly creeping up on us.

  Michael Murphy was now rampaging around the Hyde as if he owned the place…causing consternation. Roscommon went a long time without scoring; Donegal popped over several points before Cathal Compton stopped the rot.

  A flare-up just before half-time, and suddenly an infuriated Roscommon manager, Kevin McStay, was on the field, remonstrating with the officials. Players jostled. Just as it seemed to be dying down, McStay walked away from the heat of battle, having had his say. He picked up the ball – by now a forgotten prop – and lobbed it back towards the rolling maul of players and officials. As luck would have it, the ball landed perfectly on the head of an official, like a Tiger Woods wedge hitting the flag.

  Roscommon put in a very good second half. They closed the gap to four, desperately trying to stay in touch. It was much, much better than the feeble collapse against Tyrone. But Roscommon were again out-muscled and, playing a touch more conservatively today, they struggled to get men forward. The Roscommon kick-outs were under pressure throughout. We watched the Rossies play with honour and commitment and no little skill, but it was never likely to be enough. In truth, Donegal missed a number of chances and were comfortable enough winners.

  The Donegal folk stayed around for many hours afterwards – many stayed the night -– in what was a welcome boost for local businesses.

  On Sunday night, as we plaintively joined the neutral onlookers in assessing our sobering Super 8s ride, Joe Brolly suggested two tiers before bedtime – insisting that while Roscommon were a “good” team, they currently belong in a second tier Gaelic Football competition.

  I couldn’t disagree more – Roscommon belong where they are. A silly point from Joe, which is not to say that Roscommon don’t have a lot to do to compete with the top five or six teams in the land, because they do! Second tier? You must be joking, Joe!

  Meanwhile, the original Joe Brolly – Eamon Dunphy, that is – has announced that he is to leave RTE after 40 years in the pundit’s chair. I will return to this issue of national importance. For now, suffice to say that we truly will never see his likes again; an absolute national treasure. I loved tuning in for Eamon’s unique contributions – then making a cup of tea when the football came on.

Sunday

When soccer scout Bob Bishop saw the teenage wonderkid George Best destroying opponents on Belfast playing fields, he reportedly sent Manchester United boss Matt Busby a telegram:

  “I think I’ve found you a genius”.

  Sitting in the Davin Stand watching the All-Ireland Minor Football Final last September, I might have been tempted to send a telegram – well, okay, a tweet – to Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice.

  Same message as Bob’s…’eh, genius alert!’

  Mind you, Mr. Fitzmaurice knows a fair bit more about Gaelic Football than I do – and by last September, he and most GAA fans in the country were well aware of the burgeoning excitement about a new sensation from The Kingdom, this potential heir to the greats of the past.

  We all knew something special was happening – no need for that tweet!

  Clifford was mesmerising in that minor final, scoring an amazing 4-4.

  Watching this unfold was thrilling…because of his actual performance, but also because you knew that a superstar was announcing his arrival. 

  The future was being taken care of!

  Clifford was so sensational, it was understandable that some people almost questioned what they were seeing…they grasped for meaning, for reassurance! How could this be? This Roy of the Rovers stuff? They wondered…could this young man really make a similar impact at senior level? Should his inevitable elevation into the ‘big boys club’ be delayed?

  In fact Fitzmaurice put immediate faith in the breathtaking new kid on the block. And he’s taken to the senior grade effortlessly and is tormenting seasoned defenders. 

  Last Sunday, aided by a wise ‘old’ man – Kieran Donaghy is his name – Clifford electrified the watching audience in the Super 8s’ game between Monaghan and Kerry. Great players can exhibit the might of their greatness when it matters most.

  Injury-time, seconds to go, Kerry a goal behind and on course – sensationally – to exit the championship.

  Donaghy, weary but wise, knocked down one more high ball from the vastness of his veteran career. Everything froze, bar the wonderkid.  Clifford’s positional awareness, composure, vision and skill was a declaration of genius. The ‘boy wonder’ (okay, 19-year-old) arrowed the ball past a fretful line of anguished Monaghan men.

  Game saved, Kerry saved, audience gasps. Bob Bishop would have been lining up a telegram…

 

 

 

A Croatian, a Frenchman and a Rossie walk into a bar...

 

Friday

It’s a long way to Tipperary; Kerry’s no joke either.

  We arrived in Sneem on Friday evening, staying at ‘The Sneem Hotel’. It’s a long, long drive from Roscommon, but the fabulous scenery makes it all worthwhile. The journey brought us into ‘The Ring of Kerry’ and we ventured into bustling Killarney, the country’s tourism capital. There’s a visible buzz, if a buzz can be visible. On arrival in Sneem, the hotel staff were extremely friendly – and it’s a hotel I’d recommend.

  Not having been in Sneem before, we had a quick look at the village. “It’s like Balamory” (the town in the popular children’s tv programme) one of the kids said – and so it is. Several of the quaint buildings are very colourfully painted.

Saturday

The coastal drive to Valentia Island is pretty spectacular. En route, there’s a lovely summer atmosphere in Waterville, where there are two statues that command your attention. One is of Mick O’Dwyer, perhaps the single greatest GAA personality of them all. How special it must be for this man to live to see a statue dedicated to him (usually the person being paid tribute to has passed on before the unveiling). The other statue is of the trailblazing comedy genius, Charlie Chaplin, who spent many happy summers on holiday in Waterville.

  On Valentia Island, the locals are friendly and welcoming, and the scenery is beautiful. The island has a rich history which is well worth exploring. On the journey back, we stop at the spectacular Kerry Cliffs, from which you can view Skellig Michael. A walk to the top of the cliffs and a dreamy view of what Mother Nature then offers makes for a breathtaking experience.

Saturday evening

It’s Super 8s time in Sneem, but the Sky Sports reception in the otherwise excellent hotel was dodgy, the action from Croke Park fuzzy and frustrating. We had to abandon and relocate to a cosy pub in Sneem village, where the locals were only mildly interested in Roscommon v Tyrone.

  Early promise from Roscommon was soon replaced by gloom. Enda Smith’s superb goal early in the second half raised spirits, but Tyrone plundered on relentlessly and Roscommon’s Super 8s opener fizzled out badly. Here’s to a much better performance this weekend.

Sunday

Today we went to Kenmare, where there was a lovely atmosphere. All weekend, this lively town had gone ‘all French’. I subsequently discovered that there’s a large French community living in Kenmare. The locals were celebrating Bastille Day in style, French flags and bunting much in evidence. This was all very timely, given that France were playing in the World Cup Final on Sunday.

  We spent a few hours doing tourist-type stuff in Kenmare, before switching our focus to the day’s sporting activity: Croker and Russia.

  It would be unfair to say that pubs and hotels weren’t showing the World Cup Final, but accessing the soccer wasn’t that straightforward. Most places were concentrating on Kerry v Galway in the Super 8s (starting at the same time as France v Croatia) and those that had the World Cup on were crowded, or pretty much insisting that customers order food! We were watching the end of Kilkenny v Limerick in a bar when a group of 12 French fans came in. They pointed to vacant seating and asked if they could watch the soccer, only to be told they’d have to order food! (They were planning to order drinks).

  There were French people everywhere, and a few Croatians too, and by 4 pm some of them were getting a little panicked, all alarmed at the sight of Pat Spillane filling the space they’d assumed the World Cup Final would occupy. 

  On the street, in the drizzle, French and Croatian fans looked at us pleadingly and asked: “…where can we see the World Cup Final?”

  Between us all – Kerry locals and visitors alike – we tried to explain about Damien Comer and David Clifford and black cards and fair shoulder charges and blanket defences and the Super 8s and that this was why so many screens in packed pubs were showing GAA, not the big one from Russia.

  In the end, after much wandering in and out of establishments by French, Croatians and Irish (us), I think everyone got to see what they wanted to see.

  We ended up in a busy hotel, one eye on the soccer, one eye on the GAA. Kerry’s defeat to Galway came as a right shock to the locals. As the Rossies, the Croatians and the Kerry aristocrats licked their collective wounds, young French fans drove up and down Kenmare with horns beeping and flags waving…they’d only gone and won the World Cup in Kerry.

Monday morning

The ‘filling station’ we stop at this morning is more of a private house with an old garage and rusty fuel pumps. Visually, this place is past its heyday, but it’s quaint and charming. There’s no sign of life, but it appears to be open. After filling fuel, I go up to the garage, but there’s no-one around. Silence reigns. Then the door of the house slowly opens and I can hear words before I see a face.

  “Money, money, money…” the female voice says.

  The voice belongs to a woman of ‘a certain age’ and her ‘money, money, money’ comment had been said in humour (it appears). The woman of the house/filling station is formidable, I suspect. “Nice morning” she ventures next, before informing me that the previous night’s drop of rain had been badly needed. I agree, and hand over the money, money, money.

  An hour in Sneem…before facing that long drive back to Roscommon. At the entrance to a pretty green area, there’s a sight that requires a ‘doubletake’. A man with a very long beard is sitting on a park bench, holding an animal (pet?) on a lead. It’s a goat! And a mountain goat, at that!

  We have encountered a clever entrepreneuer. This ‘One Man and His Goat’ is a tourist attraction. Buses full of tourists stop every few minutes in Sneem. Most of the visitors take photos with the man and his (allegedly) Guinness-drinking mountain goat. Donations are gratefully accepted and thrown into a cap at the man’s feet. The goat seems very relaxed. So does the man.

  “He’s a mountain goat and his horns grow an inch or two every year” the man tells a tourist, opting not to say how much his own impressive beard grows each year.

Monday afternoon

Later, we stop in Killarney, which, as every summer, is brimming with tourists, a large number of whom are from the USA. The town is buzzing and there are numerous quaint shops as well as bars, restaurants and those majestic dripping-in-character hotels.

  I wonder what the Americans make of their President, Mr. Trump, in the news (as ever), this time over his chaotic visit to see Mr. Putin in Helsinki. No doubt there are mixed views (perhaps some supportive) although you have to say that Trump’s post-summit press conference was quite bizarre, even by his standards. Far from ‘Putin the boot in’, more a case of Russian Rollover. 

  Maybe the American tourists have banished Trump from their minds, as they enjoy wonderful Kerry.

  As our American friends feel the texture of yet more Aran sweaters, two no-nonsense Kerry men stand outside the shop and casually pore over the fall-out of their county’s dismal Super 8s show.

  “Yerra there’s no point in going to Croke Park and playing like that, they’ll have to do better when they go back for the semi-final”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super 8s and 7 more years...

 

 

Saturday

It was always likely to be a cracker – it turned out to be a classic.

  By the end of a mesmerising contest, old men with hats protecting their heads from the searing sun were on their feet to acclaim a swashbuckling and stylish Roscommon performance.

  The bog could wait.

  Delighted children perhaps didn’t realise the full significance of the win; the rest of us knew for sure how special this was.

  Portlaoise is a really nice ground and Roscommon fans have fond memories of this place. Over a quarter of a century ago Tony McManus (scoring 2-5) led Roscommon to a famous National League knock-out win over Dublin in a classic at that ground; in 2003 Frankie Dolan produced his own masterclass (scoring 0-11) as Roscommon saw off Kildare.

  When we arrived in Portlaoise on Saturday, weather conditions were beautiful and Roscommon fans easily outnumbered our friends from Armagh, anticipation high.

  Roscommon started brightly enough, but the Armagh forwards were threatening Armageddon for Kevin McStay’s side; their phenomenal first-half shooting was setting a daunting standard.

  We were doing well in general play, but in a free-flowing game every Armagh attack was hurting Roscommon.

  In a thrilling first half hour, every single time Armagh went for a point the ball sailed between the uprights. It was a scoring masterclass, and left Roscommon in no doubt about the scale of the challenge.

  The key first-half score came after 29 minutes and it pumped extra confidence into Roscommon.

  It’s been obvious for several months that this exciting Roscommon team carries a lethal goal threat, one that is the envy of most teams in the country. Now, in a superb move that traversed the length of the field, Roscommon cut through Armagh with intent, the decisive strike from Devaney, who injected pace at the right time before passing to Enda Smith who goaled to the acclaim of the fans.

  Roscommon had started well and had been staying with clinical Armagh; but this score was a game-changer, a declaration of intent.

  The second half was another thriller, Armagh missing a penalty but scoring a goal a few minutes later, Roscommon showcasing all their attacking flair with some superb points. It was quality football; a feast for spectators – and nervewracking too.

  Roscommon always looked the most likely winners – but they had to win this one four or five times, with Armagh coming back every time McStay’s team went a few clear.

  The scores were now coming faster than UK Government resignations. The brilliant Cathal Cregg was kicking inspirational points; Enda Smith was tormenting Armagh with his powerful running and superb use of possession. The Murtaghs? They used to say that defenders who had faced George Best left the field with ‘twisted blood’; the Armagh defenders will know the meaning of that term this week.

   By full-time, the best dressed umpires in the world  – all soberly atttired in collar and tie, as though rehearsing for stewarding duties during the Pope’s visit – were wrecked from raising their flags, the game producing 44 scores.

  It had promised to be a cracker, it turned out to be a classic. Roscommon were well deserving of their win and might have had three more goals. Armagh had contributed handsomely to a great game.

  The prize was epic – a place in the Super 8s. It has lifted the morale of a county – further. The flags are flying proudly and ‘football talk’ is the background sound of this sizzling summer.

  Back to Portlaoise: What finally shook a formidable Armagh team off was Enda Smith’s game-sealing second goal. Roscommon had relentlessly sought to push Armagh into submission with some superb football – but the Ulster side had gamely hung on. Now, after three second-half goal chances had been missed, Smith powered through and took responsibility. Too often Roscommon had paid a price for over-elaborating or over-thinking; Smith didn’t look for options, for help, he just went for it; Ball. In. Net. Game. Over.

  The last few minutes – Roscommon seven up, then six – were reminiscent of the final minutes of the 2017 Connacht Final. Giddiness, relief, joy escaping. Roscommon knew they were over the line, that the margin was a safe one, that this was their day.

  Many enthusiastic fans surged on to the pitch at the final whistle. Some of us just drew breath and savoured what it all means. Below us, Kevin McStay and Kieran McGeeney shook hands, mutual respest dripping from them. We left the stand smiling inside and outside, emerging into fierce heat and the first steps of the new adventures that lie ahead.

Every day

It seems that nothing excites the Irish media like the prospect of a Presidential election.

  The silly season hasn’t even started – but the silliness is being cranked up.

  For years (yes, years) the Irish media chased Miriam O’Callaghan around, in excitable anticipation of the Golden Girl reaching for the Áras.

  This constant media attention must have been deeply embarrassing for Miriam, who thankfully hit on a great idea a year or two in – announcing that, despite constant pleas from the public for her to run, she had decided not to.

  The incumbent, the very shrewd Michael D. Higgins, kept his cards close to his chest while all around him the media were doorstepping anyone with the slightest profile and demanding to know: Are you running for the Presidency?

  Michael D. had told the nation in 2011 that, if successful, he would strictly be a one-term President.

  We listened intently to that proclamation and then dismissed it. And we were right.

  The world’s worst kept (and least interesting) secret is out – and Michael D. is indeed going to seek a new term.

  Cue the media going into overdrive in a frenzied search for some drama...well, even for some credible opposition to the man who has undoubtedly been a distinguished holder of the office.

  The prospects for a great epic battle are bleak – and even the media realises that the race for the Park in 2018 might well be a sad successor to the drama of the 2011 campaign, like a Bond movie being followed by Oireachtas Report.

  The Irish Independent on Wednesday (again, note the profile given: it was the lead story) ominously spoke of Michael D. facing minnows in an election anti-climax!

  As Kevin Sharkey (artist) and Padraig O’Ceidigh (Aer Arann founder) digested their morning cereals and the reality that they had been depicted as minnows, the smug Terry Prone discussed the matter at length with Pat Kenny on Newstalk. 

  On and on it went – I almost switched over to Ryan Tubridy – but it was still too early in the day for such jollity. (To be continued!).

 

 

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