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Paul Healy's Week

Paul Healy's Week

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!).

 

 

Sunny side up: Achill gets a break…

 

Thursday

In the convenience store in Keel village in Mayo, an elderly customer surveyed the options on the shelf.

  “It’s hard to know what to eat in this weather” she says, finally.

  When the woman established that I was a tourist/camper, she beamed with pride, pride in her place.

  “We haven’t had weather like this in Achill for over twenty years” she said.

  She was almost emotional. And I could understand that. Achill was getting a break, getting a break after all those wretched wet summers. It was too late for the boarded up premises’ we had passed earlier, some with forlorn and fading ‘For Sale’ signs outside them. But it was a timely boost for all the other businesses, for the community. 

  Achill was getting a break, like every other endlessly patient would-be tourist location in Ireland is these days. Life was good in Achill last week. Local businesses were buoyant…with holiday-makers in abundance and everyone in good humour. The glorious Achill beaches were busy, the stunning scenery at its most eye-catching. 

  It was like the summers of our childhood had been packaged into a greatest hits montage.

  We’d arrived on Thursday evening, with our ‘home on our backs’. Our destination was the Sandybanks Caravan & Camping Park. It was after 7 pm when we got there, intent on getting in tent. This time, we got the tent up very quickly, and no poles or pegs left over!

  ‘Sandybanks’ is an excellent park. The facilities are top class and it’s located right beside a beautiful beach.

  The weather was, of course, amazing. Thirsty after our tent assembling, I popped into the Amethyst Bar for a cool drink and met a Dublin man who relocated to Achill a number of years ago. Soon we were talking about the World Cup, the Mayo/Kildare venue controversy, the price of housing and anything else that two strangers could muse about on a hot evening.

  Back ‘on site’ a half an hour later, and our son was now playing football with seven or eight newly-acquired friends. Kids on holidays…they evolve from strangers into friends within minutes. Suddenly the play area is full of young Messis, Neymars’ and Salahs.

Friday

It’s an absolutely glorious day – over 30 degrees – and Keel is magical. We take a drive around Achill Island. When I was a young lad, any trips to beaches in summer were usually to Enniscrone, Strandhill, or Salthill. It’s only in latter years that I’ve become familiar with Achill. It’s really beautiful…wild and wonderful. There’s none of that usual atmospheric rain-drenched or wind-battered ruggedness this time; now, in this record-setting summer of 2018, Achill is a stunning, sun-soaked sight.

  There are sheep everywhere…including on all the narrow roads. We’re in a café, and two sheep suddenly walk slowly by. A few minutes later, four sheep hang around outside a quaint post office. Later, one crosses the road in front of our car, oblivious to the vehicle and indeed to anything else in the world.

  We take the visually breathtaking drive to Keem beach, where there are huge crowds of people enjoying the glorious conditions. A beautiful place, Keem Bay is set against the background of the magnificent Croaghaun mountain, the sandy beach accessible only by a winding drive, cycle or walk along a clifftop, offering spectacular scenery and maybe even a nervous moment or two for any faint-hearted folk. Sheep that hadn’t scheduled a trip to the post office into their busy day ensured that our clifftop drive is suitably slow and focussed.

  When we return to ‘Sandybanks’, the park is much busier than the previous evening. As it’s the weekend now, several more campers have arrived: caravans, camper vans and tents zig-zag into position across the lush greenery.

  Across from us, a man – bizarrely – is mowing the grass around his caravan. This is not a private garden or rented area, it is very definitely ‘everyone’s grass,’ it just happens to be near his caravan. Serious Man has a small lawnmower plugged in and he’s very assiduously cutting a section in front of his abode.

  Two German couples have arrived, with three small blonde children. We don’t mention the W. The World Cup. The Germans have exited tamely from the competition. Meanwhile, most of the sporting talk in Achill is of GAA, not soccer. Mayo flags fly proudly. A shed is painted green and red. There is nervousness, and hope, and yes, it’s the hope that’s killing…slowly.

  As ever, life in a camping park is relaxed and leisurely. Everyone is friendly. It’s brilliant for small kids and relaxing for parents. There’s a sense of community here; two campers from either side of us ask if they can borrow our pump so they can inflate beds. ‘No problem, you’re welcome’ –  although you’ll find that Serious Man probably has the latest super-pump in his collection of accessories!

Saturday

Today we check out. The tent is taken down without any fuss. Small talk with strangers. The Germans are gone to the beach already. Serious Man nods and, make no mistake about it, I nod back. RN registrations and MO registrations, plus many visitors from abroad. We leave Sandybanks, Serious Man, the sheep, the surfers, and the sun worshippers. Beautiful place, Achill.

  The drive home is in brilliant sunshine and against a landscape of gently fluttering Mayo flags. Even after that evening’s subsequent (and surprise) defeat in Newbridge, those flags can still fly proudly.

  Crossing into Gortaganny country, a huge primrose and blue flag announces we’re back in Roscommon territory. I can already feel the hope – that damned hope – creeping closer, threatening to engulf us and toy with our dreams.

All week

It’s a brilliant World Cup. It usually is. Even critics find the tournament usually grows on them. How can you not love it?

  There’s so much drama, much of it in the closing stages of games. There have been some superb goals too.

  Like most Irish people, I’ve had my own ‘conflict’ when it comes to English soccer teams over the years! There is, shall we say, a tendency for over-confidence/arrogance to go side by side with their many doomed campaigns. But that’s changing! I found myself cheering for England on Tuesday night. Columbia were extremely cynical. Also, I was delighted to see England finally win a penalty shoot-out. So, there you go: I cheered the Brits on!

  Can they get to the final? Could they even win it? Truth is, England are hardly terrifying the other teams. But they are resilient, they’re well organised, they’re game…most of all, they have Harry.  They also have a great draw. Their game with Sweden (quarter-final) is probably a 50-50. I think I’ll be cheering for the neighbours again.

  The winners of this gripping tournament? As matters stand, you’d have to look to Brazil, France or maybe Belgium. 

More thrills to come ...

‘Derby’ D-day!

“It’s a local derby” Dublin footballer Ciara Trant commented on RTE Radio when Roscommon drew Armagh on Monday morning.

  Well, anyone can make a mistake, and to be fair to Ciara she responded with good humour on Twitter…and pointed to the irony that she’s a Geography teacher!

  Meanwhile, here’s wishing Kevin McStay and the Roscommon players well on Saturday when they play Armagh in Portlaoise. Win that one and we’re into the Super 8s…and even more ‘local derbies’!

 

Paranoid about an android…

Tuesday

It’s lovely when an old friend unexpectedly makes contact…

  So imagine how thrilled I was when my old friend(s) in Vodafone sent me a text, right out of the blue.

  After the customary warm ‘hello,’ Vodafone got straight to the point.

  “We’d like to ask you three questions about your experience of using our network recently”. 

  This is very friendly – last time they only offered to ask me three questions after I had asked them to sort out a (Vodafone related) problem for me.

  Now they were suddenly in touch, not on foot of a recent exchange between us, but quite randomly.

  I was of course hesitant. I suspect a robot is ‘at work’ and that I may not be dealing with a human. Paranoid about the android? Plus, last time when I gave in and went along with their ‘three questions’, they pounced in dramatic circumstances at the very end of the ordeal.

  “One final question…” they texted that time, to which I replied: “Nope! You said three”.

  Life too short and all that.

  Still, I decided to read the rest of this most recent text. It continued:

  “Replies are free of charge, first question to follow”.

  Free of charge?!!!

  I reflected on this extra information. It seemed too good to be true. I collected my thoughts and tried to digest this extraordinary offer.

  It seems that my friend(s) in Vodafone wanted to ask me three questions (and then sneak in a fourth) of mindboggling tediousness during the hottest week in living memory, questions which I’m expected to patiently respond to, and all with the guarantee that Vodafone would not charge me for my replies!  

  I decided to seek clarity. They had texted me, so surely I could text them?

  ‘Definitely no charge?” I asked sarcastically (that’s if you can convey sarcasm by text). Much to my dismay, my text wouldn’t even go through. This automated friend can give it, but can’t take it!

  I feel a bit used. They asked me to oblige them, I asked them a simple question, they effectively broke off communication. They never even kept their promise; never sent on question one, like they had promised they would.

  It was Tuesday afternoon. Probably gone to watch the soccer…

Midsummer's Day, World Cup and heatwave in Doughill!

 

 

Saturday/Sunday

It was a great weekend in Roscommon town, with hat-wearing, foot-stompin’, frequently yahooing country music devotees much in evidence – and vintage cars too.

  Many of them were extremely old -– I hasten to add that’s the cars, not the country & western fans.

  I called up to the grounds of the Abbey Hotel on Saturday to see the start of the Connacht Veteran & Vintage Motor Club’s annual rally/road run. I’m glad I did – it was fantastic. The Abbey grounds were brimming with wonderful old cars, many of them beautifully restored, some of the drivers dressing up in old costumes for this special weekend.

  Some of these vintage cars were breathtakingly beautiful. There was a wonderful variety (we have photos in this issue). Well done to local businessman Vincent Timothy and all other organisers.

  In stunning weather and wonderful humour, the vintage car enthusiasts, horns beeping and roofs rolled back, headed off from the Abbey at around 11.40 on a road run that brought them into South Roscommon and Galway and back, many hours later, for a Dinner in the hotel (attended by over 120 guests). On Sunday, a shorter run left the Abbey Hotel for Rathcroghan Visitor Centre. Anyone who saw the cavalcade of beautiful cars won’t forget it in a hurry. The event was great fun and also an economic boost to the town. Well done to all concerned.

  Last weekend was also ‘Roscommon goes Country Music crazy’ weekend as Joe Finnegan’s big Midsummer’s Day with the Stars took place on Sunday. I understand all hotel and B&B beds were booked up many weeks ago.

  We didn’t get to the racecourse for Sunday’s hugely successful concert. I did drive through town on Sunday night however and it’s fair to say that many revellers were in great form, with local pubs putting on live music and the craic continuing long after the last verse had been sing at Lenabane.

  Good-humoured folk from Roscommon and from all over Ireland created a great atmosphere in the town and there were more cowboy hats on show than you’d see in a John Wayne western.

  As the kids might say, what’s next? 

Monday/Tuesday

The World Cup has been good fun, dramatic indeed – and it will get even better.

  What with the hot weather and being busy at work, I’ve been recording games, then whizzing through the highlights and the analysis for some late-night drama.

  I’ve barely seen Matt or Ivan since May.

  Mostly, I’ve managed to avoid knowing the results of games before checking the recordings, and yes, that’s some achievement in this day and age.

  Also, I’ve been fortunate so far that the recordings have been by and large uninterrupted and that I haven’t sat down to watch Argentina or Brazil only to find that ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ is waiting for me instead.

  As for ‘The Amazing World of Ronaldo’, the Portuguese superstar was arguably fortunate not to be red-carded on Monday night. That was a thrilling World Cup night, with much chaos as players constantly applied pressure on the referee to refer decisions to VAR (Video Assistant Referee). Drama, great entertainment, VAR suddenly the star of the tournament…which is arguably not a good thing.

  That was Monday night. On Tuesday, I was back in the real world – at work – the heatwave teasing and thrilling us.

  By 4 pm, I was more than happy to volunteer for the ‘school run’…and some exposure to the sun.

  At Coman’s Wood Primary School, the kids (our son included) were playing after-school soccer (organised) as parents arrived to collect them.

  In sweltering, almost unprecedented heat, the boys and girls – all aged seven to eight – were playing a match under the watchful eye and friendly guidance of their coach.

  I watched this alternative World Cup, and it was a joy to see their joy. It was boys against girls, the play back and forth, the eagerness and concentration of the kids both innocent and impressive.

  At that age, ‘defenders’ and ‘forwards’ don’t quite hold their positions – it’s ‘total football’ – the kids sometimes charge up and down, drawn to the ball. Drawn to the football, like we all were. No boring systems here; Joe Brolly (of another code) would approve!

  Into the final minutes, and the boys were on the attack, a quick break forming. Two boys chased a long pass…heading towards the girls’ goal. One boy scored. He ran all the way back into defence, and I was curious to see the other boy run all the way back after him. Then I saw why. Back in defence, all five or six boys met up and gave one another a High Five.

  Joyous stuff. Late drama in the field at St. Coman’s Wood. No VAR. Total football, total fun. The alternative World Cup has its own magic. 

Eh, sorry about that…

An apology, this week: In the past, we may have given the impression that the typical Roscommon person gets through life in heavy clothes, ever-fearful of bad weather, buying and then consuming potatoes and meat, programmed to give out about the constant rain and to be sharply sceptical of any positive vibes about our footballers…and, personality-wise, armed with just the right mix of pleasantness and begrudgery. This week we wish to clarify that we have essentially misled our readers. Eh, sorry.

  In actual fact, the typical Roscommon person is bright and breezy with a sunny disposition, wears silly shorts and an even sillier (sun)hat, gorges on barbecued burgers and chicken skewers, is in eternally good humour and likes nothing more than cutting the lawn at 9.30 at night with a chilled glass of white wine within their line of vision (a friend told me) – or indeed getting to the waterside as quickly as possible and acting like ‘continentals’. Sincere apologies for any confusion over the years.

 

Forget Lanzarote …get to Doughill!

 

Tuesday

Forget Spain, Portugul and and Lanzarote – Doughill is the place to be!

  “We’re at the foot of Sliabh Ban mountain” John Leckey said to me, with pride, on Wednesday. Which of course I knew anyway. Most people have heard of John’s of Doughill. A lot of people have been in it!

  John is John Leckey, and John’s of Doughill is the quaint pub that John runs. And if it’s glorious, record-breaking sunshine you want, then maybe Doughill is the place to be!

  That’s because when weather forecasters were hinting that the heatwave MIGHT creep up to 30 or 31 degrees by Wednesday/Thursday, Doughill had that ‘target’ surpassed by Tuesday!

  John had the evidence – it was, he reports, an astonishing 31/32 degrees in Doughill at 5.30 on Tuesday evening. He produced a photo as evidence.

  “It’s the first ever photo I took on my mobile” John told the People, by the way. “We had a few customers in, and they were all talking about the heat. I’m in business here eighteen years and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the hottest ever!”

  Thirsty times in Doughill!

 

 

 

 

 

Connacht Final Special - Don't mention the war!

 

 

Sunday

Walking back into town from the Hyde on Sunday…so many people.

 

  First, I met The Man In The Street. I met him just outside the Hyde, well, in the street actually.

  “Threw it away” he said, shaking his head. “You can’t win a Connacht Final if you only score 1-1 in the second half”.

  Next, I met The Woman In The Street.

  “Well, Paul, what did you make of that?”

  I was about to answer, when she ventured her own verdict.

  “We should have been out of sight at half-time”.

  I wasn’t too sure about us being out of sight, but I continued walking towards town. 

  Next, I met The Former Player.

  I felt a bit overawed, but sure I’m as entitled to an opinion as the next person.

  The Former Player was a bit more nuanced.

  “They committed more men in the second half and their subs made a big difference”.

  I realised that by the time I got to town I’d have a great overview of what had gone wrong. I’d woo them in the bar if (as seemed likely) I popped in for Postmortem Pint.

  Next, I met The Great Clubman.

  As is his nature, he was more than fair-minded.

  “Ah, they played a great first half, we just had a bad day in front of the posts, that’ll never happen again”.

  The GAA will never die as long as The Great Clubman is around. They’re everywhere, and they always have lotto tickets on them.

  By now I was at Dermot Hughes’ (Toyota Man). Next, I met The Man Who Knows It All.

  “Left it behind Paul, left it behind! Sure they ran straight through us in the last ten minutes. We had no impact subs compared to them. Our lads were isolated up front, and they took the wrong options. And I can’t understand how…”

  I left him in mid-sentence; there’s very little you can say to The Man Who Knows It All. He can never for the life of him ‘understand how’. I quickened my step and The Man Who Knows It All was soon lost in the crowd…where he could know it all with someone else.

  Next, I met the Fair Weather Supporter.

  “I thought they had it at half-time but sure look, they tried their best” he reasoned.

  I wondered if he resented handing over all those nice euro notes, but he seemed happy enough that he had joined the bandwagon. He was fair enough in his analysis.

  “We’re still in it, we can make the Super 8s,” I said to Strictly Fair Weather Man, hoping he knew what I was referring to! (I feared I might have to explain to him that the Super 8 isn’t some new menu option in Supermac’s, which was now within sight of us).

  Next, I met the Ould Fella Who Played In The Good Old Days.

  “Galway had thirteen men behind the ball, sure that’s not football” he said, shaking his head, though I felt his heart wasn’t in it, like he knew his pre-match script was a bit irrelevant now, what with Galway having come out to play in the second half.  After all, it was quite a good match.

  ‘Ould Fella’ was happy enough too, but as I moved on, I suspected he was daydreaming of real men going man for man and of full-backs who would creel any man brave/stupid enough to enter their zone.

  By now I was at Casey’s Roundabout. I met The Man You Can’t Put A Name on Who You Meet At Matches Every Few Years.

  He raised his eyebrows and I raised my eyebrows. “A bad day at the office” he said. “Could have won” I said, “missed too much in the second half. But they played well”.

  You can’t talk for long on a roundabout; we’ll resume the conversation in the future.

  Next, I met The Bigger Picture Businessman.

  “Ah they were in hard luck, but sure it’s a great day for the town!”

  I had to agree. We both agreed that the Hyde looked great and that the town needed this day badly. Let the tills ring out.

  Deeply disappointed at the result, but proud of the Roscommon team, I decided a post-match pint and some more interaction with fellow sufferers was the way to go.

  I met Everyman. They were all great company. Even Barstool Expert was bearable. Sure we all have opinions. Barstool Expert reeled off several reasons for Roscommon’s loss, but he reckoned we can have a good run yet.

  The only one who got on my nerves ever so slightly was The Armchair Critic. He wasn’t at the game (naturally), he wouldn’t cross the road to see them.

  He was the only bullshi**er I met all day. People don’t have to go to games (many can’t) and those who don’t are very much entitled to their opinion. But A Particular Type of Armchair Critic is a bore and a spoofer.

  I left him, and returned to the throngs at the bar on this vibrant day in Roscommon. I joined The True Rossies, ordered a pint…and we sorted it all out.

‘Most relaxed person of week’

The ‘Most relaxed person of the week’ award goes to the middle-aged man who abandoned (I cannot say ‘parked’) his car in the most audacious manner at Casey’s in Roscommon.

 

  This gentleman just drove in and abandoned his car – zigzag, for us all to admire – in the middle of the forecourt, before casually getting out. 

  He then proceeded to take his time walking into the shop, having a good look around him as he went.

  His car was in everyone’s way, but he was a cool as a cucumber. Nothing fazes him.

  Get that man on to the Brexit negotiations straight away!

 

Whatever you do, don’t mention the…

In Fawlty Towers, a concussed Basil whispers to one of his long-suffering colleagues: “Don’t mention the war, I mentioned it once or twice, but I think I got away with it!”

 

  I’m not sure what the policy on ‘mentioning the war’ was within the corridors of power in the Connacht Council all week (although I have a fair idea, I suppose!).

  Hot on the heels of not sparing Roscommon County Board – in public – on the status of Hyde Park a week or so ago, the Connacht Council made a bad job of it if their policy was to ‘not mention the war’ last weekend!

  The charm offensive in reverse began in the match programme for the Connacht Final. Fair enough I suppose that Gerry McGovern, Connacht Council President, saw fit in his programme notes to call on Roscommon County Board to to start refurbishments as soon as possible.

  Arguably not so fair – indeed to quote the late Kenny Everett “not in the best possible taste” – was McGovern’s decision to repeat the Connacht Council line: “This is the last Connacht Senior Football Championship final that will be held at this venue until the necessary refurbishment works are carried out…”

  It was a bit like attending a neighbour’s Christmas Party, but insisting that you wouldn’t be coming in any future year unless the furnishings and refreshments were of a higher standard.

  Later, when handing over the cup to the Galway captain, Mr. McGovern definitely failed the ‘Don’t mention the war’ test.

  Why are the Connacht Council seeking to embarrass Roscommon County Board so publicly on this issue? Is it not enough to convey the message once, then let diplomacy take over?!

  But Mr. McGovern had a message to impart, an engineering and construction and renovation message, even as a football team captain had his hand out for the Nestor Cup.

  Surely, in light of raising the subject in the match progamme, Mr. McGovern should (metaphorically speaking) have been whispering to any Connacht Council colleagues within earshot “Don’t mention the war, I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it!”

  Instead, he only went and mentioned it again.

  “This is the last Connacht Final….” (you know the rest).

  No-one is disputing that works need to be done at the Hyde, but the Connacht Council seems to be turning the screw quite a bit, and the timing of Mr. McGovern’s comments frustrated many Roscommon people.

 

First Dates Singapore special…it’s exclusive!

 

‘In the First Dates restaurant, 72-year-old Donald arrives…looking for companionship’.

  (I’m trusting most readers have seen the hit TV show!).

  Voiceover Guy has set the scene. We cut to footage of a confident, nay arrogant, tall man with remarkable hair and pursed lips walking briskly towards the First Dates restaurant. He brushes past the host and props himself on a stool at the bar, airily checking the joint out for mirrors.

  The barman asks the usual question.

  “Good evening Sir, and what type of partner are you looking for?”

  Donald looks at the young man dismissively, then relaxes.

  “Oh just someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, someone who’s a bit of fun…likes golf, maybe someone like me…er…impulsive, with a hint of danger, unpredictable”.

  He asks for a soft drink, takes out his iPhone and tweets about the Canadian Prime Minister. ‘Loser!’

  Back to Voiceover Guy’s soothing tones and footage of a small man with glasses and a toy gun striding confidently through the Singapore Square (it’s a First Dates Singapore special). 

  “Also looking for companionship is 34-year-old Kim Jong Un from North Korea, who has never dated before but who says he’s ready to check out the scene”.

  Viewers see Kim arrive in the First Dates restaurant. Donald’s head turns. The two men make slightly shy eye contact and then embrace and shake hands for ages.

  “Where are you from?” Donald asks.

  “North Korea. And you?”

  “A different planet” mutters the barman under his breath. Trump shoots him a grimace.

  The show’s host asks if they’d like to move into the dining area. Donald ushers Kim in.  

  “It’s gonna be great!” he says, admiring his reflection in a glass.

  Kim Jong Un puts the toy gun down, smiles and relaxes.

  Later, Donald insists on paying, one eye on the camera.

  “I can go halves…” says Kim.

  “No, I’ll get this” insists Donald, making sure not to tip.

   Later, they sit down together in front of the camera.

  “Hi”.

  “Hi again”.

  Kim break the ice. “At least our date didn’t bomb!”

  Donald splutters, then recovers.

  Voiceover Guy: “Would you like to meet again?”  

  Kim: “Yeah, maybe as friends…not sure if I felt a spark…”

  Donald: “Yeah, I’d like to meet again. Kim’s lovely. And I’ve had some erratic first dates in the last year or two…there was Angela…terrible…Theresa…terrible…Justin, really let me down…bad guy…Macron, not sure what to make of him. That Enda guy, nice, but did my head in, Leo...he was okay I guess…I’d like to bring Rocket Man, I mean Kim, to America, we could go out together…I think we can be friends. Put that damn gun down, Kim!”  

  Voiceover Man: “In our next episode, Donald returns to the First Dates restaurant where he meets a new friend. Vladimir is 65 and from Russia…he likes riding horses bareback and invading countries”.

 

That last Papal visit (and an escape from Mountjoy)

 

Iconic helicopter images?

  Well, there was that famous one of President Ronald Reagan, emerging from/getting into a helicopter and being asked some unwelcome question by reporters.

  Reagan didn’t fancy addressing whatever controversy had the media’s interest.

  He flashed that famous smile, gestured to the whirring helicopter blades…and put his hand to his ear to suggest that he couldn’t hear the reporters’ question due to the noise from the helicopter!

  There’s the evocative opening scenes in M*A*S*H, the classic US comedy/drama from the 1970s/’80s, based on the Korean War. Shots of helicopters arriving at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, with more war wounded – and of course that immortal theme tune – remain in the memory. (You can check out M*A*S*H re-runs on GOLD).

  We had our own slightly famous helicopter moment in Rooskey many years ago. In 1973, some IRA prisoners escaped from Mountjoy Prison when a helicopter was hijacked and landed in the prison yard.

  A week later, that very same helicopter and its pilot landed at the back of Tony Fallon’s pub in Rooskey, on a social visit. I know, ‘cos I was there. I hasten to add that the onlookers gathered not because of any association with the Mountjoy episode, but simply because of the novelty of seeing a helicopter up close.

  My favourite helicopter story however came to mind this week when details of the Pope’s visit to Ireland (I almost wrote Rooskey) were confirmed. He’s not coming to Rooskey, but Pope Francis is coming to Knock in County Mayo.

  Those of us who were around will never forget the excitement and atmosphere which surrounded the last Papal visit to Ireland, that of Pope John Paul, in 1979.

  Pretty much everyone in the country went to see him at one of his public appearances. We went to Maynooth, where thousands of people gathered from the early hours of the morning for the outdoors Papal Mass.

  We had the same experience as everyone else: a very, very early start, a long drive in the dark of night, then we blended with big queues and enormous crowds and then…the long wait. I have a feeling that Fr. Michael Cleary was on the huge altar/stage, one of the many clergy present. A few years earlier the self-styled ‘Singing Priest’ had performed on stage in our bar near Rooskey, the Kon Tiki. He was late by two hours that night, and by his own admission drove through red (traffic) lights to get to Rooskey. Even if he was ‘on stage’ in Maynooth it probably wasn’t the time to say ‘Do you remember the night…?’

  The waiting was long, but there was a great atmosphere, a great sense of expectation. Finally, many hours after the crowds had assembled, the helicopter appeared through the clouds.

  The helicopter circled a few times in the sky. It could have landed anywhere in those huge fields adjoining Maynooth College. Soon it became apparent that it was going to land in a field just to the left of where we were standing. There was a rush of people to the barrier/fencing between us and the landing area. I reached that border and no more than thirty or forty feet away, the helicopter landed, the charismatic Pope emerged and – staring straight at us – he gave a friendly wave.

  The first mobile phone complete with camera was invented 21 years later.

 

Oh Lord! Why no mention of Castlerea?

 

Monday

 

The good news was that Clonalis House in Castlerea featured on RTE television on Monday evening – the bad news, according to some readers, is that Castlerea itself didn’t feature!

  As part of a new series – ‘Lords & Ladles’ – Derry Clarke, Catherine Fulvio and Paul Flynn visited Clonalis House in Co. Roscommon, ancestral home of Ireland’s last high king – and they prepared a 14th century feast.

  Their experience was highlighted on RTE 1 TV on Monday evening. 

  However, a couple of Castlerea residents contacted the Roscommon People to vent their frustration at what they saw as the regrettable overlooking of Castlerea town itself.

  One said: “The programme featured Clonalis House, and we’re proud of that, but there wasn’t a single mention of Castlerea! Why was Castlerea overlooked? A number of people are talking about it”. 

  Another reader contacted us with the same complaint, commenting: “There was an opportunity to showcase the town, or at least mention it, but this opportunity was missed”. 

 

 

 

Sure how could you not have the Connacht Final in the Hyde?

 

 

Good news then; great news in fact. Not only will Kevin and the team be at the Hyde on June 17th, the other Kevin and his team will be there too.

  Of course we always expected that the Hyde would get this game; mind you, the Connacht Council has fairly laid down the law, so to speak (see details on page 48).

  The Council has basically said: ‘You can have your party this time, but there will be no more parties until you attend to all those housekeeping issues that we’ve been going on about!”

  As we go to press, the alarming word from County Board Chairperson Seamus Sweeney is that the housekeeping issues could carry a €3m price tag.

  If the Roscommon business community could be assumed to have, metaphorically speaking, poured itself a symbolic ‘stiff drink’ to celebrate getting this year’s final, then that will have been coughed up pretty abruptly on hearing that €3m figure.

  I will leave the politics/finances of this issue for now – this week, we’ll leave the future to the future and just welcome the fact that there was a successful outcome to the frenetic behind-the-scenes manoeuvring of recent weeks. 

  We won’t be alone on June 17th, there will be no embarrassing build-up, the uncertainty is over…it’s Roscommon v a mean and mighty Galway, it’s game on!

  It’s going to be a great occasion for the county town, for the people of Roscommon, for the GAA.

  The Hyde on Connacht Final day, indeed the town on Connacht Final day, is truly special. On these days, anticipation and nervous excitement intertwine to create a very special atmosphere. 

  For Roscommon fans, the Hyde will always be the perfect Connacht Final venue. It’s our home, our would-be fortress, our familiar theatre of dreams.

  I first lived my Hyde dreams through the heroes of the late 1970s. I was drawn to the Hyde in those days by childhood wonder and the rock ‘n’ roll swagger of the Roscommon team of that era.

  Eight or nine of us were bundled into a small car in Rooskey on one Connacht Final morning, and off the driver sped, devouring road with zeal. We waved our crepe hats and visualised what wonders we might witness in an hour or two.

  As kids, we became used to witnessing Roscommon victories – there was that Connacht four-in-a-row from 1977 to ’80 (which I may have mentioned before). It turns out we were being spoilt.

  When I was sports reporting in the 1980s in the now sadly defunct Champion, I routinely referred to it as ‘the decade of despair’; a barren, chastening era for Roscommon footballers.

  In 1989, we almost escaped that unwelcome epitaph for that unforgiving decade. Losing in the dying seconds of that year’s Connacht Final replay at the Hyde, Roscommon flirted with glory when Tony McManus calmly converted a penalty; the stadium erupted, Mayo heads collapsed into Mayo hands. The premature celebrations of delirious Roscommon fans were part-shared on the pitch; fatally, some Roscommon players lost concentration. Mayo launched a desperate attack, time threatened to stand still and then a Michael Fitzmaurice free levelled for Mayo. Extra-time, hearts in mouths, anguish that we hadn’t sealed the deal. Next, seesaw exchanges before Jimmy Bourke scrambled home one of the ugliest goals of all time, the ball almost apologetically crossing the line. Mayo won. A sickener!

  In 1990, our Connacht title winning famine finally ended, Martin McDermott the calm manager of what will always be a fondly-remembered team. They retained the title too, in ’91.

  Gerry Lohan’s last-minute goal in 2001 won the title for Roscommon (against Mayo), a sensational late drama which now has a special place in folklore.

  In 2010, we were just back in Rosslare after a holiday in France when we tuned into the tense closing minutes of the Roscommon/Sligo final. Fergal O’Donnell’s Roscommon were outsiders that day. It was agony listening to those final minutes as we disembarked, agony followed by joy. Missing that one in the flesh was tough, but of course we’d had a great holiday!

  Hyde Park on Connacht Final day is about the football, it’s all about the football, but there’s other stuff too.

  There’s the sheer adrenalin rush you feel all morning, meeting familiar faces as you pick up a Sunday paper, everyone tuned into the same wavelength today. There’s the flags and the banners, the sheds painted in your county’s colours, the bunting at schools. All week, there’s the largely pointless but priceless pub debates on what might unfold. There’s the media interest. On match morning, there’s the growing buzz in town, the ‘early comers’ at the Hyde, the cones in place, the building momentum, the day’s mystery soon to be revealed. Then, the cars and buses, and the faithful are arriving.

  Ten days and counting – down. A new script to be written. Two Kevins, two teams, one prize.

  Sure how could you not have the Connacht Final in the Hyde?

‘Go now…to that strange place they call Roscommon!’

 

 

 

They came here in their droves, the so-called international media, with their snazzy equipment, their curiosity and their hastily-formed fledgling grasp of where and who we are.

  “Get to that God-fearing outback in Ireland – that backwater, I mean Roscommon – even if you have to walk through the roughest terrain and encounter the most hostile and suspicious of natives, just get me a report from there!” I imagined excitable Editors had bellowed to their startled journalists in far-off lands. 

  So they duly came here in their droves, the international media, dispatched to Roscommon because of that unfair notoriety that befell this county when we narrowly rejected the same-sex marriage proposals three years ago.

  From newspapers and radio and television stations and websites in the UK and across Europe, they descended on Roscommon, utterly intrigued by what they might find in the Place That Says No.

  They arrived, perhaps expecting to find sullen-faced backwoodsmen and backwoodswomen, peering out from behind the curtains in mundane abodes, ‘Down with that sort of thing’ placards leaning against our gables.

  They arrived in the Place That Says No expecting cold weather and conservatism. 

  When they got here they found us drinking lattes in the sunshine as we quietly plotted a kind of liberal coup!

  When it came to seeking a sense of the county and its people – of the campaign too – they came to the Roscommon People offices.

  “You are cut off from Dublin, you don’t have many trains” one of them said/asked – just a touch judgementally – but I let that pass quickly, like a train whistling through Knockcroghery on a summer’s day.

  First in, on that quiet Friday, Harriet, the nice lady from The Guardian, who was once  Jerusalem Correspondent and who was now headed for Ballaghaderreen via Roscommon. I explained a little about Ballaghaderreen to her, but I didn’t mention the war (Mayo v Roscommon) as Harriet has been in enough bruising battlegrounds. 

  Next, I think, was a chap from “the Times of London”. He was followed by a Mr. James Rothwell, the Brexit Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. They were all here in the week before the referendum on the 8th Amendment, all anxious to get a flavour of the campaign in a county which, post our same-sex vote, was somewhat lazily labelled as the most conservative in Ireland. I tried to explain to one of the reporters that Leitrim had to take some responsibility for that vote, but neither of us had the will to delve much into that.

  On the Tuesday before the vote, a very nice German chap arrived in a fabulous Mini Cooper which he had hired at Dublin Airport before whizzing down the sun-drenched motorway and booking into Gleeson’s. Jochen is Political Correspondent with the Frankfurter Allgemeine, one of Germany’s top national newspapers (his report from Roscommon featured on page 3 last Friday).

  I took Jochen on a quick tour of town in the glorious sunshine, following the same route I had taken with the Telegraph’s Brexit correspondent.

  Next morning, he rang to say he was struggling to find Yes voters, specifically a female yes voter. It seemed to endorse the expectation that Roscommon would vote No. We made a few calls to help the German reporter with the beautiful white Mini Cooper parked outside Gleeson’s.

  Next, a very friendly man from a Danish radio station. He linked me up live to one of their current affairs programmes (I spoke English, he translated). “It’s very easy these days, you just use an App” he said of the seamless live link between Abbey Street and Denmark, and I nodded knowingly, as if we were chatting about the price of a litre of milk.

  By Thursday, I thought the media interest in Roscommon had eased off, but it was about to escalate! More media arrived in town, this time representing Spanish and Polish news organisations – zooming in on Yes and No posters, seeking feedback from people in The Square, even popping up to the Sacred Heart Church to attend Mass and assess the mood of the congregation.

  Four or five of this latest batch of journalists popped into the People office for a chat, and they were the nicest of people. Pablo is UK Correspondent with El País, “the most read newspaper in Spain”. Jakub is UK Correspondent with the Polish Press Agency. They were amazed at how many people had attended Mass on Thursday morning; and they were wowed by the size and splendour of the Sacred Heart Church. I accepted the compliments on behalf of the people of Roscommon and proudly filled them in (well, kind of) on the history of the building.

  Next, the international media approached the people as they left Mass. Interestingly, they reported that several men (mostly elderly) had been happy to talk to them about the referendum, while women had shied away. The men were “all” No voters, politely informing the Polish reporter that the country is changing far too rapidly. The women, without exception, declined to comment on their intentions.

  I did an interview with Maciej for a Polish television station (again, I chose to speak English), keeping to my party line, which was to assure them that (a) this is a relatively conservative county and (b) we are likely to see a No vote in Roscommon.

  We were all pretty much in agreement with that assessment – it turns out I read it wrong by seven or eight percentage points. Basically I misled the world’s media. Credibility just a little damaged, I’m unlikely to ever work in Polish TV again.

  I took those guys on a quick tour of town too, boasting about our facilities, our quality of life, our lack of crime, our great sunshine (I avoided the potholes on the Athlone Road).

  They all seemed to really like Roscommon, in fact some of them were smitten with the town!

  Later on Thursday, Ciaran Mullooly of RTE arrived and did a quick interview (we stuck with English), backed up by lots of slagging. Normal service had resumed!

  By Friday, the sparkling white Mini Cooper had left town – so too had the international media, now somewhat confused, I suspect. They had been told of this ‘conservative country’ and to some extent I had backed that up, as had just about everyone they had spoken to. They had also been shown a vibrant, beautiful county town with friendly people toing and froing in spectacular sunshine!  

  On Saturday, confirmation of an overwhelming Yes vote by the people of Ireland. Back in the Polish Agency, frantic googling of Donegal.

  In Roscommon, evidence that lattes and spelt baps in the sunshine is the new order. Roscommon voted to repeal. That Place That Says No had said Yes. Change, change, change.

  The old men outside the Sacred Heart Church – salt of the earth they are too – had woken up to a changed Roscommon.  

  The women who wouldn’t talk on Thursday had spoken loud and clear on Friday.

 

A grim week that rocked us...

 

 

The lives of two families have been shattered in this grim, awful week.

  For the rest of us, life will go on, but just now, the nation feels violated, drained, angry.

 First, a 14-year-old girl was brutally attacked, then murdered, her body discarded callously. The nation was shocked.

  This evil crime was tearing at our hearts when another awful, appalling act of evil slowly revealed itself.

  Now, in Bray, another innocent young woman is attacked. A 24-year-old is abducted, murdered, and her body abandoned in undergrowth.

  Her killer was shot dead the following day by Gardai. The circumstances of his death will be investigated.

  The blackest of weeks, a week which brought shock, heartbreak, revulsion and a maybe even a sense of shame. 

  True, only those responsible for these brutal acts are to blame, but it’s hard not to feel some shame that our society could produce this evil.

  At a time like this, facts are trumped by feelings. The fact is that, relatively speaking, this is a very safe country in which to live. It is a fact too that we are a particularly decent, warm, welcoming people. It is a fact too that, over the centuries, there have always been occasional murders and other appalling crimes. That is inevitable. Shocking murders have always ‘been with us’. But at times like this, facts fade into the shadows and feelings and emotions take over.

  The feeling created by this week’s shocking murders is of a society in which the currency of life is being devalued. A society which, relatively low crime rates notwithstanding, feels less safe than in the past, at least just now.

  Here’s the awful truth about how we feel this week (and that feeling may pass). We feel that life is devalued. We feel that young women may no longer feel entirely safe on our streets. We feel that criminals are becoming more brutal, more likely to act in a random manner. We feel that substance abuse is playing havoc in our country. We feel fear.

  First and foremostly, our thoughts and support are with the devastated families of Ana Kriegal and Jastine Valdez. Our thoughts are also with the family of Mark Hennessy. We need perspective too. Innocence was confronted this week by evil. It does not mean that fear should take over, or that the society we should still be very proud of is changing irreversibly for the worst. It is what it is. A week that leaves us drained. A week that raises questions. A week in which we feel violated as a society. A week of tragedy and confusion and sadness.

  Life goes on, but it was a week that rocked us.

Next thing Prince Philip says to Danny Healy-Rae…

Saturday

The road to Windsor was long – but it was worth it.

  We arrived on the night before the wedding. Windsor Castle itself was booked up weeks ago (Harry has a large family, I guess) so we had picked out a nice B&B across the road, as you do. 

  It was one of those quaint, old English B&Bs/guesthouses with photos of the Queen on the wall and an intimate old-fashioned bar downstairs, where local ales were served.

  Just to get into the atmosphere, we had a drink in the bar on the night before the wedding. We met a few other wedding guests but we retired soon after the sing-song started. Three women in the corner were destroying some well-known classics, right out of tune they were. Thank God only three of the Spice Girls were around.

  Next morning, as is usual when going to a wedding away from home, we had to ask for directions.

  We asked the man selling fruit in the square if he could direct us to St. George’s Chapel.

  Of course he was curious.

  “Is it a funeral or a wedding?”

   A wedding, we said…between a Prince Harry and a Meghan Markle.

  “A Prince Harry” he mused. “Harry…Harry…let me think…what’s his surname?”

  “Eh…long story, not sure. Look, he’s marrying an American lady, Meghan Markle”.

  “You don’t know his surname! Well, I don’t know that many Harrys. Would it be Harry from the mountain? Don’t know any Markles either. Are you sure it’s today?”

  Eventually we got to the chapel. The weather was beautiful. The ceremony was lovely, although it was disappointing that the bride and groom didn’t wait at the entrance to receive congratulations from guests. Elton John was rightly miffed about that.

  Off then to the reception, which was held in a lovely venue (Windsor Castle).

  It was a right classy joint – and yes, they had a large screen in the bar showing the FA Cup Final.

  It was a great night. Harry and Meghan were in their element and there was a nice mix of guests. After we had dined, a few of us ‘escaped’ to the bar to watch the match.

  David Beckham was all smiles, but I have to say that Posh Spice looked surly enough. Now that might just be my impression, I’m not sure if anyone else noticed or commented. 

  Nice chap, Beckham. He was mad to talk about the Connacht Championship. Over a pint or two he even expressed an interest in playing GAA for Roscommon this summer.

  I looked at him with surprise.

  “No, I’m serious” Beckham said, wincing as Chelsea scored.

  “As you know, I love sport, I love being an ambassador, I love playing in different countries, I love inspiring young people”. 

  “Love is EVERYTHING” Bishop Curry interjected with a flourish, knocking over a few glasses as he theatrically spread his hands out.

  Beckham rolled his eyes.

  “So,” Beckham continued, “I’d love to do what I can. I’d love to make a contribution and line out for Roscommon. Just one small detail, what’s the pay like?”

  When I told him GAA players don’t get paid, he disappeared quicker than Usain Bolt out of the blocks.

  As United applied pressure on the big screen, Prince Philip wandered in.

  Hearing my accent, he queried if I could discreetly order him a Guinness while the Queen wasn’t looking. The barman rang the till.

  “Oh I never carry cash” Prince Philip said, “one should put it on the slate”. 

  By 10 o’clock, everyone was letting their hair down, well, except for Posh Spice. Elton John was hogging the mike, and Prince Charles and Oprah, both the worse for wear, were calculating their respective fortunes on the back of two beermats. All good fun.

  Still, and maybe it was just me, but I found quite a lot of the guests were, like Beckham’s wife, a touch posh. Quite stiff upper lippy in fact. Nice people, but mad to talk about playing polo. 

  It was a relief then to hear a Galway accent.

  “What part of Galway are you from?” I asked the guy with the West of Ireland twang.

  “I’m from Ahascragh…the name’s Philip, Philip Treacy” he replied. 

  I didn’t know what line of business Philip was in, but so what…it wasn’t a day for talking business.

  “A very fancy wedding” I said, “serious style. Mind you, some of the hats are a bit much…madness!” 

  Don’t know what I said wrong there, but he fecked off in a huff. 

  We were just about to leave when we heard some more Irish accents.

  Mattie McGrath, Shane Ross and Danny Healy-Rae had wandered in (evening invitations).  

  To be honest, Ross was moody enough, muttering something about “this event not being posh enough for me”.

  “But there’s 1,000 rooms in this castle!” Mattie exclaimed.

  “My brother Michael has more rooms than that…between all his properties” said a dismissive Danny.

  Soon, the craic was mighty. In a corner, Bishop Curry and Prince Philip were having a very earnest conversation about slavery. Camilla was lording it on the dancefloor with George Clooney.

  By the time the band took a break and the ham sandwiches appeared, Windsor Castle was rocking. Danny Healy-Rae was going well, even Shane Ross was letting his hair down (but not Posh Spice).

  Danny put his arm around Minister Ross.

  “I told that Prince Philip he could drive the Queen home to Buckingham Palace after two pints”.

  “Stop it!” Ross looked appalled. “You need to change your mindset”.

  Danny laughed. “I was only joking, but arra he’s too serious, that fella. He got the right hump when I told him I’m from the real Kingdom”.

 

Eurovision, Claire Byrne and a skip...

 

 

Saturday

They made us watch it, the hype merchants, sucking us back into our multi-coloured, madcap Eurovision past…after Ryan O’Shaughnessy had somewhat unexpectedly broken our losing run in semi-finals.

  And the word was that Marty Whelan had reacted to our Eurovision mini-renaissance with a joy and enthusiasm of such heartwarming beauty that the Internet was at risk of finally imploding. (I’m currently going through the process of tentatively joining the social media circus, but I took the ‘semi-final night’ off for fear of seeing/hearing Marty’s reaction; I like Marty, but his excitability on Winning Streak is already more than I can take, thank you).

  So the nation went a bit mad for a few days. Very excited we were. Johnny Logan even appeared on the Late Late Show. As ever, it was good to see him, albeit that he mustn’t have received the email about not wearing any clothes that might scare viewers/pose a terrorist threat.

  A dubious confidence built amongst our people…a growing sense that our banishment from the Eurovision trophy room might just possibly be about to end. Once the kingpins of this event, we have had to endure misery for many years.

  Such misery! Looking back, it has been a terrible confluence of things…that Eastern European block voting, the Lordi factor (2002), the shocking evolution of the competition from an actual song contest into a cauldron of chaos, then our panicky reaction to no longer being annual contenders…calling on Jedward and a turkey, depending on our levels of desperation.

  By Saturday evening, Ryan had been backed to third favourite, and Ireland was giddily speculating about a return to our Eurovision golden era. It didn’t quite turn out that way, although our man did just fine. I couldn’t watch it of course (apart from a few songs) but I tuned in for the voting, which has always been the best part of the whole circus. Unfortunately, they had tinkered with the voting system, stripping much of the suspense away.

  One of the few entries I had seen was the Israeli one, sung by Netta Barzilai. In our house, the moment we heard her voice we immediately tipped her to win. Mind you, we were also influenced by the dancing chickens in the background.

  The planners behind the Irish entry thought they had moved with the times by introducing two gay backing dancers, but in Eurovision land, you can never be original enough. Dancing chickens did it this time, and for Ireland, the one-time kings of the Eurovision, the mystery and the misery goes on.

Sunday

Strange match. The nation turned its gaze on Castlebar, but the party bombed. Galway started brightly, then Mayo settled and began to impose themselves. O’Connor’s rash elbow charge was quite a game-changer, Mayo reduced to fourteen.

  Mayo were poor in front of the posts but still very much in the game as the second half wore on. The critics have been scathing about the game but I never lost interest, and besides, didn’t we know that Galway would play a largely defensive game? In the end, credit to Galway, not just because they scored a superb match-deciding goal, but because they won the game! It’s not easy to go to Castlebar and win by three points and Kevin Walsh won’t care a whit about the critics.

  Only a fool, or (if from an opposing county) an optimist would underestimate either team going forward.

Monday afternoon

So there I was, driving home on the Athlone Road, no longer having the will to curse the potholes, but still conscious of their frustrating presence (to be fair, remedial work is finally starting).

  ‘Those damn potholes’ I remember thinking, as cars continued their variety of doomed dodging manouevres.

  Passing Hyde Park, I thought to myself of the possibility (depending on results) of a Connacht Final clash between Roscommon and the new force…mean and fiercely focused Galway, slayers of Mayo at the weekend.

  My mind was still wandering (I was passing Hannon’s Hotel at this stage) when I saw the first big army tank coming my way. It was 1.25 pm. Nothing too unusual in this sight, though the soldiers were armed and very visible.

  Then I saw another army tank with soldiers armed and visible…then another, then another, then another, and on and on it went, to the point where I was left with no option but to count this stunning show of army strength. Sixteen army vehicles I counted (a mixture of tanks and trucks).

  At least sixteen army vehicles in one military convoy heading for Roscommon town?

  Surely the potholes’ crisis or the prospect of a Galway football invasion hadn’t merited calling the army in?

  Surely it wasn’t a coup? The last major coup at ‘the Hyde’ that I can recall was when Jimmy Burke’s late goal for Mayo stole the 1989 Connacht final from Roscommon.

  A few minutes later, I was glad to read (on the Shannonside Radio website) that there was a simple explanation for this unusual sight.

  What I had seen up close and personal was the 6th infantry battalion taking part in a major training exercise, travelling in convoy from Custume Barracks in Athlone to Sligo, via Roscommon, Tulsk and Charlestown.

  And fair play to the good men and women of the Irish Defence Forces.

  I had a quick lunch and an uneventful return trip to town – just a few cars this time and a man on a bike.

Monday night

‘People were furious after the Referendum Special on Claire Byrne Live last night’ screamed a headline on a website on Tuesday morning.

  To which one might respond: What precisely did people expect?

  If people expected a cosy chat over tea and scones, they should have tuned into Today with Maura and Daithi. 

  When people ‘debate’ issues to do with abortion, the outcome will almost inevitably be as it was on Monday night: heated, emotional, personalised and divisive.

  Did anyone seriously expect a meeting of minds?

  As to the protagonists, well they certainly provided compelling television, even if there was a fair bit of hot air in the room, not to mention some noisy and of course totally biased audience input.

  I thought the most composed and impressive contributor was Iona Institute spokesperson Maria Steen (the No campaign). She certainly wrong-footed Dr. Peter Boylan a few times and also had some testy exchanges with Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald. Deputy McDonald (the Yes campaign) was an assured contributor on the night. There were clashes too between Dr. Boylan and Dr. John Monaghan, the latter well-known to many local readers through his work at Portiuncula Hospital over many years. 

  When the ‘debate’ moved on to the audience, it became a little tiresome, as each contributor held a deeply entrenched view.

  What was really needed was an audience of ‘undecideds’ and a panel of undecideds/calm experts!

Filling the skip (all month)

The easy part is ordering the skip. The harder part is having the discipline to fill it. When ‘the skip’ arrives, it does so with great fanfare. Then the days go by and the skip blends into the landscape of your life!

  Finally, we began the process of filling the skip, prompted, to be honest, by a call from the skip hire man.

  “We’re under pressure to get skips back in” the skip hire man said cheerily, confirming that a great many of us are emptying parts of our past into soulless discoloured containers.

  I conducted successful negotiations with the skip hire man…and bought some time.

  Then we began to fill the skip.

  Some things are easy to dispose of. Some things have been on borrowed time; you’ve been relishing this opportunity to toss them over the edge of the skip and into permanent banishment. That wonky chair was never going to ‘de-wonk’; bits of timber, empty jars, broken toys and wilting plants were never going to be either needed or useful again.

  The critical stage of the ‘filling the skip’ process will usually involve half-full paint tins and the remnants of once-sparkling rolls of wallpaper. These, and some nostalgia-inspiring ornaments, will cause pause for thought. Should you keep them? Will they come in handy some time in the future?

  Maybe people are slow to throw stuff out because it’s a reminder of time’s passing, because it represents a small level of change.

  Certainly if you are of a sentimental nature it can be a big call to let some items go! Every broken toy which is lobbed into the heart of the skip represents a tiny bit of closure on something that is past. But there you go, that is life.

  We threw out many such unused toys, because that’s the sensible thing to do in these situations. Filling the skip involves emptying tiny parts of the past, before rebooting and looking to the present and future.

  Mind you, kids notice these things. I saw our son retrieve one simple but special toy, rescuing it from the skip. When I asked him about it, he remembered when and where he originally got it. So, that toy was of course duly saved, afforded a ‘stay’.

  One item less for the skip hire man, one memory salvaged!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lambs, ducks and all human life…

 

Sunday

At Roscommon’s beautiful Loughnaneane Park on Sunday, it seemed like there were hundreds of sheep – there were certainly thousands of humans.

  It was a day of such glorious sunshine, we spent almost as much time lamenting how rare this is as we did celebrating our good fortune.

  What the ducks in the Loughnaneane pond made of the huge crowds and the enticing food aromas, I don’t know.

  The ducks may have noticed there was more than the usual (and frankly very predictable) bread crumbs on the menu.

  It was, the morning papers had declared, the best day of the year so far. Of course that wasn’t a particularly demanding target.

  Embraced by such lovely sunshine, it seemed that every second man, woman, child and sheep within ten miles of Roscommon had descended on town, where a hugely successful Lamb Festival was in full flow.

  I wonder how many times on Sunday did someone say those well-worn words…

  “Sure if we had weather like this all the time, we’d never leave Ireland”.

  Well, we had weather ‘like this’ on Sunday and the choice of destination for thousands of people was Loughnaneane Park, where a Family Fun Day was the attraction. The previous night had seen the ‘Marquee full’ signs going up early for a very successful Lamb Festival BBQ.

  Back in the Park on Sunday, there was a very nice relaxed atmosphere. Billy Garvan was belting out the hits (I think I heard him sing ‘Making Your Mind Up’, perhaps for topical Eurovision reasons). There was a big crowd at the sheep shearing and a queue for some archery action at the entrance to Roscommon Castle. What the ghosts of the 13th century made of that, I don’t know either.

  A number of superbly skilled craftsmen and craftswomen (a tinsmith, a chap sculpting a lamb from wood, with a chainsaw!) attracted much interest.

  Gifted people these, shaping and sharpening and sculpting in seeming obliviousness to the gaze of onlookers, like a football genius who has all the time and space in the world to weave his magic.

  The aroma of food was all around! And while you could purchase a range of lovely foods, many families had brought picnics. And of course the playground was brimming with joy all afternoon.

  It was just one part of a tremendously successful annual Lamb Festival, but it was the most public portrayal of that success.

  It was fascinating to see so many people – it had to be thousands – coming together in celebration of our heritage, or at least in pursuit of some communal oneness, brought together by our traditions, by the sense of place we all have.

  There were faces I recognised, and there were many faces I didn’t recognise. The beautiful weather had opened the door to the magnificence of Loughnaneane Park and the community had spilled through the gap.

  A great day, a great festival weekend. Outside Gleeson’s, I saw some American visitors, the four of them loving the experience. I felt proud of Roscommon as I watched the tourists inhale our festival, our town.

  If we had weather like this all the time, they’d never go back!

Friday & Sunday

A guest on the Joe Finnegan Show on Friday morning, I’m in studio in Longford; Joe and the other guests are in Monaghan.

  There’s a nice young chap in Joe’s seat, overseeing the link between Longford and Monaghan.

  Some small talk before and after we go on air.

  The weather.

  How is Longford town doing commercially?

  ‘Doing anything exciting at the weekend?’

  Mmnn. I’m thinking ‘Yeah…rest a bit, maybe cut the grass, finally sort out the shed’.

  He says: “I’m going to Ed Sheeran in Cork”.

  A brief conversation-threatening pause, as our respective ages flash before us.

  When Joe gets into gear, we discuss the events of the week, mostly to do with the healthcare crisis. Then, I’m asked for an opinion on Brexit and the border issue. What to say? It’s like being asked to give a considered critique of the scenery after enduring a particularly wobbly rollercoaster ride.  

  Later, we lighten the mood and agree that it will not be a shock if New York beat Leitrim, but we also agree that we want Leitrim to win.

  Sunday evening comes, and I lose track of time for a while. Then I remember to tune into the radio commentary from Gaelic Park. The game’s in extra-time! And, social media subsequently reveals that Marty (Morrissey) and Willie (Hegarty) have had half the nation entertained through thrilling commentary on their respective stations.

  I think Willie and Marty have gone viral, and no, that doesn’t mean they’ve joined a secret cult. Actually, if Willie and Marty joined a cult, they’d almost certainly rise to the top without delay, before finally bringing everyone to their senses (with some fun along the way). Marty and Willie may not have gone viral, but they are certainly trending on Twitter, as you do.

  Meanwhile, I’m simultaneously sorry for New York but delighted for Leitrim. Happy for the Leitrim players obviously, and thrilled for their large travelling support. (On a poignant note, it’s impossible not to think of the late, great Shay Reynolds, the prominent Leitrim GAA figure (from Bornacoola/Dromod) whose untimely death occurred recently. Shay would have loved this chapter in the Leitrim GAA story). It was always a pleasure to meet him and he will be greatly missed.

All weekend

When the first Strokestown International Poetry Festival kicked off twenty years ago, I was there as a sponsor, wearing my Roscommon Champion hat. And I was handing over prizes in the Schools’ competition. Did so for a few years in fact. Now, twenty years on, our daughter (Alannah) is there, winning the Secondary Schools category. A nice surprise! And, as I feel that parental pride, I also think: Where did the twenty years go? A subject matter for a poem, perhaps.

  There was up to eighty people at the prize-giving ceremony. The sixteen shortlisted finalists read their poems out and the standard really was terrific. It was uplifting to see and hear.

  Afterwards (I stress it was afterwards!) I met the guest judge, poet Peter Mullineaux. What do you say to a poet? I suppose you can say anything you like (within reason) to a poet, the same as to anyone else. In the event, I asked Peter (a very nice man) if he’s kept busy, which I immediately thought was probably a slightly odd question. Maybe I’m too used to speaking with self-employed people. Did I think people are always ringing him up ordering poems? In actual fact, it turns out that he is quite busy, doing lots of good work with schools, in between doing what poets do, which presumably entails writing poetry, reading poetry and attending poetry-related events. Peter was genuinely enthused by the pupils’ poems, which were a great credit all concerned.

  Later on Friday, the official opening of the Festival took place (see page five, more photos next week). There was a great atmosphere in Strokestown all evening, all weekend. The nice weather helped; so did the great line-up. I was delighted for the hard-working organising committee; hope and history had indeed rhymed in their 20th anniversary year.

Sunday/Monday

Yeah, life is too short/busy to watch all the snooker, but modern technology can help.

  So, making sure our children were out enjoying the sunshine, I paused the afternoon coverage of the World Snooker Final in the hope that nobody would touch the remote and I could pop in every now and again to see how the showdown was progressing.

  You couldn’t do that in the far-off days when David Vine was presenting…when Bill Werbeniuk was drinking and Steve Davis was winning and Alex Higgins was winning and drinking.

  My plan worked and I was able to dip in and out of the action from The Crucible. This year’s final, amazingly, was contested by two ‘oldies’ who were thought to be long past their peak.

  In this unexpected over-40s final, the great John Higgins was favourite to beat Mark Williams, who considered retiring after watching last year’s tournament “in a caravan, with some beers”.

  Williams held the overnight lead going into Monday, and he was in complete control against an out of sorts Higgins as the final progressed, establishing a 15-10 lead.

  And what a final session fans were treated to! It was wonderful, mesmerising…as Higgins launched a stunning comeback (to 15-all) only for Williams to prevail and win a first world title in fifteen years.

  I was delighted for the Welsh man – he’s an absolute one-off, a genius shot-maker and a wonderfully laconic character.

  I’m not so sure however about his decision to appear (almost) naked at his press conference (he had promised that he would do so, if he won). Williams faced the press wearing nothing only a strategically placed towel.

  Thankfully, during the fiercely competitive heat of battle on the green baize, Williams hadn’t thrown in the towel when faced with the Higgins comeback.

  And, equally thankfully, he didn’t throw in the towel during his press conference either. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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