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Paul Healy's Week

Paul Healy's Week

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another health scandal…as shame replaces shock

 

All week

Just what do you do when despair isn’t enough?

  A punch-drunk country over the past few days, we rolled with the latest unceremonious uppercuts, deeply, deeply bruised by the chaotic cervical cancer screening saga, pausing only to express our admiration for Vicky Phelan, reeling all the time from the sight of another state-humiliated Irish woman being mistreated – a dismayed public rocked by emerging new insights into just how dysfunctional and sometimes callous our health ‘care’ system is.

  Then, on Monday evening, the dam of despair somehow widened, as the limitations of our society were further exposed.

  Just now, shock is seeping away and shame is taking up residence.

  The cervical screening controversy is so bad, it’s almost certain that any words I write on this Wednesday morning will be out of date by week end. I only became aware of ‘revelations in the Dáil’ on Tuesday when I watched TV3’s ‘Tonight’ Show that night. It is fair to say that the panel and presenters were almost at a loss for words. Earlier, Health Minister Simon Harris had indicated to the Dáil that an additional 1,500 cases of cervical cancer may not have been audited by CervicalCheck. This revelation followed supposedly comprehensive checking by a ‘HSE Serious Incident Management Team’ over recent days.

  A stark, direct quote from the Minister: “Whilst I had previously been advised, and it had been commonly understood that CervicalCheck clinical audit covered all cases notified to the National Cancer Registry, I have been informed this afternoon that this is not the case”.

  So, more chaos, and on the Tonight Show, bewilderment amongst guests and hosts alike as to where these new figures had come from. Just what size of a cover-up is there at the heart of this mess?

  Today, confusions still reigns. Anguish and worry for hundreds, probably thousands, of women. Utter dismay at the HSE’s incompetence – and its insensitivity. The usual sense of a lack of accountability in positions of power (the resignation of CervicalCheck Clinical Director Grainne Flannelly apart). Most of all, a crushing blow to the credibility of a health service which still has many positive aspects to it. Indeed Irish people have always had enormous faith in our doctors – in our medical professionals generally – and it will be deeply unfortunate if any lasting damage to that close relationship is caused. I should stress that when I criticise the HSE, I am criticising the ‘management monster’, the bureaucratic buffoonery, not the often heroic rank and file staff.

  What to do? We urgently need leadership, in the HSE and at political level. We need answers, and if necessary, heads to roll. Most of all, we need clarity on what happened in the past, and transparency as to what will happen from now on. We need assurances about the CervicalCheck services. We also need to know that medical personnel will communicate openly and properly with patients in respect of those patients’ own health.

  The HSE? What does it stand for? Health Service Executive. Maybe the ‘health executive’ heads need to focus on the word ‘service’. This is a serious crisis. Shock has been replaced by shame. History tells us not to be confident that change and accountability will follow. History tells us that, when it comes to HSE management (and often the Department of Health too) despair can seem like a bottomless pit. What do you do when despair isn’t enough?

  (And, by the way, women ringing the CervicalCheck helpline are being told – if they get through, that is – to provide their name and expect a call back from someone “within a week”.

  Still, it’s a great country for the craic.

Friday

So, the usual office wind down from around 5 pm on a Friday, and then a lady calls to the front desk.

  She’s not here, it transpires, to place a small ad, or to ask if a photographer is available in a few hours’ time!

  Nope, it’s the Religious correspondent of the UK’s Guardian newspaper, no less. The wha?

  The ‘Paul’s not available, he’s on a call’ line isn’t used (which it usually is by late on a Friday). It’s probably best to meet this unlikely and unexpected caller.

  So, having found her way from Guardian HQ to Abbey Street in Roscommon, a Ms. Harriet Sherwood (Religious correspondent) is now in our office. The tables have been turned and I am on the receiving end of questions from a journalist.

  Of course the perfectly pleasant Ms. Sherwood has arrived in rural Ireland because the Guardian has dispatched its Religious correspondent to report on the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

  The reporter was spending the weekend in County Roscommon, speaking to locals in various parts of our county, endeavouring to assess the mood of the people of rural Ireland.

  I answered her questions – what she made of my answers is another question. She had a fair bit of ‘homework’ done; the woman from the Guardian focussing in on Roscommon’s vote in the same-sex marriage referendum and the perception of this county as a conservative place.

  As she left (for Ballaghaderreen, which she admitted she couldn’t pronounce) I said ‘enjoy your stay in Roscommon’, to which she replied: “Oh I love Roscommon already”.

  Ten minutes later, still wondering what I had actually said in the unscheduled interview, I decided it was time to wrap up for another week.

  As I got into my car, Abbey Street was quiet, bar the woman from the Guardian, still around…on foot, traditional reporter’s notebook in hand, continuing her search for what makes rural (and supposedly conservative!) Ireland tick!

Saturday/Sunday

The sooner the All-Ireland GAA series gets going (this forthcoming weekend) the better. We are all waiting with excitement for Mayo v Galway, not to mention Roscommon’s debut, and all the other big games too.

  Meanwhile, I enjoyed a sports-fest on Saturday evening. Great to see such a momentous send-off for Connacht Rugby’s John Muldoon, pricelessly completed with an unlikely conversion from the great man. Later, I indulged myself with Match of the Day, followed by some very enjoyable World Snooker.

  Then, well into the early hours, I was glad I stayed up to watch Katie Taylor’s latest success in the world of professional boxing. Katie produced a fine performance, with Matthew Macklin, he of Four Roads stock, a very capable expert analyst on the Sky coverage.  

Tuesday

Okay, fair enough, Real Madrid have qualified for another Champions League final, but Ronaldo didn’t score in either of the two legs against Bayern Munich, didn’t amaze us with his play either (which I understood to be the deal). Is there a Complaints Department?

 

Snooker's golden era and tolerating Country Music...

 

In what appears to be a ‘nostalgia special’ this week, Paul Healy is reminded of the golden era of snooker…and finds himself worryingly tolerant of, even drawn to, all those very happy country and western stars….

All weekend

So, reeled in again – another birthday. These times, they’re probably more frowned upon than embraced. But, what to do? Be philosophical (and slower), I suppose.

  The kids deemed it appropriate to present me with a batch of CDs allegedly containing ‘80 hits of the 80s’ – not the 90s, mind you. Presumably the theory was that these classics would help me through the latest attack of middle age.

  I know I’m getting older because I’m beginning to enjoy some of our ‘national treasures’ and their Irish Country Music.

  I have a love/hate relationship with the Late Late Show, but yeah, of course I watched it.

  We’re never ever going to be done with the Late Late; this uniquely Irish phenomenon will, I think, never die. Really it belonged to the great Gay Byrne, the other presenters handed a poisoned chalice. Still, with their odd capacity to mix cringe-worthy moments with genuine quality, Pat Kenny and Ryan Tubridy have added their own chapters to this remarkable story. And while I often criticise him, I have to admit that Tubridy has a lot going for him. Likeable chap, and easily the greatest ever host of the LL Toy Show.

  Of course I had to watch on Friday night, especially with the annual Irish Country Special doubling as a tribute to the late Big Tom.

  After opening with a dignified and worthy tribute to the big man, the show then developed into a fairly frenzied party. The audience members were almost as excited as their counterparts are on the annual St. Valentine’s Night special.

  It was all good craic. Philomena Begley was the star of the show, Daniel O’Donnell was a father figure-like presence, Jimmy Buckley was Elvis for one night only and everyone, Tubridy included, had a ball.

  I have to hand it to Tubridy. He knew nothing about country music a few years ago, until some researcher had this great idea to do an annual Country Special. Now he’s an infectious advocate of this intoxicating madness which is a musical mirror for Irish society. And Tubridy has signed up with what seems like genuine enthusiasm.

  On Monday, I relented, and tried the hits of the 80s. A few classics certainly, but I was taken aback by how terrible some of that music was, or at least by how badly some of the hits have dated.

  Maybe I’m too young to be nostalgic after all.

 Now there’s a free title for a country music song for someone!

Then (not now)

The snooker’s back, and it’s great – but it can never be like it was! It seemed to come from nowhere, in those far-off 1980s, a magical, colourful, ever-giving sporting soap opera of thrills, spills and the highest of drama.

  There we were, enjoying our GAA and soccer, an eye on Eamonn Coghlan and Barry McGuigan and the odd golfer too, when the magic happened. The darts was great too, but the snooker simply mesmerised us.

  Younger readers might not quite appreciate the lay of the land in that era. We had just five or six television channels – and no Internet, mobile phones, Netflix, Twitter or Facebook. What was very much a minority sport – indeed a sometimes frowned-upon game played in smoke-filled rooms – suddenly electrified our lives!

  The cast was a sublime, mad mix. I will leave Alex until last. Looking back, Eddie Charlton was a dour and probably relatively limited player (although it should be said that he was a remarkable sporting all-rounder). But we needed villains like Eddie. Cliff Thorburn was a more skilled version of Charlton. His fellow Canadian, Kirk Stephens, was wonderfully flamboyant. Another Canadian, Bill Werbeniuk, might have been accused of drinking Canada dry. Smooth sharpshooter Tony Knowles. The wonderful, legendary Ray Reardon. Granite-like Terry Griffiths. The peerless Jimmy White. And Davis. The great Steve Davis. Dennis Taylor, author, in 1985, of one of the greatest sporting punchlines in living memory. Later, the magnificent Stephen Hendry would come along and steal Steve Davis’s supremacy.

  And then there was Alex, wonderful Alex. Alex Higgins brought drama, even a sense of danger, to the auditorium. He was the ultimate showman. Sadly, like George Best, he died too young. Truth is, snooker would not be the global game it is today were it not for the swashbuckling once-off that was Alex Higgins.

The other day…

The things you see! Driving up Abbey Street, I spotted two middle-aged men having a great laugh as they peered out from between two buildings, glancing up the street before taking two steps back to hide between the gables. I turned my car at the roundabout where Abbey Street meets Church Street, as I always do (to avoid congestion closer to town centre), and, on the way back, the two men were still in their element! Now one of them was on his phone, and both of them were in hysterics as they alternated between hiding between the buildings and reappearing to glance down the street. Now it appeared that they were hiding/playing a trick on a third man. Sure enough, a third man was walking down the street, on his mobile, presumably perplexed as to where his friends were.

  It took me a moment or two to work out what it reminded me of, then it came to me. Last of the Summer Wine (the gentle BBC comedy of old) – a 21st century Roscommon version.

  Last of the Summer Wine? Oh check it out on the ‘Gold’ channel!

Boyle, Syria and...Leeds United

 

 

Monday

A half an hour in Boyle: I was enjoying Ray D’Arcy’s radio show as I approached the town of Boyle on Monday afternoon. But I had to leave Ray behind. Our car had an appointment at the (Cooney’s) Nissan garage. When rounding  the bend into Boyle, the weather was fairly pleasant. Five minutes later, having dropped the keys off and been told I had an hour or so to kill, the Heavens opened. Luckily there was an umbrella in the back.

  In what was now rapidly deteriorating weather, we set off, the umbrella and I, for a walk around Boyle. At least that was the plan. First, across the bridge that hovers above the roadway that leads to the picturesque railway station. Then, as the rain got heavier and the wind picked up, the sturdy umbrella actually did that annoying ‘inside out’ thing they are prone to doing. It unapologetically flapped and fluttered, like a strutting peacock. Suddenly I was like Gene Kelly in ‘Singing in the rain’ – well, without the actual singing (or the gracefulness).

  Having won my battle with the flailing brolly, I continued into the great historic town, reaching the old Royal Hotel, sold now to the Council, mystery still surrounding its destiny. But I met and briefly chatted with a local who predicted that the entire town faces a bright future; that Boyle is going to experience positive development, with the old Royal building at the centre of it all. I was pleased to hear it.

  Crossing the bridge beside ‘The Royal’, I saw a young man who seemed to be half-heartedly suppressing a smile as he merrily crossed on the other side. He had a fishing rod attached to his back and a pack of cans of lager attached to his hands. Was there a happier man in Boyle just then? It’s doubtful. All that was missing was the soundtrack from the old Hamlet cigar tv ads when, whatever the initial adversity, the hero always ends up happy and contented.

  As the man with the rod and refreshments disappeared down towards the riverbank, I received an earlier than expected call from the garage. My walk had been cut short, which was fine. Turning, I faced back into rising wind and rain. I saw new offices of the Roscommon Herald, but chose not to ‘seek asylum’ there – sure where would I start to explain myself? Instead, I battled on against nature, brolly and I both defiant. 

  An oldish man with a longish beard and a shortish step emerged from a pub and looked me up and down.

  “Dirty ould day” he said, observing the weather with some surprise. I agreed with his assessment. Then he eyed my Club Rossie umbrella.

  “A grand umbrella” he said.

  It is, I thought, and it’s mine.

  I’m all for giving up seats to the elderly on buses or trains, but I needed that umbrella, even if it was in a constant battle with the swirling wind.

  I matched his shortish step with my own longish step, said good luck, moved on and kept a firm grip on the brolly.

  Next, across the road, an Alsation dog walking towards SuperValu. Rightly or wrongly, I keep well away from Alsations if they’re not muzzled/on a lead. This one had neither. But sure it must be a harmless dog, I thought…or else it wouldn’t be out without a muzzle or a lead (and owner).

  Back now at the bridge near Cooney’s, I crossed the road to avoid being splashed by passing cars. Two young women were to-ing and fro-ing, apparently not sure which way to turn. Strangers just off the train, I assumed. They approached me.

  “You didn’t happen to see a dog, did you?” one asked.  

  “An Alsation, was it? Yeah, it’s gone up that street, on the left, towards SuperValu”.

  Then I saw the lead in the hands of one of the women and it dawned on me: that Alsation may not have been that harmless at all! Or perhaps it was. No doubt the ladies were reunited with it a few minutes later. Hopefully.

  Back in Cooney’s, where the staff were excellent, I was reunited with my car. I put the brolly back in the boot; I am now prepared to testify in court as to the durability of Club Rossie umbrellas.

  Back on the radio, Ray D’Arcy was gone. I hadn’t really missed him; I’d enjoyed my Monday afternoon walk on the wild side in our quaint character-filled town of Boyle.

Monday week

My Fool of the Week: So there I was, driving out the Athlone Road on Monday week last, when I saw the motorcyclist looming in my rearview mirror.

  I knew it was one of those impatient types who just can’t wait to overtake, even if there’s oncoming traffic. 

  And there was oncoming traffic, as there almost always is on the Athlone Road. There was a vehicle in front of me too.

  This did not deter ‘our hero’. In one speedy swerve he passed me. Then he got even more reckless.

  As the motorcyclist prepared to pass the car in front of me – with oncoming vehicles now beeping their horns – I got a brief but clear sight of the man’s attire.

  He was wearing a yellow jacket – with a big red ‘L’ (for learner) on it! Unbelievable!

  He’s my fool of the week; I’m not looking for anyone else in connection with this award. It was reckless, stupid and highly dangerous.

  When I turned the next bend, needless to say there was no sign of our ‘flying friend’, the man with the big L and the big ego. He was gone, speeding into the web of vehicles between Roscommon and Athlone, speeding into his future, which I hope is a safe one for him and for the road-users he meets/passes. He is of course only one of many road risk-takers. I hope, in his haste, that he somehow finds the time to mature.

Friday

Air strikes in Syria, and a chance for Theresa May to reveal her inner Thatcher. French President Emmanuel Macron continues to impress, coming across as a cool, (quite) charismatic and confident leader.

  Probably with teeth gritted and eyes rolling when safe to do so, Ms. May has aligned herself closely with Mr. Trump on this one; the US President, the UK Prime Minister and the French President a Coalition of the Not Willing to accept Chemical attacks.

  Many will oppose the intervention, others may despairingly wonder why murder and mass displacement of people in Syria didn’t warrant a similar response over the past seven years or so.

  It can be hard to know what to believe in these days of spin and so-called fake news. What the media on this side of the world is claiming is that the strikes have put the Syrian Government’s chemical weapons capacity back several years.

  It’s all rather complex, but if that latter claim is true, then a lot of people will feel that the response of the US, Britain and France is a proper and proportionate one.

Saturday/Sunday

Reports of Leeds United’s (possible) resurrection earlier in the season proved, on inspection of the evidence, to be greatly exaggerated. The great club is languishing in the bottom half of The Championship, wandering around aimlessly, unable to locate the entrance back to where the elite hang out. Of course it will happen; Leeds fans like myself will just have to wait for another season (at least).  

  Meanwhile, in the Premier League, Manchester United bizarrely managed to lose at home to bottom club West Brom, though full credit to ‘the Albion’ for their heroics. That result meant that Manchester City, convincing winners over Spurs on Saturday, were crowned champions. An awkward sort of night in Manchester followed, no doubt.

  Liverpool, meanwhile, are on a nice roll domestically, but simply awesome in the Champions League. Their manager, Jurgen Klopp, is a very interesting character. His antics on the touchline have been driving me mad over the past year or two, but a reassessment is probably warranted. Firstly, his animated conduct may not be partly ‘put on’ as some opposition fans have long suspected – it may be his true personality after all! Secondly, his passionate conduct is almost certainly inspirational for his players; contrast it to the tiresome Mourinho at Old Trafford. Klopp’s gesticulating fits well with his team’s all-action style; between them, they have an irresistible momentum built up. And of course it’s fairly obvious that Klopp is also achieving his goals behind the scenes!

  In any event, he has an absolute superstar on the pitch. Earlier in the season, City’s Kevin De Bruyne may have looked set to walk away with the Player of the Year award, but not now: now that accolade simply has to go to Mo Salah.

  He’s a joy to watch, and he keeps producing the goods, including when the pressure’s on and in the really big games. He’s the player of the year, an absolute gift to the Premier League, with his talent, his charisma and the joy he exudes. Now there’s a role model for children. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Albert this week

 

All week

 

All week, the talk has been of peace. Twenty years of peace. Valuing and appreciating peace. Warnings on the risk of losing peace. Holding on to peace.

  And our showbiz A-list political players have rolled back into town, the stars of 1998 on a Greatest hits tour. We’ve been eyeing them up, like in the days when modestly dressed women in their scarves who had degrees in nosiness used to gather outside the Church to have a good gander as a bride arrived for her wedding.

  We’ve done our own bit of oohing and aahing, sure enough.

  ‘Oh that Tony Blair’s got old looking hasn’t he?’ ‘Who’s that woman standing in front of David Trimble?’ ‘God, Bertie looks well, doesn’t he?’ ‘Bill Clinton’s gone very slow, but I could listen to him all night!’

  All week, the media’s gone big on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. On Monday, I saw a photograph in the paper of Tony and Bertie. How boyish and innocent they looked!

  Later in the week, I heard snippets of silver-tongued Bill, speaking in Dublin and then Belfast. As ever, the star draw. You gotta hand it to Bill, he’s some public speaker. He drips charisma. And we should never forget the enormous time and skill he invested in the incredibly delicate pursuit of peace on this island.

  On Tuesday night, the RTE 9 o’clock News brought us down memory lane. There’s David Trimble walking pensively, taking a break from the tense talks. But I remember the first time I saw that footage! Can it really be twenty years ago? There’s those boyish leaders again, Tony and Bertie. Footage too of key players who have gone to their eternal reward…Mo Mowlam. David Ervine. Martin McGuinness. And of people who are very much still with us. Senator George Mitchell, the calming, incredibly patient ‘middle man’ who somehow put up with the mad arena he had been dispatched to. And there’s John Taylor, bullish as ever, who, within seven years or so, would (very surprisingly) become proprietor of the Roscommon Champion.

  “I certainly couldn’t be associated with this” Taylor sniffily told the media at the height of the talks in 1998, but a few days later he had signed up and was quite graciously congratulating Bertie on the latter’s enormous contribution to the negotiations. Seven years on and the UUP hardliner turned newspaper tycoon was a hands-on presence at the Roscommon Champion. We got on fine for a while, but in the end, after some turmoil at the Champion, I couldn’t be associated with John Taylor’s version of ‘peace talks’!

  I remember the years before that historic signing in 1998. For decades, we lived in the shadow of death. Of course ‘down south’ we were almost entirely protected from the carnage, but we were very aware of the weekly, sometimes daily horrors up the road in The North.

  It was never a surprise when a radio bulletin would begin with a solemn report on a bombing or the shooting dead of a soldier, on or off duty. Often there were multiple killings. Over 3,000 people were killed during ‘The Troubles’, heartbreak delivered to thousands of families. For us southerners, The North was almost a no-go area. Checkpoints manned by armed British soldiers. Distrust and fear. Eeriness. Life lived in death’s stalking shadow. Dark days.

  It’s right that the 20th anniversary of ‘The Agreement’ was celebrated this week, that its architects were feted. I couldn’t help thinking of the Co. Roscommon born man who did so much to pave the way. When Rooskey native Albert Reynolds became Taoiseach in 1992, he put a firm focus on ending the violence. It’s true that Albert was taking possession of a baton that had already passed through a few sets of hands, but his subsequent ferocious single-minded pursuit of peace should never be forgotten. While critics scoffed at his supposed naivety, Albert went on a lonely solo run, placing a stubborn faith in Sinn Féin/IRA, walking into the wilderness before emerging with the Republican movement in his wake, a historic ceasefire secured.

  A year or so ago, we spent a few nights in Belfast. This city is young, vibrant, atmospheric, a great place to visit. The people talk now of whether or not Manchester City or United or Liverpool will win on Saturday, of how the Irish rugby team is faring, of the weather and of life’s simple things. There are no bombs, there is no looking over shoulders.

  Yes, the peace is flawed, and it is true that there is currently no power-sharing executive. Much to be done. But the transformation is massive. The greatest legacy of peace is the sense of normality that has descended on The North. That normality reminds us of why it’s important that we value this peace…why it should never be taken for granted or placed in jeopardy.

  Back in the early 1990s, at the height of Albert’s lonely trek, I interviewed Taoiseach Reynolds in the Longford Arms Hotel. I was working for the Longford NEWS at the time. We had just finished and stepped back on to the Main Street. Albert’s driver beckoned to the Taoiseach. There was a call for him on the car phone. He chatted to the caller for a few minutes. Then Albert turned to me to say goodbye. He nodded at the phone and said: “That was Gerry Adams”.

  I was suitably intrigued. Gerry Adams! At the time, he wasn’t within an ass’s roar of mainstream acceptance. This was the then presumed Voice of the IRA whom the media felt was leading Albert on a merry dance.

  “Do you trust him?” I asked.

  Albert paused, but only for a second.

  “Yes”.

All week

All week, the talk has been of peace. Twenty years of peace. Valuing and appreciating peace. Warnings on the risk of losing peace. Holding on to peace.

  And our showbiz A-list political players have rolled back into town, the stars of 1998 on a Greatest hits tour. We’ve been eyeing them up, like in the days when modestly dressed women in their scarves who had degrees in nosiness used to gather outside the Church to have a good gander as a bride arrived for her wedding.

  We’ve done our own bit of oohing and aahing, sure enough.

  ‘Oh that Tony Blair’s got old looking hasn’t he?’ ‘Who’s that woman standing in front of David Trimble?’ ‘God, Bertie looks well, doesn’t he?’ ‘Bill Clinton’s gone very slow, but I could listen to him all night!’

  All week, the media’s gone big on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. On Monday, I saw a photograph in the paper of Tony and Bertie. How boyish and innocent they looked!

  Later in the week, I heard snippets of silver-tongued Bill, speaking in Dublin and then Belfast. As ever, the star draw. You gotta hand it to Bill, he’s some public speaker. He drips charisma. And we should never forget the enormous time and skill he invested in the incredibly delicate pursuit of peace on this island.

  On Tuesday night, the RTE 9 o’clock News brought us down memory lane. There’s David Trimble walking pensively, taking a break from the tense talks. But I remember the first time I saw that footage! Can it really be twenty years ago? There’s those boyish leaders again, Tony and Bertie. Footage too of key players who have gone to their eternal reward…Mo Mowlam. David Ervine. Martin McGuinness. And of people who are very much still with us. Senator George Mitchell, the calming, incredibly patient ‘middle man’ who somehow put up with the mad arena he had been dispatched to. And there’s John Taylor, bullish as ever, who, within seven years or so, would (very surprisingly) become proprietor of the Roscommon Champion.

  “I certainly couldn’t be associated with this” Taylor sniffily told the media at the height of the talks in 1998, but a few days later he had signed up and was quite graciously congratulating Bertie on the latter’s enormous contribution to the negotiations. Seven years on and the UUP hardliner turned newspaper tycoon was a hands-on presence at the Roscommon Champion. We got on fine for a while, but in the end, after some turmoil at the Champion, I couldn’t be associated with John Taylor’s version of ‘peace talks’!

  I remember the years before that historic signing in 1998. For decades, we lived in the shadow of death. Of course ‘down south’ we were almost entirely protected from the carnage, but we were very aware of the weekly, sometimes daily horrors up the road in The North.

  It was never a surprise when a radio bulletin would begin with a solemn report on a bombing or the shooting dead of a soldier, on or off duty. Often there were multiple killings. Over 3,000 people were killed during ‘The Troubles’, heartbreak delivered to thousands of families. For us southerners, The North was almost a no-go area. Checkpoints manned by armed British soldiers. Distrust and fear. Eeriness. Life lived in death’s stalking shadow. Dark days.

  It’s right that the 20th anniversary of ‘The Agreement’ was celebrated this week, that its architects were feted. I couldn’t help thinking of the Co. Roscommon born man who did so much to pave the way. When Rooskey native Albert Reynolds became Taoiseach in 1992, he put a firm focus on ending the violence. It’s true that Albert was taking possession of a baton that had already passed through a few sets of hands, but his subsequent ferocious single-minded pursuit of peace should never be forgotten. While critics scoffed at his supposed naivety, Albert went on a lonely solo run, placing a stubborn faith in Sinn Féin/IRA, walking into the wilderness before emerging with the Republican movement in his wake, a historic ceasefire secured.

  A year or so ago, we spent a few nights in Belfast. This city is young, vibrant, atmospheric, a great place to visit. The people talk now of whether or not Manchester City or United or Liverpool will win on Saturday, of how the Irish rugby team is faring, of the weather and of life’s simple things. There are no bombs, there is no looking over shoulders.

  Yes, the peace is flawed, and it is true that there is currently no power-sharing executive. Much to be done. But the transformation is massive. The greatest legacy of peace is the sense of normality that has descended on The North. That normality reminds us of why it’s important that we value this peace…why it should never be taken for granted or placed in jeopardy.

  Back in the early 1990s, at the height of Albert’s lonely trek, I interviewed Taoiseach Reynolds in the Longford Arms Hotel. I was working for the Longford NEWS at the time. We had just finished and stepped back on to the Main Street. Albert’s driver beckoned to the Taoiseach. There was a call for him on the car phone. He chatted to the caller for a few minutes. Then Albert turned to me to say goodbye. He nodded at the phone and said: “That was Gerry Adams”.

  I was suitably intrigued. Gerry Adams! At the time, he wasn’t within an ass’s roar of mainstream acceptance. This was the then presumed Voice of the IRA whom the media felt was leading Albert on a merry dance.

  “Do you trust him?” I asked.

  Albert paused, but only for a second.

  “Yes”.

Thursday

A day on from Ray Wilkins’ death (see page 4) and the great darts star Eric Bristow (‘The Crafty Cockney’) dies suddenly at a darts event in the UK. He was only 60. His passing evoked sadness, much nostalgia and many warm tributes.

  In his heyday, he was perceived as arrogant, but fans always knew that Bristow was great for the game, regardless of whether you saw him as hero or villain.

  He was a pioneering darts superstar. When Bristow reigned (he was world champion five times by the age of 28) his greatest rivals included super-cool John Lowe and the much-loved Scot, Jocky Wilson.

  I always liked Bristow, because he was so compelling to watch. He was at his peak during the original glory era for TV darts which, like snooker, was huge in the 1980s.  

  Some years after his last world title, Bristow did an exhibition in Co. Longford. Those who were there recalled him dispensing with local challengers by throwing doubles while kneeling at the oche. Superstar and showman.

  Yeah, he was cocky – and he was great. Darts is big again now, all glammed up by that great ‘fixer of sports’, Barry Hearn. Hearn would be the first to say that darts owes quite a bit of its current good health to Eric Bristow. 

* I wish, at this point, to reject any suggestion that I had a misspent youth!

 

Vote for Conor… he breaks down barriers

All week

On the front page of the Sunday Independent, the ever-versatile Brendan O’Connor adopts a wise attitude to the media’s relentless interest in an Irish Presidential ‘race’ which the wider public, contrary to what the media would have us believe, is far from obsessed with. He pokes fun at it! (Time enough to be serious about this over-hyped ‘issue’).

  Meanwhile, our friend Miriam has dramatically opted out. Perhaps the flashing cameras would have been too much for her? She made a big virtue of ‘withdrawing’. Miriam tweeted that she had been “touched” and “a little embarrassed” when people approached her at charity events around the country and suggested that she should run for President. They didn’t just ask her was she running – they asked her to run! But Miriam could have quelled the speculation months ago…if only she’d thought of that!

  Meanwhile, almost as hilarious was MEP Mairead McGuinness’ claim on RTE Radio on Saturday that she has never given a moment’s thought to running next time around. But you sought the Fine Gael nomination the last time Mairead, and you’re one of the favourites this time! Are you not keeping your Ear to the Ground?

  My stance on Kevin Sharkey remains unchanged. However, he has made one major contribution already. He is introducing the great Feargal Sharkey to new generations of people who can now look up the wonderful Derry-born front man of the Undertones on Youtube. K. Sharkey’s arrival in the not yet declared Presidential race has led to many people confusing him with F. Sharkey. Thank you Kevin for (hopefully) renewing interest in Feargal.

  Overall, I’d be happy enough with Michael D., as he’s been doing a good job. But if there is to be a change, surely the obvious President for our changing Ireland is Conor McGregor?

  He’s well travelled, Trump has almost certainly heard of him, he’s outspoken, he’s proud of his Irishness, and most of all – for the times we live in – he has proven he can break down barriers.

 

…and the OsKaR goes to…Fuerty!

 

 

Friday

Fuerty GAA Club staged ‘A Night at the OsKaRs’ in Athlone tonight, proceeds going to their Mulhern Park development project.  I was a ‘Judge’ on the night, along with local businessman Adrian Keegan and Minister Helen McEntee. It was a massive success and a very enjoyable night. 

  Here’s how it worked: over the past number of weeks, Fuerty locals, working with Kevin Rowe  Promotions, produced six films/television programmes, all shot in the local area, all shown for the first time on Good Friday night. The venue was the Radisson Blu Hotel, and there were about 600 people present in the audience. Each film was 10-12 minutes long. The productions were: The Snapper, Goodfellas, Rocky, The Hangover, Fr. Ted and The Field.

  It was a great night. The quality of all of the productions was excellent. The effort put in by the locals was tremendous, and some genuinely impressive acting talent was revealed! Kudos also to the professionals: the filming was slick, the use of props inspired, the editing – under what had to be pressing time constraints – impressive.

  We had the difficult task of selecting ‘OsKaR’ recipients. Thomas Clayton was superb as ‘Rocky’, so too was Padraic Cuddy, who played ‘The Bull McCabe’ in The Field. Padraic was a deserving winner of the OsKaR for ‘Best Actor’, after a memorable, powerful performance as the Bull. Best Actress went to Sara McGahon, a terrifically authentic and funny Mrs. Doyle in Fr. Ted. A very deserving recipient; I also think Jacinta Hanley deserves honourable mention for her performance as Kay (‘the mother’) in The Snapper. Best Supporting Actress was Sharon Conneely (great as Jackie in The Snapper) and Best Supporting Actor was an inspired Matty Ward (Micky in Rocky). There were many other excellent performances, e.g. John Connolly in Goodfellas…and others, too many to mention! Best film award went to The Field, a passionate, emotional production which brought the house down.

  Congrats to all cast members and all ‘behind the camera’. It was a great community effort, which created a great night and memories that will live on.  Well done, Fuerty; over now to our friends in Tulsk!

 

Paul Healy on Brendan O’Connor’s
cutting edge show; Kevin Sharkey’s doomed presidential bid;
the Roscommon Easter Parade and the Roscommon Easter rising in Croker;
a nice goal by a promising 33-year-old
…and Fuerty goes to the OsKaRs…

Wednesday

Of course I agree with the critics: Brendan O’Connor’s ‘Cutting Edge’ has an undoubted edge over all around it.

  Only once during this or the last series do I recall a lacklustre panel (no names – I’ll spare the guests); generally, the mix is excellent. Without wishing to undermine those guests, I think many of them could appear on other chat shows and not make a comparable impact; they are engrossing on ‘Cutting Edge’ (a) because of the format and (b) because O’Connor is a good listener and a compassionate, thoughtful interviewer. Now it’s fairly obvious that some of the show’s big moments – the emotional confession or testy exchange – are part-lined up in advance, the product of good research. But we’ll forgive all involved that bit of shrewd pre-planning. Truth is, this is excellent television, always delivering, easily overshadowing other long-established shows. It’s on RTE One on Wednesday nights at 9.30 pm and it’s well worth watching.

Saturday

Saw five minutes (too much) of would-be Presidential candidate Kevin Sharkey on the Ray D’Arcy Show. Yawn. Tiresome. Yawn again. Self-publicist, obsessed with air-time, going nowhere. Pass the remote control! (Update: Mr. Sharkey was downright rude on the Tonight Show on Tuesday night; an exercise in ‘How not to win people over to your presidential ambitions’).

Sunday

Just how cold was it in Croke Park on Sunday? The reports from the East were harrowing! The Roscommon fans who went to Croke Park came back with the Division Two cup, but also with terrifying tales of viciously cold weather.

  It wasn’t nearly as bad in Roscommon town, where duty called, meaning I couldn’t get to Croker.  The Roscommon Town Easter Parade was due to start at 1 o’clock, and in a distinctly un-Irish bombshell development, it started at 1 o’clock. I was caught on the hop, casting an eye over some of the floats in the CBS grounds when the familiar sounds of the Castlerea Brass & Reed Band signalled the start of the parade.

  ‘Down town’, a good crowd had gathered, and the weather really was quite pleasant. About forty floats took part in the parade. It was, as ever, a lovely occasion, particularly for children, who were wide-eyed in wonder at the giant cartoon characters, not to mention the flying sweets that mysteriously emerge from lorry windows. Although a bigger number of floats would always be desirable, the healthy entry once again showcased the variety of local businesses, sporting organisations, service providers and community/voluntary groups that oil the wheels of our community.

  And this year’s winners, to whom congratulations are extended, are – Best overall: Roscommon Show; Most Entertaining: RosFM; Best Community/Voluntary: Oran Mothers & Others; Best Commercial: SherryFitzgerald/P. Burke; Judges’ Special Award: Vincent Timothy/Vintage Cars.

  One of those vintage cars had ‘Donald Trump’ and ‘Kim Jong Un’ in the front. Trump, naturally, was in the driving seat.

  The punctual kick-off no doubt had much to do with a certain GAA game in Dublin. It turned out to be a right rollercoaster, eight goals shared between Roscommon and Cavan, plus, remarkably, 28 points. Roscommon were fully deserving winners (4-16 to 4-12) in this exciting, topsy-turvy Allianz Division Two football final. It was a game we had to win three or four times. Fluid and fun, terrifically entertaining. We were reassured once again about the quality of our attack, a group of free-spirited young men which so often looks like it is only a few performance percentage points away from destroying defences (which it more or less did on Sunday). Encouraging too is evidence of the strength in depth which we are amassing. True, we were hit for soft enough goals, but Roscommon were intent on playing with some abandon on Sunday, intent on letting loose. The summer is likely to bring a different, more balanced rhythm.

  Later, when we met a few of the returning fans, we were interested in their analysis of the game. But most of them just wanted to talk about one thing: the unbelievable cold in Croker!

Tuesday

Juventus and Real Madrid, epic names from our childhood, our present, the future. Exotic, evocative names, an antidote to any bleak reflections on ‘the beautiful game’. Romance from Real, something tougher but still admirable from ‘Juve’. They met in the Champions League on Tuesday.

  I didn’t get to see the whole game, but with more than a passing interest I checked in on Twitter. I wondered how that 33-year-old egotist, at one time derided by a doubting Dunphy and Giles, might fare. Twitter revealed that Ronaldo had scored on two minutes. Later, with 26 minutes to go, it’s still 1-0 and I’m checking in again, this time on television. How’s the old man doing? Then, a bit of a wonder goal! A beautifully executed overhead kick, a flamboyant score on a gigantic stage. And I’ve always forgiven Ronaldo his ego, his touch of arrogance. Admire instead his decency, his touching humility tonight when acknowledging the Juventus fans for their applause for his special goal. Fair is fair: Ronaldo is probably as modest as he can reasonably be expected to be!

  Last Sunday, randomly, our son asked a few of us: ‘Who’s the best, Ronaldo or Messi?’ I always thought it was Messi. Now, for the first time, I’m beginning to wonder.

P.S. Graeme Souness (on TV3 tonight) is a great tv analyst.

 

 

 

Answering machines, chat shows and real sport!

 

 

Paul Healy on…‘conversing’ with automated answering machines; How Irish chat show hosts treat Donald Trump ‘victims’; Roscommon footballers go up in the world; The end of that programme...and real sport…and stuff that counts!

 

Friday 

When I rang Vodafone today with a query, it was a pleasure to renew acquaintance with the good old automated service. It’s odd – they’re in the communications (indeed phone) business, but like the banks and so many others, they no longer communicate very well. They answered in non-human form…more damn ‘press button’ instructions. Resigned to my probable fate, I prepared to write off the day. Should I order in a Chinese and a box set? As it turns out, after I’d selected a few options, a human answered within four or five minutes.

  Before I could even attempt any small talk(!) I was advised that the call may be recorded for staff training purposes. The human sounded less motivated than the automated machine had. And I wondered: Why say ‘may be’ recorded when you mean ‘are being’ recorded, and when is all that training ever going to be completed?

  In the end, it was a cordial call, business done. We said our goodbyes and I thought no more of my thrilling interaction with Vodafone.

  Then I received a text from Vodafone, thanking me for being in touch and asking if I’d answer four questions by text (relating to how satisfied or otherwise I was with the service).

  In a very weak moment, I agreed. I answered question one by text (‘Q1 of 4’). Then question two (‘Q2 of 4’), which, like question one, gave me multiple options relating to my view of their service. Next, Q3 of 4. Then, Q4 of 4. Job done. I felt like a really good citizen. Mind you, I was glad it was over – it had taken ages.

  Suddenly, bing! Another text! Another communication from my new best friends.

A fifth question by text! It began ‘Finally…’

  I wasn’t having it. Well aware that I was dealing with a faceless, automated (trained?) monster, I texted back: ‘Nope, you said four questions!’

  No reply. So sensitive.

Saturday

If the doomed staffers in the Donald Trump administration thought their boss was bad, he’s nothing compared to what awaits them on this side of the Atlantic.

  At least with Trump, they pretty much knew what was coming; they knew they were dealing with an irrational, impulsive egomaniac with a low boredom threshold and a fondness for firing/changing staff.

   When the poor suckers who’ve fallen out of favour with ‘The Donald’ arrive on Irish soil, they assume they’re on safe ground…and they are, until the dreaded ‘Excitable Irish chat show host’ strikes.

  First, Tubridy lured Sean Spicer into his den, before the Late Late Show host struck! Tonight, it was ‘hide behind the curtains’ time for viewers as Ray D’Arcy conducted a woeful and embarrassing interview with Anthony Scaramucci.

  Here’s how it works when ‘Excitable Irish chat show host’ lands a ‘Disgraced ex-Trump employee’ all the way from the United States of America.

  First, ‘Excitable Irish chat show host’ gives his blessing to hyped-up promotion of the upcoming appearance.

  When the guest appears, Tubridy/D’Arcy begins by cravenly establishing the American guest’s Irish connections/inviting the mandatory gushing praise of Ireland. 

  Just as the guest is beginning to relax, the host moves directly into ‘now-let’s-have-some-fun-at-your-expense’ mode. And so, the Trump cast-off has to listen to recordings/watch footage reflecting their alleged incompetence…the audience is encouraged to laugh, and the now squirming guest is cheerily asked to account for their stupidity. Condescension Station is open for business!

  Tubridy had a ball embarrassing Sean Spicer, who resigned as Trump’s much-maligned press secretary. Tonight, D’Arcy was patronising, arguably rude, during a ‘car crash’ interview with Scaramucci, who was sacked by Trump after just ten days as Director of Communications.

  Now Spicer may well be incompetent and Scaramucci may – or may not – be an unpleasant, ruthless operator, but it’s embarrassing to see them almost made fun of, with no convincing attempt to interview them, nothing explored beyond the caricature.

  Instead, ‘Excitable Irish chat show host’ will focus on the soundbite/social media perception of whatever controversy brought the guest to recent prominence, as opposed to concentrating on facts/the interviewee’s side of the story.  

  On Saturday night, it was obvious that Scaramucci was becoming visibly irritated.

  These ‘re-trials of the already condemned’ are witless and embarrassing.

  At the end of Saturday night’s mess, Ray D’Arcy asked Anthony Scaramucci if he loved him. That question was as silly as most of the others, but at least it was brave!

Sunday

I went to Hyde Park (see ‘View from the Stand’ in sports section) where there was a big crowd present in anticipation of Roscommon gaining promotion to Division One of the Allianz National Football League.

  It was an enjoyable and very competitive game, and Roscommon – playing against the wind in the second half – flirted with trouble as we entered the final quarter. However, the Roscommon substitutions proved very effective and the home team finished strongly to earn a thoroughly deserved win. Roll on the rest of the season!

Later on Sunday

I was almost through the doorway when I heard the dreaded words, and fatefully (as opposed to faithfully) I stopped. The countdown to the result of Dancing with the Stars. I found myself stopping and glancing at the television.

  “And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for” said an excited Nicky Byrne.

  And he was right…it was the moment we had all been waiting for. The end of the bloody thing. 

Real sport: Innocence and excitement…

Monday

It’s the first of five Mondays of soccer for kids at the excellent Lisnamult pitches. Registration for the ‘Roscommon Intercultural Project’ took place a couple of weeks ago; now the big moment has arrived. Our son joins the unwieldy queue. Rain falls, but can’t dampen the dreams of seven-year-olds. There’s a slight delay as someone goes to get the keys of the astroturf pitch. Mothers and fathers, arms folded, thoughts to themselves, a knowing word here and there. The kids are called into a circle by the friendly coach; there’s a brief rundown of ‘house rules’ (no pushing, no swearing), then a bit of craic about which teams they support. The kids are huddled together in this circle of future friendship. Unsurprisingly, they aren’t chatting to eachother, just swaying from left to right, happy to trade the cold for the excitement, all eyes on the coach.

  The keys arrive as the rain thickens. The coach unlocks the gate and the magic green carpet awaits. Wish I was there too in a way, treading the beautiful turf. But I’m walking back to the car, fully signed up to the adult world. I look back, and all thirty young boys surge through the gate all at once, devouring the ground, racing towards the bottom pitch, like flapping birds released from captivity.

  Unconfined joy for the kids; for the parents, another tiny milestone, another little emotion-tinged release.

 

 

Leo in the White House and Trump in Ballintubber

 

Thursday

I thought the days of cringing when an Irish leader acted the eejit in the White House were over. Sadly, not so.

  Leo may prove to be a great man to run a country (or he may not), but we can already safely conclude that he’s not the right person to call on if you want a funny joke or anecdote told.

  The Taoiseach did fine overall on his visit to the White House – but he should have done a lot better. Acting a bit like a wide-eyed child in a sweet shop, he absolutely let himself down with embarrassing attempts to ingratiate himself with President Trump. And Leo really does need to show more gravitas when he arrives in places like 10 Downing Street and the White House! These anecdotes (Downing Street: “It’s a little thrill to be in the location for (the film) Love Actually”) and more silly stuff last week about not gaining access to the White House years ago are not funny, they’re embarrassing.

  Likewise, his silly comments on planning in Co. Clare; this is a very intelligent man with a naïve streak who is clearly still chuffed at becoming a national leader, still star-struck when he meets other leaders. He needs to get over all of that!

Saturday

There were really positive reports about all the St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the region. They are a credit to each respective community; to the organisers, the businesses and community groups that support them, all the volunteers too.

  We went to the Ballintubber Parade and it was absolutely excellent. It was incredibly cold but heartwarmingly indicative of great community spirit. Not for the first time in Ballintubber, I was extremely impressed by the variety and quality of the floats.

  There was a great emphasis on humour, which I think is really important in such parades. I’m not sure that I saw Trump, but I definitely saw Michael D. Higgins, St. Patrick, Mrs. Brown and Michael Fitzmaurice. Oh, actually, that was the real Michael Fitzmaurice. And Deputy ‘Fitz’, guesting on the reviewing stand, was in great form, thoroughly enjoying the various floats. I am sure it was much the same story in other towns and villages in the county.

  From our experience of Ballintubber on Saturday, further evidence that rural Ireland is one defiant, proud entity. This was a great parade: a community energetically, creatively and proudly showcasing itself, a reminder too of all the great voluntary groups, sporting organisations and businesses that sustain such communities.

Later on Saturday

You may have heard…Ireland won the Grand Slam, not quite in a Cheltenham-like canter, but certainly more comfortably than expected. Ireland were superb. In Roscommon town, it appears to have been a welcome boost for the pubs; the atmosphere generated by this great win, this flawless campaign, was very special. A word of praise as well for TV3’s coverage; it was excellent. Dare I say, George who?

Sunday

One of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had while attending a sporting event ‘in the flesh’ was watching the virtuoso performance of David Clifford in the All-Ireland Minor Football Final last year.

  He really was amazing (scoring 4-4), the hallowed turf his stage, Clifford a peerless young prince.

  It was obvious that this was the birth of something special. Hype, or mere common sense, to suggest that this could be the early blossoming of one of the greatest ever GAA careers? Time will tell.

  The indications from his opening outings in the Kerry senior team are all positive. On Sunday, against Kildare, a couple of moments of great individual brilliance were thrown in. This kid’s only warming up. Greatness surely awaits.

  In Hyde Park meanwhile (see ‘View from the Stand’ in sports section) I only got to see the second half of Roscommon v Cavan. By all accounts Roscommon played some superb football in the second quarter of the first half (producing eight points in a row). The second half was a great, honest battle, a serious power struggle. Cavan meant business, Roscommon did the business. It was a great win for the home side, the strength of our bench a significant factor. It’s turned into a really good solid campaign which will hopefully culminate in an immediate return to Division One.

Tuesday

Tonight’s Tonight Show on TV3 was little more than ‘talk for talk’s sake’. In political terms, James Reilly is yesterday’s man; he flirted with Champions League, but has gone down the divisions. James is as entitled as anyone to guest on this or any other show, but he offers little enough, except a generally unconvincing, tame, standard defence of the Government he remains aligned to.

  It’s a rare enough appearance from The Man of Promise. I remember when he used to call, he used to write, now he never writes or calls. His last letter (in 2011) turned out to be a stinker; grandiously addressed to ‘Dear people of Roscommon’ and going on and on about…what was it? (Oh yes, the hospital).

  Anyways, I digress, and I suppose Enda was pulling his strings.

  Sitting across from James on Tuesday night, Mary O’Rourke offered little enough too in what was a far from vintage performance.

  The journalist Colette Browne almost always gets on my nerves; prone to smugness and self-righteousness, as so many in the media can be.

  Sinn Fein’s Eoin Ó Broin must have wondered at times how he could elevate the debate beyond silliness. He’s a ‘serious issues’ TD and has lots of ‘talent’, but Sinn Fein’s bright new kids on the block are struggling to shake off the ghosts of the past. Ó Broin was by far the most articulate contributor but he ended up having to apologise over and over again for more offensive Twitter conduct by a colleague.

  Most annoying of all was Michael Healy-Rae, whom I’m finding increasingly tiresome. Too often he allows parochial cute hoorism to dominate his contributions, when he could be making more sensible points. Frankly, he’s becoming boring; far from cap-tivating.

  Steering this swaying ship were Matt and Ivan, the latter prone to bombast, the former smiling just a little smugly. At the end, Cooper at least livened proceedings up by challenging a rattled Healy-Rae about comments on abortion which his brother (Michael) had just made in the Dáil. It was probably a touch unfair, but it led to a lively enough exchange, though not enough to wake up all viewers.

  Enjoyed it apart from all that…

 

The passing of my favourite comedian

 

 

Taking a break from Leo, Donald, the weather and the other odds and ends that catch his attention, PAUL HEALY casts a nostalgic eye on a great entertainment era and pays tribute to a comedy icon…

“My dad knew I was going to be a comedian. When I was a baby, he said, ‘Is this a joke?’”

“I went outside the house and there was this man with his head sticking out the pavement. I said: ‘Are you from the gas board?’ He said: ‘No, my parachute didn’t open’”

“This lady stopped me the other day. She said, ‘Hello handsome, can you tell me the way to the optician’s?’”

He was easily my favourite British comedian of all time.

  I watched him for a half an hour or so on Monday night, not knowing he was dead.

  Then, the dreaded image and caption at the closing credits: ‘In memory of the late Ken Dodd (1927-2018)’.

  My heart sank.

  It had been a normal Monday night’s viewing. Switching from Claire to Matt and Ivan, I got bored with the latter, Mr. Yates being prone to bombastic outbursts (I still quite like him as a broadcaster).

  I channel-hopped and ‘landed’ on BBC 1. I was surprised to see Ken Dodd in full flow, but thought it must be a documentary on the great comedian.

  It was only when the programme ended and the credits rolled that the realisation dawned: another laugh-shaped part of our youth had died some hours earlier.

  Straight to Google…for the news that I had missed: ‘Comedy legend Sir Ken Dodd dies, aged 90’. 

  The greatest of them all, gone.

  Of course we judge these important matters, to some extent at least, through the lens of our youth, through memories that may be faded or ‘rose-tinted.’ So be it. And I am conscious that some of the showbiz stars of the 1970s and ‘80s may not have dated that well, their material, that is. Watch a clip from a comedian of that era now and it can sometimes seem dated and unsophisticated and less than hilarious. We won’t even get into the rampant sexism and racism that underpinned much of the comedy of the time.

  But, but…but…some of the comedy we grew up on really does stand up well after all these years. I would go further: some of the comedy of the 1970s and ‘80s was much better (and often much less offensive) than today’s.

  Morecambe & Wise, The Two Ronnies, the great Tommy Cooper, the unique Spike Milligan, our own Dave Allen, Billy Connolly, Kenny Everett, Bob Monkhouse and countless sit-coms more than make up for the mediocre stuff or for the material which we hailed then but which we would now admit was racist/just unfunny. There was some rubbish, but there was a lot of gold.

  In Ireland, we were enormously influenced by  British television. Up to 1978, we only had one channel here (RTE). In my book, ‘Nothing About Sheep Stealing’, I reminisced about a typical evening’s schedule on RTE.

 

From a Tuesday in August 1970:

7.50 pm: Mart and Market; 7.55: An Nuacht; 8 pm: Cineclub (Part 1); 10 o’clock: The News; 10.25: Cineclub (Part 2); 11.05: News headlines; 11.07: Outlook (followed by end of transmission).

The RTE schedule was a bit better at the weekends (Andy Williams/Get Smart/Skippy!) but it’s little wonder that those of us who could access British channels embraced them with such joy and excitement.

  I was beside myself with excitement when I got to see ‘The Big Match’ (with Brian Moore) on a Sunday, and of course Match of the Day (with Jimmy Hill) on a Saturday night, and the light entertainment/comedy content was simply a world away from what we had been used to on RTE.

  Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game was unmissable on a Saturday evening, Morecambe & Wise and The Two Ronnies eagerly awaited too, particularly the former’s Christmas Special.

  This was good, really good; this wasn’t Quicksilver. (To be fair, RTE produced ‘The Live Mike’ from somewhere, and it was very special).

  When it comes to the great British comedians of that era, one man whose name I would mention in the same breath as Ken Dodd is Les Dawson. Dawson was brilliant, absolutely lovable, a master of timing and delivery.

  But Ken Dodd was the king.

  Don’t mind the social media skewered polls – honestly, some of those people haven’t a clue – Dodd was a gift from the comedy Gods. You cannot take this poll-a-day era seriously. (A few years ago, The Vicar of Dibley ‘beat’ Fawlty Towers in some stupid poll, at which point I lost faith in them!).

  Back to Mr. Dodd. Maybe some of his material doesn’t date too well, but he was exceptional for several reasons. He was famous for the incredible duration of his live performances; often, gigs would last for five hours. He told one-liners at great speed; he even made the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest ever joke-telling session.  

  And he was funny!

  Dodd adored his work; indeed he was a comedy connoisseur who studied the history of comedy and researched just what ingredients were needed to successfully create laughter. In recent weeks, in his 91st year, he was still touring, still entertaining.   

  It was innocent humour from a different time, and while there is sadness at the great man’s passing this week, the tributes are also no doubt tinged with nostalgia for a golden era, for the

music hall/vaudeville tradition that is fading further into history.

  I like and admire many of today’s comedians, but sometimes when I see Jimmy Carr and others resort to extreme vulgarity and unnecessary offensiveness, I wonder if they’re just taking an easy way out. Some of today’s unfunny – indeed tiresome – ‘comics’ would not hold a candle to the comedians (and brilliant writers) who actually worked on creating clever punchlines, as opposed to relying on shock tactics and meandering ‘stream of consciousness’ observations on their fascinating lives!

  Ken Dodd belonged to a different craft, a different world. Pass little heed on the spontaneous and largely pointless polls of the social media era – for millions of people, for generations of families, for over sixty years, Ken was the greatest.

  He was a comedy genius, who spread happiness at every turn.

Who’s that man?

As Tiger Woods deftly and brilliantly chipped to within a foot of the hole from a difficult lie off the green, I thought I’d inform Matthew, our seven-year-old son, of just who that man on the screen was.

  As the ball settled those few inches from the hole and the fans applauded, I said my piece. 

  “That” I said, with a combination of nostalgia and admiration for Tiger’s amazing return to form in recent weeks, “is the greatest

golfer ever”.

  Matthew looked interested, then confused.

 “That guy that just missed?”

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