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Paul Healy's Week

Paul Healy's Week

There’s still space for innocence and joy as greed infects global sporting circus!

 

Monday-Friday

When our six-year-old, Matthew, glides up with a prepared whisper, it’s usually to ask if he can “borrow mom’s phone.”

  Video games on mobile phones…a phenomenon of our time.

  The other day, he had new (and not fake) news. He had found his moneybox – and it was bulging. When it comes to money, Matthew is obsessed. He loves it. The dilemma is whether to spend or save. Part of him is excited about the promise of all the things money can purchase, another part of him is tempted by the tantalising lure of collecting more. It’s like a tiny Charlie McCreevy and a tiny Michael Noonan are squaring up to one another inside his head.

  Due to recent birthdays, the missing but now relocated moneybox was indeed bulging. And Matthew had decided he wanted to splash out. He’d had enough. He was rejecting austerity. Matthew wanted to buy a soccer goal set.

  A day or two on, and following negotiations which took a predictable course, we arrive at the hard part: the soccer goal set is spread out in front of us in various different parts. Sure enough, on the side of the box were three of the most terrifying words in the English language: ‘Must be assembled.’

  Thankfully, my daughters were on hand to ‘assist with assembly.’ Within 15 minutes or so, we had the soccer goals constructed and, even more impressively, we had no screws or bolts left over.

Something’s trying to kill sport, they say. The suspects include money, drugs, greed. Ultimately it’s greed, I guess. But we all battle on, the sports stars and the fans. Deep down, the fans know that corruption has crept into many sports, that greed thrives in this environment, that some sports are tainted by drugs, and trust has died. But we still want to believe that there is space for innocence and wonder.

  We’re still thrilled by great sporting exploits, by great stars. When it comes to doping, we often turn a blind eye. The huge sums of money within sport, I don’t have a big issue with. Let them reap the benefits of their brilliance. The doping, however, is another matter. This is cheating, morally wrong and – assuming there are clean athletes out there – not having a level playing field just isn’t fair.

  All week there was relentless media hysteria (mostly from the BBC) as Mo Farah and Usain Bolt were bringing their glittering careers to an end at the World Athletics Championships.

  With athletics now almost as tainted as the Tour de France, I wasn’t that bothered by the Mo/Usain hype, and certainly wasn’t checking out the television schedules. I missed Farah’s farewell races but happened to see Bolt finish third in the 100m. Then, on Saturday night, I channel-hopped to the World Championships. It seemed a better alternative than watching Saturday Night with Miriam O’Callaghan, which sounds more like a penance than a pleasure.

  I engaged with the hype. Saturday night’s 4 x 100m Relay Final is, apparently, Bolt’s last ever race. On the closing stretch, as the superstar closes in on the finishing line, he pulls up, injured. It is a poignant end. He has given us wonderful entertainment, but can we believe? Yes, it is widely accepted that the remarkable Bolt is clean, but can we be sure? The legacy left by shamed dopers is that we end up doubting and questioning everyone.

  There are legitimate question marks over the career of Farah, Britain’s middle-distance multiple champion. He has had a close relationship with Alberto Salazar, a coach who is under investigation after multiple claims that he is involved in doping athletes. Who is Mo? A genuinely clean superstar, or cheat? The fans want to believe the fairytale, but many recent fairytales have had damning postscripts.

  I wasn’t sorry to have missed Farah picking up another gold and silver, because who knows whether those medals will sparkle forever or are destined to be tarnished. Too many questions, too much doubt.

The moneyboxes of the Premier League players have been bulging for some time. The new soccer season in England kicks off as the impact of ‘big money’ on the beautiful game grows to new levels of absurdity. Manchester City have spent £220m during the closed season. Brazilian superstar Neymar recently moved from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for around €222m. His annual salary will be €30m. “My heart told me to move” Neymar is quoted as saying, but it may have been a  misprint – he may have actually said ‘My accountant” or ‘My dad” or “My brain”…

  So, big, astronomical money is fuelling soccer while perhaps also a threat to it. For years, we have been saying that the money madness surrounding soccer cannot continue; yet in reality it’s getting crazier all the time.

  Away from gazing at their moneyboxes and listening to their iPods, the stars of the Premier League like to relax with the odd game of football. It was, in fairness, a thrilling opening weekend, and it’s great to have the soccer back. I’m looking forward to enjoying the fun and games of the Premier League, while the serious business – of getting Leeds United back to the top – continues in The Championship.  

When Tony Keady was in his prime, there were no iPods or primadonnas. I am glad to have seen Keady in action, in the flesh. He was a warrior-like presence at the heart of the defence in the double All-Ireland winning Galway hurling team. In 1987 and ’88 it was a hair-raising experience to watch from ‘The Hogan’ as that swashbuckling Galway half-back line drove the men from the west on to All-Ireland glory. All that Gerry McInerney was missing was a Zorro-like cape. These were great men, chieftains, truly leaders of their tribe. In sport, it was a more innocent time than now. Keady was a true sporting hero. Unlike most of the soccer superstars, he was accessible too, of his place and of his people. It is so sad that this devoted family man and sporting great has been called so early. 

  Fittingly, Cork and Waterford produced a compelling All-Ireland hurling semi-final at the weekend. Waterford’s goal threat was decisive. It sets up a fascinating All-Ireland final between two ravenous teams, both desperate to end their period of exile. 

  On Saturday, in Ennis, more great sporting honesty, more of what draws us to sport. A world away from the doping, the diving, the money and the madness, Roscommon’s U-17 footballers produce a joyous sporting feat: victory over Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Against all the odds, we had assembled the soccer goal set, now rested on the grass on a fine August evening. The break from video games on the mobile phone – I think the technical term is ‘heads stuck in screens’ – may not last, but for now, our son is out in the fresh air enjoying the ‘real-life goals’ and playing with his siblings and cousins.

  It’s not quite clear what they are actually playing – it’s some surreal mixture of soccer, gaelic, rugby and judo, a fusing of sports that would probably interest the promoters of Mayweather v McGregor. At least the kids are running, enjoying fresh air, and scoring goals for fun. The soccer net adds a prestige and status to the kickabout; better, in fairness, than the traditional deployment of two jumpers as goalposts. 

  Beyond, in the outside world, the marvellous but mad sports circus continues. Inside the house, the mobile phones are charging and waiting for (ab)normal service to resume, if it must. But for now, it’s fresh air, fun and daydreaming that reign.

  Far from the sporting circus, we’re in the garden, bending it like Beckham and giving innocence every chance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nightmare on Jones' Road!

 

Monday

Nightmare on Jones’ Road.

  But, a mere two days on (as I write), I’m pretty much over it.

  It was one of those days when hope and ‘horror show’ rhymed.

  We travelled in hope, but everything possible went wrong.

  When we spent 15 minutes trying to find a parking meter that actually worked, we should have known. One of those days. Portent of things to come. Found a machine and a queue of perplexed Rossies and Mayos. Two-hour limit. Grim faces as we ‘did the maths.’ Then a Mayo fan took control: “I met a Kerry man who said ‘get two two-hour tickets and put them on the car window and it’ll be fine’.” We all agreed that a Kerry man should know the score.

  Now, the word is that there was free parking on Monday ‘cos it was a bank holiday. I don’t want my €6 back – they can use it towards putting up some ‘no charge on bank holidays’ signs!

  When a bird made a small deposit on my jacket (seriously) in a crowded Dorset Street before the match, I should have known that it was likely to be another portent of things to come.

  I went into Quinn’s to deal with the bird’s ‘delivery’ and the place was rocking with Rossies (and Mayos). It was still only 12.30.

  Black Betty was belting out and it was like the 1980s all over again.

  “Damn thing gone wild, bam-ba-lam” – another portent of things to come (from Mayo) perhaps.

  In Quinn’s these days, they like to keep the fans moving towards the back, to free some ground for incoming thirsty folk. I watched as a tough looking bouncer who appeared to have poor enough English frowned as a middle-aged Mayo fan unwittingly blocked the main thoroughfare. Eventually the bouncer humourlessly gestured to the Mayo man to move over. The Mayo man nodded apologetically, which is precisely what I would have done, had I been challenged by the bouncer. The Mayo man had a craggy face, he was about 50, and he was in his element. He moved out of the way and the bouncer remained ungrateful and expressionless. All that mattered, it seemed, was that more customers could flood in. All over and done with? Nope. Suddenly, having made way for the flow of human traffic, the Mayo man waltzed back over to the bouncer, blocking people again, and said: “Ah, you know yourself…sure we love the craic when we’re out!”

  Forty minutes on and we were seated in wonderful Croke Park, nervous but quietly confident. We had no idea there was a tsunami brewing.

  Soon 6-0 down, we were despondent. Then Roscommon scored two points and hope briefly surfaced. Then the ruthless reality of this day flexed its muscles and hope retreated. Three quick Mayo goals, their fans rose into the air to claim their destiny and complete command of Croke Park on what we had expected to be a day of equals. We sunk back in our seats and into the uncomfortable bosom of our greatest fears.

  By 3.40 or so it was over. A few days on, it feels okay, not the end of the world. We met a super team and we were caught on the hop (or two hops, in the case of Mayo’s first goal). No complaints. Best of luck to Mayo. Go and win Sam. You are exceptional warriors. And well done Roscommon on a great season. We’re Connacht champions and we can become a force in the next year or two. We can be warriors. We can make hope and Hyde rhyme.

Tuesday

One moment my American relation was scanning the menu, the next moment she was getting to the point.

  “So Paul, have you seen our great new reality show?”

  For a second I was actually trying to wrack my brain. New American thrillers I am reasonably familiar with, but a new reality show? Nothing was registering. Then, within a second or two, the dime dropped.

  “Yes, we are watching it! Pretty chaotic!”

  She was of course talking about Trump in the White House. We were having a bite to eat in The Brandywell in Dromod, now under new management, and as welcoming as ever. I don’t think my American aunt and her son (my cousin, also present with two of his children) will mind me outing them as MBTs (mortified by Trump).

  How representative their views are of their fellow Americans, I can’t really say, though President Trump’s decreasing approval ratings suggest that he’s struggling to maintain momentum with the public post his stunning election triumph.

  As for my relations, they are simply mortified/deeply embarrassed by what they see as the circus in the White House. Listening to good, decent Americans speak with actual shame of their ‘reality show’, you have to feel sympathy for them. Ordinary Americans – a majority anyway – feel a huge sense of embarrassment about Trump and his chaotic White House regime.

  Now I know there is a counter-argument, and that some people see Trump, for all his eccentricities, as a breath of fresh air. But I can only report on my own little insight this week, this chat over Dinner. For the record, my American relations believe the soap opera/reality show is a huge embarrassment. They are counting on Trump being impeached and say he’ll be gone this time next year. When they put this endgame to me, I am sceptical, and suggest it won’t be that easy to impeach him. They are placing their faith in the Russian involvement in their election bringing the Donald down.  

  I can see that the conversation is depressing them, so we return to our menus and I change the subject. I begin to tell them about the exploits of the Roscommon footballers. My aunt (in America most of her life, but a native of Knockvicar, Boyle) asks “How can Roscommon be Connacht champions if they got beaten by Mayo yesterday?”

  Wow. I really wasn’t expecting that. I calmly explain that we legitimately won Connacht and were then unfortunate enough to ‘draw’ Mayo later in the championship.

  Could have done with Mayo being impeached, but I guess you need some grounds.

The new Mrs Brown(e)

The gifted Brendan O’Carroll (even his critics surely agree he is gifted?) cannot go on forever. He’s not quite as young as he used to be, and all that physical slapstick humour requires an awful lot of energy, not to mention a capacity to withstand bruises and bumps. Besides, with his money, why wouldn’t Brendan consider retirement some time soon?

  Never fear! A worthy replacement has been unearthed. My good friend, Sean Browne, the charismatic Castlerea cameraman, has shown us another stunning string to his bow. At the Castlerea Rose Festival, Sean revealed a largely hidden talent – for all these years, he has been hiding his acting prowess. Sean appeared as ‘Mrs. Brown(e)’ and a damn good Mrs. Brown(e) he was too!

  The nation can breathe again. If and when Brendan O’Carroll decides to hang up his apron, there’s a potential successor in Castlerea. From Hell’s Kitchen to Mrs. Brown’s kitchen. Only thing is, Sean could never do the effin and blinding. Not his style. But he’d still make a fair go at the comedy. And some would say the wig even suits him.

 

 

 

A sporting weekend

Saturday evening

Staying with relations in Castleknock (who looked after us royally), we pop over to The Roselawn Inn ‘to watch the football.’

  Kildare v Armagh is a pulsating encounter on the big screen. It’s one of those homely Dublin pubs, with high ceilings, lots of fine décor and the familiar lilt of salt-of-the-earth Dubs providing an ongoing backdrop to the match commentary.

  Across from us, perched on high  stools, are three men who, while now easing into late middle age, all look like they could still clatter a careless corner-forward if he ventured near their domain. Just as well there’s table service.

  When the thriller in Croker is over, a staff member calmly makes the big screen disappear, returning it to its home closer to the ceiling, and revealing an impressive brick fireplace behind where the screen was.

  Fortunately for the till in the Roselawn, we have a fascination with brick fireplaces, so we are undaunted by the absence of the big screen, order a few more pints, continue to chat and experience the atmosphere.

Sunday morning

After a great breakfast, the first big decision of the day; car v train. We opt for the train. At nearby Coolmine, it’s quiet when we arrive, but soon there are weaving lines of Roscommon and Mayo fans filling the platform, with an occasional Kerry or Galway supporter too. A Mayo man is accompanied by his young son. They’re from Cong. ‘The Quiet Man’ I say, in reference to the famous film. ‘Yeah, my grandad was in it’ the boy retorts. Not John Wayne himself, I’m presuming. They too are salt-of-the-earth people. It’s the first of many conversations with Mayo people where we (Roscommon fans) bashfully accept their praise of Kevin McStay’s young team. We are miles behind them when it comes to this type of chat. Is it psychological warfare or just small talk from quiet men?

  If we’re suddenly feeling closer than ever to our Mayo and Galway counterparts, it’s nothing to how close we suddenly become when we join the crowds that are already on the train. It’s as crowded as any city underground or subway. Of course the mood is one of good humour. Once you’re on, you’re facing whatever way you’re facing and, in this environment at least, it’s not possible to make a u-turn (politicians, please copy). There are occasional outbreaks of banter and lots of small talk, but ultimately everyone is in a world of their own, alone with their own thoughts.

  Croke Park. The match. The possibilities. The untold story ahead of us.

Sunday afternoon

The first goal had us on the edge of our seats. The second goal had us out of our seats. Roscommon’s whirlwind start underlined what I think is fairly obvious: Kevin McStay’s team carries a real goal threat once they go for it. The first goal was a beauty. Ciaráin Murtagh’s lovely pass was caught by Fintan Cregg as three Mayo defenders responded to the imminent danger like security men who had suddenly seen shadows outside a vault. Cregg didn’t wait to help them with their enquiries, swivelling away from the three Mayo men before lobbing the ball into the net. The second goal soon followed. Critically, Roscommon conceded immediately afterwards, Lee Keegan bearing down on our goal with all the appearance of a man whose pride had been injured in public. Keegan’s deflected shot found the net and cruelly cut the brief seven-point lead while our dreams were still gestating.

  Mayo now reinforced their suspect and shell-shocked defence and Roscommon, incredibly, matched their score-shy second quarter in the Connacht Final. Mayo settled, picked off tidy scores and led by two (1-8 to 2-3) at half-time.

  I met the Castlerea Mart manager, Brendan Egan, at half-time. I don’t usually talk cattle prices, and this was no time to start. The GAA enthusiast wisely remarked that just about every game is decided in the second half. We parted with cautious optimism.

  I thought Roscommon’s second-half performance was massively impressive. Two points behind this greatly accomplished, formidable and experienced Mayo team, Roscommon showed courage, growing maturity and fierce hunger for victory to grasp the initiative for most of the half. This young and fearless and increasingly confident Roscommon team was not going to dance to history’s tune.

  We led by a point with a few minutes to go; we just couldn’t find that elusive two-point lead. The atmosphere in Croke Park was sensational. Mayo and Roscommon threw everything at one another, like boxers who had dispensed with caution. The stands rocked with noise, emotion and passion. It was electrifying.

  The ghosts of agonising narrow defeats in decades past suddenly appeared as Mayo equalised, then edged in front. ‘There will be at least an additional six minutes…’ was greeted with a huge roar of relief and hope from Roscommon fans. Then, the free came, and Donie Smith displayed some startling combination of heroic courage and innocence. We were level, we were alive in this championship again.

  Frenetic final moments followed until the referee ended the torture. What a second half. What a performance by Roscommon. Mayo, resilient beyond belief again. Roscommon, utterly heroic.

  We couldn’t have been prouder. The story resumes on Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, back in the press box…

 

Granted, it would be stretching things to say ‘If Carlsberg made Connacht semi-final days’…but there was something very positive about last Sunday in Roscommon town.

  There was a giddy excitement in evidence in town all weekend. Well, I suppose we were the last team out in the competition. It’s fair to say the appetite had been well whetted. On Saturday afternoon I saw three men chatting earnestly on the Athlone Road, one of the men sporting a Roscommon GAA cap, the other two sporting no caps at all.

  It was obvious they weren’t talking about the price of turnips, Donald Trump or the rushed appointment of Máire Whelan from A(G) to B.

  The men were within the shadow of the Hyde, and as I watched their animated analysis, I knew they had Roscommon and Leitrim on their minds.

   We encountered the three wise men as we made our way to the Family Fun Day at Scoil Mhuire, where the football stars of the future were trying out their drills on super slides and bouncy castles. Later, on the way home, the open gates of the Hyde was an invitation I couldn’t resist on this beautiful evening.  

  I drove in to have a look around, fuelled by curiosity and the type of anticipation that prompts members of a wedding party to have a ‘gathering’ a night or two before the big day. 

  A small number of people, perhaps eight or nine, were toiling away on various eleventh-hour routines.

  ‘Prunty Pitches’ vehicles were parked close to the pitch and the purr of their machines barely invaded the stillness.

   A few men were operating machines between the halfway line and the goal on the graveyard end; you could say it was grassroots GAA in action…prior to the main event the following day.

  It can be a nice experience to gaze on the Hyde Park pitch on the eve of a big game, when there are no players, only unrevealed mysteries.

Moving forward twenty hours or so, and now it’s Sunday afternoon. As much as three hours before the big game, many fans were gathering in the vicinity of Hyde Park. I left it until twenty minutes before scheduled throw-in. At 3.10 there was quite a long queue for tickets, which I presume contributed to the short delay in the game starting.

  For many years now I’ve watched these games from the stand on the near side – the one beside the Hyde Centre. I’m drawn to the raw banter of the terraces, where the soul of the GAA lives. On Sunday however, I decided to reclaim my place in the press box.

  Things have changed here over the years. Once, when Killoran and Newton ruled the centre of the park, there was just the Herald and the Champion, maybe the Connacht Tribune, then Shannonside when it started up, and then on the day of a Connacht final the handful of local ‘hacks’ were joined by the royalty from the national papers and RTE. Needless to say they always had a great welcome for themselves!

  These days, the press box is bustling like  Grafton Street on Christmas Eve…well, not quite. The Hyde media centre is an enormous, long, narrow corridor, running the length of the big stand on the ‘County Home’ side. Once upon a time, the press box was occupied by a few old-stagers who had seen it all, and maybe a couple of young ‘whippersnappers’ who were starting our on their journalistic journeys and hadn’t seen an awful lot yet.

  Veteran or newcomer, cynical or mad enthusiast, they got on well enough. They scribbled the scores into their notepads – and tweeted nothing.

  ‘Who got that last point? Who gave it into him?’ they asked, and someone, even a member of the direct opposition, would always oblige.

  They cracked in-jokes, complained and complimented the play to excess, sometimes bore the brunt of abuse from nearby supporters, oohed and aahed when the PA man announced scores from around the grounds, and – at all costs – dutifully tallied the wides in the corner of a page.

  No two reporters were necessarily alike, but they all had one thing in common; they never crossed the ‘Governor’ of the Hyde press box, the late Jackie Brennan.

Now, in 2017, dozens of reporters sit in front of their tablets/laptops, glued to the updates from other GAA grounds, the sporting world and life generally.

  There were perhaps thirty to forty reporters in Hyde Park on Sunday; the Roscommon People and Herald, Leitrim Observer, other Connacht papers, the national newspapers, Shannonside, RTE, Newstalk and God knows how many more papers, radio stations and television channels.

  There were also sound men and sound women and other technicians and County Board personnel and stewards and VIPs and some lovely locals who provided the press box occupants with tea, coffee and sandwiches.

  It is of course a family, a family with a very long and narrow living room. For a good while on Sunday I could hear Willie but I couldn’t see him. Many of these reporters cover the same beat; watching Roscommon wherever they go is the beat that at least eight or nine of them are on. Some of these journalists have been on the Roscommon beat for many, many years; it has rarely been a dull assignment.

  The notepads aren’t entirely gone yet; many of the reporters still record the action with a pen, before transferring to their laptop or tablet. Many of them tweet as they go; on Sunday one of the contingent recorded the Roscommon penalty on his phone and a couple of us asked him to replay it to see if the Leitrim ‘keeper had got a touch (he hadn’t). It makes you wonder how long the GAA can resist calls for video evidence.

  Now that I had made a return to the press box, I also made a beeline for the complimentary coffees. Chatting to a few more people along the long walk towards caffeine, we were all in agreement that Hyde Park looked magnificent and that this occasion, sun-draped and all as it was, was a throwback to some of the great days at the Hyde that remain in our memories.

  When it was all over, several of the journalists headed for the vicinity of the dressing rooms to find out what both camps had to say. Slowly the press box became less crowded. Now I could see Willie but I couldn’t hear him. But all was good; Willie’s words had danced across the airwaves and Roscommon were back in the Connacht Final.

  There had been a feelgood factor all day. The sun was still beating down. So, a little later, I decided to sample more of the atmosphere. In ‘The Hatch’, Kevin McStay, the Roscommon manager, was enjoying a pint and mingling with the fans. Where else would you get it?

  The GAA…not a bad movement. Honestly, if Carlsberg made amateur voluntary organisations that, whatever their failings, have a happy knack of reflecting the heart and soul of the people of Ireland…

 

 

 

Yes, the people are revolting!

 

All week

It was a California State Senate candidate, Dick Tuck, who ‘acknowledged’ the outcome of an election by saying: “The people have spoken…the b**tards!”

  The problem presented by democracy just now is that the ruling classes can no longer rely on the people to ‘do the right thing.’

  Opposed by a reckless non-politician whose campaign strategy was to offend millions of people, establishment poster girl Hillary Clinton perished.

  Advocating for Europe but anxious to be seen to be democratic, David Cameron meticulously prepared for a Referendum but made one mistake; he trusted the British people to do the right thing.

  Riding high in the opinion polls and with Labour in disarray under their derided leader Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May confidently called a snap election, played her Brexit joker and waited for the public to shout snap! But they couldn’t be trusted to do the right thing either.

  Democracy isn’t what it used to be, or certainly not what it was until recently. The voters are revolting, in every sense of the word.

  Can no electorate be trusted any more? Is anyone safe? Is it even safe for ‘Queen Miriam’ to go before the Irish people in the next Presidential election?

  That sound you hear in the background is Leo shoving the election posters as far into the attic as they will go.

Sunday

It’s one of the great, simple tributes to the GAA – and maybe they should make a ruthless television advertisement based on the phenomenon.

  I’m talking about that moment when the television viewer switches over from watching a GAA match to catch up with soccer on another channel.

  I’m a soccer enthusiast, but I have no problem admitting that this particular channel switch is usually accompanied, initially at least, by a drop in adrenaline!

  It happened again on Sunday. The Galway/Mayo game climaxed in great excitement and tension. It was a thoroughly entertaining match. When it ended, thirty amateur heroes experienced contrasting emotions as their drained bodies finally rested. The Galway men savoured the enormity of their achievement, last year’s surprise mugging of Mayo now followed up by a declaration of real intent, and arguably a credible claim on top status in the province. The Mayo players were no less heroic; as ever, they had emptied themselves physically and mentally to the last whistle, until they were like soldiers who had to be dragged from the battlefield and told that their territory had fallen.

  Switching from Salthill to The Aviva Stadium was like leaving a lively party and wandering into a Chess Convention. We frowned at the scoreline – Ireland 0 Austria 1 – and adapted our senses to allow for the more pedestrian fare and the apparent lessening in intensity.

  It’s probably not a fair judgement – after all, they are completely different sports – but that initial switch from gaelic football (even the massed defences’ version) or hurling to soccer seldom enough shows the latter in the better light!

  I struggled with the soccer the previous evening too, when I abandoned Scotland v England with twenty minutes to go. It was 0-0 and quite boring, so I switched channels. When I switched back later, it was 2-2, so that served me right I suppose.

  I presume this sort of thing happens to other people too. It’s the classic ‘I’ll put the kettle on and miss a goal’ manoeuvre. Sometimes you can try and turn it to your advantage and vary the technique as a means of trying to will a goal in. An example: I had to abandon the television midway through the second half in the Ireland/Austria game to drive into Roscommon Town. I listened to the commentary on Newstalk, but the waiting (for an Irish goal) was torture. So I turned the radio off for five minutes, then turned it back on, and sure enough, Ireland had equalised, had a goal disallowed, and co-commentator Kevin Kilbane was screaming for a penalty.

  Considering that we were 1-0 down with five minutes to go, I was delighted that Ireland salvaged a point, through a combination of Jon Walters’ persistence and my turning the radio off.

  A little while later, back at the telly, for once I found Eamon Dunphy more tiresome than insightful or entertaining. Wes Hoolahan is a really talented playmaker, but hardly deserving of the mythical status which RTE pundits have afforded him. To my knowledge, none of the very top teams in the Premier League ever came calling for Wes. Listening to Dunphy in full know-all mode, you’d be forgiven for thinking that punditry’s gain has been football management’s grevious loss.

  Anyways, I’ll always keep faith in the soccer, even if it can sometimes compare poorly to the GAA. As for the GAA itself, despite its faults, it remains a wonderful part of our lives. Last Sunday, Galway and Mayo both did enough to suggest they can have long summers. This Sunday, Roscommon enter the fray against Leitrim, and already the adrenaline is rising in both counties. As Eamon Dunphy might say, “It’s Championship, baby!”

Leo: Hope and history rhyming – or just a younger man in a grey suit?

 

All week

I’m not sure how we will measure Leo, but let’s see how it goes.

It is being heralded as a new era for Ireland, and maybe it will turn out to be just that, and an exciting one into the bargain.

Even if the words were carefully scripted, there is something poetic and timeless about that soundbite that rescued his acceptance speech…‘Prejudice has no hold in this Republic.’

Writing these words now, I am thinking back to the stony face of Charles Haughey, an expression captured for posterity when he came to face to face with the wheels of history turning.

It was the swearing-in ceremony after the 1990 Presidential election. Mary Robinson and the women of Ireland had rocked the system, not the cradle, and a confident, new Ireland was turning on its past.

Behind Robinson, on the podium in Dublin Castle, old men – led by Haughey and Brian Lenihan – wore weak smiles as, lost and confused, they witnessed history turn.

And, somewhere out there, as the bell rang for the beginning of the Mary Robinson presidency, alarm bells sounded for the Church authorities too.

People are always entitled to hope. Sometimes, we don’t have much more than hope. Now personally, I remain to be convinced that Leo is a Special One, but at the very least his emergence is symbolic of an ever-evolving Ireland, of men in grey suits being further ushered into the background.

I am not at all sure that there will be significant substance behind Leo’s style and smoothness, but I am looking forward to finding out. And I am prepared to give him his chance. It’s kind of exciting. Any move away from the template of the past is, at this stage, worth going with.

I know Leo’s rise was predicted in recent times, but five or six years ago, who would have thought that we would have a 38-year-old gay man of Indian origin as our leader?

We may have foreseen Leo’s rise in the last year or two, but in historical terms, it’s quite seismic.

It’s a big milestone. It’s like we’ve had our Trump moment, but without the buffoonery.

Even if Leo turns out to be a poor or even just an adequate Taoiseach, his rise is almost bigger than how he performs in the role; his rise to power feels like a historic moment, a new turn in the country’s history, a further rejection of the old men in the grey suits.

And, let’s face it, the old men in the grey suits didn’t always serve us well.

Because for all the great things there are about Ireland – and in ways it is the greatest, most wonderful place on earth – there are many rancid skeletons in the cupboards of the nation.

What makes Ireland special is its physical beauty, its traditions and culture, and, above all, its people.

Where the darkness lies is where greed and corruption has been allowed to reign. This is a young Republic, and it seems to me that it has been weighed down by greedy, power-crazed golden circles since the foundation of the State. A century of nods and winks and worse. A corrupt little country, if we are honest. Corruption infiltrated our political system. Horrors were exposed in the once-controlling Catholic Church. Corruption seeped into our banking system. Many of our charities were poisoned by greed. Cosy golden circles were occupied by certain politicians, business people, planners and bankers.

Anyways, I’m not sure how we will measure Leo, but I hope the nod and the wink is finally being removed from Irish life.

To be honest, I have no reason to assume that Leo will be a great new leader. The famed television detective, Columbo, when summing up a case, always used to tell his captive audience ‘Just one more thing…’

Well, with Leo’s rise, I say ‘Just two more things…’ Firstly, he is unproven. He has done nothing special in any of his ministries, indeed was highly unimpressive in health. Secondly, pass no heed on the hero-worshipping by Fine Gael TDs and Senators. In fact, worry that they are out of touch with their own membership. They haven’t elected Leo because they are convinced of his leadership potential, and certainly not because they honestly believe he has some great vision for Ireland’s future. Maybe I’m being harsh, maybe he has a vision, but can we honestly say that we have seen it? No, the Fine Gael TDs and Senators chose Leo – and went against the party’s grassroots -– because enough of them convinced themselves that his is the face the people will want to see on election posters. And, once enough of them came to that conclusion, more TDs and Senators followed their lead, like not very sheepish sheep.

But it is Leo’s moment, Leo’s time, and I wish him the fairest of winds. And he may turn out to be great. And it does feel quite historic. As to how we will measure him, I’m not sure.

Maybe in these parts we need to measure him in the most practical way. Will broadband be delivered? Will the decline of rural towns and villages be reversed? Can I go to Portiuncula without seeing the old people who built the nation being humiliated on trolleys? Is there a hope in hell that our children, in years to come, can help build Ireland, not Australia or Canada?

I don’t like the political establishment of today. While politicians on an individual level are very decent people, the culture around them has earned our cynicism. Awaiting fat pensions, they preside over a society in which more and more people are homeless, and our parents and grandparents are subjected to hospital delays and the indignity of trolleys. So I don’t like so much of what we have been and what we still are, and I hope that the wheels of history are still turning.

I wouldn’t say I’m particularly optimistic about the Leo era, but I am hopeful and interested. And I wish him well, because if he happens to have that vision thing, it will be good for us all. Even if he’s just a breath of fresh air, a further break with the past, that will be welcome. Anything that gets us further away from the men in grey suits will be worth smiling about.

 

An evening with a comedy legend Sunday

 

As far as I was concerned, he hardly needed to go ahead and perform his one-man show at all – for me, it was enough just to actually see the greatest living Englishman in the flesh!

  It was 8.07 on Sunday evening in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and we were about to see one of the most influential and gifted individuals in the history of comedy…in the flesh.

  By now, you will have gathered that I was  ery definitely star-struck when the moment came. Master of Ceremonies Tom Dunne (of Newstalk) introduced the night’s star by saying that “more than anyone” this person needed no introduction. We had received the tickets as a (great) Christmas present. Now we had come to see the man who, perhaps more than anyone – and that includes Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Tommy Cooper and Ronnie Barker – links so many of the greatest moments in the rich history of British comedy in the second half of the 20th century. 

The brief introduction ended…and then…the great, great John Cleese walked on to the stage.

While his comedy genius was mostly displayed from the early 1960s through to his acclaimed movie ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ in 1988, Cleese has remained in the public eye to the present day, and is now a quite prolific commentator on current affairs, politics, the media, political correctness (he’s not a fan), and anything else in the world that interests him. He has over five million followers on Twitter, still does the occasional cameo acting roles and is a regular and usually brilliant guest on chat shows.

  What we’ve learnt about Cleese since his manic heyday as the biggest star in the legendary Monty Python team and his creation (with Connie Booth) of the immortal Fawlty Towers, is that he is a deeply intelligent and gifted man with strong opinions and wide-ranging interests, interests that extend beyond comic writing and acting.

  His ‘world view’ is delivered with trademark humour, as we were to find out on Sunday night. Still, much as I respect how he has diversified – (his business training videos and self-help books are another acclaimed dimension to his career) – for me, with Cleese, it’s all about the comedy!

  Just think of his ‘Comedy CV’: He won an Emmy Award for his guesting role on Cheers, starred in That Was The Week That Was and The Frost Report, and changed television comedy with the rest of the Monty Python team. On top of the weekly episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus came a series of full-length films, including the acclaimed ‘Life of Brian.’ 

And then there was Fawlty Towers…

Now John Cleese stands before us, all six foot four of him (he’s now a healthy looking 77-year-old) and he begins his 40-minute speech, the title of which is ‘Why There Is No Hope.’

  It’s Cleese’s frequently hilarious and always insightful assessment of the modern world. He is fascinated by the human mind and human behaviour. Cleese contends that only 10-15 per cent of people actually know what they are doing in their place of work, and some of his examples of the “stupid people” he has encountered had the audience in stitches. There are references to Donald Trump, British politics, politically incorrect jokes about the French, Greeks and Italians, and fierce criticism of a regular Cleese target, The Daily Mail. The speech was extremely interesting and funny, with Cleese every now and again shaking his head and concluding ‘That’s why there is no hope!” 

  What was fascinating to see, in person, was Cleese’s marvellous comic timing. His sarcastic asides are delivered at just the right moment, for superb comic effect. At times it was like we were in the lobby of Fawlty Towers in the late 1970s and Basil was making those memorable put-downs of guests under his breath.

Part two of the show featured a questions and answers session, with Tom Dunne interviewing Cleese about his childhood, his early career, and of course his legendary role as Basil in Fawlty Towers.

  Cleese told some great anecdotes and even when he tried to make serious points about how BBC bosses in the 1960s and ‘70s (they initially dismissed Fawlty Towers and said nothing would come of it) Cleese was hilarious.

  I would have liked a bit more (three or four hours!) chat about the making of Fawlty Towers and its classic characters and plot-lines, but Basil (sorry, John) kept moving the discussion on to something else, I guess because he’s a bit tired of talking about the classic sit-com. After all, the last of the twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers was made 38 years ago, in 1979.

  When it was over, Cleese received a spontaneous (as opposed to forced) standing ovation. As he left the stage, he did something that was vintage Cleese…loping towards the podium to recover his speaking notes, hiding them inside his jacket as if he was stealing something, while throwing a ‘Don’t tell anyone’ sideways glance at the audience.

  I watched him leave the stage, and I thought of all the inaccessible superstars of comedy, most gone to their reward now, people ranging from Laurel & Hardy to Peter Sellers, to Groucho Marx, Tommy Cooper, Spike Milligan, Eric Morecambe and Les Dawson. 

  And I felt renewed joy at having seen one of the all-time greats ‘in the flesh’ – the great, great John Cleese, whose ‘Fawlty Towers’ is, in my view, without question the greatest television comedy of them all.

  He had been amongst us, in the flesh, and now he was gone – and no, he didn’t mention the war.

* If you aren’t already a fan, watch out for regular repeats of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python on Gold and various other television channels.

 

 

 

 

If the children met in a schoolyard…

 

Monday/Tuesday

Many of the children had received their tickets for the concert as Christmas presents, the reporter from Newstalk said.

  It was Tuesday morning – and Manchester, the UK, and every decent person in the world was feeling sick, devastated and heartbroken after evil and innocence collided.

  Over 21,000 fans, mostly teenagers, attended the Ariana Grande concert. Excited kids, enjoying life. Concert tickets tightly gripped. Christmas presents. Proud parents not far away. Special times.

  Tragically, an evil man was plotting and many young lives would cruelly be shattered. What happened in Manchester is incomprehensible to ordinary, decent people all over the world. The suicide bomber murdered 22 people, maimed many more, devastated families, smashed dreams and left scars that will last for generations. These terrorists that are waging war on the world, mostly in the name of Isis, are evil, brutal, despicable killers with no regard for democracy or humanity itself.

  (The outrage (and media coverage) has of course raised an issue. I know that many people are being killed in wars all over the world and I also know that we had more than our share of bloodshed on this island in the past. At times like this we are also reminded that Governments have been responsible for the deaths of civilians, including small children, often with little of the public outcry that follows attacks such as the despicable one in Manchester. And yes, there should be no hierarchy of victims. The killing by governments of innocent people, invariably attracting less publicity – and often crudely described as ‘collateral damage’ – does, after all, cause similar heartbreak as that caused by the barbaric Isis). 

  After the deeply worrying reports on Monday night, we awoke on Tuesday to the horrible disruption of normal life that terrorism causes, and to that grim tally of dead and injured. Normal life upended by evil. A British General Election campaign paused by terror, Manchester in shock, families anguished, hearts broken for the innocent young fans of Ariana Grande.

  And yet, as ever, life must go on. We grieve for the great people of Manchester. The civilised world must redouble its efforts to defeat the terrorists. We owe that, and our ongoing commitment to freedom and common decency, to the memory of the kids who went into the Manchester Arena with their concert tickets, their youthful innocence, their hopes and their dreams.

  And, back to the victims the world over. What’s so sad in this divided and troubled world is that ordinary, decent people know that if the eight-year-old victims of Manchester this week, of Northern Ireland in the past, or of Syria today, were to meet in a schoolyard, they would play together without prejudice, seamlessly merging into a group of new friends.

Thursday

There was a capacity crowd in the fabulous Roscommon Arts Centre tonight for a charity concert in aid of the Patient Comfort Fund (for cancer services) at University College Hospital, Galway.

  Master of Ceremonies (and also performing) was Vincent Pierse, Ballymurray’s famous Seanchaí.

  There was some great singing and music courtesy of local artists and excellent Irish dancing by four talented young members of the Brian Geraghty School of Dancing. 

  Vincent himself entertained the ‘full house’ with two great, meandering stories from bygone times and the audience lapped it all up.

  Central to the variety show was a stirring series of songs from the excellent Vinegar Bill. On the subject of the local group, we were delighted to hear that Vinegar Bill won an online vote to be selected to support Nathan Carter in Kiltoom on Friday, June 2nd.

  Congratulations to event organiser Vincent Pierse and all involved. It was a very enjoyable evening and all for an extremely good cause.

Friday

Being honest, I don’t approve of Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran graduating to Minister of State status this week.

  It’s nothing personal against Athlone’s man of the moment – I just don’t approve (unless in exceptional cases) of first-time TDs being catapulted so quickly into ministerial office.

  Ministers should be appointed on merit… not because of geography, gender, it being ‘their turn’, who they are friends with, etc.

  Is Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran actually the most suitably qualified person to become Minister of State at the OPW this week? I doubt it, though I don’t doubt he will give it his all!

  My point is a general one. I just think making first-time TDs ministers before they are the proverbial wet week in the Dáil isn’t good practice.

  When was the last time a ‘first-time teacher’ became Principal or Deputy Principal moments after they first sat behind their desk?

  Mind you, I do think ‘Boxer’ fully deserved to be elected to the Dáil last year after he had shown tremendous leadership in flood-hit Athlone. And he hasn’t put a foot wrong since he got there; and, now that he has the ministerial jersey, I wish him good luck in it.

  And, trust me, this is a positive piece about Boxer (as I say, my ‘TD to Minister in less than 60 seconds’ gripe is a general one, nothing to do with him personally) because I thought Deputy/Minister Moran was a revelation on the Late Late Show tonight. The story he told presenter Ryan Tubridy was all about humanity and put the world of politics firmly into the background.

  Boxer spoke with great openness about his struggles with depression and the challenges he has faced due to dyslexia.

  This was compelling stuff and it reflected magnificently on Boxer the man. Well done to him for going public on these issues. I am glad things have worked out so well for him and I am particularly glad that he has spoken out, because what he has publicly stated can only help other people.

Sunday

On Sunday, two worlds collided; Match of the Day made its exit for this season, The Sunday Game made its 2017 debut.  

  Match of the Day is always special and there were goals galore on Sunday, but there was a sense of anti-climax. Chelsea had won the title the previous week, the relegation trap door had claimed its victims, and most of the European places had been determined. On Sunday, Liverpool took the final Champions League spot with a nerveless, joyous win over Middlesbrough, while Arsenal turned up at the altar only to find they had, for once, been jilted.

  Despite his tendency towards smugness, I quite like the MOTD host, Gary Lineker. Regular panellist Alan Shearer has improved greatly over the years, but he does lack charisma; if he was a door to door salesman he’d hardly get beyond ‘Good morning.’ Ian Wright, his partner on Sunday, is, I suspect, a lovely bloke, but he is a desperately limited analyst.

  There was no such lack of passion or enthusiasm in the RTE Studio earlier in the day when Cyril Farrell, Ger Loughnane and Henry Shefflin took their ringside seats for a hurling classic.

  The epic battle between All-Ireland champions Tipperary and underdogs Cork was surely one of the greatest games of hurling of all time.

 

 

A good Harte was easy to find…

 

Friday

 

7.50 pm, and I was moments away from my first ever meeting with Mickey Harte.

  Mickey is GAA royalty, truly one of the greatest managers in the history of the game, and a pioneering one too. 

  I could see him in the distance, and I, and everyone else in Lanesboro Community College, could feel his presence, how he was igniting the room.

  Mickey – modest, friendly, genial and passionate – had just addressed guests at the Bank of Ireland Enterprise Town event for Ballyleague/Lanesboro.

  Now he was ‘working the room’ with patience and good humour, and was a particular hit with children, many of whom hadn’t been born when Harte masterminded the first of three senior All-Irelands (in 2003) in Tyrone.

  Suddenly, our eyes met. I was in the line of vision of one of the great GAA thinkers of all time.

  I was thinking ‘What a guy’ – he was probably thinking ‘I could have made an intercounty star out of this guy.’

  Okay, I guess not! I expect that not even Mickey Harte could see unfulfilled sporting potential of any particular significance in me, not least given that I shaved off my ‘Tyrone beard’ a number of years ago.

  Still, who knows what verbal sporting magic would unfold when we finally met, as surely we must.

  Actually, we just had a quick word about the weather, but it was still great to meet him.

Saturday/Sunday

The English soccer season, to which we in this country are so emotionally attached, nears its finale. Some things we have established…

  Dele Alli of Spurs is a sensational prospect. Spurs are a pretty hot prospect as a whole.

  Jürgen Klopp needs to deliver at Liverpool next season – his all-smiling approach will wear thin if he doesn’t.

  Utterly lacking in charm, and rapidly losing his supposed charisma, Jose Mourinho has behaved like a spoilt brat for most of the season. He’s not funny, he’s not enigmatic, he’s not very fair-minded, not at this point anyway.

  Sam Allardyce – latest miracle came at Crystal Palace – was an escapologist in a previous life.

  Realistically, though I hate to admit it, Arsene Wenger has overstayed his welcome.

  Pep Guardiola no longer has a pep in his step and is now under pressure to regain his midas touch. 

  Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a phenomenon.

  Football is horribly ruthless – the sacking of Leicester’s dream-maker, Claudio Ranieri, stripped sport of some of its magic and left a bitter taste.

  Oh yes, and Chelsea are quite good.

  And – Leeds will be back.

 

Monday

There must have been a moment on Monday evening when Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne wondered if it was still safe…

  Thomas was due to be a guest on ‘Tonight With Vincent Browne’. It can be an intimidating prospect, but the affable Meath man has crossed that terrain fairly comfortably many times in the past.

  And, to be fair, VB isn’t quite the human rotweiler of old, is he? As the years have gone by, he seems to be gaining as many critics as fans, with some people ‘browned’ off by what they now see as tiresome play-acting, mock anger and general theatrical showboating.  Still, I remain a VB loyalist, but even I accept that Vincent often becomes a caricature of what he once was (and can sometimes still be).  

  After all, there’s probably a thin enough line between parody and peak performance.

  VB in full, genuine angry flow is still priceless, though there is a real sense now that the fury is often put on, and that  chumminess is waiting to break out once enough interrogating has been engaged in.

  So, while loyalists like myself always associate formidable journalism, justifiable anger, peerless holding to account of the powerful, and entertaining political theatre with Vincent Browne, I also readily acknowledge that we have been over-exposed to him (thousands of shows leads to repetition!), and that his nightly programme is as much a circus as a serious current affairs battlefield, with the mischievious host increasingly hamming it up for entertainment value.

  So Tonight With VB is perhaps no longer ‘must watch’ television – but it’s still  often a unique and entertaining programme.

  Back to Monday night, and inoffensive Thomas Byrne must indeed have thought it was pretty safe to join the veteran broadcaster to articulate the world view of the re-energised Fianna Fáil.

  By 11.40 or so, poor ould Thomas was almost in tears, and I genuinely felt sorry for him.

  VB had ripped into the FF man about the party’s position on the fate of Garda chief Nóirín O’Sullivan.

  To see some of Vincent’s truly great grillings, go to Youtube and watch his exchanges with Martin Mansergh, Joan Burton, Conor Lenihan (laugh-out-loud funny), the shell-shocked man (Klaus Masuch) from the ECB, the self-important Jack O’Connor, Jerry Beades, and a hilariously pompous Fionnan Sheahan.

  And to the ‘We’re tired and weary of the VB act’ brigade, I say – I know where you’re coming from, I respect your view, but I’m not joining your club. To those critics and non-believers, I simply say:  Savour the fact that VB is such a one-off, think of him at his best, and enjoy him while the serious stuff and the circus still rolls…because we’ll all miss him when he’s gone!

Coming soon?

In this ‘Let’s forget about the past’ themed week, what can we expect to happen next?

  First, Prince Charles and the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams shook hands and had the craic on a sunny day in Dublin.

  Then, US President Donald Trump effectively gave Russian diplomats and the Russian media the freedom of the White House, while American reporters had to be content with coffee and cookies in an adjoining room.

  Suddenly, we’re in ‘Getting close to your enemies’ mode…

  What next? Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger to share an intimate dinner in a top London restaurant?

  Or, now that Prince Charles, Gerry and Donald have shown the way, can we expect to see Enda Kenny and arch-critic John Deasy make peace? (Okay, the above prospect wouldn’t exactly be box office, but I actually couldn’t think of any other enemies for Enda).

  Joan Burton and Alan Kelly to share the same room without gritting their teeth?

  Or the big one…Linda Martin and Twink to bury the hatchet in an emotional Late Late Show reunion?

  (Anyone for Ronan Keating and Louis Walsh on the Ray D’Arcy Show?)

 

 

‘He’d pass for tough guy in Eastenders’

 

Tuesday

Usually my 15-minute walk around town on a Wednesday evening – a break from a busy office – is without incident.

 As far as I am aware, it never involves me meeting a hardened criminal, or even a softened one.

 On Tuesday at 11.50 am I brought my walk forward, to savour the fabulous weather.

  Usual route. Through our beautiful Sacred Heart Church grounds, then somewhere into the new carparks’ maze that loosely links the new Civic HQ, Garda Station, courthouse and assorted town landmarks.

  In the Church grounds, the man tending to the paths and flowers was busy at work, while chatting to a well-known local man – about life.

  Reaching the courthouse, I heard a loud voice. An angry Judge? A dramatic case? Or were they playing a video containing potential key evidence?

   I still don’t know, but I ventured in from the sun to have a look around the old building. In the entrance area, two women sat on the old benches and three barrister-types chatted ‘out of court.’

  I haven’t been in the actual courthouse for maybe a decade. I wondered what was going on behind that old, dark door. I even wondered if it would be unwise to enter during a sitting. After all, a courtroom can be an intimidating place. All around me were signs warning against use of mobile phones. Warning people not to bring food into the courthouse, not to film any of the proceedings, to remember to have your phone on silent (or presumably risk a spell in the cell for contempt of court).

  I switched the sound down on my mobile. I didn’t fancy having to ring the office in the afternoon, from a warm cell, pleading to be bailed out. And then I opened the big, dark door.

  The Judge, a middle-aged woman, was hearing a case in front of ten or twelve legal people and about a dozen members of the public. Alas, there was no drama. A middle-aged man was giving evidence in relation to ownership of land. Various folio numbers were read out, there were references to the Land Commission and Roscommon County Council, to registering land and so on. The minutes ticked slowly. One granite-faced man in the public gallery attracted my gaze. He stared into space, his gaze on the Judge, his expression blank. I’m not saying he was a criminal (I do think he was due to be ‘the accused’ later in the day) but he would certainly pass for a tough guy in Eastenders or The Bill. (Letters/emails complaining that I am judging a person by their appearance and demeanour should be marked ‘No sense of humour’ and binned).

  The courthouse is old and dull and I had stepped into the middle of a boring ‘session.’ I had hoped the courtroom would be full of members of the public, all listening to a dramatic case. But most of the benches were empty. Above them, quaintly, rows of hooks for coats. About the only visible concession to modern times was a big clock to the Judge’s left with the time prominently flashing in red. 11.57, 11.58, 11.59…

  I could take no more cross-referencing of folio numbers. I took one last look at the tough-looking guy and wondered about his fate. Then I left them to it, and stepped back into the sunshine, taking my short walk to freedom.

  Back in the Church carpark, as the wheels of justice turned slowly nearby, the two men were still chatting about life, and the sun was beating down in all its glory on our beautiful Sacred Heart Church.

Weather-beaten: Confusing time for Paddy…

All week

Ah yes…that weather we’ve been having…

  The Irish have a bit of an obsession with the ould weather. We talk about it a lot, but that doesn’t mean we are prepared for hot, dry spells. Our talking about the weather is based on the absolute understanding that it will be wet and miserable. When it comes to talking about the weather, we are masters of misery.

  When great weather occasionally comes, we engage a plan which allows us to at least mix some negativity with the sheer excitement of encountering scorching sunshine.

  So Paddy will praise good weather, sure enough, but he won’t give up on a lifetime of pessimism on the subject.

  Only the other day, I ventured what I assumed was a safe ‘Great weather’, to a man, to which he quickly responded: ‘I’m afraid we’ll pay for it later in the summer, Paul.’

  Briefly crushed by his inability to savour what we had – in favour of speculating about what we might get – I then succumbed to his logic and soon we were both in agreement that any time we get a good late April or early May, the rest of the summer is liable to be a washout.

  The bottom line is that when it comes to the weather, Paddy likes to know where he stands (as Enda might say).

  This past ten days or so has really tested ‘Paddy.’

  When the first couple of great days came, even Paddy was in good humour, like all the young folk who feel no obligation to maintain the Irish tradition of being forever miserable about the weather.

  Paddy could cope with a few good days and added his own ‘Great day altogether, isn’t it?’ every now and again. But was his heart really in it?

  Then when a few good days became a good week, Paddy was unnerved. When a good week became a proper heatwave, Paddy was tormented, like many Irish men and women are when hot weather occasionally comes our way (watch out for the classic ‘it’s nearly too hot…’).

  When such weather arrives in Ireland, Paddy is invariably torn. Some people actually want rain after a few days of sun. Others want the good weather to continue but they can only half-enjoy the sunshine ‘cos they know it can’t last.

  In fact for some of the more tormented Paddys the good weather is almost a bad thing, a thing of torment, in that it is a signal that long stretches of bad weather will inevitably follow.

  Every glorious day that comes inevitably means more rain will come later in this story.

  So all last weekend and early this week – when, on the face of it we were all enjoying great sunshine –  Paddy began to wilt and soon the initial welcome for the warmth was replaced by gloom or, as Paddy might see it, commonsense.

  ‘It can’t last.’

  ‘We’ll pay for it.’ 

  ‘We could do with a drop of rain.’

  It was almost with relief then that Paddy established in midweek that the weather was likely to break later in the week, that the temperature will drop a bit and some showers will arrive.

  Now all the Paddies were secretly relieved. Because now the rain is surely coming and the suffering – having to enjoy the good weather while knowing it can’t last –  is set to end. Normal service is resuming and Paddy will soon feel a bit more like his normal self, and, when the time is right, as soon it surely will be, he will have lots to say.    

  Beginning with giving out about the weather.

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