The ferry trip to the Aran Islands took about 45 minutes. Our destination was the biggest of the islands, Inis Mór, and yes, I was well aware that we were sailing further and further away from Hyde Park and Saturday’s big Super 8s match. They would have Sky Sports on the island, wouldn’t they?
We didn’t really know what to expect – Fiona and I had never actually been to the Aran Islands. We disembarked at shortly after 7 pm and met up with the group of friends who we were spending the weekend with.
Our bed & breakfast was ‘old style’ and quaint. The woman of the house did the cooking and the man of the house served breakfast, throwing in the odd wry comment and folksy banter. That’s the way it was. He was a perfectly nice man, embedded in island life, island ways.
After checking in, we checked out the village (Kilronan). It’s a beautiful central hub, overlooking Galway Bay, offering beautiful scenery, with quaint stone walls, narrow roads and the promise of glorious walks, not to mention many places of historical interest.
From a commercial/facilities point of view, there’s a large shop, a tiny bank, a few pubs and restaurants, a hotel, and souvenir shops too. Aran sweaters, caps and scarves entice the browsing visitor.
First call was to Joe Watty’s bar and restaurant, a fine, thriving, friendly establishment with a great atmosphere. After a lovely dinner there, I briefly took a stool at the counter to do the ‘strangers and locals’ thing.
Sure enough, after sussing me out for a few minutes with sideways glances, the two men at the counter decided to strike.
“Where are you from?”
On hearing Roscommon, they chuckled and asked what our prospects were in the Super 8s game the following day.
“We’re up against it, but you never know…where are you from?” I replied.
“Tyrone” the first man said, and it was actually only then that I realised he had a ‘Red Hand’ top on!
So, it had turned out that the very first person outside of our group that I had spoken to in the restaurant/bar was a Tyrone man! I will call him ‘Tyrone Joe’ – not his real name (well, it might be, but I never asked).
We proceeded to have a good chat. Tyrone Joe was in his late 60s. He had played for Tyrone at minor level, before moving to live and work in England for a quarter of a century or more. Now he’s back, living in Galway with his wife, and is a regular visitor to the islands.
I complimented Peter Canavan (Tyrone legend). Tyrone Joe complimented Dermot Earley. I showed my age by complimenting Frank McGuigan (Tyrone legend). Tyrone Joe complimented Jigger O’Connor. Then he asked about Jimmy Murray and Knockcroghery, and my heart soared a little.
As Inis Mór first-timers, nothing could really have prepared us for the sights early on Saturday morning. There were several hundred tourists milling around the island, hundreds of whom were on bikes. This is rural Atlantic-kissed Ireland at its most stunning…winding roads, ancient sites, stone walls, evidence of remarkable craftsmanship from centuries ago, spectacular scenery, a beautiful beach, donkeys, horses, sheep…locals living life at their own pace, warmly welcoming about-to-be-smitten visitors. It was incredibly busy, with tourists from all over the world.
We took a bus tour of the island, being dropped off at the foot of the cliff-top fort, Dún Aonghasa. Here, in glorious sunshine, we joined hundreds of other tourists on the long but beautiful rising walk to the fort. Again, spectacular scenery from that cliff-top, savoured on this, the hottest day of the year. Easy to be proud to be Irish. Halfway up that long walk to the cliff-top fort there was a small boy, perched on a rock, busking away, on his tin whistle. Ah!
Next, we visited the medieval Christian ruins of the Seven Churches, and also Kilmurvey Beach – known for its birdlife – and a nearby seal colony.
Our bus driver was a character. I thought he’d have us back at base by 4 pm or so, but he decided to bring us to his very own Goats’ Cheese making factory. This was indeed very interesting – and the goats themselves were charming – but very few of the bus passengers and none of the goats had the Super 8s on their mind.
Thankfully, the friendly bus driver got us back to the village by 4.20 pm or so. We watched Roscommon v Tyrone in Joe Mac’s, a great old-style bar perched up high and overlooking Galway Bay. The first man I saw when we went in was Tyrone Joe, my friend from the previous night. Damn it, he was smiling already. Thankfully, four or five more Rossies came in – you can meet anyone anywhere – and soon the pub was half-full. A stranger from Galway and a stranger from Kildare joined us, and soon we weren’t strangers.
Most of the customers were cheering for Roscommon. It was a very exciting first half – Roscommon matching Tyrone, but denied two goals by their ‘keeper. We were quite optimistic at half-time, but unfortunately Tyrone prevailed by four. Still, it was a very good Roscommon performance. I shook hands with Tyrone Joe before returning to the glorious sunshine outdoors.
As an aside, observing the dynamic between drivers, pedestrians and cyclists on the Aran Islands is intriguing. The bus drivers weave with expertise around tight corners, cyclists and walkers usually only a couple of inches away. At times on Saturday it was chaotic, such were the crowds. But it was all good fun!
On Saturday evening we had a beautiful meal in the Bayview Restaurant. One of our party had to wait a few minutes for her duck main course, affording me the opportunity to quote Basil from Fawlty Towers (“Duck’s off, sorry!”). The duck wasn’t off in the Bayview, it arrived, and to an excellent review. Later, we joined a large number of revellers in Joe Watty’s. No sign of Tyrone Joe, but there were lots of locals, numerous tourists and a lively Hen Party group. The live music came from none other than the Mulkerrin brothers, winners of the first series of The All Ireland Talent Show in 2009 and regular performers in Watty’s. The three lads were brilliant, really getting the crowd going. A memorable night.
On Sunday, there was time for more walks, a visit to the beach, an eye on the hurling, a bite to eat and a few more hours of ‘holiday mode’ as hundreds of tourists again mingled around the island in sensational weather.
It was a wonderful weekend. We had stepped back in time and we had seen for ourselves the beauty of the Aran Islands. The boat sailed off and we left Inis Mór behind, with its beautiful stone walls, its easy beauty and charm, its tourists and locals, and smiling Tyrone Joe, with his two Super 8s’ points in his back pocket. We’ll be back.
Progress on and off the field
I wasn’t at the Roscommon/Tyrone game (see article alongside) and I hear it was a great occasion in town. Of course we were watching closely on TV.
Roscommon were extremely competitive and very well placed at half-time. This weekend we travel to Croke Park to take on the mighty Dubs. This very promising Roscommon team are still very much in the championship and should go all out for victory!
Think positive…we are still masters of our own destiny.
Meanwhile, relief all around as we note that Roscommon County Board have submitted a planning application for improvements at Dr. Hyde Park.
The application was submitted a week ago and the project include an extension to dressing rooms beside the main pitch, an extension to existing toilet blocks and the construction of new toilet blocks by the main stand.
It will also see the construction of 39 turnstiles and entrance gates on the Athlone Road and Golf Links Road as well as the partial demolition of existing turnstiles on Golf Links Road. Security fencing will also be erected to separate players and officials from public areas.
The sooner the works proceed, the better. We need the outstanding issues at our stadium sorted.
Goodbye to Ireland’s comedy king
The late Brendan Grace had a huge following in Roscommon – but then he had a huge following all over the country.
At his peak, he was brilliant. He was also a great singer, and came across as a lovely man. He was one of those comedians who seemed to absolutely love what he did – particularly performing live. He relished having an audience, getting laughs.
I saw him live a few times – many years ago – and always enjoyed him. In latter years, he wasn’t perhaps as ‘relevant’ as in the past; comedy had changed, and Grace’s stage show was at least a touch dated. But since his sad and untimely death, many of us who grew up with Brendan as the dominant comedy presence in Ireland have felt great nostalgia for his innocent, funny humour, his brilliant delivery and sheer likeability. Now that he’s gone, we are transported back to his heyday, we pause and laugh again with fondness at this giant of Irish comedy.
It’s fitting that Brendan Grace is being mourned, remembered and celebrated with such emotion, sadness and joy. He was a one-off, a comic master, a part of our youth. Mention of his name will always bring smiles and happiness.