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.
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.
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.
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.