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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.

 

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