Frank Brandon column

 

To hell with Connacht?

 

 

In 1649, history tells us that Oliver Cromwell arrived on Irish soil with the express remit to quell the threat posed to the Commonwealth by the alliance of English Royalists and Irish Catholics. Even though he was only here for less than a year, he went about his duties with great enthusiasm and his forces were responsible for two massacres – in Drogheda in September 1649 and in Wexford in October 1649, where more than 7,000 people, including civilians, prisoners and Catholic priests were put to the sword.

Cromewell had a hatred of all Catholics, and by the time he was finished all Catholic-owned land had been confiscated from the owners and given to English and Scottish settlers and other favourites. All remaining Catholic landowners were given the choice of death or relocating to the poorer land in the province of Connacht, thereby giving rise to the famous – but until this week largely forgotten – saying ‘To hell or to Connacht’.

And yet despite all the obstacles…poor land, geographical remoteness and total rejection by each and every government…the Cinderella province managed to flourish and punch way above its weight, producing leaders in every aspect of society, from politics to commerce, to sport and entertainment.

Two of our nine presidents – Douglas Hyde and Mary Robinson – were born in Connacht, and obviously we have a huge connection with the present incumbent, Michael D. We have had All-Ireland champions in football and hurling, have a major international airport in Knock, and we have firms like our own locally-owned Ward & Burke, who are huge players in the global construction business, with major projects on almost every continent.

On top of all that, we have Teresa Mannion – who, while not a native, has lived here for 13 years – famously bringing the city of Galway to a worldwide audience when she was almost blown over during her reporting of Storm Desmond in 2015.

And yet, despite everything, we have always been regarded as the poor relation. Even in sport, especially rugby, Connacht has long been regarded as an unwelcome visitor. Back in the day, long before professional rugby arrived on these shores, when it came to selecting Irish international teams Leinster and Munster had two votes each, Ulster had one vote and Connacht had no vote at all! As a result, some of the best players of their time never played for Ireland.

It all came to a head in 2003 when the powers that be decided the Connacht rugby team should be disbanded entirely. They hadn’t reckoned on the will of the people. After a meeting attended by hundreds of supporters in the Radisson in Galway, more than 2000 marched on the rugby headquarters in Lansdowne Road and effectively put paid to the threatened cull.

Some years later (2016) this Connacht team had the audacity to go to Edinburgh and beat a star-studded Leinster team in a never to be forgotten Pro 12 Final. The western fans travelled in their thousands by bus, train, car, lorry, ship and plane, taking over the Scottish capital. Connacht had arrived on the big rugby stage.

All that took place less than four years ago, and yet this week we have once again seen Connacht cut adrift, but this time in the political sense. For the first time in our history we, along with some more western seaboard counties, have no representation whatsoever at the cabinet table.

Back in 1916, we had Pearse and Connolly and many more lay down their lives for a United Ireland. Up to now, despite decades of unrest and insurrection, we have had to make do with 26 counties, but on Saturday evening, without a shot fired in anger, Micheál Martin, aided and abetted by Eamon and Leo, let five more counties slip away. As Michael Fitzmaurice has said so forcibly and passionately, we now have a 21-county republic.

A friend of mine who is equally upset at this development wonders if the RTE weather forecast will bother to tell us about our weather at all, and he also feels that our county hurling and football teams should simply have their own championships and not bother with the All-Ireland at all. Certainly the ‘All-Ireland’ mantra doesn’t extend to everything.

I have never bothered much with political matters (probably wrongly), and most of the time would have a healthy indifference to the workings of our major parties, but even I know that when you have no representative at the Cabinet you have no voice at all.

Despite all the protestations coming from the new Government, and promises of junior ministries coming our way, Connacht has been badly let down. I wonder have they made the biggest mistake of all by opening the door to an already powerful Sinn Féin? If that is the case, how big of a price will they pay when the next General Election comes around?

Back in 1649, it was ‘To hell or to Connacht’, but in future when historians are writing about our times it will have simply been changed to ‘To hell with Connacht’ Micheál Martin style.

 

Jack’s a good lad!

 

Thank God it looks as if we will see some football and hurling action this year after all. On the inter-county scene the big news is that the wonderful footballer that is Jack McCaffrey has left the Dublin panel, if not for good at least for this year.

I have to say that it is in my opinion a very brave move, as a man with five All-Ireland medals to his name – who is, at 27, at the peak of his considerable powers – must know that in certain quarters his move will not be very well received (mostly around ‘Coppers’ and the county of Dublin).

A relative of mine worked for a couple of years with him in recent times, and says Jack was always a thoroughly likeable lad who never had an opinion of himself and always said there was more to life and to him than his football, and that his football career would not define him.

It can’t be easy to walk away, so all I can say is ‘well done, Jack’. A lot of other counties will be delighted to see the back of you! Good on you for having a mind of your own – and the best of luck in the future.

 

Reopening is great,

but crisis isn’t over

 

After so many weeks of lockdown I would have sworn that at the first opportunity I’d have been off to the pub to taste a long-denied creamy pint of lovely Guinness.

The remarkable thing is that a few days after the reopening of our pubs (or at least some of them) I have not even been tempted to venture out, and at this point in time I think I will leave it until what they call the ‘wet’ pubs – which are those who don’t serve food – are open again.

However, it is great news for everyone that businesses are reopening all over the place and that commercial life is starting all over again.

All I hope is that people don’t jump to the wrong conclusions and think the scare is all over. It most certainly is not. Places all over the world are paying the price for easing up on the necessary restrictions. All I can hope is that we don’t undo all the good that has been done over the last few months. The message still has to be: wash the hands and stay safe.

 

And finally…a

farewell to Joseph

 

Finally for this week, a couple of weeks ago our local area was greatly saddened at the death of Joseph O’Roarke from Coalpits, Creggs, who passed away after a long, brave battle with illness. Joe was a noted athlete in his young days, before leaving for London where he was to spend most of his working life in Tottenham.

He never forgot his roots, and was a regular and popular visitor to his native village. Covid-19 meant the local population couldn’t attend his funeral, but in testimony to the esteem in which he and his grieving family were held, a large number of people stood in silence outside the church and on the roadside as Joe made his final journey to Kilbegnet graveyard.

It can truly be said that he was a larger than life character, and he was way too young to die, so all I can do is sympathise sincerely with his brothers and sister and all his other relations and friends. May he rest in peace.