Paul Healy’s Week

Friday 24 December

 

The nightmare is avoided. A sense of almost immeasurable relief descends. We didn’t forget. We did it. We put the bins out last night. This week, of all weeks…thank God.

 

Friday 24 December

 

I wasn’t in the shops until now, but, having decided it’s time to begin my Christmas shopping, I’m suddenly on tour. Roscommon Town is very busy. The usual Christmas Eve madness, with masks thrown in. I like the atmosphere on Christmas Eve, even if our frantic scrambling from store to store is all a bit silly.

People are obsessed with getting so much stuff in ahead of Christmas Day, this despite the fact that many shops reopen on St Stephen’s Day or the day after.

In the supermarket-type stores, the people anxiously shimmy up the aisles, stress merging with Covid-adjusted seasonal smiles.

In a desperate effort to avoid calamity at Christmas, these previously perfectly sane people reach for the must-have items, from brussels sprouts to batteries to Baileys to bulbs.

(All year, we are indifferent to whether or not we have enough bulbs at home. Yet, on Christmas Eve, we are liable to ‘double back’ into town, merge into a line of cars, and then queue to purchase a few bulbs).

Of course antigen test kits are this year’s golden ticket (so to speak). Oddly, some shops are selling them for around three euro, while they are priced at over six euro in other stores. So…either some stores are being greedy, or some are underpricing them to lure in customers, in the knowledge that they will almost certainly buy other products. Ah, the spirit of Christmas!

 

Saturday 25 December

 

A quiet Christmas Day. After a delicious dinner… Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and ET. One of them intentionally left home (and school) and romped around town, the other unintentionally left fellow aliens and romped around earth. Both had entered folklore/legend by the time they eventually got home.

 

Sunday 26 December

 

Whatever about changing bulbs (see Friday)…how many Sunday Independent writers does it take to interview self-confessed murder suspect Ian Bailey?

Over the years, various journalists have massaged Bailey’s insufferably large ego by keeping him at the centre of all coverage of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation.

A few months back, Sinead O’Connor – by now the artist formerly known as a weekly columnist – travelled to Cork to interview Bailey in a pub. In her subsequent column (one of only a few that have appeared in print since the ‘Sindo’ very excitedly announced her arrival) O’Connor depicted Bailey as a nasty enough bit of work (not exactly a revelation). Her regular references to him drinking too much during the interview didn’t sit that well with me; I’m not sure it’s a very professional approach by an interviewer, and it’s not okay ‘just’ because it was the undoubtedly deeply unappealing Bailey.

Now, a mere five months on from that rather messy meeting, the Sunday Independent is back on the Bailey trail. This is bizarre. This time it’s reporter Ali Bracken who has been dispatched to Cork (“a local tavern in Glengarriff…”).

The front page headline includes a quote from the murder suspect: ‘I don’t need to know who murdered Sophie’.

Well I don’t need another Ian Bailey interview. I’ve had enough. Time to move on to one of the Sindo’s other front page teasers: ‘Of course I’ve been in love’ – Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Honestly, these newspapers just will not refuse ink!

 

Sunday 26 December

 

I’ve always enjoyed the English soccer blitz over Christmas, whereas my late father (like so many other people) relished the St Stephen’s Day horse racing.

Of course it’s ‘Boxing Day’ across the water, where the goals are flying in. Arsenal take Norwich apart (5-0), Southampton surprise West Ham (3-2), and Manchester City prevail in a bizarre goal-fest with Leicester (6-3). As a Leeds fan, I will admit to being quite pleased – given our recent poor form – that our games have been cancelled due to Covid complications.

Meanwhile, it’s four years to the day since my late father’s last experience of St Stephen’s Day racing. Then aged 87, he asked to be dropped off in Murray’s Bar in Roscommon, where the locals were lovely to the old man with the walking stick…by then physically frail, but still unshakably young at heart.

A couple of hours later, after he’d enjoyed the racing and a couple of pints, we called to collect him, and I had a pint before we made our exit. I was very touched by how accommodating and caring other customers were with a character known to a few (but by no means all) of them. You remember such acts of kindness. When the horses assembled at the starting line the following St Stephen’s Day, he was no longer with us.

That afternoon in Murray’s – racing pages unfurled, elbows brushing on tight barstools, atmospheric TV racing blaring, snatched cigarette breaks, friendly banter, life’s woes paused – is a very fond memory.

 

Monday 27 December

 

Tonight, I watched the magnificent ‘Finding Jack Charlton’ documentary for a third time – on this occasion, because I wanted my family to see the programme, and me to see their reaction to it.

Our children – all of them born after Jack’s unforgettable reign as Republic of Ireland manager – were suitably moved by this magnificent piece of television. While the documentary is superb throughout (including in its coverage of Charlton the football man), it is the deeply touching and beautifully handled portrayal of his battle with dementia which elevates this to ‘masterpiece’ status. And Jack’s wife, Pat, is a quietly dignified heroic presence throughout.

 

Tuesday 28 December

 

I suppose I’m feeling nostalgic these days (either that, or lazy). Despite the growing allure of Netflix, I’ve been content to catch up on one or two old movies on TV. Today, I watched The Magnificent Seven (Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen) for the first time ever. I was pleasantly surprised that it hadn’t dated much. It was nice, all these years on, to watch a rollicking western. Brynner stole the show. I wasn’t entirely surprised to read online today that this did not go down too well with Steve McQueen during shooting of the movie!

        

Wednesday 29 December

 

The pandemic appears to be out of control, Omicron rampaging across the country. Another Christmas has been turned upside down. We batten down the hatches, like most or all of the country, and hope for better times soon.

 

Thursday 30 December

 

Watching the headlines on the RTE News, we switch to a recording of Eastenders, where the mayhem at least is imaginary. It’s in sharp contrast to the wearisome, shocking reality of Covid. This is life just now: Eastenders is actually less depressing than real life.

 

Friday 31 December

 

2 pm: There’s a queue of about fifteen people beside the ATM at the Ulster Bank. Six hours to pub closing, ten hours to a new year. I’m assuming the long line of mostly young cash-pursuers is a prelude to some afternoon/early evening pandemic-defying socialising. Or maybe they’re all stocking up on cash for more antigen test kits…

 

Saturday 1 January

 

We stayed up very late last night…in the company of Jools Holland and his guests. As usual, RTE served up a very tame New Year’s Eve countdown, so we made a last-minute switch to Jools. He didn’t disappoint. We bid farewell to 2021 and weren’t particularly sorry to see the back of it. Blessed to be all together as a family, we welcomed in 2022. Personally, I was happy to trade the prospect of soon being a year older for the promise and hope that a new year offers.

 

Sunday 2 January

 

 

It was another Christmas lost in translation, or maybe I should say lost in transmission. People are just completely fed up. Some are worried and fearful – the virus is still a threat to health – but just now the dominant feeling is pandemic fatigue. That, and loneliness too. And concern about the economic and mental health fallout from the turmoil of the past 22 months.

Christmas/New Year period has been overshadowed again. Instead of asking people if they had a night out/Christmas party, the conversation turns to what once would have been considered absurd queries: Were you able to get any antigen test kits? Are you in lockdown? Are you a close contact? Do you think the schools will reopen?

While all this is going on, this relentless storm, we are losing contact with people, becoming distant, like we’re partly trapped in some sort of societal straitjacket. We don’t meet people as before, we don’t socialise as before, we’re not out and about, and there are hardly any large communal gatherings. We live in pockets and bubbles and confusion, increasingly communicating through technology, with all its brilliance and ugliness. Delivery vans pull up outside our houses to deliver segments of assumed happiness.

 

Monday 3 January

 

You know you’re getting old(er) when you discover that Trisha Goddard – former Queen of morning TV in the UK – is 64 years of age. I read today that Trisha has announced her engagement (to her partner of four years). But I can’t believe she’s actually 64 (and now ‘eligible’ to test her mindset ‘against’ the lyrics of the Beatles’ ‘When I’m Sixty Four’).

 

Monday 3 January

 

Thank God (and Sky Sports) for the darts.

Mind you, it’s a pity our friends in Sky insist – as per their arrogant approach on the soccer – on pretending that ‘world darts’ didn’t exist prior to their undoubtedly brilliant involvement.

At one stage during Monday night’s PDC World Final, the commentator listed players who have won two world titles…needless to say there was no mention of oldies like John Lowe, Eric Bristow, etc., who were multiple world champions before the major split in darts which occurred in the early 1990s. Sky’s ‘short memory’ may be understandable, but it’s still frustrating; even more annoying is Sky’s tendency to snub the soccer greats who through no fault of their own preceded the arrival of the Premiership/Premier League.

That quibble aside, the PDC World Darts Championship provided wonderful entertainment in recent weeks. Having missed the earlier rounds, I was gripped by the final stages this week.

In a sport that thrives on its soap opera-like status, the four semi-finalists didn’t disappoint. Mohican-haired Peter Wright, let’s face it, looks like the guy you do not want your daughter bringing home; Gary Anderson looks like the friendly middle-aged man next door who is a self-styled expert on DIY; Michael Smith may look imposing, but he has the demeanour of a friendly and sensitive pastor; Gerwyn Price has the physique of a bodybuilder and an arrogance and aura that are compelling. At an elevator, I would tend to stand back and let him in/out first.

All four had real prospects of claiming the big prize. Smith, the new gunslinger in town, was hitting 180s for fun all week, and I thought his name might be on the trophy. In the end, the Mohican Maestro produced a sensational purple patch to win Monday’s final, coming from 4-5 down to defeat Smith by 7 sets to 5. The Wright man in the right place, it’s his second world title in three years. If Sky are reading this, I’d suggest that puts him into the same company as Lowe, Bristow and good old Jocky Wilson, but then I’m just a sentimental sports fan with a mere passing knowledge of the history of darts.

Speaking of the late Eric Bristow, I recall he gave an exhibition in County Longford back in the 1980s. In one game, he took on three local players (their combined scores). He beat them, hitting the winning double while kneeling on the ground. You won’t hear about that on Sky Sports!

 

Tuesday 4 January

 

Back in the office for a few hours, with the first Roscommon People of 2022 in production. We’re delighted to have navigated the stormy seas of the past 22 months, and we’re ready for the challenge ahead.

On behalf of Fiona and myself and everyone here at your locally owned community newspaper, thank you to our thousands of readers and advertisers for your loyal support. In traditional newspaper format, and via our ever-developing (and expanding) online presence, we will continue to bring you news, views, sport, a bit of humour, and that so important local connection that we know is appreciated by our readers. Up Roscommon – and Happy New Year to all.

 

One mother,  a lifetime of memories…

Our family always associated ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff’ – written by Roscommon’s Percy French – with our mother, a native of the Co. Cavan town.

The song featured a lot in our youth, especially on trips to visit our relations in Cavan. My mother sang it, of course, but it was by no means her only party piece. You can add in Rich Man’s Garden and Noreen Bawn, The Galway Shawl and Mursheen Durkin. And many more. Many’s a smoky bar room she captivated with her voice in that golden era when sing-songs routinely elevated long evenings.

We were in the bar business ourselves, our parents generally making a success of such ventures from the early 1970s on. My late father, Rutledge, was innovative and fearless – a businessman with a gambler’s instinct – and my mother (May Healy, nee Monahan) was happy to play her part, while also running a relatively large household. They worked hard, faced adversity with courage and faith, enjoyed life and lived it to the full. After all the din of building a family and a livelihood, they shared a great retirement.

As recently as early December – in her 89th year – my mother was listening to her favourite programmes on Shannonside, RTE 1 and Newstalk, her knowledge of current affairs and sport remarkable, her thirst for information and conversation undimmed. She just loved life. As a wife, mother, grandmother and friend, she was very special.

When she slipped away on Wednesday morning, 15th of December last, we felt the heartbreak of all who are bereaved by the passing of a parent. ‘You only have one mother’ is a powerful phrase. We felt pride too, and gratitude, then and now, as we celebrate a long life lived with dignity, good humour, courage and generosity of spirit. My thanks to our great neighbours and friends for their support during that period, and my thanks also to everyone who has been in touch to express their sympathies.

As we carried our mother’s coffin from the picturesque church in Bornacoola, it was to a hauntingly beautiful instrumental version of ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff’. Then we laid her to rest, reunited with Rutledge, her partner of 60-odd years. The clock keeps ticking. A remarkable, loyal, caring and much-loved mother and grandmother, she will live on in our hearts and memories.