Fascinating Firewood

For over eighteens only ….

Steady hands required

                                        Steady hands required

The Carling Brewery has introduced an odd marketing campaign in the west of Ireland. If you purchase sufficient cans of Black Label lager beer, the purchaser is given a box of J-Blocs – with no explanation as to why the purchaser deserves such a bizarre gift. The J-Blocs box indicates that only persons over 18 years of age are entitled to this gift. Fair enough. You have to be 18 to buy beer in Ireland. Another teaser states that you need “steady hands” to handle the mysterious J-Blocs box.

I opened the box when I got home from town. It was full of neatly cut sticks of firewood. With steady hands, I lit a fire in the hearth. The J-Blocs added to the glow of burning sods of turf in no time at all. It’s a clever idea. Stay in, booze at home and keep warm.


Irish Nature

One of the joys of living and working in the rural West of Ireland countryside is that you become well-acquainted with all species of domesticated and wild creatures which you rarely get to see in the towns and cities – and I’m not talking about the human varieties, such as Hughie & Maurice!

Gazing out of my office window on my half-acre plot, depending on the time of year, I view in close-up all manner of things from the animal and bird kingdoms. There’s hares and rabbits peeping out from the edge of the woods opposite, and often a beautiful fox stealthily creeping across the meadow in search of his long-eared prey. Thankfully, we never see the “kill” as foxes drag their quarry to undergrowth for the final execution.

In the next field, there are two donkeys which roll on their backs in play when the sun shines. Maybe they are discouraging pesky insects from crawling inside their thick coats. Donkeys must always have company to thrive – so never rear a donkey in isolation.

Cattle and sheep are rotated on the meadow. The sheep are the loudest, especially just after lambing when the ewes call out for their twins or triplets. Each ewe has a distinctive voice, and the lambs instantly recognize the call of their mother and frolic back to her side, leaping and high-kicking their young limbs, when they’ve wandered too far away. Some ewes sound scarily masculine with deep booming voices. Many is the day that I’ve turned toward the meadow believing that one of my male farming neighbours is calling for my attention. The cattle get louder in winter when brought indoors to their sheds. If one old girl calls out for her daily silage feed, then she sets off a chain reaction of incessant “loo-ing” until the herdsman dishes out the grass. Cows in Connaught “loo” not “moo” – it’s a subtle difference.


American mink: not nice to cats

It’s always a treat to see the hedgehog or badger ambling along at dusk by the river. At the other end of the spectrum, everyone rushes to chase off the non-native [American] mink, if spotted. These fine looking animals were introduced into Ireland and farmed for their fur. Unfortunately, many have escaped their compounds and now they breed freely in the countryside. The problem is that these creatures are “killing machines” pure and simple. They will attack and destroy any other small animal on their patch, whether it be cats, dogs, hens or other wildlife. Minks kill to dominate territory, whereas a fox will only kill for food.

Bird-life is abundant in our garden. We put out feeders and seed to encourage our feathered friends, all year round. There are the noisy black crows who feed at dawn, and squabble among themselves. If we fatten the crows up here, then the local grain and vegetable growers stand a better chance of maintaining a healthy crop, we believe. Next in at breakfast time are the gentle wood pigeons. I call them Love Birds. They always go around in twos, one male and one female, and reputedly keep the same partner for life. Aw!

The little fellas arrive soon after. The big wild pigeons happily share their meal with the sparrows and finches and tits and thrushes. Now and again the robin shows his face and chest. Always a loner, not like the loved-up pigeons. The timid wrens from the riverbank sometimes swoop in as well if the weather determines that worm and insect-hunting is leaving them a bit famished. We have been particularly pleased this year to see that the once-rare goldfinch is thriving around our garden. In fact, just of late, this pretty yellow-feathered species might be outnumbering all the rest. It is hard to count numbers accurately when you reach 30+ for one breed and all the recently hatched goldfinch chicks won’t keep still, busily cracking open the Niger Seeds.

Of course, my favourite birds refuses to partake in the freebie meals on offer. These are the fiercely independent and abundant swallows – after returning in the spring or early summer from their winter vacation, thousands of miles away in sunny Africa. With their own in-built SatNavs, somehow year after year the same pairs return at gradual intervals to our relatively tiny garden, or more precisely the roof eaves and outbuildings. Before long, a dozen or so spruced up mud nests appear, and mating begins during dazzling aeronautical displays. Then you notice that the ladies retire to the nests for a while, and leave the man of the house to get the groceries. In no time at all, chirping is heard above the window tops or in the barn roof, and soon after three or four tiny faces peep out from their dried mud homes.

It is the biggest delight of all to watch the baby swallows grow, day by day, until the very hour that mother has to be cruel to be kind. This is the time when she watches from afar but refuses to feed her chicks ever again. The youngsters must now fend for themselves – and this means attempting that strange exercise of flying at which their parents are so adept. Some chicks need more encouragement than others. Dad often soars and swoops doing his loop-the-loops right outside the nesting zone. The kids get the message. They must make a leap of faith and test out their wings. I was privileged last year to witness the very moment when one young swallow made his maiden flight. He leapt from the nest rim, and fell towards the ground flapping for all his worth. Miraculously, he never hit the deck because in an instant of wonderment, the tiny bird hovered a few inches off my concrete path. And then, the knack of flying was discovered. He started to rise, slowly; just enough to clear the roof of my car – until dad swooped by and said “Follow me.” The offspring did as he was told, and commenced his first horizontal journey, soon followed by a climb, a sharp turn, a dive and a well-deserved short breather on a branch of the willow tree by the river.

His two siblings soon joined him, making almost identical take-offs as they jumped like virgin parachutists from their former home in the eaves.

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Get ready … to go

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………… going …………..

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Almost GONE (one minute later the nest was empty)

My Grandad’s (In)Famous!

When you research your family history, you secretly hope that you will uncover a tale or two which makes your ancestry unique, and possibly famous. You know, the type of story you can impress your friends with over dinner or whilst sharing a pint. By interviewing old folks who remembered my Irish grandfather’s existence in Sligo, before his permanent relocation to England, I was able to verify one such story. More than one person recalled the same tale – so this saga was “famous” considering that the events happened over 80 years ago!

At the time, my grandad Ned Neary was approaching 30 years of age, married with a clutch of young kids, with my dad being the eldest born in 1925. It was the day of the Old Fair Day in Tubbercurry renowned for fast and furious livestock sales, all conducted on the narrow streets and pavements of the town. Ned knew that the Old Fair would attract some cash-laden jobbers down from the North. These were cattle-dealers contracted to buy up the best stock in the Republic and cart them back to wealthy farmers in Ulster where beef prices were sky-high. As a result, Ned spent the eve of the Fair Day sprucing up his two finest calves. Their coats were washed and brushed until they were gleaming.

Early next morning, as planned, Ned’s best friend Tailor Currane from Gurtermone, ambled down the lane to the tiny Neary farmstead to assist with the transportation of the two prized calves. This involved attaching a leash to each young animal and then walking them all the way into town, ensuring that they remained in pristine condition. The plan went like clockwork, and Ned secured a prime bartering position at the bottom end of The (triangular) Square in Tubbercurry, just as the jobbers rolled into town. No-one quite knows what happened next, but clearly more than one jobber took an instant interest in Ned’s calves, and the outcome was a bidding war which resulted in Ned reputedly receiving a handshake of honourable spit – and the highest sum ever paid at the time for a pair of wee calves. Something in the region of £20 or more; a fortune circa 1930.

Well now, Tailor Currane was not stupid, although he was not a good tailor, and consequentially virtually penniless. He knew that his wages for the day would be paid in the form of a slap-up breakfast and a few drinks from the proceeds of the sale. He also knew that Ned was a fierce drinker, as witnessed when Ned’s notorious home-brewed Mad Man’s Soup was often devoured before it had cooled from the Still. So right enough, Ned and Tailor Currane went for a celebration drink right there in the town square. Flush with pound notes they had large measures – and to Hell with breakfast.

By late morning, Neary and Currane decided to embark on a pub crawl, to get farther away from the noisy farmers and jobbers who were now all arguing about the ridiculous price standard set by Ned’s early sale. All had to settle for less, except Neary and Currane who drank their way to the edge of town by mid-afternoon.

Their bahaviour was becoming more raucous, and not welcomed in the more respectable Tubber hotels, so Ned bought a drink for a farming friend from Curry on the agreement that he would ferry Ned & Tailor to their local hostelry at Kilcoyne’s in the back of the farmer’s ox cart. When passing Rhue, Ned decided that it was too early to be heading homeward, so he told his taxi driver to take the passengers all the way into Curry village. “We’ll have one or two in Cawley’s bar,” shouted Ned, to Currane’s delight.

Well, one or two became three or four more, and our intoxicated duo rambled from public house to coaching inn to hotel. When no longer tolerated in Curry, Ned and his buddy staggered down the main road south towards Charlestown. They’d worked up a big thirst by the time they reached the first bar in Bellaghy – so they had a drink. Onward they trekked. Ned was in Mayo by midnight, in the bright lights of Charlestown. He was now farther away from his wife and family than he had been at breakfast time, but he was in no fit state to go home. Anyway, Ned had hardly made a dent in the proceeds from his cattle sale – so he negotiated the purchase of a few after-hours drinks at Top Dollar provided that he and his comatose friend were granted lodgings for the night. The innkeeper obliged and showed Neary & Currane into a chic barn in the back-yard which had a welcoming hay-loft above. The intrepid duo drank themselves to sleep in the penthouse suite.

When morning came, it was time to attempt to eat something – for the first time in 36 hours. Currane was sent to contact Room Service. The innkeeper’s wife brought out a few boiled eggs and slices of warm soda bread. Soon, the boys were ready to hit the road. Now – Charlestown had many, many hostelries back in those days. Word had spread that Ned was in the locality, and each pub landlord made the Sligo lads more than welcome. “Try this new drink”; “Check out this whiskey from the north”; “Put a bit of soda with it”; “Down in one!”

A second day of celebration passed in no time at all. It was late into the evening before a fracas with some passing tinkers caused a few breakages of glassware and pub furniture. Another sympathetic (and opportunistic) landlady offered bruised Ned and battered Currane a lie-down on her bar-room benches. Another drink-filled day had passed.

The next day, Neary & Currane replenished their bloodstreams with plenty alcohol in Charlestown, but the drinking pace was slowing down. Ned was getting worried about the reception he would get at home from his dear but fearsome wife, Ellen. The local innkeepers read these signals the wrong way and ushered him and Currane out of their doors much faster than the day before. They thought that Ned was running out of money and would soon be seeking credit. This was far from the truth. He still had a pocketful of pound notes. Or maybe it was the smell of Currane’s body odour that made yesterday’s friends turn up their noses.

The poor tailor had a temporary solution to Ned’s woes. “Let’s walk south down to Ballyglass. We’ll get a good welcome at Billy Gallagher’s place. I made him a suit for his wedding.”

“Yes. I remember,” agrees Ned. “A bad suit.”

They got a great welcome at Billy’s bar, with Billy grateful for any midweek passing trade. Similar receptions were experienced at Tommy Murphy’s and Dicky Flynn’s (et al), and in another day or two the Sligo lads had bypassed Knock Shrine, and all its guilt-ridden reminders that Mass had been missed, and they were on the road to Ballyhaunis. In this town, Ned had to admit that funds were getting low. The poor tailor Currane could not contribute a penny, so he reluctantly agreed that a pub crawl homeward was on the cards.

The route home passed back through Charlestown, on the townsfolk’s very own market day. The pub’s were jumping. It would have been ignorant not to thank each innkeeper for their earlier hospitality. And so it passed that Ned Neary spent every last shilling on whiskey and beer … and then trooped home in his worn-out old boots.

Many in the area can still recall or have heard about this world-record pub crawl. Differing reports talk of Ned being away for “over a week”. By my calculations based on the buying power of £20 at 1930’s shop prices, it is more likely that Ned had enough cash to endure a fortnight’s drink-fest for two. It’s a funny story, and on another level, a rather sad story. Just imagine how it felt for Ned’s wife (my grandmother) as she tried to feed herself and her babies – and maintain the farm – with the man of the house away on an unannounced rambling holiday. Somehow, Ned & Ellen remained together for the rest of their long lives, and made more babies. That’s how it was back then. No divorce or separation.

The infamous saga of Ned Neary’s pub crawl is recounted to me every time I bump into Hughie O’Gara, a man who was a neighbour of Tailor Currane. This usually occurs in the Roaring Cock, with Hughie shouting his recollections across the bar in his booming Dalek-like voice for all to hear. As such, the story can never be forgotten locally. Hughie chuckles with laughter, his shoulders bouncing up and down, thinking that he is embarrassing me.

On the contrary, I have turned the tables and I demand that when Hughie next sells two calves for a decent price, then me and he will re-enact the Neary Ramble, although I insist on crashing out at decent 3-star hotels. It’s about time a Gurtermone man paid back his dues to the generous Neary clan, after Currane’s mighty free-loading escapade. I have also told Hughie that I have applied to Mayo Council to get a commemorative Blue Plaque erected in Charlestown, by the horse trough used by Ned for his ablutions, to remember Ned’s distinguished contribution to the Licensed Trade.

As a consequence of all this, Hughie’s weekly chuckle-some greeting to me, in that Dalek voice of his, is always the same:

Are we going to Char-les-town today?

“What Hughie?”

Char-les-town! CHAR-LES-TOWN!

Okay, Hughie

Okay, Hughie


John James Cosgrove died last night, 20th March 2013. He was born in Leitrim in 1927, VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310Wand relocated to the south of County Sligo aged 20 in 1947. After a difficult start in life, he devoted his remaining days to helping the Sisters of Charity raise and teach unwanted children and orphans at Banada Convent. In return, they helped him to find a home and an identity in County Sligo. John James never married, but he loved traditional Irish music, a game of 25’s, and the craic. He also preserved the ancient Irish art of brewing a “fine drop” with the blessing of the fairies.

A while back, a local radio station visited his “local” to record the music and story-telling. John James was full of amusing stories from the auld days and he was asked to give a recitation to the listening audience. After a couple of refusals, and a couple of brandies, this is what he got up and recited to an enthralled audience:

It was a few days before the All-Ireland Football Final, way back in the 40’s and 50’s, when this lad from Tubbercurry decided he’d like to see the big game. All the trains and buses to Dublin were fully booked for a week in advance, so Paddy made a plan to cycle all the way to Croke Park. He set out in good time on the Thursday. He had a mate in Longford who put him up for the first night in a pub just outside the town. Then on the Friday he cycled all the way to Maynooth where he had a cousin in the seminary, training to be a priest. Paddy said a few prayers in the Maynooth chapel on Saturday, and then headed off to the big city for the big match the following day. He got digs with a nice family near the stadium, and he was all set for the Football Final after mass on Sunday.

Paddy had about four hours until the throw-in, so he ventured into a few pubs. The Sligo and Leitrim buses were pulling into town and the fun to be had was mighty. If all truth be told, he had a few too many pints of porter. Anyway, the pubs started to empty as the teams began to line out, and the lad from Tubber was carried along by the crowd heading for Hill 16. The game passed in a blur. It was a close game and it didn’t matter who won or lost. It was a thrill to be there, simple as that.

After Sam was awarded, all Paddy’s new friends headed back to the north Dublin pubs outside Croke Park. The lad from Tubber thought “I’ll just have a roam, and then find some more digs on the way home.” Well, he had one for the road, and then one or two more – and then he couldn’t remember where he’d left his trusty bike at a quarter to four. He was sure he last saw his bicycle outside a pub near Parnell Square, so he had a few more jars up the top end of O’Connell Street but the bike was not there.

As midnight approached, he searched the back alleys. Apart from courting couples trying to hide, the Sligo lad could find nothing to ride. Before he knew it, he was down by O’Connell Bridge. It was late, and cold, and he was hungry, and exhausted from his day out in the capital city. He saw a few vagrants laying out beds on the bridge’s wide parapets; they looked lost but okay. He grabbed some cardboard boxes, and down beside the tramps he lay.

Paddy must have dozed off because the next thing he knew, a big chauffeur-driven car pulled up by his pew. The rear door opened and a pretty blonde lady said, “Why are you sleeping here, when I have a bed?” Well the lad from Tubber woke with a start, and he climbed into the back of the wealthy lady’s cart.

As they drove through South Dublin, our laddo told his tale. The kindly lady said, “I’ve no bike, but I’ve got hot food and ale.” The chauffeur dropped them outside a big house, and he was welcomed inside. The blonde lady prepared him a hot bath, and a clean robe she did provide. She told him that she’d cook him a steak dinner to be washed down with cold beer. Paddy was in heaven, thinking “I’ve hit the jackpot here.“

After dinner, they danced and started to kiss. I’m nearly at the end now, if you’re needing to p …. pay a visit.

“Now Paddy,“ says she. “Go warm my bed up, whilst I powder my nose“. Without no more prompting, young Paddy lay his head on her pillows.

And then she appeared in a see-through negligee, and the boy from Tubber thought this really is my lucky day. “Move over” she said, as she climbed in the bed, giving our Paddy a peck on his forehead.

“Move over a bit more.“ The room span and he went all dizzy in a jiffy. And that’s when our Paddy … fell into the River Liffey.

County Sligo have never appeared in a Men’s All-Ireland Football Final in Dublin. Neither have John James’ native county of Leitrim. That’s what makes John James’ story-telling all the more ridiculous and charming.



There’s two “L’s” in Tullinaglug

Hughie insisted that there was “two L’s in Tullinaglug.”

Morris retorted that he should look at the old maps. “There’s definitely three L’s in Tullinaglug.”

“Bollix!” shouted Hughie. “There’s Molly Moran’s well, and there’s Neary’s well. Behind the cottage, by the cow shed.”

There’s no answer to that. It’s true.

John's cottage and his auld Raleigh bike

The well’s round the back

Sheep Fancying

Compared to the chill of the Galician mountains, the west of Ireland has been unseasonably warm and dry. About time too – and perfect for the weekend Festival festivities.
I bet you are dying to know what happened on Sat & Sun [wot d’ya mean, no?], and I wish I could tell you. It wasn’t just the Friday night introduction of Blur, it was the onset of exhaustion which put me out of action for a while. I just couldn’t raise myself from the couch on Saturday evening, especially after Blackburn Rovers conceded yet another late equaliser.

Apparently you cannot play “live” music for 24 hours non-stop during a weekend festival. There has to be a minimum one hour’s break, for some daft reason. So Friday officially ended at 6am – and Saturday’s session started at 7am. Considering that Tony Marren led the opening musical ensemble at 10pm on Friday night, we must congratulate him that he also closed the Day 1 show only a few minutes past six o’clock the following morning. Then the musicians had a drink.

I was informed that Saturday saw a conveyor-belt load of renowned Irish trad music stars for the unplugged section of the festival. The tin whistles started dead on 7am, and rarely stopped during the next 24 hours. In fact, I’m told that some fiddling went on beyond the 6am Sunday morning curfew. It was gone seven o’clock when the last diddly-dee-er passed out. Hughie told me that he was very annoyed when he went down to the village on his tractor, a little earlier than normal, for his pre-Mass Sunday morning pint, only to find the Cock locked up. He said he could see about a dozen prostrate bodies through the frosted glass of the main bar-room window – but they were well out of it. No-one answered his desperate calls to “open the shop”. He told me that it was nearly “chihuahuas!” before the first corpse returned to life. Lazarus gave him a pint of Guinness, and then went back to sleep on the bar top.

I had stopped in, recovering in front of the TV on Saturday evening. Good decision. A respectable Sligo family were on Family Fortunes up against some Dublin gangsters. Mincin’ Alan’s first tough question: “Name something you’d find in a newsagents?” The Sligo captain jumped straight in with “newspapers”, and control of the board. Up Sligeach! Next Sligo family member says, “Fruit and veg.” UH-OH!! It’s not on the board. Now – that’s not as stupid as it sounds. Every rural newsagents in Sligo sells fruit and veg. Our Tom in Killybacside sells tractor parts alongside the Irish Times … and local fruit and veg … and ear muffs. All the typical things you might need to get through the day.
The Sligo crowd were in the lead until Alan the Mincer threw in his usual cringe-worthy question: “Name something you sit on?” Our county representatives came up with chair, couch, stool, etc – but then got stuck. Over to the Dubs, who all delighted in taking their turn saying “Yer arse, yer arse, yer arse – Alan”. The Sligo churchgoers were flummoxed.
Alan says, “Let’s see if yer arse is on the board. Yes! It’s there – on the bottom.” Is this show scripted?

Fell asleep. Woke up bright and early Sunday, raring to go. Heard that some attractive black faced mountain breeds were descending into the valley. Old Uncle John wanted to see these too – but he thought they were going to be grown-up African babies. Some said that the beauty pageant was fixed. Young Odhran O’Connell’s fleecy ram swept the board, winning some Worm Drench and a bag of nuts. Fingers were pointed at part-time farmer and local cab-driver, Paki Durkin – the chief judge. Was he got at, or just distracted? I reckon that our constant mobile phone calls to Paki from the bar, shouting “Where’s me taxi?” in an assortment of accents, as he felt up the sheep in the car park just didn’t help.
And then Con got his flute out …. and off we went again. Yee-hah.
Rollin’ in the hay, a-rollin’ in the hay …”

Festival First Day

Hi Dan. It’s good to hear that you’ve been getting into the spirit of the Harvest Festival with singalongs and double ukes. Over here, our 60 hour non-stop musical extravaganza kicked off in great fashion on Friday night.
I was asked to sort of officially open the event with a short presentation of the O’Connell Family Tree to birthday boy Con – before things got silly. This meant that Sue & I ventured out at 8.30pm which was the Festival “start time” on the formal invites. It also meant that we ended up spending an hour in the Cock accompanied by just the English blow-ins. None of the native Irish neighbours head out until “going on 10″. The English always get caught out by this confusing custom.
At about 9.45, clutches of Con’s many cousins starting appearing, along with their families. My drinking partner, old Hughie, out unusually late, came out with the best early line. He was introduced to a cousin called Francis, and then his wife. He instantly replied, “How do you do Francis, and how do you do your wife.” Hughie pretends that he’s a senile old fool, but he knows exactly what he is saying to insult or amuse unfamiliar visitors to the Cock.
The excitement was building when Head of Security, Auld Wobbly Bob, turned up on his bicycle in his hi-viz vest. He was kept busy in the car park, ensuring that visitors’ cars would be blocked in until Monday morning. Wobbly Bob’s bike also acted as the emergency generator for the outdoor stage. A cable from backstage was attached to his rear wheel dynamo.
Tony Marren did a sound and lighting check which lit up the village all the way to the GAA field. Everything was set as shy Con tried to sneak in through the back door of the shop. It was no use – he was spotted – and the old-timers demanded their free drinks. I wondered why Hughie and the old cronies had stayed out beyond their 7pm bedtimes.
I just had enough time to explain my family tree charts to Con, and Con Og, and Anthony Senior, on the pool table in the Games Room – when, right on cue, the haunting sounds of an Eric Clapton guitar solo echoed through the open windows of the bar. It was a miraculously warm and dry evening, so all the effort to erect outdoor facilities paid off big time. Glastonbury eat your heart out. The birthday boy was forced into the limelight as glamorous Maureen, in shimmering sequins, told him in song that he looked “Wonderful Tonight”.
It was great to see Con reunited with his six children, with offspring flying in for the festival from Canada and Australia. And many of Con’s musical buddies made guest appearances too. Andy Williams started his comeback, as agreed, and Johnny Cash entertained us with his ring of fire (with Wobbly Bob on standby with the fire extinguisher). Even the Gallagher brothers from Charlestown behaved themselves and bashed out some Oasis anthems for the tiddly audience. Dancin’ Frank was in his element, crushing the toes of unwilling young lady partners, as he jived the night away non-stop, like Bez from the Happy Mondays. You couldn’t hear yourself drink. Sign language at the bar was the Order of the night.
Maurice never made it on one leg from his home on the Moy, but he could probably hear the racket down by the old convent. The rest is a blur … (not Damon’s gang who got the sh*t kicked out of them by the Gallaghers behind the chip van).
Only two days to go. I’m looking forward to the beauty parade of sheep on Sunday afternoon. The local girls always scrub up nice for fanciers.

Harvest Festival Preparations

Glad you’re on the mend, and that you have escaped the touchy-feely Yoga guy unscathed. I thought that meditation was something you did alone. Your experience reminds me of a few scary incidents spent in dormitories in the company of aging RC priests or virile Christian Brothers many, many years ago. Don’t worry. Most of them are dead (down there) or in prison now.

Sorry that I have not been able to relieve you lately (with light-hearted banter; ooh-er). Mad busy tracing long-lost worldwide O’Connells for the big birthday bash. Monday was particularly mad. I spent the first half of my day reading through my proof-read novel just returned overnight from my proof-reader in the US. More editing needed. Then the second half of the day was spent interviewing Con’s father, Anthony, again. We had to decide which members of the O’Connell extended family are worthy of inclusion in the published Family Tree, and which characters are scumbags to be deleted (aka the divorcee brigade).

The third half of my day was taken up by another soup run up to Maurice the Cripple’s place, plus a welcome rest by the Roaring Cock fire on the way home. I’m only joking – I didn’t spend the whole of the third half of the day in the pub. Just an hour or two.

Poor Maurice. He is the one who calls himself by the non-PC term of ‘cripple’. If you recall, he fell off his false leg and had a nasty accident. It looks more serious than I had imagined. He might not even make the Harvest Drinking Festival this weekend. You see, he let me in his house on this visit, instead of growling “feck off” from his wheelchair or bed – which is perfectly understandable. Maurice talked me through the accident. On a wet floor, his prosthetic leg slipped from beneath him, and as it was tightly strapped to the stump below his amputated left knee, the physical muscle damage was horrendous. As a doctor, you should understand all about the severely sprained and twisted tendons. Achilles was mentioned – but thankfully no broken bones.

I did not appreciate the worst part of the incident until Maurice disclosed the full tale and made tears trickle down my cheeks. Apparently, the heavy boot of the false leg ended up being forced violently between his legs during the fall. A definite red card offence. Violent conduct. The leg is banned for a fortnight.

I just had time to witness the roadies starting to erect the mammoth grandstand and main stage for the weekend festival at the Cock. Scaffold poles everywhere. I heard one watching old-timer observe: “How are you going to get the sheep up that high?”. The scaffolder told him not to be daft. He advised that they are going to make a very long ramp across the Cock car park for the livestock.

Ancient Irish Racism

I was in Tubber yesterday to stock up on rations. I managed to find one of the treasured parking spots on double yellow lines outside Sorlis’s supermarket. You know, Dan, right by the new pedestrian crossing which no-one uses. Uncle John came along for the ride, knowing that he would be able to sneak out of the car and into the snug when I stopped for diesel at the Roaring Cock filling station on the way home.

John was sat in the car on Tubber’s high street whilst I was in the Wine Cellar eyeing up alcoholic bargains. He was watching the world go by when a passing sight clearly alarmed him. When I returned to move my car from its technically illegal parking spot, John eagerly told me about his observation.

“A tall black lady walked past. Jet black, she was. Never seen one like that before. I wonder what breed she was.” It could have been Naomi Campbell for all I know. Unlikely though, on a wet weekday in Tubber.

I have witnessed the spectacle of 89 year-old John gazing intently (and very rudely) at the locality’s very few dark-skinned immigrants before. This used to baffle and concern me, but now I understand him, sort of. The old rural farmers round here just haven’t ever seen a coloured person in the flesh until the last 10 years. It still bothers me that the many Polish exiles have been accepted into the community with open arms, but the African families have to put up with disconcerting stares from the elderly natives. How ironic that the brothers and sisters of these same old Irish locals had to put up with negative discrimination when they emigrated to the American cities. One returning US immigrant from the parish once retorted that “I was treated like a black when I first arrived in the States.” Have the old-timers not learned?

I must declare that I disagree wholeheartedly with any form of racism. The fact that the English branch of my extended Family Tree now has some Caribbean roots bears testimony to the open-mindedness of the younger generations. But – I cannot change decades of ingrained ancient Irish racism brought about through ignorance and naivety.

The wariness of many God-loving white Irish pensioners towards their darker-skinned neighbours is rarely reported upon. When you overcome the blissful ignorance of the situation, some of the older fellow’s outwardly shocking remarks become amusing, as you try to debate the inappropriateness of overheard comments. However, I have got to admit that a statement made one day by fervent church-goer Pious Peter did make me spit my beer out, unwillingly. He said, “When we were collecting for the African babies years ago, I didn’t expect that they’d come and live here.”

When challenged, Peter defended his honest opinion by claiming that the cultural attributes of African “tribes” would not meld into the ways of the Irish countryside-dwellers. I baited Pious Pete about the finer aspects of life in a rural Irish parish; brewing illegal spirits, occasional intoxication, wild dancing at hooleys, a belief in the power of the fairies, etc. I tried to argue that maybe Peter was right – maybe our African friends would not wish to sink to such levels of debauchery. Peter indignantly stormed out of the bar (as he often does) when “housing needs” were discussed. I circumvented his ignorance by telling him that our Irish forefathers were still living in filthy timber one-room shacks with straw for a roof and pigs as room-mates just over 100 years ago, so any comparison with the bigoted image of Africans living in mud huts in the jungle was unreasonable. I argued that the African mud hut was a much cleverer and sturdier design than the Irish counterpart. Pious Pete had reached the door as I shouted, “Why, they even had separate sleeping quarters and an outside loo – not like your grandfather’s hovel.”

Of course, the most worrying belief of lots of white Irish Catholics is that civilization as we know it will end if ever a black pope is elected in the Holy City. Which strain of Christian dogma preaches this disgraceful garbage? Like every other rural Irish parish, we have our fair share of “holier-than-thou” committed RC churchgoers who think that weekly attendance at Mass then permits all kind of un-Christian wrongdoing through the week …. so long as the sinner then makes a Confession on a rare outing to Knock Shrine once in a while. Witnessing this type of pompous hypocrisy turned me away from formal church gatherings when I was in my teens.

Regardless, I do think that the local RC churches serve a great purpose in the community for those that need to follow services “religiously” as their ancestors did for centuries. The turn-out at Sunday Mass (even on a Saturday nowadays) is still spectacular around here. It’s a chance for many to meet their distant neighbours on a regular basis. Afterwards, the ladies swap gossip, and the menfolk inch their way to the boozer. Funeral masses are even bigger events, just like they were decades ago. The churches have to employ traffic police and parking attendants to control the cortege. At least one representative from every local RC family will attend the funerals, or the preceding removals, or the subsequent burials. This means that work stops on the funeral day. With an aging population, I often wonder how our community survives economically when regularly reduced to a three-day working week by funeral interruptions.

I prefer to be a member of the more enlightened and unassuming Christian brethren. We do not need to donate large chunks of our hard-earned income to a tax-dodging priest in order to secure entry into Heaven, if such a place exists. We certainly do not need a weekly sermon from the pulpit telling us what we are doing wrong – given by a man (never a woman!) who represents a Church which has institutionally participated in some of Ireland’s worst atrocities. Don’t get me wrong; many, probably most, RC priests do the best job they can, in very trying circumstances. There have been good and bad RC priests in my own family. One was a saint (more than helping to overcome white supremacy in New Orleans of old) and one was a sinner of the worst kind – a child abuser. We can’t choose our relatives and ancestors.

I like to help out in small ways around our parish, quietly. Ensure that the vulnerable and elderly are cared for, fed and warm. Make sure they’re safe from harm, whether that be domestic dangers or the unwanted attention of predatory strangers. That’s what Christianity is all about in my mind – maybe with a small “C” for no publicity.

Irish Family Fortunes

Today, we met our first Pilgrim walking with a donkey. This young Swiss lad had walked to Santiago, with his donkey, all the way from Basle and was now walking back home! It was going to take him over a year to do this. Not long afterwards we met another Pilgrim walking with equine company. He was a Spanish guy who was walking with his ”family” – a Shetland Pony named ”Pearlita” and a parrot named ”China“. The parrot was travelling in a cage on the donkey’s back. On one of the photos you can also see a brolly sticking out of one of the donkey’s packs. There is no shortage of characters out here on The Camino.

I saw the Japanese contortionist again today; she’s still blanking me.


                   Pearlita and China

Doctor Dan – I think I’ve got some sort of Dutch Elm Family Tree disease. After talking to grandpa Anthony on Tuesday about compiling the O’Connell ancestry report, I came away with about a dozen names and many useful detecting clues. By Wednesday evening, I had 101 names in the O’C tree. Then the fun(gus) spread. When I did a head count on Thursday night, I had 430 directly related descendants of Anthony’s granddad in the O’Connell tree (or is it a forest?). They’re turning up everywhere. New York, Brisbane, Belfast, London and even in Accrington!!

The best part is that two descendants living in the Bronx married into the Italian Capone family. We always knew that Con was a musical gangsta, but now some more research is needed to locate his relationship to dear old Uncle Al, the infamous tax-dodger.

Saw your cousin Dick in the PO, and he sends his regards. I told him all about your encounter with the donkey with the brolly. He says that we have enough donkeys in the parish. Very true. There’s two in the field just by our place – or is he referring to Hughie and Maurice? Anyway, he says that he would be in touch but he’s not so good with computers. This is worrying. Dick’s day-job is dishing out Euros as a clerk in the South Sligo Credit Union, using a COMPUTER. Perhaps this is why some of our more prudent parish OAP’s still invest their savings at the Credit Union and never seem to run out of credit. An Irish Bank cannot claim back over-payments. There is no economic crisis around these parts – so long as you’ve got the price of a pint.

Big traffic incident in the village. Was it not on the Reuters feed? I was dawdling down the hill through the village in my people-carrier (or van, as the locals call it) when old Touch-up Tommy pulled out of his hiding spot down the side of Quinns on his old New Holland. I had the right of way. Main road. Thirty cars a day. Tommy just steamed out, straight in front of me. No head turn – another stroke victim. I slammed on, having been doing 20mph. So did Tommy doing even less. Major catastrophe averted. He owes me a Guinness.

Let’s not talk about cross-Channel soccer this Saturday. The slump and Embarrassment of Ewood continues.

Best laugh of the weekend has been provided by the fact that the TV quiz show which is the antithesis of University Challenge now has its own Irish version. Yes – I’m talking about Family Fortunes – and over here it’s presented by Mincing Alan from gaytime TV, who soon looked like he wished he’d never accepted the contract.

I am sure that the producers rigged this first showing by asking some questions which were bound to draw cringe-worthy answers. The first question was “name a part of the body which has three letters”. Easy one to start us off. There’s the main limbs and a few facial features, and The Meehans from Limerick did manage “arm” and got control of the board. As we eagerly waited for the bravest contestants to mutter “bum” and “tit”, we were alarmed to hear the second Meehan’s proud answer. “Knee” she said.

Next intellectual question was, “name something you can smell but can’t see”. The Meehans dove in again with “perfume”. Nice one. They also managed “gas”, and we started to titter and cringe …. but the Meehans could go no further. So it was over to the Mahers from Dublin to STEAL….

“What can you smell but not see?” asks mincin’ Alan again. Old Jimmy Maher had no problem. “Yer fart”, he says. Then up the line we went. Fart – a fart – a fart, they all say. Alan gives the Maher captain the choice, “You can have a fart or give us a different smell”. “No, Alan, I’ll have to have a fart.”
“Okay, let’s see if your fart is up there”. Bingo. Second most popular answer. “And your fart has won you a bonus prize – a four star hotel weekend break in Sligo town”. I just wish Alan had thrown in “complete with colonic irrigation spa treatment”.

The Mahers didn’t make it to the Big Money finale, but Alan waved them off saying that he loved their farts. The Friday night debut show was so good they repeated on Saturday evening at prime time, up against Premier League soccer on RTE. It was no contest.

Gearoid, yet again you’ve got us in stitches – which is what some of my fellow walkers will soon need if the foot blisters don’t heal. 


          My Left Foot

Cock & Bull

A great night’s sleep. I’ve just eaten a gargantuan breakfast, feel refreshed and ready to hit the road again. Before leaving I’m going to visit the Cathedral opposite the hotel. This town is the place where ”The Miracle of The Cock” occurred (stop sniggering at the back).

The story goes that in the 14th century, a German 18-year old named Hugonell, from Xanten, goes on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela with his parents. A Spanish girl at the hostel where they were staying falls in love with him; Hugonell denies her advances. Angry at this, the girl hides a silver cup in the German’s bag and informs the authorities that the young man has taken it. Hugonell is sentenced to death on the gallows, in accordance with the laws of Alfonso X of Castille.
Mourning the death of his son, the parents sadly decide to examine their son’s body, still hanging on the gallows, but suddenly they hear his voice. He tells them that Santo Domingo de la Calzada has kept him alive.

His parents quickly go to see the magistrate in order to announce that a miracle has taken place. The magistrate, who is at the time eating dinner remarks: “Your son is as alive as this cock and hen that I am about to eat” – and at that moment, the two birds jump from the plate and begin to sing and crow happily.
In the cathedral of Santo Domingo there is a hen house worked in stone, inside of which, for the last 500 years, there has always been kept a cock and a hen.

Great story Dan. Sounds like a load of bull, with a bit of cock thrown in. Cock & bull. Just like the miraculous stories regurgitated in our local tavern for the benefit of disbelieving pilgrims, passing through.

I’ve been very busy over the last 36 hours. Sue has volunteered me to compile the O’Connell family tree. It’s Con’s 50th on the 18th, with a surprise (I don’t think so) party organised at the Cock on the 19th. I made an appointment to consult with Anthony & Maura, the parents of Con, both in their late 70′s but fit as fiddles in mind and body. That is a help to any genealogist. A planned one hour consultation yesterday turned into two hours as Anthony told me many great family history tales – and then he brought out the Powers Gold Label. I had been determined to stay ‘dry’ for a few days after the exertions of the Killybacside Olympics, but a few pushy and insistent mentions of “Ah, g’wan” saw my Lentan intentions fall at the first temptation.

Got home (eventually) and got the Family Tree growing vigorously today. Then old Uncle John got a thirst at about 4pm and jumped in my car as I went to the PO. I couldn’t leave him on his own, could I? We met Joerg the German in the Cock; a lovely man with wild blond hair. A keen surfer and fisherman. He has eight rod-caught wild Moy salmon in his freezer at his remote home up the mountain. This big – they are. The funny thing is that Joerg the Kraut speaks with the most refined English accent in the parish. He was brought up somewhere posh in SW England. It is quite strange to listen to Joerg have a conversation with old Hughie in the corner by the fire. Hughie, born and bred in Sligo, talks pure indecipherable gobbledygook, whilst Joerg talks like Prince William on an Irish pub crawl.

This English language barrier led young Paddy, the barman, to criticize my Lancs-cum-Irish dialect. He reckons that I say the word ‘look’ in an amusing way, to him. I say “loook” and he says “luck”. I argued that my pronunciation was correct, and he had been influenced by US TV and a year or two of Aussie emigration. I asked him to say, “Go take a look in the brook for the fish on the hook”. It became go take a luck in the bruck for the fish on the huck. I conceded that my Wheelton-born mother would still say – go take a loook in the brooook for the fish on the hoooook – whilst my softened version (if not socialising around Chorley) is now – go take a looook in the bruck for the fish on the huck. Paddy thought he had won the argument. But I asked him – would you woo a Chinese lesbian, or wuh her? Point taken, he said, but he’d prefer to foooook her. “Nice one,” I said, “That’s really cul” [coool].

Joerg lawfed, rather politely, and ventured, “My word. That’s one for Gearoid’s next buck.”

Caged Cock

The Caged Cock and Hen in the Cathedral Santo Domingo de la Calzada

23 a day

I had a strange encounter yesterday when I went in the village shop for my daily nicotine fix. For a while, I thought our ever-helpful ‘shop-girl’ Bridie had overdone it on the home-brewed mountain dew. I casually spoke my normal phrase of “20 Bensons please” but she replied with words which sounded like, “D’ya want 20 or 23?”
I tried not to make her feel embarrassed, so I responded with a politely repeated “20 Bensons please”.
“D’ya want 20 or 23?”
“Er ….. great win for Europe in the Ryder Cup. Now Bridie – 20 Bensons please”.
“Oh, the golf was great. D’ya want 23?”
This awkward conversation went back and forth for some time, until Bridie reached into the hidden ciggie shelf below the counter and produced a box of Bensons which made me feel light-headed. It was all out of proportion as though someone had been tampering with my monitor screen ratio settings. It was a packet of 23 B&H.

It turns out that the tobacco pushers in Ireland have started to produce packets of 23 which are priced at a handy ten euros, instead of the awkward eight-sixty-something for 20. I don’t know what the anti-smoking lobby will make of this when they find out. It is clear to me that the Irish government is happy to raise more revenue by subliminally enticing the nation’s smokers to increase their daily intake by 15%. This recession-busting policy is certainly working already in the pubs. I am definitely drinking 15% more lager since the price was dropped to the more competitive price of 3 euros per pint.

So Danny, if you get a wheezing old Irish fella in your surgery and you ask him the obligatory, “how many cigarettes do you smoke per day?”, then do not be surprised when he answers with the mathematically baffling “Oh, I try to stick to 23 a day”.

It was a tiring day for me too yesterday. A quick teatime tipple just about got me over the line. I fell asleep when gay Marcus started taking an interest in Maria’s breasts [Corrie on telly] – but I woke up in time for the one-year anniversary edition of Midwest Radio’s TV Show. Sounds daft, but it’s true. Channel 191 on Sky at 10pm each Monday. A very popular show, especially with lonesome ex-pats. They play videos by ‘legendary’ bands which you never knew existed. The weekly highlight is always Tom Hennigan’s Culture Corner slot, filmed down at his old farm near Killasser. Last night he had us in the re-constructed schoolhouse single classroom, explaining why he got regularly whacked by the vicious master using an array of gruesome (preserved) weapons. Something to do with only having six spoons in the cutlery drawer for a family of fourteen kids, so Tom only ever got his morning porridge during the second sitting – and a whack from the schoolmaster for being late in class after the barefoot walk from Rubble to Killasser. No cosy school runs in the Mitsubishi 4×4 in them days. Makes the Christian Brothers at John Rigby seem as gentle as a Moorslayer.


Ged , you are becoming famous amongst my fellow Pilgrims as I read out each of your comments to them . Their next ”pilgrimage” will be to Killybacside at this rate .

Sunday Mass (praying for a miracle)

Groggy start to the week, Dan. Up about 4 hours after you. The local festivities are more exhausting than your stroll in the countryside.

We started our Sunday listening to Mass on the radio. We had no choice. Uncle John has it on “level 11″ on the transistor dial in his granny flat. The hymn singers being broadcast from a church in County Waterford were particularly atrocious today. And the Lord be with you too ….

Then we headed into Tubber for the traditional roast dinner slap-up at Murphy’s Hotel. Sustenance (and a lager refresher) was needed. It was going to be a long day. We chatted with Jackie Dougan at the bar; the retired blind barber. Well – he’s not 100% blind, but he wears extra dark glasses like Roy Orbison and gets helped across the main road. This didn’t affect his popular hairdressing trade for the old men of the parish. Most had very little hair to trim, and Jackie just made a noise with the scissors behind their heads. Never needed to sweep up. The old folk only went in for the chatter. Jackie is/was the local correspondent for the Sligo Champion, so he knows all the scandal.

Next a quick visit to Jamesons old folks’ residential home to catch up with a few old-timers who have fallen by the wayside since previous memorable drinkfests. Sadly most were like sedated zombies. That’s why I’d never do hard drugs. You miss all the fun of drinking yourself into a sleepy stupor. The Jamesons residents just go from lucid to dozing, slurring buffoons 30 minutes after the pill trolley comes round. They miss all the best bit in the middle of controlled alcohol-poisoning. We left a horrendously loud TV room showing the build-up to the replayed Hurling Final on “level 11+1″ when all our former bar-room colleagues were asleep. What an atmosphere they created.

A quick jaunt back down the Ballina Road got us safely into Quinn’s Bar in the village, right on time for the big match from Croke Park being shown on large dual flat screens. Our brave Connacht representatives, Galway, sank without trace again – dejavoodoo – but it didn’t stop the partying. The match became The Henry Shefflin Show, yet again. For the uninitiated, he’s arguably Kilkenny’s and Ireland’s greatest-ever hurler. A magician. The rapid scoring and complicated points system in hurling makes for entertaining viewing. At many times during an enthralling first half, lots of the local sheep farmers hadn’t got a clue what the real score was – or even which team was winning. Loud arguments often break out as the better mathematicians demonstrate their adding up skills. Don’t even ask about playing 501 darts in the South Sligo pub league. Numerical take-aways are very troublesome. The Dead Pigeon pub has applied for an extension to its darts scoreboard. There just isn’t enough room for the complicated sums, combined with piss-poor throwing. Getting a treble twenty can be headline news in the Champion’s sports pages.

With all hope lost late on, a Galway defender lashed out with his hurley stick and nearly took the head off Sir Henry, and got red-carded. ‘Black’ Paki O’Hara disagreed with the ref’s correct decision and exclaimed that “you wouldn’t even get thrown out of the night-club in Charlestown for that assault”. Another wag retorted with, “Yeah – but you wouldn’t get served in the kebab shop after if you did it to Fryer Fran from Iran”. The only sober man in the pub, barman Liam Quinn on Lucozade, observed that the Galway thug “couldn’t knock a fart out of a snipe”.

The hurling ended just in time for the first tee-offs in Chicago. After a few more one’s for the road (and complimentary sausages and uncertain bits of chicken), I decided to head for the sanctuary of my own settee. No-one really expected the Miracle of Medinah to unfold over the next five hours. Probably the best live TV sports action ever, especially if you pressed the red button and listened to the US commentators slipping nooses around their necks. My newly-bought week’s supply of lager in my private cooler cabinet is now all but depleted. Might have to volunteer to do the big shop at Tesco’s in Swineford early this week.

The late-night transatlantic celebrations determine that the closing ceremony of the Killybacward Drinking Olympics will have to be postponed for at least 24 hours. Hair of the dogs will be called for this evening, I’m sure (to be sure). No worries though. We are not saddened. Crippled Maurice Mahon has asked if there could be a paraplegic Olympian contest throughout the coming week as we await upcoming diary events. Next weekend it’s the 18th birthday bash for Tullymoy’s only punk-cum-rapper, Crowin’ Eoin – son of Bernie who himself cannot even speak an understandable word of English due to the effects of drinking Guinness like it’s Evian water. Our local celebrity DJ, Harry the Horse-Box, will be at the turntables, most likely in one of his drag queen outfits. Crowin’s Eoin will bang out a few ditties with his new band, The Crowbags – and Bernie has promised to make a speech on the mike. This should be the highlight.

Must go, and do some work. Funds getting low. Enjoy your stroll. Proud of you – but watch your wallet with a lad from Tallaght on your tail.

The Ryder (Ploughing) Cup

Danny – Loved your uploaded photo of a fig. Exciting stuff.

USA 2, Europe 1. Early score flash from Medinah – but the Irish or is it British pairing are going along nicely. Let’s just call Rory a catholic Ulsterman.

It was good to hear you’d met a Mayo native from Crossmolina. This town features in a rare edition travelogue which I self-published about 8 years ago. The tale involves a Neary reunion night, and the saga of getting two bachelor Neary uncles now resident in Brinscall up on the northern English moors to venture back to their Irish roots in dear old Tullinaglug for the first time in 70 years. I got my Whittle-le-Woods-born non-stop talking mother to accompany said bachelors. Anyway, as we passed through Crossmolina on the way back from a day out on Achill Island, my mother just had to comment how Crossmolina “sounds just like semolina” – which it doesn’t, not at all – especially if you appreciate how Mayo folk pronounce Crossmoli-eye-na.

Today is Friday. Pension day. As expected, this gave a much-needed injection of cash into the flagging local economy struggling to keep pace with the spirits of the Drinking Olympics. The smell of agri-diesel was prominent outside the village Post Office as the rusty old New Holland tractors vied for space as Not-so-dozy Josie dished out the readies – as early as 10.30am. Then it was off to Quinn’s Bar down the street; a short drive with plenty of hidden parking by the old cattle market sheds. You don’t want to be driving too far on pension day, even with a local garda station only manned for two hours per week due to cutbacks. It’s a free-for-all on the single tracks, especially when ‘deaf’ OAP Touch-up Tommy is let loose on his unroadworthy farming machine on a Friday.

During a lull in the enthralling conversation in Quinn’s about overnight deaths in the parish (courtesy of Midwest Radio’s popular show – Deaths on the Hour), I asked our lovable busy barmaid, ‘Feck Me Pink’ Fanny, if she could recall Dr Danny, son of Paddy, who used to live over the bridge. She nodded. I told her that this madman was trekking along a long trail across northern Spain. “Some sort of pilgrim’s way”, I ventured. She replied, “Oh, I know him. He’s the priest, isn’t he. Oh yes. I know Danny very well.” This confused me. Are you a lapsed reverend?

I tried to explain that you were a GP, as far as I know. Well – feck me pink, she says – it’s all the same. “The laying of hands on vulnerable women. Tryin’ to cure ‘em”.

Ryder Cup update. 2-2 at half-time on Day 1 of three. That’s Irish. Good auld Rory, the Irishman. If Europe lose, he’s British.

Gearoid, I read your comments out loud to my fellow  “Peregrinos” in the Refugio last night and every last one of them was in stitches.

Just got a tweet from Barry. It reads – “Man U two down at home at HT. Just managed to fart in Sralex’s face as the second Spurs goal went in. He kept on chewing.” I should add that I think that Barry was watching an English soccer game on TV – but you never know with football-daft Barry, the parish’s only other Blackburn Rovers fanatic.

Last night I was torn between major sports events being shown on Irish telly. Sky had live coverage from the Ryder Cup, but RTE2 had condensed highlights of the All-Ireland Ploughing Championships which concluded after three days of exciting, er …. ploughing. It was a no-brainer really. Ploughing doesn’t really translate into a TV event. Personally, I’ve never really appreciated the attraction of watching various combinations of man, beast and machine cutting endless straight lines into a big field. It’s very popular over here though. Con O’Connell & Pak Durkin left at 3AM on Wed to get a good fieldside view – and 200,000 others joined them over the three days of fierce competition. It rained heavily for most of the contest. They must have the biggest and best beer tent in the world to keep 60,000 farmers entertained between showers.

Anyhow – Sue made some home-made soup for Maurice Mahon today. He suffered the worst injury so far of the Killybacside Drinking Olympics. He fell off his prosthetic leg after a particularly arduous work-out on Monday evening, and now he’s housebound and confined to a wheelchair. He lives on the Convent Road, so it was a good excuse to volunteer to deliver the soup and call at the Cock to watch the cross-channel soccer on teletext. I met three tinkers from Swineford. A bit smelly, but nice all the same. We officially cannot call them a word that rhymes with clackers any more. Very un-PC. They are our friends from the travelling community. They had just been delivering a German Shepherd puppy to old Dessie who lives in the mobile home just down the road from the pub, among the trailer trash and cider bottles left behind by the Under-16 Olympic team. The travelers must have felt at home; they were in good spirits after a good deal (of spitting?). Apparently Dessie agreed to buy the puppy whilst comatose at the Swineford Agricultural Show a few weeks back. The tinkers always honour their word.

Over in the far corner, excitedly watching his beloved Leeds United on teletext and twittering away, was my favourite Ulsterman affectionately known as The Joker. He’s a (amateur) comedian; a sort of cross between Frank Carson and Gerry Adams, accent-wise. A laugh a minute. Non-stop gags. He didn’t let me get a word in as he told me the latest soccer gossip, so I had an extra pint. The Joker had trials with Blackburn Rovers when he was 15, way back in the late 1960’s. A promising football career was not to be when The Troubles of his hometown prevented the Blackburn officials from getting the contract signature of The Joker’s parents, who had moved to “address unknown” leaving a bomb crater behind. Then, in the outdoor smoking room, The Joker tells me a great tale about an ex-Derby & Leeds player and a friend of his. The Joker knows everybody. He says that he’s a distant relation through marriage of Rory McIlroy, and this turned out to be true when I checked out his Family Tree. So, The Joker says that when Leeds were interested in (this anonymous footballer we shall call) Seth about a dozen years ago, he was on £4,000 a week at Derby. His agent told him to demand £12,500 if mega-rich Leeds wanted him. At the meeting with Chairman Ridsdale at Elland Road, Seth was told that his agent must sit outside the boardroom. Ridsdale tells Seth that Leeds are going places, and Seth is part of the big plans. He offers Seth what he thinks is a fair deal for him to quit Derby. £25,000 grand big ones per week. Seth spat out his coffee. “Okay”, says Ridsdale, “£32,000 a week but that’s our final offer.”

As The Joker says – how did Leeds end up in such a financial mess? 

All-Ireland Inquest

Dear Danny,

Went to the Roaring Cock yesterday lunchtime for a pint and the post-All-Ireland inquest discussions. I overheard this bar-room conversation between two locals:
“What time did you leave on Sunday?”
“I dunno. I woke up in Charlestown, early hours Monday. Why – what time did you leave?”
“I dunno.”
“So – did I see you on Sunday?”
“I think so.”
The Irish really know how to celebrate big sporting events.

Gearoid, Ha ha, brilliant ! I was really sad to hear The Green and Red had been beaten again; I thought they might have done it this time around. I’m sure mighty craic was had whatever. Did you watch it in the Cock ? I was wondering if the Killybacside gang were for Mayo or Donegal.

Danny, as you should know – Mayo & Sligo are in the Connacht province, and even though Mayo “bet” Sligo in the Connacht final, healthy local tradition says that you support your neighbours – even after defeat. I know it’s the opposite in Lancashire. Could you ever support Burnley in the FA Cup Final if they beat Blackburn Rovers in the semi!! Then again, this FA cup final could only ever be played on Fantasy Island.

Donegal play in the Ulster Championship. They are close neighbours but they’re separated by a small strip of Leitrim. We were glad that the GAA final involved two teams from the West for a change, but the Green & Red flags were flying in our parish on Sunday. My great-grandmother was a Mayo lady, so I cheered them on too. I was first in the Roaring Cock on Sunday morning (before the bar officially opened), escaping early from yet another midday funeral mass. I even beat old Hughie O’Gara to the bar, and he is a permanent fixture on the bar stool by the turf fire. I took my car home when I was only 1 or 2 jars over the limit, and vowed to return if Mayo got off to a good start. They didn’t. Two goals down in no time. Game over – barring a miracle. So I got sozzled at home, channel-hopping between Premier League soccer, GAA & Formula One.

I think Mayo’s failure just contributed to excess partying in the Cock for no good reason at all. Many say they cannot remember the second half – or the next few hours – or the closed door session after midnight, etc. Where do they get the stamina? Years of practice, I suppose.

Gearoid, I am so happy. I slept ! I went out for dinner with the Dublin/Nottingham girls and had a few beers before I leave Pamplona; I put the earplugs in to drown out the phantom snorer and was dead to the world. Today’s another day. I woke at 6.00am today pleasantly surprised to have slept so well. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that ”Foghorn Leghorn” had kept half the dorm awake again. In the spirit of the Camino, I gave a spare pair of earplugs to an Australian pilgrim who looked like she was more in need than I was.

Early start for me too, today, Danny. Got to research some Dubliners called Costello, a typically Irish surname – but they turn out to have been the Costa family originally from Lucca in Tuscany 200 years ago, and then they started to appreciate their Italian heritage in the 20th century and they start calling themselves Castello after further emigration around the world. Irish genealogy is never straightforward, especially as many Irish folk “adopt” forenames in adulthood which were never mentioned on their baptism records. I have Irish three aunts; my dad’s sisters. They were always known to me in Lancashire as Maureen, Eileen & Doreen. It turns out that they were born as Mary, Attracta & Joan ….. and even Hughie O’Gara (Cock fixture & fitting) was never christened as Hugh or anything like!

Danny, as you’ll appreciate, drink-driving around our parish involves keeping your vehicle in the two well-worn ruts in the single track lanes separated by the green strip of overgrown grass which has sprung up from the ancient tarmac last laid decades ago. It is impossible to leave the road, but meeting a fellow drink-driver coming the other way is a difficult challenge. And if the approaching fellow traveler is perched upon a rusty old red (unlicensed) tractor, then take evasive action. My shiny new motor now has the scars of one of these encounters.

But a bump or two on the family car is like a badge of honour around here – as is the 12 months driving ban for those heroes daft enough to venture into town after a few pints in the village “shops”. Liver complaints are unheard of – but bowel cancer seems to be the price you pay in old age for a lifetime of living off nothing more than Guinness soup. The recommended local medicine for bowel cancer is more Guinness, so that’s alright then.

By the way – Happy Arthur’s Day! Will you find a pint of the black stuff beyond Pamplona – if you dare venture off today.

Arthur’s Day is a great Irish invention which now ensures that the 12 month wait for Paddy’s Day is halved. It’s always better to have a reason to get totally “locked” as the Dubs say. But with Arthur’s Day falling midway between the GAA Football Final and the All-Ireland Hurling replay this year, there won’t be much turf cut this week ……

Which reminds me – a great headline in the Western People this week, as follows:No sun, no silage, no turf, no Sam – a Bad Year for Mayo.

Up Galway, in the replayed hurling final. Might venture out for a drink.

Gearoid , that cracked me up. You should write a book. Oh I forgot , you already have! Did you see the news? Rioting in Pamplona by Spanish austerity protesters.

The Spanish are mid-table rioters as far as I can see on the TV news. Be thankful you’re not passing through Athens. The Greeks really know how to trash the place.

Meanwhile, in parallel to your long trek, the 9-Day West of Ireland Drinking Olympics reached midway on Arthur’s Day. I gave up work early and ventured into the main stadium (aka The Roaring Cock) at about 4pm to check on progress. After patiently waiting for landlord Con’s middle daughter, Mae O (from Sligo), to set me up the perfect pint of Guinness, I jokingly asked whether I was too early for the Happy Hour free black stuff which I knew officially commenced at precisely 17:59. Hughie O’Gara in his familiar corner piped up that in Charlestown they had free drinks for two hours. Now Hughie has an odd Sligo accent which combined with the effects of a mild stroke makes him speak in a strange Dalek-like tongue. To me, it sounded like Hughie said that our Mayo neighbours were offering “free drinks for chihuahuas” – so as my pint settled right on cue, I was able to raise my glass to the regulars and exclaim (as per the Guinness TV ad) –
Hughie didn’t get it. He just said, “I’m not kidding ye. Two hours.”
The session had been re-invigorated. Mae O gave everyone a free pint ahead of time as we giggled like kids and saluted our hero – “TWARTA!”

Next up, Matt The Truth explained that a new word had been invented locally. He told us that the definition of the word is – “to fall into a drunken stupor whilst watching your sporting heroes not unexpectedly let you down yet again in the biggest match of the season.” He advised that this word is DEJAVOODOO.

And then we saw the story in the Irish Independent newspaper on the bar top, wherein a Hong Kong business tycoon is offering $50 million to any man who will “woo his lesbian daughter”. This headline gave ample scope for a prolonged debate about different folk’s interpretation of the art of wooing, especially if the lady prefers to bat for the other side. As you might expect, the conversation degenerated and made young Mae O blush, and cannot be repeated here. Pious Peter was cringing, and said with his lisp, “Now, that’s what I call wooed [rude]” – so I retorted with “as the Chinese millionaire said to his spread-eagled dyke of a daughter.”

My drinking companion, innocent 89 year-old bachelor ‘uncle’ John asked his usual question when female homosexuality is raised. “What do lesbians actually do?” he enquired. Matt The Truth gave him a subtle clue when he said that there’s two lesbians who live on his lane, and they grow a lot of courgettes. John was baffled and advised us that he prefers cabbage.

Sore knees are nothing. My guts are starting to ache this week. Is it the porter, the side-splitting craic, or both?

Keep going Dan. You’ve progressed about 1.5 inches along the Camino map on my 12″ screen.

camino de santiago

Where’s he heading?