\"Scrapper

Scrapper McDermott's flaming red hair belied his gentle temperament. Photo by: Illustration by Caty Bartholomew

Still scrappy after all these years

\"Scrapper

Scrapper McDermott's flaming red hair belied his gentle temperament. Photo by: Illustration by Caty Bartholomew

(I AM not going to say anything about the situation which has developed around our proposed sale of Maisie’s Cottage to one of you good people, except to comment that the reaction has been quite incredible and is continuing by the hour. When matters have clarified I will let ye know at once. In the meantime, our warm thanks to the scores of good folk who have made contact and who wish to live under a thatched roof in Clare.  Enough … for now.)

Spring has sprung at last.  The storms have abated at least for the time being, the light in the western skies is somehow more golden and lissome, the evenings are stretching themselves out like the yellow legs of a young rooster in his own backyard.

There was an old saying about that for this time of year.  The people would say that each evening got longer by the length of a cock’s step.

The brighter light of the day motivated me to drive over to the resort village of Lahinch in West Clare the other afternoon.  It was a shock when I arrived to see the extent of the damage inflicted on the gentle resort by the storms.
 
The promenade which has always been the main attraction for the hordes of inland and overseas visitors has been wrecked horribly, and if ever there was a demonstration of the power of the sea when it is angry then it is here, despite the extensive voluntary efforts of the people of Lahinch to remedy matters as far as they can in advance of the multi-million euro state program of rehabilitation.

That will not be anywhere near complete by the summer but, in a surreal kind of way, the crude evidence of the Atlantic’s destruction has become a tourist attraction in itself.

And that is how and why I encountered Scrapper MacDermott on the pavement outside the Claremont Hotel for the first time in about 20 years.

Like myself, and doubtless many others on the pavement at the time, he had come to Lahinch to see for himself the damage wreaked by the worst storms of our lifetime.  He must be over 80 years old now, Scrapper, but he scarcely looks 60.

I recognized him the moment I saw him, the shock of gingery hair still as vivid as ever over a pair of wide eyes as blue as the Atlantic was behind us on this calm day.

And dammit he recognized me as well, and we had a good warm hug and we went in for a pint to Kenny’s Pub and, despite the strict new laws, if we had a little more than that then it is our business and not for sharing.

I have to tell ye in advance that the Scrapper earned his nickname as a young man because, despite the red hair, there is no more gentle man in Munster than him, and he never raised his fist in anger in his life.

But the fact that he looked like an extremely dangerous fighting man not to be trifled with was used cannily by his neighbor and good friend by the name of Sonny Montgomery, a man I never met but heard about often enough.

Sonny was a man noted for the quality of his fighting cocks at the annual cockfighting tournaments which have always been held, illegally of course, in quiet venues close to the border, usually before Christmas.

It came to pass many years ago that Sonny wanted to breed an especially effective fighting cock — they are tiny bantams — and the poultry bloodline he craved was only available from a strong Orangeman from
Portadown who had no time for Republicans like Sonny from south of the border and was constantly surrounded by hardy henchmen of his own ilk.

Sonny, however, was prepared to risk anything for his breeding program.  McDermott had a Morris Minor car at the time and Sonny paid him well to drive him up to Portadown on a long summer day, fed him well on the road, filled the car with petrol and, when they arrived at the Orangeman’s home on the outskirts of Portadown, Union Jacks flying everywhere, introduced him to the locals as Scrapper MacDermott.

It was the first time the nickname had been used, but it worked a treat because the Orangemen took one look at the gingery character with the big dangling fists and gave him a wide berth and mute respect through the afternoon.

Sonny paid maybe a little bit over the odds for the black bantam he bought from the Orangeman, but he did not mind at all because he knew he had bought a bargain at the end of the day.

And so it proved two seasons later when the fiery product of the Portadown breeder was crowned All-Ireland champion at a battle in a parish near the Monaghan town of Clones.

Scrapper was there that day too and, as he told me many years later, he made a small fortune betting on Sonny’s fighting cock, and by then the nickname was attached to him as firmly as the spurs they attach to the feet of the fiery little battlers. And it made a good yarn at the time for me.

And we recalled those different times in battered but calm Lahinch the other evening as another spring sprang into life and the long, slow waves of a high tide came rolling ashore like bars of gold.

Evenings like that are worthwhile and precious.

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