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Ireland’s summer ramblings, fun and joy never stop

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Illustration by Caty Bartholomew

My summer ramblings continue apace under a broiling sun. This has been a special summer altogether so far.  Long may it last.

I'm heading down to Mitchelstown in Cork shortly for the town's annual literary festival in honor of the writers William Trevor and Elizabeth Bowen, but before I say anything about that I have to recall, in this family season, a special singsong I relished with brothers Cathal and Sean in Malone's lively pub in Miltown Malbay towards the end of the special Willie Clancy Week I mentioned in the last column.

The passing decades splinter and sunder family units, do they not, even the closest units. So you know and I know, especially in our later years, how special it is when as many surviving siblings as possible get together to share an evening.

Songwriter Mickie was too busy playing gigs in the Kingdom for the locals and visitors and sister Maura is now in heaven, but Cathal from Edinburgh and Sean from Dublin and myself got together around the table in Malone's after a superb musical session there concluded, and we had the pure raw joy of singing ballads together just like when we were boys in Fermanagh.

That is something to truly serenify the soul and the heart. I'd swear, despite all the years of hard enough living, there were several of the ballads we sang in harmony together which sounded poignantly, just as they sounded in Sandy's kitchen all those years ago.

One was his favorite old ballad called"The Little Thatched Cabin the Best Home of All," and I suspect we were not the only ones with tears in our eyes at the last note.

It was not all like that though of course, and there were delightfully earthy and even bawdy elements to the impromptu program such as "The Man That Drank the Farm" in honor of the absent Mickie.

We all felt 15 years younger by the time the last song was sung and, to crown the evening, my American double Professor Mark Feinstein and his wife Carole stumbled across the fun and enthusiastically joined in. Mark and I are physically very alike, so many thought the full complement of brothers were present and we did not dissuade them either.

Incidentally I gathered that this distinguished professor of the cognitive sciences is about to engage in a detailed survey into the genetics of the wild goats of the Burren region of Clare. That should make fascinating reading, and I wonder if the learned Mark will venture into the strange area where the cured skins of Burren goats of the past are claimed to create the best bodhrans (skin drums) of all. That's for another time.

Yesterday I covered an amazing sporting event in the village of Corofin on the edge of the same Burren. It was the Irish Tug O War Championships, and no sporting contest anywhere on earth could have been much more grueling under the broiling sun that the battles between the top teams from all over Ireland.

In the climax the world champion team of Boley from Wexford, backboned by huge, tough men almost all named Kehoe, just defeated their longtime rivals Lakeside from Mayo after a titanic struggle during which the rope audibly croaked and groaned under the pressure. Great craic.

An amalgam of the two teams will represent Ireland at the upcoming World Championships in Colombia and, given a proud international record to date, could well return home with the gold.

I enjoyed every minute of what was allegedly a day's work but was not at all and met many old friends from the years the Dutch Nation and I dwelt in Corofin.

I've been appointed emcee for the literary festival in Mitchelstown and would have competently filled that role, I believe, had I not learned on this day that the first guest I have to introduce is none other than my longtime editor in the Irish Press, the great historian and journalist Tim Pat Coogan.

Of all my editors he has always been the favorite in Ireland because he was ever a father figure to the young hacks who served under him. When we meet again, for sure, I will not be a proper professional master of ceremonies, a composed and articulate senior citizen, but again the green young reporter who first met him in the newsroom in Burgh Quay by the Liffey in Dublin.

I will suddenly be a green young hack again from the country, sports-jacketed and collar and tied, nervously facing up to the challenges of working for Tim Pat. And my hair will not be silvery but black and Brylcreemed over an equally dark pointed goatee.

"Welcome," he said that day. "I'm glad you've joined us. I've heard good things about you." You remember greetings like that all your life.

I'm looking forward to meeting up with him again in Mitchelstown and will have a few Cork yarns for ye out of that. Which reminds me that I've still got a few stashed away from the Fair of Spancilhill and the Willie Week. They are all stored away like the nuts of a squirrel for release whenever this glorious summer comes to a close.

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