Making merry at Lisdoonvarna

After watching the football All-Ireland at home with a ball of malt and a warm fire, I had that sorta empty feeling you can easily get when a big game does not really catch fire, and where your fancy gets defeated anyway.


There was only one kick of a ball between Cork and Down at the end but, apart from the last five minutes, it was not a memorable final at all. Nothing during the action was as memorable as the fact this was broadcaster Miceal O'Muircheartaigh's last All-Ireland before his retirement.

I switched off the TV sound and listened to him on the radio, relishing every word. He has been mighty down all the summer Sundays of more than 50 years.

His last broadcast will be remembered longer than the game he garnished with his factual eloquence and unique bilingual Kerry accent.

I handled the empty feeling by making a few phone calls to my friends, and inside the hour we were on our way up to Lisdoonvarna for our first trip of the matchmaking season. That's a ritual by now even though we are all married men.

There's a lot more to the place we call The Spa than the matchmaking side of things. It is an Indian Summer town for folks to let down their hair and enjoy themselves before the winter begins to bite.

We went into the fabled Roadside Tavern I've told ye about before, and everybody present was discussing the match, the status of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen after an unfortunate radio interview last week when he sounded very hung over, and the Pope's visit to England as it entered its final hours.

About everybody was in agreement the match had not been brilliant (though the Cork connection were delighted of course). The political consensus was that Cowen is likely to survive because his party doesn’t want to trigger an election which they will certainly lose.

I was most fascinated by the bar judgments that the Pope got a far warmer and bigger welcome in England and Scotland than he would get in Ireland at the moment. Is that not incredible? And it is likely to be accurate

too. About the only index to the Irish view of the Papacy at the moment is the fact that the English organizers offered 2,500 tickets to Ireland for pilgrims who wished to attend the ceremonies. Only about a third of them, a mere 700 or so, were distributed. Nobody wanted the others.

Contrast that with the Papal visit of Pope John Paul 30 years ago when millions turned out to celebrate. That was long before the child abuse scandals which have rocked the Irish church to its foundations.

Nobody who lived through those days will ever forget the electric atmosphere of pure excitement and uplifting celebrations. We will never, ever get there again, and that is sad.

This autumn both church and state are equally the targets of cynical mistrust, both in turmoil and not showing any evidence of digging themselves out of trouble anytime soon.

But to blazes with that. Enough of it. There is still a lot of craic and diversion in Lisdoonvarna as always. And it will last day and night until the end of the month and beyond.

This is Ireland and we have that kind of quality about us still.

I met a man from Wexford in the Savoy, where the dancing and drinking was well under way in the early evening, and he did not know me nor I him except we exchanged our counties of birth and our views on the football.

And he told me the kind of story I love to hear about the small farmer in his county who was recently visited by a taxman carrying out an audit on his books. The taxman asked who was employed on the farm.

"Well,” said the farmer "as you can see from the books there is a laborer here who works 40 hours a week about the place, earns 500 euro a week, pays his tax and PRSI and is off one and a half days weekly.

“And then there's the woman of the house who works 45 hours a week, earns 400 euros a week, pays all her taxes and is off one day a week.

“And then there's a kind of half-witted lad, to be honest, that works about 100 hours a week, gets about 40 euros a week and a couple of pints on a Friday night if he's lucky and, if he's even luckier, gets the chance to sleep with the lady one night a month.”

"That man,” says the taxman, "is the man I want to talk to.” "You are talking to him now," says the small farmer! There was another bearded man at the heart of the earthy mirth a little later as the band played on and the bachelors chased the spinsters. A bit of a philosopher this one, with a nice turn of phrase.

Sometime before we moved on he said he was likely to have a hangover tomorrow, and did I know the best description of said hangover. I said not and he replied, “A hangover is caused by the wrath of grapes!"

I love Lisdoonvarna. It is the target of a lot of written Paddywhackery by visiting scribes and TV crews every year. When 75-year-old farmers are dancing with widows and the matchmaker Willie Daly is always available for interview then that is inevitable.

But a fundamental fact is that in this New Ireland there are not many social outlets for men and women over 40. Young people will tell you that you are "old" nowadays at 25 in many of our nightclubs and discos.

So where else can rural men and women go for dancing and drinking and sing-alongs -- and maybe romance -- except Lisdoonvarna? And boy, do they not make the most of it, and fair play to every last man and woman of them. They know how to enjoy themselves.

So did we for the time we were there. By the time I was dropped at my door under a three-quarter moon, the empty feeling I'd left home with was totally gone away. Whatever about the wrath of grapes the following morning!

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