Midsummer madness all over rural Ireland
The midsummer meanderings begin to blur. It is hard to keep up with them at this stage because I'm not as young as I used to be!
But it has been the summer to end all summers for craic, and my feet have scarcely touched the ground twice in the one county since the Bilbao wedding. Somewhere along the way the weather broke and Mother Ireland got a drink she so badly needed, and there have been showers since but they don't matter at all.
And the Galway Arts Festival ran, and then the Galway Races, and there's some kind of festival about every night in every parish.
Recession? What recession? Doom and gloom? It's all on the airwaves. Switch off and the craic is as good as ever it was.
I'm in Farranfore Airport in Kerry to collect the teenage son of the Dutch Nation's best friend. He's Jan and he's a red-headed 17, and he is coming to Ireland to perfect his English. He must be about six foot three!
You see the Kingdom men at the airport scanning him quickly to see if he has the makings of a midfielder. He's a lovely lad. His English is better than mine for God's sake.
He's great company for the week and quickly makes friends with our teenage neighbors.
Before he arrives we are having a snack in the bijou cafe at the compact airport terminal. I ask the nice lady for a few buns and a big pot of tea. She supplies a small pot supplemented by another filled with hot water.
"For God's sake woman," says I, "if I went into your house at home you wouldn't give me a small pot of tea like that."
And she smiles back. "If you were in my house it wouldn't be a pot of tea you'd be drinking...something a lot stronger!" I love that quick puckish kind of wit you so often get in Kerry.
I'm at the Willie Clancy Summer School during the midweek music making. It is so crowded for the day and night I'm there that I fail to physically meet the musical brother Cathal at all. I see him once in the thick of the throng as I'm driving along the main street, but afterwards we connect only by phone.
There is a great session in Lynch's and in the Blondes too, and I'm with two of my sons and the famed balladeer Tim Dennehy. And later we are in The Armada on the edge of the town.
A lovely blur of an evening. Nothing like sharing a few drinks with strong sons.
Somebody tells me a story about a holy Irish nun who died and went to heaven and was so holy she was introduced to the Blessed Virgin and they had a great sisterly chat. The nun at last asked the Holy Mother why was it (and she so happy in Heaven) that she always looked so sad and melancholy in all the Madonna portraits and prints down in Ireland.
And the answer came immediately: "To tell you the honest truth I wanted a girl!" I love that one too. Couldn’t wait to pass it on to ye.
I'm in Sligo at my niece Deirdre's wedding. She is marrying into the McSharry clan and Ray McSharry, the venerable politician, is there. The years have been extremely kind to the former Tanaiste (deputy leader) too. Given his connection as an EC commissioner once in charge of agriculture, he would not have liked to have heard a story whispered into my ear from a trusty source concerning a major upcoming national scandal connected with agriculture. It will apparently cost us millions once it breaks.
There is a golf course designed by Darren Clarke sweeping around the hotel. In the small hours of the morning some of our younger wilder bloods -- male and female -- lay hands on a couple of golf buggies and are lucky to survive water hazards and bunkers in the pitch darkness. God was good to them.
It is the Connacht football final when I'm coming home. Sligo are fancied and all the cars are bearing the county's black and white flags, every road towards Castlebar lined with good wishes and children waving flags and banners.
At the Mayo boundary at Bellaghy the flags stop in their tracks, of course, because Sligo beat Mayo (and Galway too) en route to the final. Fairytales often have somber endings and this is one of those days.
Sligo lose by a single point. Unlike the old knockout championship days, though, the back door is still open at time of writing.
Not a good day for GAA favorites all round. Tyrone pulverize a fancied Monaghan in the Ulster final in Clones. The Red Hand clenches itself into a powerful fist that could yet knock them all out. My northern heart rejoices all the way to Galway.
I'm in the Crane while the Dutch Nation visits grandchildren and friends. It is the usual cosmopolitan musical madness enhanced by the Arts Festival synergy.
A middle-aged man I'm told is a Monaghan man sings "Raglan Road" about as well as I've ever heard it sung. Maybe the earlier football tragedy added to the inherent melancholy and loss in that classic.
I don't sing. For once I just listen and learn.
The pub is as good as ever. It was here the Dutch Nation and I met first, and that makes it even more special.
I'm in Spanish Point a week later. The camper van is parked overlooking the long waves, and when you wake in the morning you'd swear your face would be splashed by a beautiful smelling detergent spray. The air is intoxicatingly thick and pure, like breathing oxygen.
I meet a Quilty man who recognizes me when walking on the strand. "I still miss you off the radio,” is what he says, "you were a mad whoreen altogether!"
I take that as a compliment. I might even have it inscribed on my tombstone if I live long enough for those to still be in fashion.
There is an advert in one of the local giveaways you see. The firm states that they can convert your cremated ashes into glass. Sounds like a great idea to me.
Maybe some day -- long delayed -- I will be a pint glass being upraised on a summer evening on the Atlantic coast.
You could finish up a lot worse!