Sports and Sunburned Pigs

Rambling away still, heading north towards Tyrone, I find myself caught up in the traffic departing from the last day of the Galway Races.


That is a significant gridlock because the summer frolics have always passed their peak when the Galway Races end, the August bank holiday dilutes the pain, and the evenings begin to get just a few minutes shorter day by day.

The weather is still okay though. It is the climax of the family holiday season, and life is good.
After I leave Galway behind I make great time up towards Irvinestown and Tyrone, and before the evening is over I'm chatting with the genial mayor of Trillick, Patsy McCaughey. He's good company.

Tyrone suffers a severe spiritual and sporting blow before the weekend is over. They had been fancied to win the All-Ireland football title again, but they get knocked out.

So too are the perennial favorites Kerry in an even greater upset. Kerry are pulverized by an unfancied young team from Down.

It is a surprise even though the amazing statistics of sporting history reveal that the men from the Kingdom have never beaten Down in the championship. They beat everybody else, but Down have the Indian sign on them.

I while away the journey home by writing a new parody of an old song for a column in the Irish Examiner on Tuesday morning. It is entitled “The Mountains of Mourn,” and suggests that the defeat converted the Magillicuddy Reeks into mountains of mourning weeping into the sea.

I get comments of praise from the Mournemen of Down in the following days. The comments from the Kingdom are wounded and critical. One suggests that I don't visit Kerry again for a good while!

Remarkable that during my 36-hour stay in Fermanagh and Tyrone (and it is still the marching season) that I don't have to drive under a single Orange arch of the type that used mark out the parade routes by the dozen. Union Jacks are thin on the ground too.

And I don't see a single soldier nor a single policeman for the duration. Nor any choppers in the skies.

There were a few petty skirmishes in the province since the marching season started, yes, but nobody died or was badly injured, and

Gerry Adams is talking this week to leading Apprentice Boys in a joint move to calm down tensions surrounding Apprentice Boys' parades.

It is truly a remarkable change for better times. As always, though, I'm still happier when I cross the border into Leitrim and Cavan on the return journey.

You can still be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A soldier's car was booby-trapped this week. He would have died except the bomb dropped off the car before it could do any damage.

I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time after rounding a bend near Manorhamilton on the way to Sligo. A very anguished and very fat pig rushes out of a gateway on my right with a man and wife in pursuit.

I manage (just) to avoid the speeding bacon and help the couple to herd the sow back into the yard again. Then I observe something I'd never seen before.

The man held the squealing sow down while the wife smeared her (very pink!) back and backside with a viscose sun-factor paste! Seems that large Leitrim sows can easily get very sunburned in good weather, and this had happened to their matriarch!

You learn something new every day.

You can drive from Sligo to Galway nowadays without having to pass through the pilgrimage town of Knock. I detour there anyway, and maybe I'm wrong, but I thought I saw some real evidence of the consequences of the church's ongoing crisis around the Basilica and the Apparition Gable.

There were far less pilgrims than is normally the case on a summer evening. There was still that serenity around the Gable and that mysterious feeling of blessed peace. But the crowds are away down on what they used to be.

I knelt and said a prayer or two for those who I love, and the holy water from the font was still cool on the forehead. But there's a change there.

Who would have thought it could ever happen?

I detour again in Galway because Cuan and Niamh's youngest daughter Lucy is three today, and I'm meeting the Dutch Nation at Lucy's birthday party in Spiddal. There is not a ripple on Galway Bay, the Black Head is swathed in blue velveteen, the Aran Islands are pictures on the edge of the horizon, and the evening skies are as blue as Lucy's eyes when she looks at her strange, grizzled granda.

I sit beside her and lightly touch her golden hair and drink a small glass of red wine and tell everybody in the house the story of the sunburned Leitrim pig.

They think I'm telling tall stories again.....

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