The West's Awakeby Cormac MacConnell
- An open letter to President Obama - some handy local tips for his visit to Ireland
- Some wonderful discoveries - relishing Irish trad session, The Gathering visitors and more
- The swallows return, beard competition, historic crimes and other musings
- A new taste of spring in Ireland- Tayto crisp’s cheese and onion chocolate bar
- Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth and the two Marys - Now it the time for a woman Prime Minister in Ireland
Dear President Obama,
Not alone are you returning to Ireland one of these fine days, probably with your family I hear, but you will be spending almost all of your time on this Emerald Isle in the county of Fermanagh where I was bred and born.
Cherry blossoms explode gorgeously right across the West, the sun shines, a fat full moon garnishes stilly nights to die for, the small birds begin their courting dances in greening hedges, there is recovery and hope in every breeze that dimples the cheeks of the small loughs in my end of Clare, and my friend Eoin O'Neill calls to bring me into Ennis for a night on a good lively town of music and song and craic.
The Winter is banished at last. Even the news bulletins are brighter. More jobs are being created, it seems, than are being lost. Could the boats be on a rising tide?
The line I most enjoy writing for you every year is short and sweet and simple: "The swallows are back again. The cold winter is officially declared over."
It is with special joy and relief and hope that I write it once more.
I was going to write about the lovely local excitement in Clare created by the arrival in fabled Bunratty down the road from Maisie’s cottage of three happy bottlenose dolphins, but dammit I'm being deflected by the even greater national excitement created by the arrival on the Irish market of the Tayto chocolate bar.
To me it is what Charlie Haughey once described as a "GUBU"--grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented! But then I'm clearly out of step with the majority.
And the sooner the better!
There is a lazy wind blowing from the east as I stand in bright sunshine in Connemara again transfixed by an incredible sight unfolding before my eyes along the flanks of a valley whose history I know well by hearsay and folklore.
A lazy wind, by the way, is an old Roscommon phrase to describe the dreaded east wind. "It's a lazy wind,” they say up there. "It would rather go through you than around you!"
Oh lads and lassies, this is a long shot across many decades but if it succeeds I will be deliriously joyous for the entire rest of the year, and so will Caty and Debbie. And you too.
I was enjoying the Clare sunshine of a mighty spring afternoon when brother Sean telephoned from Dublin to tantalize me totally for the rest of the day with news of a unique country pub he discovered in the county Cork over the previous weekend. The trouble was that he refused to tell me the name of the pub or exactly where it trades.
All families have their special frequencies for good or ill. It betrays a lot about the weakness (or strength?) of the senior MacConnell clan members that we share discoveries of the sadly dwindling numbers of special country pubs of music, song and craic that we still discover in the rich nooks and crannies of Hidden Ireland and, via brother Cathal, in Scotland as well.
I met an interesting young lady last week. She is clearly of the tomboy species and it was a real pleasure to be in her company for a while because, in plain man's language, she was great craic altogether.
She's into equine sports, works in a riding stable in the Midlands, grew up in the middle of a family of brothers, uses a big motorcycle to get to work and, though christened Patricia, is universally known as Paddy.
I hope you have a bottle of good strong Irish whiskey stashed away already to fortify you for the St. Patrick's Day parade and for the ritual drowning of the shamrock through the big day.
If so, then my advice to you is to take a good shot from the bottle here and now before you read the rest of this quite shocking story. You will need it. Okay?
Somewhere out there, maybe most likely in Boston, New York or Chicago, the traditional Irish American heartlands, there quietly still dwells the last of your Seventh Sons, those mighty ancient healers and possessors of curative gifts and lores the modern world knows little about.
The apple tree grew sturdily in the front garden just a few yards from the farmhouse front door. It was a special tree because it bore a good crop of Sheepsnout apples every autumn.
Our aunt Marytee went to Rome to see the Pope the year that I was about 10 and she brought me back a special gift, then unique in Ireland. It was a one-inch thick flickerbook with a photo of then Pope Pius XII giving his papal blessing on every page of hundreds.
When you riffled the pages there was the optical illusion of his hands moving as he delivered a very personal blessing to the viewer. That was a very special gift to bring home to a Catholic boy in the fifties. I made the most of it.
I was down in the Honk the other night among neighbors and friends in an effort to gently cure the consequences of a mighty MacConnell clan gathering on Ennis all through the weekend in honor of my birthday.
My friends in the bar sang a rousing Happy Birthday chorus as I approached my barstool, and Sean later bought me the first Baby Guinness of my lifetime. It was a perfect cure.
I'm very angry about something and I have to get it off my chest. I think many of you with Irish blood in your veins will be angry too by the time I've finished because most of you will be aware of the existence of the controversial Bishop Eamon Casey of Galway and Ireland and, in his considerable prime, of the international Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. The church of forgiveness and love.
What I'm angry about is that even after all these long years of suffering and shame following his 1992 disgrace after his affair with American divorcee Annie Murphy, his church, the Catholic church of forgiveness and love, is still severely punishing Bishop Casey.
Ach, let me tell ye about our youngest MacConnell clansman Ultan that I held in my grandfatherly grasp for the first time last week, and let me please go beyond that to show how "cracked" the clan are that the morsel is joining, God love him, and beyond that again to deal with the strange realities of me being a small bit fey -- the Scottish word for psychic -- and even beyond that again into the zone occupied by the genetic cargo in this modern Ireland.
First, and factually, permit me to remark that Ultan MacConnell, first child of my son Dara and his wife Aine, is an exceptionally beautiful baby by any standards. He is only about nine weeks old and already is one of those rare babies who doesn’t wear the universal baby face.
I have great news for all of you arising from a lovely singing session in the town of Ennis the other night.
The good news is that the mighty balladeer Luke Kelly of The Dubliners is not dead at all. Forget that story.
And why not!
Even after all these years together the Dutch Nation still constantly amazes and surprises me.
We were watching the unbearably sad and senseless classroom slaughter on the TV news together the other evening, the unbearably horrific massacre of beautiful innocent babies and their teachers and, because I am still hobbling around on my afflicted ankle, she drove off to bring home the cottage Christmas tree.
Shannon town is only five minutes away, and you can buy neatly cut and trimmed trees there for about €15. She should have been back in about a half-hour, but she phoned to say she would be delayed.
Everybody could see, even before she was 10 years old, that Sheila was far and away the most beautiful girl child in the parish, maybe even in the whole county. Strangers seeing her for the first time often smiled and stopped in their tracks.
Everybody could admire the blue-black sheen of her lustrous black curls, the amazing green eyes, the quick, shy smile, the cheek dimples, the enchanting way in which her shapely head was set atop her lissom body. Angelic is what they often said.
The old fullback with the gifted hands died peacefully in his sleep at six o'clock that morning...........
There was a heartening buzz in Galway City over the weekend and since as skilled professionals over here joined with colleagues along your East Coast to assist the recovery effort in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Volunteers joined with hi-tech communications specialists from the Disaster Tech Lab, which has offices in Galway, to man a so-called CrisisCamp in aid of storm victims in New York and elsewhere.
These mighty old weekly newspapers never forgot the power of their grass roots. Here dwelt those who bought the paper and advertised in it and got their world view from it. Nobody did that better than The Western People.
I bet there is a paragraph in the Ballina notes section from a half-century and more ago recording the birth of infant Enda Kenny. And the photo archive probably includes shots of Enda at eight years old playing juvenile football or winning a school sports race. Or maybe losing it!
That is the hallmark of Great Ireland, and the sooner the name becomes official the better. What do you think?
And they say it is only a game!
And if you meet a life partner I think you should invite me to the wedding as a small gesture of thanks.
This is apparently about a national sporting climax here at home at the end of September. Bear with me though because it is really an attempt to deal with an infinitely more important and beautiful and heartening reality.
My old heart is singing raucously out loud. If that mighty American football triumph by the Fighting Irish side in the Aviva Stadium at the start of the month was also a moving definition of the pride and purpose and power of the American Diaspora, then the upcoming clash of Mayo and Donegal in the All-Ireland football final this coming Sunday, September 23, is also magnificently special at a level far above that of a mere football match. Hurrah!
Those of you who were not born in Ireland should know that the football final of our own game is by far the most important contest each year. It is more popular than soccer or rugby internationals by far.
P.S.: Brother Mickie phoned five minutes ago to inform me he has been invited out to the West Bank of Palestine in the autumn to perform his classic song "Only Our Rivers Run Free." He has invited me to come along with him Zimmer frame and all if necessary. I think I'll go too.
They would have had all the modern electrical appliances like washing machines and dishwashers and a tumble-dryer so they had no need for an outside clothesline.
I'm taking a brief break from midsummer meanderings around the country to sit in the cottage garden and write this piece.
By the time you read it I will be either on the silvery face of the Shannon or already drinking a smooth pint in some good pub in Tipperary. A group of friends have planned to cross the Shannon by sailing boat for weeks now, but bad weather got in the way.
Old wise local ghosts whisper in my ear that the Quinns are the salt of the Earth.
Final thought for this week -- if you have not yet made a will then do it soonest. It's great craic altogether!
I salute the magnificent Murray sisters and their parents, and I am sure many of you join with me in that.
My gentle brother Cathal is over from Scotland to play a gig with his friends in the Crane Bar, which I've often mentioned here before, and our evening will end there much later,but first we go to the Oslo Hotel in Salthill for a meal and a few pints.
I own a pair of red britches that I don for special occasions. I'm wearing them this midsummer night in the City of the Tribes.
Be very careful, finally, if you are either a Murphy or a Moriarty...
One way or the other there will be some kind of silver lining.
Official summer arrived at the beginning of June and with it came torrents of rain. Our spring, on the other hand, was so sunny and bright and dry that it was better than most of the summers of the last five years.
The countryside was parched and so dry the farmers were looking at the sky and praying for rain. By heavens their prayers were answered!
A little while ago I took a writing break for a coffee and cigarette out in the cottage garden, and dammit if I did not clearly hear my first cuckoo of the season. I enjoyed that a lot.