The West's Awakeby Cormac MacConnell
- Remembering Jimjoejoe’s innocent life and rare talent
- The bonding nature of the spud and a lesson the modern Irish potato and its realities
- Living off the land, GAA sporting pride and economic woes bring sad times too
- Ireland’s weather, Black and Tans, The Gathering and a song for shy singers
- An open letter to President Obama - some handy local tips for his visit to Ireland
There were so many families with the same surname in the parish that it was common for a man's father and even grandfather's Christian name to be attached to his own Christian name so that people could know immediately who was being spoken about.
That was how Jimjoejoe came to be so called right from childhood. It is a common custom right to this day.
I have a pot of them ripening on the hob now for the Dutch Nation and myself so I have to leave you at once.
I'm in the cottage kitchen with the door open because it is fine outside and a lady butterfly comes dancing in. She flutters around my head for a moment before elegantly fluttering away out into the sunshine again.
Some days in the west are garnished by stray little images like this, matterless things that actually matter. She changes my morning mood infinitely for the better.
From nowhere at all I think of an illuminating line, maybe from Emily Dickinson, about joy and hope being something feathered which perches on the edge of your soul. Like that anyway.
There is an old country saying here that a wet and windy May fills the barn with hay.
If that be so then there will not be enough barns in the country to hold all the hay that will be produced this summer because, by heavens, May has been very windy and very wet for the past fortnight.
The wind is howling tonight under a sickle moon most often obscured from sight by driven showers of rain. It is warm all right, but Mother Ireland's face is wet and windblown. Never mind though, because the forecast is for a clearance inside the next 48 hours.
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.
Our flicker friends against a bright blue sky are doubly welcome at the end of a week when Boston, the most Irish of your great cities, seemed so close to the western birthland of so many of its citizens that the pain and horror were on the winds that blew across the chilled Atlantic.
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.
Something I learned from trips over to you in recent years was the great hunger among you for Tayto cheese and onion potato crisps. If you brought over a few packs of them they were like gold dust to friends. At least as popular as smoked back rashers or tea bags of good quality tea.
And the sooner the better!
Life goes on. Before I leave I visualize the image of the White Boat sailing away on the winds of hope and courage.
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.
In fact everybody will celebrate, except maybe the Connemara boy with the spiky forelock who wore a petticoat all those long years ago when he was barefoot and beautiful in front of the family hearth in Carraroe, and his mother behind him was baking a loaf of brown bread in the iron pot.
That's rare in Ireland. I never met a female Paddy before, though I've heard of a few. Given the days we are living through, with the name of our national saint featuring in headlines all over the world, meeting Paddy focused my zany mind on something I mentioned here en passant a few years ago but would like to return to again if I may.
It is about the deeply revealing and nuanced way, certainly here in Ireland, in which the name Patrick is borne through life by those many thousands who were baptized with it. I don't know what the situation is on that front in Irish America, but I'm fascinated by the deeply coded and indicative elements of it on home ground.
The truth is that the many variants of the name Patrick in common usage through the four home provinces are priceless in giving the rest of us a clue about the social width and depth of the stranger Patrick we are meeting either for business or pleasure.
And I was also taught the shamrock is so special to us as a symbol of the Irish because St. Patrick used a fistful of shamrock on the Hill of Tara to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity to the pagans around him at that historic site. Take another shot from the bottle... The facts are that the first four letters of the word shamrock are brutally and cruelly accurate.
The facts are that there is no evidence at all that St. Patrick used the delicate little plant as a conversion tool at Tara or anywhere else for that matter.
The facts are that he never mentioned shamrock in his many writings about his conversion campaign at that time. The facts are that any link between the good saint and shamrock did not appear until English writers and botanists began mentioning the myth as hearsay about 1571.
If you are acquainted with such a special man then treasure the friendship because it is rare and priceless.
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.
The apples are aptly named because they are ribbed like the snout of a real sheep, long and green-skinned and the sweetest fruit of their kind. They are also quite rare, and Annie Naughton was very proud of them always.
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.
It was in a shot glass, constructed by Mary, you had to down it in one go, and I think its main ingredients were Guinness and Baileys. I was instantly restored to good health, and the only slight blot on the splendid subsequent evening was the existence of the Super Bowl on the TV screen on the wall.
Say a small prayer, if you pray at all, for a man who was great in his day, who has served his time, and who richly deserves forgiveness.
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.
His is countenance is already tracked with the best features of his lovely mother and handsome father, and he has avoided the Roman nose of his paternal grandfather. And he's as healthy and hungry as a spring trout. I could go on but I won't.
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.