The West's Awakeby Cormac MacConnell
- Bishop Eamon Casey served us well, and deserves our prayers
- A lovely tale of island life in the paradise of West Clare
- The Boarding Out orphan was a wonderful pick
- How do the Irish regard their American visitors? With pride
- Absolutely no relation to US Republican politician Mitch McConnell
An hour ago I was all set to go out with ye for another whimsical meander through the west in winter, and I had a story in my head about the whereabouts of the best bottle of poitin in Connacht this fall and a recollection of Charlie Chaplin himself once pulling a pint of porter for me on a Good Friday in Kerry.
But that is all gone now because of something I heard 20 minutes ago which made me both sad and mad. I’m sorry about that, but I have to get this off my chest.
Here is a lovely yarn for ye which, quite literally, comes from very close to paradise in the County Clare and which, I must confess at once, was generated in the local media this week by my friend and former colleague Claire Gallagher of the Clare People newspaper and not by me.
I am simply extending the reach of the story with the additional hope that some of you readers, especially the many with Clare connections, might feel like helping to create an even more lovely yarn with another touch of paradise to it.
He was a banjo player and a good one too, but that was not the reason at all why he was nicknamed Picker.
It went back far further than that to the late 1930s in a Dublin orphanage when Jamie and Annie from a hard Roscommon farm were driven by Jamie’s advancing rheumatism to take part in the then common enough practice of taking a boy out of the orphanage under what was called the Boarding Out system.
I was asked a question this week in Durty Nellie’s in Bunratty about exactly how we native Irish regard visiting Irish Americans, and it took me three swigs of my coffee (too early in the day for anything stronger!) to digest all the parameters of the query and to answer it to the best of my ability and totally honestly.
I know the topic is one which arises here more than rarely but, frankly, I had never thought about it before in any depth at all.
I was at a party in Doolin the other night and was hugely enjoying myself through a typical Doolin evening. I was called upon to sing a song and instantly obliged to the limits of my nicotined vocal chords.
The applause had hardly subsided, however, before I was approached by a rather large American man in a green sweater whose gripe with me, strongly expressed, was that I was named MacConnell, and that a clansman of mine named Mitch McConnell had been one of the main instigators of a move which almost brought America’s economy to ruins shortly before we met.
Ah, lads and lassies, I have another yarn for ye this week, again connected with the family, but not a dark sad thing like the last one about the departure of beloved brother Sean.
This is a merry one connected with youngest brother Mickie, the songwriter-musician below in Kerry (“Only Our Rivers Run Free”), and it has to do with the reality that life goes on despite the mortal blips along the way.
Before I explode with raw anger which, as ye know by now, is unusual for me, I simply have to tell ye about another lovely image of our continuing Indian summer which I discovered this evening in a corner of the cottage garden.
It was a kinda Resurrection thing which stopped me in my tracks. In a fork of a blackthorn bush in the hedge, did I not find a blackbird’s nest which was built last spring and duly raised a clutch of young ones to garnish life in Carhue.
Somebody suggested here last week that it would be pleasing if I wrote a few lines about the fall in the west of Ireland in September. I would be delighted to oblige if there was in fact a fall here to report upon. But there is not.
What we have instead on almost all fronts across the glowing west is a second rising of about all boats on all the golden waters. Beautiful to experience and behold.
To whom it may concern, but especially those of Cork or Mayo ancestry:
I, Cormac MacConnell, being either a total fool or a sporting prophet, hereby testify that these lines were written three days and several hours before the All-Ireland football final between Mayo and Dublin, the biggest Irish sporting occasion of the year for the majority of us. As these words were being written the entire nation was convulsed with the kind of anticipation which totally obscured all other issues of the week.
clubhouse like Saint John's in Rathfarnham, Dublin. There will be genuine grief and compassion shown to the family by men and women who were strangers to them moments before. There will be warmth and caring and sharing. There will be many to play and sing. And the sense of a good team member lost even as the big game of Life goes on. And, from Purgatory, that is quite enough for now.
Mary Kate Spellman went to the Golden Pages telephone directory where you can find every possible trade and service and found the Private Investigators grouped together on Page 246. She called the first name on the list.
It was Ace Investigations, and the man who answered had a slight English accent and a careful way of doing business. He asked for her telephone number first and then asked if it was okay that he called her back.
I said I would head for the Merriman Summer School in Lisdoonvarna, where the mighty and the literati enjoyably meet each August, and indeed I drove up there for the school opening but was stopped in my meandering tracks by two shocks delivered to me in rapid succession by a man I met in the roadside tavern on the edge of town, one of my long time watering holes.
The first shock was that the opening lecture on changing societies in the North was being delivered by the Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who is a decent gentleman in charge of the rump of the old Fianna Fail party I supported devoutly until the Haughey era.
I'm looking forward to meeting up with him again in Mitchelstown and will have a few Cork yarns for ye out of that. Which reminds me that I've still got a few stashed away from the Fair of Spancilhill and the Willie Week. They are all stored away like the nuts of a squirrel for release whenever this glorious summer comes to a close.
I'm trying to write this in Maisie's cottage garden in the afternoon of the warmest and brightest day of our summer, a genuine heat wave such as you have over there in some states.
All around me rosebuds are bursting open with red and orange and even yellow new life, and the new pup called Pepper is assaulting my left sandal with total ferocity and the tears are rolling down my face because, through the cottage door off the CD player comes the singing voice of my father Sandy, dead and buried since the early seventies but surviving still through the miracle of an audio captured by Robin Morton about six months before Sandy went away to heaven.
Back home I was at another singsong in Ennis last night, and I was so relaxed and eased by the holiday mood and that continuing sporting debate between the music and songs that, for once, I kept my throat closed and did not try to impose my poor quality vocals upon the night. And that's a first!
I’m just back home from the watershed midsummer event that is the fabled Fair of Spancilhill just outside Ennis and, yes, the lazy, hazy, crazily cracked days of madness are here again, everything changed, nothing changed down the centuries of the old fair, the haggling and taggling and the dealing and wheeling.
It's spiritually refreshing. I watched entranced, for example, as a lively she- donkey from North Mayo changed hands for about $1,000 of your money.
I was at a good wedding last week. It began in a small country chapel, and the celebrant was splendidly merry and friendly while at the same time properly marking the sacramental solemnity of the occasion.
When the bride was making her entrance, for example, he said, "Is she not looking just gorgeous? Let's give her a round of applause.” That set the tone for the service and for the day that followed too.
We may be in a recession, but there was no sign of that on this day. The reception was in an excellent hotel.
Let's all be cruelly honest and admit that we have at least one relative we would break off contact with were it not for the blood bond and clan thing. That is the reality in Ireland anyway, and I bet it is the same over there.
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?