Summer starts in Spain
By: Cormac MacConnell | Published Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 11:55 AM | Updated Sunday, August 4, 2013, 12:28 AM
The barman does mysterious things with tweezers over the goblet with a slice of lime, so the juice drops on the ice below and on the rim of the glass. Then he adds about three shots from the bottle of gin and pours in a large volume of lemon-colored tonic water.
That is my first gin and tonic in the lovely Spanish city of Bilbao. I sip it in the sun-drenched pavement cafe area outside. I'm relishing a cigarette from a pack that costs half as much as back in Ireland. So too the gin and tonic.
A slight breeze ruffles my silvery locks and beard, and I smile out at the whole passing world. My summer meanderings have well and truly begun, and will continue for as long as the season lasts. Don't expect yarns from the darker recesses of the Celtic ethos from me until the ember days come again.
I'm at a family wedding. My son Scobie is wedding a lovely Basque woman called Patricia, and the whole Irish family and connections are out for the better part of a week.
It's terrific. The Basques know how to Cead Mile Failte just as warmly as the Irish, their food is magnificent, especially the smoked ham, and all of the celebrations become a warm laughing singing blur under the sun of Bilbao.
One thing that is riveted into my mind down the years is that other people's holiday photographs and stories quickly become boring. They have a relevance, really, only to those who were there in the shots.
So I won't bore you with more about our Basque wedding except to say that there was something striking about the reception after the wedding in the chapel down the road.
The minute we ambled back down from the chapel we were all seated at the party tables, and the food and wine began to arrive at once. That compares so well with the Irish custom nowadays where the hoteliers ensure that you spend two or three hours drinking in the bar (on an empty belly?) before the dinner bell rings.
There were about 12 courses for this meal, lots of fish and meat and ham portions, and, delightfully, about the middle of the meal, a tart enough tasting sorbet to refresh the palate for the second half of the repast. That works well.
It was a magnificent meal and a magnificent Spanish week we had, and I will leave it at that.
I'm back home. The weather is nearly as sunny in Clare. I'm in the Pope's Parish of Liscannor near the Cliffs of Moher.
I've devoured as good a plate of cod and chips in John Vaughans pub/cafe as you'll get anywhere in the world, and I glancingly meet some old friends. I'm introduced to one of three local gardeners who are in competition over cabbage.
On August 15 our host John Vaughan will judge which of the three has produced the best head of cabbage. There is intense interest locally.
The prize already hangs prominently behind the bar. The white baseball-style cap is already emblazoned with the image of the green cabbage and the "I Am the Champion" legend.
I'm invited along for the judgment. A man could do worse.
I'm up in Breffini Park in Cavan because my own Fermanagh footballers are taking on fierce neighbors Cavan in the Ulster Championship. It is a long drive, but you have to follow your own.
Down the years we have never defeated Cavan on their home patch, and we have had a dreadful few seasons lately, winning only three of the last 20 games in league and championship football.
But dammit, no matter how gloomy the prospects, you get a great thrill when you see our emerald jerseys take the field. And dammit, we tear into them like a man in a meadow.
It’s a point for point grueller of a game, and we are giving as good as we get. And there is a God in Heaven and he is wearing a green jersey today because, just when it matters, big Ryan Carson scores the winning goal for us even though half of the Cavan backs are fouling him at the same time as his left peg pokes the ball into the net.
It is such a pity that I cannot have even one celebratory pint because of the new drink driving clampdown, but I'm smiling all the way home. Once your county always your county.
I manage to get into a parish pub for the last drink at the end of the drive. I walk in wearing my green jersey like the King of Ulster. I'm cruelly slagged, naturally, but it is well worth it.
I'm in Listowel, where brother Mickie and Maura reside, just for one evening. We relive the trip to Bilbao, catch up on the news since, and go out for a few quiet drinks.
Writers' Week is over for another year, but J.B. Keane’s is as good as ever. We relax.
Next morning the coast road drive back through Foynes is spectacular. I remember when the flying boats were operating out of Foynes in the early days of trans-Atlantic aviation that there was real luxury aboard. That included silver service on blanched linen tables!
Passing Shannon Airport later, I reflect there is none of that nowadays except for the elite.
I'm in Cois na hAbhna, the official headquarters of traditional Irish music, and it is on the outskirts of Ennis. The entertainment tonight is bring provided by none other than my great friend the entertainer Paddy Hynes, master of the monologue, and the emcee is the legendary Robbie McMahon, the man who has made the Fair of Spancilhill so famous all over the world.
They are both octogenarians now, Robbie and Paddy, but spry as bees and magnificent entertainers. They raise the rafters for hours.
It's the summer all right, and sight of Robbie reminds me that Spancilhill Fair is just around the corner again. Where does the summer go at all?
I'll be there again. My meanderings are only beginning.