Let's have a lighthearted interlude in the wake of a papal visit which was a damp squib in the end after a searingly lovely summer.
Now the flitering swallows have flown away, September is upon us, the evenings grow shorter by the day, there are all sorts of both national and global problems which could easily cast a shadow over our thoughts and decisions.
So let’s respond in the traditional Irish style by having a bit of wit, whimsy and lighthearted craic. It has been a strategy which has worked well for centuries.
Accordingly, getting stuck into it right away, can I begin with the story of a pair of secondhand trousers bought in the border village of Belcoo in my native Fermanagh. It’s a village I know very well since childhood even though I myself never purchased a pair of britches there in my life.
The trigger for this morsel of craic comes from beyond a quiet grave in Arney where my dear parents Sandy and Mary have now been resting for years. God rest them both.
And I had totally forgotten about the battered trousers until a book created by my gifted musician brother Cathal dropped through the letterbox yesterday. Cathal, as many of ye might know, has been a leading member of the pioneering folk band the Boys of the Lough for decades, and his book I Have Travelled This Country contains hundreds of the old songs that he possesses from his travels around the globe, everywhere from the Great Wall of China to Carnegie Hall. Much neared to many of you reading this.
And, on page 147 I came eyeball to eyeball again, after all these years, with those infamous pants in a song composed by our mutual father Sandy McConnell. Here’s just a sample drawn from the six verses involved:
There are stories afloat that are hard to believe
There are stories afloat that are meant to deceive
But here is a story that’s perfectly true
About the second hand trousers I bought in Belcoo.
The man’s wife rejected the said britches at once, the household dog tried to bite one of the legs they covered badly and, to make a long story shorter, the owner donated the Belcoo trousers as a prize for the local parish bazaar which he attended himself. There was a mad rush for tickets in which he had to become involved as a parishioner:
Now at the bazaar, sure we all had great fun
When the trousers went up and the fortune wheel spun
In the mad tear for tickets I only got two
And I won back the trousers I bought in Belcoo
Tra-la-la, tra-le-doo, and I won back the trousers I got in Belcoo!
Ye can see it was not from the passing autumnal breezes that Cathal and my other musical brother Mickie became infected with music and song. The apple, the old folk always said, never falls far from the tree!
On another lighthearted roadeen altogether, I had great personal craic during that papal visit by writing, in other outlets I serve, the true story that I have in my time lectured not just one pope but two popes in the art of spinning good yarns! Believe it or not that’s the truth.
Ye see, when The Irish Press closed down during the recession 20-plus years ago I freelanced and undertook other media-related work to keep my family fed and housed. One of those tasks was teaching feature writing skills to postgraduate journalism students in University College Galway.
One of those students is today Ireland’s leading consumer-affairs broadcaster and author Conor POPE! At the same time, through a remarkable concurrence, I led a writing class for senior citizens in Galway and by far the best of those storytellers was Billy POPE, who was Conor’s father.
I had a lot of slagging from readers over the fact that I wrote that one of the two Popes I’d instructed in the art of yarnspinning was the legal father of the other.
In another quirk of history I recall that Billy Pope was a Dubliner, born actually in the same Phoenix Park where the sharply reduced attendance at the recent papal Mass there accurately reflected the current travails of the Catholic Church. But enough of that heavier stuff now.
I’m writing this in lovely Ballycotton in daughter Ciara and Jason’s new home there at the very bottom of Cork. It is breathtakingly beautiful here for sure.
I’m memorizing the six verses about the Belcoo britches before Annet and I head out for the evening with the happy pair and, given half a chance I will sing it at the bar at top volume before the evening is over.
I hope I have your permission to do that.
Meantime enjoy the rise of what ye call the fall.