"The prides and passions of the residents of all counties are strongest and deepest all along the length of the Wild Atlantic Way".
As we resume our haphazard dander along the wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way, I’m in Spiddal on the Connemara ledge of the way, with the Aran Islands studded against a golden horizon, and I was going to stay entirely in Spiddal for this yarn until a lusty roar of applause erupted all along the bar I was relaxing in and that event, believe it or not, directed me up and down the entire length of this wonderful Wild Atlantic Way.
What happened was that the GAA results in hurling and football were coming in after the first clashes in both codes of the new GAA season, and the roar of Spiddal applause was celebrating the one point victory of local county team Galway over northern rivals Donegal after a thrilling contest.
It was as loud and full-blooded as anything that came from a comparative number of throats at the Super Bowl over there. And it powerfully struck me that the powerful strength of Irish county identities are most sharply defined by the GAA results which will invigorate every weekend between now and the All-Ireland finals come autumn.
And, above all, for whatever reason, the prides and passions of the residents of all counties are strongest and deepest all along the length of the Wild Atlantic Way which, because of the hardships of the past, contributed more than any other region to the diaspora.
The roars of joy I heard in Spiddal were simultaneously erupting, for example in Sligo, beneath the bald dome of Benbulben, away down south in kingpins’ county Kerry, because of their triumph over Mayo and in the footballing regions of Cork, down at the toe of the Wild Atlantic Way following a win over Down.
Louder still the celebrations here in Clare, on the hurling front, following a relatively rare hurling triumph over elite Kilkenny while still along the way, a little further south, Limerick’s hurlers disposed of a strong Offaly challenge. Celebrations up and down the Atlantic coastline for sure.
Many of you perusing this piece and being aware of the county most closely connected with your own family, the origin of your roots, will readily understand and celebrate the perennial expressions of county identification so strongly hallmarked by those GAA scorelines. Any of you who have less knowledge of from which county hailed the ancestors who passed through Ellis Island on your side should take steps to check it out and thereby learn even more about yourself and your clan. It is certain to be extremely stimulating as well as informative.
Shortly, as a result, you too could be rejoicing lustily when the Sunday GAA results come blasting over the airwaves.
Meanwhile, let’s return to lovely Spiddal where I was enjoying a family gathering when those results exploded on the evening. We are in the Connemara Gaeltacht, the Irish-speaking area on the shores of Galway Bay, and I guarantee that if you treat yourself to an evening here it will quickly turn into two or three evenings of music, song and craic of the best order.
Furthermore, because of this craic, though you will quickly be able to pick up a few Gaelic sentences as a matter of courtesy such as the greeting “Dia Duit” meaning God be with you, there is one small, short four-letter word which you will find very hard to utter. It is “slan.” It means farewell, and you surely will not want to leave at all as in so many other cases and places along the Wild Atlantic Way.
I have a longtime knowledge of Spiddal since I resided in nearby Barna, nearer Galway City, for more than 20 years. It was always a great spot for a bilingual night out.
The other night, though, I have to say that, despite many positive new developments, I was saddened to see that the Droigneann Donn pub operated for so long by the legendary local boxer Martin Thornton has recently closed its doors.
Martin was a huge legend during a lively lifetime, sadly ending too quickly in his middle age, and I often think of him and the stories he shared with me about life as a boxer and sportsman generally and rascality too, involving the making of Mountain Dew, poaching salmon and suchlike, and many other good yarns, including the one that he was the double for John Wayne during the making of the iconic The Quiet Man in nearby Cong in Mayo.
Am I correct too in believing that director John Ford also had family links with Spiddal? I think so.
Anyway, I raised a glass to Martin’s colorful ghost the other evening as the celebrations for another Galway sporting victory continued along the bar. It was with great reluctance I said slan to my friends and family the following morning too.
Read more: Cork to Donegal - my meanderings along the Wild Atlantic Way