Kerry – Páidí Ó Sé

Posted: December 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

Dedicated to

Páidí Ó Sé



A giant.



County Cork

Posted: October 14, 2012 in Cork
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I decided to take on Cork straight off. I knew it was the largest county by land mass but also the area that divides opinions most. They’re a bit like brown sauce. Some love it and others hate it. They don’t seem to just exist inoffensively like Leitrim or Carlow. Sort of the Simon Cowell of Ireland. Or is it Louis Walsh? Well, that’s what I was to find out.

Cork. Like or Loathe?

Before getting the plane down there, I decided to do a bit of research. Cork got it’s name due to its geographical position. Because all rivers in Ireland run from north to south due to the magnetic pull of the south pole, all waters found themselves being emptied out into the English Channel through the Cork shoreline. The Irish government at the time took the decision to plug all the water outlets in the county by using massive corks so that Ireland kept some water for itself. Initially it was known as ‘Ireland’s Cork’ and eventually over time, due to wear and tear, ‘Cork’.

Ireland’s Cork

Cork are famously known as the rebel county. The origins of this are rather murky. The most likely reason for the nickname is after the Revolutionary Elite Brigade to Eradicate Limerick Supremacy (R.E.B.E.L.S.), a paramilitary group formed in 1788 after Limerick  threatened to carry out their land-claim mission by courting and impregnating Cork women, set up home in Cork and raise their children as Limerick men and women. The Rebels won the day by dressing and washing better, in the process wooing their own women first.

I am big into rivers and lakes and my first port of call was to straddle the River Bandon. It rises in the Shehy Mountains before ending up in Kinsale. One of the towns it flows through is Bandon Town itself. I stayed there for one night. The most remarkable aspect to Bandon was the colour scheme for the housing. There is an unwritten agreement that every house is painted either red, green, yellow or orange. Some have attempted to display individuality to their own detriment. A Clare blow-in, in 1996, decided to paint his house blue. Within a day his dog was dead, his cats missing and his car was graffitied ‘Blue, my hole’. He moved back to Clare within a week.

Bandon’s strict colour scheme

Bandon was discovered by an English undertaker in 1604. He found that only three people lived in the town and was covered by branches and weeds. He cleaned it up and moved all his family over from England, claiming that ‘no catholic may reside in this town’. When a catholic did eventually settle in 1821 they accepted he wasn’t too bad as he sold cheap coal, had good-looking daughters and the ban was lifted.

I followed the river down to the historic town of Kinsale. We’d all read about the Flight of the Earls, the last time a handful of ancient clansmen set foot in Ireland before going off on holidays in Spain and Italy. I managed to get talking to a pub owner about this and he says it was his ancestor who spilled the beans to the English that the Irish and Spanish were waiting on an ambush. I asked if he felt embarrassed by this and he laughed, saying them northern hoors were better off flouncing about with their mad accent and marching in central Europe. He claimed his ancestor got a bottle of Newcastle Ale for his treacherous behaviour which had inspired this man to set up a pub, keeping the family influence alive in Kinsale.

Gaelic Ireland sold for this

My final port of call was in Cork City itself. This was a most interesting visit. I was unaware of the Dublin/Cork rivalry in all aspect in Irish life here. The rebel locals refuse to eat anything made or packaged in Dublin. Some retailers go as far as to ask the lorry driver if he drove through the capital. If he answers in the affirmative the product is rejected and the lorry burned to the ground. It seems to be a cold war. On the outside they smile and nod at each other but deep down there appears to be a deep resentment in Cork over the whole ‘capital’ tag. I happened to use the word ‘captial’ instead of Dublin when chatting to the bar manager in their biggest pub. I was promptly refused another drink. It cuts deep. This was my brown sauce moment. I could either tell them to wise up and accept the location of the nation’s maiden city or feel their sympathy. I chose the latter. Cork is a vibrant city free from the class divides of Dublin. In Cork, everyone is working class and look poor.

A Cork family, yesterday

Cork is a place full of character and story. Every bend in the road has a memorial to someone who was ambushed less than 100 years ago. They’ve seen the worst of the internal wars. They’ve contributed to the All-Ireland Football Final trophy in Sam Maguire, a native of Dunmanway though you wouldn’t know it. The Bandon river brought me through Dunmanway. I had to ask a few people about Maguire before I got an accurate answer. Maybe they thought I was a British spy. I liked Cork. Its people are passionate and unreasonable. They have arrogance and humility in equal amounts. A bit like the Dubs. More Louis Walsh I think.


It should have been a feeling of satisfaction. I’ve completed an inter-county season as a supporter starting way back in January on a cold winter’s night in an eerie Enniskillen. I’ve learned a lot (about Ireland) and lost a little (marriage probably). Donegal took home the cup to the province I used as my base. Yet the feeling is quite empty now. I know the hurling replay has yet to come, and I’ll be there, but there’s a fear surrounding me about the abyss after that. I have decided on a new non-sporting mission and, like Crocodile Dundee, it’ll take a bit of getting used to. But more about that anon.

Last weekend saw Donegal take the big one as expected. So confident was I of a victory, I emptied my credit card, savings and Confirmation money and lumped it all on Jimmy’s men to take it home. It’s rude to talk about money but let’s just say that my winnings has enabled me to stay another 12 months in Ireland working on my new project. I’m also sitting on my new Ferrari computer desk seat and I’m wearing a crown. Throwing money away you say but I’m not stupid to wear it around Belfast. I’d be destroyed. No, people buy iPhones etc – I buy a crown. That’s how I roll.

Me, 10 mins ago.

The day itself was a magical experience. In order to avoid the toll lady, I took a plane from Derry to Cork. I asked to go into the cockpit as usual and was quite amazed that I was successful. Luckily, I managed to talk the grumpy pilot into landing in a field near Croke Park to drop me off. It was a fantastic gesture and although I bored him senseless by my tales of what’s been happening in the XFactor and the ingredients to make a sensational Yorkshire Pudding, the surly 50-year old navigator still did me a good turn and threw me off. Threw me off isn’t an exaggeration as the plane never touched the ground but it was close enough. On reaching Dublin, I was swallowed up by genuinely 100% country folk from Mayo and Donegal. Not a streetwise person amongst them. I copped on to this early enough and it did cross my mind to do a bit of pick pocketing as I’d be wise to things like that but it soon dawned on me that these people were tight. They kept their hands in their pockets, jingling and jangling their money. A canny breed afterall.

Arriving in Dublin

The match was a bit disappointing. Donegal scored 5 goals in the first 5 minutes and the rest of the game was just a bit of a farce with Mayo shooting for points just to make the time go by a bit faster before they headed home to batten down the hatches in the windiest county in Ireland. I can understand their rush. I’m sure the players’ heads were wrecked thinking about gates being blown about and maybe even cattle. Talking about cattle and there was a man beside me at the game from Mayo. He seemed a bit unusual with his eyes going in different directions but he told me the following story at half time:

He was at the pub one night last week and decided to walk home as it was a clammy night. It was a good 2 mile walk. After a mile he couldn’t hold on any longer and went to the toilet in a field. It was the number two he had to do. It was fairly dark so he just grabbed a pile of grass and leaves to clean himself and made on his way happily enough. When he got home he went to close the door behind him but it wouldn’t shut. It was still pitch black so he groped behind him to see what was keeping the door open. It happened to be what felt like a rope. He turned around and groped is way to the end of the rope – it was a cow!! Unbelievably, when he cleaned himself in the dark he lifted the end of a rope that was around a cow’s neck and had mistakenly put it up his backside.  Unbelievable series of events.

Midnight walk

Anyway, the celebrations were great to watch although I felt bad about the Mayo people. They seem to lose finals a lot. One boy just said “same oul shite” and they all nodded in agreement. So that’s that. Sam Maguire is in Ulster and my journey is almost at an end.

As I intimated earlier, I’ve decided on a new adventure beginning the first week in October. I am to visit all 32 counties in 32 weeks, taking in the delights and culture of each one over a seven day period, starting in the southernmost corner. I’ll find out what that is when I look at the map. I’m a bit nervous about it with my accent and looks but sure, the abyss is to be embraced sometimes. Hurling next weekend first.

My home for 32 weeks

Mayo Final Training Night

Posted: September 21, 2012 in Mayo
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Just back from Mayo. I didn’t realise how cold it was out there. I’d heard all year of people going to Mayo for their holidays and on the map it looked closer to America. I just took a small cardigan with me, expecting sultry conditions. I’m now at home wearing 3 jumpers, 2 coats and with my feet as close to a fire as humanly possible without serious burns. I was foundered like never before.

Mayo, tonight

Anyway Mayo, it appears, are taking a different approach to the final. Whereas McGuinness has his troops chewing on buck wire, Horan has decided to go down the more spiritual route. It did my heart good. In this era of fastest and fittest, Mayo are breeding a culture of brainiest. I knew something was different when the management team ran onto the field first not with footballs and cones as expected. Instead they brought on 30 easels and a load of paints. Horan bellowed the instructions that all players had 30 minutes to paint the scene they visualise if Mayo lifted the cup. There were no complaints. It was obvious that this had been a normal start to their sessions. There were some poor enough efforts, especially from Dillon and O’Shea who put no real effort in and just drew stick people. Horan, as opposed to McGuinness’s tactic of humiliation, simply put an arm around the worst artists and reassured them that they’d done their best. Enda Varley won with his post-modern effort of drawing the Mayo captain, naked, receiving the cup. There was an awkward glance between Varley and the captain Clarke.

Clarke’s strange effort

Next up was poetry. This time Dillon excelled and used some really big words like Equilibrium and Development. He won by a country mile, writing an epic of 3000 lines with references to Greek Gods and mythical creatures. Again, O’Shea had a bad day at the office. I managed to get a copy of his effort. It ran as follows:

Oh Mayo. It’s a great wee county.
I like to eat coconut bountys
I like to play for Mayo. I love the snow. Y’know.

The session finished with hugs. Group hugs, couple hugs. Some kissed cheeks, mostly those who had been on foreign holidays. And that was that. They headed back to the changing rooms happy, spiritual and cultured. I left with pneumonia.

So, the day is almost upon us. It’s hard to call. I think Donegal will be like the school bullies with their strong arms and hardened sense of humiliation, making them desensitized to all physical and mental abuse from the opposition. Mayo might have the last laugh though and dance and quoting Yeats into the Dublin night with Sam in their pocket. A draw.


Donegal Final Training Night

Posted: September 19, 2012 in Donegal, Mayo
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A short post here on a great night I had tonight. McGuinness put Donegal through their paces one last time up in Bundoran. I wasn’t expecting to see much really. I thought it’d be a bit of stretching and cajoling with blackboards etc. Sure they’ve been training hard all week and you wouldn’t want them to get injured a few days before the big one. Well I had my eyes opened.

I expected this stuff tonight

You used to hear of how the All Blacks would cut lumps out of each other in training, even before a World Cup final. I never really believed that. Well, if they only did half of what McGuinness made Donegal perform tonight, it was true enough. It started off with a light jog around the field as I expected. Murphy and McFadden were holding up the rear and doing a bit of ribbing with each other, having  a laugh. It was the All Ireland week and you could understand their happiness. Suddenly, from around the back of one of the dugouts, McGuinness ran behind McFadden, pulled a bag over his head and yanked him to the ground. He then whistled for Gallagher who arrived with some sort of pliers which appeared red hot. I soon noticed a small fire burning near where Rory was standing. McGuinness proceded to pull down Colm’s shorts, sniggering,  whilst Gallagher applied the hot tool to McFadden’s testicles. The Donegal hotshot squealed in pain, repeatedly shouting “sorry, Jim, sorry!” The rest of the panel looked on in horror, especially Murphy who seemed to get off lightly. McGuinness just stared back, coldly.

McFadden suffered these. Hot.

It was a shock to me. I almost threw up as McFadden pulled his shorts back on, crying, and meekly caught up with the rest of the squad who had doubled their pace. After a few more simple drills such as sprinting from one goal to the other 10 times consecutively without a break, Jim then whistled for what I thought was a final pep talk. Not so. Not forgetting what happened earlier, he called on Murphy to get on his hands and knees. When he complained a little, Gallagher appeared from behind McGuinness waving the red hot pliers in the air, laughing. McFadden winced again. Murphy did as he told as Jim and Rory climbed on his back. They made him crawl, at speed, out the gates and though the main street of Bundoran whilst shouting ‘yeee-har’ at the top of their voices. Behind them ran the rest of the squad. Locals just clapped on the pavements as if this was a regular occurrence.

McGuinness (left) and Gallagher

And that was it. No team talk. No tactics. Just ritual humiliation. It got them this far. Rory gave the players a tip-top mineral and a packet of mini cheese and onions. They seemed delighted.

Mayo on Thursday.

My wife back in Durham sent me an email recently. She said they were getting used to me not being around and wouldn’t care that much if I decided to stay another year in Ireland. After a couple of days in mourning, I got a grip of myself and planned out the weekend. I had a few options. There was a dinosaur show in Belfast but I’ve always had a fear of dinosaurs. I’ve a bad feeling scientists are trying to recreate them to wipe out half the planet  to keep the carbon dioxide emissions down, backed by the big governments. There was a car-boot sale in Carlingford, a cattle market in Crossmaglen and an oyster eating competition in Moira. But one event jumped right off the page. Another trip to Dublin to see a game called camogie.

They’ll be back

I did a bit of research and it appears that camogie was invented when a gang of priests watched a group of women beating cattle down a road with a piece of blue piping. They did so with great skill so the clergy threw them a small ball and that was that. I still wasn’t expecting much as I journeyed down the now familiar road to Croke Park. The woman at the toll bridge continues to amuse me. Two weeks ago I gave her 2 euros, expecting 20 cents changed. She just told me to hurry along. Last week I tried to push it a bit and gave her €5, requiring €3.20 back. Again she told me to get a move on. This week I thought I’d attempt to make a small profit so I threw her a mountain of coins which only totalled €1.40, 40 cents short. She was able to look at the bundle for 2 seconds and telepathically count it, before hurling the pile back in my face, and I mean in my face, and threatened to call the guards if I didn’t cough up €1.80. Amazing woman.

Toll bridge woman takes no prisoners

It was only €30 into the stadium and I was treated to three wonderful games: a junior, an intermediate and a senior game. I fell in love with 90 players within the space of four hours. I’m not being flippant here but more about that later. These women displayed more courage, skill and determination than I’d witnessed in all my trips to Croke Park over these last few weeks. I thought Donegal’s Neil Gallagher put in a towering performance against Cork. I can state with confidence that Ursula Jacob would eat and drink Gallagher for breakfast and then come back for McHugh. It immediately struck me how those young girls feel when they attend a Westlife or Take That concert. I was swooning in the crowd at every clash of the ash, as hair and skirts majestically merged in a mix of marvellous magical mastery. At one stage I started screaming but caught myself on when the children below just stared back.

Your average camogie player

Wexford won the main game. It was an experience to mix with a new set of fans. They call themselves the Strawberry Pickers because the climate in Wexford is a lot warmer than the rest of Ireland (one fan said they average 30 degrees in the Autumn even) and you could tell as the women all had brown faces. Strawberries line the roads they said so much so that their clothes and shoes are covered in the stuff no matter where they walk. To be fair, there was a strong smell of fruit or vegetables off them . I’d imagine there’d be a lot of wasps too.

But back to the point earlier. Coinciding with the email I received from the woman who I call my wife, I have decided to hunt down and court a camogie player. I got the names of all camogie players in Antrim and will begin a campaign to woo at least one and take it from there. Exciting times lie ahead and I envisage no problems. I just hope I achieve the courtship before word gets out about these women and people from all over the world like Africa, New Zealand or Russia all descend on Ireland to get them too.

Next weekend sees the World Cup Final of GAA. I will be attending both final training sessions this week and will report then. I hope I don’t dream about dinosaurs.

Wexford road

I’ve had many memorable moments. My marriage, graduation and an episode of The Waltons are the top three. Or were the top three. Yesterday, I attended something that eclipsed all those, with plenty to spare.

I wasn’t really into the hurling at all. On TV it seemed like a big game between the boys I see beating lumps out of the police, and each other, in the Ardoyne area in July. Or manic polo without the horses/upper classes. I tried watching a game on TV in preparation but it didn’t whet my appetite at all. I simply couldn’t follow the ball. On 15 minutes, feeling slightly dizzy, I decided to just watch the score up in the left hand corner of the screen. Every now and again my eyes would wander towards the action and the nauseating feeling would return. So you could forgive my apathy as I made my way to Croke Park yet again for the final.

The only hurling I knew

This time I took the train. There were only a handful of Antrim hurling aficionados on the journey and they seemed to want to make the best of it. We’d only reached Newry and I’d counted 29 empty cans of Stella. Songs included “You Can Stick Your Decommissioning Up Your Arse” and “I’ll Tell My Ma”. I have to admit, I’m still a bit perplexed as to the etiquette as to when to join in. I thought I’d add to the occasion and after a quick g&t I began singing “Bat Out Of Hell”. The reception was muted.

Getting off in Drumcondra, the noise and colour knocked me out. I think it was that or perhaps the boy from Poleglass who was bad-eyeing me up the whole way down on the train. When I recovered sufficiently I made my way to the pitch, not forgetting the last disastrous episode of pub-hopping. When I got there, a minor game was in full flow. I’m not sure what minor means. It wasn’t their size. The physique of some of those boys was mind-boggling. If they continue growing at that rate, the average height of an Irish male will be over 8 feet and weigh a healthy 20 stone by 2030. I thought I read they have to be under 18 but that cannot be true either. I saw one of the Tipperary players with a handlebar moustache. I also spotted one of the Dublin hurlers afterwards with a half bottle of Smirnoff, driving off in a flashy Peugeot convertible with wife and children in the back.

Ireland. 2030.

The pageantry of the senior game was unique. The players all lined up in a row to meet a very small man, possibly one of the remaining mythical leprechauns. I used my binoculars to see if he was kneeling in front of the players but it was quite the opposite – on his tiptoes. God help him. Then they all calmly marched after a brass band, never quiet managing to catch them although the players barely broke sweat, saving their energy for the game. The band were a crazy outfit. One moment they’d be walking straight towards a stand and at the last minute turn away, much to the relief of the frightened women and children in the front row. They did that four times with the crowd trying their best to drown them out and waving flags in protest.

After all that shenanigans we all stood still and listened to the band play the national tune of Ireland. A lot of people didn’t know the words and just sang some kind of celtic gibbiltygeek. Even before it ended, the crowd got bored of it and started yelping and yahooing manically, shouting things about cats and tribes. I must admit I felt frightened at this point.

Supporters were glad the anthem was over

The match was a blur of speed and hurls. It was quite majestic in its ferocity. Men and women in the crowd frothed at the mouth, most of their anger aimed at the ‘blind bastard in the black’. Quite why they put a man in charge with visual difficulties was beyond me but I suppose equality and all that. The match ended in a draw and as I waited for penalties the players sauntered off, as did the crowd. Apparently they just replay the game – IN THREE WEEKS. A lot can happen in three weeks. Players can age, have a growth spurt or fall in love or out of it. It must be a manager’s nightmare.

The cats nearly won it but a Harry Shovelling missed a penalty by about 20 feet. I think he got a bit excited. On the tribal side was a Joesph Canning. He scored a point from his own penalty box, hitting it over 120 yards. Both managers had a bit of a spat at the end with the Tribal manager calling the Cat manager a wee pussy which irked the old Cat man. He fly-kicked the Tribal man and all hell broke loose, only ended when a guard fired a shot into the Dublin sky, hitting the wheels of the RTE overhead blimp.

Unseemly fight between managers at end

I’ll be at the replay.