Some man for one Mullane

Think helium balloons and amphetamines and maybe some drink. In fact, definitely a few drinks. Think roaring and panting and breathlessly talking into a mic. Think a man who is always in line for a good dose of laryngitis. He has the voice of a child’s on Christmas morning. It’s hyper and hearty and soprano and alto all at once. It could probably break glass. Think Tom Jones, Big Tom and Frank Patterson all rolled into one.

What language does this voice-lord speak you ask? Déise. Pure Déise. A native form you might find around the sidelines and dressing rooms of De La Salle, Waterford. Like all dialects, it has its own vocab, nuances and what have yous. Though this cunning linguist coins his own language every few breaths or so. And no one complains. Sure how could we? They are the GUBUs of this generation. Great. Unique. Bonkers. Unforgettable. He turns the mundane into the insane.

Take just this year, for example. Ennis, June 2018. Epic game of the tightest margins. Our voice-lord was covering it. He was reveling in it. Loving every puck and catch of the game. His commentary did not belie his passion. We all heard how the ref had got a call right, the next one wrong, a miss should’ve been scored, a block was sublime. We all heard how one point was scored with the legs to land it the far side of Ennis, and how the next took such flight it wound up in Boston.

His sagacity extends to the highways and byways of the land. “You never have Kilkenny beaten till you’re driving down the motorway,” he roared in the next game, with more energy than a box of plastic explosives. He has been breathless during games, talking so wildly that he has literally run out of breath. But no more honest a man will you find, owning up to it immediately “I can’t keep up, I’m out of breath, it’s unreal.”

The author may have missed her chance to sit beside the voice-lord on a flight back from an Old Firm game a few years ago. She may have chosen to swap her seat and sit beside a special Mr. something or other, for reasons that will never be discussed in public. Although when the swapee came back to point out that he was delighted with the swap because it meant he got to sit beside the Waterford legend, she did feel a pang of guilt. A flight bantering with him about Celtic would have been epic, no doubt. Besides, her mother loves him and if she knew that her daughter had flunked the chance to sit beside him, she’d be given the back of the hand fairly sharpish. Her mother was never informed. And never will be.

In a world of wonderful sports commentators, there’s no shortage of choice when you pick your favourites. We all know a few dyed heads that are pretty good and a few iconoclasts who no longer take to the airwaves but will forever echo in our minds. And then there’s John Mullane. An absolute legend who talks and breathes hurling. And sometimes, hurling takes his breath away, just as listening to him does mine.

 

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Tourist in a church

Stars above on a light fitting don’t sparkle much in this great church of St. Malachy’s in Hillsborough. I wonder if it’s a Church of Ireland approach to light or stars or décor, because the place verges on the more drab side of the palette. There are no paintings of serene virgins adorning the walls, adding duck egg blue pantones among the hues of porcelain complexions.

That said, I am enamoured by the fastidious sanctity of the wooden pews that have held fast in devotion generations of the pious. The clasp on the door to the pew is well worn and has taken the shape of the century of fingers that have pressed it shut so that a congregation can remain locked in prayer. It’s not unlike a great wooden version of a sheep pen, although it’s considerably more private. Its boundaries raise on each side to about three and a half foot making it the perfect corral to conceal an accidental nodding off during any banal sermons.

The box pew is so high that I need to stretch my head in order that I see the alter. At five foot seven, I’m not in any way petite, and this reinforces my marvel at the sheer scale of these lockable booths. I can’t help but think, that for kids they must be daunting. For us adults, it’s just a test-run of  a time to come,  when we’ll be tucked into our own wooden boxes.

The church reminds me of Westminster Cathedral, though it’s on a smaller scale. Seems like a forest worth of timber has gone into making the seating running along each side. It oozes ceremony and formality. Looks courtly and official. I expect to see men in wigs with gavels come out and assemble themselves at the alter.

Outside, the bell calls out to Hillsborough, its joyous sound rebelling against the quiet of the morning. A kerfuffle at the back of the church alerts me to a group of people wearing NorthFace coats who have ventured in to prey on the place of pray. They do a length of the aisle before retreating to the sun of outdoors. I remain in the company of the son of the Blessed…? Do they consider her blessed? I remain saying a prayer to the son. And an extra silent one to his mother, who I was reared to be fond of.

A painting on the wall across from me is devoted to a Brian Maginess who was born on 10 July 1901 and was apparently a scholar of Trinity College Dublin, my alma mater. He is described as a Doctor of Laws and among other things a member of parliament for Iveagh 1938-1963. He was County Court Judge of Down and he left this world on 16 April 1967. A high achiever by all accounts. ‘Sola salus servire Deo’ is inscribed beneath, that being the coat of arms for the Maginess clan – ‘The only safe course is to serve God’.

I look at my watch and I’m dead late. I was released from a poetry workshop in the adjacent centre to go spend five minutes looking for inspiration around the place. Five. I’ve just spent twenty five minutes ensconced in the box pew. I run back thinking that the only safe course is to say I’d been locked in a pew.

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Resident She

Munster. Cork. East Cork. Killeagh. Main St. It’s here you’ll find me. In an old RIC Barracks now known as Greywood Arts Centre. Charged with having won a poetry competition, sentenced to a week as Writer in Residence. I  resolve to commit acts of such poetry more often. Not that I plan on making a future treading in the footsteps of long gone Imperial forces, but staying in a place as ripe with history and stories as Greywood, has been wonderful.

I made the journey down on Saturday with a boot full of clothes, books and Pot Noodles. It turns out I haven’t brought enough clothes or noodles to see me through the week, but I’m good for books. And besides, there’s a library downstairs. If librophilia reaches beyond that, there’s also a selection of dusty old tomes scattered here and there in every room. They add to the historic ambience you pick up on as soon as you are welcomed inside the door. You’ll first notice the original floor tiles and the stripped back stone walls. They set the tone of a place that has been restored with care, gently nudged back to a form of its past elegance. Broad naked floorboards in every room, give a real sense of character, but for me, the piece de resistènce is the collection of period furniture you’ll see around the rooms. Old desks that have been written on for more than a hundred years. Old lampshades that may outdate the civil war. A silver tray that was inscribed in the late 1800s. A hurley from 1932, made by a hurley maker in his workshop right behind Greywood. Christy Ring’s hurley maker I might add. Need I say any more? In. My. Element.

The bedroom I’m staying in has an old chest of drawers with what you can only construe as a peculiarly paranoid feature. They have locks on every drawer, even the teeny ones that you’d probably keep your sewing needles in, if you were that way inclined. Either the RIC were anal about the preservation of their sock drawers, or they used the most unconventional of furniture, replete with inset mirror, to store their confidential files on unruly nationalists. Either way, it’s nice to know my smalls are safe while I snooze.

The hosts, Jessica and Hughie have been painstakingly restoring the huge old building for three years, and are now running it as a wonderful arts centre and retreat for artists. You can’t help but think when you meet them and hear the enthusiasm with which they are embracing the scale of this project, that the locals here in Killeagh are lucky to have them. They have brought an otherwise grey and derelict old building on Main Street back to life. More than that, they have injected a new vein of visitors into the local economy, with regular events and residencies and AirBnB tourists choosing to flock to Greywood, and by extension, to Killeagh’s local establishments and shops. It must be said that one of said establishments stands out above the rest for service to thirsty artists. In P. Kennedy’s pub, they know how to pull a pint and it’s there you’ll find a creamy Guinness.

The undertaking at Greywood was massive. It’s still a work in progress and the plans for the project are expanding into an even more exciting venture. You can’t but wish them the very best of luck with it, but at this point they deserve great credit for the brilliant work they have done to date. The bedrooms and communal spaces for artists – the library, writer’s den and movement studios are vibrant and conducive to so much creativity. The writer’s den in particular, because I am biased, also because I am sitting in it as I write this, is a stunning space.

Original sash windows, a hangover from the original building back in the 1800s, afford the gorgeous view of the Dissour waters flowing past outside. The window cills are about two foot deep and will make you want to curl up in them and write to your heart’s content. An old stone gable wall painted plain white, provides a perfect frame for these two beautiful windows. As writing spaces go, this is up there with the best of them. It kicks the perfect ‘Insta desk pic’ brigade right up the hole, with its honesty, and its downright integrity. It’s a space filled with history and silent whispers of voices long gone. It’s a room filled with the soft sound of the river flowing by. A room that begs you stop, and think, and be. Arcadian. Unpretentious. It’s simply beautiful.

At the moment, there are two visiting residents from the States here, and Jessica herself is American. Throw in Hughie’s Wicklowness and my being a Dub and it makes for a peculiar lilt and texture to the conversations that take place. On the odd occasion that we bump into each other in the house, that is. It really is a big three floored building, with the residents based on the first floor and working studios laid out on high on the third. For hermits like me, it’s really handy to go from dawn till dusk with no actual human contact.

We hosted a public reading here on Tuesday, after which the five of us had wine and good chats. Stories were told and experiences shared. The visiting Americans are now versed in hurling lore from Joe Canning, Joe Deane to the Cats. They are looking forward to watching the final on Sunday. Their first game. We’ve converted them, though I suppose with such a majestic game, it’s not really a hard sell. Hearing Jessica and Hughie recount the history of the house through the ages was fascinating. It makes you feel that you are in a living museum of sorts. I could listen to them all day. It was a lovely communal evening and the company of the three Americans and the man from the Garden County was wonderful. As was the wine.

So I’m anchored beside these sash windows with just a couple more days to go. I have so much more to write and am bursting with ideas. I’ll be returning to Dublin with lots of work done and the fondest of Greywood memories. IMG_1940Grainnedaly.com Greywood

 

Achill: The island off the island

The sky is heavy with grey clouds. The air is thick with the vague scent of rain that’ll fall any minute. You’re in your favourite place in the world where you’ve never known the feel of a full day of sunshine. The Achill Island you know has clouds and winds and rainbows. Always rainbows. You might head down the strand from keel bright and warm and dry and get to Minaun Cliffs a drowned rat with the winds whipping the hair off your head. And what harm? It’s Achill and you love it.

You’ve checked into a bockety hotel that reminds you of Faulty Towers and school tours of the early 90’s. Everything is in need of renovation. The wind whistles through gaps around the window frames. Colonies of mould have mapped themselves across the bathroom ceilings. Every floorboard is an instrument in itself. But as you tread your beat from the bedroom to the front door, you meet the staff with their warm, homely smiles and you are happy to be back among the good people of this place.

You walk down from The Chalet after a gorgeous fill of fish to have one or two in The Annexe before you trek back towards the achy breaky hotel. A few creamy pints will go down well. You know that one or two will be more than likely four, but you are back in Achill, so anything goes. Is there a better way to welcome yourself back than with their freshest of fish and a giddy Guinness buzz?

You wake up the next morning to tremors. The whole place is shaking, but it’s only that you’re right above the breakfast room and there’s a someone downstairs with a ferociously strong footstep. Shockingly loud. Scary almost. But rather than run away from fear, you opt to get the breakkie in and suss out this racket for yourself.

A lovely, soft-spoken girl takes your order and returns with a welcome pot of coffee. She’s clearly not the culprit. Though no sooner have your first cuppa been poured than the cutlery on the table, on all tables actually, begins to vibrate. And over your shoulder you spot her. An innocuous looking girl, by all accounts, but stop the lights does she have one dangerously heavy step. Think Velociraptor from Jurassic Park loud! Floorboard’s worst enemy. You gulp your coffee. ‘Catríona’ it says on her name badge. Hurricane Catríona you christen her. The grub is very good so leave well fed and very amused.

Off with you up the path to Slievemore from Dooagh where your mind clears of any bit of stress that doesn’t belong there. Wisps of wind blow over the crest of the hill and you gorge on the lovely fresh air. Alone with your footsteps, surrounded by miles of fresh cut bog, you almost feel native yourself. It’s like you’re meant to be here, ambling up the bog path towards the old quartz mine, feeling nothing but a sense of gratitude for the day.

A mat of white marks out where the miners used to extract snow quartz from the earth. Not far away, up the road at Keem, they used to take amethyst from the earth. Achill’s wonders and beauty aren’t consigned to above the ground; they are in her surrounding waters and in the womb of her soil. There’s even magic in her air.  And you savour it as you look over towards Blacksod Bay and think of an old friend from there that you’ll never see again. People come into and leave your life for a reason – it’s part and parcel.

You pass the tumbling remains of the Deserted Village and it is here you start to get the sweet scent of mint that perfumes the air from here to the old graveyard. Like the tall St. Joseph’s Lilies, mint grows wild here and only adds to the beauty of the place. As always, you will stop at the graveyard and say a prayer to the departed souls, particularly those poor folk who had to die on foreign shores and only got to return to their beloved Achill to be buried. To all those who passed in Coventry, Ealing, Glasgow and wherever the work forced you to flock, may you rest in peace.

Off with you towards Keel and a gorgeous bowl of chowder in the Amethyst Bar. It’s not so much that you’re starving after you’re decent breakfast, but rather the chowder is the best you’ve ever had, and when in Rome… You won’t have to be dropping of the hunger later either, when you’ll make the happy pilgrimage up to Gielty’s for their renowned fish and chips. Here is about communing atop bar stools, nursing pints or milling grub after a day full of nature and spirit and solace. Here is about being in Achill. Here is about now.

The next day you might take your life in your hands and head for Keem Bay, that wonderful horseshow ribbon of strand with its aquamarine waters overlooked by a parentage of tall cliffs. Were it not for the fact it’s one of the finest beaches in the world, you wouldn’t risk the drive on the heart stoppingly tiny ribbon of road that winds its way along a cliff. At points, your wing mirror is literally the last point on the island between you and the ocean. You’ll want to close your eyes to block out the terror, but for obvious reasons and seeing as your steering wheel is in the grasp of your white knuckles, it’s better that you keep wide-eyed.

The little coffee trailer set up by a wily entrepreneur on the verge of the strand is a Shan Gri La that you run to as soon as you park up. Coffee will settle the nerves after the drive. And you’ll sit on the strand, sipping your drink and looking across the calm little bay to where Bill’s Rock in the distance throws up a constant spray of white wash, where waves crash against it. A shark fin out in the bright blue water is a throwback to the times when the bay was a bug for shark fishing.

You will write a few lines about this or that. Time in a place so special is precious. Words written can be held onto – little momentos of your time on Keel Strand. And you’ll take some pics and pace the short length of the beach a few times. Then you’ll realise that leaving means getting on that road again, so you might choose to walk it a few times more. Anything just to not have to do that journey again. When you’ve curried some courage, you’ll hop in the car and realise the way back is not so bad. You can hug the far side of the (single lane) road, as far in to the side of the hill as possible, and just pray that you don’t meet an oncoming car or worse still, a coach. That would mean having to reverse your way back around the bends and hills until you find a place gracious enough to let you both pass.

And once you’ve made it back to terra-very-firma, you skip in to Gielty’s for a bit of lunch before you hit the road for Achill Sound and onward bound. A quick stop at the church at Minaun crossroads on the way out, and you’ll light some candles and offer some prayers for special intentions and those you love. It’s your form of three coins in the fountain that will, ensure you a return passage to this magical place.

Spin across the bog road towards Achill Sound pretending you don’t feel gutted that it’s Home Time. Denying that you have tears in your eyes, just as you always do when you depart the island. But to soothe the mood, you’re already going through dates in your head. Working out when you can next return. Because you will be back. Because it never really leaves you.

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MMA MoFo

A scrum of men with outstretched mikes and smartphones huddled close to the screen to catch the fighters as they emerged for their post fight interviews. The chap they’d sent from Joe.ie was significantly shorter than the rest of the pack, and so jostled his way to the front. His fringe hadn’t been cut since Fianna Fáil were in power, and covered his face entirely. The sheen from his oversized glasses could be seen between his greasy tresses every now and then, the way Lough Owell might peak out at you from between the trees as you snake around the road towards her.

Odd looking bastard though he was, he had poll position of the pack and was closest to the victorious Irish fighter when he finally emerged to meet the rabble. Seamus ‘Shameless’ Connors, was a heavyweight MMA fighter who’d just won his second of 6 fights. He’ll tell you he was robbed in two of the losses and beaten by killer blows in the other two, but bottom line was, your Ma’d fight better. Mine probably would and all.

He squared up in front of the assembly, sucking in his paunch,  resulting in him having the look of someone with acute indigestion. His shoulders were the broad and fleshy kind used to bare-knuckle boxing. In fact, that’s where he cut his teeth in the fighting game, and since being named King of the Travellers back a few years ago, ‘Shameless’ moved into the cage and has cut more than teeth along the way. Today he’s sporting a brand new slit to his right eye. Handy if you’re looking to ventilate the eye socket, though an altogether awful spot to heal. With every blink he was sending dark red fluids gunge down his chubby cheek.

Fringey Boy was first with a question as per usual. Small men are notorious at making up for lack of height in verbal dexterity.

“Seamus, that wasn’t an easy fight, how do you think you did?” he asked, pushing a gold iPhone 8+ in front of the sweaty fighter.

“I won, didn’t I?”

A chorus of laughter from the hacks.

“I mean, it went he distance, did you find it tough in there?” Fringe tried again.

“It’s not bleedin’ ballet. Of course it was tough like. He’s a strong opponent, but I was ready like, I prepared for it like, d’ya know?”

“But did you think he’d go the distance?”

Seamus, looked around, as if someone had just called his name, then before anyone could blink, he’d buried his left fist into Fringe Boy’s face. He now lay splayed on the ground, arms and legs akimbo, gold iPhone on his chest.

Nobody moved to see was he alright. In fact, nobody moved at all.

One of the hacks continued to question Seamus – “So who’s next for you Seamus? There’s been talk of the Russian Canon Ball – is it likely you’ll fight him?”

“Brendan Grace”.

“Sorry, who?”

“That ape Brendan Grace. Never liked the fool. He made a joke on the Late Late Show about lads who support Rushden and Diamonds back in 1998 and I haven’t forgotten. That’s my team like. Your team’s your team like. I’ll take him on,” then he leaned over and spoke into someone’s recording Samsung Galaxy, “Brendan, I’m here, take the fight. I’ll fucking show you, you fat fool of a thing.”

Silence from the hacks.

“Did ya get that did ya?” said Seamus, turning to step over Fringe Boy and walk back towards the dressing rooms.

One of the older hacks rushed forward to catch up with him before he disappeared, “Seamus, do you mean Brendan Grace… as in the comedian Brendan Grace?” He stuttered slightly, hesitation in his question.

“I do, yeah. I’ve been waiting for this fight like, all my life. Let’s see if he’s man enough.”

No sooner had the shameless fat frame of Connors disappeared through the dressing room door than the entire bunch of hacks, including the still unconscious Fringe Boy creased themselves laughing. The. Fucking. Neck. Of. That!!!!!!!!

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