Thursday, July 13, 2017

Update 13th July

How to Defuse a Bomb: The Project Children Story
I had but a grain of this story in my head until I tuned into a television programme with the above title on Monday night on RTE One.  Narrated by Liam Neeson, this documentary tells the extraordinary untold story of how an NYPD bomb disposal expert, Dennis Mulcahy from Cork, played a key role in helping defuse the decades old “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. In upstate New York Dennis Mulcahy started a project in 1975 of bringing children from Northern Ireland to New York state for six weeks to help them get a break from the horror of ‘the Northern Ireland Troubles’. They were hosted by American families. The key component of the project was that it embraced children from both sides of the conflict and this documentary focussed particularly on the experience, influence and memories of two young boys, one a Protestant and one a Catholic who were placed in a host home together as was a vital component of the project. From the initial group of 9 children in ’75 it continued for forty years and by then 23,000 children had benefitted from the process as the project expanded from its humble beginnings. Obviously it gave the children respite for a period but it also helped to disperse understanding between participants who had no chance whatsoever of meeting otherwise. It also brought their experiences into the homes of the host families and got considerable exposure in the U.S. media leading to a greater involvement of  American politicians in the dilemma of Northern Ireland. The most significant of those was President Clinton whose role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process was key. Dennis Mulcahy stayed with the project for four decades and was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize a fact I had never heard of. This powerful documentary is available on the RTE player for those who are able to access that. Perhaps it will be shown again as it deserves that and as wide an audience as possible. As Mister Mulcahy’s brother said ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark’. The ‘Project Children Story’ has been a bright light for thousands of children from Northern Ireland for over forty years.                
Connacht Final Victory.
The reaction of the Roscommon support at the final whistle in Pearse Stadium, Salthill, on Sunday was vividly captured by the RTE cameras as the they invaded the field and swept in a rough line, like in the film Braveheart towards the members of the Roscommon team to congratulate them on one of the sweetest victories in the Connacht championship for some time. To the fore in the charge was Ballyfarnon man Patrick McTiernan of the St. Ronan’s Club. The supporters were gathering on the fringes of the field for the final minutes and the whistle acted like a starter’s gun in an athletic meet. It is very rare that Roscommon had nailed down the result so conclusively a good few minutes from the end of the game. It is Roscommon’s third win Connacht Final in the last twenty years after the win over Mayo in 2001 and Sligo in 2010. So ‘what is rare is wonderful ‘as the saying goes. Galway were hot favourites going into this game and I have to confess that I too subscribed to that assessment. I wasn’t on my own of course but all that meant that the result was all the sweeter. I met a great Roscommon supporter on the field and he in a surprised voice said to me ‘I know nothing about football after all the years. I couldn’t see this coming’. However the team and its management must have seen things very differently. Gone was the reticence of last year at the same venue as players went for their shots and while there were some nine wides in the first half some of the scores taken were of the highest quality. I was just in the trajectory of Donie Smith’s late point and it was superb.
Roscommon played with all the qualities that one wishes in a team. They had skill, passion, determination, pace, a scheme that worked, unity of purpose and self-belief. If one was assessing the team in terms of ratings there would be succession of 7/8s’ a couple of 9s’ Kilroy and Devaney and an Enda Smith 10. Niall Kilroy, from the Fuerty club, reminded me of an England player in the 1966 World Cup called Alan Ball with the way he got around the field.
It has to be said that the Galway side lacked so many of Roscommon’s qualities on the day and all associated with the side must be hugely disappointed and puzzled with their effort especially in the first half and last quarter. It echoed their defeat to Tipperary last year. They now face a difficult game against Donegal in Sligo. Roscommon can play, by my estimation, the winner of Mayo v Cork probably Mayo or Donegal if they defeat Galway. That game will be in Croke Park on Sunday the 30th.  Galway will find it hard to reenergise its team and support and the support will quickly transfer to the hurling team which shows such promise. 
It was an emotive Kevin McStay that faced the press at the end and more than anybody else he must have felt a great sense of personal relief and pride in his team. It is great to see Boyle club having three players involved with Cian McKeon also being on the panel and I would imagine not being too far from playing a cameo at such a young age. In 2010 it was David Casey and Sean Purcell with Fergal O’Donnell as manager. 
So it was a great day for the Roscommon team and management and for their dedicated supporters. Now the challenge is to put in place a degree of consistency with another good performance on the 30th.   

Cody’s Cats feel Waterford Class
In the other weekend games Tipp. footballers had a very good win over Cavan once the great power in Ulster football. Carlow added another scalp in the win over Leitrim. In 1944 Carlow contested an All-Ireland semi-final and lost v Kerry. Monaghan got back on track with a generous win over Wexford. Armagh beat Westmeath and Mayo defeated Clare after an even first half mainly due to the power of their Jonah Lomu equivalent Aidan O’Shea. The game of the week-end was Waterford’s extra time victory win over Kilkenny. Kilkenny were 8 points down with some 8 minutes to go but got back level in a rousing last few minutes. While they were expected to carry the momentum into the extra time it was Waterford that prevailed with their first championship win over the cats since 1959. So, is this finally the end of Kilkenny’s reign and what their Kaiser, Brian Cody, will do is the topical question of the moment? On Sunday the Cork rebels continued their upward curve with a convincing win over Clare. With Cork and Galway now in the All-Ireland semi-finals the play offs rest between Waterford and Wexford and Tipperary and Clare. 
Next Sunday it is the Leinster football final between Dublin and Kildare and the Ulster final between Tyrone and Down. Dublin should win convincingly while Tyrone will probably cope with a surprising Down.

Joe Brolly and Boyle
Joe Brolly gave an amusing and colourful account of his trip to Boyle for the local GAA club’s fundraiser on Friday June 30th in last Sunday’s Independent Sport’s Section page 7.  Dodd’s Bar certainly got plenty of reference from Joe’s pen with his mention of their quality ‘stout’ and also quality music. What was something about his article were the little details almost forensic that Joe was able to remember subsequently when he sat down to write his column. Regarding St. Joseph’s hall; “….the parish hall, which looked like the Ballroom of Romance. It still had the old projector hatch and projector….. I was introduced to a chap who was to look after my Guinness needs…I thought when he shook hands with me that I wasn’t going to get my hand back….. “. At the end of the night with friends he retired to Dodd’s; “….which was packed. A beautiful traditional music session was in mid flow when we arrived. A concertina, a box, a piano key accordion, a guitar and a flute”. That was some totally accurate detail to remember without taking a note. Perhaps his legal training and practise had something to do with it.
Another traditional visitor to Boyle was also generous in his comments on Boyle i.e. Brendan Gleeson in an interview in ‘The Guardian’ newspaper. Brendan has been coming to Boyle for decades and has a number of good friends in the traditional music scene in the town. It started when Brendan was shown hospitality in The Ceili House Bar on a very early visit.
So with Chris O’Dowd and Paul Young and now the Smiths and company the town of Boyle is very much in the news regularly which has to be a good thing.

(Due to a history commitment which has a September deadline, requiring  whatever attention I can muster, this Blog will go into ‘recess’ in the interim).

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Update 6th July

‘Six Degrees of Separation’
‘Six Degrees of Separation’ is a book which suggests that people are, at most, disconnected by six steps of separation and that they are ultimately connected in some way or other.
About nine months ago I got an email from a Mister John McLoughlin living abroad who had strong generational roots in Corrigeenroe. He was enquiring about connections of his who once lived there. They were musicians called the McNiffs. I was a little aware of the McNiffs because of their traditional music background. I made enquires here and there and after a short time was put in touch with someone who knew plenty about the McNiffs. I talked to that person and was delighted with the resulting information that I was able to pass on to John. Apart from the musicians I was told that a member of the McNiff family had been in the Irish army and had died young and little was known of him other than that he may have some connection to Strokestown. There was a suggestion that he had a son who had been the U.S. army and had died in the Korean War in the fifties. I got in touch with a local history contact in Strokestown as to the possibility of the Irish army having a base in Strokestown during ‘The Emergency’ or W.W. 2 as it was . The army idea for Strokestown was not valid but he then went up the local history knowledge chain to another Strokestown person in Dublin. Very shortly I was emailed information on the date and place of death-Roscommon town- of the senior McNiff. This was followed by more information on his son who had indeed been in an army but not of the U.S. but the British army and being killed in the Middle East in the late fifties. With this there was a reference to a brother, John, whose name really aroused my curiosity. Anyway I forwarded all this information to Mister McLoughlin and referred to the young brother John of the fifties and of the remote possibility of he having some connection to myself.  Very shortly after, I had a return email from John McLouglin to say he had, via facebook, discovered John on the outskirts of London and of my connection theory having some merit. The connection being that he was fellow classmate of my brother when attending Roscommon C.B.S. secondary school in the late fifties early sixties.
Subsequently John McNiff himself contacted me and we talked of my brother and his old classmates and I mentioned a connection with myself.  A few years ago my leaving cert. class held a re-union and I had done up a slight booklet for it. I had adapted an earlier article from a previous CBS publication as it related to the school and its environment of the time very well. It was written by John McNiff. He confirmed this and then I went further to say that I actually had a sports picture connecting both of us. He felt that this was very unlikely as he was not really a sporting person. I emailed the picture to him and ‘lo and behold’, as the saying goes, there was the senior McNiff with me a very junior member of a CBS athletic team.
So what started out as a search for people I knew nothing really of ended up with clear evidence of very tangible personal connections.   

Letters and Letter Writing.
I have on a few occasions referred to the now dying tradition of letter writing here. The Sunday Independent has a challenging competition running titled ‘The Letter I Wished I’d Sent’. They say that the response has been ‘overwhelming’. I can understand that as there are sure to be many who have that regret and now in a cleansing way they are doing it by being involved in the project.   

A writer, whose name I forget, once wrote and I paraphrase him here ‘I regret three of the letters I have written in my life and three hundred of those that I have not’. That was in a time when letter writing was the established practise and often reached art form. Senior people, and I feel if I have a constituency there are a few senior people present, will remember when the hand-written letter was a regular visitor to one’s house. Many people then took great care with their penmanship which was one of the relics of national school with its lined landscape copies. These were used to cement the correct range of letter heights. My mother was a lovely writer and took pride in it. I wish I had managed to retain samples of her letters for their penmanship as well as their sentiments. A number of family members emigrated to England and the regular letters from there were a treat for those of us at home. Being abroad or in boarding school the letter from home was an even greater prize.
It is much easier with today’s technology to respond almost immediately of course and that is a plus. No real need now for the oft used opening; “ I received your letter some time ago and I am sorry for not responding sooner. But you know me!”
The letters series in the Sunday Independent has been running now for four weeks. I have them ‘cut out’ for reading but I did read last Sunday’s page with a varied and impressive cross section of nine letters.  The subject matter ranged from a mother ‘lighting a candle’ for a life-saving gesture by a person on the evening of the Dublin Bombings in 1974. The second reflected on a lost friend from his student days of over fifty years ago. Inevitably there was the expression of love from a mother for her son going to Australia and of a mother to her estranged daughter seeking reconciliation on the birth of her first grand-child by that daughter.  The last one I will refer to is by a troubled young lodger who found solace in a home where the landlady became his surrogate mother. “You always showed me kindness, which unnerved me very much at the beginning” he wrote from a now concrete position in life.

Very recently I got a family letter from John McLoughlin (referred to above) that his Corrigeenroe grandad had written to his own daughter then in the U.S. in 1941. I hope to show you that letter next week as it too is worthy of regard.

The Nightmare Phone Call
The nightmare phone call for parents is of course that which relays that their child/boy/girl/adult has been in an accident. We see the subject of this in the news from time to time. One of the most tragic examples being from June 2015 with the balcony collapse at Berkeley California in which six Irish students lost their lives and a number more were very seriously injured. I am reminded of this in reading of the death of David Gavin aged 26 who lost his life in a drowning accident in Canada over the week-end. A group of Gaelic footballers interrupted their journey near a sports camp looking to have a freshening dip in a nearby river but apparently choose to dive or jump from a nearby bridge. David from Breaffy outside Castlebar drowned as a result. How indiscriminate is the incidence of such tragic heartbreaking consequences especially for parents and loved ones.    

Sports Review

Connacht Final Sunday
So for the second successive year we travel to Salthill for a Connacht Final against Galway. The memories of last year are pretty vivid in many of our minds. I remember it not for the quality of the football or the drawn result but for the rain and the gridlock. I was attached to the Roscommon 1966 All-Ireland winning under 21 team who had defeated Kildare for a celebratory day. They were being honoured by the Connacht Council by being introduced to the crowd and later treated at a reception in The Galway Bay Hotel. However the rain, the result and most especially the traffic dampened things somewhat. Hopefully next Sunday the sun will shine. Galway is a favourite city for me going back to student days. Having connections living almost beside Pearse Stadium helps in attending big games there with parking and tea and groceries at the games conclusion allowing the swollen impatient traffic to subside.
While Galway are clear favourites on Sunday next the Roscommon supporter always carries in his soul that exaggerated hope that this year things will be positive at least up to a point. Sometimes the gods smile and this is why we ensure being there when that happens. This season there have been a number of upsets probably the most relevant being that of Down’s victory over firm favourites Monaghan.
So the advice is make sure you allow serious time to make the venue well before the 2 o’clock start time thus eliminating the frantic trot towards the sound of the crowd telling you the game is in progress and Roscommon has scored a goal. I imagine there will be parking maps and recommendations towards avoiding the worst traffic jams like diverting from the Tuam Road five miles or so out at Loughgeorge  and crossing to a parallel N84 road via Corrundulla. This should bring you out near Menlo Park Hotel. (Check that out for yourself as I am not fully tuned into it).   
Very best wishes to the Roscommon team and management and particularly the Boyle members Enda and Donie Smith and Cian McKeon.

‘Super’ Sports Weekends.
On soccer Sunday broadcasting during the English football season they regularly announce ‘Super Sunday’ but with the GAA summer season we have regular ‘Super Week Ends’ of GAA games. Last week-end we had a poor Kerry v Cork and a good win for Galway over Wexford.
This week’s fixtures are as follows as I see them. On Sunday you have the provincial finals Galway v Roscommon and Clare V Cork in hurling both on RTE at 2 and 4.
On Saturday Cavan v Tipp./ Carlow v Leitrim/ Wexford v Monaghan/ Clare v Mayo @ 5/ Meath v Donegal/ and W’meath v Armagh @7 and in hurling Tipp. v Dublin @5 and Kilkenny v Waterford @7. I am not tuned into the television arrangements for Saturday. I presume they are mostly on sky which I don’t subscribe to………yet anyway. The deal between the GAA and Sky came in for a negative reaction at the Boyle GAA Night last Friday.
So if last Sunday was a long day on the couch watching sport this coming week-end will be pretty arduous as well.

The Road to Croker last Friday night.
Congratulations to all involved, especially James O’Boyle and Tom Morley, in a very entertaining night at St. Joseph’s Hall with the ‘seminar’ with ‘GAA decision makers, change makers and trouble makers’. While the star of the show was Joe Brolly all of the panellists played their part. The contributions of Brolly and Curran meant that Collie Moran, Prenty and Carney were more restricted in their contributions. I mentioned last week that the GAA is such a broad and organic organisation that it might merit an annual ‘summer school’ of its own. There would be plenty of subject matter and personalities to populate such an event. It was evident that the audience on Friday was diverse and very interested and entertained by the event.
The energy and sparkle of Brolly was a necessary catalyst and without him it would have been a very different event. Michael O’Brien has a very good summary account of the night in this week’s Roscommon Herald on page 25 with Supervalu Sam also on page 19. Michael quotes Brolly referring to the relevance of such pre-season tournaments like the McKenna Cup with “Even the McKennas don’t go to IT anymore!”  For Joe Brolly it seems “All the world’s a stage”.