Thursday, November 16, 2017

Update 16th November

Visiting Barcelona in Interesting Times 
We arrived in Barcelona on Tuesday morning October 24th. It was the first half of a very interesting trip to Catalonia. The second half I dealt with last time, it relating to Sitges with a large Boyle group. 
After arriving at Barcelona airport we took the bus to our mid-city destination, Placa de Catalunya. At just €8 for two it was pretty good value. Then, as a friend of mine is wont to say ‘going anywhere abroad, from Ireland, is invariably cost effective. The most expensive thing, proportionally, is if you have something to eat at …..Dublin Airport.”   

Our fairly basic hotel Lloret –at a basic cost- was on the main street of La Rambla. Having booked online to visit the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s cathedral masterpiece, we took the Metro after the usual exploration regarding route and tickets. The Metro has a reputation for pickpockets so care is needed and the basic safety strategies of the tourist are required. The primary one being is to try and not look or act like a tourist! Not easy on the first day. With a couple of days familiarisation things improve. 
At 3.30 we join our booked tour. This is an extraordinary building. I have been in many cathedrals in different countries but the Sagrada is certainly a once off in every sense of the word. Its problems around the outside are the milling crowds, however within this abated. After the insights given by the tour guide we are allowed to spend time absorbing the unique features of the building and the use of natural light to enhance the experience through the stained glass windows. On journeys later we see other examples of Gaudi’s work with other buildings.
 Later we walk along much of La Rambla which is an open theatre in itself with various artists, picture painters, restaurants, stalls, gymnasts and an audience of strolling people. We have good food and wine –a rarity for me-in a side street café.
The following day we take the Orange line tour on an open-topped bus. This is the most efficient way to see Barcelona.  We had pre-booked at €70 for two days for two people on two different circuits. There are too many sights to mention here but we got off on the hill where we visited the Olympic Stadium (free) of ’92. I had a memory of this from an Olympic iconic picture of a diver with the city underneath him.  There were stunning views over the city from this hill. The next stop I got off at was the home of Barcelona Soccer, the Nou Camp. I did a self-tour there for €25. It was very impressive and again value for the charge. It is a magnificent stadium if a bit dated now and had an incredible museum. It requires a much longer time than I allowed, perhaps a half a day. Near the end of the bus tour we see another example of Gaudi’s work a house with the fish scaled roof.
Later that evening we discovered a really impressive and bustling colourful market just off Ramble not far from our hotel. It was an occasion to eat Paella on La Rambla. Later we visited a  tourist port area at end of Rambla. Huge reconstruction work had been done there in preparation for the Olympics. 

On our third day we took the Green line tour. The early part of the tour was all along the restored waterfront which was very impressive.  We passed the Sagrada Familia and stopped off at Park Guell another Gaudi must see. We did not go into the heart of it but there was plenty to take in plus two very good sessions of Spanish music and dance. The two bus tours were very impressive and a great introduction to the city of Barcelona and great value.

While I was well aware of the political climate it was not strikingly obvious in the first days but that changed by Thursday and a student rally. We found our way to the epicentre of political activity and possibility which was the Generalitat (Government) Square where there was an independence rally with huge international media interest. There I talked for over half an hour to a local who was mildly in favour of Independence. Later that night we sought out the actual Parliament itself. It was a long trek but eventually we found it but it was screened off by Guardia Civil police. The possibility of the Catalan Parliamentary Declaration of Independence was very much in the ether all the time and so it came to pass on Friday at midday by which time we were in Sitges still Catalonia but politically inactive.
Barcelona is a very interesting city to visit. The beauty of visiting these Mediterranean cities is that the weather is invariably on your side.

Our two bookings were a real help so consider those. Try not to carry vital documents –passports- and more money than you need for the day on your person and ‘own your space’.        

Catalonia declared Independence on Friday October 27th. I scanned the Spanish papers the following day and one sidebar article described this declaration as ‘Frivolous and Irresponsible’. While a section of the Catalan people feel historically and currently at odds with greater Spain they are trying to adopt a very difficult path. A number of their local Parliamentary Independence leaders have been arrested and are in prison. Their leader-a very mild leader indeed- Carles Puigdemont is in Belgium currently and will possibly be returned to Spain. There are certain parallels with Northern Ireland in the politics of the region. It will be very interesting to see what emerges from the December elections called by the national Government. Certainly as an example of a Revolution, so far it is the mildest one that I am aware of historically. Of course the danger is that some sparks or hot heads could set things on a more dangerous course which could be volcanic. Hopefully that will not happen and that, as in many disputes, compromises will be enough to avoid a more belligerent conflict.

Week End Sport
Like so many week-ends these past few days have been festooned with major sporting events.

Ireland Collapse v Denmark
I will not say a lot about this as there is so much ‘out there’ generally on the event. The Friday night draw in Copenhagen was accepted as being reasonably good though the famous ‘away’ goal possibility was a big ache.

The build-up to Tuesday night was tinged with this element also and the difficulty of Ireland getting the two goals that most thought they would need thus accepting that Denmark would score one. When Ireland scored there was a sense of disbelief but a good sense. Then the frailty with two Danish goals and the dream of going to the World Cup evaporating. The two Irish  substitutions at half- time gave the star player Christian Erikson the space to demonstrate his world class skills with some help from Irish mistakes. By the 75th minute the Irish defence and challenge had collapsed and it was sad to see a bedraggled Irish team towards the end. It was not that they did not try as was evidenced by the efforts of James McClean but the heart had been shredded from the Irish effort and Denmark was in a different class at this stage. The only consolation was that it was all clear cut and not like the Northern Ireland exit at the hands of a very poor refereeing decision.

The pain was shown by James McClean as he tried to converse with a post-match interviewer Tony O’Donoghue. That was understandable as the team would now miss out on the biggest tournament in world sport. O’Donoghue was sympathetic to McClean as was right but tried a different approach with team Manager Martin O’Neill. I thought this unfair to an obviously shell-shocked manager so soon after a devastating defeat.

In summary; Denmark were clear and deserving winners on the night. The Ireland team had achieved a considerable amount by getting so close. Their limitations showed up at the last hurdle. A sad thing for Irish soccer is that the future does not look bright as there does not appear to be many if any young stars emerging. This is evidenced by the barometer of playing at a decent level in English football. 

And the World Rugby Cup 2023 goes to ... France
After all the hype about Ireland’s application to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup they finished third of the three applications. While Ireland might feel somewhat aggrieved South Africa can feel worse. They were ahead at the end of a technical review etc. Ireland were well behind in this which was a major failing. They had placed their bid on a number of stadia including GAA grounds Pair Ui Caoimh, Killarney, Salthill, Castlebar and Belfast. When these were put under the microscope they did not front up. I suppose a big negative for say Belfast was that Casement Park did not even have planning permission! As one advocate for the hosting suggested; “Ireland had the best of things that could not be measured” such a big following in rugby heartlands like Mayo, Galway and Cork would you believe. There was a lot of puff pastry in the submission when it came under scrutiny and in the end facilities in situ and money won out with France. We can moan about not being supported by Wales and Scotland which is historical of course! The only country who really believed all the hype was of course Ireland!

I could go on but if you are really interested in the Devil’s Advocate position you can source it from;   “In praise of losing the Rugby World Cup”....Nov. 3rd '17. Ewan MacKenna.

Boyle Celtic Slip Up and Out of FAI Junior Cup 
There must have been considerable disappointment in the Boyle Celtic community seeing their team go out of the FAI Junior Cup at a very early stage last Sunday. They were defeated by Moore Utd. 4 -2. This is the competition in which they had reached the All-Ireland Semi-Finals last spring only to go out on penalties to Evergreen of Kilkenny before a large Boyle following at Sligo Rovers grounds ‘The Showgrounds’.

 It was felt that the team had added to the overall strength of their panel this year. While they have hardly ever had a full group to choose from they seemed to have the strength in depth which would see them through the early stages of such a competition. The injury to Sean Purcell has been telling. I have been at the league game v Moore early in the season which Boyle won after a tough challenge. I still I felt that, while Moore would be a tough team to crack, the quality in the Boyle side would see them advance.

So now it is back to the Roscommon League and especially the Connacht Cup where they got to the Semi-Finals also last year.  Still we will miss last year’s journey or journeys.    

St. Brigid’s v Corofin.    
St. Brigid’s and Corofin played out a top game in the Connacht Senior club Final at Tuam on Sunday last. Corofin who had overwhelmed St. Brigid’s last year in Carrick-on Shannon were probably deserved winners in extra time. But it is obvious that St. Brigid’s are on the rise again after a blip in 2015. Their minor team won the Connacht minor competition, in its first year. Liam Clifford suggested to me that this was the best Roscommon club minor team that he has seen in decades. So with wins in minor, junior and senior (the U 20 competition is in progress at the moment) it seems as if the St. Brigid’s Organisation/Juggernaut is the future.
There were a couple of interesting results at the week-end. Perhaps the most telling was the Rathnew, Wicklow victory over hot favourites St. Vincent’s of Dublin.

I watched a poor Portlaoise v Moorfield (Kildare) game. The most notable feature of the game were the numerous outfield interventions of the Portlaoise goalkeeper. I know Shane Curran had his moments but the Portlaoise keeper must have the imprimatur of his management team to be such an outfield participant. Perhaps he has set a trend!

Ireland v Australia Compromise Rules
I hope Enda Smith is ok to participate in next Saturday’s game in Perth. The first game in Adelaide was a pretty polite affair with the Australians coming out on top and they now lead by over ten points going into Perth. The Irish stars from the first game were Ml. Murphy from Donegal and Conor Mac Manus from Monaghan. Whether they win or lose is not going to get people too energised but it is nice that players from a variety of counties get a pat on the back for their efforts.

Melbourne Cup Unique Result.
The first, second and third of Irish horses in ‘the race which stops a nation’ (Australia) has to be one of the really great international sporting achievements of recent times. There are incredible sub-stories there also. The fact that 25 year Joseph O’Brien trained to winner ‘Rekindling’ to defeat his dad Aidan’s horse  ‘Vermeer’ into second must be unique in racing history. I am not a racing person so my knowledge of it would be very sketchy. Third was a Willie Mullen’s trained Max Dynamite.

The death of Mayo GAA star of the sixties ‘Jinkin’  Joe Corcoran
Mayo has of course produced a huge number of great players. Amongst that group is one of my favourite players Joe Corcoran who played for Mayo in the sixties. He was a gifted player with great ball control and a signature swerve/dummy during his electric solo runs.  He was also a fine golfer. He was school caretaker in Ballina. Apparently he was a very private man who subsequently avoided the limelight. However when he played at his best the spotlight was very much on him with a fine Mayo team of the late 60s’.

Congratulations To
Congrats to Ronan Garvin from Ballinameen who is part of the Athlone Town U15 side who are in the Semi-Finals of the National League teams U 15 competition. Ronan must be a pretty good soccer player to be achieving at this level.

Topics I might have touched on; Homelessness, House and Rent Prices, lack of optimism with house building, Roscommon politics and so. 


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Update 2nd November

A Memorable Week-end in Sitges by the Mediterranean.

Festival d’Arts Irlandes-Catala 26-29 October 2017.

Where to begin is the question. To do it all justice is the challenge.
After a number of days in Barcelona, during historic times, we arrived in Sitges some forty minutes south of Barcelona for an arts Festival of music, song and dance intertwining both Irish and Catalan culture. It was a many-faceted festival as could be seen from the detailed programme and one needed the dexterity of bi-location with a reservoir of energy to catch a decent percentage of all that one might like to see and hear. One of the mainstays of the Festival organisation is Caroline Wynne from Croghan and during the festival events she was regularly commended on her trojan work for it.  

Two different groups had been invited out from Boyle to participate in the Festival. St. Joseph’s Church Choir was the major group. It comprised of over twenty members of the regular choir, those who were able to make the trip at this time. They had practised diligently under the watchful eye and immense energy and talent of Director Anne Kielty.  They had been really looking forward to it and now their time had come. 
A smaller group of very familiar traditional musicians from Boyle also made the trip as they have done for some years now. These were Maurice ‘Mossie’ Martin, Bernard Flaherty and Donie O’Connor with sean nós dancer Edwina Guckian from Carrick on Shannon, under the title ‘Western Roots’. They were joined on an ad hoc basis by Anne Conboy and Brendan Gaffney for the bar sessions which they anchored.  
The sun and blue sky was a comforting backdrop to the various performances. It was a Fleadh in guaranteed sunshine.
The initial challenge of finding venues was quickly overcome since most of the activity centred on one Prado and garden. ‘Western Roots’ and  ‘No Crows’ from Sligo were amongst the stage highlights on that Friday with the evening capped by an energetic session in the Tres Courts sports bar following a viewing of Connacht defeating Munster. So all was positive there.   

On Saturday after a hearty breakfast a very pleasant and helpful gentleman called Brandon gave us a guided tour of the town of Sitges referring to its artistic and historic legacy ending in his own bar for ‘refreshments’. The afternoon was benchmarked by ‘a session’ in the Café del Mon owned by a Scottish couple where different nationalities participated.

Later that evening one of the stand-out events took place which was the creation of the Human Towers or Castellers. This has been a long-standing local tradition and involved a number of different groups in their own colours. A large number of these formed a broad base and these supported a number of other levels extending to six or seven high. The pillar was capped by very small and obviously young helmeted children. During my viewing one of the towers collapsed with some slight injuries. After the initial collapse there were a number of successful towers going to six or seven people high. It was a pretty dramatic event.

The highlight of the night was a Concert in two parts featuring ‘The Best of Irish and Catalan Contemporary Songwriting’. The Catalan side was contributed by local Felip Carbonnell, now resident in Sligo I am told. Felip got a great reception and came across as a very pleasant and gifted performer accompanied towards the end by Ray Coen of No Crows.
Donie O’Connor represented the Irish half flourishing with a tapestry of songs familiar to many of us and getting vocal encouragement from the energetic Boyle travelling support.

Sunday The Choir in Church
The main event, as it were, was the Sunday performance of the choir in Sitges church for the crowded 12 o’clock mass. They had been unable to access the church for practise so it was more challenging than it might have been. So too was the interaction with the mass celebrant. This led to a post mass rendition of two pieces which had earlier been lost in translation. In any event the choir performed to the highest standard, enhanced by soloists Rhona Feely, Catherine Bolger and Josephine Moran.  After prolonged applause in appreciation all was well with the world. After the performance members relaxed at the rooftop bar of The Hotel Platajor with members of the Gallagher family, originally from Boyle but domiciled in Sitges for a good few years now.
Later in the afternoon the choir performed on the festival garden stage in more relaxed mode as ‘The Lough Key Singers’ incorporating some of their church material and two folk songs ‘The Parting Glass’ and ‘Will You Go Lassie Go’. At a restaurant later a group of choir members engaged in an impromptu rendition of some of their material which had a emotive response from the owner of the establishment.
At a wrap up group meal we encountered a ‘Green Lady’ who would have frightened even the ‘Green Lady’ who was resident caretaker in the folklore of King House years ago.  
Later that night one of the best traditional sessions of the festivals wowed the crowds in the crowded El Cable Bar.
Apart from the slight referencing of some of the events in which Boyle people participated there was also a great ‘feel good’ factor amongst the collective. One could drift seamlessly from one group within the company to the next. Usually when travelling abroad with a group drawn from all corners one would gravitate towards another couple or at best a very small number but here it was a ‘one for all and all for one’ ethos.
And so it came to the final wrap party back at the central venue. This began with a host of young musicians with the five large groups from Armagh, Beaumont in Dublin, Bray and Carlow to be followed by a traditional session anchored by ‘Western Roots’ again. This included all the strands, where driving tunes, songs, story-telling and dance prevailed into the late night with a large number of contributors. Since this was a finale the atmosphere was at a heightened level as people were reluctant to call an end to a magical and memorable week-end.

Conscious of being diplomatic if I was to nominate my Oscar winners over the week-end the main accolades would go thus:
Producer: Caroline Wynne.
Director: Anne Kielty.
Leading Lady: Maura McGann.
Leading Man: Donie O’Connor.
Cheerleader: Cathal Tivnan.   

Post Script.
What a coincidence!
We all have stories of coincidences of varying degrees. So this is mine from Sitges involving an Irish couple, long- time residents in Alberta Canada who were in Sitges as part of a long planned holiday. I had met Noel and Bernie a few times through Friday as they were staying in the same hotel as I was and we got talking. (It was a great talking week-end also!) It emerged that Noel was from Bray and still had generational relations there and remarked that the younger connections were ‘into’ Irish music et al. I told him that there was a substantial Bray group present as part of the Festival and perhaps some of them would know their connections. Later that day Noel and Bernie were walking the prom and a little distance away a group with red tops were practising their music. Then they saw a couple of the group’s youngsters wave in their direction. Since there was nobody else in the vicinity just then, they felt they were the subjects of the wave. It turned out that the youngsters were in fact their grand- nieces! They were there with the Bray band one of whose leaders was Noel’s adult nephew. They had observed Noel walking nearby and one suggested that he was the image of their own grandad (being his brother) and hence the exploratory wave.
Noel and Bernie became an ever present at Bray and Boyle events subsequently and I received an ‘Alberta Broach of Honour’ for my little part in that coincidence maturing.    

(I am very conscious that there were many, many more, highly regarded performers –local and Irish-present other than the Boyle contribution but this piece is written for our local constituency).