Wednesday 26 October 2016

Highway to heaven steers me down road of reflection

Published 11/09/2016 | 02:30

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan

Last Friday, I set out in lashing rain from Baltimore to Bandon, to pick up a copy of Kieran Doyle's newly published, but already out of print, Behind the Wall, The Rise and Fall of Protestant Power and Culture in Bandon.

  • Go To

The trip takes me through Skibbereen, Leap, Rosscarbery and Clonakilty; places which prompt private reflections on past events you won't find in any tourist book.

But the first stretch, Baltimore to Skibbereen, while free of troubled memories, is fraught in modern ways.

That's because the tree-lined road between Creagh and Oldcourt is a badger death valley.

These beautiful creatures, in mating season, are prone to make lethal dashes across the narrow road in search of partners.

But however narrow the road, their dash across no man's land is often too slow to beat the speeding trucks whose drivers have no room to take evasive action.

A few weeks ago, in the silent dawn, I came across the body of a young badger. A breeze stirred the silver hairs on his dead body with false life.

Coming from a generation which got poetry off by heart, I thought of Tennyson's In Memoriam where the chest of his dead friend Hallam, borne on the deck of a ship, "heaves but with the heaving deep".

But after Skibbereen I felt my own chest - and my memories - expand as I hit the high road to Cork.

As always, I drove with no radio, only the odd bluegrass tape of Hank Williams and A P Carter, so I could reflect on the events of the past week.

It began well with the good news that Traveller boy Paddy Flynn, whose exclusion I wrote about last Sunday, had been belatedly admitted to De La Salle secondary school.

Passing the turn for Castlehaven - which is to West Cork Gaelic football what Tipperary is now to hurling - I recalled an email from my Cork-born sister, Bridget McIntyre, who lives with her husband Fintan and dogs and ducks on a sweet smallholding beneath myth- shrouded Slievenamon.

Last Wednesday, she and Fintan had a drink in Kinnane's Bar, Upperchurch, the heart of Tipperary hurling, and she noted the quiet dignity in the bar.

"They were mostly middle-aged and elderly people there. After a few minutes, I sensed a great quiet pride in what they had achieved and Seamus Callanan's name kept coming up in the low, intense conversations. They felt they had arrived and it was the beginning of a golden era."

Fintan told the bar that Bridget was the first cousin of the famous Cork hurler, John O'Halloran of 1966 fame - and waited.

"The bar went quiet and one man suddenly named the whole Cork team that year. They have a great, long tradition and respect for the game in Tipperary."

Passing through Leap, where Michael Collins drank Clonakilty Wrastler beer, I was delighted to see a cafe making use of the waterfall.

Local histories don't record that the body of a young IRA victim nicknamed Jimmy Fly was dumped in a ditch nearby.

Jimmy Fly was a bit naive and could see no harm in talking to Black and Tans who stopped for a smoke. But when reported to brigade, suspicion took wings, and Jimmy Fly was deemed a "spy".

To their credit, the local IRA refused to shoot him and a team of killers came from Cork to do the deed.

Jimmy Fly was just another roadkill on the road to the Republic. Be sure some academic will explain it was essential to the IRA's war.

Soon after, I was riding the road across the lagoon at Rosscarbery, and thought benignly of Jim Hurley, right-hand man of Tom Barry and later bursar of UCC.

Years ago, Jim was working his way through the soup at a governing body dinner when a visiting English academic, entranced by a trip to West Cork, asked Jim if he knew of Rosscarbery,

Jim paused his spooning, gazed back in memory to the attack on Rosscarbery RIC Barracks, where the Protestant and Catholic garrison put up a gallant defence, and said tersely: "Burned it to the ground."

Clonakilty is a gem of a town. My own theory is that its cosmopolitan aura can be partly attributed to the fact that in the past it had a private agricultural school where all denominations mixed together.

But Clonakilty is also the site of a waste disposal facility at Clogheen. Some West Cork residents complain that its location and limited hours are treated like a secret on the internet.

The big mortal sins, like the lavish pensions of HSE executives, seem to bother the public less than the petty blows of bureaucracy.

My own pet fury is about how the post office handles a parcel after it fails to deliver it while you are away.

You come back, find the note, visit the post office and find it sent it back after five working days - without taking any note of who sent it.

That's not public service but rather a pig-ignorant contempt for the public that pays its wages and pensions.

But no political party and few journalists want to tell the truth about abuses in the public sector.

That's because even the most justified criticism of the public sector sees the ludicrous spectacle of modestly paid teachers making common cause with HSE fat-cats.

Last Tuesday, however, Prof Michael O'Keeffe, consultant ophthalmologist at the Mater Hospital Dublin, courageously told Bryan Dobson about the sacred cows who block reform in the health service.

Dobson began with a rote question about the role of money and resources - and received this astonishingly truthful reply.

O'Keeffe: "I don't buy into a lot of this thing about we need more money and more resources. I work in this system. I have done so for years... The public system needs to be re-rooted. It needs to be made more efficient, more effective, streamlined, reduce the number of people who are in charge, get rid of some of the managers, get rid of some of the management-speak and get people working again"

Dobson: "Is that a question of poor management?"

O'Keeffe: "You'll have to take on an awful lot of people. I have sympathy with ministers for health because I don't think they have any power anymore."

And then he bravely belled the fat cats by name: "You will have to take on my profession, the nurses, the porters. Everybody else will have to be taken on and the system will have to be run because otherwise we'll be throwing more billions down the tubes."

Billions were also the subject of the special Dail debate on Apple. Here, the stand-out speech was Micheal Martin's forensic defence of the status quo, during which he demolished the two-faced position of Sinn Fein - all sweetness in the White House, all sour anti-Americanism at home.

The no-stand speech was made by Katherine Zappone who supported the Government - but said she hoped the appeal would fail.

Zappone is beginning to get a bit full of herself. So is John Bowman, who began a nitpicking letter to the Irish Independent with the sentence "My attention has been drawn to an article in the Irish Independent."

Nice for Bowman having retainers to read the Independent and spare him the trouble.

Finally to Bandon, once a walled town. But the walls that lasted longest were between the two communities, as Kieran Doyle's book reveals. But that's a story for another week.

Sunday Independent

Read More