Sunday 23 October 2016

Silver lining from Rio lifts foggy gloom after flat week

Published 14/08/2016 | 02:30

The Skibbereen boys show off their silver medals at the Lagoa Stadium, Copacabana. Photo: Sportsfile.
The Skibbereen boys show off their silver medals at the Lagoa Stadium, Copacabana. Photo: Sportsfile.

Friday three o'clock. From the window of Field's coffee shop in Skibbereen, I see a town totally out of its mind with pride. Lisheen is levitating, too. A lovely townland, home of the O'Donovan boys, where Jack Lynch spent his summers.

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Cicero would call Paul and Gary paragons of pietas, the virtue which admonishes us to do our duty to our country and our parents. Which they did. 


Just as well this weekend ends with a silver lining from Rio because the past week tested me sorely.

It began last weekend with a drive from Baltimore to Kilmacthomas in Waterford to pick up a rare part for my ancient, adored but ailing Saab.

Although it was longish trip - same distance as Dublin to Cork - I was looking forward to my drive for two reasons

First, I could luxuriate in the Skibbereen to Cork run which takes in beautiful villages like Leap and Rosscarbery.

Second, once I was through Cork and on the Waterford road I would detour through the town of Tallow where I spent the first six years of my life.

Here, as a boy I saw my first games of hurling during Waterford's days of glory in the 1950s. Here, I would say a prayer for the Deise going up against the Cats.

But a few miles from Skibbereen I became slowly incensed by the steady stream of visual blots on the beautiful road.

Every mile seemed pockmarked by a plethora of commercial and private posters, flyers fixed to every flat surface.

Most annoying of all was the asinine abuse of that slogan of sublime genius 'The Wild Atlantic Way'.

All along the west coast, we are exposed to everything from Wild Atlantic Bingo to Wild Atlantic Chippers.

Surely Failte Ireland has trademarked the term? So why is Wild Atlantic Way not reserved strictly for official road signs?

Failte Ireland itself is not free from naffery. It has blighted every beauty spot with a rusty-looking steel structure gloomily similar to a gallows.

Foolishly, Failte Ireland claims the structures are guides to taking photographs of prominent scenic sites. But the structure in Lough Hyne bisects the view of the lake and spoils any panoramic photograph. Please remove the gallows.


Thankfully, the road signage improved after I left Cork and headed south east for Waterford.

Alas, the eastern seaboard has been lumbered with the leaden slogan "Ancient East" which conjures up oriental images of Buddhas.

The Sunny South East was a fine slogan but has completely lost credibility over the past two summers.

Musing on whether 'Viking Vistas' might work better, I travelled through Tallow with misty eye and resumed my journey.

Given the Waterford GAA was founded in Kilmacthomas in 1886, the town seemed visually subdued on the eve of such an epic hurling clash.

Charitably, I concluded it was aiming for the same laid-back confidence as the O'Donovan lads.

Happily, my source had the right part and I headed for home - and into a heavy fog all the way from Dungarvan to Cork.

Trying to drive safely through a thick white curtain, I could not fully concentrate on the radio commentary of Mayo's clash with Tyrone.

The tension of driving in fog subconsciously stiffens up the body so I woke feeling flat on Sunday.

But I felt flatter when I heard Tyrone's Mickey Harte complaining about Sean Cavanagh getting a red card.

Coming from Tyrone, a team which takes no prisoners, I thought the first reports of Harte's complaints were the work of satirical site Waterford Whispers.

But no. Mickey Harte was claiming victim status for Cavanagh, who came across as an innocent Tyrone swain seduced by Mayo sirens.

According to Harte: "It's a shame that he'd be a victim to someone else enticing him like that."

As Darragh O Se said: don't make me laugh. But Harte's complaint was a reminder of my old problem with Northern nationalists: the search for victim status.

Victimhood is a corrosive political vice, the source of most conflicts. Happily it has nearly died out in Northern Ireland, apart from occasional MOPE outbursts by Gerry Adams.

But Harte's wailing was soon forgotten as I watched Waterford put manners on Kilkenny - only to lose its nerve just as Brian Cody seemed to be losing his.

As a Kerry friend texted, it's hard to have sympathy with a team that lets a lead slip by retreating back on its goal-line.

Accordingly, I woke on Monday feeling blue. But while still half asleep my muddy mood was alleviated by a radio impression that Minister Leo Varadkar was going to look after the exploited self-employed class.

Finally, I could say something positive about Leo. The self-employed have long been subjected to callous treatment by the State, reaching its worst point during the recession.

While workers in small firms forced to close could get the dole, the men and women who had employed them got nothing.

The self-employed pay into the tax system through PRSI. But they get nothing back from the State.

No dole, no sick pay, no medical card, no welfare allowances of any kind - and there are myriad allowances.

The only welfare payment to which the self-employed are entitled is the state old age pension - which, of course, is only in direct ratio to their contribution.

If they have contributed for less than 10 years, and their firm is forced to close, they get a pittance.

This brings me to the huge injustice at the heart of their plight - the imbalance between how the State treats the welfare class and the coping class.

Someone who has been on welfare all their life is entitled to a full old age pension, rent allowance, medical cards and myriad other allowance.

But a productive self-employed person, who has paid taxes and cost the State nothing, gets nothing.

Basically self-employed people are penalised for working.

And their pension situation is so complex as to defy even Joe Duffy's attempts at clarification.

Alas, Leo let me down again. It transpired the self-employed story was just the latest example of Leo's little media elves elevating his profile.

When the fussy fog finally cleared, we learned that Leo is just sending out a questionnaire. Spin, just spin.


Thursday, Harry McGee rightly gives a high mark to Paschal Donohoe, a minister of real mettle in a party of fake metal. Meantime, my old Saab is now limping with a slow puncture. But Mark Salter Townshend, of K&T tyres, is a bit busy - hoisting a bright tricolour in tribute to the O'Donovan boys. He fixes my tyre on condition I listen.

So I hear history of the Skibberreen Rowing Club from its foundation by Richard Hosford, Danny Murphy and Donie Fitzgerald in 1970, to its current world domination under Dominic Casey.

Finally, it's Friday. After the race, the O'Donovan cats are cool while the French look fraught. It's the Irish who show elan now.

Mark Salter Townshend can fly the flag proudly. While I pray for Waterford.

Sunday Independent

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