Wednesday 20 February 2019

'I was beaten about the head by every outraged anti-druggie in the country and told what an eejit I was'

Gay Byrne

YOU SEE, I lack confidence. That's my trouble. I'm a bundle of shyness and indecisiveness. I've no faith in my own instincts. I mentioned on The Eamon Dunphy Show, months ago, that I thought we'd lost the war against drugs in this country and perhaps -- like, maybe -- we should try to consider a different approach to the problem -- even some kind of limited legalisation.

I asked what I thought was a reasonable question: for how long more than 40 years do you continue to apply a solution to a problem which clearly not only doesn't work, but also makes the problem worse with each passing day? Well! I was -- again -- beaten about the head and shoulders by every outraged, indignant anti-druggie in the country, and told -- again -- what a terrible eejit and dope and fool I was for talking such daft talk. Again.

So I retired, beaten and skulking, from the fray.

And now, Paul O'Mahoney, Professor of Law in TCD, in his new book, asks precisely the same question. And Michael Heaney, in his outstandingly good Prime Time Special on the drugs war in Ireland, asks precisely the same question. And the Chief Constable of Wales gets up on telly and tells everyone that "this war against drugs is unwinnable". And asks precisely the same question. And says there are dozens of high-ranking cops in the UK who feel the same way.

And I think: poor Gaybo -- maybe not quite such an eejit after all.

Or at least I'm in good company.

And, as I told you in this column weeks before the referendum, I voted No in the Lisbon shindig as well, at a time when I was convinced the Yes crowd would walk away with it, and, with every passing hour since, I'm confirmed in the rightness of my decision. So there.

* * * * *

A NEW book by Michael Gaffney and Colin O'Brien, That'll Never Work tells the stories of 10 successful Irish entrepreneurs who have braved the brutal world of business to set up and run their own outfits. Among them is one John Concannon from Tuam, known throughout Ireland as "the bucket man" and I defy you not to laugh out loud when you read his story of trying to get on The Late Late Show in 1968. He'd come up with the idea of combining three buckets into one, so that farmers could feed three calves at the same time, so saving time and effort. (I don't wish you to dwell too long on this notion, for, unless you come from farming stock, it'll make as little sense to you as it did to me when I first heard about it, but Brigid Ruane, who worked on the show with us, twigged straight away what this was all about.) John had been to the IDA with the idea, and they thought he was off his head. And so did Udaras. But Gay and Brigid realised the crucial nature of this invention to every cow in the country, for a well-fed calf means a happy mother, and so brought it before the astonished nation in what was, apparently, a rather hilarious interview.

I knew as much about feeding calves as my you-know-what knows about snipe-shooting, but with my customary courage I entered whole-heartedly into the fray. John won £100 from his pal Martin McHale, who'd bet him that he'd never get on the show. And he gives full credit to The Late Late Show for setting him on the road to success. Now his JFC Manufacturing Company does business worldwide, with regular travelling to Denmark, the UK and Poland, in particular.

It is a fabulous success story of a guy with little formal education but a huge grasp of human nature and an instinct for business dealing, and no time whatever for bulls**t. Combined with indomitable self-belief and a talent for hard work. And a great sense of humour.

* * * * *

Incidentally, fascinating fact: am I mad, or why does this stick in my head? James Chloe O'Connor of Stronghold (they make bags -- millions of them and very successfully) reports that at a recent small-trade fair in China, they spoke to a guy who is making -- wait for it! -- 1,100 grand pianos per week, not for export, but for the home Chinese market. One thousand and one hundred grand pianos a week, for the home market. And that's just one piano-maker!

Things, as they say, are changing in China.

* * * * *

So there I am with Tony Agnew, in the Phoenix Park, on our motorbikes, practising slow-speed manoeuvres, and we tell each other that this is very harsh indeed on clutches, as everybody knows. And, right enough, I burn out the clutch on my bike. So there's nothing for it but to ride a most unresponsive piece of machinery straight to Honda in Ballymount, and leave it there. Then I ride pillion on Tony's BMW back through town -- a most enjoyable run. The last time I rode pillion was three years ago with Tom Kelly, on the Isle of Man, when, on a glorious summer morning, he took me on a slow run right around the TT course. Joy it was to be there. There is no better way to view the passing world, provided you have total faith and confidence in the guy doing the riding. And, no, please don't invite me on a run on your bike -- there are only two guys I'd pillion with, and I've named them both.

* * * * *

On the way back from attending the Lord Mayor's Ball in Ballina, at which I gave them 20 fact-filled minutes about the Road Safety Authority, whose head office is in the town, which they listened to with rapt attention (that's my version, anyway) we visited with Brian and Miriam Malone in Tarmonbarry, who are old friends of ours, along with Clive and Joan Culliton.

Now, Miriam is a grand-niece of Tom Crean, and had waiting for me a copy of Michael Smith's An Unsung Hero especially inscribed to me by Tom's daughter, Mary Crean O'Brien. She says: "Enjoy reading the history of a very brave and courageous man -- my father." Isn't that the most wonderful inscription to be written by any son or daughter, especially since, in the case of Tom Crean, it is unarguably true? Although I already have the book, this inscribed copy will have pride of place.

Not only that: Bob O'Brien of Tralee is Tom Crean's grandson, and quite separately, some time ago, had promised Kathleen a copy of The Late Late Cork show, which we did in 1982. It arrived with the book in Tarmonbarry, and someone decided to shove it on to see what the quality was like. I never saw the show since the day we did it, and Kathleen never saw it anyway; none of the others remembered it. And so there we sat, all six of us, after dinner on Saturday night, looking at a bad copy of a bad copy of 90 minutes of the show and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The room was filled with laughter, and no one wanted to leave. You may well ask just how sad a bunch of sods you have to be to sit in on a Saturday night looking at a Late Late Show from 1982, but Mary O'Sullivan of this very newspaper was the researcher on the show, (she was a cheeky little Cork wan) and I recalled what fun we had putting it together: Joe Lynch, Chris Curran, Billa O'Connell, David McInerney, George and Donal Crosbie, James N Healy, Cha & Miah, Mary Hegarty, Sean O'Shea, Niall Toibin -- it was nothing more than a down-home show of very talented people, all of whom could do a party turn, but to a very high order, and honest to God, though I say it as wot shouldn't, it really was a wonderful night's entertainment.The last time I was in Tarmonbarry was 30 years ago, and I was on a boat, and the weather was bad and we tied up against the wall and the place had an important lock that had to be negotiated and a little pub that sold salty rashers. Very salty rashers. And that was the village. Like, all of it. Now, the place is a teeming metropolis, and they'll soon have traffic lights, a couple of roundabouts and pay-and-display meters. Like,next week.

* * * * *

So little Saoirse O'Byrne -- our fourth grandchild -- was baptised and welcomed into the arms of Holy Mother Church on the most spectacularly beautiful summer's day we've had in Howth in my lifetime. And we had a christening party for her in the house with all the extended families on both sides and approximately 87 kids of all ages running amok around the place -- outside, in the garden and up-and-down the road, thanks be to a merciful God, because if it had been raining and they were all inside, I would have done myself a serious injury, just to get myself taken away.

I texted my Protestant friend, Frank Dinsmore in Donegal: "Little Saoirse O Byrne baptised to-day: another little soul for Holy Mother Church: RCs:1 Covenanters: nil."

He wired back:"There's a great-grandchild due here soon: we'll get you in extra time."

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