Tuesday 12 November 2019

High summer and hot music with the Tulla Ceili Band

Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Confined to crutches during this dazzling summer, I stoically stump about West Cork, collecting stories to educate and entertain my readers. Not that I have much choice. When the Dail and Seanad depart, a columnist is deprived of a central source of commentary.

At least the dying days threw up two good moments. First, Senator Darragh O'Brien's act of good authority in calling on his fellow Fianna Fail Senators, Jim Walsh and Brian O Domhnaill, to stop their vulgar verbal poking around in women's wombs. Darragh put it more diplomatically but that's what he meant.

Second, Timmy Dooley's slapping down of the seductive Sinn Fein stalkers who have recently been trying to pick up weak Fianna Fail TDs with the promise of a good time, hoping to lure them into a lethal honey trap. But Dooley gave the Sinn Fein sirens the soldiers' farewell.

Referring to the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, Dooley deftly linked it to Sinn Fein.

"Without doubt, the vacuum of lawlessness across the Border, created by Sinn Fein and some of its supporters, allowed such a heinous crime to be committed, with little chance of the perpetrators ever being brought to justice."

* * *

But now the Dail is dumb and we columnists must forage for fresh material. Luckily, I much prefer poking around in West Cork graveyards to covering the live Dail – although sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Folklore has long been my first love.

But a special form of folklore. My taste is for challenging republican folklore which lauds IRA psychos and disrespects great men like John Redmond and Daniel O'Connell. A bit of debunking to help counter the propaganda of the Recurring IRA.

So I was delighted to get a good reaction to my Daniel O'Connell column from Kevin O'Byrne, of Skibbereen, who sensibly suggests a Daniel O'Connell Summer School. He also enclosed a copy of the Aughadown Parish Newsletter in which Fr Donal Cahill approvingly mentions my linking of Lucinda Creighton and Daniel O'Connell.

But Fr Donal also attached a little barb, noting that I didn't add John Hume and adding "a step too far for him perhaps". Indeed it is. John Hume is a great man but he is not in the same class as Daniel O'Connell. When I have space I will try to show why.

* * *

Last week, with limited mobility, I spent a lot of time on the shores of Lough Hyne, basking like a lizard on a hot rock, occasionally rousing myself to agree that Pat Horgan had only given yer man a light tap, like you'd tap on a door, just to let people know you were there.

By the end of the week, however, I hazily realised I was suffering from slight sunstroke. How else to explain me lowering my life-long guard against people trying to ply me with books of poetry or brief me about arts festivals?

Both the words "book of new poems" and "arts festival" feature on the list of phrases that make my brain freeze. Among the others are: "community activist", "arts installation", "gender studies" and "multi-media performance artist".

So when Louis Jacob shook me awake as I slumbered outside La Jolie Brise in Baltimore and handed me a slim volume of poems by Dolly O'Reilly of Sherkin Island, titled Straight Lines, I gave him the flat stare of a garda inspector of the SDU watching an honour guard at a dissident republican's funeral.

But I was soon hooked by O'Reilly's poems, as terse as haikus. A few days later, sitting on the wall at Lough Hyne, listening to Brian Nix, former West Limerick coroner, speaking on Morning Ireland about how fraught the word 'suicide' can be to families left behind, I found one of O'Reilly's heart-breaking poems, Suicide, rang all too true.

I moved away

Before they put the coffin in the land

Afraid one more handshake might be

One more than she could stand.

* * *

The second sign the sun and West Cork were softening my brain was my reluctantly agreeing to be briefed by Helen Casey on the Skibbereen Arts Festival. However, the flame-haired Helen had heard me hold forth before on the words "Arts Festival" and laid a dastardly plot to divert my attention.

We met in the beer garden of her family hotel, Caseys of Baltimore, with the stunning view of Baltimore bay behind. Helen had made a sugar- free ice-cream from coconut milk and fresh raspberries and a jug of elderflower cordial. I was hers.

All I can remember from that binge of coconut and cordial is Helen's seductive voice extolling a list of events exciting enough to lift Lazarus. I have listed some of them in another part of the paper. But if I could lose the crutches, my two favourites would be the Tulla Ceili Band and Philip O'Regan's historical walk around Skibbereen.

* * *

Next Saturday, too, as part of what I mentally call Skibbereen's Week of Wonders, I will be launching Terri Kearney's Lough Hyne: From Pre-History to the Present, with vibrant illustrations by Peter Murray. Before your eyes glaze, let me assure you this is more than a worthy work of local homage.

True, Terri pays full ecological tribute to Lough Hyne, Europe's first Marine Nature Reserve. But her book is also the biography of a sacred lake, sanctified by the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors over aeons.

Terri has walked the lake all her life. But for her book she covered every inch of it with the intensity of a Garda search. The result is a riveting love letter to Lough Hyne, a marvellous montage of archaeology, history, ecology and human interest.

Let me give you a flavour. Legend tells how Sir Fineen O'Driscoll was chased by redcoats to Cloghan Castle on Castle Island in Lough Hyne, where he made a last stand. But the real Sir Fineen that Terri reveals is a far more interesting figure.

Sir Fineen was a proud Gaelic aristocrat who acted from necessity. He did all he could to save his family line, sometimes fighting the colonisers, sometimes fighting for them. But he was ever-ready to rear up on the English foe if he thought there was even half a chance.

Far from using the Cloghan Castle as a fortified retreat, Terri tells how the O'Driscolls used it as something like a holiday home, sporting and playing, swimming and sailing. More power to them. Contrary to what the Recurring IRA would have you believe, we did sometimes smile during the "seven hundred years of oppression".

My old friend, Rev Ian Coulter, a fluent Irish speaker, arrives in Baltimore this weekend to conduct services in St Matthew's Church of Ireland for the next fortnight. An old Baltimore hand, he is well aware that this is the weekend of the Sherkin Regatta. He promises me his homily will last seven minutes and if he is a second over I may strike a little 'cnag' on the floor with my crutch. Like Pat Horgan.

* For copies of Straight Lines contact dollyoreilly@eircom.net.

Irish Independent

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