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Gathering up the alternative G8

DAMN that Gathering. Spectic that I am, I'm still a bit suspicious of a marketing plan to lure more tourists with little more on offer (to me, anyway) than our standard warm welcome.

But that tug of patriotism is there in even the most hardened of cynics.

Throughout the land, countless GAA clubs, community groups and individuals have laid out the red carpet to tourists to put some much-needed coffers back in the national kitty.

Try as I might, I got hooked in. Not through any incentive, or push, from our tourism chiefs, but the need to show off our great land to a bunch of foreigners.

Obama

But where? One of my favourite spots is the oft-overlooked Fermanagh area. With Obama and Cop only days away from arriving at the nearby Lough Erne resort, it was the perfect time to show a few Johnny Foreigner pals and acquaintances the sort of treat that was in store for the world's elite.

Forget G8, this was the G5.

Gonzalo the Spaniard. Arjen the Dutchman. Peter the German. Rob the Aussie (a name, not a command). And myself, the token Paddy who was driver, tour guide and storyteller all rolled into one. Like many, an unpaid ambassador prepared to showcase some of the island's finest scenery.

A fishing trip, a few drinks and a weekend with a boat hired from Carrick Craft. What could possibly go wrong?

Well for starters, driving a straight-talking Dutchman up through Meath and Cavan is no easy task.

"I'm bored ... are we there yet ... can we stop for McDonald's (and boosting the economy of Cavan town with not one, but two Big Macs – each way).

Language was also a barrier.

"I'm sh***ing in your tiny car for two hours and my assh is sore."

Excuse me?

"I'm sh***ing in your seat."

???

Oh sitting ...

Cue a weekend of laughs about Arjen's outrageoushhh pronunciations.

But, horrible Klingon-like language and accent aside, he did have his uses.

A native of waterway-filled Frielsland in Holland, he grew up on boats, so piloting our craft was second nature to him and Enniskillen was the kind of aquatic playground where he'd love to buy a home.

And everyone else had a job to do.

The German's a trained chef, ditto the Aussie – so the galley was to be their domain.

The Spaniard, a tourist industry big shot, is a keen fisherman – so we had dreams of fresh coarse fish for lunch, prepared by a German and/or Aussie.

But, unlike in the A Team, not all plans come together.

"I'm on holidays, no cooking for me," the German gleefully pointed out once aboard.

The Spaniard looked a bit sheepish when he realised he'd brought the wrong equipment to fish, while the Dutchman captained his mooring and navigating "crew" with a strict discipline that would have made Captain Bligh blush.

The Australian's biggest culinary flourish, meanwhile, was to heat up a boil-in-the-bag curry.

Attraction

Unlike many women, men are adept at overcoming such adversity and ineptitude. The German chef's bottle of Jagermeister and the Spaniard's mini-cellar of Reserva wines soon broke the ice.

Whatever their age (ours from early 30s to late 40s), boys will be boys. And as delightful as the scenery was, their biggest attraction was the massive Asda store beside our mooring in Enniskillen.

With food bargains galore, we bought enough provisions to sustain a Polar expedition.

Cultural differences came to the fore too – Pot Noodles for the Dutchman; chorizo and exotic melon for the Spaniard; sausages and curry for the German; and beans and bags of cheesy puffs for the Aussie.

And bless the folk in Carrick Craft for designing excellent chemical toilets to withstand such a barrage.

The bedrooms were comfy too – with plenty of nooks and crannies for storage, with a sizeable living and dining area too.

Laden down with food and wine, the great Lough awaited us and while the racial jokes flew around (poor Paddy got a roasting about the economy), the serenity and scenery soon captivated them all.

Devenish Island is a delight, with Medieval ruins and a monastic round tower that had the boys clambering up with its ladders with all the zest of the Famous Five after lashings of lemonade.

With the G8 days away, security was in evidence – leading to the embarrassing moment when the German and Aussie (for reasons known to them) were recreating the Rose and Jack scene from Titanic along the Lough.

The PSNI have seen strange things in their time, I'm sure, but two foreigners in an embrace at the front of a river cruiser's got to be up there.

Island

Night-time brought us back to Enniskillen, Ireland's only island town and one of its prettiest.

It's one of my favourite places, one where everyone seems to have a boat and a smile, and where you soon get arm-fatigue from waving to other sailors as they pass by.

Enniskillen's also a great town for nightlife, with the first stop one of the country's best bars, the snug-filled and historic Blakes on the main street.

Dinner brought us to arguably the town's best restaurant, Franco's (a place so good that the village drunk told us Putin had booked it out for a G8 knees-up), for a few steaks to sustain us into the night.

Then it was into the wee hours, when the sun goes down – and the skirts go up – at the liveliest spot in town, the Devenish Bar.

Micro-minis, clinging dresses (that's just the grannies), £1 bottles of Tennents – it was raucous, packed and boasting all the madness and crazy dancing of a country wedding disco.

Hats off to the excellent karaoke singers and a boozy night that the foreigners will never forget (or perhaps never remember).

For a group that have scarcely been outside the M50 ring, it was a reminder that this is a buzzy country, where people are genuinely friendly and the atmosphere is just that bit nuts.

They want home happy, and wanting more.

Mission accomplished.


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