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Welcome to Monaghan Michael ... oh, and by the way, the life jacket’s faulty

The good people of Castleblayney don't get mad, they get even.

Yes, after he so cruelly disparaged the Monaghan town in his Herald column last week, Dublin's It guy found himself sporting a rather unflattering Fred Flintstone costume, complete with a wig that put his own bouffant tresses to shame.

Not even Boris Johnson suffered such an indignity. Back in 2004, the current London mayor was sent to Liverpool after making offensive remarks about the city's reaction to the death of Kenneth Bigley in Iraq.

Our own MOD scored an own goal of his own when he passed unsavoury remarks about Castleblayney and its recent feat in gathering a record-breaking 905 Flintstone characters in the one place.

What he hadn't realised is that the new record was part of the town's annual Muckno Mania Festival, a hugely successful event that has been short-listed for the Chambers Ireland Festival of the Year award.

Incensed

Furthermore, Castleblayney is the only town in the world to boast two entries in the Guinness Book of Records, having accumulated the largest number of Smurfs two years ago.

Intensely proud of their achievements, the town's denizens weren't about to take the criticism lying down.

Festival committee member Aileen Watters, who works in Dublin, was so incensed at the remarks about her native town that she challenged Michael to meet her for coffee to learn a little more about life outside the Pale.

You might say our columnist was stuck between a bedrock and a hard place. Yet, eager to right the wrong, he and his bright orange Lamborghini cruised up to Monaghan's stony grey soil to take a closer look at the town he referred to in such unflattering terms.

"It's unusual to come to your own execution," he gulped nervously as he eyed a row of enthusiastic Muckno Mania Festival organisers inside the Glencarn Hotel.

Considering the depth of their anger, locals might have been excused if they chose to ignore the columnist in their midst.

Instead, they rolled out the red carpet and treated him to a whistle-stop tour of the town's highlights. First, however, they showed their humorous side by inviting Michael to dress up as Fred Flintstone.

The message? Yabba Dabba Don't mess with our town.

Afterwards, festival chairman Tommy McGuire took a subdued MOD to task on his use of the word "cretins" to refer to the town's inhabitants.

"The definition of the word is a deformed idiot who suffers from a thyroid deficiency. If there were 905 of them in Castleblayney that would have merited a record in itself!" he quipped.

Further criticism came from Castleblayney Chamber of Commerce chairman Patrick McFadden who revealed he was both gutted and angry by Michael's column. "The people of this area are people of spirit and determination who have suffered through the Troubles and have worked to create a new identity since the ceasefire," he insisted.

"I think Michael's article has caused damage to our good name and it seems the author does not see much beyond the Pale."

He wasn't far wrong, as city slicker Michael explained: "My impressions of Castleblayney came from nothing more than the top of my head, and from driving through the town on several occasions over the years.

"I was always stuck in traffic jams and come to think of it I was always on my way to a funeral, so I'm quite sure that conditioned my attitude towards the town.

"The point of the article was to make the point about what I consider to be a cheapening of the Guinness Book Of Records which has always been known for acknowledging great human feats."

With the eyes of more than 30 proud citizens on him, he graciously uttered the words that meant so much to them, saying: "I want to apologise to everybody for the disparaging remarks I made. What I've said about the people of Castleblayney is indefensible.

"It was probably done more than anything out of laziness and the feeling that it might get a quick laugh. Sitting before the victims I can see that there isn't a funny side. So I've come up to apologise and to have my mind changed."

To their eternal credit, the men and women of Castleblayney certainly gave him a day to remember, squiring him around the purpose-built 308-seater Iontas theatre and gallery before whetting his golfing appetite with a visit to the new Concra Wood championship course jointly designed by Christy O'Connor Snr and Jnr.

Along the way, he stopped off in the newly-opened GR8 Entertainment complex, a mecca for kids who love bowling, discos, astro turf, and go-karting.

Inside, MOD's senses were assailed by the unmistakable scent of Starbucks coffee. For a moment, he clearly thought he'd dreamt his entire Monaghan experience from the cocoon of Dublin's Grafton Street branch.

Fortunately, it was all very much real, as Aileen Watters explained: "We brought him here so he could see it's actually possible to get Starbucks coffee outside of Dublin.

"Still, he's a brave man, and it took a lot to come down here and face us, so fair play to him."

Town mayor David Funcheon described Michael as "a good sport", before inviting him to take a tour of the Gas lake courtesy of Monaghan Sub-Aqua club.

A brief flicker of horror crossed MOD's face as he was handed a life jacket and warned: "This one's faulty."

However, his fellow lake-farers managed to avoid the temptation of pitching him into the waters of Lough Muckno.

Panic

Reassured that he wasn't headed for a dousing, our columnist sat back to enjoy the picturesque views of Black Island and White Island.

There was a second minor panic as the boat sailed towards the centre of the lake, whereupon Castleblayney Enterprise Centre chairman Aidan Campbell asked: "Is this the spot we said we'd throw him in?"

Mercifully, MOD made it back to dry land, his eyes well and truly opened by his tour. So was it an educational experience? Once back in the familiar confines of Dublin, the confirmed city boy admitted he was humbled by the generosity of spirit and the sense of humour with which he was greeted in Castleblayney.

"They took it very well and treated me very well," he remarked. "And in fairness to them, they were more conscious about promoting a positive side to Castleblayney than breaking my knees, which might have been other people's first inclination.

"And with my knees still intact, I intend to get back there as soon as possible for a round of golf."


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