Sunday 17 December 2017

Bringing tear to a glass eye by losing marbles at worst possible time

If the North Kerry Board were somehow placed in charge of Gaelic football in India, their championship would be played in the monsoon season.
If the North Kerry Board were somehow placed in charge of Gaelic football in India, their championship would be played in the monsoon season.
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The wren the wren the king of all birds

On St Stephen's Day he was caught in the furze

This is the old Wren Boys' song which is still sung today. And the Wren Boys ate the little bird. Bones and all. The days of eating wrens are long gone. Kentucky Fried Chicken and the imitators saved the wren but the old customs carry on.

The Wren Boys will be playing their lilting tunes in and around our homeland today and tonight.

As you may well have guessed, the North Kerry Championship is still in progress and the players surely empathise with the poor wren.

They too are caught in the furze, which by the way, for those of not aware of botany or possessed of an intimate knowledge of country life, is also known as the whin.

The hardy plant produces small, bright yellow leaves almost all year round, in fits and starts. And the furze is as spiky as thorny wire.

There was nothing yellow about Listowel and Brosna on Sunday last in Moyvane. The game was clean but ferociously spiky on a day when the rain drops were as bulbous as party balloons filled with water.

The draw was a fair result but now the players who are all good lads and very dedicated to the cause have to forego Christmas. They should have gone on strike.

Last year one of our players had to postpone a sun holiday in January. Listowel are on the go now for 13 months, Brosna for even longer. And they are amateurs. The pros get a break but these brave amateur sportsmen have to do it all again on January 3, weather permitting.


If the North Kerry Board were somehow placed in charge of Gaelic football in India, their championship would be played in the monsoon season.

But this is the season to be merry and some of us were so merry that we didn't even notice Alan Brogan had retired.

Alan was down in Kerry visiting the family a few years ago and at that time he was without an All-Ireland medal. He is always polite and good sport. Alan is also much loved in his mother's home town.

But as Alan was leaving our pub, this woman said to him, "You'll never win an All-Ireland". I was mortified that a guest in our house should be treated in such a way.

The Dubs had been hammered by Kerry just a few months previously. Alan being the gentleman that he is didn't say a word, but I could see the hurt in his eyes. Well Alan, you have three All-Irelands now. They can never be taken away and it is surely all the sweeter when you had to wait so long.

On another day he was abused at traffic lights after Dublin were beaten, but he stuck it out. Alan won Footballer of the Year, as did his brother Bernard

Alan came on in this year's All-Ireland final to score the most important point of the match.

The pitch was slippier than Brylcreem on lino. Rain fell in digger buckets and the Kerry backs were tenacious, but somehow Alan swivelled without falling and kicked straight and true.

Even the Kerry supporters around us clapped. Good luck Alan, and you are always welcome in Listowel. You are a true Dub but we consider you to be one of our own.

David Casey retired after this year's Listowel Races. He was the master of patience and always had his horse in the right place at the right time. Casey was the one of the best of a golden generation of Irish jockeys.

Jockeys are the most accessible of sportsmen, and Casey is the most accessible of jockeys. He has a word for everyone and is as patient with people as he is with horses.

Casey is a key part of the Willie Mullins yard. Ruby Walsh told us one time that Casey is the best judge of all. And he would know a thing or two now, wouldn't he?

But we will end our review of the year with a review of yesteryear and a story beginning on this very day.

Some of you may not consider marbles a sport, but I do. You need poise and balance for marbles. And a good eye and a steady hand. On occasion the shot is taken on one leg with a bent knee and no moving. The term of art is 'high knee no jinks'.

On that St Stephen's Day long ago, I was but a small boy who lost his marbles. The regulars here will no doubt testify that I have lost my marbles on many occasions since, but on this occasion I lost glass marbles brought all the way from the famed North Pole by a man by the name of Santa who has held on to his job even longer than Sir Alex Ferguson.

Sonny Canavan had a glass eye and he was the King of the Dirha Wren Boys. I was their mascot and I was Sonny's pet.

The Dirha Wren Boys were in our pub. And they were playing their famous rousing march, Stay away from my Window, Boodie Man.

For those of you not in the know, a boodie man is a pooka and for those of you do not know what a pooka is, it's a bold ghost who wouldn't be welcome anywhere.

Sonny was in the habit of taking out his eye and placing it on the bar counter. It was, he said, "to keep an eye on Nora", his wife who sat at the counter as she was in poor health. But she loved Sonny's carry-on and the laughter was a relief from the arthritis.

I borrowed the glass eye when the Wren Boys' high notes hit the ceiling and bounced back again to lift the Dirha dancers' feet high off the timber floor. All eyes were on the session and we slipped out for the marble tournament in the street where we lived,

I lost Sonny's eye down the grate on the pavement after a poor effort at 'high knee no jinks'.

When it was time to move on to the next pub, Sonny went looking for the eye and I confessed. He praised me for my ingenuity, and as luck would have it, the marble eye was left stationary under the bars back in the days when it only rained every now and then.

When Sonny saw I was about to be chastised, he threatened to sue the council for making grates so wide that glass eyes would fall down between the dividers and could possibly finish up in the river and might even get eaten by a fish.

Oh the days of the Dirha Wren Boys. They'll be back tonight and so the show goes on.

And we will carry on as before, for as long we are able.

Irish Independent

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