Thursday 17 October 2019

Longing for return to days of childhood innocence

STEVE Kean stands alone in the hard rain. It's Christmas week, but there isn't the faintest sign of any Christianity at Ewood Park.

Bedsheet banners scream 'Kean out' and it gives a new meaning to the phrase of washing your dirty laundry in public. The hate seeps out through the flat screen like septic puss. The chanting is cruel and personal.

You could picture Kean's loved ones watching and listening to it all on the television. Praying he would get home safe. Wishing he would leave that awful job.

The Blackburn manager stays stoic, courageous and dignified, but if this is sport, I want no part of it.

The two most beautiful scents in the world are that of a new baby and a new book.

We met a new baby on the way into Sliabh a' Mhadra National School the morning after the Blackburn game and then there was the launch of the new book, 'We Are Writers', written by 110 school kids.

The school lies between Causeway and Ballyduff in the hurling heartland of north Kerry.

My father's grandmother Mary Diggin or Diggins came from the Cashen, a little fishing village about five metres away from water and not too far from the school as the fish swim.

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They say that back in the heyday of the fishing you could walk across the estuary to Ballybunion on the backs of the salmon without ever getting your shoes wet. The Cashen is also known as Briogh or Breek and we are the Brioghers or The Breekers.

My dad wrote in his autobiography: "If you cut one of the Cashen people, they all bled." I'd love it if five or six of a Cashen crew stood with Steve Kean in Ewood. Five or six would be more than enough.

The Cashen is in the parish of Ballyduff. Their mighty team were just touched off by Effin in the Munster club final. Ballyduff represented Kerry in our first and only All-Ireland hurling final success in 1891. Having mastered the hurling fairly handily, Kerry concentrated on the football from then on.

Paul Diggin, who played for Northampton Saints in the Heineken Cup final, is from our Cashen gene pool. His family fixed my dad and our cousin Denis Murphy up with 'the start' in Northampton back in the fifties.


Another cousin, also by the name of Paul Diggin, passed away last summer. It was a beautiful evening as we walked through a golden meadow to the house to pay our last respects.

The kitchen table and an auxiliary had been moved outdoors. They groaned under the weight of drink and food. The evening Sunday sun was still warm. The gentle waves licked the kids' toes like puppies on Kilmore Strand and the green fields rolled down to the sea on the first stage on a journey to infinity.

The seasons pass and the scholars sing Christmas songs. The kids were so happy to be there as they swayed to the rhythm and cadence of their own singing and Anne O'Mahony's lilting music.

We gloried at their innocence and, for a little while, I was sad for my own lost innocence.

The wrong roads taken, alas only too well travelled, and I wished I had the honesty and goodness of the school kids to guide me on my way.

After the singing, we mingled with the children and it all came back in the little episodes and cameos of the school day. There's always a chance to reclaim the hopes and dreams of boyhood days. You just have to know where to look.

I met a dozen cousins who are pupils in Sliabh a' Mhadra. So welcoming. It lives on.

The book from the 110 was full of stories of cats, pals, jaffa cakes during half-time at Feile, derring-do, dreams and childhood memories.

The principal, Breda O'Dwyer, and her staff are just as teachers should be. Their colleague, Norma O'Carroll, edited the book with great care and much love.

Norma said something that struck a chord. "You know", she said "there's nothing to stop us feeling like this every day." And that's our card for you all on this Christmas Eve.

Mary, that great-grandmother I was telling you about, married into our staunchest allies, the Purtills. Mary and her husband ran a safe house during the War of Independence and their adult children played their part in no small way, as did many other families.

Mary wore red petticoats and travelled by donkey into Listowel with presents of home bacon, cabbage, spuds, turnips and the occasional salmon intercepted without a warrant on its way to the Atlantic.

Mary had a wonderful sense of the ridiculous.

I recited a poem she taught her grandchildren. And they passed it on to us.

Ere last night and the night before

Three jackasses came to my door

One had a fiddle,

One had a drum

And one had a pancake

Stuck to his bum.

All the while I noticed a small boy waiting patiently on the sidelines.

"Are you alright there young fella?"

He was so mannerly.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Of course you can."

He took a deep breath and out came the question in the exhalation.

"Did they eat the pancake?"

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