Joe Brolly: Tulsk might get an encore after epic night with Lord Edwards army
"From Berlin to San Francisco, I've gone on before the disco, Lashing out the Four Green Fields of Athenry, Mountbellew was like purgatory, But Tulsk was just like being in hell" ('If I Get An Encore,' Christy Moore).
I've been all over Ireland myself. I've gone on before the disco in dingy clubhouses and brand new pavilions. Small clubs with cow fields in the Free State, and rich ones with 4G versions in the North with state-of-the-art floodlights, the chairman proudly explaining that "the pitch is the exact same dimensions as Croke Park".
I've been arm-wrestled in Manorhamilton for a pint of stout, and measured for a coffin in Belmullet, before being given a demonstration in the art of embalming. One night in the midlands, I was driven across a field in a tractor by a drunken farmer to the B&B I was staying at.
But last Saturday night, I finally graduated. Last Saturday night, I was in Tulsk, the birthplace of Percy French, and the home of the Tulsk Lord Edwards GAA club.
The Tulsk Inn is like Phoenix Nights. The locals explained that the construction was never actually finished at the front, and so I was past it before I realised. Inside, it was filled with tables, bedecked in purple and white, the colours of their triumphant ladies junior champions, and the place was jumping. The walls are covered by magnificent black and white photos of great teams and moments from the past, including Wee James McCartan running riot against Meath in the 1991 final.
Remembering Christy's words, after the platitudes were out of the way, I asked them why Tulsk was like being in hell. There was a bit of hesitation at first, a few giggles, some awkward looks at each other and looking down at the feet. "Don't tell that man anything, it'll be in the paper this week." "Ah come on lads," I said, "it'll be between ourselves and Christy."
Sean Mulroney, the beef cattle driver, wasn't so reticent. "In 1979 or so, Christy came to the Tulsk Inn. The place was jammed. His normal door men weren't available and they had to bring in a substitute crew who weren't tuned into the GAA in Roscommon (cue laughter). The place was bouncing and around midnight, when Christy was nearly finished, a couple of the locals arrived at the door for a few drinks.
"The doormen wouldn't let them in without paying. The boys weren't happy and made it clear they were coming in one way or the other. One of the doormen made a big mistake. He drew out and hit one of the boys in the face, cutting his forehead. Within two minutes, there was a bar fight like something out of a John Wayne movie. Boys were throwing chairs and fighting each other. Most of them didn't even know why they were fighting.
"Christy didn't notice for a minute. I looked up at him and he was whaling away on the guitar, singing, his eyes closed, the sweat rolling down his head. When he opened them and saw the carnage, he ran out the emergency exit, jumped in his van and sped off. When the fighting stopped, we carried out the four doormen and threw them in the river."
Mulroney told me that a few years later, after a suitable cool-down period, he rang Christy's new manager, an Englishman, and said they would love Christy to come back to the Tulsk Inn.
"We had a great sponsor by then Joe, and he was prepared to pay whatever Christy's fee was. His manager was very enthusiastic. He told me he would check with Christy and get back to me on the Tuesday night. He didn't ring. Eventually, on the Friday, I rang him. He said he hadn't got back to me because of what Christy had said when he asked him about the gig."
"What did Christy say?" I asked. "He said tell those lunatics I wouldn't go to Tulsk again for ten million punts. I wouldn't even stop the van in the place."
After hearing that, I was on my best behaviour. Like a hostage negotiator. The Lord Edward ladies won the Roscommon junior championship and were unbeaten in the league, their great run only coming to an end in the final against Tuam ladies. It was a totally enjoyable night. I started my speech by saying, "I want to sincerely thank you for not throwing me in the river." Someone in the audience shouted "Yet."
After the meal, the disco started, the dance floor was thronged, and we took the opportunity to adjourn to the bar and drink excellent pints of Guinness. Mulroney made me an offer. "Joe, come on my beef run in the morning to Newbridge." "What time are you leaving?" "Half seven." "Is it an articulated lorry?" "It is, we'll have great crack. We can listen to Sunday Miscellany on RTé."
I have to say, I was very tempted. But my minor footballers had a game the next day in Belfast, so much and all as I love articulated lorries, not to mention Sunday Miscellany, I had to pass. "We'll do it again, Joe," said Mulroney. "We will, Seán."
When Lord Edward died, his sister Lady Lucy Fitzgerald said, "He was a Paddy and no more. He desired no other title than this." He would have enjoyed Saturday night so.
Don't forget your shovel if you want to go to Tulsk . . .
Sunday Indo Sport