Thursday 19 September 2019

Home again for Shane Lowry: Clara welcomes the 'Offaly Rover' who won the Open

Celebrations: Shane Lowry with crowds at his homecoming. Photos: Steve Humphreys
Celebrations: Shane Lowry with crowds at his homecoming. Photos: Steve Humphreys
Shane Lowry, his wife Wendy and grandmother Emily Scanlon. Photos: Steve Humphreys
Sophie Flanagan from Ballycumber and Suzanne Gillivan from Moate. Photos: Steve Humphreys
Aggie Dunne and Lennie Dunican from Clara. Photos: Steve Humphreys

Nicola Anderson in Clara

It was only here in the sunshine that he was able to look up the hill at the smiling faces of his faithful friends and really open up.

"You think this is what it's all about," he told them. "But it's not."

There were many nights in his house in Dublin when he had "cried himself to sleep", asking himself if he was good enough to make it, he said.

Wondering to himself if he should continue at all.

It was typical of this softly spoken, down-to-earth world class sports hero to be able to admit this to them, right here and right now, when the sun was highest in the sky for him.

If anyone had any doubts as to whether Shane Lowry's feet would ever leave the ground, this was their answer.

His arrival in his home town of Clara, Co Offaly, was a big deal - for him and for everybody.

Earlier, his mother Bridgie sat in her immaculate living room telling how Shane had wanted "an hour" on his own with his family, the Lowrys and the Scanlans, as well as with his wife Wendy and her family before all the fuss of the homecoming began.

That was important to him.

Out the back, the garden was like a golf course with its sweep of perfect grass and there was a surprise waiting - they had giant photographs of his previous wins blown up and placed on the wall of the garden patio.

They were expecting him around 4.30pm. But time galloped away because of his generosity with interviewers in Dublin earlier, during which he pledged to carry the Irish flag at the Tokyo Olympics and bring home a medal.

"Taking part in the Olympics would be incredible. I obviously missed the last one and got a lot of stick for that, but I think this has brought me a long way to being on the Irish team and on that plane to Japan."

In the meantime, Clara prepared amid great excitement.

Lennie Dunican and Aggie Dunne from the Green had brought across comfortable armchairs and dining chairs, placing them under the tree as they anticipated a great evening along with Marian O'Brien and Noel Rosney.

"We are all very proud of him," said Lennie. "Everybody loves Shane - he is loved by all.

"He's after lifting the whole place - the town has gone a bit down and then with Brexit - but this is lifting people's spirits," she said.

Aggie said that after Shane won the Open, one of the local barmen hopped straight into his car after work at 6pm and drove to Portrush.

Bumping into a friend, a local ma n listed out the contents of the cooler bag over his shoulder: "Two bottles of Prosecco, chicken rolls, strawberries," he said, adding they were going to have a picnic and enjoy this great event.

Outside The Mill bar, a new sign was being put up, with a pun on the Claret Jug, welcoming Shane Lowry, winner of the "Clara Jug".

Offaly Co Council had ordered helium balloons in the Offaly colours. They arrived in a van and were dished out amid great excitement to the children.

Suzanne Gillivan (22) from Moate and Sophie Flanagan (22) from Ballycumber, up the road, were there early on the Green to get a good spot.

"I'm so happy for him - I watched three days of the golf," said Suzanne.

As the preparations continued under the blistering sun, a man strolled quietly up with a story of his own about the great sportsman.

Some years ago, Clara was left bereft after the deaths of three young people in tragic circumstances.

One day afterwards, he had spotted a young man with a hurl and sliotar in his hand at their gravesides. It was Shane.

"He told me that he was in school with them and he always comes up to their graves to say hello," said the man.

"Now there's not too many young lads would do that."

Meanwhile, the crowd outside Cowen's pub was getting bigger. Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen stood at the doorway, grinning broadly.

Members of the extended Lowry and Scanlan families, including Shane's uncles Michael and Sean Lowry, both members of the famous 1982 Offaly team were inside, enjoying a quiet celebratory pint.

Then word came that Shane was on the way and the Clara Town Marching Band struck up with 'When I Ruled the World'.

At 6.30pm, there was a wail of sirens and there he was in the front of a bus - with a gleam of silver and then the white flash of his trademark cheeky smile.

The second glimpse we saw was of him dramatically kissing the black and white jersey of Clara GAA.

The walk to the Green was a slow one - punctuated by Shane being slapped on the back.

It was a carnival. A festival - and the 'Offaly Rover' loudly played.

"I never thought I was good enough to win something like this," Shane told the crowd.

He plays golf for a living but never thought he could win the Open. "It was just unreal, wasn't it?" he said.

The roar from the crowd confirmed it. Yes, it was unreal - but there was no worthier winner than this humble man.

Irish Independent

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