Saturday 20 January 2018

Race week the perfect hook for lovely Listowel


Today's column is a tale of attempted murder, disaster, sex, prison breaks, blood sports, birth and death. Aside from that there isn't really that much in it. And all of the above happened in the same place, under The Island Bridge. The Bridge crosses the Feale at the splendidly restored castle and leads to Listowel Races, which starts tomorrow.

My grandfather was a small boy when the bridge collapsed under him and hundreds of others. Amazingly there were no injuries.

We spent our summers there netting tiny eels, roasting stolen spuds in driftwood fires, skinning the cat and ducking mass. It's a special place.

I was walking across Brooklyn Bridge with my cousin Jim one time and he said 'What I wouldn't give to swap this for The Island Bridge.'

I accompanied my good pal and famed fisherman Mark Loughnane to the bridge during his lunch break from Ned O Sullivan's, who sponsor the best dressed man at the races. Chique Boutique sponsor the generous ladies prize on Friday.

There's a concrete step under the middle isle of the bridge and the salmon were finding it difficult to negotiate the obstacle. Several head-butted the lip. Maybe the Greens will make it mandatory for salmon to wear crash helmets. More hit the edge and fell like tired horses at the last.

Some got over the jump only to get pushed back by the speeding waters on their mad dash. Then two salmon jumped the fence together and swam maniacally half-in, half-out of the water through the shallow rapids under the isle. They made it. Many more clever navigators took an easier route through the other isles and you could see their slender black fins cutting through the surging Feale.

A hunter heron with the wing span of a plane and flower stems for legs flew over looking for exhausted fish. Usually they stand as motionless as the umpires in the Louth-Meath Leinster final, but the water was too fast.

Further up the river at the butt of Tae Lane a fat otter was taking a break in the sun. The water here is clean now thanks to a major sewage scheme, but that wasn't always the case.

I fell into the untreated sewage here when I as a kid and had to make the short walk up home covered in excrement. The lads were in tears of laughter and so was I, real ones. Doctor Johnny gave me a tetanus shot. And a half crown.

Dr Johnny was an Irish champion boxer and played rugby for Trinity. He came up for honourable mention last weekend when Listowel RFC held their 110th anniversary celebrations. It was supposed to be the 100th but then it was discovered the club was 10 years older than we first thought.

The weekend was a marvellous and superbly well-organised affair with choirs, suckling pigs, pandy and a presentation to the Sexton family, five of whom have played representative rugby. Jonathan accepted a scroll from Dick Spring on behalf of the family and made a lovely speech.

Okay, okay I'm getting to the murder and the sex bit, but we must finish the fishing first. Mark is an expert. Graceful of cast, like he was tossing flowers on the Ganges, he follows through like Harrington, but Mark failed to catch a fish with his unique flying lure. The salmon, he moaned, were too busy concentrating on the urge to get up the river to the spawning pools. Life and death. Fishermen always have some excuse. It's too bright, or the water is too low. They're worse than football managers.

He did tell me of the prison break duck that escaped from our Farmers' Market. The duck was being sold as an egg layer, but snuck away through the opened cage and made for the Island Bridge where she fell in with her wild cousins. She's still there, to your left as you pass over the bridge on your way to the races. I'm told some eejit tried to shoot her. Will ye let her alone. That duck could be our Fungi.

I realise there are more plugs in this piece than a sink factory, but this Guinness-sponsored feast is easily the best race meeting in Ireland. Millions are spent by HRI on the Dublin tracks, but the people love Listowel.

There will be up to 25,000 here on the big days. I've been to huge prize money days near Dublin when you'd nearly get more at a Donkey Derby on the beach at Ventry.


Our racing chiefs should realise Listowel is box office and support us accordingly.

HRI Marketing manager Tamso Doyle does a very good job for us, with the resources she is allocated. We try to be fair.

We are desperate to show you the real Listowel. A town populated, mostly, by caring, hospitable people, who will make you oh so welcome.

We welcomed Mick Lally to our town a few weeks ago. It was then we had our last drink. Mick was such a decent man and he performed my fathers' work as it was meant to be.

Michael Scott was his producer on that last visit.

I told Mick I was having fierce trouble with a play I was asked to write. Michael was listening in and helpfully advised I should collaborate with someone or other on Skype.

Mick looked up from his pint with one eye cocked over towards Michael and said, "Billy, wouldn't the father have written some great plays if he had that oul Skype."

Irish Independent

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