Ode to Brexit – with apologies to Lewis Carroll

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Twas brexit, and the slimey toffs
Did lie and gamble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the boris ‘n goves,
As the momentous wrath outgrabe.

“Oi! Beware the GabbyEuroTalk, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch our lucre!
Beware the Merkel bird, and shun
The frumious Brussels Sprouters!”

Numpty took his voting card in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought –
So rested he in the Tumtum Tree Inn,
And stood his round; four pints he bought.

And, in oafish thought he stood,
The GabbyEuroTalk he did so blame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled ‘enchanté!’ as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal vote went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“Oi! Has thou slain the GabbyEuroTalk?
‘Cos the nation’s up in arms, you clot!”
‘O fateful day! No more booze cruise to Calais!’
He cackled, having lost the plot.

Twas brexit, and the slimey toffs
Did lie and gamble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the boris ‘n goves,
As the momentous wrath outgrabe.
Regrexit

Nun better

SrAnn2 (1000x723)

On the 28th May 2016, my aunt, Sr. Dr. Ann Ward, died in Drogheda, County Louth – she was 87. To say she was an extraordinary individual who had done greater deeds than anyone I’ve ever met is by no means an exaggeration. In short, she devoted her life to others and used her immense medical skills to pioneer a technique that either saved or vastly improved the lives of many Nigerian women that society had abandoned. She worked around the clock saving these people. If they did not have money, it did not matter. At the funeral, I was told by a no nonsense sort of gynecologist that Ann was by far the greatest obstetrician and gynecologist to ever come out of Ireland. In talking about Ann before flying over to Ireland, a senior officer in the British Army who heard her story said no general ever did anything coming close to what she had achieved, nor could they – she was constantly saving lives, gratis. I was honoured to read her eulogy and repeat it here so that others may hear of how greatness can be achieved without fanfare, bombast or self aggrandizement: her accomplishments were all done with complete humility.

You can shed tears because she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all she has left
You can remember her and only that she’s gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she’d do: smile, open her blue eyes, love and go on.

Auntie Ann would not thank me for saying anything too gushing or too complimentary about her – that was just her way. It’s a Donegal thing, or more probably, a Ward thing.
Please don’t write about me,” she once protested. “The focus needs to be placed on the women who suffer this terrible condition, and on the services that need to be put in place to bring relief and proper treatment” she added.
She was talking about her pioneering work in the field of obstetrical fistula, usually vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF). In Nigerian communities where women’s rights were not valued, I’d like to think if there was any saving grace to these horrific situations, it was that someone as serene and kind as my dear aunt and her team were there to help these women at Itam. No one was turned away for inability to pay. Her work was what she was proudest of, not for any recognition for herself. She was blasé about the numerous awards and honorary doctorates she received, it was ONLY about her patients.
The arch-enemy of compassion is pity” she once famously opined “Pity puts distance between you and the person you are pitying. Compassion puts the two of you on the same level, enabling you to work together to change the situation, or at least to make it more bearable.
In those words, you have the essence of the woman – insightful, composed, candid, kind, profound and gracious. This was a woman who did not suffer fools gladly, there was little if any small talk with her and she wasn’t what you might call ‘touchy feely’ – on bounding towards her at a retreat in England in 2005 with my arms thrown open, I was crisply told that “Wards don’t hug“! She worked in an environment that few, if any of us, could possibly imagine, never mind endure; but she did so, year in year out with just a Summer break back to her dear old Donegal every second year.
All of Ann’s nephews and nieces loved her dearly and were extremely proud of her – the late Brendan, Jimmy, Marian, Peter, Kathryn, Ann and yours truly. My mother, Marion, and my aunt struck up a great friendship and were like sisters to one another, sharing many happy moments with chat, song, and bridge. I was lucky enough to be her trusty companion, her Man Friday on many such excursions in Donegal. On my travels with Ann, I knew I’d always see an older, gentler way of life, one with an easy charm and a coterie of school friends that you’d be happy to meet up with anytime.
My Uncle Junior owned a Ford garage in Castlederg and would usually give Ann a car with what he’d call ‘a bit of zip‘. Every second summer was free flowing full throttle motoring in a souped up 2-litre Capri and we loved it! We’d a few hairy scrapes, mainly through her abhorrence of using indicators, but our nearest disaster happened when I had started to take on the driving chores. Approaching Dungloe to see her beloved Daniel O’Donnell perform at the Mary from Dungloe festival, she let out a scream and showed me that Wards could indeed do hugs as she cowered at the sight in front of her. It was in fact a bungee jumper buckleaping from a crane as the sun set and was a scary reminder that her normal habitat was somewhere without such frivolity.
My late father, her brother Johnny, was never one to wax lyrical about one of his own, but I do recall him saying to me in a near reverential whisper that in travelling with Auntie Ann, I was in the presence of a saint. But lest we put her on a pedestal, you will no doubt know she was a woman of many more temporal talents.

AA boat

Whilst we loved her dearly, we were not blind to the fact that she had the guile of a Medici prince, and had a will of iron. She got her own way through the force of her personality, but it was only because of her commitment to her work. She’d a slight maverick streak, My sisters Ann and Kathryn and cousin Marian were at her bedside on Friday recalling her insisting on Ann Jnr smuggling in her two dogs Buffy and Twinkle through the window who then curled up on her bed. Ann’s room reflected her right down to the little cuddly toys. There’s the famous photo of her and the Pope, but she only looked truly star struck in her picture with Daniel.
She could sing – oh boy, could she sing and when she did, like her driving and her smile, she could stop traffic such was its euphony and purity. George Eliot wrote “Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” Ann was filled with such a deep love of music. For her, the hills were alive with the sound of it, be it classical or with her very own Daniel or Susan Boyle.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her get a hole in one in golf, at the 16th hole in Narin some time back. The fact that she went pin high onto the wrong green is but a minor technical detail and was quietly overlooked in the scorecard! I have a lot of happy memories from my times with her – she never treated me like a kid and could sense that I was always curious to see where our next adventure would take us.
Sometimes, those adventures involved sadder memories. Once we had an afternoon of ice cream eating planned after a visit to my Auntie ‘Peter’ Hally who was in hospital in Dublin. While Ann went to see the doctors, I chatted freely to her sister about important matters of the day such as Dallas and the rise of Duran Duran. When Ann came back, I sensed that something was not quite right. Ann of course carried on as before – engaged, chatty and interested. Only when we got to Bachelors Walk for the Knickerbocker Glories did she let her true emotions show as she broke down and cried at knowing that her beautiful sister had cancer.
I remember her calling me to say they’d taken her Daniel away. After getting her calmed, she told me she had being robbed yet again and the one thing she was heartbroken over was the theft of her signed Daniel O’Donnell picture. Daniel did of course replace it and would meet her in happier times. I recall festooning her room here in Drogheda with the Donegal colours of green and gold for the 2012 All Ireland final and we had a right good time along with Marian and Robbie Robinson shouting the house down as Michael Murphy and the lads soared to capture the Sam Maguire – my apologies again to the staff for our unrestrained exuberance!
Few of us will ever possess her prodigious skills – her great brain, her dedication, her sang froid, her great hearty laugh. What we can aspire to though is to emulate her own deep sense of compassion, of forgiveness, of reaching out to those less fortunate; the forgotten, the shunned, the condemned. Do some simple act of kindness once a day and when it’s done, smile and quietly salute Ann Ward.
After my grandmother left for London in the 1930s, my grandfather, the late great PJ Ward, reared the three Ward children as best he could with the aid of his two sisters, Agnes and Bridget, but there must have been a lot of hurt for the youngest child in seeing her mother leave them. With any luck, they are all reunited and at peace now. Some people get busy living and some get busy dying from hurt and wrongdoing: for Ann, that choice was the former. She told me herself that she remembers being woken up with a calling around the age of 16 and from that day forth, she knew she would devote herself to others as best she could.
‘As best she could’. Those words, that sentiment – ‘I did the best I could’, is sadly downgraded and diluted these days. It is used as an excuse for patchy work and mediocrity. Ann, however, was from another time and her work ethic and singular focus was phenomenal. As always, she was modest and pragmatic about what she had done. When her peers at University College Dublin, presented her with the Distinguished Graduate Award for outstanding achievement in the field of medicine, she told them, “If you found yourself in the same circumstances I work in, you would have done just as much as I have done.”

Sr-Ann-Ward-with-healed-wom

Dear sweet Aunt, for the countless thousands of women around the world whose lives you have improved through your pioneering techniques and devotion, let me thank you for all that you have done. Few get to make their mark on their world like you did. We live in dangerous times – we look helplessly at how ego and bluster is likely to be rewarded with high office in America. As is the way of the world, the true heroes and heroines, like you Ann, keep their heads down and just get the job done with zero fuss.
Let me also pay a quick tribute to some other heroines; those kind individuals who made her last years so peaceful and comfortable – the matron and the staff at Aras Mhuire. And to Marian, Kathryn and Ann who made sure she knew she was parting this Earth knowing that we all cherished her by bringing levity, joy and love to the occasion, as Ann would have wanted.
Saying hello to you was always a pleasure; saying goodbye to you now is an occasion I’m honoured, if saddened, to do on behalf of all those who’d the privilege of meeting you along the way in your many roles: -
pioneer, surgeon, Medical Missionary of Mary, youngest child, loving sister, valued colleague, friend of the forgotten, last hope for the despairing, Daniel O’Donnell’s undisputed No. 1 fan, chanteuse supreme, blue-eyed beauty, the ultimate cool aunt: goodbye and safe travels, partner.

AA Mum
With Mum some time back

John McGahern’s 10th anniversary

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The wording below was the introduction wording to ‘Return of the Mac: an evening to commemorate John McGahern’s 10th anniversary’ at 7pm in The Shannon Conference Suite at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham on Thursday 26th May, 2016. We hope to have the audio from this evening up very soon – check back to hear it all!

In a year when several artistic greats have departed, when we have had commemorations coming ‘out our ears’, it may seem a tad indulgent to be remembering another dead hero. But the hero in question here is the late John McGahern. Consequently, my fellow Irish Studies student, Daniel Cassidy, and I are of the opinion that it is fitting that such a highly regarded wordsmith should not be remembered with just a minute’s silence or the raising of a glass of the good stuff, but with us remembering what made him so special in a more formal setting.
Thankfully, the great Pat Collins of Harvest Films was commissioned to make a documentary on McGahern, which was recorded in late 2004 and can be viewed in its entirely below (if you cannot make it on the 26th). As with all of Pat’s work, it is a carefully crafted vessel that captures the distinctive grooves and nuances of the artist that will form the main basis of our McGahern celebration, followed by a Questions and Answers section. Daniel and I are by no means doyennes of the man’s work, but we do appreciate a great Irish hero and the need to savour the accomplishments he, or she, has done once in a while.

Born on the 12th of November 1934, John McGahern died ten years ago on the 30th March 2006 after a long battle with cancer. I was lucky enough to hear him being interviewed in the months leading up to his death in the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre. He had the capacity crowd in the palm of his hand from the off and got a standing ovation by the end of it by which time I witnessed Julian Barnes and others shed a few tears as we knew we had seen the last of this kind, wise, funny and courageous man. (The RTE archives below show that he really enjoyed a live audience!)
On being asked about whether he felt bitter at his father’s often-bizarre behaviour to him, he said with Zen-like composure ‘Bitterness is a part of my brain I have no reason nor desire to go to’. This was at the heart of why we admire him – he endured such pain and heartache and managed to write about it and the disappearing world around him with sensitivity, scrupulous precision and ‘minute realism’ to quote Brian Lynch.
In 2002, Declan Kiberd wrote ‘People first of all shuddered and then they realised: “my God, he has told our innermost story.”…I think people have that feeling when they read McGahern: in some way the stories of their own families has been told with a kind of tenderness and honesty and a mixture of wistfulness and longing, that is appropriate to the experience. So they actually feel ratified by him, they who once refused to ratify him’.

McG Fire

McGahern offered us a glimpse of what is the best and worst about his native land and its people. From the rural retreat of County Leitrim, he gave us a depiction of an Ireland that was slow to take to modernity and change.
He used a local voice that had a universality about it. His scenes were not confined to any one place or time much like Friel’s and Heaney’ work. But while Friel could be skewered and Heaney dense in their message, McGahern had a candour and a refreshing perspective that few others voiced:
‘I think the ordinary is the most precious in life. I think that either life is of no value or of absolute value; and I think it is of absolute value. And I think that in that sense, a woman combing her hair or a man eating an egg is as important an act as any other’.

RTE Radio’s Bowman: Sunday: 8.30 had a wonderful two part radio documentary on McGahern from their archives in May 2016.
Listen here to Part One from the 1st of May 2016.
Listen here to Part Two from the 8th of May 2016.

The New York Times Obituary of John McGahern.
The Guardian Obituary of John McGahern
The Independent Obituary of John McGahern.
The Daily Telegraph’s Obituary of John McGahern.
A subscription is needed to access The Irish Times Obituary of McGahern – here instead is some reader feedback to the paper’s response to his death.

John McGahern staged on his 10th anniversary by Maire J Doyle

A wonderful documentary, Three Days In Summer by McGahern friend and fan, Ronan Gallagher, featuring Declan Kiberd and others.

The opening of the local John McGahern library in 2007 by none other than Bertie Ahern.

A great blog by Trevor Cook on McGahern, McWilliam’s Stoner and other observations.

A review in The Irish Times of the excellent new Stanley Van Der Ziel book on MGahern.
Less polished, but one for fans is this interview with Terence Wench from 1993:

Donegal App leaps forward

u DA 2015 final

The Donegal App encapsulates the full wonder of nearly 5000 hectares of the most beautiful part of Ireland onto the device you carry in your pocket. Download it for free and plan your holiday by ‘favouriting’ all the places you liked the look of in one handy folder. When you get to Donegal it comes into its own as a practical guide to helping you find these places with ease.

On this Leap Day 2016, the Donegal App celebrates its birthday having launched on Leap Day 2012. At the time, it had only five tours, had a very basic website, a rather naff logo, no turn by turn guidance, no audio or video and only this somewhat zany promo video to accompany the launch. It was done on a budget of zilch by one fellow then living up in the wilds of Inishowen, with no support from either the Council or the State via Failte Ireland. Since the 2012 launch, the app’s production company, Headland New Media has become us, Racontour Productions and its founder, John Ward, now lives in London.

2012 was a good year to launch as Donegal managed to win the All Ireland Football Final in September. There was a great sense of excitement in the air and the countryside was resplendently bedecked in the county colours as everyone will remember from that Summer, Jimmy was winning matches and nowhere parties better than Donegal as we lifted the Sam McGuire cup on the 23rd of September 2012. We even managed to inveigle the then Donegal Senior Football manger Jim McGuinness to join in our guerrilla marketing campaign with this cheeky little presentation:-

Yes yes, we know – cheeky and a tad cheesy, but fun! Some fans might remember our more polished Play It Again Sam video that online sports journal Balls.ie called the most epic promo video in advance of an All Ireland football final ever made no less!

Over time and with the advance of technology, the Donegal App began using the full range of features a smart phone offered. You could see on a map where a location was and with the click a button that would give you turn by turn directions to that place. Liked the golf course you just read about? Click the phone number and you could make an appointment or you could email them or look at their website or a YouTube video on the course. It certainly seemed a long way from how the GPS travel concept appeared to the producer, John Ward, back in February 2010 when it was primarily designed for sat nav devices and apps were but a twinkle in the eye: -

Each year, we added new details and tours piece by piece. Commercial entities that feature on the app are either because they are highly rated on Trip Advisor, Facebook, have been visited by the app’s producers at some point or have a good reputation. A business can’t just get on it via a cheque and it is subject to annual review, but membership really is just a token amount to cover the cost of the annul badges that are sent to the members. Thanks must go to Kelly Group for sponsorship and Geovative in the US for back end development of the app. In 2013, we enlisted and indeed rechristened Don Draper to help us promote the app’s special appeal to those missing home. Give the video a minute and you’ll see what we mean: -

Today the app offers eight separate tours: -

Donegal’s Arts and Heritage
Donegal’s Activities
Donegal Bay and Yeats Country
Best of Inishowen
Best of Ulster
Donegal’s Greatest ‘shrines’
Donegal’s Great Outdoors
Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Gems

In addition, the Donegal App website’s dropdown menu will give you access to our free sister app, The Bluestack Way App which is packed with over a hundred audio clips and every conceivable piece of information you could wish to know along the 51km route from Donegal Town to Ardara via Glenties. Primarily designed for walkers, it requires 70 meg alone for the audio and so it is a better fit as a stand alone offering.

Each tour on the Donegal App is deceptively simply at first glance, but there’s a lot of information to hand on further examination. Take your time to explore each one and use the Categories section, the Search section and click the star in the top right hand side of the actual point of interest to save that place in the handy Favourites folder. For 2014, to coincide with the official launch of the Wild Atlantic Way, we rebooted our 2012 tour of the Wild Atlantic (yep, two years before Failte Ireland got their act together!) and combined some places that are marked along the official route together with our own favourites along the way.

By 2015, we had added a full tour of the counties of Ulster, a tour of the wonderful peninsula of Inishowen in north Donegal and our Donegal Bay and Yeats Country tour to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Yeats’s birthday in nearby Sligo, his spiritual home. A full two day audio tour of the best Yeats sites is on offer and has gone down well with Yeats enthusiasts with the audio kicking in as you approach each and every place of interest. Nothing else quite like it exists in Ireland for combining stories with technology.

With the 2016 version of the Donegal App released this month,  the north west offers the world a comprehensive multimedia smart travel guide with close to 600 places of interest included on it. Android and iPhone smart phones now have turn-by-turn technology just like Garmin and TomTom sat navs do with the app. Effectively with one handy device in your pocket, you can now do the following for free with the simple click of a button:

- Be guided turn-by-turn with a voice to your destination.
- Call your destination e.g. ring to book a tee time at a golf course.
- View your destination’s website or email them direct.
- Be up to date on that point of interest with their social media details.
- Read our informed review on what the point of interest offers.
- See a picture of what the point of interest looks like.
- Watch the most interesting YouTube video we could find about the place.

For 2016, we’ve added in an audio introduction to our Greatest Shrines tour as well as rebooting dozens of audio pieces from our Best of Inishowen tour. Fans of Inishowen might also enjoy our Rambling House radio series which explored the many stories of Inishowen over a six part series.

Both in helping you plan your trip (save what you like as a Favourite to build up an itinerary) and in helping you find the places when you get here, you are in great hands with the Donegal App. It’s really only the weather you’ll be leaving to chance on your trip to the north west! Spread the word, follow us on Twitter or Facebook and as you’ll see from our latest promo video, may the force be with you!

Nobody does it better

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Michael Terence Wogan, 1938-2016

I’d promised earlier this month not to write another word about any more dead heroes of mine, but this will be the exception, as the person in question was exceptional. January finishes with the death of a true great, Terry Wogan. Friel was my favourite writer, Bowie my favourite singer, but Wogan was my favourite entertainer. Witty, wise, charming, eloquent, erudite, clever, gracious and kind – this was a man we could hold our heads up to and claim as one of our one; someone in fact we should endeavour to be more like. Wogan did something truly phenomenal every day at the crack of dawn without rehearsal – he made about 8.1 million people get out of bed with a ‘Muttley wheeze’ and a spring in their step.

The perfect face (and voice) for radio

As such, the man made this morning grouch ready for the world and that was no mean feat. What is staggering is that Wogan had the ability to make it all seem so easy – he was able to throw all of the listeners’ correspondence up in the air and have it land in the right order, with the right timing, mischief and intonation. I don’t ever remember listening to him and thinking he is having a bad day or that was a bad joke or that section isn’t working – I do remember listening every day and thinking that this show is a pure tonic. No other person could pull it off – or should attempt to now or any time soon. Like Bowie, his genius came from collaboration with others – a great wisecracking crew around him and hilarious material fed to him from his fanbase, Terry’s Old Geezers and Gals a.k.a. the TOGs. What he did with all that though was to forge it into radio gold every single day, live on air and without a script per se or cue cards. Wogan in full flight with the gang on board and the endless TOG material being brought to life was stop the car, gasping for breath, tears of laughter rolling down your cheek funny. Near the end of each show, he had a Pause for Thought section – even though he had no faith himself, he never betrayed his own doubts and was gracious and generous with whomever the speaker was. He could move seamlessly from the sublime to the ridiculous and into the spiritual, never missing a beat or fluffing a line.

Annual mischief with the Eurovision

What I’m going to write next might seem a tad over the top, but with his passing, Ireland and Britain have lost possibly the funniest man we will ever know. Now I’m sure some of you will say ‘hang on, what about Bill Hicks, Tommy Cooper, Flann O’Brien and so on…’. Well, they were funny men and Terry was in the ‘light entertainment’ end of things, but just remember no one else managed to deliver such a delicious medley of surreal humour, double entendres, wry observations and exquisite badinage as well as this man did. This tricky task was delivered day in day out for years and at an hour that the rest of us would rather not deal with the world at all at all. Tot all that airtime up and chances are that you and I have laughed more at Wogan’s wit than we ever did for Blackadder or The Two Ronnies. Essentially he made us laugh when we wanted to cry – on cold dark Winter mornings getting ready for another dreary day of work or packing lunch boxes for screaming ingrates or being stuck with fellow shoulder shaking TOGs in endless traffic jams. For that rare gift delivered with aplomb during daily domestic sagas, he surely is a contender for that coveted funniest man title. Eric Morecombe found an early grave trying to make every Christmas show funnier than the previous year’s show. Wogan just rocked up and rolled it all out daily as if he were cracking open eggs for breakfast – now that’s what I call real talent.

Anarchy in the UK, Wogan style

Just before Christmas, I was due to go to a carol service that a friend was organising – she had Terry on the bill as M.C., but he pulled out citing ‘back problems’. Like Bowie, his time was nearly up, but no one bar those closest would ever know. A class act right to the end. In writing about Bowie recently, I listed my other heroes – Cash, Friel, Presley and had Wogan in there (well, in the footnotes for the sake of rock and roll flow). I rated him that highly – the gift of making someone laugh is arguably the greatest gift there is and can only be achieved if the person in question is both clever and charming, which of course he was, but never arrogant, never condescending and never getting the tone wrong; that was just not his style. All of those heroes above had their ‘issues’ shall we say and of the whole lot, I think he is the only idol I would have wanted to meet. Certainly, the only one I’d want to be stuck in a lift with for six hours.

Kind words from his Radio 2 morning show successor

He had an inherent sense of mischief and is responsible for introducing the word ‘eejit’ to the British public, with him admitting to being the biggest one of all. His rendition of The Floral Dance at the height of the punk era was infinitely more anarchic a gesture to the nation than po-faced punk itself. Plus he just wanted to be on Top of the Pops for the craic and sure why not? Marcel Duchamp gave us his porcelain urinal in 1917, but Wogan’s larking about with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band was a bolder milestone in postmodernism in my humble opinion. His single-handed harpooning and slaughter of the giant whale that is the Eurovision freak show was the man at his subversive best. If the po-faced Eurovision lovers didn’t like that, too bad. Pardon the wide brush-stroking, but the Brits can take themselves too seriously at times; Wogan was the antidote and successfully de po-faced them over time, one by one. Radio 4 grandiosely stated that where the Queen was the centre of gravity of the nation, Wogan was the centre of levity. Not bad for a subversive eejit from the banks of the Shannon.

Only Wogan could have brought his magic to a simple putt

If you really want to annoy me in company, start off with the words, ‘do you know who you remind me of – Colm Meaney’. Never a good idea. On the odd occasion folk have said that I remind them of Terry Wogan and though clearly drunk and deluded, I salute these fine folk as it is the highest compliment I could ask for. To me he was a great fella to aspire to be like – if only. His modus operandi and in turn the secret to his success was described in typical Wogan style:- ‘Get on your toes, keep your wits about you, say goodnight politely and when it’s over, go home and enjoy your dinner.‘ Wogan was apparently the same off the mike as well – down to earth, affable, mischievous with an easy smile and a quick spontaneous wit at the ready. Very much a family man, I remember thinking how chuffed he was when his grandson Harry was born some years back – he played the song ‘Harry’ and I always thought it was such a lovely touch by a proud grandpa – and what a great song to have known thanks to him. We’ll overlook his championing of Katie Melua to the world and wryly roll our eyes to heaven at seeing his iconoclastic Floral Dance in all those tributes today. Terry famously signed off his final show by saying ‘thank you for being my friend’ but in truth, this TOG is very happy to say ‘thank you for being my friend’; it was a pleasure to wake up to you for so many years.

Daily magic conjured up out of nowhere

The gold standard

Bowie 4

“We all knew something was amiss but this is more than just turning on your phone in the morning or turning on the television and finding out that another celebrity has passed on. I’m standing here, my hands are shaking, I feel as though I’ve lost something, I’ve lost something incredibly important today.” I never thought I’d quote Midge Ure in an article, but he sure nailed it on the head with a four pound hammer on this one.

I didn’t get up to speed on the early news today. I’d a late night in Canary Wharf and as I sat on the DLR train this morning, a giant electronic ticker tape frame coming into the Wharf station flashed the vague message ‘Bowie’s financially Hunky Dory to the end’. No panic. A quick look at social media didn’t get me any further until fellow music lover Damien Gallagher’s Facebook message confirmed it. Well, if you’re going to hear sad news, hear it from a good friend.

2000′s: Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis put Bowie in the same league as Sinatra and Presley.

Writing only last night in The Irish Times, Tony Clayton Lea’s rave review of Bowie’s 25th studio album, Blackstar, concluded with the ominous words ‘This is David Bowie still following the music he hears in his head; what comes after this is anyone’s guess’. The master of reinvention and surprise caught Clayton Lea and everyone out once again with the sudden departure from the stage. As he sings in his new song, Lazurusain’t it just like me?‘. It sure was.

I heard the man sing live, but I never met the man, I didn’t know him and yet I am truly gutted at hearing of the death of the ultimate purveyor of one of life’s great thrills – the gift of making great music. Here was a creative, profoundly talented rock icon, chameleon and talisman – rock’s all rounder. For melody, for lyrics, for comprehensive musical ability, for dexterity of sound, for swaggering delivery, for influencing other greats and for being the undisputed king of cool, there is only one David Bowie.

1980s’ curious gem: the last time David Jones and David Bowie shared the screen.

The last few days had me saluting Lemmy, Phil Lynott, my grandfather, James Joyce, John Huston and Donal McCann on Facebook. In amongst those posts were three about David Bowie – little did I know he’d be joining this pantheon of heroes so soon. One concerned some idiot* who had put together a website that let you compare where you were in life compared to where Bowie was at your age. My reaction was ‘As someone who shares the same date of birth as this fella (and Elvis) this week, I don’t feel in the least bit intimidated by his accomplishments. Thrilled, delighted and honoured to be in such august company more like – rock on!’ I’d made a note to myself that I really would have to get away from writing articles honouring dead heroes in 2016. I thought finishing up with my grandfather was a good way to leave it but above him, Johnny Cash, above Elvis Presley** and even Brian Friel, there is the pinnacle of artistic endeavour, David Bowie. I had to write a few words on this sad day.

With these Bowie words here, I think I’m properly done with salutes to the dead (thankfully!). Lemmy had attitude, Philo was one of us, PJ Ward had fortitude, Joyce wrote better than anyone else, but Bowie, ah Bowie really did have it all. As Joyce showed us in that famous short story, the dead in their eternal and gracious silence will always have a mystique, a potency and a hold on our hearts as the memory of their living deeds is savoured and magnified by their absence. That Bowie gave us some of his best work on Friday and was gone by Sunday ensures that the memory of his many living deeds vis-à-vis the pain of the permanent silence is being acutely felt by his many followers. Blackstar now serves as his own eulogy. He didn’t burn out, he didn’t fade away, he simply played one last masterclass in flair and originality; this time with his own death***.

At a lecture on creativity in 2014, ad guru John Hegarty opined to the audience that even the greatest minds had at best ten great years of creativity. While some might say Bowie peaked in the 70′s, he had six colourful decades of creativity – and he wasn’t afraid to branch out into other areas such as acting – see his Tesla in The Prestige, as producer to the seminal Transformer album or helping his Mott the Hoople mates out by donating his tune All the Young Dudes to revive their careers. ‘Lust for Life’? Yep, a present to Iggy. Let’s not forget all of the artists he influenced from Radiohead to Suede. The so-called apogee of British success, the knighthood, was offered and declined in 2003 when he stated: “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.” Take note Jagger.

1970′s: The performance that startled a nation in one fell swoop.

One of my best friends has told me she has been crying this morning with the news. She also has a deep love of music and I wish I was there to give her a hug and turn on some Bowie tunes, get out some wine and dance ’til the serious moonlight is seen and then well into the night. Where theatre, poetry and prose take a fair degree of concentration to assimilate, music – no, let’s be clear, good music, doesn’t just seep into your soul; it dives in and creates a delirium and a sonic connection with the higher self like no other. Throwing on Bowie has never failed to allow a blast of serotonin surge through my system; he was, in musical terms, the gold standard.

This Bowie nerd won’t bore you with the minutiae of Bowie facts, his staggering modus operandi and his stellar output, but just watch the plethora of BBC4 documentaries on him, hoover up the coverage, but most of all throw on the sounds of Bowie and salute the fact that we had him in our lives at all and yes, feel ‘thrilled, delighted and honoured’ that we got to enjoy his talent. Some years ago, Ricky Gervais had sent Bowie a tongue in cheek birthday email saying ‘58, eh? When are you going to get a proper job then?’ Signed Ricky Gervais, 42, Comedian‘. Bowie got back as quick as a flash and said ‘I do have a proper job young man; David Bowie, 58, Rock God.’ Well played – long shall you rock in our hearts and souls.****

2016: ‘And like that *puff*, he’s gone…’

* A tad unfair – the underlying theme of the site is to get off your arse and get shit done. Good point.
** Terry Wogan is another bona fide hero to me, but I thought I’d leave him out for an easier flow. Day in day out surreal ad libbed humour is a real art to this early morning grouch.
*** Blackstar is littered with images of death, skulls and departure, but the refrain of Girl Loves Me with its ‘Where the Fuck did Monday go?‘ sure captures what happened on Monday 11th January 2016 thanks to you DB!
**** Er, dare I say it, but maybe (just maybe) dying on your birthday – Friday 8th January 2016 – would have been better DB; a proper weekend to really tear the ass out of celebrating your music with buckets of booze and whatever you’re having yourself. If you are a day in the week, it is Friday; a wet Monday really was blue blue electric blue with your departure.

A tough call

Aras 66

The picture above shows the 1966 Easter Rising 50th anniversary celebrations at Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin. In the picture, you will a series of old men move slowly across the gardens. In the front row is the President, Eamon de Valera, surrounded by men hanging on his every word. Everyone except for the fellow who looks like he is coming up for air from it all. That man is my grandfather, Peter Joseph Ward, who represented Donegal South from 1918 until 1924 and today, the 6th of January 2016, marks the 46th anniversary of his death.

As we brace ourselves for a full onslaught of navel-gazing centenary reviews starting with the Easter Rising, there is already a certain sense of ennui creeping in to the country’s consciousness. Those that aren’t quite fed up seem to enjoy taking lumps out of each other in endless irascible messages under Rising articles written in The Irish Times. With so many armchair generals, I thought it might be worth reproducing what exactly my grandfather had to say at a key moment in Irish history back in 1922 – he details his thought process and why his change of heart; it makes for compelling and reasoned reading, far from the online diatribes of today.

I never met my grandfather – he was buried exactly a year to the day I was born, but I have always had enormous pride in the fact that here was a young, determined and conscientious man who was in ‘the thick of it’ – as a commander of the South Donegal Brigade of the Irish Republican Army, as a member (and 1921/22 chairman) of Donegal County Council and as a Teachta Dála for Donegal, he was at the forefront of the campaign for independence in the north west of Ireland.

Dail 1919 Meeting of the First Dáil, January 1919

I suspect my grandfather would sooner have been swinging a club in Narin than being at those 1966 festivities. David Trimble famously dismissed the Fianna Fáil-led 1966 Easter Rising 50th anniversary events as ‘an orgy of self congratulation’. Indeed, the government had instructed the state-sponsored Abbey Theatre that no O’Casey play was to be performed as part of the festivities and they duly obliged. O’Casey’s play The Plough and the Stars had lambasted the Rising leading to a riot when it was first performed in 1926. P.J. had no time for towing the line and the first picture above tells a thousand words. Having been elected for Sinn Féin, he changed to Cumann na nGaedheal after the Treaty. The official story goes that he stepped down in 1924 in protest at the Army mutinies at the Curragh after the Civil War, but my understanding is that local elements had continually threatened him after his voting for the Treaty in 1922 and what with having a young wife and family to provide for, it was time to take a back seat.

P.J. rarely talked about those days and only reluctantly when pushed to by curious strangers. There are some cracking family yarns that take on a supernatural dimension on how the Black and Tans never quite got the better of catching the most wanted man in the north west. Apparently the first words on record in the Revolutionary First Dail were from the Speaker to P.J., admonishing him when he stated ‘Deputy Ward, would you please put your rifle back in its allotted slot!‘ Other possibly apocryphal stories tell of his dynamic guerilla marketing during election campaigns with a fellow in a sandwich board walking around towns – the front saying simply ‘For Ward‘ with the reverse sign saying ‘Back Ward‘. Genius.

Events from those days cast a long shadow to this day. As recently as 2011, I met the elderly daughter of a Donegal deputy who voted against the Treaty. On realising who I was, her hand of friendship was withdrawn as she hissed ‘traitor!’ at me and turned on her heel. P.J. watched his seat slip away from him, his wife desert him and his three children at the court steps of Letterkenny in the 1930s and he lived long enough to see the country descend into the chaos of the Troubles. P.J. never became bitter and was legendary in his generosity of spirit from setting up golf or bridge clubs to helping those less well off without ever asking for money back. As he made his way around the county, he had dilsk in one pocket and liquorice in the other for the children of the many friends he knew and visited.

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It is to P.J. that my Donegal App is dedicated. His elan instilled in me some civic pride and the need to do something tangible for where you are from. It is more than singing a song or attending a match; it is action that makes the difference. I will never come close to matching his accomplishments or his heroism, but I’d like to think in the modern age, I’ve managed to showcase a stunningly beautiful area that enjoys an independence that most of Ulster did not after partition. Yes in truth, P.J’s decision did help bring about partition, but his reasoning for voting pro Treaty was carefully laid out and is detailed below in full. Besides, Britain knew that not only was Donegal too mountainy and too Papist, it was too well organised by people like my grandfather to ever be properly incorporated into the newly-formed Northern Ireland. On what is his 46th anniversary since passing, I salute the efforts of all those brave men and women.

Stepping up to speak just before the vote on the 7th of January 1922, P.J. was the last backbencher to make a substantial speech on his position before a divided cabinet had one last fractious charge at each other. It was a pivotal speech at a critical time. Bearing in mind how close the Treaty vote was, it no doubt made for thought-provoking and influential listening. Rest well P.J., you truly did the State some service.

MR. P.J. WARD: “All through this long debate I have listened to the arguments on every side and, as one who has risen for the first time to speak in this assembly, I wish to state the reasons why I am going to vote for the approval of the Treaty; not because I hope to convert even any one Deputy here, but for the purpose of explaining to my constituents the reason for my action. I am in the position of one of the Deputies who spoke before lunch—Deputy O’Rourke; and I make no apology whatever to any man for changing my opinions.

I came here to this assembly opposed to this Treaty, as I believed then that the Dáil, by a big majority, would be opposed to it. It was not what we were fighting for; it was not the end the ultimate end—of what I had in view when I joined Sinn Féin; but, as I have said, I have listened here without interrupting any man, and I have formed my opinion from what I have heard, and from what I know are the facts of the situation. I have not been impressed by anybody on either side; nor has my opinion been formed for me; I have formed it myself.

I was opposed to the Treaty because it was not the thing for which we were fighting. I have heard a lot here about the Republic as if it were not actually existing; about what we fought for; and I have heard from various members that this Treaty gave us what we fought for. I don’t agree with that. The election of 1918 may have been for self-determination; but when I stood for the election I had to fight a bitter one; I stood for the complete independence of this country—total separation from England—and the placards are still on the walls down in Tír Chonaill. It was not for self-determination I fought the election, it was for independence; and it will come to pass yet that the Irish people, if given a free choice, will vote for independence.

The fight was begun then, or in 1916, if you will; it has gone on since; we have had only one thing before us and that is the independence of this country—complete and total separation. The Republic was set up here in 1919; but we had not independence although the Republic was set up; we were fighting for it; and that fight is going on yet, and will go on in the future.

This Treaty was signed; but how it was signed, or by what means it was signed, is a matter with which I have nothing to do. It is here before us; and we have not to judge of this Treaty by how or why or the manner in which the signature was obtained; we have to deal with facts, with the facts of the situation as they are at the present moment. I believed when I came to this Dáil, and I believe it now, that if this Treaty had been rejected practically unanimously by the Dáil we could have obtained unity in this country and have the people behind us, and we could have won our case. I was opposed to the Treaty up to Christmas; I went down to my constituency, and I may say here that I know my constituents perhaps as well as any other man in the Dáil; I have [321] travelled throughout the length and breadth of my constituency; and I have been in practically every Sinn Féin Club during the two months before this Treaty was signed—we have twenty-four of them. At Christmas every Sinn Féin Club debated this Treaty amongst themselves; I went to the Comhairle Ceanntair and I endeavoured there—because I wanted to save them from themselves—to prevent them passing a resolution against acceptance; and the Sinn Féin Clubs, by seventeen to three, asked that this Treaty be ratified under protest; and they stated that they could see no alternative.

That was the voice of my constituency; it was the voice of the best elements in that constituency. I will not speak of what the army thinks—I know that the army is prepared to fight as before—for it is the civil population that decides this question now; and of the civil population that is the voice, and the answer they gave to me.

I told them there at that Comhairle Ceanntair meeting that I did not hold that I was necessarily bound to vote for the ratification, because I held that the mandate they gave me was to secure the independence of Ireland, and that if I thought it better and wiser to vote against this Treaty I would do so; but what I did pledge myself to was this: that I would vote at this meeting of the Dáil for what I thought was the best way to obtain that independence of Ireland for which we were fighting.

Those people down the country, so far as I can understand, can see no alternative but to take this Treaty as a step—that is their voice. I have not met one man who was in favour of the Treaty but was in favour of it only as a step to the independence to which we were making. I have met some that were against it, as I have told you, but the majority were in favour of it as a step towards that independence because they could see no other way out of it.

As I said, I could have seen the other way out when I came to this Dáil, if this Dáil had made up its mind to stand for it; but now, when it has come to the final day for decision I have to make up my mind as to the wisest course and the best way to obtain the independence of my country.

We have heard here members talk of an alternative to rejection; some have told me privately that they based their decision on the belief that Lloyd George would not go to war with the Irish nation; I do not know what grounds they have for that view; I can only form my own opinion on English politics and one point in that matter is this: I do not know that any change has come to England since after that final note came before the Dáil for its approval— when the answer was being sent back to England that we would not accept her terms we were told that rejection of them would mean immediate war. I am not aware that any change has taken place since in Lloyd George’s mind so that the rejection of this offer might not mean war, too; I do know that it has been said here that at that Session the members of the Dáil, when they let the plenipotentiares go to England, compromised.

I only asked one question on that occasion; I asked the President what he meant by association with the British Commonwealth of nations in his letter to Lloyd George, and I did not receive any direct reply. Even if this Treaty were rejected, and the President’s document accepted by Lloyd George, I hold there will not be a lasting peace with England until we are absolutely separated from England and the British Empire. Now, the probable consequences of rejection have a different light in every Deputy’s mind here, I suppose; but in my mind the consequences, if the Treaty be rejected, are that now Lloyd George is in the position of knowing that this country is absolutely disunited, and that he is in the happy position of knowing that if he makes war now—if he only threatens war on this country—that the people of this country do not want to fight.

I know that may not be as it appears to you; but I have talked with the people, and I know their minds, and I know the view point they have; they are war-worn; they have come through a strenuous fight and they want peace. Now they see the prospect of peace, and they have not the smallest scruple about it; they are willing to take that prospect; and they, at the same time, are willing to take it as a stepping stone. I have no scruples about it either; I am willing to take it as a stepping stone, and I do not care how Lloyd George views what Deputies say here; so far as I am concerned, I will only vote for this Treaty as a stepping stone to put this country into such a position at some future time—[322] when the opportunity does come—that it will claim the total separation that it is entitled to as a separate nation.

Some members have said that this Treaty should be put to the people of this country whichever way it goes, and some even have said that, so far as their constituents are concerned, their constituents would support them in its rejection. I do not know about their constituents; so far as my own constituency is concerned, I have men there who are opposed to the Treaty, and I am glad these men are there; perhaps if I were in their place I would be opposed to this Treaty; but I am here with the responsibility of either accepting this Treaty or rejecting it, with the consequences to the country.

What these consequences are is in the future; you may see them in one light, I may see them in the other; but I will not take the responsibility of rejecting this Treaty with the probable consequences to the country, because one thing that may happen if this Treaty is rejected is this, and I regard it as the worst: we have got certain things here from Lloyd George and from the British Government in this Treaty which, if utilised to the full force, will benefit this country; but if this Treaty is rejected that gives Lloyd George an opportunity of backing down from these terms.

There are things in it that are not palatable to us and not palatable to Lloyd George and his associates, and they would be only too anxious and too glad to get rid of all this; and then, when he has an opportunity of backing out from the Treaty he has signed, he can put worse terms before the people of this country; and what I say is this, that the people of this country, in the state in which they are in at present, would take worse terms. You may like that or you may not. It is because the people of this country are disunited, because they have expressed their views on this Treaty, that I am voting for the Treaty. I do not want the Treaty myself; I do not like it; but I know very well that you will not be able to wring anything more out of Lloyd George with the state the people are in now in the country; you will wring no more, and you will have to take less.

The other consequences are that you will go on in this state for years to come before you get as far as you are at present. Now, I have said nothing personal on one side or the other; I regard it as disastrous that there should have been such a split in the Dáil; if there had been unanimity the situation could have been saved. However, that is my own opinion. I make this explanation for the purpose of explaining to my constituents why I vote in this way, because some of them know I was opposed to it, and strongly opposed to it, when the Treaty came out first; I do consider that this Treaty, if it ever comes into operation, will give a chance to the people at some future time to obtain full independence.

I won’t detain you very much longer. I am a lawyer, but I do not think I have employed any argument on this, or legal quibbles, or constitutional law; and I think if the lawyers who did speak first were to speak now they would not use these arguments either, for this matter is too big for chess-playing. We have to swallow a bitter pill in this; one Deputy has said that to-day, and nobody likes to swallow pills; but if we honestly think that it is for the best interests of our country I think we are doing then what our conscience directs; and in taking this step I consider I am doing what is best for my country.

I will vote for the Treaty under protest— not under protest in a sense, because I have a free will—but I will vote for it only as a stepping stone, and when the time comes I will be just as ready to take a part in the fight for independence as I have been in the past. After all, we here are split, as far as I can see, on which is the better way; that is the only thing that divides us.

I told my Comhairle Ceanntair that I would vote for what I thought was the best way to gain absolute independence in the end; I consider that if I voted for rejection I would be putting back the fight for independence for years and years to come; whereas if I vote and swallow the pill and take the Treaty I consider that I will bring that absolute independence nearer by years; how many years I do not know. I do know, however, that the people of this country have not changed their national aspirations, and I consider that their national aspirations will be brought nearer by acceptance of the Treaty”.

Killybegs Killybegs cemetery, Co. Donegal where P.J. Ward is buried

Charles Macklin: the final curtain

Looking for tickets to see Macklin: Method and Madness? Click here.

Saying farewell to a man who has been gone for 218 years may seem a tad late, but this swansong is just as much for the people and home place that remembered Charles Macklin for the last 25 years, as it is for the man himself.

Since 1990, the picturesque village of Culdaff in Donegal faithfully paid tribute to its most colourful son, the actor and playwright, Charles Macklin, in the form of the Charles Macklin Autumn school every October. In September 2015, the committee announced that the annual festival would be no more. By October, it had lost its loyal patron, Brian Friel. To simply see a festival honouring a giant of the West End disappear into the ether was never an option. What more fitting departure than to have the last word on the Macklin festival at the actor’s resting place in London’s famous Actors’ Church in Covent Garden?

At 7.30pm on Friday 20th November, the church will host an evening of music and words in honour of Macklin, culminating with the highly-regarded play, Macklin: Method and Madness. This comedy is a brilliant two hander written and performed by Gary Jermyn and Michael James Ford which tells us in a most colourful fashion of the life and fast times of Macklin himself, the first great West End ‘star’ whose stage name came from dropping the ‘glough’ in McLaughlin to the much simpler Macklin. Ingeniously funny, it never lets up until the end; a perfectly madcap salute to a local hero who had treaded the boards and run the gauntlet for well over a century.

Macklin’s long life bookended two pivotal points in Irish history. Born weeks after William of Orange’s 1690 triumph by the banks of the Boyne, he died the year before the 1798 Rebellion, just shy of 107. A giant of the London stage, his life had all the ingredients for a great play – lust, greed, murder, envy, ambition and talent. Not the sort of fellow you might think should be honoured hundreds of years later, but thankfully he is.

In the Actors’ Church of St. Paul’s in London’s Covent Garden, all of the good and the great actors have plaques on the walls in their memory. On the right hand side of the church is one of the more prominent memorials to the ‘father of the modern stage’ no less. In theatreland, Macklin has both a street and a hallowed plaque to remember him for all eternity. On the 20th of November, we’ll say a proper goodbye to the festival that saluted him for so many years. Gone, but not forgotten – a final thanks to Sean Beattie, the McGrorys and the hard-working committee and people of Culdaff for remembering a departed son.

Macklin: Method and Madness
By Gary Jermyn and Michael James Ford
Friday, 20th November 2015
Actors Church, Covent Garden
Doors open, 6.45pm; Performance, 7.30pm
Tickets: £15 from Eventbrite or email info@racontour.com

Macklin plaque

Michael Collins remembered

On this day 93 years ago, the 22nd of August 1922, Michael Collins was shot and killed in a gun battle at Béal na mBláth. He was 31 years old when he died.
Half a million people attended his funeral in Dublin. All parties to the conflict, both British and Irish, were temporarily united in grief. In his brief lifetime he had fought the British Empire to a stalemate, negotiated the first Treaty of Independence for Ireland and overseen its transition to democracy. He died paradoxically in an attempt to finally remove the gun from Irish politics. From our Nenagh Heritage Audio Guide, hear our fascinating audio piece on the man who pulled the fatal trigger and why he kept Ireland’s biggest secret right to his grave.
Told by Nenagh Walking Guide’s very own raconteur, Kevin Whelan, Sonny O’Neill surely kept Ireland’s biggest secret for the rest of his life. Find more about Kevin’s tours here.
Michael Collins: 16 October 1890 – 22 August 1922
Find this & many more fascinating podcasts on all things Irish at racontour – the glory of the story.
#Ireland #Collins #Bealnablath #Nenagh #secret

Irish Revolutionary Michael Collins
Click here to read more on the fascinating story of the boy in the above photo, Phonsie Culleton – ‘the army’s mascot’.

Remembering Seumas Gildea

Quite by chance this evening, I discovered that an old teacher, and I’d like to think friend of mine, had died. James ‘Seumas’ Gildea from just outside of Glenties passed away at the end of May. The term ‘character’ is bandied about a bit too frequently these days and often to those who are in truth, just a bit odd and/or as dull as ditchwater.

SG

Seumas however was a character; for me this was due to the fact that what you saw and what you got were two different things, the public and private personas were world’s apart. To those who came across him in Irish class over many decades, he was a stern pedagogue who seemed devoid of humour. He taught Irish in the era when it was a chore to learn and was tolerated with an uneasy mix of indifference and disdain by students. To a man as well-read as Seumas, this attitude from a generation of ingrates was most unfortunate. I met men in their sixties in Inishowen who shuddered recalling being taught by the then raven-haired teacher way back in the fifties – the man never really aged right up until the last time I saw him. A picture was in an attic somewhere it seemed.

My own first memories of the man were shaky enough – I remember being rigorously interrogated by him in as gaeilge on Day One of me moving from a boarding school to a secondary school in Donegal Town aged 15. That I got to know, and in time admire him, was due to my increasing interest in all things to do with local heritage in the mid 1990′s. I had set up a heritage festival around St. Patrick’s Day and one of the events was to have history lectures in the local courthouse. Fellow organiser Emmet McCauley and I kept hearing about how helpful Seumas could be and though we were at first reluctant to deal with him due to our respective experiences, we were very glad we did.

Gracious, patient, reliable, supportive and knowledgeable are words that spring to mind about this man as I got to know him better. He was a mentor and active participant in the years we held the McGarrigle lectures in that courthouse. Better still for this hedonist, there was a wonderfully Bohemian side to Seumas that he was more than happy to share with those who had sought him out and were prepared to dig a little deeper. His impeccably kept cottage in Drimnacrosh, near Glenties was on the outside a quaint edifice from another era. Inside it was a different story – the token pictures of the Pope and De Valera were nowhere to be seen and instead we found a resplendence of mementos, objet d’art, paintings, scultures and all sorts of treasures gathered from years of travelling. This was the secret den of a rural swashbuckler, a man who came alive when in full hosting mode. They say that the two best reasons for teaching are July and August and to a curious pilgrim soul like Seumas, this was a time to savour his passions for hillwalking, history and travel.

Having avoided walking up an aisle, Seumas was able to enjoy the freedom of a bachelor lifestyle with vigour. On one occasion, I remember he had just come back from a Bacchanalian wedding in Bulgaria which had lasted several days. Tales of chandelier-swinging merriment were told with aplomb and washed down with the most exquisitely potent liquors brought back and offered with flamboyant generosity. By chance, I’d managed to see a slice of this colourful and knowledgeable man’s world – one far removed from my earlier assumptions that he was a stick-in-the-mud dullard. Well wrong. He’s a true example of how we should never judge a book by its cover.

Those in the Bluestack Ramblers walking club, the Donegal Historical Society or the Patrick MacGill Summer School committee in Glenties will tell you of this tall, big-hearted man who had old school charm and gentility; a man full of wit and wisdom. His mellifluous voice hinted at his fluency in the native language and his origins in the glens. I’ve been lucky enough to have recorded some real characters from all over Ireland and his voice is worth hearing time and again. No one else sounds like Seumas Gildea though. Listening to some of the material I have from Seumas reminded me of how worthwhile gathering the voices of knowlegeable characters is for posterity and for pleasure. His candour is refreshing – be it talking about how a lot of Heaney’s poetry is often inpenetrable, how MacGill’s poetry is underestimated or how he listened with incredulity to Eamon Casey talk insouciantly about racy prose. If there is another life after the long one Seumas enjoyed, then no doubt he is at the heart of it and lighting the place up with his easy charm. Walk tall Seumas. Maireann croí éadrom a bhfad - a light heart lives a long time.

Seumas was a contributor on Part 3 of our Bluestack Way audio app, where the above audio originates from.

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