Michael Fox Singer & Radio Presenter

HOLYHEAD - We’re just passing through!

HOLYHEAD - We’re just passing through!

Earlier this year, on a flight from Ireland West Airport Knock in County Mayo to John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, on a gloriously sunny day with no blanket of thick cloud (or indeed any hint of Icelandic volcanic ash!) beneath my trusty Ryanair plane to obscure my view of the North Wales terrain laid out below, I found myself looking down at the small town of Holyhead and its harbour, the latter providing a safe haven for vessels navigating  the waters of the Irish Sea.

Not so quiet Cong – but well worth a visit

Not so quiet Cong – but well worth a visit

 

At the eastern end of the isthmus that separates Lough Corrie and Lough Mask, on the borders ofCountyMayoandCountyGalway, is located the picturesquevillageofCong, gateway to the Joyce Country and the beautiful, and quite breathtaking, region of superb grandeur beyond that isConnemara.

I recently spent a day in Cong and its environs and would have no hesitation in recommending its delights to readers of The Harp who have not previously been there, and who may be planning a visit to the west ofIreland this year.

CLIMBING THE REEK FOR THE FIRST TIME

CLIMBING THE REEK FOR THE FIRST TIME

 

Well, I finally did it. After years of passing it by as I travelled the road between Westport and Louisburg in County Mayo, of pausing on other occasions and gazing up at it in all its awesome wonder, and having just two or three times ventured as far as the statue of Saint Patrick at its base, I have “climbed the Reek”.

To be more precise, I have ascended Croagh Patrick the mountain so named in honour ofIreland’s national saint, Saint Patrick, emulating the trek that he undertook to the summit of this striking mass of rock in the year 441 AD, and where he fasted for forty days. The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain, in fact, goes back further in time, in excess of 5,000 years to be precise, from Stone Age times to the present day, without interruption.

Breakfast Roll Man

Breakfast Roll Man – “One of the Pope’s Children”

 

At time of writing, approaching mid-June, and following the recent general election here, a coalition government is still to be formed here inIreland.

Fianna Fail, the party which has gained the largest number of seats, but not an overall majority, is currently embroiled in discussions with certain other parties (including “Independents”) in the political spectrum here regarded as potential coalition partners, in an attempt to “make up the numbers”.

Big Welcome Home for Emigrants

Big Welcome Home for Emigrants

 

Group from English Midlands visits Heritage Farm in County Mayo

 A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating in a “welcome home” event here, hosted by Tom Hennigan and his family at “Hennigan’s Heritage Farm & Centre” in Rubble in the parish of Killasser, near Swinford, County Mayo

 

 This was the occasion of the visit to “Hennigan’s” by a group of Irish emigrants from various centres inBirminghamand the East Midlands, including the Fireside Day Centre inBirminghamwhich undertakes tremendous work for the less fortunate in the community there.

 

 The group were inCountyMayofor a short break, courtesy of the Mayo Emigrant Liason Committee. A prominent member of the Committee, and visiting “Hennigan’s” that day with the group, is Kevin Bourke from near Castlebar, himself a one time emigrant to Birmingham and a stalwart of the Mayo Association in Birmingham in the 1970’s, which was when I first made his acquaintance at the “old” Birmingham Irish Centre in Digbeth.

Cheers to Tears as Landmark Cooling Tower Demolished

Cheers to Tears as Landmark Cooling Tower Demolished

 

(Now you see it, now you don’t!)

 

A small village in the Erris region of County Mayo witnessed locals being reduced to tears as the cooling tower of Ireland’s last remaining old-style turf fired electricity generating power plant located there was demolished, notwithstanding campaigns for this structure to be retained as a veritable monument to a method of power generation which has now been consigned to the history books in Ireland.

 This 300 foot high edifice was dramatically and adeptly brought to the ground, in its own “footprint” so to speak, in a controlled explosion at approximately 11 o’clock on Sunday 14 October last, in a huge cloud of dust and bringing to finality an era in this sparsely-populated area ofnorth-westCountyMayo.

Athenry – Dreams of Fields

Athenry – Dreams of Fields

 

 

“Low lie the fields of Athenry

  Where once we watched the small freebirds fly

  Our love was on a wing we had dreams and songs to sing

  It’s so lonely ‘round the fields of Athenry”

 

So goes the wistful yet evocative chorus of that poignant Pete St John composition which has become a veritable “second Irish National Anthem”, so loved, in particular, by exiles from thislandofIrelandand sung so heartily by, amongst others, followers of Celtic Football Club and of our national soccer and rugby teams.

 

The song itself was a huge “hit” twice over, firstly in the ‘70’s for the Barleycorn folk group and, in later years, for Paddy Reilly, himself now part of the current Dubliners line-up. Any respectable pub sing song or “rambling house” party here is almost guaranteed, sooner or later in the proceedings, to throw up a lusty, stirring, rendition of this well-loved ballad.

ARE YOU GOING FOR A FAG?

“ARE YOU GOING FOR A FAG?”

 The Irish smoking ban  – a view from here

 

 Here in Ireland 29th March (otherwise known as “Black Monday) this year ushered in a brand new law designed to address the huge cost to the State’s Health Service, and the nation’s wellbeing, of smoking relating illnesses.

 

 This measure, introduced by Micheal Martin, Minister of Health in the present coalition government, and banning smoking in a variety of establishments including public buildings, enclosed work places, entertainment venues, pubs and restaurants, had been much heralded with various schools of opinion putting forward their reasoned arguments for and against the proposal which has been viewed by many of the estimated 25% of the country’s population who smoke as an attack on their personal liberty. There are a few “exceptions” however, for example, and strangely, police stations and prisons.

Are You Going For a “568 mls”?

Are You Going For a “568 mls”?

 

The recent news that “The Pint” had been “saved” was greeted with great relief, indeed, with the raising of glasses accompanied by cheerful salutations, by social drinkers here inIreland.

 After many years of debate by the powers that be within the European Union, and more recently consultation between the EC Commission and industry officials, over a change from our “embedded” imperial measuring system to the metric system for determining size, volume, length etc, it has now been ruled that we can continue to use the imperial system of measurement. From 1995, up to the present time, the selling of goods within the EU has been subject to the use of the metric system.

Are “Home Cures” the best (and the cheapest)!

Are “Home Cures” the best (and the cheapest)!

 

In these days of rising medication and treatment costs, and to defray the cost of our healthcare, should we now be reverting to the “home cures” of the type used by our forbears, at little or no expense to them?

 Indeed, “home cures” are still practised here in the west ofIreland.

 

 I pose the question have read, and thoroughly enjoyed, a booklet which came into my possession recently, entitled “Memories of Home Cures used over generations onAchill”. The booklet contains much information about “home” remedies for a variety of ailments and medical conditions, collected and compiled from people attending St Colman’s Care Centre in Keel, a village on beautifulAchillIslandinCountyMayo.

The Leprechaun Community in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland

The Leprechaun Community in Post-Celtic TigerIreland

 

“Catch me if you can!”

 

Near a misty stream inIrelandin the hollow of a tree

Live mystical, magical leprechauns who are clever as can be

With their pointed ears, and turned up toes and little coats of green

The leprechauns busily make their shoes and try hard not to be seen

Only those who really believe have seen these little elves

And if we are believers

We can surely see for ourselves!

 

An oft-overlooked minority in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland is the leprechaun community.

 

 How, in fact, are the leprechauns, or as they are more fondly known “the little people”, faring in the booming, dynamic, Ireland of the early 21st Century? Not too badly, it seems.

 

 Firstly, who or what are leprechauns? It is said that the name leprechaun may have its derivation in the Irish leath bhrogan, meaning “shoemaker”, although other opinion has it that its origins may be found in luacharma’n , the Irish for “pygmy”.

 

 

It’s a great day for the Irish!

It’s a great day for the Irish!

(And for anyone else who wants to be “Irish” for the day!)

 

 On 17th March this year towns, villages and communities the length and breadth of theisland ofIreland, in keeping with longstanding tradition, celebrated the feast day of  Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick.

 

 To many, the day is known simply and affectionately, and certainly not irreverently, as “Paddy’s Day”.

 

 St Patrick, who brought Christianity to this land around the year 431 A.D., died on 17th March 461 A.D. and is reputed to be buried in Downpatrick inCountyDown. Some years ago I visited his grave, when I learned that the grave, apparently, also contained the remains of Saint Brigid and Saint Malachy!

 

 March 17th here is a national holiday, although this year with the day itself falling on a Saturday, and as is the practice here when this occurs, the following Monday was duly designated as a day for national abstinence from servile endeavour, and for leisure activity, courtesy of our patron saint. This year’s Saint Patrick’s Day and its celebrations, in reality, “stretched” from the previous Thursday to the following Tuesday. No “half measures” here, when it comes to celebrating a “special day”!

Last Orders! The Beer with no Pubs!

Last Orders! The Beer with no Pubs!

 

And is there a place for the mobile pub in ruralIreland?

 My play on the title of that wistful overture by the late Australian singer Slim Dusty “The pub with no beer” introduces the subject of my story this month. This is the (perhaps, never envisaged) demise of the traditional pub in rural Ireland, not just in country areas but also in villages and smaller towns outside Dublin and “The Pale”, and other major cities and centres of population.

 

 Whilst, undoubtedly, trade in pubs in Dublin and the other more populated areas may be down, for reasons reflected below, it is in rural Ireland where the effect of pub closures is at its greatest, with all its implications, and following on from the wholesale disappearance of the village shop and post office, the local primary school and other local community institutions, for the cohesion and sustainability of Irish country life.  

It could drive you to drink

It could drive you to drink?

 Well, after nearly 40 years of navigating the highways and bi-ways ofEnglandandIreland, it has finally happened. I have been stopped and breathalysed. A new experience, indeed, for me.

 

 As many readers of “The Harp” may be aware, particularly those who may have visited Ireland this summer, the government here has enacted legislation ushering in, from 21 July this year, powers which now enable the Garda Siochana (police) here to carry out mandatory roadside random breath tests on drivers, at any time of the day or night, seven days a week, to determine if they are over the legal limit for driving with alcohol in their systems.

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