Monday 20 August 2012

Twenty years in twenty paragraphs…

Two weeks ago I was at my friend The Goat’s 65th birthday party in Clifden, and as Stretch tuned up his guitar with a few bars of Pink Floyd, I realised that it had been 20 years since I first walked into Terry’s pub and watched these boys play…  (cue wavy screen and diddydiddlydiddly harp music…)

It’s 9th April 1992, and the Conservatives have won their fourth consecutive English General Election. I’ve just finished writing a novel, feel the British public deserve their Tory fate, walk into a travel agents and ask for the cheapest one-way ticket out of the country. £39 flies me to to Malaga and then I hitch, looking for a new home.

Saturday August 1st, I step off the French ferry from Roscoff onto Irish soil for the first time. Over the previous 20 years I’ve been around the planet a couple of times, but never visited the country next door. I have neither friends nor family here, no addresses, a clean sheet, which feels perfect. I’ve run out of countries, so Ireland’s going to be my home. Flipping on the TV in a Cork City B&B, I watch the Galway Races.

After cold calling for jobs in Cork I head to Kinsale, work split shifts as a kitchen porter while living in a hostel, go mad and flee to Galway, where I fall deeply in love with Connemara. I find a room to rent in Salthill. It’s 24 hour party people, Crusties and lost souls such as myself.

One month later I have this colyoom and a FAS course working as a youth worker in the Rahoon Flats. Escaping the other blow-ins I meet the mightiest crew of local lads in the shape of Blitz, The Body and Whispering Blue, but exhausted by the craic, I plot my escape from Galway.

May 1994 sees me loading all my worldlies into the back of my transit van and driving off to the first house I’ve ever lived in alone. Off the road between Ballyconneely and Slyne Head, Bunowen is bliss. I walk and write another novel and walk more and write six columns under six different names and then fall in love and move to America to be married.

Four years later I return to Galway, failed and lost, to be rescued by old friends who offer me a room to rent in their house in the Claddagh. The good people of this noble rag offer me back this colyoom, for which I am truly grateful.

Evidently I’d had to leave my home to realise that, after a lifetime’s search, I’d already found it in the West of Ireland. Whiskey and mayhem ensue between Taylor’s Bar and Harriet’s Nimmo’s, but I keep it together enough to open and run a charity shop for Age Action, write minority sports interviews for the Irish Examiner and plot my escape from Galway.

The Snapper serves me at Nimmo’s and my life once more becomes a C&W song: “Just when luuuuurvve’s a million miles from my mii-iind, she smiles and pours me a glass of wii-ii-iine.”

In March 2001, I move to a beautiful farmhouse outside Killala, Co. Mayo, but am then trapped indoors by the Foot and Mouth epidemic. I’m writing this colyoom and Diary of a Blow-In, a column for the Irish Examiner, and selling bags of features to the Examiner and the Irish Post in London, but I’m such an emotional wreck from my failed marriage, I can’t write fiction.

My first two years in that house are exceptionally happy. North Mayo is Ireland’s best kept secret, with virgin white sand beaches and the most excellent bunch of people, pleased to have me in their midst.

By my third year in Killala I realise that no locals ever visit my house. Scenting the first whiffs of loneliness, I start to plot my escape to Galway. Ironically, the entire village arrives at my house to throw me a surprise leaving party. Truly wonderful, if only they'd visited earlier...

Eventually I find a one bedroom house in Salthill and get a job as a youth worker in Ballybane. My boss is so brilliant at his work, I learn as much about myself as the teenagers with whom I’m working.

The Snapper and I move into a new house together. Sadly I leave my job, as I’m spending so much time in England with my chronically unwell father. I’m finally getting to grips with the fourth novel, and then my father dies and the Snapper and I are married two weeks later. With the help of friends we throw a wedding bash at Massimo's that blows us and half of Galway away; truly a celebration of life.

The Celtic Tiger dies, the freelance market dries up, and this colyoom is cancelled in 2009. I go through a deeply dark year with no income and no dole, forced to spend my father’s inheritance just to buy the groceries, which breaks my heart.

I work crazy hours trying to earn money and when our families buy us a holiday, I end up in a French hospital with a massive panic attack. Time to learn that I’m not invulnerable. At Public School they told us we were worthless pieces of scum and exceptionally gifted leaders of men, which screwed me and most of my friends up for life, but now I know: showing weakness is allowed.

I sell a couple of features to the Irish Times, but columns are rare as sunny Galway summers. The Snapper and I hunker down with the rest of the nation, moving out to a lovely house, half an hour from Galway.

At last I don’t have to plot an escape, because now I have both country and city. A couple of months later this noble rag offers me back this colyoom. Hoorah.

This is a very Happy Anniversary! Thank you, the West Of Ireland! Here’s to the next 20!

We drink to life - L'Chaim!  

No comments: