Contact Liz and Tony at: The Old Deanery Holiday Cottages: Killala, Co. Mayo, Ireland
Telephone :+353 096 32221
Mobile :+086 3451960
I was on a Blue Bag trip, just me and my oldest travelling companion. Purchased in 1984 on Oxford Street for a tenner, Blue Bag has been around the planet with me a couple of times, as well as joining me on innumerable trips such as this, dashes for time alone, time with friends, time to do whatever I please, away from all manner of responsibility.
After months of illness I thought I was fully recovered, but as I was to discover, my energy levels were still severely depleted.
As wind and rain lashed the West of Ireland, I turned off the car radio and lifted my spirits by enveloping myself in a Vivaldi violin concerto. The swirling joyous music dissolved the impact of the storm, washing the rest of the world from my thoughts.
Turn off at Claremorris, cross country to Ballyvary, Ballina and eventually Killala. I know this journey so well, each turnoff another station of the cross.
You what? Blimey, maybe I’ve lived in Ireland too long!
Excited and eager to visit much-loved friends, I arrived back in what I refer to as ‘my village’, which will offend the locals on two counts: one, because many of them refer to it as a town, and two, I’m clearly not a local. A mere blow-in, I blew-out after three and half years, but a decade later I still love the place and its people.
First stop to see a man who owns a unique nook in the fireplace of my soul. Our time spent together never seems long enough, yet we managed to share a tiny 'winter warmer' and then both headed into the storm, he to fill bags of sand in a quarry, while was I aiming for a rather more genteel destination, in the shape of tea and a chat with another friend.
She is dealing with the kind of loss you experience only once a lifetime; the loss you hope to share with others in old age, when everyone is far more ready to deal with death.
We supped soup and talked and then I went off to the Old Deanery, where I’d rented a lovely holiday cottage for a couple of nights from another friend. (Contact details above).
Liz had lit a raging turf fire, so the place was completely toasty by the time I arrived. Dropping Blue Bag to the floor, I took off my coat and exclaimed out loud:
“Thank you, universe!”
Then I collapsed backwards into the fireside chair with such impetus I remember thinking it felt like I’d been shot. Of course, I knew that was a mere indulgence, but at that moment I was completely unaware of people being shot and held hostage in France.
Thereafter I did not move for six and a half hours, save for feeding my face and passing it out the other end. I hadn’t realised how utterly drained I was. Far from home, job, wife and dog, my strings temporarily cut, I fell like a ragged puppet.
It was blissful. Later my excellent friend called from Sweeney’s Village Inn, just around the corner. Was I coming up for a pint?
Often I dream of such an opportunity, but that night I declined.
“No mate. Sorry, I can’t move. See you tomorrow at the party!”
The next morning I phoned my mother, who was shocked that I knew nothing of the previous day’s news. Like millions around the world, she had watched the heinous story unfold live on 24-hour TV news channels.
Refusing to succumb to radio or TV, I bought the Irish Times to find out what had been going on in France, and the Daily Mirror to read the football nonsense.
Strangely, I ended up reading the sport in the Times and the news in the Mirror. The Irish paper of record suffers from the same disease many so-called quality papers have these days: to discover the plain facts, you have to plough through interminable descriptive waffle about sunrises, sirens, smells in the air and sounds in the distance.
In contrast, the Red Top tabloid laid out aptly-named ‘bullet points’ of news simply and graphically, under a headline that ran:
“They wanted to die martyrs. Instead they died as vile pathetic murderous scum.”
Headlines like that help in the same way as Charlie Hebdo’s further three million cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Ripping ill-formed scabs off a fresh wound, the massive print run succeeded only in offending millions of moderate Muslims, creating violent backlashes around the world.
Lacking the energy to attend that evening's party, I packed Blue Bag and headed home, my weekend away reduced to a single anti-social evening of solitude and inertia.
On the drive home I wondered at this perpetual cycle of violence, indulging myself in conspiratorial notions.
A western nation invades a Muslim country, precipitating revenge attacks on their home soil. Sometimes it starts the other way around, but a small part of me wonders if this status quo might suit both sides.
Terrorists seek to instil terror. Seeing armed troops guarding European streets, it’s hard to believe the terrorists have failed.
Terrorised populations are easier for governments to control, and sure enough, Cameron and Obama have grasped the opportunity to remove more civil liberties, increase surveillance of private individuals and reduce the very freedoms that were supposedly being threatened by the terrorists.
Maybe the best way to deal with such fanatics is to remain united yet stoic. During what they bizarrely referred to as called their ‘Mainland Campaign’ the Provisional IRA’s bombs killed hundreds of English people, injured thousands more, yet I still played with my Irish friends at school.
We simply kept calm and carried on.