Saturday, 2 September 2017

Dribbling, sloshing and hurling in Connemara!

One of my beloved London Posse is over on a visit, so we avoid the high season crowds at Roundstone, turning right at Clifden and head for the Aughris Peninsula.

By lunchtime we’re sitting in Oliver’s in Cleggan, enjoying Guinness, oysters, the view out of the window and each others’ company.

Cleggan was my base when I first discovered the area, and I fell in love with the secluded little beaches that scatter the shoreline all the way to Claddaghduff. Most tourists seem to see the place as merely a ferry in-and-out job, but they are missing a lot, and I’m grateful they're over there, on different beaches.

Standing on white sand, alone or with a lifetime friend, looking out to Bofin and distant headlands across a turquoise Atlantic aspiring to appear Caribbean, I feel a sense of belonging, calm, hope: works for me every time.

On the day that's in it, the sky is grey, so my friend doesn’t see the full splendour of blue and black, green and gold, but Connemara never lets you down.

The lads in Oliver's are talking about the hurling, and just for a minute my mind drifts back to this bar decades ago, when I used to stay in the hostel at the old Master’s House. 

Then, after a year in Galway, I developed grandiose notions of belonging to the B&B set.

That didn’t work out well at all.

A stubborn and foolish man driven by the idea of a cooked breakfast, I’d forced myself out of bed after a long afternoon and longer night before.

Kings, Newman's, The Pier, Oliver’s, back to Newman’s.
You’re familiar with the way it works. 

My messed-up morning brain was perfectly mirrored by the low cloud drizzle swamping and subduing Cleggan Bay. Heading into the dazzling lights of the Dining Room, I was blissfully unaware that my T-shirt was on inside out and back to front.

The other residents sat at their tables, all clinky china and hushed tones, trying their best to ignore me.

Far from matters of mere sartorial elegance, I was having a great deal of trouble simply eating. Trying far too carefully to secure a piece of toast and fried egg onto my fork, I oops and steady now … there it goes.

At the precise moment I managed to fumble that eggy bready parcel into my mouth, an immaculately turned-out French couple glided into the Dining Room. 

A second’s glance deduced that these slickers had not been in the pub until early that morning. They’d invested in 8 hours kip and doubtless awoke refreshed, only to spritz their cheeks with atomized Evian water.

As if in an art gallery - or maybe a zoo! - they both stopped in their tracks to watch a piece of fried egg slowly slip from my mouth, ooze its way down my chin and drop back onto my plate.

Rather convenient, I thought to myself, no scraping of table cloth necessary, but the French were utterly horrified. They turned and walked out of the room, for some reason having lost their appetite.

Now everyone turned to look at me, in that straight-laced shirt collar out of the V-neck sweater kind of way.

Did I care?
Not while there was food to be eaten.

The rain continued to come down. All healthy intentions to climb hills and break a natural sweat were banished.

Back to Oliver’s, where the big screen was up. Galway were taking on Tipp in the All Ireland semi-final. Back then the Gaelic was all new to me, but you didn’t have to know the finer points of hurling to recognise one of the best sports on the planet.

Excitement expanded to explosive levels in the packed pub, as Galway confounded the tipsters. Every time a point was scored the place erupted, and when Galway scored a goal small riots broke out in various corners of the pub.

The place fell silent as Tipperary took the ball and ran towards the Galway goal, save for a tiny yet defiant female voice, rising from the middle of the crammed-in masses.

“Come on Tipp!”

Everyone laughed raucously. So different to my native England, nobody here booed or maligned her beyond gentle craic.

As a teenager in the 70s I’d never wear my Chelsea shirt in North or East London, so I was both delighted and shocked when I first saw Mayo kids going to school wearing Dublin jerseys.

In England that’d be cruising for a bruising, but here everybody stands together - although I suspect you’d be unlikely to find a Dublin shirt on a child in Kerry.

Galway won by two points on that August day in 1993, and I dutifully resigned myself to the ensuing celebrations.

We went on to lose the final to Kilkenny, but as I slosh down molluscs and black stuff with my mate, I’m absorbing the positive mood in the fresh Cleggan air.

Galway knocked out Tipp and the dreaded Cats are long gone.

Can’t wait for tomorrow! Come on Galway!

©Charlie Adley

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