Frank Brandon column

Remembering the dark days – before

John Hume’s epic work began to pay off



Our columnist on June Hume’s legacy; why Simon Cowell has influenced his fitness regime…and in praise of Ronnie O’Sullivan…



It’s Wednesday morning of last week, and ­– if you can remember – ­the rain absolutely pelted down for the early part of the day. Even if you hadn’t intended to watch it, you nearly had to stay indoors and watch the funeral of John Hume, the man voted Ireland’s Greatest. Miraculously, as the ceremony came to a close, the weather changed down here in Crosswell. The sun came out, and you just got the feeling it was God’s way of acknowledging the importance of the passing of such a wonderful man.

As we read and heard so much about him during the week, it was acknowledged by everyone that John Hume was probably the most influential person in bringing an end to more than 30 years of conflict, savagery and murder in the North of Ireland.

As I listened to all that was being said about him and those times, I began to reflect on the absolute horrific impact of those years – from 1968 to 1998 – on everyone unfortunate enough to live in the North during that time.

Back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s I was living and working in the border town of Dundalk, and until 1975 (after the Miami Showband massacre), rugby clubs from the South regularly travelled over the border to play friendly games against their counterparts in the Northern province. Even now I can remember two very distinct feelings about playing in those matches. As a young, slightly wild young fellow, the first was the hope that I would make the travelling party, because the treatment we got everywhere was absolutely fantastic, with as much food and drink as you could manage. The unwritten rule was that we couldn’t put our hands in our pockets (there wouldn’t be a lot in mine anyway). Even attempting to pay for a drink was nearly taken as an insult!

On the other hand however, there was also the underlying fear that, as Southern Catholics we could be seen as targets, and when we played in Loyalist blackspots like Portadown and parts of Belfast, our hosts used have to take all kinds of precautions to make sure we got safely to their clubhouses. We always travelled by train to Belfast, and would be collected by a number of cars. The instructions were always the same – no matter who or what stopped the cars, the driver would do all the talking. We were never to say a word, as a Southern accent in the wrong place could cause all kinds of trouble. On other occasions, we were hidden under blankets and told not to move a muscle until we arrived at our destination.

The other thing that was noticeable back then was that every weekend there was a massive influx into Dundalk from nationalist areas as people tried to get away from the widespread violence and terror – the pubs, hotels and nightspots all boosted accordingly. It’s almost impossible to believe now, but in that little area on our island, 3,532 men, women and children were killed during those terrible years, with almost 50,000 seriously injured or maimed.

There is no doubt that the debt owed by us all to John Hume for bringing all that death and destruction to an end is simply enormous, and his legacy will never be forgotten. His funeral was slightly surreal, as all the world statesmen and leaders who would have wanted to be there couldn’t travel because of Covid, but it was still a beautifully moving tribute to one of the greatest peace exponents of our times. As we say goodbye to the great Derry man, it is with slight irony we say ‘May he rest in peace’.


Explosive ‘Rocket’

is great fun!


I have to admit that since the great days of Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins (who famously threatened to have fellow Ulsterman Dennis Taylor shot), and Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White (who reached six world snooker championship finals and lost them all), I have never really been that interested in snooker. In fact, since those great days, only Ronnie O’Sullivan has ever come near to bringing the same level of excitement, unpredictability and sheer brilliance back to the snooker table.

This week, by some fluke, I happened to see O’Sullivan’s extraordinary interview with the BBC, where, after winning his game against Ding Junhui, he was asked how, after more than 26 years at the highest level, he was still ranked so highly among the top players in the world. In an amazing and in my opinion hilarious reply, he said the new young players were so bad they would do well only as half-decent amateurs, adding that he would have to lose an arm and a leg to fall outside the top 50.

He also said he hates playing in the Crucible in Sheffield where the world finals take place, and would prefer to be in Crawley – a place he once described as a ‘hellhole’ where all he could smell was urine. The player added that he couldn’t really care whether he wins or loses nowadays, that he plays more for fun. Sometimes during matches, he finds it very hard to focus, and his mind can be all over the place.

It goes without saying that his remarks about how poor some of the players are have gone down like the proverbial lead balloon, and he is getting plenty of stick over them. However, I say ‘Well done Ronnie!’ It’s great to hear someone speak freely, without worrying about who they may upset, especially someone who actually has some real content in what they say.

As it happens, while I write this the Rocket is struggling in his next match, presently losing by 6 frames to 2 against Welshman, Mark Williams. I hope he makes a comeback, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter, as he doesn’t care anyway!

(Editor: As I read this, the Rocket has just blown Williams away, 13-10).


Cycle of life: Simon

Cowell and me!


I have recently been looking at a fellow whizzing round our local area on his electric bicycle, and even though I have never had much of an interest in cycling – or in truth ever even liked it – I have to admit that to the horror of my family, the thought of getting an electric bike appealed to me quite a bit.

I never liked cycling because my legs were too short for most bikes, and I found it hard to reach the pedals. It was physically very demanding. However, as I watched our local man flying round the place, I thought to myself that the electric bike was the thing for me. Easy enough to ride/drive, I could let the bike do the work without extending myself. It would give me the chance to see our beautiful countryside, take in the lovely, fresh air, and maybe it might even be good for me both physically and mentally.

However, that all changed on Saturday, when Simon Cowell, who was testing out his new £3,900 bike (a little bit more than I was going to spend), had a bad fall and broke his back in several places. This led to a six-hour operation, during which he had a metal rod inserted in his back. As a result, he will be out of action for at least a month, and I have decided to stick to my walks up Lenamarla and continue my fairly regular nine holes at Castlerea Golf Club.

I have definitely abandoned my interest in bicycles, as the worst that could happen on my walks is that I might pull a muscle, and the worst thing that could happen on the course is that a golf ball might come flying and hit me. Neither thing is very likely to happen, but when a fit man like Simon Cowell can come a cropper off an electric bike, I can only wonder what damage I could do – and I do not intend to find out.


And finally…(fame at last)


Finally for this week, another major TV interview also took place recently when Ciaran Mullooly came to Creggs last week and spoke to yours truly about the continued closure of our rural pubs.

After nearly 70 years, I had my 20 seconds of fame on RTÉ, and I just want to reassure all my readers, including you, that I haven’t let the fame go to my head, and it hasn’t changed me in any way.