Frank Brandon’s Column

Heartless thieves stoop to a new low


Our columnist on heartless thieves, taking down the Christmas decorations, and – 60 years on – discovering The Chieftains!

Christmas, as I told you last week, is a time of peace and goodwill, and a time when people go out of their way to help their friends, neighbours and sometimes total strangers too. It’s all done in an effort to ensure that the festive season is remembered for all the right reasons, and celebrated in the proper way, while acknowledging the birth of Baby Jesus.

And so a story that I spotted on a national paper this weekend has absolutely knocked me for six. Shortly before Christmas, down in Knockainey in Limerick, thieves broke into Sarah Farrell’s car – which was parked in the driveway of her house – opened the boot and stole the custom-made wheelchair belonging to her two-year-old daughter, Mia.

The toddler is, in her mother’s words, totally paralysed. The wheelchair is her legs, and without it she has no way to get around. As she looks forward to her third birthday this coming week, mother Sarah says the return of the wheelchair would be the best birthday present ever. All she asks is that the heartless thieves have a little compassion and leave the chair where it can be found and given back to her heartbroken daughter.

I have to say that in a world where nothing surprises me, and where there seems to be no end to the depths that certain scumbags will descend to, this one takes the biscuit. Whoever did this vile deed and stole a child’s wheelchair, should, if caught, face the full rigor of the law. If ever there was a case for the return of hard labour, this is it, and even that would be too good for those lowlifes.

However, on the plus side, Sarah has been heartened by the reaction of the community, and has praised the generosity of some people, amongst whom was a man who brought a bag of toys for Mia, and others who gave them shopping vouchers. In fairness, there is always a lot of good out there, but let’s all hope the thieves see what a horrible thing they have done and that they reunite Mia with her vitally important wheelchair.

Back to the other side of the coin, and talking about the goodness of people, on New Year’s Eve my heating system decided to go on the blink. As we faced into a spell of very cold weather, we were looking forward to shivering and freezing and dying with the cold, because – as everyone knows – it would be impossible to get any help on the day that was in it. However, there is always hope, and without going into too much detail, my brother-in-law Paul, plumbers Vinny Egan and Fergal Tully and Ward’s Topline shop in Roscommon all answered my phone calls and we got the show back on the road. I am well aware that New Year’s Eve is one of those days when no one can be found, so thanks a million to them all for coming to my assistance.


How I gained new appreciation of Irish culture

Even though I am proud to be Irish and would be a passionate supporter of our national teams – and of our wonderful national sports, Gaelic football and hurling – I also have to admit that I have never been as supportive of our beautiful Irish language or as passionate about our amazing Irish music and dance.

For nearly sixty years The Chieftains have represented Ireland with their incredible music all over the world, but apart from when having a few pints in Matt Molloy’s pub in Westport, I have never seen any of them live. In truth, I would have hardly ever even watched them play on the telly. So last evening, when I came across one of their iconic concerts from Montreux in Switzerland in 1997, my first reaction was to press the remote buttons and go to some other channel. Thankfully I didn’t, and I watched and listened to some of the most powerful musical performances that I have ever seen.

Fiddles, bodhrans, harp, guitar, tin whistle, flute, piano, drums, bagpipes and keyboard and probably more instruments all merged together to produce a mesmeric sound that had the huge Swiss crowd literally baying for more, and I have to say it was just so wonderful to see it. I realise it is a bit late in my life, as I am now in my 70th year, but from now on I am a fully fledged Chieftains fan, and have it in my bucket list to go and see them in concert if I ever get the chance.

To top it all off, as I browsed through some other channels (lockdown has a lot to answer for), I happened across two Galway brothers, Michael and Matthew Gardiner, who are multiple world champion Irish dancers. I could only marvel at their agility, ability and talent as they danced together at such a speed that you would think them hardly human at all.

These two lads, who are Internet sensations, make up their own dances to every type of music – even rock and rap – but give it an Irish twist. When they dance, they are undeniably Irish! It all made me realise how far Irish dancing has come since Riverdance moved it into the 21st century (well, in 1994, but you know what I mean).

And so, on this Monday morning – even though it’s a wet, miserable one – I am feeling totally uplifted with my new appreciation of our dance and musical heritage. Hopefully the next time you hear from me I will be an expert on Irish music, song and dance.

In the meantime, I have to say well done to Paddy Maloney and his Chieftains for putting our music out there for almost sixty years. Here’s to many more years of worldwide success.


Diverse experiences of policing!

This morning, as I was doing away with the porridge and the brown bread (our own homemade version), I was tuned into one of the many breakfast TV shows. I saw two young English girls telling of how they were fined £200 for effectively breaking the UK Covid guidelines.

Their crime was that they drove five miles from their own village, in separate cars, with the intention of going for a socially distancing walk in a deserted park. Sadly for them it wasn’t fully deserted, as five Derbyshire policemen were there. They interrogated the girls, read them their rights, and issued them with on-the-spot fines of £200. The girls, who felt they were being fully responsible by going to an area that they knew would be less busy than other walking places nearer their homes, said they felt they were being treated like criminals. They added that while there are guidelines in place, there is no law that they had actually broken.

The general reaction is that the police were, in this instance, very heavy handed, and showed a huge lack of old-style cop-on. Today, as myself and Carol drove to Roscommon to collect some of the many medicines that are keeping me alive, we too met a checkpoint, but our experience could not have been more different than that of the Derbyshire girls.

The Garda enquired where we were going, reminded us to wear our masks, talk to no one, be careful, and stay safe. His attitude was so refreshing and caring, and while sometimes we like to have a go at our Garda Siochána, in this instance it was so nice to meet someone who definitely had his fair share of cop-on. Maybe the police across the water could take a leaf out of his book.


And finally…

Finally for this week, I can’t deny that there was a little bit of sadness in the house as we took down the Christmas tree this year. As we put away the baubles, the lights and the quirky little ornaments that have accumulated over nearly 40 years, we reflected on a Christmas that was  undoubtedly affected by Covid-19, and which was very different from the usual festive season.

Anyway, sad or not, off they went to their new place of rest in the attic (a year or two ago I thought I had lost everything as I couldn’t find any of the decorations or lights or anything) which means I now at least know where they are. That would have been that, only for me to see on the national news later that evening that the good people of Elphin had agreed to keep up their Christmas trees and lights and everything else until the end of January to show that Covid-19 was not going to put the lights out in their town.

Since then, towns all over Ireland, including Roscommon and Galway city, have followed suit and kept their lights on as well, so well done to the people of Elphin for such an inspiring initiative. Sadly my request to take all the stuff back out was rejected, as the young lad refused to go back up to the attic and my old bones would not manage the trip.

So as all these towns rejoice in their extended Christmas, we are in relative darkness out here and will have to go to Roscommon town to have another look at the lights. However, I don’t think that would be regarded as a necessary journey so it will have to wait until next year – but to all the residents of those towns all I can say is…Happy Christmas!