Frank Brandon’s Column

A very different August Bank Holiday!

Our man Frank on the pandemic’s impact on fairs, carnivals and agricultural shows, Aoife O’Rourke’s Olympic heroics, colourful characters in Dun Laoghaire, and the end of an era for Galway hurling…

It’s Bank Holiday Monday morning, and a couple of years ago, festival committee members all over the country would be anxiously opening their curtains, peering out between their fingers to see what type of day God had granted for their big day. Fairs, agricultural shows, carnivals and festivals would all be hoping for a fine, dry August day, and chairpersons, secretaries, treasurers, and rank and file members would be praying to God above to look favourably on their needs and listen to their desperate novenas.

However, on this very wet Bank Holiday Monday, the weather doesn’t make much difference, as for the second year in a row, Covid-19 has effectively put paid to most festivities, with events now forced to move online for the main part.

One thing you may not know about me is that I am a radio man at heart, and much prefer the radio to the telly. Shannonside, Mid West, and RTÉ One – along with the local Ros FM – are my favourites, and, on Monday morning, I heard Gerry Glennon on Mid West, reflecting on the fact that up until last year, he had spent 27 or 28 consecutive years presenting the Bonniconlon Agricultural show, one of the biggest shows in the west.

Some years ago, my wife Carol was competing in the show jumping competition in Bonniconlon, and I went along to provide some moral support. I couldn’t get over the sheer scale of the entire event – there was everything and anything going on, including marvellous live music with artists like Declan Nerney and Mike Denver keeping the huge crowds entertained. It is estimated that up to 30,000 people would attend the one-day show, and after being cancelled two years in a row due to Covid, hopes are high that next year’s event will take place. As for us, our visit all those years ago was productive – Carol came home with a treasured Rosette for finishing in second place.

Nearer home, today would have been the day of the Ballygar Carnival, and as in Bonniconlon, the place would be thronged, with numerous stall holders selling their wares, and horses, ponies, donkeys, foals, the odd mule, turkeys, chickens, ducks, cows and calves and loads of other animals and birds being exhibited. The fun and the craic would be ninety, with people having the chat, chasing the hard bargain, and simply enjoying the special atmosphere that Ballygar Carnival has generated since 1945. This Bank Holiday Monday is very different.

The reason I was listening to Mid West this morning was that I was driving to Castlerea to get tested for Covid-19 for the second time in a week. I am doubly vaccinated and had very little casual contact with two positive cases, so maybe I didn’t really need to get tested at all, but just to be sure, I went both times.

At a time when we are supposed to be coming out of the pandemic, I couldn’t get over the huge numbers that the staff there had to deal with. As I said before, the whole operation is very well structured, professionally run, and everyone is extremely helpful and courteous, but when you compare it to heading off to the show in Bonniconlon, or the fair in Ballygar, it falls a long way short.

However, that’s where we are nowadays, so my two wishes today are that my test results are negative, and that this day next year, I will be looking for a bargain on the streets of Ballygar!

 

Aoife performed heroically in Tokyo

Sport plays a big part in my life. Rugby, Gaelic football, and hurling would be my main interests, with soccer (only because of my life-long love of Manchester United), golf, and equestrian sports occupying lower places on my interest scale.

However, every four years, the Olympics arrive into our world, and just as Wimbledon turns us all into tennis players for a couple of weeks each summer, the games transform armchair fans like me into experts on everything from swimming to gymnastics, and athletics to boxing.

On Wednesday morning last, in common with hundreds of thousands of Irish people, I watched as Aoife O’Rourke made her debut in the Olympic boxing ring in Tokyo. To be honest, I thought she was let down by the officials, whose marking of the fight did not make any sense to me at all.

As long as I have watched boxing, I have always believed that the person who goes forward all the time, throws more punches than their opponent, and comes across as the aggressor, is the person who should be rewarded by the judges. In this case, Aoife (who seemed to me to be doing all those things) seemed to get no reward at all, losing out to an opponent who was continually holding, back peddling and only throwing the occasional punch.

Now I am well aware that I am not privy to the marking systems in amateur boxing, but to my slightly prejudiced eye, it seems that particularly in the Rio Olympics, and now Tokyo, Irish boxers have been consistently hard done by. All I can hope for is that if Aoife makes Paris in three years’ time, the judges will be a bit more appreciative of her efforts. From what I’ve seen, she is more than capable of winning an Olympic medal.

As for last week, the fighting qualities, skill, and the wholehearted way in which she went about the fight endeared her to the entire nation. She did her family, Castlerea Boxing Club, County Roscommon, and the whole country proud. Here’s to Paris in three years’ time! Well done, Aoife – you are a true champion.

 

I fancy a pint with the ‘man from Del Monte’!

I have never had a drink in O’Loughlin’s Bar in Dun Laoghaire, but judging by a recent story in the Sunday World, it sounds like the sort of a pub I would like to visit! For a start, the barman Maurice O’Loughlin is a sprightly 86-years-old, while one of his regulars, Pat Elliot, clocks in at 104.

Both of them are fond of their pint of Guinness, and Pat used to drink five or six pints – although he says he only has the odd one now and favours a Black Bush instead. At 104, he cooks for himself, gets his own messages, and as O’Loughlin’s is his second home, he says it’s great to be back. When he got the €2,500 cheque from the President on turning 100, he spent it in the bar, and laughingly said that Maurice, not him, was the main benefactor. In his working life he was an accountant, and then a salesman for Del Monte tinned fruit, and if I ever get to Dun Laoghaire, I think it would be a great thrill to have a pint in O’Loughlin’s and chat with the original man from Del Monte!

 

Finally for this week…

 

You didn’t have to be from Galway to be a little bit sad at the recent retirement of one of the greatest hurlers of our time, Joe Canning, who announced last week that he was quitting the inter-county scene.

For thirteen glorious years, he was at the centre of Galway’s hurling fortunes and no one did more to lift the spirits of the followers of the Tribesmen. When he eventually got his hands on an elusive All-Ireland medal in 2017, the entire country (except maybe Waterford fans) were delighted for him. He intends to continue hurling with his club, Portumna, but the national stage he graced for so long will have to do without him.

As a Galway man, it’s safe to say we will never see his likes again, while as a hurling man, his skill, power, and above all his amazing sideline cuts were a joy to behold. At 32 years of age, he probably could have carried on for a bit longer, but injuries take their toll and it is better for the five-time All Star to get out while still at the top of his game.

I wish him well in his retirement, and thanks Joe for all the enjoyment you gave Galway and non-Galway supporters for thirteen wonderful years.

‘Till next week, Bye for now!