Frank Brandon’s Column

Can Mayo end long famine?

Our columnist on enjoying retirement, feeling sorry for Waterford hurlers, and looking ahead to the All-Ireland football final…

It seems a long time ago now, but in mid-March, two or three days before the first lockdown and after more than fifty years in the workforce, the sad (at the time) news came that my services were no longer required in the antique shop where I worked. I was heading into retirement.

At the time I wondered would I manage psychologically (as well as financially) or would I become one of the many retirees who cannot fill their time and eventually nearly die of boredom.

Well the good news is that I have taken to retirement like a duck to water. I have discovered baking skills I never thought I could have, turned my hand to interior decorating, and recently started painting everything that moved (and lots that didn’t move) inside our house – especially, according to Carol, the floors and the carpets.

It’s now Monday afternoon and I am seated at the kitchen table writing this piece. I’ve already done the shopping and had my daily walk. I am about to take today’s batch of chocolate chip buns from the oven. I can only reiterate that retirement and lockdown hasn’t been so bad at all.

Yet, today I’m a little sad, because while I don’t have any Waterford blood in me, my heart goes out to their senior hurling team, their management and their long-suffering supporters, after once again failing to bridge the long, long gap since last they won the MacCarthy Cup. It’s now been 61 years, and on the evidence of Sunday’s unbelievable display by Limerick, the wait is not going to come to an end soon.

What makes me most sad is that in two of the three finals Waterford have played in relatively recent times, they have come up against two of the best teams to have ever graced our hurling pitches: Kilkenny in 2008 and Limerick last Sunday. Unfortunately, both of those sides put on exhibitions of hurling in the finals that no team would or could have lived with. It looks like the start of an era of Limerick dominance, but hurling is a game of such fine margins that you never know.

I really hope the Deise men can come back again next year, and I would dearly love to see them win the All-Ireland – as long as it’s not Galway they meet in the final. They have now almost become the Mayo of hurling, with neutrals everywhere wishing them over the line.

Needless to say, the whole country will be behind the Mayo men when they try to dethrone the Dubs this Saturday evening. It goes without saying that they have to climb a mountain much bigger than their beloved Croagh Patrick, but in this strangest of years, anything could happen.

A friend of ours, who spends quite a bit of time in Mayo, tells me that they are very confident down there; they feel that the stars are aligned in their favour, that all kinds of prophesies are about to be fulfilled, and the long wait will finally be over. It would indeed be ironic if the Mayo famine was to end in the year of the pandemic, and I would love to see it happen. The more realistic hope is that they really put it up to the Dubs, and possibly win, but I don’t want to see another match where the only question is how big the winning margin is. It would also be ironic if they were to win it and have no one to cheer them on to welcome the Sam Maguire as it crossed the Shannon. Strange times indeed.

Before I leave the hurling, it would be wrong not to say that Limerick were simply magnificent. Their overall display was quite wonderful, so congratulations and well done – we have a couple of Shannonsiders in our area, so let them enjoy the moment.


Criminal minds: TV documentaries that caught my eye

We have often heard the story about waiting for a bus for ages, only for two to come along together (although definitely not in Creggs, or many parts of rural Ireland). Sometimes the same can be said with television programmes.

While most nights it can be very hard to find anything worth watching, occasionally there comes a time like last Monday night when two interesting, informative and controversial programmes air simultaneously.

The programmes in question were both documentaries. One was RTE Investigates, which delved into the forgotten bomb in Belturbet that claimed the lives of two innocent teenagers (15-year-old Geraldine O’Reilly – a local girl – and 16-year-old Patrick Stanley, from Clara, Co. Offaly). The second one, airing on Virgin Media, was called John Gilligan – the End of the Line?

The Belturbet programme showed how there was absolutely no cooperation whatsoever between the law-makers, the police in the North, and their colleagues in the South. Despite being pretty sure as to the identities of the terrorists who carried out the Belturbet atrocity, they failed to pass on any of the information to the Gardaí. As a result, no one was ever brought to justice for the callous murders of the two teenagers, and it seems there was very little effort made by anyone to nail the killers.

What’s even worse is the fact that there appears to have been collusion between the RUC and the loyalist paramilitary groups the UDA and the UVF, which allowed them to pass unhindered into the south and over the next few years, plant car bombs in Monaghan and Dublin, killing nearly forty people and injuring many hundreds of civilians.

As we thankfully have moved on from those days where murder and killings were an everyday occurrence, it’s sobering to realise that those events were taking place less than fifty years ago. I suppose we must be eternally grateful for great men like John Hume and Seamus Mallon, among others, who sacrificed everything to bring peace to our little island.

John Gilligan is one of the most high profile criminals in Ireland over the last thirty years, with his drugs business making him millions in the 1990s – a development that brought him to the attention of crime journalist Veronica Guerin, and which eventually led to him going on trial for her 1996 murder. He was acquitted on the murder charge, but sent to jail for twenty-eight years for his involvement in the drugs trade.

However, the biggest fall-out from the Guerin murder was the formation of the Criminal Assets Bureau, a Government agency that went after the crime gangs’ assets, and which, since its formation, has resulted in millions upon millions of their illegal earnings being confiscated by the state.

The underworld never forgave or forgot Gilligan for attracting such an unprecedented crackdown on their activities. Shortly after his release from jail, he barely survived a murder attempt on his life when he was shot three times in his brother’s house.

After several attempts to get back into the criminal big time, he was recently arrested in Spain for allegedly activities which are a long way removed from when he was a major crime figure.

Today he languishes in an overcrowded Alicante jail and it finally looks as if the pint-sized Gilligan has run his race.

Two things stood out in the Gilligan documentary. The first was his total arrogance as he continually challenged CAB for 21 years at a cost to the state of €15 million (thanks to his having free legal aid), before finally losing his prized asset of Jessbrook Equestrian Centre. The second thing that struck me was his luck when ‘The General’ (Martin Cahill) – who had financed his entry into the big time world of imported drugs – managed to get himself shot before his money (from Gilligan) was due.

A few years ago, I had a look at his Spanish pub, the Judges Chambers, which, like Gilligan, was flying high. Now someone else owns it and the Gilligans are long gone. As the fellow says, it’s a long road.


Shop (and dine) local!

Thinking of Christmas and Christmas shopping, there can be no doubt that the town of Roscommon must be one of the most improved towns in the country over the last few years. Everything that anyone could want is available there now. So make sure to support the town in the run-up into the festive season!

Out here in Creggs, we will be among the best-fed drinkers in Ireland with both Mikeen and Joe Dolan serving up fantastic food in their respective premises’. Joe is doing daily lunches along with a superb evening menu, while Mikeen’s steaks and curries are proving very popular with his customers. All in all, we have to admit that we are very well catered for.


And finally…

Finally for this week, belated congratulations to one of the great people of the parish – Nora Blighe – who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. Nora has had a tough year, with the recent sad death of her daughter, Kathleen McKeague. Hopefully her big milestone birthday will have given her a boost, and she’s looking good for the President’s cheque in ten years’ time. Congrats Nora, and here’s to many more!