Home thoughts from on top of the mountain…

It’s the third day of the New Year, and, along with thousands of others, I am back at work after a most enjoyable Christmas break; in fact, I was back for a couple of days last week, but, in truth, while my greatly inflated body (due to the Christmas excesses) was in Athlone, my mind was still on Christmas things, and it really was only a token presence.

  Today, however, the whole feeling is different, and while technically it’s still the festive season until January 6th or Little Christmas, in reality, it’s all over, and normality, thankfully, has returned.

  Christmas morning found me heading for the 10 o’clock Mass in the most beautifully situated Donamon Castle, and the ceremony with Fr. Pat Hogan was just so uplifting, and, as on every Christmas morning, the musical recital by Annette Griffin, her mother, Frances, on keyboard, and John Staunton, on guitar, was absolutely wonderful, and worth travelling many miles for.

  In the course of his Homily Fr. Pat paid tribute to the amazing Fr. Norman Davitt, who will be ordained for 70 (not a typing error: it really is seventy) years in 2017, and, in his mid-nineties, is still a regular sight all around the area, and an example to us all. Congrats Fr. Norman, and well done, and here’s to many more years amongst us.

  Back home then for the turkey, and all that sort of thing, and, for me, thoughts turned to the Barrie Harris Walk on St. Stephen’s morning, and, abstaining from all alcohol, I was in bed early enough, to be all set for the morning. And, after a fairly wild Christmas Day, it was an absolute delight to wake up to a bright, fresh, dry day, and, as I headed off on the up, down, and round the mountain walk, all was well in my own private world. The official starting time is 12.30 pm, but I try to get away before 10 o’clock, mainly because I don’t want to be holding up anyone who might walk with me, but also because I like to talk to myself (not literally), and to use the glorious mountain air to try and clear my head.

  And, as I headed off, aided by the magnificent birch stick that young Sean Roarke gave me last year, I thought about, amongst other things, the great benefit that modern medicine has been to me. Way back in 2001, when just in my 50s, I was unable to do the walk, due to the state of my two hips, and, in truth, I had resigned myself to spending the rest of my life in pain, and really thought I would never again walk across the top of the mountain. Thankfully, two hips and five  stents later, and off I went, thanking God, and the various medical personnel, who have turned my life around.

  As always, I had a couple of unofficial pit stops, which were much appreciated on my way round, before I arrived at the home of Mary Devaney and her family, where the door has been open to every one of the walkers since the very first walk, and where the most amazing array of goodies is laid on, to keep body and soul together, before we continue on what can often be our merry way – particularly if you had sampled any of the numerous hot toddies that were available.

  On then to my brother Billy’s, where, being the first of the many guests that were to call during the day, I made huge inroads into the wonderful homemade pigs in blankets, that were placed, inadvertently, beside me, and, by the time I left, I had certainly replaced any weight I might have lost on the five or six mile walk.

  The annual celebrations, enlivened by the musical brilliance of Castlerea’s Simon Cooke, went on well into the night, and, what made the whole thing even more special was the huge number of people who took part in this, the 22nd annual walk – some experienced observers, myself included, reckoned the number of participants this year definitely equalled, and maybe even surpassed, the numbers recorded any year since the walk began.

  Back to my walk across the top of the mountain, and, with the lovely day that was in it, and as I looked down on the village that has been my home for nearly all my life, it was hard not to think of old times, and the many changes that our village has seen in those sixty-plus years. Some are bad, in that we have lost a lot of businesses, including pubs, shops, library, and a forge, to name a few, but we have also gained a few, including two thriving garages, a chip shop and a number of vibrant home-based businesses.

  However, as I walked, I realised that in all those years, and indeed an awful lot longer, one business has remained the same – readers of this column know it as Mikeen’s, but in fact it is Roarke’s (without an O) – a business that was started in Creggs more than a hundred years ago, by Michael Roarke, and, in the meantime it has been carried on very successfully by two more Michael Roarkes, Mick as we always call him, and now Mikeen.

  Roarke’s has been synonymous with Creggs all my life, and, in these challenging times, it was great to think about the contribution of the family, for so many years, and it is somehow comforting to see the same name over the door, a century on since it first went up.

  The other thing that struck me, was how lucky we are, and, indeed events all over the world since then have proved it even more, with the nightclub massacre in Turkey and the many deaths caused by the suicide bombers in Baghdad, and, if I have one New Year wish for you all it’s to live every moment properly, embrace the fact that you have the chance to make a difference, and help those who are less fortunate, and try to have a smile on your face, and not be a long string of misery.

And finally…

Finally for this week, two matters of local interest: firstly, I forgot to congratulate our football manager, Ger Dowd, on winning the Roscommon Herald’s sportstar of the month in December, an honour richly deserved, and, secondly, don’t forget the GAA club’s dinner dance, in the Abbey Hotel, on January 28th, with music by The White Cakes – now where did I see them play recently? And, boy, were they good!

  A very Happy New Year to you all.

Till next week, bye for now