Lovely reminders of joys of rural living (and close-knit communities)

Our man Frank on reminders of why we should always appreciate our close-knit rural communities; Memories (and memorabilia) of ‘The Greatest’… and the appetising news that made its way from China to Creggs…

Last Saturday morning, friends of mine headed off to our favourite part of Spain – and I can’t deny that as they texted me to say goodbye, I experienced a little bit of jealousy.

Over the last number of years we have always managed to get away around this time of year, but this year circumstances dictate that we are unlikely to make it any time in the near future.

And yet, as I write this on Bank Holiday Monday while visiting a patient in NUIG Hospital, I must say that over the weekend I have begun to see (I will admit it took a while) what different factors add up to make living in rural Ireland so special.

Funnily enough, it started on Saturday evening, when I left the same hospital to undertake an almost two-hour journey to travel to Cootehall, where our Creggs intermediate football team were playing against the local side, St Michael’s. As I watched the game unfold, and as both sets of supporters egged on their respective teams, it was easy to see why the GAA has such a hold on small rural parishes.

Everyone on the sidelines were completely engaged in the action on the field, and both teams gave their all for, as Charles Kickham wrote in 1918, the honour and glory of the little village. Regular shouts of encouragement – and some of criticism – rang around the picturesque grounds of St Michael’s’ Ardcarne Park, and occasionally there was dissatisfaction at the referee’s performance (although I thought he did fairly well).

As an old-school football follower, it was good to see an old-fashioned row break out. As usual, it was more pushing and shoving than serious fisticuffs, but it showed me that both sets of lads cared. After a couple of yellow cards had been issued, everything settled down and football took over again.

At the end of a thoroughly enjoyable football game, honours were even as the result was a draw. Both teams and management could claim they could have won it, but they could have lost it as well. So all in all, a fair result.

Driving out of Ardcarne Park, the sun was at its strongest, and not even the sun visor along with my peaked cap made progress any easier. Not for the first time, I regretted my decision to carry on without sunglasses – the next time I visit my optician I will rectify that mistake.

Anyway, one of the great benefits of travelling by myself is the fact that it’s great for thinking, and I found myself pondering on a message I received on Friday from our GAA club secretary, Mary Keane. The gist of the message was that Creggs GAA Club were to welcome members of the Keegan family from New York on Easter Sunday, to thank them for their kind donation of the scoreboard to the club, and to unveil a plaque in memory of their father and uncles. Sean Keegan (Bags) was a legendary goalkeeper for several decades for Creggs, and his brothers Christy and Patsy, despite being long-time residents in New York, never forgot their roots, and their kindness and welcome for any local who looked them up in the Big Apple is often still talked about.

Patsy and his three daughters – Eileen (who made the trip to Creggs for the unveiling), Jeannie and Patricia – donated a very sizeable sum to erect the scoreboard. A large crowd of the extended Keegan family, along with several club members, attended the ‘do’ at the GAA grounds on Sunday afternoon.

As I thought about what makes a place special, I realised that it’s all about history, and the Keegan influence in the club is still very strong despite the fact that none of Sean, Christy or Patsy are still living here. However, Gerry, Sean’s son, is a hugely important member of all our committees, and he likes to think of himself as an equally important player, while Sean’s grandson, Tom Keegan-Grant, is also a highly regarded footballer.

And as I thought about the Keegans, I had a look (in my mind – not at a book or anything as I was still driving) at all the lads who are playing football for us, whose fathers, uncles, grandfathers and cousins played for many years before them, and I realised that it’s that continuity that makes every little club so special. As my mind wandered, I worked out that of the team that won the Junior Championship in 1983, nine of those players have sons or nephews involved now.

Anyway, after the unveiling, a number of the attendees headed for a reception in Mikeen’s, and when I landed in a bit later it was like old times – there was a band in full swing and singer after singer took to the stage to perform. During the relatively short time that I was there (don’t mind me – it wasn’t that short!) we had songs from Mick Murray, Lauren, Tom (my neighbour, the Dub), Theresa Browne, and the undoubted star of the show, Kevin Cunniffe. All of them sang with great gusto, but if it was a heat of Ireland’s Got Talent and I was the judge, I would have to give my vote to Kevin, with Tom the Dub being a close second.

It’s been a while since I was at such a joyous and joyful occasion, and I have to say it was great craic. And so as I headed to bed on Sunday night, I was full of the joys of life (and a few grand pints of Guinness) and realised that as much as I like Spain, I could only live there for a week or two at a time!

When all is said and done, it’s hard to beat your own local village!

You can buy Ali’s shorts… if you have six million dollars!

Every so often the question comes up as to who was the greatest sportsperson of all time, and while there can never be a definitive answer to such a question, there can be little doubt that the sportsperson with the most charisma and enduring popularity is the legendary heavyweight boxer, Muhammad Ali.

However, if proof was ever needed, the announcement from Sotheby’s in New York that they expect to get $6 million for the pair of boxing shorts that Ali wore in the famous ‘Thrilla in Manila’ fight in 1975 should provide all the proof that might be required. This was the third time Ali had fought Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and it is said that one billion people watched what is still regarded as the greatest and most brutal fight of all time.

Ali said that both himself and Smokin’ Joe went to Manila as champions and came back as old men, such was the toll the battle took on each of them. While Ali, who won the fight, boxed on for six more years, Frazier only fought twice more before retiring.

If my memory serves me right, Joe travelled the world with his band, the aptly named Knockouts, and I seem to remember them appearing in Castlerea in the mid to late 1970s.

Anyway, if you want to buy Ali’s shorts from the iconic ‘Thrilla’, for a cool $6 million you might just have a chance!

And finally…

Good news for all of you out there who like the bar of chocolate – scientists in China are now telling us that chocolate can actually help us lose weight!

Now a lot of it is technical stuff, way above my head, but it seems that dark chocolate, which I love, has some type of stuff in it that breaks down the body’s fat. While they didn’t exactly say so, I imagine someone like me who might be a pound or two overweight, would have to eat a lot of dark chocolate to get myself properly fit – dark Kit Kat is my favourite along with chocolate fingers, so thanks to those good scientists in China, chocolate will now play a big part in my future diet.

You probably won’t know me the next time you see me, I’ll be so thin!