If the TV programme Normal People is the new normal nowadays, it’s a long way removed from the memories that I have of my secondary school days…
The world and its mother (so we’re led to believe) are totally hooked on the new TV sensation, Normal People – a series which explores the sexual exploits of two young secondary school students. If that is the new normal nowadays, it’s a long way removed from the memories that I have of my secondary school days in the all-male boarding school of Cistercian College, Roscrea.
It was 1963 when I made my first very tentative steps up the big stairs in Mount St. Joseph, as it was called. Amazingly, 57 years later a number of us – most of whom I wouldn’t recognise, and a lot of whom I haven’t seen in more than 50 years – have a WhatsApp group set up. This week, one of the lads reminded us that the biggest excitement we had was to be allowed to watch an occasional film in the rec (recreation centre), usually a western, but more especially to be let watch the Eurovision Song Contest, 1965-1968. Three of our top showband stars – Butch Moore, Dickie Rock and Sean Dunphy – took part in those early years, and although they didn’t win, the fact that we were let watch it copperfastened its importance in my mind. When Dana, the beautiful, young Rosemary Brown from Derry City, won it for Ireland for the first time, it still stands out for me as one of the great nights in Irish entertainment history.
And so it was with a certain amount of sadness that I watched a riveting documentary on the same Dana the other night, because somewhere down the line I had lost sight of what a beautiful looking girl and what a beautiful singer she was. It was only in revisiting her career that I remembered what a big star she was in the 1970s and ‘80s. The Eurovision win in Amsterdam was totally unexpected, and she revealed how the whirlwind success left her feeling overwhelmed and lonely, and that she tried to run away from it all one night, only for the local milkman to bring her back. She was right up there with the best of them, but while we never forgot the success of the likes of Terry Wogan, Eamonn Andrews or Val Doonican, it is my belief that Dana slipped out of our memories. In my opinion, that should never have been allowed to happen.
The documentary touched on her venture into Irish politics in 1997 when she ran for the Presidency and finished in third place behind Mary McAleese, and how some time later she was elected as an MEP for Connaught Ulster. It also touched on how, despite attempts to ridicule her for her stand on abortion, and her Christian views, she was one of the first independant female politicians to take on the big parties and win.
In 2011 she ran again for the Áras, but this time, allegations of sexual abuse against a family member emerged, and even though he was found not guilty and was duly acquitted, the effect it all had on Dana was profound. Indeed it is doubtful if she has got over it yet.
At times the media have portrayed the original ‘Derry Girl’ as an almost a comic figure, and to my shame I was taken in by it all. However, seeing her story (so far) the other night has made me realise what a beautiful, talented woman she was and still is, and, ‘All kinds of Everything’ seems to sum up everything that has been thrown at her over the years. However, it is still a wonderful song that changed the way the Eurovision is viewed in Ireland, and paved the way for the success of people like Johnny Logan and Linda Martin.
All I can say is well done Dana, may you carry on for many more years. I wonder do they still get to see it in Roscrea, or have they graduated to Normal People?
Great community spirit, GAA to the fore
Back to the real world, and one of the great outcomes of this worldwide pandemic is the renewal of community spirit that has emerged everywhere and the tremendous response of local clubs – GAA, rugby and loads of others. Members of such bodies have been very active in supporting charities and helping vulnerable people during this very testing time.
Here in Creggs, more than twenty footballers each ran 10k – in isolation of course, and mindful of all the restrictions – to raise funds for Join Our Boys, while similar efforts have taken place all over the country.
However, as I watched Martin Logan’s programme ‘The Irish in the UK’ last week, it was interesting to see that GAA clubs all over England are doing the same thing. He visited four clubs in Birmingham that had come together to try and help the vulnerable people in their communities.
As was pointed out in the programme, these clubs would fight hammer and tongs on the pitch in normal times but in these exceptional times, they all joined together to try and do what they could, and every Saturday morning they met up, took in mountains of food, which their volunteers then distributed to the needy.
I often think the GAA doesn’t treat the English and American set-ups as seriously as they should, but the efforts of the Birmingham clubs showed that the Irish everywhere can be relied on to help when the chips are down, and no matter where they are they never forget where they came from, and always remember the traditions they grew up with. Well done, Birmingham.
The long road back…
Staying in the real world…and I am writing this on Monday morning as the first easing on restrictions takes place. Garden centres, hardware shops and other places are reopening, and judging by a video my wife, Carol, sent me as Ardcarne Garden Centre (where she works) opened at nine o’clock, they are in for a busy time. Let’s hope we don’t get over-excited, keep doing all the right things and please God we may some time see a return to something approaching normality.
Finally for this week, I come to number three on my top sporting memories, and this time it is an athletics one.
Back in 1978 a slip of an Irish lad, John Treacy, surprised the world when he won the World Cross Country Championships in Glasgow, but it was the defence of his title the following year in Limerick that will live forever in my memory.
The best ever field that had been assembled for such a race gathered in Limerick Racecourse, in conditions that would have tested even the toughest of horses, with mud and muck up to the runners’ knees. But despite a fall early on – and John being so slight that you would think a good gust of wind would blow him over – the young Waterford lad overcame everything that was thrown at him and retained his title in front of almost 100,000 ecstatic supporters.
Seeing him, with his tiny frame, battle through the horrendous conditions, puts him right up there with my all-time sporting memories. He’s well worth his place in the top ten.