Paul Healy’s Week

Thursday

So, eight years on from Garthgate, how do I feel today  about that epic controversy involving the country superstar’s no-show(s) in 2014? Much the same as I did then, actually! Readers will recall that Garth Brooks was due to play five concerts in Ireland in 2014, but when permission was only granted for three, he insisted it was ‘all or nothing’ and that he could not let down the fans who would miss out. Cue mass hysteria across Ireland. Personally, I thought Garth was petulant and greedy. When he threw his stetson out of the pram (so to speak), the entire visit was cancelled. We had joined the Garth craze in 1994 and ’97, but in 2014, I wasn’t impressed with Mr Brooks. My mind was made up: Greedy Garth and I were finished. For good.

 

Friday

We arrived at Croke Park shortly after 7.30 pm this evening…

Yes, it seems my sulk with Garth had diminished, my resistance somehow having wilted. Many months ago (when tickets for ‘Return of Garth’ were acquired for a party of ten, me included) I visualised attending in protest (over 2014), but obviously time heals!

We had travelled on the bus from Casey’s. Drawing the line at wearing a stetson, I joked about enjoying the day in spite of Garth, not because of him. “Nice to be heading off for the day early on a Friday afternoon” was my weak mantra, the thunder quietly rolling in my heart.

We had a few drinks and some tasty food in a bar about 25 minutes’ walk from Croker. It really was great to be out and about, and to inhale that distinctive Dublin pub vibe. The young barman announced (in all seriousness) that he’d never heard of Garth Brooks until the weekend of the recent first concerts. I could have told him so much, but, fortunately for the young man, the moment passed.

By now immersed in the feelgood atmosphere, we joined the excited throngs – all ages, all styles of hats – smiles and anticipation merged on Jones’ Road. A friendly Garda obliged and took our photo, strictly for posterity.

Stepping into the Hogan as Garth Brooks emerged on to the stage was some experience, maybe the moment when any lingering (good-humoured) Garth grudges finally dissolved. It really was spectacular. Fiona and I had seen him in the ‘Point’ and at Croke Park in the 1990s, but I don’t remember the scene on either occasion being as visually mesmeric as it was tonight. The 80,000 people packed into this famous stadium almost unwittingly created a wonderful atmosphere, the visuals just amazing. The guy didn’t have much to do initially, other than bask in the adoration. Interestingly, there was a huge amount of young people present, as distinct from the many thousands of us who were lost in the warmth of fond memories of now drifted youth.

When Brooks spoke (he spoke quite a lot) the sound wasn’t perfect (where we were), but that’s a minor quibble as the acoustics were fine for the actual singing.

It was a brilliant show, Brooks – in time-honoured fashion – mixing the charm with the classics. His musicians were superb, particularly the chap on the fiddle. The audience sang along to the endless hits, including ‘The River’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Standing Outside the Fire’, ‘The Thunder Rolls’, ‘Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)’, ‘The Fever’, ‘Unanswered Prayers’ and ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’.

When ‘Friends in Low Places’ electrified the stadium, the slightly elderly woman to my right looked like she was about to die happy (or better still, sing along to Garth for years to come). Maybe this is how she had been all night. In that moment, we realised a big part of what makes him special is…the sheer joy he gives people. I looked around…everyone was smiling, joyous, nostalgic…surfing on a wave of happiness.

“He’s full of plámás” a friend said to me a few days later. But we knew and know that. So be it. He’s some showman, some entertainer. And the songs are great. I drew a line at wearing a stetson, but I really enjoyed the concert.

As for 2014, it appears the thunder has stopped rolling, and Garth’s off the hook with me. Did I u-turn? Guilty. I feel like Groucho Marx, who said: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others!”

 

Saturday

It was apt that the first person I met today on arriving at the excellent new facilities of Ballyboro FC in the grounds of Lanesboro Community College was the club’s chairman, John Tynan.

John and a few colleagues were tending to a few last-minute minor tasks on this special day for the club…perfectly capturing the essence of volunteerism.

Many years ago John and I played indoor soccer together; he has lost none of his passion for the game. With evident pride (and typical modesty) he told me about the excellent project being unveiled.

Ballyboro FC, a club which attracts players from Lanesboro, Ballyleague, Cashel, Killashee, Tarmonbarry, Cloontuskert and surrounding areas, was hosting the official opening of an enhanced traditional pitch and a superb all-weather AstroTurf playing area.

A few minutes later, I saw those new facilities for myself, and they are a credit to all involved. Roscommon Town U-13s v Ballyboro U-13s was the first game of the day, and it was lovely to see the children express themselves on the new pitch. The official formalities followed later in the afternoon (see page 35).

Our columnist Ciaran Mullooly, one of a number of drivers of the project, has a thorough account of the project in his column on page 16 in today’s issue. Central to Ciaran’s article is a poignant and timely tribute to the memory of the late Bernice Martin, who was such an inspirational principal at Lanesboro Community College and in whose memory a special bench was unveiled on Saturday.

The Ballyboro FC volunteers have done current and future generations some service. This is an example of community cooperation at its best.

 

Monday

After the long farewell to Queen Elizabeth II, the State Funeral today certainly lived up to expectations (I watched highlights).

The service at Westminster Abbey was as impressive as one might expect…full of pomp, pageantry, and an indisputable sense of history. The long procession which saw the Queen’s coffin being slowly driven to her final resting place at Windsor Castle was captivating, the respectful silence movingly punctuated by the sound of the marching feet of the military personnel flanking the hearse every step of the way. An extraordinary moment in history, we won’t see anything like it again – even if the monarchy flourishes into the future.

 

Monday/Tuesday

The video, posted on social media late on Monday night, is quite shocking in terms of the brazenness it depicts. Mind you, community leaders say it merely reflects what has been going on for years, that communities are being terrorised on a nightly basis.

The video shows the scene in an estate at Cherry Orchard in Dublin. Two drivers are joyriding, watched by a group of youngsters. A Garda squad car, responding to reports of dangerous driving, drives into view. Some of the onlookers chant for the joyriders to ram the vehicle. At first there is no response, then one of the vehicles rams the squad car twice (to cheers).

I get the argument that greater education opportunities – and provision of services for communities – are vital in addressing crime, deprivation, anti-social behaviour. But I also recognise loutishness when I see it.

This lawlessness is inexcusable, the layabouts involved recklessly endangering Gardaí as they treat our State authorities with contempt. No injuries were reported in this incident, but the outcome could have been different, for Gardaí and/or members of the public. Some night it may be.

This country’s justice system is far too soft when it comes to sentencing. It’s all very well to talk of marginalised communities and lack of resources, but this thuggery needs to be faced down.