Train journey showcases the limitless beauty of this island

Our man Frank on appreciating the countryside by train, en route to a now transformed Belfast; A nostalgic return visit to Ballinrobe… and experiencing the most hair-raising storm of his life!

I would safely say that the last time I was in Belfast was in the early 1970s, when the Troubles in the North were at their worst and when you were literally taking your life in your hands by just being there at all.

I can remember travelling up by train from Dundalk to play rugby against different Belfast clubs. Because I was being brought through strong loyalist areas, I had to lie across the back seat of the car in which I’d been collected – covered by overcoats – in the hope that no one would stop and search the vehicle.

Thankfully no one ever did, and for a few years, despite the horrendous conflict, rugby clubs from the south continued to fulfil their friendly fixtures north of the border. It wasn’t until the Miami Showband massacre in 1975 that cross-border games were officially suspended.

Anyway, all of that came into my mind a few weeks ago when we were told that Carol had to go to Belfast last Friday, August 25th, for a medical appointment.

Not having been in Belfast for so long, I spent ages trying to figure out how to get there. Initially, we decided to take the train to Dublin and then another one to Belfast, but in the end I drove to our daughter’s house in Dublin on Thursday evening, stayed overnight with her, and took the train from Malahide at 7.30 am on Friday morning. About three hours and three taxis later (should’ve only been two, but the first lad brought us to the wrong hospital), we were safely on board the Enterprise train heading back to Dublin, and my return visit to Belfast was over.

The thing that struck us most during our relatively short time up there was how busy and bustling the city was, with tourists absolutely everywhere. The three taxi drivers (even the lad that brought us to the wrong place) were all very pleasant and more than happy to have the chat. They all spoke very positively about their city, and the truth is that it is certainly a place I would like to visit in a more social capacity. There is now no need to be hidden under a bundle of coats.

The train home took us to Drogheda, where we had a change for Malahide, and the journey through north County Dublin was a reminder of the lovely seaside areas there are all along the route. For a change, the sun was shining on the return journey, and the many beaches were bathed in sunshine and looking so inviting.

Laytown, Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush and Lusk, Donabate, and Malahide itself all are popular seaside resorts, but I had never before noticed them. The last time I was on that train, I was a young lad in my 20s, and the beauty of the countryside was the last thing on my mind. However, it’s all on my bucket list now! I’d love to spend some time exploring north County Dublin, have a night or two in my old Dundalk haunt, finally get to see the Giant’s Causeway, and maybe even do the world famous Titanic Experience.

We may have to go back some time soon, but having done it once, there will be no problem in doing it again, as the apprehension we had about this visit will be gone.

Back to Ballinrobe!

It’s Sunday evening as I write, and after a long (wet) summer, our rugby lads are back in action. We kick off the new season with a trip to Ballinrobe for a Cawley Cup game.

55 years ago, as a young bank clerk, I started work in the Mayo town. It’s a place that I have fond memories of to this day. Times were so different back in those days; I had no car, but even if I had, I wasn’t able to drive, and the most reliable form of transport of all (the thumb) brought me to wherever I wanted to go.

Friday evening would see me on the road to somewhere, most often heading for Creggs, but sometimes going to the Traveller’s Friend in Castlebar for the regular Friday night dance or even, on occasions, hitting for Dublin to meet up with some of my banking friends.

Looking back on it now it seems like madness, but I often left Dublin at 10 or 11 o’clock on a Sunday night with nothing but my trusty thumb (no trusty old Volvo back then) to take me back to Ballinrobe for work on the Monday morning. I can honestly say I never failed to be at my desk on time. I might have been the worse for wear, but I was there.

Anyway, as I drove to the game on Saturday evening, I was yet again struck by the number of closed pubs there are all over the countryside, which isn’t surprising since about 2000 of them have shut down since 2005.

However, as there seems to be an attempt by the Government to re-energise rural Ireland, with the availability of grants to help people buy and restore derelict houses, I wondered why there is no scheme to help rural pubs survive. A publican I’ve spoken to since, felt that a reduction in rates and energy prices along with reduced insurance costs would be of huge benefit. If we can give up to €50,000 to someone to do up an old house, surely we could do something to help our rural publicans stay in business?

Anyway, we all realise that something must be done to keep rural Ireland alive, and the local pub is a huge part of our local communities, so why not start with a bit of financial support?

However, all that was forgotten when the rugby kicked off, and – for the opening game of the season – it was a feisty affair. Our lads won after a big battle, but for me, it was nice to go on a trip around the town after the game – and relive a few moments of my time there back in 1968/69.

A hair-raising storm!

Back to Friday, and we are still in Dublin having decided to head home to Creggs later in the evening to avoid some of the heavy traffic, and while there we are enjoying a bit of down time with Lisa, Brian and our granddaughter Riley.

The sky seems to be getting a bit darker, but we didn’t pass any heed on it until we saw a flash of lightning that lit up the room, followed by a clap of thunder that literally nearly lifted the roof off the house.

For the next twenty minutes or so, I can honestly say I have never heard thunder so loud or seen lightning so bright, and while I can’t say I was terrified, it certainly was quite unsettling. The dog, Rocco, was so frightened he managed to squeeze himself under the couch – from where we had to release him later, he was stuck so fast.

Lisa made the remark that she hoped the house wouldn’t be hit, a comment we passed no heed on until the following morning when we found out that two houses had been set on fire by lightning only a couple of kilometres over the road!

Anyway, it eventually subsided, and we felt it safe to head off, but we didn’t count on the apocalyptic rainfall that followed. I must admit that the journey on the M50 wasn’t for the faint-hearted, but thankfully  by the time we got to the actual road things had settled down and the rest of the trip home was nice and uneventful.

Way back in my very young days, when on holidays in my uncle Mikey’s down in Tipperary, I can remember three of his cattle being killed by lightning when they sheltered under a tree, but the storm that hit Dublin on Friday was something else, and definitely the most powerful I have ever experienced. The good news is Rocco has fully recovered and is back to his extremely eccentric ways!

And finally…

The whole country is in mourning following the horrific crash in Clonmel in which four young people died. As the families and friends face up to unimaginable grief and sorrow, all we can do is express our deepest sympathy to them all and keep them in our thoughts. May they rest in peace.