29april

Good Morning Paddy’s Day

Alex McDonnell writes of good times in Dublin and Wicklow on Ireland’s national day…

“Good morning,

I was out for Saint Patrick’s day in Dublin yesterday and had the pleasure of meeting client’s of yours with John, I think his surname was Glynn….it was the first time in my life I was truly touched by a charity or organisation such as your own.

My friends took some photos of the gentlemen with your group in Fallon’s and I am chasing them to forward onto you. unfortunately I have lost my job at the moment so can’t make a donation but just wanted to give you my support and promise once I’m re-employed I will organise making a donation.

I’m moving to live in Jersey in the Channel Islands this June coming and was wondering if you have any network there with whom I can become involved on a voluntary basis…if you could advise that would be great.

please also, if you know of James (who spent time in the Congo), Sean from Dundalk, Gerry from Baltinglass and John, I think Glynn, who were all in Fallon’s pub on Dean street, for the Saint Patrick’s day parade….please can you pass on my regards, they were all sitting beside me..

Kindest regards,
Deirdre ”

On St. Patrick’s Day this year we found ourselves in a pub called Fallon’s which is on Dean Street just opposite St. Patrick’s very own cathedral in Dublin. John managed to talk our way past the police cordon and we parked just behind the pub and enjoyed the day watching the parade as it finished its journey from Parnell Square to just behind the cathedral. We were on the edge of the Liberties, the heart of old Dublin and the local children ran around and their parents waved flags and wore ridiculous hats they had bought from the traders around about. What was very noticeable was the number and variety of foreign visitors or immigrants out enjoying the spectacle and how wholeheartedly they were throwing themselves into the festivities. There were people from all corners of the world there and I guess they knew their way around Dublin or otherwise they would have been standing in the more touristy obvious parts of the route along O’Connell Street or College Green. The atmosphere was great and the glorious weather gave everything that extra glow of cheer we so rarely get on our national day.

We missed the celebrations in London which had gone off very well by all reports on the previous Sunday, constrained though as they were by the financial climate. Mayor Boris had put money into the event even though the Irish tourist and export industry had pulled out altogether and the mayor’s events team managed to pull off a great day out for the London Irish. Elsewhere in the world Patrick was being remembered too, I was talking on the phone (via Skype) to our old friend Joe McGarry in Sydney and he told me that the Sydney parade was pretty wonderful with all the counties represented and his home county of Antrim, strangely enough featured a hearse as a float with a zombie hurler rising out of a coffin in the back. Paddy’s day is less a celebration for the Irish at home as it is for the Irish abroad, for whom it is a means of keeping Irish communities alive. The parades at home until recently were always very small affairs with a few businesses putting together floats advertising their companies with the garda and Artane boys bands marching in Dublin and a few bits of agricultural machinery providing the spectacle down the country. The Americans, of course have always made the most of the opportunity to put on a show and their razamatazz seems to have infected the Dublin parades in recent years.

The parade wound past for around two hours and we could see the larger floats above the heads of the crowd lining the street. Some were taller than others and the GAA exhibit was witty and strange with papier-mache hurlers and footballers on stilts and burly real life sportsmen and women carrying household furniture, animals and the like on their backs. It really was peculiar and we saw a reprise of the whole thing later during the half-time break at the club championships from Croke Park on the telly in the pub. It was like a nightmare choreographed by Pat McCabe or Jonathon Swift. We made forays into Fallons during the day to use the toilet and got to know the bouncer and some of the locals. At the end of the parade we all piled in for a drink and Deirdre and her friends made room for the above mentioned lads. The place was hopping. Niamh, our doctor friend turned up and cousins of hers were there who were friends of Shay’s and when they got chatting found that they had other friends in common. Our artist friend Cian turned up as did friends of his who were friends of Ursula’s. Deirdre’s friend knew Peter’s family in south Wicklow…. small world – even smaller pub.

We stayed at Avon Ri for our week in Wicklow, quite a posh holiday village near Blessington. The place is situated high on the banks of the lake and couldn’t be in a better location. Unfortunately the houses are all built side on to the view of the water so the only way to see the spectacular scenery is to go out and sit on the grass away from the cottages, which would normally be a rather miserable thing to do during March in Ireland but was as grand as could be this year as the sun shone for the whole week, from one Saturday to the following Saturday without a break. The weather either side of our week was pretty much business as usual so someone up there really seems to like us.

The above email, titled ‘Good Morning Paddy’s Day’ was waiting for us when we got back from the trip and the three men Deirdre refers to were all staying with John Glynn, also referred to. Besides these ones we also had three more workers and seven more returning clients, two women and five men. We had been planning family visits for the men in John’s house for weeks before the trip. James is from Dublin but has no family left in the city that he knows of. He has a sister and a brother, the brother was in the Irish army, as was James and the sister married a man who managed a golf course in Sligo. John had phoned around all the golf courses in Sligo and others in Ireland trying to locate James’s sister but with no luck. It didn’t help that James has severe problems with short-term memory loss. This isn’t all that apparent when you meet him at first. He’ll stand directly in front of you: a small wiry man with an intense gaze and tell you a string of things about himself. ‘I was in the Irish Army, I fought in the Congo and Cyprus I did. The Congo was bad, Irish men were killed out there, I had to guard the dead bodies in case the Baloobas would come and get them and eat them. Cyprus was lovely, I was in Limassol, that’s on the Turkish side. The women were gorgeous. Glenn Ford is my favourite actor, he had a twinkle in his eye he did….a few pints of Guinness that’s all you need….’ And you think: ‘he’s on the ball, got a lot to say’. Five minutes later, ‘I was in the Irish Army…..’

James has been drinking super strength beers in London for years and he gets two cans in the morning and one in the afternoon at the hostel where he lives. The super strength stuff isn’t available in Ireland and we see the trip as a good opportunity to wean the drinkers off it as much as possible because of the dangerous chemicals and high acidity levels in them. Because the number of units are at least double that of say, Guinness we have to make sure they drink enough so that they don’t go into alcoholic convulsions. It’s all great fun with Aisling.

Sean was in John’s house too. He is a man in his late forties with a bald head and a magnificent moustache. He wears a wide brimmed hat which gives him the look of a cowboy gambler or cattle thief. Sean had moved to London relatively recently after a breakdown in his marriage due, a large extent to his drinking habits. John had spoken to Sean’s mother in County Louth several times before the trip to ask if she would be prepared to see him if we were to drive him up home during our week in Ireland. Whatever had happened, it was still very raw and she would not think of it. We already knew that there was no hope of him visiting the wife and kids but Sean was really missing his mother. We rang again during the first few days in Wicklow and eventually she agreed to speak to Sean. John handed over the phone and Pat nervously said hello. We went outside and left them to it for a few minutes. Eventually Saen came out, a broad grin under his almighty whiskers, she had decided to come down to Wicklow to visit later in the week. Sean was delighted. Gerry too had been in touch with his brother and sister who both came to visit during the week. He had been a cattle dealer before he lost his business and ended up drinking in London, where he is known as Gerry the Butcher.

We had been trying to bring Gus home for many years without any success. Gus was also badly affected by drink in his life as an emigrant in London and became a recluse for several years never venturing out the door of his flat in Kilburn. A friend would do his shopping, mostly drink, and that would be it. John and Brendan would visit once a week or so but that would be the extent of all human contact. Slowly Gus would come out of seclusion and would go the opposite way wandering up and down the high street talking to one and all, giving always money to anyone who would ask for it, He would eventually hit a big alcohol bender and end up in hospital. This pattern continued for years. Lately after much intervention from Aisling Gus managed to kick the booze and was in Wicklow with us for the week. He is one of the most sociable men you could possibly meet and is full of chat, mostly GAA football and hurling but he has wide and various interests. Gus’s mother is still alive in Tipperary and eventually he decided to make his way down there for a few days. John drove him down home one day and brought a group out for the drive. His mother was delighted to see him and she looked like his younger sister. Gus had plenty of things to do including calling on hurlers from years past to get their autographs and collecting old newspaper reports of old games he had squirreled away in his mothers house.

Peter went home to south Wicklow to stay with his cousin and family. He had been looking forward to it for weeks, turning up at our office about three times a week to make phone calls to arrange the visit. Richard made it with us after the third time trying. Amazingly he arrived on time at the Irish centre to be picked up and was sitting in the back of the minibus looking happy when I came around from the office. Later we stopped on the motorway at a service station and we rendezvoused with John’s van. Our minibus had arrived a little ahead of the others and we were standing at the queue for coffee when John and the boys came through the entrance. John and Shay were propping Richard up between them, his legs were like rubber and his face was vacant and sweaty. He was pissed. This was Richard’s third attempt to make it back with Aisling in 6 months, he made it as far as the bus this time but he must have sneaked some booze on board in a final desperate bid to mess up his return home. Charlie kept in contact with Richard’s mother and sister all the time, before and during the visit, knowing how things can change quickly where Richard is involved. Richard’s sister and brother live in Kerry and their mother is based in Mayo so the plan was for everyone to meet in Kerry. It was too far for us to drive and so we figured the best plan was to put Richard on the train from Dublin and his family would collect him in Tralee. We hid some money in his luggage and told his sister where to find it knowing that if he had money in his pocket Richard would find some way of getting drunk on the way down and maybe not even reach Tralee. In the end the plan went like clockwork.

Our patron Ardal O’Hanlon regularly invites us to his house on St. Patrick’s Day but this year he had to work in the Middle East on the day itself and arranged a party at his house on the Friday before we were to leave. The O’Hanlon’s always put on a great spread for us all and this time was no different with plenty of choice of food and plenty for all. Ardal told me about his travels. It seemed strange to me that there would be an audience for quirky Irish humour in Dubai, Bharain and Oman but it turns out that it was all ex-pats and Paddy’s working out there who the entertainment was for. The promoter it seems is a bit of a character who is always taking chances and pulling strokes and you could never be sure if the gig was going to happen or not – or where or when. This time it seemed to have gone off ok except that the other comedian on the bill was extremely blue and Ardal was afraid that any offended locals in the audience could have had them in jail for obscenity. A stressful time by all accounts but an adventurous one too. Take Ardal’s advice if you are ever out there give Dubai a miss and head for Oman which still has a lot of charm and character. A bit like Ireland was next to bigger brasher brother England, at least until recently, although we may be forced to go back to a more simple life ourselves in future. We can hope.

Gus kept up a seem-less monologue with Ardal and his brother–in-law over the dinner table on gaelic sport astounding them with his knowledge particularly as he has not been home in so long. The sun was shining and we were hanging out in the garden, some of the lads were kicking the football around with the children and Ardal was standing talking to James and looking very interested at what he had to say, ‘I was with the Irish army in the Congo…..’ A while later I noticed Ardal looking a bit confused as the monologue was starting again. June and Margaret were the two women with us and both had difficult childhoods in Ireland and coming home is full of mixed emotions but they loved hanging out with the O’Hanlon family in the sunshine, chatting and relaxing. Mick had discovered that he was related to Ardal’s wife Melanie on a previous visit and Melanie’s sister was at the party and they caught up with family matters. Those coincidences never end with Aisling. It’s almost like the formula for six degrees of separation where you are never more than six connections away from anyone in the world is squeezed down to three or even two in Ireland.

All our wild geese came home before our journey back to London. Richard was full of the great times they had on the beaches of Kerry with his family and he was looking fresher than we had ever seen him. Gus arrived weighed down with papers. Gerry was dropped off by his sister in a silver Mercedes and he looked splendid too in a leather coat Niamh had given him. Peter’s cousins and their children brought him back safe and sound. Sean’s mother was driven down by his sister’s husband all the way from Dundalk and they spent best part of the day together, hopefully putting things right. As we were leaving Ireland we left the last of the sunshine behind us on the Irish Sea and as we arrived in Holyhead it was grey and chilly, and remained so all the way to London.