On Monday evening last I ended up in a hostelry called (very aptly) The Local, on the square in Dungarvan. It was an uplifting, energising, hugely positive experience.
On the previous day, Sunday September 8th, Waterford had won its first All-Ireland minor hurling championship since 1948 and earlier that Monday evening in Waterford city I had been on official Irish Examiner duty, covering the first leg of their homecoming. Job done and story filed by 9.30pm, I headed west for Dungarvan, check in there for an hour or so to see how the reception for the team had gone, before heading on home.
And this was it, this was where it was all brought home to me yet again why I so love the GAA, why I so love this country.
The Local was jam-packed, hopping. Hosted by the amiable Helena and Donnchadh Gough (of Danú trad group fame), many of the players and management from the west-Waterford-dominated team were in attendance.
In one corner a four-piece band, but not just any four-piece. Fronted by former county board chairman Paddy Joe Ryan, they play for charity and only for charity, fund-raising for anyone and everyone but themselves. On this night, they were there to honour the All-Ireland-winning minor team.
Current county board chairman Tom Cunningham joins the band
There was music, song, conversation and laughter, always the laughter. And it struck me.
BALLYHEA SAYS NO
For 132 weeks now (and counting) we've been marching in Ballyhea and Charleville in protest against the imposition of private bank debt on the Irish people. I'm not going into the details here; for a taste of what we're campaigning against, see this 6-minute video.
Many times in that two and a half years we've been asked why it is that our campaign hasn't caught on, why the Irish people aren't all out marching with us. Sheeple, some have called us, a tame subservient people. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The likes of Austin Gleeson, Shane and Stephen Bennett, DJ Foran, goals-scoring hero Patrick Curran, Gavin Power, William Hahessey, team captain Kevin Daly – everyone from 1 to 15 and on into the subs who won that All-Ireland title for Waterford, though under-18, are already strong individuals, progressive high-achievers.
The victorious minors given a guard-of-honour by the seniors
Those like Sean Power, Kevin O'Gorman, Wayne Power, John Treacy, everyone else in the extended management team, they are the most selfless of people, individuals who willingly and without recompense volunteer their spare time for the good of others.
Those others I met in The Local that night, people such as Waterford PRO Emer Barry and her friend Vanessa Celisse, or Michael Kearney from the Nire, they too are all giving freely of their time and it was because of people like those that all of Waterford county, and every Waterford person in exile, could enjoy a night like last Monday night.
The victorious squad salute the fans
They came from the far east of the county, Michael 'Spud' Murphy and Damien Tiernan (his RTE duties complete) from Passage, guys like Óisín Langan of Newstalk from the west (like the Quaid brothers next door to us here in Effin, or the likes of Gavin O’Mahony, Paudie O’Brien and Graeme Mulcahy from nearby Kilmallock, Óisín had the misfortune to be born just the wrong side of the Cork border but is making the best of it…).
Young and old, male and female, from teams and clubs that would often tear strips off each other, there they were in The Local and as is normal with any hurling or gaelic football club, none of your usual societal divisions of class/education/wealth, all united under that one roof and under that one banner in celebration.
That's the GAA, that's how it pulls us together and in many another hostelry in many another parish/town/county I've enjoyed many a night such as this. All those of us in whom the GAA is ingrained and who equally are ingrained in the GAA, can be grateful for it. From time to time we criticise its many inherent weaknesses but when I hear people who know damnall about the organisation and its ethos pontificate about the Grab-All-Association, I shake my head in wonder - such outright ignorance.
That is also the Irish people.
A SPECIAL PEOPLE
The GAA is special; we, the Irish people, are special. I don't mean that in any narrow, exclusive way. The above qualities are not confined to GAA players and supporters, they are also to be found in those who likewise volunteer their time and services in all the other sports organisations big and small throughout the land, in all the other voluntary bodies that help to sustain us, and they are found in other nations. 'The best sporting organisation in the world', 'The best little country in the world' - I don't remember either of those competitions ever being held, let alone being won by us.
I don't mean it either though in the way the EU/EC/ECB mean it - we're 'special' to them alright, special because in helping to preserve the euro and save some of Europe's biggest banks, we have taken on bank debt that is massively disproportionate – per capita no other country comes near (over €15,000 for every man, woman and child).
We're special in that we live life to the full. We don't just cope with hardship, we thrive, we laugh, we take the worst that circumstance can throw at us and make light of it – look at our ‘wakes’ for Godsake! Thus it is that almost anywhere you go in the world, where the Irish are gathered there will be hard work yes, there will be high achievers such as those Waterford youngsters, but there will also be fun, gaiety, song and dance, and laughter.
We know how to party, we know when to party. Monday night in Waterford was such an occasion, Monday night in The Local in Dungarvan.
THE BOOM YEARS
To most of us, especially to those of us who had been through the depression of the 80s/early 90s, the Noughties too seemed to be such an occasion. The country appeared to be booming, salaries were on the increase and on radio/television/national newspapers most of the experts were telling us it was here to stay.
‘Get on the property NOW or it will be too late!’, our young singles and newlyweds were told – they did, in their tens of thousands.
‘Invest in that second property NOW and secure your pension!’, those in middle age were advised by expert after expert – they did, again in their tens of thousands.
The warning signs were there and some – such as Morgan Kelly and David McWilliams - tried to alert us; they were advised by our own Taoiseach of the day, Bertie Ahern, to go off somewhere and ‘commit’ suicide. You don’t of course ‘commit’ suicide; people take their own lives with their own hands NOT because they want to die, but because they can no longer take THIS life.
Well Mr Ahern, it’s happening, by the tens of thousands across the country, and many of the victims are of an age with those powerful young lads who won last Sunday’s All-Ireland minor title, of an age with the superb Galway team they beat to do so, of an age with many of the stars of the Clare and Cork teams that then played an exhilarating draw in the senior final that followed.
THE BLAME GAME
We, the people, are blamed for the banking tsunami that engulfed Ireland; we, the people, are told that it’s our fault, even our current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, telling Europe as much. It’s nonsense of course.
The people of this country didn’t cause the property bubble, they are the victims of it.
The people of this country didn’t cause the world-wide banking crisis, they are the victims of it.
The people of this country didn’t cause the euro crisis, they are the victims of it.
Those who DID cause it, however, the international bankers and international investment high-risk high-rollers whose billions fuelled the bubble here, in Europe, in the USA, have used our own politicians and our own media to convince us that it was our fault, and thus that we must pay. For their greed, for their mistakes, for their failed gambles, we must pay.
They are using that old Catholic guilt-complex against us – ‘What, you had fun??? You enjoyed yourself? You're Irish and you thought you were entitled to a BMW? For that now you'll have to do penance.’
DRUNK ON LIFE
Though I drank nothing but a glass of water, after several hours of banter, laughter, song and dance I left The Local that night as drunk as I've ever been when leaving any such an establishment, and God knows I've staggered from a few! Exhausted from many weeks of long and stressful days in the lead-up to the All-Ireland final, now into the early hours of the morning, the 90-minute drive home to Ballyhea simply flew, my spirits soaring.
In the fight to shine a light on what's been done to Ireland by Europe, what's still being done, in continuing this campaign so deep into a third year, I didn't need any renewal. We're doing this for our own generation, we're doing it for those youngsters who brought such honour to Waterford last Sunday, we're doing it even for the generation that will follow them, all of whom are now faced with carrying this burden, debt-slaves to Europe.
I already knew they were worth it. Siobhan and myself have two kids of our own, Niall and Sadhbh, both now in college. We have met their friends, we know the talent in that generation. I know too that in time, when they know as much as we in the Ballyhea and Charleville campaign group know about what's been done and how it's been done, the Irish people will take their stand and this bank-debt burden will be shifted back whence it came.
THE BALLYHEA CAMPAIGN
In the meantime, we’ll keep campaigning. We’ll march in Ballyhea next Sunday, week 133, we’ll be in Brussels again next week, our fourth such visit. On Tuesday we’ll be meeting the Petitions committee, on Wednesday meeting with economic advisers from the office Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council.
For that night, however, for those few thoroughly enjoyable hours in The Local, in Dungarvan, in Waterford, from the bottom of my Ballyhea, Cork, Munster and Irish heart, I thank you.