Mickey MacConnell
Singer / Songwriter



Only Our Rivers




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Mickey's colum for The Maine Valley Post a weekly online newspaper






December 12th 2013

It's the same every year. In the lead up to Christmas you wander down the town and find yourself confronted by bands of your neighbours dressed in Santa uniforms waving collection boxes as they massacre Christmas carols.

It's the worst sort of blackmail. The music might be atrocious and the singing totally out of tune, but when a neighbour waves a collection box under your nose demanding funds for a worthy charity, it would take a man with a heart of stone to refuse to contribute. Even worse is the realisation that if you refuse to drop a few euro into the box you know in your heart and soul that you will be branded the meanest hoor in earth for the next twelve months. Achieving social respectability is always the easiest and cheapest option.

Until now! I have to say that I'm incandescent with anger when I learned that it may be the case that funds being contributed by the likes of me and you are ,in some cases , being used to top up the salaries of the top executives of various Health Board Institutions and organisations. Dear God! Are there no depths that this country has not sunk to.

In my innocence I believed that when I contributed to one or other of the best known institutions that helped the sick, the handicapped, the disabled, the troubled and the needy that my few bob was going to provide much needed services. Had I known that I was contributing to foreign holidays, expensive schools, lavish lifestyles and expensive homes and motor cars my money would have remained firmly rooted in my pocket.

We need to learn the truth of this. It would be a dreadful shame if respectable honest charities and organisations found they were suffering a huge drop in public contributions because of what we have learned in the past week or so. We need to be told the truth and we need to e told it fast.

If it is the case that front line services have been damaged and diminished because the money donated by a well meaning public has been hived off into the pockets of the fat cats for their own use and benefit, then we face a tragedy. If this is happening at a time when poorly paid frontline workers are struggling to survive savage pay cuts and worsened working conditions deeply affecting those who most need our help, then it is a mortal and almost unforgivable sin.

We need clarity and truth and we need it now. Those most in need of our help deserve it, those honest men and women working at the frontline deserve it, those decent people who stand out in the cold and rain day after day sacrificing their time and effort for what they believe is the common good deserve it even more. A failure to answer their questions is nothing short of a betrayal.

The next time somebody proffers a collection box in my direction I will think twice until somebody, somewhere ,provides some provable answers.

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December 5th 2013

I have been driven to the inescapable conclusion that either (a) God has turned his back on this poor forsaken country or ours or (b) we have finally evolved into a truly secular society and have turned our back on God. Let me explain.

Older readers will remember the last recession we went through. It wasn’t as bad as this one but, in our darkest hour it appeared that God came to our aid by instigating a series of Divine revelations which resulted in holy statues embarking on a jag of hoppin’, leppin’, jigging and generally involving themselves in all sorts of unholy carry on at deserted crossroads and small villages throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Not a day passed but the newspapers were filled with more and more stories involving statues of the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and even the Boss himself tripping the light fantastic. Needless to say, in our hours of darkness the populace flocked to the sites of these miraculous happenings and great was the devotion expressed throughout the entire country. Busloads of devout people travelled hundreds of miles to spend days and nights camped out in the remotest of remote places totally convinced that the Lord had come to our aid to bring comfort and compassion and hope.

What is happening now? Well sweet damn all seems to be the answer. Despite our continuing and worsening woes the statues remain firmly fixed on their concrete pedestals. There is nary a twitch nor tic to be found the length and breadth of the country despite our continuing hardship and affliction.

Now far be it from me to play the role of a cynic or to cast cold water on these Divine manifestations, but I always found it somewhat strange that these miraculous events always seemed to take place in the most remote and Godforsaken parts of the country. It seemed that the statues had some sort of heavenly dislike to indulge in their fleet-footed activities anywhere within miles of somewhere where you could buy a drink or a sandwich instead preferring to stage the show at out-of-the-way roadsides on rain swept mountainsides or in the middle of grim grey bogs miles from the nearest habitation.

Now who am I to pick a fight with the Almighty, but I would have thought it reasonable that it I wished to spread a Divine message I would pick the middle of O’Connell Street in Dublin on a busy Saturday evening or the heart of Limerick City in preference to a deserted bogland. Not only would I deliberately concentrate on large centres of population but I would also make sure that I was in direct line of sight of at least three closed circuit cameras that would record my every move and twitch. In a closely monitored society, that would certainly get the message across.

But no. It appears that God moves in truly mysterious ways. Instead of taking the easy option, in order to bear witness to His divine work, one had to embark on a harrowing pilgrimage into the outback and spend countless hours peering at an ill-lit grotto constructed of shoddy materials sometime during the Marion Year. I don’t know about you, but it seems somewhat strange to me.

So either God has forsaken us or we have forsaken Him. I’m not sure which is the case but, looking at the people who have got us into all this trouble, I wouldn’t blame Him in the least for deciding that he wanted absolutely nothing more to do with this once proud and devout land of Saints and Scholars.

There’s no more to be said.

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November 28th 2013

I like being a grandfather for most of the time. One of the great benefits of grandfathering is that you can hand the kids back to their parents when you get sick and tired of them. One of the main disadvantages is that at this time of the year you are likely to be press ganged into attending the annual Nativity plays in which the young darlings have a starring role.

So it is with a heavy heart that I drag myself up the country to partake in this annual bout of Purgatory. It involves parking my ancient arthritic backside on a hard plastic school chair in a draughty gymnasium or an overcrowded classroom and being subjected to this festive outpouring of hymns and child drama at its’ overexcited best or worst as the case may be.

It’s said that the Devil has the best music and I think that there is a lot of truth in that. It must be admitted that the standard of pious ditties that accompany the Christmas school play leave quite a lot to be desired. Most of them are harmless enough but after half an hour or so they all seem to sound the same. Staying awake can present quite a challenge as the evening wears on.

Then there is the difficulty involved in picking out your grandchildren from among the infestation of angels, wise men, cherubs, and all the other dramatis personae that are involved. My eyesight isn’t the best nowadays and I find it extremely difficult to identify the heavily disguised offspring of my clan when they are clad in long flowing robes, veils, turbans, crowns tinselly wings and so forth. I sit anxiously bolt upright on the hard chair praying for a familiar gap-toothed smile or a familiar turn of a freckled face to reassure me that I’m in the right place and applauding the appropriate brood.

My eldest granddaughter, Molly is cut out for the stage and there is no mistaking her. She always seems to wrangle the top job ending up as the Blessed Virgin. It’s a gig she plays for all it is worth and wrings every possible bit out of the role. She, as you might guess, is the least of my problems.

Her brother Padraig and little sister Sally are a totally different kettle of fish. Padraig’s thespian skills seem destined to lie somewhere between the shepherds and the Three Wise Men. While he plays the part with not inconsiderable gusto I have a sneaking suspicion that his mind is inclined to wander somewhat as the production unfolds, football and hurling representing his main preoccupations.

Sally is of yet an unknown quantity. Next week represents crunch time as it will be her first venture onto the stage. I’m not sure yet whether she will be found in the ranks of angels, cherubs or some such, but I await her stage debut with some small measure of trepidation. That is because, in real life, the role of angel or cherub seems far removed from her daily normality.

So that’s it. I’m off on the annual pilgrimage in a few days’ time somewhat comforted by the knowledge that I’m not alone. Doubtless there will be countless grandparents offering up their ancient backsides onto hard plastic chairs in their local schools suffering a similar fate. Dammit all, we never died a winter yet

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November 21st 2013

I was standing outside the door of one of my favourite Listowel watering holes on Saturday night last watching the world pass by when it struck me that saving a fortune on our health services could be very easily achieved indeed. Sometimes the simplest solutions are best when solving insuperable problems.

Because as I stood there watching a seemingly endless procession of fine looking young women all dressed up to the nines on their Saturday night out it struck me that the vast majority of them had a couple of things in common. That realisation led me to my money saving revelation.

First of all was the fact that despite the fact that it was a bitterly cold night, this seemed to have little or no impact on the way they dressed for the evening out. Extremely short skirts and bare midriffs were all the rage despite the fact that the choice of fashion was not only a serious moral hazard but also a medical one as it invited an instant attack of hypothermia.

Now I’m as fond of a bit of leg as the next man but it appeared that the mothers of tomorrow must be prepared to go to almost any lengths when embarking on a night of ceol agus craic. I stood transfixed wrapped up in my warmest overcoat –zipped up to the throat – as the parade of femininity passed by apparently oblivious to the fact that even the brass monkeys were all staying indoors.

But even more fascinating was the fact that the vast majority of the cream of Kerry womanhood were teetering down the street in the most impossibly high heels I have ever seen. It seems to me that there are high heels and high heels but the footwear of choice today seems designed purely for fashion purposes with the difficulties of walking in the damn things not even taken into consideration by their designers.

This has the result of causing the wearer to have to adopt a very strange style of walking which seems to involve leaning backwards and sticking your backside out at a most peculiar angle. The difficulties are further compounded by the need to take extremely short and careful steps a measure necessitated by the fact that one is balanced on a pair of stilts while attempting to negotiate the increasingly deteriorating footpaths.

It would be extremely foolish to think that there doesn’t have to be a physical price to be paid for this personal sacrifice to female fashion. Leaving aside the risk of double pneumonia, pleurisy and all sorts of respiratory complications resulting from baring large expanses of flesh in a cold climate, I shudder to contemplate the consequences of wearing such footwear in a few years time.

I can confidently predict that in a few years time the next generation of mothers of Ireland will all be crippled by the time they reach forty years old. The health services will be forced to grapple with the consequences of an orthopaedic holocaust as the consequences of killer heels brings the country to its knees. There will be endless waiting lists for knee, ankle and hip operations while the medical wards will be packed to overflowing with bad chests and all classes of respiratory ailments directly related to unwisely resorting to ceol agus craic.

So if the Minister for Health has any sense he will immediately ban the wearing of killer heels and pass laws governing the length of skirts and midriff apparel for public appearances. God knows this government seems to have no problem banning everything in sight so it should be a breeze and will save the health services an absolute fortune into the bargain.

As I said. It’s the simple things that work.

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November 14th. 2013

It’s not often that a popular song turns up as the subject of a news story but such was the case this week with newspapers, radio and television celebrating the centenary of the publication of “Danny Boy”. This has been hailed as the quintessential Irish song despite the fact that it was written by an Englishman who never set foot in Ireland and that the origins of the melody are very suspect indeed.

Now let me say straight away that I hate the bloody song. The reason is simple. I have suffered through it being massacred for over 60-years and I’m inclined to make a bolt for the door when Danny is introduced into the musical company.

As we all know the Irish are the only race on earth who can suffer from homesickness without ever leaving home. Whenever an Irishman or woman begins to feel homesick and there is strong drink involved you can be damn sure that Danny Boy is about to make an appearance. It is hard to sing and even harder to listen to. The last high note is a stern challenge for even the most practiced singer and something around 98% of those either brave or foolish enough to take on the damn thing fall at this final musical hurdle.

So it’s a con job of epic musical proportions. But it is not the only one to be found floating around in musical circles. In fact there are many songs that are claimed to be Irish but are anything but. Take “It’s a Long, long way to Tipperary” as a shining example of yet another con job foisted on the nation.

The song was written by a British musical hall performer called Jack Judge in the early days of the last century. He was in the habit of drinking in a pub in Tipperary Square in the heart of London and one day the regulars there presented him with a challenge. The bet was that he would not be able to write a song within 24 hours. Jack accepted the bet and the rest is history.

So the Tipperary referred to in the song is in fact Tipperary Square in London and has absolutely nothing at all got to do with our fair country. That makes sense when you look at the words of the song and find that Tipperary is paired with Piccadilly and Leicester Square. Of course the song became extremely popular in the ranks of the British Army and was sung as the soldiers marched off to fight in the First World War.

Let’s turn to that ditty “I’ll take you home again Kathleen” – a song long regarded as an Irish classic. It is anything but. In fact it was written by a drunken Hungarian in New York and he used the name Kathleen because he thought Irish female names were much more preferable than their Hungarian equivalents which were full of X’s, Zeds and Y’s. The man had a point.

But perhaps the best example of them all involves another Hungarian and his girlfriend. She was called Iris and the lovesick songwriter penned a love song called “When Iris’s Eyes are Smiling” and published it in Tin Pan Alley sometime in the early 1920’s. Now it so happened that there was a particularly rapacious Irish band called The Flanagan Brothers who were all the rage on the Irish/American music scene at that time and the attractions of Iris and her Hungarian swain proved too big a temptation to pass up.

So they changed Iris to Irish and thus another con trick was born. The song was duly recorded by The Flanagan Brothers and Bing Crosby then picked it up and it became a worldwide hit that is still dragged out on far too many occasions. I don’t know if the Hungarian or Iris got any royalties but that’s a question for another day.

Readers of considerable age will perhaps remember the Walton’s programme on Radio Eireann a lifetime ago. It always ended with the entreaty “If you do feel like singing, do sing an Irish song”. It is good advice but becoming harder to stick to in these days when all is not as it seems.

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November 7th 2013

It is hard to escape the conclusion that beset by the property tax debacle and myriad other social problems that the government has yet once again enlisted the help of the political strategists and media spin doctors to get them out of yet another self constructed hole.

And it would appear that the strategists and the spin doctors have suggested that raising the question of civil marriage for same sex couples is just the ticket to divert peoples’ attention from the property tax, rising prices, falling pensions, cuts to social welfare allowances, water charges and the myriad other horrors that are awaiting the hard pressed and increasingly angry public which is rapidly losing all patience with this pathetic shower.

Now I don’t know about you but I personally don’t give a blind flying fiddler’s **** about the rights or wrongs of gay marriage. What people get up to with their private parts in the privacy of their own homes is a matter of total indifference to me so long as they don’t frighten the horses in the street or require me or mine taking part. I have enough to worry about trying to get by without taking on this added burden.

Now it would appear that the spin doctors are preparing the ground by saying that there should be a referendum on the issue and they will launch a largely Labour led campaign which will talk about civil rights and respecting all the citizens of the State equally. It rings sorta hollow when one considers that this bloody government would appear to have absolutely no respect for any citizen of the State and their continuing ineptitude serves to worsen the situation day by day.

Now as somebody who had practiced journalism for a lifetime I have to admit that I have a great distaste and grave dislike of spin doctors of all sorts. They are the sort of people who will blithely tell you that statistically only one of the seven dwarves is Happy. That’s true in one sense but does not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. These lads and lassies are masters of the black old arts of misdirection, deceit and downright fraud.

The worse the problem the better they get. It seems to me that this Black Art has now reached its zenith and this day and age is providing some of the finest example ever to see the light of day. Let me give you one classic example.

It involves an amateur genealologist by the name of Judy Rudd who comes from Australia and who was doing some personal research on her family tree. She discovered that ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s great-great uncle, Remus Rudd, was hanged for horse stealing and train robberies in 1889.

He was a horse thief and sent to Melbourne Jain in 1885, escaped in 1887, and robbed the Melbourne-Geelong train six times. He was caught by the Victoria police, convicted and hanged in 1889. Judy recently sought the background to this story and e-mailed ex-Prime Minister Rudd for information. The following biographical sketch returned.

“Remus Rudd was famous in Victoria during the mid to late 1800’s. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Melbourne-Geelong railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the Victoria police force. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.

” That’s a true story and that’s what I call spin doctoring.

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October 31th. 2013


It’s Tuesday and I have to confess that I’m still recovering from an enchanting musical weekend filled by friends, fine musicians and singers. It all kicked off at the wonderful Padraig O’Keeffe Festival in Castleisland on Saturday last in Fagin’s bar and developed from there.

I was joined by the fabulous Niamh Parsons and Inishbofin man, Andrew Murray and we led the bar in a few wonderful hours of singing and craic. Niamh is an old friend and every time our paths cross down the years a good time is guaranteed. She was in her element in Fagin’s bar and treated us to a master class in traditional singing. Andrew was also in fine voice and enthralled the company with his fine voice and choice of songs.

But it has to be said that the local people more than held up their end of things. I’m always amazed at the breadth of talent that exists in this country and delight in the unselfconsciousness that can be found at sessions such as these. Over the few hours I was there I heard a wide and varied collection of ballads, all sung in the traditional way and a far cry from the sort of pap that is being churned out by radio and television these days.

On Sunday night we had the mother of all parties in John B Keane’s bar in Listowel. I had written a song called “The Ballad of Lidl and Aldi” and myself and herself promised that we would stage one hell of a shindig should it achieve 100,000 views on You Tube. Imagine my surprise when it easily achieved that – it’s at 160,000 and still counting – as I write this. Anyway, a large and motley collection of friends and fellow musicians turned up to help us celebrate the occasion and it turned out to be one hell of a night.

The song was written to poke a bit of fun at the German discount stores but it also happens to be a true story. My wife damaged her ankle and for a mercifully short time I had to do the shopping. I would go into one of these places and arrive home with all sorts of tools and gadgets that I didn’t either want or need. It seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people who have confessed to being afflicted by the same disease.

Let it be said that I have a garden shed stuffed with bits and pieces bought from Lidl and Aldi. I have to admit that I have some tools that I don’t even know what to do with. For some strange reason I have a particular weakness for spirit levels and I now find myself the proud owner of all manner of spirit levels including one that apparently is designed to help carpenters to construct roofs. Now I have never built a roof and have absolutely no intention of ever building one, but should the need arise, at least I have the necessary equipment.

And I have saws. Dear God do I have saws? I have sabre saws, circular saws, hand saws, powered saws all piled up alongside the strimmers, pressure washers, lawnmowers, hedge trimmers and every manner of power drill, wrenches, screwdrivers and socket sets. When I purchased all these it seemed to have escaped my mind that I’m not in the least interested in DIY and gardening, but that failed to deter me in the slightest. Like they say, a fool and his money are easily parted.

So that was my weekend and I enjoyed it immensely. If you want to find the song just type “The Ballad of Lidl and Aldi” into You Tube and you will find it without too much trouble. If you want to find the lyrics you will find them at www.mudcat.org along with all other manner of stuff that you might find enjoyable.

See you next week.

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October 24th 2013

Any government that deliberately targets the sick, the old, the jobless and the helpless is by any standard an immoral one totally devoid of ethics and any sort of morality and compassion. When it is done in order to protect the bankers, the developers, the speculators, the builders and the hedge fund managers who brought this country to its knees it proves itself to be vile and disgraceful and not deserving of the support of any right thinking person.

I’m driven to the conclusion that this is indeed a vile and disgraceful government. The bland denials that this is the case being uttered by the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and the Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, ring extremely hollow when the ongoing evidence is examined. Even the most cursory examination of the provisions of the recent Budget highlight the gross injustices and the callous and uncaring attitude of a government which promised so much and delivered nothing but misery and hardship for thousands of vulnerable people.

Just don’t take my word for it. The evidence is immediately available in the horror stories that are emerging on a daily basis in the Dail and which were put on the record of the House by TD’s Billy Kelleher, Barry Cowan, Robert Troy, Sandra McLellan and Paul Connaughton among others. Here is a short selection.

A young boy of six years of age who has profound intellectual and physical disabilities, who is confined to a wheelchair, who does not have the use of his limbs, who is incontinent and who cannot communicate. His medical card was withdrawn as part of a review.

A boy who will be three years old in December, who has Down’s Syndrome, who is profoundly deaf, who requires substantial daily care, who has serious medical needs and who has an intellectual disability. This child’s medical card was also revoked.

Then there is the case of a man who has lung cancer who was recently diagnosed as bipolar and who had half of his right lung removed in March. His medical card which was granted to him three years ago was withdrawn.

Another man is over 70 years of age. He has terminal stage cancer, is being fed by means of a PEG tube, can no longer move or speak and is confined to a special wheelchair. He has dementia and was awarded a GP only card.

Anne has always held a full medical card on medical grounds as she suffers from oestopenia and severe rheumatoid arthritis. Her case came up for review in April. When her application was refused it went to review but that too was refused and was later again refused on appeal.

Jack aged nine has held a full medical card. He has multiple disabilities including cerebral palsy and a hearing impairment. His card came up for review in February and he was awarded a doctor visit card. On review on two occasions the original refusal was upheld.

A six year old boy was granted a six month emergency card as a result of “ferocious lobbying” by public representatives. Among other things he suffers from epilepsy, spastic quadric paresis, heart trouble, hypothermia and kidney failure. He has no means of communication, no use of his arms or legs and is wheelchair dependent. He requires 24 hour care seven days per week. His parents are his carers.

A lady who was paralysed in an accident last year was granted a medical card in early 2013. She had been rendered tetraplegic and needed extensive rehabilitation. She was told in July of this year that her medical card was cancelled. An application to have the card reinstated was turned down.

A man who is on the transplant list as he awaits a kidney transplant and attends dialysis three days a week has his card withdrawn and the cost burden on his family is proving unbearable. No medical assessment has taken place despite his exceptional medical needs.

These are just a few of the cases that have been raised in the Dail in the past few days. That is the most recent evidence and needless to say there are thousands of others living in fear and misery as the repercussions of this Budget To Die For percolates down through the ranks of the sick, the helpless and the vulnerable.

This is truly a terrible government!

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October 17th 2013

Like the song says, my bags are packed and I’m ready to go. It is Tuesday morning on Budget Day and within a few hours the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, will do his worst. Bring it on Minister say I because I have damn all left to give.

In fact I’m going to totally ignore the Budget for the next few days. A group of friends decided to give myself and the wife a voucher for a hotel stay in Galway so that we could properly celebrate our 40’Th wedding anniversary. So we are off to the City of the Tribes, a place which is close to our hearts and we intend to put Michael Noonan and all his works and pomps out of our minds for the next few days at least.

The fact that I have absolutely nothing left to give was brought home to me in spades a few days ago when I overheard a group of health experts debating the pros and cons of introducing an opt out system when it comes to organ transplants. I was getting a bit exercised about the subject imagining a scenario where I would be lying up in a hospital bed at death’s door while a beady eyed transplant surgeon would be eyeing me up wondering what to whip out when I finally snuffled off the mortal coil. Then I told myself it was time to cop on because I was being absolutely ridiculous.

Because truth to tell, there isn’t a bit of me worth salvaging. I’m as blind as a bat when I don’t have my glasses to hand. Not only that but I’m deaf as a post after spending a lifetime playing loud music in close proximity to microphones and amplifiers. It would take a brass band to awaken me in the morning while the wife keeps complaining about the amount of volume I use when watching television.

My lungs are destroyed entirely from a lifetime of heavy smoking. I have a wheeze that would do credit to a barrel organ. Running after buses and climbing mountains is long since a thing of the past and I have assiduously avoided strenuous exercise like the plague which has resulted in me being in my present condition. When it comes to my heart, things go from bad to worse.

As a young fella I was in the habit of giving it away far too often and into careless hands. Every time I got it back it was either broken or badly damaged and inevitably took a long time to heal. Now in advanced age it is sadder, wiser and no damn good to anybody except me.

I’m not even going to talk about my liver and kidneys except to say that a lifelong career in journalism and music has taken a heavy toll. In their day, these gallant warriors have handled more than their fair share of all things alcoholic and in considerable quantities. The fact that they are still working in any shape or form truly represents one of the Glorious Mysteries.

The stomach and the attached bits and pieces have fared little better. Suffice it to say that they have endured the same sort of hardship as the liver, kidneys and spleen. They are a miracle of modern science and a testament to a lifetime of carefree folly.

The skeleton is long past its best being subjected to all manner of aches and pains. In fact I’m now experiencing pains in places I didn’t know existed and each passing years is a discomfiting voyage of discovery. Yet I battle on more in hope than in expectation confident that tomorrow is another day with yet more challenges to be faced. One of them will not involve being an organ donor because, as they say hereabouts, anybody who was transplanted with anything of mine would be dressing a hard bed for themselves.

So bring it on Minister. I’m living on my old age pension and have absolutely nothing left to give to you or anybody else. I’m off now to Galway for a high old time, let the last hour be the sorest and I will take my batin’ tomorrow.

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October 10th. 2013

There are days and there are days. This is one of these special days – it is not a red letter day but rather a brown letter day, a day when two envelopes arrived through the letter box with glad tidings.

Both of the letters had clear transparent windows. That’s normally bad news. When you see your name and address peering out of that small window you can be damn sure that somebody, somewhere is demanding large sums of money and that you had better pay up post haste or take the consequences.

But not today! The first letter had a harp emblazoned on it and informed me that I was now an old age pensioner and could, with all dispatch, remove myself from the job market. Oh Happy Day. From this day on I can officially regard myself as a grumpy old man entitled to sit in dark corners in favourite pubs and talk of the good old days when times were better and rant at great length of how the youngsters of today are a total disgrace and know absolutely nothing.

The second letter – also completes with transparent window – bore a picture of Her Majesty the Queen. It would appear that the Queen had taken the time to inform me that because of my labours in the North of Ireland that I was entitled to a bob or two from her realm. It has to be said that she is a decent woman.

So it was that I found myself down in John B’s pub in Listowel late in the afternoon. My lovely friend Philomena was behind the bar and I ordered a pint of Guinness. Because the pub was deserted I slunk off into the corner, raised my glass and, under my breath, sang an extremely short and silent version of “God Save The Queen”.

So I’m now officially an old man. I knew that I was old because for a long time because I’m at a stage where I’m horrified at how young is the appearance of gardai, priests, doctors and all those persons in positions of authority from whom you expect the mantle of old age and gravitas. Maybe it’s me, but fresh faced cops, doctors and priests do little to reassure me at a stage in my life when I’m much more likely to need their services than in times of yore.

Take the junior doctors for instance. It strikes me that these people are more than justified in going out onto the street to demand that they get fair working conditions and decent pay. How in God’s name could any young doctor do their job properly when they have been forced to work a shift lasting anything up to 36 hours? This is madness at its worst! Nobody could fairly maintain any sense of ability or judgement operating under these sorts of conditions. Let us not mince words here; this is a matter of life and death.

And it is our lives and deaths. The brown envelopes with the transparent windows remind me that these are the people on whom I will undoubtedly depend in the years to come. Please God, sense will have prevailed and the incompetent and bungling Minister for Health will have fixed things up long before the day when I have to present myself to the fresh faced kids who will hold my fate in their gifted hands.

I hope that they will be well paid, well rested, well treated and well respected. They deserve nothing less.

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October 3rd. 2013

I’m sitting here horrified as I listen to the news that a 30-year-old man has been charged with the savage rape of two little girls in the Midlands last weekend. My anger is growing by the minute at the realisation that it will take two or three years for this case to come before the courts while businesses which find themselves in financial difficulties have instant recourse to the remedies provided by the Commercial Court. Surely there is no justice in that?

These two little innocent girls and their families will have to endure a couple of years of unbelievable trauma before the perpetrator is brought before a court to face justice. Sadly, such is the state of child protection in this country there is absolutely no guarantee that they will get the help they will badly need in the intervening period because, as recent events show, the HSE has been found sadly wanting when it comes to providing that essential help.

Earlier today the Children’s’ Ombudsman, Emily Logan, reported how a little 11-year-old girl was not provided with medical services and counselling by the HSE for a period of four months after a savage violent attack. An investigation by her department found that the officials dealing with the case had found that the girl’s mother was regarded as “difficult” and that this had delayed providing either a social worker or any help for the poor little girl.

Apparently the little girl had asked that her mother be present when she was being interviewed by a social worker. This, according to the HSE was considered inappropriate and therefore the badly needed services were not provided. In the heel of the hunt, the mother involved had to seek private help for the little girl who, now at the age of 17-years, is still struggling to survive her ordeal.

Now I don’t know about you, but if an eleven-year-old daughter of mine was subjected to rape and denied services, I would be very “troublesome” indeed. Nor do I find it strange that the little girl would want a parent there to help her through the horrendous experience of telling strangers of what had happened to her. This is a travesty of justice and makes a mockery of the term child protection.

And how can any allegedly civilised country tolerate a situation where businesses that get into trouble can have instant access to the Commercial and higher courts within a matter of hours without a question being asked? It seems to me that the welfare of a child that has been violently sexually abused should have first recourse to the protection of the State and that such protection should be given instantly and wholeheartedly.

Even the most cursory examination of child protection services in this country proves that the entire system is in need of dramatic and radical reform. Hard pressed social workers are being daily denied the resources needed to tackle the myriad problems that are going on underneath our collective noses each and every day of the year. This recession leading to deprivation, depression and alcoholism is leading to more and more problems among those least equipped to cope and the problems grow worse and worse every day.

Finally, I’m deeply depressed by a poll in the Sunday newspapers that shows that 42% of the electorate polled have said that they are either undecided or do not intend to vote in tomorrow’s referendum. It is my opinion that a failure to cast your vote is a betrayal of your rights as a citizen of this country.

We should never forget that brave men and women went out and laid down their lives to win us the right to vote on what goes on in our country. When the hills were bleeding and the rifles were aflame they were unafraid to go out and lay down their lives in order to restore our sovereignty and human dignity. To fail to cast your vote is tantamount to insulting their courage, their integrity and their dignity.

The choice is yours and they died to provide you with that choice.

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September 26th 2013

For more years than I care to remember I observe a ritual just before closing time on the night of the Ireland football final. I buy myself a pint of Guinness and toast the memory of the great late Con Houlihan for he was truly one of the great heroes of the sporting spectacular. As a young reporter with “The Irish Press” I was occasionally sent out onto the streets of Dublin on all-Ireland day to write colour pieces and interview supporters of the various teams involved. Late at night when the paper was “put to bed” I would go around to Mulligan’s pub in Poolbeg Street where I would find Con in his customary seat at the end of the counter. We would drink pints and commence the sporting post mortem. He was always far to kind to point out that a Fermanagh man had absolutely no business talking about Gaelic football and the night would pass in gales of laughter as he fell into full flow and held court in the companionable smoky pub. When the first edition of the paper was printed at around one o-clock in the morning we would collect copies at the back door of the “Press” and invariably find ourselves enthralled at Con’s magnificent reporting of the final. For truly nobody could write about sport with the same consummate ease as Con. His deft touch and incorrigible humour was a joy to behold and was an inspiration to all the young reporters who sought to emulate his style. Nobody could do it and, truth to tell, nobody can do it to this day. I remember his once describing the performance of a Dublin team as comparable to the fate of the ship that a toy shop sent to China to pick up a cargo of one million yo-yo’s. According to Con it sank forty times on the way home. Then there was the tale of the hapless Dublin goalie who decided to end it all by flinging himself in front of the train carrying the victorious Kerry team home to Tralee only to find that the train went between his legs. In time we came to know each other well and he was a good friend to me. I remember being deeply honoured when he invited me to become a member of the BBC, a very select gang which he had invented. The BBC involved was not the august British Broadcasting Corporation but rather the Boat Burners’ Club and only those who had incurred disfavour with “The Irish Press” management were welcomed into its ranks. Sometimes I would meet him in The Barge pub in Rathmines and spend a few very enjoyable afternoons in his company. He was one of nature’s gentlemen, a wonderful teacher and mentor and I owe him a debt of gratitude that I can never repay. But my memories of him are especially strong when the All-Ireland football finals come around and his genial ghost appears at the forefront of my mind. In a time of increasingly cheap and hollow celebrity-led tabloid journalism it is comforting to remember that there were people of his calibre who led the way at a time when the old black art of journalism was still considered a somewhat worthy trade to follow. Those days will never return but people like myself were totally privileged to have known him when in his prime and when his company enriched all who were lucky enough to come within his circle.


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September 19th 2013

It is not every day that we are given the opportunity to get rid of 60 politicians with the stroke of a pen. It is an opportunity I welcome because as a young reporter with “The Irish Press” and later with “The Irish Times” I spent endless fruitless hours reporting on Seanad Eireann debates. It did not take me long to realise that, politically speaking, the Seanad has all the significance of a fart in a hurricane.

That’s because the Senate has absolutely no power and is a creature of government. The only power granted to the Senate under the Constitution is the power to delay financial bills for thirty days and other bills not related to the economy by three months. Therefore it is powerless, impotent and a total waste of time and money.

This abolition referendum came about because Enda Kenny was advised that he needed to do something popular because Fine Gael was falling in the polls. He immediately decided to get rid of the Senate in the hope that this would endear him to the electorate and restore the party’s fortunes. Whether that will succeed remains to be seen but now that this opportunity has presented itself, we should seize it with both hands.

The truth is that the Senate has been cynically used by all political parties to either groom potential TD’s by using it to create a profile that would make them electable. It was also used as a state or place of refuge for failed TD’s who had lost their seats and were being rewarded for past services. If my memory serves me right something around 26 of the present crop of Senators are failed general election candidates.

I’d love to get rid of them because we did not elect them. Instead they were elevated to high office by county councillors, trade unions, the agricultural industry and a strange mixture of universities and other bodies. Why should the hard-pressed people of Ireland be asked to pay the salaries and expenses of people who are politically impotent and who were not chosen by us in the first place? The Senate is an elitist half-way house for the would-be wannabes and the proven failures. At a time when services are being cut for special needs assistants and savage cuts are being imposed on the handicapped and the sick it is a travesty of justice that it should be allowed to continue one minute longer.

Those who would seek to retain or reform it argue that its abolition would place far too much power in the hands of a small number of people in government. That is arrant nonsense. The Senate had no power of any sort to stop the government doing what it damn well likes and talk of transparency and accountability are laughable. That is particularly true at a time when even the dogs in the street know that the real power governing this country lies not in Dublin but in the hands of Angela Merkel and the suited bureaucrats who run the ECB, the Troika and the hedge funds.

This is just my personal opinion but it is one formed from spending endless hours reporting on the place. It is my view that the place is a luxury we can ill afford, that it is unfit for purpose and a waste of time or money. When I ask myself what has the Senate done to improve the lot of rural Ireland I find that the answer is sweet damn all.

So let’s get rid of it and put whatever amount of money that is saved to some useful purpose. Let those Senators who find themselves out of their well paid jobs place themselves before the electorate rather than being parachuted into a privileged political Disneyland.

There is another referendum on the same day concerning the setting up of a new court to deal with appeals to the Supreme Court. I will be voting in favour of that too. On the negative side it will undoubtedly mean that the fat cat lawyers will get even fatter, but on the positive side it will mean speedier recourse to justice for those who have appeals delayed by anything up to four years. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied.

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September 12th 2013

The farming community lost a friend and rural Ireland a champion with the shockingly sudden death of my beloved elder brother Sean at his Dublin home last week. Sean had just retired from his job as Agricultural Correspondent with “The Irish Times” when he was taken away from us.

He was damn good at his job. Unlike most of his colleagues he didn’t have an agricultural degree under his belt but rather enjoyed the advantage of having grown up in rural South Fermanagh in the fifties and sixties when farming practices still owed more to yesterday than modernity. As small boys we helped out on our neighbour’s farm and learned the hard way how things were done when manual labour was the driving force behind making a living.

But there was fun too. We knew the best spots to place a snare to catch a rabbit. We learned how to set eel traps in the River Erne. We knew how to handle boats and we seemed to spend endless summer days wandering the byways of our beloved Fermanagh Lakeland; days punctuated by the ringing of the Angelus bell that summoned us home to eat.

We stood enthralled as we watched the annual visit of the threshing machine or when we witnessed the local blacksmith shoe our neighbour’s cart. We were appalled when we watched pigs being killed and marvelled at the wonder of new life when a new calf was born in the early hours of lantern-lit cowsheds.

We learned how to clamp turf in the Crochan bog and knew the heft of the slan and the weight of the big wooden turf barrows that seemed to belong to a previous century. We knew how to turn and then heft hay with pitchforks to a man building the cocks that dotted the countryside. We were familiar with the smell of TVO from the small grey Ferguson tractor that strained to haul a plough through the heavy Fermanagh soil. We knew the smell of burning briars in the cooling autumn evenings and rejoiced to the sound of the cuckoo in the meadows. We were part of the land and we learned from it.

Then we grew and moved away. But the countryside remained firmly in Sean’s heart and he took every available opportunity to escape from the city and walk the Dublin Mountains. Sometimes he would venture further afield and explore the hills and valleys of Cork, Mayo and Galway. He understood the land and the weather and felt more at home on a heathered mountainside than walking the concrete streets of the Capital City.

He was also a musician, a songwriter, a raconteur a poet, a husband, father and grandfather. He enjoyed life to the full and died just half an hour after playing a few songs with his musical friends in his local GAA club. He was truly one of nature’s gentlemen in every sense of the word.

I will miss you brother but I know that your spirit will live on whenever there are songs to be sung and pints to be raised or when the people of rural Ireland voice their discontent with the treatment received at the hands of our distant masters. Rest in Peace until we meet again.

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September 5th. 2013

Sometimes I despair for this poor bloody country of ours. A list of statistics released by the ERSI last week makes for very grim reading indeed, but, as always statistics only serve to hide the human tragedies that are unfolding here every day of the week.

Take the statistic that shows that an Irish person is forced to emigrate every six minutes. That is a shocking indictment and betrayal of our young people and is a stark illustration of how this country has been held in total contempt by our EU masters. Yet once again we are rearing our children, like our cattle, for export.

I said goodbye to one of the statistics the other day. The son of a good friend of mine I have known him since childhood and watched him grow into a fine young man. He is extremely well educated, talented and articulate and is the type of asset that this country can ill afford to lose. Having searched for work for years now he finds that he has no alternative but to pack his bags and head off to Australia in the hope of creating a new future.

And he is not the first of his family that has been forced to leave these shores. His sister left some years ago and has made a home for herself in Canada. There is one son remaining in the family and he is considering whether or not to join the exodus. That’s the sort of human tragedy that is masked by the bland statistics that are trotted out by the politicians day after day.

And surely one can only react with horror to the news that three new soup stations have opened up in the past week alone. This is the spectre of the Famine Days all over again. It is astonishing to think that in this day and age that some of our citizens are so impoverished that they are forced to depend on charity such as this. One would have hoped that the black days of Famine were long dead and gone, but such is not the case as this grim new statistic proves.

There are other hidden stories of hardship and deprivation. I met a man on the streets of Listowel the other day. He once ran a thriving business and was doing extremely well. The future for him and his family seemed secure until the crunch came and the bankers turned on him.

He showed me a bunch of documentation that the bank had sent him. The bank demanded to know how much money he spent every week on groceries and cigarettes. It wanted to know if he had Sky television, how much he spent on clothing and entertaining. In short there was not once aspect of his private life that was not held up for inspection. It was degrading and humiliating and is affecting him and his family in the worst possible way.

My mood was not improved by the television pictures of the Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, celebrating the bravery of the leaders of the 1913 Lockout when capitalism and labour clashed in the most bitter of conflict. I would have thought that the Labour Party Leader would have been well advised to keep his head down and say very little because the work of Connolly and Larkin has yet to be completed. It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the Irish Labour Party has long since betrayed the principles of the founding fathers and continue to do so on a daily basis.

How much more of this can we take before we begin building the barricades?

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August 29th 2013

I always made myself scarce when my children were being born. To tell the truth I would sneak off to a licensed premises, leave the wife and the professionals to get on with the job while I awaited the glad tidings. But now that I have grown older and wiser I have mended my ways and find myself both proud and privileged to be present at the birth of this new arrival. The Maine Valley Post.

It is a timely arrival for a lot of reasons. One of the main ones comes from my own experience of growing up in rural South Fermanagh a lifetime ago. Geographically we were miles away from anywhere. Neither Belfast nor Dublin gave a damn about us so we were a small community that, of necessity, was forced to depend on our own resources for help and support. We had no voice, no power, no influence, and it seemed nobody really cared.

So it gladdens my heart to be involved in this new online publication which seeks to give a voice to the people it serves. Because of the Internet, this is not a local voice, this is a global voice that can reach out to all corners of the world and establish contact with the Diaspora and re-unite family and kinsfolk wherever they might be.

That’s important at a time when rural communities such as the one this new publication serves are under increasing threat. Like all rural Irish communities were have been extremely badly served by our masters. Our schools, garda stations, post offices and local services have been slashed and burned. Our old, our sick, our handicapped and jobless have been betrayed at the hands of the politicians, the bankers, the speculators, the developers and all those who sought to make a quick buck while the sun shone. Now that the skies have clouded over we have been left to our own devices. Because there is nobody prepared to speak for us we have to find our own voice and this new publication is a perfect vehicle for the purpose.

Given proper support it will undoubtedly flourish. And it deserves to flourish because the people who have conceived the project are driven by the need to serve the community this new venture represents. This is not the media world of big business driven by the profit bottom line. This is a genuine effort to give a rural community an opportunity to be heard loud and clear in a world where few appear to be listening.

I’m proud to be associated with it and look forward to supplying a weekly column. I promise that it will be as fair and honest as I can make it and look forward to hearing from any of you who have something to say and who might feel I can help.

God bless this new venture and all who sail in her.

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