In his new show, Hector Ó hEochagáin covers all sorts of interesting issues on his journey across the US, he tells Richard Fitzpatrick.
“I walked into a town in northern Georgia called Kennesaw. They passed a law back in 1982 that everybody was allowed carry a firearm and that it was legal to have a firearm at your place of work, in your vehicle. I met everyone who was carrying a gun — the mayor, shopkeepers, people on the street.
"I met this lady who is a very busy hairdresser and she showed me her pink Glock in her handbag. It makes her feel safer, she said. She’s always had guns. She goes to the shooting range once or twice a month with her friends to drink a glass of wine and to practice shooting. They feel safe at night. The doors aren’t locked.
They feel it’s their right to protect their businesses and themselves by carrying a gun. There are 400 million guns in circulation in America. I kept on asking the questions: “What about the atrocities? What about the shootings? How can we combat all this?” They kept going back to the same thing: ‘It’s the person who has the gun who does the damage not the gun itself’.”
“The marijuana plant has been in the ground for thousands of years. There’s a movement to make people aware how powerful and healthy the plant can be if you use it properly. Numerous states have now legalised cannabis, which means they can grow their own cannabis.
"Last year, the legalised cannabis industry in America was valued at $10 billion,according to Time magazine, and they’re forecasting it to grow and grow. This could be one of the biggest industries America has ever produced. We’re only at the infancy stage.
"To see the demographic in a dispensary: there was lads coming in after finishing a day’s painting buying their ganja, all packaged beautifully, people buying it for their vapes,elsewhere you had two ladies in their sixties, buying it for chronic back pain, buying jellies, creams.”
“Racism, white supremacy, the black-white tension is still as strong as ever. But there are great strides being made in places. I sat with some black entrepreneurs in Atlanta, Georgia who are creating businesses. Atlanta is becoming the new Los Angeles – it’s now almost on a par with Hollywood for making movies, fashion reality TV shows.
"With the hip hop that’s coming out of Atlanta it’s becoming the new hotbed of music. It’s creating a black wealth. It’s a beautiful thing that it’s happening in Atlanta – in a town where Martin Luther King used to stand on a pulpit and say all his things in the sixties.
"There’s still a lot of poverty, but it’s not just with the blacks. There’s so much poverty down south. I was lying in my bed in Selma, Alabama. At three o’clock in the morning I was woken. This car pulled up to the ice machine outside my door. A white family got out. These kids in their pyjamas, and they filled about seven buckets of ice, and then just took off after stealing them.”
“It’s irrelevant what we think of him – whether you think he’s a lunatic, a bigot, a liar, a racist, a sexist, his narrative on Twitter – nobody gives a damn about it over there. He’s a very popular politician. He’s got the cities that I was in – from Atlanta to Santa Fe to Albuquerque to Phoenix to Dallas to Houston – booming again.
"Construction is booming. Car production is booming. Textile industries are booming. Donald Trump told them what he was going to do and they love it.
"They can’t get enough of him down in the south. I can see him going back in for a second term. They wanted somebody different in the establishment. The majority of Americans only care about one thing: the economy. And for a long time under Barack Obama that country wasn’t moving, the middle classes were being squeezed but now the country is moving again.”
“For five, six weeks of the trip the Mississippi was always beside me. What a river — it drains a third of America. I sat beside it sometimes and I thought about the first time I ever heard about it — when I was sitting at home with a little torch lying as a young lad under the bed reading a book about Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, two blackguards that just wanted to go mitching from school and they built a boat and went on the Mississippi River.
"It’s so vast. You’re looking at barges going up and down it that are the length of 10 football pitches. The corn, the riches, the life it has given to the central part of America, as it swings the whole way down to the New Orleans peninsula, where there’s a lake the size of Leinster called the Lake of Pontchartrain.
"I did a lovely homage to Christy Moore’s version of the song: “Til I fell in love with the croi old girl, by the lakes of Pontchartrain…”"
“We were in a place called Clarksdale on the Mississippi Delta, which is the home of the blues, home of John Lee Hooker. BB King was born down the road. I met a guy called Super Chikan, a delta blues guitarist who’s almost in his seventies. His father and himself used to get an old tobacco box or an old gasoline box, put three strings on it and they’d make the Diddly bow, which creates the bang of the three-string blues music that you hear.
"He was telling me about the cotton plantation when he was 12 years of age picking 120 pounds a day. He told me: ‘The blues is about pain. It’s about suffering, feeling bad. When you’re in the middle of the plantation and you’re working and you’ve another eight hours to go and that sun is beating you down, you just have to sing to be happy.’
They used to make up these auld come-all-ye’s, as we’d call them here: “Ah, my mother ain’t got the dinner, na-nah-na-nah!” Then the landowner would say: “I don’t want ye singing on the plantation. Go down and sing in the corner over there. Ye can take that bloody shack down there.” They’d use that shack on a Saturday night. They’d mix in the moonshine. More people would come down. More guitarists would play. That’s how they created the blues.”
Hector USA – Ó Chósta go Cósta begins on on TG4, 9.30pm, Thursday, 24 October.