Stone throwers’ president beats OBE for Cormac MacConnell

It is ironically and bitterly true that the two greatest honours bestowed on me during my increasingly longer lifetime are directly connected to my frequent attendances in good lively public houses in Co Clare.

That reality struck me like a sledgehammer this week, when news reached me of the untimely passing of my good friend, John Campbell of The Inchiquin Inn, in the angling village of Corofin, on the edge of The Burren.

We lived there for a couple of years, about two decades ago, and that is how I became acquainted with genial John and his wife Anne, who ran a splendid establishment in the centre of the village.

There was always craic there, and Roscommon-born John had a wry, sharp edge to his flow of wit, which I always enjoyed.

They brought John back the other day to his native Strokestown for final repose, but the couple were a very central part of the Corofin community, always.

And it was because of this reality that I received a perennial honour, far more important to me than any knighthood or OBE of the type dished out by the Queen across the water last week.

At a community meeting to discuss ways of attracting even more visitors to Corofin, you see, I bravely made the proposal that the village should annually stage the All Ireland Stone Throwing Championships.

There was enthusiastic support, especially from John himself, the event has been running every Whit weekend since, and, because it was my idea, I was immediately appointed lifetime President of the organisation.

And that is the pure truth, of which I am very proud indeed.

The event is staged in the backyard of the Inn.

Contestants, both male and female, pay a few euros entry fee, to be armed with smooth sea stones, which they hurl at empty bottles mounted on iron spikes.

There is very keen competition, always.

Every man who was once a boy always loved to throw stones at empty bottles.

It is not easy to be accurate, though, in the heat of competition behind the Inchiquin Inn.

I qualified once for the final, but did not win.

The prize that first year went to a kilted Scot, a Rangers supporter, who was lethal with a stone in his hand.

He enjoyed his win hugely.

I cannot remember who the lady champion was, but clearly recall all the elemental enjoyment of throwing stones legally and safely in an enclosed space.

The competition has run successfully every Whit since then, and nobody enjoyed it more than John himself.

He will be sorely missed next Whit, when the unique competition begins again.

May he rest gently in the pastoral peace of Strokestown. I will miss him sorely.

The second honour granted to me because of what you can call my support for my local pub is maybe open to bawdy enough comments from my former neighbours around the fabled Honk Bar on the perimeter of Shannon Airport, but I still treasure it hugely.

What happened here, at the time when the smoking ban in pubs was implemented, is that I railed loudly both in the pub and in print against what I perceived to be a cruel stroke against my civil liberties.

I was wrong, of course, and freely admit that now, but each night I was there, I would complain very bitterly about having to leave my pint behind at the bar as I retreated out to the porch for my smoke.

Especially on the cold winter nights.

The male host of the house, John Quinlivan, exactly like John Campbell, has a wry, sharp, one-liner kind of wit.

One night, when I arrived up, I discovered that John had affixed an overhead sign to the ceiling of the porch.

It was the size and shape of a car number-plate, and read simply, “Cormac’s Hole”.

Since one has to pass through the porch to the bar, I leave it to yourselves to gauge the nature of the bawdy responses that sign generated.

I suffered sorely, but was secretly delighted and, on a visit back to The Honk just as the old year died, I was as pleased as punch to see the sign is still totally intact.

Those of you who enjoy a good pub night in good company should make it your business to drop into The Honk this year, if you are anywhere close.

And when ye are passing through the porch, maybe remember me...


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