Cormac MacConnell: Paddy is special king of a special place

"King of the Burren" Paddy Hynes, reciting The Cremation of Sam McGee

Today I am pleased to tell ye all about a very special event last weekend in Co Clare, for a very special man in a truly special and different place altogether, in every way possible.

The farmers amongst you, busily housing stock and rationing fodder for the winter months ahead, will also be interested no doubt in the reality that many of those enthusiastically taking part in what was in effect a coronation had, earlier in the day, driven their cattle out of doors.

Their herds went on to the most barren looking acres in all Ireland, and they will not be providing foodstuffs for them at all at all during the winter months, when many men like my colleague Denis Lehane on page four will be moaning and whinging about the soaring costs involved.

Again, as always, the pure truth.

I come to the facts at once.

The warm-hearted event in the heart of the unique Burren region in North Clare was the recognition by his own people and by friends from all over Ireland, and beyond, of the fact that the mighty farmer, Paddy Hynes from the village of Carron, on the brow of The Burren, is the King of the Burren, and has been so for many years now.

As I will now explain.

Some celebrated English poet years ago said the The Burren was the area where they still breed the last of the Stone Age race.

He is probably accurate in that, because many would argue they broke the mould after Paddy was born here in 1928.

That means that he is 88 years old, but the man is as spry as a bee, looks as if he only qualified for the pension last year, and is out and about through the country and beyond nearly every night of the week, creating entertainment, craic and stimulation for all who hear him.

He is a songwriter and singer, a master of a thousand monologues such as Dangerous Dan McGrew and Sam McGee, a noted seanachie and folklorist, a maestro entertainer in all dimensions.

The surprise coronation event for Paddy Hynes was as uniquely different to any other as the Burren is to the Golden Vale.

The venue, for example, was the Carron pub called Croi Na Boirne, which was once the RIC barracks, attempting to exercise law and order in the parish. 

Though run as a pub by the Cassidy family for several generations, they were wise enough to have left the old cell totally intact, and the current landlord Robert Cassidy will still threaten to lock you up within it, if you become rowdy or difficult.

It was Robert who made the “coronation speech” on the night to Paddy Hynes, who had been kept in the dark about the surprise.

He still stole the show later, with songs and monologues along with his talented young aide, Rosie Corry.

And it was a star-studded show as well, because those contributing included the perennial Bard of Armagh, the witty Jimmy Rafferty; Andy Guthrie; Peter Casey; and the RTE Liveline radio star, Declan O’Brien, who delighted the audience with a rib-tickling new monologue he had composed in honour of the man of the moment. All in all, a night to remember.

Some of you will be wondering about what I said earlier about the resilient Burren farmers like Paddy, driving their stock outdoors, on to the apparently barren lunar landscape, just as the growing season ceases. The secret here is the centuries-old winterage farming tradition of the region. 

The cattle are driven up the mountains, you see, on to the warm limestone pavements, where not alone does the grass never stops growing, but the biodiversity also produces the exotic range of special plants and flowers only found hereabouts, and accordingly world famous.

Surely it is accurate then to state that the crowning of the King of the Burren was a very special event for a very special man in a very special place indeed, in every sense of the word.


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