Back in the days when I was working for The Irish Press in the West, and raising a hungry young family, I always headed out to the Gaeltacht village of Spiddal, on days when Galway City was dead as a dodo as far as good yarns were concerned.
And Spiddal never once let me down.
Not only were there always stories to be found there, winter or summer, but they were always unique stories, garnished with rascality and craic.
They usually made page one the next day, saved my bacon, and a fair few of them even went international and earned me an extra few shillings, when shillings were scarce. The pure truth.
One of the yarns I got there decades ago was when I heard about the arrival in the Garda station one winter of the village’s first bean garda.
Her colleagues, out of compassion in hard weather, saw to it that she did not have to go out much on the frozen roads on duty.
She was assigned much of the station’s paperwork, and everybody was happy with that, until she opened up a tall cupboard in the day room one afternoon, and down on top of her, from the top shelf, fell a horrific yellow skeleton, complete with grinning skull!
The story I got was that it was a centuries-old skeleton that had been found on the beach and the wise old gardaí simply attached a label to the left leg, and stowed it away.
Anyway, the poor lady got a woeful shock altogether.
Give her full credit though, for returning to duty the following day and later, I was told by reliable sources, she shot up rapidly through the ranks to the top.
It is in the back of my mind that I was told decades ago her name was O’Sullivan, but I cannot authenticate that as another pure truth. Sorry about that.
Anyway, a son of mine and his family reside in Spiddal nowadays.
There was a lovely family day last weekend to celebrate young Erin’s birthday.
Towards the end of the evening, I’m standing smoking at the door of The Crúiscín Lán, reflecting on the past and wondering if modern Spiddal can still produce good stories for hungry hacks.
And I was thinking about the legendary local boxer, Mairtin Thornton, RIP, onetime owner of The Droigneán Donn bar across the road, source of many of my best Spiddal yarns at the time.
And, the next thing, two large men in red jackets entered that bar, and somebody beside me said that the Carnew lads were in town, and clearly girding their loins for the battle the next day at the Spiddal GAA pitch. And that is exactly how this new Spiddal yarn came and laid itself down at my feet.
The pure truth yet again.
Would ye believe that, in the aftermath of the Galway Races, there was another major equine class of a battle in Spiddal last weekend.
And that was what had brought the Carnew lads to the Gaeltacht. And teams from Donegal, too, and all up and down the coast. And not a horse in sight!
It was the All-Ireland Horseshoe Throwing championships that were being staged and, before too long, without moving a step, I learned from admiring supporters that the quiet man standing beside me in the doorway is the Henry Shefflin of the horseshoe throwing arena.
We were introduced, and his name is Tom O’Connor from Bunclody, leader of the Woodsmen Horseshoe Throwing Club and, somebody whispered to me, the winner of no less than 34 All Ireland titles in a very competitive sport, including five in a row.
Modest Tom told me he was looking forward to the throwing the next day. He even showed me the two horseshoes which he uses in competitions, and I awed the family by bringing them in to display to them.
Where else would you get the likes of that but Spiddal?
A little later, having returned the shoes, I crossed the road to the Droigneann Donn for a drink, and had a brief chat with the Carnew lads.
In fairness to them, they too paid tribute to Tom O’Connor and his achievements. The pure truth again.
Poignantly, I met a son of the great Mairtin Thornton in the pub before I departed.
Mairtin, a man who was larger than life, a great old friend and source, died of a heart attack long before his time.
I was tempted to sing for his son a ballad I composed about him after his death, but I didn’t, because the family had me under control on the night.
For the record, though, the best verse in praise of the old boxer runs thus:
Ah, but cobwebbed the old gloves that hang in the hall,
And faded the photos adorning the wall,
From the battered old scrapbooks, the loose pages fall,
And his mouth organ silenced forever,
Father Time is a heavyweight, all boxers know,
He keeps shuffling after you, awkward and slow,
But at last he will land one, and then you must go,
Far too early, he caught Mairtin Thornton...
Agus sin é from Spiddal.
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