The madness that is the lead-in to an All-Ireland final has yet to take hold fully and so, while we’re still in reflective mode, here’s John Cuffe with some ruminations on home and the contest that lies ahead of us.
I try and make it back home every September if I can. When I was employed by the man, being the junior employee, my summer holidays came in autumn. Lucky me, I got beautiful weather and managed to get to see the old home village as we headed into the autumn with the first smell of turf fires and the purple clouds hovering above Sliabh Mor.
I now go home alone. The kids are either at school, work or unemployed. I travel down to honour na daoine nach marainn níos mo, mo mhathair agus mo athair. I love the peace, the meeting of old school mates and maybe the chance to remember life as it used to be or maybe should have been.
Leaving Dunboyne on the Monday after THAT match my only concern was whether to pay the eye-watering €1.72 for petrol in the village or get it for €1.68 in Maynooth. Gunning onto the motorway, the west opened ahead of me, not a cloud in the sky. I turned on Pat Kenny after 11am but instead got Miriam O’Callaghan. Is there nothing this woman cannot do?
Just as I was about to twist to RNG I picked up this flat-lined long time emotion-drained voice talking to Miriam. It was about Mayo and its footballers. Within seconds I knew it to be John O’Mahony. As he spoke I looked out through the windscreen to see if it was raining. No, but John’s voice does that to me: bad weather, against the odds eternally, hang-dog face intertwined with a demeanour always seen near graveyards.
I gripped the steering tight as I heard him laud the Mayo 2004/06 outfit and how Mayo went on a rebuilding exercise four years back. I pulled in, sent a text to Miriam which she ignored. I am assuming the matches in 2010 against Cork in the National League final, Sligo and the surrender to Longford were all part of the master plan rebuilding programme as envisaged by Johnno.
I am on a diet, trying to lose a few ton. I had to fight every unnatural impulse not to pull into Athlone and load up with lucozade, crisps and fruit and nut, so angry was I. I switched away Effing and Bbbbing out loud and picked up Mícheál Ó Mhuircheartaigh being interviewed on RNG. “An bfuil seans a bí ag Muigheo?” posed the bean an tí. Mícheal, in that beautiful voice of his pondered and replied “Tá an seans ag Muigheo, agus is silim fein gur mbainfidh síad é”.
The lady feigned surprise. Mícheál continued “Tá sé túilte ag Muigheo, dfhan síad dilis don cad, níor threig síad a duchas”. Mayo were loyal to football in its natural format and they never betrayed their nature was the gist of Mícheál’s homily. For that alone they merit it, said he. I felt better after that and the hunger pangs went.
Stopping in Ballina I called to see my friend Michael Gallagher of the Western. We met in the foyer, two Erris men wearing shorts and t-shirts. That’s what living near America does to you. We chatted away when a dapper man entered the office. “Hello Joe” said Mick. My boyhood hero stood yards from me: Joe Corcoran with his US army crew cut, greyer but otherwise the same Joe from yore.
(Image: Ardnaree Sarsfields website)
His humility, his manner and his greatness made my day. On my way out as I bade farewell I came across old Ballina stalwart Tommy Knight. Tommy was solid and hadn’t aged a day. Must be the Mayo air? Leaving Ballina, I sensed calmness about the place – no yahooing, no giddy daftness, just glad to be back for the big one.
On through Crossmolina to Corrick and its disappeared power station, accompanied by the Abhannmór all the way to Bangor. What a lucky people we are, magnificent scenery, a team in an All Ireland and the winter ahead. I thought of how my father drove this road on his bus for forty years. I thought of the night he came across a suitcase lying in the middle of the road.
Stopping the bus, he put the case in its cavern-sized boot. The case was dropped from the roof of a taxi that was bringing home the seasonal workers from Scotland in time for Christmas. Loyal to my father and the bus, he fully understood their need to get home as soon as possible and by any mode. Next morning a man hailed the bus. “Tom I lost my suitcase and I don’t know where….” he began. He then started to apologize for not using the bus.
My father whished him to stop, walked around to the boot, opened it and asked “Is that it?” Christmas was saved for the family. That was in the early 1960s. The tale was regaled to me in McDonnells in Belmullet last August 15th by the grateful traveller from across the ages … memories, memories and memories.
Driving over Glosh hill with its sentinel guardian Napoleonic tower eyeful of the gathering Atlantic beneath it, I was home at last. Again the smell of turf climbing to the skies from the chimneys, the scent of the salt and spray from the sea confirmed I was back. Opening the door to the house, the geranium that I tended since my mother long passed away greeted me with its aroma.
Over the next few days as the sky scorched and sea heaved and rolled I met my old friends. A greeting in Irish, a switch to English to accommodate me, and then back to the cúpla focal to close out the chat, all about Mayo and its eternal quest for the Big One. I often wonder does the rest of Mayo ever wonder about those people back there. Every bit as passionate as those that reside within the epicentre of power in a twenty-mile circle around Castlebar.
Falmore, Glosh, Tirrane, Elly, Blacksod, Tarmon….all with flags fluttering high and proud and – do you know what? – all those that live there will do well to cadge even two tickets for the mighty day. Are they any the less Mayo people for that? By God no! Their loyalty, their knowledge of the game is unrivalled. Not for them the morbid south Mayo dread, fear and jaundiced eye that’s cast towards Galway. They are so far away from Galway that they are just another team, a noble rival not a giant tree that stops the sun shining in.
Going home – as opposed to going home, if you get my drift – I left Blacksod Bay behind me and retraced my steps back east. Nephin to my right and on my left the across Killala Bay are the mountains that stretch down to Glencolumbcille. My mother hailed from up there, Gweedore, a place that is home to me as well but whom for now is my implacable enemy. Truly we live in a parish in Ireland.
Finally I cross into Roscommon, ninety miles almost from Blacksod Bay. What in God’s name and why in God’s name has such a mighty county tiptoed through the daisies all those years? I have almost half my journey completed and I have only cleared Mayo. Hopefully on a September Sunday Mayo and its men will let the ghosts of times past rest easy and begin a new odyssey for a new generation.
Ahead of me lay my family and fond thoughts, great dreams and one unfulfilled ambition. One more heave, men, and we will all be home again.
(Blacksod photos by John Cuffe)