Monday, December 01, 2014


The cover of the current issue of Ireland's Own caught my eye.

Donncha with mike in hand reminded me of a trip to Belfast on the toy train at the height of the troubles. If I remember correctly Donncha had either organised it or was part of the organising group. The idea was to bring toys up to Belfast from the south for the children of internees in the north. We were also to provide some entertainment for the kids and to this end a number of "celebrities" had signed up for the trip. When it came to the crunch that morning in Connolly Station it turned out a fair few of them had funked it.

The kids were assembled in the Ardoyne Hall and I distinguished myself by knocking over a fully lit Christmas tree as I went out on stage. The kids thought that was great. I told them I was going to sing a song and they could clap or tap their feet along with it. This was greeted by a thunderous roar of stamping feet which it took the stewards a good few minute to quieten down. Then I canvassed animal names for Old McDonald had a Farm and was totally mystified by the response of one of the youngsters. The animal in question finally turned out to be a cow but the unaccustomedly strong Belfast accent made it sound like a totally new species.

Anyway, the song was sung and the toys were distributed and the southerners returned safely home.

My first visit to Belfast was passing through in the 1950s when we went on holidays to nearby Bangor. I particularly remember three things from that holiday in Bangor. Much to our surprise, disgust and fear, our landlord turned out wearing a sash in the Orange parade on the twalfth of July. Post WWII rationing was still in force in the north and we got what we thought was our chocolate coupons for the first week of our fortnight's stay. We were very surprised and disappointed when we went back for our second week's coupons to find we had already consumed our full fortnight's ration. And, finally, I remember cutting the ads off the town map which was available for free at the Pickie Pool, opposite our lodgings, and selling copies in the street for a penny each. Happy Days.

My third time in Belfast was with the Irish language folk group Tŷ Bach when we made an LP, Téanam Ort, in Billy McBurney's recording studio. It should be worth a few bucks now as a vinyl rarity.

Little did I think then that I would later return on business as co-chair of the EU Peace Programme Monitoring Committee. I don't know if it's apocryphal, but the rumour was that the original name for the programme was Special Northern Ireland Programme for Economic Recovery but that some wide awake acronymist nipped that one in the bud (SNIPER).

And my last time in Belfast was last year to attend Craig Murray's talk on the Falls Road during Féile an Phobail.

But back to Donncha. The occasion of the extensive article by Gerry Breen in Ireland's Eye was the publication last September by Three Sisters Press of Donncha's new book Donncha's World - The Roads, the Stories, and the Wireless, in conversation with Declan Lyons. .

Good to see he's still on the go. The only man I know who could talk the hind legs off a leprechaun.

1 comment:

Póló said...

Since doing the above post, another thought struck me about the Bangor holiday.

The Dublin Evening Mail at the time ran a syndicated cartoon strip called Mandrake the Magician. It was a single strip of about half a dozen frames.

The northern paper (I don't remember which, possibly the Belfast Telegraph) ran the same strip but ran about six strips each day, so it was way ahead of its Dublin counterpart in the story.

This had the disadvantage of spoiling the story for me by going too far ahead too fast, but had I been canny enough, I'm sure I could have turned it to my advantage by predicting the outcome when I got home. In the first place, the thought never occurred to me at the time. And, in the second place, I can't even now think of any takers.

In any event this all added to a unique experience way back then.