A LETTER FROM IRELAND…Cathal Liam
Like the proverbial phoenix, I’ve risen from the ashes of knee-replacement surgery. But I must say, the process was a divil for six weeks. I’m still dealing with physical therapy and some residual pain as I slowly regain knee flexion. Nevertheless, I’m glad to say the worst is over. Thanks to each of you for your thoughts, prayers, cards and emails. They were much appreciated and that’s no “April fools.” Happily, I’m now back writing at the keyboard.
I’ve tried to keep up with the latest developments at home via telephone calls and newspapers, though they’re certainly no substitute for being there. As you well know, we’ve had a wonderful early spring here in Ohio. I especially enjoyed watching a forsythia bush outside my bedroom window sprout buds, blossom and leaf out all in the span of a few weeks. The grass has turned green almost overnight and my wife is cutting it for the fourth time as I write. I know she’s hoping I’ll be back behind the mower soon.
As Ireland readies for Holy Week and its Easter celebrations, the country too has experienced a wonderful bout of record warmth. The west of Ireland saw the thermometer reach 72°F, just a degree short of the record for 27 March set at Trinity in 1965. In case you’ve forgotten, the all-time national high was established back in June, 1887 when temps reached 92°F in Kilkenny. On the other hand, the lowest recorded temperature was 2°F one January day in Omagh, 1881. But I clearly remember something colder than that one July summer’s day south of Galway after being caught in a driving rain and wind storm on my bike.
The mention of Galway brings two recent newsy bits to mind. The Sunday Independent Life magazine just named ‘Artisan’ the best restaurant in the city centre. Located on the first floor above Tigh Neachtain’s great old pub  you’ll discover a small, attractive bistro serving both French and Irish influenced food [#2 Quay Street]. Chef Sylvain Gatay’s top-rated cuisine is modestly priced with lunch entrees averaging about €10/ea while his dinner plates are a bit dearer, topping €30. Book ahead and ask for a window table. That way, if conservation should lag, you could enjoy the constant flow of human traffic parading along Cross and Quay Streets below.
But whether you choose to dine there or not, you must stop in downstairs for a drink and the craic. The house has been in the McGuire family for generations and the pub hasn’t changed much in over one-hundred years. Previously, the place was home to Irish politician and humanitarian Richard ‘Trigger’ Martin, a friend of Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone. Actually, the townhouse, one of Galway’s few remaining 16thC buildings left standing with its fine Oriel window still intact, is a wonderful place to wile away a lazy afternoon amid its wooden snugs and eclectic clientele while listening to some spontaneous musical offerings.
Then, if you are in the mood for a splurge in the West, book in for a few nights at Ballynahinch Castle, just off the Clifden Road, beyond Maam Cross near the fishing village of Roundstone. The rustic luxury of this 18thC residence is a wonder to behold. Located on a large estate with lake, river, woodland and trails, this palace of rural pleasure just received the Georgina Campbell Hotel of the Year Award for 2012. In addition, its Owenmore restaurant recently earned the Independent’s 2012 Galway hotel dining prize. So even if you don’t choose to stay, do stop in for a drink or relaxing luncheon. It will be an experience you’ll never forget.
Now, besides the latest hot spots around Galway, the City of Tribes is embroiled in another statuary controversy. You may remember my letter some months ago about the fuss over Mick Wilkins’ Magdalen Laundry memorial. Sure things are hotting up over a proposed statue to be located near Eyre Square in honour of Che Guevara. Yes, it seems the former Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, writer, intellectual, guerrilla leader and key figure in Cuba’s revolt [1950s] had Galway roots. His grandmother, Anna Isabel Lynch, was born here during the late 1800’s.
Both American and Cuban-American politicians are opposed to the tribute and Prime Minister Enda Kenny may quash the project, fearing such an accolade might damage the tourist industry in the West of Ireland. I say build it. The people will come and maybe learn something.
Sure Che’s life was filled with controversy. He is still reviled and hated by many, yet numerous notable statesmen have lauded his accomplishments. If the world judged all its heroes by simply narrow standards, there would be far fewer statues in public places. Think of all the self-serving royalty, slave-trading entrepreneurs, inquisition proponents, military manipulators and political-power mongers who’ve received recognition. Let’s balance the good with the bad and say Che was a man who believed in freedom and was willing to fight for it.
Speaking of fighting for what he believed in, I see Michael Collins is short-listed as Britain’s second greatest ‘enemy’ by the British National Army Museum. Just behind Mustafa Ataturk, the man who led the Turks in repelling the Allied invasion of the Dardanelles-Gallipoli in 1915, at present the Big Fellow ranks ahead of Rommel, Napoleon and America’s own George Washington as the top military commanders who led their forces against the British in battle.
But the crowning blow of the month was the issuance of the Mahon Tribunal findings. It found former Fianna Fail party leader and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern [1997-2008] guilty of accepting bribes and issuing payoffs. Sure most know that corruption and bribery are endemic in Irish politics but this news came as a real disappointment. Bertie, who led Ireland through the Celtic Tiger phenomenon and the long drawn-out Northern Peace Process, was declared to be the political scum bag most hoped he wasn’t.
So on that unhappy note, I must leave you. With plans afoot for several weeks back home in the Emerald Isle, I urge you to come over as well. Slán, Cathal
*Cathal is a freelance writer and the author of Consumed in Freedom’s Flame, Forever Green, and Blood on the Shamrock. His new book, Fear Not the Storm, was released in March. www.cathalliam.com