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Sunday is St Patrick’s Day. Since the great man was born here in the village of Old Kilpatrick,  Dunbartonshire. I think it’s only right to tip my hat to him. Here’s a glimpse of what it’s like to be in Ireland at this time of year. They say we will have a long, warm summer if there is still snow on The Reek (Croagh Patrick or St Patrick’s mountain in Westport). I am reminded of blazing turf fires, hot whiskey and long, cold pints of stout in small dark pubs, rousing folk music and craic going on long into the night.

 Oh, to be in Ireland on St Patrick’s Day

Head for Dungloe in the Rosses and in Beedi’s Bar, Maire will serve you a fine pint of Guinness and you will have some peace there, where peace comes dropping slow.

By Bill Heaney

Howzitgoin’? It’s a fallacy that everyone says top o’ the mornin’ to you in Donegal. It’s known here in Donegal as “stage Irish”. A bit like begorrah.

Howzitgoin’ is the everyday salutation that substitutes for hello in Dungloe.  It’s authentic.

Almost everyone greets you with it, whether they know you or not.

In the pubs and shops, as you leave after a parting glass or from buying a packet of rashers and a half dozen eggs, people wish you well in Irish: go raibh maith agat.

This is the capital of the Rosses, the Irish Gaeltacht, where nearly everyone has the Gaelic and speaks it with a rich Irish brogue.

The sun is shining here and there’s an almost flat calm out on the Atlantic Ocean beyond Burtonport and Keadue’s long, golden strand.

Cotton wool clouds and a vast canopy of Wedgwood blue sky stretch endlessly over the tiny islands of Arranmore, Cruit and Owey.

If a little bit of heaven dropped out the sky one day then I would wager it was here on the very edge of Europe that it landed.

I am in Ireland for a few days and in order to break the journey from the Stena Line ferry port in Belfast, I have called in to Kincasslagh on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Just as well, I say, since the rain further south in Galway and Mayo has been incessant. Floods have closed the road between Westport and Leenane. This is where Richard Harris, Brenda Fricker, John Hurt and Frances Tumelty made a film of John B Keane’s brilliant book, The Field.

Further south, over 100mm of rain fell in Kerry. High winds from storms Gareth and Freya have blown themselves out but have taken their toll.

It was near here that Ryan’s Daughter was made with the lovely Sarah Miles and John Mills in the ‘Sixties. This morning, I bought Doherty’s pork sausages, Denny’s black pudding and “very large” eggs from the Supervalu shop. Leopold Bloom bought a piece of pork kidney for his own and Molly’s breakfast in James Joyce’s Ulysses, so why shouldn’t I have a fry up?


Boxing coach Paddy Quinn, a man you won’t meet everyday.

As I ambled along Carnmore Road, a narrow street of brightly-painted houses and shops, to Pat Quinn’s wonderful barber’s shop, I could not help but notice that Lidl and Aldi have have blown in and surrounded Supervalu with supermarkets the size of spaceships

The barber shop is tiny but it has character – and the loquacious Pat is a man you won’t meet every day. The walls are decorated with sepia photographs, fading big match ticket stubs and posters of famous boxers, singers, film stars and politicians.

Nobel laureate John Hume is up there with President John F Kennedy and the Dublin trade union leader, Big Jim Larkin. The ceiling is bedecked with Gaelic football shirts and flags of Donegal club and county teams to mark the eve of the All Ireland GAA football final in Dublin.

World champion Benny Lynch, a legend of the Glasgow Irish from the Gorbals, is given a prominent place on Pat’s wall amongst other big stars of the square ring.

Pat with much longer hair, a rippling six pack and his gloves up to defend his handsome physiognomy was 40 years ago the amateur light-weight champion boxer of all County Donegal.

Everywhere you look in this barber’s shop there are interesting pieces of memorabilia – and Pat wears one of them, a silk, black and white trimmed boxer’s robe.

When times are quiet and no one is waiting, he lifts his guitar and does some barber shop singing: “I enjoy a good song – and I love the old karaoke,” he said.

He used to be a shuttering joiner on the building sites in England, but even though the craic was good in Cricklewood, it couldn’t keep him away forever from his home in Donegal.

Pat came home to do a bit of boxing refereeing for the Donegal County Board while encouraging local youngsters to duck between the ropes. He coaxed and cajoled them to step out on to the canvas square where so many boxers’ dreams are made and lost. Pat told me: “Ireland is a great sporting nation which has won 26 Olympic medals – and 16 of them were for boxing.”

The grey-haired man in front of me in the barber’s chair was a retired tunnel worker, a dangerous job digging water courses, sewers and underground railways. These tough Donegal men were immortalised in Patrick McGill’s novels such as The Rat Pit and Children of the Dead End.

The navvies are renowned for their labouring feats on Scotland’s railways and hydro-electric schemes. And on building and construction sites from Lerwick to London.

I could not help but overhear the craic between Paddy and the tunnel man about country singer Daniel O’Donnell, who lives here and is a big favourite with local people.

“I see Daniel’s on Strictly Come Dancing now,” said Pat. “He has been drawn to partner that blondie Russian one. She’s left a trail of broken hearts behind her I’d venture …”

“Daniel will have to watch himself then,” said the old fellow wisely as he paid for his haircut in euros and went out the door.

“Go raibh maith agat,” he said in Irish, wishing Paddy the boxing barber, Daniel the dancer and the interested Scottish journalist good luck.

  • Bill Heaney travelled with Stena Line from Cairnryan to Belfast: Visit their website and check the Low Fares Finder for deals.

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