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ST PATRICK’S DAY

Patrick image in stained glass.jpg

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?

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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 stenaline.co.uk and check the Low Fares Finder for deals.

Celtic Connections receives £100k cash boost

Celtic Connections logo

By Democrat reporter

The Celtic Connections festival has been awarded £100,000 of Scottish government money, after winning funding from the Expo Fund for a second consecutive year.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop announced the financial boost as this year’s event – which spotlights traditional, world and folk music – drew to a close.

Since 2008 the Expo Fund has invested £21 million in Scotland’s major festivals, boosting arts and culture.

The money will be used to further evolve the 2020 festival, allowing for eight new pieces of work by Scottish composers to be developed.

These will then be brought together into a single symphonic piece by composer Greg Lawson, which will be performed by the Grit Orchestra.

Ms Hyslop said: “Celtic Connections is an excellent example of the international reach our festivals offer, enhancing Scotland’s reputation as welcoming and inclusive, which is so important as we strengthen relations with our European friends during these turbulent times.”

Donald Shaw, artistic director at Celtic Connections, welcomed confirmation of the cash boost and said he was “delighted”.

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Coig with Twelfth Day

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Fancy Mexico? Photo essay by Kate McCheyne

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Weekend in Prague

 Pictures by Olivia Gough and Bill Heaney

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MT Rainey: Picture essay of Australia in October

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Good morning Vietnam

Photographer, author, military historian Aaron Edwards checked in to Da Nang, Vietnam. First thing that came to his mind was this: “Good morning, Vietnam! Hey, this is not a test. This is rock and roll. Time to rock it from the delta to the DMZ! Is that me, or does that sound like an Elvis Presley movie? Viva Da Nang. Oh, viva, Da Nang. Da Nang me, Da Nang me. Why don’t they get a rope and hang me? Hey, is it a little too early for being that loud? Hey, too late. It’s 0600 What’s the “0” stand for? Oh, my God, it’s early.” This was Adrian Cronauer aka Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam (1987). Aaron, an author on mainly military matters, is on the big tour with girlfriend Charlotte Britton, even taking in that church on the Highway of Horrors, where civilians took refuge in the intense fighting of 1972 – not even holy places were respected. He also took pictures in Hué and the Imperial City. This is a taste of Vietnam exclusively for readers of The Democrat. Aaron said: “The 13-hour ‘sleeper’ train from Hanoi to Hué was an experience to behold.”

Words and photo essay by Aaron Edwards

Half a century after war ravaged Vietnam, Aaron Edwards discovers a vibrant country on the rise.  I’d started off my 12-day holiday to Vietnam in the south-western city of Ho Chi Minh after two weeks spent travelling in Thailand and Malaysia.  Vietnam has always fascinated me. Like most people in the West, I’d been subjected to a negative Hollywood representation of it for years. What I discovered was something very different.

“I can see this country becoming an Asian powerhouse in the near future,” remarked a friend of mine who had accompanied me on the first few days of my trip. We were sitting on a rooftop bar in the upmarket Silverlands Hotel at the time. All around us were flashy Canon and Samsung billboards littering the skyline of a city that could easily pass for Hong Kong.  Vietnam is undoubtedly rising. Its 95 million people appear self-confident and enterprising. What I saw in Ho Chi Minh City and later in Hanoi suggests that time does not stand still here.

Vietnam might be under one party Communist rule but take away the flags and emblems and you’d be hard pushed to find anything overly oppressive at street level. I’ve been to a few countries in recent years where policemen grumpily wave their rubber truncheons, questioning your every move. Not here. Vietnam is definitely open for tourism.

Behind the scenes, there’s a thriving market economy. The government seem tolerant of free enterprise. Even the internet is fairly open.

After a visit to a few war-related sites – hard to avoid in a country with a long history of colonialism and resistance – and the extraordinary Fine Arts Museum in Ho Chi Minh, we moved on to a very wet Hanoi and a mix of peculiar national memorials and a street food tour.

The food in Vietnam is delicious and simple. Beef noodle soup, Ban Chi and spring rolls are the staple diet. A few eateries have even incorporated Western style dishes like hamburgers and fish and chips but on the whole the cuisine remains distinctly Vietnamese.

From Hanoi, I travelled with my girlfriend Charlotte on a 13-hour overnight sleeper train to the old Imperial City of Hué. The soft four-berth cabins aboard Vietnam’s reunification railway express are reasonably comfortable but there’s no telling what kind of berth buddies you’ll get. Two Vietnamese families were crammed into two single-person berths and the noise was extraordinary but it is all part of the experience. Our reward came when we arrived in Hué and checked into the French colonial style hotel Saigon Morin. Built in 1901, the original decor has been carefully preserved. Outside the hotel on the other side of the Perfume River, the rest of the city has been mostly rebuilt, having been practically destroyed during the Tet Offensive of 1968.

A day-long tour of the Demilitarised Zone, which once divided north and south Vietnam along the 17th Parallel, allowed us to appreciate the real costs of the Vietnam/American War of 1965-75.

Our last stop was in Da Nang, a place bordered by breathtaking jagged mountain ranges and the South China Sea.  All in all, a wonderful holiday to an up and coming tourist destination. If you ever get the chance, go.

Weekend in Lisbon

Photo essay by Claire Morrison

Coming home to Connemara for the Clifden Arts Festival …

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At the very top – Clifden Arts Festival takes place in September.

By Bill Heaney

The theme of this year’s Clifden Arts Festival in Connemara will explore the concept of “home” as well as showcasing Ireland’s diverse and artistic culture through compelling events which promise to enchant and educate people of all ages.

Brendan Flynn, Festival Director explained: “The physical place of birth holds a special place within us, while for others it isn’t physical but rather the feelings, the emotion, the character, the people and the culture, that shape it and make it. We hope to capture that feeling and explore a sense of home and how it is unique for each of us.”

The line-up at this year’s Clifden Arts Festival is very strong with a handful of names that would have headlined at much larger events over the years.

This festival in the heart of Connemara had humble beginnings when it was conceived 41 years ago by a small community committee who wanted to give local artists a public platform and provide a small programme of cultural events.

It has gone from strength to strength and made its mark on the annual calendar of festivals around Ireland with more than 11,000 people expected to attend the various events.

A mixture of traditional, classical and C&W as well as contemporary music is on the menu among the 200 events over the twelve-days of the festival.

It will take place in a number of venues and around Clifden, the capital of Connemara.

Among those events are poetry and prose readings, art exhibitions, book launches, theatre and talks.

The RTE Concert Orchestra and RTE’s Contempo Quartet both make the journey to Clifden this year. Other big names in Irish music performing at the festival are Aslan, Máirtin O’Connor, Maighread Ní Dhomnaill, Martin Hayes, Bill Whelan, Lisa Hannigan, Declan Nerney, Frankie Gavin and Fiachra O’Regan, Seán Keane, Charlie McGettigan, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny and Paddy Glackin to mention a few.

Aosdana members, Paul Durcan and Rita Ann Higgins will give poetry readings and new novelist, E.M. Reapy, a Mayo native, whose novel Red Dirt is set in Australia, gives a reading alongside Sligo born Galway based, Michael Gorman.

The literary line up is varied and rich with Food for Thought, a talk by former editor at Country Living magazine in the UK, Margaret Hickey and additional helpings from Connemara based food writer and photographer for The Sunday Times – Cliodhna Prendergast.

Fergal Keane, journalist and author, will also provide give an insight into his work as a foreign correspondent for the BBC, reporting on issues including the conflict in Northern Ireland, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the Rwandan genocide, his talk is titled wounds: a memoir of war and love.

The Long-Lost Short Stories of Gearóid P. Mannion is another gem, which was hidden in a cupboard under the sink for over a quarter of a century.

Enter the world of a precocious teenager growing up in 1980s rural Ireland. These stories are made all the more poignant because their author, in spite of having a life-limiting illness, illuminates his incredible mind.

Gearóid P. Mannion died at just 21, but his legacy lives on in this funny, heartfelt, warm collection of essays written when he was a teenager. The reading will be by his sisters Karen and Sinead Mannion.

There’s a one-man play, ‘Padraig Potts’ by Séamus O’Rourke and there’s a monologue about Constance Markievicz written by journalist Mary Kenny and performed by Cleggan author Jeananne Crowley.

If you want to hit a funny bone, fresh from his tour at the Edinburgh Fringe, award winning comedian Danny O’ Brien his ‘best of’ show to Clifden.

The visual arts programme will showcase a major exhibition by Irish artist Brian Maguire. The exhibition brings together Maguire’s latest body of work from his visit to Syria in 2017. The Aleppo Paintings document the ruined buildings of the city, offering a visceral and stark insight into the physical consequences of war and the international arms trade that fuels all conflict. Maguire’s approach has led him into settings usually regarded as remote from the rarefied domain of the art world, the result of which is an emotionally evocative exhibition.

Highlights of the visual arts programme also include exhibitions from internationally renowned Mick O’Dea, the current President of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), as well a spectacular collection from the acclaimed Connemara based Dorothy Cross.

There’s loads to do and see for family entertainment, like Fidget Feet’s spectacular acrobatics, free activities and workshops. Fidget Feet are a pint-sized aerial circus company from Ireland. They tell stories from anywhere they can think of; from cranes, forests, or swinging from buildings. In recent years the Festival Finale has established itself as one of the must-see events.

The festival kicks off on September 12 and continues daily until September 23.  For further information please go to http://www.clifdenartsfestival.ie

Wild Atlantic Way from Donegal to Connemara in the West of Ireland …

Pictures by Bill Heaney and Heather Greer

Call in at Cleggan for the craic

Cleggan Bofin road signCleggan is a fishing village on the road to Inishbofin, an island on the Wild Atlantic Way. There are some great places to stay such as Josephine DeCourcey’s B and B and Oliver’s, the village pub which has great food and accommodation. There’s also the Pier Bar and Newman’s which is famous for its music sessions. Not forgetting Mary Sweeney and Malachy King’s Strand Bar over in Claddaghduff. Josephine’s Hazelbrook Farmhouse is at decourceyhazelbrook@eircom.net; Noreen Higgins is at Oliver’s oliverscleggan@gmail.com; Bernie Hughes is at coisnamara@hotmail.com; Marian Feeney is at oceanwavefeeney@yahoo.com; Eileen Mulkerrin is at +353 (0)95 44679 and Loretta O’Malley is at harbour.house@oceanfree.net      These are all handy numbers for a comfortable place to lay down your weary head for a night, a week or a fortnight in a place that’s blessed with quiet when you want it and full of music and sport when you don’t.

Pictures by Bill Heaney

Clifden is icing on the Connemara cake

Clifden is the capital of Connemara. It’s the place for food, fashion, fishing, fun and the Arts, which has a festival all of its own – probably one of the best in Ireland – every September with poets, musicians, choirs, writers and theatre groups. It has one of the best hotels in the country, The Station House. And some of the finest restaurants. The Abbey Glen Hotel and the Alcock and Brown are first class. But if you’re just a coffee and scones woman then there is Walsh’s bakery, where the selection of bread and cakes is outstanding. They do all day breakfasts there, of course. There are art galleries and in Millar’s of Connemara, the proprietor Triona Sweeney has state of the art fashions from Ireland’s top designers. Stanley’s has all the kit you’ll ever need for hill walking and fishing – and tweeds and Aran jumpers.  The Clifden Bookshop has a electic selection of books and special greetings cards. Nicole or Maire will welcome you there. Golf can be wonderful at the Connemara Club, a championship course to test the skills of the lowest handicapped players. Horse riding is a a given. And there’s the annual Connemara Pony Show. Bikes are for hire at Mannion’s.

It’s a grand way to see the Sky Road and the unsurpassed views from the top of the hill looking out to the Atlantic. EJ King’s is one of the most popular bars and it has a colourful history which you can learn all about over pint of stout and a half dozen oysters. Mannion’s, Griffiths’, Vaughan’s, Tom King’s and other good pubs have been there since cattle were sold in the street outside St Joseph’s Church. The Station House Hotel has great food and drink, a museum, its own busy theatre and cinema. If you want to have dinner then Mitchell’s , Marconi or Guy’s are amongst the best places. Gifts from Connemara Blue glassware created before your very eyes are most unusual and you’ll get something for a sore head or sunburn at Noreen Casey’s or Moran’s Medical Hall. Book now at the Station House Hotel – and tell them I sent you round. Enjoy a nightcap listening to Barry Ryan on the grand piano and songs from his girlfriend Sally which range from Paul Simon to Paul Brady. There are no strangers in Clifden, just friends you have yet to meet. Oh, and there is complimentary WIFI in every warm and comfortable bedroom. Bill Heaney

Clifden Station House Hotel is at http://www.clifdenstationhouse.com or e mail info@stationhouse.com

Top chefs serve up a new series of their culinary road trip, as they explore Canada

Chefs with starter

TOP chefs, Paul Rankin and Nick Nairn, set off on their latest epic culinary road trip and cultural journey of discovery in their new series, which starts this Friday, 10 August at 8pm on STV.

Paul and Nick’s Big Canadian Food Trip sees the popular Michelin-ranked pair, who are best buddies, exploring their shared Ulster-Scots heritage whilst touring Canada’s New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and greater Toronto areas.

Following the trail of the Ulster Scots who travelled to the New World to start a new life, and having met a variety of fantastic food producers along the way, Paul and Nick cook a special three-course meal for some descendants of Canadian history’s intrepid Celtic settlers.

Paul, who was born in Scotland and brought up in Ballywalter, County Down, became the first chef from Northern Ireland to be awarded a Michelin Star when he won the prestigious accolade in 1999. He quickly became one of TV’s favourite chefs after appearing in a variety of cookery programmes including Ready Steady Cook and the Great British Menu. The author of five cookery books, Paul also made his name running The Rankin Group chain of cafes and restaurants which included the acclaimed Cayenne and Roscoff in Belfast.

Nick became the youngest Scottish chef to win a Michelin star in 1991 after opening his first restaurant, Braeval near Aberfoyle in Stirlingshire. His successful TV career began a few years later when he appeared on shows includingReady Steady Cook and Great British Menu (cooking lunch for Her Majesty The Queen on her 80th birthday) as well as his own Wild Harvest, Wild Harvest 2 and Island Harvest series. The author of 11 books, he also runs Nairns Cook School in Port of Menteith and Nick’s Pizza Bar in Aberdeen.

Nick Nairn said: “Paul and I first met at a dinner in London over 20 years ago and have been the best of pals ever since, so we love working together. We had lots of fun making our three previous series and touring Scotland, Ireland and America to learn all about the stories of the Ulster Scots whilst indulging our passion for great local produce and fantastic cooking. Our latest adventure in Canada, was no different – it was an absolute delight to make and a joy to explore such a beautiful part of the world.”

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