Commins Calling - Jan 31, 2007

People and Places
A group of climbers at the foot of The Reek
WORTHY CAUSE Part of the group that climbed Croagh Patrick for Mayo Autism Action last Wednesday.  Pic: Frank Dolan

A heart-warming Reek climb


THE poet Byron reflected in the long ago: ‘Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains/They crowned him long ago/On a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds/With a diadem of snow.’
Last Wednesday morning, the challenge of our own Croagh Patrick beckoned for some hardy souls who looked up from Murrisk at that snow-flecked peak. And you envied the birds of the air as the thought raced through the mind - ‘wouldn’t it be grand to be able to fly’.
The winding road from Westport to Murrisk was quiet and the nip of January was in the air. Still, there was a softness to the day as the ever-changing light filtered through the flickering clouds that waltzed across the western tip of Mayo and Galway beyond.
Tradition lies strong in the mind and, somehow, there was a strangeness about heading up the Reek so soon after the Christmas. All of my previous 23 climbs were with the rest of the tribe at the end of July. My earliest memories of the Reek are from watching it from a hayfield 30 miles away and my father heading off during the night to Westport and beyond.
Mountains hold a fascination for some people. There’s a spirituality in their remoteness and it comes as no surprise that some of the great events in human history have been linked to mountains. The Bible tells us of Mount Sinai, Moses on the mountain, places of retreat from the humdrum of day to day life. That the songs of the angels can be heard away from the hustle and bustle and the grating noise of traffic and engines lends charm to the allure of the mountains. We all need quiet spaces to withdraw to every now and then. Wellsprings in the rejuvenation of the spirit.
Johnny Oosten may not be the bearer of an instantly recognisable ‘Covie’ name but, by now, his people are as home-grown as they come. His dad was a Dutchman. For one reason or another, and we suspect that his wife Ann had something to do with it (and who could blame her!), Johnny became an ‘exile’ in Castlebar, that ‘inland’ town that some Covies find hard to fathom.
I first met Johnny in the days when Big Tom was still the King, Pat Spillane was winning All-Ireland medals with Kerry and PJ Hennelly from Manulla was dispensing his rural wisdom to all and sundry around Castlebar.
Those were the days of Mick Melodeon, the bearded wonder who knocked out a few tunes on the box outside bingo in Castlebar Town Hall and on big match days in Castlebar and below in Thurles in Tipperary so far away. Mick would throw in a few verses of Spancil Hill, that great Clare song of the ‘aisling’ in California, and take us on a journey to faraway Australia when he sang ‘There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name’.
The story of a good friend from Castlebar touched Johnny and the idea came to him to climb the Reek seven days in a row to raise funds for the Autism Association. His enthusiasm brought along more friends, the word went out, and others rallied to the cause.
And so, all of last week and up to Sunday, Johnny and friends headed off up the mountain. And all in a good cause. It was Enda Hiney who asked me some weeks ago to consider doing the climb … and I’m glad that he did.
My first blessing came in the early stages when Tony Purcell from Belcarra kindly offered me his climbing ‘stick’. The going can always be tough on the Reek. I can assure Tony at this stage that his native Wexford will have my goodwill in the Leinster hurling championship this summer. A stick on the Reek is almost as necessary as a horse in the Grand National.
Of course, with a name like Purcell, he had to be from Wexford or Kilkenny where the sound of the clash of the ash on the evening wind is as near to the Celtic soul as you will find. Such thoughts always take me back to the lovely parish of Raheen close to Abbeyleix in the south midlands and some fond years spent with my beloved Colt club who adopted me like a native son in the days when we were young and thought we’d never die.
Tony has been bitten by the climbing bug. He has climbed numerous peaks in Ireland and is setting his sights on others across the water. The Cullins are over the sea to Skye and some real faraway places are calling too.
I was surprised and pleased to see Seamus McLoughlin from Claremorris on the mountain. Seamus is a real trooper and though he has seven decades behind him he has the gait of a much younger man. He has spent 30 summers in Claremorris though his roots are in the Mediterranean heather countryside around Mulranny. Danny Cassidy from Swinford was very much in tune with the day and the reason behind the climb. His family roots are in that hurling stronghold of Tooreen in east Mayo, a veritable oasis in a football county.
In the kindly comfort of the wee church on the summit, we took some badly-needed sustenance as the veil of cloud lifted to reveal the magic of Clew Bay down below.
And I got a most pleasant surprise when I spotted Laura Gallagher from Killadoon for the first time on the climb. Well, if truth be told, she spotted me first. Laura (or Dixie as I called her when I first met her about four years ago!) is doing her Leaving Cert in Louisburgh. She is a grand footballer and a grand girl and I wish her well in whatever road of life she chooses to travel down.
Outside, John Browne, a member of the Mayo Amateur Radio Experimenters Club, was doing a few ‘test calls’, and getting down as far as Waterford. A native of Mossbrook near Mayo Abbey, John has lived in Castlebar for several years.
From the summit, we did an interview on the mobile phone with Paul Claffey of Mid West Radio and Mary Roe on Conamara Community Radio behind in Letterfrack. Dermott Langan, another man who is no stranger to the microphone, was happy to have reached the top of the Reek. Old Smokey can wait for another day.
On the way down, some rays of sunshine turned a lake to the south of the mountain into a spectacular sea of silver. And it was easy to feel that pride of place bubbling to the surface of the heart. From the middle part of the climb, I looked south down on Taobh na Croagha and I said to myself ‘Paddy and Teresa Heraty down there have had a hearty breakfast and are keeping it country in style!’
My company on the descent were Sean Mulgrew and Ger Deane from Castlebar and I never remember a more enjoyable ‘climb down’ in all my times on the Reek. ‘Auld stock’ of Castlebar in every sense of the word. My kind of people. There’s a lovely quality about the native Castlebar folk that is truly special. And when Sean told the story about the Bangkok invention, I thought Ger and myself would explode with the laughter!
The sound of that mountain stream was balm to the soul as we headed into the closing stages. Close to base camp, photographer Frank Dolan from Westport was there to capture a few scenes for posterity. If Frank had a pound for every time he ‘clicked’, he’d be a millionaire long ago.
Climbing the Reek out of season was a special experience. And while the smell of summer meadows was still a good bit away, I think I took a liking to the January journey. As Tony Purcell told me on the way up, recalling the words of a Johnny Cash gospel song, it’s not the pace that matters, it’s the direction that you go. Even when the new year has hardly stretched enough for a good early yawn, words of wisdom come dropping softly. It was good to have been on the Reek on Wednesday.
* A special mention for the climbers who were fellow travellers on the day: Johnny Oosten and his son John, Eamon Forde, Samantha Forde, Ger Deane, Sean Mulgrew, Seamus McLoughlin, Laura Gallagher, Crona Esler, Dermott Langan, Danny Cassidy, Frank McHale, Tony Purcell, John Browne, and Jay Daly. Thanks to Denis and Mary Dunleavy, Ann Oosten, and Kathleen, Mary and Ann for providing the soup and sandwiches in Murrisk Community Centre when we arrived back from the climb. It was heart-warming in every sense of the word.

Keane family talent shines through

MATT Keane looks set for a sell-out concert for the launch of his debut album, ‘Out in the Fields’, in the McWilliam Park Hotel, Claremorris on next Saturday night. The man from Caherlistrane could well be on the cusp of a spectacular career in the music business, such is the warmth and outpouring of affection for the Galway native since his new album was featured for the first time on a recent Wednesday night Late Show on Mid West Radio.
After his guest spot on last Sunday night week’s Late Show on the same station, demand for tickets for Matt’s launch night in Claremorris soared to the point where the show is now almost sold out. One caller to the show said his version of ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ was the ‘most natural and haunting’ version of the song she had ever heard.
Growing up in Caherlistrane, music was all around Matt. Their was a handed-down tradition in the family while his aunts Sarah and Rita were bearers of a style going back to the mists of time. “We enjoyed all kinds of music ourselves. I remember well the songs of Slim Whitman being so popular in our house. We danced to Big Tom and the other bands in the local marquees. Wherever there was music and a bit of craic, we were there,” says Matt.
It is that easygoing west of Ireland rural banter and nature that is endearing Matt to so many people. He’s the ‘real thing’ and one of our own. And he has a good ear for a song. The new eleven-track album has some lovely numbers, ranging from the haunting ‘Awake Awake to Ireland for the Summer’ (written by Padraig Stevens), from’ Love Love Love’ to ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, as well as the beautiful ‘Roseville Fair’.
Another treat comes in the form of the debut of his daughter Orlaith who sings ‘The Moon and St Christopher’. She has a charming voice, stunning in its interpretation of this Mary Chapin-Carpenter song. Those heading to the show in Claremorris on Saturday night will be delighted to know that Orlaith will be joining her dad and other members of the family on stage.
Says Matt: “Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, so naturally I’ve always dreamt of recording my new album. Although I’ve previously recorded songs on ‘Muintir Catháin’, a family album back in 1984, ‘Echoes of the Valley’ with Kevin Coyne, and more recently on ‘Citizens Keane’ with my brothers Pat, Noel and Sean, this is my first solo album.”
The show is due to get under way around 9pm and patrons are assured of some grand entertainment. The informality of the occasion will lend further charm and there will be major support from the Tuam and north Galway region in Claremorris on the night. In some ways, it will be a bit like the atmosphere prior to a Connacht Final clash between Mayo and Galway! And there will be plenty of ‘tatterin’ at the session which will follow the main concert. We wish Matt the very best in the times ahead and hope that he and his family and friends have a wonderful night at the launch in Claremorris.

Thomas and Fhiona back in Digger Jay’s

FERMANAGH-based duo Thomas Maguire and Fhiona Ennis return to Digger Jay’s in Ayle, Westport on Friday night, February 2. Thomas and Fhiona and their band present a top-class show and went down a treat during their visit to the TF in Castlebar on New Year’s night.
During the Christmas season, their recording, ‘Fairytale of New York’, received extensive airplay on the country music shows all over Ireland. They enjoyed their trip to Nashville last summer where Fhiona guested with Leona Williams on a number of shows.
There was excellent reaction to the album, ‘Margie’s At The Lincoln Park Inn’, recorded by Thomas two years ago and which proved so popular for the talented young singer from Irvinestown.
Patrons can enjoy some great country dancing when this popular duo present their show in Digger Jay’s this coming Friday night.

Mid West presents night with the stars

THE annual Mid West Radio concert night takes place in the Royal Theatre at the Traveller’s Friend Hotel, Castlebar next Monday night, February 5. The event was sold out within days of the tickets going on release. Patrons are in for a very enjoyable show with nine acts featured on the bill and the show starts at 8pm.
The headliner on this occasion is Margo O’Donnell, who herself played to a capacity audience at the same venue back in mid-August. Margo was recently named as Donegal Person of the Year and will receive her award at a gala dinner dance in the coming weeks.
Other regular performers on the show are Mike Denver, Patrick Feeney, The Conquerors, and comedian Conal Gallen. Michael English (pictured) and Keith McDonald are also back again while Brendan Shine and Matt Cunningham are new additions to this year’s event.
A number of presenters from Mid West will introduce the various acts and the show is expected to conclude around 11.30pm.

Glory days of Colman’s recalled 

MEMORIES are made of this. The golden football era of St Colman’s College, Claremorris was recalled with much affection at a special gathering of a few friends at the home of Fr Michael Lyons in Kilbannon near Tuam last Tuesday night.
St Colman’s have won just three Connacht Colleges Senior ‘A’ titles in the history of the school and these were achieved in 1970, 1977 and 1981. The teams were captained by Noel Higgins, Eugene Macken and John Finn. All three were present for this historic photograph with Fr Lyons, the much-loved former College Rector.
Pat Higgins, brother of Noel, who took the above photo last week, described the wins thus: “1970 was the ‘breakthrough’ year. It was ‘sheer elation’ in 1977 when Colman’s won the All-Ireland title for the only time and ‘heartbreak’ in 1981 when we lost the All-Ireland Final by a point deep in injury time after Moate were awarded a late penalty.”
Fr Lyons, who recently retired as curate in Kilbannon, was in jovial mood as he regaled his guests with a wonderful selection of stories and memories from back the years. Local woman, Bridie Acton, had a lovely meal prepared for the visitors and a mighty night was enjoyed in Kilbannon.
Pat Higgins has also penned the following brief reflection in memory of his friends Noel McGuinness and Mick Mongan, the goalie and full-back on the 1981 Connacht winning team who died within nine months of each other. Mick died suddenly back in April (2006) and Noel died two weeks ago.
“The years of 1970, 1977 and 1981
Are years we’ll not forget
Though we’ve lost two gallant comrades
From the ranks who wore the red.
And on our journey as we go
It is comforting to know
That you’ll be with us all the way
No matter where we go.”

Greetings welcomed from readers

THE Mayo News will be pleased to include greetings from readers at home or overseas over the coming weeks and months. If you are reading this on-line, drop us an email with comments or dedications and we will be delighted to feature your contributions on these pages. We look forward to hearing from you. Emails can be sent to michaelcommins@mayonews.ie.