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A Letter From Ireland – July 2015

The road from Galway to Dublin isn’t the same anymore. Progress, road tolls and some EU money have seen to that. Gone is the old, tedious two-lane highway, the N6. In its place is the new M6. It’s a modern four-lane, dual-carriageway, stretching across our ancient land for some two-hundred kilometres. Intended to encourage business growth and boost tourism, this modern thoroughfare has reduced travel time from over three hours to less than two, if you keep your boot down, that is. [The well-enforced speed limit is 120 km/hr.] All this is for the better, I suppose. Sure, it shortens the journey, but speed isn’t the end all, at least in my book…just ask those living/working in the little villages now cut off by the revamped highway.
Heading out, the roads around Galway are often congested…sometimes unbelievably so. Driving past Eyre Square, I spy my friend Tom ‘the Publican’ Richardson pulling up to the front door of his establishment on a bicycle. He’ll open up and have the kettle on in just a few minutes. I honk, but he looks down toward the rail station not up Prospect Hill. I’m out of sight before he can turn in my direction.
After a quick zigzag, I turn onto Forster Street and head up College Road hill. There, just to my left, was the former home, better depicted as a penal institution, of Galway’s Magdalene Sisters. Back in its day, it was once home to some unfortunate women from Ireland’s dark past.
Breasting the hill and heading east, I keep a sharp lookout on the chance I’ll spot Mrs. Richardson, Tom’s mother. Their house is on the right and to my surprise, the kindly woman is out chatting with some passerby on the footpath. Immediately, my thoughts flood with memories of nights sitting before her parlour fire, sipping a glass of something to warm the cockles of the heart or enjoying a lovely plate of her tasty bacon and cabbage. I wave but she doesn’t see me.
Carefully navigating the next roundabout, I spy the Huntsman Inn beside the old Dublin Road. Stories abound that some fifty years ago, ‘the boys’ from the North would come down to recruit Volunteers in its carpark.
Ignoring the temptation of the new motorway, I follow the signposting for the village of Craughwell on what was once the ‘old’ N6, now renamed the R446. It was along this stretch of road that I staged an action scene in my first book, Consumed In Freedom’s Flame. Just think, I used to peddle my bike along here a lifetime ago.
With the old road mostly to myself, I press on to Loughrea. Pulling over in the village, I nip into an old bakery on the Main Street. Delighted they are still in business, I purchase a pot of their wonderful homemade marmalade and a second one of raspberry. I’ve treasured the delights from this shop for years and only wish I lived closer. Happily, I’ll have something tasty to enjoy at home.
Back on the R446, I make for Ballinasloe. I’ve been there before, especially in October when the annual horse fair is held. One of the oldest in Europe, it often proves to be a wild time especially when the King of the Fair is crowned.
Tempted to revisit ancient Clonfert Cathedral and Clonmacnoise, I resist the pull and drive on to Moate. In days gone by, I’d often stop there for a cup of tea and a scone. Steeped in history, this still thriving old market town dates back to Norman times. Named for its defensive motte-and-bailey bulwark, its early fortification is still visible behind the buildings on Main Street.
Now struggling to maintain their identities, I drive through the villages of Kilbeggan, famous for its whiskey and the old ford on the River Brosna; Tyrrellspass where the Irish gave it to [battled] the English at the end of the 1500s; Kinnegad, now a Dublin-bedroom community some sixty kilometres away from the Irish capital; and finally, Maynooth, a university town and home of St Patrick’s College, Ireland’s main Catholic seminary.
The last twenty-five kilometres to Dublin fly by even though I encounter heavy afternoon traffic around Phoenix Park and down along the quays, bordering the River Liffey.
That’s it! A great old journey indeed and a nice way to see the countryside regardless if you are heading east or west.
Speaking of tips, you must admit my predictions about the recent British general election were partly spot-on. The Scottish National Party [SNP] did very well behind Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership. They won fifty-six seats, mostly at the expense of Labour, and will prove themselves a force to reckon with in London. The biggest disappointment, however, was the Tories winning a twelve-seat majority, thus likely diluting some of the NSP’s newly-won influence.
Now, maybe you’ve read about the 1916 tribute the University of Notre Dame, in conjunction with the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish studies, is planning. Scheduled for airing next spring, it is to be a three-part television documentary paying tribute to the 1916 Rebellion. Today, the Irish Government and the Indiana school are working together on this project.
With special thanks to Ronnie Daly, I’ve recently received the Government’s 1916-2016 Centenary Programme [64 pages]. It boldly states: “2016 is the centre-piece of the Decade of Centenaries and Ireland, through this Centenary Programme, is extending an invitation to all of the people on this island, to our families and people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share our cultural identity and heritage, and to all of Ireland’s friends, to join us in an intensive year of remembrance of the past, of reflection on our achievements and of re-imagining our Republic for future generations.”
I’ve talked with Barry, secretary of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme. He’ll happily post you a copy of the Programme, at no cost. Write to him at 2016 Project Information Office, 23 Kildare Street, c/o National Museum of Ireland, Dublin 2, Ireland.
Keep well and God bless, Cathal

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