Time for a Change

I was sipping ale in my local pub one evening, which I was quite proficient in at the time, when my mate Frosty walked in. We were rabbitting on about various topics with the other locals when someone said, “Are you off to Ireland this year Mick?” Frosty glanced across at me. Up to that point I had no plans to go but was hoping for a September trip on my own. The previous year Frosty had been with us at spring bank for the first time. He had really enjoyed it and could not wait to go again. As the night went on and the ale flowed freely the conversation became more serious (and ridiculous) and by the end of the night we had decided to go to Ireland in the summer shutdown weeks for the whole fortnight!

I had been to Castlecoote and Belturbet several times and was ready for a change of scenery. I personally didn’t care where I went so I gave Frosty the brochure and told him to stick a pin in it. This was a far cry from that first time when I was wary of being too close to the border and the “troubles”.

The pin stuck in Cabragh House at Cootehill. I had heard about the area and about the accommodation. Cabragh House came with high recommendation as Martin Founds, the proprietor of Anglers World Holidays stayed there as did my mate and tackle dealer Terry Smith along with ex-World Angling Champion Dave Thomas and a host of other top name anglers. In fact, TV and radio star Chris Tarrant had just left as we arrived so it couldn’t be all that bad.

A good choice mate! We arrived at our new area loaded with Ordnance Survey maps and plenty of angling literature so we could make a flying start. There is nothing worse than going into a situation blind, as it can take several days for you to find out you have been flogging a dead horse, by fishing in the wrong areas. By that time your holiday is nearly over.

CJ Fay was the owner of Cabragh House and also the local bait dealer so there was none of the usual shunting back and forth to the bait shop for fresh bait every couple of days. He was a complete fruitcake, in the nicest possible way and a great help of course. He advised us on what had been fishing well the previous week, but the other anglers staying there could put us bang on the spot with up to the minute information.

We didn’t arrive until about eight in the evening and CJ himself cooked us a meat and potato stew, which went down very well. Later that night we got washed and changed and proceeded to Eamonn Bannon’s Bar. This was the one CJ said all the other anglers frequented and that seeing it was a Monday, there would be a jazz band on. To be quite honest jazz is not my cup of tea, but if it was live music then why not. There is always a good buzz when live music is being played.

The place was throbbing with Irish and English alike. It was a long narrow bar. In the snug there was hurling on the television, Tipperary versus Cork. We arrived just in time to see one of the players spitting teeth and blood out of his mouth amid hoots of laughter from the bar sitters. Further along was a long room with a small stage at the far end where five or six musicians playing away. You could hardly see it through the smoke. The first tune I heard was Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug” with Eamonn Bannon himself blasting out the solo on his saxophone. Eamonn also played the clarinet and no doubt could turn his hand to most wind instruments. He was married to a Sheffield lass which was a strange coincidence but a wise choice as she was a really nice woman. He used to play with a touring jazz band called the Jordanaires, (not Elvis’s Jordanaires), he assured us it was a mere coincidence!

One of his musicians this particular evening was a trumpeter who had driven all the way from Longford for the evening. He sat out the pop renditions such as “Baker Street” and the aforementioned “Love is the Drug”. He was a pure jazz player.

He was good when he was playing though and really threw himself into each number he played. One huge saving grace for me was the omission of “When the Saints go Marching on” which I hate with a passion. Like wannabe rock stars practising Smoke on the Water or Stairway to Heaven in guitar shops prior to buying one, When the Saints is a cop out, if you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it a million times. A bit like Danny Boy!

During the evening we bumped into a few lads from Rotherham and knocked about with them a few times that fortnight.

The next evening we were joined on our table for dinner by a bloke called Ron, who looked uncannily like Roy Castle (which almost inevitably became his nickname for the rest of the week). Now Ron was a non-driver and had an agreement that CJ would take him to a Lough each day and pick him up in the evening. He had flown into Dublin airport from Gatwick with all his tackle and part of his package was for a taxi driver to take him all the way to Cootehill.

Before even arriving at Cootehill, things went wrong for Ron. He’d waited for some time at the airport, sitting on his basket twiddling his thumbs. He had waited long enough so he decided to enquire about his taxi. He made the fatal error of asking a taxi driver about his taxi. “Oim dat man!” came the reply. Ron was duly transported to Cootehill and on his arrival was told the tariff was £95 punt even though the taxi was paid for as part of the original deal. No amount of arguing could deny this thieving git of a  Dublin cabby his £95. It was Ron’s mistake. He coughed up (choked more like) and we all got a good laugh out of it, although privately though we felt a little sympathy. I seem to recall we had a whip round for him. We got plenty of mileage out of Ron due to his character but we bought his beer for him a few times to soften the blow!

Cootehill main street awash with melted tar in the long hot summer of 1995. It was a stinking hot fortnight but the downside to this was low water levels and poor fishing. However, Barnagrow Lough had been well baited by these lads from Rotherham and was producing quite a few good fish. You had to walk through the woods by a narrow path at the waters edge to get there. The third peg after the second stile had a deep hole 40 yards out and was the hotspot. I managed to fish this peg, caught a few bream/roach hybrids and generally had a good day and got a terrific suntan.

On the way back to the car as I was climbing over first stile, I was passed by an Irishman accompanied by a woman. He was as rough as they come and I remember she was wearing a white cheesecloth blouse. As they climbed over the stile he said, “Nice day for it“. I replied likewise and started to load the fishing tackle into the car. About five minutes later I heard Frosty crashing his way through the brambles. As he climbed over the stile he said, “You’ll never guess what I’ve just seen. I’ve just had to step over a couple shagging away like there’s no tomorrow. They were laid right across the path, clothes everywhere, going at it hammer and tongs”. When I had finished laughing I asked him if he said anything. “Well,” he replied “I just bid them a good afternoon and stepped over them and he said good afternoon back, why what would you have said?” I suppose I would have said something along the lines of “Yes, it’s a nice day for it indeed” but don’t really know what I would have said but I now know what he meant by “it”.

The weather stayed hot and sunny all the two weeks. I was not used to this, it had normally rained at some point during my times in Ireland. In Roscommon it was customary to see rolling clouds approaching from the west and knowing what was following not far behind. Not far from Cootehill was the River Dromore, which at this point was a wide slow moving stretch of water. It had specially built wooden platforms and whilst I was on one of these I heard a tremendous rush of wind, (and no it wasn’t last night’s Guinness!) Rushes were being twisted, uprooted and flung into the air. Water lilies were dragged upwards. My keepnet was lifted completely out of the water momentarily and there was a lot of water splashing about for no apparent reason and then it was all quiet again.

At first I thought it was a pike chasing the rudd out of my swim, but when it had all calmed down I realised we had experienced a mini whirlwind. It came from nowhere and just died out between Frosty’s platform and mine. It lasted all of ten seconds. Of course nobody believed us, but I didn’t care, I saw it and experienced it.

This was a different type of Irish holiday to the others I’ve had. For a start there were only two of us and secondly I did not put my umbrella up once.

Cootehill is a one-road village with a lively Thursday market. We decided to have a wander round town on market day in the sun. The roads were sticky with melted tar. People who have been to Ireland still don’t believe me when I tell them this. As we were wandering about, a totally drunken farmer had got into his tractor and lost control. It hit three cars and shunted another doing quite a lot of damage before someone got into the cab and stopped the engine.

There is a healthy and thriving nightlife in the town. One of the bars is called the Library Bar. I was busy supping in the Library after time when the Gardai came in. We were all slung into the street, literally. We didn’t even have time to finish our pints! I was just beginning to warm to the Guinness as well.

Just as I was staggering past Eamon Bannons bar, Eamonn dragged me into the bar. He had a two way mirror window and could see what was going off outside whilst nobody could see in. Two minutes later Stuart was dragged in as well. What Eamonn really needed was a shepherds crook, then he would be able to hook them in from the other side of the road!

However, much as I enjoyed this change, the hot weather, the long nights and the amusing company, I really wanted to get back to what I knew. The rugged lands and the unpredictable weather of Roscommon was calling me and even just thirty miles away in the Milltown and Killeshandra area, everything was more to my liking, I was used to it and missed it.