Trouble and Strikes

When someone first suggested we might go on a fishing holiday to Ireland, I was quite excited. I had heard it was easy and that you could not fail to catch a net full of fish every day. Off we went to Woodcock Travel, told them basically what we wanted and left it up to them. They came up with Boyle, Co Roscommon. It was not at all what we had wanted, mainly due to the events of the previous weeks.

A prominent member of the British royal family, the then 79 years old Lord Louis Mountbatten had been murdered along with his 14 year old grandson, Nicolas Knatchbull, 16 year old boatman Paul Maxwell and the Dowager Lady Brabourne (aged 82) who died the next day. They were on his boat in Sligo Bay at the time. An enormous explosion ripped the boat apart, throwing debris everywhere. Not a lot was left. I remember the pictures on television. The INLA member Thomas MacMahon was found guilty of their murder on 23rd November 1979 in a Dublin court.
Incidentally Mountbatten was advised to change his name from Battenburg during WW1 because Naval chiefs at the time thought it was too Germanic! What has this got to do with the story? Nothing at all, I just thought you might like to know.

Now for some obscure reason, we came to the conclusion that Boyle was a little too close to Sligo and we would prefer to be further away from a recent IRA action. Another place was drawn out the hat and they came up with Kilmallock, Co. Limerick. We had never heard of it and anyway it wasn’t in the mainstream coarse fishing areas of Ireland either. Third time lucky and out popped Castlecoote, Co. Roscommon. It was far enough from the “troubles” and close enough to the Shannon. The chances of encountering a masked man, like those we had seen on television, armed with a Kalashnikov, was a worry to say the least. That the Mountbatten incident had happened in the Republic was a shock! Most, infact all of the previous IRA, INLA or Provo attacks we had heard about, had either been in the Ulster province or on mainland Britain. Never in Eire. However, in the year the Irish Tourist Board (Bord Failte) took a mortal blow due the murders, I made my first visit to Ireland.

I convinced myself that I was so insignificant, why should anyone try to kill me. I would make neither good nor bad publicity. This being wholly due to my status in life as a nobody. I am in excellent company here. 98% of the population are nobodies. I am proud to be a nobody. If you have the silly notion that you are a somebody, go and stand next to one and see if he/she notices you. Besides, the taxman is less likely to look into the accounts of a nobody, so that’s one in the eye for the somebodies.

That particular year, Ireland had Industrial Relations problems, as did Britain and France and most European countries, but Britain always had them so it was not big news and the French set fire to things to make a point. Ireland’s post service (An Post) had been severely crippled by strikes for several weeks and unfortunately my correspondence with Nonie Golden, at whose house we were staying, was in a pile of unopened mail a mile high, along with postcards and parcels. I always wonder what happens to the 48-hr delivery service “Smoked Kippers in a Box” at times like this? I just hope my letter is not cuddled up alongside it. To add to the fun there was also a petrol tanker driver’s strike, consequently there were fuel shortages all over the country except in the North, where they were profiting very nicely thank you.

My intended destination was around 100 miles from Dublin and the rickety old Ford Transit we had hired fairly guzzled petrol. Several miles from Castlecoote at a place called Moate, just before Athlone, we joined a small queue. The proprietor gave us four gallons of petrol, which was all I was allowed, but as it turned out it was two gallons more than the locals got!
Upon our arrival at Castlecoote we were informed that Nonie owned a bar called the Old Forge Inn. This was good news. It was down the road at a place called Fuerty, and outside the bar was a petrol pump. This was very good news. We were also told we could have unlimited supplies of petrol while supplies lasted, so that our holiday wouldn’t be spoilt. This was even better news. The next day Nonie’s petrol pump ran out. This was not such good news. We had to join the queues like everyone else. We soon learnt however a garage in Strokestown was giving double measures to visitors. The queue here was about thirty cars long. We duly got four gallons again along with some very dirty looks.

The Postal strike however had a more profound effect on us. Nonie had not received our letter and as she already had a house full of guests and could not accommodate anymore. This was not as big a problem to Nonie as it was a worry for us. She had a friend who would be more than willing to accommodate us.
We followed her old red Commer or whatever it was, until we were on the road back out of Roscommon, then half a mile past the Infirmary, she turned right and shot up a gravel driveway. Nonie could give Colin McCrae a run for his money. At the top of the drive was Carrowroe House, a large Georgian Manor house, far too grand for four steelworkers from Sheffield. Obviously she was just stopping to pick up something or to drop something off. But no, soon it became obvious that we were actually going to be spending a full week in a Georgian Manor House.

Well this was it. Would Boyle or Kilmallock have been any better? It was purely hypothetical but we were going to be guests, welcome or otherwise in a Georgian Manor house? This was a wonderful place beyond my wildest dreams. Believe me, I’ve had some pretty wild dreams! It had a warm and homely atmosphere for a place so large. The owner, Mrs Molloy was the most friendly and most accommodating woman you could wish to meet. There was only one point on which we disagreed and that was the breakfast time. We soon removed this tiny obstacle. We would make our own, and she could have a lie in.

Each evening after a session in the Old Forge Inn, we would sneak quietly (or so we thought) up the wide staircase, bidding a fond goodnight to the life-size statue of the Virgin Mary half way up. She winked back at us. Shattered and weather-beaten from our days’ fishing and well oiled from our little drink or two, we retired to our giant beds in our giant room. We were in the blue room; it had 5 double beds in it! All the other rooms were just as big and were all named after the colour they were decorated in. The mattresses had seen better days though. It enveloped you. It was quite an effort to get out of bed in the mornings.

One night the other three lads decided they were going on a pub-crawl around Roscommon town. For some reason I stayed at the house. I think I was still tired from all the driving. I ventured into the large living room and the aforementioned people from Nicholas Products were sat around a large open fireplace with oak logs crackling away, along with their wives and Mrs Molloy. I felt a bit out of place with my long scraggy and as one of the blokes described, “Led Zeppelin” hair and my roll-up cigarettes but it didn’t take long to get into the conversation and soon I was drinking whiskey, smoking my roll-ups and making good conversation with five very nice if somewhat older people. The night was capped with an Irish Coffee made with Courvoisier cognac. I assumed this was typical Irish convivial bonhomie. The aroma of a log fire, be it peat or oak still gives me a feeling of peace and well being.

The other three walked back in pitch black darkness. They assured me they had a good time. Ado had managed in all innocence to dance to the Soldiers’ Song (the National Anthem). I would have thought it was fairly difficult to drink Guinness and dance at the same time, but drink has that effect on people. They crept in as noisily as you always do when you’ve had a few, which blew away the myth that we had always been quiet when we had returned from our evening sorties. Myself, I was awoken only briefly but soon drifted away after all had settled down and the drunks had eventually found their beds.

The following days were spent fishing in the river at various different places. We spent one day fishing for pike with plugs, spinners and other exotic pieces of metal and plastic. Our friend the priest had given us his blessing to use his own personal boat to fish from. He said we would find the key for the padlock secured on a piece of string hanging from a branch near to the boat. This security measure was obviously so nobody else would take the boat without his permission! We took it in turns to fish from the boat and to fish from an island in the middle of Stoneham’s Lough. I was fortunate enough to catch a pike. It weighed in at around 6 lb. We decided we would take this one back to Carrowroe House and see what Mrs Molloy could rustle up. She scraped it and scored it and rubbed it with salt and then left it out all night in a large basting dish.

The next evening we returned from another of our expeditions into the unknown, weather beaten and ravenous as usual. We washed, shaved and changed into our evening attire (clean T-shirt and clean jeans) and went downstairs for our evening meal. Mrs Molloy enquired about our day and we exchanged polite conversation. She told us she had baked the pike and we were having it for dinner. We sat around the enormous kitchen table and the pike was brought in on the biggest plate I had ever seen. It was surrounded by fried scallions (spring onions), thinly sliced fried potatoes and soda bread with  locally made butter. It was very nice as well. The flesh just fell off the myriad tiny bones and didn’t taste at all earthy as we had been previously informed. It was quite filling and we all agreed it was far nicer than we had expected it to be. Mrs Molloy came to collect the empty plates and we settled down to look forward to one of her excellent deserts.
Then the wheels fell off! Out came an enormous beef joint along with baked potatoes, glazed carrots, green beans, cabbage, horse-radish sauce and a gallon of beef stock gravy. We all looked at one another with disbelief.

The pike had only been the starter and we between us had eaten the job lot, along with every bit of bread in the kitchen. It is at times like this when you have to convince yourself you are hungry. The beef joint looked absolutely delicious and we did not want to disappoint Mrs Molloy who had obviously spent a lot of time and effort preparing and cooking it for us. Somehow we managed to fill our plates and get most of it down, along with a blancmange right out of the top drawer. Somehow though, I got the impression she did not welcome us bringing back our own food and then expecting her to prepare and cook it. If that was the case, then it served us right so we didn’t do it again.