By Patrick Markey
John O’Dea is an international champion.
Last week, the East Limerick man beat out stiff competitors from eight other countries, including the hotshots from Belgium and Finland, to claim his winner’s title.
The event: The European Wellington Boot Throwing Championship.
The prize: A brass Wellington boot mounted on a decorative base.
The Limerick Leader, carrying O’Dea’s story on its front page, reports that the new champ threw his boot a winning distance of 40 meters. A farmer in his native Cappamore, O’Dea is also a boot tosser in Ireland’s National Ploughing Championships, where he was thrown better distances.
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"We had to use the Agri-life, which is very light and made it very tricky to throw," the champion said. "The strength and direction of the wind is very important and makes the sport unpredictable as well as that the boot has to land in a certain area."
O’Dea will now move on to battle in the European Wellington Boot Throwing Games in two years. The farmer is also part of the Irish Sheaf Throwing team, which became European champions in Brittany, Northern France last year.
The name Harley Davidson may conjure images of Hell’s Angels, road movies and classic bikes.
But Irish bike enthusiasts hope to fill Ireland’s streets with the famous mean machines with Europe’s largest-ever motorbike rally in the millennium.
The Examiner newspaper reports that with 10,000 Harleys already in use in Ireland, the model is becoming increasingly popular.
That’s the reasoning behind next year’s planned Celtic Harley Davidson Rally in Wales, which will bring together thousands of Harley fans from Brittany, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
Finland will host the biggest event in the European Federation of Harley Davidson Clubs calendar, when the annual Super Rally takes place.
But the Harley Davidson Club of Ireland is hoping to outnumber them all when they bring 20,000 bike owners to their rally before 2005, the paper reports.
"Clubs from Europe were vying to hold the 2002 rally at this convention, but we are hopeful of being ready for it within another few years. We are planning to bring a big gang out to Greece in two years to see how it all works," said club captain Declan Bevan.
"The bike has soul, character and a unique sound, and it is steeped in history. It’s the one bike everybody wants."
But don’t expect these Celtic bikers to fit the hard drinking, leather and tattoo-adorned image. The Harley riders here represent all ages and personalities.
"The club is about getting away from everything, talking about the bikes, comparing stories, enjoying a bit of craic and sampling the culture of other places," Bevan said.
With the end of the year approaching, all manner of companies are trying to squeeze extra earnings out of the millennium mania.
But one Northern Irish publishing company has taken a refreshingly honest approach while reprinting one if its more popular titles.
The Derry Journal reports that the Guildhall Press has reissued the "Wile Big Derry Phrase Book," a guidebook for those who want to speak like a native of the province’s second city. The reissue carries the additional title — "The Millennium cash-in edition."
The book is packed with colloquialisms, including Derry’s 11th commandment — "Thou shalt not tap off yer ma. Except on Friday nights for a few swallys."
Criminal gangs from Dublin and Cork may have often seen Galway as an easy target ripe for the picking.
But Gardai in the West of Ireland have set up extra patrols and armed checkpoints in a crackdown on urban gangsters who prey on their rural neighbors.
The Connacht Tribune reports that the police are hoping to ensure that the west is no longer a "pushover" for visiting criminal elements, who have been hitting the area’s gas stations, post offices and pubs for stolen cigarettes, spirits and cash.
The gangs, which have been targeting Galway and Roscommon, will now meet with extra patrols and roadblocks on the routes they use to return after their early morning raids.
"We know there are criminal gangs operating out of Dublin and Cork who are targeting the west and we now intend to prevent further incidents," Supt. Frank Gunter said.