Category: Archive

Dublin Report The flu, fireworks and New Year’s in a Donegal village

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

I have rarely greeted a new year with anything but the utmost enthusiasm. And I love to hear the strains of Robbie Burns’s "Auld Lang Syne." As an old friend often remarks, every day alive is a bonus, every year even more so.

However, there are two afflictions suffered by mankind in this boundless vale of tears that often make us wish we were dead. One is chronic, stomach heaving seasickness and the second is the flu.

Typically, the French describe it much more sensitively. "La grippe," which immigrated to the U.S. and became, simply, the "grip," is the most apt title.

You feel like some sadistic giant is punching your lungs out while squeezing every organ in your interior.

And that is the situation I find myself in as I limp through the early days of the year 2000, barely alive or dead, caring little about either.

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Not for me is every day a bonus, more a cradle of pain.

Statistically, I am apparently one of every five, stricken in London. Now that the Christmas travel between both countries has long since finished, Dublin is inevitably suffering in a similar fashion, statistically speaking.

The visitors from London, my own children included, brought the infection with them. They have since been warned by their stricken patron that if ever in the future, there is a similar epidemic in London, they are not to come home, no matter what.

Funny thing is that it started very well, the millennium, I mean. It was certainly different.

There we were, the entire Kelly clan, with a large sprinkling of McBrides, uproariously gathered around a large barrel, serving as a table in the Beech Hotel in the bustling fishing village of Downings, Co. Donegal.

Even as the last strains of "Auld Lang Syne" faded into the last century, the firmest of resolutions were being broken. The entire Kelly clan had gathered in Northwest Donegal (just south of the marooned Tory Island) because of the unusual interest shown by the eldest sibling for explosives.

She had decided, come hell or high water, that expensive rockets and fireworks would burst into the air over Downings to celebrate the dawn of a new century. She had resolved that this momentous event would take place in the early hours of the first day, preferably just before dawn.

It did no such thing, of course. In fact, the dramatic rocket launch took place a day later.

As the long-suffering father of five, I have long since become inured to the vagaries of each and every member of the family. The only thing I know for sure is that whatever is expected will never happen.

So, it was, a day later, beneath a clear, star-filled sky, before a blazing log bonfire, champagne corks popped, fuses were primed and rockets launched in what was, at least, a force five to force six gale.

Still, it was fun.

But two days later, I discovered that my back, usually the solid, old rigid type, was nothing but a strip of jelly. My legs were rubber soft. And my chest sharply reminded me of every cigarette I have smoked in my life.

The real old Dub, the sort who claims that every day in life is a bonus, may grunt disparagingly (as only real oul’ Dubs can do), "Serves yeh right for going to Donegal for the millennium."

However, there was little or nothing doing in Dublin on New Year’s Eve. Anything that was doing was expensive, except, of course, the traditional free show at Christ Church Cathedral.

A trip into city center almost always required the use of a taxi. With typical, fast-thinking aplomb, Dublin’s taxi drivers had threatened that they would not be on the streets of the city on New Year’s eve unless they got an extra £5 bonus to top up their already high fares.

Months previously, the news media were saturated with stories suggesting that publicans who wanted to open their pubs, or restaurateurs who wanted to open their restaurants, would have to pay enormous wages.

That was not quite true, as it turned out. But the more nervous proprietors simply made early decisions to cut and run. They did not even attempt to negotiate opening terms.

For some Dubliners, those who prefer to spend New Year’s eve in the company of friends and neighbors, generally in the local, it turned out to be something of a damp squib.

Donegal and the rest of the west coast of Ireland was nothing like that. Celebrations started early and then went on and on. High winds, or no winds, gales or no gales, it also turned out to be cloudless and clear. Spectacular as the rockets were, the stars that beckon us all into eternity stole the show.

So, here I am, hobbling into the end of the first week of the new year while my clan, now fully recovered and jumping with the joy of a new millennium, are preparing to sail happily back to Blighty.

Next week, after what was one of the longest stretched out Christmas holidays, normal service may resume.

There is the increasingly bitter row over the extradition of Angelo Fusco to Northern Ireland. Fusco, a member of a well-known Italian-Irish family in Belfast, was never tried for the killing of SAS Captain Herbert Westmacott during a shoot-out in 1980.

We are certainly going to hear more of that.

I also noticed a report in the Irish Times to the effect that legal moneylenders can charge as much as 197 percent in interest to those who are unfortunate enough to require their services.

That reminds me of the far-off 1960s when similar extortionate rates were being charged. Only difference was that the moneylenders then were illegal.

It led to a tribunal. What’s another year?

Next week, both the Moriarty and Flood tribunals will almost certainly reopen in Dublin Castle.

As my old friend says, every day alive is a bonus.

I had better shake off this flu. There is work to be done in the year 2000.

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