The Sultan of Swing

I watched a documentary about Mark Knopfler a while back. It was interesting listening to him talk although to be honest he was a boring enough sort of fella in a Northern Geordie sort of way. Now that the headband and curly hair has gone he reminds me a bit of Brian Robson, the Man Utd player. I reckon if he couldn’t play the geetar in that fingerpickin style no-one would be too bothered with him. As it is though he far knows his way round the frets.

He was talking about the stories behind his songs which is always an interesting topic. As interesting was the insights he gave on the actual playing of the tunes. This ranged from the unique distorted sound of Money for Nothing to the fluent guitar-punctuated Brothers in Arms. He explained how he tuned his National Steel bodied to a chord for Romeo and Juliet and described his intentions for the Romeo character – someone he described as a bit of a bollix. My words I would add, not his.

He talked about the duets he recorded with Emmylou Harris and in particular the song If This is Goodbye which was inspired by and drew on the voicemail messages left for their loved ones by the people stranded in the Twin Towers. The poignancy of the messages is not diminished in any way by the excellent duet. Likewise Brothers in Arms drew on the experiences during the Falklands and as one of my favourite songs I have to separate the dancer from the dance on this occasion.

Knopfler also exlained how every time he plays Sultans of Swing he has to ensure he plays the deedlie deedlie deedlie dee solo at the end or the punters feel short changed. As the successful bandleader of Dire Straits is it any surprise that he knows that giving the people what they want is the key to success.

Dagda’s Cauldron

According to legend, the Tuatha de Danaan first came to Ireland in a great fleet of ships to take the land from the Fir Bolgs. The Tuatha were the people of the Goddess Danu, their menfolk godlike in status. When they arrived in Ireland they burnt their boats on the beach so there would be no turning back – a statement of intent if ever there was one.

Delusional former Kerry manager Jack O’Connor attributed the boat burning myth to the Moors arriving in Spain – it is in fact an Irish legend Jack – but then I suppose that’s not the only fallacy in that oul book of his.

The smoke from the burning boats wreathed the land for three days – leading the Fir Bolgs to believe that the Tuatha had arrived in a magic mist. This incidentally is the origin of the pre-match smokescreen as practised by the likes of messrs Considine, Crozier and Loughnane – indeed some would claim the legendary Clare hurling manager has a druidic awareness of the legends of old, having burnt more boats than a hard-pressed Viking undertaker.

Back to our yarn then – among the treasures the Tuatha de Danaan brought with them to Ireland was Dagda’s cauldron – famed because no man ever left it hungry. The cauldron of the God Dagda is believed to be one of the influences that led Michael Cusack and co to invent the GAA in Thurles. The vision that came to them in a moment of inspiration was to create an addiction that would consistently and forever satiate the hunger of the masses in every town, village and townland in Ireland.

There is little or no documentary evidence that gaelic and athletic sporting pastimes were prevalent in Old Ireland – but there was no shortage of legendary heroes that would have been subject matter for the hagiographic writing that passes for journalism in our Sunday papers. You know the sort:

“Lugh took after his grandfather Balor – he bore skill and controlled aggression in equal measure. He picked up his first ball at the tender age of two score months and manfully drove it through the meadhall scattering tankards of wine, loaves and fishes, half a cow, sides of wild boar – a delicacy known as a ‘brolly’ – and the roasted haunches of deer native to the Irish hillsides.

“The ball, fashioned from a wise and aged badger – chased, killed and taxidermed – came to rest beside his father Cian who trapped it under a gnarled toe with an insouciance normally seen about Ardboe and declared – in fulfilment of some ancient prophesy – “This lad shall captain the under-twelves. See to it.”

“At U-12 he played for the minors, at U-14 he played U-21 – his performances safeguarding that grade to this day – and at U-16 he captained the seniors to their first Championship title in an unfeasibly long time (a feat no longer possible due to Rule 132, p78 Official Guide) – so long in fact that the brehons with droopy lids could ill remember when woken from their sleep-dotage.

“Gnarled warriors wept with joy, serving wenches fluttered an attractive bogjuice-stained eyelid in his direction and older women sighed and sighed again in longing. The county manager sat up and took notice – as did a cohort of visitors from the land of Oz who liked the way he avoided the attempts at goring and the gougers that sledged with a passion only seen among the hordes from the river Liffey – far to the South.

“There was his downfall – carried away by strangers, not his own pride or the weasel words of other jealous players but the promise of riches beyond imagine, sun – a rare enough sight in July, and sun-bleached not smoke-caked ladies with free access to the bar b cue, big waves and the life of a pro warrior. Dagda’s cauldron not enough, he left these shores never to return, his likes never seen again. The elders wracked with grief and tearful desolation, the cauldron was taken and buried on a hilltop, beside a goatherd’s shed on the south side, near a stream, as the sun set and rose simultaneously in the east and west – an omen of things dead and of things to come. It was the last thing Lugh had touched before he left – the club committee voting 14 – 2 that a feed from its cavernous bowels might satiate the young hero and make him change his mind. That or a horse well hooved.”

There it remained until 1884 until the visionaries of the modern day set out from Thurles in the dead of night – heading northwards in search of the cauldron of Dagda. They passed through a flat plain north of the Liffey and paused hearing the roar of thousands and thousands – an omen of things to come. Onwards they traipsed, up through the Black Pigs Dyke, past a place in a glen where four roads crossed and the sons of Seosamh Mór among them kicked a bladder vigorously whilst their bear bellied father gazed on in admiration and approval.

Overhead vultures circled and circled, landing here and there from time to time on a patch of grass. Another omen. Westwards they turned – reading the runes – they came to Cluain Eois and eyes closed and nostrils flared they could taste the scent of seared flesh and burnt bread. The debauchery of the meadhall flashed upon their inward eyes. They were getting closer. Onwards and northwards – at last the unspoken advice of their ancestors came upon them and they knew to stop at a place that was simultaneously high and low, verdant and fertile. There was water and air and an atmosphere of deadly calm and determination. There were hazel bushes, some whin and beech and maybe a sycamore, but little ash and definitely no oak trees. The heart of Tír Eoghain.

An oul fella stumbled from a hovel, he’d been guttin’ a stag and he wiped his red hand on the breast of his gleaming white shirt.

Squinting askance at these fellas from the south sez he: “Ye’ll be here for thon oul pot? Take it, but you know it can’t be brought back here for the numbers of years that I have on me now. I am 119 years old and today is 29 Mean Fomhair. If your Association is to thrive and prosper in the manner of those who eat from Dagda’s Cauldron you must bring it back here on this day 119 years hence. Thereafter it will return again and again betimes.”

And so it came to pass…

Count on Every Bead

After we won the Ulster championship my daughter Cáit made a poster for me. She carefully cut some pictures of the team out of the local paper and glued them all together. And among the things she wrote on the poster was the line ‘All your hardwork paid off Dad.’

Simple. A daughter’s belief. Her commitment. Her love. A simple poster. Her awarenes & recognition of the work that had gone into a bit of success. And the simple response from her, to put it in writing. She knew because she tags along to training with me and does things like set out cones, and I give out to her and boss her about, but she loves it.

Every father loves his daughter. He worries about her, where she is, what she is doing. She will get away with things the boys in the house never would.

My daughter’s poster sits at eye level as I digest the news of Michaela McAreavey’s passing. Every Tyrone fan was well acquianted with her simple handwritten note to her dad, her encouragement probably an unexpected source of inspiration in 1997. Simple, innocent, burning with enthusiasm.

I thought of my hopes for my own daughters. And of Michaela and her husband John. What hopes and dreams did they have? I thought of my own honeymoon in South America looking forward to a life together. What if anything had happened either of us?

At training during the days and weeks after she died, I looked at our players. She was no older than some of them. Young, vibrant women, healthy, full of life, it just bursting out of them. It just shows you, you know not the day and the hour.

Mickey Harte’s achievements have been an inspiration to me over the last nine years. His approach introduced me to the likes of John Wooden and Pat Riley. His message to be your best and to respect difference in other people useful rules to follow. He is obviously a deeply spiritual man. He is also extremely competent in dealing with the dreaded media, the management of the new from the family’s perspective was impeccable to avoid intrusion.

Still, behind all the coverage lies a human tragedy for Mickey, Marion, John, Mark, Micheal and Mattie and the rest of the family circle. They have my total sympathy.

The simple image of Michaela’s rosary stuck in my mind and, like Cáit’s poster, a simple song sparked with additional poignancy.

Here’s a rosary, Count on every bead

With a prayer to keep, The hope you hold.

May God hold her in the palm of his hand. And may John her husband hold on to hope, counting on every bead as his wife would have wished.