Tuesday 19 May 2020

Celtic Roots Craic 71 – The 'black stuff' – a traveller's tale!

The Bush Bar, Blacklion, Co. Sligo

Well, life can be a wee bit unpredictable, wouldn’t ye say? The whole world seems to have gone totally crazy at the moment. I was in a local supermarket the other day and it reminded me of news stories of GUM stores in Moscow before Glasnost came along! Ah, well, sure at least ye can relax for a wee while and enjoy some music ’n’ craic.

Normally we have a parade in Downpatrick at this time of year, but they’ve all been  cancelled. The health people recommend that we keep drinking plenty – though I think they actually had water in mind – uisce, rather than uisce beatha – the ‘water of life’! However, the choice is up to yerself!

Anyway, I thought I’d tell yez a yarn, to cheer yez up. When I was about twenty one, or so, myself and a friend, Davy, decided to take a wee trip down south. This was still during the troubles, mind, and we were hitch-hiking – not too many people were inclined to risk giving lifts at the time, but we managed. We started at the access to the M2 Motorway in Belfast and managed to get a lift for forty miles or so, beyond the end of the motorway at that time.

That took to what was then known as ‘bandit country’ in Co. Tyrone – made all the  more obvious by the local road signs being riddled with bullet holes! It took us ages to get through that part. Eventually we made it to the border – which at that point is between two villages – Belcoo, on the northern side, and Blacklion, on the southern side.

Traffic was scarce and lifts were even scarcer and we were seriously thinking of sending the night in a roadside workman’s hut when a car stopped for us. The occupant was a local pub owner, Vincent McGovern – known locally as ‘Vincie the Bush’, because he owned four bars, which he inherited from his father – on either side of the border – each called, ‘The Bush Bar.’

Vincent was also a reformed alcoholic, and – after treating us at his local bar to tea and sandwiches – gave us a ride to Sligo, while entertaining us with stories of his travels all over Ireland to help fellow alcoholics.

After a night spent in Sligo, we headed south again and found ourselves once again marooned – this time in the remote west of Ireland, with not a vehicle in sight for miles. Eventually we got a lift on a farm trailer carrying milk churns and passed by another couple also hitchhiking, waving as we overtook them. Shortly after they waved to us as they passed in a car. And so it continued – we passed them, they passed us – going only a few miles each time.

While we were trudging through Ballyhaunis a single driver in a yellow Ford Cortina pulled up and told could take us all the way to Galway City. We got in and thanked him, and I mentioned how we had kept passing this same couple all day. Sure enough, we caught up with them again and our driver agreed to pick them up also. I chatted with the driver, but the others sat quietly in the back listening to his music and not talking.

When we arrived at Eyre Square in Galway, Davy and I got out on the passenger side and the other couple got out on the opposite side, so they were halfway across the Square when the car drove off. Even so, I tried what turned out to be the magic words, shouting, ‘Buy you a pint?’ across the Square.

They responded and joined us in Richardson’s Pub in Eyre Square for the first of several pints that afternoon. They were husband and wife, Bernard and Nuala, from Sligo and we had a great conversation which led to a friendship which has continued now for many years – my wife and I visiting them every few years. Until that day I had only ever drunk Guinness shandy, but Bernard didn’t know that when it was his round so that was how I developed a taste for Guinness!

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