The woman who put me off golf for life
Looking out over Galway Bay in the autumn sun reminds me of encountering a furious Connacht mammy with my lovely American girlfriend
I was enjoying the autumn sun in Salthill one morning last week and there were two middle-aged ladies on the next bench.
“Is she really going to Dublin?” the older woman asked. “We thought she was in Athlone.”
She had the eyes of a hawk and a nose like Margaret Thatcher, and her voice would have been at home in the brass section of an orchestra.
She curved her body around the little one like a python considering its dinner. The little one was like a coat hanger in a light blue dress, a delicate creature so watery that she was almost transparent.
“She’s going to Dublin,” the coat hanger insisted. “She’ll be doing media studies.”
“Oh sure we thought she was in Athlone,” bellowed Mrs Thatcher. “Didn’t she get a job in a drapery?”
“That was just for the summer,” said the coat hanger, slightly offended.
Then Thatcher changed the subject. “Well,” she said, “it was a great summer anyway. Actually we finally decided to go to the Algarve this year again. Not the best place in the world, but Paddy wanted the golf. What did you do?”
“Nothing,” the watery one admitted. “Sure the weather was fine at home.”
Put off golf for life
Suddenly I was reminded of a woman who put me off golf for life. When I was a boy I’d go to the quiet lawns of Cavan golf club with my father’s sticks, old wooden drivers, a five-iron and a putter, and two or three balls, and I’d pass the morning banging the balls along with no firm intention of getting them on to the greens or into any holes.
Occasionally a few ladies would appear on the ridge of the hill like a posse of sheriffs in Monument Valley looking for Navajos. The biggest of them, a blunderbuss of a woman with a voice like a sergeant major on the parade square, would wave her stick and bellow, “We’re coming through, young fellow. Get out of the f***ing way.”
And what fascinated me, as they clopped their balls along with the speed of an advancing hurley team, was that they all smoked. I would sit in the rough beneath the trees and watch the trail of their Sweet Aftons and listen to their laughter die away as they vanished over the next ridge.
It’s a long time since I sat there at the end of August in the long grass, dreading the beginning of another school term. Sometimes I’d go into one of those green galvanised shelter huts that stood on every fairway and have a quiet and illicit smoke, and think about the beauty of trees and the necessity of God.
Because it would have been unbearable back then to think that the trees and the bellowing women and I were alone in the universe and that there was not some God above who would take care of me in the world that was to come, where I would have to negotiate my way around such women.
A few years later, when I was in college, I went to Galway with an American girlfriend to hear Horslips at the Warwick Hotel. We had an address of someone we barely knew who said we could crash out in his room afterwards and told us where the key was.
I took the key from a pot plant at 3am, slipped inside the building and crept upstairs to a room with his name on the door, thinking we were in an unusually comfortable flat. But before I could undress and abandon myself to the American, a mammy-out-of-Connacht strode across the landing in her dressing gown, with a furious red face, and threw us out. I sensed we were lucky she didn’t have a golf club or a shillelagh to hand.
It was almost dawn, and we fled to Salthill and laughed as we stretched ourselves on a bench in two tattered sleeping bags.
Galway Bay looked as beautiful as ever last week. I looked out at the islands, and eventually the two women on the next bench fell silent.
I thought about my lovely American girlfriend for a few minutes, and if I could I would have sent tidal waves of love and blessings across the ocean to wherever she is now. And then I went away, although I couldn’t resist a little salutation towards the ladies as I passed.
“Isn’t that a wonderful morning,” I said. And they smiled and blinked and replied, “It certainly is.”
And off I went as light as a feather.