When we invaded Ballaghaderreen in the 1960s, the town did not suffer blow-ins gladly

In a Word: Infamy

It was “a date which will live in infamy”, if I may borrow from then US president Franklin D Roosevelt. He was referring to the bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941, in which thousands of Americans died, pushing the US to declare war on Japan and paving the way for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Infamy, indeed.

It was similar for the people of Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, on December 7th, 1962, 21 years later. It was “a date which will live in infamy” where the good people of the town were concerned. We moved there on that day from Mullen, near Frenchpark, seven miles and as many centuries away. Yes, Mam, Mack (what we called our father on good days!), myself, two brothers (another arrived in 1965), my two sisters and Ranger the dog.

Poor Ballagh and its “auld stock” had no idea what hit it. Even Ranger had an impact. His funeral a few years later was the biggest most of us kids ever attended in the town.

Blow-ins, then, were something of a rarity in Ballagh and it took a long time for us to negotiate the fine nuances of who was related to whom in a town where even friendships were inherited and everyone was white. The only Protestants were the local doctor and his family. We McGarrys, generally, were green.


It was why, when my brother Seán and I built a hut, it was destroyed by the New Streets. Who did we think we were coming into their town and building huts, bloody Balubas? (Baluba was a favourite term of abuse back then, after Congolese tribesmen who killed nine Irish soldiers in 1960.) We learned quickly and soon had our revenge, even as the New Streets remained thugs.

As members of a reinforced (by us) Barrack Street gang, we wreaked havoc on the old order where the New Streets and Pound Streets were concerned, leaving the auld stock in a state of shock and awe. Well, we liked to think so. Then Pakistanis arrived to work in the local halal factory, followed by asylum seekers, Syrians, Afghans, Ukrainians, Nigerians and, suddenly, we are blow-ins no more, just more whey-faced locals in a town that is now the youngest in Roscommon.

Infamy, from Latin infamare, “to bring into ill repute”.