Faith, hope, and a bean an tí

An Irishman’s Diary about guests of the nation


It’s not all bad news. Almost simultaneously this week, I received two e-mails, equally cheering in different ways. The first was from the charmingly-named city of Loveland, Colorado, and written by a woman called Faith McDonald, which in the circumstances is apt.

Faith flew into Shannon recently, with her children aged 14 and nine. It was her third time in Ireland – she clearly likes the place. But this trip got off to a disastrous start. As she puts it: “Just two hours after getting off the plane I managed to wreck our rental car in Galway.”

Now, you and I know Galway. There are worse places to wreck a rental car. Even so, imagine the place through the eyes of a just-arrived, now traumatised mother of two from Colorado, whose e-mail continues: “Suddenly we found ourselves exhausted and scared, with no car and no place to stay since we had missed our connecting flight to the Aran Islands. I began to suffer from a severe panic attack.”

Not knowing what else to do, Faith phoned a friendly B & B in Bunratty, called Ashgrove House. She’d stayed there before and was booked in again for the last night of the trip. So, crying down the phone, she threw herself on the mercy of the proprietors, Frank and Sheila Tiernan.

The Tiernans rose to the challenge. A lift from Galway was speedily arranged. And during the McDonalds’ two-night stay in the B & B, they were showered with so many kindnesses that, upon leaving, Faith was able to brave the roads of Ireland again, in another rental. From then on, everything went well.

Her e-mail concludes: “Although my children will have happy memories of Ireland for the rest of their lives, none will be so fond as the time spent with Frank and Sheila (and their little dog, Sydney!). They are truly a credit to your country and deserve recognition for their kindness and generosity.”

When I rang the Tiernans yesterday, to confirm that they weren’t too good to be true, Sheila played down their heroics. Chatty and affable, like a Clare Maeve Binchy, she explained that she and her husband were “getting on a bit – in fact, we are on”. But, she added, “Looking after people is no trouble”.

As for rescuing the stricken tourists, that was nothing. “You’d do it for a dog,” said Sheila, “never mind a beautiful young woman with children.”

Which is only true, or so one would hope. Still, I’ve heard many stories over the years in which someone has merely restored someone else’s faith in humanity. This is the first case I know of an actual person called Faith being restored. I think Fáilte Ireland should erect a plaque to commemorate it.

The other e-mail also concerned the hospitality sector, albeit indirectly. It was from a man called Robert, in Kildare, who recently rented a house for 10 days to a group of traditional Irish musicians. That’s to say, the music they played was traditional Irish. The band, by contrast, was 100 per cent French.

Robert was writing in response to the Justin Timberlake/Auld Triangle controversy. But the gist of his e-mail was: never mind Justin Timberlake, listen to this. He included a link to a video of the French band – they call themselves Doolin – in concert recently. And sure enough, they could pass for Claremen.

The members of the group come from Toulouse and Castres, apparently. Which clue initially led me to suspect that they were the abandoned love-children of Munster rugby fans, who have been known to visit those towns a lot. But in fact the Heineken Cup is not quite old enough to explain them.

Of course, they’re not the first overseas band to play Irish music well. On the contrary, the quality of Irishness in general has long been open to foreign competition. There’s the famous precedent of the Normans who, centuries ago, were found to have become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.

Since when, it has been recognised that there is a competitive aspect to the being-Irish thing, and that we so-called natives sometimes fall short of the standards set by, say, Germans who’ve lived in Connemara for a few years.

The French trad band may force indigenous groups to up their game, and perhaps in more ways that one. Not only did they perform a “mind-blowing” session, including impeccable sean-nós singing, while in Kildare, they also distinguished themselves in the area of house-keeping.

“On the last day, they cleaned the house from top to bottom, like a team from CSI,” adds my awestruck correspondent. So, to recap: they’re an all-French band who play Irish traditional music brilliantly, and they also have very high standards of hygiene. This, I suspect, may be another first.

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