There she was ahead of me on Main Street, Ballaghaderreen. A neighbour. It was during a fleadh many moons ago. I would surprise her. I sneaked up from behind and, with my two arms, squeezed her tight, saying “Howya, Peggy?”
Except it wasn’t Peggy! I almost died on the spot. Being so much younger then, death by embarrassment was a regular occurrence. The woman in question laughed it off as I melted into a puddle on Main Street.
I was probably emboldened by a happier exercise of the same strategy involving a college friend in New York, where we were both working for a summer. Except we did not know the other was in the city.
I spotted her at an intersection waiting for traffic lights to change. I sneaked up and squeezed tight, saying “Hello, Berna!” And it was Berna. She shrieked in shock and delight as the whole population of New York looked on. For all their great powers they were wishful to be like us – young, happy and carefree.
I do not recommend sneaking up behind people and squeezing them tight like that – anywhere – now. In these #MeToo times you will end up on a front page or in a police station, or both. Such dizzy raptures are no more.
But the Roscommon County Fleadh is in Ballaghderreen again – today, tomorrow and Monday. It began yesterday (now that Good Friday is an open-pub day).
And why shouldn't it be in Ballaghaderreen once again, where so much of the revival of Irish culture began in the late 19th century? Irish was still spoken in areas around the town then and it has always had a lively traditional music scene. For instance, the great Matt Molloy of the Chieftains and so much more, is from the town.
Douglas Hyde grew up out the road and learned his Irish locally, inspiring him to found the Gaelic League which was such a major influence in framing Easter 1916, the War of Independence and the establishment of this State in 1922.
Hyde, who was Ireland’s first president, rests at Portahard, 5km from the town. Back in the land of my ancestors, described by a biographer of Hyde’s as “....potential but pleasant murderers”.
We haven’t changed, you know.
Fleadh, meaning "festival" in Irish.