In a word . . . Bilbao

‘Remember ’98’ should be the battle cry of Connacht people in Bilbao today

 

Not many people know this but Bilbao has strong Irish connections – descendants of those Irish who fled there in the 18th century escaping religious persecution at home. It is hoped they will be vocal behind Leinster today.

Bilbao, where Leinster will be European Rugby Champions by this evening.

For a Connacht man enthusiasm for a Leinster win may seem treacherous but for a Rosie from Ballaghaderreen it is no bother at all. You see we’ve been doing this sort of thing for years.

As the world knows Ballaghaderreen, though in Roscommon, is in Mayo for football and when both counties meet rivalry in the town can be “. . . bitther, bitther, bitther . . ,” as a local once woefully put it.

However, once the victor county crosses the Shannon those more sane supporters in both unite. Hating the neighbours may be cherished but what sort of Weshtie wants to see them beaten by a foreign crowd from Ulster, Munster, orLeinster!

In such spirit our province will be united behind Leinster today now that they are the only Irish rugby team still standing. And it’s the final.

It helps that the glorious Robbie Henshaw is from Roscommon. He, who came back from serious injury to play so well against Scarlets last month. He about whom Johnny Sexton could not be more positive after that game. “Robbie, he was insane,” he said. Can an Irishman be more complimentary about another?

Johnny explained. “Look, he’s got everything. What an incredible athlete, to spend the time out that he has and come back looking like he’s never been away. By far I think the most impressive performance today was by him.”

Besides, in Connacht the French owe us big time. What wrath they brought on our heads in 1798. How they raised our hopes, and all to end in such disaster.

So General Humbert declared an Irish Republic on landing at Killala that August with his 1,000 soldiers. On he went to Castlebar where he and locals routed British forces and set up the Government of “Connaught”.

On they went to inglorious end at Ballinamuck in Longford. Great slaughter followed throughout Connacht as the British exacted bloody revenge while the French were just sent home.

“Remember ’98” should be the battle cry of Connacht people in Bilbao today, as Racing 92 is led to the slaughter.

Bilbao thought to be from Basque words for river and cove: Bil-Ibaia-Bao.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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