Thursday, July 8, 2010

The fallen knight at the King's tournament

Celebapalooza 2010 featuring The Limerick Leader continued this week with some maniacal golf, sunburnt colour writers and free chicken casserole at the JP McManus Pro-Am in Adare. The Board's take on it all centred on The Playboy of the Western World, Tiger Woods. From this week's Leader2:

Lines of thousands ran up and down along the contours of the first fairway, waiting. The valley between the tee and the practice green was a sea of bodies, and the current was dragging them all towards one person. Tiger Woods, in Limerick? After all that mess? 40,000 people and the novelty wasn’t lost on any of them.

Early on Monday afternoon, as the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor gathered steam, John Daly was lit up like a traffic light and Jim Furyk was scooching under the blue ropes that held the crowd back. Ben Curtis, the 2003 Open champion, was beating up the driving range. But none of it seemed to matter.

Over Curtis’ shoulder the most famous sportsman of all time languidly chopped through a bucket of practice balls, the baying local crowd in thrall. Just seven months since all the unpleasantness, Tiger Woods was making good on his commitment to Adare, to Limerick and to JP. Is he a phenomenon? Or a sociopath? Different questions for other places.

Over two days the people of Limerick were drawn to him like a magnet and nobody asked about the morals. They didn’t need to. This week was about how the golfing world, led by its most bankable deity, had gathered for the rarest of chin wags by the River Maigue, and how it had done so at the behest of McManus.

Though quiet and unassuming in person, every five years JP comes to embody a medieval lord drawing the greatest knights in the world to an immense tournament, where he delivers his largesse through great feasts and spectacular games.

Adare Manor may embody modern comfort and luxury, but in truth it could just as easily be a feudal Ressons-sur-Matz or Lagny-sur-Marne, where men jousted and were merry. Foremost among today’s heroes was Woods, who found nothing but adoration from the people of Limerick during his first overseas competition since the scandals of his private life last year.

Back at the driving range, some twenty minutes before he is due to tee off from the first, the crowd are sucked in. Boys hand out programmes and hats indiscriminately for autographs, not seeming to care who does the scribbling. “Who was that?”, “Who is he?”, two wonder aloud to each other. They shoot first and ask questions later.

A short while beforehand Eamon Dunphy, caddying for Liam Brady for the morning, crowed about how he was in fact a “mind coach” who was only on the sauce the night before “so that Liam wouldn’t be”.

Then the word filters up. Stewards and gardai link arms instantly, as if instructed to by a hive mind. The Tiger moves up towards the clubhouse, running a gauntlet of wires and giggles. He is bombarded with questions by a media ruck that only walked as fast as he did. But the man as tough as mineral looked straight past it all with an effortless cool.

He ignores every question bar one, about new AT&T National champion Justin Rose who appears seconds later, as famous people tended to do in Adare this week, to receive a congratulatory smile and handshake.

From the edge of the practice green Tiger sinks a casual putt between chatter with Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington as someone, somewhere worries that world’s richest ever athlete is cutting it awfully fine.

His fellow pros are immune to his aura, but clearly the local masses are not. His walk from there to the first tee, through the crowded ocean, teaches much about the dictum of Tiger. When he approaches, you clap. When he smiles, you cheer. When he swings, you roar. They are sensory reactions programmed deep into the brain. It is a set of rules all his own.

As he killed time at the first tee, waiting for the gun blast that will signal the start of play at 1.30pm, the playful anxiety of the crowd builds. Photographers and stewards who creep into someone’s line of sight are barracked by spectators for daring to block their view of Him. Mark O’Meara, his old compatriot, ambles up from Tiger’s left and cracks a joke. “Can I have an autograph?” he asks. “No”, comes the reply.

Then, in that calm way of his, JP strolls over in a sharp navy suit and open necked blue shirt. He plucks a bottle of Ballygowan from a nearby drum and joins the talk. There is no grand introduction; the conversation just quietly opens up and lets him in. We’re all friends here. Mark places an arm around their host and leaves it there.

Tiger loosens up with a practice swing, and then another, before launching his tee shot onto the first fairway. A caravan of five gardai, reporters and cameras with lenses so telescopically big that they need to be beaten into the ground on tripods follow him down the fairway. The rest of the world shuffles along behind the barriers.

Tiger is relaxed, chewing fistfuls of crunchy almonds as he chats with his team mates JP Magnier, Bernard Droux and Brendan Mullin. He shanks his tee shot on the second down to the water’s edge along the left of the fairway. As photographers line up 50 yards ahead, directly in front, he remarks that “that’s a bad spot to be in guys”. He’s joking.

The day’s uniquely playful atmosphere is seen throughout the sprawling hive of Adare Manor. Harry Redknapp, who is clearly in a hurry, still doesn’t turn down a single photo or autograph from the crowd that swallows him as he crosses over towards the 10th fairway.

Peter Jones, he of Dragons’ Den fame, and Jamie Redknapp swap gourmet hotdogs from right hand to left as they sign autographs, walk towards the 11th tee and chew respectively.

Samuel L Jackson, probably the coolest man on the planet, does a shimmy and fist-bump with Johnny Murtagh after the jockey drops a ten footer to par the 16th. Two young women, whose house backs onto the 12th hole, almost pass out with excitement as Hugh Grant obliges them with a photo as he winds down on the back nine. Everywhere you turn, someone important is doing their best not to be. It is the theme of the Pro-Am and it is the wish of its host.

On the seventh hole of six-hour opening round, Tiger Woods is chatting with magnate Dermot Desmond when little Ava Mulhall sprints out from behind the ropes, ducks the stewards and runs over to ask for an autograph. The stewards are a little agitated and try to scurry her away, but Tiger bends down and signs her programme. A cheer erupts from the crowd. At the great tournament, the fallen knight could find only praise.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Revelation of the day

The octopus knows nothing. Germany are going to win.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Wire, the squire and the wedding

This is a Board's eye view of Dominic West's wedding in Glin last Saturday, which was devilishly snuck into the Limerick Leader this week, for some reason:

There was an elegant bride and a hung over groom. There was an old carriage drawn by a mare named Bud, who they rode all they over from Tarbert “to take the spark out of her”. There was a style guide that mixed stovepipe hats with yellow flannel.

There were salmon canapés, sundried tomatoes and a jazz band who described themselves as”New Orleansy”. There were cameras, adoring eyes and sore heads. There were American actors fascinated by the slow beauty of an afternoon in Glin. There were bonfires and fireworks.

There was a wedding.

Last Saturday under the summer sun British actor Dominic West married Catherine FitzGerald, the Knight of Glin’s daughter. That’s the story. West, who played Detective Jimmy McNulty in the magnificent TV series ‘The Wire’, brought a train of glamour in his party of co-stars and famous friends.

But the hundreds of locals who gathered with their tiny digital cameras probably would have come anyway, such is the esteem that Glin holds for its Knight and his family. It was a society event which, underneath the detailed table settings and tinted Range Rovers, bore all the nerves and quiet panic and simple joy of any wedding day.

An hour and a half beforehand, on a small patio at the top of steep stone steps, Madam Olda Fitzgerald makes the introductions as guests sip dry champagne and discuss who is going to be getting changed where. The 29th Knight, who hasn’t been in the best of health, listens to lounge music filtering out through a nearby window, walking slowly here and there as friends seek his ear. Life has taught the mother and father of the bride to wind down and enjoy days like these.

A hundred yards away, inside the huge marquee wrapped in green ivy and held up by white timber poles and ship rope, stage designer Keith Payne dodges the staff hopping from table to table straightening forks, and listens to ‘Saloon Star’ rehearse their numbers.

Keith, who is deliberately ambiguous when he says his background is in “rock and roll”, points at the colourful canvas designs lining the canopy walls, which were painted especially for Catherine’s 21st birthday and simply had to be gathered from whatever dusty corner they were in.

In a garden kitchen, behind a crack in the canopy wall, chefs and their staff stack boxes of tomatoes, polish glasses and unload the strawberries that will feed 320 people.

Head chef Mickey French, with five hours’ sleep behind him, laughs off the madness. The menu, he says, is deliberately simple - though not lacking in expensive detail. There are canapés of smoked salmon, hand-made sausages, crostini with sundried tomatoes, basil and mozzarella to start; barbecued leg of lamb with new potatoes and mixed green salad for the main, and hand made roulade with fresh strawberries for dessert.

By half past three guests are abandoning their cars along the steep hillsides that wrap the Church of the Immaculate Conception, yards from the main castle gate. More than a handful can be seen wearing dark sunglasses and throwing back aspirin before they leave their luxury sedans. They were all in O’Shaughnessy’s pub the night before, you see, and the thick stout and clean air of the Shannon Estuary agrees with some better than others. The calm smiles of grimy heads will become a theme for the afternoon.

In small drips the famous faces drift by. Adam James, who appeared in ‘Extras’ and was blown up in ‘Band of Brothers’ went to school with Dominic. He warmly describes coming to Glin as being akin to “stepping back in time”, and remarks that he did his first ever Irish jig the night before in O’Shaughnessy’s with The Wire’s Wendell Pierce, aka The Bunk.

Sonja Sohn, who played Kima Greggs in The Wire, said that she just had to be here. “Dominic’s our boy, and he’s in love with Catherine. He’s a lovely guy, and there was a marked difference on the set with him after [he got back together with Catherine]. Not just his behaviour, but his attitude.”

 How was she enjoying Limerick? “I had a great time mixing with the locals. I like the Irish, they tend to be like Americans in that they’re very real. They tell it like it is, tell the truth, they don’t hide much.” Before making her way into the church, she stops to ask about the seaweed baths in Ballybunion. “Do you know if that’ll be open tomorrow?”

The watching crowd has swollen to almost 200 when the groom walks up to the church from the village side, a broad smile and bright green waistcoat masking a vicious hangover. He stops to talk at the top of the church steps, and is nearly flattened by a thick lump of old stone under his feet. He won’t be that stone’s last victim today.

How’s he feeling? “Slightly sick at the moment, but I’m about to feel very excited and happy, once the valium kicks in.” He speaks with heartfelt honesty when he thinks about the distance his friends and colleagues have travelled to be here: “I’m very, very chuffed and honoured actually. They’ve all come a long way; a lot of people have come a long way. A lot of the Wire boys have come and I’m very happy about that. [Last night] was a good night, a great night. One of O’Shaughnessy’s best.” He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s getting ready for round two: “Absolutely. But it’ll be all night tonight. We’re not going to cut it short.”

The bride is late, as all good brides are. Four o’clock becomes quarter past, which becomes half past. Then, from the corner of the castle’s long driveway, Catherine and her father appear in a simple black horse-drawn carriage. The crowds and cameras surge forward, and ripples of applause greet the bride as she dismounts in a classical cream gown that was made for her by a friend, carrying a small bouquet of fuchsia and white flowers. The Knight moves alongside her at a slow, steady pace.

“I feel so excited, really happy,” she said. “It’s like a fairytale.” Listening as her voice creaks from a year’s worth of singing the night before, Catherine smiles and apologises. “I’m afraid I’ve lost my voice”.

The church doors close behind her. The bulk of the crowd scatters. Children scurry around the courtyard during the service, daring each other to go forward and sneak a peak through the inner glass doors of the old church.

As their babies and toddlers grow restless, guests drift out of a side door and sit down on the islands of grass. The official photographer mills around the grounds in a three-piece suit, the sweat pumping down his back betraying the cool air of London calm he tries to sell with his handshakes and smiles.

Dominic and Catherine’s two-year-old son Senan holds a nanny’s hand as he ambles out of the church and approaches the horse and carriag waiting outside. Today is one of the happiest in his parent’s lives, but a toddler has other priorities. He’s lifted into the carriage, puts on the driver’s bowler hat and surveys all around him.

Tomas Coolahan, who drove the carriage, is double-jobbing. Later on, he’ll be in charge of the staff brought over from his pub in Tarbert to work the two bars in the marquee. His grandparents, Tom and Eileen Healy, met while working for the Knight in Glin Castle. Today, he’s working for nothing: “The Knight asked me to help out, and I wouldn’t let him down because of the family connection.”

In a place where no one knows him, Andre Royo - who played Bubbles, one of The Wire’s most powerful characters - moves from strut to stride as he walks up from the village 45 minutes late. “Hey, where’s the church?” he asks.

No sooner after he sneaks in he’s back outside again as the church empties and Saloon Star, after a change of clothes, unpack their instruments and greet husband and wife with an up-step rendition of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’.

Wendell Pierce spins on his heels every three seconds and breaks a fresh smile every time someone new approaches to tell him how much they loved him as The Bunk. He smirks when asked who lasted longer in O’Shaughnessy’s, him or his great drinking partner Jimmy McNulty. “I gave him a run for his money. I’m from New Orelans, you know”.

The groom, who has family ties to old gentry stock in Borrisokane, injects wry rasping prose into his after-dinner speech: “For many generations we looked down upon the rich veil of the Shannon. I have a vision of my ancestors saying that one day, we will take that land. And so, ten generations later I come, Desmond, to demand the hand of your oldest daughter.”

Later, braziers burn fresh cut timber and pine cones around the castle’s old sundial, as the guests celebrate under a sky lit by fireworks and hilltop bonfires. A man and a woman were married, but the day was like no other.

(All pics Dave Gaynor)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mayor rages against the dying of the light

Some background: this city is called Limerick, and Limerick city has a Mayor. Not a Lord Mayor, now. That kind of genuine attainment never sat well here. Just a Mayor.

At the moment, the Mayor is a man named Kevin Kiely. Next week, it will be someone else. Perhaps.

The elected members of Limerick City Council, in the dark corners that they call home, decided way back when to carve up the mayoralty according to party, hair colour and opinions on What is The Most Appropriate Biscuit to Dunk in Tea.

There's a pre-designated queue to get into that shiny riverfront office, but Cllr Kiely, having had his taste of golden chain gravy, doesn't want to move out.

The Mayor is confident that he can rally enough support next week against the voting pact formed by his own party, Fine Gael, to make sure he breaks precedent and remains Citizen One for another year.

However incase his move fails, which it absolutely will, he is cutting through his last week in office like a stoned infant through crepe paper.

Like an outgoing Bill Clinton scattering presidential pardons to convicted felons, Mayor Kiely is awarding mayoral receptions to all and sundry: community workers; comedians; doctors; model agents; bespectacled tourists who strayed too far from Arthur's Quay and found themselves wrapped in civic dignity and confusion.

It's gotten to the stage now where if you're in this town and you haven't had a mayoral reception, you clearly need to raise your game.

P. S. The Board wishes to temper this argument by confessing that he received a reception from Mayor Kiely back in the day, before they became as common as green fly, and is clearly unhappy that the value of that warm, drunken day in July has been cheapened. Yes, I'm selfish that way.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Revelation of the day

The Board is going to Jerusalem in September, and may accidentally bring peace in the Middle East and his awesome recipe for home-made Sangria with him.

No, you can't have it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Local Fine Gael TDs avoid phones; each other

FINE GAEL MUTINY WATCH DAY TWO - In which our local heroes battle for relevance in the front bench fracas

You can speak to a lot of people on the phone today, if you try hard enough.

Buster Hannan, perhaps, as he bemoans the narcoleptic letterbox men of Garryowen.

Or perhaps even Gary Brooks Faulkner, who was foiled while seeking to personally BRING THE PAIN to Osama Bin Laden.

But three people you'll struggle to get hold of are Kieran O'Donnell, Michael Noonan and Dan Neville.

As Richard Napoleon and Enda Clogsworth carve up their party seeking artillery for the coming firefight, the three Limerick Fine Gael TDs are keeping their powder dry. 

The Board finds this befuddling. His basic remit, you see, is to add sarcasm and toilet humour to the local affairs of the day.

Like any creative infant, The Board has stretched this to include such theses as the Middle East, Tiger Woods' mating habits and the violent subtleties of Jamaican rum.

The local angle is, you see, more of a guideline than a rule.

But when there should, in theory, be three potent Limerick routes to the story of the day, there has as yet been very little joy.

Fortunately it is the Agitator and Leader of Men, he who almost brought down the Government, who has been tasked with cooking the blue stew here.

Because The Board is a delicious sort, he has decided to share this exclusive nugget with you all: They're not saying anything.

As far as we know Kieran O'Donnell is wading through the Nile, Michael Noonan is stress testing the Mars pod and Dan Neville, who we can confirm IS IN THE COUNTY, may be locked in a panic room of some sort.

Stay tuned for more critical updates as the occur.

Revelation of the day

The Board wants one.