Flying the Leitrim flag in Dublin - the launch of the 2017 Leitrim Supporters Club in the Celtic Suite in Croke Park last Thursday. Photo by Willie Donnellan
One of the joys I have repeatedly sought in my life is to host good friends and family and blend together their shared memories into one collective experience.
I inherited from both parents the two sides that make up this coin. For my mother, Mae, to host was unavoidable. The scale of what constituted daily dinner for her family of twelve children would have been considered a dinner party by any other standard. A dinner party it was not, I can assure you, when we sat at the table!
The sumptuous spreads she and my sisters would prepare when we were cutting silage ensured that it was never hard to round up men for the Regan house Meitheal. In addition to these planned and expected gatherings, Mum would also have to put up daily with Dad’s inevitable and impromptu congregations.
These could range from a couple of hitchhikers he met on the road to a band that was playing in some pub in Bundoran; or perhaps a German family who stopped and asked if they could photograph him and his horse and gig, or the visiting bishop who, after church, was invited for Sunday dinner.
It was an open house with a revolving door. The fridge and larder appeared always full or at least seemed to replenish itself, augmented by monthly trips to Enniskillen to fill every available space in the car with comestibles, cross border journeys that would define many of my pre-teen Saturdays.
My late father’s idea of a gathering had a wilder edge. He too could play the perfect host but it was his devilment & gregarious nature that bound those in his company together. Dad’s culinary prowess stretched to watery porridge, a fry, and a bacon and cabbage dinner. Once, in Mum’s absence, he put the electric kettle on the gas hob to predictably melty results.
You never knew what he might come out with or come up with and while whiskey and poitín occasionally played a lubricating role, Dad needed no inebriation to create fun and mayhem. His greatest gift was his ability to disarm and he saw no difference between pauper or Pope, knight or knave. He came to life in company and fed off the energy of others, in both large crowds or intimate settings.
One of his favourite pastimes was to ramble with elderly friends and neighbours and while away an hour or two chewing the cud and spreading some company.
My parents came to mind more than once last Thursday as the Dublin branch of the Leitrim Supporters Club played host to another great gathering in Croke Park. The evening’s feel and ambiance could just as easily see it translocated to the Ballroom of Romance or the Mayflower in Drumshanbo, or even Jimmy’s of Dromod. But there’s no mistaking that the venue lends to the night a special feel.
As I sat making a few final notes it brought genuine joy to my heart to see so many familiar and smiling Leitrim faces meet and greet one and other as they gathered once more to celebrate in the capital the place we all call home. For many, those hands hadn’t shaken since the last such gathering 12 months prior.
Each year a few new faces appear while another few will walk Leitrim’s ways no more, few leaving a greater footprint than the late, great Dermot Gallagher, a man whose gentle ways always set me at immediately at ease.
Our small committee has been blessed to include amongst our numbers people like Fearghal McGill, Seamus Lavin, Damien Kellegher, Gerry McLaughlin, Cathal Flynn & Richie Doran, who are walking moulds of vastly different Leitrim men, yet cut from the same tree. Lumps of other lads and lassies assist in the important business of selling Supporters Club tickets.
Each year we ask some of the greatest musicians and artists the county has ever seen ‘would you help us make the night a memorable one’ and they all simply say yes. This year St. Mary’s Ballad and Instrumental groups answered the call, Connacht champions both.
This year we also got to pull a fast one on Willie Donnellan, the man who has captured a million faces of Leitrim.
I’ve known Willie a long time and I’ve never seen him as genuinely shocked as when Eamonn Duignan and Mike Feeney presented him with a lovely portrait to thank him for his years of support to Leitrim GAA and service to the county as a whole. We figured a photographer would never have a picture of himself.
But trust two Ballinamore men to pull the fastest one of them all. Tommy Moran and Seán Ó Suílleabháin, only called upon when they arrived in Croke Park to provide a little light entertainment, prepped an impromptu performance that brought the house down.
No one was spared their dual-edged sword of razor-sharp wit and wry dry humour. They chopped me down to size, having already dissected the Leitrim county board, the new senior football management team, Joe Leydon, any assembled political representative, the aforementioned Willie and his partner in photographic crime, James Molloy.
It was the perfect Leitrim end to a lovely Leitrim gathering. Mum would have been proud of the spread we put on and Dad would have wanted to be stuck in the middle of it.