Sunday, July 04, 2004

Coming down to Earth

I started writing this at 17,000 feet on the way home from having spent 24 hours in a part of my own country where I hadn't been for 25 years.

Which is a strange thing to say, given that Ireland is a very small country. But for some reason, I haven't been right up to the top north-west corner of Donegal for yonks.

More fool me.

Well, maybe that's being a little hard on myself. No matter where we're from, most of us use the 'grass is greener on the other side of the hill' system. And forget our own 'back gardens'.

Anyway, I know I told you earlier that I was up in Donegal to drive vans. But that's not the point of this piece. Nor, even, is the undoubted beauty of the county.

It was on the bus journey back to Donegal Airport at Bunbeg where I was reminded how much 'heroism' is local.

There are two real 'heroes' in Donegal. One is a singer and the other a footballer, best known for his goalkeeping prowess in the soccer variety. Daniel O'Donnell is the guy with the voice which thrills the hearts of mainly middle-aged women across Ireland and Britain. Packie Bonnar the one with the safe pair of hands who did something heroic in a few soccer games that ended somewhere in Italy, some years ago ...

Hmmm ... maybe I don't seem overawed by either?

Nope, not overawed. But I absolutely understand and applaud both of those people, who represent in their own spheres as good as it gets for people like them. And as good as it gets, in both cases, is far and away better than I'm ever likely to get in my own discipline.

And both are far wealthier than I'll ever be. Which is equally fair enough.

I think I'm trying to make it clear that I'm not begrudging either man anything.

But some bad thinkers might believe that what follows is a putter-down. It isn't.

I'm talking, remember, about the importance of a local hero to his locals.

And just how much they are locally appreciated became clear when me and my colleagues were being bussed back to Donegal Airport after that previously mentioned Mercedes-Benz van gig.

The driver took the long way back. OK, it was only by a couple of miles, and any local person involved in tourism would have done the same. Though at one stage, those in charge of the event vocalised their concerns that we had 'a plane to catch', he wasn't perturbed.

"I'll get you there."

Local knowledge is a great thing.

The rest of us weren't concerned. Years of international travelling has us like that, that 'if you miss one plane, there's always another with space for passengers'. As long as somebody's credit card holds out, so will we.

So we got driven past the football ground where Packie Bonnar used to play as a younger person and for his local club. And we were shown where he worked to make the wages.

It was the same with Daniel. We got to see the local co-op 'where he had his first job'. And the school where he studied enough to get into that co-op. And then the house where he lived until he got married, and 'now his mother lives there'. That was the same place, we were told, where he had those famous 'tea parties' where thousands of people queued up on a special weekend of the year to have a cup of tea in Daniel's garden.

We were all hardened journalists, and neither Daniel O'Donnell nor Packie Bonnar were of much real interest to most of us. But it was nice to see just how much both those local heroes were held in local esteem. It was even humbling, really, though I reckon none of us would ever admit to that.

We were all hardened ... etc.

But maybe we're not?

The plane brought me down to earth a long time before I realised that something else had done that to me before I even took off.

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