Reliving “Sunday, 16th of August, 1998” with Dermot Healy
The Omagh Bombing
Walking along the always windy Ballyconnell beach, up to the mysterious ancient rocky shore known as “Serpent’s Rock,” I knew I was being watched. As they say in this part of Ireland, I could feel the “Hillman’s eyes.” I had my dog Rocky with me, and we were joined by a merry border collie, who pushed big stones with her nose, to beckon me to throw them for her to chase. I had just moved into a 300 year old cottage, right beside the beach, and a 2 minute walk to the home of, who Roddy Doyle called “Ireland’s best writer.” Roddy Doyle was my favorite writer.
After and hour or so, I began heading back to the cottage, which was also known as “old Jimmy Foley’s place.” The border collie kept walking with me, and I really began to feel the eyes on my back. So I turned around to see a man up on the hill, standing as the wind was whipping through his white hair and beard, and the sun was dropping. Jesus if he didn’t look like Bull McCabe (Richard Harris) from the Irish movie, “The Field.” I thought that maybe he thought some stranger was trying to abscond with, who I was soon to find out, “Tiny” the underwater stone fetcher, and BallyConnell Beach tour guide. So I went up the hill as this man stood his ground waiting. He told me he was Dermot Healy and I told him I had just moved into old Jimmy Foley’s cottage. We had a little bit of a chat and I was getting the feeling he was sussing out whether or not I worthy to live there. You see, Jimmy was Dermot’s muse. Jimmy was feeding Dermot the stories and the characters for his many books. Satisfied that I was not trying to nick Tiny, we parted company and my pal Rocky and I were happy enough to have met our neighbors. Dermot offered to meet me the next night at the thatched pub called Ellen’s bar. I lit a fire for Rocky and listened to the wind howl off the ocean.
“A Slice of Lamb”
To paraphrase Irish singer/songwriter, Paul Brady, “this wasn’t meant to be no happy song.” I met Dermot for that pint x 5, in the early evening at Ellen’s Pub. That is when I met the great author, Leland Bardwell. I did not say one word about his or her or any poetry, and the main reason was I never read any of their works. We just talked about everything. Dermot and Leland were the Patriarch and Matriarch of Ballyconnell, Maugherow, and were beloved. After the pints got going Dermot said, “Mick, give us a song.” I said I would if he gave a poem. I was ready with my party piece and sang a song I sang to my babies as I rocked them to sleep. It was “I Will” by the Beatles. I think he and the pub folk were mildly impressed that I didn’t flinch. So Dermot returned the favor by giving me a Yeats poem and one of his own. Then, it was time for Dermot “to go home to Helen for the spuds.” I was just saying Slan to him when he asked, “would you like to join us for a slice of lamb?” We set a time and I wobbled home to the cottage, which actually was set on “Loughan” The Irish for “the place of the birds.” The walk with the birds would do me good.
“This Wasn’t Meant to be no Happy Song.”
Paraphrasing Irish Singer/Songwriter, Paul Brady’s line from “The Island” – no this is not a happy song at all. This was around 2001 and Dermot had just released his book “The Reed Bed.” I went up for the spuds and tea and when we were finished, Helen excused herself, I suppose to do the washing up. Dermot suddenly became very serious with me. He said “you like poetry, you do.” I said of course. He took a sip of his tea and said “do you know about Omagh?” I said I did and “Jesus, 29 people killed up there in the North a couple years ago.” “It was Sunday the 16th of August” he said quietly. He then got out of his chair and said “I’ll be right back.”
He came back holding a DVD, and asked if I minded if he played something for me. I was delighted to say yes, but I kept with his mannerism and stayed a little solemn. He put on the recording. It seems he had just been to the North and he was asked to recite a particular poem from his new book. It was an auditorium filled with people from as they say “both communities.” In the video, Dermot was sitting on the one chair on the stage. All he said was “Sunday, the 16th of August.” It was just him and the wounded Irish people in Northern Ireland. Dermot is from Cavan on the border. In the video, he started reciting the poem, a poem I was not aware of. In the middle of the poem, Dermot, who was sitting next to me now, got up slowly and walked out of the room. He came back when it was finished. He had tears in his eyes. The man, this Bull McCabe was crying in front of a Yank. He couldn’t bear hearing his own words about that terrible tragedy.
And so, we cried.
Please listen to Dermot and cry along with us: http://www.troublesarchive.com/artforms/contemporary-music/piece/sunday-16th-august-1998
“As if the bomb had damaged time itself.”
~In memory of the 29 innocents of Omagh. 20 years ago today.
Dermot Healy RIP 2014. The President of Ireland came to his funeral in Ballyconnell