Thursday 27 May 2021

Man U - Mets - Too Late to Turn back?

What is it about sports teams? You don’t know their players, never been for a pint with the owners, and yet you follow them from near cradle to the grave.


There are two such teams in my life, though on reflection my loyalty has faced some challenges down the years.


I’ve never even seen Manchester United play in the flesh, a situation that’s unlikely to change. I’ve rarely even watched them on television over the last five years, because for the most part they’re a crowd of unmotivated, overpaid wasters who regularly ruin my Saturdays and have wreaked havoc with my liver.


I won’t even get into their managers. Since the almighty Alex Ferguson retired 8 years ago and took his “half-time hairdryer” with him we’ve had four who wouldn’t have lasted a week with the vaunted Bells of Hell XI.


Well, Ole Solskjaer is decent, with a bit of luck we might finish second in this year’s Premier League; but his game plan for inspiring his prima donnas by giving up an early goal is severely wanting.  Oh for the days of Roy Keane!


Still Man. U have finally found Edinson Cavani, an hombre who knows how to score goals – and there’s always next year – if my sanity and liver hold up!


As to my dark secret: I once considered changing allegiance to our sworn enemies, Liverpool FC.


This all came about in Paddy Reilly’s. In Black 47’s early days when the lines snaked around the block, a group of Liverpool supporters showed up and became fervent fans.


Sensing a lucrative entry to the UK market, I passed off my allegiance to Man. U as a casual crush. Besotted by our music, these lovable Scousers forgave me. 


As it turned out, they regularly flew back to the ‘Pool on Friday nights and began to sing our “Livin’ in America” song on the Anfield terraces.


Lo and behold, their chant became popular with the locals and I was eventually presented with a cassette of a full-blooded version that would make your hair stand on end.


Had Livin’ in America even approached the stature of Gerry Marsden’s You’ll Never Walk Alone I might well have swopped sides, and thus saved my brittle constitution from regular bouts of Saturday morning indigestion.


Talk about “wait until next year!” What team comes automatically to mind? You got it, the Amazin’ Mets! What masochist bestowed that particular adjective on the boys from Flushing?


I didn’t even like baseball at first, it reminded me of an unending, lethargic game of Rounders. How did I first get introduced to it? You guessed it – in a saloon, by name of Tomorrow’s Lounge in Bay Ridge where I resided.


And guess who was the favorite team in that wondrous haven. Let’s just say it wasn’t the Yankees. My romance with the Mets blossomed over long sultry evenings spent amidst the pale fumes of Rheingold.


The game suited me. You don’t have to pay much attention, just sense the tension rising from the crowd, then cheer along or curse your head off as the case may be, before turning once again to solve the world’s problems with your cronies.


Of course there was Keith Fernandez! I loved him as a player and still hang on his every irreverent syllable as a commentator. He has told more truths than any president, an easy task over the last four years.


My faith in the Mets was shook to the core in 1986, for my first cousin, Charlie Kerfeld, a relief pitcher with the Astros, almost sent them packing from the playoffs.


Talk about a game of divided loyalties.


But after striking out two batters, Charlie was pulled for the closer who imploded, and the Amazin’s went on to win the World Series.


Amazin’ or not, my bond with these boys of summer is bone deep – because of the Mets, Black 47 played Shea Stadium more times than the Beatles, albeit for Irish Night. 


Has all the passion and energy spent been worth it?  Well, I shudder to think what else I might have been up to! 


Besides, I perennially live in hope that a time will come when you won’t have to hear this Man-Met say, “Wait until next year!”

Friday 7 May 2021

Bobby Sands MP - 40 years on

 "They came from all over the city, down by subway from Inwood and the Bronx, over the bridges and through the tunnels from Queens and Brooklyn, or by ferry in from Staten Island. They drove or took buses from Jersey, Connecticut, Upstate, Pennsylvania. 


They came from far and wide to make their views known and their voices heard outside the British consulate on Third Avenue.
They were all part of the tribe, come to protest the imminent death through voluntary starvation of a young chieftain. And make no mistake Bobby Sands was a leader to these people with more moral authority than any trumped up Taoiseach back in Dublin…”
Forty years ago today Bobby Sands passed away. Many of us were changed by those strange, foreboding days. The tribe never changed, never forgot either nor forgave.
“Not a lace curtain to hang between them, they were the faithful who kept the flame of Irish Republicanism alive in the back rooms of smoky pubs at Sunday evening socials throbbing with the music of accordions, fiddles and banjos.
They were the hard core who gladly forked out crumpled twenty-dollar bills in the hope that one day a united Ireland might become a reality, and not just another pipe dream fueled by chasers of cheap beer and shots of Powers Whiskey.”
I called them the tribe because you always saw the same faces at protests, although they held widely varying views on the nature of their mythic united Ireland. 
Accordingly, they were the first to show up outside the British Consulate when Sands went on hunger strike. They could have made it there blindfolded for many had been tramping up and down Third Avenue since the Troubles flared once more in1968.
“They were an odd bunch: serious and cerebral by times, chatty and cliquish at others, but I liked them and admired both their integrity and single-minded devotion to Irish unity. I suppose they reminded me of my grandfather. One in particular even looked like him: white haired, squat and muscular with a face set in granite, conviction cased in steel, all his instincts tuned to the force of his own moral compass.”
My grandfather had raised me in an old barracks of a house in Wexford. I had ingested his version of Irish history and, at an early age, could debate all the old arguments, though I disappointed him with my love for the “turncoat” Mick Collins.
He had been dead some years and I was now living on the Lower East Side, frequenting CBGB'S and other temples of the cool. Long before his passing I had distanced myself from the old ideologies and the violence that attended them. Still every now and then in the back of my mind I’d hear his echo, “Every generation must do their part to solve the British problem in the North of Ireland.”
Bobby Sands had his own mantra, “No one can do everything, but everyone has their part to play.”
Both voices had begun to reassert themselves in my psyche when Sands had invoked an ancient Irish tribal right, “When wronged by your more powerful neighbor go starve yourself on his doorstep until the shame causes him to relent.”
It was a battle to the end. The Iron Lady, Mrs. Thatcher, would prevail but it would be a hollow Pyrrhic victory, for a new generation had been politicized by Sands’ protest and would hand down its own folk memory. 
There would be many dark and dangerous days before the ballot box would finally replace the Armalite but, oddly enough, the first seeds were scattered on poisoned soil forty years ago.
“Still the tribe never faltered or lost faith. Right to the bitter end, they came in by subway from Inwood and the Bronx, over the bridges and through the tunnels from Queens and Brooklyn, or by ferry in from Staten Island. They drove or took buses from Jersey, Connecticut, Upstate, Pennsylvania. And I will never forget them.”
Excerpts from “Green Suede Shoes – An Irish-American Odyssey” by Larry Kirwan, published by Thunder’s Mouth Press/Avalon.

The Healing Has Begun


The ospreys are back. I began looking out for them in early March, but it took at least four weeks before I could confirm my first sighting. 


From a distance it’s easy to mistake these raptors for large seagulls; gulls however don’t tend to hover in the same manner, and certainly don’t dive at such vertical angles into shallow waters.


As they say back in Wexford, “the rale thing don’t disappoint.”


I had heard that ospreys are often exhausted from their long journey back to the North-East from Florida, the Caribbean, or even South America, but the first one I spotted was in fine fettle as she carried a sizeable fish back to her nest in the nearby bogland.


Ospreys tend to keep the same mate but they return from their winter home separately. The female is often first back, perhaps to make a dent in the spring-cleaning, or more likely to secure last year’s nest.


She will wait a goodly time for the male’s arrival, but only so much and no more.


The procreative instinct is apparently stronger than romantic loyalty, and the female will choose another male if her mate is too tardy.


Since my ospreys were fishing in tandem within days of first sighting I can only surmise that this particular union continues.


Last year I didn’t even realize they had departed until mid-October. Do you remember those days? We were six or seven months into the pandemic and in the thick of the presidential election. It was a turbulent time, to say the least.


Ospreys were way down most people’s list of important matters. I missed them keenly though. They had been faithful companions through many a bleary dawn.


It was a grim autumn, with promise of a bitter winter. Not to put too fine a point on it, the country was reeling.


That tends to happen when the highest official in the land has little concern for truth and scientific fact. You begin to feel that things you took for granted are based on a flimsy foundation.


Who would have imagined that truth could be so easily swept aside by the poisonous babble of social media’s echo chamber?


Take away scientific fact and what’s left - the biggest pig at the trough, the loudest, most aggressive bawler?


This is nothing new in American politics – after all, Burr shot Hamilton, and people of color, immigrants, Catholics, socialists, and many others have felt the lash of political recrimination and discrimination.


But truth and scientific fact have always somehow managed to reassert themselves and help redress grievances.


You could feel the pressure building last fall after the sitting president made the outrageous statement, “the only way we’re going to lose the election is if the election is rigged.”


It didn’t help that Covid-19 was sweeping the land, the economy was tanking, and millions had lost their jobs. Was it any wonder our foundation quaked?


America was experiencing a dark night of the soul that culminated in a day of bullyboy disgrace on January 6th.


But the foundation held. Many people drew on the reserves of their core beliefs, be they Bible, Quran, or just plain logic. 


We saw QAnon and all the other craven fantasies for what they are – rubbish. Truth and scientific fact may not always be comforting, but when the chips are down they wipe the floor with unfounded conspiracy theories.


There’s a new president in office now. He’ll undoubtedly make his mistakes – but he doesn’t have a psychotic need to be at the center of every argument. Does he even have a Twitter account? I don’t know and I care less. I value silence and have no interest in being anyone’s follower.


A corner has been rounded – vaccination is in full swing and we seem to have blunted the razor edge of this pandemic.


Everything is far from okay in our democracy – that’s the nature of the beast. But it beats the yokel mob rule of January 6th.


The country is coming to its senses, the weather is improving, we can mix again without too much risk of infecting each other, and the ospreys have returned. 


Soon their chicks will be born, and they’ll work from dawn to dusk to feed them.  A new cycle has started. The healing has begun.