EVEN HOW WE WATCH MOVIES IS CHANGING.

Originally published in January 2021

It’s probably fair enough to suggest that over the last five years or so – and particularly during these prolonged periods of ongoing lockdown – our reliance on visual entertainment has sky-rocketed; on par with that of the 1980s and 1990s.

Mind you, back in those days, we still had other things to keep us entertained. Going outside being one.

Amid all the binge-culture we’ve fallen into though, it’s easy to see that not only movies and television shows are changing, but also how we, as an audience, watch them.

In 2017, Anthony Mackie spoke very openly (and often comically) about how the movie experience has changed so dramatically since the eighties. I’ve no plans to simply regurgitate everything the man said that day but the crux of it was “back in those days, going to the movies was an experience … a family thing … but not anymore.”

He alluded to how a summer blockbuster would come out and “everyone wanted to see the new Stallone movie or the new Schwarzenegger movie.” The shiny silver screen provided a wonderful source of escapism for those few hours and memories of the pre-screening trailers or perhaps the aroma of popcorn came flooding back to so many.

I tend to imagine that when movies were in production back in those days, the only public backlash they feared was either a bad review in Variety magazine or a grilling from tv critics like Siskel and Ebert or Barry Norman. The very notion of keyboard warriors tearing a film to pieces for its use of cultural appropriation and political correctness was still a long way off yet.

The era that brought us so many longlasting spectacles such as Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Ghostbusters – the one true version – and Dirty Dancing (more so for the ladies) were an absolute trip to watch.

It was also the beginning of a time when Hollywood cast much younger actors in lead roles and the use of soundtrack grew in equal importance to the narrative itself.

Now I don’t profess to be any sort of a science-fiction geek. I can take or leave Star Wars and had it not been for the sheer hotness of Vanessa Angel in the tv adaptation of Weird Science, I doubt I’d have ever snuck a sneak-peek when nobody else was around.

Having said that, even I can appreciate just how truly magnificent some of these movies must’ve first looked to an awe-struck audience in cinemas all across the world. And to their immense credit, I believe the CGI-images of Jurassic Park, Toy Story and others like the ones mentioned earlier, still hold up handsomely on screen all these years later. 

Popping back to Mackie for a moment, he also told in that particular press conference that so many movies from back then just wouldn’t get the green light from studios to go ahead today. I know what you’re thinking. ‘It’s all because of that bloody PC-Brigade!’ Truth is, that’s part of it, but not the main reason.

It boils down to the fact that movies are now tailored to the tastes of cinema-goers in Asia more so than they are for Western audiences. The dominant genre in box office sales over the last decade or so has been that of the superhero and this is evidenced by the coinage of terms such as the ‘Marvel Universe’ and ‘DCEU’ amongst their fans online.

Heroes assembling to fight off the giant foe while city landscapes get crumbled to pieces has always been a fan-favourite in the likes of China and Japan. It’s no secret either that Hollywood movies are carefully re-edited before being sent to the far east and that’s nothing new either.

If anything, this all echoes back to the days when 1962’s King Kong vs Godzilla (which doesn’t hold up well with regard to advanced filming technologies) had entirely different endings over who won the final battle. It just depended on whether you watched the movie at a screening in the likes New York or Tokyo.

Long before Covid though, the days of family movie trips for a Saturday matinee or a midnight viewing already seemed to be dwindling and rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Ticket prices and combis have risen considerably in price and because we now live in a time where we have our own big screens and sound systems at home, why bother paying out anymore than you need to?

We also live in a consumer culture of series watching. Even Channel 4’s streaming service often promotes their own content as ‘binge-worthy.’

Water cooler and staff room talk will often veer to the question about a given Netflix or Amazon Prime series; where one has to be careful not to let too many spoilers out because others may not have had a chance to binge as much just yet. And when a movie leaves the cinema, chances are it’ll appear on your IPTV Firestick before too long.

Be that as it may, I’m certainly not opposed to an aul series fest myself – Cobra Kai being the latest – but from past experience, I always feel that, even a great series, will nearly always let you down in the end. It was said of Game of Thrones, Lost and The Sopranos in the last fifteen years alone. 

I mean seriously, Tony Soprano, a hardline kick-ass mob boss running the show in New Jersey becoming a buffoon of a man who has dream sequences about talking cartoon-like fish heads? And then him riding horseback through houses? Good God! Do me a favour!

Nonetheless, it’s all somewhat sad to know that the cinema experience is not what it used to be and that it’s unlikely that it ever will be again. In my own hometown of Letterkenny, I admit that Joker (2019) was the last film I saw in there but yet I’m totally oblivious as to which film – or even which year – was my visit before that.

And the cinema where I used to frequent more regularly on Saturday afternoons throughout the nineties on the Port Road is now an used building where the renovations would have you believe there was never even a theatre there at all.

The days of gaping out the school bus window when we drove past it on a Friday morning just to see the staff put up the new billboards and screening times is a memory that lives with me.

Even though it did take me three desperate attempts to blag my way in to see Dumb and Dumber back in 1995. I was 10 and a half in the real world, but while I was in those queues, I’d somehow jumped to 12!

Movies are still great entertainment (well, some of them) but in these heady days, don’t be surprised to see their quality decline and a preference for nostalgia-based viewing to go up.

“And They Get the Equalizer…”

DID JUST ONE HEADED GOAL CHANGE CELTIC FC FOREVER?

By Jonathan Foley

Celtic Football Club enjoy a wealth of support from across Scotland, the world and even our own wee Donegal and they are widely known for the passionate following of this great club.

Just to cater to our younger fans for a second however, many of them who I know and come across in schools or in local sports clubs, have lived the vast majority of their lives so-far with only seeing Celtic success. 

They’re the blessed ones because as the elders will remind them, in the not too distant past, seeing the Hoops lift silverware was often a rare privilege and not a formality.

Being something of an amateur historian of football, particularly with the history of Celtic, I decided to pry into the single moment that maybe – just maybe – was the defining moment that changed the course of the club’s history during my lifespan.

And for me, that was a 91st minute header by Alan Stubbs against Rangers (who else?) on the rainy night of Wednesday 19th November, 1997.

With Rangers leading the game through a Marco Negri goal that he’d rammed home twenty minutes earlier, Celtic were in crisis but thankfully, a late penalty box scramble saw the ball come into the path of Celtic winger, Jackie McNamara.

A deft cross with his right peg hung in the air on a damp and drizzly night just as Alan Stubbs rose high above three Rangers defenders to score a, not so much a bullet of a heade, but more of an aptly placed one.

Then with a capacity of 50,000, Celtic Park erupted!

You may ask though, if this was only to achieve a 1-1 draw against Rangers twenty years ago, how can it be so relevant to the great gulf of success that Celtic have in their wonderful 133-year  old history? 

To understand why this goal was so important, let’s turn the clocks back a decade before this night.

The club’s fairytale end to the 1988 season couldn’t have gone much better as that team lifted the Premier Division and Scottish Cup double in what was their centenary season. It seemed that this team had the capabilities to go on and achieve more but it was not to be. In the years that followed, Celtic would fall away both on the field of play and off it.

Rangers became utterly dominant; the golden representatives of Scottish football. They had big nights in the newly formed Champions League, they were attracting major players from both England and abroad as well gathering millions upon millions of pounds in revenue. 

So what of Celtic?

Across the city during the 1990s, Celtic plummeted to an all-time low. 

Fans were aiming their frustrations at the board and boycotts became common as the club sank into financial turmoil. The club went through a series of panic-signed managers and by the end of the 1994-95 campaign, they’d become regular finishers in the third-to-fifth positions. Unheard of today.

Despite an important cup success in 1995 under the late Tommy Burns, Celtic could still not get close to catching Rangers in the all-important league title chases.

Behind the scenes though, things were starting to look a little better. Fergus McCann invested heavily into converting Celtic to a PLC and plans were made to reconstruct the stadium into what it is now.

On the field, even with gradually improved performances, wonderful attacking game-plans and exciting foreign players coming in, success was still illusive as Rangers homed in Celtic’s previous 9-in-a-row record from the 1966-74 seasons.

Even with the mercurial talents of Paolo DiCanio, Jorge Cadete and Pierre van Hooijdunk now leading the Celtic frontline, they would still fall short in the head-to-head and often heated clashes with their rivals.

Sure enough, in May of 1997, Rangers went on to clinch that ninth title and as their fans danced in the streets, ours mourned the loss of a cherished record.

The summer of 1997 also offered Celtic fans little to look forward to.

All three of those high-profile players mentioned walked out of the club and with loyal captain, Paul McStay, opting to retire, things seemed like worse to come. Rangers were roaring favourites to now go on and overtake Celtic as they sought to reach the unprecedented ten-in-a-row.

Changes were afoot however. An unknown Dutch coach named Wim Jansen was drafted in as well as nine new players throughout the season; two of which included a dreadlocked Swede called Henrik Larsson and a European Cup winner in Paul Lambert. On the field again though, it looked as though nothing had changed – at least at first anyway.

By the time Celtic lined out to lock horns with Rangers in mid-to-late November, they’d already lost four league games that season.

Two of which had come in a period of twelve days building up to the game. So with Rangers leading with just seconds remaining at Parkhead, Stubbs’s late leveller looked only to be a blush-sparing equaliser at the time.  We know now that it was so much more.

Celtic gained immense confidence from this draw and six months later would win the league to stop the ten-in-a-row. Not without its nail-biting moments and frustrations of course, but it was done. One can’t help but ponder the hypotheticals if Rangers had won that night and gone on to win ‘the ten’ (or more!) after that.

In the two decades since then, Celtic have undoubtedly had their disappointments in Scotland and in Europe, but in overall sense, they’ve recorded a copious amounts of cherished memories and success; of which our local support here in the town has witnessed through the generations since. The true dominant force.

Martin O’Neill’s treble season, the epic voyage to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville, winning the ‘Title for Tommy’ against all odds and beating illustrious European opposition like Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester United, AC Milan and Barcelona in recent times are only the tip of the iceberg.

Not to mention the famous the latest treble winning seasons; of which we saw an undefeated domestic run (2026-17), in what was the 50th anniversary of the Lisbon Lions’ most glorious campaign.

Yes, Rangers / Sevco / Newco / The Rangers (whatever!) have had their fiscal worries … but that’s none of my business.

So just to raise the question again: “did just one headed goal change Celtic FC forever?”

Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. Perhaps it was other factors, but it did certainly help the famous Grand Old Team immensely in shaping their future. Paradise Lost? Paradise Found!

IRELAND’S SCOURGED HARVEST.

Published 13 November 2020

Last night, Ireland suffered yet another defeat in 2020 and never once looked like scoring.

Yeah England’s 3-0 win was hardly worth celebrating and it begs the question, are Ireland really in the football abyss just now?

Alright, it was only a friendly, we’d a fair few players unavailable for selection and the new manager is only new to the hot seat.

Ireland fans – usually so renowned for fervent passion in their support and vocal devotion to the team – took to social media and spat venom at the new gaffer and his approach to the last few games. 

Not all Ireland supporters were as active in the art of waging war behind the safety of a keypad, however. Some took it for what it was – a friendly – or an adjustment period for Stephen Kenny. 

From a personal perspective, despite the somewhat doom and gloom undertones of the previous paragraphs, I’m siding with ‘the glass is half full’ option. 

Albeit in glimpses, Kenny is showing early signs of intent for how he wants his team to play in the future. Surely, there’s no harm in using this time to experiment before the World Cup qualifying starts next year.

Taking over the job two-thirds of the way through a campaign was always going to be a tall order.

He certainly wasn’t helped by a growing list of injuries – which the congested season is throwing up to no end for everyone – and the bewildering Covid issue that ruled Aaron Connolly out of the crunch game against Slovakia last month. 

Bar a late header by Shane Duffy against Bulgaria in a 1-1 draw back in September, Ireland have consistently fired blanks in front of goal in no less than five of their matches since. 

While doing punditry  for ITV on Thursday night, Roy Keane couldn’t resist a pop. Bluntly stating that “you’re not gonna do much when yer center-half is your best attacker.” 

Although he’d never own up to it, Keano might love a bit of the limelight with his comments about players, but he had a real point with this on, to be fair. 

One can’t help but feel that there are more deep-rooted issues afoot though. 

We all know that John Delaney’s shambolic behaviour has essentially bankrupted the Association. 

Our inability to qualify for major tournaments has made the lure of the ‘granny rule’ seem somewhat less appealing to non-Irish born players and, here at home, we’re not producing the talent that we used to.

Cast your mind back to Italia 90. The bulk of that squad was filled with players playing their club football at the likes of Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Manchester United and Celtic. 

Arguably the top five clubs in Britain at the time. 

Flash forward to USA 94. 

Manchester United were establishing themselves as the dominant force in the new Premier League era and that served Ireland well; the Cork duo of Denis Irwin and the aforementioned Roy Keane being central figures to those successes.

Aston Villa were the main contenders to Alex Ferguson and  Man United’s dash for the league title the season before the World Cup.

And shortly before the main event got underway during that summer in America, the Villains halted United’s charge for a domestic treble by beating them in the Coca-Cola Cup Final. 

In doing so, they had a notable sprinkling of Irish internationals through the likes of Paul McGrath, Andy Townsend and Ray Houghton all being standouts.

Blend all that with the embedded experience of Packie Bonner, John Aldridge, Steve Staunton, and John Sheridan as well as the new kids on the block of that time (Gary Kelly, Phil Babb and Jason McAteer), it’s little wonder why we were ranked sixth in the world around this time.

Moving on to 2002. 

Although the tag-line that “Keane got that team to the World Cup on his own” may bear some truth, it does carry a degree of hyperbole. 

In the away game to Cyprus, he papered over the cracks of the team with two goals of his own and an exemplary all-round performance. 

“But we’re two-nil up, Roy” exclaimed Gary Breen to an irate captain as the two sides headed for the dressing room at half-time. “That’s not the f**king point!” was the retort. 

A discussion that is so clearly visible in the footage of that game, that training in lip-reading wasn’t the slightest bit necessary.

The Corkman carried that steely resolve through to the sell-out showpiece matches against Portugal and the Netherlands during that campaign. 

His performances in those have gone down in that of legendary folklore on a par with the tales of CuChulainn slaying the Hound.

And yet, while he might have had grievances about the setup when the team arrived at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the tropical island of Saipan, his ‘one man team’ reputation was perhaps a little undeserving. 

Ireland had a considerable number of Premier League captains within that particular group. 

Mick McCarthy had molded a side, overtime, that played football on the deck and used wingers to much greater effect. Progressing with the times after the era of Jack Charlion and the long ball had vanquished.

The likes of Shay Given, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff were star quality that have never really been replaced. 

The latter two having tasted early success and highs with underage teams managed by Brian Kerr. Some of them going on to become revered  legends at their respective clubs not long after. 

Steve Finnan was a consistently strong performer, Gary Breen and Kevin Kilbane played above their stature in that tournament and the likes of Mark Kinsella, Matt Holland and Gary Kelly had maturity beyond their years.

Back then, our top players relied heavily on plying their trade with the clubs of note in the Premier League, but it doesn’t work that way anymore.

That tournament in 2002 was one that got away from us. 

With Argentina, France and Italy all bowing out early and the likes of Senegal, Turkey, USA and South Korea reaching the latter stages, who’s to say what might have been if we’d beaten Spain on penalties.

I guess we’ll never know, but what we do know is that despite the divide brought about The Saipan Affair, the support for the team was unyielding and remained strong.

It still does, but it’s taking a different turn. 

We used to chant ‘Ooh Aah Paul McGrath’ from the terraces and bellow out how ‘we all dream of a team of Gary Breens’ but social media has thwarted that. 

We moaned to the high heavens that Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton was a daft choice as manager – not helped by the likes of broadcaster Joe Duffy giving an awful slaying to the late Sir Bobby Robson for having the sheer audacity for not having Stan on speed dial (Heaven Forbid!) – and that Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill were ‘spoofers.’

In the last month alone, Jeff Hendrick has been publicly slated online for having the occasional off-game for Newcastle and Shane Duffy has sadly become the victim of pelters even from his own fans at Celtic.

God knows how many rants Eamon Dunphy went on.

The return of McCarthy to the helm had us questioning his lack of creativity and now that Kenny looks as though he wants to get them playing ball, he’s in the fans’ firing line. 

Looking at Scotland qualifying the other night, I will admit I couldn’t help but feel a tad envious. 

Andy Robertson of Liverpool as their captain, Kieran Tierney now a regular at Arsenal, Scott McTominay at United and numerous players who’ve picked up a wealth of experience playing pressure games for Celtic and Rangers. 

More than that though, Steve Clark had gone through a turbulent start as their manager and now he’s pride of the nation. 

The pundits on the night were Darren Fletcher and James McFadden and they were filled to the brim of positive energy. 

Their delight was of course understandable and while it’s easy to sing when you’re winning, but they were also looking to the future. Praising the possibility that this could ignite the passions of young Scots to create future success stories. 

Maybe the former Everton man was jumping the gun, but to their immense credit, the Scottish Football Association has tightened up in how it operates and with major tournaments opening their doors to bigger numbers, who’s to stop them?

It’s so wrong to point the finger at Stephen Kenny for all our woes when there’s an entirely new infrastructure needed behind the scenes.

As fans, we might be onlookers, but surely this new trend of publicly slating our own players has to get chucked with immediate effect.

If one of our lads misplaces a pass or fails to find the net (again!), let it sit. It’s only the Nations’ League after all.

We were maybe never as good as we made ourselves out to be during the better days – that’s debatable – but we’re certainly not always as bad as we make things out to be either.

Harvests get scourged but they can also be sown again. 

@JohnnyFoley1984

21st CENTURY AMERICA

Originally published in October 2020.

Upon the recent anniversary of 9/11, minds were cast back to that fateful day in 2001 from those of us old enough to remember it. Where we were, how we heard, what we thought. All likely topics to have cropped up in conversations last month.

By Jonathan Foley

Nineteen years on, however, one cannot help but think how the overriding emotions and perspectives of America have undergone a most profound transformation in the last two decades.

What was once an outpouring of sympathy and messages of solidarity with the United States has transformed in more recent times to that of anguish, heated debate and perhaps even pity towards our transatlantic neighbours. 

I was a sixteen year old secondary school pupil – not far off seventeen – on Tuesday 11 September, 2001 and a fifth year student of Saint Eunan’s College in Letterkenny. 

I’d spent the previous summer working every hour available; in a sports shop during the daytime  and collecting glasses in bars at night. It was my first true experience of making a pound I could call my own,

After the summer had been and gone, schooldays were back in the routine and I’d promised myself – as well a previously nagging principal – that I would be turning a new leaf from here on in. 

Less than two weeks into the return to school, things were going well. Teachers – who I’d occasionally raised a few concerns with before – were giving me a fresh start and I was quietly determined to reward their faith. 

On the day of 9/11 itself, rumblings came through the classrooms. “Here! Did yous hear? Apparently something wile’s after happening in America! It’s like something out of a film!” I recall one fellow student uttering. 

As part of my newfound studious regime, I avoided the temptation to become so easily distracted in classes anymore. ‘America can wait! I’ve Shakespeare’s Macbeth to be studying,’ I told myself. 

It was only really when I got home that evening and saw the live footage of the flames engulfing the World Trade Centre that it began to sink in what I was truly witnessing. 

For all intents and purposes, this was the first time I knew of a single terrorist act that was being watched and talked about the whole world over. 

Growing up, I’d heard of things like the Berlin Wall coming down, the Gulf War crisis and the escalation of the Bosnian conflict and the Siege of Sarajevo. 

By 9/11 though, things were different. I was old enough to fathom the issue for all its gravity. Somehow knowing the world would never quite be the same again.

Things felt different, mainly because New York City was a place I was much more familiar with; albeit from a distance. 

My aunt Eibhlin was living there (still does) and I’d always associated it with fond memories of her bringing us over cool toys that couldn’t be got here at home, anytime she’d come visit. 

As more of an innocent pup in my much younger days, I can still recall how she’d tuck me in grannies. 

Making promises that, when I was old enough, she’d take me back to America with her one day to ride the subway, go out on the boat to circle the Statue of Liberty and eat a big pizza at Times Square … Ninja Turtle fans will understand. 

So as the towers of the World Trade crumbled amid the billowing dark clouds of smoke and the debris, the knowledge of the massive loss of civilian life right there on our TV set, seemed like the end of an age of innocence for me anyway. 

The aforementioned outpouring of grief amongst the western world was immense. 

Special masses were put on, some social events were either postponed or cancelled altogether (where have we heard that recently?) and we even got the following Friday off school as a mark of respect. 

For months after, it seemed as though every new American pop video on MTV had the stars-and-stripes on show somewhere and almost every new documentary series was somehow lined to the attacks. 

It was no surprise that our “there’ll be films made about this yet, wait till ya see” predictions came true. 

Osama BinLaden and Al-Quadea were laced across every newspaper and magazine you could find for weeks on end after. ‘America’s pain was our pain’ seemed to be the common mantra. 

Almost twenty years on, America is looked upon very differently. Condemnation of their Presidential leaders such as Bush and Trump has become so common, it’s almost ingrained in popular culture to spout ridicule of them.

American Foreign Policy in how they dealt with situations in the Middle East have given rise to unprecedented disapproval. 

When cynicism of these ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ began to reign and people began to think that BinLaden’s assasinstion in 2011 came at a rather ‘convenient time’ – the run up to an election – dispersions were cast. 

And even within their own country, they’ve since undergone torreds of criticism for how they deal with social disparity and racial profiling. The George Flyod killing lighting a proverbial fuse. 

With election time nearing ever closer again this year, be sure to watch for how floods of venom will be spat out, particularly through social media, in the run up to November.

Now I’m certainly not saying this contrast of attitudes towards America is right or wrong. That’s not for me to say. 

Everyone is more than entitled to their own opinion, but as an observer of history and society, it’s hard to deny just how different the perspective of the USA has changed utterly in just under 20 years. 

‘CANCEL CULTURE’ vs JOKER.

SEND IN THE CLOWN.

Originally published in November 2019

If you see only one movie this year, make it Joker. First up, this is not a summer blockbuster action-adventure superhero (or in this case, supervillain) movie. There’s no kickass expolosions, frantic car-chase scenes or some quality piece of eye candy whose been brought in to boost the sex appeal. In a nutshell, it’s not for kids, yet still immensely poignant for its portrayal of society.

By Jonathan Foley

I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t got around to seeing it yet, so instead I’ll focus in on how this film caused an unforeseen media hysteria, both before and after its cinema release, and how it has touched a nerve with so many who have sat down to have a watch of the movie for themselves.

The main thing I enjoyed about Joker was not merely because its gripping storyline and superb acting; although, while I’m here, I’ll happily both writers and cast alike on their great work. Much more than that, this movie should be hailed for one that finally stood up to WOKE culture and over-the-top political correctness amongst easily offended trashers of modern entertainment. 

Considering the fact that Joker is directed by Todd Philips – a man best known for his major roles in creating such cult-comedies like Old School and The Hangover trilogy – it’s fair to suggest that there were a fair share of eyebrows raised when it was announced that he would now oversee the production of this much darker and grittier type of film. 

Looking back, maybe it shouldn’t have been so much of a surprise. Speaking to the media not long before the Joker’s completion, Phillips made it clear that the reason he stopped doing comedies was because he felt that genre was dying due to the abundance of PC-brigaders constantly looking for things to complain about. What you can and can’t joke about, basically.

With that in mind, he took an ever darker spin on Gotham City’s most notorious villain – one who is iconically renowned for laughing hysterically in the face of destruction and suffering – and, through some interesting narrative – humanised him. Combined with Jaoquin Phoenix’s performance as the titular character, they brought him down to our level. 

They showed us that mental illness is an affliction that can take hold of anyone. 

Especially if they are living in a time of a serious economic downturn where employment and security are hard to come by and also when government programs designed to help such people are inadequate, poorly funded or have relied too heavily on simply dishing out medication as a quick-fix solution to their patients. 

It’s not so much that we sympathise with Arthur Fleck in this film, but we as the audience can at least empathise and understand his situation that little bit better. It makes us realise that anyone can slip through the cracks of society and become an agent of chaos, violence and aggression at any given point when life doesn’t go the way that they would have hoped. 

And who did this annoy the most, you ask? That’s right, the mainstream American media. There’s an abundance of reasons why but one that stands out is that the empathetic portrayal of the Joker goes against the grain of the news reporting agenda.  

In the United States, watching a news broadcast is a lot different when compared to here at home. In this part of the world, the RTÉ or BBC newsreader will tell you what’s been happening in an unbiased and objective manner; shortly before ending the programme on a happier note with a look at the sports and weather from their colleagues alongside them in the studio. 

America is very different. News has a political agenda as the majority of companies are heavily funded by the likes of the Republican or Democratic parties. In turn, this allows the parties to manufacture what should be broadcast to the viewers in the hope that it will scare monger those watching into putting their trust in the parties to protect them. 

If you don’t believe me, check out the likes of CNN or ABC News on your Sky channels. Reporters don’t hold back in their debates and it epitomises the ‘freedom of the press’ section of the Second Amendment of their cherished Constitution. And here’s how Joker fits into it all.

In recent times, reports of mass-shootings and anti-government based uprisings and protests have engulfed American news stories. This has led to the question over the right to bear arms to the fore once again. Anytime, a mass-shooting does occur, the person who carried out the attack is always portrayed as being one was just simply born evil and that’s that. 

Protests and rallies suggest discontent and unrest amongst people who aim their frustrations at the established order and higher-classes of society. It doesn’t matter if Democrats and Republicans disagree on US policy, they both retain a desire to maintain power, even if it’s a shared power.

So when a film comes along that shows an iconic character vividly portraying the factors that drive a descent into anarchy and rage while he seemingly stands up for the everyday person whose grown tired of government policy, the Establishment was undoubtedly going to get a tad nervous. 

News reports spread that this film would ‘definitely’ insight violence at screenings, that armed guards would be on hand to forcibly deal with any such disturbances (and they were). The self-righteous PC-brigade who likely claimed that any movie that ‘glorifies’ psychotic behaviour or shows a character upsetting the establishment to be ‘offensive’ were, in a way, given a defiant response that artistic creativity will carry on despite what politically-driven media will say.

MIDNIGHT IN LETTERKENNY (Aug 2018)

“NOW THAT I RETURN AGAIN, MANY CHANGES I HAVE KNOWN”

Originally published in August 2018

After a busy few days at work recently, I opted to take up the opportunity for some ‘me-time’ with a relaxing wander through the Town Park.

Usually it’s just a place I pass through as a shortcut between Sentry-Hill and Gortlee and one I’ve done countless times before.

During a moment’s pause and with a sit-down on the steps, the observations I took in were intriguing and much to my surprise .

By Jonathan Foley

Amid the cooling air of a warm day and with an aura of pleasence in the atmosphere, I looked outward upon the other people in the park. People conversing, laughing and having fun.

Children playing happily and others out doing laps of the rounding paths with their tunes playing through their earphones. Nothing out of the ordinary at first, I thought. At first anyway.

I became surprisingly captivated by how multicultural and socially-diverse those in and around the park were. With the echoing noise of the evening traffic in the distance, everyone – through a multitude of languages and fashion styles – seemed uninterrupted by this as they continued to enjoy their free-time with their partners, their children, friends or even persons just in their own company.

It triggered the question within me about how and, maybe more importantly, why did my hometown evolve so much in its identity over the last few decades and was it possible to consider that maybe it happened so fast – that myself and maybe others – didn’t even really notice. 

I’m very proud to say that I was born and raised here in the town of Letterkenny but I’m the first to admit that, going by family connections, I’m not what you might call a typical ‘townie’ compared to so many others who have lived here. I am, in fact, the son of a ‘blow-in’ family with just one other member of our entire family tree – my brother Alan – being of actual Donegal birth. 

With a surname like ‘Foley’, that shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows.

It’s a name that is much more commonly heard in parts of Connaught and Munster as opposed to up here in the northwest.

My mum and dad moved here around the time they got married after leaving Sligo to start a life for themselves when they bought their first house in Ashlawn before moving a few hundred yards up the road to Carnamuggagh Lower in the mid-1980s shortly before I was born.

Dad has since passed away however but during his lifetime, he had never lost his Cliffoney-accent and even now, it’s the same for mum who speaks in a way that would make you question if indeed she had ever even left her native village of Mullaghmore. 

Although I may take after both of them in terms of some physical features and mannerisms, the same can’t be said for my accent as I adapted the dulcet tones of a fully-fledged Donegalian with my ‘Ayes’ and my ‘Wee’s’ and my ‘We’ans!’

So much so that at family gatherings in Sligo, my poor wee granny – originally from County Down – was sometimes the only one able to decipher my oral diction.

Having said that, my parents may not have been born here, but they certainly did become immersed and a part of the community upon their arrival.

Dad worked for years with the Gardaí and was always involved in things like local pantomimes and the ongoings out at the golf club in Barnhill while mum worked in the banks. Suffice to say, she has essentially become an honorary local here at this stage.

That’s just a minor glimpse into my background and the reason for my being here, but after attending a meeting held by the Letterkenny Memories group a few years back, questions of a wider nature began to flourish.

On that night, they were hosting a reunion of the 1967 St Eunan’s county championship winning team. The speaker told that in ‘67, the town’s population was a mere 5,000!

I nearly fell of the stool, I was that shocked.

I just couldn’t envisage a town – to which I call home and am proud to be a part of – being so small in population less than two decades before I was born.

The speaker enlightened me that my native Gortlee was basically just a field that didn’t even have Ashlawn, Oaklands or Knocknamona as part of its make-up for a further ten years.

I suppose I had to remind myself though – or maybe it was more so a case that I was made to be reminded – that my family didn’t come from here.

So maybe that’s why so many of the black and white photos I see of people or places from Letterkenny’s past don’t always strike a chord of resonance with me,

Understandably so too, I hope, because I can never spot family members or distant relatives in them.

On a more comforting note, however, I then remember that Letterkenny’s population is now around 20,000 and that ultimately means that those descendant of a ‘blow-in’ ancestry are in huge numbers here.

And that’s why I like to think there are so many people here nowadays that are perhaps not a part of the town’s historic past, but certainly part of its present and its future.

In my (almost) 34 years in this life, even I have seen how much the town is changed. Back in the eighties, I would go to my childminders, Nan Curran’s, on Eunan’s Terrace and my first ever trip to a cinema was when I was taken to see ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ on the Port Road. Moving on, I played soccer at Ballyraine and gaelic football at O’Donnell Park on into the nineties.

I had my first ‘shift’ by a wall in the newly-built Beinn Aobhinn estate in the mid-to-late nineties and faced the realities of dole-queues and emigration through the 2008 recession era.

I’ve seen the Oatfields factory and the old swimming pool disappear while I’ve also had to see many friends move away, but even with that, I’ve seen newer faces, newer buildings and newer opportunities come to the surface on the town.

And just like my parents, so many others have come here and made lives for themselves and the rich variety of cultural integration from that was there to be witnessed on that simple evening walk through the park.

My descendancy may belong elsewhere and that’s to a quieter and more suburban environment in Sligo, but this is will always be my place-of-birth and my this will always be where I call home.

I was educated and made my friends and neighbours here and I always like to feel that it’s good to be – not just something – to be a real part of something: a team of teachers so as to help the next generation, a team of coaches to help generate an interest in sports or, in this case, a team of writers and newspaper people who gave you something to (hopefully) enjoyed reading this week. 

In a nutshell, not all of us were a part of the town’s historical past but hopefully we can be a part of what Letterkenny is now and for what it will become.

WHEN ART IMITATES LIFE.

WHEN ART IMITATES THE LIFE OF POPULAR ENTERTAINERS. 

Originally penned in December 2018

It’s an age-old cliché to say that many of the musicians in the charts these days have no soul; that they have nothing to say and are only interested in making a fast buck. Without trying to sound too much like a grumpy old man – on the week that I turn the ripe old age of 34 – I must say, I’m very much inclined to agree. 

By Jonathan Foley

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not gonna sit here and simply bash the pop-stars of the modern era for being soulless, because in truth, it’s not really their fault. Poppy catchy tunes have often outsold the musicians and bands that are more raw, honest and unsuperficial in their approach to music; so they might as well try and cash in and get all the ‘Likes’ they can. 

As a teacher of English literature in schools, I always instruct pupils to not simply take a poem or a novel at face-value, but instead, to take the time to deconstruct the contextual life of the writer behind the work. During a recent week off, I decided I was gonna start practicing what I’d preached and, in truth, I loved the journey. 

First up, it was time to reunite myself with some old Nirvana tracks; most of which I hadn’t heard from these grunge-based legends for longer than I could remember. In following my practice however, I found myself diverging into studying the true history of Kurt Cobain’s life, his experiences and ultimately his emotions that duly influenced his work.

In a Netflix documentary, it was said that Cobain genuinely disliked the fame and attention he received. Having already grown up with emotional difficulties over his parents’ divorce and for how his family often rejected him, the Aberdeen-born rocker found solace in drug abuse that, when married to fellow-addict Courtney Love, things became turbulent for him. 

“I wish I was like you, easily amused!” was a line from the song ‘All Apologies.’ It’s believed here that the Nirvana frontman was taking aim at the tabloid media who were consistently exposing negative stories about his lifestyle and his music as a whole. Yet in his conflicted psychological state, he also informed them that “I don’t mind if I don’t have a mind!” in the song ‘Breed.’ 

His dislike and distrust of the mainstream media did seem to quell for a period however. After becoming a father and improving upon ways to spend his free-time, he briefly became a healthier and truly loving father to his daughter, Frances. He began doing tours and interviews again and his friends and family all remarked that, even if only for a short while, he became truly happy. 

As his marriage hit a severe rocky patch however he became suspicious of his wife’s fidelity and this led him to performing on a stage in a manner in which the public had never seen him before. In December 1993, Nirvana performed the ‘Unplugged: Live in New York’ album. A truly moving and mesmerising show to watch even today. 

The band had forsaken the screeching guitars, boisterous drumming and often incoherent screaming and instead, sat down and played with acoustic guitars – accompanied by cello players and violinists – on a stage that was beautifully lit with candles, flowers and decadent lighting. Little did many know, at the time though, this was his way of saying goodbye. 

Many know believe that his decision to play such numbers as ‘About A Girl’ and a cover of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ (which contains the lyric “Don’t lie to me; I’m going where the cold wind blows!”) were subtle digs at his wife’s supposed behaviour and ultimately, his eventual suicide that would take place less than four months later. 

He’s not the first to have done this type of thing. Many researchers now agree that John Lennon’s “Help me if you can, I’m feeling down” line in the famous song by The Beatles, may have been disguised as a happy-poppy lyric; but in truth, issues about his internal struggles at the time are said to have been the real inspiration behind that particular song’s creation. 

And it’s certainly not merely restricted to musicians. Definitely not. A study into the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald shows that his background are in some ways perfectly mirrored in his novel ‘The Great Gatsby.’ Just as the feelings of loneliness come through in the poetry of William Butler Yeats through his writings of poems such as ‘Wild Swans at Coole’ or ‘Maud Gonne.’

Nowadays, Eminem is probably the best known writer for expressing how his emotions affect what goes into his art. He’s certainly no spring-chicken himself anymore, but he could be the last of a dying breed in the music industry. It just seems that very few musicians today seem to be able to truly express themselves – be it or good or bad – in the ways they used to.

ANGELA BARNES Interview (2019)

ANGELA BARNES: TV PRESENTER WITH A LOVE FOR DONEGAL.

Throughout her ever-blossoming career in journalism, Angela Barnes has received huge adulation for her great work on Sky television and, more recently, with NBC’s Good Morning Europe. And on an recent visit to her spiritual home of Kilcar, she very kindly took a few minutes out to talk to us here at The Leader about her love for her work and of Donegal. 

By Jonathan Foley

Presently, Angela lives in the French city of Lyon, where the Euronews NBC broadcasting company are based. She co-hosts a segment of the morning news known as ‘The Cube’ where it’s fair to say  she takes the responsibility for delivering a very modern and 21st century form of news reporting. 

“The move to France has been brilliant. Of course I was nervous at first after having spent ten years living in London and working for Sky, but the transition was made so much easier by the great people I’ve met there. NBC reach over 160 countries and it’s been great fun breaking the latest stories and doing the live broadcasts for them” Angela told, 

In a world of ‘fake news’, the focus of Angela’s slot is to provide news that has been truthfully verified. Behind the scenes, she will gather as much information as possible on a given story, before deciphering which of it is true and which of it may have been fabricated on social media. This honest and refreshing approach is welcomed by all who believe in the integrity of journalism. 

“Social media is a very big news source nowadays but we ensure that the background to any news we report on has gone through a process of verification first. Take last week as an example, natural disasters hit Indonesia very badly, but we found that a lot of the footage being shared online was from a different disaster in 2014, so we were glad we cleared that uncertainty” she added. 

Having previously worked with Sky, Angela is perhaps best recognised from her roles as presenter of such shows as Swipe and Find the Advantage. The former of the two is a show that focused mostly on technology news while the latter was one about tennis; thus granting Angela the opportunity to put her immense enthusiasm for sports into her profession. 

“Working for Sky provided me with great opportunities. I’ve always been a follower of so many sports and on Find the Advantage, we got to compare tennis with a lot of other sports like football, rugby and many others. There were funny moments when I look back now. I used to sometimes hear the director in my earpiece telling me to wrap up a segment in the next few seconds, but I loved talking sport so much, I could’ve easily gone on and on” she fondly recalled.  

“Nowadays, I’m covering a much greater variety of topics and issues from across the world. I still love sports of course but it’s been great to branch out into so many other aspects of news coverage. It’s nice to broaden the horizons, get that flexibility and variety, and I suppose with that, I might be handy to have on a pub quiz team now” she jokingly told. 

Born across the channel in Winchester, Angela’s softly-spoken English accent coincides beautifully with her innate love for Donegal and Kilcar in particular. Her father was born there before moving to the United Kingdom many years ago, but since her parents’ retirement, both of them have since moved back to the scenic southwestern area. 

“We spent every holiday in Donegal when we were children. Mum and dad are both back living here and so too is my brother. It’s a place we are all very attached to. Growing up as a little girl, I made lasting friendships with so many people here. Now that I think of it, the kids I used to build sandcastles with are now the ones I pop out for a drink and a catch up with” Angela told fondly.

“The scenery here is just spectacular and I like to get here as often as I can. I’m lucky with work too because Lyon’s not really all that far away so on my weekends off, it’s easy for me to pop back to London or over here to Donegal on a fairly regular basis. Being a keen surfer helps; in rain, hail or shine, people here often know where to find me if I’m not in when they call up to the house” she happily told. 

It’s not just Kilcar that Angela holds dearly. She also discussed how her love of surfing has seen her test out the waves in Rossnowlough and, because of her enjoyment of live music, Letterkenny has also been a regular stopping point for her. Her long-term friendship with local band, The Revs, often provided ample excuse for a night out when they were gigging up here.

And even though she might have covered a vast array of sporting and general news with Sky and NBC, Angela certainly knows how to keep in touch with the all-important sports news from this part of the world. After all, it’s not very often a television presenter living in France can honestly say that they are keen followers of Kilcar’s GAA club and the Donegal county panel.

“I was delighted last year when Kilcar won the club championship. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be here for the celebrations because I was in recovery from a knee operation at the time, but from what I’ve heard, the festivities were wonderful and I’m told they went on for quite a few days after the game itself” Angela told. 

“Earlier this season, I was at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey for Donegal’s league game with Mayo. That game ended in a draw which meant Donegal were officially relegated, but one thing I really enjoy about gaelic football is the spirit of it all. The fans mixing in the stands and chatting away is something to behold. All round, this is a very special place” she concluded.

BAR COUNTER RAMBLINGS.

Originally written in September 2018

Maybe it’s just me but have you ever taken the time to notice what Donegal people converse about most and wonder what factors influenced the creation of these talking points?

Be it at a bar counter, a supermarket aisle-way or a casual chinwag with a friend on the street, it might be no harm to pick up on the themes that so often seem to continually ressurface during a casual chat with a friend or a colleague: sport, pop-culture, politics and the weather probably spring to mind and here’s how. 

By Jonathan Foley

Firstly, let me take a wee second to explain how the idea for this week’s article came about. I recently sat down to read a book called ‘Sport and the British’ by well-respected historian, Richard Holt.

Through a study of the history of life in the United Kingdom and throughout the British Empire – of which we were once an occupant of – he presented a wonderful case for how certain parts of these islands and the world adopted certain cultures and traditions through sports. 

Without reciting the whole book, he shows the reader that the strongest nations in international rugby and cricket are all former imperial regions who took up these games during the colonisation process. 

This rings true when we see how much interest there is in rugby amongst the people of Australia and New Zealand while cricket still gathers mass popularity in places like India and the West Indies. Even this weekend as England and Scotland locked horns in The Calcutta Cup, it’s all linked to that period. 

Similarly, Holt draws a parallel with Britain itself by showing how the Industrial Revolution era of the 19th Century combined with increased leisure time and trade union laws helped develop soccer as the ‘game of the working class,’ so it should come as no real surprise that the game has thrived in cities such as Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester amongst others. 

Those who could afford the facilities required to play lawn tennis and golf in these times were often those of the higher classes. 

Moving closer to home here in Ireland, something that we can take great pride in is that, as a nation, we do possess a strong love of sport be it through gaelic games, boxing, soccer, rugby or horse-racing in particular. Yet we are not exempt from how certain parts of the island developed somewhat differing sporting interests and this is down to a number of factors that link to things such as regional culture, social-class, geography and sometimes, reasons of religion and politics or even mass-influenced media. 

Before focusing in on Donegal, a more general look at Ireland is perhaps necessary. As popular as hurling is in this country, there’s still no doubt that it thrives mainly in the south-eastern region and that’s no coincidence. 

To play the codified version of the game after 1884, there was the requirement for soft flatlands and in these parts where the ‘Garden of Ireland’ exists and where there were better relations between landowners and tenants, our national game could begin to flourish more down there.

Gaelic football took more of a precedence in the western, midland-based and northern counties (possible exemptions for Antrim and Galway) as it made more sense to play with a ball through the hand and foot when contending with playing areas that were often more bog-based and inclined than those of the south. 

It also become a form of national expression in a more hostile environment which was not something rugby faced as much in such affluent places like south-Dublin or the wider Belfast area.

In Donegal today, there still remains a tremendous interest in sports across the board. How often do we hear of people chatting or debating away about soccer for example? 

To remonstrate this point further, we certainly do a lot more than persons from the likes of Mayo and Monaghan. Celtic FC have a huge following and the majority of that is down the history of cultural migration between here and the west of Scotland – for both fans and players – but here’s why English soccer has taken such a hold here. 

Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool have had a large support here for a long time. 

Some have shunned others for their decision to follow them and as one former unnamed publican in the town said to me last week, there is more to it than what meets the eye. He believed it was down more so to the access, or lack thereof, to the coverage of sports on television and radio during the eighties and nineties. 

His theory was that prior to this era, people in Donegal didn’t care all that much about cross-channel soccer, but with the lack of Scottish and League of Ireland football being televised, people began to slowly but surely turn to English leagues and Match of the Day viewings for their enjoyment. 

With this county and town being located where it is, we were always able to pick up BBC transmissions much more than west Donegal, so it’s no real surprise that the popularity of the EPL grew hugely.

The proverbial explosion of Sky Sports and the volume of their subscribers here during the Celtic Tiger years added to this greatly. 

Moving aside from sport, other topics of conversation often come to the fore here and one of those is politics. There’s no doubt that Donegal people often become irate when we often get asked are we “from Northern Ireland or the Republic?” 

As much as we proclaim the latter, it’s maybe not always right to condemn such questions as ones being asked by the ignorant. At the end of the day there’s something that we share with only a few other counties and that is that we do have a profound interest in political matters of both regions. 

Ireland has been an island for 6000 years and less than 100 of those years have seen a line drawn on a map with our neighbour counties to the east. 

Living in the hinterland of a place that does gather so much media attention across the world – particularly during The Troubles – it seems inevitable that we should keep an eye out for what’s going on there. And yet because we are a county of the Republic, matters of interest in Dublin’s Dáil Éireann will also receive our attention. 

Thus another conversation ice-breaker arises. 

Thirdly, popular entertainment has always had a stronghold here and in all truth, it so often comes from either American or British influences. 

US sitcoms and Netflix series regularly pop up in conversations in staff rooms and in other meeting places while still on the normal everyday TV set, British-based soaps, comedies, dramas, reality shows and chat shows often dominate conversation and this trend is nothing new. If anything it’s generational. 

Some people of Letterkenny can still fondly tell you of times growing up through the years when Fawlty Towers would come on  BBC Two on a Sunday night and even for more regional-based shows like south-London’s Only Fools & Horses or Glasgow’s Still Game or Rab C. Nesbitt, we are able to understand the contextual humour and diallectual tones of these shows just as much as any local from the aforementioned cities could. 

And because we were one of the few regions in Ireland who had access to UTV for much longer periods than that of the rest of the country, that’s why, unlike others, we can remember what The Gerry Kelly Show was like or how ‘Julian from the UTV’ introduced a given episode of Coronation Street. 

Modern times have seen more topics be brought about with discussions of The X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent or I’m a Celebrity; Get Me Out of Here. None of which bare any official link to this part of the world. 

In conclusion, as Irish as we are and will always be, there’s little denying that advances made in technology and that of popular sport and entertainment have altered the course of casual conversations we often discuss in this country. 

Come to think of it, that’s always been the way! Even as far back as the time when Celtic Tradition came here from Eastern European tribes or even in the sixth century when Saint Patrick came here from Wales to preach the Christianity that was born in the Middle East and given momentum from the Roman Empire. 

We’ve always had things from afar to discuss and debate about so what I’m discussing here is nothing new really. 

Focusing closer to home, both Ulster and more national politics have gripped us and the sports and entertainments we follow most are there because of geographical, socio-political, technological and even trendy factors. 

Even through all this of course, it’s not be forgotten that we always have time to bring up the one thing we simply can’t control and that of course is the weather. Born from our tradition of agriculture, where weather plays an utmost important role, there’s always time to bring how ‘that day would clean founder ye!’ 

Having said that however, here’s hoping that as the month of March edges closer, we’ll soon be seeing a ‘grand stretch in the evenings, hiy!’

RAYMOND BLAKE (2019)

A MAN OF TRADITION.

No matter how many times you experience bereavement, it still always comes with a mixture of shock and sadness that pangs just as much as the first time you lost someone. As I sad as I am to know that I’ll never see our friend Raymond again, I’ll try to remain positive and glad of the fact that I knew him. 

By Jonathan Foley 

As the PRO of St Eunan’s GAA club, you’d expect the role to be mostly focused on match previews, score updates and general club news. While a lot of it is that, sending out news via email on Saturday morning about Raymond’s passing was certainly no easy task. 

As I’ve just mentioned though, I immediately sprang to the happy memories I’ll always have of him. Ones that I know will always stay with me and I’ve no doubt that the people who knew him better will have some stories to tell over the next while.

At the GAA club, I never played under the teams that he managed. He’d taken a step back from coaching around about the time that I was an adolescent. 

Where I’d often meet up though was in his pub on the Main Street for a post-match jar with the lads. This being when I was a little older, of course. 

Raymond was traditional in the way he’d always give the players a round on the house first. Even if we’d lost or not performed all that well.

And if we got beat, he’d casually let us know that we had to pull the socks up for the next game and even if we won with a gutsy performance, he’d not let us get cocky. He’d simply remind us that we’d another game coming up and that we had to keep our feet on the ground. 

He’d never own up to it but he was always quietly delighted when we’d be give him the news of a victory though. 

Another thing that will always stand out for me is how the staff in Blake’s Bar put in place the rule that mobile phone conversations were not allowed when sitting at bar. 

“The bar is for speaking to one another in person, don’t ya know?” And in my opinion, they were quite right to put that rule in force. What’s funny about it though is how there were no exemptions. 

Back in 2013, I received huge praise one day at the club after a team I was joint-manager pulled off a remarkable Championship victory, against all the odds, in a rain-soaked game against Naomh Conaill. 

Upon arrival into Blake’s for a celebratory pint, I was getting pats on the back, handshakes as well as squeezed hugs and kisses from a girl I was seeing at the time. And of course, there was Raymond with a complimentary pint there waiting for me. 

Amid all the excitement, I thought this was a moment to cherish and it was. Then of course, I must’ve forgotten where I was when I had the audacity to answer a call on my phone while I was at the bar! 

Raymond very quickly blew a whistle that he’d unearthed from somewhere. The bar fell silent with that noise and he produced a yellow card to me as a warning that if I did it again, I was out. Man of the Moment or not. I’ll always remember that day fondly. 

One thing we always have to give Raymond credit for is for how traditional he kept his premises. The street it’s located on became a flurry for trendy cocktail bars, outdoor dining and pubs with big plasma screen televisions. 

Certainly Raymond wasn’t backward. He was well informed and up to speed with all topics of conversation: politics, sport, music (Pink Floyd in particular) current affairs. You name it. 

In addition to that, he was a dab hand at social media too and it was here, in 2016, where I remember where his wit came through the best. 

During the European Championships that summer, a lot of pubs in the town were doing special offers on drinks and advertising the fact they’d be showing the games on big screens.

On the Blake’s Bar Facebook page, Raymond devilishly posted the following: 

“Big game tonight in the quarter finals of Euro 2016. Come down and watch it on the small screen. Special offer on pints tonight. Order one pint … and pay for it!” 

I was living in Scotland back then and I must say I was nearly sore with the laughing I did that day. When I shared the post, I referred to Raymond as a ‘King Amongst Men’ and in a way, I’m always glad I did that. 

It also has to be noted that Raymond wasn’t always the fun and happy publican. He also had a very supportive and compassionate side to him and he showed this to me on the night of my own father’s funeral in 2010. 

After a tiring few days keeping vigil with dad and then the wake and the funeral itself, emotional and physical fatigue set in and a few of us popped to Blake’s for a drink. 

Raymond was very sensitive to the situation. He welcomed in some of my cousins and cracked a few jokes to help them settle and a few minutes later, he took me aside, put his arm on my shoulder and told me to “keep the head right, son. This will pass.” 

He told me that if there was anything he could do to help, all I had to do was let him know. That moment alone showed me how seriously he took the importance of community values. 

As sad as it was to see him go so quickly and as emotional as it was to see the lone piper perform Amazing Graze outside the pub during the Saint Patrick’s Day procession, I’m still glad that this was a man I knew. 

Raymond Blake; 1963-2019. Our Friend.