The holiday kicked-off in Dungiven last week with the annual Kevin Lynchs’ ‘Fight Night.’
Eoghan Quigg, the ‘X-Factor’ starlet from the town, is currently starring as “Prince Charming” in the Christmas Panto in Derry city’s magnificent Millenium Forum.
On the cusp of the New Year, Eoghan came straight from the evening performance to the Dungiven Community Centre, where he removed his crown and cloak and washed off his make-up before donning his boxing gloves to enjoy some ‘down’ time.
I was compere (“Let’s get ready rumble”) and was keen to see the boy in action.
The famed St. Canice’s (Dungiven) Amateur Boxing Club provided the ring, the cornermen and the referee, Liam McCloskey, who was called into action at short notice last year and beat the ears off Mickey O’Neill!
When Eoghan’s fight was called on, he smiled sweetly as he walked up the makeshift gangplank to the ring.
He was facing a bigger man and I was a bit worried at his slight physique. I needn’t have been.
The baby faced assassin dismantled his opponent from the off.
After 30 seconds of chopping right and left hands, hooks and uppercuts, the referee stepped in.
The three rounds were supposed to last 60 seconds each but the timekeeper, Brendan ‘Harry’ McCloskey, cut that first round to 45.
The second went down to 40. How young Den survived the 30 seconds of the third I will never know.
He plays wing-half on the hurling team and courage is simply not an issue. He was just hopelessly outgunned and must have felt like a man in a firestorm. It was one of the most ruthless and devastating exhibitions of fighting I have seen
Eoghan danced and disappeared, then reappeared to strike with volleys of punches.
“Where is he?”
“He’s behind you!” they roared back, children pointing furiously.
“Oh no he’s not.”
“Oh yes he is.” And indeed he was. Make believe it most certainly wasn’t.
The sports journalist George Kimball was famously converted to fighting after he was splashed with blood in the front row at Madison Square Garden.
He would have got plenty of that at ringside in the Dungiven Community Centre. The huge crowd was eerily silent as the execution proceeded.
Afterwards, the referee had no need to raise the Quigg starlet’s arm, surely the most dangerous Prince Charming in the history of panto?
There were some terrific fights. Amidst them came what was billed “The battle of the Mayors” between ex-incumbent Cathal ‘Sam’ Hassan and Sean ‘Ching’ McGlinchey, a somewhat sedate affair where Cathal flapped at Sean a few times with his eyes closed and Sean - still as fit as a fiddle - showed a mature compassion.
A few nights later, I was at Glenswilly’s Medal Presentation in the Silver Tassie. The president-elect, Liam O’Neill, was there and he would not have been encouraged by the blithe disregard of the GAA’s January abstinence drive!
It is astonishing that a club which, only a few years ago, was playing junior football is now at the pinnacle of Donegal club football. Their delight was infectious.
The senior squad - looking like a group of young Mormons in their white shirts and club ties - went up onto the stage and blasted out ‘Glenswilly,’ singing in three different keys simultaneously.
When they came to the verse . . .
“It is these cruel English laws, they curse our native isle
Must Irishmen always live like slaves or else die in exile?
There’s not a man to strike a blow or to keep down tyranny
Since Lord Leitrim like a dog was shot, not far from Glenswilly”
The roof practically came off. In an instant, the Peace Process was forgotten and we were back at war, shaking scythes at cannons and weeping as our leaders’ heads were stuck on spikes.
After the medals were given out, I chatted with Michael Murphy and ‘Players’ Player of the Year,’ Neil Gallagher, who were sipping spring water and asked me if I would lend them my mobile phone to make a few calls.
The GAA Abroad
The following morning, my sister Aine, her husband Ruari and their infant son, like the hero of the song ‘Glenswilly,’ left the old sod forever, a foreign land to roam.
The day after they had arrived in San Francisco to begin their new lives, alone in a new city, Joe Duffy, the chairman of San Francisco’s biggest GAA club the Ulster Club, called at their house and took them on a spin.
He brought them to meet the Parish Priest at St. Philip’s, a Mayo stalwart. The boy’s future is already mapped out.
In a few weeks, he will start at St. Philip’s Nursery School, then next year St. Philip’s Primary School.
His mother will be going training with the ladies’ footballers and camogs and singing in the Scor group.
Aine e-mailed me yesterday to say: “Can’t believe it. Like a dream. Settled in already!”
Finally, I must congratulate my firm friend, Enda Gormley, on the brilliant triumph of his Watty Graham’s minor team in the Ulster Club Final on New Year’s day.
As J. J. McKenna, a club icon, declared afterwards: “Enda isn’t just a legend in Maghera. He travelled three times a week from Belfast to coach the boys and never takes a penny for diesel!”
The New Year simply reinforces the uniqueness of the GAA. Fighting for the good of the Lynches, driving 300 miles a week for free, singing Glenswilly with our neighbours, showing a stranger the ropes in a foreign land.
It is something that must be protected at all costs.
Joe Brolly writes in the Journal every Friday