Our somewhat regular travel blog returns for 2019, with the Laois v Down game in Newry the first road trip of the year. Road signs, positive signs and vegan signs all feature.
I’d love to start with something interesting, but the trip to Newry is mostly motorway, so nothing interesting happened. When you're driving, interesting things only happen when you’re off the main roads, and for me that didn’t come until I’d slipped off the A1 and was heading into Newry.
Road signs are a wonderful source of entertainment when you’re somewhere different, especially so when you’re travelling on your own. If you had other people in the car, you’d be talking to them and end up missing some of the bizarre things people stick on the side of the road in this country.
The best sign I’ve ever encountered while covering a Laois game was in Kilmoyley, Co Kerry. The Laois hurlers were sent to this most exotic of locales to play the natives in a National League game. It was so remote I couldn’t find it on any road map I owned, a girl I knew from college that lived about ten miles away had never even heard of it, and AA Routefinder was stumped when I typed it in. Nonetheless, in this bucolic setting, nailed to a stake on the side of the road just next to a small pond was a sign which screamed ‘CAUTION! MALLARD CROSSING’. Say what you like about Kerry people, but they know how to look after their ducks.
Anyway, as I headed into Newry, the town cloaked in early-evening darkness, I see a sign which ranks up there with the one from Kerry, if only for its simple malevolence. It is on the side of the road, perched at the top of a hill which begins your descent into the town. It is just three words, encased in a red triangle, as if to highlight the sinister undertone. It simply reads ‘TRY YOUR BREAKS’. Being in Northern Ireland, in my head I read the sign in a Northern Irish accent (think Jim McDonald from Coronation Street), which only makes it sound more sinister. I expect the same voice to come over the radio and say, ‘I thought I told yoo to check yur breaks.’ I’ll check them, and of course they’ll have been disabled, and the voice will come back over the airwaves and simply say ‘Whadar yoo gunna do noy?’
Thankfully, my car comes safely to rest at a set of traffic lights soon after, and I am happy to know my brakes have not been tampered with by any former Coronation Street cast members. I make it to Pairc Esler on time and in one piece.
The game itself was mostly entertaining and only occasionally boring. Laois leaned heavily on Evan O’Carroll for scores in the first half, and he responded by shooting as often as he could, from a variety of angles and distances. Laois set up well in defence but Down picked up some soft frees and pulled away before half time, leading 0-9 to 0-5. Laois responded by bringing in Donie Kingston and Colm Begley at half time, the ould dogs for the hard road.
Down got the first point of the half, and that’s when Laois took over. Kingston got things moving from centre-forward and O’Carroll was much more clinical. Laois were more aggressive across the field and Down were simply overwhelmed. That said, the first Laois goal, a crucial score, came from what should have been a blatant free for Down. Seán Byrne, trying to kill Down’s forward momentum, caught the jersey of the Down player in possession and pulled him to the ground, a foul which was impressive because of how obvious it was. The referee, inexplicably, waved play-on and Laois countered at pace, Evan O’Carroll setting up Colm Murphy for a well-taken goal. It prompted an irate Down supporter just below the press box to jump out of his seat, shouting ‘We’s are fockin’ playin’ agunst suxteen mayn here’, as he emphatically registered his disapproval of the referee.
Down did get a goal back and were within one point in the dying minutes, but another wonderfully clinical Laois attack ended with Paul Cahillane placing a shot into the top corner. That score prompted an exodus of Down supporters, rising in unison and moving towards the exit like a flock of starlings. The Laois crowd were in no rush.
After catching an interview with John Sugrue after the game, in which he, tongue firmly in cheek, described Croke Park as ‘not a bad field’, it was back to my untampered car for the drive home.
It was around 9pm when I turned the key in the ignition, and when you’re in a car at that hour of the night you’re faced with one of the great downfalls of modern Ireland – late night radio. You see, there are only two types of shows on radio at night. The first is people talking about subjects that nobody wants to hear about during the day. The second is people playing music that nobody wants to hear during the day. This can make car journeys at night a difficult experience.
I surf through the channels, giving each a couple of minutes to see if they can proffer anything of interest. On RTE Radio 1, I catch a discussion about the upcoming search for Ireland’s Greatest Folk Song. The guest tells the presenter it simply must be ‘Danny Boy’, and recounts a story of watching a blind, elderly Vietnamese man play it on a monochord at a street corner in Hanoi. He says that while he was watching him play, ‘I just couldn’t stop crying’, an emotional state I’m headed for myself the longer I listen to the radio. Next up on the show comes a Mancunian who plays trad music, and he tells the presenter that his family are big into Irish trad music too. ‘Most of my nieces and nephews play, and a lot of them are girls’ he says. You’d have to imagine they’re the nieces.
He and his co-conspirator in the promotion of trad music launch into a tune. I have long believed that there is an elaborate hoax at play with traditional Irish music, and that there is only actually one song that is played over and over again, because they all sound identical to me. This, I have found, is a somewhat controversial opinion to verbalise around trad musicians, as they will attempt to explain, through gnashing teeth and hails of spittle, how wrong I am. They’ll tell you about jigs and reels and tunes and the different airs and all other kinds of meaningless stuff. This song did little to convince me that my theory is incorrect, and I look forward to the day the truth finally emerges.
Looking to limit my exposure to the great trad music hoax, I channel surf again and turn on Newstalk just as a softly-spoken man from Dublin says, ‘It’s great being in the middle of a big group, ridin’ away’. My head reflexively tilts sideways at the statement, but it soon becomes apparent he’s a Honda 50 enthusiast, and he’s describing the various Honda 50 Runs he participates in around the country. Good for him.
Today FM offers up Kelly Anne Byrne, playing a steady stream of songs I would surely have loved 15 or 20 years ago, but they make no impression on me now. I listen for a little while, trying to force myself to like it, but go surfing again. I end up returning to Newstalk, listening to Ivan Yates. Things are bleak.
I’m back on the M7 now, and there’s time for just one more sign. A pro-Vegan billboard at CityWest shows a cow nuzzling her calf, and the adjoining text reads ‘DAIRY TAKES BABIES FROM THEIR MOTHERS’. It is a statement so wrought with emotional blackmail I say, out loud and to no one, as I’m on my own, ‘I think the vegans are milking it a bit with that one’ and laugh to myself.
This is what late-night radio has driven me to. I become embarrassed for myself at how bad the joke is. I turn off the radio and drive home in silence. The leagues are back.