HOME JAMES AND DON’T SPARE THE HORSES.
So off to the west this week. A charge down from Beal Feirste and Bairbre De Brun’s nomination as Sinn Féin’s European Union candidate for the six counties, to Galway. From there to Maigh Eó and on to Sligo. And then back to the east coast again, to Dublin and the launch of Mary Lou’s campaign to retain the Dublin EU seat despite the constituency being cut from a four to a three seater.
The local government elections are on across the south as well as two bi-elections in the capital. Being an all Ireland party is hard work but at least those of us who are part of all this get to see places that ordinary decent citizens can’t reach. And there is always a bit of craic along the way.
Take Ballinasloe for example.
I happen to remark to James, our noble driver, debater extraordinaire and occasional wit that Ballinasloe hosted the oldest horse fair on the continent. He disputed this. James is like that. Argumentive. As befits my station, I try to stay above all this.
Richard, a placid man of few words is however despite my best efforts, liable to rise to some of James’s more provocative assertions. Or denials. So on occasions I have had to intervene when exchanges between James and Richard become overheated as they sometimes do. But on this occasion it was I who fell foul of James caustic tongue.
‘ Your bums a plum. How cud the oldest horse fair in the universe be held here?’
We were on the edge of the town which was an achievement on its own, given James quaint navigating practices.
‘I didn’t say the universe. I said the continent.’
‘Same difference. You are exaggerating. As usual’
‘No, he is not. Well …. not this time anyway.’
‘I don’t exaggerate….. ‘ I protested. But Richard was in full flow.
‘The horse fair in Ballinasloe used to be a cattle fair and a sheep fair. The London Times refers to it in 1801…..’
‘Brit propaganda’ James cut across him. ‘This is a one horse town if ever I saw one.’
‘Don’t say that to any of the locals. You’ll be hung.’ Richard warned him.
‘Hanged’ I said as we clambered from the car to be greeted by Padraig MacLochainn, our EU candidate in the North West and local Councillor Dermot Connolly.
‘Failte romhaibh,’ said Dermot ‘welcome to Ballinasloe, the venue for Europe’s largest horse fair.’
‘Youse have him primed to wind me up.’James accused me, ‘Yis think I came up the Lagan in a bubble.’
Padraig eyed him suspiciously. I could see he was displeased. It takes a lot to displease Padraig. He is a Sinn Féin enthusiast and maybe the next MEP for the North West if he can infect everyone else with his enthusiasm, knowledge and good humour. He listened as James challenged Dermot. Richard winced.
‘I suppose you have a few ponies yourself.’
‘Indeed and I do. Too many’, Dermot responded pleasantly. ‘Wud you like to buy a nice Connemara Cob?’
‘Napoleons favourite charger was bought here’ Padraig informed us.
James laughed loudly.
Padraig eyed him up and down. Padraig knows his constituency.
‘Yes here at Ballinasloe. Its name was Marengo. He was bred in Kilmuckridge in Wexford. Napoleon rode him at Waterloo.’
‘Aye’ exclaimed James ‘ and ‘Roy Rodgers got Trigger here.’
‘No’ says Richard ‘ You’re thinking of the Lone Ranger’.
‘Hi oh Silver away’ chortled James.
That’s when Richard broke. Before any of us could stop him he was frog marching James back towards our car.
‘He says this is a one horse town’ He shouted by way of explanation at our startled canvassing group.
‘What? ’ chorused Dermot and Padraig.
‘String him up’ someone muttered.
I tried to calm the situation but I was swept to one side as James was wrestled from Richards grasp by the Ballinasloe Shinners and half carried, half dragged towards the town square. By the time I reached there he was perched on top of a large bronze horse.
‘Okay okay, I’m sorry’ he was telling them.
‘This bloody horse is wet’ he continued.
‘Serves you right’ Richard admonished him.
‘Now do you believe that the Ballinasloe horse fair is the biggest in….
‘In the whole wide world’ James agreed.
They let him down after that and we got back to politics and the large-ish crowd that gathered to watch James’ show trial. They thought James was a Fianna Fail minister. They were disappointed but Padraig glad handed them all with terrific cheerfulness anyway. They seemed impressed.
Later as we left Ballinasloe James was silent.
‘You know James,’ Richard told him. ‘Napoleons horse Marengo died of old age in 1832 and his skeleton was kept as a war exhibit by the Brits. One of his hooves is kept at Saint James Palace in London. After the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace when the Captain is having lunch Marengo’s hoof is set out with all the other regimental silver.’
‘The Brits are funny like that’ I said ‘They took Sonny Rileys horse up in the Murph one time….
‘I’m talking about Napoleon, not Sonny Riley’ Richard snarled at me.
‘Sonny was a sound man’ I said …
‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’ said Richard.
‘Know alls’ James’ muttered. ‘ Know alls who know ….. all.’
We headed for Mayo. Only five more weeks to polling day.