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Con the bright side Con Houlihan taught me to 'try to see every colour in life's rainbow' amid these dark Covid times

"How often in the past months, the past week, heck, the past 24 hours, have you felt overwhelmed? Helplessness, rage, anxiety, despair, hopelessness, confusion and dejection are the stygian-toned colours on our horizon"


The Bard of Burgh Quay, Con Houlihan

The Bard of Burgh Quay, Con Houlihan

Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom


The Bard of Burgh Quay, Con Houlihan

Many kegs of stout ago, on the morning of my 21st birthday, Con Houlihan unlocked a door to a wonderland.

The Bard of Burgh Quay, that kind, wise, gentle, erudite, lyrical Kerry wordsmith, introduced me to a necklace of timeless Dublin pubs, glistening gems every last one.

To this day, I regard those ancient taverns - crafted from oak and pine, held together by the glue of conversation and life lived, silent, sage witnesses to the centuries, curators of the city's backstory, strangely human - as my very best friends on this planet, the other half of me.

Mulligan's, The Regal Inn (now Chaplin's), Bowes, The Palace Bar, The White Horse (an earthy, evocative early house lost to, God help us all, the cult of Starbucks), Grogan's and The Swan.

Now, as Con liked to say, read on…

Sipping his brandy and milk, he was a sherpa guiding this hiccupping, wobbly, vertiginous rookie expertly up the slopes of Mount Drunk. Boy, did he get me to the summit.


Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Long before noon, deep into the second gallon of porter, I had convinced myself the stately old clock that is among the Palace Bar's back lounge treasures was one of those Daleks that had been seeking for years to exterminate Doctor Who.

Head spinning like a tumble dryer at Mach 5, my increasingly turbulent innards were yearning for a loan of Brendan Behan's liver, Paddy Kavanagh's constitution.

And you know what: It felt, for all the world, as if I had won the Lotto of life.

Moving from one storehouse of wonder to the next with this wild-haired, Roman-nosed titan of my youth, perched on stools (I could have done with a seatbelt) in so many gorgeous cultural museums, breathing in the city's history, it remains among the most magical of all my days.

A beautiful, thrilling, Tuesday heartsoar.

It wasn't merely the stout that was intoxicating. Con carried a hypnotised kid on the powerful shoulders of his vocabulary to the world's most storied cities and their sporting arenas. He offered a spellbound greenhorn a guided tour of the vast library of his mind. He offered tender cuts of advice.

Among them: Try to see every colour in life's rainbow.

I fastened to that line this week like a drowning man to a chunk of ocean flotsam.

These accursed Covid days it can feel like only the darkest shades of the emotional rainbow are visible to the naked eye, a crock of scold sitting disapprovingly at the prism's end. Don't do this, don't go there. Every time Official Ireland screws up, it is us - the plebs - who are to blame.

How often in the past months, the past week, heck, the past 24 hours, have you felt overwhelmed? Helplessness, rage, anxiety, despair, hopelessness, confusion and dejection are the stygian-toned colours on our horizon.

As the grim news is piled ever higher, as the months are stolen from the calendar of life, as hope is placed tantalisingly before us only to be snatched away, so the dimensions of our world shrink and shrink some more.

Clueless politicians flail; sanctimonious scientists/medics, a few evidently addicted to their new-found celebrity, seem to enjoy lecturing the great unwashed just a little too much, basking in the glow of the sodium TV lights as they caution us we that there is no imminent end to this eternal doom.

Day after day, news bulletin after news bulletin, the nation is force-fed a staple diet of apocalypse. A line I read in a newspaper a few days ago felt like a breaking point. It quite literally made me scream out loud.

"There are fears that vaccines will trigger a relaxation in anti-Covid restrictions, and this could lead to a sharp rise in infections."

I had to double-check. Was this Nphet or the HSE or government actually trying to peddle the absurdity that the vaccine - Ireland's last firewall against mass, shrieking neurosis - might actually make things worse?

My blood-pressure strapped-itself into the Apollo 13 cockpit seat next to Tom Hanks and rocketed through the stratosphere to distant outer space.

Forgive the paranoia (I despise the conspiracy theories peddled by some loons), but that one newspaper line seemed to reveal a deeply sinister message from the powers that be: You'll get your lives back when Big Brother says, not a moment earlier.

Here's the mad thing.

While many of us are really struggling, at the very precipice of sanity and craving some sense of liberation, others demand the constraint of ever tighter handcuffs.

It is as if a sizeable chunk of the Irish population has succumbed to a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, falling in love with the lockdown that has imprisoned existence in a tiny, suffocating, lightless cell.

They decline to rise up in fury at the serial bungling that has reached a new low with the gargantuan study in incompetence and buck-passing that is the vaccine rollout.

They regard it as something other than a scandal when the Taoiseach and CMO casually dismiss hopes of life returning to something approaching normality once a critical mass of people - led by the most vulnerable and frontline workers - are vaccinated.

Ireland and the EU's funereal vaccine roll-out is achieving the impossible: It is making Boris Johnson appear competent.

It is neither selfish nor impatient to demand better: To expect accountability and ingenuity (at EU and national level) in the search for additional vaccine supplies; to believe, having endured a hellish year that we might be offered a reasonable timetable of when we might begin to step back into the world. Yet there, in the above quoted line, was Official Ireland haughtily putting us back in our box.

Please, don't let their reductive world view determine the dimensions of your horizon.

More than three decades on, I still hear the hiss of a tap delivering porter to a cold glass, a giant of the Kerry soil beside me, his musical lilt midwifing wise pearls into the morning air.

Keep peering skyward my friends, keep searching the heavens until you can again see every vibrant splash of colour in Con Houlihan's rainbow.

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