London called and London enthralled – Comaskey Properties

It is never too late to change. No matter how long it takes, when I discover I am wrong about something, I change my mind.

Having spent most of last week in London for the Olympics it hit me like a bolt (of the Usain variety) as to how a prejudice can be sustained and nurtured when it is never questioned – but more about this earth shattering revelation anon.

Now to the games themselves: I didn’t get to see Katie’s golden gloves live, nor any of John Joe’s bouts. Tickets were harder to come by then they were in Beijing – or I didn’t go about it the right way in time. But thanks to London banker, Garvan Smith, who worked his student holidays for us in Spain, I was in the Excel arena when Paddy Barnes secured his bronze medal. Paddy made history with his consecutive medals and so did I because I was ringside that night in Beijing as well. His was the first photo I winged back to the Westmeath Examiner from China; in what turned out to be pretty exclusive dispatches at the time for just being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

What an incredible Disney-like atmosphere engulfed London for the duration. The name Katie Taylor was rolling off everyone’s lips, even to the normally stiff upper variety of the underground train announcers and we were all insane with pride. And speaking of pride, I do not have the vocabulary or literary skills to add anything to all the good things written about our Irish competitors, especially our local hero. We wrote four years ago from Beijing that as well as having a unique boxing talent, John Joe Nevin, The Westmeath Wondrous Walloper, is a fantastically nice guy and a great Mullingar ambassador – and that line is worth repeating here.

Like the Chinese in Beijing, Londoners really pulled out all the stops. But this was different; this was our good neighbours inviting us to their party. We were greeted with incredible friendliness everywhere we went; even to volunteers handing out free bottles of water and ice-pops. Mind you, this English generosity of spirit did have a devastating effect on me in one instance: Standing on a crowded tube I noticed this attractive young lady eyeing me up and down. ‘You haven’t lost it Bernie’, I thought to myself. Our eyes met as she stood up to speak to me. I wondered how good her chat-up line might be and how would be my witty comeback. Her words when they did come, rocked me to me core: “Would you like to sit down, Sir”!!

The Irish were everywhere in their green tops and county colours. This trend of wearing the county jersey has become a novel expression of identity and is conducive to pooling of support and a certain conversation opener, if often of the slagging variety. The world is getting smaller and I bumped into the family of Irish Athletic Team Manager, Patsy McGonagle, on London Bridge and got a shout from Cork’s Carmel and Sean Curtin on the way into the arena: All known from Paddy’s Point.

There is so much that one could say about the experience that I am starting to ramble, (Now  …now ..!) but I commenced at the outset by stating that I have done a U-turn on one of my longest held attitudes. I’ll come right out and say it in a minute … I just need more time to steel myself.

We blamed the British for a lot of our ills – and with some justification it has to be said, but what we forget is that down through history a majority of their own vulnerable classes of people were treated equally badly. Indeed, this was how business was done across Europe. We don’t have to forget about the famine or the Black ‘n Tans, but it is time to forgive, let go and get over it. What happened to Kevin Barry kept me awake as a child and how we were taught history instilled a belligerent ‘take them on again’ approach to everything to do with our former conquerors.  I told in my book as to how I hated working a couple of years in England in the 1960’s – and it is never easy to change a mindset. We always liked the English as individuals, but hated them as a race.

The English have to be the most tolerant people on earth and some would say too tolerant for their own good. Their country has been good to generations of Irish workers when we had nowhere else to go. (Yes, yes, I know we built their country for them!). There are very few Irish families who don’t have English cousins. Without wishing to sound snobbish; of course there are different ‘types’ of English, the same as all other countries, but we are thinking here of the decent middle of the road men and women we meet. Ok, so they can be a bit patronising sometimes and think they can call us British, but unlike President Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ sop to the Germans, I will continue to robustly straighten out anyone who tries to group me or anything Irish as British.

Change has come slowly enough to me. When we respected ‘God save the Queen’ in Croke Park and applauded their rugby team that day, (then kicked the s**t out of them!) I sensed a seismic change afoot. The British Premier, David Cameron apologised for Bloody Sunday and many on this island looked at the plank in their own eye. But looking back it was the visit of the British monarch dat wot done eh to me. After all these years of railing against what Queen Elizabeth stood for, she came to our country and won me over with a  smile nobody knew she possessed and the few words as gaeilge. I fell in love with her majesty.

Now back from the Olympics, one of my abiding memories will be the host country cheering our competitors to the rafters; but more importantly, the Irish reciprocated by cheering home their hugely impressive Team GB. Today we treat each other as equals.

I am about to take a deep breath and say it out loud: … I like England!!! (With profound apologies to my Scottish and Welsh friends).

Written by guest blogger Bernie Comaskey, courtesy of Westmeath Examiner.

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