Friday, December 21, 2012

The land of a thousand welcomes

The Gathering - celebration or shakedown?

As a child there was nothing more guaranteed to cause mayhem in my house than an unexpected visitor. “Who's that?” “I don't fuckin know, we'll have to answer it to find out won't we?” “Tell em I'm not here whoever it is”. But it was too late. In they came, unannounced, wrecking any notion of a quiet night in. Match on telly? Forget about it. The biscuits – which you'd earlier been told you couldn't have – were brought out, artistically arranged on a fancy plate, and those fuckers got their feet well and truly under the table. You spent the rest of the evening trying to gauge the conversation for clues as to when they'd piss off; before finally they'd rise from their chair – your chair – and begin the lengthy 25 minute goodbye. When the door eventually shut behind them you all breathed a sigh of relief, let off a few farts and returned to bickering about what to watch for the night.

But at least you knew those uninvited guests, you might not have relished their arrival but you knew what to expect. Thinly veiled barbs from that auntie who, for some reason, never really liked you, an inquisition from your uncle who had taken it upon himself to mentor you through those difficult teenage years, fulsome praise from a grandmother who appeared content to just sit and bask in your brilliance – you accepted this behaviour, after all they were family. Occasionally you got lucky and it turned out to be just a “family friend” at the door, these people rarely offered up gifts or guff and so were treated with the neutrality they deserved.

In 2013 we're all going to have some unexpected visitors. Who invited them? I certainly didn't, did you? No, the Government did. I'm not sure how they came to this decision but perhaps it went something like this: “Hmm I see tourism is down over the past twelve months lads”, “What? You're telling me the world's population isn't drawn by the lure of overpriced Guinness and renovated ruins any more?!”, “Tis true, something will have to be done”, “How about we organise a big, mad session and tell all those feckin American eejits that they can come and meet their long lost cousins?”, “Genius, lets go on holidays to celebrate”. Thus The Gathering was born.

So what exactly is The Gathering about? It has been entitled a “Celebration of all things Irish”: as if we didn't have enough of that shite already. It looks like we can expect an entire year of revelry akin to the annual piss up that is St Patrick's Day. But this will be much worse than any average Paddy's Day celebration because in addition to the pissed up natives we can expect another “70 million people claiming Irish heritage to return to their roots”. 70 million? 70?!? How is it that even possible? Is being Irish considered so cool that there's 70 million people out there willing to claim allegiance to this rainy, windswept outcrop?. There's only five million of us living here and half of them are from fuckin Poland.

Yes, yes I know, immigration was a necessity because all the spuds ran out and the lads had to go to America, I'm not here to quibble. But you have to admit, 70 million is a pretty high number. Where will they all stay? Even if only one in ten of these proud Son's (and Daughter's) of Eireann returns to the Motherland that's still seven million beds to be found, and like I said previously they are not staying with me. I don't care if my long lost second cousin Bernadette Bourke from Lincoln, Nebraska arrives on my doorstep with a head cut clean off my beloved, late nanny, she's not bloody staying. Piss off Bernadette I have enough cousins thank you very much. I'll be happy to meet you on neutral territory for some perfunctory chat about how I remind you of your dearly departed Uncle Huck but that's as far as it goes.

I'm sure Enda would have me extradited if he knew I had such a frosty reception prepared for the poor, seafaring Bernadette, but my rancour is not without grounding. The Gathering may seem like a chance to reunite long lost loved ones but its true meaning is far less sentimental. Gabriel Byrne had his sense of patriotism questioned when he labelled the year long celebration a “shakedown” of the Irish diaspora, but I can't help but side with him on this one. Even the title description appears intentionally vague, 'A Celebration of all things Irish', what exactly does that mean?

And that's the main problem, I don't think anyone really understands what The Gathering is. From what I can gather (ho ho) it has given the townspeople of Ireland carte blanche to host field days, fêtes, agricultural shows, ceilidhs and jamborees to their hearts content. Which basically means your local do-gooder organising countless mind-numbingly dull events that they believe represents the real Ireland. Have you ever attended any of these aforementioned field days et al? I have. It's like being present at the end of days as all those present attempt to squeeze every lost drop of joy from your soul until you're as eternally miserable as they are.

Oh I'm sure some of the events will be worthwhile, the big ones sponsored by alcohol brands eager to cash in on this sorry affair will be a riot. Yummy pints of warm American beer at only €6 a go, mmmm Irish. The New Year's Eve Dublin Festival (€25 + plus booking fee) is sure to set things off with a bang. But if you don't fancy paying that kind of money there is a “free fireworks display”, it warms the cockles of my heart to note that we haven't yet figured out a way to charge people for looking up at the sky. A bit closer to home on New Year's Day is the Castlecomer Wellie Race, which is exactly how it sounds, a bunch of gobshites running 5km in wellies. Now I'm no historian but did our forebears ever compete in long distance cross country events wearing such hilariously unwieldy footwear? I very much doubt it.

It's all so typically Irish, which you might think is a good thing, but it's typical of the modern Ireland – a country where the onus is on charging as much money as is humanely possible and providing as little as you can afford to get away with in return. Hoteliers, publicans, restaurateurs and every peddler of cheap bric-a-brac in the country are already rubbing their hands with glee and wondering just how high they can go. But why should I care? If this 'shakedown' can provide a much needed shot in the arm for our tourism industry then it's surely a good thing, if these visitors are stupid enough to pay the going rates at their expense then let them come. I suppose what rankles me more than anything is the sheer commercialism of it all, the insatiable desire for the Dollar, Pound, Euro, Yen or whatever currency these poor fools are packing.

Maybe it won't be so bad, maybe I'll hit it off with my cousin Bernadette and we'll chat regularly on Facebook. She'll show me pictures of her uncle Huck and by Christ wouldn't you know it I'm the spit of the handsome bastard. We'll bring her to the local alehouse and sing songs about the 'black and tans' till the wee hours – never once mentioning that I'm nothing more than a blow-in and not a true Son of Eire – and she'll feel all warm inside until she's found round the back puking up that Jameson she was so determined to knock back. We'll wave her a tearful goodbye and promise to visit her and all the folks back home in Nebraska before instantly forgetting about her and returning to our respective mundane existences.

But even if the whole thing is a roaring success, even if this time next year we're toasting the return of the Celtic Tiger thanks to twelve months of frivolity, I still find the whole thing so downright patronising. As a nation we're not renowned for venting our spleen when things aren't to our liking but this is another level entirely. We're now being told to be Irish, being told to celebrate that fact and worst of all being told to invite other supposedly Irish relations over to celebrate it as well. The Dáil has become one big, huge party planner and everyone has to attend the party, solemnly playing pass the parcel like the well behaved children that we are.

What I propose is an alternative Gathering. Never mind all this shite about our heritage and mythology, its all a load of boring bollocks anyway. Instead gather all the family and friends that you do have, the ones that you love and cherish, the ones that you haven't seen in ages, and even the ones you don't particularly like, gather them all. And then when you've done that embark on a celebration of all things Irish. No, not a ceilidh at your local dance hall, just a big, traditional Irish knees-up the likes of which you haven't had in years. Wreck the place, go mad, be unashamedly Irish, wake up in bed next to a stranger or in a prison cell covered in your own vomit. Be Irish, be spectacularly Irish and while you're doing so spare a thought for poor, misfortunate Bernadette and her yearning desire to be part of a nation that doesn't even exist.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Accentuate the positive

Everyone wants to be Irish, right? Everyone, it seems, except the Irish.

America has given us many great things – Chevy Chase, HBO, rap music, Halle Berry – but it has also provided us with its fair share of less desirable exports. McDonald’s, Coors Light, Paris Hilton, George Dubya...I could go on all day. The influence of the ‘greatest nation on the planet’ is bound to be felt in countries like Ireland, we look at those Stateside and imagine them to be so much more refined than us thick eejits on this rainy outpost in the middle of the Atlantic.

And this fascination with all things American has, for years, seen us adopt many of their more catchy phrases and idioms. Without even realising it we began to pepper our conversations with these unfamiliar sound bytes, “Hey dude, how’s it hangin’”, “That’s fuckin awesome man”, “”? This is an acceptable part of cross-culturalism and given the sheer amount of American TV shows, films and music that Irish people consume it is hardly surprising that we choose to utilise some of the lingo.

But in recent years a more worrying trend has emerged. A trend which should it continue will either see our nation completely lose its identity or, more likely, result in a mass killing spree orchestrated by my good self. Sociologists have rather kindly referred to this phenomenon as the “Mid-Atlantic Accent”, but I have a different name for it; “stupid, pretentious, little cunts trying to sound like Americans”.

I can still vividly recall my first experience of this bizarre, new craze, it happened about five years ago and it shook me to my core. Suffering from a touch of man-flu I dragged my weary body to the nearest Centra in search of salvation. And after a rather pleasant transaction with the well-mannered, young lady behind the counter I pocketed my box of Lemsip and made for home, but not before my new acquaintance offered some parting words of advice. “Feel better”, she hollered as I exited the shop; what? Was this is a question? A warning? What the fuck was she on about?

I subsequently learned that what she had actually meant was “I hope you feel better soon”, but instead of behaving like a normal member of Centra’s staff she had chosen to envisage herself behind the counter of Wal-Mart or some other dastardly American conglomerate. ‘Feel better’. Is this now the way of things? Delivering two word sentences in a horrifically cheerful manner instead of actually taking the time to wish someone all the best as they recuperate from a touch of the sniffles?

 In the aftermath of this traumatic encounter I vowed to track all those who conversed in this vile manner and give them my most steely of glares; but not before I felt better of course. And the sad thing was, this girl wasn’t alone. There were hundreds of others just like her, all telling one another to feel better and high-fiving themselves as they did so. I’m loath to make rampant generalisations about any class of people but there did appear to be a specific demographic of offenders: white, middle-class youths in their teens or early twenties.

It didn’t matter whether they were Goths, skaters, hip-hop headz or sporty types, they were all at it. I should point out at this juncture that I wasn’t surreptitiously following groups of teens around in the manner of an urban David Attenborough, it just so happens that I’m the observant type. It got to the point where I’d physically bristle anytime I encountered a mob of potential suspects, and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off them. They’d greet one another with elaborate handshakes lifted straight from The Wire and some of the boys would even hug, that’s right hug! I have mates that I’ve known for twenty years who I wouldn’t even dream of touching, unless it was for a manly handshake of course. Hugging!!! They’d probably only seen one another a few hours previous. Fucking hell.

But the physical contact is only a small part of it. It’s the accent I’m really interested in. And attending a university full of my test subjects has offered insight beyond my wildest dreams. Thankfully my young classmates are far too discerning to even attempt a faux New Yorker accent and they pepper the air with indecipherable Kerry-speak, Cork langerisms and pure, uncut Limerick lingo on a daily basis. However UL is a big place and it is inevitable that you will encounter someone hailing from Clare by way of Chicago at some point during your day.

The bus is probably the best –or the worst depending on which way you look at it – place to listen to them unhindered though. Unlike the university campus I can sit and listen to other people’s conversations without feeling like an FBI agent. And my how they talk! “Yah”,”Mom”,”Supah”,”I knooow”, “Haw, haw, haw”, and so on and so on. During a recent journey I had the misfortune to be sitting behind a young couple discussing the previous night’s frivolities, “Sooo whut did you get up to last noight then”? Asked the female, “Not all that much”, replied her paramour in his Pennsylvanian patter, “just a bunch of beers with the guys and then crashed for the night”.

I’m not making this up, I wish I was! And I know for a fact these people weren’t foreign exchange students from the US, one look at the big thick Mayo heads on em told me that. In the real world this is how their conversation would have went, “So boy wha dye do last nigh then”? “Ah twas a quiet wan girl, just skulled a couple a slabs with the lads and woke up on the couch covered in fag butts”. Nothing wrong with that, a fine example of the Irish dialect if you ask me. Call it inverted snobbery, class disgust or whatever you wish; but what’s wrong with speaking in the same manner that your parents, and their parents before them, spoke?  

So we’ve established that a lot of people in this country no longer wish to sound Irish, but what I want to know is why? Are they ashamed of their accent? Is it a peer pressure thing? Do they believe that talking in this way makes them appear superior to others? There are certain Irish accents that do pierce your skull if listened to for extended periods, but is that reason enough to adopt a pseudo Cincinnati speech? Of course one listen to any Irish radio station or one viewing of a home-grown television programme (apart from Fair City) will tell you all you need to know. The airwaves are rife with Mid-Atlantic morons, all speaking in that same familiar tongue. Where are these people from? Nobody knows. RTÉ probably clone them up in Donnybrook.

And the irony is that once you make it big in this country (which, let’s face it, isn’t very big) you are obliged to adopt this accent. A few have slipped through the net – Hector, Daíthi O’Sé, Dustin – but our burgeoning celebrity culture has ensured that failure to comply with this unspoken rule will see you sink without trace. Did anyone happen to watch the Irish Celebrity Come Dine with me last year? There was a tall, blonde non-entity on it that went by the name of Rosanna Purcell. No, not Pursel as it is phonetically pronounced but Purr-Cell, as if it were a mysterious French moniker handed down by Napoleon himself. Is this what we have become reduced to? Making up fancy names for ourselves in an attempt to appear suave?

You’d actually wonder what Americans think when they come here and encounter real Irish people for the first time. Having spent years listening to Bono’s intangible drawl they must automatically assume that we speak like them, after all Bono is our one and only saviour is he not? He must be the perfect representation of all things Irish! Mustn’t he? As yet another stream of Stateside septuagenarians meander down O’Connell Street and find themselves in need of assistance they do what any tourist does; ask a local for directions. Luckily they approach a true son of Éire, a gruff, red-cheeked Dub on his way to sink the first of many afternoon pints of stout. The following conversation resembles Columbus’s first encounter with the Native Americans , lots of gesticulations and slowly, mouthed words, but by the end neither party are any the wiser. “I thought they spoke American here”, remarks one silver-haired Texan as the Yanks walk away scratching their heads.

Aside from the fact that it is terribly annoying there is also a more serious side to this outbreak of pomposity. I’m not a particularly patriotic Irishman and wasn’t even born in this country but I can see the potential damage of having an entire generation conversing in this way. Already our sovereignty is under threat from our paymasters in Germany and now we wish to throw away one of the things that makes us unique: our lovable Irish brogue. But more than that, it’s about our identity. I only live a hundred miles or so from the place I call home, but every now and again I encounter someone local to this region that, after a few minutes of chatting, can’t help but ask, “Where you from then, I can’t quite place your accent”? “Kilkenny”, I tell them. Not Kansas, not Cleveland, not even Kentucky, just Kilkenny, thank you very much.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Premier League Preview: 2012-13

Shove yer Olympics up yer......................

THE problem with these previews is that the season kick offs a full thirteen days before the transfer window shuts. You carefully peruse the strength of all twenty clubs and map their fate as best you can. Then after a frenzied flurry of activity at the end of the month you’re left feeling a little foolish: the team you had nailed on to finish bottom look rather good now and a top ten finish isn’t out of the question, others suddenly look in danger and the whole dynamic of the division has changed.

My predictions at the start of last season were marginally off. I managed to correctly guess the finishing position of one club. That’s right out of twenty positions I got just one right. I tipped Newcastle for the drop, Liverpool for a Champions League spot and Blackburn to finish in a lofty twelfth position, quite the expert aren’t I? But that was last season, it’s in the past. The Premier League is about to start again and this means I have the opportunity to redeem myself – or more likely cause further embarrassment – so here’s how I see the forthcoming season panning out.


At some point during the last few years Arsenal have morphed from serial title-challengers to also-rans. Does anyone honestly expect them to compete for the top prize this year? No, they’ll finish fourth or maybe third if it’s a good year. And now they’ve completed their fall from grace by becoming the kind of club that sells their best players to their supposed rivals. It was to be expected though. If you fail to win trophies then it becomes increasingly difficult to hold on to your top players. Arsenal are only now beginning to face up to the harsh realities of seven fruitless years.

Key player: Tomas Vermaelen

What might happen: A home game against West Brom sees Arsenal break the world record for possession percentage over ninety minutes. Having watched his side hog the ball for a staggering 96% of the game Arsene is moved to call it “my greatest ever achievement”. West Brom win the game 1-0.

What won’t happen: Fed up of being bullied at The Brittania Arsene calls upon his new, trusted lieutenant, Steve Bould, to handle team affairs for this traditionally spiky encounter. Nine red cards, six broken legs and an abandoned game later Arsene deems the experiment “a success”.

Prediction: 4th

Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s summer signings hardly inspire. Four relative unknowns brought in for a sum figure of less than £8 million. Hold onto your hats Villa fans! It all points to another season of transition for Birmingham’s biggest club. Lambert may have worked miracles at Norwich but Aston Villa Football Club has an awful habit of wearing down even the hardiest of souls. A harmonious relationship with the club’s American owner is crucial if Lambert is to succeed. Managing expectations may prove to be his most difficult challenge.

Key Player: Darren Bent

What might happen: Unhappy with how his club is being run Doug Ellis attempts a daring coup. The ensuing melee between the 88 year-old former chairman and current incumbent Randy Lerner brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “boardroom battle”.

What won’t happen: On a scouting mission to Villa Park Giovanni Trappatoni is moved to ask who the bald-headed number seven in claret and blue is. “Eef ees namea eeza Irlande surely he shoulda be playing for Irlande, no”? asks the bewildered Italian.

Prediction: 15th


The end of season surge which saw Chelsea take club football’s ultimate prize was supposed to be the last stand for this squad of players. It was their Indian summer, the last battle cry of a dying warrior. So what now? The squad is largely the same. Yes Drogba has gone but Terry, Cole and Lampard remain. But what Chelsea have added this summer is a touch of excitement, a hint of panache, to their squad. Eden Hazard and Oscar may be unproven at this level but their purchases have signalled a real intent, Abramovich wants that title back and he’s got the receipts to prove it. They will push the two Manchester clubs right to the finish.

Key Player: Fernando Torres

What might happen: As the scores of successful British Olympians lap up the applause at the annual BBC Sports Personality of The Year awards a cheeky little face can be seen in the background. No way was JT gonna miss out on this one.

What won’t happen: After his early season form fails to meet his own very high expectations Eden Hazard takes to Twitter, and admits that he’s struggling with his confidence and general self-belief.

Prediction: 3rd


For a time this summer it looked like David Moyes might finally be about to leave Everton. Tottenham had just sacked Harry Redknapp and Moyes’ name was being bandied about in the press as a possible successor to the illiterate wheeler-dealer. To his credit Moyes kept his counsel and offered only well-rehearsed soundbytes when questioned about a move down South. But who could blame him for wondering when his time will come? So with their manager staying put what can Everton fans expect for the forthcoming season? In all likelihood more of the same: dogged determination from back to front, flashes of inspiration from the gifted Pienaar and Osman and hysterical celebrations should they manage to get one over on their Merseyside rivals.

Key Player: Nikica Jelavic

What might happen: The search party for the missing Seamus Coleman is eventually called off after two weeks when the diminutive Irishman is found sleeping in Marouane Fellaini’s hair.

What won’t happen: Two games into the new season Steven Pienaar realises he’s made a terrible mistake and hands in a transfer request, issuing a come and get me plea to Tottenham Hotspur in the process. By January he’s back at Goodison having endured a torrid three months on the bench at Spurs.

Prediction: 8th


Every Premier League club has a perceived identity, something which distinguishes them from all other teams. Fulham were always a team guaranteed to provide free-flowing football and seemingly topped the Fair Play League on a yearly basis. They were a nice team. But what are they now? A glance through their squad listings reveals plenty of familiar names, names we’ve grown to associate with everything Fulham, but a whole host of new players appear to have sprung from nowhere. In truth it’s probably about a time the Cottagers freshened up their ranks. But with new players comes a new era and those following in the footsteps of Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and, potentially, Clint Dempsey have their work cut out if they wish to emulate their predecessors. Chances are this new crop of youngsters will be just as nice as those they’re replacing and will also practise a similarly pleasing on the eye brand of football.

Key Player: Brede Hangelaand

What might happen: Fulham might, just might, win an away game or two this season.

What won’t happen: Amid growing concerns for their safety away fans are warned to travel in large groups when visiting “The Raving Craven”.

Prediction: 11th


So, at the fifth time of asking Liverpool finally got their first choice manager.  King Kenny has gone off to mutter indecipherable barbs at his rose bushes and a fresh, new face has arrived to bring back the glory days. Well at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. As things stand Liverpool are a long way  from challenging for the title and even a Champions League spot looks unlikely at this moment in time. Rodgers may yet bring in some more new faces but with the players currently at his disposal it’s hard to see how the Reds can break back into the coveted top four.

Key Player: Luis Suarez

What might happen: The local zoo request the return of Jay Spearing as he is considered a key feature in their exotic beasts section.

What won’t happen: Liverpool Football Club accept the blame for, you know, anything, ever.

Prediction: 6th

Manchester City

The most surprising thing about this summer has been city’s activity, or lack of, in the transfer market. The recent acquisition of Jack Rodwell remains their only signing. As many a wily old Scot will tell you: you need to build upon title-winning squads. Mancini clearly needs to trim his full to bursting squad and the likes of Dzeko, Adebayor and De Jong will surely be on their way before the end of August. Only then might we see what the champions have in mind for the new season. Their squad is already the strongest in the division, I fear it may be about to get even stronger.

Key Player: Yaya Toure

What might happen: Tired of having their wacky goal celebration named after another club city’s fans plead with their owner to have it renamed. After a £50m bid is accepted by Lech Poznan the laser blues get their wish as the highly original dance becomes officially known as ‘The Blue Goon’.

What won’t happen: As a reward for his contributions to the city of Manchester Carlos Tevez is given the keys to the city at a civic reception in the town hall. The surly, little troll responds by unfurling an Argentinean flag with the words “Give us back the Falklands, English scum” emblazoned across the front.

Prediction: 1st

Manchester United

The arrival of Van Persie and the non-arrival of anything resembling a central midfield player points to only one thing: a new, revolutionary 4-0-6 formation. Barcelona have all the decent midfielders so Fergie, in his infinite wisdom, has decided a change of tack is required. We saw Spain play without a striker during the summer so why not take it a step further. Playing without any midfield players may be a cause for concern but this will surely be offset by the sight of Van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck, Hernandez, Nani and Kagawa lining up together. It’s Scholesy I feel sorry for though.

Key Player: Robin Van Persie

What might happen: “He can play till he’s 50”, says Fergie as he hands Ryan Giggs a lucrative new ten-year contract.

What won’t happen: Antonio Valencia shows signs of breaking into something resembling a smile.

Prediction: 2nd

Newcastle United

The Toon Army is renowned for having realistic expectations and never getting carried away by its team’s success. So should Newcastle fail to live up to last season’s remarkable rise the team will be given the eternal backing of their loyal support. Meanwhile back on Planet Earth it’s rather difficult to see where The Magpies can go from last season. Most people’s tip for relegation they defied the odds and were in contention for a Champions League place until the final day. Much of the credit has to go to Alan Pardew who has a canny knack of getting the best out of players cast aside by others, but a few big money signings to supplement what he already has are vital if his team aren’t to stagnate.

Key Player: Demba Cisse or whatever his name is.

What might happen: Newcastle United finally win a trophy and the British media rejoices.

What won’t happen: With temperatures reaching record lows over the festive period the Geordie faithful wrap up well for their Boxing Day encounter at St. James’ Park. Despite the best intentions of the cameraman not one topless, obese man is to be found throughout the entire stadium.

Prediction: 7th

Norwich City

What is it about Norwich and players with ridiculous surnames? Ian Culverhouse, Marc Edworthy, Ian Butterworth, Aaron Wilbraham....sounds like the cast of some Victorian drama. And look who they’ve bought this summer: why it’s only Robert Snodgrass and Jacob Butterfield. Weird goings on in Norfolk I tell thee. So yeah they’ve changed managers over the summer but kept largely the same squad which helped them to a comfortable mid-table position. Will Chris Hughton be able to carry on the work started by Lambert or did the departing boss leave in the knowledge that he’d taken this group of players as far as he could?

Key Player: Grant Holt

What might happen: Another drunken pitch invasion from domestic goddess Delia Smith sees the middle aged mentalist escorted away by some over-zealous stewards. Delia later claims her Evian was spiked by “the mischievous Wes Hoolahan”.

What won’t happen: Paul Lambert begins the raid on his old club by tempting Grant Holt to the Midlands.

Prediction: 19th

Queens Park Rangers

I used to really like QPR and was rather happy to see them return to the top flight last season. I don’t like them anymore. No, not because of their capitulation against city on the final day, they’re just not a very likeable team. I have no idea how they stayed up last season because I can’t recall them winning a single game. Mark Hughes probably moaned them to safety. But they’ve been busy this summer: Park Ji-Sung will ensure they become a lot more likeable and Junior Hoilett is a fine capture. Given their fevered activity in the transfer market another relegation battle will not be tolerated by the club’s owners.

Key Player: Junior Hoillett

What might happen: A spectacular Leeds-esque fall from grace which sees Rangers spiral down the divisions. Not that QPR’s owners are corrupt are anything obviously.

What won’t happen: Mark Hughes gives a post-match interview where he’s at once both charming and witty. The interviewer in question is later brought to the nearest hospital suffering from suspected shock.

Prediction: 16th


When Reading were relegated from the Premier League in 2008 I, like many, presumed that was the last we’d hear of them. They’d had their little sojourn in the top flight and would fade into obscurity. But now they’re back. This wasn’t in the script. So can they last longer than a couple of seasons this time around? Reading lack any real quality and even the arrival of Pavel Pogbrenyak can’t mask their deficiencies. Maybe they can emulate last year’s promoted clubs and thrive with largely the same squad they got them up but I doubt it. Everything points towards an even shorter spell in the top division for the Berkshire club.

Key Player: Pavel Pogbrenyak

What might happen: Reading announce record profits which are all due to shirt sales with ‘Pogbrenyak’ on the back.

What won’t happen: They won’t stay up. Definitely not. I surely won’t be wrong about this one. Cue Reading finishing in a healthy top ten position.

Prediction: 20th


Despite finishing last season as runners-up to Reading there is arguably greater cause for optimism among Saints fans than those of the Championship winners. Successive promotions prove this is a club heading in the right direction and there is a sense that this is a new Southampton. We all remember the club of old: perennial strugglers who relied on the mercurial talents of Le Tiss and the imposing environs of The Dell to stay up on a yearly basis. The new Southampton is one founded on a flourishing youth system and one not afraid to invest to supplement those coming through the ranks. St Mary’s may be just another identikit stadium but it may well prove to be one of the League’s more testing away days in the forthcoming season.

Key Player: Rickie Lambert

What might happen: Sky Sports’ first visit to Southampton begins with a montage of old footage from The Dell, featuring goals from Matthew Le Tissier.

What won’t happen: The Saints follow up successive promotions by storming to Premier League glory.

Prediction: 10th

Stoke City

Could this be year the Stoke bubble finally bursts? For the first time since their promotion there appears to be an air of vulnerability about Tony Pulis’ side. Yes they’re still the league’s most physical side and nobody will relish a visit to The Britannia but something has changed. Again, like almost everything, it comes down to money and Stoke have thus far failed to add to a squad badly in need of some renovating. Instead it will be down to old stalwarts Matthew Etherington, Ryan Shawcross and everyone’s favourite freak, Peter Crouch, to ensure The Potters maintain their Premier League status. A return to form for the mysteriously waylaid Kenwyne Jones would be most welcome too.

Key Player: Matthew Etherington

What might happen: An opposing goalkeeper takes to the field wearing full body armour at The Brittania.

What won’t happen: Tony Pulis gives into temptation and buys Barry Robson for the sole purpose of pairing him with Cameron Jerome. “A commentator’s dream”, is how Motty describes it.

Prediction: 14th


You know a team is struggling for goals when they take Louis Saha on board. Martin O’Neill may have jumped at the chance to bring in such a talented player on a free transfer, but any money saved will inevitably go towards a couple of extra physios to service ole Balsa Boy. But you can’t blame O’Neill for being a bit desperate. Sunderland still haven’t replaced the goals of Darren Bent and none of his current strikers look up to the job, Stephane Sessegnon joined the club as a winger but has bore much of the goalscoring responsibility for the Wearsiders. A top level centre forward is required if The Black Cats wish to avoid being drawn into a relegation dogfight: problem is every club is looking for one of those.

Key Player: Stephane Sessegnon

What might happen: Another drab, uneventful season for the Wearsiders.

What won’t happen: O’Neill abandons his manic ‘leaping leprechaun’ celebrations despite now being 60 years of age.

Prediction: 9th

Swansea City

The appointment of Michael Laudrup as new Swansea manager was probably one of the oddest moments of the summer. They went from the unassuming Brendan Rodgers to one of football’s most famous names. Danes can’t manage anyway, everyone knows that. Name me a good Danish manager? Okay so the fella who led the national side to European glory in 1992 was probably quite decent but him aside there’s nobody. And two of the Swans best players from last season have sought pastures new to boot, Joe Allen has followed Rodgers to Liverpool and Gylfi Sigurdsson has gone to Spurs. But those who remain will be eager to prove that their success wasn’t solely down to their ex-manager, and Laudrup himself will hope his tenure lasts a bit longer than his previous three jobs which have all been as brief as they were unsuccessful.

Key Player: Michel Vorm

What might happen: In a bid to ‘out-Welsh’ their hated rivals, Cardiff City, The Swans become The Dragons, and take to the field breathing fire in the general direction of any unfortunate English players.

What won’t happen: Laudrup’s successful one-year tenure at The Liberty Stadium sees a huge influx of Danish managers to English shores. This influx consists of John Jensen and Dennis Rommedahl in a steamboat.

Prediction: 13th

Tottenham Hotspur

At one point last season, with Spurs only a handful of points off the top, Rafael Van der Vaart was moved to call his side “genuine title contenders”. Oh Rafael you silly man, you’ve obviously not been in England long enough I thought to myself, the only thing Spurs are contenders for is the title of ‘football’s biggest bottlers’. And so it proved: a quick freefall down the table and normality was restored. But why is it that, no matter who is in charge, Tottenham so frequently shit their pants when things get tough? From Hoddle to Jol to Ardiles they’ve always been this way, even George Graham couldn’t change it. And now Daniel Levy has hired a man whose previous experience in English football amounts to the attempted dismantling of a team that went on to win the Champions League. Clever eh?

Key Player: Gareth Bale

What might happen: Every time Tottenham win a game or perform admirably good ole ‘Arry pops up in the media and takes as much credit as is humanely possible. Such a humble geezer.

What won’t happen: Spurs win a trophy. The year doesn’t end in a one you idiot!

Prediction: 5th

West Bromwich Albion

I saw Steve Clarke being interviewed on Sky Sports News the other day and wondered who he was managing these days. As he blethered on about new signings and pre-season excitement I began to pity the poor League One side that had taken a punt on Mourinho’s former spin-doctor. Then he started talking about the Premier League, maybe his club had drawn a top-flight side in the Capital One Cup I mused. But no, he’s actually managing a PL team and it’s West Brom! The Baggies had a great time last season, Roy Hodgson and West Brom seemed a perfect fit: but then England came a calling and that was that. There appears little chance of Scotland, or any other footballing minnow, coming calling for Steve Clarke though so it looks like they’re stuck with him for the foreseeable future.

Key Player: Peter Odemwingie

What might happen: West Brom cement their place as the best team in the Midlands by finishing above the pitiful Villa. A dubious honour if ever there was one.

What won’t happen: Steve Clarke uses his “contacts within the game” to secure the loan signings of Kaka, Lassana Diarra and Esteban Granero.

Prediction: 12th

West Ham United

Ah they’re back, the Hammers, those lovable Cockneys: ready to provide us with endless mirth and comedy until their inevitable relegation in May. Cos that’s what they do isn’t it? They get promoted in a blaze of glory and light up the Premier League throughout August and September, and then find themselves rooted to the foot of the table by the end of February. However it might be different this time, they’ve got Big Sam in charge now. The fans might not like his football but West Ham is a club badly in need of some stability and they can ill afford another relegation. They must learn from the mistakes of the past and re-establish themselves as a top-flight club. Allardyce has already moved to add a bit of steel to the team with the purchases of Alou Diarra and Mohammed Diame, combative central midfield players may not have the fans blowing bubbles but they may safeguard the Hammers future for longer than the usual couple of seasons.

Key Player: Kevin Nolan

What might happen: Despite sitting in a comfortable mid-table position West Ham sack Sam Allardyce, citing increased disquiet among the club’s supporters as the reason. Caretaker manager, Trevor Brooking, gets the Hammers playing the kind of football the fans want to see. He promises to do the same in next year’s Championship campaign.

What won’t happen: West Ham United go an entire season in the Premier League without being caught up in some scandal or controversy.

Prediction: 17th

Wigan Athletic

Would the real Wigan Athletic please stand up? Are Wigan one of the worst sides in the history of Premier League football – as seen from August to March of last season – or are they a top ten side capable of beating anyone in the division when at their best – as seen from March to May of last season. Who knows? Roberto Martinez has miraculously remained at the club but where does he go from here? Avoiding relegation was, up to now, considered a successful season for Wigan but a man of Martinez’s talents must secretly wish for more. Once again he has scrabbled round on the transfer market floor and emerged with some loanees, free transfers and unheralded Spaniards, but with the big boys hovering around their squad eager to feast upon its tastier morsels this may be the end of the road for Martinez and Wigan.

Key Player: Ali Al-Habsi

What might happen: Wigan record home and away victories over Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, but still get relegated.

What won’t happen: Dave Whelan minces his words during an interview.

Prediction: 18th

So there it is, Man city will retain their title again, United will finish a distant second and once more London will trail in Manchester's wake. Wigan will finally bid the Premier League adieu bringing Norwich and Reading down with them. Liverpool, Everton, Newcastle and Spurs will continue to be the best of the rest and Southampton will be the surprise package of the season. All of this can be taken as gospel and when I return to this article next May I will do so with a smug sense of satisfaction, content in the knowledge that my predictions all came to fruition. On the other hand I may not, I may sit here scratching my head in utter bewilderment and wonder just how I could have been so stupid. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A room with a view

Operation Freewheel may have been deemed a success but prostitution is still alive and well in Limerick City..

In November of last year an undercover Garda prostitution sting resulted in the arrest of 21 men. The men, from Limerick, Tipperary and Clare, were charged with solicitation and await hearing later this year. The sting, which saw female Garda pose as street hookers, was deemed a success by local police and further operations have been promised. But what impact has ‘Operation Freewheel’ had on the Limerick city prostitution game? Has targeting the clientele rather than the prostitutes made potential customers think twice before soliciting what, on first glance, appear to be ladies of the night?

Living in a city centre apartment brings with it many benefits: shops are within walking distance, there’s plenty of gigs and nightly entertainment, decent public transport, the list goes on. But arguably one of the best things about city life is the ambience, the hustle and bustle. Simply by looking out my window I am transported to another world. All human life exists out there.  For the most part this just results in me marvelling at the volume of traffic going in and out of Eddie Rocket’s on an hourly basis. But of late I have become privy to something altogether more fascinating.

Anyone even slightly familiar with Limerick city will be all too aware of the prostitution hot spots dotted around its environs.  And up until quite recently I was fully aware of which places to avoid at night if I wished to take an evening stroll unmolested. However now I no longer need wonder how those employed in the oldest occupation in the world are faring on the streets of Limerick city. How come? Because much to my delight I can see for myself. From the comfort of my own window. That’s right the premises have moved. And those of us lucky to live on this street have got front row seats.

I have stopped short of naming the street on which I live. It’s no big secret and anyone who has followed this story in the past will be fully aware of my location. I would just prefer to withhold that information thank you very much. Now back to the whores. Contrary to what those at the helm of Operation Freewheel may think: business is booming. As soon as night falls the girls arrive. Usually no more than four at a time and quite often as little as two. They aimlessly amble up and down the street, twirling their umbrellas as they go, and make no attempt to conceal their intentions whatsoever. Am I offended by their presence? Not in the slightest. Entertained? Most definitely.

So there I sit totally engrossed in the proceedings and imagining myself on some sort of stakeout. Punters, from all walks of life, come and go and everyone seems to be having a jolly good time. The girls – I call them girls because they seem too young to be considered women – appear to be predominately Eastern European and go about their job with gusto. The men, undeterred despite the menace of Operation Freewheel, accompany their paramours down a shady alley into a dingy apartment and return some time later looking content with their lot. If I didn’t know any better I’d think they were going in there for some tea and crumpets.

There doesn’t appear to be any victims in this transaction. But, as ever, appearances can be deceptive. What do we know of these girls so cheerfully plying their trade until the small wee hours on a nightly basis? Was it their dream as a child to one day flee their homeland and come to Ireland to work as a prostitute? We may never know the true extent of sex trafficking in this country. But barely a day goes by without a tale of how these women are brought into Ireland under false pretences and subsequently mistreated and abused by pimps who see them as nothing more than a cash making commodity.

 So why is it that the people responsible for transporting these unassuming harlots onto our streets remain untouched while those guilty of only incredible stupidity are hauled up before the courts? The 21 unfortunate deviants awaiting trial deserve to be taught a harsh lesson but you can’t help feeling that their transgressions are the lesser of two evils. Gardaí may point to a successful operation which has helped clear the streets of 21 potential customers and thus hit the prostitutes where it hurts but are they really that naive? There will always be an abundance of custom for these women and the gangs which control them. All the undercover stings in the world will not change that fact.

Far be it for me to advise our noble policemen and women on how to do their job but it seems that they have taken the easy option. Rather than investigate the circumstances which have allowed these women to enter our country and work as hookers they would prefer to keep their hands clean and pick up a few misguided fools looking for some nocturnal thrills. Perhaps a lack of resources or more likely a lack of initiative is the true reason for this much feted Operation Freewheel. So what is the solution then? If our law enforcers haven’t the gumption to uncover the true workings of the illegal sex trade in Ireland then how can we ever hope to rid our streets of these temptresses? Well maybe we don’t have to.

The call to legalise prostitution in this country has been met with much derision by those in power but is it really that bad an idea? Obviously it will never happen but think of the boost to our ailing economy if we took the progressive decision to allow street workers and online escorts to work in permissible brothels. No longer would Amsterdam be the city of choice for randy groups of lads looking for a weekend away with the boys. They would flock to our shores practically dripping with lust and bring a much needed boost to our tourism trade. Hell why don’t we go the whole hog and legalise cannabis while we’re at it?!

Okay so I may be getting a little carried away, too much time spent watching strumpets does that to you. But the fact remains that little or nothing has changed in the Limerick city prostitution game. The women continue to patrol the streets unhindered. The men continue to solicit their services. Where are the Guards? I don’t see them. Ever. Maybe they’re watching too I don’t know. I’ve toyed with the idea of coming forth with this information but what would be the point? Much better to write a story about it don’t you think?

So while the members of An Gardaí Síochana plot the next sting on unsuspecting members of the public the game goes on. The girls work their pert little asses off and dream about making enough money to return home to their families. But it’s not all plain sailing for them. The Guards may not be all that bothered about what they get up to but there are still some other menacing threats to watch out for. They may be simply providing a service for which they and their taskmasters get richly rewarded for but that doesn’t mean they’re not safe from the fury of a woman scorned.

On one of my many stakeouts I was treated to a sight which left me almost as terrified as I was exhilarated. As the night’s proceedings wound down to a close and I contemplated hitting the hay I watched in wonder as each and every one of the jaunty jezebels turned foot and fled as if their very lives depended on it. What was the cause of their terror I thought as they scampered into the dark recesses of the night? An irate customer wielding some foreboding papers from the local STI clinic? A menacing pimp determined to get his two pounds of flesh? Nope, neither of those. It was instead a mob of local lasses intent on bringing the pain, Limerick style. I never did find out what caused their malevolence towards the hookers. The whole sorry mess spilled over onto another street and out of my sightline. I could have left the comfort of my abode and continued my investigation outside but I had my slippers on and it had been raining so I stayed indoors. Some Journalist I am.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's in a name?

Why one of a parent's most important jobs is getting more difficult with each passing year..........

Choice is a terrible thing. Isn’t life so much simpler when there are no decisions to be made? What clothes to wear, what film to watch, what twitter account to follow: it’s all a bit much at times. Maybe the Communists had it right. Maybe we’d all be so much happier if all of these difficult decisions were made for us. But there’s no turning back now, we want more choice, more options, more, more, more!!

I don’t need to explain how Ireland has changed in the last thirty years. It’s boring. For both me and you. All that needs to be said is we were once a proud nation of potato munching, cap wearing, Guinness drinking, church going people with repressed feelings of guilt and self loathing, and now: now we’re something else. We could blame the British or the Americans for polluting our minds with their high falutin’ ways but in truth we were ripe for the picking. A nation of gap-toothed simpletons just waiting to be corrupted.

So there we were cycling up and down our roads with the children in our pockets and lumps of coal in theirs. Off home to listen to Raidió Teilifis Éireann in silent reverence, mugs of tay in our calloused hands. “Come in outtofit Peader.....and bring your brother Seamus while you’re at it”, “Peggy if I have to call ya one more time”, Kathleen?! Kathleen??!!! KATHLEEEEEEN!!!!! This nightly summons heralded the end of another evening’s play. We would emerge from darkened bushes like thieves in the night and scuttle on home for more fuckin tay. Envisage that very same scene now in 2012. “Madison? Where are you Madison? Hurry on in for your fajitas and call Corey on your way”.

In 2010 the most popular names for newborn babies in Ireland were Daniel and Chloe. Not too bad in fairness. Daniel is a fine name. Aboy Danny, good man Dan. A fine name. Chloe is a bit underwhelming. It doesn’t really mean anything and feels weird when you say it but it’s mostly inoffensive. The other names circling around the top of the lists aren’t bad either; James, Robert, Thomas, Anna, Isabelle, Katie, maybe we’ve not gone completely mad. But what these lists don’t show is the widespread eruption of new, unheralded names.

Perusing the top one hundred names brings up some questions about just where Irish society is headed. Coming in at 83nd and 92rd places respectively in the boys list are Tyler and Sebastian. Worrying. Tyler, to me, is just one of those makey uppy names. A collection of letters thrown together which just happen to make a sound similar to a real name. To the best of my knowledge a Tiler is someone who tiles, with tiles and that. The only problem with Sebastian is how irrefutably posh it sounds. It’s a name designed to be spoken by well heeled, upper class Brits or American suburbanites. But then again any Irish people calling their child Sebastian probably speak like that anyway.

This brings me to my next point. The Irish accent and how it pronounces certain monikers. There’s a reason why names such as Chantelle, Britney and Abigail don’t really suit Irish babies. “Shan-tell”, “Brit-en-nay”, “Abbey-gaale”, our uninitiated little mouths simply can’t help but make a dog’s dinner of these names and many more like them. The children in question may be angels sent from heaven but as soon as they utter that sobriquet the game’s up. The cavorting chanteuse on MTV may carry off those types of names with style and grace but bestowing a similar title on an Irish offspring just doesn’t work. Even more so if they’re a ginger, freckled little urchin with snot caked on their upper lip.

And yes, like it or not, MTV does influence the parents of Ireland when deciding what accursed name to christen their poor progeny. Blaming MTV is lazy on my part however. It would be more accurate to point to a popular culture which borrows from more and more questionable influences. Television in general is responsible for putting all kinds of notions in our prospective mothers, and fathers for that matter. But just because the little fella out of < insert tedious reality tv show title here > is flippin’ adorable doesn’t mean your runt will instantly take on that same appeal upon birth.

Being, as of yet, childless myself I am in no real position to condemn others for their choices. But I’m doing it anyway. My valiant swimmers may have been repelled in their efforts thus far but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it. And what interests me is the reasoning behind choosing certain names. I am no different to those who I have derided for naming their little ‘un after someone “off deh telleh”. I imagine studious little Eli poring over his schoolbooks and giving me a knowing wink as I ask him whether he’s finished his homework yet. And the brazen yet bewitching Scholesy sticking her tongue out at me as I playfully ruffle her hair. What?? Scholesy is a name! If Condoleeza is a fuckin name then so is Scholesy!

And I choose these names because of their connotations. Eli, noble and brave yet kind and forgiving. Scholesy, heroic, majestic...yet unassuming and humble. Long gone are the days when Irish people simply chose from the shallow pool of names available. If I think back to my formative years in the Irish education system I’m almost certain there was only about fourteen to fifteen names in use across the entire secondary school I attended. But Irish names are so versatile. That’s why we didn’t need any other names for years. Patrick, Pat, Patsy, Paddy, Pa, Peader, Packie, Pádraic, Pádraig and of course Patricia for the girls. Don’t even get me started on all the variants of Michael.

Thankfully almost all of these names are still being chosen for the new generations. Not with the same regularity of course but they still exist which is the main thing. Another element to the changing face of Ireland has been the growth in traditional Irish names. Almost as an act of defiance the names of our ancient forebears have begun to crop up in previously unseen levels. We’re suddenly breeding a mob of young Celtic warriors as Oisins, Cillians and Fionns stare menacingly out of their cots with fiery little Irish eyes. How long before someone goes the whole hog and names their unsuspecting little brute Cú Chullain?!

But modernity will always claim its victims and it seems some names are destined to fall by the wayside. Imagine someone showing you their proud bundle of joy and exclaiming “Here’s baby Teresa”, you’d laugh your fuckin bollix off. My own Mother is called Teresa but she’s likely to be the last in our family to go by that name I’m afraid. How about ‘Baby Norman’? Or ‘Baby Nigel’? ‘Baby Eileen’ perhaps? It’s just not happening is it? Those are the names which you can only possess if you’re a grown up. People with those names were probably just referred to as ‘the babee’ when they were first born.

And what of my own name? Simon. I’ve grown to like it. Being born and bred in the UK where the name is quite popular I never really gave it a second’s thought as a child. However upon moving to Ireland, where just the sixteen names were currently in use, I became quickly aware of how much of an anomaly I was. Simple Simon, Simon the Pieman, Simon and Garfunkel, I heard it all and for a while I wondered why I couldn’t have just been called Jimmy like all the other boys. It’s a name that’s never really taken off in Ireland but just for your information the Simon’s of this world tend to be charming, witty and intelligent young men with devilish good looks to boot.

So maybe choice isn’t such a bad thing after all. You can call your children whatever you want nowadays. Fourteen girls were entitled Eh last year. That’s right, Eh. Outstanding. Five boys were given the rather threatening label of Notorious. They don’t stand a chance really do they? Best of all though and proof that there is no limits to humanities lunacy was the child, boy I presume, ordained Tank. I hope for his sake he grows up to be a sturdy, stocky young fellow with a penchant for the gym. One name remains mysteriously absent from all of these lists though. I can’t for the life of me fathom why it’s not on there. Not a Scholesy in sight. Well, we’ll see about that.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Limerick City: An outsider's perspective

I've been living in Limerick for almost a year now, here's how I've got on.........

“You’re moving to where? Limerick?!?  You’re fucked lad”!!! Oh how they laughed as I packed my bags and left the comfortable environs of the sunny South-East to take up residence in the ‘most violent city in Ireland’.  It may have only been just over 100 miles in a westerly direction but for some it seemed like I was entering the twilight zone. As they bid me goodbye I could have sworn I saw one of them mouth the word forever. For chrissakes lads it can’t be that bad, can it?

Violent or nay there was no turning back for me now. But I’d had plenty of time to get used to the idea and I figured I was ready. So why move to Limerick? Why come to a city with a reputation so bad the mere mention of its name had people rolling their eyes and voicing any one of several well-worn stereotypes?  Well I certainly wasn’t moving here for the good of my health that was for sure. I was coming to make a fresh start. Having secured a place on the Journalism course at the local University I was moving lock stock and was ready to make Limerick my base for the next four years. And a few scary stories about some local ne’er do wells wasn’t about to put me off.

So what did I know about the place which was to become my new home? Well very little as it goes. In fact I would go as far to say that I knew fuck all about Limerick City and was relying on anecdotal evidence to educate me on my new habitat. Friends reliably informed me that I would be lucky to survive more than a few days and warned me not to leave the house without a carefully secreted blade somewhere on my person. Loved ones choked back the tears and told me not to leave the house at all, ever. But luckily I’ve never been one to pay heed to the words of others and so on a rainy (more on that later) Friday afternoon in early August I found myself sat on a chair in my new home looking out the window at my new city, Limerick City.

Early impressions? Mostly positive. I noted with some degree of wonder that the main thoroughfare was remarkably long and could in many ways be compared to the Las Vegas strip. Okay so it had none of the glitz and glamour you associate with that Mecca in the Nevada desert, but drunken idiots stumbling along its entire length? Yep. Bright shopfronts luring you in with false promises? Uh huh. Thousands of discarded chewing gums worn into the pavement? Most definitely. And the great thing was from my city centre apartment I could watch all of this action as it occurred and didn’t even have to leave the comfort of my own home. The folks back home would be relieved.  

With over three weeks until my time in UL began I had plenty of time to familiarise myself with my new surroundings and as someone who likes nothing more than a good aimless amble Limerick was perfect for me. Mooching around the city was one thing but I wanted to go further afield, see what the real Limerick was like. I was well aware of where not to go but only knew those places by name. Best to just find out where the rough areas are by myself I thought as I struggled to shove a carving knife down the front of my trousers. So off I went like the intrepid traveller that I was, eager to meet new people and discover new places, I was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.

The first thing that struck me was the River Shannon. I’m not exactly what you’d call a seafarer and I can’t even swim but I couldn’t help but be impressed by this vast expanse of water. And the array of bridges which straddled it, connecting the Northside to the Southside only added to the appeal. But was there a North v South divide I wondered as I crossed one of these many bridges? Which was I? Should I align myself with a particular side if things kick off? So much to learn and so little time to do it I thought as I continued my walk through what was now the suburbs I presumed. But wait, what was that ahead? A road sign which if I’m not mistaken says “Welcome to County Clare”!! Had I been walking that long? Had my daydream about all things North and South lasted for days rather than minutes? No my watch reliably informed me that I’d only left my house a mere 45 minutes ago. And here I was in another county. Crazy stuff! What was Limerick, or Clare, going to throw at me next I wondered?

Further walks provided me with enough intel to know where and where not to go. My rule of thumb was to never go beyond the shadow of Thomond Park and I’ll be safe. Lovely stadium by the way, pity they play such a shite sport inside in it. That brings me to my next observation of Limerick City. They don’t half love rugby do they? Fuck me!! Knowing nothing of provincial rugby I couldn’t for the life of me understand why every second person seemed to be wearing red jerseys, jackets, sweaters, hoodies, polo shirts, vests, t-shirts, bras, tank tops, overcoats, undercoats, blazers or any other type of attire you can name. What’s with the little Stag emblem I thought to myself, is this yet another fashion craze which has somehow passed me by? Further inspection revealed that for once I wasn’t lagging behind in the fashion stakes and this ubiquitous sports clothing was that of the Munster rugby team. Ahhh I see.

So yes, Limerick people love rugby. Understood loud and clear. And sure why not? Their hurling team is shite. Gaelic football team? Couldn’t tell ya. Their soccer (football to you and I but soccer for now to avoid confusion) team is apparently one of the most progressive clubs in the country but still finds itself in the second tier of our national league. So rugby it is. Well you’re welcome to it lads, thanks all the same. It’s pretty difficult to avoid it though, especially on Heineken Cup days. I’m no lover of rugby but I can still appreciate the effort made by everyone in the city to create a carnival atmosphere whenever Munster are playing at home in Europe’s premium competition. It’s an atmosphere I’m content to soak up from indoors though as I wouldn’t dream of fraternising with those canapé scoffing, face painted simpletons.

But how on earth did rugby ever become so popular in this part of the world I thought to myself. You have to be outside to play rugby and it is a sport which is best performed on grass. How did they manage to brave the rain for long enough to learn the rules of the game? Why wasn’t Limerick the home of mud-wrestling and not rugby? Surely that would make more sense? What I’m trying to get at is it rains a lot in Limerick. A helluva lot. It rains all the time. It could be the sunniest day with not a cloud in the sky but mores the fool you if you leave the house without some form of rainwear. Cos that rain is out there and it can strike at any time. One minute you’re walking along commenting on how tanned you’re going to get, the next you’re diving for cover as the heavens unleash a monsoon of epic proportions. Limerick is by far the rainiest place I have ever been to in my entire life. The thousands of creatures which reside in the Amazonian rainforest wouldn’t last five minutes here.

And what of the creatures who reside in this concrete jungle? The natives. What are they like? Yes we know they love rugby but there must be more to them than that. First off there’s the accent. Not the pretty, lilting accent of the well-bred, upper-class though, that’s perfectly unremarkable. I’m talking about the hard Limerick accent, the stuff they speak on the street innit. If I had to sum up the Limerick accent in one word I would call it....... interesting. It’s like the Cork accent but different, not quite as sing songy. It sounds as if those speaking it wish to molest the words before they even exit their mouths, leaving nothing but an indecipherable squawk once it finally hits the air. Sometimes I just sit by my open window and listen to the locals converse in this strange dialect. And I feel just like Darwin must have done all of those years ago.

They may talk in a rather odd way but what of all this unprovoked violence I was promised? Where had that gotten to? In my previous abode in Waterford City I had been privy to a variety of stabbings, murders and general tomfoolery all in the space of a couple of years, since moving here: nothing. Not a dicky bird. I did nearly get run over by a swarthy man commandeering a horse and cart but aside from that I remained intact. I have seen something else which I wasn’t expecting though and it is something which is saddening for locals and outsiders alike. I have seen heroin addicts, and lots of them. Whether it be morning, noon or midnight these lost souls roam the streets of Limerick City and were it not for their continuous begging for “change for the bus” I might feel a modicum of sympathy for them. Kudos goes to the quite creative chap who asked me for money for a takeaway one night though. I treated him to a four course dinner at the Cornstore for his efforts.

It may seem like I have done nothing but take the piss out of Limerick and its inhabitants during the course of this article and for that I can only apologise. Like the little boy who does nothing but pull the hair and steal the comb of the girl he fancies I have chosen to express my love for this fine city by poking fun at it. It’s a great place and I love living here.  It may be cast as a dangerous badlands by the national media but nothing could be further from the truth. The jewel in its crown is obviously the University but even discounting that for a second there is plenty to enjoy in the city. I could go all ‘Lonely Planet’ and start recommending places to go and things to do but where would be the fun in that? Better to just come here and check it out for yourself. But maybe bring a little Stanley Knife with you just to be on the safe side.