Week 25 of the column! Who woulda thunk it? Certainly not my guidance counsellor in school, who said I should be an engineer and also got my name wrong.
The worst storm that I can remember was in December 1996. It seemed to come out of nowhere and pummelled east Cork right before Christmas, ripping the roof off the local Co-Op and leaving thousands without power. We lost our power on Christmas Eve and didn’t get it back for ten days. This, of course, would not be that bad, only for the fact that we have a well, and no power meant no water – to drink, to flush, to wash. That Christmas was never going to be an easy one, as we had lost my sister earlier that year. I can remember my parents and I sitting around the fire, all trying to be strong for each other, all pretending that somehow this live reenactment of The Shining was a much more traditional Christmas, as opposed to an incredibly sad week and a half of darkness, despair and poor personal hygiene. We didn’t even have a TV to distract us from the loss, or clean water to wash away the tears. Thank god I had a massive supply of beer to keep me hydrated.
The most memorable part of the storm and its aftermath were the simple acts of kindness. People we hardly knew showed up to the door with gallons of water, hot food, and even a couple of roasted turkeys fresh out of the oven. It was incredibly touching, even though it meant I had to eat about 30lbs of turkey in 48 hours so it wouldn’t all end up in the bin. To this day that storm ranks as the worst and best I have lived through, and I still use it as a gauge for any other natural disasters – the only questions I ask are; are we all here; is everyone ok; and who wants more half melted ice cream. As long as you are safe and together, things are generally ok – although a decent supply of Febreeze and babywipes also helps.
It was disappointing to see Offaly get hit by Ophelia. The recent census figures showed that the county has the highest percentage of Catholics in the country, which I assumed made it some sort of promised land for the chosen people of Ireland. Apparently not; they got smote just like everyone else, despite being the home to important pilgrimage sites like Clonmacnoise and that Barrack Obama filling station in Moneygall. Granted, there were a few missteps along Offaly’s path to righteousness, as the county is responsible for not one but two Cowens, while they also declared war on heaven by Birr physicist George Johnstone Stoney coining the term electron in 1891 as the as the “fundamental unit quantity of electricity”, thus undermining the power of prayer, which up until that point had been fuelling the national grid. I’m sure all the poor souls without power in The Faithful County will enjoy the irony of that. Perhaps this latest testing of their faith might make them want to move to Dun Laoghaire, which not only had electricity right through Ophelia but also has the lowest number of Catholics in the country. Coincidence? Probably, yes.
I spent Ophelia trapped in Dublin. My daughter and I travelled up on Sunday to make a hospital appointment on Monday morning that was subsequently cancelled, along with all of the trains out of the city. The culchie in me felt a rising panic as I realised I was going to have to spend another 24 hours in this terrifying metropolis, trying to hide my uncool, non-ironic country ways and singy-songy Cork accent. I stood at the Luas stop for a tram that would never come, desperately trying to remember what the Five Lamps were, or how to make coddle, in case a local started talking to me. The last thing any culchie wants is to be identified as such in the Big Smoke and subjected to the hate hoots of the million or so first generation Dubs whose parents only left a bog in Mayo two decades ago. We kept the heads down and just prayed that we would make it out alive, ready to burst into Aslan songs if anyone tried to chat to us. As we walked through the city centre, businesses were pulling down the shutters, as staff got sent home to ride out what has become known as Bank Holiday Ophelia with important provisions like Netflix and cans. We passing throngs of bemused tourists who obviously failed to listen to the Nuacht warnings that the weather was going to get ufasach ar fad, as they clustered around important cultural attractions like Carroll’s gift shops, those Paddywagon places, and Starbucks. But it’s good to know that when the trumpet sounds and the fall of man begins, we will still be able to get a pumpkin spice latte and Kiss Me I’m Irish bonnet.
In the middle of the storm the new broke that Sean Hughes had passed away. Aged just 51, he was one of the great surreal comedians of the Nineties, but more than than, he always seemed like a nice guy. There was something loveable about his witty misery, his love of indie music, and his wet, sad Irish eyes. One of my favourite quotes is his thoughts on religion, of which he once said “I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a man or because I was brought up a Catholic. But sometimes I find the whole idea of sex repulsive and at other times I’d gladly stick my penis up a drain.” Hopefully when he gets to the pearly gates they will see the funny side.