John B Keane: Abbeyfeale festival one to remember

Never before in its history did the Square of Abbeyfeale see such a throng of people as it did on Saturday night of last week when Peter O’Connor of Tournafulla was elected the first Feale Baron in a dramatic count-off.

Never before in its history did the Square of Abbeyfeale see such a throng of people as it did on Saturday night of last week when Peter O’Connor of Tournafulla was elected the first Feale Baron in a dramatic count-off.

The count took place at St Ita’s Hall, but the real drama was played out in the streets and pubs of the town where rumour confounded rumour and no one was certain of anything. One minute we were told that the Duagh man was leading or was it the Templeglantine man? It was, of course, the latter, and he wound up second to the inimitable Peter O’Connor, who drew votes from every quarter as the count proceeded.

However, it was not ‘till eleven o’clock or so that the general public put paid to its guessing game and was assured, convinced and catapulted into the certainty that O’Connor had taken the day.

I saw grown men cover their faces with their hands and weep. I saw others weep for joy and women of all ages and sizes rooting in their handbags for handkerchiefs to dry the tears.

There were cries of “I told you so” but the truth is that is was a very close contest until very near the end when O’Connor suddenly spurning all opposition went to the front and with the ease of a Nijinsky or an Arkle stayed up there, all the time opening up the gap between himself and his rivals.

That he was a popular winner cannot be doubted. The other candidates were excellent losers and when I spoke to my friend Pat Carroll of Mountcollins he told me that it was the fun of the thing that mattered and that the idea was to compete. I got the impression that Pat couldn’t care less about winning or losing, that his only concern was helping to make the Abbeyfeale carnival be a success and success it was right from the beginning to the very end with large crowds every night.

Let analysts try to determine why such a carnival could draw such large crowds over so long a period so late in the year. Let firms of consultants be hired, but none can deny the simple fact that the Feale Baron was the best idea in many a long year and I am sure that many other towns and villages will be sorry that they hadn’t thought of it.

As I said a few weeks ago, before the carnival got off the ground, it had to click because the story was a good one, the kind that appeals to man, woman and child.

There was a possibility of conflict. There was ready made drama. There was tension. In fact there was every requisite ingredient to make the whole thing a howling success.

The investiture of the Baron was a short and simple affair, during which the first incumbent showed the mettle he was made of. His speech was short and sincere, and one could see that the honour had not gone to his head.

I met, too, another candidate; that grand gentleman, Leamie Murphy, from Athea. Another fine sportsman here, whose first reaction to the news was to dance a hornpipe at Jim Lavin’s. That’s the spirit.

In Joy’s I was told by a Duagh man that the Catholic vote in Abbeyfeale was the one to capture.

I heard Denis Kelly sing that fine ballad composed by his father, The Shamrock from Dirreen.

Thade Kelly, who was Denis Kelly’s father, used to send shamrocks, once upon a time, to his friend, Will Histon of New York. Hence the song. Alas, Thade Kelly died in 1945, but in his ballad he left a valuable legacy behind him.

Denis Kelly is a man I must meet again, for he has other songs. A final comment on the Feale Baron election, it clicked this year. It will be even better next year.

The work put into it, and the idea was a great one. There was efficiency in the carrying out of it from top to bottom.

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That inveterate corres-pondent and poetess, Kathy O’Donovan of Murroe, writes this week and encloses a fairly long poem called The Leprechaun.

Unfortunately there isn’t room for all of it but a few verses will certainly do no harm.

Oh, as I walked round by a whitethorn bush

I heard an old woman and screaming

A leprechaun she had caught by the neck

And his pot of gold she was seeking

She shouted: Give me out that crock

I know you’re after hiding

And this bright night, sure

I caught you right

As you slept while the gold you were minding.

The leprechaun let out a squawk

And said I’m almost choking:

But her ladyship, she held her grip,

Saying I’m no fool, you’re joking.

His whiskers now stood out on end ,

His eyes like stars were shining

Oh let me go, sure I will show

Where the crock of gold is hiding.

And so the poetess takes us to the finale where the leprechaun pulls a fast one and disappears.