How are ye Ballyclare?
This week’s (hopefully) riveting instalment comes at youse from a motel room in a wee place called Redland Bay about 40 minutes south east of Brisbane.
Redland Bay itself is around the same size as Bal’easton and to be honest, despite the several time zones and the thousands of miles that separate the two locales, the two could almost be twinned with each other, such is their similarity but more about that later…
As mentioned already, these words are brought to you from my motel room – a modest, somewhat dated yet homely environ which is admittedly not a place that everyone might find to be their preverbal cup of tea.
Yet I love it.
Yes, the room is modestly furnished, with a cream coloured carpet that has been better days, a TV with 8 channels (the four terrible free-to-air Australian channels repeated twice), a bathroom whose décor was probably incredibly funky in the early 70’s but now looks like something out of a holding cell at Guantanamo Bay, an air conditioner whose noise sounds remarkably like a Massey Ferguson tractor labouring through a ploughed field back home in the cold of winter, a wireless which is fully deserved of this old fashioned moniker and a rather uncomfortable bed which comes complete with it’s own mode of transport – a set of castor wheels which means the bed shoots off in random directions any time you so even as look at it.
But of all of this could be considered churlish considering the reasons as to why I am here.
A few weeks ago, I was nothing but your average wide-eyed tourist Down Under, roving around this wonderful great expanse of land with a child-like wonder until… well, until the money ran out basically, the wolves were at the door, last orders were called at the bar, time to call an end to the party. There was nothing else for it…
I Had To Get A Job.
Fortunately, the world is still crying out for IT-nerds and I was able to get a job working for a company based in the Central Business District (CBD) of Brisbane – kind of like the Laganside area of Belfast but without the style.
However, unfortunately for me, the project that they have put me on is with a client that are based almost as far to the south of Brisbane as I am living to the north, resulting in a commute that can be anything up to 2 hours there AND BACK.
Can you imagine?!
With 4 hours of driving each day you could get from Ballyclare to Dublin and back. I don’t think there are many that would do it though. (Answers to the editor please)
Australia is a huge place and considering they are sponsoring my visa to make everything legal for me, there is not a lot I can do with my predicament at the moment – except for breaking up my week with the occasional stop-over in places near to the chicken slaughterhouse that I currently find myself working for. I know - it all sounds terribly glamorous, doesn’t it? Don’t you wish you were over in Australia “living the dream” just like me?
Now, perhaps it is the after-work “schooners” of XXXX Bitter that I have consumed, or more likely the ‘nostalgic’ (rule number one of living so far away from home: never admit to feeling homesick) feelings that I get for The Motherland when I start to write these articles but Redland Bay, Queensland, Australia reminds me of Bal’easton, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Admittedly, Bal’easton can’t boast fantastic sea-views out into the Pacific Ocean, nor can it claim to be a muggy 28 degrees at almost nine o’clock in the evening – even if the open fire is roaring in Staffy’s pub – and the streets of Bal’easton certainly aren’t lined with palm trees swaying to the beat of the warm evening breeze but look beyond the obvious superficial differences and the similarities are there for everyone to see.
Based on my initial experiences so far this evening, the similarities with Bal’easton are these:
Redland Bay has the one pub which the locals can claim as their own. The people that frequent it seem to be of a predominantly blue collar background – farmers, tradesmen (“tradies” as they’re known here) or those clientele that can proudly lay claim to hailing from the “older generation”
The locals, as indecipherable as they can be, with their unique “adaptation” of the English language, despite their wary and gruff exterior can be absolute treasures to behold.
This evening has been spent chatting with the locals about “footie” (rugby league), “rugby” (rugby union), football (Aussie Rules), “cricket” (erm, cricket) and “soccer” (REAL FOOTBALL at last!). There was even horse-racing going on in the corner (on a television!) and they had their own bookies within the pub – a bit like the back bar of the Ballyboe when June was in her element.
It was reminiscent of chatting with the locals in Staffy’s, the back bar of the Ballyboe or at the Square Bar – without the references to rugby league, Aussie rules and “soccer” of course – but Aussie Blokes, like we Irish, love their sport with a passion that is frighteningly – and I’m sure in some cases truthfully – relationship-ending.
Thankfully, coming from a Ballyclare High “Brackets-Grammar” School Education and being a self-confessed sports fanatic, I’m able to proffer what I hope is a vaguely interesting addition to the conversations on rugby union and cricket and having lived in Wigan, I can also get by with a passing knowledge on rugby league but to be honest, I’m just glad to get in amongst these guys and take a back seat as they make fun of each other and their sporting allegiances.
Having already pinned my allegiances with the Brisbane Broncos Rugby League team by buying a ticket for their opening game tomorrow evening against their “local” rivals, the North Queensland Cowboys, I was already the brunt of some good-natured banter.
Thankfully the Irish rugby union team is doing us proud, because these ‘yokels’ reckon our cricket team doesn’t stand a chance, now that the Cricket World Cup has started this week. Who would have thought it, eh? Ireland sending a team to the cricket world cup – I wait with baited breath for our opening game against Pakistan on Paddy’s Day. Perhaps next week, I’ll be looking for somewhere else to stay.
Ah yes, which brings me on nicely to (St.) Paddy’s Day.
How uncomfortable I was as a child from a strong Protestant background to join in these celebrations, when in fact, the truth be known, we have just as much right to celebrate the man’s life as our Catholic neighbours and the people of Ballyclare even more so.
The fact that he spent his life-defining moments just a few short miles up the road from us in Ballyclare on the grassy slopes of the majestic Mount Slemish further adds to my enthusiasm for celebrating this time of year.
It’s not a political thing for me but a celebration of where I come from – Ballyclare first, Northern Ireland second, Ireland third.
Of course these days, the huge Diaspora of immigrants from Ireland, north and south around the world (an estimated 70 million people worldwide can claim Irish heritage), coupled with the advent of the ubiquitous Irish Pub, ensures that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in all four corners of the globe. I even read recently that the first Irish pub has opened in Afghanistan, so one can only imagine how the big day will be spent over there.
Having spent the last several St. Patrick’s Days in different countries, I now wonder what I can expect from this, my first Down Under.
Just a few short, enjoyable months into my Great Australian Adventure, the historical ties between Australia and Ireland are evident almost everywhere I go, from family names, street names to the names of businesses, so I am certain that there will be many people joining in the party with me.
The fact that it falls on a Saturday this year will certainly swell the numbers, some of whom I have no doubt will be bringing out long dead ancestry ties to the Emerald Isle as they sip teary-eyed on their pints of the Black Stuff.
I read with some interest that the Irish Premier spent a recent St. Patrick’s Day in Sydney. What a nice little jolly that must have been - leaving the Irish winter for the Australian summer to “Project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal” - according to the manifesto of a group known as the St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which was formed in the mid 1990’s.
For my part, as an unofficial and self-appointed ambassador of Ireland and especially all things good about Northern Ireland, I have had an article published in several news papers Down Under informing our Australian cousins of Ballyclare’s proud connection to the legend of Patrick.
Just in case that’s not enough to get the message across, I shall be joining the party down in Brisbane spreading the Ballyclare Gospel, where I have been reliably informed that there will be plenty going on, including parades, horse-racing, dancing, music and of course some drinking with the party culminating in a place called Dooley’s Hotel – and I’ll be there in the middle of it proudly wearing my “Norn Iron” shirt talking to all and sundry.
Therefore, with my first St. Patrick’s Day to be spent in Australia just around the corner, I will leave you with this one, last thought.
The tiny island of Montserrat, known as "The Emerald Island of the Caribbean" due to its foundation by Irish refugees from Saint Kitts and Nevis, is the only place in the world apart from the Republic of Ireland and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador in which St Patrick's Day is a public holiday.
In Montserrat, the St. Patrick’s Day festival is a week long event, culminating in the day itself, so perhaps that is an idea for next year for us all to go and spread the Ballyclare gospel?