Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

This Gael will go anywhere for a fry-up

Just because Here is small does not mean that you can’t get lost.

The Ullans Academy were kind enough to invite me to their annual St Patrick’s Day breakfast last week at the La Mon Hotel and, being a journalist, I never turn down an invitation to free food.

The Academy aims to develop mutual respect for Ulster-Scots (Ullans) and Ulster Irish, something they term Ulidian. Speaking the latter and not believing in the former, I was still happy to go the event and wrestle with my conscience and some bacon and eggs.

Not being familiar with the hotel’s location, I asked directions of a couple of people and got the usual “If I were you, I would not start from there” routine.

No, I don’t have sat nav. Did Hugh O’Neill have sat nav as he marched to Kinsale? No! (Nor, regrettably did he have a crystal ball.)

Still, armed with various notes scribbled on bits of paper, I set off on an epic journey that makes On Eagle’s Wing seem like a primary one play.

Needless to say, I was in poor enough form. While happy to accept any invitation that involves a bite to eat (did I mention the food?), the fact that the Ullans Academy chose to have a Saint Patrick’s Day Breakfast as opposed to a Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner is enough to confuse the poor Gael.

Is this desire to get up early — I was told to be there for 7.45am — an Ulster-Scot work ethic thing? The Gael does not do early mornings; the Gael prefers the evening for his cultural activities. This is when the Gael is at his best, lamenting the state of Gaeldom.

Worse, my little bits of paper were not as accurate as they could have been. I took a wrong turn somewhere — in the car, I mean, not culturally.

It was the sign that said ‘Fair Fa’ Ye Tae the Airds’ that sent me spinning down the wrong route. Was this odd greeting there to beguile to the poor Gael, a sort of roadside 11-plus to sort out the cultural chaff from the wise wheat?

Anyway, I missed a turn and ended up in Comber which is just plain old Comber and not Comber/An Comar/The Confluence. Still, I’ve been to Comber. Tick that off the list of 100 places to see before I die.

Naturally, I did what no man likes to admit doing in a situation like this — I asked directions of Lynne in the Spar and she put me on the right road and I got to the breakfast in time.

Which is just as well as it was packed with the great, the good and the formerly bad but trying to be better.

From what I could see a broad range of green and orange was represented, we were treated to some very good music from Boy’s Model and St Patrick’s, Barr na Gaoithe, in Belfast, Sister Breige Vallelly and someone called the Reverend Ian Paisley gave two very interesting talks and the Academy’s gracious president, Doctor Ian Adamson, should book Belfast’s Grand Opera House and begin a new career as a stand-up comedian.

He has one-liners that would put Patrick Kielty in the ha’ penny place. Mutual respect and free food or ‘Fair Fa’ Ye and a Fry’. If only all cultural events were as (ful)filling.

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