Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Welcome to Fermanagh, Barack. It's just Gr8!

Declan Bogue offers to introduce President Obama to the charms of the Lakeland county

Some weeks ago, I was in an old milking parlour stripped off its machinery and converted into something of a rudimentary gym. The philosophy inside the galvanised doors is one of sweat, not science.

I was with a friend who has moved into his ancestral farmhouse and we were doing some heavy-duty training for a boxing tournament.

At one stage, I caught him on the jaw. His gumshield flew out and skidded across the concrete floor that generations of cattle had indifferently dunged upon while their juices were drained.

He marched over, lifted it up and put it straight back in without even a rinse.

I thought it was brilliant. My heart swelled with pride in how unreconstructed the proximity of violence had brought us to. This was living. Living!

Word has it that Barack Obama enjoys little pick-up games of shooting hoops. Indeed, he even hooped it up on election day earlier this month with no less than Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen.

If he finds himself at a loose end (and if the spectacularly-named basketball team Fermanagh Lakers are playing away from home) during some downtime while he is a guest of Fermanagh at the G8 summit, he's welcome to join our little fight club.

If that doesn't appeal, a pint of velvet porter awaits him in Blake's of the Hollow in Enniskillen. The front bar is a listed building and everything that a pub should be.

Colm Toibin once described it as a "Cathedral of a pub". John McGahern used it as a mail-drop.

After a night wetting his whistle, he could well be peckish. As he ventures out of the pub and turns right up the hill to the Diamond, that is where the drinkers and fighters hang out at the end of a typical night.

There is an infamous chip van stationed there that earned a dubious nickname a long time ago. When the popularity of their cheesy chips meant they had to get a bigger vehicle to cook and dispense from, they invested in some signwriting and made the nickname official, with The Muck Truck proudly emblazoned upon it.

Admit it, you never gave Fermanagh a second thought, did you? A wet wee county, irrelevant in the great scheme of things, you thought.

But G8 summit changes everything. Now, you will have to bone up on everything Lakeland.

Like our famous actors, Adrian Dunbar or Charlie Lawson, who in his role as Jim McDonald in Coronation Street, showed up for work everyday, surveyed himself in the mirror, and implored himself to be even more 'Ulster' than he was yesterday. Method acting, De Niro-style.

It will be uncomfortable for you, we know. There is a tradition of rebellion and misfits from the county that transcends the fields these men operated in.

Like Terence MacManus, a leader of the Young Irelander Rebellion, or Father Brian D'Arcy, who is exactly the kind of free-thinker the Catholic Church should be listening to, instead of trying to quieten.

Then we have those two very different personalities who stood apart in the literary world and were educated in Portora Royal school - Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. Want more? Well, there's musician Neil Hannon, tungsten technician Brendan Dolan and Sean Quinn.

And just like the good folk down in Kerry as the Rose of Tralee approaches, we await the flood into the county for the summit, feed you our local charm and witticisms and dip the hand into your wallet at the same time.

These are desperate times, with the recent announcement of 70 jobs that will soon disappear into the ether of what was formerly known as Quinn Insurance.

Already, the circus coming to town is the only topic of discussion.

The politics behind a meeting of the G8 is the last thing to be discussed. All that matters is the stardust that will be sprinkled on us for a fleeting moment.

While we will do our best to squeeze anything we can out of it, we will also tug the forelock like simpletons, forcing compliments out of world leaders and changing suites in the Lough Erne Hotel to match the names of various world leaders.

As our gorgeous county teeters on the madness of approving fracking and tearing up the stunning landscape, the world leaders of finance arrive into town attempting to dream up even more imaginative attempts to put the issue of global warming even further on the long finger.

Seems that all that matters is the style, not the substance. If Barack wants to avoid the bull during his stay in Fermanagh, he can join us in the milking parlour, glove up and bite down hard on his gumshield.

But no rinsing. Sorry, Barack, but dems the rules.

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