Better Than That

“Somebody calls you but you cannot hear
Get closer to be far away
Only one look and that’s all that it takes
Maybe that’s all that we need
All that it takes, I’ll bet it’s right
All it takes, if it’s right
I got a girlfriend that’s better than that
And she goes wherever she likes (there she goes)”

  • Frantz/Frantz/Byrne/Harrison/Weymouth

“Do you fancy a day out ?” the message read. It was a text message from Shane , St.Macartan’s Student Of The Year, 1983,and old friend.

I didn’t reply immediately. Another old friend, Milo, St.Macartan’s Student Of The Year ,1984, had asked me a similar question earlier this year, and I said ‘yes’, assuming we were going to a play, or a gig, but ending up on Lough Derg for a day of prayer.

“It’s not Lough Derg.” Shane texted an hour later.


He asked if I was free on Sunday 20th, and after checking with my Soul Mate, who seemed a little too delighted to have a Sunday free of me cajoling everyone into watching a classic movie, I said yes.

For a long time Shane and I were friends simply because we were both friends with Milo. In later years we had a few nights out with pints ,or dinner and pints, in Monaghan, but all through last year when I was going through my treatment, he contacted me weekly and we would discuss music, faith, ear hair, family, diet, and friends.

Shane collected me at 9 am on Sunday and we headed off on our mystery tour…to Sligo. The whole journey passed in moments as we were engaged in giddy conversation. We had a leisurely brunch in Strandhill, wandered around a Sunday market in an old airport hangar , collected a flask of tea from his house, and went for a walk around BenBulben.

We stopped at Shane’s favourite spot, a high seat with panoramic views of  the Atlantic, and after a moment or two, and our tea, and our chocolate biscuits, I began to understand what he had been trying to tell me about his spiritual connection to this place.

It started to rain.

We stopped next at Drumcliffe Church and paused for a moment at Yeat’s grave and said a silent prayer , half forgiving him for the dreadful poems we had to learn at school. Then we called back to Shane’s house, had a quick chat with Deirdre and then imposed on their son Daire to drop us down to Sligo’s oldest pub, Thomas Connolly’s.

We were sitting there for a few moments before I realised something.

“Shane, I’ve been here before. In fact I’ve been barred from this pub.”

I told him that one weekend in 1991 a gang of us had spent the weekend in Sligo staying with the family of John Keaney, a student doctor I shared a house with in Dublin. Paul McCormick, another of the student doctors was there, along with his future wife Blaithin, then a student nurse and several of her student nurse friends. My Soulmate travelled up from Galway and two of my friends, Fintan Hamill, and Fintan O’Donnell, who both pretended to be student doctors from a different hospital also arrived. We had a ball !

On the Sunday morning, all those years ago, John’s Dad invited us to go for a pint in an old pub where they played music on a Sunday morning. And so we all trooped into Thomas Connolly’s, and just as Mr.Keaney was asking us all what we’d like to drink, Paul McCormick, normally the most reserved of the lot of us, became mesmerised by the microphone that the band had set up, and went up to it and sang “Wop Bop a loo bop…” to which the barman roared in reply “OUT ! You’re all barred !”.

We tumbled out of the place laughing, and then asked Mr.Keaney where we should go next, he was angry and mortified, Connolly’s was his favourite pub. “Home, straight home.”

Shane called over Paul, the new owner of the bar , and asked me to tell the story again. Paul laughed and said that I , and all the doctors and nurses were officially unbarred.

This was proving to be a great day altogether !

Shane had set up the Sligo Whiskey Society during Covid and it was now based in Connolly’s , so everyone knew his name and said hello. If I lived in Sligo, it would be my favourite spot too. After a couple of pints and a cheeky wee whiskey Daire collected us again and took us back to Shane’s for tea with Deirdre. We chatted about old acquaintances, priests we liked, short list, priests we didn’t, slightly longer list, and why we both ultimately decided that that wasn’t the life for us.

Over the day we’d chatted about things we had in common, things that were unique to each of us, points in both our lives where we interconnected, and different directions we took from the same starting point.

We marvelled at our good fortune.

We had a whole day to ourselves to chat.

We chatted the whole day.

I once heard that the definition of an Irish conversation was two people each waiting for the other to draw breath so they could get a word in. I know I talk a lot. So does Shane. The day just flew.

We are old friends, we have nothing to prove to each other, and nothing to hide.

In a way it was like the feeling of catharsis you used to get as a kid after confession, except this time there was no penance, and we had pints.

After Daire and Shane dropped me home I messaged Paul McCormick to tell him that Paul, the new owner of Connolly’s had unbarred us. He messaged back to say that he’d spent two years in Sligo as a trainee GP and never dared enter that pub.

I have been fortunate to have had many, many great days out with great friends, but not many have been better than that.

Thanks Shane !



P.S. My Soulmate would like to thank all those who  donated last week to her Emy Nippers ‘Dip In The Nip’ cancer appeal.

Author: paul

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