On a fine sunny morning in the mid-1960s Samuel Beckett was walking to the Lord’s Cricket Ground across Regent’s Park. He had travelled to London from Paris specially for the test match between England and Australia, staying with the publisher John Calder at his house behind Wigmore Street. John Gibson, an Irish director in the BBC radio department, remembered how enthusiastic the playwright was about the green trees, the birds singing, the company of good friends, the beautiful blue sky. At this someone remarked, “Yes, on a day like this it’s good to be alive.” To which Beckett replied: “Well, I wouldn’t go as far as that!””
When intellectuals dream of Ireland, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and James Joyce spring to their wise minds.
I, like Becket, think of cricket and, like the entire world, Guinness. These splendid pastimes are fresh in my memory because I have returned from a delightful short week indulging in both.
I joined the end of the White City All Stars tour to Southern Ireland, led by the journalist Peter Oborne. They are an eclectic and eccentric team bumbling around God’s country wearing lurid pink caps and exuding English charm. I managed to dodge wearing the cap but was rapidly welcomed into the affability.
My journey wasn’t as smooth as a Guinness. After a pleasant 9 o’clock flight from Gatwick to Dublin, I hopped onboard a bus driven by a mad Sri Lankan. After sailing westwards through the endless countryside and relentless Irish rain, I was deposited on the side of the road at Athlone. I had no idea where I was so headed the nearest watering hole.
Fully blazered and chinoed up, I burst into the local. Rather worryingly the lads at the bar were somewhat baffled by the notion of cricket being played half a mile away. Full of bluster I assured them it was the case. I soon discovered it was a private ground by a grand house. After a swift pint and quick cab ride, I found myself on a cricket pitch.
The chaps were halfway through their tour when I joined and most were saturated by the velvety stout and summer game – like blues musicians, many appeared to have sold their souls to pursue their pursuit. Tired eyes and weary bodies creaked into their whites but once the boots crossed the boundary they were enlivened. An easy victory ensued, with the sublime surroundings of lazy weeping willows and magnificent stentorian oaks more than compensating for a wicket that resembled a quagmire.
After this marvellous victory, the next game in Galway was sadly rained off. The depression generated by the prospect of a long day ahead was dramatically transformed by the realisation that Galway is synonymous with crustaceans.
Some chaps yearned for the usual cheese toasty. But one of our number, a sybaritic investment banker, stomped his foot and demanded oysters. As a lover of the bivalve molluscs it took me a matter of seconds to agree with the banker.
We lunched at the famous Morans Oyster Cottage located by a secluded river bank. From the refuge of the surprisingly busy restaurant, I watched swallows and ducks dodge the stair rods of rain. Sun occasionally flirted with us but one felt that Tlaloc, the Amazonian God of rain, had won the day.
Undeterred, four dozen gigas were ordered for the table and thankfully ignored but many – this meant I could attack them with vim, guzzling double figures before my large bowl of steamed mussles arrived. Although I would rather be batting or bowling, I was delighted to be swilling down Muscadet as a accompaniment to my favourite victuals.
The final day was accompanied by the previously unseen sun, which enhanced the lush green bucolic vistas. The last match was played in the grounds of a boarding school on a rather dodgy wicket – in a low scoring match with two balls to go and the shadows lengthening, all four results were possible.
The opposition had a sprightly 75 year old and a phlegmatic 13 year old at the crease – the wily old bird shepherded the talented fledgling to a well merited win. A sad loss but a wonderful match played in the right spirit in splendid surroundings.
A few glasses of rose later, I said goodbye to my colleagues who were flying home that evening and, with the shadows now really lengthening, I found myself alone in the streets of Dublin.
If one has to be alone in a city, there is no more convivial place than the bars of Dublin. I spent an evening pottering between the bars listening to a bit of live music via a delicious supper at the theatre restaurant Trocedero. A simple dinner in solitude was what my weary body needed. There is a vibrant yet ever so slightly forged atmosphere in Dublin which isn’t there in deepest darkest West Ireland….however it is bloody good fun!
There is more to Dublin and Ireland than ‘the craic’ – the people are intelligent and sensitive, with a great emphasis on talking to anyone and everyone. Arising early before my lunchtime flight, I took breakfast in the city centre and walked the sights. I found the intellectual hub of Trinity College and pottered around its lovely buildings. This is where all the heavyweight brains of Ireland come to study…and what did I spy in the heart of their grounds? A exceptionally well manicured cricket pitch!
I love cricket and find a peaceful serenity when I’m grazing in the field or tearing in off the long run. Cricket in Ireland has a wonderfully unvarnished feel to it – both the matches I played in were played with broad smiles and genuine conviviality in glorious surroundings against eccentric fellows.