Do you fancy a swift one Paddy?

So United finally hit a rich vein of form; it has been a great week-seeing off the moneybag pretenders at Eastlands and disarming the Gunners at the Emirates. Even those of you who consort with the ABU brigade must have been literally mesmerised by the sheer quality of the United and particularly the Rooney show. That boy Rooney! As the United faithful chant- he really is the white Pele!

That said it has been an uncomfortable year for United supporters. The club’s finances and how they are currently structured defies belief. I keep reading about the debt and I keep interrogating my friends in the finance industry on how the debt is structured and there is simply nothing good to report. Surely there must be one wealthy oil oligarch or filthy rich Sheik out there who wants to buy a real club, with real history…time to start flicking through my contacts…

So back to Rooney: he could have played for Ireland. I believe that his provenance is in County Down as is that of the famed Rooney who owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. A little town land called Annaclone to be exact can lay some claim to the pair! Now imagine the sight of Rooney the former in the green of Ireland-something tells me that we wouldn’t be crying into our beer about Henry’s little piece of handiwork, not that I cried anyway! I am on the Roy Keane page on that one.

So anyway one night about 4 years ago a colleague of mine at the University of Liverpool was engaged in some empirical data gathering on Irish pubs-oh the joys of academic freedom. In fairness it was an excellent doctoral thesis based on post-colonialism and the symbolic role of the Irish pub and all the cultural, social and folk memories attaching to such hostelries. It is a fascinating thing actually how the Irish on holiday or overseas often gravitate to the Irish pub scene as it is not only a touch stone for the oul sod but a place that provides the emigrant or his or her descendants with a sense of identity and belonging in the often multi-racial and multi-cultural melting pots around the globe.

So my colleague informs me that he has never been to a famous Liverpool pub called Flanagan’s Apple, officially the first Irish pub in the UK. That should not come as much of a surprise with the historical links between Liverpool and Ireland. I remember at Primary School in Omagh CBS and we’d be doing world capitals and Brother Kelly used say that the real capital of Ireland was Liverpool. In fairness it has a distinct Irish feel to it. As soon as the Scousers realise that you are Irish you are welcome. They all have Irish ancestry and it is almost anachronistic Irishness-they all know the words of Irish rebel songs, St. Patrick’s Day is a massive event, and the announcements in the Liverpool Echo are more Irish than the announcements in any Daily on these fine shores.

So anyway my colleague asks me if I will accompany him to Flanagan’s so as he can do some research. I have to be honest here too-it’s what would be known as a grab-a-granny bar, populated by a motley crew of patrons, not my scene, but still and with all it didn’t take much persuasion. So off the pair of Irish lads to the UK’s first Irish pub…

There are two floors in Flanagan’s, ground floor and basement; the live music is usually downstairs but so is the less attractive patron! We sup a beer on the ground level and my colleague is busy trying to drink in the ambience of the place and making mental notes on decor, on the in-your-face paddywhackery, all whilst trying to enjoy the Flanagan’s experience. I suggest after our first beer that we repair to the grimier climes of the lower floor and he hastily agrees. So we are standing at the bar having a beer when in breeze a veritable bunch of locals, led by a small pugnacious alpha male attired in an Everton track suit…instantly recognised and known to the locals the bar spontaneously breaks into that old Stretford End strain-“Who the f%$£ are Man United!” The alpha male looks agitated and his flummoxed riposte is-“ F£”& off! I am a blue!” and he proceeds to kiss his Everton badge. It is of course all just good banter.

So the new arrivals stand beside us at the bar and on closer inspection I think that I am talking to Wayne Rooney! As it happens it is his father who was only something like 36 years old at the time! We get chatting and all he wants to talk about is his Irish heritage. It means so much. Flanagan’s is a cultural touch stone and he and others like him the world over feel that they belong in such places.. It reminded me of that great travel story by the late Pete McCarthy, McCarthy’s Bar where a lad born and reared in Warrington embarks on what amounts to a personal pilgrimage of belonging to Ireland in an effort to find out who he really is.

Aside from the irony of Wayne Rooney’s Irish heritage inclining him to declare for England, I do believe that there is a homing instinct in all of us and that in times of joy but more particularly in times of need that that homing instinct kicks in. Personally I love the sense of comfort that envelopes me when I am back amongst the bushes in west Tyrone or soaking up the tribal atmosphere that characterises so many inter-county games.

Finally, to hammer the general point home, I had the privilege of spending some time as a visiting Professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, home of the famed Fighting Irish. I loved it there and to this day I regret coming home. It is a special place, in the middle of the corn fields on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and aside from home I felt happy there, welcome there and felt a strong sense of belonging. There is irony there too I hear you say but it was perhaps the sheer wealth of cultural touch stones which conspired to create a home away from home. But I got lucky and struck emigrant’s gold. So next time you pass an Irish Pub on your travels stop by and have one for and with all of your kinsfolk who are searching for that inner peace, that contentment, that sense of identity and belonging and who knows, if the mood takes you you might even stop for a second.

And finally, finally-talking of Indiana, I am excited for this year’s Super Bowl and even more excited at the thought of Peyton Manning getting the ultimate honour that his distinguished career truly deserves. Go Colts!

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