How the times have changed...ten years ago this week, we had Bertie Ahern in this building to bless the place, to give it his seal of approval, to cut the ribbon. Twas on the Wednesday of Race Week and getting Bertie was always handy around race time. You could get him for the opening of an envelope — and according to legend, many people did.
Getting him then was a big deal though — the place had to be swept, literally. His handlers insisted on the protocol that had to be followed. Nobody was to touch him above the elbow and below the belt.
Sparkling water had to be offered to him upon his arrival...not a bottle of it or a glass of it, but a glass half full, which would then be sipped at and left back. The glass had to be cooled at a certain temperature and poured at an angle of 45 degrees.
We learned to genuflect. And to show deference, and in return Our Leader would then go through the motions. He read the pre-prepared script with humour and aplomb, he posed for inane photographs with us all, pretending to be amazed at what we did, he sipped tea (poured at an angle of 52 degrees ) and was generally most pleasant and endearing.
Outside the building in those pre-Shell days, we had the Alliance Against Everything Brigade, protesting against globalisation, (What? Us? ) discrimination, privatisation, generalisation, the price of hummus, and world hunger which was ironic because as soon as Bertie left, they came in and scoffed all the hors’ doeuvres (or horse’s ovaries as someone described them ) They waited outside the building to berate him on his departure, but so keen were they to get to the canapes, that Bertie came out our side door and walked unnoticed through the madding crowd, to his car. Then he was whisked off to the next Galway engagement where some other poor fools were waiting with sparkling water poured at an angle...
Bertie was king and especially King of Galway for a week. He walked through the crowds at Ballybrit, shook hands with all and sundry, pressed the flesh and became the embodiment of Christy Moore’s Ordinary Man, even though he was probably far from it. Those were the days.
Fast forward a decade to this week and Bertie is still coming to Ballybrit. But this time to greet him, instead of sparkling water, was a cry of “Bertie, ya bollocks.”
The man who uttered it followed it up by expressing disgust that Bertie could have the gall to “saunter in as he did, as if he had done nothing to ruin us all.”
How the climate has changed politically, not just in a decade, but in a year. Remember this time last year, Brian Cowen (remember him? ) still hadn’t had his ‘tired and emotional’ moment in the Ardilaun. It’s a funny old world, isn’t it. Have a great Bank Holiday weekend, folks. Safe on the roads.