The history of Clifden in Connemara is something that can only be described as intriguing, and has brought vacationers, sightseers, penny-pinching backpackers and narrow-minded historians to the area for many years.
Over the decades, men of outstanding character have graced us with their presence, Nelson Mandella, John F. Kennedy, Joe Dolan, St Patrick, and Festus McDonnagh; the all-Ireland goat throwing champion for thirty seven years on the trot. Festus stood just shy of seven-foot three, weighed in at just over twenty-eight stone and had a waist-line that measured, in or around 32 inches. Festus was blessed with extraordinary long and powerful arms and would often be heard boasting that he was the only man in the west of Ireland that could scratch both knees whilst standing straight. It was also said; “That if you were looking for thick men he’d make half a dozen.” Festus in his prime could hurdle a fully grown male mountain goat, seventy yards plus, beating his personal best at the Leenane fair in June of 1957.
The Billy Goat who at the time was staring into a bush and chewing on the remainder of a curly whirly, was completely oblivious to what aeronautical experience lay before him. And without warning, Festus, with the stealth of an alley cat and the speed of a Tahitian mongoose crept up behind the animal, grabbed its two hind legs, pivoted twice in what was said to have been an almost balletic rhythm and flung the beast into the air, where it stayed for several minutes until finally crash landing into a stone wall a staggering seventy-eight yards away. (No harm was brought to any goat during this rather ‘unconventional recreational activity.’)
For many years, the McDonnagh family held celebrity-like status in and around Connemara, and still to this day it not uncommon to hear people speak their names in high regard as they would regularly be associated with the many coveted titles and high profile games that were held each year in Connemara. Festy’s wife Lilly, held the all-Ireland potato peeler title for fourteen consecutive years, his brother Patsy completed the ‘100 meter, stone wall, one gate and find the rocks yourself’ race in fifty-two minutes. And his first cousin The Bomber Delaney was always in the top five at the annual onion eating competition, finally taking down the title in 63 after wolfing down an astonishing, forty-six onions in just under two minutes. However his celebrations were short lived as he spontaneously combusted an hour later whilst warming his arse on Lowry’s open fire.
Nevertheless, as far as Connemara’s history goes, it all started with an Italian man by the name of Guglielmo Marconi, who after years of experimentation and three untimely electrocutions, (due to uninformed and very limited, local knowledge of electricity) somehow managed to transmit the very first transatlantic message via radio waves. It was on the evening of June 15 1907 that the broadcast took place.Although there had been much debate and speculation about what was actually said in that message on that historical summers evening, local historians and alike all agree, that it was in fact. Quote unquote… “Can you hear me now?”
Marconi lived to the ripe old age of ninety-seven and attributed this great age, to an endless supply of salted rockfish, onions and new potatoes, washed down with a bottle of gin. (He also suffered from manic depression.) It is also said, occasionally one could hear the great man singing over the radio waves after a few stiff ones.
He died of a Tuesday in 1931 with his wife Bridie and daughter Margaret at his bedside. Opening his eyes for the last time he turned to his darling wife and said “would ya be a doll and make me a toasted special” Bridie promptly stood up and replied “Ham, cheese, onion, tomato on brown, anythin else?” He shook his head. Bridie wasn’t half way down the stairs when she heard Guglielmo calling once again. Making her way to his bedside, a journey she made several times a day, through his final two days of sickness, she answered, What? Whispering with what would his dying breath, the great Marconi replied…
“Bridie…. don’t forget to grate the cheese” Those seven words would be Guglielmo Marconi’s last, and with that the great Marconi passed away. (But not before polishing off the toasted special.)
The man that had joined great nations together, through the power of communication; The man that would be forever remembered, as one of the greatest inventors that had ever lived; The man that celebrated the finer qualities in life, like a bottle of gin, a salted rockfish and a toasted special, left this world with one last request; “Bridie… don’t forget to grate the cheese.”
So true to form following the passing of our greatest ever kahuna, Clifden in the west of Ireland called architects, sculptors and craftsmen alike for miles around to design a monument fitting for one of our greatest heroes ever to reside here.
A number ofrather unhinged suggestions had been made by some locals, such as a statue of the great man, a replica of his transmitting tower, or even an informative cartouche detailing what the man responsible for the invention of the telephone had achieved from our little village in the west of Ireland.
But thankfully, good sense and wisdom prevailed, and a sixty-foot, stainless steel “Cheese Grater” was erected in his memory, and plonked slap bang in the middle of our Town.
The annual festivities kicking off in full swing at the Marconi Memorial.