Humbled and lucky to meet so many people

John Creedon takes to the waters for a new TV series. DONAL O’KEEFFE caught up with him to talk ball-hopping, eel-fishing and supporting Cork City FC
Humbled and lucky to meet so many people
John Creedon.

IT’S the summertime, and in what is now an annual tradition, John Creedon is out and about, but this time without his vintage 1967 Volkswagon van, “An Sean-Bhean Bhocht”. This year, Creedon is taking to the water.

“I’m tearing around again,” he laughs over a coffee in Cork’s Imperial Hotel.

“No Sean-Bhean this time. I’m on a boat — boats — and I’m hitching and hiking and thumbing and driving boats and passengering and paddling and rowing.”

Following his success with RTÉ TV programmes like “Creedon’s Cities”, “Creedon’s Weather”, “Creedon’s Wild Atlantic Way” and “Creedon’s Epic East”, the veteran Cork broadcaster is now tackling “Creedon’s Shannon”.

In the opening episode, Creedon visits the Shannon Pot, the tiny pool on the slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain in County Cavan where the Shannon officially rises — or does it? As Creedon asks, “Is the Shannon actually 14 kilometres longer than we were taught in school?” To find the answer, he ventures north of the border and meets with hydro-geologists. All will be revealed, he promises, in the first programme, which airs this coming Sunday, July 23.

Down through Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg, and as the river swells and narrows, “Creedon’s Shannon” looks at how the Shannon has shaped and influenced Ireland.

Over the course of three episodes, Creedon travels 360km and 12 counties aboard a cruiser, barge, yacht, gandalow, ending in the Shannon estuary, where Ireland’s mightiest river meets the broad Atlantic.

John Creedon with Pat Short.
John Creedon with Pat Short.

Creedon describes his television shows as “snapshotting Ireland”. He says he feels refreshed and energised by his encounters along the Shannon.

“I know the word is overused, but I really do feel humbled — and terribly lucky too — to meet so many lovely people,” he says. “I love their accents and the welcome I get.

“I was only thinking recently I would find myself listening to maybe nine or ten news bulletins a day and I ask myself, is there any reason I’m stressed? If you were to consume enough news, you wouldn’t trust anybody! Whereas my life experience is that ninety-nine point nine-eight percent of people I have met are actually sound and don’t actually want to kill me! So this is a very life-affirming experience.”

Creedon’s Shannon” sees Creedon visit the Arigna mines, recreate the lost city of Clonmacnoise and make poitin on Lough Derg. Along the way, he meets island folk and river people.

“I love it,” he says of exploring Ireland and the Irish character anew. “I remember that world very fondly from my aunties and uncles in West Cork, collies and big old horses in hayfields, or even corner-boys in Cork, you know, ball-hopping and humour and language and all the rest of it.”

Creedon talks fondly of a 91-year- old man he met on the shores of Lough Allen — Jimmy Furey — and says he is heartbroken that his interview didn’t make the cut in the finished show but it will feature on RTÉ’s Player.

“There I am,” he says, “on a Tuesday afternoon, when the rest of the world is at work, and I’m sitting by a turf fire talking to this fella about eel-fishing, which is how they made their living.

John Creedon with Ollie & Oscar in Kileen's of Shannonbridge.
John Creedon with Ollie & Oscar in Kileen's of Shannonbridge.

“They had about 18 acres of bad land, they had four or five cows, they used to bring a churn of milk to the creamery alright, by donkey and cart, but yet they had to go to Mass by boat. He used to bring his mother to Mass by boat when she was in her 80s or 90s across Lough Allen. And catch eels. And sell them to a dealer who would send them on to Billingsgate Market or to France and I’m kind of going ‘Okay, I know rural Ireland too, but there was no eels, and there was no going to Mass by boat. Hang on a while, I’ve got the meadow bit, but’ .”

Creedon says he is blessed to have found a way to explore his interests in folklore, archaeology, history, wildlife, tradition, language and people.

“My own natural instincts have led me over this direction. It was never the plan — there was never a plan — but here I am. I was always a gun for hire and I always had a family to provide for, but now I get to do this.

John Creedon birdwatching with Colin Stafford Johnson Lecarrow.
John Creedon birdwatching with Colin Stafford Johnson Lecarrow.

“I’m really lucky,” he says, segueing to his beloved football team.

“It’s like having Cork City playing the way they’re playing at the moment, with that swagger, banging in goals for fun, fans you can be proud of, full houses, loyal support, chartering jets to get to our European matches and there’s no fantasist with a sheepskin coat telling us what colour to wear.

“I love that club to bits, and I love that band of boys and girls and men and women. It’s an honest endeavour, it’s a joint venture between all of us, there’s maybe 1,500 shareholders. We all threw in our fifty quid or a hundred or whatever and we’re trading nicely and it really gives me great joy.”

Creedon says his hugely-popular 8pm weeknights RTÉ Radio 1 show is second nature to him after 30 years as a broadcaster.

“’Tis zipping along grand. ‘Tis aisy! I liken it to being in my den with my friends. And the graph is going in the right direction, thankfully, up another 9,000 (listeners) in the latest JNLR.”

As he leaves the Imperial and heads off to the RTÉ Cork studio on Father Mathew Street — stopping every few yards to chat with people — John Creedon reflects again that he’s a lucky man.

John Creedon with Athlone Town legend John Minnock
John Creedon with Athlone Town legend John Minnock

“If my younger self was told ‘D’you know all those records you love playing? Well, you’ll still be playing them when you’re a granddad and d’you know something, you’ll earn your living playing them!’ “I would never have believed I could be so fortunate.”

Creedon’s Shannon begins at 6.30pm on Sunday July 23 on RTÉ1. The John Creedon Show airs at 8pm, Monday to Friday, on RTÉ Radio One.

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