John Arnold: GAA flag day in East Cork: What would an alien make of it all?!

It's a busy weekend on the GAA front, says John Arnold, as he wonders what aliens might make of it all!
John Arnold: GAA flag day in East Cork: What would an alien make of it all?!

MAGPIES FLYING HIGH: The Black and White colours of Midleton are on show in the East Cork town.

I WONDER are aliens colour blind? Now, I have no reason to believe our extra-terrestrial friends are unable to distinguish or differentiate between the 40 shades of green we possess in this Emerald isle, I simply don’t know!

I know there are sceptics who think this planet we call earth is the only one with ‘life’ as we know it, but then again, have we humans a monopoly on the right to exist?

Another cause of puzzlement and wonderment to me is the age-old question ‘What would beings from elsewhere make of the particularly Irish game of hurling?’

A one time owner of Kilshannig House, near Rathcormac, was English-born Paul Rose. He would have grown up in dear old England surrounded by fine, sedate sports like cricket. croquet and lawn tennis. When he came to the Bride Valley he was a patron of what Oscar Wilde defined as ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable’, foxhunting.

In the 1950s, Paul was taken to see a local carnival hurling tournament – it might have been in Rathcormac, the Hill, Conna or Castlelyons.

In those days, local pride in winning carnival games was on par with winning County Championships or Leagues today. The grass was often long and tempers often short.

Well, this particular match which marked the jolly old Englishman’s introduction to the ancient game of the Gael was a robust affair. When you see an account of a game which says that ‘no quarter was asked for or given’, it’s a nice way of saying that skin and hair were flying.

This particular night such was the case, and Paul Rose who had seen action in World War II, was shocked. To paraphrase what he said: ‘God Almighty, this is worse than the Somme, they’ll be chaps killed here, let’s call the constabulary - or the undertaker.’ He ran from the hurling field and was driven to a local hostelry, demanding copious double brandies to ease his nerves after the ‘slaughter’ he had witnessed!

According to what I was told, the same gentleman was stunned the next day when he met two of the hurling protagonists in Fermoy and both were still alive and in robust health with ne’er a mark on ’em!

Paul Rose was just an Englishman and shocked at what he witnessed just across the sea from his birthplace, so imagine if ‘real’ aliens came from afar, what they’d make of our grand old game.

The question of such beings having the ability to sort out colours came into my head these last few days as we approach a huge weekend of Club Hurling Finals on Leeside.

If a crowd were coming here from outer space or some place like that, you’d presume they’d have satnav, or an inter-planetary version of it anyway. Let’s just imagine there was an intergalactic sandstorm which blew their trusty craft off course. The extra fine globules of sand might easily interfere with their tracking systems so they’d be relying more on the back-up of old fashioned glider wings to circumnavigate Cork before selecting a suitable landing spot.

So if they came in over Australia and on by Poland and the Orkney Islands, and allowing for the prevailing winds and the knock on effects of the emissions from the volcano in the Canary Islands, they could be heading for East Cork. I worked it out with a compass and an isosceles triangle that they’d come in over Knockadoon Head just East of Ballymacoda.

Lads, they’d get a quare fright if they did a bit of low flight reconnoitering over the area before landing. Here’s where the ability to recognise - or not as the case might be - different colours, comes into question!

Any aliens coming to Ireland would have studied our history, and our coastal history especially. Back in ancient times, when we were in danger of being invaded by Danes, Normans, Cromwellians, Tories and off-course Puritans en route to America, the native Irish had a cunning system of getting warning messages sent along the coast. An ingenious system of coloured flags would be waved in a certain fashion at prominently high places, conveying whatever message was needed.

It might be ‘Ships On The Sea’, ‘Dinner Is Ready’, ‘Man Overboard’ or ‘Fire The Cannon Now’.

This flag-waving coded system of sending messages, known as omdyidy, was in use right up until the 1930s when used by the Blueshirts.

The idea of waving coloured flags was taken on board by the GAA in the 1880s when green and white flags were raised to indicate the scores. Back then the matches were 40 aside, played on ten acre fields.

If the crowd on the ditch couldn’t see the flag, they’d shout ‘Uphigher’ and that’s how the word ‘Umpire’ came into use!

Can you imagine what our alien friends would make of all the flags this weekend, flags all over the place. It’s said that when outer space beings come to colonise territories in the EU nowadays, they’d like a good decent swathe of land - a bit like Cromwell and Walter Raleigh long ago. So we’ll say they’d ‘survey’ (from their aerial craft) about 25 miles inland from Knockadoon.

So first they’d see Red and Green flags fluttering from every flagpole from Ring to Ballymacoda and from Kilcredan to Ladysbridge. Then suddenly no more green and red, only Red alone, big red flags from the village of Castlemartyr over along by Loughaderra and Ballintotis and up as far as Mogeely.

Then, all of a sudden after the Two Mile Inn, the blood red disappears and the alien scouts perceive nothing but Black and White squares billowing from trees, poles, signposts and church steeples. Right through the town of Midleton, the colours of the magpie can be seen.

On out the road then as far as the ESB substation. Further shaking of alien heads when another change of hues is observed. Gone is the Black and White and instead it’s now Blue and Gold. This colour trend covers Lisgoold, Ballincurrig, Top Cross, Leamlara, Dooneen and Templeboden.

Like Paul Rose at the carnival match in the last century, the Alien Captain and Vice Captain can’t make sense of this colourful conundrum. Before they land in East Cork, they download the GAA’s Official Guide (The Bible of the Gael) and sure enough, on page 189, they see a list of ‘County Colours’ and this will surely solve the flagful mystery.

Red and Green is Mayo, Plain Red is Louth, Black and White is Sligo and Blue and Gold Tipperary! Now they are in a worst pickle than ever as their circumnavigational atlas had Mayo and Sligo in Connacht, Louth in Leinster and Tipperary next to Kilkenny, not far from Dublin!

Well, wasn’t it the luck of God that I, myself, me, was taking in the East Cork air just as the outergalactic water-powered craft was landing. From research, they knew I was handy at Question Times and the like, so using omdyidy they asked me to explain the flag-waving frenzy covering most of the ancient territory of Imokilly.

I explained the Fr O Neills (who bate us last Saturday) were meeting Kanturk in one final. Castlemartyr ‘the Reds’ are facing Sarsfields in another decider.

The Magpies of Midleton, I told them, are in the ‘The Big One’ against the Glen while Lisgoold, like Castlemartyr trying to win two Counties in the one year, are meeting Kilbrittain.

The aliens ask about this hurling game and its importance around here - “It’s more than important,” says I, “it’s simply everything,” and so my story goes. The aliens land in the home of hurling - now I must get online tickets for the lot of them, every manjack 700 of them. They’ll have some great celebrations this weekend with the hurling natives of East Cork. Best of luck to them all.

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