Christmas in the Canaries, and isle was awash with Cork folk

John Arnold spent some time abroad over the holidays, where he met many Cork people
Christmas in the Canaries, and isle was awash with Cork folk

John Arnold with singer Jimmy Barry in Lanzarote, who sang The Mountains of Mourne for him

HOME was never like this! Where else would you get Dancing at the Crossroads at midnight and coming out of ‘Christmas Day’ Mass to 26C of heat?

Oh to think of it, oh to dream of it -yes, it fills my heart, not with pain, but with joy!

Am I going back to days of my youth in the last century, when all of life was more innocent - yerra not at all. I was never more ‘in the present‘ ’cause I’m talking about this first week of January in this very warm New Year. Raving or ‘doting’ I am not, I’m just telling it as it is - the truth, the whole truth.

Like Waterford hurler, John Mullane ‘I loves me County and me Parish too’. If one divides my age by the number of times I’ve got on an aeroplane, the answer would be two. When it comes to what one might term ‘foreign holidays’, I think about a dozen would be the sum total.

Yet they say a rest is good as a change, so last Thursday morning, me and my wife of more than four decades returned to exotic Lanzarote for the first time in ten years - we’re due to come home this very day!

Ye know I’m not a sun worshipper but these last few days have been about much more than sunshine. It was literally ‘Christmas Eve’ when we touched down here last Thursday.

The night before we left, we debated about removing the Christmas lights and decorations but we have never done such a deed until January 6, Little Christmas, has passed, and we didn’t break that lovely tradition.

You see, in Lanzarote, January 6 is like Christmas Day in Ireland, so we actually arrived on Christmas Eve!

Temperatures were in the mid 20s -several degrees warmer than the same week a decade ago.

Ronan Collins was a great man for playing seasonal songs on Radio 1 from December 8 each year. He always included the Spanish song Felice Navidad (I Want to Wish You a Merry Christmas) - first time he heard it, he thought they were singing ‘Release My Grandad’!

Last Thursday afternoon as we walked the ‘Strip’, the Christmas songs blared out beautifully from every shop and pub as people rushing around buying gifts mingled with us tourists.

In Cork Airport, and again in Lanzarote, familiar faces and voices were everywhere. There were so many here from East Cork, we were half thinking of calling a meeting of the East Cork GAA Board - we’d have no problem getting a quorum!

Truly, home was never like this, and that’s what makes a holiday like this so special - in Irish they say ‘An rud is ainimh, is iontach’ - what is scarce is wonderful! Really, it was absolutely amazing.

I read book after book- and the Holly Bough too - each morning in the balcony of our hotel room. It wasn’t awash with sunshine at 7am, but lads, the light and wafting warm breeze - I’m black and blue from pinching myself that this was not high July but the first days of a New Year.

We’d a 4am Bartlemy start on January 5, so if Santa came, I was snoring early that night and heard nothing! January 6 is widely and hugely celebrated as Epiphany Day, but moreover as the Feast of the Three Kings . We presumed there’d be a special Mass on the 6th. Not certain of the time, we headed off for the ‘Old Town’ where the quaint church is, shortly after 10am. Mass was at 11 - in truth, we didn’t get ‘home’ to our hotel that evening until nearly 6pm!

The young priest spoke in Spanish and English in a joyous, celebratory tone. The singing was something else. A talented girl from a Field of Athenry played and sang. The church was full and many people stood outside. Away In A Manger, Silent Night and Adeste Fideles all sung in the midday sun, was an unforgettable experience.

After Mass, we lingered and talked and talked. Most worshippers had just ‘stumbled on’ the Mass as there was no church door notice up. We met people we knew and people we’d never met but knew us. I met a woman who turned out to be a second cousin of two of our neighbours’.

I recall going to Mass in St Peter’s in Rome, but it didn’t take us seven hours to get back to our lodgings!

Maybe ’cause Ireland is often dark and damp in January, Irish holidaymakers really appreciate the sun. Last summer was gorgeous at home, but blue skies in January and blazing sunshine simply warms the heart, the spirit and the body.

When Liam Griffin’s Wexford Hurlers won the All-Ireland in 1996, a group called The Wild Geese had a hit with a song about the Model County’s reaction - Dancing At The Crossroads. Well, at half past midnight on January 6 last, that’s what we were doing in Lanzarote.

Irish country star Tom Allen, aka TR Dallas, was playing in an Irish bar, singer Derek Ryan, on holidays on the island, sang a few songs and after that the open air dancing started! The fun and craic was ninety and we met people from I’d say every county in Ireland.

Some live out here for the winter, two farmers from Kerry are out for a month - one remarked to me ‘Tis a bit like Puck, Lisdoonvarna, Listowel Races and the Willie Week - but with heat’!

I spent a few hours on Saturday exposing my milk-white legs - from the knees down - to the Spanish sun. Normally covered in Wellingtons, my lower thighs, calves, ankles and toes reacted well with ne’er a blister or any sign of a tan.

We were staying half board so wandered around during the day, in no hurry and with no particular place to go. On the Strip or near the beach you’d hear the ‘How, ye John?’ everywhere, we’d stop for a chat, have a coffee, and stroll away again.

We were in Slatterys on Saturday night, the place was jointed long before Ballincollig native Johnny Crowley got going. A consummate entertainer, singer, musician and raconteur with an amazing memory, as he belted out all the favourites, he’d greet new arrivals with ‘How’re they all in Tralee or Carlow or Waterford or Castlebar, mighty’.

TR Dallas dropped in for a drink and sang a few songs - I did the same. Turned out Johnny had been in Macra Light Entertaiment with Carrigaline when we were all much younger - Jimmy Crowley, no relation, had a hit with Magic Nights in The Lobby Bar, twas like that in Lanzarote, beautiful days and magic nights.

On Sunday last, all us Corkonians, and people from Kerry too, got the sad news of the death of Paudie Palmer. Truly it was, as he might say himself, Slan Leat for ever.

Everyone knew Mass was at 11 and the church and nearby annex accommodated only about half the crowd. The cobbled plaza outside was also packed. Some ‘natives’ were in attendance, but I’d say twas about 80% Irish.

The Athenry Girl played again, this time the congregation sang as one. All the Christmas Hymns once more, but when she started Our Lady Of Knock, it was a hair-on-the-back of the neck moment’, and when it came to Golden Rose Queen of Ireland -truly a proud to be Irish experience.

In the afternoon, I popped into another Irish Bar and met former Berrings horse trainer Jerry Cully - he’s now ‘making books’ out here so his interest in equine sports has not declined.

Ye remember when Jim McGuinness led Donegal to win Sam Maguire in 2012? Well, after that famous win an African man, living in Lanzarote, was a huge social media sensation with his unique hit Jimmy’s Winning Matches.

I met the now world famous singer, Jimmy Barry, whilst checking on the club football semi-finals in Croker. In comes Jimmy with his ‘Conas ata tu? ‘Ta me go maith.’ says I. ‘agus tu fein? ‘Ana maith ar fad, buioches le Dia’ says he.

His knowledge of the names of towns in every county is legendary. Well, I put it to a quick-fire test, as I rattled off Sligo, Fermanagh, Carlow, Westmeath, Antrim, Kilkenny and Down. He knew ’em all and finished with versions of The Mountains of Mourne and The Rose of Mooncoin - there’s a legend for ye.

Memories are made of days like these and we’ve had a wonderful week. Would I aspire to live in a place like Lanzarote on a long term basis? Not really, there’s no place like home and family, and planning the next holiday is something wonderful to think about.

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