Monday, July 26, 2010

How the west won Daithi

The Galway Races are upon us so for the Irish Independent's special supplement, I got a guided tour of Galway hotspots by TG4 weatherman Daithi O Se:

DID you hear the one about the Kerry weatherman who got caught in the rain without a brolly? Dingle native Daithi O Se is used to being the punchline to playful jokes in his adopted hometown of Galway.

He has made the city his home base since joining TG4 over a decade ago. "So I'm not a blow-in as such," he says. "But the lads in the pub do love to give me an awful going-over. I'm 'fear an aimsir' and they love taking the mick when I'd get the weather wrong.

"I remember getting caught out once, running out into the rain and no umbrella with me, and some old fella says, 'You're some weather man all right'."

The Galwegian talent for banter has made O Se -- anointed with the gift of the gab himself -- feel right at home and the 34-year-old takes full advantage of his new life in the only medieval city in Connacht.

"I think that part of Galway's charm is linked to the fact that we are surrounded by this other language. Even though a lot of people in the city might not be able to speak it fluently, they can understand it and they salute each other in Irish almost unbeknownst to themselves.

"Thinking in a different language gives Galway people a different outlook on life. Very individual, more philosophical and relaxed about it all."

Not that O Se has had the chance to take it easy of late. He's just back from driving through America for TG4's upcoming series Daithi ar Route 1 and, next month, he'll present his first Rose of Tralee on RTE.

But first, he has six days of the Galway races to look forward to, starting with the evening meeting next Monday. This is very much a locals' night out. O Se has a particular way of gearing himself up for a hectic day at Ballybrit.

"I'm an early riser and nothing beats throwing yourself into Galway Bay for a swim to clear the head," he says.

"I love walking along the pier and along the prom at Salthill but I would encourage people [who are] down for the races to go for a swim as well. The water would be cold enough but it will stand to you later in the day," he adds with a broad beam. A man who knows how to handle 18-hour days during race week.

Those of a less hardy nature could opt for O Se's second morning cure-all: the big fry-up. He'll be hosting a number of old friends from Dingle for the Galway Races and tradition has it that no-one makes a move out of the house in the morning without Daithi whipping out the frying pan.

"It's great soakage but to be honest, I think people who go racing eat once and make sure it sets them up for the day," he says.

Galway has no shortage of great dining options and as we walk around the streets of the city, the Dingle man points out some of his favourites. He name-checks Vina Mara on Middle Street for fresh seafood or Ard Bia at Nimmos beside the historic Spanish Arch on the Claddagh for a real treat. But it's iconic chipper McDonagh's that gets his regular custom.

"They serve pints of milk in there which is one of the reasons why I love it and the chips are homemade. The fish is basically just out of the water, you get a nice side of baked beans and you're sorted for the next 24 hours," says O Se, who lists fisherman as one of his many career paths -- alongside butcher, nightclub bouncer and teacher.

If you're Daithi O Se, you might get your chips dropped up to Freeney's Bar by owner Peter McDonagh.

"That's kinda cool alright; he'll do that from time to time," says O Se, taking care to look at least a little bit bashful. O Se is musical. "I don't play music but I used to sing," says Daithi, who fesses up to singing on a Chieftains album that was nominated for a world music Grammy some years back with his friend, Dingle singer Seamus Begley. "Myself and my friend Laurence sang with him for a while. We called ourselves the Three Fivers -- we weren't even The Three Tenors!"

Now's the perfect time for exploring his musical tastes, by heading to Tigh Neachtain, one of Galway's most famous pubs, located on the corner of Cross Street and Quay Street.

O Se reckons there is a pub in Galway to suit every taste. We pass the Claddagh (where the famous Claddagh Ring originated) and the famous tourist attraction of the Spanish Arch, which was not built by the Spaniard but to keep them out. We head to the triangle of trad music bars, Taaffe's, Tigh Coili and The Crane.

"I love the trad bars because you sit down and next thing, there's Sharon Shannon beside you with her accordion. It's unreal," he says.

"Paul Brady could call in every now and then you could look up and Dolores Keane is singing in the corner."

If Daithi's not in the mood to loosen the vocal cords, he will head to one of the "talking pubs" as he calls them. There's Murphy's and Fay's, which sit neatly poised across the road from each other -- with a bookie's beside Murphy's, handy for the thirsty punter.

"You might land in there before getting the bus to Ballybrit from Eyre Square and if the craic is good enough, you might never get the bus at all."

O Se downs his coffee and grows momentarily serious. "That's the one problem with Galway in race week. There are too many tips. I met four people last year who swore black and blue that their horse was going to win -- and that was in the same race."

With the exception of a couple of high-rollers, few come to Galway to make money in race week. Some are not even -- whisper it -- as concerned with what goes on trackside as they are about simply enjoying the atmosphere.

"What I love about Galway race week is that it's all about having the chat. Talking about who you have a 20 on in the next race is just the ice-breaker," says O Se. He's decamped to the Champagne Tent at Ballybrit on occasion, but says the whole area is like a big party.

"Galway is always in semi-party mode. Go into one of those music pubs at 5pm on a Monday evening in the middle of November and they're packed. Coming from a town like Dingle that would be very quiet in the winter, it was a real eye-opener. When you arrive in Galway it's like you're on a stag for your whole life."

Living life like you're on a permanent stag weekend isn't entirely advisable of course and O Se likes that Galway -- perched on the edge of some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland -- affords him the chance to spend time on one of his favourite spots. The Aran Islands are special to him and he eulogises about happy times there.

"One of the most gorgeous times I ever had there was when I camped out there overnight with Lucy Kennedy for her RTE show, Living With Lucy," he remembers.

O Se uses the word gorgeous a lot, letting the 'r' roll off his tongue with that gaelgeoir inflection, as if no other word can articulate how in love he is with Connemara sunsets, or the grace of a Galway hooker boat, in full flight.

"Fishing is one of those things that I love to do if I get a day off. Give me an evening in September casting off from the rocks. Gorrrrgeous."

He catches white pollock, takes it home, bakes it if he's being good but more often than not revs up the trusty frying pan and throws it in with a knob of garlic butter.

"Sure if you cooked your socks in garlic butter, you'd ate them," he laughs.

Galway's artistic reputation is not lost on the Kerry man. The highly-respected Film Fleadh and Arts Festival have just finished but O Se points out, the arts are a year-round obsession for its citizens.

"I'd go to the Town Hall Theatre and the Druid when I could," he says. He particularly enjoyed Druid's recent version of Juno and the Paycock. "I did it for my Leaving Cert but this was on a different level altogether," says O Se.

Visitors to Charlie Byrne's bookshop at Cornstore Mall might be surprised to find the normally ebullient O Se quietly browsing the history and biography sections.

"I'd give an hour or two there all right if I had a day off," he says. "Then I might take the book to McCambridge's (café) on Shop Street and while the afternoon away.

"I have my quiet times too you know," he says with a wink before he heads off to see a man about a horse.


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