One does not expect to find the Ritz in rural Donegal, but it was the first establishment I encountered on entering Raphoe.
Neither its decor (garish) nor its aspect (facing a back lane) seemed to warrant a name so synonymous with elitist ways.
I am used to being made feel unworthy by this establishment. I once arranged to meet my sister and niece in London’s The Ritz (we figured Kiki would get a kick from the experience, even if it was only coffee) only to discover that my jeans were off the menu.
I was not allowed enter even though the girls were already both seated inside and awaiting my arrival.
In contrast, it seemed to me that even Lycra would be feted in The Raphoe Ritz.
I smiled at the thought. Because Raphoe is famous not for the pop of champagne, but for a semi-derelict Celtic monument just outside the town and for the hue and cry of a supposed murder investigation gone awry.
This little village found itself in the headlights of a Tribunal of Investigation in the mid 2000’s.
That was a time when Ireland took joy in getting the nation’s dirty washing out for inspection in a manner infused with pomp and diva drama.
Exhaustive Tribunals were signal of best-in-class behaviour of a first class, wealthy nation.
Only for us to discover, in 2008 and without much investigation necessary for its discovery, that the whole apparatus of government was stewing in greed and incompetence, and that the Tribunals were an elaborate tool to deflect our attention from a more insidious rot.
Indeed, our nation’s supposed wealth was merely a mirage.
It shocks me that so many still believe that the Celtic Tiger actually happened. It was, alas, a Ponzi bubble of our own making – goaded with relish and policy by those who purported to lead us.
We were never super-rich. We just thought we were. We thought we were Lord Grantham of Downton, only to discover we were O’Brien, on a transgendered vacation upstairs.
In Raphoe, Richie Baron’s death on a roadside was illegally framed by the Gardaí on Frank McBraerty. The whole might of our Security Forces was corruptly recruited to bring him, his family and his business down.
I showed up, on my bike, to investigate.
Only to get side-tracked by Ireland’s best fairy cakes, baked to perfection by a philosopher masquerading as a hardworking everyman, bearing tattoos.
Dear friends, gather your children and rush to the Raphoe Café and Bakery in County Donegal. If one or two of the kids fall out of the carriage on the way, let them be. Drive on and don’t spare the horses.
There you will find soda breads, buns and shortbread slices just like the mammy used to make.
As the wafts of currant buns infiltrated my sweaty cycling gear, the tattooed prince of fairy cakes spoke.
‘I love this country, but it’s gone wrong. People have lost their honesty’
He was a squat man with fiery eyes. He spoke with the intensity that experience gives to people in their fifties. Been through troubles. Able to get through troubles.
‘Happiness can blow up in your face any minute. Being content is what I’m about. I was in welding to make money, but two years ago I threw it in. Came back to baking. I started as a chef. It’s what I want to do. This place makes no money, but it would be more expensive to stay at home and do nothing’.
I reflected on this as I sat in his cafe with my bike parked beside me. He had seen my anxiety with it stationed outside and invited me to wheel it in. Thus, its metal, chains and panniers were now marinading in fairy cake-ness too.
‘The problem in Ireland is that we always want to look up to somebody. But when you look up to somebody, you’re also looking down on somebody’
His words were as rich and simple as his recipes. It was clear to me that he had neither read nor overheard nor regurgitated in any way what he was saying. He was speaking his own, authentic truth, authentically thought-through.
I tried to engage him in the Richie Baron affair. ‘Richie Baron?’, he said. ‘Oh yes. He died here’.
That was all. He was not a man for scandal.
Three kilometres outside the town stands a stone circle dating back to 800 BC. Massive rocks, 2 meters high, are arranged in a sweeping 360 degree arc on the top of a flat hill. They are a little helterskelter and confused now, due to some non-scientific excavation in the 1930s. Beltany Stone Circle is thought to have been centre of an elaborate system of Celtic ritual to pay homage to higher gods.
I stood there, among those ruins outside Raphoe, and took it all in, all that was about me.
All of this effort, all of this standing on ceremony, all in the service of some god-forsaken hierarchy – according, to some, power they do not deserve, and to others grief they do not merit.
Brian McIntyre. August 2013
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About Rothar Republic
My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).
In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.
I figure this is a 27 day-long expedition covering about 2,200km.
All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.
If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.