23 July 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Pride sometimes gets a bad Press.

Ever since Christendom labelled it as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, moral and cultural cautions have abounded against allowing it to take too much of a hold over our individual lives.

But, like the Greek take on “strife” that was meditated upon in these columns last week, there are good and bad forms of this innately human characteristic.

The pride that makes us elevate our standards and better ourselves can also make us selfish and self-serving at others’ expense – but if we struggle to find the right balance in our individual lives, the highest form of pride seems to manifest when we come together communally for our mutual betterment or to celebrate shared virtues and values.

A bounty of good pride was borne in upon the human sea that engulfed the Diamond and Church Square areas of Monaghan Town on Sunday evening last, with the final night of the town’s third annual Country Musical Festival providing the perfect context for the exultant homecoming of the Monaghan senior county football team that had earlier regained the Ulster title after a mighty struggle with reigning champions Donegal.

The power of our national games to bind us beneficently together under a common flag, particularly when our county teams are achieving highly, and the power of music to uplift and make unbound our often oppressed spirits, can never before have been so simultaneously exemplified at a public occasion in Co Monaghan.

The prodigious assembly of people, estimated by some as representing as much as one-sixth of our county’s population, was such as to resist an accurate tally – and statistics will grow irrelevant as the occasion lodges itself in the county’s collective memory and even those not physically present will marry themselves into the moment with the mental assertion that somehow they too were there.

But the remarkable nature of the occasion derives not merely from weight of numbers. The mood of conviviality, the shared desire to celebrate and acclaim, made this a very special night, with few if any significant infringements against public order despite the compression together of such a multitude of people and the ready availability of alcoholic refreshment.

The reception given the Monaghan players and their management and mentors when they took the festival stage after Jimmy Buckley had concluded his rousing set was fittingly unrestrained. Yet, after the team gave the crowd what they had waited for with repeated brandishing of the Anglo-Celt Cup and some unrestrained victory poses, the comments made by team captain Conor McManus and manager Malachy O’Rourke were admirably measured – triumphal, certainly, but not triumphalist.

Unlike two years ago when Monaghan had ended a 25-year drought of provincial primacy, and a similar celebratory scene and many which followed it marked the achievement of the Ulster title as a summit attained, the side of 2015 has its sights set firmly on higher ascents.

Although it will have disappointed many, the decision by the team and county board not to embark on a countywide victory tour in the aftermath of Sunday’s win was a prudent one, given that a Championship quarter-final is looming in a few short weeks. It reflects the sense alive not just in partisan Monaghan hearts but in the consciousness of football cognoscenti nationwide that this is a team whose odyssey could be far from over.

If there was a consciousness of that elevated expectation in the words of captain and manager, there was also mature meditation on the transitory nature of sporting success and all the joy and celebration that goes with it. It was a vindication rather than a reprimand of the unrestrained elation unfolding at his feet when Conor McManus told the multitude on Sunday night: “These are special days for Monaghan, and we need to cherish them. These are days we will never forget.”

And Sunday was also a halcyon occasion for the Monaghan Country Music Festival, a precocious child whose firm imprint on the calendar of national and international “must-sees” for devotees of this form of music will be more deeply embossed when word gets around about the finale of its third year.

The charmed early life of the event, blessed by glorious weather for its first two manifestations and the presence of Monaghan in the Ulster Final for all three, looked in jeopardy from the elements this year, with some very inclement conditions blighting all but its closing night.

That everything came good in such an unprecedented way on Sunday was no more than the organisers and attendees merited, given the exceptional voluntary commitment that goes into the festival’s realisation, the enjoyment it generates, and the charitable and good cause dividend its profits yield.

However, for the continued health of an event so reliant on the payout of a rain-free weekend from the notoriously fickle bank of the Irish summer, some thought will surely have to be given by the organising committee and the Monaghan Municipal District to a contingency against bad weather.

The festival’s open-air, town centre situation is an integral part of its identity, and it will not be easy to preserve these features while guaranteeing shelter from inclement weather for its patrons – but it would be prudent for some thought to be given to possible solutions when preparations are being made for the 2016 edition.

This is perhaps an early task for the new Monaghan town centre co-ordinator role being created by the Municipal District to foster co-operative ventures amongst the county capital’s commercial community and re-energise trade.

This year’s country festival did attract a greater degree of buy-in from the town’s business community, with more premises taking up the theme of the weekend and making visible efforts to both contribute to and profit from the enhanced town centre footfall.

Hopefully this is indicative of a developing realisation of the benefits that all sections of business in the town can reap from what is now a brimming schedule of local festivals and events – an awareness that the new

co-ordinator appointee can tap into to achieve the needed commercial uplift.

And, if practical means can be devised to harness it, there is no shortage of the best form of pride in our town and county – Sunday’s extraordinary occasion demonstrated that, just as the Monaghan team demonstrated that we have good cause to be very proud indeed.


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