I saw him once. The big fish. It was evening time, just coming up to Christmas 2017. I got off the LUAS tram and I went into Arnotts to get a coffee in the Abbey Street coffee shop. He was sitting in the corner, deep in conversation with another man. I got a shock when I saw him in the flesh.
I was coming from the Criminal Courts where I was on jury duty. The trial I was on lasted over two weeks and concluded just before Christmas. It was a trial about child abuse. There’s something very uncomfortable about looking into the minute details of other peoples’ lives. But it’s necessary for justice to prevail.
It was three months after our planning for Holmpatrick Cove had been refused by An Bord Pleanála. We were still reeling at the injustice of a decision that defied logic. Eight years and our vision wiped away at the eleventh hour by faceless civil servants. The council had given a very strong grant in the January of that year, so we had every good reason to expect a positive outcome. When I walked into the coffee shop that evening it was all very raw.
There was a free table beside the two men and I sat down whilst waiting for my coffee. He would not have known me, the big fish. I looked like your average mother doing her Christmas shopping. I took out my shopping list and feigned studying it studiously. But I wasn’t thinking about my list. I was catching snippets of the conversation going on beside me. It was about building heights and apartment standards. He was doing most of the talking and the other man was listening intently and nodding in agreement. As a casual observer (maybe not that casual) it was clear to me who was in command. I got up to collect the coffee and they went to leave. I had caught the tail end of their meeting. I mean coffee. He passed by me on my way back to my table and he caught my eye. Was there some flicker of recognition from home perhaps? I’m not sure. But I sure knew who he was and how his world had impacted mine.
Apropos of coffee. Michael and I make a point of escaping for our coffee every day. It’s a time out. I think in modern parlance they call it ‘self-care’. In Skerries we are very lucky because we have so many great coffee shops and it is safe to say that you would struggle to get a bad coffee anywhere in the town. Before Covid hit we would sit in Goat in The Boat on the harbour or Olive Café. During the lockdown we found Gerry at the station where he does great coffee too. When the regulations eased you could buy your coffee and sit in the station platform at a social distance. It was a great way to catch up with friends. Nowadays we often take Gerry’s coffees to Red Island where we sit in the car and look at the view of the islands and the town. Sometimes we drive down the pier and watch the boats and the action in the harbour. It’s good for the soul. We sold our boat last year. It was great fun for the kids, extended family and friends. It was especially great when Michael took the kids out on the boat and I could enjoy a quiet house. A win-win for all parties!
In this country we have certainly embraced coffee culture. Ireland is a small pond where big fish could lose the run of themselves. A lot is discussed over cups of coffee between friends: current or ex colleagues, current or ex committee members, current or ex fellow presidents and members of institutes. Plans are made, deals done and promises made. It could be very advantageous, especially if there’s promotions or board appointments to be filled….Join the dots. We have.
I wonder if there’s any chance we could get minutes of these coffee meetings under Freedom of Information? Somehow, I suspect there’s as much chance as James Gogarty had when he famously asked if he would get a receipt from Ray Burke during the last planning tribunal. The reply he got was “Will we f**k” If you ask me, it’s all very fishy!