The Squinting Eye - A side-angled look at our beloved sports II


This piece was first published on the An Fear Rua website!

Excruciating sound assailed inner ears of player

A MOST disturbing event occurred last year at the hurling final of a certain Munster county. Only the victim himself and close members of his family know about it.

He was captain of the team, an inter-county hurler on whom the team depended for a good display on the big day. Instead of that he was an example of everything that can go wrong; his co-ordination made him look like The Straw Man in the Wizard of Oz; his timing was worse than the former launch operator who left out the “4” on the countdown at Cape Canaveral; his concentration was as scattered as the man on the Public Address system in Clones who mixed up Mary McAleese with Mary Robinson.

“Is it a belt on the ear he got or what? asked a faithful follower as the cup was being presented to the captain of the other team. Our man had been seen to put his hands to his ears at the start of the game.

He only began to play well in the second half. In the final quarter he really came into his own, played right up to form. But by then it was too late; the opposing side was too far ahead by that stage. Afterwards, in the sanctuary of his own home, the disappointed player told his mother that he had got an excruciating pain in both ears at the start of the match and did not shake it off for most of the first half.

His mother was worried. An appointment was made with one of the leading specialists at The Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin. The consultant, a corpulent man with a wine-red face, examined our man’s ears thoroughly. He could find nothing at all amiss with the inner or outer ears or any of the passages between them or out from them.

“Can you remember getting any kind of blow on the ear at the start of the match?”
“Were you subjected to any kind of noise”,
“Oh Jaysus, our coach roared at us before we went out onto the field. He lifted the roof off.”
“Did you ever experience this kind of pain before, on any other occasion?”
“A few times, when I was leading the team round the field at a big match”,
They were both completely stumped. As a very last resort the consultant asked, “Was the game videod or shown on TV.”
“Both. We had our own man doing a club video and it was shown live on TG a Ceathair”

The upshot was that two days later copy of the video and a copy of the TG 4 coverage was sent to the consultant for him to examine. Four or five days afterwards he telephoned, his voice quivering with the suppressed excitement of a Sherlock Holmes who has solved a mystery. He asked the hurler to come up to see him as soon as possible.

“That’s it. Your ears were subjected to the dreadful wailing of that pipe band. In the parade you, as captain, were right behind the band so you got a full earful. It took time to wear off.”

The consultant said that over the years quite a few people who played in pipers’ bands had problems with their ears. Most of the ear difficulties, he said, could be traced to the bagpipes themselves. It was the sharpness of the notes. The high-intensity sound could be compared with the ‘white noise’ used to torture people in the notorious Castlereagh detention centre during internment in Northern Ireland.

Neither our man or his family took the matter any further. All that happened was that in future matches where the teams parade behind a pipe band, he stays at the very end of the line of players, even though it meant relinquishing the captaincy. He was reluctant to mention the subject to his fellow players, although he was aware that quite a few of them were uncomfortable with the sound of the pipes. On one occasion he heard one say to another “I’d prefer the loudest disco in town to those bloody pipes.”

Understandably, people are loathe to be critical of piper’s bands. Their keening has been part of the GAA scene for decades. Here are big beefy fellows striding along in time to the drumbeat, kilts swinging, white spats emphasising their steps on the green grass. Their faces are red with blowing, their cheeks puffed with the effort as they play “Let Erin Remember”.

They are doing their best but the wailing sounds are less than pleasing. And when it comes to screeching out the national anthem some pipe bands actually have to change key near the end, so that the sound suddenly rises to a fierce crescendo that assails the ears even of those who are hard of hearing.

I myself can testify to the frightening power of the pipers’ band. On one Munster Final day in Thurles a huge flock of crows and seagulls had alighted on the roofs of the stands in Semple Stadium. They only fluttered their feathers at the immense roars that went up when the teams ran out onto the field. But then, suddenly, the pipers’ band struck up. Crows and seagulls rose in a single flock over the stands and flew rapidly away and did not stop until they had reached the sanctuary of the dark green woods at Brittas beside the railway line, over a kilometre away.

Who is going to raise the delicate question of encouraging pipe bands to discard their dissonant pipes in exchange for brass instruments? Maybe some sponsor with an ear for melody will provide the finance for instruments and for music lessons.

For the sake of hurling the matter should be considered.