Longford Leader Columnist Mattie Fox: Savouring the tranquility and rustic surrounds of idyllic Italy

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Mattie Fox

Longford Leader columnist, Mattie Fox

Back in 2004 Longford played Kerry in Pearse Park. A tough uncompromising encounter ensued, with both teams facing the final few minutes on a knife edge.

This was Jack O’Connor’s first game in charge of Kerry.

Kerry inched ahead, then Longford closed the gap.

Longford continued to push for a vital score, and in the last minute of the game one of the debut Longford defenders, Stephen Lynch, had come forward and rising above defenders and forwards following David Blessington’s rasping shot which rebounded off the crossbar and punched it to the back of the Kerry net.

A Longford victory.

That was back in 2004. Heady days.

Last Sunday, while Longford were sweating in Croke Park, we were attending the wedding of an older, wiser, yet the very same Stephen Lynch, in Sora, Italy. Betrothing his Italian wife Valentina, and feeling the effects of eighty degrees of heat, but saved by the wonderfully cool cavern that is the Church of the Assumption, in Sora.

We left home on Friday, June 8th and flew to Ciampino Airport in the precinct of Rome. The Lynch and Falcone families had organised a bus transfer from Rome to Sora, and we found the journey to be breathtaking with the combination of sweeping hills, valleys, mountains, all dotted with red roofed houses, sometimes in isolation, sometimes in clusters, and occasionally they’d become a sprawling town.

Having the advantage of a view from elevated location, we could appreciate the stunning natural scenery of Italy.

Real Italy. Nothing like the touristy areas.

We drove through many vine filled valleys, and, looming upwards we could see the peaks of individual mountains towering towards the skies. On top of one, we could see the distinctive outline of a church, looking majestic.

Surrounded by trees and vegetation, it made me wonder how they reached the summit.

Being treated to a taste of Italy, we travelled further and further towards the middle of the country. It was very exciting to see the rural housing, in various sizes and decor with some stunning abodes alongside less well off areas, but with increasing signs of self help on show in the form of well kept gardens growing thriving crops at most houses.

The town to which we were headed was Sora, from which Valentina hails, and the mountains sweeping upwards slightly to the west of Sora are the Appennines which from time to time are shaken by earthquakes. These regular occurrences can be felt clearly in Sora.

The Appenines dominate most of Italy, like a huge backbone trailing its course from north to south.

Overall though, housing here would not compare to Ireland.

By comparison Ireland enjoys far more luxurious dwellings than is the case in Italy.

Stephen Lynch remains a grounded man. An honest guy, who has deep seated beliefs, and practices.

A loyal Granard man, he does not forget his past, and wears it proudly on his sleeve. When he moved to Mullingar, several teams approached him to transfer, with all the benefits that accompanies.

Every time he gave the same answer “I only play with St Mary’s Granard, that’s my club”.

When Stephen played for Longford back in 2004, one of the members of the panel was Brian Sheridan. Like Stephen, Brian too was a great footballer, and he was one of the fifty or so wedding guests on the flight, along with many other Granard stalwarts.

By the time we reached Sora, it was evident that we had a great combination of life types, just the right cocktail for an enjoyable few days.

Sunday came, and the wedding day.

What a memorable occasion it was in traditional Italian style. The sanctuary of the old cathedral was decked in magnificent flower arrangements and the local choir filled our hearts and souls with the most glorious music. It is customary for everyone to leave the church before the wedding party and we did so to the strains of Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia.

In a beautiful setting high in the mountains we enjoyed wonderful fresh food, all native to Italy, served over numerous courses.

Six courses proper, in all, along with a few tasters here and there.

The Italians know how to eat. Slowly, with plenty of chatter and talk happening between, and during, courses.

The wedding party looked splendid, and the Italians looked very relaxed in the eighty degrees of heat. We Irish were sweltering, but it was marvellous to sit in the shade and savour the atmosphere and the exquisite food.

One of the highlights of the entire weekend, apart from the wedding, which all of us thought was the best we’d ever attended, was the visit to an old monastic site high up the mountains. As we walked towards the old tower, reminiscent of our Norman structures, we were not expecting to find a very old village still inhabited - an oasis of tranquility - with old stone pathways, doors of the well maintained houses wide open, dogs sleeping in the cool of the evening and a birds eye view of the valleys below.

Cars and motorbikes traverse regularly.

Still standing is the main church, and an arch built dry with huge stones, built in 600 B.C.

The arch was a reminder of the skill levels of the old tradesmen, and is one of the many memorable scenes we witnessed.

The structure was built in medieval times in tribute to Cicero whose estate was close by.