AS Shane Lowry’s friend, the impressionist Conor Moore perfectly put it, the golfer is making Offaly great again.
On a sunsplashed day when Offaly and Clara flags jockeyed for position on the storied streets of the little town, and when the Faithful followers donned the county jersey like they had in those years of All-Ireland glory, the homecoming brought a tear to Shane’s eye.
Before the Open hero arrived on Tuesday evening, those waiting for him were still trying to make sense of it all, picnicking on the Green or sipping pints on the pavements outside the pubs.
“I never shook so many hands even though I had nothing to do with it,” said Shane’s uncle Sean Lowry, stressing the Portrush triumph had nothing to do with him.
A two-time All-Star, brother and teammate of Brendan, Shane’s father, and brother of Mick, another member of the 1982 All-Ireland team, Sean added: “But anyway, we’ll enjoy it.”
But surely there must have been something in the genes which led to that Major victory? “It just happens,” replied Sean.
“I’m not going to take the Lowry credit for it because the Scanlons are involved and the Scanlons are great sporting people as well.”
Then he added: “But I think that playing under pressure, our gene doesn’t do any harm.”
Thinking further, he explained: “There’s sportsfield footballers and there’s Croke Park footballers.” The Lowrys were the latter variety, men who could reproduce on the biggest stage what they would routinely do in training.
“Most of the lads could play anywhere, it didn’t matter where they were playing, whereas some people can’t.”
Ferbane man Sean Lowry was speaking in the Green as it began to fill up with well wishers and as Birr singer Mundy started his sound test.
Meanwhile, at the foot of the natural amphitheatre in the heart of Clara, Michael Sheridan was assisting the GAA club volunteers who were getting the stage ready.
He served as chairman of the club for 24 years and is fond of repeating the fact that Clara is the oldest GAA club in Offaly, “born on December 15th, 1884”.
He is now one of four club presidents and is truly in illustrious company. The others are the great footballer Peter Nolan, the former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, and now, the Open champion golfer, Shane Lowry.
“It’s a history making event for us that a joint president is after winning the British Open,” he remarked. “He played underage for us in hurling and football,” Michael said of Shane. “And all his uncles, the Scanlons, played hurling and football with the club as well and won senior medals.” What’s more, he enjoys recalling when Brendan Lowry played against Mark Scanlon in a county final between Ferbane and Clara, saying: “It came out the right way for us.”
The club has progressed much since the young Shane graced its ground, having found a new home with five pitches and “room for ladies too”. All-Ireland hurling referee Brian Gavin is now the chairman and he played a key role in organising Tuesday’s homecoming along with Offaly County Council. “Brian is doing a good job and the committee is working hard. That’s the main thing,” Michael observed. “You have to keep a turnover of people because you always need help and you need new people involved the whole time. I hope that this event will spur people on to help Clara GAA Club as well.”
Meanwhile, down outside Cowen’s public house, where the swelling throng knew that Shane Lowry would alight from his bus before walking the streets to the Green, another uncle, Joe ‘Mags’ Scanlon, was among hundreds savouring the moment.
“To think that the Claret Jug is going to Clara tonight, it’s really something. I rang Brendan last night and he said the first place it’s coming to [in Offaly] is Clara. And it had to be,” said Joe.
“It’s a great thing for the town and it’s a great thing for Offaly.”
Though he has watched his nephew’s progress closely, Joe admitted he was one of those who questioned if Shane would ever win a Major. Those doubts persisted up to last Friday, the first day of the Open. “I knew it would happen after Saturday (Shane had shot a 63) but before that I didn’t think it would happen. Probably Shane didn’t think it would happen,” he said. “He had potential but he had slumps too and he had a lot more downs than ups.”
Joe confessed the tears escaped as the Open reached its climax. “I’m not an emotional person but when he went up the 18th green, myself and my son Gary, we actually cried,” he said.
Back up at the Green, Olive Farrelly, tourism promotion officer with the County Council, had staff lined up in ‘Visit Offaly’ colours.
“It’s a little bit of Offaly branding,” she said. She would have been delighted with the assessment offered by American visitor Mike Alexander. He is spending some time in Ireland because he is the north American agent for Mullingar-based pharmaceutical equipment firm TEG. The TEG owners in Mullingar told him they had a weekend ticket for the Open, and as a big golf fan, he booked accommodation in Coleraine and then returned to his “home”, the Annebrook Hotel in Mullingar.
“I drove home yesterday and then I heard about this and I said, with this weather and this situation, I have got to come down,” he said, surveying the scene on the street just after the Clara Town Band had passed by in all their pomp. “The drive down here this evening from Mullingar was just beautiful. I hadn’t taken it before but I wasn’t surprised,” he said.
Then there was the joy of sampling small-town Ireland, an atmosphere which is not as commonplace in the United States.
The Philadelphia man said: “It’s something you can find [in the US] but it’s less typical because we have so many big towns. We have some small towns but you have all small towns.” He added: “This is why I came, I knew this is how it would be, I knew enough about Europe and Ireland so I knew this would be special. I’m only 20 minutes away, so why shouldn’t I go?”
He plays golf in a club called French Creek in the Philadelphia country suburbs and he was well aware of Shane Lowry’s abilities, having seen him play the 2016 US Open in Oakmont, in his home state of Pennsylvania.
Famously, Shane was the leader going into the final round of that Major but could not close out the result on the Sunday.
“I felt horrible for him at Oakmont when he blew the lead,” the American remarked.
By the time Lowry was sitting on the stage alongside his wife Wendy, the impressionist and comedian Moore reminded him about that missed Major opportunity.
Slipping effortlessly into the voice of former Clare hurling manager Ger Loughnane, the Mullingar performer looked at his Clara friend and said: “You had the four-shot lead at the US Open, you were useless that day. Absolutely useless. I lost a fiver on you.”
Gazing out to the thousands watching from the Green, Moore couldn’t resist an opportunity to recall another famous Offaly moment, saying the last time he saw as many in a field was in 1998 when Faithful fans occupied the Croke Park pitch in protest at a timekeeping error.
Moore was happy to praise Lowry for bouncing back from his US Open failure. “You made up for it at the weekend, you were absolutely fantastic, weren’t you?” he said. He was so good and “wristy” in Portrush that “They should put you onto the Offaly hurling team.”
Michael D Higgins, hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald, golfers Ian Poulter, Tiger Woods and more, and President Donald Trump, all got an airing too.
It was Moore’s version of Trump, of course, who thanked Shane for making Offaly great again, before mischievously adding that Offaly was the US President’s “favourite part of Westmeath”.
Compere Des Cahill then introduced another guest of honour, octogenarian GAA commentator Micheal O Muircheartaigh, who, speaking in Irish and English, said: “I went to watch Shane and I went to watch other Lowrys in different decades. I never came away disappointed.”
Standing just feet from Brendan Lowry, the wearer of the number 15 jersey for Offaly for so many years, O Muircheartaigh presented the winning golfer with a Clara jersey and turned the back of it around to reveal the unforgettable figure: -15, the score Shane finished up on in Royal Portrush.
A fitting gift for the star of the day.