Donegal was showcased to the world on Monday night when The Paddy Crerand Show was beamed live from Ostan Gweedore by MUTV - the official television station of Manchester United Football Club.
MUTV has an audience of 18 million viewers in 68 countries and the local economy in Gweedore, after an entertaining night, will be hoping for a spin-off.
Presenter Stewart Gardner introduced a visual montage from Gweedore at the beginning of the 90-minute programme and Crerand spoke about his childhood and continual travels to the area throughout his 72 years.
“I didn’t know how to get here,” he announced after his introduction. “Well, that’s a lie actually. I know exactly how to get here. It’s a return home for me. I know so many people and there’s so many of my family here. I’m emotional actually.”
Crerand’s mother was Sarah Tim Boyle from Gweedore and his father Michael from Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone, was tragically killed in the Second World War. The Crerand family lived in the Gorbals in Glasgow but spent their summers in Gweedore, where Crerand’s uncle Hughie Timmy Boyle was a well-known face. He has since passed away but the Ostan is still run by the family.
“This is the place I spent a lot of my childhood, in Gweedore, and it’s very windy,” Crerand said in the promotional video, as he stood by the windy old Gweedore shipwreck. “It’s beautiful here. I told Stewart this was the old wreck and he looked at me and then it, and said which one? Thank you very much Stewart!
“This reminds me of many years ago when we used to get the boat from Glasgow to Derry and a coach in here. The funny thing is a lot of people in Glasgow came from this area and still come back. There are great memories for me.
“We used to kick a ball against the wall of my mother’s family house, myself and my brother, and I must’ve done something right as I ended up playing for Celtic and Manchester United. I loved every minute of it here. The freedom you had was incredible.”
Mounted on the wall of Ostan Gweedore is a blue Manchester United jersey, one of two Crerand wore in the 1968 European Cup final when Sir Matt Busby’s team, which also included George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, defeated Benfica 4-1 at Wembley.
“I gave one to my uncle,” Grerand continued. “He spread the rumour years ago that myself and George Best were partners in starting this hotel - it was blarney.”
Still astounded by the strength of the link between Crerand and Gweedore, Gardner asked: “Is there anyone here who isn’t related to Paddy?” There was just the one person who put their hand up, which brought a warm laugh to the room as the hand was that of Lorraine, Crerand’s daughter.
The conversation switched to United’s form. After a dismal Europa League encounter that saw them lose to Athletic Bilbao at home and away, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team bounced back with a 5-0 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League - a result that put them four points clear of the chasing pack, namely Manchester City.
“I knew you feckers would do it,” Crerand said a City supporting friend of his had claimed lately, referring to the resolution United had to get back on track in the title race. He explained the word wasn’t a curse and one that was acceptable in Donegal.
“There are lots of words that are commonly used here in Donegal that we probably won’t be using for the next hour and a half,” Gardner warned with a grin.
Questions then came from the lines and from the floor, with a Frank McEleney, a local known for his support of Arsenal and Celtic, asked how United’s class of 1968 would’ve fared against the Celtic side who won the European Cup 12 months’ beforehand.
“You’re a troublemaker,” Crerand declared by telling everyone in attendance that the 11 Lisbon Lions from that 1967 side never actually played together again. And so a bullet was dodged.
Crerand was joined by former United and Northern Ireland midfielder Norman Whiteside, who remains the youngest player ever to play in the World Cup finals when he was 17 in 1982. He also scored a memorable winning goal for United against Everton in the 1985 FA Cup final in front of 100,000 fans at Wembley.
Whiteside, who does corporate work with United alongside Crerand, recalled his previous trip to Donegal with the Scot in 1990.
The occasion was the 25th anniversary of Fr Mick Sweeney’s ordination to the priesthood, something Crerand quipped “would’ve gone down well in the Shankhill Road,” the area in Belfast where Whiteside was brought up.
“Only last week at the United game Paddy told me that he was going to Donegal and whether I remembered the last time we were there,” Whiteside said. “Uncle Hughie Tim picked us up at Knock airport and we went on a bit of a pub crawl to get up here. We got to Sligo, having a few drinks along the way, and stopped at a bar called Kilfeather’s.
“We knocked on the door, which was locked, and this little flap flew open. ‘Oh my God’ someone said. ‘It’s Paddy Crerand and Norman Whiteside.’ The door flew wide open. It was a Manchester United Supporters’ Club meeting - at two in the morning! I’ll always remember that.
“We went in and had a few pints and then stopped in Donegal Town and, believe it or not, the Donegal Gaelic team had lost in a semi-final and when we went into the hotel all the boys were sprawled across the foyer.
“They were on the sauce because they’d lost obviously and we were on a pub crawl on the way to Gweedore. We only arrived here to a big welcome breakfast at seven in the morning!”
Whiteside then spoke of the time when he and United teammates like Bryan Robson and Paul McGrath frequented Crerand’s pub in Altrincham “only on a Sunday,” before adding “about 12 o’clock.”
“We used to enjoy meeting the people, the fans,” Whiteside continued. “In that time the drinking culture was out and the media were on our back, Whiteside, Robson and McGrath.
“But I always tell the story, in that year (1988) it was the English League centenary at Wembley and the English League played the rest of the world – we won 3-0, Robson got two, Whiteside got one and McGrath was man-of-the-match, so Paddy served a good pint of Guinness!”
The live show rounded off with something of a party political broadcast and alternative geography lesson from the Mayor of Donegal, Cllr Noel McBride.
“I’m delighted to be here to welcome yourself to this lovely county of Gweedore,” he said. “I know you have a great affinity with the area and this programme will do a lot for Donegal, so thank you for that. I hope there’s enough Manchester United fans as I have to go before the electorate again in 2014.”
Mayor McBride presented Crerand with a plaque of gratitude and a Donegal tie from the county’s people. Whiteside quipped: “Mister Mayor, I’ll just have a pint of Guinness please!”
And with that, Mayor McBride, although unwilling to give the shirt off his back, presented Whiteside with the tie from his neck. “You’ll not have to try for re-election anymore,” Crerand said. And when it comes to Gweedore, Paddy Crerand will always top the poll.