Even if you’ve never been to Lurgan, you’ll know us by our legendary mouth for the mighty Buckfast tonic wine!
The Breakfast of Champions has fueled Spade Town for generations. Sure we don’t have even train Master McGrath – the most famous greyhound in history – with a Drap o ‘Buckfast in his bowl!
The mere mention of my beloved hometown could remind some of annoying social media polls asking for opinions about Northern Ireland’s “worst city”.
Unfortunately, Lurgan is often brought into contact with Ballymena and Larne as potential contenders for this unwanted crown.
Well, turn it up for Lurgan is already a winner – and we toast our victory with a bumper of the famous Buckfast Tonic Wine. Yes, we can have the rest under the table with a little sip of Buckie …
Dungannon? Finished! Omagh? Ólta amach! There is no one who can take our bullets, not even Portydown!
Lurgan’s fascination with Buckfast has long been so great that it is known far and wide as “Lurgan Champagne”. In the 1980s, a local poetry collective brought together a verse assemblage with that exact title.
It’s not unpopular in other parts, but Buckie is a touchstone for the city. People refer to three things when Lurgan is mentioned: Master McGrath, Lurgan Park, and Buckfast.
Margorie McCall, the woman who was prematurely buried in Shankill Cemetery before thieves woke her from her sleep by trying to cut the precious ring off himThe finger is another important part of the Lurgan canon.
But we take the Buckfast praise. And from papa we will! A local supermarket reports that its second best seller is Buckie: # 1 is milk.
But it also has to be. The manager of an off-license in Lurgan said only around two percent of her customers wanted Buckie at room temperature.
Buckfast is part of growing up in Lurgan. It’s like a rite of passage, and those who can’t say they snapped a bottle or two among the rhododendron bushes of Lurgan Park may not be real spade-breakers.
Can’t say I found the taste of decent Buckfast appealing when I was young. But then I hadn’t discovered the wonderful range of mixers that make it a pleasure for every palate.
Brown lemonade keeps the color, while Wild Berry WKD makes the item look and taste! The CurFor West Coast, the rental trend is cooler, a decidedly retro drink, as a mixer.
But how did Buckfast become the epitome of Lurgan? The gentle monks at Buckfastleigh Abbey in Devon could not predict the impact their sacred brew would have on a distant town in Co Armagh.
Nor did they envision their caffeine-fortified tonic wine gaining the reputation of a “wreck of hoose juice” in Scottish suburbs, where its popularity almost rivals its Lurgan prevalence.
It is reported that the monks are appalled at the reputation their drink has gained in the less blessed corners of Glasgow and the finer parts of Lurgan!
The great thing about Buckfast is that it brings people together. In Lurgan, a town divided by religion and culture, people live on either side of Buckfastleigh’s everlasting fountain.
Lurgan: home of the famous master McGrath
There is one serious aspect, however. Many Lurgan residents have registered for the First World War 1914-1918 and paId the ultimate price. Of course, this also applied to other cities.
However, when the war ended, another threat emerged – Spanish flu, the coronavirus of its time.
Health officials suggested several ways to combat or counteract the risk: one was cycling and another was consuming “healthy” tonic wines. The benefits of these drinks were widespread.
Lurgan took this advice to heart: I’m not sure about cycling as nobody in my town has done this ever won the Tour de France, but at least the Tonic Wine Bit sounds true!
Other pretenders have come and gone, including Sanatogen Tonic Wine, Wincarnis (mixed with malt and beef extract!) And the “cheering and comforting” phosferin.
The latter sounds like a character from a Shakespeare play, but over the years all of these “tonics” have been increasingly marketed to help women get through the play dreary weekdays as they waited for their husbands to come home.
Domestic misery was a recurring theme in the ads. These “restorative means” helped women “to cope with the little ups and downs of life”, to banish “nerves” and to overcome the “drudgery”. A Sanatogen advertisement from the 1960s states:
“Everything is fine with him. It starts in the morning … But all you have is an empty house. And the same boring round of household chores. There are times when the thought of it takes your heart.
“On days when you feel like this, Sanatogen Tonic Wine is so helpful. And so pleasant. “
Life was interrupted until the man of the house returned triumphant and bread-making. Why not make it easier with one or three glasses?
In the 60s and 70s, tonic wines weren’t marketed for men because manufacturers knew men would drink them anyway. Women should create a new and lucrative population group.
Isn’t the same thing happening today with ads aimed at getting women into the gambling arena? At the beginning of this century, few women would have blacked out a bookmaker’s doors.
The gambling industry opened its welcoming but greedy online doors to women by targeting them with ads encouraging them to play fluffy “woman-friendly” games with cute names.
Even before the coronavirus lockdown, there was no need to approach a bookmaker’s dog Business. Online games now handle both genders.
This blog started out as a fun piece about Buckie, but there are serious parallels to our day that cannot be ignored.
But I’ll finish with a lighter note. I think what happened is that Lurgan took to heart and stuck with the postwar tonic wine health message as other places shifted to other delights and intoxicants.
Lurgan’s enduring love affair with Buckfast certainly requires a song. So here’s one …
(A full bottle might be too much Buckie for most of you, so that’s just a little trailer. Lurgan champagne is complete here on YouTube …)
Top tip: Serve chilled Buckfast with a generous dash of McDaid’s Football Special to add a cosmopolitan twist to every day