Published Tuesday, 16 October 2012
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I'm a great man for the crosswords. One of my favourite clues of all time was one dreamt up, I believe, by the late Derek Crozier, better known as "Crosaire" of The Irish Times.

"To eat out of house and home (6)" the clue read. The answer, which I only got because I already had the first letter, was "picnic".

As I've already confessed more than once on these pages, I'm a great man for the picnics as well, and I was trying to figure out , all the time I was in Ramelton, why I kept thinking of picnics.

Now I'm not talking about terribly refined picnics with wicker baskets and tartan blankets and chilled bottles of Chablis - the kind of spread that Anita Robinson used to get Trevor to pack for the annual debating society outing years ago when they wore matching Guardian tracksuits and carried a huge floral parasol - I'm talking about standing at the open boot of a car with a cheese roll, a flask of lukewarm tea and a polystyrene cup.

The contents of your picnic don't really matter. It's the idea of eating "out of house and home" that matters, whether that be at the seaside, under a tree or sitting on a stone wall being gazed at by envious sheep. I suppose it's some kind of hunter-gatherer gene that compels me to seek the great outdoors whenever I start to feel hunger pangs.

Anyway, what's all that to do with Ramelton? Well that's what I kept asking myself until I realised that, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had always known that Ramelton was where they made the "Football Special", that tiny brown bottle of lemonade without which no outing to Donegal would be complete.

Every Sunday or bank holiday in summer when I was a child we would head off to the beaches of Donegal with our sandwiches, our primus stove and a clatter of cups and spoons. Invariably we would stop at a shop along the way for crisps, ice-cream and the obligatory bottle of Football Special.

It tasted like no other beverage. Like a cross between cream soda and cola with a little hint of sarsaparilla. Or was it ginger? We never could work it out. We just knew it was delicious, to be reserved only for special occasions like outings and picnics.

It must be 30 years or more since I last tasted it. And then I saw the old faded wooden sign above one of the warehouses on the quay in Ramelton -" McDaid's Football Special".

It was as if I had just drunk a bottle. Definitely sarsaparilla.

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Joe Mahon
Joe Mahon

Joe Mahon is the presenter of UTV's long-running series Lesser Spotted Ulster.

He is a man who has seen more of the nooks and crannies of the Ulster countryside than anyone else.

His travels for the show have seen him cross land and sea finding the hidden histories of the local landscape.

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