The man behind Tyrone Tribulations says his stories give him ‘a buzz that’s hard to kick’

Gombeen: the man behind the website
Gombeen: the man behind the website

After a search spanning months, during which this reporter braved mountains and bogs, frequented shebeens at ungodly hours and endured never-ending chats at the end of the rainbow in the hope of learning some small snippet of information that might lead to the man behind Tyrone Tribulations - I am happy to report I found him.

But he refused to meet me... well, face-to-face at least.

So, throwing caution to the bitterly cold winds of winter I said ‘to hell with it’, and let myself be transported in a nondescript car under cover of night - both blindfolded and earmuffed to three sided pig shed God know’s where - for a meeting with a man who spoke to me from behind a hedge.

And if you were to ask me where... all I can tell you is that after traversing a road with more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese, the place held the kind of stench you only get when farmers spray year-old slurry on frozen ground.

It just sits there and festers.

But now that I’ve set the scene, lets get to the task in hand.

I had plenty of questions for the man who’s been tickling Tyrone for almost three years, and he answered every one of them.

First of all, I’m guessing Gombeen is the boss man as the first posts on your website are all by you, is this accurate?

“Yes.”

Gombeen, how do you like your beetroot and would you eat much of it? Also which is your favourite aria?

“I’ve been told to ease off the Beetroot as it was turning my blood red. I’ve replaced it with rum and ice. Nessun Dorma.”

How did this all come about? I’d love to hear the story (the real one).

“I had been writing stories for GAA magazines since 2003 of a supposedly humorous nature. The most recent was for the Gaelic Life under the pen name of The Hallion. After that stint finished I needed to satisfy the itch for writing short stories so in August 2012 I decided to start writing a story a day and created Tyrone Tribulations. I knew there was a Donegal Dollop and Waterford Whispers so I went down the same road when it came to naming the site. The first story was a very short simple tale about an Ardboe man getting on a plane. Took off from there.”

Will you ever reveal the identity of your reporters? Or their town lands of origin?

“Well, I’m from East Tyrone. I don’t think it would be fair to reveal the others’.

Can you reveal their real ages and chosen professions?

“Not that young but not too old.”

When did the other reporters come on board Gombeen, how did this come about and do you ever have to ‘edit’ them?

“Shengas wrote for the site between March 2013 and October 2014. Pat and Aughohilly have contributed a few articles over time. They simply asked if they could contribute a story or two and if I was happy they had written in the style I was after I published it, edited in order to avoid offending anyone!”

Your writing style is remarkably like that of a reporter, have any of your writers ever worked in the press - if so which publications?

“I wrote a while for Gael Sports Ulster and Gaelic Life but in terms of journalistic writing it was just a matter of mimicking what is out there.”

Define a Tyrone person (Gaelic nuts aside)?

“Tyrone is the centre of the world for Tyronians. And we don’t like to see people do well, especially first cousins.”

How much time do you spend writing your articles?

“About 20-30mins. It might be based on something I heard at work that day or at the weekend after visiting the old pair. Or maybe something on the radio or just a midday doting moment. Sometimes people sent messages on Facebook or Twitter about ideas for stories. But on average it’s just half an hour out of my day putting it together. I’m up to 800 stories now. Add on the Gaelic Life and GSU stints and I think I’ve written 1200 stories in 12 years. Most are horrible!”

Do you have any other hobbies?

“Like a bit of five-a-side and astronomy as well as a successful pig-renting operation I run in Belfast where people can rent out pigs for a day as a pet. For £4.”

Your ideas are fantastic and sometimes reference characters quite like people I know of in the real world - has this ever caused you any trouble?

“Oh yes, plenty. Some have been reasonable complaints - maybe a photo I used that was initially used for a serious story. Some found stories unfunny and were quick to email me... (“as funny as a kick in the balls” said one)... but you learn to be thick skinned. Humour is different for everyone. But what has always been important to me was not to be offensive. I wouldn’t call my site satirical. Satire usually involves poking fun at something or someone. I find that to be too easy or ‘click bait’. I prefer fresh ideas - simply short story writing using the personalities and ways of Tyrone people as inspiration.”

Has anyone ever called you to court with the mention of an injunction of any kind?

“Not yet...”

Are you making any money from this?

“No, never. I have been asked a few times by international advertising agencies to place ads on my site but I’m not in it to make money. I enjoy it for what it is and get an itch if I go a day or two without writing.”

Do you plan to put your stories together in a book?

“If anyone wants to do it for me, I’m all on for it. I have been asked a few times, especially as presents for those who don’t have access to the internet or for ex-pats. If you know anyone willing to do this... (I’m serious)

Do you have a muse?

“Miles na gCopaleen/Flann O’Brien.”

Where do you get the best ideas?

“Just local stories or characters I hear about. Or just a random idea. Or a request.”

Which story are you most proud of, and why?

“For me it has to be the Shawshank Husband story. It has been viewed over 1.7m times and has been retweeted by American actor John Cusack. It was also read out on BBC Radio 2 and I still get emails from a wide range of people for countries all over the world about it... most believe it is true but that wasn’t my aim. I don’t like making people feel foolish.”

How does it feel to have taken off in the way you have?

“When you get a big hit... say over 10,000 views, it does make you feel good that people liked your ideas. I have threatened a few times to retire from it but it’s hard to do that. There’s a buzz that’s hard to kick.”

What is your favourite town to write about? And which is the best for inspiration?

“Coalisland, Brackaville, Tattyreagh, Strabane and Omagh seem to get big hits. Ardboe and Brocagh... anything along the lough shore can be inspirational... usually involves eels...”

Are you religious folks?

“We don’t trouble the altar rails that much.”

Which age group do get the best material from?

“Over 50s!”