Grace and Scott the real heroes as Henshaw family raise funds for South Westmeath Hospice

I will begin this column by noting and paying respect to the late US president George Bush who died recently. I have not any particular memories about him but I have always felt that he was a most honourable person, and that seems to be the general opinion now upon his passing. I noted at his funeral home that his faithful dog who he has had for years was keeping watch on the rug outside, and I thought well, the late president must have had very admirable human traits. May he rest in peace.

Recently, a man called Robert Thompson got in touch with me to explain that he was a retired civil servant whose sight, in his later years, had become very diminished. He had written a book ‘Insights into an Unsighted World’, which was full of advice about his own personal journey as his sight deteriorated. He invited me to launch his book in the LexIcon Library in Dun Laoghaire and I was glad to do so. I had never been into that library and as readers will know there was huge controversy at the time it was built because of its vast size.

Anyway I went along and launched the book and had a very good evening. I had a great tour of the library and met all the author’s family and friends, and was glad it was one of the events that I had agreed to do which turned out to be so worthwhile.

Last Friday night in Dublin Castle An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar invited me to speak from the platform at the event held to commemorate 100 years since women first got the vote back in 1918. There were 350 at the event including many women’s organisations and various other bodies who have been involved in civic life in Ireland, in the past and also in modern times.

I was delighted to accept, and the platform party of speakers were Regina Doherty, myself, Catherine Martin of the Green Party and of course An Taoiseach who rounded it all off. It was a very enjoyable night and I met so many people I hadn’t seen for some time, and we were exchanging telephone numbers with hopes to meet soon again. That same evening I was home in time for The Late Late Toy Show. Now readers, well you might say what was she doing looking at the Toy Show? I enjoy the whole drama of it, the bravado of Ryan Tubridy, the beautiful children with the various tales they have to tell, and the wonderful singing and Irish dancing and other skills which they exhibit to such a great extent. I understand a million and a half people looked at it. Isn’t that some accolade for such a show?

But for us all here in Athlone the crowning part of the show was the last 15 minutes when little Grace Lowe was on the show live with her double first cousin Scott, who donated his bone marrow to enable her to live as she was terminally ill with leukaemia. Little Scott was asked why he wanted to have the operation and he said “because I wanted to save her life”, and I thought now he’s a real hero. It was very uplifting, and may that wonderful feeling he has now towards his cousin and the joy he has given the two families last him throughout his lifetime.

The book I am presently reading, which we will have on The Pat Kenny Show on Thursday next week is the Milkman by Anna Burns. This author and her book have already been the recipient of various literary accolades and I’m looking forward to getting dug into it over the next few days.

I have already received my Christmas book from my son Feargal in Dublin. It is the autobiography of Michelle Obama entitled Becoming. It has been a huge success worldwide and I am keeping it for the few days after Christmas, those days which are quiet and seem to go by so slowly, so I hope I can lose myself in it.

Another book which I purchased myself was the second tome of the book on Éamon de Valera by David McCullagh. This time last year he put out the first tome and now he has completed his duo of books. David is a wonderful writer and historian and I have no doubt that this and Michelle Obama’s book will keep me going in the interim period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, until the whole world opens up again.

The Christmas lights are up in Athlone and very handsome they look too. These, combined with the ‘new’ Church Street, are contributing to a great air of gaiety and delight among the many people who are thronging to Athlone to do Christmas shopping.

Now I have restrained myself, readers, from turning to sport until the last. The four Irish provinces, Ulster, Connacht, Leinster and Munster, had great wins last weekend and are really proving themselves superior in the Guinness PRO14 games. We had Leinster and Connacht on TG4, so I had great viewing. We are coming near to the Six Nations and there will be terrific rugby on that. I don’t know what stations yet we will be able to receive it on, but one way or another we are looking forward to good rugby, and no doubt Joe Schmidt is looking forward to continuing for the moment his fine coaching career with the Irish team.

As you know Robbie Henshaw is our hero here in Athlone, and as you also know he has not had many games of late because of his injury, but hopefully after Christmas he expects to be back fully in the fray. In the meantime he and the Henshaw family, who are very musically inclined, in tandem with Sharon Shannon, have brought out a wonderful CD called The Secret Sessions, the proceeds of which will go to the South Westmeath Hospice here in Athlone. Robbie Henshaw is a great example and mentor to young people in whatever sport they play in Athlone and they look up to him so much.

The new soccer manager Mick McCarthy will be getting to work now with the Irish team in anticipation of the games which were outlined in the recent draw. The GAA are putting forward new rules for the games next year which are already attracting heated debate. So all in all, sport in Ireland is in good fettle.

Next week will see a vote in the Commons on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Tension is mounting but the odds are really stacked against her on this. After that vote, what next? We’ll have to wait and see.

That’s all for now. Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime go safely.

Slán go fóill.

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