What wonderful Christmas weather we have had this year. I know I said it before, but it bears further repetition. Everyone could travel; everyone could go out; everyone could walk or drive wherever they wanted to. It was just marvellous, thank God, and eased the load for so many.
This time last year Athlone was in the midst of a flooding crisis, and all of the people who lived in or near the Shannon were daily watching its rise with fear. This year surely made a wonderful contrast for them.
I believe that the work of Deputies Sean Canny and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran in the Office of Public Works will ensure that we will never again have the floods we have had in the past. Of course, we will have some floods, as that is the way of great rivers, but there will not be the personal privation and hardship suffered by so many, thanks to the works which are now being carried out, including the cleaning and dredging of the River Shannon.
Looking back on Christmas, it struck me that it was great to have both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fall on a Sunday because it meant that the following week was like a normal week except, of course, for the two bank holidays, St Stephen’s Day and January 2. If we could have it every year on a Sunday it would be a great advancement but, of course, that is not the way the calendar works.
Did you watch a lot of TV over Christmas? I know I did, and TG4 proved to me to be an excellent TV station during the holiday period, with good drama, films, and music. On all of the stations, I saw a lot of good western films and also good films on the Second World War. Isn’t it amazing in those films how the good guy comes out the best and the bad guy loses out? You would hope that life could turn out like that, but it is not always so.
Looking over all of the programmes I saw through the Christmas season, the one that really appealed to my imagination was a drama on BBC 1 called To Walk Invisible. It was about the Brontë family, sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, and it was the most marvellous documentary I have ever seen about their lives.
They were marvellous literary women living in rural England at a time when women had very little outlet, and yet they wrote poems, books, and made themselves well known. It made for wonderful viewing and I was so happy to have come across it by good luck in perusing the programmes through the RTÉ Guide. As the programme was so good, I am sure it will be shown again, so watch out for it if you can.
We had a great innovation in Athlone. From the White Gates on the Ballymahon Road back up to the Garrycastle Bridge on the old Mullingar railroad, the new cycle and walkway was opened. During the Christmas period it was thronged with families with young children on their new trikes and bikes and scooters. It is a marvellous success and well done to all the elected representatives in the area and, of course, to the officials as well in the County Council.
My visitors from Dublin walked it one day and came back with rosy cheeks and full of praise for the wonderful amenity it is.
I thought of the men who built that railway more than 150 years ago, and how little they would have envisaged the productive use that is now being made of what had become a defunct railway line.
I know there were many deaths both leading up to Christmas and over the Christmas period, but I have to mention one. The death of writer and poet Anthony Cronin.
I knew Anthony when he was the Cultural Advisor to the then Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, and he was a truly lovely, affable man. I remember, so vividly, a very vigorous conversation I had with him. We were both invited to a photographic event in Trinity College at which, in the conversation afterwards, he told me that he had visited Clonmacnoise by water from Athlone the previous summer.
He was full of praise for Clonmacnoise, and had been before, but this was the first time that he had approached it by boat on the River Shannon and he was quite confident that that was the way the monks had come long ago. He described vividly rounding the bend in the Shannon and saw the sloping hills of Clonmacnoise. I have done that journey myself on a few occasions and fully agreed with him. May his good soul rest in peace.
I was sorry to hear of Minister Dennis Naughten’s accident while cycling in the last few days. I hope he recovers fully and we all wish him well. He is one of the best and most hard-working Ministers in the present Government, and we in Athlone always feel a sense of ownership about Dennis.
Now, have you all been making myriads of new year’s resolutions? I remember writing this column 12 months ago when I told you all that I do not make new year resolutions, and I repeat that again this year as we start 2017.
I do not make them because I know I will not keep them. However, I have in my mind and heart decided that I will try to be a better person - try to be kinder and nicer to everyone I meet. Worthwhile thoughts like that have come in and out of my mind, but I remain firmly of the resolution that my only new year’s resolution will be not to make one which will inevitably be broken shortly afterwards.
I was telling this to all of my grandchildren during the holidays and, by and large, they agreed with me. Of course, that was just because they were with grandma and, I suppose, did not want to go against her!
Anyway, that is my thought, but I wish all of you peace and goodwill during 2017. We will have many more conversations together as the year advances.
That’s all for now. Talk with you all next week.
Slán go Fóill,