What a deep sadness lies over Co Mayo. One can only imagine the devastation felt by the families of the two missing men from the aircraft at Black Sod and Blackrock.
Somehow, we all got into our heads that, most definitely, the two men would be found deep below the helicopter crash. Hence all the work that went into getting the helicopter up and that was immense work, between many agencies and many people. And then, for the families to learn the news that no person was found in it. The search goes on, wider and wider, and I so hope that they will be found.
An then there was the helicopter crash of the five members of the Barry family who have such roots and links to Ballycastle, that sweet area in north Co Mayo. So, all in all, Mayo has known the wrath and the unpredictability of the sea.
A hero to all of us through this was RTÉ's western correspondent, Pat McGrath. He appeared nightly on screen; no drama, just facts said plainly. I thought he did a great public service job.
By the way, I am sure you will have noticed, as I have, the great attention to duty by Michael D. He has a real sense of being a president, and what he should do and where he should go. We saw him at the two burials of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Captain Mark Duffy, and the wonderful hug he gave the young Fionn at his father’s funeral.
And then we see him at another funeral or we hear that he has expressed his sympathy, and that of his wife, regarding the latest tragedy. I think Michael D is truly a president for all of the people. I started to wonder then, if he wants to go again shouldn’t he be let, and is there a need for another presidential contest? But, of course, we have not heard Michael D give his thoughts on that, and maybe he has had enough of it.
But, I say, three cheers for our president, Michael D Higgins, and the way he is comporting himself. Lately, people are engaging with him and they like to see him coming. I must not forget his wife Sabina; she is always with him when the occasion demands, adding her consoling and lively presence to every situation.
On Monday of this week I had an invitation to the official opening of the new Community school in Athlone, which was opened by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. Much as I would have liked to have gone, I had to telephone in to say I was unable to go because Sarah O’Rourke, one of my grandchildren, was making her Confirmation on the same day. I would have liked the opportunity to meet and speak with Enda, but family dictated otherwise. Anyway, I have been assured by those who were there that he made a great impression and everyone was delighted to see him (well, mostly everyone ).
We are so lucky in Athlone to have such a choice of excellent second level schools: the Community College, Our Lady’s Bower, the new Colaiste Chiaráin, which is the amalgamation of St Aloysius and Summerhill. All of them with doors wide open to receive their new pupils for next September. When you read letters in the paper about how people are finding it very difficult, in different parts of the country, to get vacancies for second level pupils, I always think how fortunate we are in this town.
Do you feel we are getting an overload of Brexit information? Having read the Sunday papers, I feel I am drowning in it and, more and more, the learned writers on Brexit have different versions of what may or may not happen. For me, I am extremely worried about Northern Ireland and the Peace Process and what Brexit will mean to that.
I tend to read the articles which focus on that aspect of it. In reality, no one is sure, as the to-ings and fro-ings have just begun. From the letter from Theresa May, pictured as she wrote it under the portrait of the first Prime Minister of England, Robert Walpole, to the exaggerated picture of the handing over of the letter to Donald Tusk in Brussels - it was really the stuff of high drama, and yet we are still none the wiser.
It is clear that the Irish politicians and the Irish Civil Service have done their job about hammering into Brussels the views about Northern Ireland, about the Peace Process, about the stake Europe has in that Peace Process, and more. And indeed, Micháel Martin is heavily involved as well, going over especially to give his thoughts on what should happen with regard to Northern Ireland.
And yet, no one knows. We are at the beginning of a tortuous road – signposts not really erected as yet, and everyone else running around giving their thoughts on TV, radio, and the newspapers. So, it will unfold as time goes on.
I know I touched on the subject of the Garda Commissioner, Noirín O’Sullivan, last week, but last Thursday she faced into the Justice Committee of the Oireachtas. It was on live on RTÉ for the whole three hours from 9am to midday and I watched it all very carefully. To me, the stars of the Committee were Jim O’Callaghan (FF ), Jack Chambers (FF ), and Colm Brophy (FG ). They asked concise, crisp questions and knew what they were about. Of course, they did not get concise, crisp answers, but answers that left people thinking about the whole situation.
The Commissioner was competent and prompt in her replies. She appeared to have a battery of replies which could fit several situations, but at the end of it all we still did not know why there had been such massive mistakes made by An Garda Síochána in the Traffic Department. Hopefully, the review going into it all now will unearth that, and we await those answers. It is still extraordinary what happened, and yet I go back to the reliance we, as a people, have on our Gardaí - I hope the results will be found and shared and people who did wrong will get their due punishment.
In rugby we had Munster and Leinster triumphing at weekend, and now facing into Clermont and Saracens in the semi-finals. Poor Connacht were beaten and I am sure they feel bad about that.
For us in Westmeath, we are gone from Division 4 to Division 3. We got promoted and, of course, we are pleased at that.
And on Tuesday of this week we had the news of Colm ‘The Gooch’ Cooper in Kerry, retiring after 15 years at the top of GAA football at age 33. What a loss he will be, not just to Kerry but to the world of GAA all round.
Talk with you all next week.
In the meantime, go safely.
Slán go Fóill,