Farewell to 2017 - and welcome 2018

Hello and a Happy New Year to all the readers of the Athlone Advertiser.

I hope Christmas Day went well for you and for your family. It was grand for me. I was out with Aengus and his wife Lisa and their four children. They had Lisa’s mum and dad from Dublin and her sister and husband and two children, and I was there with Ethna O’Rourke, who is Enda’s sister. So, there were eight adults and six children and altogether we had a lovely day.

You know everyone says Christmas is really for children, and it is. Among the six children there, aged from 18 months to 15 years, there was not a murmur or a cry all day long. They had new children and new toys to play with, so peace reigned supreme while we adults ate, talked and had our wine, and the day passed happily all round.

As I am compiling this, it is St Stephen’s Day in the evening and I am keeping one eye on the rugby match, Leinster versus Munster. So far in the game it is Leinster winning, but by the time I finish my piece it could well be different.

We had a truly wonderful rugby match on Saturday, December 23, when Connacht took on Ulster, in which, as you know, Connacht really trounced Ulster by a huge score. As I was watching it I could not help but think back to 2003. At that time, Connacht were not held in high regard in Irish rugby circles. One day a crowd of us Connacht people, led by myself as leader of the Seanad, and Bobby Molloy for the Progressive Democrats, and a big crowd of TDs and Senators and onlookers marched from Leinster House out to the IRFU headquarters. We wore the Connacht jerseys and carried a rugby ball.

At that time, it was mooted that Connacht was to be wound down or merged with another province, but we shouted and roared and paraded for Connacht. The late Bobby Molloy gave a very impassioned speech on behalf of Connacht from the gates of the IRFU, and we all cheered in unison and went back to Leinster House, happy that we had done our duty by our province.

How Connacht have come on since! In this series of European rugby matches, they are winning as they go, and it seems to me that our march had a very good effect, as we watch Connacht parade their colours and their scores so proudly now.

Looking back on 2017, there are so many events one could pick out. The US elected Donald Trump. Here, Fine Gael had a change of leader when Enda Kenny retired, and Leo Varadkar took over as Taoiseach. Micháel Martin is plodding along with his Fianna Fáil Party and busy planning for when the plug will be pulled and the next general election called. All so far so good.

Of course, over the Christmas period, we had the trading of insults again between the leader of North Korea and the president of the US, Donald Trump. How glad I am that Rex Tillerson, who is the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the US, is still in his job. He has a sane and common sense approach and keeps insisting, when he speaks, that the only way to curb the antagonism between North Korea and the USA is by speech and by diplomatic methods. I dread the day I will wake up and find that Donald Trump has tweeted that Rex Tillerson is fired and gone. That would be a sad day for us all and, hopefully, it will not come to pass.

At last the economic recovery is beginning to spread to smaller towns around Ireland. Leading up to Christmas and during the Christmas period, I heard many tales of how, in some small towns, shops and businesses are reopening, carrying the hoped-for bonanza of local jobs. But this is just the beginning. Much, much more needs to be done if there is to be a countrywide economic revival.

Earlier in this piece, I was reflecting on the current rugby games. We cannot let 2017 pass without picking out the biggest sporting disappointment of the year. For me, it was that Mayo did not win the All Ireland Football Final. What a huge disappointment and how bravely they fought for it. I hope, as they begin training in the new year, that the spirits and motivation and energy of the Mayo team hold fast and that we will have the delight of seeing them on the playing field of Croke Park in 2018 with victory in their grasp.

The sports person I would most praise is Katy Taylor. I have heard people say that they cannot watch women boxing, and I cannot understand that sentiment at all. Anyway, as we all know, Katy won her first big, major professional fight recently and has another one lined up in April. She is a credit to Ireland, being, as I said before, both valiant and modest.

My son Feargal in Dublin and his wife, Meave and their two children will come down tomorrow (December 27 ) and we will a few Athlone days together. We like to visit old friends and old places and to reminisce about times past.

I spoke before in this column about how the eldest in each family, Luke in Athlone and Jennifer in Dublin, had enjoyed their first discos, but how little information we were able to get from either of them about it all. Now, this year, Sarah, the next to Luke, had her first disco, and on Christmas Day we were asking her about it. She was more forthcoming and said “the girls just danced with the girls and the boys looked on”! Not much changed there from days of long ago, when the girls would get out and the boys would, I suppose, watch and wait?

I always think those discos are rites of passage for young people. They look at their peers and they giggle with one another and talk about it afterwards. But, of course, “the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts”. And yet, how much enjoyment they can get out of such innocent expeditions. Mams and dads bringing them to discos, collecting them from discos and, again, how long will that last? But, for the moment it is all innocent and good fun.

Next year, 2018, will be the hundredth anniversary of when women in Ireland first had the right to exercise their vote. Already there are lots of plans for celebrations and events to mark that historic achievement.

I am now in the throes of reading David McCullagh’s massive tome, De Velera: Rise 1882-1932, all 500 pages of it. It is wonderfully written with all sorts of hitherto unknown facts which have been unearthed, and they add a great bite to the story. David McCullagh is a very talented writer and very much in control of his narrative which is logically and sequentially played out. He is going to follow this with from 1932 until the time of De Velera’s death, so the whole undertaking is a massive one for him.

That’s all for now.

Talk with you all again next week.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go Fóill,

Mary O’Rourke

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