May visits Farmleigh in latest Brexit discussions as Irish rugby receives a fillip with weekend win

We might call last weekend’s rugby a success, but I call it a qualified success, and I’ll explain that as I go on. Firstly, the women played a magnificent game and triumphed over Scotland. Likewise, the under 20 team had a significant win in their joust with Scotland. So now we come to the big one last Saturday, Ireland versus Scotland. I settled myself down to look at it, turned off my telephone and my email and decided I would wallow in what I hoped would be a victory.

The camera went over those in the audience as it often does, and I saw a little girl of maybe eight or nine years of age with her protective father beside her. She had painted on her face ‘Scotland the Brave’, and I thought: yes, that’s what they are, and what are we in for? As you all know, we won the game, and now I come to the ‘but’ part of my review.

I somehow feel the Irish team is not the team it was, and I don’t just mean in gaming prowess or in results. They had a fine result on Saturday. But they are not the keen, gimlet-eyed, finely-tuned team we are used to seeing.

Let’s start with the teammates themselves. There doesn’t seem to be the same camaraderie and good spirits that there always were between them. There is a vacuum, or something lacking in the ongoing supposedly collegial type of team spirit. Likewise, the game itself was edgy and scrappy, and luckily for us Scotland just weren’t in good form. I thought again Joe Schmidt summed it up very adequately when he was asked after the match “What do you feel?” and he said “I feel a sense of relief” – mark you, not euphoria or elation but just plain relief.

Anyway, call it what you like, plenty will say female intuition gone wrong. No, it’s not that; there is something amiss in the Irish team in their play and in their conduct, and we await further matches to see what will develop.

There is no contest now for two weeks, so hopefully there will be a spirit of rejuvenation and a joie de vivre back again within the Irish team. Our team captain Rory Best is very highly strung, as is natural before these matches, and I notice when they are playing the National Anthem he never moves his lips, he just looks to the ground, and I suppose is pondering what is coming up.

I was very lucky in that the rugby was followed on Virgin Media One by Kerry versus Dublin, and that was a really good scrap. Kerry will become, I hope, the team that matters in the upcoming various GAA competitions. They played well, they played vigorously on a dirty, wet night in Killarney to a capacity crowd. No matter what Dublin says, they fielded one of their better teams and still they weren’t able to break down the combat with Kerry, and Kerry were victorious. Good for them!

What to make of Theresa May and her endless travelling? She’s like a spinning top, rushing from London to Brussels, endless handshakes, endless taunts, nothing emerging, back to London, then from London to Belfast, again endless meetings, more emphatic statements to supposedly calm the spirits, back to London, and then London to Dublin to meet Leo Varadkar and his team, and Theresa May accompanied by her team.

Now, I don’t know where all this constant travelling, constant movement, constant lack of result from such meetings, is going, but I still feel there is a plan at the back of it and we will await to see does it emerge. Theresa May must have been greatly cheered by the very genuinely warm welcome she got from Leo Varadkar at the door of Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park.

They had a great dinner menu, I believe, of smoked salmon, roast beef and all the good things which Ireland can produce, which gave their own message to the British Prime Minister: this is what we do well, and we want to continue to be able to do it when the end of March comes. Farmleigh is a beautiful house which was home, of course, to the Guinness family and where they reared their four children, so as well as being a very ‘grand’ house it is also a warm-feeling house because of its family background.

I remember so well when Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach gave the authorisation for the purchase of Farmleigh, and of course there were the objectors and the naysayers who said it shouldn’t be done. But it was, and it has proven its worth over the years, playing host to many distinguished governmental ministers and prime ministers from other countries visiting our shores. Let’s hope its warm embrace last weekend worked on Theresa May and her team.

Great news from Intel in Leixlip. It appears that they have submitted planning permission for a huge extension to their existing plant. If all this comes to pass (and there are caveats so I speak with an ‘if’ ) it will mean a huge number of construction jobs for about 12 months, plus an extra 1,500 jobs at the parent plant. There is a long way to go before this happens, but if it all succeeds it’s a very sunny outlook for Intel and for its place in the Irish industrial and commercial landscape.

Last week I spoke of going to UCD to be part of a panel with Nora Owen at the Women in Leadership Conference. Well, we did that last Thursday and even I was surprised at the huge numbers of women who were present: 687 women thronged the O’Reilly Hall which is a wonderful adjunct to UCD. It was a marvellous panel, with a great rapport between Nora Owen and myself and an equally good rapport between ourselves and the audience, who asked several questions, penetrating and interesting, and I would judge the outing to have been a good success. Nora Owen is from a different political party to mine, but ordinary and down to earth, which are marvellous qualities in a politician, former or present.

Finally, but to my mind the most important item in this column. A huge advertisement appeared in last week’s Athlone Advertiser, and also in the Galway Advertiser and Mayo Advertiser, for a conference on April 9 called ‘Pathways’. It is for students of transition year, fifth and sixth year and their parents, from all schools within these regions. The conference is to be addressed by employers, the universities, PLCs, further education institutions, and firms offering apprenticeships, with all sorts of interesting possibilities for the young person going into senior cycle in secondary school.

To my mind this is a conference not to be missed. Nobody asked me to put this in; I just saw the ad and thought to myself, what a really good idea, and it should appeal to so many people coming up to that crucial Easter time in Irish school life.

Read about it, and don’t think too long about it. For a modest fee of €5 you can apply to be there at that hotel in Galway in early April. To my mind this is a very worthwhile occasion.

That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime go safely.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke

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