Well I’m only coming together now after a very packed weekend. On Saturday, I had been invited to speak at the 30th Colmcille Winter School. The man in charge of it, Martin Egan, had emailed me in early December asking would I speak, and I agreed long before I knew the date of the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis which was also last Saturday. Anyway, I had given my confirmation that I would be there, so of course I couldn’t break that.
Have any of the readers ever been in that part of Donegal? It’s about 15 miles from Letterkenny in the village of Gartan, on Gartan Lough, and is the birthplace of St Colmcille.
It was when I read the theme of the two-day school that I realised what it would mean for me to be there and I took the very firm decision to go. The theme was ‘Defining Difficult Political Decisions at and since the Foundation of the Irish State and the Decision Makers’. It was a very interesting theme and they had some interesting contributors. On the Friday, Dr Richard McElligott, lecturer in modern Irish history at UCD, was the speaker on ‘Michael Collins and the Treaty’, ‘W.T. Cosgrave and the Peaceful Transfer of Power 1932’, and ‘Pat McGilligan and the Shannon Scheme’. On the Saturday morning, retired Senator Dr Seán Barrett was talking on the theme ‘Eamonn de Valera and Neutrality during World War II’ and ‘Sean Lemass and Economic Development in the 1960s’.
The theme in the afternoon was ‘Brian Lenihan (Jr ) and the International Economic Crisis 2008-2011’, and it was on that theme that I was asked to speak.
I had prepared well for it, and had gathered a lot of economic information. It was a long journey to Gartan, three and a half hours, and we got there in time for lunch. There was a capacity crowd for the afternoon lecture, and when I went into the hall I was enthused to see that every single seat was taken and more were standing at the back. Anyway, away I went and I spoke for over an hour, and then we took questions for over an hour. They were a very lively audience with interesting questions and at the end of it all a marvellous response from the members, none of whom left early or before the time was up.
I was so glad to give full economic and political credit to Brian, as well as recognising that both Michael McGrath, now in the Dáil, and Michael Noonan, former Minister for Finance, were always glad to pay tribute to Brian Lenihan when they spoke on the National Development Plan, which had been the last thing Brian had got together for the country. It was this plan which the incoming government of Enda Kenny and Brendan Howlin followed, and which allowed an early removal of the Troika from Irish economic affairs. I was always glad that the agenda had been set by Brian and that it was then followed to the letter.
It seems you cannot go anywhere these days without meeting Mayo people. I was very glad to meet again Seán Ó Longáin and his wife Eileen. I knew Seán well when he was the head man in Donegal VEC many years ago, and we always had a very good working relationship. I also met Dr Tom
Moffatt’s sister, Mary, and we had a good chat over his time in Moate and his time as a Fianna Fáil TD. And again, other people from Mayo. It seems Mayo people like to spread their wings far and wide, and they always have a great welcome for one another when they meet.
So that was the Colmcille Winter School and I very much enjoyed my visit to that historic part of Donegal. The weather was so benign that we made great time coming home, and I was able to sit in my living room and watch Micheál Martin speak on the TV last Saturday night. He spoke well and with feeling.
The next day, Sunday, was the date I talked about in my last column, the anniversary Mass for my dear Enda. Forty-plus people came to lunch afterwards, all of which went off very well and with many chats about all sorts of things, political and otherwise, and all the young grandchildren mixing well together.
Sunday afternoon at 3pm brought us all back to life when a crowd of us sat down to watch Ireland play Italy in Rome. To say we were flabbergasted as the game progressed is an understatement. I am glad I had all my own family and many others around when we stared in disbelief as Italy began to take the lead, and by half-time were still in the lead.
All the commentary in the papers leading up to this match was about how many bonus points we would get, how much we would defeat Italy by, and now were we staring at the inevitable, Ireland being beaten by Italy? Not so, because when the team came back out they somehow decided to re-establish their authority, and of course the final score gave us the win plus a bonus point.
Now readers, have you any light to throw on what has gone wrong with the Irish team over the last number of weeks? I know a few weeks ago I put forward the proposition that there was definitely something wrong psychologically within the team members, and now I note this week commentators are beginning to say the same thing. There is not the easy relationship between the players on the pitch, or indeed, I hear, off it either. By now they should have got over the defeat by England, but somehow the taste of it has lingered in a bad way with the team.
Of course we were disappointed that Robbie Henshaw didn’t play, and we have yet to get a full reason why. But we were really delighted to see Jack Carty get his international cap, even though it was in the 77th minute of the game. When he ran on the pitch with his cheerful grin and number 22 on the back of his shirt, we all gave a cheer here at home and we said well, that’s good news anyway for us all, for Athlone and for Connacht Rugby. He was well due it; he has been playing a remarkable season of top-notch rugby.
I am still disappointed with Johnny Sexton. I saw him when he left the pitch towards the end, kicking the towels on the ground and uttering expletives which were very clear, not in the hearing but in the formation as he shouted. What has gone wrong there?
I don’t need any sophisticated rugby commentariat to tell me that there is something greatly amiss, from Joe Schmidt down through every single member of the Irish team, and the sooner somebody gets a grip on the malaise and decides on a way to cure it, the better it will be for the rest of this rugby season for Ireland.
On Tuesday this week I was invited to be part of The Six O’Clock Show on Virgin Media One. It’s a grand show with lots of different elements, and I’ve always enjoyed participating in it, and particularly so on this occasion. Virgin Media One are doing well as a TV station and they put forward some very fine programmes.
That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week.
In the meantime go safely.
Slán go fóill.