Successful St. Patrick’s weekend festival tinged with loss of life tragedies

Well, well, so much has happened in the last seven days that it truly is difficult to know where to begin, or on what topic. But we’ll start with a good one, the St. Patrick’s Day parade which was held in Athlone on the Saturday, March 16, rather than on the 17th. There was a lot of Facebook criticism about the decision to shift back to the Saturday, but the volunteer committee who are the backbone of the parade arrangements stuck to their guns, and it turned out to be a great success.

Saturday dawned wet, but by noon when the parade was due to begin it cleared up magnificently and in fact there was even some sunshine. A huge crowd attended with many of the people decked out in fancy green hats and the children equally colourful. There were great cheers for the several inventive ideas that marched by. All I can ever remember of St. Patrick’s Day of old is lashing rain and shivering Scouts and Girl Guides parading, but those days have long gone and now we have topical entries and all marshalled with great precision. So well done to those who were involved, and later in Burgess Park to those trying to set a world record for the number of people dressed as St Patrick. It too was great fun all round.

Some dreadful things have happened recently, and I suppose again it is difficult to know what to focus on. But I think the killing in New Zealand is just hugely traumatic and obviously has had reverberations all around the world. Of course New Zealand is very far away, but that country and Ireland have many similarities: both have reasonably small populations, with a strong Irish dimension in the New Zealand population. Christchurch had a massive earthquake in 2011 and immediately the whole city had to be rebuilt. This was the difficult economic period in Ireland, and many young men left with the surety that they would get construction jobs there, and so they did. There are other links too, in that many young trainee farmers go to New Zealand for work experience, and they always have very happy reports when they come back. Then of course there is the rugby comradeship between the two countries, and so much more as well. So the shock of what we heard on Morning Ireland made the whole event deeply troubling for us all. For 50 people going about their worship to be mowed down indiscriminately by a murderer was just horrific. I am glad to see the universal outpouring of grief all over the world. Here in Westmeath County Council, the civic offices in Athlone and the county buildings in Mullingar have put books of condolences on display, and I hope many people will go to sign them in genuine compassion and in the spirit of friendship between New Zealand and Ireland.

Then on Sunday night, in Cookstown in County Tyrone, we had the terrible tragedy when the crush of people queuing to get into a disco piled up, the result being the death of three young teenagers, and many more averted through some personal bravery. So many of us had children and/or grandchildren going out to discos over the holiday period. Indeed, I was out with Aengus and Lisa on St Patrick’s evening for dinner, and later that evening Luke, the eldest, age 16, was going with three friends to a disco in Roscommon. So you can imagine when this broke, all you could think of was your own. Oh, it was awful, three young people going out with a sense of heady enjoyment, for their lives to be crushed out and in such awful circumstances. God rest all those young people, and I can feel the heartbreak of their parents and families.

What can we say about the rugby? Truly it was a dreadful game, but in the light of the tragedies about which I have written above, I suppose the rugby defeat was a small event in the calendar of life. I see that Joe Schmidt, in a big headline in one of the sports pages of a newspaper, has asked us all to “keep the faith” but Joe, I can tell you, it is going to be a very difficult thing for us to keep the faith in that team, and indeed to keep the faith in you. I might sound harsh, but I only express in these lines what I think and what so many have said to me after watching that game. Wales got a try in 70 seconds while Ireland looked on, and from then on it was a decline from one disaster to another. Ireland got the try eventually in the 83rd minute when we were well into injury time. I have philosophised at length in earlier columns about what I think has gone wrong with the team, but it seems to me that many of them are just giving up on rugby and actually want to get out. If that is so let them go, so that we will be faced with a leaner, keener, better team.

There were two bright lights on the sporting scene over the weekend. On Friday night, the under 20 men’s rugby team had a rip-roaring victory, bringing to an end their victorious run in this series. For us rugby lovers and avid followers, they surely are the future. Then we had Katie Taylor last weekend adding to her many other boxing triumphs, with her victory over Rose Volante. She is our very own shining star.

Next Friday, I am looking forward to being on The Hard Shoulder with Ivan Yates in a new slot. I like Ivan, maybe it is because of our earlier political jousts in Dáil Éireann, but he is a very good and keen broadcaster.

The weather has turned beautiful again this week – 12 to 14 degrees as I write this column, and truly spring has arrived. Hopefully all the various storms have abated and we have escaped without much snow and frost.

That’s all for this week. What a crowded week it has been amidst all the drama of St Patrick’s Day and the sadness and the grief of Christchurch and Cookstown. So many lives snuffed out, and for what?

Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime go safely.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke

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