Westmeath trumped on the sporting fields as Athlone Garda station refurbishment work continues

I hope each of you in some way or another is enjoying this lovely weather. We are so lucky to live on an island, when we look at mainland Europe where the temperatures have soared to an almost unbearable level and there are deaths and forest fires and all such attendant ills from the very high temperatures there. Here, we are enjoying the dry, hot weather, which is just at those temperatures which are bearable but lovely, and I hope it is a foretaste of all of the summer to come.

Well I have to begin my sports commentary with my home county of Westmeath. Westmeath were defeated on three fronts over last weekend. First of all, they were defeated by Laois in the hurling in the McDonagh Cup. Next came the defeat to Clare in the football, and that game was really hard luck. They had done so well to advance so far, but in the end Clare won the game: Westmeath 15 points, Clare 1-13. No mean defeat, but it means no further steps along the GAA road for the summer.

Then in the end, Westmeath were defeated by Dublin in the women’s football: Dublin 4-11, Westmeath 1-7. The score belied the good game it was, as is the way in many competitions, but be that as it may, it was a bad weekend for Westmeath. But I have no doubt that the experience gained, and the steps forward they had taken, will be to the advantage of Westmeath in next year’s competitions.

Of course I am delighted with Mayo, who have lived to fight another day in their tussle with Armagh: Mayo 2-13, Armagh 1-15. Very close, but very well fought, so we have that onward quest to look forward to.

But it was Wexford on Sunday who won the Munster hurling provincial. Wexford men throughout history have fought their battles. We can remember the 1798 Rising when the men of Wexford, in the words of the ballad, “fought with heart and hand” for their county and for Ireland. They surely fought with heart and hand last Sunday. The match was on RTÉ2 and it made for wonderful viewing. The score was Wexford 1-23, Kilkenny 23 points, so it was that wonderful goal that did it for them. Their trainer Davy Fitzgerald was overcome with emotion and joy, as were so many of the players. It will be exciting to follow Wexford now as they proceed, and we have many good viewing days to come.

Now, of course, we have another sport to indulge in: Wimbledon has started. I confess I don’t spend too much time looking at it. Somehow the game of tennis is repetitive and doesn’t bear too much scrutiny over a long period. At the same time, it’s played in beautiful weather on lovely courts at Wimbledon, and is a delight when I do tune in on BBC1 or BBC2.

Wimbledon always throws up, early on, a newcomer with panache and style, and so it was last Monday when we had the 15 and a half-year-old Cori Gauff, who demolished all in front of her. She is surely one to watch, as she overtook Venus Williams and did it with such finesse, and with good grace and good manners.

Well, the new Garda station in Athlone is nearing completion. It is a total upgrade of what was the old Garda station and the former social welfare offices, which are now being amalgamated to give a sleek, modern exterior and a worthwhile and valued contribution to the Garda Síochána and the town of Athlone.

I must tell the Advertiser readers about a very funny twist on that road to the new Garda station.

Years ago, when I was leader of the Seanad in 2005-2006, Michael McDowell (now Senator McDowell ) was the Minister for Justice. He was very good to us in the Seanad, and brought in his bills to us for scrutiny before they went on to the Dáil, and was very punctilious in attendance in An Seanad as well.

One day he came in to me in the Seanad Chamber and he said “Mary, I have very good news for you. I was in Athlone yesterday and the officials brought me out to see what might become the site of the new Garda station.” So of course I was all ears, and I said “Where is that?” He described it, and I knew immediately – it was OPW land out near the Department of Education in Athlone.

I said immediately to Michael McDowell: “Thank you very much for what you regard as good news, but I do not do so. The site is too far out, it will not at all suit Athlone which is used to having a Garda station right on the side of the street. Secondly, we are used to having the Gardaí on the Connaught side of the town, not in a station where the population of Athlone will have to travel two to three miles to get to the Gardaí. Thirdly, it just will not do, and I for one will not support it if that is where it is intended to be.”

He was crestfallen, because he thought he had come with some marvellous news, and I told him, “You can go back to the officials and say that site just will not do for us. Athlone is used to having a town-based Garda station, on the west side of Athlone. It is used to having that wonderful service near them, not out in the middle of the country.” I am glad that I made my views very plain.

I have no doubt that the then-Minister conveyed those trenchant views to the Office of Public Works, and so it was that that scheme was abandoned and what, to my mind, is a far better idea has now advanced to a wonderful stage. Athlone has long needed a decent Garda station, in an urban environment, and now it has it. Well done to all those who brought forward my idea after I had left public life. But most of all, I am so pleased that at an important juncture in this worthwhile story, I had the strength of mind and purpose to say what I said to the then Minister for Justice, which has led on to the final worthwhile result we are now approaching in Athlone.

It is always right to speak out when you have a good case, and I am so glad the way that story has developed.

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

In the meantime, enjoy the sun – even if you just sit outside your back door with your sunhat and suncream on, and revel in the sunshine. But go safely.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke


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