Such a busy agenda, with so many topics.
Firstly, I have to go back to Brexit. This is the most important week for Brexit. Last week, as you know, we had the very unexpected and very unusual meeting in Liverpool between Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson, following their earlier telephone call. I’m sure many of the readers will be as glad as I am that both men had the courage to break through what seemed an impenetrable fog, and to say “Let’s meet and see can a one-to-one conversation do any good?”
So they met, and we had those beautiful shots of them walking in the garden, both men with their hands in their pockets – Leo Varadkar looking all lean and fit and Boris Johnson looking, as usual, dishevelled with his shirt hanging out. But all that is incidental to the fact that they were smiling at each other and that they said they could see positive steps towards a possible settlement. You could actually feel the clouds lifting in Ireland, and I am sure in Europe and the UK.
Now since then, of course, there has been relative silence, because the two sides, the UK side and the EU side, have gone into what is called the ‘tunnel’. Now the tunnel is just where no leaks come out of, and nobody tells what is going on. But we are told by Michel Barnier that all day Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, they were hard at it. Now, each time he tells us that, he adds the fact that it is getting increasingly difficult as the talks go on, because of course all the things that can’t be done keep emerging, rather than the things that can be done.
This week saw the Queen’s Speech in Westminster, in which she goes through the legislative programme which has been given to her by the Government for the year ahead.
Now, this is all just procedure and pomp. I’m sure the Queen is not a bit excited about this, when you remember how she was led up the garden path recently by Boris Johnson. Be that as it may, she will be there doing her bit, and we will all await developments. Meanwhile, in Brussels, the talks go on.
It is amazing that if the deal emerges, it is becoming more and more like the withdrawal deal which Theresa May brought back to parliament and which was turned down three times, and which, by the way, has been turned down by Boris Johnson as well.
Political life is funny, but this is a week of tension and high hopes.
Last Saturday we had a good match between Ireland and Samoa. For once, there was no big talk-up of what we would do, but the rugby team went ahead and did it. I cannot understand why Samoa and the All Blacks can perform those war-like dances and chants, and the team they are playing have to stand there and take it all in.
I had a wild thought when I was watching it, that if the Irish team could call up a really war-like Fenian song of long ago and shout it back at them, would that have any effect? No, of course I’m only joking, but anyway, after that display we went on to have a great rugby display.
Johnny Sexton is again the hero of Ireland. As you know, in the last season, somehow he slipped and he had lost the rugby-playing allure he had for many. But it was on full display last Saturday, and we wondered how we would ever do without Johnny Sexton. He was cool and calm, and he was at his best, as were so many of the other players. Rory Best got all the lineouts almost perfect, and they are so important in the game. Robbie Henshaw was back on the field, and I’m sure he felt a bit rusty after being off for so long, but luckily his health held and we hope we can rely on him for the next outing. Good man, Robbie – all of Athlone is behind you.
Three cheers for Athlone in the Tidy Towns competition! Athlone gained 15 points, and went from bronze to silver, so we are really climbing. We should fully praise the Tidy Towns committee, the municipal district members, and the one and only former councillor John Butler. He has stayed with the Tidy Towns for so long, and was there when the good news was announced. It is a good, active Tidy Towns committee, and they deserve every praise they get.
This Wednesday I’m off to Cork for Today with Maura and Daithí, which is on in the afternoon. I am reviewing, with Anton Savage, a book called The Handmaid’s Tale. So I have been busy reading that for the last week.
I am torn in my opinions on this book. Margaret Atwood wrote it 35 years ago, back in 1985. She is a wonderful writer, and you can get quite lost in her skill as you read. The tale she tells is compulsive but awful. Now, I know many of the readers might have looked at the TV series of the Handmaid’s Tale which was on RTÉ2. I never saw it but I read the book with great attention, and I hope I will give it the full respect it deserves when I talk about it on Wednesday afternoon in Cork.
On Saturday week (October 26 ) there will be a wonderful day in The Prince of Wales Hotel put on by the Old Athlone Society (of which I am a member ). It is a special day of talks as part of the official Decade of Centenaries programme, recalling events as they happened in Athlone. The talks will explore the history and legacy of the Irish War of Independence, and the subsequent Civil War.
It’s a free event, open to members and non-members alike. There is no need to book a place; tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided during the day.
The talks will begin at 11.30am, with the first talk by Dr John Burke followed by Ian Kennelly at 12.15pm. In the afternoon, there is a talk on ‘The border in Ireland’ by Prof Donnacha O Beacháin, and at 3pm a wonderful talk by Dr Sinead McCoole, ‘The eyes and ears: women’s role in the campaign for independence’, followed by another interesting talk by Dr John Gibney.
So that is a terrific day. If any of the readers can manage to get to it, or to some of it, it should make for great listening and interaction.
That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week.
In the meantime, go safely.
Slán go fóill.