Plaudits for Schmidt despite rugby loss as Brexit charade continues to play out

Last Saturday, like many of our readers, I put aside to watch two main items on television : 1 ) the rugby quarter-final, Ireland versus the All Blacks, and 2 ) the proceedings in Westminster when Boris Johnson would endeavour to bring in his settlement with Europe.

So, armed with the newspapers, I sat myself down to have a great day’s viewing.

Firstly, the rugby. Yes, of course we were all bitterly disappointed in the eventual outcome and the huge trouncing we got from the All Blacks. I couldn’t pick out one player on our side who acquitted himself well. Now, having said that, I am going on to talk in affirmative terms of Ireland, Joe Schmidt and the rugby record.

We can’t be always harping on, like I am, about the bad games and praising the good games. This is a team that has gone down in quality and in player prowess progressively, certainly over the last 12-18 months.

Whether that is due to lack of spirit or lack of direction or whatever, it really means that Ireland has been through its heyday for the moment, and we had better adjust to that.

We had become used to the bright lights, to the heroic efforts of Johnny Sexton and many others, so the comedown was all the greater. Be that as it may, we should remember with delight the highs we experienced through our great rugby team, and the honour it brought to Ireland.

In particular, I would single out Joe Schmidt. He brought tireless dedication and endless work to his job as manager. It is just a pity for him and for his family that he is leaving Ireland and going back home without the thrill of having a last good final hurrah. But there were many good hurrahs along the way, and I think we should remember these with joy and hope that under the new manager we will have a change of direction, a change of players and a rededication of the Irish team to the best of Irish rugby.

I, myself, had many enjoyable days and hours watching them and talking about them to my friends and through the lines of this column. So of course we all have regrets for last Saturday’s crash-out, but that’s the way it is. We’ve had the high sunshine, and let’s do our best to get back to that again.

I would, however, like to mention Rory Best. At 37, he has retired and he’s well due our accolades for what he has brought to Irish rugby. I hope he and his young family will be able to think of the great times he had for Ireland. I certainly do.

Now to the other item last Saturday: the parade in Westminster and the subsequent decision and votes and all the rest of it. As Boris Johnson stood at the despatch box in Westminster, I thought back over the decades to all the English prime ministers who had stood there dealing with the ‘Irish Question’, from Gladstone to Asquith to Lloyd George and so many others, seeking, in their own way, to quell the Irish spirit – all of which we know ended in the Rising of 1916, and on into the War of Independence and the Civil War.

I thought back to the Act of Union of 1801 and what a setback it was for Ireland, and indeed for England, as they have sought desperately over the years to hold on to their colonial power here.

Anyway, coming back from my history tour: on Saturday, I went between the rugby and Westminster, but once I had discerned that the rugby was going nowhere, I concentrated on the parliament in Westminster and what was going to happen there.

Well, we know now what happened: Sir Oliver Letwin’s Amendment scuppered whatever chance Boris Johnson had of getting the withdrawal agreement last Saturday. As I compile this column this week, the Conservative Government is seeking, in three days, to ramrod through the House of Parliament the 156-page document giving the details of the withdrawal agreement, and its subsequent bill.

How that will end up is not yet clear, but we hope for the best and so many in Ireland will be waiting for events in parliament this week, so that they will know what their future will be.

After all that Saturday drama, on Sunday I went to the Grand Hotel in Malahide to promote Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee as the by-election candidate for Fianna Fáil in Fingal, to replace Clare Daly who is gone to Europe.

She ran a coffee morning at which I was guest speaker, and she had amassed a very large crowd of intelligent, smart women – ICA, Tidy Towns, and many business women. There is no doubt she’s a strong, professional candidate. The question, of course, is will there be a by-election, or will Leo Varadkar and the Fine Gael party opt for an earlier general election?

I am sure many of the readers will have been to Malahide, but it is quite some time since I was there, and I was taken anew by the lovely village of Malahide, its tree-lined main street with two big churches on it, the Church of Ireland and the Catholic church, to which great crowds seemed to be hurrying on last Sunday’s lovely sunny morning.

The Grand Hotel is at the end of the street, and you drive right at it. Years ago I had been at a teachers’ conference there, but it was so long ago I’d almost forgotten. It is a beautiful hotel in a lovely location, overlooking the sea. We had our crowded coffee morning with lots of talk and lots of support, and came back then via Portmarnock with more terrific Irish Sea views.

The young people are already planning their mid-term break which is looming. And, of course, next weekend we will have the change of the clock. I thought Europe had settled that for us, but apparently not. I don’t like that at all; if you think it’s dark now at 7pm, it will gradually become that we will be pulling the curtains at 5pm in the evening. Of course, there is the consolation of the brighter mornings, but all in all, I don’t look forward to the change.

A few days ago, it was lovely to receive in the post the latest book by Kathleen Watkins, entitled The Ordinary Woman and Other Poems I Love. It’s a lovely little collection, and something I know I will read and treasure.

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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