Government coalition formation sealed as historical Athlone tome published

Well, it looks like we’ve come to the end of the road at the moment of the negotiations between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party.

As I am writing this, the three party leaders are putting their seal of approval on all of the hard work which the negotiators have carried out over the last number of days and weeks.

We, the public, will get the text this week and, having studied it, it will go to the parliamentary party meetings of the three parties, and then it will go out to the party leaderships.

In Fianna Fáil, everyone who is a paid-up party member (€20 ) will get a vote. I am strongly in favour of the agreement, and I will be voting ‘yes’.

It remains to be seen how the different party membership throughout the country will respond to the document, and in particular respond to whatever the parliamentary party members say, if they send it out with an endorsement.

Yes, I know the negotiations took so long, and they seemed never-ending, and often through the lines of this column I expressed my frustration and my doubts about what was going on, and what would be the final outcome. But we have that outcome now, and I hope the membership of all the parties will read it carefully, will weigh it up and will decide what to do about it.

My last word on this topic today will be: we need a Government, and we need it quickly.

Turning to other topics, I have noticed, as I’m sure many of the readers have, that Enda Kenny, who was the leader of Fine Gael and An Taoiseach, has been endorsing the Irish Hospice Movement with a radio appeal.

I am delighted that he has given his name to such a worthy cause. I noticed his tone is entirely neutral, while at the same time clearly in sympathy with the motivations of the Irish Hospice Movement. Well done, Enda; that is a good cause.

Turning to TV, there is so much of what is good going on at the moment. Firstly, I want to commend again Mary McAleese’s programme All Walks of Life. It was shown a few months ago and they are now doing a repeat of it. Last Friday was the first such one, when she went for a walk to a holy shrine with Joe Canning. The walk and the conversation were most interesting, and this was my second time to see it. So watch out on Friday nights on RTÉ1 at 8.30pm. I can assure you that the whole series is worth viewing, or re-viewing if you have already seen it.

Next Wednesday on RTÉ1, Michael Portillo, he of railway journey fame, will be dealing in a two-part series with the whole War of Independence in Ireland, from a British point of view of Cabinet papers, Cabinet decisions, the various dramatis personae of the British Cabinet at the time, and their progression from outright hostility to the idea of independence for Ireland through progression towards a more ameliorative position. I believe it is a wonderful series, and I look forward very much to it. The first episode is on Wednesday at 9.30pm. Michael Portillo will be banishing his Bradshaw timetable and concentrating on relationships at that time between Ireland and the UK.

But for me, the most exciting event to have happened locally in the last number of weeks is the publication by Donal O’Brien of his massive blockbuster book Streets of Athlone. Back in 2003, Donal wrote Athlone: a Visitor’s Guide, then in 2014 he wrote The Houses and Landed Families of Westmeath. But this time he has stuck with Athlone.

I bought the book; it is very lengthy, very detailed, and goes into every street in Athlone and every house in it – who were the earliest occupants, way back into the 15th and 16th century, and traces each occupant right up. It is the most amazing record of life in Athlone through a recording of the occupants of each street and each numbered house in the street.

I cannot commend it highly enough. It is expensive, €45, but well worth it if you wanted to buy and share it within a family. The library in Athlone, I am sure, will have it and there will already be a lengthy queue looking to take it out.

Donal’s knowledge, his perspective on life, his knowledge of the occupants of the houses in Athlone, their individual history, his painstaking research, all add up to a wonderful monument to Athlone. Get a hold of it, read it, and be enthralled by it.

Well done to you, Donal, you have done your hometown proud, and all of its occupants who lived in it down through the years.

Because of the fact that the book came out during the course of the coronavirus lockdown, it meant that Donal could not have a proper launch during which he would be able to sell his book. However, I have no doubt whatsoever that word of mouth, which is the best salesman, will do the job for him. I hope so, because it deserves every accolade and every sale it can get.

Remember the title, Streets of Athlone.

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

In the meantime, go safely, stay at home as much as you can, and read the Programme for Government carefully when it comes out during this week.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke.


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