Well! Where do I begin? So much has happened since we last spoke together. In our conversation last week, we talked about Sr Christopher Mary Callan from the Bower Convent in Athlone, Eamonn Casey and others.
Now this week we have had, in quick succession, the death of Mrs Maureen Haughey and, just today as I write this column, the death of Martin McGuinness.
Firstly, to talk of Maureen Haughey. I knew her, of course, for so many years, from the beginning when Charlie Haughey, as Taoiseach, appointed me to be Minister for Education and then on many occasions when I enjoyed her hospitality out in Abbeville, in Kinsealy. Maureen was the eldest daughter of Sean Lemass, so even writing it like that makes history seem so relevant and up-to-date.
I always enjoyed her company. She had a difficult life keeping pace and faith with Charlie Haughey, but she was a very strong family woman and she kept ordinary in every sense, not in the least puffed up that she was the wife of An Taoiseach or anything like that. She had a job to do and she did it for her husband and for her family despite the many difficulties in her way.
I went, on Monday of this week, up to Kinsealy where she was laid out in her bungalow home which they built after she left Abbeville. She looked peaceful in death and I met all of her family - Eimear, Seán, Conor, and Ciarán - and some other close friends who had come early like myself. I was glad to spend a last few minutes in her company and to talk about her with her family.
She had so many lovely photographs placed around the room. There was a fine one of her father, Seán Lemass, shaking hands with her on the day of her BComm graduation in UCD. She met Charlie Haughey, also doing BComm, and she married him shortly after that. In her own way, she was a very significant person, the daughter of one Taoiseach and married to another, and playing her everyday fulfilled role in such a fine way.
And then, on Tuesday of this week, we all woke up to the news that Martin McGuinness had died in the early hours of the morning. I have written here before in this column how I knew, from the ravaged face we saw some weeks ago, on TV that he had not long to live. I had hoped that the medical treatment he was receiving would make him safe again, but it was not to be.
Now I know that there are many who will have different things to say to what I have to say about him. At the same time, I want to express my admiration for the journey he made from being a man of violence to a man of peace. That was some journey and many misgivings he had to overcome, but he did it and got there, and ensured that Northern Ireland was put on a peaceful footing.
We so easily forget those who lived through the ‘70s and the ‘80s and the dreadful news we heard every morning on radio of all of the violent things that had happened in Northern Ireland in the previous 24 hours, and then the role Martin McGuinness played to bringing about, with many others, peace in Northern Ireland.
During the years 1994 to mid-1997, Fianna Fáil were in opposition, and I was Deputy Leader to Bertie Ahern's Leader. That was the period when the real solid work was done, laying the foundations for the Peace Process. Over that period, I had many occasions, with Bertie, to meet with the main players in all of that. I will always hold that time in strong memory because of the great work that was done to bring about a peace we now enjoy.
I also met his wife Bernie and two of his children during that period. She is a simple, everyday woman, fearful always for her husband and the dangers he was going through.
And, of course, we have the ongoing saga of the helicopter and the crash off the Mayo coast; of Captain Dara who has already been buried, and the three bodies which all of the agencies are working day and night to retrieve from the depth of the ocean. May all those good souls rest in peace.
Let us not forget the sporting triumph Ireland had last weekend when they vanquished England in a great match in the Aviva Stadium. Wonderful to watch and, in fact, I thought there was something primitive in how the players played and how the audience reacted. The crowd in the Aviva Stadium were with them, willing them on to victory. It was a powerful occasion.
The Irish were saying to the English players: “You’re on our patch and we are going to rob you of the Grand Slam”. Nothing wrong with conveying that feeling. They played like men possessed, as did England also, but they could not get the better of the Irish team who were determined to show their strengths and capabilities. Imagine, England never got one try in that mammoth game. Robbie Henshaw played magnificently, as did the entire team.
Let us salute the women also. They played a fine game. Yes, they lost to England, but they lost with their heads held high. Four out of five matches is some record of triumph. Keeping in mind that England have gone professional in the last 12 months, the Irish women's team maintained a very good rugby record.
Finally, we come to the man of the moment, Enda Kenny. Back from his triumph in the US where his lecture to Donald Trump was picked up by more than 10 million on social media. The international press gave the praise to him that the Irish press often fail to. He played a blinder in the US going from event to event. Then he came back to Ireland and went straight from the plane to Captain Dara’s funeral and then down to Mayo to visit the Black Sod and all of the rescue activities there.
No, Enda Kenny is not going to go easily. He is going to fulfil what he needs to do with regard to Brexit, what he needs to do with regard to the North of Ireland. If that takes him up to the summer break, then so be it. Let us see if the so-called brave men of Fine Gael bring a motion of no confidence to their parliamentary party meeting. I doubt they will do so.
They will sit in a corner and moan, but we will not hear much from them. There is some considerable, very important work to be done yet on a national level by Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, and I hope he’s given the strength and the length of time over these coming weeks of April/May to finish the job for his country.
It has been a very tumultuous week for everyone in this country. In time to come, we will look back on this week and remember all of the important events that happened throughout the last seven days.
I’ll talk with you all next week.
In the meantime, go safely.
Slán go Fóill,