Away trips give a glimpse of home and community

It has been a horrible few weeks. At home and abroad, the news headlines are filled with tales of unwavering cruelty, of acts of violence, of terror, of domestic killing, of communities living in fear.

We see brazen acts of defiance against our policing forces, of daring raids that care little for the proximity of officers, or for the disruption to local communities. And when we hear of these things, we look deep into ourselves to try to find a piece of hope, a glimmer of light to give us belief in the capacity of the human spirit to overcome such darkness.

Five years ago today on the first Thursday in May, I walked out the front door of University Hospital Galway, having gone in through the back a month earlier. In the interim, my prospects of recovery from a dangerous sudden viral brain infection had put my chances of recovery at two per cent. I didn’t know this, but as I stared at the ceiling of my isolation room in HDU, I knew that something was seriously wrong. My brain was on fire, my mind had spiralled into a neverending loop of horrific wide-awake dreams. Unable to walk or talk or write, I watched myself crumble.

I knew that I would probably not see outside that room again, so I waited for the moment, for the picture to change; trying to make sense of the thoughts in my head. At times, I wondered if I had already gone. Time was meaningless. My hallucinations brought me to places of hell and to moments of calmness. And in those moments when there was no fear, I began to realise the importance of the small things and identify that they were the most important things.

By virtue of great care and miraculous fortune, I did make it through, and five years on, I leave it behind me, to consign it to the past, to appreciate the 1,825 days of life I have been granted since then.

Now I embrace this time of the year, The increased light, the elastic stretch of the days, the belief in the possibility that tomorrow may be the best day ever. When you walk out and see the great light that envelopes us at Maytime, you believe anything is possible.

And hope comes in many shapes and forms. With the arrival of summer, comes the championship and the restoration of tribal allegiances. The possibility of belief.

This weekend Galway footballers go to London to start their hopefully long trek to glory, while my native Mayo travel to New York on their journey.

To the outsiders, they are just two away games that should be won easily, but they are much more than that. A little bit of yourself to show off in your new home. Tens of thousands from all over the west will attend functions organised around the matches in Ruislip and Gaelic Park this weekend.

The nature of emigration has changed much in the past decade. The development of Ireland West Airport as a hub from which we can travel easily to and from the UK means that what was once a long journey is now just a 50-minute hop. The evolution of Skype means that we can no longer forget the faces of our friends and relations as they arrive beamed with blue-lit faces into our living rooms.

Yet the games in London and New York this weekend give us all an opportunity to realise what is important — community, allegiances, camaraderie, the revoking of that old Meitheal spirit. It is also an opportunity for the New York and London teams to experience the same. Teams shaped and supported by emigration and hope.

Embrace May and the months after it. Let the light fuel you with hope and belief and enable us all to be stronger together and to look after the small things.

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