A sense of belonging is essential in life because it places us in a grouping or place that we hope will allow us to share moments of joy and collegiality. It enables us to appreciate support when there is sadness and loss. It makes us do unusual things in the name of being part of a tribe or a gang. We stand on muddy sidelines and roar on the teams in our colours; we stay up late to watch a rowing race across the other side of the world because we do so with hope, knowing that there will either be elation or disappointment at the end of it. We consume culture that means something to us and which gives us a little gift of wisdom at the end of each performance.
We are defined by these moments because they signify what is different about each of and what is the same about each of us. They also give us pride, send tingles down our spines, make tears well up.
Over the past year or so, we have used a lot of this collegiality to keep us going, but it was also the missing of it that drove us to despair, so it is wonderful to see bright lights and green shoots of hope emerging here and there.
Prior to this week, only a handful of Irishwomen had won medals at the Olympic Games. In one fell swoop early yesterday morning, that number was doubled, and it happened with a newfound satisfaction because it happened to people from our own community.
Superb athletes like Aifric Keogh and Fiona Murtagh, proud Galwaywomen who had fine-tuned their teenage enthusiasm for the water on our local rivers, in our schools and colleges had shown everyone who come after them a pathway to success.
All of a sudden, the connection between the local river and the Olympic Games became clearer. It was wonderful to hear Aifric Keogh speak her native tongue after her victory; it was encouraging to hear how this group of superb athletes decided to take the race by the scruff of the neck and drive themselves on to success.
How enlightening it was to hear their parents speak of the many early mornings spent in enabling them to become the athletes they have become. And because they have done it, a whole new generation will say ‘why can’t I do it too,’ and give themselves the determination and confidence to know that you can achieve anything from the base of your local community. That from here, you can create greatness because you can see it.
And talking of greatness, the retirement announcement yesterday of Joe Canning also brings a curtain down on a career that brought magic to all the country. In hurling terms, Joe was pure show business. You would stand in the snow to watch him hurl and how privileged are we who were able to see him up close and personal; to see the magic that he brought to stadia right across the country; to see the humanity that he displayed after that difficult month back in 2017 when the county mixed sadness and exhilaration as it secured the MacCarthy Cup.
It is only when something is taken from us that we appreciate the greatness of that which has gone before. It was fitting that Joe’s retirement comes days after he became the record championship scorer, although with the development of the modern game, it will probably be not too long before that accolade passes on to someone else. We wish him well and thank him and his family for sharing him with us for well over a decade.
The passing this week of Ray McBride also brings to an end the life of an extraordinary actor which name was synonymous with culture in Galway before it became trendy.
A thespian of immense talent, Ray was described by President Higgins last evening as “above all associated with the creative heart of Galway.”
There is no doubt though that in the execution of their skills and athleticism, that Joe and Aifric and Fiona will inspire the continuation of the sports that they excel at. That the creativity that Ray McBride helped sculpt in this region will live on in those who have picked up the baton. Let us encourage the pursuit of excellence so that we go on to see exploits like all those mentioned in this piece this week.