Friday 21 July 2017

Thank you... for the great Kate show

Katie Taylor
Katie Taylor

It was a year of hardship, sadness, occasional triumphs, and some joy. Here Dave Robbins picks 12 defining moments from 2012

1 Taylor's triumph: The cheers and tears as our girl brings home the gold

They said afterwards it was a spine-tingling moment, that the hairs stood up on the back of your neck, that the Irish national anthem has never been sung so passionately.

When Katie Taylor took her Olympic gold medal on August 9 last, caressed it, kissed it and then pointed skywards, the place went, quite simply, bonkers.

There were so many emotions mixed up in that moment, but perhaps the one closest to the surface was relief.

The Olympic final of the women's lightweight division at the ExCeL Arena in London was tense.

Katie's opponent, Sofya Ochigava, was up for this one. It was 2-2 after round one, and Katie trailed 4-3 after round two.

It was getting too close for comfort. This was not in the script. Katie, who had waited 16 years for this moment, was supposed to be crowned almost unopposed. Hadn't she won four world titles in the last six years?

Katie won the third round 4-1, and held out to win 10-8. A nation – on the ropes politically and economically – rose to acclaim perhaps its greatest champion.

The next emotion was righteousness. Katie's opponent had said some outrageous things in the run-up to the fight. It was nice to see them rammed back down her throat.

Ochigava said that Katie was unfairly favoured by the judges, that boxers always started about 10-0 down against her before they even stepped into the ring.

"Ireland is in a financial crisis because they spent all their money on (bribing) Taylor's referees," she said.

Ochigava was ungracious when receiving her silver medal. She scowled and kept her arms folded. The crowd booed her, which made her scowl darken.

But as the awards ceremony continued, and the wave of emotion from the crowd reached the podium, she seemed to soften, and even found it in herself to smile, congratulate Katie, and eventually hug her.

Then came pride. Pride at a modest, self-effacing, unashamedly religious 26-year-old from Bray who had punched and jabbed and smiled her way to the top.

Mixed in there, too, was a little dollop of amazement at the Irish ability to get so many tickets to events that are ostensibly sold out months in advance. The ExCeL arena was temporarily Irish from about 5pm that day.

About one million people watched the bout on TV in Ireland, many of them recalling the amazing quarter-final bout between Katie and England's great hope, Natasha Jonas.

It was perhaps the bout of the games, a high-scoring, high-skill affair. Jonas lost 26-15, and her graciousness in defeat was in stark contrast to Ochigava's behaviour.

"I have come here feeling the fittest, the leanest, the healthiest, smartest boxer I could be but she is still the best. I take my hat off to her. There was nothing else I could do. I could've thrown the kitchen sink at her or maybe drive a bus into her," said the Liverpool boxer.

As Katie Taylor did her lap of honour in the arena, the tricolour draped over her shoulders, Kate Middleton had already left. But everyone else stayed because they didn't want the feeling to end.

2 Cometh the hour: Late arrival of McIlroy adds to 'Miracle of Medinah'

Rory McIlroy had a date with destiny on the final day of the Ryder Cup golf tournament in Medinah, Chicago – and he nearly missed it.

The world number one golfer was strolling around his hotel on the morning of September 30, waiting until it was time to go to the course. He checked his phone and saw that he had plenty of time.

But McIlroy's phone was set to Eastern Time, whereas Chicago is on Central Time. Although he didn't know it, he had just 25 minutes to get to the tee for his match against American hero Keegan Bradley.

If he had been late by less than five minutes, he would have had to concede a hole to his opponent; more than that, and he would have forfeited the match.

US PGA officials noticed that McIlroy was missing. They arranged for a state trooper to drive him to the course, blue lights flashing and siren wailing.

The trooper, Pat Rollins, radioed ahead to make sure they could use priority traffic lanes. McIlroy made it with 10 minutes to spare.

Just as well, because the European team was in trouble. On the first two days of the tournament, Team USA, cheered on by a noisy and partisan crowd, had played like gods.

They were helped by the fact that, as the home team, they could set up the course to their requirements. US team captain Davis Love III took full advantage, eliminating all rough from the fairways.

Love told the media that he wanted to see lots of birdies at the competition. "No one wants to see people chipping out from rough," he said. "TV will love it, and fans will love it."

As the last day dawned, an American victory seemed inevitable. If Europe could win, it would match the greatest comeback in the tournament's 85-year history.

The blue team lost the first two matches, leaving America needing only two more for victory. But then something strange and wonderful happened: the leaderboard, which had been covered in red up to then, began to turn blue.

All over the course, Europeans were up on their opponents. As the sun set over the course, the scores were tied at 13 each. There were four players still out on the course, none of whom had won a single point so far. It was pure sporting theatre.

In the end, Germany's Martin Kaymer nervelessly sank a crucial putt on 18 to beat Steve Stricker and make the trophy safe. Tiger Woods then conceded the last hole to Italy's Francesco Molinari, ending a miserable few days for the former world number one.

McIlroy won his match, and arranged for a signed flag to be sent to officer Rollins. Back in the media centre, the day's events were already being talked about as the "Miracle of Medinah".

3 Cover boy Kenny: We couldn't believe our eyes as Enda made the front of 'Time'

When news broke that Taoiseach Enda Kenny made the cover of a leading magazine in October, people assumed it must be a satirical magazine such as 'The Phoenix or Private Eye'.

But it was precisely the gap between the way Kenny is perceived at home and how he is viewed abroad that Time magazine's European editor Catherine Mayer wanted to explore.

Her interview with Kenny was the lead story of the prestigious international news magazine, under the headline "Celtic Comeback".

Kenny became the third Irish Taoiseach to make the cover. The others were Seán Lemass and Eamon de Valera.

The thrust of the article was that Ireland was dealing reasonably well with the fallout of its economic collapse. GDP was rising, tax increases and spending cuts had been introduced without social unrest, and there was a feeling that the country had done as well as could be expected.

Mayer found the Taoiseach likeable, even "sweet" at times, but shrewd also.

He was talkative in private – "if words were money, Kenny could have easily cleared the national debt since coming to power in February 2011" – but tightened up in public or in front of TV cameras.

The publication of the magazine led to some robust exchanges in the Dáil. TD Mattie McGrath said it was "sickening" to see the Taoiseach on the cover of Playboy magazine, but later clarified that he meant "appearing like a playboy in Time magazine".

"Maybe you should be getting your economic advice from Time magazine rather than Playboy magazine," advised Fine Gael's Mary Mitchell-O'Connor.

In her article, journalist Mayer teased out the reason for the disparity between perceptions of Kenny at home and abroad.

"Politicians are often more popular abroad than they are in their own countries," she wrote. "That's partly because familiarity breeds contempt. You could say it's because the Irish know him better. But it's also because the Irish focus on the smaller picture, and sometimes you really can see things better from a distance."

A month later, Kenny was presented with the European of the Year award in Berlin. The citation praised the Taoiseach's "determined response to the current economic and financial crisis [which] has been widely respected, particularly in view of the genuine hardship being experienced by many Irish people."

Once again, the response at home was slightly incredulous. Some suggested Ireland might fare better if Kenny were the bad boy of Europe rather than top of the class.



4 Barack gets back: We gasped when he blew a TV debate, but he made it

He had us worried. After the first TV debate, it looked like he had blown it. But in the end, Barack Obama won another four-year term in the White House by a surprisingly large margin.

The campaign had been bitter, with both sides engaging in negative advertising in swing states. Eve-of-voting-day polls showed that Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney were neck-and-neck on 49pc each.

The dynamics of US politics mean that presidential elections hinge on a few swing states. Most of the 50 states are unswervingly blue (Democrat) or red (Republican).

But a few – Ohio, Virginia and Iowa key among them – are up for grabs. Voters on November 6 delivered these states to Obama, albeit by small margins.

And there was last-minute drama in Florida once again, where voting queues were long and counting slow. Eventually, four days after election day, the Sunshine State finished its count and the state also went to Obama.

The see-saw campaign saw Obama lead in early polling, but the first TV debate changed that. Romney performed well, while the president appeared deflated and seemed to signal that Romney's arguments were so unreasonable that they did not require any refutation.

Obama performed better in the following two debates, and his vice-president Joe Biden was generally reckoned to have bested his opposite number, Paul Ryan.

The arrival of a tropical storm to the shores of New Jersey and New York took the focus off the election for a while, and may have handed Obama an advantage.

He appeared to be leading the rescue response and even garnered praise from New Jersey's Republican governor Chris Christie.

Romney's campaign was also severely gaffe-prone. His prediction on a visit to London that the city's Olympics would be a flop did him no favours, and the nomination convention in Denver was notable for the surreal sight of Clint Eastwood speaking to an empty chair representing the president.

Then a video of Romney addressing a fundraising gathering showed him dismissing 47pc of the population as welfare spongers who would never vote for him.

Obama didn't have it all his own way by any means. Unemployment remained high and he was accused of bungling the response to an attack on the US embassy in Benghazi.

The president could, however, claim credit for the fact that Osama Bin Laden was killed on his watch, for the bailout of the auto industry and for a generally surefooted handling of the economic crisis.

Obama's victory was dismissed by some commentators as not representing a real mandate, and by others as a decisive moment in American politics.

And in Moneygall, Co Offaly, they began to wonder where they had stored the bunting.

5 abortion debate: Savita's sad death reignites the divisive issue once more

The debate on abortion in Ireland has up to now centred on cases identified by impersonal initials: the X Case, the A, B and C Cases.

On October 28 at Galway University Hospital, the most divisive issue in Irish society acquired a face – the smiling face of 31-year-old Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar.

The tragic story broke on Wednesday, November 14, in the Irish Times and centred on the account of Praveen Halappanavar, who brought his pregnant wife to hospital when she complained of back pain.

Savita was diagnosed as having a miscarriage. Praveen said his wife was informed that she would lose the baby within four to five hours.

But Savita's miscarriage became a drawn-out affair. After a day spent in severe pain, she asked for a medical termination.

What happened next sparked national and international outrage and re-opened the debate on abortion, which has been unresolved through the referendums of 1983, 1992 and 2002.

According to Praveen's account, doctors refused to abort the pregnancy because a foetal heartbeat was still present. "This is a Catholic country," he says he was told.

Savita's condition deteriorated, and she died six days after being admitted. An autopsy concluded that she died of septicaemia and E-Coli infection.

Within hours of the story breaking, a crowd had gathered outside the Dail to mourn her death and to protest at the lack of political will to tackle the issue.

Further protests followed, and in much of the media coverage and commentary there came across a sense of shock, dismay and, in some cases, anger that a healthy woman could lose her life in such circumstances.

Anti-abortion campaigners accused the pro-choice lobby of exploiting Savita's death and, in the weeks following her cremation in India, the old battle lines on the issue have been drawn once more.

The debate this time takes place in a slightly different context. The European Court of Human Rights ruled two years ago that Irish women had a right to know under what circumstances they could obtain a legal abortion in Ireland.

The judgment required the Government to clarify the rules under which doctors could terminate a pregnancy.

In the wake of protests in Galway, Dublin, London and India, Health Minister Dr James Reilly announced an investigation into Savita's death.

His decision to include two consultants from Galway University Hospital was seen as a serious miscalculation; Praveen refused to co-operate with anything short of a full, sworn public inquiry. Dr Reilly backed down, announcing an investigation by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) instead. In the meantime, Praveen is to take a case against the State to the European Court of Human Rights.

Mixed in with the heartfelt sympathy for Praveen is the realisation that the issue is still a divisive one in Irish society. The government's decision to legislate next year on the circumstances in which an abortion may be carried out has provoked a debate as bitter as any that has gone before.

6 China's new leader: The secretive men whose decision will affect all of us

The US election was the most expensive, the most watched, the most analysed and certainly the most tweeted political contest of the year. But it may not be the most significant.

Further to the east, a transfer of power was happening in that ostensibly seamless way in which the Chinese like to do these things.

On November 15, a week or so after the re-election of President Obama, a row of men in dark suits emerged onto the platform at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

The seven men make up the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party – effectively the cabinet of the Chinese government.

The rearrangement – re-election is perhaps too strong a word – of the committee represents a once-in-a-decade transfer of power. November's event was only the second peaceful transition since the foundation of modern China.

Who the seven men were, and what they believed, became the subject of much academic and media analysis, in the way Kremlinologists used to try to decipher the nuances of the old Soviet political system.

After months of backstage positioning and political elbowing, Xi Jinping emerged as the leader of the party, the government and the military. He will be remembered by Irish people following his visit here last February while still Chinese vice-president.

The emergence of Xi Jinping represents a social and generational change as China moves away from the group of revolutionaries who established the People's Republic.

However, Xi (59) has strong links to the old leadership. His father was a comrade of Mao Zedong. His family were exiled during the Cultural Revolution when he was nine years old. They were sent to the remote province of Shaanxi to "learn from the masses".

Some commentators think that this dual existence – a "princeling" brought up in the top officials' compound in Beijing and the hard life of an internal exile – means Xi will be more in touch with ordinary Chinese than his predecessors.

Among Chinese, he is seen as being a bit more flamboyant than Hu Jintao, the man he succeeded as leader. He also has a famous wife, Peng Liyuan, a singer with the People's Liberation Army.

Xi will rule for 10 years, a period during which many economists expect China to overtake the US as the world's leading economy.

If, or more probably when, that happens, more people will wish they were looking east rather than west last November.



7 Sean Quinn jailed: A Tycoon's amazing reversal of fortune

It was, by any standard, a dramatic fall from grace. On October 2, Sean Quinn, once Ireland's richest man and 164th richest in the world with a fortune estimated in 2008 at €4.7bn, was taken down from the dock of the High Court to begin a nine-week jail sentence.

Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne was not moved by the arguments of Quinn's lawyer, Eugene Grant, who enumerated the former tycoon's good deeds, recited his health complaints and implored us to see him as a man "bereft of all financial or economic dignity".

If no one else was moved by this eulogy, Quinn himself was. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his eyes as his counsel recounted the by now familiar simple-farmer's-son-to-tycoon narrative.

The judge found him guilty of three counts of contempt of court because he had continued to move assets abroad, had signed backdated and bogus documents to facilitate asset-stripping in defiance of orders from two courts for him to desist.

Quinn has claimed that he is entirely entitled to protect what he can from Anglo because he disputes the amount of money the bank claims he owes.

The law, however, disagrees. The jailing of Sean Quinn was part of a process that had already seen his son, Sean Jnr, serve three months in Mountjoy on the same charges.

Quinn's nephew, Peter Quinn, was also sentenced to three months, but fled over the Border, where the bench warrant for his arrest cannot be enforced.

The story of how it came to this is long, complex and dramatic. It includes secret meetings, exotic locations, eastern European henchmen and hidden surveillance. It's no wonder there's talk of a movie version, with Kevin Spacey in the lead role.

Sean Quinn took a huge bet on the share price of Anglo-Irish Bank – and lost. He borrowed more – from Anglo – to shore up his position, and when that didn't work he took money out of his insurance company.

When the music stopped playing, Quinn owed Anglo €2.8bn (he disputes €2.34bn of this). The bank lured Quinn to a meeting in Dublin and clandestinely sent receivers in to his businesses.

At this point Quinn, his son and nephew embarked on a complex scheme to hide, transfer and camouflage as much of their property and income as possible.

Family members were paid enormous salaries and property assets were transferred via Russia to Belize.

During the court hearings, some bizarre Quinn practices came to light. For instance, the Quinn group paid €100,000 for a wedding cake at Ciara Quinn's wedding in 2007, while Sean Jnr's wife, Karen, was paid a salary of €320,927 by a Russian company under Quinn's control.

Anglo told the court it was "unaware of any work done" by Karen Woods to justify the payments. Peter Quinn was paid €474,974, but claims this represents "fair compensation" for work done in Russia.

The court battles, the rallies of support and the outraged commentary will all continue for some time yet. It remains to be seen whether Sean Quinn will succeed in getting the "wee bit of dignity" he craves so much.



8 A widower's torment: The Michaela McAreavey murder trial in Mauritius

For eight weeks in June and July, a tiny courthouse on the paradise island of Mauritius became the centre of Irish media attention.

Viewers and readers became familiar with the cast of characters in this tragic case: the accused pair of Sandip Moneea and Avinash Treebhoowoon, defence lawyer Sanjeev Teeluckdharry and judge Prithviraj Fecknah.

There was also John McAreavey, husband of Michaela McAreavey (27), who was found strangled in the bath of her hotel room in January 2011.

The trial in the capital, Port Louis, had been expected to last nine days. The two accused were workers at the Legends beachside resort and their conviction was seen as a formality, given that Treebhoowoon had signed a confession.

The defence, however, had other ideas. They constantly suggested that John McAreavey was implicated, firstly by claiming that CCTV footage from the hotel lobby showed the couple arguing, and later by revealing that a sex guide had been found in their room.

The pair in the CCTV pictures were later identified as a German couple staying in the hotel at the time, while the "sex guide" turned out to be a free insert in a women's magazine.

Treebhoowoon also claimed he had been tortured in custody and that his confession had been beaten out of him. He had been struck on the soles of his feed, grabbed in the groin, stripped naked and had his head held in a bucket of water, he said.

John McAreavey also gave evidence. He spoke of his love for his wife, to whom he had been married for just 12 days. "Michaela was a wonderful, wonderful person, a really special human," he told the court.

He spoke of his treatment at the hands of the Mauritian police. You're young enough to find another wife, they told him before handcuffing him, taking him to a derelict building, taking off his shirt and examining him for marks.

"I could see what was going through their minds," he said in evidence. After being questioned, he was left in handcuffs for five hours before being released.

The jury took just two hours to acquit the accused pair. The McAreavey family immediately left the courtroom as the crowd chanted "Justice! Justice!"

"I am so sorry about this lady," Treebhoowoon said outside the court house, "but I did not kill this lady."

John McAreavey's ordeal continued when a Mauritian newspaper published crime scene photographs of his wife's body. The publication of the photos was widely denounced, and the paper's editor was charged with "outrage to public and religious morality".

Following representations from Ireland's ambassador to Mauritius, a new team of detectives was put on the case with a brief to examine DNA evidence and to trace the missing credit-card style key to the McAreaveys' room.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny caught the mood of people watching back in Ireland. "I noted the words of the [Mauritian] Prime Minister that justice will be done and justice will be seen to be done – and clearly it hasn't been done," he said.

9 Sandy Hook: The killing of 20 children and seven adults numbs the world

Outside the fire station in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, stand 20 Christmas trees, one for each of the children shot to death in their classrooms at the local elementary school on December 14.

The area has become an informal memorial space, with balloons, flowers, wreaths and tributes to the dead children. The 20 first-graders (six or seven years old) died in a mass shooting that took just three minutes to carry out.

Six teachers also died that day, as did the killer's mother. At the end of his three minutes of rapid fire, close-range, execution-style shooting, the killer shot himself.

Sandy Hook is part of Newtown, in Fairfield County, an idyllic part of New England. Yet the area is as addicted to guns as any other part of the US: there are 36 gun shops and firing ranges within a 10-mile radius of the killer's home.

Adam Lanza (20) carried out the murders, using weapons owned by his mother Nancy. A Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, 10mm Glock and 9mm SIG Sauer handguns, and a shotgun were found at the scene.

After the gunsmoke had cleared, and the bodies had been buried, tales of heroism began to emerge: Victoria Soto (27) locked her class in a cupboard and told Lanza they were in the gym. He shot her dead, but the children survived.

Or Kaitlin Roig, who rushed her class to a bathroom to keep them safe. "They were so good. They kept saying 'I just want Christmas, I don't want to die.'"

Why Lanza shot his mother, got into her car, drove 20 minutes to the elementary school, burst in and opened fire on anyone he came across is still a mystery. There was no note, and he destroyed the hard drive of his computer.

The descriptions of Lanza feature words sadly familiar from other massacres: he was a loner, played video games, was a computer nerd, a "ticking time bomb".

In the meantime, gun sales have soared in the US as people fear a crackdown is coming. As the signs in Newtown say, Welcome to America.

10 Blue Hoodie: The hunt for Jill Meagher and the mysterious man on the CCTV video

There was something about the disappearance of a 29-year-old Irish woman on the streets of Melbourne that caught the imagination of people here at home.

Perhaps it was that so many young Irish people had headed Down Under to escape the recession and could have found themselves in the same situation.

Or perhaps it was the photo released by Sydney police of a pretty, smiling Jill Meagher, her face framed by her long, dark hair.

Then there was the phone call she had made to her husband on the night of September 22. She was having a drink with colleagues from broadcaster ABC, and called her husband to see if he would join them.

There were so many "what-ifs" about the case: what if she had taken a different route, or left earlier, or been accompanied, or accepted the lift a colleague had offered?

As it happened, she left the Etiquette bar at about 1.30am. CCTV footage showed her checking her phone. Minutes later, her brother called her several times, but got no answer.

Her husband Tom, who was at their home five minutes away in the suburb of Brunswick, also made multiple calls before heading out at 4am to try to find his wife.

The search for Jill Meagher became a social network phenomenon. A Find Jill Meagher Facebook page was set up at 12.30pm the day after her disappearance. It soon had 120,000 followers.

On the Wednesday after her disappearance, tweets mentioning her name reached 12 million Twitter news feeds.

Her parents, George and Edith McKeon, flew to Melbourne from their home in Perth. Back home in Drogheda, the McKeon and Meagher families were united in concern over Jill's disappearance. The couple had emigrated three years earlier.

The police investigation began to centre around a man in a blue hoodie seen talking to Jill on CCTV footage. Police questioned, and then arrested, Adrian Ernest Bailey (41) from the Coburg area.

At 10pm on Thursday night, Bailey led police to where Jill's body lay buried in a shallow grave at Black Hill Road in Gisbourne South.

Bailey was charged with murder and rape, and has been remanded in jail awaiting trial. He has since tried to take his own life.

As soon as news of his arrest broke, many people posted information about Bailey on Facebook, while many others posted incitements to hatred. Some called for him to be murdered in jail.

Tom Meagher called for these posts to be taken down lest they prejudice Bailey's trial, but Facebook refused.

Meanwhile, 30,000 people marched along the route Jill would have taken home the night she was killed, and there were vigils held in her home town of Drogheda.

Much of the commentary on social media concerned the experience of other women near the Sydney Road area. Since Jill's murder, city authorities have spent $50m (€40m) on upgrading security in the area.

11 Teen Tragedies: Anti-bullying campaign begins

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. This was a phrase we heard all year, from parents, priests and grieving friends.

It was said with particular poignancy late in the year, in Donegal, where a double suicide left the community around Stranorlar numbed with grief.

First, schoolgirl Erin Gallagher (13) took her own life on October 28 after being tormented at school and online. Her mother revealed that the last text message her daughter had received read simply "slut".

"Something has to be done about bullying, about internet bullying and about teenage suicide," said Lorraine Gallagher.

Just weeks later, on December 13, Erin's sister Shannon (15) also committed suicide. Cyber bullying was not believed to be a factor in Shannon's death – it appears she simply could not bear to be without her sister.

But it was a factor in the death of Ciara Pugsley (15), who took her own life on September 19.

The ordeal of Leitrim girl Ciara is strikingly similar to that of Erin Gallagher. Ciara, who hanged herself in woods near her home, had been bullied via messages posted on a website.

Some posters said she was claiming to be depressed just to get attention, while others accused her of being fat and of having no respect for herself.

Meanwhile, Kilcock schoolgirl Lara Burns took her own life in stables next to her home at Grange, Newtown, Co Kildare a month later.

Online posts following her death suggest that she had been bullied, but the gardai have not received any complaints about the matter.

The tragedies prompted the Irish Independent to set up its Stop Cyber Bullying campaign, which has been backed by parents, teachers and celebrities such as Ryan Tubridy.

On December 7, a spokesperson for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn announced that €500,000 would be set aside in 2013 to tackle to issue.

12 Farewell to Maeve: Country mourns loss of a Literary national treasure

Maeve Binchy died on July 30, aged 72. The warmth of the tributes paid to the best-selling author reflected her status as a literary national treasure.he died peacefully in hospital, with her husband Gordon Snell at her side.

To an earlier generation of readers, Maeve was a witty and irreverent columnist for the Irish Times.

She moved to the paper's London office in the 1970s. She made a point of filing her copy early so she could enjoy her famously long lunches.

She had a series of unsuitable boyfriends before meeting children's author Snell in London, and the pair were an inseparable and affectionate couple for over 40 years.

Maeve's gift was for storytelling. "Write as you would talk," was always her advice to aspiring writers. Not everyone talked like Maeve, though.

She became a sort of kindly aunt to a generation of Irish women writers, among them Marian Keyes, Patricia Scanlan and Cathy Kelly.

Her books – all 16 novels and over 40 short stories – sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and several were filmed.

Andrew Davies, who adapted Circle of Friends for the screen, remembered a meeting with Maeve at her home in Dalkey.

"She gave me lots of sharp and comic details that weren't in the book. About half past eleven she said 'Gordon and I usually have a bottle of champagne about this time in the morning, would you like to join us?' and that seemed like a very good idea," he said at the time of her death.

"Then we went out to lunch and had, if I remember rightly, some lovely sea bass and about three bottles of Chardonnay, and never stopped laughing the whole time until I was poured into a taxi for the flight back."

A Week in Winter, Maeve's last book, was published posthumously in November. It was an immediate bestseller and continues to top the fiction charts.

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