Dispel the gloom story - 19 reasons to be cheerful
January tends to be a glum month but don't despair; John Meagher has assembled 19 reasons to be happy
There's no doubt about it, the last 12 months have been tough for many of us. The housing crisis seems to be no closer to being solved than at any stage in the lifetime of this government, our health system continues to be based on the creakiest of foundations and the fallout from the cervical check scandal is still with us.
And that's before one thinks of the stupefying presidency of Donald Trump or the Brexit snafu.
Despite all the gloom, there's a lot to be thankful for as we contemplate what 2019 has in store - and there are many reasons to be glad we're living on this small island at this moment in time.
1 Rugby World Cup
Even those who don't care a jot about the oval-ball game will be aware about the nation-lifting powers of sport. Joe Schmidt's team go into the Japan tournament, which starts in September, as second favourites to win it. The country has never got beyond the quarter final stage before but a new breed of young player - such as Jacob Stockdale and Joey Carbery - seems to have known nothing but success. And, before our adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun, there's the small matter of defending their Grand Slam crown. It all kicks off with a visit from England on February 2.
2 Fighting plastic
The country may be something of a basket case when it comes to our environmental record but there's a clear sea-change at play, and the proposed banning of single-use plastics is a big step in the right direction. Already, Lidl has made a commitment not to sell any plastic-packed fruit in its Irish stores by the end of this year and the pressure to follow suit will be felt by the other retailers. There are signs too that we're getting far better at recycling than we used to and single-use items like plastic straws will soon be a thing of the past.
3 Books far from dead
All those doomsayers around the turn of the millennium who predicted the end of books - physical books, that is - will have been scratching their heads in recent years. Sales are buoyant as people seem to have tired of Kindles and ebooks. We can't get enough of new books and this is widely acknowledged to be something of a golden age for Irish fiction thanks to award-winning writers like Sally Rooney, Sara Baume and Eimear McBride. And the seventh page-turner from crime writer Tana French has been getting ecstatic early reviews, with Stephen King among those singing its praises. It's out here next month.
4 Better job prospects
Leo Varadkar's comments over Christmas that robots could replace many jobs won't have cheered anyone anxious about long-term career stability. But, right now, there are plenty of jobs to be had. The Small Firms Association has talked about more than 25,000 new jobs being created this year alone and only this week Irish Rail announced that it would be recruiting and training 100 new train drivers. It said it was particularly keen to recruit female drivers as there are only four in the country at present.
5 Rising incomes
The 25c an hour increase in the minimum wage which took effect from January 1 will be seen to he a mealy-mouthed gesture by many, but it's a very different story for professionals who have seen one salary increase after another in recent years. It's welcome after five or six years of apparent stagnation - and many will see further increases this year. Last April, the Central Bank forecasted wage growth of 7pc across 2019 and 2020 - twice the current Eurozone rate. And in areas where there's a skilled staff shortage - such as software development - salaries are rising rapidly.
6 Thriving tourism
Last year was the best on record for tourist visitors to Ireland and the projections are set to continue upward for 2019. That's clearly good news for the sector of the population who depend on tourism for their living, but it also ensures that many of the services and amenities we take for granted - like restaurants and cafés - can continue. And we're discovering more of our own country, too: if 'staycation' characterised prudence in the recession, it's now a chance to explore untapped parts, such as those lakelands and midlands counties billed Ireland's Hidden Heartlands by Fáilte Ireland.
7 Brexit upside
You didn't read that heading wrong. Brexit may be very bad news for Ireland - only a fool would argue otherwise - but taking the 'every cloud has a silver lining' viewpoint, a weak sterling against the euro will ensure that we get more bang for our buck on those shopping or football weekends in Britain. It's good news too for those who choose to shop online - it's often far cheaper to purchase in sterling than euro and An Post's AddressPal is among the services to ensure that goods only available to UK addresses can get to you.
8 Economy still growing
Cast your mind back to January 2009: The 'troika' were at large and our futures looked bleak. Unemployment would hit 14pc later in the year. Tens of thousands were forced to emigrate. It's all so different 10 years on. Yes, it's true that the haves benefit far more than the have-nots, but the unemployment figures have dipped to just 5pc, people who had to leave the country have come back and are coming back and there's a sense that there are more opportunities for those of mind to take them than there have been in years.
9 Abba's return
Fancy partying like it's 1979? Well you'll get the chance when Abba go on tour this year. But it's not the real-life Benny and Björn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid - in an eye-catching and exceptionally brave move the quartet will tour as hologram versions of themselves as 40 years ago. Live musicians will be on hand to deliver all those old pop classics. And there are two brand new Abba singles set for release in 2019, too. If you're looking for real-life pop stars who have been resurrected, there's always the Spice Girls in Croke Park.
10 TV heaven
We live in a time of really great television drama - and there's such a huge choice it can be hard to know where to begin, especially when one considers the offerings on Netflix, Amazon Prime and All4's Walter Presents. This year will see new episodes from much-loved dramas Big Little Lies and Line of Duty (the latter back for a fifth season) and there's a treat in store for fans of The Missing: a spin-off series, Baptiste, is named after its eccentric detective. And Richard Gere will star in one of the BBC's most anticipated new drama series, MotherFatherSon.
11 Moon landing redux
July will mark the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. There will be ample opportunity to relive one of the greatest feats of human endeavour, and besides the glut of TV documentaries and books that are on the way to mark the occasion, it might be time to re-discover Norman Mailer's peerless, contemporaneous account off the Apollo 11 adventure, Of a Fire on the Moon. All the talk about '69 might also rekindle an interest in space exploration - and Nasa's latest Mars mission.
12 Movie mania
First video, then DVD and now streaming. All were supposed to hurt cinema and yet movie-going is at its highest in 40 years. For movie fans there's still nothing to compare to the cinema experience, no matter how big domestic televisions continue to get. 2019 might be the year that Saoirse Ronan finally wins that Oscar - she will almost certainly be nominated for the forthcoming Mary Queen of Scots. There will be no shortage of blockbusters this year, with the family-friendly Toy Story 4 and Star Wars Episode IX likely to be slugging it out at the top of box office.
13 Festival favourites
All Together Now, brainchild of the late promoter John Reynolds, was a big success when debuting on the busy Irish festival calendar last year. It returns to Curraghmore House, Co Waterford in August with The National named among the headliners. Electric Picnic may have sold out, but there is a slew of excellent alternatives, including the long-running Indiependence. 2019 will also see the return of Slane Castle's monster gigs - Metallica headline in June - and Glastonbury is back after taking a year off last summer.
14 Gaelic glory
A vintage year of GAA awaits. In Gaelic football, Dublin are looking to win an unprecedented five-in-a-row. Jim Gavin's seemingly unbeatable team are odds-on favourites to lift the Sam Maguire cup again but a handful of challengers, including perennial rivals Kerry, will be doing everything to stop them. In 1982, Kerry's bid for five consecutive titles was thwarted in the dying minutes by Offaly. Could something similar befall the Dubs? It's wide open in the hurling championship and Limerick will be hoping last year's triumph was not a flash in the pan.
15 Running mania
The 40th instalment of the Dublin Marathon, to be held in late October, sold out in just 40 days late last year. After an uncertain period in the early 1990s, this 26-mile run through Dublin has become one of Europe's most popular road races. The increasing appeal of the marathon mirrors that of running generally and Ireland is seeing an explosion in popularity as more and more people discover the mental and physical benefits of pounding the pavements. Consider joining the Sanctuary Runners - a nationwide grouping of asylum seekers, Direct Provision residents and Irish all running together.
While swathes of the population would be very happy if they could get a decent 4G signal, the next chapter in cellular connectivity is well under way. Vodafone will be trialling the service in select households in four counties despite the fact that compatible handsets have yet to come on stream. Ericsson are among the manufacturers who say they will have a 5G Wi-Fi router with us by year end. When it eventually materialises, 5G will offer superfast broadband and more to harness the full power of the virtual world, and it will be very much part of our lives by mid-2020.
17 Re-engaging with the real world
While 5G is one of several technological advances to make 2019 a year to remember, many more of us will be looking to spend far less time online. In what's no doubt good news to those who espouse the joys of the real world, 2018 saw a marked decline in the numbers using social media, especially Facebook. Remarkably, there are more senior citizen users of Facebook than there are teenagers, and research shows that teens are using the social network far less than they were even two years ago. It's a trend that's likely to continue this year.
18 Centenary of self-governance
If some of the recent centenary commemorations have focused on conflict and bloodshed - the 1916 Rising and the end of the Great War among them - there's one 100th anniversary this year that can be celebrated without thinking of death and destruction. Our first Dáil met in the Mansion House, Dublin, on January 21, 1919 and this process of self-governance was followed two years later by independence. The occasion will be marked by a million €2 coins which will soon be in circulation while those wishing for a more lasting moment can get their hands on one of a thousand €100 gold coins.
19 Celebrate longevity
Babies born this year can expect to live until 2101. Ireland is one of just 28 countries globally where newborns will be expected see the early years of the 22nd century. And it's down to several factors, including - despite its numerous faults - a good health system. Over the past three decades, the world has seen remarkable progress in child survival, cutting the number of children worldwide who die before their fifth birthday by more than half. And there's good news for the dads of those newborns, too: this year will see two weeks paid paternity leave coming into effect in Ireland.