Life

Sunday 26 January 2020

In your own words: The letters of the year

From Brexit to talking bull to praising icons on and off the playing field, our Letters Editor Tom Coogan looks back over his favourite correspondence of the last 12 months

Many others wrote to express their sorrow over the deaths of entertainment icons Gay Byrne and Brendan Grace
Many others wrote to express their sorrow over the deaths of entertainment icons Gay Byrne and Brendan Grace

Tom Coogan

It was a case of looking for new light through old windows over the past year. The familiar issues of Brexit, housing and health dominated.

For the illumination on distressingly familiar issues we are grateful. A heartfelt thanks to all who took the trouble to share their insights.

Ricardo Piglia said: “To write a letter is to send a message to the future; Correspondence is the utopian form of conversation because it annihilates the present and turns the future into the only possible place for dialogue.”

One subject where the dialogue seemed frozen was the UK’s separation from the EU.

In January, Anthony McGeough, Dublin 24 found fault with Jeremy Corbyn’s precondition that accepting a no-deal scenario was off the table in discussions with the EU.

He argued: “Starting from this position is akin to someone going into a forecourt to buy a car and telling the salesperson that under no circumstances will they go below the asking price of the car. If this is the level of intelligence representing the British people then I would fear for their economy.”

Can Kerry take the fight to Dublin once again in 2020? Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Can Kerry take the fight to Dublin once again in 2020? Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

That same month, the subject of intelligence was also up for discussion when John Williams wrote from Clonmel.

“Pat O’Brien ’s letter about AI meaning artificial intelligence instead of artificial insemination (‘AI takes on a whole new meaning in countryside’, Letters, January 23) reminds me of a farmer who said the original AI was “like a plain speaker — straight up, no bull.”

Many accused health Minister Simon Harris of talking bull, including Glyn Carragher, from Galway, who took him to task last February when he “recently mooted the idea of imposing ‘financial penalties’ on the striking nurses as a measure to resolve the current crisis.

“Perhaps he has struck on a productive idea. I feel that we should further explore legislation which would allow the people of Ireland to impose financial penalties on those in government who consistently fail to deliver.”

The late Brendan Grace
The late Brendan Grace

By March, we were talking about property funds. Margaret Docherty, Terenure, Dublin, noted: “Charlie Weston’s article that Beverly Hills-based Kennedy Wilson has told its shareholders ‘billions’ of dollars are poised to be invested in apartment projects in this country (‘Workers priced out of housing market by cash-rich investors’, Irish Independent , March 7) is utterly sickening.

‘‘We have unrivalled finance experts in this country, professors of accounting, CEOs of banks who knew how to make ‘errors’ with tracker interest rates, brilliant young, and not so young, entrepreneurs, and yet we can’t or won’t raise the funds for these apartment complexes ourselves.

‘‘Our young people are being sold down the river, doomed to lining the pockets of Beverly Hills instead of owning their own homes.

‘‘The Taoiseach must call an abrupt halt to this plunder of Irish people, and set up a committee immediately, to source funding in Europe or America to build these complexes ourselves.’’

The loss of Brendan Grace moved many.

In July, Tom Gilsenan, Dublin 9 wrote to thank him for the laughs, recalling: “One of my favourite ‘quips’ was along the following lines. ‘I came from a large family, 16 of us. I never knew the pleasure of sleeping in a bed on my own....until I got married!!’’’

Gay Byrne’s passing also touched hearts across the country. Philip O’Neill, Oxford paid this tribute: “Gay Byrne’s death has stirred memories of an intelligently critical voice that helped us all to reimagine church and state, allowing our minds to think the unthinkable and see our leaders, particular our senior church leaders, as fallible and human.

“Gay Byrne brought to the national debate a lightness of touch allied to a seriousness of intent that prevented his programme from degenerating into a priest-bashing fest that would be at odds with the genuine constructive desire of a silenced people to exercise their voice in good faith.”

Mr O’Neill credited him with facilitating “the eventual release of the intelligence of the Irish which brought about a form of intellectual conversion that opened the eyes and minds of so many.”

He signed off with a test for us all: “Our most challenging task now is not to live in the past but to redeem it.”

Triumph — and if not disaster, certainly disappointment — were met in equal measure in rugby and the GAA.

The Dubs made it five in a row and the sun failed to rise for us at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. In November, Donough O’Reilly, Kilmacud, Dublin recalled: “Delighted that the Dubs won the five in a row, probably never to be done again. As good an achievement as this has been there are still some unanswered questions about this team.

“They say Kerry are the aristocrats of the GAA with the highest number of All-Irelands won. But I still think there is a flaw about their greatness.

“The Dubs and Kerry only won All-Irelands played in Ireland. The real test is to go ‘away’ and win Sam Maguire.

“So I am proposing that the Greatest team is Cavan, they have won All-Irelands home and away (1947 in New York defeating Kerry). So, Kerry and Dublin, prove which of you is the greatest (or at least joint greatest with Cavan) — go and win an All-Ireland away.”

Desmond Hayes found an upside to the downside of our defeat at the RWC: “What an inspiration to see a true South African team and nation lift the Webb Ellis Cup. Togetherness, grit, tenacity, determination, vision, tactics and hard work won through. When the World Cup journey started several weeks ago, we each wrote the script in our own minds as to who would win.

“Two decades of provincial and international rugby have seen Irish rugby scale the dizzy heights of world number one ranking.

“Success like in the townships of South Africa is akin to that of our club rugby, sometimes forgotten, but they forge and foster players in the belief to ‘never mistake bigness for greatness’.”

Mr A Leavy from Sutton, Dublin took us to task for an editorial on August 17 on the Public Services Card for use of the words ‘ham-fisted’, ‘embarrassment’ and ‘mortification’.

“This highlights the fact that everyone seems to have forgotten or just ignores the fact that the services card was introduced to solve a much bigger cause of embarrassment and mortification and for which ham-fisted would be a gross understatement in the public expenditure collapse in 2010,” he wrote.

“The services card tried to control fraud in the provision of public services. This was deemed necessary because this country suffered a spectacular bankruptcy as a result of the unchallenged reckless decisions of a small number of its own most powerful citizens in the pre-2009 period.

“Public expenditure went from 19bn in 1997 to 63bn in 2009.”

How quickly we forget. The year wound up in December, with Mattie Lennon, Blessington, Co Wicklow sharing a perspective on relationships.

“For millennia scribes, poets and philosophers have been writing about love and loving. But only the sharpest literary minds warn us of the dangers of loving too much. Kavanagh in Raglan Road, and now Billy Keane in Keane’s Kingdom.”

We will leave all of you who wrote to us with a thought from TS Eliot: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

Happy New Year

Irish Independent

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