The recovery, the abandoned regions - and why we need not fear the Donald
As the curtain slowly closes on the dying days of 2015, these are a few of my end-of-year meanderings on how things are, both at home and abroad, and on the way they might be.
A tradition of leavetaking
'Brooklyn' is a good movie - not a great movie. This is not to begrudge the bouquet of praise and accolades it has garnered, and Saoirse Ronan can be an actress of beguiling talent. Yet there is a sense of déjà vu in the translation of Colm Tóibín's insightful novel to the cinema screen. Is it just another tale of the old Irish story of emigration? Set in the 1950s, some of the stereotypes of the period dominate, when the proverbial 'innocent' Irish girl abandons small-town Ireland.
Tensions between contrasting life experiences are inevitable - but a transatlantic love triangle too glibly told ties up everything too neatly in the end. However, the film is a poignant reminder that, regardless of the consolations of Skype and the Internet, the ongoing denudation of provincial Ireland of its youth, remains a national tragedy.
Dublin and the rest
We badly need a minister for the regions in the next government - one who has energy, talent, drive and, most of all, some kind of vision. Dublin and its surrounds continue to suck in an ever-larger proportion of the population. No wonder the M50 traffic snarls are becoming a new fixation.
There is a kind of perversity in the way the latest technologies are bringing such a hugely disproportionate number of jobs to the capital compared to the rest of the country. Was not the mantra of the new tech age that anybody can work anywhere, provided they are online? The western seaboard counties at least have the seasonal consolations of tourism. However, a journey through much of the midlands and the border regions makes it difficult to ignore the feeling of abandonment.
The influx of so many Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian immigrants to Ireland - and the decision of such a significant number to stay here even when things improved in their own countries - has been of intangible benefit to the Irish psyche.
The fact is that for too long this country was too homogeneous. Many factors have contributed to Ireland's less closed view of the world, but a noticeable increase in the number of 'foreigners' living here has helped open our minds to other people from other places.
Despite Donald Trump and his gun-slinging way with words, things will be okay with America. Flawed, imperfect and so often baffling when looked at with European eyes, the United Sates will always remain a work in progress. It has been described as a perpetually adolescent society - but there is no country on earth with the same capacity to renew itself.
Even if the unthinkable were to happen and a Trump-type figure made it to the White House, the checks and balances are there to stop a crazy going completely mad.
Recovery and reflection
A new Celtic Tiger may be on the way, even though thousands are still traumatised by the downturn and have had their living standards turned upside down because of austerity and the rest of it. But there are rumblings in the undergrowth out there. Our economy could be on the move - and it's only a matter of time before the building industry gets going again.
But if there is a real upswing, with more jobs and more money in people's pockets, will the mistakes of the boom be repeated? Bertie Ahern said recently that last time round "Joe Soap and Mary Soap" lost the run of themselves with their reckless borrowing. He is right, but few want to take on board this line of thinking. It's easier to continue with the national whinefest, with the belief that the crash was always somebody else's fault.
Golden sporting moments
Ireland continues to enjoy a level of sporting achievement remarkable for a country of its size. Sometimes, maybe, we take it for granted. The past year has been an especially starry one for women's sport. Our rugby and cricket teams, the Cork women's Gaelic football squad, and a number of our leading athletes all made their mark in different ways. Meanwhile, the boxing, golf and horse-racing worlds continued to produce world-beaters. Men's rugby may be trapped in a hiatus after the high-wire days, but it will renew itself. The Republic of Ireland soccer team, under deft guidance from Martin O'Neill, surprised the naysayers and will give us a plethora of highs and heartbreaks come summer. Meanwhile, the GAA remains singularly successful in persuading so many to leave the remote control on the couch and actually risk the great outdoors to go and savour some real live action. The world of Irish sport remains a never-ending uplift for the spirit.