Thursday 22 August 2019

Rising remembrance and a football party in France welcome rays of light in a year filled with dark notes

The Rising commemoration parade passes the GPO in Dublin last March. Picture Credit: Frank McGrath
The Rising commemoration parade passes the GPO in Dublin last March. Picture Credit: Frank McGrath
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The 1916 Rising commemorations turned out to be one of the most positive events of the year gone by. Ireland 2016 began on January 1 with a flag-raising ceremony at Dublin Castle and events rolled on smoothly - with the high point being the Easter commemorations at the GPO, when the nation gathered together to remember those who tentatively laid the cornerstone of the nation.

It was the largest public spectacle in the history of the State.

A day later, the capital enjoyed a hoolie, with the 'Reflecting the Rising' programme taking over O'Connell Street - a showcase of awesome proportions. Every corner of the city heaved with a sea of people thoroughly enjoying themselves.

So firmly did it capture the imagination that Arts Minister Heather Humphreys announced this would now become an annual festival, Cruinniú na Cásca.

As the legacy of the commemorations, the Government announced Creative Ireland - a five-year initiative to improve access to cultural and creative activity in every county across the country.

It was heralded with enthusiasm by the wider arts community.

On a darker note, it was a bad year for crime, with the notorious storming of the Regency Hotel in Dublin on February 5. David Byrne from Crumlin, who was known to gardaí, was shot and killed during a weigh-in for a WBO European lightweight title fight. It signalled a murderous feud that has taken nine lives this year alone.

Grave tragedy struck in March when a car slid on algae and plunged into the depths of Lough Swilly at Buncrana, Co Donegal, taking the lives of five occupants: Sean McGrotty (49); his sons Mark (12) and Evan (8); his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels (59); and Ms Daniels' daughter Jodie Lee Daniels (14). Only baby Rioghnach-Ann McGrotty survived. Davitt Walsh had been about to leave the beach area when he noticed a car sinking in the water. He immediately jumped in and swam out to the car.

Sean shouted, "Save the baby", and just had time to pass her out through the window when the car sank.

Davitt subsequently received a People of the Year award.

In April, drug mule Michaella McCollum from Co Tyrone was released from prison in Peru and was allowed back to Ireland. Looking blonde and glamorous, she gave an interview to RTÉ in which she said she acknowledged she could have "had a lot of blood" on her hands if she had managed to smuggle the cocaine into Europe.

A census also took place that month, with preliminary results pointing to a 3.7pc increase in the population since 2011.

Summer heralded the Euros, as the boys in green headed off to France. Tears flowed as they bowed out of the tournament in the knock-out stages. Portugal may have had the final triumph - but the tournament truly belonged to the Irish fans, who captured hearts everywhere they went.

The French public praised the travelling Irish to the hilt after they brought a party atmosphere and exemplary behaviour to the streets of Paris, Bordeaux, Lille and Lyon during the tournament. They were subsequently awarded a medal of 'exemplary sportsmanship'.

A month later, the Green Army paid emotional tribute to one of the greats of Irish soccer when record goalscorer Robbie Keane announced his retirement.

There had been other key moments of sporting drama. Tipp beat the Cats in a superb show of grace in the All-Ireland hurling final. In football, yet again it turned out not to be Mayo's year. A dramatic draw with Dublin saw the nation hold its breath - but in the replay, Dublin pulled it out of the bag.

But sport was left behind in the wake of scandal, the actual games at Rio Olympics almost becoming a sideshow as an embarrassing ticket fiasco unfolded in Brazil with allegations that a company, THG Sports, was illegally selling tickets that had mostly originated from the Irish Olympic authorities.

Sports Minister Shane Ross travelled to Brazil to discuss the situation with Olympic Council of Ireland president Pat Hickey - but to no avail. Mr Hickey temporarily stepped down from his position after being arrested in a dawn raid on August 17.

After Mr Hickey's arrest, it emerged the sports boss had been advised by a colleague before the meeting with Mr Ross to put the minister "back in his box". Mr Hickey returned to Ireland on December 19, greeting photographers with thumbs up.

He has denied allegations that he was involved in the illegal sale of tickets and has said he will do everything he can to clear his name.

No sooner had that scandal blown up when Mr Ross was in the firing line again - this time wearing his other hat of transport.

With the Luas drivers successful in gaining pay hikes earlier in the year, Dublin Bus drivers also sought a rise.

Mr Ross claimed he was not going to be a "sugar daddy" for the industry. The strikes were ultimately called to a halt after marathon talks with unions.

Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time in rugby in November. The glory was dedicated to the memory of Anthony 'Axel' Foley, the Munster coach who passed away suddenly in October, leaving his young family bereft and the wider rugby community stunned.

His name was added to the host of those who we lost this year. Brave coastguard Catriona Lucas, who died in a rescue and recovery mission off the coast of Clare, the veteran TV host Terry Wogan, golfers Christy O'Connor Snr and Jnr, political figure PJ Mara, Bloody Sunday priest Fr Edward Daly, colourful eccentric John Leslie and comic legend Frank Kelly were just some of those we mourned in 2016.

Irish Independent

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