Thursday 19 September 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Calamity Shane and "Beast from the East" - 2018 remembered'

Worst snow in a generation: Brian O'Rourke (7) from Garryhill, Co Carlow checks out the aftermath of Storm Emma. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke
Worst snow in a generation: Brian O'Rourke (7) from Garryhill, Co Carlow checks out the aftermath of Storm Emma. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

After a mild end to 2017 it looked as if we had escaped the worst of the predictions for a bad winter. How wrong we were.

Some called it 'the Beast from the East'. The weather forecasters called it Storm Emma. Most of us just called it a few days off work or school.

The worst snow in 30 years arrived in March and the Irish did what the Irish always do when there's a crisis - they went to the shops and then went to the pub.

There was a touch of Blitz spirit in the air that was entirely understandable - when we do get a belt of something out of the ordinary, we tend to become kids again. Well, kids or... looters.

The sight of Lidl in Tallaght being vandalised and then ransacked was a truly bizarre sight, and a reminder that the old cliche about society only being three missed-meals away from collapse is, if anything, rather optimistic.

But we got a glorious summer that turned the country into a sort of mini Mediterranean paradise - kids frolicked on the beaches and middle-aged men gave themselves third degree sunburn while incinerating sausages on the barbecue. Of course, there was an outbreak of food poisoning caused by people not washing their side salads properly.

With Brexit breathing down our necks, there were more pressing domestic matters to be dealt with first.

The year began with rancour over the referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment and saw legal challenges to the wording, while the fundamentalists on either side decreed that you were either a baby killer or you hated women.

The result in May was almost a mirror image of the last time the country went to the polls on the matter back in 1983, winning 67-33 and while some of the triumphalism left a sour taste in the mouth, the overwhelming sensation was one of closure with a result which had been a long time coming.

The Pope arrived in August and it all turned out to be a rather damp squib - in every way. Awful weather, a low turn out and a sense that Francis had more pressing matters on his mind resulted in a rather subdued visit.

Michael D Higgins started the year as the most popular politician in the country and seemed to have slipped into the role of the country's kindly grandfather. But his reluctance to announce whether he was prepared to stand again, and his strange approach to the debates in August and September took some of the sheen off his halo.

While he won convincingly, it was a closer run affair than many had predicted, with Peter Casey coming out of nowhere to capture the popular imagination - for both good and ill.

Casey almost inadvertently stumbled into a hot button issue when he broached the usually taboo topic of Travellers. This immediately led to the inevitable accusations of racism and ignorance from the usual suspects. But the fact that Casey polled highest in areas where there is the largest concentration of Travellers was a reminder, no matter how uncomfortable, that his message resonated - even if it seemed more by accident than design.

The Government seemed to lurch from one spin operation to the next, enraging various people with their policies on homes, health care, transport and women's health.

Much of the criticism surrounding Harris and Murphy was unfair, much of it was warranted, although no politician walked into as many of their own punches as Minister for Transport and Sport, Shane Ross.

Calamity Shane had an almost spooky ability to get names wrong. Whether they were rugby players, footballers or athletes, Calamity didn't discriminate when it came to making mistakes and he spent most of the year looking as if he had simply won a competition to be a minister.

Trump continued to blunder around the place, and while the second half of 2018 seemed to see even more missteps and general crimes against decency, he carried on doing his Trump-thing. There are now serious talks about impeachment in the new year, but we've been down that road before.

Brexit went from being a theory to a terrifying reality in the latter parts of 2018 and the Tories engaged in a vicious blood feud that reminded the rest of us that politicians really are frequently as venal, vicious and incompetent as we sometimes suspect.

The only good news for Irish football fans was the departure of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane, and while the FAI made things typically awkward with its weird arrangement for both Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny, we can look forward to next year with the comforting sense that it can't be as bad as the one we have just had.

The mood among rugby fans is rather different. The greatest year in the history of the game in this country culminated in the victory over the All Blacks which means we now go into next year's World Cup in Japan as one of the hot favourites - never a tag that sits well with Irish teams, but it beats the alternative.

So, 2018 was the year we said hello to abortion, goodbye to blasphemy, re-elected a president and waged civil war on Twitter.

Now let's never mention it again...

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