THERE are certain events in life that we remember with absolute clarity, such as the deaths of John F Kennedy or Princess Diana.
So it was when news of Gerry Ryan's tragic death broke last Friday. I was in a car at the time, travelling to a wedding in Mayo, when a friend rang to tell me Gerry had been found dead in his apartment. I could hardly take it in at first, the notion that such a vibrant, larger-than-life man had been cut down in his prime.
As the Bible says, in the midst of life, we are in death. The grim reaper eventually comes to us all. Nonetheless, it doesn't make it any easier to accept the premature death of the nation's favourite broadcaster. When I arrived at my destination in Killala last Friday, Gerry's death was the subject on everyone's lips. All around me, shock and grief registered on people's faces, feelings that were echoed across the country.
The national outpouring of grief has been truly extraordinary, and speaks volumes about the special place Gerry occupied in the hearts of Irish people. Huge numbers queued at RTE's radio centre and at the Mansion House to sign books of condolence.
I would defy anyone to recall an occasion when Irish people have united together in such a widespread display of grief. The last few days can only be compared to the reaction to the death of Princess Diana in Britain.
Gerry occupied a unique place in Irish life. He was the man in every kitchen, in every car, a comforting voice and a friend to hundreds of thousands of people who never met him.
His was a privileged position, and he threw himself wholeheartedly into communication with his audience. In his years in broadcasting, he insinuated himself into the Irish psyche.
He was something of a maverick, breaking new ground and pulling down barriers.
Sure, he had his critics who said he sailed too close to the wind, but I believe he expanded the whole concept of public broadcasting.
He was sometimes infuriating and provocative, yet he was always well informed, honest and possessed of a rapier wit.
Like all great broadcasters, Gerry had an ego the size of Mars. He could be arrogant and pompous, not least when he initially declined to give up a percentage of his salary in line with other top broadcasters. Yet it all added up to a larger-than-life persona that made him a true hit.
A noted bon viveur, he didn't hide his light under a bushel but delighted in celebrating his success. He also had a penchant for fine wines, rich food and often burnt the candle at both ends.
I recall a rather poignant interview some time before his death, when he indicated his awareness that his health was suffering because of his fondness for the good life.
The last few years had been tough for Gerry. He struggled with the death of his mother and the break-up of his 26-year marriage to Morah.
Yet throughout it all he remained a dignified, devoted family man and a loving father to his five children.
This, I feel, is what makes the circumstances of his death so devastating. For a committed father and a man of many friends, it seems too cruel that he died alone.
His death is an incalculable loss for his kids, his estranged wife, and his partner Melanie.
And for the rest of us, the loss of a uniquely gifted broadcaster means that Irish life will be poorer without him.
Can you believe it? We're only just back to normal after the disastrous delays caused by volcanic ash, and now the nightmare of disruption looms once more.
Airports were under lockdown again yesterday and today thanks to a fresh belch of ash from that unpronounceable pesky volcano in Iceland.
Two weeks ago we were faced with the appalling vista of grounded planes for almost six full days, causing immense frustration and heartache for countless travellers.
At a human level, we were glued to our TVs and radios, listening to the heroic efforts of almost 200,000 Irish people who endeavoured to make their way home to the Emerald Isle by whatever archaic means of transport possible.
It reignited our resilience and showed our ability to cope with a crisis.
We also saw the goodwill of transport companies who endeavoured to repatriate stranded citizens.
My own brother Joe was stranded in Shanghai for five days, but received scant help from the Irish consular office. His prolonged sojourn has put him off Chinese takeaways for quite a while.
It was bad enough that it happened once, but twice is beyond a joke.
There is now a fusillade of charges and counter charges among the many aviation authorities who felt that the Volcanic Ash Advice Centre was overreacting.
It was even felt that the clampdown has been based on out-of-date models that have no relevance for modern aircraft.
Indeed, jurisdictions in the USA pointed out that there was no disruption there after the eruption of Mount Helena. One way or another, lessons must be learned.
Airlines have already lost €2bn in this fiasco and the last thing we need is another prolonged stint of plane-free skies. Here's hoping the winds of change will blow, and that we'll all be taking to the skies soon.
It could have been really great -- a mouth-watering all-Irish Heineken Cup final.
Alas, a glorious date in Paris wasn't to be, with Leinster falling to Toulouse and Munster defeated by Biarritz at the weekend.
It's heartbreaking for the legions of loyal fans, but our rugby boys should know that they've done us proud.
We're accustomed to punching above our weight in sporting circles, but this time the gods were against us.
Nonetheless, I salute the brave men of Leinster and Munster who gave it their all.