A 2016 Papal visit to Ireland, gay marriage, the euro, the British Army joining the GAA were among the news items fascinating our readers in 2015
Here we take a look at some of the top stories from the first quarter of the year 2015.
‘POPE MAY VISIT IRELAND IN 2016’
The year began with informed speculation, which has since strengthened, that Pope Francis would be the first Pontiff to visit Ireland since John Paul ll’s epic 1979 visit.
The Irish American Papal Nuncio to Ireland Bishop Charles Brown raised hopes he would visit both sides of the Border not least because he learned English as a young Argentinian Jesuit priest, Fr. Jorge Bergoglio, in Milltown near Ranelagh Dublin for three months in 1980.
It as suggested at the time that it would not happen until after Ireland’s General Election and followed the reopening last year of Ireland’s Vatican Embassy which had ostensibly been closed by the Fine Gael Labour coalition after it came into office in 2011 “for economic reasons” but also after blistering criticisms of Rome by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in July of the that year.
Mr Kenny, in a Dail speech, accused the Holy See of being dominated by a culture of “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism” in which “the rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.”
Instead of listening with “St Benedict’s ear of the heart” Rome had preferred to “parse and analyse it” as Canon lawyers looking for ways to avoid culpability or liability, he said. But this toxic atmosphere changed with the arrival of Pope Francis and the appointment of Ireland’s first ever-female Ambassador to the Holy See, Emma Madigan, 41.
Mr. Kenny even personally invited the Pope to Ireland when he was in Rome for the canonisation of two of his predecessors, John XXlll, and John Paul ll. The Papal Nuncio responded to the very public olive branch by talking about how strong Catholicism remains in Ireland and how much Francis loved the country.
‘I’D LIKE TO BE AN EQUAL CITIZEN IN MY OWN COUNTRY’
Ireland’s Heath Minister Leo Varadkar made Irish political history when he became the first Irish Cabinet Minister to publicly come “out of the closet”.
Leo, whose Irish nurse mother met and married his Indian doctor father here in the UK in the 1970s and then both moved to Ireland to have their family, said he decided to speak about his sexuality, because as a minister, he would be campaigning for the Irish Government’s referendum in support of same-sex marriage.
He had been a frequent visitor to the UK since 2011 as Transport, Sports and Tourism Minister.
Politically ambitious and a qualified medical doctor, he is seen as a possible future FG leader. He chose to ‘out’ himself on RTE to marked his 36th birthday.
Politicians and journalists in Ireland had actually long known and he had never attempted to disguise it but it still earned him tremendous public good will for his perceived political courage.
“I’m a very private person and I still am.
“I always think that friends and family are off-bounds.
“I went into politics, they didn’t but, I am a gay man – it’s not a secret – but not something that everyone would know.
“I would like to be an equal citizen in my own country, the country in which I happen to be a member of the government, and at the moment I’m not,” he said.
In what was to become quite a recurring theme as the year went on and Ireland got ever closer to its General Election, repeated overtures were made to those who had left the country to return, almost as a talisman of the country’s emergence from the austerity that sent them so many of them packing in the first place. The Fine Gael Labour coalition made its first tentative suggestions that as Ireland’s economy was now booming it could reverse emigration in time for next year’s 1916 centenary…(and, of course, the Election).
In one of many, low-cost, high-profile diaspora-related media initiatives the government launched, Global Irish, promising support services for returning Irish emigrants and practical information about moving back to attract back thousands of emigrants and their families in time for the 1916 Centenary celebrations (and the Election).
At the same time Fine Gael, where party leader and Taoiseach Enda Kenny – a TD for 45 years – hopes to be the first person in his position to win back-to-back election victories – found itself vying not with its traditional post-Civil War rival, Fianna Fail, to be the biggest party in the country but with Sinn Fein. SF, in turn, set its sights beyond Ireland and promised to extend a limited vote to Irish citizens overseas if it got into government.
The two parties engaged in very public hostilities with Fine Gael and Labour saying Sinn Fein’s populist, unsustainable anti-austerity, left wing policies would undo Ireland’s economic recovery. Taoiseach Enda Kenny led the appeal to emigrants to return home.
“Emigration has a devastating impact on our economy as we lose the input of talent and energy. We need these people at home.
“And we will welcome them.”
‘EURO SINKS TO NINE YEAR LOW’
The inherent economic contradictions of one single currency for EU economies of vastly different strengths continued with welcome, albeit short term, benefits for UK visitors to Ireland and people living here with mortgages over there.
The euro briefly hit a nine year low – going back to March 2006 – as traders and investors tried to second guess the European Central Bank’s moves to prop up the currency. For much of the early party of the year a euro was worth about 78 pence or $1.19.
By Christmas the euro was worth around 72 pence sterling and about $1.08. (A US dollar is currently worth about 67 pence sterling). Some of the more financially astute or nimble of those people working here, but with euro mortgages in Ireland, rushed to take advantage of the exchange rate and low interest rates to pay down Irish debt.
People in Ireland, however, struggled to get the big banks to play fair over low European Central Bank interest rates. Cataclysmic predictions were made as uncertainty surrounded the intertwined fates of the euro and Greece which faced into a decisive General Election and show of strength with the IMF, ECB and EU but – as greyer heads predicted – we all muddled through.
‘WE MISS OUR MA EVERY DAY’
An old friend of the Irish World, Eddie Furey, of the Furey Brothers, told us about that most traditional of traditional acts was thinking of taking a new direction with their music and how they still miss their biggest ever fan – their Ma, Nora, who cajoled them into recording When You Were Sweet Sixteen in 1981 – their biggest ever hit.
“We miss our Ma every day. She used to love having us all at home and when we were younger and away on tour she’d be delighted to have us back home.
“She used to be waiting outside the front door for us with our songs blaring out of the windows! All the neighbours would know that we were arriving.”
“It’s always nice to play on Mother’s Day because a lot of our fans are younger and were introduced to us through their parents, so there would be a lot of people in the crowd there anyway with their mothers. Ma heard us singing Sweet Sixteen and she said, ‘why don’t you record that?’ We said it’s not trad. She said it dated to Chicago after the famine’. She knew her stuff.”
The much-loved, much admired, brilliant, gracious, irreplaceable and very funny Professor Sir Terry Pratchett died, aged 66, on Thursday 12 March after many years battling Alzheimer’s Disease.
We have always been so proud that this Beaconsfield man who sold over 45 million books found time for Irish World readers. He loved Trinity College Dublin which made him a professor.
“My grandfather, I don’t think I ever knew his first name, was a Keane and I don’t know where in Ireland they came from but they came over with my mother when she was small. She used to tell me the stories that her granddad used to tell her and I think some of them have managed in curious ways to get into some of the books I’ve written. My mum would talk to me all the time. She thought talking to your kid was a good thing to do. I wish more mothers thought about that.”
Contrary to popular opinion, though, none of them were about Biddy Early but he told us he wished he had heard her tale earlier:
“I came up with a character called Granny Weatherwax (self appointed guardian of her country) and about a year later when I was in Ireland, I found the book called The Secretive Biddy Early and then I thought: ‘Bloody hell, I wish I had found Biddy Early before that because I would have made her even better. Biddy Early was very good.”
Although he affectionately lampooned university life his first experience of it was at Trinity: “Only in Ireland, would somebody make me a professor. It’s not really college life because I’m an ee- I was going to say an eejit professor, that would suit. It’s called an adjunct professor.”
Next: Check out our summer round up… summer 2015