So another year has passed. It was a year that will not readily be forgotten. Islamic State extremist attacks in Belgium, France and Germany, the destruction of Syria, the ongoing refugee crisis and the rise of the right wing vote throughout Europe, the fallout from the Brexit referendum in June and the election of former Apprentice host, Donald Trump, as US President and leader of the so-called free world are just a few of the events which few of us could have foreseen.
Here in Ireland we have been relatively unscathed and the year will be remembered by many as one in which we celebrated the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. While many of the official state events were dominated by the Irish Army, Navy and the Air Corps – every man or woman who had a uniform was pressed into action – there were also a number of memorable events which could be described as citizens’ commemorations. The National Graves Association was to the fore with an enhanced Easter parade on Easter Sunday in Belfast and many other venues in the North and elsewhere. The pageant in Dublin on Sunday 24 April, the actual date of the Rising, was particularly successful. I met many there who were drawn from varying political stances but who came together on the day to witness the commemoration of the Rising on behalf of all the ordinary people of Ireland.
Gaelscoil Éanna produced a memorable re-enactment of the Rising with Ethan MacGiolla, as Pádraic Mac Piarais, giving a stirring performance as he read the Proclamation (in Irish). Another event which pleased me was the display of 1916 and War of Independence memorabilia in Gaelscoil Éanna, which attracted a large crowd. This was later exhibited in the Ambassador Theatre in Parnell Street, Dublin. The unveiling of the plaque at Whitewell Parade, home of Winifred Carney, the re-enactment of her life and a glowing tribute by TD Mary Lou McDonald also stand out in the memory. A visit to the GPO in February for the launch of the series of books ‘16 Lives’ was memorable as was a conducted tour of Dublin 1916.
In late October young members of the DUP joined party leader Arlene Foster on stage at La Mon Hotel to sing “Arlene’s on Fire”. Arlene joined in gleefully and showed considerable dancing skill. Have a look at it on YouTube.
Throughout the year great performers have left the stage: Alan Rickman, David Bowie, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, to name a few.
The year just ended wasn’t kind to the world of music but it wasn’t a great one for the boxing fraternity either. Muhammad Ali, the greatest fighter of all time, died from septic shock at the Osborn Medical Centre in Scottsdale, Arizona on June 3 at the age of 74. Just three weeks later one of Belfast’s best loved boxers, Freddie Gilroy, passed away at the age of 80. Gilroy won a bronze medal at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 and later as a professional held the British, Commonwealth and European titles. In July 2015, Belfast’s Carl Frampton was floored twice in his IBF super-bantamweight title clash in El Paso in by Alejaendro Gonzalez. Frampton got up to win a unanimous decision and is currently preparing for a rematch with Santa Cruz in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas later this month.
Two stalwarts of the GAA died towards the end of the year. Both were from Down. Danny Murphy was Secretary of Ulster Council and was one of the driving forces behind efforts to have new plans submitted for the refurbishment of Casement Park. Just two years ago, he attended with officials of St Enda’s GAC a meeting with senior Newtownabbey Council officials, impressing upon them the equality culture which the Council had not yet come to terms within enactment of its civic provision to Gaelic games. It reflects on the integrity of the legacy of Danny that since then grant applications submitted since have been considered equitably and fairly. Joe Lennon starred on the Down teams which won three All Ireland football titles in 1960, 1961 and captained the victorious 1968 team. Later he wrote two books on fitness and technique and was regarded as one of the forward thinkers in the development of Gaelic football. Well known handballer ‘Ducksie’ Walsh, just 50, took ill just after competing in a tournament in Cavan and died soon afterwards.
Earlier two past presidents of the GAA passed away within a week of each other. Jack Boothman beat Joe McDonagh for the presidency in 1993. McDonagh succeeded him in 1996. Boothman died on 10 May with McDonagh passing away ten days later. Boothman, from Blessington in Wicklow, pointed out that he was the first vet to hold the office but most people remember him as the first Protestant to do so. Despite having played rugby at school he was a traditionalist who opposed opening up Croke Park to other codes. McDonagh was a Galway hurler. He sprang to fame in September 1980 when Galway beat Limerick in the All Ireland hurling final. Afterwards team captain Joe Connolly gave a famous speech in Irish. McDonagh then took the microphone and had Croke Park spellbound as he sang ‘The West’s Awake’. When Gerry Devlin, former St Enda’s talented senior footballer and then senior football manager, was murdered by loyalists on 5 December 1997, Joe McDonagh attended the funeral in his role as GAA president. He spoke eloquently and was a source of great solace to the heartbroken family and distraught club members.
2016 saw the departure of some stalwarts of St Enda’s GAC. In January, long time member Danny Walsh died. Danny hailed from Strabane but had lived in Belfast from the 1950s when the club was founded. In June another Tyrone man was mourned. Castlederg’s Tony McGlinchey, who had been club president for many years, passed away. Tony had served as committee member, transport organiser, as well as team mentor. It was Tony’s dying wish that his remains would be brought to the club grounds before burial and a large number of members gathered to honour his wishes with club secretary Paul McKeown and chairman Stephen Jennings paying tribute. Later another former player and committee member, Kevin Duffy departed this world. Kevin, a member of a great GAA family, had also been a member of St Columba’s GAC and was held in high esteem.
What can we expect in 2017? The 11 judges of the British Supreme Court will soon give their ruling on whether Parliament has a say in the Brexit negotiations. Prime Minister Theresa May will be able (or not) to decipher her comment, “Brexit means Brexit”. BBC’s Spotlight presenter, Conor Spackman, left us with unforgettable images as he sat by a campfire feeding it £20 notes. My New Year resolutions include giving up playing whist as I want to steer clear of Trump. Happy New Year!