50 reasons to love Ireland
We racked our brains for reasons why – despite the rain, recession and repression – we remain proud of our country. And here they are
1. Because we can find hope in bleak theatre . One of the best things about Ireland in recent years has also been the willingness to look honestly and unflinchingly at the (very) dark side of Irish life. How can you exorcise demons if you don’t acknowledge their existence? Ireland has become infinitely better at telling the truth about itself. Artists have been crucial to this process and none more so than Louise Lowe. The continuing Monto Cycle she has created with her collaborators in ANU Productions is brutal, confrontational and deeply uncomfortable in the way it explores the history of what was once Dublin's notorious red-light district. How could the excavation of prostitution, Magdalene laundries, a drug epidemic and sexual violence be one of the good things about Ireland? Because it is brave, serious and superbly done, making for some of the best site-specific theatre anywhere in the world.
– FINTAN O’TOOLE
2. Because we have style. Our stylists, fashion and costume designers are some of the best around, and we’re pretty good at mixing old-school materials of wool, tweed and leathers with contemporary pieces. While an over-reliance on the high street, along with weird copycat uniforms among certain tribes, thwarts general style on occasion, there’s an improvised individualism here, an off-the-cuff way we wear contemporary fashion. The key to style is not caring, and we’re pretty good at being blasé.
– UNA MULLALLY
3. Because of the Dublin Bikes scheme. It makes getting around the city easier than ever, and not just for tourists. It seems that so many improvements in infrastructure are made with tourism in mind, but for once we have a scheme that puts the residents first. With a €10 annual subscription and a pair of legs, the city opens itself up for exploring. Where previously, north and south were a day’s work each, now you can go from Portobello to Mountjoy Square and back again in less time than it would take to hop on a bus. Fresh air, exercise and feelings of smugness are the icing on the cake.
– ROSEMARY Mac CABE
4. Because of our conversation . Whenever I am somewhere else – and I am not just talking about China, where I’m living for a year – I miss the simplicity of conversation that we have in Ireland.
– DES BISHOP
5. Because we have our own superheroes now. We once relied on the Americans to invent Celtic-themed superheroes for us (Marvel Comics’ Shamrock is just one terrible example). More recently, however, Rob Curley cultivated a homegrown pantheon of mythically themed Irish superheroes called the League of Volunteers. Ireland also has some excellent offbeat comic-book creators such as Philip Barrett, Paddy Lynch, Cathal Duggan and Garret Shanley. You can find out about more of them by catching up with Liam Geraghty and Craig O’Connor’s Comic Cast podcasts at comiccast.com.
– PATRICK FREYNE
6. Because we have real heroes. People such as Andrew Madden, Dr Christine Buckley, Marie Collins, Michael O’Brien, Colm O’Gorman and, latterly, the Magdalene women, all of whom overcame decades of neglect, abuse, pain, and stigma to force the rest of us to look at what we were and might still be. But what they are most to be admired for is how, from such early privation, all have built successful lives for themselves and their loved ones.
– PATSY McGARRY
7. Because our roads are safer than at any time since the advent mass motoring. Even during the very worst years of the Northern conflict, you were far more likely to die or to be seriously injured in a car crash than from the effects of political violence. In the early 1970s, 600 people a year were losing their lives on Irish roads: an annual massacre that was largely avoidable but attracted nothing like the attention devoted to the Troubles.
Despite the far higher numbers of people driving today compared with the 1970s, 161 people died from crashes in the Republic last year: the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers fell. Of course, that’s 161 too many. But Ireland is now Europe’s sixth-safest place to drive, a vast improvement on past decades. You can reasonably conclude that there are hundreds of people walking around today whose lives were saved last year alone.
This should put our economic problems in some perspective. The breakthrough was a combined result of decisions deliberately taken by governments, State agencies, volunteer groups, the Garda, and individuals, all of whom can share the credit.
– FRANK McNALLY
8. Because we’re bringing our own bottle s. “It takes the sting out of a night out,” says Marianne Delaney, owner of Café Gusto on Washington Street in Cork, which joined the BYOB recession-friendly trend three years ago. With a meal costing no more than €10 per head, Delaney’s place – “Mediterranean with a sprinkle of local passion” – attracts “people who like to spend less but socialise more, often over food and wine”. Try also: Rigby’s, Upper Leeson Street, Dublin; Galway Arts Centre; the Leisureplex centres in Dublin.
9. Because of the hope, fun and empathy of our young. I see the world through my teenage daughters, and they see Irish society positively, in a way that my generation didn’t. They see the challenges of modern Irish life stoically – unemployment, emigration, trying to gain further education. ... What gives me hope in the work I do is watching how young people embrace life and find joy easily. They are open, they hug each other, sexuality is not an issue or barrier to life. People in their 20s are living life with a value system that has a strong and wonderful empathy.
– FIACH MacCONGHAIL, Director of the Abbey Theatre
10. Because you can take a wheelchair on to the beach. Until two summers ago, wheelchair users were not able to enjoy the beautiful beach in Kilkee, west Clare, as the vehicles are not designed for sand. Unless it’s a Deming De-Bug All Terrain BeachWheelchair, which looks like a cross between a noon buggy and four-wheeled ball-barrow.
The community wanted to support a project that was focused on changing perceptions around disability, and found the Deming wheelchair on the internet. This will be the third summer the wheelchair will be freely available on Kilkee beach. It offers a way of experiencing the pleasure of being on the beach in a way so many able-bodied people take for granted.
– ROSITA BOLAND
11. Because Ireland at the moment has a potential for greatness. “That possibility is there despite all its problems, foreboding and economic difficulties. There is still a residue of possibility. People feel part of something here, even if it is part of a problem. Most other nationalities don’t really feel that sense of home that we do. We are coming to terms with lots of issues in Ireland but I don’t know anybody that didn’t love being in Ireland, if only for a visit.
– MANNIX FLYNN , Independent Dublin city councillor and artist
12. Because of the bond we have with horses. Even the most unhorsey of Irish people have shown sympathy for the major victims of the horsemeat crisis: horses. The scandal has also finally alerted Government, authorities and the breeders to the ramifications of the indiscriminate pre-recession breeding that caused the surplus of horses in the first place. The Irish horse enhances Ireland’s international image; this vulnerable beast may now earn some much deserved respect and better standards of welfare.
– EILEEN BATTERSBY
13. Because of our cloudscapes. Okay, so they might dump large amounts of water on us – 141 millimetres so far this year if you live in Dublin; a whopping 353 if you're a Valentia islander – but with their kaleidoscope of moods and textures, from wispy to whimsical, scuddy to scary, Irish skies are a cloud-spotter’s paradise.
– ARMINTA WALLACE
14. Because we have rediscovered the run of ourselves. We are chastened, and nicer, since the recession has blunted the coarseness of the Celtic Tiger. Many of us are poorer, and angrier at the unfairness of a debt not of our making being foisted upon us and our children. But maybe we’re more considerate of others too, with a renewed appreciation of what’s important in life.
– DEIRDRE FALVEY
15. Because we can build beautiful modern neighbourhoods. The most depressing images of recent years have been of ghost estates, derelict building and empty apartment complexes. It’s even more frustrating when brilliant examples of modern neighbourhoods are sited next to the dingy ones.
The Grand Canal Dock area is an example of what can happen when architecture, planning, and a proper mix of business, leisure, entertainment and living space is worked out properly.
It is Ireland’s finest modern neighbourhood, almost living up to the digital images that preceded it, with rollerbladers leaping off benches, people brunching in waterside cafes and Facebook and Google mirroring each other across the water. Daniel Libeskind’s stunning theatre and Martha Schwartz Partners’ red light sculptures bring colour and style to the square.
There are newer developments too: a neighbourhood warehouse holding parties and installations, and The Marker hotel opening in April. Planners might have screwed up so many developments, but at least they got this one right.
– UNA MULLALLY
16. Because of our rainbows. They might be as common as chips, but people visit us to see them, and our emigrants miss them. We have ideal conditions: a mixture of sunshine and showers with the sun not too high in the sky, especially in the spring. The farther south you go towards the equator, the rarer they become. To see a rainbow, the sun has to be behind you with the shower in front of you. If the sun is more than 42 degrees above the horizon, no rainbow will be visible, which is why our position in the northern hemisphere is perfect. Double rainbows are common enough, but a rare triple rainbow over Shannon, in Co Clare, last November was remarkable enough for Met Éireann to issue a press release.
– KATE HOLMQUIST
17. Because of our Eurovision obsession. You say you’re not going to watch it. You say you haven’t watched it in years and that it’s not the way it used to be, but when May 18th rolls around, you’ll be glued to the Eurovision as well. Don’t feel bad. We all will. Although our Eurovision glory years might be behind us, and this year’s Irish entrant has average odds at 25 to 1 to win, the Eurovision is still one of the country’s annual talking points. Our obsession with the contest is here to stay.
– JASON KENNEDY
18. Because we are adventurous readers. It is fitting that a literary prize as wideranging and inclusive of foreign-language fiction in translation as the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award should have originated here. This year’s shortlist will be announced on April 9th, and it is fairly certain that librarians throughout Ireland have already been ordering many titles from among the 154 nominated books for readers. If the readers are keeping their local libraries busy, it is equally certain that the librarians are keeping their local book clubs well provided with choice. What makes the Irish reader special? He or she is just as likely to be reading a Polish classic, a contemporary German or French title, or the latest big US novel as works by Irish writers, who enjoy a loyal domestic readership.
– EILEEN BATTERSBY
19Because the greatest actor alive chooses to live here. Daniel Day-Lewis, the son of the undervalued Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis, could have located himself anywhere. He was raised in England. Los Angeles is closer to work and is less at home to blizzards. But for most of his career he and his wife, Rebecca Miller, have occupied a wind-blasted corner of Co Wicklow. The country can’t be quite as ghastly as we pretend if our Daniel, the only man to win three best-actor Oscars, continues to dwell on a patch of its damp soil.
– DONALD CLARKE
20. Because of the people of Ballyhea. For well over 100 weeks now, the people of the little village of Ballyhea, in Co Cork, have met every Sunday, marched from the church along the main road between it and Limerick and back again. Theirs is a dignified, persistent and good-humoured protest against the bailout of bank bondholders that has had such profound consequences for Ireland. Theirs is a voice from an Ireland that is not yet vanquished: an Ireland that values common sense and basic justice.
– FINTAN O’TOOLE
21. Because of our fashion designers. The Irish fashion scene is an innovative, vibrant and exciting place. Sorcha O’Raghallaigh (pictured) has dressed Lady Gaga; Natalie B Coleman has dressed Marina & the Diamonds; Emma Manley is a regular fixture on Irish red carpets, thanks in no small part to the championing by Aoibhinn Garrihy; Lennon/Courtney’s debut collection is selling at a ferocious rate; and Simone Rocha has become the name on everyone’s lips, with international publications such as Vogue and Elle exclaiming at her genius. It's a good time to be fashionable and Irish.
– ROSEMARY Mac CABE
22. Because it’s free to visit national museums and galleries. If you visit museums and galleries in other countries, you will have noticed that in most places you pay for the privilege, and often quite a lot. Against the odds, here in Ireland – and in the UK, thanks to some fierce lobbying by the late Denis Mahon – we’ve managed to preserve the right of free entry to a whole range of national and municipal institutions. To be able to visit at will, and linger in the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, the Limerick City Gallery, Sligo’s Model Arts, with its Yeats collection, and several more, is something to be savoured. Even more exceptional is that fact that many temporary exhibitions at these venues are also free; something virtually unheard of elsewhere.
– AIDAN DUNNE
23. Because we’re the most charitable country in Europe. Forget philanthropy: that’s for the cross-national, tax-efficient billionaires of the world. What the Irish have always been good at is old-fashioned charity, the kind that involves ordinary people digging deep in their pockets for people less fortunate than themselves. A report from the World Giving Index in 2012 showed that we were the most charitable European nation. Seventy-nine per cent of Irish people donated money to charity, an increase of 4 per cent on the previous year, and about 66 per cent of Irish people had helped a stranger in the month prior to being surveyed. We should feel proud about that, and should keep doing it.
– PATRICK FREYNE
24. Because we can share. There might be a lot wrong with Irish culture, but it has always had a sense of community and of the value of co-operation. Much of that may have been lost in the deluded boomtimes, but there’s an opportunity to recover it. The Clonakilty Favour Exchange is a brilliantly simple idea. People use a website to offer favours to neighbours – help with digging a garden, music lessons for a child, a lift to Dublin – for which they gain credits. These credits are then banked and can be used to pay for favours in return. It’s a lovely way of using contemporary technology to return to and to revive an older sense of co-operation. And it shows that there really is more to life than money.
– FINTAN O’T OOLE
25. Because new Irish bands are brilliant. There’s a reason touring bands like playing in Ireland. That cliché of Irish fans making great crowds is true.
But that energy has also been converted to the stage. Over the past decade, the interesting sounds coming from small venues, DIY recordings on laptops in bedrooms, independent labels, and collaborations between musicians have yielded an eclectic independent music scene with acts that can hold their own on a global scale.
Aside from internationally acclaimed and established acts such as Two Door Cinema Club, James Vincent McMorrow, Villagers, BellX1 and Lisa Hannigan, newbies are also getting a lot of attention. Little Green Cars are eyeing the US with Glassnote Records, home to Mumford & Sons, Phoenix and The Temper Trap. Kodaline’s deal with RCA also landed them on the BBC “Sound of 2013” list.
MMOTHS, a 19-year-old from Newbridge, was handpicked by The xx to support them on their UK tour. The Strypes have Elton John’s management company lending them clout. Soak, a 16-year-old from Derry, has press and fans alike entranced.
Third albums are due from And So I Watch You From Afar and Fight Like Apes, and Heathers are still basking in the glory of their second, as are Girls Names.
And that’s not to mention Le Galaxie, Young Wonder, New Jackson, I Am The Cosmos, Ships, Lisa O'Neill, Elaine Mai, Daithi, The Minutes, Jape, White Collar Boy, Ham Sandwich, Squarehead, Adebisi Shank, Delorentos: you could go on and on.
– UNA M ULLALLY
26. Because the feelings of community and caring are still palpable in Ireland. Last Saturday I was at my granddaughter’s confirmation. We sat there for almost two hours, with someone speaking to us from the altar, and not once did he mention mortgages, banks or bad loans. It was a blissful time, it was in a small town and and it was all about children who will grow up and hopefully have a wonderful life.
– ROSALEEN LINEHAN, Actor
27. Because we have an elected president we can be proud of. He writes poetry, he’s an intellectual, an embodiment of the centrality of culture, and politically engaged, on the side of the oppressed, to boot. In short, at a time when so many have behaved shamefully, Michael D Higgins is someone who holds our heads up high on the world stage, and shines a light towards a brighter future.
– DEIRDRE F ALVEY
28. Because of incredible talents such as Temper Mental MissElayneous. I saw this Dublin rap artist and poet at the launch of the young feminist group, the Y Factor, recently. It was one of those times when you realise you are watching a star. As a performer she was mesmerising, edgy and exciting. She moved like a boxer sometimes, or like a dancer, with a gritty grace. She played the bodhrán and performed a song she wrote for Katie Taylor. The audience was mostly filled with teenagers but she spoke just as eloquently to the fortysomething women in the audience. “She’s what I feel like on the inside,” one of them said, beaming. When I tried to sum her up later to a friend, I said, “She's like Yeats in Converse”. As long as this country is producing authentic artists with original voices like Temper Mental (aka Elayne Harrington) this is still a wonderful place.
– RÓ ISÍ N INGLE
29. Because we’re good at funerals. Who does funerals better than the Irish? Even when dealing with early death such as those of Páidí Ó Sé or Minister of State Shane McEntee recently, it was inspiring to see the way Irish people in both contexts gathered around the bereaved to give what little comfort they could. What was particularly moving was the sincerity of the grief. When funerals are due to natural death, it can be merry as well as sad. Tales told lighten the load on family and friends, as years of life are distilled into pithy quote or hilarious anecdote. In countryside, small town, big town or city, the kinship’s the same.
– P ATSY McG ARRY
30. Because being gay is no big deal. In a relatively short length of time, we have moved from being a society in which homosexuality was illegal, then legal but still taboo and hugely discriminated against, to one where, for most people, an individual’s sexual identity is seen as hardly a matter for comment, and certainly not for discrimination. Same-sex civil partnerships are accepted and celebrated, and the proposal for same-sex marriage appears to have widespread support.
– D EIRDRE F ALVEY
31. Because we now have more interesting gallery, studio, office and performance spaces. Painters, sculptures, writers, film-makers and musicians are now able to find places to work in a way they could not have afforded to during the property boom. This has led to great collective spaces in Dublin such as Moxie Studios, off Baggot Street, and the Joinery, in Stoneybatter. We should find a way to sustain them when the economy recovers and resurgent yuppies want to knock them down and build car showrooms.
– P ATRICK F REYNE
32. Because of our positivity. Whether standing at a candlelit pro-life vigil in Dublin last January, or standing on the medal podium in Budapest last December, that positivity made me thankful to be living in Ireland.
“The feelings of goodwill that emanate from athletes, managers and race organisers when I tell people I am from Ireland makes me proud and thankful.
“I am appreciative of the great country that I live in no matter how far I travel.”
– FIONNUALA BRITTON, Athlete
33. Because we’ve finally started to protest. When the Celtic tiger drew its final, exhausted breath, and our proud banks left us with their gambling losses, international commentators wondered why the Irish weren’t “out in the streets”. “The Irish,” the Guardian wrote in 2010, “prefer to vent their anger against the country’s multibillion euro bank rescue package by ringing up radio stations.” Well, Liveline may still be a repository of spleen but recently the Irish have started to organise: pro-choice and anti-abortion marches, property -tax protests and anti-austerity demonstrations. It’s hard to say what, if anything, this belated sense of righteous indignation will achieve. But, importantly, it gets a message across and maybe it brings it home to the country's elected representatives that ultimately they answer to the citizens.
– DAN GRIFFIN
34. Because there’s a small army of Irish artisan bakers. They’re prepared to invest the time, money and knowhow, not to mention all-night shifts, in pursuit of “real” bread. Bakers such as Patrick of Firehouse Bakery, Joe Fitzmaurice of Cloughjordan Wood-Fired Bakery, Vlad Rainis of Arun Bakery, Declan Ryan of Arbutus Breads, Robert Ditty of Ditty’s Bakery and Yannick Forel of Paris Bakery and Rossa Crowe of Le Levain are making breads to rival anything the French can produce.
– MARIE-CLAIRE DIGBY
35. Because, having lived all over the world, Ireland is home, and there is no place like it. “Schools and universities still produce our greatest asset: an educated people up for getting on. That has not changed. I detect a sense of optimism that we will pull through. I have even seen a property developer with a glint in his eye. Our situation is serious, yet we are not solemn. Ireland is at peace. For all that, I give thanks.”
– PAUL STAINES, aka Guido Fawkes, political commentator and blogger
36. Because at last we are a nation of feminists. The momentum of popular feminist thought and growing demand for gender equality across several realms is hard to avoid. Feminism is vital and cool again. Ireland might not necessarily be the best place in the world to be a woman for several reasons, but we are a nation of feminists, and the army keeps growing.
Several things have coincided to create a swell in feminist thought. One element is the general progression of women’s rights along with growing disgruntlement with gender inequality. Key issues such as gender quotas in politics, discourse around prostitution, poor representation of women in the media, the celluloid ceiling of women in film and the reproductive rights of women all bubble up to create a louder voice.
Second, the strongest female voices in popular culture are feminist ones: Tina Fey, Caitlin Moran, Lady Gaga, Lena Dunham and Tavi Gevinson. Women fulfilling subservient roles as glamour models and footballers’ wives have been sidelined.
Third, technology. Feminism 3.0, in which women create their own media, makes magazines that bang on about boyfriends and pricey handbags seem slightly ridiculous.
Better educated, party to global commentary, more travelled and informed, young Irish women will ensure they will live in a better and more equal society than their mothers did.
– UNA MULLALLY
37. Because we can leave it. With the advent of cheaper airfares, we can depart this island at intervals much more easily. And absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the horizons wider.
– D EIRDRE FALVEY
38. Because I can finally witness the church losing its vice-like grip on this State. I do not belong to any political party but it was gratifying to hear Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s criticism of the Vatican in the wake of the Cloyne report, and his public denouncement of the elitism, disconnection, and secrecy that dominate Vatican culture. More recently, I was struck by his heartfelt apology to the survivors of the Magdalene laundries.
– MICHAEL COLGAN, Director of the Gate Theatre
39. Because of Brian O’Driscoll. Is there a finer Irish sportsman? Even now, in the twilight of his brilliant career, he still puts his body on the line in every game. In victory, of course, but also in defeat, such as the games Ireland suffered recently against England and Scotland. And in the fractious post mortem after that Scotland game, who stepped in with a word to help save the coach, Declan Kidney, and the captain, Jamie Heaslip? None other than Brian O’Driscoll who, just weeks before, had been sacked as captain by Kidney. He has nothing to prove but he keeps on going. It is why he is our greatest player ever. Sadie did well in choosing her Daddy.
– PATSY McGARRY
40. Because our sports fans are among the best in the world. While the standards of our football and rugby teams may have declined slightly over time, the fans’ unwavering support and dedication haven’t.
Not everyone may appreciate our fans blasting The Fields of Athenry at the tops of their voices when our teams are suffering humiliating defeats, but sometimes it’s the closest thing to national spirit we have.
Whether they’re cheering Katie Taylor in the ring or the Irish rugby team at the Aviva Stadium, our fans will always do us proud.
– JASON KENNEDY
41. Because of Friday-night rugby at Ravenhill. Now there is something to cherish about modern Belfast. Supporters from all traditions and none, players from Ulster and far beyond, a ground fast developing into a modern sports arena and, above all, an atmosphere that welcomes all.
If you want to know what people mean when they call themselves “Northern Irish” rather than British or Irish, give Ravenhill a try some Friday.
– MIKE NESBITT , Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
42. Because of the new honesty. It has made vital changes and encouraged openness among abuse victims as well as those who did nothing apart from look the other way.
That enduring national stoicism and collective guilt complex shared by the innocent has been pushed aside as men and women have remembered their dead, previously forgotten mothers who paid a heavy price for being young girls in a misogynistic society. Victims are finally being listened to, respected and publicly asked for forgiveness.
The extraordinary contribution of the heroic Mary Raftery has been fundamental in helping Ireland to heal. Truth, as well as humour, will prove far more powerful in consolidating Ireland's self-belief than will any European bailout.
– EILEEN BATTERSBY
43. Because of Dublin’s free wifi scheme. Launched at the end of January, with 12 free hot spots and a download speed of 512kbps, this will revolutionise internet use. It creates spots around the city where tourists and Dubliners, if their phone contracts don’t already provide for data use, can check maps, train and theatre times, reply to emails and do whatever else it is you do online these days. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it is making life easier, and it’s free.
– ROSEMARY Mac CABE
44. Because we have wind. Ireland has one of the greatest wind-energy resources in Europe, and wind is now a major source of renewable energy production.
Proponents of wind energy reckon that, depending on weather conditions, we have enough wind to supply 1.3 million homes. There is a lot of concern, especially in the midlands, about the effects of a growing number of wind turbines. It has to be harnessed properly and fairly, but our windy weather has potential.
– DEIRDRE FALVEY
45. Because Ireland’s craft butchers are shining beacons of professionalism . . . and good craic too. James Whelan’s Wagyu beef raised in Tipperary, James McGeough’s air-dried lamb, Sean Kelly and Jack McCarthy’s puddings, James Nolan’s sausages and Jerry Kennedy’s Kerry lamb. All are outstanding in their field, and produced by men with real passion for what they do. Service with a smile, and never too busy for a chat, a joke, or a recipe suggestion.
– MARIE-CLAIRE DIGBY
46 . Because of Gaelic games. I played Gaelic football with a Chinese team the other day. I am thankful for the GAA, too, for something unique in terms of identity.
– DES BISHOP
47. Because we love it when astronauts tweet as Gaeilge . Last month Chris Hadfield made us feel fuzzy about ourselves when he tweeted a picture of Ireland from space and a message in Irish, “Tá Éire fíorálainn!” We were thrilled when the queen and the US president had a go at Gaeilge. And when we’re on holiday out foreign, our variable familiarity with our first language can be handy for private comments.
Mind you, we're not so enthusiastic about using Irish in daily life, despite almost 100 years of support and compulsory, often inadequate, education in the language. It’s that old love/hate doublethink thing we’re so good at.
– DEIRDRE FALVEY
48. Because of Donal Ó g Cusack. He’s an openly gay hurler at a time when the sporting world is still shamefully homophobic. He does things with style. Last year he gave an inspirational speech at the Foyle Pride Festival in which he said, “I’m a hurler. A goalkeeper. A GAA member. In Cork, though, I’d be kneecapped first for being a troublemaker who has organised a series of player strikes or for my short puc-out strategy, which in Cork is far more controversial than who I sleep with. And I’m an out gay man.
“For me that’s a small part of the deal. Half a chapter, maybe, in a lifetime’s story. But if out of curiosity you come to see me play and can’t pick me out because we all wear helmets, I'll be the one just in front of the loudmouth on the terrace with the megaphone. He’ll be singing, ‘He's gay/ he’s bent/ his ass is up for rent/ Donal Óg/Donal Óg.’ People around him will be looking embarrassed and I'll be staring up the field. Not giving a f**k.”
– PATRICK FREYNE
49. Because of our sense of humour. “I wonder whether Chinese people get as much of a laugh out of watching us do Kung Fu as I did playing football with them.”
– DES BISHOP
50. Because we’ve finally got some good news on the economy. Is the recession over and real recovery under way? We recently received what is probably the most encouraging economic news in half a decade. Quarterly employment and unemployment numbers for the end of last year, along with the jobless claimant count for February, suggest something approaching a tangible rebound is finally taking hold.
Having returned to Ireland less than three years ago after living in six countries over two decades, nothing has surprised this correspondent more than the politeness of Irish people. It has helped us come through the depression of the past five years when cleavages between old and young, Irish nationals and foreign nationals could have become much more divisive and nasty. We just might have survived the worst with our civility intact.
– DAN O’BRIEN