Paul Healy’s Week


Man visits Ireland
Probably because I haven’t been enthused by him (that and my growing cynicism), I watched very little of the early days of President Biden’s much-hyped visit to the island. But that would change…

Certain colleagues in the media were of course extremely excited with the circus, sorry, visit, breathlessly commenting on every tiny detail, some even shamelessly lining up for a selfie with the celebrity visitor! Eamon Dunphy’s ‘fans with typewriters’ phrase came to mind.

By Wednesday, it was getting hard to avoid ‘Biden in Ireland’. Even though it’s our busiest day in the newspaper, I caught glimpses of a soaked US president and a beaming Micheál Martin as they traversed County Louth. The rain was mercilessly bucketing down, but nothing could dampen Micheál’s joy.

To be fair to Biden, he was sure-footed during the week when addressing the delicate issue of the non-performing Northern Ireland Assembly (his visit coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement).

Last night, President Biden had the Irish rugby team beating the Black and Tans in 2016, instead of the All Blacks. The media pounced on that, gleefully reaching for the ‘gaffe’ word. Silly stuff. Anybody could make a slip like that, particularly on a long, lousy day in Louth.

This evening, I watched RTE’s live coverage of Biden’s address to the Houses of the Oireachtas, and a fine occasion it was. I was in that upstairs gallery myself only a few weeks ago, surrounded by some West of Ireland media colleagues. This evening, ‘our’ seats were taken by Gerry Adams, Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny (quite the trio).

As for President Biden’s speech, it was well pitched, with glowing praise for Ireland, much talk of the enduring strength of the Irish-US relationship, and emotional references to his own Irishness and the sense he had of ‘coming home’.

Biden received a standing ovation from the TDs and Senators. As the applause continued – the Oireachtas members suitably star-struck – the president made his way to the upstairs gallery and had a brief word with a number of guests, including former Irish president Mary McAleese, and the aforementioned three wise men (Adams, Ahern and Kenny).

As he began to descend the stairs, President Biden got to meet Deputy Robert Troy. Naturally, Senator Donie Cassidy was also circling.



In praise of Joe…

Today was a great day for our neighbours as President Biden made it home to Mayo. I still don’t rate Biden a great president, but he’s winning me over on a personal level. He has impressive stamina, and much more charm than I thought. And could anybody speak with such emotion, love and pride about Ireland and their Irish roots, and not really mean it?

Most of all, I find myself admiring Biden’s decency. And I have to admit it really is a very big deal that the occupant of the White House – the so-called ‘most powerful man in the world’ – is giving of himself so much to Ireland, to the memory of his ancestors, to our nation and people, and what we stand for.

It’s evident that this trip has genuinely been very emotional for Biden, that it’s really personal. He is clearly incredibly proud of his Irish roots, and of Ireland.



Ryan of the Rovers

The American president’s visit to County Mayo was very positive. Traditionally, Ballina isn’t spoken of in the same breath as Westport or Castlebar, but Fiona and I discovered many years ago that it’s a lovely, friendly town with great character. Jack Charlton fell in love with it too.

It was nice, post-Bidenmania, to enjoy the weekend sport. On the couch, of course. On Saturday, Manchester City closed in on Arsenal at the top of the Premier League. Next day, Arsenal wobbled ominously, losing a 2-0 lead when coasting against West Ham (it ended 2-2).

Meanwhile, reports that Ulster football is prone to being negative, cynical, boring, etc. may have been greatly exaggerated. On Sunday, a great contest between Monaghan and Tyrone had us on the edge of our…er, couches. With Tyrone ahead by one point and time almost up, the previously unknown Ryan O’Toole went all Roy (Ryan?) of the Rovers. Where most would have gratefully pointed an equaliser, O’Toole had the audacity to shoot for goal. Fortune favoured the brave.



EastEnders update (again)

Many years ago, we lived in a village in the west of Ireland that (when I look back now) reminds me quite a bit of EastEnders (BBC).

I remember thinking it was an odd place. Behind the curtains of each village house or apartment, scandal rested uneasily, waiting to be exposed. The locals snarled a lot. A bald guy with a chip on his shoulder was running a garage, but did very little business. I think that was down to the fact that every time a customer popped in, the owner emerged from the shadows brandishing an iron bar.

The café, launderette and hairdressers were all hotbeds of gossip. The local pub was never dull; there were stand-up rows most evenings.

We got used to the kidnappings, double crossing, extortion, etc., but when the murders started we began to think about moving out. A few locals came to unpleasant ends. It was bad for morale.

Every Christmas Day you could be sure there would be a major flare-up somewhere in the village, meaning the Garda cars invariably whizzed into ‘town’ just as everyone was sitting down for Dinner.

In a desperate attempt to create some community spirit, we started a village market, but nobody ever bought anything. Plus, there was tension when various stall holders suggested having a drink in the local “later” – without ever mentioning a meeting time. That fell flat.

It got weirder. Every evening at around 8.30 some dramatic (‘Doof, doof’) music filled the air, and the locals just stared into space, briefly.

The murders continued, so we approached the local solicitor to see if anything could be done. Immediate conflict of interest: it turned out that he was the murderer.

In the end we just packed our bags and left. In fairness to the locals, they all came out to see us off in the village square, staring blankly into space as we looked back through the rear window of the taxi…