Paul Healy’s Week

Saturday/Sunday

Social media and the newspapers have extensive coverage of Charlie Bird’s Croagh Patrick climb (credit to the Sunday Independent sub-editor who came up with ‘Peaky Blinder’ as a headline). No question about it, the former RTE reporter has shown tremendous courage in facing up to his diagnosis of motor neurone disease, and his subsequent campaigning/fundraising zeal has been remarkable.

  I do think it is also appropriate to acknowledge the many people suffering with this cruel disease who do not have the profile which Charlie has brilliantly used as a means to highlight motor neurone. But at the end of the day, Charlie had the determination, courage, will and generosity of spirit to use his relative celebrity status to selflessly highlight motor neurone and to raise funds – in the hope of ultimately easing the suffering of others.

  The scenes as Charlie reached the peak were extremely touching and powerful, and it was impossible not to feel great empathy and admiration for the man. I might add that his wife, Claire, has been a wonderful, dignified and supportive presence by Charlie’s side during his illness. She is heroic.

  Charlie Bird’s determination to realise his goal of climbing Croagh Patrick has been inspirational to observe. Well done also to the thousands of people – including many here in County Roscommon – who walked with him as part of the ‘Climb with Charlie’ campaign. As I write, it is estimated that over €2m has been raised for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and mental health charity Pieta.

Later on Sunday

There must have been balmy summer evenings in the Murtagh family garden when young Diarmuid let his daydreams push logic and credibility to the limit.

  He must, like most kids, have soloed past invisible opponents, dodged doomed tackles, then added some exuberant commentary in his mind before rifling the ball past a forlorn goalkeeper, the imaginary crowd erupting in a crescendo of noise around the Murtagh garden. Back to his homework then as the light faded…

  Sometimes, just occasionally, childhood daydreams merge with reality. Diarmuid Murtagh’s 71st minute goal today – which won the Allianz League Division Two title for Roscommon – has to be one of the greatest solo goals ever scored in top level Gaelic football.

  There were 70 minutes and 35 seconds on the clock when Murtagh received the ball, after typically sterling build-up play by Ultan Harney and Enda Smith. He jinks past the first opponent, then is forced wide as he rounds a second man. He swivels as he finally shakes that man off, now entering the business end of the pitch. Next, he solos, then drops the shoulder to evade another desperate tackler. Three men down. Seconds later, there are three Galway men on him, and Diarmuid finally seems to be running out of options. Yet he somehow avoids their collective clutches, wriggling free like an eel escaping an angler’s net…now he finesses the mazy run by retaining the composure to strike crisply and beautifully, an exquisite left foot shot arrowing the ball into the corner of the net. 13 seconds of brilliance. The stuff of (day)dreams…and no homework to be finished.

Still on Sunday

Kerry manager Jack O’Connor rarely allows a smile to escape in public (in fairness, he’s not the only GAA manager who seems determined not to give anything away on either the sideline or in media interviews). Today however, Jack was beaming and laughing during the final minutes of the Division One League final, a most unusual display of happiness and contentment which cannot be casually put down to the fact that his Kerry team were thumping Mayo (winning easily has never stopped him being deadpan before). I can only conclude that if Jack is smiling on this scale, the other counties should be worried!

Monday

He may be a neighbour (Mayo), a decent man too, and a calming (if dull!) presence after the chaotic Trump years, but US President Joe Biden has been very underwhelming since assuming office – and things aren’t likely to improve.

  Biden was disastrously wrong-footed over the botched withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, and there is nothing particularly noteworthy thus far about his leadership (admittedly, the circumstances are very challenging) in the face of shameful Russian aggression in Ukraine. And of course Biden continues to be prone to making verbal gaffes, while looking worryingly physically frail in his public appearances. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the presidency came about eight years too late for him.

  In yesterday’s Sunday Times, reporter Josh Glancy touched on these issues, not unreasonably speculating that a second Biden term – by the end of which he would be aged 86 – is surely unthinkable. A quote (on Biden) attributed to Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, is hardly reassuring: “He’s not senile, but clearly he’s losing a step”.

  Biden not seeking a second term wouldn’t necessarily leave the door open to vice-president Kamala Harris – who isn’t exactly excelling either – as she would probably be challenged for the Democratic Party nomination. If only on the basis of the maxim that possession is ‘nine-tenths of the law’, Harris is well positioned, but she’s not a shoo-in. Unless the Democrats steady their ship, they may be playing into the hands of a former host of ‘The Apprentice’ – a man whom readers may have heard of.

Tuesday/Wednesday

We should be very proud of our county, our area. Last weekend, our footballers excelled on the national stage, the men winning a sparkling encounter with Galway in Croke Park (which, in fairness, could have gone either way). Seamus Duke reports on pages 46 & 47, with some stunning images from our friends in Sportsfile. Meanwhile, I go on and on about Diarmuid Murtagh’s glorious goal in GAA Studio on page 43.

  While the men were gracing Croke Park, our ladies team finished strongly to cap off a terrific league campaign, defeating Wexford in Birr, and becoming Division Three champions in the process. Our report is on pages 44 & 45, accompanied by excellent photos by Michelle Hughes Walsh, which really capture the emotion and atmosphere.

  Meanwhile, the response locally to the Ukrainian crisis continues to showcase the generosity and good nature of people. On page 7 we report on a phenomenally successful ‘Ballygar to Ukraine’ project. This mirrors the tremendous community solidarity which underpins the success of the accommodation of Ukrainian refugees in Donamon.

  On Sunday last, our friends in the Roscommon Ploughing Association hosted the County Ploughing Championships, a welcome return after the anguish of the last two Covid-dominated years. Mick McCormack went along, not with a plough, but with his trusty story-telling, moment-capturing camera.

  Finally, planning continues for the annual Easter parades in Roscommon and Strokestown, and for the return of the County Fleadh (being held in Ballaghaderreen over the Easter). See today’s issue, and also our social platforms and next week’s issue for more.