Thinking of loved ones: impact of emigration will be felt in many homes this Christmas

Our man Frank on thinking of the Irish diaspora at Christmas; JP McManus’ €1m donation to every GAA county board; And some musings on a sporting weekend which was elevated by hurling thrillers…

‘The curse of emigration, which had vanished here for years
Has come back to haunt our nation, bringing broken hearts and tears
And yes our hearts were broken, as our children they had flown                                        

And not a word was spoken on that lonely journey home’                                                    

Those were the words of a verse of a song that I wrote some years ago, called Dublin Airport, which Lecarrow singer Paschal Brennan recorded. I had forgotten all about it until we were clearing out an old sideboard recently (as we had to move it to paint the room). At the bottom of one of the drawers I discovered a couple of Paschal’s CDs. Not having heard the song for a few years, I decided to listen to it once more.

The funny thing is that as I listened to the words, I realised that despite the upturn in our economy in the last few years, the story of the song is still very much the same now as it was when I wrote it.

For those of you who have never heard the song (and that would be a lot), it was about the sad journey that a father and mother undertook to Dublin Airport, from where their two children, a son and daughter, were emigrating to Australia. In the words of the song, on the way home they realised they “might never see their darling kids again”.

As I thought about it, I began to see that our kids are heading off once again, mostly to Australia, but also to many other places around the world, and while this emigration may actually be by choice (as opposed to economic necessity) it still doesn’t change the fact that a lot of Irish homes will be missing some of their family this Christmas.

Out here in Creggs, at least a half dozen of the lads who played rugby with us last year are now living and working in Australia, while only a couple of weeks ago Carol’s nephew, Dylan, headed for Melbourne and for what is for him a new adventure.

As I write this, younger members of both mine and Carol’s families are in different places, including Melbourne, Vietnam, Sydney, America and London (and probably other locations too). While all are happily working and undoubtedly enjoying life, there is no doubt a lot of our youth will not be at home for Christmas and will be greatly missed.

And so, as a nation which has had so much experience of emigration – including some suffering – maybe we should try to welcome all of those who, for no fault of their own, through circumstances of war, terrorism or extreme poverty, find themselves relying on countries like Ireland to try to help them pick up the pieces of their broken lives.

After all, I often think, particularly in relation to our Ukrainian visitors, how would we cope if we were in their shoes? If you lost your home, your job, all your worldly possessions, and even your family, and had to go to a country where you didn’t know the culture or the language, how well would you survive?

Without the help and support of the local people, you wouldn’t have a hope – so surely we have a duty to help our unfortunate visitors make the most of their now very different lives.

Hopefully the airports here will be very busy over the coming days and a lot of our exiles will come home, but it’s safe to say a lot of them won’t make it home for Christmas. Indeed some might permanently base themselves overseas.

A few years ago I was in Hounslow in London where I met a couple of old men from Mayo who had gone to London in the early 1970s, intending to stay for a few years, save enough money to go home and buy a place to settle down in.
Almost 50 years later, neither had ever made it back, but they still clung to the dream of returning to their native sod before they passed on. We all knew it would never happen – which was very sad – but for them, the dream never died. I hope none of today’s emigrants will ever experience the same awful sense of hopelessness – here’s hoping that sooner or later all will make it home some day.

JP’s big gesture

It’s a very Happy Christmas for every GAA county board around the country, as they all come to terms with the €1 million donation received from JP McManus and his foundation.

Of course, as with all good things Irish, there are several Scrooges out there who don’t share the feeling of goodwill. Their argument is that McManus uses a completely legal loophole to avoid paying taxes here by basing the headquarters of his foundation in Switzerland, and providing he doesn’t live in Ireland for more than something like 160 days each year he effectively doesn’t have to pay any tax in this country.

Now as someone who paid tax on very small earnings down through the years, I can understand the annoyance felt over the fact that one of our richest men can avoid paying any here, but it’s not his fault that the loophole exists.

Despite all the pontification, I have no doubt that a lot of other extremely wealthy people do the same thing on the tax front. However, none of them that I know of give as much money as McManus does to all kinds of charities, and none of them have donated €32 million to the GAA.

I hope the distribution is done fairly and equitably and I guarantee that when Creggs GAA Club, and every GAA club in the country, receive their share of the windfall, no one will give a damn about JP’s tax affairs.

It’s easy to criticise him, but not many do anything resembling what the Limerick man has done this Christmas, and to many clubs all over Ireland he really is Father Christmas just now.

Well done JP, every GAA club is indebted to you. For small rural clubs, the struggle to keep going financially in 2024 now doesn’t look as hard a challenge as it did a mere week ago.

Sporting highs and lows

Our neighbours, Athleague, were unfortunate in losing their All-Ireland camogie final on Saturday against Armagh’s Granemore in Kinnegad. Hard luck to all involved.

Congrats to Laura Fleming who got married on Friday to Jonathan Mannion in Kilbegnet Church and then togged out and played for Athleague on Saturday.

No such problems for the girls from Kilkerrin/Clonberne as they won the All-Ireland Ladies Senior Football final for the third year in a row when they outclassed Ballymacarbry with an absolutely delightful display of all-out attacking football.

It reminded me of what a good game Gaelic football is when all the negative stuff is left to one side – inter-county men’s teams please copy!

It’s hard to believe it’s almost Christmas, because later on Saturday evening the hurlers of St. Thomas’ and Waterford’s Ballygunner served up a fantastic game of hurling which the Galway lads won on penalties.

The sheer ferocity of the exchanges had to be seen to be believed and I have to admit that the hangover I was suffering from disappeared totally when watching the enthralling action.

I don’t like to single out Premier League soccer, but I wish some of the superstars of that environment would attend an odd game of hurling and see what putting your body on the line really means. I can’t see too many of them swapping sports!

And finally…

It’s now Monday evening as I write – and only a week to the big day! As this is my last column for 2023 (thank God, says you) I want to wish each and every one of you a Happy Christmas and a peaceful, happy but above all, healthy New Year.

I hope to talk to you again in the New Year, but if Joe Brolly takes over from the Barstool Boyos on page 2, then maybe all of our days will be numbered – although after St. Brigid’s did a job on Joe’s dearly beloved guardians of positive football, Corofin, he might indefinitely postpone his imminent arrival to the People!

Until next year, peace, happiness and love to all.