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The moments that make you proud to call Ireland home

Anyone fancy a good cry over #HomeToVote?

WE OFTEN HEAR the Taoiseach talking about how Ireland is the best small country in the world in which to do business.

Or TBSCITWIWTDB for short.

In the past year, Enda Kenny has been rejigging the slogan to tell us our island is actually now the best small country in the world in which to live and to grow old.

Jaded, our eye rolls almost audible, we dismiss the phrase as political jargon, manufactured to make us believe we’re all doing better. That we’ll all be grand, despite the money stuff.

While the guff doesn’t usually wash, there have been moments throughout the year – and some of them have been tough ones – which have made us sit back, survey the villages, towns and cities and think, ‘Do you know what, Ireland? You aren’t so bad really. You’ll do.’

Sharing our stories

We’ve always been storytellers, but this year our own stories really mattered.

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“I am a gay man, it’s not a secret but it’s not something that everyone would necessarily know, but it isn’t something that I’ve spoken publicly about before.

It’s not something that defines me, I’m not a half-Indian politician or a doctor politician. I’m not a gay politician for that matter, it’s just part of who I am.

Leo Varadkar woke the nation up on the morning of 18 January. In all sorts of ways. Speaking to Miriam O’Callaghan on her Sunday show, he not only spoke about being gay but he kicked off a year that would see the LGBT community embraced by the entire country in the most open, transparent and frank way: a popular vote to allow same-sex marriage.

It was the honest personal stories – and the positive reactions to them – of Varadkar, Ursula Halligan and more who got the nation moving in the direction of a massive, heartwarming Yes on 22 May.

Varadkar’s mother worried that he would be beaten up if he came out as a gay man. The actual reaction was wholly different. Instead, he made global headlines, inspired other gay people to have that conversation and received the most Irish of hugs from the general public. In the form of a running joke about his age.

#HomeToVote

We’ve always been homebirds, and this year we proved it. 

We listened to the stories but merely listening wasn’t going to be enough for the men and women across the country who wanted to be afforded the right to marry the person they love.

They weren’t let down. 

Not only did the majority of people currently living in the country turn out to vote Yes, thousands of others travelled from far and wide to tick that box, documenting their trip for all the world to see.

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It wasn’t just a hashtag, it was a movement. People often disenfranchised or disengaged with politics – and Ireland – were adamant they were going to have their say back home. 

They came from everywhere – the US, Canada, Australia, China and mainland Europe. They took pictures on trains, boats and planes so we could get misty-eyed at their efforts.

#HomeToVote trended worldwide, with 72,000 mentions in just 24 hours. It eventually got a prize spot on Twitter’s wall in San Francisco.

On 22 May, we all showed each other that there’s a fierce pride burning and a good heart bursting all over Ireland.

Outshining Ronaldo 

Our women have always been able to stand with the best of them.  

She eventually caught Ronaldo’s eye but Irish footballer Stephanie Roche was already in our hearts by the time her Portuguese colleague cottoned on.

Stephanie Roche with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi Source: Valeriano Di Domenico/INPHO

The striker was in good company on 12 January this year as she finished runner-up to James Rodriguez in the 2014 Puskas Award – FIFA’s prize for the best goal of the year.

Her stunning effort for Peamount United received 33% of the 3.3 million votes cast.

Not only did Roche wear the attention well, she used it to promote the game she loves.

Speaking to the late Johnny Lyons on 98FM, she said:

Women’s football is on the grow big-time and I’ve been lucky to be a part of it, but there is lot more to happen, footballers want to stay here (to play) and they need that professional element to stay here and hopefully the Women’s National League gets more professional, it gets more funding and more media coverage.

For one day only

A handy new reference point for the phrase ‘Only in Ireland’. 

Ecstasy. Magic Mushrooms. Ketamine. Not stuff to be messed around with.

But for one day only, Ireland made them legal.

It wasn’t for the craic – although we did get that out of #YokeGate – but because of a complex decision in the High Court by Justice Gerard Hogan on 10 March.

In a brilliant document (seriously, it’s a great read) running to 30 pages, he explains why he took the decision while knowing full well what it would do.

As a result, our politicians had to enact emergency legislation as soon as possible and send spinning ministers out to convince us that possessing some of the 100 drugs just legalised could still land us in trouble.

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But to get into the nitty gritty for a moment, it also showed us that an important part of our Constitution works.

The separation of powers between those who make laws (the Oireachtas), those who govern (the executive) and those who judge people deemed to break laws (the judiciary) is the cornerstone of our society. Each branch has its own specific and separate job.

With his ruling, Hogan made it very clear he knew the gravity of his decision – showing those in Leinster House that the separation of powers is important and not to be messed with. Basically, the judge gave a judicial death certificate to a specific section of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1997 because it failed what is called the principles and policies test. The lawmakers erred, so their law was made impotent.

Not only was it arguably the most interesting story to break this year, it was one of the most read on TheJournal.ie.

It was also just best of times, etc.

A talented bunch 

Sure, we’ve always been an island of artists and scholars. 

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As our arts writer Aoife Barry said back in October: The Irish film industry is having a Hollywood moment.

And those of us looking on are so proud of the achievements, we get really, really mad when other people try to claim them as their own. As the London Film Critics Circle found out the hard way with their annual awards.

There is serious Oscar buzz around Saoirse Ronan for her role in Brooklyn, especially now that she’s got the Golden Globe nod. Meanwhile both the beautiful county of Kerry and Colin Farrell look and are just deadly in The Lobster.

There’s more.

On top of that, we have Brendan Gleeson starring with Meryl Streep in Suffragette, and Room, an adaptation of a book by Irish writer Emma O’Donoghue, killing it at the US box office and in the critics’ eyes. That’s all without even mentioning Michael Fassbender’s current domination.

“It’s a long time coming,” Grainne Humphreys, director of Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) told us. And it’s not due to stop any time soon either.

There are 26 new films coming out in 2016. And maybe a golden statue or two.

Celebrating our own

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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From noon to 1pm on 11 March, TodayFM played non-stop music. There were no live voices because nobody knew what to say.

The station – Tony Fenton’s home for more than a decade – was in shock. News of the popular DJ’s early exit from this world, aged just 53, had stunned the newsrooms and studios.

It wasn’t long until the tributes began to flow and the stories were recalled. Listeners remembered homework assignments left undone as winning on the Hotline became way more important.

Others had fond memories of his pirate radio days with Ian Dempsey, Brendan O’Connor and Marty Whelan.

He never changed. The last time you heard him on air could have been the first.

Friends from the airwaves gathered to confirm that Tony was as we heard him. Fun, never in bad form, the DJ’s DJ, larger than life and full of cheesy one-liners.

Mario Rosenstock described that shocking moment in TodayFM.

The station’s staff members had “stood out there totally silent… the whole station has been standing out there for 45 minutes to an hour because… they all love him. Everybody loves him. Everybody is hugging each other”.

As the nation mourned a man who had been welcomed into kitchens and bedrooms right around the country, we showed what it is to come together to celebrate a life.

Source: Today FM/YouTube

Just two months later, on 25 May, the broadcasting world and the watching public were hit with a similar feeling.

The incomparable Bill O’Herlihy had died suddenly. Again, we exchanged memories, shed tears and praised his 49-year work portfolio across 10 World Cups and 10 Olympic Games.

But mostly, we celebrated ever having known him. The joy of liking someone – nay, loving someone – in that distinctly Irish way, as summed up perfectly by Roddy Doyle.

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Everyday heroes

“Any garda would have acted in the same manner.” – Garda James O’Donoghue 

As an organisation, An Garda Síochána don’t always get credit for a job done well. But following the conviction of murderer Graham Dwyer, the force were rightly praised across the country.

Many of the accolades were reserved for one garda – Wicklow’s James O’Donoghue – for the pivotal role he played in securing justice for Elaine O’Hara. The 36-year-old woman had gone missing in August 2012. Thirteen months passed before any developments were reported.

On 13 September 2013, her remains were discovered in the Dublin mountains. But three days earlier, a discovery in Vartry Reservoir and the subsequent determined work of Garda O’Donoghue became invaluable in the search for the truth about what happened to Elaine.

On that day, three fishermen pulled a rope, handcuffs, a ball gag, blindfold, vest, bondage cuffs and a hoodie. The find played on William Fegan’s mind so he returned to the scene the following day and brought the items – which they had originally left on the bridge – to Roundwood Garda Station. Luckily, he handed them to O’Donoghue.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Plagued by a nagging feeling that everything wasn’t right, O’Donoghue visited the reservoir on the 12 September. It would be the first of three visits over the next five days. His first two visits yielded no success. On the third day though, better weather conditions allowed him spot a set of keys in the water. Attached to them was a Dunnes Stores loyalty card. O’Donoghue brought that to the retailer.

The next day, they returned with the name Elaine O’Hara, a name matching the childcare worker whose remains had just been found.

The reservoir was then sealed off as a crime scene and, crucially, mobile phones linked to Graham Dwyer were discovered.

The judge in the case said that the Dublin architect almost carried out the perfect murder, making it look like a suicide. That may have been the case if not for the gut instincts, dedication, persistence and meticulous work of Garda James O’Donoghue and his colleagues. They brought comfort to the O’Hara family and gave the public confidence in the people tasked with protecting them.

Being and loving the underdog

We’re all part of Jackie’s army. We’re all off to…. 

Remember Paul Dunne?

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The 22-year-old Greystones golfer wowed the crowds at St Andrew’s during The Open in July going into the last day as joint-leader.

It was an incredible feat from the then-amateur, and the whole country got behind him.

And although he didn’t quite pull it off, he has since gone pro and continues to represent.

As special as that week was for Irish sport, there were better days yet to come.

The usually-embattled soccer team only went and beat the World Champions and did what they needed against Bosnia & Herzegovina over two legs to qualify for Euro 2016. There were scenes almost reminiscent of Italia ’90 in Dublin, Eamon Dunphy was reduced to near-tears and we think this headline sums from The42′s Eoin O’Callaghan sums it up.

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Sports fans don’t need to be told about its potential power, its ability to unleash a wave of happiness like a drug-induced euphoria. But it takes a very special moment for it to infect more than just those on the stands. For it to touch those who still think football is just 22 players chasing after a pigskin.

O’Callaghan writes:

The wonderful thing about sport is that it’s a reflection of something bigger. Work hard and you’ll get there in the end. Make mistakes and you’ll get punished. And it’s much easier to accomplish great things if you have others around you – inspiring you, driving you.
What made the Charlton era so special was that it was about so much more than just a football team. It was a representation of where the country was at the time. A small, brilliant place filled with character and life and energy and aspirations that was bursting at the seams. It was ready for something bigger, ready to take off and show off.

It’s been a long time since those heady days but the boys in green had us singing on the streets again, a feat more powerful remembering the win against Bosnia came just days after the world sombred after the Paris attacks.

Sport brings us inclusive and powerful experiences. And Irish people know how to savour them.

Pulling together when we need each other

“It’s such a sad time, I feel it all over the country.” – Enda Kenny, 19 June 2015

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Anybody under the age of 40 saw themselves in the photos, pictured their friends on the balcony. Parents imagined their own children.

The six students killed when a balcony collapsed in the Californian apartment complex they were spending the summer in were, as Minister Jimmy Deenihan put it “not just a loss to their families, but to the future of Ireland”.

Niccolai Schuster (21), Eoghan Culligan (21), Eimear Walsh (21), Olivia Burke (21), Ashley Donohoe (22) and Lorcan Miller (21) were celebrating a 21st birthday party on 16 June 2015 when the tragedy unfolded. Another seven were severely injured in the fall.

As the immediate families dealt with devastating loss and catastrophic injuries, wider Ireland went to work.

Online fundraising campaigns were set up, books of condolences opened and diplomatic teams engaged to ensure the easiest path home for victims and families.

The compassion shown even by large firms highlighted how Ireland was really coming through for those affected by the events in Berkeley. Aer Lingus were commended for all they did for the families who had to endure that unthinkable journey to California to bring their children home.

But mostly, Ireland didn’t just pay attention to how these young people died. The country listened to their family, friends and communities as they told us about their lives.

We found out that Eimear was a kind-hearted, fun-loving and confident 21-year-old. When she was determined to do something, she made up her mind to do it: she passed her driving test in “as quick a time as humanly possible”.

Eoghan, a St Mary’s student and former Ballyboden St Enda’s player, was “beautifully strange, always up for a laugh, weird and wonderful”. He was in love with his girlfriend Sarah, best friend to Jack and Ross and “translator, sense-maker, peacemaker and wiser brother” to Andy and Steve.

Olivia and Ashley, cousins separated by an ocean, were best friends and soulmates.

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Niccolai, also 21, was a mad Bayern Munich fan and loved the horses. He was also fond of the odd Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Mi-Wadi.

Lorcán sent a lovely postcard to his little siblings just before he died in California. He told them about the restaurant he was working in – Bubba Gumps – and how they should watch Forrest Gump.

With these ordinary but beautiful details, Ireland embraced Niccolai, Eoghan, Eimear, Olivia, Ashley and Lorcan. We tried to help – in our own little ways – the young men and women who lost friends in the most unbelievable of ways.

Speaking at a memorial in UCD, chaplain Fr Leon Ó Giolláin said people gathered to express their sorrow, share the pain and seek comfort in solidarity.

There is no quick fix, he said, but:

When we are faced with appalling tragedy, our common humanity and the best of it bursts forth like a spring in a desert place.

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