I’ve worked with many who give their hearts and souls to improving the lives of the people around them, writes Fergus Finlay
So, who were your heroes and villains this year? What was the high point of the year? And the low? What made you happiest, or saddest?
I guess the answers are different for all of us. I started off thinking that I should attempt some political answers, or at least some newsy ones. It would be easy enough to work John Delaney or Dara Murphy into a few sarcastic paragraphs.
But the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t be bothered. Murphy would describe himself as a public servant, and Delaney sees himself as someone with a vocational commitment to football.
They’re gone now, and they’ve left tarnished reputations behind them.
To be honest I’d love to see a way to ensure that people like this, who talk the talk but don’t deliver, walk away with no money.
I’ve worked with public servants this past year whose commitment to the people they serve is beyond reproach.
I’ve worked with volunteers and board members and community representatives who give their hearts and souls to improving the lives of the people around them. So I’m not going to waste ink or effort on John Delaney or Dara Murphy.
If Santa asks me what I want for Christmas, I’ll tell him that there are two people who have walked into the sunset this year with an awful lot of money that is questionable whether they deserve it or not. If that money ended up, somehow or other, helping some homeless families to make a new beginning, I’d enjoy my Christmas with a heart and a half.
Instead of wasting further ink on these gentlemen, I’m going to tell you what made me saddest and happiest this year.
I lost my last surviving brother six months ago or so. (My mother had seven sons, and there were two of us left at the beginning of 2019).
I loved Hugo, at least in part because he was one of those people you couldn’t but love. He lived an awful lot of his life away from home, because he made his living as a seaman and then as an executive in shipping companies. So our relationship grew a lot closer when he came back to Ireland a few years ago with his wife Joan.
He had a habit, especially when he lived in Hamburg a few years ago, of giving me a ring when he was stuck in traffic on his way home from work. I still miss those calls.
I still have his number among the favourites on my phone, and I still find myself tempted to ring him for a chat.
I always felt, if ever I was in trouble of any kind, that Hugo had my back. And I hope he knew that I always had his.
I’ll raise a glass of wine to Hugo on Christmas Day this year. If I was ever any good at pipe-smoking, which I’m not, I’d smoke a pipe of plug tobacco — his favourite kind — in his honour. And I’ll think of someone who was full of integrity, full of humour and fun, and full of kindness.
My father, after whom Hugo was named, died in the 1980s, and there’s hardly a day when I don’t think of him. In the months and years to come there’ll hardly be a day when Hugo’s grin, and humour and warmth, don’t pop into my head too.
But it’s funny, isn’t it, how we draw solace and strength from the generations in our families. My missus and I (and by the way, last Sunday, we celebrated 47 years of her putting up with me) have five grandkids now (with the confident expectation of one or two more) and they are, each of them, an inspiration.
They’re all under strict instruction to call me grandad, because I always wanted to be one of those (there are unkind people who allege that I’ve had the demeanour of a grumpy old man since I was 12).
My wife, on the other hand, although she is proud of having grandchildren, will not tolerate the use of the words granny or grandma. “Frieda is good enough for me,” she has told them all. And Frieda is what they call her.
Carl and Toby are the youngest, although growing fast and furious. They spend most of their lives giving each other infections and giving their parents sleepless nights. But you can see the personalities oozing out of them. Carl talks 19 to the dozen, and Toby is still at what the experts call the pre-verbal stage. But when he wants to communicate with you, boy do you get communicated with.
And then there’s Ross and Katie and Mikey. Whereas Mikey deserves a column all of his own (and it still wouldn’t do him justice) and Katie deserves a movie (it would be a dance movie, one of the greats), Ross is the quiet one.
And he’s the oldest — he’ll be 12 in January. He does his talking on the field — the soccer field, the rugby field, the football field.
And now he’s doing it on the golf course. I like to think that when I’m really ancient, I’ll be pointing at the Masters on the telly and boasting to everyone I introduced that young lad to golf.
I had a voucher for Mount Juliet, where the Irish Open will be played next year, and in September I organised a fourball in Hugo’s honour, because Hugo loved everything about golf, except the golfing bit of it. Ross came, with his dad Tony, and my pal Myles, who was also a pal of Hugo’s.
I figured Ross would be intimidated. He’d never, after all, played a major championship course before. But he whupped us, every single one of us. And he played just like a young champion doing it.
And you know what? Watching Ross, the next generation of our family, playing so well and winning in memory of my brother, was my happiest day in 2019. The happiest day, because it was a moment I could see way out ahead, and there was nothing to be afraid of.
Anyway, if there is a time of year to think of these things, this is surely it. No matter what sadness has happened to you during the year, I hope you can smile at a memory that will grow warmer with each passing month.
No matter who has gone, I hope you can raise a glass of whatever works for you in their memory and their honour.
And whatever has caused you joy, I hope the memory doubles the joy tomorrow and all through the season. Put your arms around the ones you love, and have a very, very, happy Christmas.
I’ve worked with many who give their hearts and souls to improving the lives of the people around them