Michael Clifford's A to Z of 2019

Michael Clifford looks back at the year that was.

Michael Clifford's A to Z of 2019

A – Album of the Year

The name is Kiwanuka, Michael Kiwanuka.

Prior to this year, this 32-year-old musician would have been best known for his song ‘Cold Little Heart’ on the Netflix series Big Little Lies.

He also had a cameo on Danny Boyle’s tribute to the Beatles music, Yesterday.

Kiwanuka is the London-born son of Ugandan parents who spent his early adulthood as a session musician before doing his own thing.

In September, he released his third album, Kiwanuka.

Album of the year in the A-Z compiler’s humble opinion.

B – Byrne, Gay

The news filtered through on the afternoon of November 4. Gay Byrne was dead at 85.

His illness was well known and he was no spring chicken, but for anybody over 40 it was difficult to fathom.

For 37 years, he had hosted RTÉ’s flagship TV show and, for much the same span, RTÉ Radio’s mid-morning programme.

He was an excellent broadcaster whose status was elevated further because of his timing.

He arrived when TV was a pup and was at the helm of debate in a country that had a lot of catching up to do.

He was uniquely at home with heavy current affairs or light entertainment and had that most vital broadcaster’s tool, a good ear.

Such was his timing and excellence that RTÉ has been valiantly trying to replace him ever since, but it can’t be done.

Byrne’s impact on the country was summed up two years ago on radio by poet Brendan Kenneally: “You encouraged Ireland to open up, to face the ghosts of darkness, let them rip, express the secret heart in sun and ice and rain. You gave us words, ideas, music, song. Often you made us laugh out loud and long. Beneath it all, you searched for what is true.”

C – Crown, The

The third series of the saga of the British royal family began in November.

The great mystery is the popularity of a series about the royal family in this decidedly Republican jurisdiction.

The new series, by general consensus, did not live up to expectation or the standards of the first two.

One reason for this is possibly the closer it comes to modern day, the less artistic licence that can be taken.

Still, the latest season did introduce new actors in the roles of Queen Elizabeth II and her wayward sis, Margaret, respectively Olivia Coleman and Helen Bonham Carter.

The big plan is for six seasons, but at this rate the makers might want to take another look at that schedule.

D - Direct Provision

The system of housing asylum seekers was rarely out of the news during the year, which marked the 20th anniversary of its introduction.

In that time, more than 64,000 people have passed through the system.

Currently, there are about 6,000 living in 37 centres across the State.

A number of protests took place during the year against the proposed siting of a new centres in various towns.

The most prominent of these was in Oughterard, Co Galway, in September where locals mounted a picket at the former hotel earmarked for asylum seekers.

At a public meeting to discuss the proposal, Independent TD Noel Grealish referred to asylum seekers as “spongers”, setting off a political backlash.

Yet, within weeks, the plan to locate the centre in the town was abandoned.

There has been constant speculation that nascent extreme right-wing individuals have been able to infiltrate protests but this has been consistently denied.

As of now, the system is destined to remain in place, but pressure to ensure that living conditions must meet the most basic standards is bound to continue.

E – European Elections

The European and local elections took place on May 24.

Sinn Féin lost two of its three seats in this jurisdiction and the Green Party picked up a couple of seats.

These changes reflected the contrasting fortunes of both parties, but there is caution as to whether this is a harbinger for next year’s general election.

The other big news was the victory for the Bonnie and Clyde — or should that be the Torvill and Dean, or maybe Kelly and Astaire — of Irish politics, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace.

The duo from the Independent Alliance contested seats in Dublin and Ireland South respectively, and both won comfortably.

Daly’s victory was widely predicted, but Wallace’s wasn’t.

Their respective elections robs national politics of two individuals, who, in their own unique styles, had a major input into holding government to account since 2011.


On St Patrick’s Day, the reign of King John began to unravel.

The Sunday Times published a story that FAI chief executive John Delaney had the previous year given a loan to the association.

On the face of it, close but no cigar.

Except Mr Delaney went to great lengths, including a last-minute injunction appeal, to stop the story.

A thread was pulled that day.

There followed a drip, drip of revelations about the extent of the damage that had been done under Delaney’s rule of the association.

By December, the financial mess the FAI was in was finally revealed by the Government, insisting there will be no bailout.

In 2014, when Johnny boy ruled the roost, the Sunday Independent made an online documentary about him entitled John The Baptist.

The great and the good worshipped at his feet, including Denis O’Brien, who told the programme: “John Delaney could run anything. John Delaney could run Uefa easily.

"He could run Fifa as far as I’m concerned, certainly better than Sepp Blatter, and more honestly.”

G – Grace, Brendan

The funnyman died on July 9.

His death would have been deeply mourned by the wider community beyond his family at any time, but there was special poignancy in this.

Grace had, until days before his end, been involved in a warm and gentle TV documentary in which he was promoting a choir for people with dementia, the Forget Me Nots.

The doc went out as scheduled in September, transmogrifying into a warm tribute to the deceased.

H – Hong Kong

The protests began on June 9. At issue was a new law that allowed for extradition to the Chinese mainland.

The protestors feared that this would interfere with judicial independence and crush dissent.

Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 but has since enjoyed certain autonomy and rights which are denied those in mainland China.

Pretty soon the protests were met on the streets of Hong Kong by pro-government protests, and police violence.

By September, the Hong Kong legislature had withdrawn the extradition bill but the cat was out of the bag.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has warned against any push for separatism in Hong Kong, saying any attempt to divide China would end in “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder”.

The protests are taking place against a background where some democracies — including the US — are drifting towards autocratic rule.

In Hong Kong, they have lived under a form of benign autocracy for over twenty years and they’re getting nervous.

Lessons to be learned.

I – Irishman, The

“It is what it is.”

So went one of the best descriptions of a contract killing, issued by Joe Pesci’s character in this, one of the best movies of the year.

They came together for one last hurrah, Scorcese, De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci.

The movie is thoroughly modern in that it was financed by Netflix and uses technology to de-age the septigenerian stars over the course of the three-and-a-half hour reel.

The Irishman is based on a death-bed memoir of Irish-American hitman Frank Sheeran, who claimed he was the man who shot union leader Jimmy Hoffa, a crime that sits just below the assassination of JFK in terms of American conspiracy and folklore.

It’s definitely worth a watch, particularly as it’s now on Netflix, where it popped up four weeks after its cinema release in October.

Hot tip for the Oscars, with the most likely gong going to Pesci for a career defining role.

It is what it is. The movie, that is.

J – Julian Assange

Remember him? On April 11, the Australian founder of Wikileaks was ejected from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had been living for eight years.

Assange had sought asylum there after attempts to extradite him to Sweden on charges of sexual assault.

He claimed the changes were trumped up as a ruse to make it easier to extradite him to the USA.

Assange’s work had exposed American foreign policy, particularly in Iraq, in all its gore and torture.

Since April he has been held in Belmarsh prison in London, initially serving a sentence for skipping bail and now on remand awaiting a hearing on a US application to extradite him. His health is seriouslydeteriorating.

“He’s locked up twenty two or three hours a day,” his father John Shipton told the Irish Examiner on a visit to Ireland in September.

“Because those in it [the prison] are treated like terrorists, that’s what Julian is being subjected to.”

K – Katie Taylor

On November 2, the Wicklow fighter became a two-weight world champion when she defeated Christina Lanardatoue in the Manchester Arena for the WBO junior welterweight title.

She added this to the lightweight titles she retains and has now gone 15 fights undefeated since she began her professional career in 2016.

“Thank you so much for your support,” she said after the Manchester win.

“Making history again, breaking boundaries again. I’m a two-weight world champion and the best is yet to come.”

L- Love Island

In terms of reality TV dross, this is about as low as you can go. Young men and women are placed on an island.

They couple, they decouple, the audience sees how they get on, who is likeable, who is not, who is likely to get into bed with whomever else.

Irish TV has not sunk to that level yet, but interest in the fifth season of Love Island last May and June was feverish because of two of the contestants.

Maura Higgins from Co Longford was one of the favourites because she got on with so many of the islanders, but Greg O’Neill, a former rugby player from Dublin, emerged as the male half of the winning couple.

Both Maura and Greg were over there representing d’oul country and it was only massive.

When it was all over, they both came home to heroes’ welcomes.

Their achievements were spoken of in some quarters in the same breath as those of Katie Taylor and the fabulous O’Donovan rowing brothers from Skibbereen.

Truly, the world has gone mad.

M – Meat protests

The pickets began on July 28 at the gates of ABP in Cahir Co Tipperary.

Those picketing did so under the banner of the Beef Plan Movement, a group that might be described as the continuity Irish Farmers Association.

Their beef is with the meat processors and retailers, who they blame for the low prices paid to farmers.

By August 9, the meatindustry agreed to sit down for talks. An agreement of sorts was reached, but many farmers remained unconvinced as to the outcome.

A second wave of protests began in early September.

The culmination was a tractor rally in the centre of Dublin which began on the evening of November 26. It brought the city centre to a standstill and rural Ireland to the townies.

One farmer stood on his Massey Ferguson and addressed the assembled.

“We need every man and woman here to get on the phone, to get everyone that they can, every tractor that they can,” he said.

“We are not backing down. Get on the phones. We’ve started this and we’ll finish it.”

They did finish it the next day after further reassurances that their grievance will be examined in detail.

The issue appears on one level intractable but for many is a symbol of how some sections of society are being left behind while others thrive in the current economic climate.

N – Nancy Harris

It was good year for this young Irish, London-based playwright, the sharpest around at the moment.

In the autumn, she had two plays opening in Dublin and London simultaneously.

The Beacon had the pulse of a murder mystery in a very Irish setting while Two Ladies focused on two first ladies, from the US and France.

“Plays are kind of cool now,” Ms Harris told the Irish Times in September, “which they really, really weren’t when I was in Ireland. There was no interest.”

O – Old order consolidating

Tipp came back to win their first hurling all-Ireland since 2016 with performances that rarely dipped below captivating.

In men’s football, Dublin continued the county’s march towards world — yes, world! —domination, winning a historic five-in-a-row football titles.

Debate has raged as to the advantages enjoyed by a city state where Gaelic games are now mass participation sports.

On November 30, the rest of the country breathed a sigh of relief when Jim Gavin announced he was handing back the reins of the team to the county board.

Those who grasp at straws are hoping that in the absence of Gavin’s shaman like presence the dubs will slide.

Keep dreaming. Or praying.

Dublin also won the ladies title to complete a three-in-a-row and Galway won the camogie championship.

P – Paris trial

On May 27, Ian Bailey went on trial — in his absence — at the paglias de Justice in Paris for the murder of Sophie Toscana Du Plantier.

Ms Du Plantier’s badly beaten body was discovered on December 23, 1996.

Mr Bailey had been a suspect but the DPP repeatedly ruled there was insufficient evidence to bring him to trial.

The French do things differently. Under an ancient law concerning the deaths of French citizens abroad, they put him on trial.

Over five days, the trial developed into something of a farce.

French detectives gave opinions that he was guilty which was recorded as evidence.

One friend of Sophie’s gave evidence that, 20 years after the killing, she remembered something Sophie had told her about an Englishman in the weeks before her death.

Just two witnesses from west Cork gave evidence. Others were asked at short notice to appear at the trial.

Mr Bailey was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

His extradition was requested — for a third time — three weeks after the trial ended.

He was arrested on December 16 and bailed after the High Court endorsed an arrest warrant.

Q – Quinn Industrial Holdings

On September 17, Kevin Lunney, an executive with Quinn Industrial Holdings, was kidnapped near his home in Derrylin Co Fermanagh.

He was brought across the border and badly beaten by a gang who told him to resign his position in the industrial company.

The incident was the latest, and by far the most serious, in what appears to be a campaign against the company and its principles.

QIH rose from the ashes of the Quinn Group which went bust following the economic collapse in 2008.

In the outrage that followed the assault, Seán Quinn came forward to emphatically deny he had anything to do with incident.

Other executives — most of them one-time protégés of Seán Quinn — pointed out that the police had been ignoring the incidents that culminated with the assault on Mr Lunney.

There has since been arrests and charges laid against a number of individuals.

R – Russia, From, with love and affection for The Donald

On March 22, Robert Mueller submitted his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election to US attorney general William Barr.

The Mueller investigation had hung over poor Donald for two years as he spat and fumed that everybody was out to get him.

In the end, Mueller found that there was no collusion that met a criminal standard of proof between the Trump camp and the Russians in the presidential election, but the report was a little less clear cut on whether the president had obstructed justice.


The use of capital letters to emphasise the importance of a statement is a tactic that is very familiar to primary school-going children.

S – Shane Lowry

On July 21, Shane Lowry won The Open, his first major.

The tournament was held in Royal Portrush, Co Down, making it a home win of sorts.

Even for those of us who know little about golf and rarely follow it, this was something to savour.

Lowry is one of the most popular sportspeople in the country, modest yet determined, globe-trotting yet never straying far from his Gaelic football roots and family in Co Offaly.

“This feels like an out-of-body experience,” he said on the eighteenth green after claiming victory.

“I can’t wait to wake up on Monday morning and find out what it’s going to feel like then.”

Later that week, there was a huge homecoming in the town of Clara, a fabled place more accustomed to welcoming back All-Ireland winners or the odd Taoiseach.

T – Thunberg, Greta

Named as Time magazine person of the year, Thunberg has become both a driving force and symbol of the young generation destined to bear the burden of climate change.

In November last year, the then 15-year-old gave a Ted Talk in which she set out her agenda.

“I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism,” she said.

“That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”

In mid-August, she sailed across the Atlantic to attend the UN Climate Change summit in New York.

Her high profile and straight talking has attracted criticism from world leaders, including the autocratic Russian leader Vladimir Putin and man-child Donald Trump.

After the teenager won the Time award, Trump felt compelled to issue the following tweet: “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her angermanagement problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend. Chill, Greta, chill.”

Trump was understood to be of the opinion that he should be Time’s person of the year, as he was when he was elected in 2016.

U – UK election. Boris is the man

On December 12, the UK went to the polls armed with a Hobson’s choice for the next prime minister.

Boris Johnson has been fired from jobs in politics and in journalism for telling lies.

He led a fraudulent campaign in the Brexit referendum.

It is unclear how many children he has or whether he even acknowledges parenthood in some instances.

He lied repeatedly in the campaign and ran away from any interview that threatened to even prick beneath the surface of his projection as an amiable buffoon.

His brilliant election slogan — ‘Get Brexit Done’ — was a patent fraud.

Brexit will be with the British people for years to come.

He romped home in the election, winning a majority of 78 seats, the biggest Tory victory since Margaret Thatcher was in her pomp in 1987.

That he won and won so big, after a decade of deeply unpopular Tory austerity says all that needs to be said about his opponent, Jeremy Corbyn.

V – Varadkar, Leo

Twas the best of years and the worst of years for the Taoiseach.

On October 10, he flew to Liverpool to try to talk sense into Boris Johnson about Brexit.

He succeeded where most said he could only fail.

The bones of a deal came out of their chat and within weeks Brussels had nailed it down.

That deal has survived the chaotic House of Commons and the Brexit election and will now, in all likelihood, be implemented.

Varadkar received many plaudits for his input.

Then, as the year was closing out and Leo hoping to sail towards next year’s election as the man who saved Brexit, the Murphys raised their heads.

The Wexford by-election saw Fine Gael candidate Verona Murphy go off reservation with comments about asylum seekers and people without homes.

Then, in early December, it emerged that Cork North Central’s Dara Murphy had been effectively double jobbing in Europe while drawing his Dáil salary and expenses.

Both Murphys did damage to Leo, but particularly Dara.

W – World Cup in rugby

Never was so much expected of men in green.

They had beaten the All Blacks. They had ascended to the top of world rankings.

They even started the campaign in Japan on September 20 with a win over Scotland that had serious intent written all over it.

And then… things went pear shaped.

The effervescent Japanese loaded into these pretenders and knocked them back on their heels.

It was a wake-up call but the alarm was just put on snooze.

The inevitable end came with defeat the All Blacks in the quarter finals.

Then, to add insult to injury, Joe Schmidt — who did huge things for Irish rugby — published a book that was high on emptiness and low on insight.

The tome has been critically panned as a rush job.

X – XR, the common abbreviation for Extinction Rebellion

The non-violent civil disobedience environmental group (there’s a mouthful) had its first full year in 2019.

In this country, it got out of the starting blocks with a few protests and then the big one, Rebellion Week.

This took place on the week beginning October 7 with a colourful march around Leinster House and Government Buildings.

The week was flagged as one in which mass protests might bring parts of the city to a standstill to force everybody to sit up and take notice of the planet’s degradation.

It didn’t work out like that.

This was a rebellion that is occurring while most of the world walks on by.

Still, as things get worse the organisation is now in place to turn up the heat, so to speak.

Y – Yellow Vest Movement

Throughout the year the yellow vests, or des gilets jaunes, movement in France protested at economic and political conditions on a near weekly basis.

Emmanuel Macron did row back on proposals to hike up the price of fuel, but the unrest is still out there.

It is effectively the French expression of the turbulence in political life that has swept across the globe.

There are insiders, mainly in the cities, who are flying, and there are outsiders, mainly outside the cities, who struggle irrespective of healthy economic statistics.

Z – Zinedine Zidane

The former French midfield general and successful manager returned to the helm at Real Madrid on March 11.

“I have recharged my batteries,” he said. “I’m ready to coach this great club again.”

Zidane was brought back to halt the slide that had begun the previous year.

Far more importantly though, he’s a great man for Zs.

As such, he has got the A-Z out of a hole this year as there was no other Z around to speak of.

Go easy in the new year.

Stay in by the wall and trouble won’t find you.

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