Meet eight Irish heroes who stood out in 2016

Every cloud has a silver lining and 2016 proved to be no exception. Gwen Loughman looks at the year that was through eight Irish people who made the year that bit brighter

Everyone has a “where were you when” moment for 2016. It is surely a year that will go down in history. Brexit, the ongoing plight of our homeless, Aleppo and the many stalwarts of the big screen, music and cultural world that were taken too soon not to mention The Donald. Every cloud must have a silver lining, so here are eight Irish people who made 2016 a better place.

Kayak hero

Alan Herdman garnered media attention and a Young Person of the Year award when he saved eight children from drowning in Rusheen Bay, Co Galway, last July.

A water sports enthusiast, the NUI Galway student was familiar with emergency procedures as part of his kayak instructor training and initially believed not all of the children would survive.

“My first thought was this will be about minimising causalities.”

Employing a triage procedure, his actions ensured their safety before a colleague entered the water to assist.

Best of bandits

Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits, never backward in coming forward, attracted a lot of positive feedback on Twitter and other social media platforms following his appearance on The Late Late Show.

His thoughts on the social issues that modern day Ireland is experiencing along with his views on mental health and feminism, led to many suggesting he run for Taoiseach.

“The fact of the matter is that it (feminism) is a patriarchal attitude which is no longer relevant to us in the 21st century.”

Taxi support

Mayo taxi driver Joe Freeley has been doing his bit for the last three years by offering a free taxi service to Leaving Cert Students on the night they celebrate exam results.

In return he asks for donations to be made to Pieta House via the sealed Pieta House bucket in his car. Keen to continue the trend Joe accepts that it is not possible for taxi services in large towns and cities to participate but he would like to see other taxi groups in other parts of the country getting on board with the idea.

“I feel it’s my golden opportunity to highlight a great cause.”

Pier rescue

Davitt Walsh was hailed the Buncrana Pier Hero after he saved four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann McGrotty.

The baby was the sole survivor of a tragic accident that claimed the lives of her two brothers, father, aunt and grandmother when their vehicle entered the waters of Lough Swilly last March.

Davitt swam out to the submerged car and the baby’s father handed her to him.

“He said save the baby and he went back into the car. And the car went down.”

Davitt was subsequently presented with a gold medal, awarded for marine gallantry.

Sister support

Sr Consilio was a midwife before she established Cuan Mhuire, a treatment centre in Athy, Co Kildare, for those affected by alcohol, drugs, gambling and other addictions.

“I had to let it start around me and it kept growing.”

And grow it did with Cuan Mhuire celebrating its golden jubilee in 2016. Sr Consilio is now focusing on the Friends of Cuan Mhuire, the outcome being a meeting place in every town in Ireland whereby those who have moved on can access support as they find their feet again.

Dogs of row

Paul and Gary O’Donovan Rio Olympic medallists from West Cork, the brothers captured the hearts of the nation in 2016 not least for their trademark, “pull like a dog.”

Not only was it their first appearance at the games, but it was Ireland’s first medal in rowing.

Swiftly achieving notoriety with their engaging post-race interviews, they appeared on The Graham Norton Show on BBC, and had an RTÉ documentary made in their honour, aptly named after their trademark “pull like a dog.”

Pictures and sound

Jimmy Rainsford and Ryan Hennessy from Athy, Co Kildare, took Ireland by storm with their fledgling band Picture This. Following an upload of their song ‘Take my Hand’ to YouTube, the rest just happened. Sell out shows included venues in Dublin, Cork and Belfast. They also played a free outdoor gig to 5,000 people in their hometown before signing a huge deal with Universals Republic Records. Jimmy describes their sound as being their own. “The lyrics are raw, real lyrics about our lives and the town we live in.”

Brilliant busker

Milo McCarthy, 11, from Midleton, Co Cork, presented a cheque for almost €18,000 to The Irish Red Cross in aid of Syrian refugees. Deciding to busk on the streets of Cork for an hour every Wednesday and Saturday with a challenge to complete 26 hours, Milo’s gesture led to his receipt of a Young Person of the Year award. “I’m not doing it for publicity. It’s going to a really good cause. They used to have lives just like us.”

Milo has also raised funds for a necessary operation for a fellow Corkonian with Cerebral Palsy.


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