Miriam Lord: Patrick O’Donovan revels in role of Minister who saved live crib

Three clerics were on hand to bless the bales of straw - one nearly decanted the holy water over Heather Humphreys

Well done to the organisers of Thursday’s good news announcement about the redevelopment of the National Concert Hall for managing to get through it without Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan in a novelty sweater crashing the platform with a chilled-out donkey and a chorus of confused tots dressed as angels.

It must have been touch and go though, as O’Donovan has been on a festive lap of honour ever since he single-handedly saved the live crib for Dublin and gladdened the hearts of his fellow rural Blueshirts with a barely disguised swipe at those namby-pamby Greens whose Lord Mayor banned it from outside the Mansion House.

He was in the vicinity of Earlsfort Terrace for most of the day – in St Stephen’s Green for yet another launch of the relocated crib and then in Dublin Castle for the launch of the Christmas in Dublin festive market.

Sources close to the ecstatic junior minister and TD for Limerick County say that the praise and plaudits have been pouring into his office ever since he took his big stand on keeping “Christmas” in the title of his OPW-managed Mansion House-spoiler. Patrick rocked up to the launch in a Christmas geansaí, looking like Eoin McLove from Fr Ted.


He also had three clerics on hand to bless the bales of straw and the animals. One of them nearly decanted a dose of holy water over Heather Humphreys, who was swaddled in a black fur coat next to the nativity scene. As Minister for Rural Affairs, she was one of the many Fine Gael politicians scrambling to be associated with Patrick’s coup.

Little kiddies hoping to have a look at the crib had to beat their way past ministers, backbenchers, councillors, IFA bigwigs and OPW officials photographing themselves with the livestock. Even Leo Varadkar managed to make his way up to the top end of Grafton Street for a triumphant portrait with the livestock – in this case Cllr James Geoghegan smiling like he just come up with a solution for the housing crisis and man-of-the-moment O’Donovan, delirious from all the attention.

The animals are being looked after royally by farmer Fionn Sherlock but there is no doubt that they are very worried, particularly Peter and Paul the sheep and Daisy the goat, as the Minister of State has been milking their crib for all its worth and they fear he might lose the run of himself entirely and start on them next. Lily the donkey is beyond caring at this stage.

In the afternoon, he co-launched a festive market in Dublin Castle with Green Lord Mayor Caroline Conroy.

O’Donovan – with the big happy head on him – was put in charge of cutting the ribbon. A wise move as no judge in the land would have convicted Caroline of attempted murder with a ceremonial scissors given the grief the minister has caused her in recent weeks.

But back to the National Concert Hall, which remained a Crib-free zone although Paschal Donohoe stepped in to lend a substantial angelic element. His department is providing the money for the revamp. It is hoped the project will go out for tender in the second half of next year with the construction phase expected to last around 36 months.

Nobody, but nobody, has noticed that the venue shares the same initials as the new national children’s hospital (NCH) and nobody is praying that it won’t end up as the most expensively revamped concert hall in the history of the universe should it ever get finished.

The Minister for Finance joined the Taoiseach and Arts minister Catherine Martin at the launch and, it has to said, he could have given O’Donovan a run for his money in the happiness stakes. Why might that be? Could it have been his re-election for a second term as president of the Eurogroup of financial ministers earlier in the week?

“Isn’t it fantastic to be here!” he gurgled, beginning his speech by saying lovely things about the Taoiseach and Catherine Martin. (He didn’t get that second term by a fluke.)

He then quoted from next year’s NCH programme.

“I was really, really drawn to the performance that is going to be happening on the tenth of February,” he declared, reading the blurb for the National Symphony Orchestra’s concert with conductor Case Scaglione and pianist Frederico Colli performing Beethoven, Ives and Sibelius.

If you attend this concert you will be “Going in search of the great perhaps ... heart, soul and imagination combine in music to make you feel and think,” declaimed Paschal, as a bemused looking Micheál Martin watched on.

“This is my favourite bit now – the next bit. ‘Delve into the unfathomable realms of the head and heart with three mighty works peering into the darkest corners of the soul to emerge in enigmatic mystery, effusive lyricism and irresistible yearning.’”

He paused.

“What more could you want on a Friday night out in Dublin?”

Three mighty works, unfathomable realms, emerging in mystery, lyricism and irresistible yearning?

“Now, initially, when I saw that I thought for a moment they were referring to our weekly Cabinet meetings, but when I saw reference to ‘darkest corner of the soul’, I knew it couldn’t possibly be.”

He was happy out.

“It’s wonderful to be here, with our own conductor, the Taoiseach .. and I was thinking what possible music analogy I could use for Minister Martin and I thought, surely she has to be a soprano.”

Although with barely a week to go before he swaps places at the top of government with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, perhaps it might have been more apt for Paschal to call Micheál a semiconductor.

Dinner, deep-thinking and donations

The Ceann Comhairle revived his annual Christmas at the Dáil charity dinner this week after Covid put a stop to social events in Leinster House for a couple of years. “There is no such thing as a free dinner,” Seán Ó Fearghaíl told guests in the Members’ Restaurant, which was booked out for the night for the fundraiser, much to the irritation of some TDs and senators who were forced to eat their dinner in the self-service restaurant with the great unwashed and non-journalists too.

The event was organised by Trócaire and facilitated by the Oireachtas and if the paying guests tired of the entertainment they could always rest their eyes on the screens in the corner where the late-night sittings of the Dáil and Seanad were silently playing out to zero interest. “When you think about going out for a night, having a great time, having plenty of craic, I don’t imagine Leinster House would be top of the agenda for any of you. But can I guarantee you that you will enjoy this gathering tonight,” said O’Fearghail at the start of the evening, thereby releasing Marty Morrissey from selfie-duty because the RTÉ superstar was due on the platform to interview comedian and deep thinker Tommy Tiernan.

As it turned out, Tommy was in deep-thinking mode on the night but a few large glasses of Chateau Leinster House (non-vintage) soon had everybody in a festive mood. In the course of a 25-minute rumination with Marty, the comedian praised Trócaire for its live-saving work in Somalia and commended Irish people who make this possible by supporting that work. “If we lose the decency of Christianity, I think we’re f****d,” he remarked. The Ceann explained that the money raised through subscriptions pledged after the event (there was no such thing as a raffle here) from the various corporate and individual guests would go towards funding Trocairé's development projects in Ethiopia and Somalia. The agency is currently running a major health project in the Somalian province of Gedo.

There are two constants where big dinners in Leinster House are concerned – the main course on the night will be a choice between steak or salmon, and there will always be wine and “minerals” on the menu. Senator Frances Black kicked off the singing, not in the least disconcerted by the voting bell bonging away in the background. In contrast to sessions in the Seanad, everyone sang the same tune when invited to join in. She was followed by Andrea Corr, who captivated the room with some Christmas favourites.

Rising star Dan McCabe from Kildare sang some of the traditional ballads, which have taken him from recording songs in his bedroom during the pandemic and posting them on You Tube to a highly successful nationwide tour, a half-time performance at the Aviva Stadium during the Ireland-Portugal game and a singing gig for President Higgins in the Aras. Listening to Dan as he sang The Green Fields of France was Finbar Furey, singing along very quietly.

Afterwards, Finbar, who made that song his own, told the young balladeer that he had done a great job. It was hard to know who was the more misty-eyed of the two. Then the not-so-young Furey, who attended the dinner with his wife Sheila, rounded off the entertainment with a tour-de-force on the tin-whistle.

The Philip Schofield of Irish funerals

A large crowd of mourners queued outside Thompson’s funeral home in Limerick city on Monday to pay their respects at the removal of the former Fianna Fáil TD Michael Collins, who died a week ago at the age of 82.

Cllr Collins was a TD for Limerick West from 1997 to 2007, holding what has been a Collins family seat since the 1948 general election. His father James was a TD, as was his brother Gerard, the former MEP and minister in successive FF governments. His son James is a local councillor and former Mayor of Limerick and nephew Niall is Minister of State in the department of Further and Higher Education.

The late Mr Collins ran the well-known Railway Hotel on Parnell Street opposite Limerick’s Colbert Station.

So it was a big funeral.

It was a damp and miserable evening and people waited in line for a long time before they got inside. The queue started over an hour before the funeral home opened.

As they slowly shuffled forward, a large SUV drove past and parked nearby, whereupon the driver and the two passengers – Fianna Fáil TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, John McGuinness and former Fianna Fáil TD for Cork Southwest, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, stepped out and strode towards the queue. They didn’t join it. Instead, they sailed past everyone and straight inside, much to the consternation of those left behind. This included serving and former national and local politicians and a good smattering of elderly men and women leaning on walking sticks.

This did not go down well at all and prompted much talk of a similar-style manoeuvre at the recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth, when two celebrity morning show presenters were alleged to have jumped the enormous queue for the lying in state in Westminster Hall. And we heard some of the political heads in Limerick were comparing themselves to David Beckham, who had waited his turn in London along with everyone else.

“John McGuinness, the Philip Schofield of Irish funerals,” snorted one disgruntled veteran FFer, to general agreement.

Which would make Margaret Murphy O’Mahony Bandon’s answer to Holly Willoughby.