Miriam Lord’s week: From rugby royalty to action man overload

Special 50th anniversary lunch in London; selfies in the Dáil; and Ministers get busy with the kettle bells

The Irish Embassy in London is all set for the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations with about a dozen events lined up and more than 1,500 guests expected to pass through its doors in Grosvenor Place.

The standout occasion in a packed week is Ambassador Martin Fraser’s lunch on Tuesday to mark the 50th anniversary of the celebrated 1973 Five Nations rugby match between Ireland and England at Lansdowne Road.

Wales and Scotland refused to travel to Dublin due to the escalating Troubles in the North and heightened tension in Ireland in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday and the burning of the British embassy in Merrion Square the previous year.

The England team was billeted in a heavily guarded Shelbourne Hotel. When the players ran out on to the field the crowd gave them a standing ovation. But the visitors left their game at home and lost 18–9 after a poor performance.


At the post-match banquet vanquished England captain John Pullin brought the house down with an opening line which has gone down in the annals of rugby history: “We might not be any good but at least we turned up.”

The idea for the lunch came about when Fraser, who loves his sport, was chatting to former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll and broadcaster Craig Doyle about a documentary they made that featured the famous 1973 game. They approached IRFU boss Kevin Potts, who got behind the event and contacted Fergal O’Rourke of PwC who came on board with sponsorship.

England Rugby rowed in with support and RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney, whose father hails from Dublin, will be among the guests.

Seventeen players from that game 50 years ago have accepted the invite from the ambassador and his wife, Deirdre, including Irish rugby greats Willie John McBride, Stewart McKinney, Tom Grace, Tony Ensor and Mike Gibson. Roger Uttley, Steve Smith and former England captain and the chairman of World Rugby, Bill Beaumont are among the England lineout.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys, who is representing the Government at this year’s St Patrick’s Day events in London, is also on the guest list.

A large press attendance is expected as there is considerable interest in the event from the English media.

In a nice touch, the late John Pullin’s widow Brenda and daughter Mandy, who can’t make Tuesday’s lunch, will be guests of the IRFU at next Saturday’s Ireland v England match in Lansdowne Road.

Front-page mystery

The Oireachtas Press Gallery bid a fond farewell this week to stalwart foot-soldier and colleague Danny McConnell, who is departing Leinster House after 17 glorious years door-stepping politicians and earwigging on parliamentary party meetings.

McConnell is leaving his role as political editor of the Irish Examiner for the editor’s chair at the Business Post.

He was joined in the back lounge of the Dáil bar by fellow hacks and sundry politicians hoping to wangle themselves a nice write-up in the future.

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste called in after their respective parliamentary party meetings. Leo Varadkar arrived first and was at pains to point out that he couldn’t stay too long, making his exit in the middle of the first speech.

There had been a deliciously awkward moment a few minutes earlier when he collided with an inrushing Micheál Martin in the narrow entrance to the upper bar area. For a few magnificent seconds (and to the jeering amusement of onlooking hacks) they stood silently wedged between the little wrought iron gates looking slightly embarrassed and uncertain as to who should go what way next.

Leo skedaddled with his entourage having wished the editor-designate all the best. Micheál, on the other hand, stayed to listen to the speeches and then made one of his own. As a proud son of The Rebel County he was never going to duck out of an Irish (Cork) Examiner bash prematurely.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of a framed front-page mock-up written by Danny’s Examiner colleagues – the trade’s traditional gift to departing newspapermen and women.

Elaine Loughlin, De Paper’s esteemed deputy political editor, did the honours with the Taoiseach looking on.

The outgoing political editor was delighted.

It was a busy Wednesday night in the Dáil bar with politicians from all the main parties and a smattering of independents unwinding ahead of next week’s St Patrick’s Day recess. Many hosted visitors from their constituencies while groups of university students added to the lively mix.

And at some stage in the proceedings McConnell’s special front page – over a foot wide and nearly two feet in length – vanished.

People scoured the bar but found nothing. The search widened to the restaurants and into the Oireachtas members’ private bar, but no joy. The hunt continued around Leinster House on Thursday.

By close of business on Friday it was still missing, presumed nicked. Or maybe it’s been kidnapped and a ransom note will issue in due course.

The place is gone to the dogs.

‘Unsound minds’

A reader who wishes to remain enormous (although we suspect a legal background) draws our attention to a major development in Irish public life that, inexplicably, has passed unnoticed in the popular press.

News of this significant reform was buried in a lengthy and complex press release from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth headed “Minister O’Gorman and Minister Rabbitte Announce 26 April as Date for the Abolition of Wardship and Full Operationalisation of the Decision Support Service”.

Our correspondent stresses that this new Act is a substantial and important piece of legislation affecting some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society. It has been welcomed by people rightly eager to remove outdated and stigmatising legal terminology from our statute book.

However, he was struck by “the bulleted highlighting of one measure as if it were a particularly key aspect of what is otherwise quite a major package of measures” and wonders if the civil servant drafting the release mischievously included it to see if anyone would notice.

The big news is that the legal ban on “persons of unsound mind” standing for election to Dáil Éireann ends on April 26th.

Who knew? The reform has been greeted with relief from all sides in Leinster House.

As they continue their candidate preparations for the next general election, spokespeople for the main political parties and various independent groupings had the same comment on the new dispensation.

“This won’t change a thing.”

Selfies in the Dáil

Heather Humphreys was showing a young constituent from Monaghan around Leinster House on Wednesday when he was mobbed in the restaurant by a delighted group of schoolgirls who demanded immediate selfies.

She was thrilled – politicians thrive on reflected glory. Her guest – politics student Jamie Duffy from Glaslough – was pleasantly surprised.

He shouldn’t have been. Duffy (21) is a classical pianist, composer and TikTok sensation. Last year his instrumental piece Solas went viral and became the most streamed Irish debut since Hozier’s Take Me to Church.

Ryan Tubridy asked him to perform Solas on the Late Late Show. His music has been streamed more than 30 million times and his online success helped fund his politics and international relations studies in Queens.

He graduates in June but will be taking the classical music route thereafter having landed a deal with Rubyworks, the independent Irish label with Hozier, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Lyra on its books.

There are two albums in the pipeline.

“Jamie is being talked about as the Irish Ludovico Einaudi,” trilled the Minister, who likes to tickle the ivories herself in her downtime.

She invited the Monaghan musician to visit Leinster House and observe the Oireachtas at work.

“Why say ‘no’ to an opportunity like that?” Jamie said. “I’ve been warned to strictly stay away from politics but as long as I don’t align myself that’s fine,” he laughed.

He has a new single coming out on March 31st called Into the West. It was recorded with cellist Patrick Dexter who became famous during the pandemic for playing music from outside his cottage in rural Mayo.

“And he’s away playing for Lula da Silva now,” he said, explaining that Patrick is on tour in Brazil and will be performing for the country’s new president at a St Patrick’s Day reception in Brasília.

As for being recognised by selfie-seeking fans in the Dáil – it’s usually Michael Healy-Rae and Mattie McGrath who get that treatment from visitors – Jamie was a bit taken aback. “Yes, it was the most unexpected thing ever. I’ve only ever been recognised once. It was in a nightclub in Nice.”

But never mind nightclubs in the South of France.

Humphreys wanted to point out that his mother, Louise, is a driving force behind Glaslough’s successful Tidy Towns Committee and Jamie is a former chair of the Teenage Tidy Towns subcommittee.

“So there y’are now!” she cried.

Action man overload

Action man show-off Politician of the Week award is a close run thing between Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan and his party colleague, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.

Charlie is still touring the country on his listening tour of farmyards and marts, pestering farmers with leaflets and information sessions and mad to get photos for the local papers of himself communing with hoggets and up to his armpits in manure.

Action man Charlie featured recently in the Limerick Leader under the headline, “Minister helps calve a cow on local Limerick farm visit”.

It seems he was in Patrickswell on a visit organised by Minister of State, Niall Collins, who was also making the headlines for the dwelling he built in Patrickswell, or Patricksickasaparrot from Niall’s current perspective.

The junior minister wasn’t there to help with the calving because he was having a canary over the house.

But back to Charlie, who likes to keep his hand in.

“He was here for about an hour last Thursday afternoon. There was a cow calving at the time and he gave me a hand,” said farmer Seamus O’Riordan.

“He wanted me to separate the Angus calves from the Friesians as he wanted a picture of the Angus calves for a beef scheme that’s coming up. He scattered a bale of straw himself. I’d say he’s into the farming.”

But the award goes to Jim O’Callaghan because there is video evidence of his action man performance. He did the Garda fitness test at a local gym in Dublin Bay South and passed. (So did Sarah Burns, our Oireachtas reporter who has to listen all day to politicians gasbagging in the Dáil. You need to be in the whole of your health to do that. Naturally, Sarah aced the test.)

Jim’s gym ordeal in black running shorts is online for readers who want to see him puffing his way around the kettle bells and obstacle course complete with edgy slo-mo shots and a cheesy soundtrack featuring Chariots of Fire, The Eye of the Tiger and Push it by Salt ‘n Peppa.

He’s in good shape, in fairness.