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The Cheltenham Gold Cup, 10-year bond sale, the Six Nations, Brian O’Driscoll and St Patrick’s Day – all reasons to be proud to be Irish.
The prevailing winds brought a truly Irish feel good factor to these shores last week, one which, by the weekend, had spread around the world.
It started last Tuesday with day one of the Cheltenham Festival and finished on Monday with our national day. Have we had a week of national fervour like it since the 1990 football World Cup?
On Tuesday 11th, an Irish horse won the first race at the Olympics of national hunt racing, aka the Cheltenham festival. Ruby Walsh coaxed the Willie Mullins-trained Vautour to victory in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, kicking off a good week for the Irish, and not just on the racecourse.
On Wednesday 12th, Ireland sold a larger-than-expected €5 billion of 10-year bonds, leaving only €1.5 billion more to be borrowed in order to fund government spending until the end of 2014. Michael Noonan used the word extraordinary to describe the results at the first regular debt auction since the bailout. Irish 10-year yields fell to a record low. The Irish State is now rated at investment grade by all three rating agencies. Pretty good going, given that Irish government bonds were all but dirt just a few years ago.
On Friday 14th, back at Prestbury Park, Lord Windermere, trained in Cork by Jim Culloty, brought to an end the eight-year drought for Irish winners of the Gold Cup. The last day of the festival was a bumper day for the Irish with six wins on the day bringing the total for the festival to 12.
By Saturday 15th, Cheltenham was but a distant memory as the nation’s attention turned to the Irish rugby team. A win against France would claim the Six Nations trophy for Ireland for the first time since 2009 but there was more to it than that. It was Brian O’Driscoll’s last game in the Irish jersey. He was understandably choked during the interview afterwards: “I’m so delighted to go out on this high” he told RTE. “It’s exactly as I would have wanted – to have a second Six Nations medal around my neck”. It’s exactly as we wanted too.
The game itself was close and could be a metaphor for the country since the bailout three years ago: a struggle, but we overcame it through grit and determination. Who you would cast in the roles of hero (Brian O’Driscoll) or villain (Damien Chouly) I will leave up to you.
And so to Monday 17th March. The Six Nations win tee’d up St Patrick’s Day nicely and the unseasonably pleasant day made it even more enjoyable to be here in Ireland for our national day. But let’s look at this from a global perspective: we are truly lucky to have this annual opportunity to get worldwide airtime. 100 landmark buildings including, for the first time, the Great Wall of China, turned green on Monday. The Taoiseach got to hang out with the President and Vice-President of the United States. Government ministers dispersed to the four winds to meet heads of state and industry in 23 countries this year including the Middle East, Far East and Australia. Thanks to a Welshman with a horror of snakes, our trade relations with these countries can only improve.
So whether we trust in BOD, Noonan or St Patrick, it was a week in which our faith was justified.
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