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comment Good riddance to 2020, an annus horribilis, and savour the prospect of Ireland's bright new dawn

As early as spring, Covid might be in retreat....

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The day will come when masks will be for the use of robbers and surgeons

The day will come when masks will be for the use of robbers and surgeons

The day will come when masks will be for the use of robbers and surgeons

Like the jewels that glimmer in a Tiffany's window display, an exhausted planet yearns for the sparkle of a diamond-bright morning.

This festive season, we are a people prospecting for hope, quarrying for nuggets of optimism.

Ireland is a land of pitmen and women mining for the precious metal of the life we once took for granted.

For simple pleasures like the golden glint of holding an elderly loved one in the tightest embrace and simply declining to let go.

Sensing their sobs at your shoulder, an echo of your own keening; the soundtrack of families being glued back together, an exorcism of the demon loneliness.

Or the 24-carat joy of taking a seat at the bar on the day the padlocks are, at last, unbolted, the cobwebs brushed away, and the great traditional pubs of the land are permitted to once more make their magic. Porter and conversation and song and freedom.

To savour again the pleasure of togetherness, the essential human hunger for companionship and mischief and touch that are beyond the bandwidth of even the best Zoom call's capabilities.

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Croke Park became a fan-free zone

Croke Park became a fan-free zone

Croke Park became a fan-free zone

Days when masks are again for bank robbers or surgeons, when the weather not George Lee's apocalyptic outpouring govern the mood.

The platinum pleasure of raising a glass to toast a just-married couple, tears sparkling in proud parents' eyes, their own recalled youth reflected in the sunshine of newlywed joy.

Or the consolation, at once small and huge, of a funeral Mass where the pews are packed by familiar, supporting faces. Where suffering need no longer be a solitary hell.

Stepping again into the heat of a fevered Croke Park or Lansdowne Road will be an afternoon to bring a glow to the sky, one that confirms the barbarous creature in out midst is all but slain.

It can seem so far away, yet, like 2021, it is coming.

Good riddance, then, to 2020, an annus horribilis when a stygian beast seized us in his salivating jaws and declined to let go.

Covid was a storm which blew without respite; the slow grinding pulse of bad news ground its way into the soul, asking the hardest questions of our morale and spirit.

It has been a God-awful time, a year that long ago stripped off any mask of decency and revealed its frothing, malignant, pitiless features.

Lives lost, offices emptied, planes grounded, high streets boarded, everyday pleasures thieved.

The year has brought out the best and worst of humanity.

So many frontline workers - in hospitals, shops or on public transport - have delivered a thousand leagues beyond the call of duty. A huge number, however exhausted, decline to step off the treadmill of service and devotion.

There is a natural-born kindness that comes easily to some and that is as beautiful and uplifting as the trill of the songbird.

At the other end of the scale, we find vultures who feast on the carcass of lost hope, those who rushed to change their postal address to the Valley of the Squinting Windows.

Self-appointed constables, cheerless and perpetually disapproving, laying ambushes, waiting for an innocent error they can scandalise: A face covering falling, young friends standing too close together in the open air, a kindly waiter allowing a diner an extra five minutes at the table.

High on their own sanctimony, they fail to realise that they are as toxic as any pathogen. But while they seek to embed anxiety and division into our genetic code, the rebellion of hope gathers. It might not seem so as we face into another draining New Year lockdown, but the dawn of a new beginning is looming.

The miracle of a vaccine is amongst us, tiny medical vials that in their tens of millions are like a vast, well-equipped army sent to relieve the terrible siege. As early as spring, Covid might be in retreat.

Picture that moment now: Summer holidays ahead on some far-flung beach, beer-garden beckoning, that constant high-grade anxiety having exited the building.

All through January and February, March and April, more and more of us - first the vulnerable and the health workers, then ever greater chunks of the population - will be equipped with the safety harness the vaccine offers.

Hard though it is to imagine, the gloom will capitulate to a reborn wattage of laughter and gladness.

And Ireland will awaken to find the long darkness has at last given way to a diamond bright morning.

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