Image by Caty Bartholomew
Let us grin ruefully at what is past and move on serenely into the mystery and potential murk ahead of us all.

Happy New Year to you and, in the terms of the old emigrant letters of the past, I hope this message finds you all as well as it leaves me here in the County Clare on the West Coast of Ireland.

Incidentally, those of you who are out in the diaspora are so lucky today.  I'm not talking about the economic situation either.

The weather since the start of the year has been of the kind that the Devil would design to torture decent Christians if he was suffering from a hellish hangover on a Monday morning.

As I write there is a fierce gale howling around poor Maisie's cottage, icy rain is being driven in unending sheets against the windows, the dogs and the cat are clustered anxiously around the stoves, the poor Dutch

Nation is battling her way home from work in the Limerick, and even big strong birds like rooks and crows and doves are being hurled hither and thither through the ragged grey clouds like powerless balls of feathers rather than the efficient flying machines they normally are.
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Today, no matter where you are, you would not really want to be here.

But the Lord made us both waterproof and resilient so, yes, we will grin ruefully at it all, keep the fires stoked and move ahead as purposefully as the Roman legions once moved into the long sandy reaches of Judea. And why not?

We are into my annual prediction season, but before I go there I have a lovely yarn for ye from the butt of the Curlew Mountains on the borders of Sligo and Roscommon.

There is a wise man I know well living in the foothills there, and I think what he did this week demonstrates a mighty way altogether of imprinting your own faith and belied on that mystery of Time we were talking about above.

He farms a slice of the fertile foothills at the foot of the mountain. His farmhouse and barns are neat white splashes against the green strip of his fields around the house on the roadside and against the great bleaker and rougher uplands which stretch up above that to the blued horizon.

Like his neighbors around, he owns a great tract of that upland personally.  Above that again there is the rocky commonage which, as the name suggests, is jointly owned by all.

Today, according to a friend who passed that way at the weekend, there is the sharp clear glittering rectangle of a new fence on the wise man's uplands. It is in keeping with his long tradition, and I love that it continues.

You see, when he married and settled down in the 1970s, and the babies began to arrive, the first three were all daughters.

What did he do?  He contracted two acres of his uplands to the state's forestry department after the birth of each daughter.

These were fenced off and planted with pine and other conifers according to state policy. In only a matter of months the young saplings began to green their brave rectangles as brightly as the wise man's vision and mind.

And what a mind? In due time when his fine daughters came to marrying age themselves he was able to cover their dowries and their wedding costs by selling his rectangles of then mature timber.

And they all had weddings so free-spirited and musical and merry they will never be forgotten. With cash left over afterwards too.

What happened at the beginning of last December was that his married son who is due to inherit the farm in a few years time became a father for the first time. Again, in keeping with the family tradition, he became the father of a bouncing daughter.

So the grandfather did immediately what he has always done in good faith under such circumstances and contracted another two  acres to the Forestry Department. The new fence is already erected.

The little saplings will bloom and grow in time and tandem with the new little Irishwoman of the Curlews. Her lifeline will be traced in bright strong green lines across the forehead of her home mountain.

Something about that thrills and warms me to the marrow and puts the current temporary storms in their proper place in the scale of things.
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We come to my predictions for the year ahead. Regular readers already know that I am always astonishingly accurate, and I'm delighted to inform ye that all of this year's omens and auguries are extremely and gloriously positive on both sides of the Atlantic.

We may be stressed and miserable now, but I'm delighted to announce that will be over in jig time.
This will be largely but not totally because of the discovery next April of one of the richest gold seams in the entire world in North Leitrim!  Remember you learned that here first!

A Canadian company will strike it extremely rich in the Glangevlin district on a Monday afternoon, just as their exploration funds are about to run out too, and all afterwards will represent the beginning of the end of all our financial problems.

Would ye believe that our billions of debts will have been entirely cleared the week before the
All-Ireland football final next September, and foreign investors will be scrabbling for a slice of the financial action transforming all our futures for the better again?  Believe it or not.

Even more importantly, Dublin's footballers will set exciting new standards of skill and commitment by retaining Sam Maguire, defeating Tyrone in a thrilling final before a packed Croke Park. A leading member of the British royal family will be in the VIP section for heaven's sake. 

Galway will excite the entire nation by beating Cork by a solitary late point in an incredibly passionate and skilful hurling final. 

Mayo's mighty women will win all before them in ladies' football, and their Kilkenny counterparts will totally dominate all the camogie competitions.  There will be a dramatic sending-off in the camogie final which will create headlines for weeks afterwards.

On the political front, Enda Kenny will smoothly grow from strength to strength as the months pass, and Pat Rabbitte quickly moves even more smoothly from weakness to weakness.

There will be a bone-deep sadness across rural Ireland as deep fissures develop inside the rump of
Fianna Fail which eventually, in real terms, will signal the bitter end of that once powerful political
party. It will stagger on for a time, but it will only be a ghost of its former self as Sinn Fein progressively and aggressively sucks the last of the wind out of its mainsails.

President Michael D. Higgins, always popular, will become even more popular with each passing week and will produce an award-winning poetry publication before the end of November.

Delightfully, Sinead O'Connor will at last find peace and serenity in late February and, even more delightfully Louis Walsh, the so-called impresario and promoter, will retire and emigrate.

Broadcaster Gay Byrne will have three new TV series running concurrently in midsummer, but will promise that he will retire genuinely very shortly indeed.

It will be announced in September or early October (I cannot be certain which) that Maynooth and all the other national Catholic seminaries combined have attracted a national total of 17 new clerical students; 12 of these from abroad. Two new priests will be ordained in the summer season.

Ireland will not win the European Championships in the Ukraine but will perform respectably and execute one major upset.

We will not win even one gold medal at the London Olympics but will ferret out the information that three of the American gold medalists had Irish grandfathers or grandmothers, two of these from Cork. 

We will win one silver and two bronze medals as some compensation. All of these, as is traditional, will be won in the boxing ring.

There are the headline predictions. Cut this out and keep it close to hand for the rest of the year!