Outgoing Donegal Person of the Year, Noel Cunningham, has spoken of a ‘tumultuous’ 12 months for the county which witnessed the Creeslough tragedy and last week’s killing of Pte Sean Rooney.
In his Christmas message, he also touches on the ongoing ‘misery’ of Mica, the refugee crisis and much more.
Read his full message below:
“I have been very privileged to be honoured as Donegal Person of the Year.
Due to Covid I will probably hold the record for the longest serving Donegal Person of the Year and this has been no hardship. It has been an absolute honour to hold this title and I wear this badge with pride.
It has been a tumultuous year. As I write this we hear of the death of Pte Sean Rooney with strong Donegal connections and of the injuries sustained by Pte Shane Kearney . Let us not forget that Sean died serving as peacekeepers in Lebanon … a service we have been involved with for several years. Coming at Christmas time makes this situation all the sadder and I extend deepest sympathy to Sean’s Family and Friends. There are no words.
Indeed this is also the first Christmas we can say with confidence that the threat of lockdowns etc due to Covid no longer applies. We forget how miserable it all was for a number of years and how families and friends were separated and isolated from each other. We forget that we were locked up and unable to travel so we should be full of gratitude this Christmas that life is much more normal and as it was.
We also remember how many of us lost loved ones during these past few years. Many were unable to attend wakes and funerals and indeed it is easy to forget how many familiar faces are gone forever. There will be many empty chairs and lonely homes so to all bereaved in our County for whatever reason we extend love and kindest thoughts.
And who can forget the misery of Mica. I travelled the county to see first hand the many affected homes. It is simply heart-breaking to see up close the tragedy that has engulfed so many families. The time for talking is well and truly over and it is my earnest hope with a new Taoisigh that real decisions will be made and action taken to end the misery of these families.
Donegal was not found wanting when we stepped up to the plate to help the Ukrainian people driven from their homes and their lands by the actions of a despot. The people of our great county responded magnificently. We too were emigrants and memories of the great Famine and the help offered by America in particular spring to mind. With our own homeless and children without a roof above their heads, the housing crisis and the added burden on our services due to refugees , our housing and indeed lack of for so many homeless has to be addressed. Indeed may all wars and conflict end in the year ahead.
And the seismic events of Creeslough will long linger in our minds, Our thoughts this Christmas will of course largely lie with the community of this lovely village. The devastation and loss is well documented and the great leadership shown by Fr John Joe touched the World. I was in Medjugorje, and behind the church after evening Mass at Adoration, several thousand people sat silently in candlelight prayer with haunting music. Someone uttered the word Creeslough and at that moment with people from all over the World it was clear to all that everyone’s thoughts were with the community of Creeslough. I shall never forget that experience.
In closing, and as my time as Donegal Person of the Year draws to a close, I wish each and every one of you a very peaceful Christmas. May it be full of gratitude for what we have and let the spirit of Covid and Creeslough focus us on what matters. Family and Friends and support and love and kindness and giving are truly all that matter this year. I hold Donegal close to my heart and as long as I live in everything I do I will never tire of telling anyone who will listen about the great community I am privileged to live amongst. I will promote Donegal wherever and whenever I can. I am indeed full of gratitude for Donegal.
Happy Christmas and may ’23 be full of hope for brighter days and happier times.
Donegal Person of the Year.”