SOME GOOD NEWS: 2020 is nearly over.
The chaos wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic will ensure that while the last twelve months will live long in the memory, they won’t be remembered with particular fondness.
A few good things did happen, although we’re not going to chime in and say “it wasn’t all bad” and pretend that they offset the year that most people had.
Instead, we’re hoping some of those good things can act as a momentary distraction from the world and the not-so-good things that happened.
Here’s ten of them to keep you ticking over…
Same-sex marriage was officially legalised in the North
It’s difficult to imagine from this vantage point, but there was a time in 2020 when there wasn’t a global pandemic, when Covid-19 wasn’t called Covid-19, and when people on the island of Ireland had other things to worry about.
The return of the Stormont Executive at the beginning of 2020 after a record-breaking two-year absence was good news in its own right, although politicians belatedly getting to work after years of bickering isn’t the sense of cheeriness we’re going for with this list.
The political impasse in the North lasted so long that it produced its own sub-genre of good (and bad) news stories, none more so than when MPs in Westminster stepped in to legislate for same-sex marriage last year.
To recap: same-sex marriage was legalised everywhere in the UK except Northern Ireland in 2014.
Three years later, Stormont collapsed following a row between Sinn Féin and the DUP, leading to two years of political gridlock in the North.
Nothing happened for so long that UK MPs rolled up their sleeves and passed legislation in July 2019 which required the North to legislate for same-sex marriage by January of this year – if Stormont didn’t return by October last year, which it didn’t.
Cue the first same-sex marriages in the North on 11 February, when Robyn Peoples and Sharni Edwards became the first couple to tie the knot in Carrickfergus in Co Antrim.
Ahead of the ceremony, Peoples said the pair were sending a message to the world that “we are equal”.
“If the law sees us as equal, people growing up will have that, stereotypes will change with time,” she said.
“Now kids can see from a young age ‘they’re getting married, they’re equal, that’s okay’.”
Edwards also reminded reporters of the importance of the day from the couple’s own perspective. “We didn’t set out to make history,” she said. “We just fell in love.”
England’s beaver reintroduction trial was deemed a huge success
The timing of regional and national lockdowns in the spring made ‘nature is healing’ one of the memes of the year, but England took things a step further and actually confirmed the news with the success of a beaver reintroduction trial in the south of the country.
Beavers were hunted to extinction in Britain – mainly for their fur – in the 16th century, but 2020 could be the year that marks a turning point in their comeback.
In August, the British government celebrated the success of a five-year trial to re-introduce the mammal on the River Otter in Devon.
The trial began in 2015, when two families of beavers were introduced into the river. It followed a similar project carried out in Scotland a number of years ago.
By 2019, the beavers’ population had increased to at least eight breeding pairs across 13 territories, bringing about numerous benefits to the local environment.
The reintroduction improved biodiversity and water quality in nearby areas, mitigating flooding and making the local landscape more resilient to climate change.
Studies have also shown increased numbers of dragonflies, butterflies and aquatic plants and benefits to flowers and trees in areas near where beavers have been re-introduced.
Beavers have a human impact too: they prevent flash-flooding in some towns downstream of rivers where they create their dams.
Those dams can also capture organic sediments and reduce the effects of agricultural runoff and chemicals, helping to improve the quality of water further downstream.
YouGov polling has found overwhelming support for bringing beavers back among the British public, and that they’re the most popular mammal for reintroduction.
The success of the official project this year led the UK government to plan for a strategy to manage beavers in the wild and formulate a national approach for further releases.
The only downside is that this has prevented licences being awarded for further releases of beavers into the wild, which had seen a notable uptick in recent years.
But The Guardian reported this year that secretive populations of free-living beavers are now living on rivers in Kent, north Somerset, Gloucestershire, west Devon and Wales.
Even while licence applications are suspended, living populations will most likely continue to breed and spread further, which will finally give humanity a reproduction number it can get behind.
Irish politicians have recently flirted with the possible re-introduction of wolves – but a look across the Irish Sea would suggest that beavers might be the way forward instead.
A six-year-old space enthusiast warmed the hearts of the nation – and a few celebrity fans
Viewers heard how he wanted to grow up to be a captain of ground control in NASA.
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The nation’s hearts were warmed enough by the end of the show, but that wasn’t the end of his story.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield subsequently reached out to Adam, before the pair spoke on a subsequent edition of the Late Late Show, while NASA also gave him a shoutout, telling him it would be waiting for him to join their crew.
Then came a letter from the Taoiseach, who called him an inspiration and a “perfect example” of the strength and kindness needed by the nation during the pandemic.
And as if that wasn’t enough, An Post was so inspired by his “virtual hug” that it announced it was putting a special postmark on all mail across the country this Christmas.
Not a bad month’s work…
Dublin became the first European capital to have a zero carbon-emission postal service
An Post has been associated with the colour green for as long as it’s existed, but 2020 was the year the company fully embraced the term’s more environmental meaning.
In February, the company embraced its inner-1965 Bob Dylan by going electric with the addition of a number of 7.5 tonne Fuso eCanter trucks, becoming the first postal service in the world to eliminate its carbon emissions in a capital city.
Every letter and parcel sent via An Post in Dublin is now delivered with zero emissions, which makes a difference when you consider its postal workers travel up and down pretty much every road in the city five days a week.
There’s more to come too. When its new fleet was rolled out in Dublin, the company’s total number of electric vehicles was 212; it’s hoping to bring this up to 900 by 2022.
And the company also says that zero-emissions deliveries for Cork, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford are in the post.
Africa is declared free of wild polio
Yes, we’re all completely sick to death of virus news for the year and this is supposed to be a reminder of the good non-Covid news stories that happened in 2020… but good virus news is good virus news.
In August, the entire continent of Africa was declared free from wild polio, a disease with no cure which primarily affects children under the age of five.
In 1996 poliovirus – which usually spreads through contaminated water and attacks the nervous system – paralysed more than 75,000 children across the continent. Every country in Africa was impacted by the virus.
There’s no cure for polio, but a vaccination can protect children for life.
In recent years, there has been a mass campaign in which billions of people were inoculated.
This year’s declaration that Africa was polio free came after it was reported that over 95% of the continent’s population of more than 1.2 billion people had been immunised.
Nigeria was the last country to have reported a case of the virus in 2016, with local unrest complicating the immunisation campaign in parts of the country, as well as rumours and misinformation about the vaccine.
The country accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago, but was officially declared polio free by the Africa Regional Certification Commission in August.
The declaration meant polio is only the second virus to be eradicated from the continent of Africa since smallpox was eliminated there 40 years ago.
Dublin Zoo raised €2 million in donations from the public in 48 hours
Throughout the year, the airwaves were filled with stark warnings from lobbyists and business-owners about the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on sectors across Irish society.
But one of the year’s more striking interviews came when Dublin Zoo director Christoph Schwitzer gave a bleak outlook for the future of the attraction during an interview with Morning Ireland in November.
His succinct description of the zoo’s dire financial situation – “you can’t furlough an elephant” – was one of the year’s more memorable quotes, and likely played a big role in the outpouring of public support that came next.
In a bid to counter its losses, the zoo launched the ‘Save Dublin Zoo’ campaign, a fundraiser that brought in €1 million from the public in its first 12 hours and further €1 million over the next day-and-a-half.
The Government then pledged another €4 million to the zoo and Cork’s Fota Island Wildlife Park, partly based on the huge support shown by the public, securing the future of the attractions in the short-term.
It still remains to be seen how the attractions will fare in 2021, but it’s thanks in no small part to the Irish public that their financial worries have been resolved until then.
Nasa collected asteroid samples for the first time ever
It’s a bit mad to think that more than fifty years since putting a man on the Moon, Nasa would find it difficult to touch down on an asteroid and grab samples from it – until you realise that doing that is literally rocket science and an incredible technological feat.
The great news is the space agency can now strike that one off its ‘to do’ list after a mission to a body orbiting 300 million kilometres away (roughly double the distance to the Sun).
In October, the agency’s Osiris Rex spacecraft descended on to Bennu, an asteroid just 510m which it had been orbiting for roughly two years.
The task was complicated because Osiris Rex wasn’t able to properly land on the asteroid due to its low gravitational pull – what with it being comparatively tiny – so it had just a ten second window to grab particles from Bennu.
When descending, the van-sized craft had to aim for a spot equivalent to a few parking spaces on Earth and attempted to grab a small sample worth of particles.
By the time controllers at Nasa heard back from Osiris-Rex that it had landed, the job had already been completed 18-and-a-half minutes earlier, the time it takes radio signals to travel between Bennu and Earth.
We won’t know the full results of this achievement until the craft returns to Earth, but scientists believe the asteroid contains the pristine carbon material from the early Solar System that can help reveal clues how our planet and its neighbours came into being.
We’ll have to wait for two years to find out – Osiris Rex isn’t expected to return to Earth until 2022, when it will return Bennu’s samples to the US via a parachute drop in the Utah desert.
Two young paddle-boarders are rescued off the coast of Co Galway
We’re not going to lie, this is the 2020 news story that probably proved the biggest inspiration for this list.
If you missed this at the time, it’s hard to convey the sense of collective elation that was felt across the country when it was announced that cousins Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn had been found by fishermen off the coast of Inis Oirr after 15 hours at sea.
The pair were swept into Galway Bay after going paddle-boarding on from Furbo Beach at around 9pm on the night of 12 August.
The Irish Coast Guard launched a search and rescue operation, but there was no sight or sign of the young cousins until around 7am the next morning, when the two were discovered clinging to a lobster pot by fisherman Patrick Oliver his son Morgan.
The women had kept themselves together and in one place overnight by tying their paddle boards to a buoy and to each other.
The women were wearing swimsuits instead of wetsuits, and the weather overnight proved to be one of the most difficult challenges they faced.
But it was later revealed that the two managed to keep their senses about them by singing Taylor Swift and “thinking happy thoughts”, and they recalled that they even managed to sleep during their ordeal.
“We found them, but they saved themselves,” Patrick Oliver later recalled.
“We’re so, so grateful. I’ve no idea what would have had happened if they hadn’t found us,” Glynn said later.
If that wasn’t enough for one year, Patrick and Morgan rescued a man who got into difficulty on the River Corrib in September and a swimmer who got into difficulty off the coast of Salthill in November.
Who needs Batman and Robin?
A nine-year-old boy with a rare disease was sent 1,000 cards after he had to cancel his birthday party
Covid-19 disrupted everybody’s plans at some stage in 2020, but nine-year-old Jack Beattie was one of the first to feel the disappointment that the pandemic visited on so many people over the course of the year.
Jack had planned an event for his birthday in early March, which would have been his first party in three years: surgery related to having Osteogenesis Imperfacta – a brittle bone disease – meant he was not able to do anything in the last two years.
But when Covid-19 restrictions were introduced, his mother Ruth had to tell him his party could not go ahead – something she later said broke her heart.
Instead, she appealed for people to post birthday cards to Jack to let him know that people still cared that it was his big day.
And cared they did: shortly after the appeal, Jack had received over 1,000 cards from across the country, and some from as far away as France and Switzerland.
Ruth said the response meant Jack had “a birthday he will never forget”.
“I never imagined this response,” she said. “I had one wish – to make him happy – and my wish definitely came true.”
Muslims pray at Croke Park in celebration of Eid al-Adha
The celebration of Eid al-Adha, one of the most important events in the Muslim calendar, was also disrupted as a result of the pandemic.
The event takes place at the end of the Hajj pilgrimage, which fell in July this year – just as the government issued guidance that allowed places of worship could hold only limited numbers of people.
To facilitate social distancing, the GAA allowed Croke Park to be used by Muslims for the event, which turned into a wider celebration of the Irish-Muslim community.
Around 200 Muslims and dignitaries gathered at the stadium on 31 July, including Minister for Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman, and Dublin Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
At the time, Imran Khurshid, a member of Fianna Fáil, told TheJournal.ie that the event was well-organised and adhered to social distancing rules.
He also captured the mood on a historic day for the Irish-Muslim community.
“To be honest, it was amazing, this word covers everything,” he said.
“People were very happy. It felt like home, that we are at home and we have nothing to worry about.”