April 30, 2003


I'm looking out of my window at a giant black cloud that is about to unleash a whole lot of rain very soon, and probably the odd flash of lightning too.
Things could be worse. On this day in 1054, the earliest recorded tornado in Europe scared the hell out of the folk in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath. Nothing so exciting has happened in Kilbeggan since (and Ireland hasn't had many tornados either, thankfully).

Posted by monasset at 01:26 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2003

Last gasp

Christopher Hitchens bemoans the fact that Dublin (and the rest of Ireland) looks to follow New York in banning smoking from pubs. He laments :-

Is there no fiery patriot to denounce the idea that, from now on, the pubs of Belfast will be more authentic than the ones in Cork and Limerick?
Is the national soul so dead that the memory of Flann O'Brien and Brendan Behan has been banished or stilled?

Of course, the proposed ban in Ireland has nothing to do with health and everything to do with passive-smoking lawsuits. Like the man said, Irish people wouldn't make a law to improve their health even if their lives depended on it.
There was a time when ordinary folk were in fear of the church - now, it's litigation. Progress indeed...

Posted by monasset at 11:26 PM | Comments (0)

Last week, the Sunday Independent published a front page story,Sutherland sold reactors to 'axis of evil' describing how Peter Sutherland (former chairman of GATT and Irish EU commissioner, and current chairman of Goldman Sachs ) and Donald Rumsfeld helped to sell 2 nuclear reactors to North Korea.

The Sutherland/Rumsfeld reactors were fitted with monitoring cameras which provided intelligence to western powers, but the North Koreans started to remove them in December last year. It has not been possible to verify their claims about their growing nuclear capability.

The impression was given in the article that there was something amiss about the transaction. Sutherland's role was that he works for ABB who actually supplied the reactors.

In 1998, Mr Rumsfeld himself used his position as chairman of the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission to warn: "North Korea maintains an active weapons of mass destruction programme, including a nuclear weapons programme." Less than two years later he and Sutherland were openly selling the 'rogue state' $200m worth of nuclear kit.

It seemed unbelievable. One of Ireland's leading businessmen involved in shady deals of nuclear components to a dodgy government. Funnily enough, one of the Independent's senior journalists, Sam Smyth, seemed very reluctant to discuss the scoop on his Sunday radio show on TodayFM last Sunday. And for good reason. Yesterday, The Sunday Independent published a front page retraction, adding that they had paid a substantial sum to a charity of Mr. Sutherland's choice.

The sale of the equipment had indeed taken place. But it wasn't a secret deal - it was part of the Framework Agreement that the US (along with the EU, South Korea and Japan) had brokered with in an attempt to stop the North Korea developing nukes or building their own nuclear powerplant.

All this information is available on ABB's website. If you type North Korea into their search function on the ABB homepage, the second result describes the entire deal and its background. The mystery is how such a badly-researched story ended up on the front page of the paper. One minute on the internet would have saved the Sunday Independent a lot of money and embarrassment. Assuming of course that there are journalists on the Sunday Independent that have heard of the internet...

UPDATE May 1st, 2003
Fortune (Via MetaFilter) has picked up on Donald Rumsfeld 's involvement in the sale. It focuses on the fact that, given that most Republican party politicians were dead against the Framework deal (signed by Clinton), it was embarrassing for Rumsfeld to be involved in the ABB sale. It doesn't cover anything that wasn't in the Sunday Independent story last week, but has different emphasis;- it just focuses on the Rumsfeld issue, rather than try (and fail) to create an Irish angle.

Posted by monasset at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2003

Child support

I spotted this driving near Killala a couple of weeks ago and had to stop. The cow in the picture was not destined for the knackers yard. Three days after having a calf, she was too weak to stand on her own, so the farmer used a JCB and a harness to lift her. The harness is needed to milk her. A cow that produces milk that is not consumed soon develops mastitis that is bad news for bovines. She is also producing beestings - highly nutritious milk that the cow produces for a week or so after calving - which must be fed to the calf.

Making babies for the modern cow is not all flowers and chocolates. In fact, it is all too often a man arriving in a van with a very long rubber glove. The arrival of the AI man (Artificial Insemination) allows the farmer to ensure that his cows all produce calves at the same time. It also allows the farmer to choose the breed of calf. A dairy farmer must put his cows in calf every year so that they will produce milk. Mostly, the calves will be sold off for beef production. So a Friesian cow (a good milk-producing cow) may be inseminated with Hereford or Charolais sperm, since those breeds are more suitable for beef. However, calves of those breeds tend to be big, and a Friesian cow is not necessary engineered to bear such a calf easily. Hence the trauma and exhaustion at birth.

Posted by monasset at 11:25 PM | Comments (2)

April 26, 2003

Not to be sneezed at

The handling of the SARS issue has turned into a comedy show. All this week, there has been confusion over whether a Chinese woman admitted to Waterford Hospital last week was a suspected or a probable sufferer of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Conflicting information emanating from the Department of Health has confused everybody, and doctors around the country are complaining that they haven't received enough information (or face masks) to deal with the problem. Of course, it doesn't help that the very group of doctors who are charged with managing outbreaks of infectious diseases are on strike over money and conditions. The 300 Public Health doctors would normally be co-ordinating the response to SARS, but clearly feel that their pay claim warrants a continuation of the strike.

The Minister for Health, Michael Martin, under a lot of pressure as it is, blew his top yesterday and accused them of abdicating their responsibility and putting lives at risk. Not so clever (even if true). The Irish Medical Organisation (which represents many doctors in Ireland) are having their annual conference this weekend and, angered by Martin's comments, have decided to support the Public Health doctors - in a manner to be decided today.

However aggrieved doctors feel, the strike, and any escalation thereof, is a mistake at this time. An outbreak of SARS in Ireland has the potential to kill, and even one fatality would be a scandal. And let's face it, doctors are not exactly starving, as a profession.

The comparison with the Foot and Mouth outbreak two years ago is instructive. There was a collective sense of purpose in the country to minimise the problem as quickly as possible. And there was no talk by the vets of using the crisis to extract a pay hike.
And like the summer of 2001, tt goes without saying that we could say goodbye to the tourist industry this year if there are even a few confirmed cases of SARS in the country.

I passed through both Dublin and Heathrow airports on Thursday - apart from a few posters, there was no other references to SARS. I'm not sure what else can be done, unless anyone with a hacking cough is hauled off for testing (apparently, in Singapore, passengers have to pass through infrared detectors to see if their temperature is abnormal). There was one passenger at Heathrow going through security wearing a mask (which just served to alarm everyone else- was she trying to protect herself ... or the rest of us).

Meanwhile, the war against terror continues unabated. The passenger in front of me at Heathrow was taken to one side, and a miniature scissors was confiscated from her bag. As she received a stern lecture, I was comforted by the knowledge that the risk of terrorism by elderly Nigerian nuns using personal grooming equipment had been reduced. Phew!

Posted by monasset at 11:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 21, 2003

Four legs good, two legs bad…

I'm very tempted to frame the front page of this week's Western People.

The headline story "Satellites keep watch on Mayo sheep habits" reports that 20 sheep are to be fitted with transmitters that will enable their located to be recorded (via GPS). The data will be beamed to the Teagasc centre in Athenry. And why the interest in this coalition of the woolly ? As mentioned previously, sheep are slowly but surely munching their way through the west of Ireland. There is a plan to reduce the number of sheep, and the satellite tracking is intended to give scientists a view of the sheeps grazing patterns.

Better still is the other main story "Barnacoll woman has narrow escape after cow attack". Again, modern radio technology played a key part in the story. The woman in question, a sister-in-law of music mogul, Louis Walsh, found herself cornered by an irate bovine on her farm this week.

I had a mobile phone on me and I tried to ring a few numbers but could get no answer. I managed to get through to my cousin T. J. down the village and he arrived just after Noel came out from the house. Noel got the cow away with the shovel and put her out of the building.

I know that some farmers play music to their cows because it seems to calm them. Maybe she made the mistake of playing Westlife.

Sometimes I think that the country is destined to turn into one giant suburb, with every last vestige of what makes this country unique slowly but surely extinguished. As long as stories like this appear, we're safe…

In a seemingly unrelated story, a bird flew into the engine of a Ryanair plane, knocking out the engine and forcing it to return to Dublin. Evidence that the animal kingdom is turning against us is either a sign of the coming apocalypse or perhaps just coincidence. Just don't turn your back on Daisy or Fluffy…

Posted by monasset at 12:37 AM | Comments (0)

Easter risings

What were the chances of the finest weather this year coinciding with a four day weekend? Last week has been an absolute scorcher, and even though the weather today and tomorrow will probably be cooler (and maybe wetter), we've been very lucky.

It is Easter so there are religious services on every day. On Good Friday, the pubs were closed, which meant that people were forced to go out and enjoy the weather rather than sit in (or outside) a pub which would be the normal routine on a warm holiday weekend.

I visited a slightly older religious site on Good Friday - the Glebe stone circles in Mayo. They were probably built a couple of thousand years before the events celebrated at Easter. Most stone circles in Ireland are assumed to mark significant solar events, such as the equinoxes. Presumably, they were built during the last period of prolonged sunshine…

Meanwhile, kudos to the group of 50 Yorkshire students, who lugged a wooden cross up to Croagh Patrick for Easter.

Posted by monasset at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)

Suil eile

TG4 have been showing a number of excellent documentaries on Saturday nights. Last night's was about the contribution of Protestants to the revival of the Irish language in the 19th century, particularly in the Gaelic League. The programme made the point that the original intent was to have a non-political and non-sectarian cultural organisation, and that being proud of Irish culture, and being Irish, does not necessarily mean tearing down one flag and raising another. Timely.

Posted by monasset at 12:27 AM | Comments (0)

Rights of passage

Mountaineer and writer Josh Lynam has called on the IFA not to close off access to rural walks. Farmers who own land on officially marked trails are indemnified against insurance claims, (and there are plenty of fraudsters and ambulance-chasing lawyers about the place) but not other routes. The government had planned to pay farmers for access using the REPS scheme (i.e. from the European Union's money pot) but the EU rules against it.

It's time for the government to bite the bullet on this one. One of the most useful acts would be to indemnify farmers against any claims by walkers, but for some reason, the legal profession seems to be lukewarm on this idea. This would be particularly helpful for farmers who happen to have old buildings on their land. Most of them put up "Beware of the Bull" or "No Trespassing" signs to discourage visitors. According to the Irish Times (April 19th, 2003 Weekender), the vast majority of listed national sites and monuments are on private property - out of 120,000 sites, only 700 are in the care of the State.

Another useful idea would be to provide tax relief for farmers who provide facilities to encourage walkers (i.e. building stiles, not setting dogs on them, etc.). It does not seem likely. Duchas, the heritage service, was abolished this week. As a means of saving money, it is completely useless. As a means of preserving our heritage, it makes no sense whatsoever.

Posted by monasset at 12:09 AM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2003


The 300 public health doctors in the country are on strike for more money. One of their responsibilities is responding to outbreaks of infectious disease.

And what a coincidence. The strike takes place a couple of months before the Special Olympics will bring thousands of people to Ireland, including participants from countries currently affected by the SARS virus.

The Department of Health are advising people not to travel to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Canada. Which will give the host towns of Bray, Clonmel, Arklow and Carlow something else to worry about.>/p>

Posted by monasset at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

Triumph of the swill

Interesting thread on Metafilter on local 'delicacies' (i.e. food only the locals could love) around the world. Sweden's surstromming takes some beating. Traditionally, it was herring left in the ground to rot, and only consumed when it is fairly ripe. Nowadays, it can be bought in cans that buckle as the gas builds up inside.

Some years ago, a work colleague wanted to bring a can home from Sweden as a souvenir - it exploded in the office just before she was about to depart for the airport. Imagine if it had gone off on the plane ?

I've never met a Swede who actually likes the stuff...it's a reminder of a time when Sweden was not so prosperous. Unhappy descriptions of tasting surstromming here and here (which also includes a near-topless image of the model Caprice, for some unrelated reason).

Most 'traditional' Irish recipes consist of boiling the bejaysus out of whatever was thrown into a pot; usually a few veg. and whatever lights and gizzards could be scraped off a pig, sheep or bullock. Not quite in the same league.

Posted by monasset at 06:12 PM | Comments (1)

April 13, 2003

Schlock and awe

I think this situation absolutely requires that a really futile, stupid gesture be done on somebody's part! And we're just the guys to do it.

The Bare Necessities, a womens' peace group, stripped naked in the Burren as a protest against the war in Iraq (pictures in Galway Advertiser and Sunday Independent). That 50 naked and, ahem, uncropped women would form the words "Bush Out" without a hint of irony tells you all you need to know about such a pointless act. That they would choose a form of protest that is particularly offensive to Islam (which favours female modesty) just underlines the fact.

Posted by monasset at 10:44 PM | Comments (0)


The 2003 Cúirt International Festival of Literature is on later this month (from April 22nd to April 27th ) - writers include Ed Moloney, Hugo Hamilton and Andrew O' Hagan.

Posted by monasset at 10:42 PM | Comments (0)


The Connacht Tribune reports that the Dept. of Agriculture and the Army are drawing up a plan to slaughter a number of wild bulls that have been terrorising Kilnadeema in south Galway. According to Fine Gael TD Paul Connaughton

the bulls have been driving cattle beserk around fields, knocking down fences, terrorising people in contact with them, and bulling young heifers which should be not be put in calf at such a young age.

To be honest, he could just as easily be talking about his constituents! No sign of any complaints from the heifers, mind.
I don't know which is the more worrying prospect; horny bulls or army sharpshooters out to kill them. Either way, I think I'll give hillwalking a miss in that area for a while.

Posted by monasset at 10:39 PM | Comments (1)

To boldly go...

On Friday, Ireland's latest research ship, the Celtic Explorer was commissioned. It's an impressive looking ship - it can be seen in the Galway docks.

Posted by monasset at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

Your only man

Drink yourself to better mental health! The New Scientist reports that an Irish coffee mix (i.e. a combination of caffeine and alcohol) could prevent severe brain damage in stroke victims.

The experimental drug, called caffeinol, has the potency of two cups of strong coffee and a small shot of alcohol. When injected into rats within three hours of an artificially stimulated stroke, brain damage was cut by up to 80 per cent.

On a drinking related theme, the Minister of Justice, Michael Mcdowell, has pledged to crack down on binge drinking and underage drinking. He mentioned this during the Progressive Democrat annual conference held in Galway over the weekend. (One side-effect of the electoral success of Sinn Fein, The Greens and the PDs is that they have enough TDs to oblige live TV coverage of their annual conference by RTE. Your licence fee at work)

However, Michael went on to emphasise that his wrath would be confined to cracking down on so-called superpubs (i.e. large chains of pubs). Now, that's good news for the rest of pub owners in Ireland but it won't make the slightest difference to the rate of drinking in Ireland.

Posted by monasset at 10:35 PM | Comments (0)

Dressed to ill

The TV was full of pop nostalgia on Saturday. Channel 4 had a retrospective on Smash Hits magazine that featured a lot of stars that have since disappeared without trace. On ITV, you could see the fate of some of them. In the latest twist on reality TV programming, a bunch of Eighties popstars travel around the US on a bus and perform to audiences in different towns. Each week, viewers in the UK vote one of the performers off the bus. To complete the humiliation, the ejected one sings out the programme, usually with an even more forced smile than usual.

I don't watch it (it's so bad, even my wife won't watch it) but since it's on just before the football, I usually see the closing scene. This week, it was the turn of someone called Leee John - it transpired that he was the lead singer with Imagination, a band that had a few hits in the very early Eighties.

Imagination were known for two things,

all their songs were sung in a high falsetto, despite the fact that the band consisted of three strapping fellows,

their outfits were simply atrocious, even by the admittedly low standards of the Eighties. I remember seeing them on Top of the Pops wearing what seemed to be gold miniskirts and glitter. (if you don't believe me, check out the gallery here)

Now, in the Eighties, all I knew about Imagination was that I hated the sight and sound of them. However, in 1982, I went to London on a family holiday. Alighting off the back of a double-decker bus one day, I noticed that one of the other passengers had dropped a large set of keys as he got off. I shouted after him, and handed him his keys. He thanked me profusely, and as he turned to leave, he commented," These are the keys to my studio, all my outfits are there. I'm the dress designer for Imagination", and strode off

Now it was time to pick my jaw off the footpath.

a) I couldn't believe that Imagination had a dress designer,
b) I could imagine anyone would admit to such a role,
c) I can't believe I let him escape.

Posted by monasset at 10:31 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2003


Sea shells, Spanish Point, Co. Clare. Photo taken March 23rd, 2003
Caption: Sea shells @ Spanish Point, Co. Clare. Photo taken 23rd March 2003.

Posted by monasset at 11:10 PM | Comments (0)

A hole in the ground

Ah, the joys of gardening in Spring. I can't believe that I've had to water my garden for the last three weeks. Plants are practically leaping from the ground. Despite nearly being eaten alive by midges, this evening was ideal for a bit of digging.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,

Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner's bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, digging down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I'll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney (1966)

Posted by monasset at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)

April 09, 2003

Mad dogs and Galwaymen

A study by ER doctors in the UCG hospital in Galway reveal two unsurprising facts; firstly, there weren't many more accidents during the 2002 football world cup than any other time, and secondly, Irish soccer fans lose all reason when the team is playing.

The study, carried out by emergency doctors in University College Hospital in Galway, also revealed how another man mistakenly drank white spirit, used for thinning paint, after he reached for what he thought was a glass of water while celebrating another goal.

At least it wasn't a pint of Harp.

More sorry tales here.

Posted by monasset at 10:45 PM | Comments (2)

Return to Sender

A community in Mayo are refusing their mail as a protest because their postman, who has retired, is not being replaced.

Many of the 180 householders in the Lahardane area, near Ballina, Co Mayo, have posted signs on their letter boxes and post-boxes indicating that all mail should be returned to sender until further notice.

Easy know that none of them are expecting money…

Posted by monasset at 10:35 PM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2003

Set in stone

Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I got sunburnt today. Whatever genes my ancestors passed on to me, (Celtic/Anglo-Saxon/Viking/milkman), they are ill-equipped for an onshore breeze while standing on Downpatrick Head. It was 19 degrees and sunny in Belmullet today, and even warmer in Galway.

Breastagh Ogham stone, an 8 foot Bronze Age monument near Killala bay in Mayo. This is actually the first ogham stone I have ever seen in the wild, as it were (though I remember having to write my name 'in ogham' in national school.

The inscription reads LGG SD LE ESCAD - which roughly translates as "No superdump in North Mayo".

Posted by monasset at 10:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 03, 2003

The usual

Some handy tips for ordering drinks from a UK-based barmaid....

According to Blogcritics, there shall be a statue of Phil Lynott erected in Dublin. I wonder who should receive a similar accolade in the west?

Posted by monasset at 09:49 PM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2003

Stone cold

There was a discussion on Metafilter last week on ancient monuments in the UK and Ireland. I've added some of the links to the site for your delectation. Lot's more places to visit this year...

I've also added a couple of galleries - they are all works-in-progress, but so is life, I guess

Posted by monasset at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2003

North Atlantic Skyline

Posted by monasset at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)


Despite high hopes of teaching the young whippersnappers a lesson, our team were well beaten into second place in the GMIT's film and TV quiz in the Huntsman in Galway last night. Alas, our knowledge of Australian soaps and Lord of the Rings let us down in the end. My record of not having been on a winning table quiz team since national school continues...

Posted by monasset at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)