July 27, 2003


International Bog Day, and the only way to celebrate it is by staying as far away from the bog as possible. Pictured are piles of turf in the shadow of the Twelve Bens, Co. Galway, on a beautiful July day.

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Art Overload

Whew - I'm all cultured out. I managed to squeeze in two shows in the Arts Festival on Friday. First up was a public reading by Pat McCabe (4.00pm, in the Radisson's Entertainment Centre). He announced that rather than his usual custom of reading pieces from various novels, he would just read from his next novel, Call Me the Breeze. And he did, without pause, for about an hour and a half. The lads either side of me were nodding off, not from the material, but the heat and the effort of focusing continuously for 90 minutes (of course, the pre-show pints had nothing to do with it). As for the novel, it is about a fat barman called Joey Tallon, who is working in a small border town during the Seventies, and is obsessed with a beautiful, unattainable American girl. From the excerpts, it features a good deal of dark fantasising on the part of the main character, shocking instances of violence and unrequited love - a new departure for a McCabe novel, then. Incidentally, the length of the excerpts seemed to give away a good deal of the plot, including a passage from the last chapter which suggests - to absolutely no one's surprise - that it all ends in tears.

Our attempts to get a bit of grub between shows was an unmitigated disaster - not helped by the fact that we spent the first hour of our search in Rabbitt's drinking pints. We didn't really have time for a sit-down restaurant meal, and after trying a number of bars, we went - with very heavy hearts - to O'Briens Sandwich Bar. I ordered a toasted sandwich. After quite a delay, a young wan came over to mournfully announce that she had burnt the sandwich. For F*ck sake!. So it was off to the Town Hall Theatre, sans grub, for the 8.00 pm show of Purple Heart.

The play, performed by the Steppenwolf theatre company, is set in 1972 and features Laurie Metcalf as Carla, a Vietnam War widow. She boozes - we assume - to blot out her grief, oblivious to her teenage son Thor's own pain, who struggles vainly for her attention. Her mother-in-law, Grace tries to impose some order into their lives, much to their irritation. As the first act unfolds, it becomes clear that the pain that Carla feels is the charade of grieving that she is forced to endure for a husband that beat her and that clearly didn't love her. The battle of wills between an increasingly desperate Carla, and Grace is interrupted when a stranger arrives. He is a soldier called Purdy, who has returned from Vietnam. Initially Carla ignores him, assuming that he is yet another buddy of her husband (i.e. someone that he went whoring with) and refuses to play the grieving widow routine with him. However, soon Carla and Purdy warm to each other - he too is wounded by the war, and sick of so-called convention. As the first act closes, it transpires that Purdy has no interest in reminiscing about her husband at but with her.

The first act is simply great drama. The playwright (Bruce Norris) has a great line in zinging one-liners and smart, funny, snappy dialogue, and there a couple of simply great sight gags. The direction is very much modelled on TV drama - scenes segue into each other simply through another smart piece of dialogue or physical act, just like a cut in a TV scene to focus our attention to something new. By the end of the first act, a couple of major plot points have been teed up and the audiences appetite has been duly whetted. Alas, the second act completely falls on its arse. I won't spoil it, but the earlier revelations are resolved in the most obvious manner, and the motivation is so completely at odds with what we have seen earlier as to make no sense. In truth, the play would have worked better as a one act play, since the pace of the direction, and the intelligence of the dialogue would have distracted from the plot's failings.

The acting is simply excellent. Laurie Metcalf is the most familiar of the cast, having appeared in Roseanne during it's entire run (she played Roseanne's sister, Jackie). Matt Roth plays Purdy as a laconic outsider - his deadpan exchange with Thor on the youngster's plan to plant a Vietnam-style booby trap for a girl who fancied him in school was the comic highlight of the play. Incidentally, Roth is married to Metcalf in real life. Rosemary Prinz played the mother-in-law anyone would gladly strangle to perfection - she allows Grace's own pain to filter through all of the fussing. As for the performance of Lucas Ellman (Thor), I'd like to march the entire Billy Barry school at gunpoint to the Town Hall Theatre to watch him, so they could see what a child actor is capable of doing. And to think he was only the understudy when this show played in Chicago .

One of my companions pointed out one of the cast of Neighbour's in the audience. Was it just a coincidence that the same person had been "working from home" that day. Which, to my mind, usually involves sitting in one's underpants until lunchtime, watching daytime TV and occasionally prodding a couple keys on the laptop. Who knows?

By the way, you can find a positive review of Purple Heart here(from the Chicago run), a more circumspect review here, and listen to a Rattlebag interview with Laurie Metcalf here (she sounds a bit bewildered, but that was mostly due to Tommy Tiernan sitting beside her) .

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Under sail

Tribute to Stoney Brennan. Inscription reads:In sweet remembrance/of his curative powers/to all his friends/in old Loughrea.

There is a lot of stuff happening in Galway this weekend. Loughrea was celebrating the Stoney Brennan festival. Poor Stoney - he was reputedly hanged for stealing a turnip during the Famine (a pretty far-reaching market correction in Ireland'). Things have not improved since his death - the bust erected in his honour is at the back of a car park, and usually obscured. It is also beside the public toilets. A plaque nearby has the following tribute:
In England they have Robin Hood/In Spain they have El Cid/In Loughrea Stoney Brennan/and guess what Stoney did. He fought no war of conquest/or freedom for that matter/But stole a poxy turnip/to grace his dinner platter.

Yesterday was an absolute cracker of a day, breezy, sunny and very warm. In Lettermullen, the Feile Chuigeil takes place over the whole weekend, featuring both Currach and Hooker Races. I went out to the hill overlooking Coonailleen Bay (Cuan an Mhuilinn), to watch the hookers race down to the month of Cusheen Bay. A mighty sight, with the golden beach at Finish Island shimmering in the sun, and the distant Twelve Bens holding up the sky, and holding off the rain.

This way to the commercial centre of Leitir Móir

The featured snaps are with my crappy digital camera - I'll post up a proper gallery when I get back my 'proper' snaps).

We headed down to Roundstone later - I fancied the catch of the day (ling) in O'Dowd's, and mighty fine it was too. And it didn't cost an arm and a leg either. We were in Clifden recently, and dear God, the prices…Watching the shadows of clouds zip across the face of the Bens reminded me that I had intended to climb Croagh Patrick today, as part of the annual climb - two years ago, the weather was just the same, and I was cooked, sunny-side up. They'll have to do it without me...

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Services rendered

Speaking of Galway Hookers, the Connacht Tribune gave a very detailed account on their front page of the hordes of prostitutes that were arriving in Galway for the races (begins Monday). The article helpfully mentioned prices, types of services, names of "agencies" that could be found easily on the 'net (by them, I hasten to add) and where they operated. I wasn't sure whether it was an ad or an article. Funnily enough, they ran a similarly detailed article around this time last year too…

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Yellow Peril

Not a buachalán in sight

There was an article in last weeks Observer about the number of horses that die from eating ragwort each year (around 6,000, mainly in hay). Anyone with an agricultural background will have no love for the yellow weed - I only ever knew it as buachalán. The story seems incomplete - if horses are dying in increased numbers, cattle should also be affected, particluarly since cattle are often fed silage (and thus the ragwort would be even more potent). An article in the Guardian last year suggests that ragwort may poison the soil over time - I have never heard of that theory.

A sure sign of an unkempt field was multitudes of ragwort (senecio jacobaea) and thistles swaying in the summer breeze, and being sent out to pull them was like a life sentence - it would have been easier to pull the blades of grass between them. While thistles and nettles could be cut with a mower, cattle would eat the ragwort if it was cut (cattle will eat practically anything) but they wouldn't touch it while it was growing. Hence the need for picking it before the meadow is cut or the flowers fade and begins to spread its seeds.

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July 24, 2003

Where do you want to go today?

An all too familiar error message on the departure screen at Rome airport. As long as the pilots don't get the same message on their screens! And to think that this airport is named after Leonardo Da Vinci...

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This Modern World

The US political cartoonist and satirist Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) appeared as part of the Galway Arts Festival in the Radisson Entertainment Centre (aka the basement, albeit a very well appointed one). It's a sign of the times when the performers show up with little more than an iBook.

The show consisted of Dan presenting a selection of his work (projected on a side wall), mainly cartoons, but also some small animated features (made when Dan and some colleagues got their hands of some dot com crazy money). The selection covered his early work (sniping at George Bush senior), the Clinton years (a target-rich environment) as well as the current US president (of which Dan is not a fan).

So was it any good? Well, the overall presentation was a little stilted - Dan read out the captions of the cartoons (essential for those at the back), and the fact that the projection was on a side wall menat that one was switching from the side wall to the stage. But there's no denying his ability to make a political point succinctly, and highlight the absurdities of modern political discourse in the US (not that our own is any better, mind).

Things livened up considerably when he decided to take questions from the audience. There seemed to be a lot of American accents in the audience, and they asked many of the questions, about current politics (what did he think of Howard Dean), censorship (he told an anecdote that he only added to his own blog today), and had he ever met Kurt Vonnegut (uh?).

He mentioned how he and Michael Moore were planning to collaborate on an animated movie, but the finance was from France, and the animation was to be done in Vietnam, so in the end , it didn't seem so practical...He was very happy to hear that artists don't pay tax in Ireland (no one told him how many washed-up rockers that law attracts), and all in all, seemed very at ease with his audience (even if a lot of them had to disappear before the end to catch the next show).

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July 21, 2003


truck abandoned in a bog in front of Sliabh Mor, Achill Island, Co. Mayo.

Sunday is International Bog Day. No dress code required.

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Passing through

I don't know much about the Freemasons but two of them are driving an antique tractor around Ireland for charity. They were in Galway on Saturday. So if you see two fellows looking for a push and thanking you with a funny handshake, you know who it is.

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Off the rails

The Sunday Tribune (whose website is Under Construction for God knows how long) carried a full page story on the West on Track campaign, to establish a commuter rail service between Limerick and Sligo, that would link Mayo towns such as Kiltimagh, Claremorris and Tuam to the main Dublin to Galway line at Athenry, and to Limerick via Craughwell, Gort and Ennis. Critics of the plan say that the population density is too low to support the railway (the paper interviews Dr. Sean Barrett who is particularly sceptical of the proposal); it's supporters claim that this sort of infrastructure will encourage further development to the West. The campaign estimates that the project would cost around 200 million euro to build. Says Fr. Micheál MacGréil, one of the campaigners,

The powers that be want to gentrify the west and have it as a good place for tourism. We want to retain the indigenous population; develop communities and also have it as a pleasant place to visit.

It's all very laudable, though I would also like to see the old Galway to Clifden line re-opened - it passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland, and would serve both tourists and commuters alike.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent reports that the motorway from Waterford to Dublin has begun (well, the compulsory purchase orders are in the post). It will cost 1.3 billion euro but PD senator John Dardis complains that

if you can justify building a motorway there, you could equally justify a motorway anywhere else in Ireland.

Martin Cullen is the Minister for the Environment (and ironically, also responsible for building roads across as much of the environment as possible). He sees the road as absolutely necessary. Guess where Martin is from?

However, a local campaign group called the N9N10 Unified Group point out that the projected traffic volumes in twenty years time would be 18, 000 vehicles per day. The proposed motorway will have the capacity for 72,000 vehicles a day. The group would like the existing roads upgraded instead. Mind you, the projections made 10 years ago for future traffic levels were off by a mile (hence the mess we're in today) so maybe it's best to err on the side of safety. I just wish they'd start such roadbuilding a bit further west

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Under a dark cloud

rain clears over Achill Island, Co. Mayo.

RTE reported that Galway was flooded last night due to heavy rain. The rain in Galway was astounding, even for the west. So much water fell that the drains were quickly inundated, probably because there were blocked with rubbish - another downside of Ireland's Dirtiest City.

I found myself in Galway city in Sunday evening, having a cup of tea in The Living Room. Preparing to leave, I glanced at my watch. Seven o'clock. Why was that significant? An image flashed into my mind…of a sign in the car park where I had left my car. A sign that said This car park closes at seven o'clock sharp. SHITE. I ran for it. The reason I had parked there, as opposed to the 24hour car park at the other end of the street was that it was marginally closer to where I was originally going, and I figured, given the monsoon-like conditions, the hundred yards or so might make a difference. It certainly did.

I ran all the way in torrential rain. As I approached, I could see that the carpark was still open. SPLOOOSH. As I stepped from the footpath, I hadn't noticed that the road had filled with water to the kerb (I was watching for oncoming traffic) - the water was shin-deep. I waded across, ran into the foyer where the pay machines were located and pushed my ticket into the slot. The machine promptly spat it out - the screen displayed the message "Unrecognizable ticket". I tried again - same result. Why? BECAUSE I WAS IN THE WRONG BLOODY CARPARK. In my panic, I had gone to the 24 hour park at the other end of the street. I legged it up the street, (it was still teeming) but the doors were closed. There was a number to ring. For 40 euro, the security company would open the doors of the carpark and let you out. I rang it. I was put through to a centre in dublin - the guy there rang the Galway contact and relayed the message back. "He'll be half an hour - wait by the entrance".

There's a rumour that Stephen Hawkings was going to write an extra chapter to his book "A Brief History of Time" dealing with the concept of the Irish "half an hour", along with the Irish "I'll ring you back in five minutes" and not forgetting the Irish "I'll be around first thing in the morning to fix that". It nearly drove him mad, and poor Stephen was last seen in Stringfellows ogling women with Colin Farrell.

I waited and waited. In the rain. It got colder and darker. I got wetter. Half an hour passed. Forty minutes passed. Three quarters of an hour passed. I rang the number again. "Oh, he on his way…bit of flooding…diversions…". I rang Herself. There was no sympathy, though she did not laugh. Out loud, anyway. Yer man arrived eventually. Money changed hands. I drove off at nine o'clock, a mere two hours after that bloody cup of tea. On the way home, I stopped in a SuperMacs.

"What will you have, sir? "
"Anything that was once a bullock or a spud. See the big bag over there ? Keep filling it until you can't lift it."
It was a night for comfort food……….

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July 20, 2003

Half Man, half bicycle

Now take a sheep,' the Sergeant said. 'What is a sheep only millions of little bits of sheepness whirling about and doing intricate convolutions inside the sheep? What else is it but that?'

'That would be bound to make the beast dizzy,' I observed, 'especially if the whirling was going on inside the head as well.'

The Galway Arts Festival is in full swing, and last night, I went to see an evening of music and spoken word, based on The Third Policeman, Flann O'Brien's surreal comic novel. The music was supplied by guitarist Colin Reid, of whom I had not previously heard anything, and the readings were by the actor Stephen Rea.

The first part of the performance consisted of Reid showcasing his forthcoming album This Broken Rapture, with the help of two winsome accompanists on cello and violin. Reid's skill on guitar is beyond question - technically excellent but I must confess to being unmoved by the music. It seemed cold and unemotional. (I should point out that Herself thought it was brilliant and promptly bought a copy of his current album, Tilt, on the way out. It's on heavy rotation in the monasset household at the moment and will continue to be so until I either grow to like it or the same mysterious fate befalls it that did the Corr's Greatest Hits and the Bridget Jones soundtrack.)

The second, and longer part of the show was the part that I had come for. Alas, I think I was sold a bit of a pup. Colin and his group of musicians (the original three were joined by another celloist and a pianist) would play a bit of music, and then Rea would stand up, and read an excerpt. Rea's readings were excellent - he nailed the nuance and the humour of each excerpt, and frankly, I could have sat there all night and listened to him read the whole book. Unfortunately, Colin and Co. had written music specifically for the readings, and we weren't leaving until we had heard all of it. And there was a lot of it. I have no idea what music would suit The Third Policeman, but Quintet No. 2 wasn't it. It was like listening to the soundtrack of one movie but imagining another.

Not to worry, the evening has made me dig out the book again, and I think it will be my reading for this week. And it has highlighted the dire need for someone to stage a play based on the novel - how about it for the Arts Festival 2004 ?

The show was in the Radisson in Galway - it was delayed due to an power problem (the hotel were blaming the ESB, anyway), and might I commend the ruthless efficiency of the bar staff at the interval (and I mean that as a compliment). We retired to the main bar after the show for a few drinks until we were driven from it by an increasingly "tired and emotional" performance from the guy at the piano. I'm tempted to use the term 'caterwauling' but he was surrounded by women, so what do I know?

As it happens, the BBC are running yet another poll, called The Big Read, which is trying to identify the most favoured books in the UK. There is also a section on Irish writers, and would you believe, The Third Policeman is this week's featured book. You can vote for your favourite here - far be it from me to try to influence your decision.

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On stoney ground

Yesterday's Irish Times Review interviewed Brendan Dunford, whose book, Farming and the Burren, analyses the impact of farming on the environment of the Burren.

"Farmers are often seen as environmental villians , but in the case of the Burren, the opposite is the truth. Without a continuation of the traditional methods of farming, which has sustained the community for 6,000 years, the Burren is in trouble", he says.
"Many people come here and see the wonderful views and look at the monuments and the plants, but they never seem to think of the people. If I want to change anything, that is what I want to do".

It is a worthy aim. Farming in the Burren probably hasn't changed much in centuries - the land is unsuited to intensive tillage farming, so it is normally used for grazing animals. Here, there is a problem. The balance of the Burren is maintained by letting the animals graze I the spring (where they remove the larger plants, like hazel) and then removing them in the summer, which means that smaller, fragile plants prosper. Because of the reduction in the number of farmers, and the need for the remaining farmers to maximise profitability, cattle are either not put on the Burren lands at all (being fed silage in sheds instead) or are left out all year (which means that the cattle eat everything).

It's not going to get better. Changes to EU agricultural policy (including reductions in price supports and subsidies) will mean either even less farmers or more intensive methods. The REPS scheme was supposed to address this sort of issue (across Europe) where traditional farm husbandry was rewarded (i.e. maintaining hedgerows, etc.). It has not been a success.

There is a more successful example in the Shannon Callows, which is the floodplain of the Shannon that extends from Athlone through Banagher down to Portumna. One of the habitats of the corncrake (which is nearly extinct in Ireland) is in the Callows. Traditionally in the Callows, farmers would cut hay late in the year, because the land (which is underwater in the winter) would take longer to recover, and it took longer for the meadows to mature. As it happened, this is exactly what was required for the corncrakes - the meadows were standing long enough for them to rear their chicks. With modern farming, the meadows were cut earlier, usually for silage that is less dependent on the weather. Alas, this was bad news for the birds. A corncrake will not abandon its young, and would not flee the cutting machines. (A corncrake will not cross open ground, so the custom of mowing a field from the outside in towards the centre proved devastating too compared to the older tradition of cutting across a field with a scythe). The government have introduced a scheme where farmers are subsidised to cut their hay or silage later in the year (in late July or August) as well as observe certain practices (i.e. mow the field from the centre outwards).It has proved successful in reducing the decline of the corncrake (whether they survive as a species is another story). Interestingly, an article in the Guardian asks if it is worth the bother saving an endangered species or even reintroducing an already-extinct species.

In all the debates about the future of farming, and the need for 'competitiveness', it is rarely considered how the countryside would be impacted. It is even more pertinent in 'poor' parts of Ireland, such as the Burren, The patchwork quilt of small, emerald-green fields, bordered by the stone walls so beloved of tourists, were not built in pursuit of aestheticism. They were built because economic necessity required farmers to create fields from land better suited for rock gardens.

If farmers in Ireland were truly pursue a free market approach, there would be a couple of hundred at most, and the hedgerows, trees and other 'obstacles' would be cleared, leaving vast, featureless and soulless tracts of land. Yes, they would be profitable, probably even without any subsidy, but I doubt if you would find many tourists willing to visit them. Of course, in such an environment, you wouldn't need all those nasty villages and country parishes cluttering up the land either. Roll them up into the nearest big town or city and think of how more efficient it would be. Then, all we'd have to do is paint the postboxes red, ban Irish, and pretend that the last 80 years never happened. Progress indeed.

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July 16, 2003

Whoa Nelly

No Horses allowed on the beach

The predjudice against champion showjumpers continues. Horse washing remains a problem in Munster.

It was St. Swithin's day yesterday. Legend states that if the council was digging up your road yesterday, they will still be at it until Christmas. See if I'm not right.

UPDATE: RE: Signs, I guess the critters in the States are smarter....(Via The People's Republic of Seabrook)

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July 14, 2003

Barely afloat

RTE are still persisting with their ship-based reality TV show, Cabin Fever . The first ship sank off Tory Island. Alas, the camera crew had already gone home for the evening, and managed to capture not a single frame of the drama as the boat went down. Conveniently, there was therefore no footage of who was at the wheel when it hit the rocks. Undeterred, RTE procured another boat - three of the original crew abandoned the show as well as the ship and were replaced. After one day, one of the new crew members gave up - seasick (it must be a very rigorous selection process).

The Brendan, which sailed across the Atlantic in 1976

Caption:Tim Severin's Brendan, now housed in The Craggaunowen Project in Co. Clare. Severin and his crew sailed the boat across the Atlantic in 1976 to prove that it would have been possible for St. Brendan to make a similar journey in the sixth century. Though probably not with the crew on Cabin Fever

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Escape from Omey Island

Morning Ireland did a feature on Walking Ireland, who run (walk? )walking tours from Clifden. The tour in question was to Omey Island, which is about 6 miles outside of Clifden. The walking tours mix geology, history and geography, and seem like a good idea. As it happened, I visited Omey a few weeks ago - I didn't get to see any of the sites mentioned in the report, due to the intervention of the rising tide. The full account is here, but suffice to say, a couple of warning signs regarding the speed of the tide might not go amiss.

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TnaG had a documentary last night on the Civil Rights movement in the Gaeltacht, which, in the Sixties, demanded more autonomy and specific rights that recognised the particular needs of the Gaeltacht. It traced the impact of those protests, and how they led to the setting up of Gaeltacht-specific organisations, including TnaG. Interestingly, the Civil Rights movement petered out as the membership was enlarged by those that had been involved in the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland, particularly Sinn Féin members. Original members of the movement, who had been avowedly apolitical, began to drift away. The documentary included a hilarious clip (from the early Seventies) of a Sinn Féiner lecturing a group of bewildered locals in a tent of the evils of capitalism and the benefits of socialism. Don't see much of that anymore…

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Many years ago, an English friend of mine was working in a restaurant in a midland town. One day, she approached a table at which an old farmer was sitting. "Can I help you?", she enquired. "Feck off, ya Tan", was the reply. Tan, as in Black and Tans. Indeed. Now, maybe, just maybe, this guy had not heard an English accent since the War of Independence. Maybe. Alternatively, one could argue that working in a sh*th*le in a dreary midland town was more than atoning for past abuses by the British empire.

I was reminded of this episode during the week when the Italian Minister for Tact picked a bad week to go on holidays. It is amazing how stupid politicians can be - the last thing anyone wants is an ever-escalating round of insults and racial taunts (even if it is kind of amusing). Imagine if another European country portrayed Irish people as just a bunch of happy-go-lucky drinkers, wandering from pub to pub singing, playing a bit of diddly-e-eye without a care in the world. A gross caricature, or maybe they had just come from the Willie Clancy Festival in Milltown Mallbay.

Mind you, in response to the Italian jibes, a German tabloid newspaper sent a group of topless models to flaunt themselves on Italian beaches, to show how nice Germans can be. With this in mind, next week I will, on behalf of the West, mainly be insulting Sweden, Brazil and France. I'll be waiting on Silver Strand for their retaliation.

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July 11, 2003

The Fandom Menace

Visitors from the States are always welcome to Ireland, but this guy is pushing it (Man, you've got to let go). Via MetaFilter.

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July 10, 2003

Loaves & Fishes

Typical. Just typical. I didn't bother go to the airshow in Salthill because there wasn't much advertised, so it didn't seem to be worth the hassle. And then the Red Arrows show up. The place was chomh dubh le daoine. The Connacht Tribune describes how one happy retailer reaction to the crowds.

I've never seen such a day in nearly fifty years in Salthill...I wouldn't say there was a sausage or rasher left in Salthill by the end of the day. The only mistake we made was that we only had five 'buttering' and putting the fillings in the rolls...we should have prepared them the night before, but we had plenty of food for them all.

Contrary to rumours, the Galway Film Festival hasn't been arranged just to enable Colin Farrell to shag women from the west (he's quite capable of doing that on his own). Apparently, they'll be showing a few fillums too. Starts tonight.

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Catch me if you can

If the Iraqis really wanted to hide their WMDs for good, they should called in Liam Lawlor to hide their WMDs. Weapons inspectors and coalition forces combined would find it hard to keep track of the Lucan Pimpernel.

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July 09, 2003


The Popes' Palace, Avignon, France

The Popes' palace in the walled city of Avignon is of almost preposterous proportions, a huge, blunt chunk of rock that imposes its presence on its surroundings in the same way that its occupants imposed their rule on the subjects of Europe during the 14th century. Avignon was the seat of power for 7 French popes, the first of which decamped from Rome following strife among the various kingdoms in Italy. It is also the sort of place that confirms every paranoid nightmare of the likes of Ian Paisley - the Popes lived in the lap of luxury, enjoying whatever delights that were on offer, and the entire of complex of buildings bears witness to the cost and effort required to keep the papacy in the manner to which they felt they were entitled.

Chateauneuf-du-pape, France

Indeed, they constructed a hilltop castle in a nearby village as their 'summer house', overlooking a bend on the Rhone. The village is now named after the castle - Châteauneuf-du-pape, which is better known for the rather fine wines produced in the vineyards surrounding the village.

Remains of the papal castle, Chateauneuf-du-pape, France

Caption: If cars had been invented in the 14 century, the pope would drive a Porsche

Rev. Paisley would feel more at home in the nearby town of Orange. Though the Orange Order take their name from the King William of Orange, who caused a bit of a stir here in the 17th century, the Orange title originated in the town of Orange in Provence, granted by Charlamagne. The town is dominated by a roman theatre, built in 5BC and in better nick than some of the stadia in the west of Ireland.

Roman theatre in Orange, Provence, capable of holding 9,000 people and still in use

Caption: Just like the Bertie Bowl, except that it exists. Caeser Augustus didn't have to worry about the PDs when he wanted to build the theatre at Orange.

There is also an Arc de Triompe, commemorating the Roman 2nd legion. They were pretty good at marching where they liked, too.

Arc de Triomphe, Orange, France

Caption: Veni, vidi, vici, etc. Built in 20 BC.

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Speaking of Orange, it is the Marching Season in Northern Ireland, leading up to the Glorious Twelfth (July 12th, or Saturday as we like to call it). This year, there is a new destination for Orangemen - Naaavan (as they pronounce it there). As a gesture of goodwill (after the Good Friday Agreement), the Irish government bought the Battle of the Boyne site in Co. Meath. Mentioning the fact that some of the fields in question were owned by an acquaintance of Bertie's who made millions from the sale would be churlish and beneath us all. Anyway, the good folk of Meath are preparing a warm welcome for the northern visitors and, as I write, local entrepreneurs are busy painting their mobile chippers orange, in anticipation (it'll come in handy anyway if Armagh make it to the all-Ireland final). A word of warning, mind, the colloquial term in Meath for one of these vans is the scutherwagon - bon appetit.

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July 06, 2003

Sky Larking

So there I was, tootling into Galway city on Saturday afternoon, keeping a careful eye on the Garda hiding behind the bushes with his speedgun, when two jet fighters roared overhead in very close formation. Aha, I thought, George Bush has had enough of Michael D's outbursts against the war in Iraq - time to unleash a bit of shock and awe.

P51 Mustang - US WWII fighter plane

Caption:Ok Ok, this plane wasn't actually at the Galway airshow, but this pic is from the only airshow I ever went to, so it will have to do.

The truth was more mundane - the Salthill airshow was on today, and the planes were on a practice run. In an effort to reduce Galway to a giant car park, the airshow coincided with the Connacht football final, so that 150,000 people were expected to arrive in Salthill looking for the same few parking spaces

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A gynacologist in Canada, Anthony Parks, claims that the monument at Stonehenge is a giant fertility symbol, designed to resemble the female sexual organ.

*Sigh* Someone has obviously removed all the "Please do not lick the toads" signs again. As the chief archaelogist for English Heritage pointed out,

If Stonehenge was built to look like a female sexual organ when viewed from above, how were people supposed to see that?

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

Tally ho

Hunters in Britain are preparing themselves for the worst. Last week, the House of Commons voted to ban hunting with dogs (no jokes about bringing the missus along, please).

In Ireland, where hunting tourism is already becoming an important part of the rural economy, one operator expected the number of British visitors to double.

Oliver Walsh, who runs Flowerhill House Hunting Holidays in Co Galway, said: "In the short term it is going to be quite lucrative. If hunting is banned in Britain I can foresee an increase in English hunters in Ireland of at least 50 per cent, which means a couple more thousand visitors."

Ireland has 100 equine hunts and another 200 on foot, and Mr Walsh, who has 90 horses and 44 hounds, charges £1,000 for a four-day hunting holiday. "I have a 240-acre estate so I can take runs on my own land or with adjoining landowners with their permission," he said.

I bet Oliver doesn't refer to the 'estate' when he's down in the local pub.

Leaders of the foreign hunts have told The Telegraph that British enthusiasts will be welcome to join them in their countries, where the sport has not engendered the class hatred it has in Britain.

Hmm…I'm sure the prospect of a bunch of British toffs galloping across the fields of Connemara will have the locals giddy with anticipation. I don't really know what to make of this hunting lark myself. I'm all for hunting stuff you can eat - pheasant, grouse and the like. But if I wanted to kill foxes or badgers, I flatten them with my car, just like everyone else.

If I was going to round up a posse of horsemen and a pack of dogs, I use them for something useful, like hunting cats (starting with the one that uses my garden as his personal litter tray) or the cast of The Lyrics Board.

And Westlife, of course. Release the hounds….

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July 03, 2003

Of the people

Tuam underscores its reputation as a trend-setting town yet again! Martin Ward made history when he became the first Traveller to become a Mayor in an Irish town. He has been a town councillor since 1999

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Barry's or Lyon's ?

With all the diseases out there that still haven't got a cure, its reassuring to see that some scientists have their priorities right.

The secret of how to make the perfect cup of tea has finally been discovered by scientists - put the milk in first.

The finding that a cuppa tastes better if the tea is poured on to the milk appeared to have settled a debate that has long preoccupied a nation of tea drinkers.

Alas, the article does not address the real mystery - why the second cuppa is never as good as the first one.
Personally, the nicest cup of tea is usually the one delivered by Herself while I'm lounging on the couch. But that's just me.

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Tom Tomorrow

Blogfest! At least two bloggers are going to see Tom Tomorrow during the Arts Festival - I have my ticket and Maura's going too.

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The River Wild

Tullyree river near Letterfrack, Co. Galway

Tullyree river, near Letterfrack. That's Diamond Hill (Bengooria) in the background. As you can see, the rhodedendron is in full bloom. Again, I provided a five course meal to every midge in the area. I even got bitten on the eyelids (particularly painful).

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July 02, 2003

A John Hinde moment

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey, snapped a few weeks ago. I know it's a big fat cliché, so I'll just get it out of the way now.

Posted by monasset at 11:52 PM | Comments (0)