October 30, 2003

Landslides III

TG4 had a report on the proposed windfarm in Bellacorrick. The locals are not too happy about the size of the farm (200 hundred turbines in all). Typically, the windfarm's supporters portray them as Luddites, standing in the way of progress. But, as one resident explained, she could handle even 100 turbines spread over the same area. It's the density of the farm that is causing disquiet (this farm will be the biggest on-shore farm in Europe). And for all it's size, it will only employ 20 people full-time when it becomes operational; not nearly enough to replace the jobs lost when the milled-peat power station closes shortly.

The windfarm is located near Pollatomish (about 10 miles away) where there was a landslide last month. An Bord Pleanala denied planning permission to build an onshore terminal for the planned natural gas off the Mayo coast. The reason? Danger of peat slippage due to to the excavation works. The verdict seemed risible at the time (to some at least), but subsequent events have vindicated them. The huge excavation required for the windfarm could have dramatic effects on the bogland around Bellacorrick.

How dramatic ? Well, in Derrybrien, the flow of peat down a hillside near the construction site of another windfarm has worsened. Yesterday, the peat began flowing again (no doubt the rain was a factor), overwhelmed the emergency barrier built last week and has covered the road leading from the village to the windfarm site. Tonight, the slide has continued another 300 metres and has now covered the main Portumna to Gort road (R353) with up to a metre of peat. ESB International (who own the windfarm site) will begin an emergency escavation tomorrow - mind you, they did the same last week, to no effect. Vincent Browne's radio show is on in the background as I write this, and he is devoting a segment to the Derrybrien landslide. You can hear/download it here.

Posted by monasset at 10:04 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2003


The Clare Glens, just outside Limerick city two weeks ago (before the frost had blackened the leaves). You wouldn't belive the amount of rubbish that was dumped along the river.

Posted by monasset at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

Landslide Pt 2

RTE News this evening showed dramatic footage of the peat landslide in Derrybrien. The flow was shown streaming across the road and down the valley on the other side. There is a good chance that it will spoil the water supply for Gort and surrounding areas. Given that 40mm of rain is predicted by the weekend, this is not good news at all.

Landslides..floods...lightning..lights in the sky... what can it all mean? It must be a portent of something, but what...oh, I see.

Posted by monasset at 11:09 PM | Comments (2)


I hope that you all managed to get outside tonight to see the Aurora Borealis. I happened to be delayed in work this evening, which turned out to be a lucky thing, since I was treated to the shimmering, ethereal light in the northern sky. (If I had left work on time, I would have been subjected to the shimmering ethereal light of Coronation Street instead).

As luck would have it, the display had lessened considerably by the time I got home, so I didn't bother take any snaps. As I write this, the display has increased again, but I'm too lazy to go outside to take any photos. If you are in Ireland, I hope you can find a patch of darkness, and stand watch the waves of stardust crash against the coast of the northern sky.

UPDATE: A series of photos, taken in Coleraine, can be seen here. (Via Jaffs Trumpeting)

Posted by monasset at 10:58 PM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2003

Aer Lingus to customers; drop dead

Aer Lingus cabin crew decided to pick this bank holiday weekend to go on strike. Whatever about the fairness of their claim, their decision to ahead with the strike ahead of a Labour court adjudication seems like a deliberate attempt to inconvenience as many people as possible.

I was at Dublin airport this summer, on my way to Germany. I queued at an Aer Lingus desk, marked Europe. When I got to the desk, she said, Sorry, we don't do Germany at this desk.
But Germany is in Europe isn't it? You can't check in here! OK. So where can I check in - she pointed to another desk in the next row. Another desk marked Europe. I went over to it - luckily, at this desk, they recognised Germany as a part of Europe. I pointed out that it would be useful to indicate exactly which destinations were handled at each desk, to save people from queuing needlessly. Blank stare. Silly me - It was only my time that was being wasted - how could that be of any concern to Aer Lingus?

About a month later, I was returning from Rome, again with Aer Lingus. There were two check-in desks, with enormous queues and very little progress. In the adjoining queue, the girl behind the desk suddenly announced that she was closing the desk in two minutes. The people in the queue stared at her in disbelief. There was a group of five people at the front - they asked her to at least check them in. she looked at them, decided it would take more than two minutes, and promptly closed the desk immediately (good girl, take an extra two minutes).

On the other hand, I was on an Aer Lingus flight last week which was hit by lightning as it came in to land. A huge BANG and a flash scared the daylights out of the passengers, but the air hostesses didn't bat an eyelid, and quickly reassured us that all was well.

Posted by monasset at 09:54 PM | Comments (0)

Divine Intervention

Bertie Aherne was on plane that was hit by lightning this week too. He was also in Pollatomish, Co. Mayo to inspect the damage caused by the landslide earlier this month.

The locals had noted that he was quick to visit the scene of flooding in Dublin earlier this year and offer compensation - in Mayo, the locals still do not know what compensation they will receive, if any.

Graveyard at Pollatomish. Picture of graveyard before the landslide below.

His absence had been noted by Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael (and a Mayo man) as well as Dana, local MEP. It's probably just a coincidence that the local and European elections are around the corner. It looks like the insurance companies are treating the landslide as an Act of God (though I'm not sure what the folk in Pollatomish did to offend the Almighty). Someone should probably ask Dana, since she is currently campaigning to have God invoked in the proposed EU constitution. Call me cynical, but what better way to raise one profile in a forthcoming European election that to ensure that the Godless Europeans don't leave dear old God out of the constitution?[And before anyone in Connemara laughs at California for electing Arnie as governor, you might wonder why you elected Dana, whose hitherto claim to fame was winning the Eurovision song contest in 1971 and singing a song for the Pope when he visited here in 1979].

Posted by monasset at 09:50 PM | Comments (0)

Ground down

A herd of cattle has been put grazing around the Poulnabrone dolmen. The idea is that they will keep the grass and undergrowth under control. I can't say I'm too enthusiastic about this. The ability of cattle to happily stomp on, puck, lick, rub against, chew and kick anything they come across has reduced a number of monuments in this country to piles of rubble (or standing stones to lying stones). Given enough time, a determined herd of cattle could reduce the Great Pyramids to gravel. I cannot understand why farmers can't put a couple of strands of barbed wire around a stone circle or castle ruins on their land - for the want of a bit of simple maintenance, a lot of ancient monuments are being slowly walked back into the earth.

Posted by monasset at 09:34 PM | Comments (2)

The fat of the land

There is a programme showing on Channel Four presently, called French Leave. It features an English chef whose restaurant had two Michelin stars and who spent over three hours a day commuting to and from work. He decided to take a year off in France, bringing his wife and six kids to a chateau in France. Naturally, there is also a book, and it was to publicise it that he appeared on Pat Kenny's radio show on Friday.

John Burton Race described how he has used his year in France to learn more about food, and where it comes from. He has stopped using fois gras once he saw how it was made (I, on the other hand, hate it simply because it tastes bloody awful) - as you probably know, geese, or more often ducks, are force fed food in order to enlarge and enrich their livers. He was also disturbed to discover how capon are produced - young male chickens are castrated (their testicles are sliced off without anaesthetic) and they grow massively. Hmm - someone should explain to him where beef comes from. A lot of it is produced from bullocks (castrated male cattle). Do they get an anaesthetic before they are castrated ? Not always. Does it hurt ? Too right it does.

Race bemoaned the fact that there were very few farmers' markets in Ireland or the UK, even though the produce was every bit as good as that in France. Well, the village of Clarinbridge has been invaded by swarthy, chain-smoking Gauls this weekend - they have set up a French market on the green.

The smell of freshly-baked bread (the baker brought an oven along in a horsebox), dried herbs and cheese would almost have you thinking that you were in Provence, though the bitter wind would quickly remind you where you really were.

The pastries looked particularly good, though I balked at the donkey sausage. I wasn't too impressed by the 'imitation prawn tails' served up as proper seafood either.

Posted by monasset at 09:19 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Juris prudent

The Connacht Tribune this week carried the account of a successful claimant in the Tuam district court. He had bought a TV three years ago that had packed up recently. The TV came with a one-year guarantee. Since the guarantee had long expired, the dealer quoted a price for repair but the owner wanted a new set.

Justice Gibbons said he did not think two years was an acceptable period of time for a television to show signs of malfunction. He said it should last for tens years or more.

Hmm…interesting interpretation of the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act. I wonder if this will set a precedent ? I got a few items in the attic at home that have conked out… I wonder if I should head to the Tuam courthouse with them….?

Posted by monasset at 09:13 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2003

The Lost Heifer

As the resolution to the impasse in Northern Ireland hangs in the balance, Austin Clarke seems more relevant than ever.

When the black herds of the rain were grazing,
In the gap of the pure cold wind
And the watery hazes of the hazel
Brought her into my mind,
I thought of the last honey by the water
That no hive can find.

Brightness was drenching through the branches
When she wandered again,
Turning sliver out of dark grasses
Where the skylark had lain,
And her voice coming softly over the meadow
Was the mist becoming rain.

Posted by monasset at 05:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 23, 2003


Looking northwest towards the Nephin mountain range reflected in Beltra Lough (Loch Bhéal Trá), near Castlebar, Co. Mayo three weeks ago. From right to left, you can see Tristia (the small hill), Knockaffertagh and Birreencorragh (the grey peak in the centre).

Posted by monasset at 10:03 PM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2003


A river runs through it. Landslide at Derrybrien, south Galway.

A couple of months ago, I was driving along the road near Nephin Beg. The sun was setting, so I stopped to take a photograph of a turf stack, nestling in the blooming heather, with the mountain in the background. I strolled about 30 metres off the road across the flat stretch of peat, which was cracked from the dry weather. I could feel the ground tremble as I walked over it, so when I had taken the snap, I stamped on the ground to see how much it would shake. Except the ground didn't shake. It rippled, as if it was as thick as the skin on a bowl of custard. I tiptoed off the bog like Wiley E Coyote (scientifically proven as the only way to walk on a surface that can't support you. FACT).

It was yet another reminder that bogs are essentially very large bodies of water, only just held together either by a mixture of spagnum moss, existing peat, geological characteristics and other vegetion. And because bogs are also rather delicate, the effect of disturbing the equilibrium of plant and mineral life can be rather dramatic. A few weeks ago, there was a landslide in Pollatomish, Co. Mayo, where huge stretches of bog detached itself from the mountain and rolled downhill - it was a miracle that no-one died. Even as the investigation into the cause of that landslide continues when, on Friday, another landslide occurred in south Galway. In the Sliabh Aughty hills, near the village of Derrybrien (about 15 minutes south of Loughrea), a river of peat, mud and not a few trees came crashing down a riverbed, covering fields, partially surrounding an old farmhouse and slowly heading for the nearby road.

There are many parts of Ireland which are both desolate and beautiful. The Sliabh Aughty hills are more desolate than beautiful, forming a barrier between the soggy fields of south Galway, the prosperous plains of Munster to the south and the exposed stone fields of the Burren to the west. To the east, the hills roll down to the banks of Lough Derg and the Shannon. A millenium ago, Brian Boru hid in the oak forests of the area (Derrybrien - Doire - oak), harried the Vikings that had invaded the country and used the area to build up a powerbase that eventually led to his crowning as High King in 1002. Today, the oak forests are but a memory - the hills are covered completely in growing bogs and forestry plantations of conifers, and there are few houses or farms to be seen along the boreens of the mountains. It is rumoured that the IRA had a training camp there (though that rumour seems to exist for every mountain range in Ireland) and one could certainly hide plenty there. It seems an ideal place to build a windfarm, and indeed, a 70 turbine farm is under construction near Derrybrien village. So the question being asked is if the construction work and the landslide are somehow connected.

You can see the cracks in the road, which is used by the heavy vehicles building the windfarm nearby.

I set off early to Derrybrien yesterday to see the landslide for myself. A thick fog covered the hills, reducing visibility to no more than ten metres, and when I reached the "Road blocked" signs, I parked the car and started walking. As the road ascended, a sharp wind whipped the fog across the road.

Entrance to windfarm.

After a mile or so, I passed the entrance to the wind farm. Even on a clear day, it's not visible from any road. I continued along the road, and one could see how the heavy machines had cracked and shattered the road. A while later, a fully-laden truck thundered out of the fog up the entrance, groaning under the strain of a hauling tons of gravel up to the site. Later, another huge earthmover passed by, disappearing behind me into the gloom. After two miles, I had nearly reached the end of the road and reckoned that access to the landslide had to be from another road. I walked back. I drove around to Derrybrien by another boreen, and after asking for directions, discovered that I had been on the right road after all. I must have been only a few yards away from the site earlier. Damn!

The road from Derrybrien to the site of the landslide, blocked off to traffic.

I drove back to the blocked road (from the other, Derrybrien side), parked the car and started walking again. The locals all opened the barrier, and drove up, but at this stage, the fog had burned off, and the sun felt warm. After about a kilometre, I reached the site of the landslide. I had walked right past earlier, but in the fog, I couldn't see it.

The landslide was discovered on Friday, following the path of a river bed and had reached the deserted farmhouse. By yesterday morning, it had advanced (more slowly) towards the road. The workmen were using the two digging machines to dig a dyke which, when filled with boulders, would halt the flow before it reached the road.

The slide on Fridayhad been accompanied with a lot of water (according to the locals) but there was no sign of any flooding yesterday. In the following pic, the workman is trying to ascertain the rate of flow (either that or she was just staring at the ground for an awfully long time).

At the bridge on the road, the workmen had placed large straw bales to protect the bridge if the rubble got that far. So did the work on the windfarm cause the slide ? Well, the source of the slide was a good distance up the hill, quite close to the site. The foundation for each turbine is about the depth of a two-story house, and cuts through the layer of bog to the underlying rock. In addition to the constant shaking of heavy trucks and earthmovers, there has certainly been a lot of disturbance to the bogland in the area. There was a team from the windfarm evaluating the situation and it looks like they will bring more engineers in to help later this week.

Posted by monasset at 03:06 PM | Comments (12)

October 15, 2003

Leitrim Man wins Booker

They may not have traffic lights yet but they do have a Booker prize winner. Okay okay, he just lives there, but it still counts. Peter Finlay is from Oz (so we can claim him anyway) and seems like a colourful character. According to the Guardian,

In his 42 years he has managed to get himself shot by a neighbour in Mexico City, work up debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars, cultivate drug and gambling addictions and leave behind a trail of wronged women, despite having to have his face reconstructed by surgeons after an horrific car crash. In between, he has managed unsuccessful careers as a film-maker, treasure-hunter, smuggler and graphic artist.

He won't stand out in Leitrim

Posted by monasset at 11:15 PM | Comments (2)

October 13, 2003


Not a good day for Ireland's fishermen. The area of the North Atlantic off the west and south coast of Ireland restricted to mainly Irish fishing boats is known as the Irish Box. In a vote that displeased both Ireland and Spain (who want it removed altogether), the Irish Box has been reduced to one third of its former size.

The Spanish (and Basque) fleet reflects centuries of fishing tradition, of ships that have mined the seas of Europe, Africa and America. The capacity of that fleet dwarfs that of Ireland's, and is a voracious beast that must keep seeking new fishing grounds to maintain itself. Alas, there are very few new sea territories left.

The Basques were trading cod a millenium ago and when Jacques Cartier claimed the entrance to the St. Lawrence river in Canada for France in 1534, he noted the presence of a thousand Basque fishing boats (ref. cod by Mark Kurlansky).

The 'new' Irish Box isn't good news in the short term for any fisherman. Apart from the reduced size, it is also designated as a conservation area which presumably means that Irish and Spanish fishermen will be excluded equally. Of course, unless there are a lot more conservation areas, there won't be any fishermen at all, simply because there will be no more fish. Given the slow rate of decision making, and the amount of political bickering, it doesn't look good for the fishies.

Posted by monasset at 11:36 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 12, 2003

Buried in time

The stumps of ancient pine trees uncovered by turf-cutting. Five thousand years ago, this part of Ireland was covered in pine forests. Over time, both climate and human influence led to bogs forming, burying the remainder of the forest until now. When the bogland is finally dug and up and burned off, the land may well be used for forestry again - sitka spruce instead of the Scots pine that once covered these hills - and the cycle will begin again. This photograph of the turf saved - it's covered under the straw - was take a month ago on a hot September Saturday, on the road to Little Killary Bay. Mweel Rea (Cnoc Maol Réidh) looms like an ogre in the background.

Posted by monasset at 11:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 08, 2003


The tide gone out for good,
Thirty-two words for seaweed
whiten on the foreshore.
The Death of Irish, Aidan Carl Matthews.

Posted by monasset at 08:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 06, 2003


Harebells peek out from between limestone slabs and cast long shadows on a sunny September evening this year.Photo taken on Gleninagh Mountain, the Burren, Co. Clare.

Posted by monasset at 11:30 PM | Comments (3)


I don't mind caterpillars as long as I get butterflies.

Posted by monasset at 11:23 PM | Comments (0)

Don't let the door hit you on the way out

Val Hanley (former mayor of Galway) has resigned on a point of principle as head of the Western Health Board. The principle? Well, he's not happy with the prospect of the forthcoming smoking ban. Why ? Because he is also a leading member of the Vintners Association (the pub-owners' union). The answer to why such a vocal representative of the tobacco and alcohol industries is chairing a health board is left as an exercise to the reader.

This issue is going to get more stupid before it gets better.

Posted by monasset at 10:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 05, 2003

Winning Ways

Kudos to the Mayo women's football team, that won the all-Ireland final with a jammy late goal. Better still was the team in east Galway that made fifty five thousand euros last week by betting on themselves to reach the quarter finals of the county championship. The club of Leitrim/Kilnadeema had come last in their group for the last four years in the group stage of the championship, and were given odds of 33/1 to make it as far as the quarter finals. They slapped 1500 euros on themselves though the bookie would only take 600 euro at 33/1 and took another 600 at 25/1. I'm sure he shares the team happiness at their achievement.

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

Horse Sense

County councils around Ireland have allocated three million euros to round up stray horses around the country this year. The nags are kept in a stables in Urlingford, a sort of Stalag 17 for equines. Well, it's more like a pawn-shop actually, since the strays can be reclaimed for two weeks before…well… you don't want to know.

No doubt a few future residents of the Urlingford facility will be on show in Ballinasloe this weekend, where the horse fair is taking place.

This is the weekend that the other 'horse set' in Ireland comes out to play - not the people you'll see at the Galway races, Leopardstown, or the stud farms of Kildare. No, the people buying and selling in Ballinasloe hail from halting sites or farms across the land and the ponies and horses on sale are the sort only their owners could love. Christy Moore really needs to write a song about this festival - every chancer, dealer, dodger, knacker and mickey-scratcher in the country - and beyond - turn up to wheel and deal, have a few pints, down plenty of burgers and chips and enjoy the delights of Ballinasloe.

They must have got Pudsy Ryan to write the signs.

I paid a visit on Friday (it really kicks off on Saturday). The real action was on the Fair Green. Many Travellers had parked their caravans under St. John's Church at the Fair Green. They had a ringside view of the tarmac track that was being used to race buggies. There were four horse-and-buggy riders tearing up and down the tarmac strip, surrounded by a crowd cheering them on. None sparing the rod to encourage their charge - any hesitation on the part of the pony was met with a swift cut of the whip. The horses would be raced full-tilt up the track, slowing to turn and race back down the track, before skidding to a halt at the gravel run off at the end of the track, to be surrounded by both admirers and buyers.

The experience of Irish horse fairs, in the eyes of a Traveller, can be found here.(Traveller homepage here)

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

Wandering Pat

Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of the death of the author Padraig O Conaire. As he was wont to say himself, anyone who doesn't like his work can kiss his small black ass.

Posted by monasset at 09:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 03, 2003


Posted by monasset at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

One from the heart

Croí, the West of Ireland Cardiology foundation, is placing defibrillator units around Galway county in order to reduce the number of fatal heart attacks. Highly commendable, though stopping people going into Supermacs and pubs so often might achieve much the same. The units will be operated by trained volunteers and will be in publicly accessible places, such as shopping centres (presumably not too accessible - don't want little Tommy running around the local Spar trying to defibrillate his sister).

Posted by monasset at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 02, 2003

Holy smoke

Meanwhile, the tourist boards in the Republic are worried that tourists will go elsewhere due to the forthcoming smoking ban. That's good news for the Northern Ireland tourist Board - they can expect a cloud of chain smoking Frenchmen heading north next year - start stocking up on ashtrays.

Posted by monasset at 11:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The sting

An account of a journalist going to extraordinary lengths to verify a story. It's just as well that he wasn't doing a story on shark attacks. Via Slate.

It seems that the number of people allergic to stings is on the rise, in the UK anyway. Probably the same here.

Posted by monasset at 11:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Western Power

Achill Island is really becoming hi-tech. First the cable car (well, eventually) and now there's a plan to become self-sufficient in electricity in the future. There is a study into tidal power generation, with a plan to install a turbine on the north of the island (looking out towards Blacksod Bay). However, I'm less enthusiastic about a proposal to build a wind farm in the area. Achill is a little jewel on the west coast and is really too small to accommodate an unobtrusive wind farm. I don't see the need, given that there is already a plan to build a number of huge wind farms in north Mayo, less than twenty miles away.

Posted by monasset at 11:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Posted by monasset at 12:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack