December 31, 2003

Happy New Year

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started... and know the place for the first time.

Who knows where the road will take us in 2004?

It's been an eventful year. I had hoped to post a picture of the sun setting in the west for the last day of the year, but it lashed rain all day. Oh well. Here's hoping you find what you seek in 2004. Happy New Year.

Posted by monasset at 09:16 PM | Comments (0)

December 28, 2003

Between the showers

Posted by monasset at 01:31 PM | Comments (4)

December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas

I hope to post up a few galleries over the Christmas, of crumbling old places I've visited during the year (please, no more gags about Tuam). For now, I'll just wish everyone a Happy Christmas. To all the people who took the time to look around, or leave a comment , I thank you all (apart from you, Mr. Generic Viagra Now!!), and hope that you have a peaceful and happy holiday.

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

December 21, 2003


No gold at the end of the rainbow for the people of Kilconnel - New Inn.

Where else would you put a landfill site that will take half of Connacht's trash ? An isolated, uninhabited area with nothing of architectural significance or a small agricultural community supplying a dairy, and close to the site of a magnificent 15th century Franciscan friary?

The community of Kilconnell-New Inn found out this month that they have been chosen for not one but two new dumps. One will be the county dump, selected by the Galway county manager, and the other shall be a private enterprise, run by Greenstar. Three areas were in the running for this dubious honour - it's particularly galling for the New Inn folk since they already had a landfill dump in their village for 18 years up to some years ago.

Needless to say, the locals are gloomy, since their area is probably going to become the holiday home of every rat in Connacht. The only people happy with the news are those who will sell their land to make way for the dump. Two of the anti-dump campaigners have been served papers by Greenstar - who claim they have been defamed. One of the campaigners also had a hoax bomb left outside his front door with a note, signed "PRO DUMP" and warning that they other guy would be next. Now whose cause could such a deed possibly serve ? Who indeed?

Posted by monasset at 02:54 AM | Comments (3)

The ones that got away.

We're a destructive species, when we put our minds to it. As I was flying into Dublin airport during the week, trawlers from the east coast fishing fleets were either returning to harbour or setting out to make one last sweep before Christmas. The boats seemed like specks of dust on the textured surface of the sea. It's hard to believe that crafts such as these have almost emptied entire oceans of fish stocks, particularly in the last century or so.

To try repair some of the damage, the European Union imposed even more restrictions on Irish fishing areas, extending the limitation on fishing in the seas to the north-west of the country. Cod, plaice and haddock will be protected. The scheme is called 'days at sea', which species the number of days a boat can go to sea to fish. The EU had tried other measures such as limits on the type and size of nets, but wholesale cheating of that system led the EU to impose the ban of boats putting to sea at all. The news is not all bad - many of the Irish boats do not fish for these species, and so won't be affected. In fact, the overall quota for the Irish fleet has increased by 8 percent (mainly due to increased allowances for monkfish and haddock).

One of the unexpected victims of these conservation measures has been the building of currachs. Since the currach is a fishing boat, the EU have decided not to provide any more grant aid to craftsmen who build the boats. MEP Sean O'Neachtain nearly blew a head gasket at the news, describing it as "bureaucracy gone mad", since all the currachs used for fishing in Ireland have a negligible effect on fish stocks.

I have to say that I was surprised that the EU were funding currach-building in the first place. Each boat costs about 4,500 euro, and over half comes from the wonderful world of EUcracy. Most of the currachs that I see around the coast are rotting in fields, so I wonder if it is an industry solely fuelled by EU lolly. Now, the EU have not banned the boats - they can still be built, and they can still be used for fishing - it's just that our friends in Germany, France and the UK (i.e. the big EU donor countries) will not be paying for them.

Posted by monasset at 01:31 AM | Comments (0)

Melted away

Dummy blondes - mannequins in Åhlens department store.

I was in Scandinavia during the week. Where's the snow ?, I asked the taxi driver. It melted during the week, he replied, but we do have some rain. Rain? Where I come from, we don't need any more rain…There was a bit of snow today in Galway, of the wet, sloppy and not-so-much- fun-to-walk-in variety. Proper snow promised in the west for later in the week.

So that's how Santa's little helpers get to all the girls and boys - elves in Copenhagen airport

UPDATE 22nd December: Bad news for elves in Helsinki this year - they're Finnished!.

Posted by monasset at 01:25 AM | Comments (3)

December 15, 2003

As long as it's tasteful...

Can you see it from space? Elvis has just decorated the building...

Airtricity, a private electricity generating company, brought a windfarm on line a couple of weeks ago. And what do we need the extra electricty for ? Computers? Jacuzzis? Well, if the last couple of weeks is anything to go by, Airtricity will need to open a power station every week. Every bloody house is like a mini Euro Disney. A few years ago, it was a few coloured lights on a tree outside. Then people started putting stuff on the roof - maybe a "Happy Xmas" sign" in lights. And now ? I watched a neighbour having his house professionally 'wired-up' over the weekend. Far from that we were all reared. If Michael Jackson every seeks refuge in Ireland, at Christmas, he'll be delighted to see that there are plenty of houses as tackily decorated as his own.

Moppets carol-singing outside St. Nicholas' Church, Galway city, December 13 2003. Beats the hell out of Cliff Richard, the scourge of all Christmases.

It's amazing how quickly the transformation takes place - within a week, the drabness of late November is replaced by the gaudy delights of the Christmas preparations. Yet again, I struggled up into the attic to retrieve the box of decorations, and having spent a fruitless three quarters of an hour cautiously poking at all the boxes up there (judging by the scurrying noises we can hear at night, we have been colonised by a tribe of energetic Connemara leaping mice), Herself called out to tell me that the decorations were actually stored in one of the bedrooms. At least I had managed to crack my head off the rafters, so that was something. Without exageration, we spent an hour trying to untangle the fairy lights - it was like trying to solve a forty-sided Rubik cube, made of string. In the end, we just heaped them on the tree, like a clump of spagetti. Sod it - we're the only house in the row without flashing lights, so socially, we're doomed anyway.

Posted by monasset at 10:23 PM | Comments (6)

Hands across the water

The Examiner laid its hands on a briefing document that the British Civil Service had prepared for their political masters. Alas, it was all terribly..civil.

Officials are warned not to patronise the Irish because memories of 800 years of conquest remain vivid. Other no-nos include getting into debates about Northern Ireland and referring to the country as Éire.

It's about time that they shouldered the blame for the Norman invasion of Ireland. The document also warns against making jokes about potatoes or 'taking the Mick'. Pity William Hague didn't read it.

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

Tied Up

The gales meant that there were high seas over the weekend on the west coast. The Celtic Explorer was docked - Ireland's only deep-sea research vessel is in the process of a 35,000km ocean survey, though not on Saturday.

Any time I see a naval ship moored in Galway, there always seems to be a young fellow wandering up the gangplank with a pile of Supermac's bags. The L E Niamh is just back from Liberia, having helped to set up the Irish UN operation there. No doubt the crew re-aquainted themselves fully with Galway once they got back.

Posted by monasset at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2003

The Cascades

I'm not that fond of water. It's grand for a cup of tea, or to take the edge off a glass of whiskey. Even the odd wash, maybe. But that is as far as it goes. The prospect of hopping into a small plastic capsule and hurtling down a raging torrent of water, with a choice of being hopped off a rock or slowly expiring while hanging upside down whirling about in an eddy, doesn't hold much attraction for me. It does for some people, though.

I was driving through the main street in Ennistimon recently when I saw a sign ("the Cascades") pointing down a alley. It led down to the bank of the river Cullenagh which was in full flood. There are an impressive set of 'rapids' just downstream of the bridge. I got talking to a guy who had set up a camera on a rather precarious outcrop - he was a canoist and he was debating whether to take the plunge, as it were. His two campanions had already navigated their way down through the waters safely. Two more pics here and here.

UPDATE: 12th December. Just realised that the image links were knackered. Apologies - they are fixed now.

Posted by monasset at 12:34 PM | Comments (2)

December 11, 2003

Who killed Bambi?

The Business Expansion Schemes seemed like a good idea at the time. It was one of a number of innovative tax exemptions introduced in the eighties and Nineties. The Government gave a tax exemption to people with money to invest in industries that would benefit hte country and that might otherwise have trouble attracting capital. Well, that was the idea.

There was a number of schemes that qualified, many of which would probably have happened anyway. For example, tourist developments, that all-purpose phrase, were encouraged, which led to God-awful holiday cottage developments spreading like a white fungus across every beauty spot in the country. Musicians could use the BES schemes to raise money to make albums - Jack L gave it a try.

Another tax scheme encouraged new forms of farming. Ostriches and deer farms began to appear, with the prospect that the lean, non-BSE ridden meat of these exotic creatures would supplant beef and mutton. some hope. As some of the farmers discovered, ostriches are bad-tempered creatures (I discovered this myself the hard way as a kid, when, on a visit to Fota wildlife park, I tried to pluck a feather from one of the ostriches as a souvenir. He took it very very badly indeed. Ouch). Deer require a nine-foot high , secure fence to keep them in - a far cry from the odd strand of barbed wire that most farmers use for cattle. Many of the farms, not long in operation, have disappeared again.

I was visiting the parents' place recently, and something was afoot. A couple of the neighbours had hit deer while driving at night - no one injured (unless you count the deer). The place is crawling with deer; of the daft, wander-out-in-front-of-cars variety. the council have put up a couple of warning signs (though I doubt if the deer can read them) and I'm sure some of the locals are planning a 12-bore solution. The reason for the sudden influx of deer is that a local farmer has tired of his deer farm, and simply let his stock run free. Which they have.

I was driving to Dublin early one morning a few months ago to catch a flight when I passed a man standing on the side of the road, flagging me down. His car was parked on the verge, and a body lay on the road. Fearing the worst, I pulled in. He had hit a stag, which had jumped out onto the road from the garden of a nearby house. The car had carried the deer on its bonnet for about 30 or 40 yards, leaving a trail of shattered glass, and an enormous dent in the front of his car.

The stag was in a bad way; one rear leg snapped and bent backwards, and coughing up blood. Another motorist stopped and we dragged it off the road and onto the verge. Soon after, the stag arched his back, his breathing eased, and the spark of life slowly faded from his eyes. By the time the animal had died, a number of cars had stopped to help. Now, if you were a passing motorist, and you happened upon a number of cars parked on the side of the road, with lights flashing, and a bunch of people huddled in a group on the verge, would you (a) slow down and drive carefully past what you presumed was a crash scene or (b) continue to drive like a lunatic at full belt past the crowd ? There must have been a lot of people in a rush that morning.

The area where the deerstrike is not known for wild deer, but there is a deerfarm a couple of miles away. It occurred to me that I was lucky - if I had left my house a few minutes earlier, it would have been me flagging the other guy down. Now, I've never seen a deer on a main road in all my years of driving. Three weeks after this incident, I was driving through Maam Cross, around 8pm . About two miles after Peacock's hotel, a deer walked out in front of me. Or rather almost did, since I passed it as it made to stride onto the road. Near miss! I reversed back to have a look at it but it was gone. I have never even heard of wild deer in the area, and I almost had one as a bonnet souvenir. If the law of averages means anything, I shouldn't see another deer for ten years.

Posted by monasset at 11:42 PM | Comments (2)

December 08, 2003

A glimmer of light

A brief respite from the rain - Sruhir Strand, November 2003.

Posted by monasset at 11:50 PM | Comments (1)

The Lord giveth, the Lord sendeth

Tom Parlon got his spake in early. Within hours of the decentralisation announcement, his supporters in Offaly and Laois erected signs "Welcome to Parlon country" (for the benefit if the civil servants on their way down). Tom would want to watch himself - if he's felled by a rabbit punch from a meaty Offaly fist, he'll have learned the hard way not to steal any of Brian Cowan's thunder - Brian gets the credit for everything in Offaly, OK?

Tom was quick to declare that civil servants would not get any compensation for their move. And why should they ? Aren't they lucky to have a job. In fact , the civil servants will be compensating the government, since the sale of all those houses in Dublin will generate a few pound through capital gains tax, VAT and other mere trifles.

It's strange that Tom is taking such a strong stand, because there wasn't a peep out of him when the government decided to pay compensation to TDs who were also county councillors (the so-called scrappage scheme) and who will no longer be able to occupy both roles. Whatever happened to principles in the PDs ?

Of course, if Michael Ring (FG) of Mayo gets his way, TDs can continue to be county councillors as well (and do both jobs equally badly). Michael is taking quite a principled stand (and a High court action) - it's a matter of basic democracy. Says he

in the next election, or the one after that, half or three quarters of this House will be taken out by sitting councillors…

when subsequently, they too will be taken out… by a bunch of unemployed TDs who have been sulking since the previous election.

Speaking of compensation, the folks in Pollatomish were finally awarded some recompense by the Irish Red Cross, as a result of the landslide earlier this year. No peace of mind yet, since there is still no official reason for the landslide in the first place. And no sign of answers in Derrybrien either.

Posted by monasset at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2003

What a Spectacle

I came across the on-line photographic archive of George Eastmann (of Kodak fame) recently. Among the images are a set of Irish photographs taken about 100 years ago. One of the pictures is of the Spectacle Bridge in Lisdoonvarna, which was build in 1875. I was passing through there recently so I stopped for a look.

Typically, even though there is no bridge like it anywhere else in the country, there is no signpost either at the bridge or in the town. There is a stile and gravel path that leads down to the Aille river, but the view is now obscured by hazel trees.

There is a very good account of the building of the bridge in Mary Mulvihill's book "Ingenious Ireland" - the reason for the unusual shape was an ingenious way of building a bridge light enougn to support itself for the 25 metre height needed to span the river gorge. Mary also had an article in the Irish Times Review section on Saturday - she was reviewing a new book called Ireland 's Bridges - the Spectacle bridge gets an honourable mention as does the clapper bridge in Mayo (two pics here and here)

P.S. Some nice pictures from a National Geographic contributor here

Posted by monasset at 11:13 PM | Comments (2)

Legal Weasels

Michael Healy-Rae has complained that there are too many Gardai in his constituency. The son (aka Mini-Me) of Jackie Healy-Rae (the Boss Hogg of South Kerry) reckoned that his area is so-law-abiding, that the Gardai have nothing else to do but harass law-abiding locals over speeding fines and the like...

Meanwhile, a judge in Mayo threw out a case of a pub on Clare Island serving after hours because the evidence, though incontrovertible, was motivated by malice. I hope she never gets around to hearing divorce cases.

Posted by monasset at 11:04 PM | Comments (0)

Germany Calling

William Joyce was born in New York in 1906, raised in Mayo, educated in Galway, became a German citizen in 1939 and was hanged in London as a British traitor in 1946. Remembered for his wartime propaganda broadcasts, "Lord Haw-Haw" is the subject of a new biography. Alas, the author is Mary Kenny, and the prospect of wading through 320 pages of her turgid writing is a daunting prospect for Christmas. Eunan O'hAlpin obviously feels the same - reviewing the book in the Irish Times, he concludes that

Joyce was a very bad man but he deserves a better book than this.

Posted by monasset at 10:54 PM | Comments (2)

Hats off

Hats of Ireland closed up shop for good in Castlebar this week. Originally founded after WWII by Jewish refugees, the firm once employed 300 - now the last 13 have been let go.

Posted by monasset at 10:49 PM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2003

The Run of the country

The most cunning, the most ruthless of them the run up to Budget Day today, the FF backbenchers were fretting at the reports of cutbacks to social and welfare programmes. And what does the Minister Finance do ? Announce a decentralisation programme that will move 8 government departments out of Dublin. That's 10,000 civil servants coming to a constituency, sorry, area near you. Now, the decentralisation doesn't really have anything to do with the budget, but nobody is talking about the cutbacks anymore. And not one backbencher is going to upset the government now that they will get a shiny new office and a bunch of permenant, pensionable jobs with it. And let's face it, many civil servants are from the country so they'll be glad to move out of the ungodly capital (though it may trigger a minor crisis for GAA supporters since there will be a lot less sofas to crash on when they head up to Croke Park).

The list of towns is here - Galway gets 210 jobs (with 50 to keep Frank Fahy happy), Mayo gets 290 (half in Knock airport) and Clare gets 450 (most in Shannon). This news will certainly help the canvassers for the European and local elections (coincidentally announced yesterday for June) and the transfer is planned to be complete by 2005 - in the run-up to the next general election.

The best reaction to the news came from the AIVA (the auctioneers association) who cautioned that a mass exodus of civil servants from Dublin might adversely affect house prices. Apart from the obvious fact that it is partly because of the antics of the self-same estate agents that many civil servants are renting houses rather than owning them, it's a bit like ask vampires to comment on improvements in the blood transfusion service. Though I'm probably being a little harsh on the blood-sucking undead denizens of the night...

Posted by monasset at 11:30 PM | Comments (4)

December 02, 2003


Are you just sick of this modern world? Has the materialism of the Celtic Tiger just turned you off? Do you yearn for a simpler life? Perhaps a life of quiet contemplation would seem more fulfilling. Surely if Leonard Cohen can become a monk, anyone can (though his version of monasticism seems to involve releasing the odd album, living in California, and plenty of beautiful women). St. Benedict of Nursia gave the life of a monk much thought - not only did he found the order that bears his name (the Benedictines), he also devised the Rule that should be followed by anyone wishing to pursue a monastic life.

If you think the Ten commandments are hard to follow, then the Rule is not good news. Because the Rule is actually the rules - seventy three of them. Benedict didn't leave much to chance. Though Rule 13 "is to love fasting", Rule 36 is" not to be a great eater" - chubby friars need not apply. Life must have been austere under Benedict's gaze: Rule 55 is "Not to love much or boisterous laughter". Rule 77 advises "To make peace with an adversary before the setting of the sun" - Hah, he could have just got married and done that every evening (and then he would know all about rules…). Rule 45 is "to live in dread of hell", which is amazingly prophetic, given that St. Benedict wrote that rule some fifteen hundred years before Mick Hucknall began recording albums.

Benedict's rule set the standard for monastic life for centuries- a standard that was, by and large , ignored. About one thousand years ago, a small band of abbotts decided to go back to basics and set up a monastary which would strictly observe the Rule. They picked Citeaux in Burgundy (a pity since Rule 35 is "Not to be given to wine") and thus, the Cistercians were born. The Cistercians accepted lay brothers and required their members to visit Citeaux at least once a year. In 1145, the first band of Irish Cistercians , trained in France, returned to Ireland to set up Mellifont Abbey in Louth. Forty Cistercian abbeys were founded in the next 130 years. One of those abbeys was Corcomroe, nestled within the stony hills of the Burren in Co. Clare. Their choice of location condemned the monks of Corcomroe to a life of constant poverty - you couldn't grow crops or raise cattle on solid rock. It must have been with a sense of irony that they named the abbey "Sancta Maria de Petra Fertilis, Saint Mary of the Fertile Rock". The upside was that they probably didn't have much problem observing the Rule.

Sarah Poyntz writes an occasional column about the Burren for the Guardian - a couple of weeks ago, she paid a visit to the ruins of the abbey, coincidentally, I paid a visit there myself around the same time. The pics are here.

Posted by monasset at 08:34 AM | Comments (3)