January 29, 2004

Woolly thinking

I was out for a walk last week, strolling across frost covered field early in the morning. The fog was beginning to burn away, revealing an Arctic blue sky. The sun felt warm even on a cold January day, and it began to quickly melt away the frost from the grass, leaving a crisp white coating only in the long shadows of the stone walls. It's amazing the difference in temperature between sunlight and shaded ground a foot away from each other, give that the source of the light is almost 150 million miles away.

I came to the brow of a hill that looked down on a stretch of water that glittered in the early morning sun. While I was standing there, enjoying the view, the farmer who owned the land appeared. He had been out checking his sheep. This is a dangerous time for the dopey balls of wool. The lambing season has begun and the stress of giving birth, combined with the cold, takes its toll. It doesn't help that sheep was relentlessly stupid either. Last year, I was chatting to a neighbour who had discovered one of his sheep near death the previous morning. When he found the ewe, it had lambed during the night (and junior was OK) but the sheep was flat on its back, with a magpie merrily picking its eyes out. The sheep survived though it took a while to get used to bumping into things to find anything.

We are ALL individuals. Mayo sheep - As thick as a flock of planks.

The farmer was an old man, and close to him was a large black dog with a look in its eye that said "just give me an excuse, buddy". Some people can judge a dog by its eyes. I judge them by their teeth - if they're bared at me, I flee. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we got to talking about all the houses that had been built in the area. With a sweeping motion of his walking stick, he showed how much of the area had been built upon in the last ten years.
God, I hate tarmac, he exclaimed, I've had more people on to me to sell the land for sites. [I could well believe it - the field had a great view of the surrounding area, including a lake.] There was one fellow that would not take no for an answer. A Garda sergeant, though not from the area, and it didn't matter what price I quoted to him. In the end, to get rid of him, I told him, the best thing I can do for you is to put you at the end of the list!

I'll hold out as long as I can, he said and strolled back down the hill towards the lake. I hope he does.

Posted by Monasette at 11:00 PM | Comments (1)

Keep on truckin'

If you've ever driven behind a juggernaut and tried to keep up with it, you might find it hard to believe that the maximum speed limit for big trucks is only 50 mph. What's more, I've often passed through Garda speed traps when the trucks were going at the same speed as the cars (i.e. around 60mph), without any penalty, so maybe someone should tell the Gardaí as well. In fact, I have never seen a truck pulled for speeding - granted, it's not half as satisfying as seeing a Dublin-reg BMW or Alfa Romeo pulled over. Anyway, the Irish road Hauliers Association have offered an explanation for how lorry-drivers have a problem observing the speed limit, and it's as lame as an old donkey.

The anti-speed devices in almost every truck on Irish roads are set too high, allowing drivers to exceed the legal speed limit without tampering with them, the Irish Road Hauliers Association said yesterday. ..
...The speed limiters on all trucks over 7½ tonnes are set at 85km per hour, plus or minus 4pc, in compliance with EU legislation. ..
...But the speed limit on Irish roads is currently 80km.

Ah yes, those three miles per hour would make all the difference

Posted by Monasette at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

Get your finger out

One doesn't want to point the finger of blame at anyone, but...for feck sake…

Posted by Monasette at 10:40 PM | Comments (2)

A good run of luck

The bookmakers Paddy Powers announced three days of mourning after a Ballinasloe woman bet 10 euro on a 7 race accumulator and won 424,710 euro. Trying to put a brave face on it, the PR chappie for Paddy Power sobbed

This is a famous day for punters. It is fantastic to see one of our customers win the 'Crown Jewels' from such a small stake. I can't wait to hand over her winning in the hope that some of her luck will rub off on me.

Yeah, sure.

Posted by Monasette at 08:41 PM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2004

Cold snaps

There’s a cold snap predicted this week, with frost everywhere and snow expected on the high ground in the north and east. Expect the whole country to shut down if we get more than a few millimetres of the white stuff. By contrast, it is 15 degrees below freezing in Sweden at the moment and things are pretty much humming along as normal.

I was over there last week and when the plane door was opened, the cold air made us gasp. The last leg of the journey had been in a small turbo-prop plane – there was always a rush to get out first and grab one of the few taxis waiting outside. The first guy off the plane hurried towards the reception area – he didn’t make it. In a move that could have graced any Harold Lloyd movie, he slithered, desperately flapped his arms like Big Bird to try to keep his balance before his legs whipped up into the air, and he landed with a dull and painful thud (on his back) onto the tarmac. At that point, the solitary ground crewman shuffled over, hands in pockets, and, looking down at the prone figure, mumbled something like “you might want to watch it there; it’s a bit slippy”. Like the first wildebeest plunging into the river during a migration, someone has to go ahead if only to act as a warning to the rest of us. I had a similar pratfall in Stockholm years ago – my abiding memory being of my two feet soaring above me into the sky before crashing onto the pavement. If I’d been sober, I could have been in real pain.

Apart from the north of the country, the temperatures only plunge this low in Sweden for a few weeks in late January and early February. The lakes freeze over, the snow piles up and the winds that sweep across from Russia would make you cry with the cold. On the plus side, the snow does lift the gloom, reflecting every scrap of the few hours of daylight. One of my colleagues there cycles to work – the snow doesn’t stop him but the cold makes his eyes water, the tears promptly freeze so he can’t blink them away. Me? I nearly freeze while gingerly stepping from the office to the canteen.

I had to take a train up to Stockholm to catch my flight home. Those of you who had to take a bus from Athlone to Westport due to the unofficial strike by train drivers there might want to look away now (think about it, if the Western Transport corridor had been re-opened, they could be pissing off twice as many people right now). To book a ticket, I had a choice. I could just turn up at the ticket office, I could reserve a seat by phone or I could buy a ticket online. For some reason, you can’t buy a ticket with a non Swedish credit card, though I can’t think why – if you stole someone’s Visa, would you really blow it on buying train tickets? And then there is the choice of trains. To cover a distance roughly equivalent to the Dublin to Galway, the X-2000 high-speed train takes an hour and twenty minutes. It hardly makes a sound, comes to a stop without a cacophony of screeching and actually leaves and arrives on time. This experience contrasts somewhat with the usual Irish Rail experience – a shuddering racket, standing in the corridor, and the inevitable delays. How can a train that leaves Galway on time be half an hour late by the time it reaches Attymon?

The price wasn’t cheap – around 65 euro for a one-way standard ticket. But the train was nearly full, and if you’re prepared to accept a two and a half hour journey, there is always the cheaper, Intercity option (which includes a play area for kids). And they even have certain carriages designated as mobile-phone free. Now what could be more civilised ?

Posted by Monasette at 08:04 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack


I revisited Derrybrien in east Galway last week, to see how the repair work was faring. While I was there, I spotted a hen harrier hunting at the site of the windfarm. While it's encouraging to see a relatively rare bird in its natural habitat, I hope that the completed windfarm won't prove to be too much of a disturbance.

As for how well the repair work is progressing, judge for yourself.

Posted by Monasette at 07:03 PM | Comments (2)

January 20, 2004

Preparation for the winter

Somone is well prepared for a cold snap.

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

Under repair

Tar drips on an upturned currach on Barna Pier, Galway. Photo taken a couple of weeks ago.

Posted by Monasette at 11:48 PM | Comments (0)

Ireland of the Welcomes

A Waterford visitor to the Great Southern wasn't too happy with the level of security during the EU conference over the weekend. A bit like Jackie Healy Rae, she complains that it was too much rather than too little.

Meanwhile, Nick Faldo has finally got his island but he hasn't got his Céad Míle Fáilte yet - it seems Bartragh island is the only natural barrier island in the country, and at least one scientist thinks that the prospect of widespread building on the island bodes not well at all.Meanwhile, this enterprising fellow has already nabbed the island's domain name.

Posted by Monasette at 11:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Who are you calling chicken?

I'd heard this old yarn a few times, but now it looks like someone has made a video out of it (and added an Irish interest).

This, on the other hand, is a Paddy Irishman yarn of a different sort.

Posted by Monasette at 11:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 15, 2004

Even Alanis Morisette might understand this irony...

Bloody freeloaders, more interested in state handouts than doing a bit of hard work. Yes, the EU circus rolled into Galway city today. Ministers from around Europe and a plethora of bureaucrats are, as I write, sampling the hospitality of the Great Southern in Eyre Square (handy for nipping across to Supermacs). Every Garda in the west is on duty to make sure that the august gathering can calculate their expenses in peace (who will defend Lough Mask against the Tourmakeady Poaching Collective tonight ?).

And why have they blessed the city of the tribes with their presence ? Ah yes, the pressing concern of the European Union is how to persuade workers on state benefit to take up minimum wage employment, given that many people in that position (particularly those with kids) are actually better off on state support (and actually get to see their kids that way). Can't wait for their next visit...

Posted by Monasette at 11:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

I hope Ryan Tubridy cashed his cheque...

Rose of Tralee Inc. is in trouble. Ireland's leading pageant for unmarried virgin women is apparently up to its neck in debt. Refreshingly, the organizers are not looking for a state handout (at least not until tomorrow). Hey! Maybe they should ask the government for the use of all those welfare-scrounging unmarried mothers to help run the festival for nothing. It would also show what those feckless trollops how much forced-smile fun they were missing by having babies and therefore disqualifying themselves from the competition.

The plight of the festival really has nothing to do with the west of Ireland - it just makes me feel better.

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

Killinaboy Church

More wanton women - a gallery of Killinaboy church in Co. Clare, including a rather worn Sheela-na-gig.

Posted by Monasette at 11:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blowing hot and cold

What a bloody day. Someone was telling me the other day about how little rain had fallen so far this winter. Talk about tempting fate. The Western People reports that the wettest day last year was in Mayo, on the night (Sept. 19th) of the landslides in Pollatomish - probably just a coincidence ?
And the hottest day of the year was in Belderrig last August 8th when the mercury hit 30.3 centigrade. Costa del Mayo anyone ?

Posted by Monasette at 11:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 11, 2004


Round tower of Kilmacduagh reflected in a grave ornament.

Posted by Monasette at 05:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A walk in the country

About a decade ago, a few of us decided to climb Ben Bulben. It was a bitterly cold February day so we kitted out in the usual layers of clothes, jackets and boots. We made it up to the top of the plateau after about 90 minutes. We didn't get much time to admire the view. A searing wind dragged a cloak of cloud and sleet across the mountain-top, and after shivering in the gloom, we decided to make our way down. As we walked down, a figure appeared out of the whiteness. It was an old man, wrapped in an old black coat tied with baling twine, and only a flat cap to protect against the icy wind. He was obviously a local farmer, probably up on the mountain to check on his sheep. The bemused look he gave us said it all - three Goretex gimps kitted out to the last for an expedition that he had been doing daily for the last sixty years, and even then, at seventy or so years of age, he could probably get up and down the mountain faster than us.

'The Bull' Mcsharry got some moral support yesterday. He's in prison for a couple of weeks, for threatening a couple of hill-walkers. The Bull owns a farm in Sligo, and took exception to the presence of the walkers. Now, it's perfectly legal to tell walkers to leave your land - the Bull overstepped the mark, was given a fine in the District Court in Sligo. He's behind bars for not paying the fine 'on principle'.

Hill-walking in Ireland should be a doddle. Vast tracts of land in the north, west and south are virtually uninhabited - there are beautifully desolate mountain ranges, more and more broadleaf forests are being restored and the landscape is dotted with rolling fields and glittering lakes. Unfortunately, much of the landscape is also dotted with "Keep Out" and "Beware of the Bull" signs (if the number of signs reflected the true number of bulls in the country, there'd be a lot of nervous cows feigning headaches). In many places, barbed wire is a less eloquent but more effective statement of intent.

There is no right of access in Ireland. A field or road is either public (and therefore open to anyone) or private land. We don't have that much public land in Ireland - we can thank Gladstone and the various Land Acts for that. So if you want to climb many of Ireland's hills or mountains, or even traipse across the bogs of the west, you'll have to walk across privately owned land.

The problem is that a farmer is responsible for any person who enter his or her land, whether that person is a welcome guest or an intruder. Actually the law is no different from that which applies to private dwellings - my own home insurance includes a clause that would cover me if Aunt Jemima decided to go for one big payoff and throw herself down the stairs. Similarly, the same policy would cover me if an intruder broke into my home and injured himself lugging my widescreen TV out the back door (the law is great, isn't it?). Of course, a jury might look a little unfavourably on a burglar's claim. They may be more sympathetic to a couple of walkers who fell into a hole in a field, or injured themselves in an unfortunate barbed-wire-straddling incident. It wouldn't matter to the farmer that the walkers set off with the best of intentions - people become amazingly litigious when the opportunity arises - he would be liable.

Farmers are rightly protective of their land. Farming is a vocation, not a job that you just turn up for. The ownership of land was a hard-fought for right in this country, and not one that would be relinquished easily by anyone. I grew up on a farm, and I fully understand the sense of intrusion to discover someone walking on our property, even if you know them. In the west, the land was bad to begin with, and much of it was reclaimed by hand. All those pretty stone walls - you didn't think the stones picked themselves, did you?

And what about walkers that wander through herds of cattle or flocks of sheep, scaring them half to death ? That one is a little harder to believe. Most townies are scared of anything larger than a well-fed cat, and usually steer clear of groups of large ruminants. And so they should. An affectionate puck from a Charolais bullock is nearly as bad as a Navan man proposing marriage (though at least in the case of the bullock, it will probably take no for an answer). As for the stringy balls of fluff that you might encounter on an Irish hillside, the sooner that they are gone the better. These flocks of sheep have no real economic value whatsoever - they are only there because they are little woolly European Union money orders to the farmer. Their price is artificially controlled, and without subsidy, no farmer would keep them. (In fact, the latest reform of the Common Agricultural Policy - the Fischler reforms - deliberately separates the grant aid from the individual animal, so that in future, the farmer will get paid even if he doesn't actually keep any sheep). As an excuse to keep people from traversing land that has no other economic value, it is a very poor one.

To be honest, you need to half-mad to run your life based on the capricious nature of the Irish weather, and half-mad people with easy access to shotguns and plenty of places to bury things should not be unnecessarily provoked. But I wonder what the 300 farmers holding the vigil outside Lochan House (which included the IFA president, John Dillon) really want. Do they really want to ban all access to their land in perpetuity ? If so, they're on a hiding to nothing.

A compromise is required - that should be obvious to all. Farmers should not be liable for people who injure themselves if they have entered land without permission. It can't be that hard to make such a law (though we are quite good at making a bollix of legislation in this country). But we should be encouraging people to go walking. A national scheme that offers an incentive to farmers to provide access is required -and that requires farmers to participate when the land in question contains either a national monument or an area of particular scenic value (such as Ben Bulben). However, there should also be a national insurance scheme required for anyone who goes walking - that way, the question of cover becomes a duty on the walker rather than the owner of the land.

Could it be done ? Sure , it's not like there's a shortage of lawyers - they could figure it out. But will it be done ? Ah. In an ideal world, the farming organisations would drive this issue rather than just react angrily to it. Anything that benefits and sustains rural communities benefits farmers too - sub post offices, rural pubs, B&Bs all benefit from walkers - so there is a huge incentive to resolve this problem. And given the likely future policy of the EU on farming subsidies, there will be a lot of landowners whose boggy or mountainous land will never be part of a housing scheme, motorway or decentralised government department. And if the hills are no longer dotted with sheep, better that they be dotted with people than nothing at all.

Posted by Monasette at 05:19 PM | Comments (0)

Old reliables

The Irish Times/ESB Irish Theatre Awards will be doled out next month. The nominations are rather Dublin-centric. Rightly so, Frankie McCafferty gets a best actor nomination as Dinzie in Druid's Sharon's Grave, but that's it. Judge Helen Meaney bemoans the lack of innovation outside of Dublin.

Outside of Dublin there was a marked concentration on revivals, which is pretty unexciting.

I wonder would anyone have bothered to look at the plays even if there was a new one every week? It seems a little unfair. Outside of the capital, there is a limited number of works that can be performed in any year - there's not that many theatres for a start. And considering that most of the nominations for the Dublin-based theatres are for plays from Ibsen, Oliver Goldsmith, Arthur Millar and Tennessee Williams, maybe she should look a little closer to home.

Posted by Monasette at 05:13 PM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2004

It's an honour just to be nominated...

I see that the 2004 Weblog awards (The Bloggies) are open for nomination for the next week, and they have a catageory for Best Irish or British Weblog category. Now who can I nominate....?

Posted by Monasette at 09:18 AM | Comments (2)

January 08, 2004

Clear Blue Water

Posted by Monasette at 11:27 PM | Comments (0)

Barbarians at the Gate

Just like the hapless motorists of Galway, the debate about the naming of the roundabouts goes round and round. The Galway Advertiser carries even more irate correspondence this week. Padraic MacFhionnghaile is steaming.

The so-called Tribes of Galway were a privileged ascendancy class of primarily self-serving opportunistic merchants who dispossessed native Irish clans like the O'Flahertys and O'Hallorans to control vast estates which included large tracts of County Galway....A sign on he west bridge implored "from the ferocious O'Flaherty's, may the Lord deliver us".

The poor old O'Flahertys, eh? Apart from owning a large chunk of Galway and Mayo west of the city, there was a good reason for the sign on the bridge. The O'Flahertys had a habit of liberating anything that wasn't nailed down (and a habit of nailing up anyone who tried to stop them). Grace O'Malley was married into the family during the 16th century, and earned her title "The Pirate Queen" the hard way. The correspondence also highlights the fact that the Irish were very capable of shafting each other without any help from the English (though, to give them their due, the English excelled at it too).

Another correspondent is even less happy. Adrian Martyn ( a descendent of the Martin tribe) gets his retaliation in early, beginning his letter with

As Ben Franklin once wrote on ignorance, it is better to keep silent than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Ouch. Indignantly, he points out that his ancestors never evicted a single tenant during the Famine (which reminds me, why didn't any Irish people apologize for the Famine - maybe I'll write in and start another scrap) and finishes his letter with

There is of course a more old-fashioned way to settle most disputes though, knowing how lethal generations of my family have been in such matters, I hesitate to offer it to him as his refusal might be taken as a slur on his manhood. Nevertheless, I am a believerin handing down tradition from one generation to the next. So, pistols or swords ?

Now, this I want to see.

Posted by Monasette at 10:37 PM | Comments (3)

I shouldn't laugh but...

You know, we really do want visitors from America, and we promise not to fingerprint them, make them walk barefoot through metal detectors or even dunk them in sheep dip. I've got to admire the determination of any visitor who decides to tackle the roads around Clare and then decide to take the 'scenic route' to the Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs were a priority for me while spending this past week away from the keyboard. To do the Cliffs right, so my college buddy and I were told at McGann's Pub by Doolin local Leslie Flynn, take the road less traveled - which also happened to be the road not marked.

I particularly enjoyed his account of how he discovered the electric fencing. I don't think he'll be back anytime soon

Posted by Monasette at 09:39 PM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2004

Wren boys

A hobbity face or a detail from a rusting cattle feeder?

Our St. Stephen's Day was disturbed when a group of masked men called the door demanding money with menace. OK, they were kids, and they would have settled for sweets. As for the menace, well. they did threaten to sing a second verse of that bloody Westlife song.

I wonder what my Chinese and Eastern European neighbours made of the Wrenboy tradition - a bunch of little munchkins with Scream masks rasp out a muffled couple of verses, give a little dance (I'm being charitable here) and then stick out their hands expectantly.

Posted by Monasette at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)


I was given a pressie of The Encyclopaedia of Ireland for Christmas. As Sam Goldwyn once exclaimed, Read it ? I can hardly lift it. When the book came out a few months ago, it seemed that most of the journalists who contributed to it praised it to the hilt, while those who weren't asked carped about subjects that weren't covered (such as themselves). Such is Ireland - the unspoken feeling was that if you were in it, you were part of the intelligentsia, and if you weren't, well…(Imagine if we had a honours system). My first instinct was to leaf through the pages of contributors to see if I knew any of them - just one, and only very slightly (I guess I'm still a few degrees of separation outside the intelligentsia. Must try harder!).

Anyway, the very first entry in the book is on Abbeyknockmoy. The Ordinance Survey map calls the place Abbey, the road signs call it Abbeyknockmoy and the rather well-preserved remains of a Cistercian Abbey is called Knockmoy Abbey by the OPW and 1 . Whatever it's called, it was late in the day when I arrived there, so apologies for the rather dull quality of the pictures. I'll have to swing by there again, preferably when there is less sleet and rain falling.

Posted by Monasette at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)


Looking at Skeltia and beyond to Maumtrasna, Co. Mayo.

Posted by Monasette at 02:28 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2004

Tribal Gatherings

As everyone knows, Galway is known as the City of the Tribes. Their names trip off the tongue; Lynch, Kirwan, Ffrench…um..er.. Comanche and Sioux. Galway City Council has named all the traffic roundabouts after the tribe names. A letter to the Galway Advertiser voiced much displeasure at this act (sadly no link) - the reasoning being that the tribes were all of the landlord class and caused nothing but misery and eviction to the poor Irish peasants. Let bygones be bygones, eh ? Given the amount of suffering that the roundabouts inflict on the current Galway inhabitants, it's probably more than appropriate. Hey, why not name them all after Cromwell and be done with it. And Louis Walsh. And Twink. Ok, maybe name two of them after Twink.

Personally, I preferred some of the old names, even if they did sound like a bad dose of the sniffles.Doughisha? Gezunheit! Bohermore. Sounds a bit tickly. Moneenageesha. Nurse!.

UPDATE: I guess I should explain, for my non-Irish visitors, who Twink is. She is a relic of that brief time in the Seventies when showband singers were named after characters in Battlestar Galactica . come to think of it, when she entered the Eurovision, she dressed like one too. She was part of an all-girl group called Maxi, Dick and Twink. Maxi is currently lulling drivers to sleep with her brand of Eazee listening on an early morning radio show (as if the roads weren't dangerous enough already); Dick had run away from the circus to join the group and promptly ran back gain afterwards. Twink did some panto, became part of Mike Murphy's comedy show that gave Dermot Morgan his break, and most recently, was the first 'recruit' to be chucked off Celebrity Farm (she described it as a life-changing experience despite lasting less than 48 hours with the show).

UPDATE Part II: Exactly how much suffering that the roundabouts cause is documented here, by a long-suffering cyclist.

Posted by Monasette at 02:02 PM | Comments (0)

Island Life

There were plenty of good documentaries on TG4 over the Christmas. There was a very good one on making poitín, which had me wondering what the programme makers did with the hooch that they actually made for the programme. Another programme documented the lives of the last families to leave the Blasket Islands in Kerry. It was rather poignant, as they reminisced about a life and a lifestyle that has become as extinct as the community from which they came. Another islander went home yesterday. Brigid Derrane was buried on Inis Mór, where she was born 109 years ago. As a youth, she joined Cumann na mBan and was involved in both the Easter Rising in 1916 and the War of Independence. Later she emigrated to Boston, where she became involved in US politics. She met John Kennedy and was involved in his presidential election campaign. Brigid had lived in a nursing home in Galway for the last few years, but unlike the Blasket Islanders, she did not outlive the communities of the Aran Islands, though they have been reduced to about 40% of the population size at the time of her birth.

In her memoir, she wrote,

What I leave is the sunshine to the flowers, honey to the bees, the moon above in the heavens for all those in love and my beloved Aran Islands to the seas.

Posted by Monasette at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)