March 31, 2004


Pointillism - the limestone surface on the shore of Lough Mask near Inishmaine Abbey. Photo taken on March 28 2004.

Last Saturday, I visited Inishmaine island (ok, nowadays, it's a peninsula) where there is the remains of an old abbey. It's a quiet place - the bare limestone slabs lead directly to the waters of Lough Mask, and one can imagine that the location provided an ideal place for the abbotts to meditate and pray. In fact, on a sunny March day, with hardly a sound to be heard, nor a soul to be seen, if you couldn't get in touch with your thoughts here, then I hope you've a good mane of hair, 'cos your head's not much use for anything else.>/p>

Posted by Monasette at 10:12 PM | Comments (2)

Infra-red digital photography

For any of you interested in photography, let me share a few thoughts. For those who couldn't care less, let me bore the hell out of you (put it down as your Lenten sacrifice).

I treated myself to a new camera before Christmas. It's a Canon G3 digital camera and I must confess that we have become inseparable. I'm not going to recommend it over other cameras - I'm sure that the equivalent Nikon Coolpix or Olympus are just as good - but the camera has performed better than I could have hoped. I found this site invaluable when evaluating cameras, and I was also greatly impressed by the photos on Daily Dose of Imagery, taken with a G3 (yes, I realize the photographer had something to do with it too). I already owned a small digital compact (a Konica) and the kindest thing I can say about it is that it was a piece of crap. The lenses was a sharp as the bottom of a Coke bottle and the exposure meter was completely useless - the slightest amount of contrast threw it completely off. It probably serves me right, since I officially bought the camera for my wife and, just like Homer Simpson buying Marge a bowling ball for her birthday, the only time she got to see the camera was the day I bought it.

It did however, give me the taste for digital photography. The immediate feedback that one gets from a digital camera, plus the ability to compose a scene using the LCD screen, were things that I quickly became addicted to. Digital photography gave me one other advantage. I used to take all my photographs on my EOS SLR (I have the cheap'n'cheerful EOS500n and it is a great workhorse) using mainly Fuji film (either Fujichrome or Velvia). While they are great films, by the time I have scanned them, the images seemed to lose some of their vivacity. Also, since my scanner is mid-range, it has difficulty in accurately reproducing extremes of contrast .

The G3 has solved many of these problems. For a start, it has a better spec. than my EOS (and since it is also a Canon, most of the controls work just like the EOS). It has an ultra-sharp lens that opens up to F2.0. Because it is much lighter than the EOS, I can handhold to very slow shutter speeds. And it has spot-metering. The zoom lens is the 35mm equivalent of about 35mm to 140mm. Now, I have a 19-35mm zoom lens for my EOS that was very handy when taking wide-angle snaps of old abbeys. However, the G3 has a setting for taking a series of photos that can be stitched together afterwards (the camera comes with a CD of software utilities) - you can judge the results for yourself. But the main advantage is that the vividness of the original image is not lost through post-processing - the pictures I take are the pictures that I can post to the site- largely unadjusted.

The G3 is a 4MB camera (it's replacement, the G5 takes 5MB images) but the image size is far bigger. The 4MB image file is in RAW format which is a compressed format. When expanded to a JPEG, the image file is around 20MB in size (or 32inches X 24inches) which is roughly equivalent to the image size of a 35mm slide when I scan it. I don't really have any need for a bigger image size right now - in fact, the extra processing required to convert the RAW files is murdering my old Gateway PC (in my more carefree moments, I dream of one of those new iMacs…).

Holy well, Inishmicatreer island, Co. Mayo

Once I bought the G3, I was also free to try something I had been meaning to do for a few years - Infra-red photography. I was planning to experiment with IR using my SLR but two obstacles proved insurmountable. Firstly, I couldn't find any processor that would develop and print IR in Ireland. Secondly, most Canon EOS models use an IR beam in the camera to measure the advance of the film through the camera. Since the IR beam 'shines' on the socket holes on the top of the film strip, it would cause fogging on an IR film.

But I came across a few articles on the Web by photographers describing their own experimentation with digital IR and decided to give it a go. I bought a Hoya R72 infra-red filter (from Jessops - it cost around 35euro) and also a lens adapter that must be fitted to the lens mount of the camera - it enables screw-thread filters to be attached to the front of the camera. And how did it turn out? Well, the advantage of a digital camera is that one can immediately see the result of one's experimentation. I haven't taken many IR photos but I have already learned that it is not a precise or exact science. It seems to be difficult to maintain the sharpness of the image, depending on the length o fthe exposure.

As a photographic effect, it's also easy to drag the arse of it. However, it can give an ethereal and ghostly effect that can be appropriate when photographing old graveyards or churches. Because green foliage in sunlight appears as ghostly white in a black and white IR photo, an ivy-covered building surrounded by grass can look quite spooky, even if it doesn't look so special as an ordinary colour or black & white photograph.

UPDATE (29th June 2004) - Metafilter debates the quality problems assciated with shooting digital IR pics.

Posted by Monasette at 09:56 PM | Comments (6)

Same as it ever was

Back in 1998, I bought the PC that I still use today. I was living in Stockholm and I wanted to use the internet in my apartment - via a dodgy Telia dial-up connection that never gave more than 30k, as it turned out. My two favourite bookmarks were the Irish Times (back when it was still free, and they were making money) and RTE.

Most nights, I would listen in to Vincent Browne's nightly current affairs programme on Radio 1, where he analysed the evidence uncovered by the Flood and Moriarty tribunals of enquiry that were investigating illegal payments to politicians as well as irregularities in the planning processes in Dublin. Someone on the show had the smart idea to employ two actors to re-enact the evidence, using the transcript of the evidence as their script. The two actors, Joe Taylor and Malcolm Douglas both had a genius for mimicry, so that the show seemed like a nightly soap opera, and one that became more and more unbelievable as time went on.

And, boy, has time gone on. Joe Taylor was the subject of Carrie Crowley's Radio 1 interview programme, Snapshots, last Sunday. Taylor had been a jobbing actor until he achieved almost permanent employment with the tribunal re-enactments - he has even put on a two-man theatre show with Douglas called the Tribunal Show. Since there is no end in sight to the tribunal circus, Taylor may never need to look for another role after his tribunal stint (he's 55 now).

Of course, the reason that we have tribunals in the country is because the normal organs of the state seemed to have failed completely. Neither the Gardai nor the Revenue Commission ever uncovered any evidence of wrong-doing against the people currently under investigation, the DPP (Department of Public Prosecutions) could never bring a case against these people, and the courts never got a chance to try any of them. In short, there seemed to be a coterie that, for decades, lived life above the law. If enriching a bunch of lawyers is the only way to bring these people to justice, so be it.

But maybe it's not the only way. There's another little modern democracy that has investigated a senior politician on suspicion of corruption, and somehow, the country's senior prosecutor has performed his investigation without fear, and forwarded charges to the judiciary for consideration. That country is Israel and the suspect is the prime minister. Now why can a country with a coalition system that would make Seamus Brennan blanche, and that is practically at war, speedily conclude a judicial investigation against the country's leader when, after six years, the Irish investigations are still meandering along with no hope of conclusion? Maybe there's just a little more backbone to go around ?

Posted by Monasette at 08:17 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2004

The rites of spring

Near Inishmaine abbey lies an old graveyard. Most of the graves are covered in gravel but one was bursting with daffodils. And we can't have an account of March without a picture of daffodils, now can we?

After a couple of weeks in the arid heat of southern India, the west of Ireland seems almost unbelievably lush and green. This is a great time of year - the spring equinox has passed, and last night, the clocks went forward for summer time. Everywhere, life is bursting forth. I visited Inishmaine Abbey (via Cong) on the banks of Lough Mask on Saturday morning - from the heat of the sun, and the stillness of the air, it could have been mid-summer. Only the buds not yet burst open on the trees, and the distant honking of whopper swans that have not yet migrated back to Scandinavia betrayed the time of the year.

I traced some more of the path of the Cong Canal on Saturday - I'll update the gallery when I get around to it. Despite the breeze, I managed to get one clear picture of the hazel catkins. Hazel (Corylus avellana Linnaeus) is one of Ireland's oldest plant - along with ash, hazel re-established itself after the last Ice Age nine and a half thousand years old. The Irish world for hazel is Coll, which is also the name of the letter C in the Ogham alphabet, and hazel nut fragments have been found in the remains of Mesolithic settlements that date back nine millenia. The hazel woods of the Burren probably represent an unbroken presence since that part of Ireland became habitable - it is also the favoured habitat for the pine martin, a creature that, alas, I have never seen in the flesh. Hazel woods also attract owls - the hazelnuts are the staple diet of voles that are in turn, the snack of choice for the birds.

In an old graveyard at the edge of Cong village co. Mayo, there are three magnificent horse-chesnut trees. At this time of year, the leaves are beginning to emerge from their sticky casings, unfurling like butterfly wings. The horse-chesnut (Crann Cnó Capaill; Aesculus hippocastanum)is a wonder to behold at almost any time of the year - soon it will have a huge canopy of large flat leaves, before transforming into a huge crown of blossoms in May. Of course, in the autumn, the tree produces conkers, the dark and smooth nuts hidden inside the wonderfully spiky and bizarre-looking green fruit.

The story of how horse-chesnuts arrived into Europe is just as quirky. In 1557, a Flemish doctor called Willem Quackelbeen, who was working in the Turkish embassy of Ferdinand I, the Habsburgh Emperor, sent some branches of a tree to an Italian botanist (Pietro Mattiola) saying that the Turks used as a medicine to cure horses. The Turks called the tree At-Kastane (Horse Chesnut). Though the seeds sent by Herr Quackelbeen didn't grow, a later batch sent some years later were cultivated in the Habsburgh imperial gardens in Vienna.

Funnily enough, horses don't seem to like horse-chesnuts at all and won't eat them of their own accord. Horse-chesnut timber doesn't have much uses either, either as furniture or even for burning. A fully grown horse-chesnut tree is, however, a beautiful sight, and examples of the tree can be found in many of the old estates in Ireland.

Posted by Monasette at 10:12 PM | Comments (2)

March 22, 2004

Where Eagles Dare

Club sandwich? Hold the chicken!

At the back of my hotel, there is a pond filled with carp. From the vantage point of my room, I can see the occasional attempts by an eagle to do some fishing. The bird swoops in low over the pool, and grabs at the fish with its talons. I haven’t seen it catch anything yet, but it’s only a matter of time. As a spectacle, it certainly beats the sight of blackbirds digging up the crocuses I planted in my back garden back home.

The eagle, white-faced with fox-brown wings, is not the top predator. An even bigger bird of prey, one of the large buzzards or eagles that constantly glide above the city, has taken offence to the would-be fisher king and divebombs him whenever he gets a chance. It’s quite a sight – the two eagles fluttering and diving through the columns of the hotel and between the trees of the garden.

We strolled through another part of the commercial district this afternoon. The place was almost empty. In this province, the people are celebrating New Year, and tomorrow, the annual school exam will take place. In the market areas, there are usually streets that devoted to a single type of trade – medicines, silk cloth, and in one particular case, chickens. I have never been more grateful for a sinus infection that more or less filtered the smell of heaps of chicken meat, guts and giblets that had sat in 35 degree heat without ice all day (when the butchers here talk about cast-offs, they mean it literally). As we walked down n the street, a dark shadow whizzed by. Hmm, what was that? Then another one. It was the gliding eagles. Except, when we looked up, dozens of them lined the roofs on each side of the street. They were there for the chicken too.

These ones have survived a plucking for another day...

Seeing two westerners with cameras, the traders began throwing scraps of meat into the middle of the street to attract the birds. Within five seconds, the street was full of eagles flapping, clawing at food and wheeling about for another run. Now, when I lived in Stockholm, there was the occasional inconvenience when eating al fresco of a seagull that would be cheeky enough to land on your table to steal food. OK, seagulls are big and noisy and shit all over the place, but that’s about the height of it. These eagles were MUCH bigger, they had talons, sharp beaks, and they didn’t seem to be in a mood to go around the gringos to reach the grub.

Twice, I got whacked in the head by wings, as I tried to line up a photo. Ok , maybe it was more like “brushed against”, but when I’m telling this story next week at home, it will be “whacked”. Alas, like the fisherman whose biggest catch is always the one that got away, I didn’t get one really usable shot of the spectacle. My digital camera has lots of strengths but high-speed action photos isn’t one of them – I didn’t bring my SLR. Plus, I spent most of time ducking for cover. Come to think of it, I didn’t even get a feather. Within 30 seconds, the street was picked clean – actually, clean is definitely the wrong word – and the eagles went back up onto the roof. To wait for seconds.

The eagles (or maybe buzzards - I'm no expert) wheel about the Chicken Stret after feeding.

Posted by Monasette at 04:10 AM | Comments (0)

Jumpers for goalposts

One of the biggest news stories here is the cricket test series between India and Pakistan. It’s part of a tentative rapprochement between the two countries, and the series is tied with one match to go. I was in a restaurant during the week where the last match was being shown on a TV. At one point, Pakistan bowled out an Indian batsman – a deed watched in stony silence in the restaurant except for one man, who gave a half-roar of joy almost despite himself. The whole restaurant stared at him in a not altogether amiable manner, and he quickly hurried out, thereby ensuring that he might live to see the next match.

There is an unholy row over the broadcasting rights. Despite the desire of one billion people to watch each of the matches (and this is a country where people do not slope off from work without having a really good reason), it is a subscription channel that owns the broadcasting rights. And they are not feeling too generous. And despite visits from government officials, and a late night visit by three supreme court judges to the home of the TV channel’s owner, the match is still restricted. Couldn’t happen at home, eh?

Posted by Monasette at 04:08 AM | Comments (0)

Nepotism begins at home

A lot done. More to do...

There’s an election campaign in progress here (India is the world's largest democracy), and some of the stories from the campaign have a familiar aspect. The election colours used in the brochures and on the posters are almost identical to the main Irish parties – no surprise there, since the national flags are not dissimilar. There’s no shortage of strokes either. The government decided to perk up New Delhi by sending in bulldozers into a slum area and clearing it of 10,000 people. The poor unfortunates were dumped into another area miles from where they eked out their livelihoods. Oh yes, it might affect their voting rights too. Meanwhile, another candidate discovered that he had several thousand sex workers in his constituency and cranked out a leaflet addressing some of their issues. Alas, it didn’t go down too well with the party suits.

The two main parties are the incumbent BJP and Congress, the party of Gandhi. And just this weekend, Sonia Gandhi (who has already suffered the assassination of her mother-in-law and husband) moved constituency to let her son run in her ‘family’ constituency. Now that would never happen at home…?

No one promises to get the trains running on time here...

Posted by Monasette at 04:01 AM | Comments (0)

And finally...

There was a small news item on TV here about a council that was congratulated for setting a new record. And for what? For writing the most letters of condolence of any council in India. Apparently, hard-working scribes have been churning out missives at the rate of 35-40 per day every day since 1991. No-one seemed to show any curiosity as to why there was a need for so many letters in the first place...

Posted by Monasette at 04:00 AM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2004

La Fheile Padraig

Big Daddy - king of the road.

Not much chance of a St. Patrick's Day parade here in Bangalore. It's risky enough trying to cross the road – if you’d tried to parade down a road here, you’d end up meeting St. Patrick sooner than you bargained for. [By the way, given that St. Patrick was a Welshman, and that there is a preponderance of red haired freckled people in both Wales and the west of Ireland, when legend speak of St. Patrick climbing every mountain, it’s kind of a euphemism, y’know.]

Driving by night in Bangalore is yet another adventure. Everyone drives with their full lights on, and there are no streetlights, so basically, all you can see are blinding lights whizzing about either side of you. All of this chaos has a down side. The 1999 figures show that over 600 people were killed in traffic accidents in the city and 6000 injured, with pedestrians making up about 25% of the fatalities (though a local newspaper reports that pedestrian deaths now make up about 40% of the total). In comparison, Ireland had about 400 fatalities in the same year, with pedestrians deaths at 85. Which, by western European standards, is almost Indian.

Posted by Monasette at 04:40 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2004

In transit

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Well, road rules anyway. I’m in Bangalore, India for a short trip and my first journey in a taxi more than lives up to the reputation for which Indian traffic is world renowned. The taxi driver smiles at us. ”Driving in India is self-defence driving”, he explains, clearly a believer in attack being the best form of defence.

There are two caste systems in India – the one that governs your rank in society, and the one that governs who goes first on the road. Top of the pile are the brightly painted construction trucks, followed closely by the battered buses jammed with stoic commuters. Other drivers have two choices – pull over or die. Cars and jeeps come next, and they prey upon the motorised rickshaws, motorbikes and scooters. If you’re on a pushbike, you don’t relax much.

Everybody beeps the horn constantly. This is not a sign of annoyance – it just warns the guy in front that you’re coming through. Since nobody at all pays the slightest heed to any rules of the road at all, there is a cacophony of revving, hooting and screeching brakes. And did I mention that there are officially six million people in the city (though there may be as many as seven, according to some unofficial estimates), so you can imagine the shimmering mass of people weaving crazily along the main thoroughfares.

“We’re coming to the motorway now”, grins the driver. I wonder why he mentioned it. I look up – there are two lanes of traffic whizzing by each way, we needed to get to the far two, and there is no traffic light at the junction. I’m still pondering how long we will be waiting to cross into the far lanes when JEEZUS H! With one hand jammed on the horn, the driver drives straight into the oncoming traffic for about two hundred yards until he can slide into the flow of traffic on the other side.

There are no lanes markings on the motorway – it would just be a waste of paint. Bikes weave between cars, cars weave between trucks and buses cut through all traffic like icebreakers. There are some reminders of home – nobody bothers with indicators and the occasional pedestrian crossing is ignored by all. What prevents the road system from being a complete bloodbath is that nobody seems to drive faster than twenty five to thirty miles per hour. I notice that most of the cars don’t seem so badly dented, though ominously, most of the buses seem well battered.

“Do you like Indian music?”, enquires our driver. Why not? He pokes a cassette into the tape deck and the Bangalore version of the Bothy Band fill the car with lively tunes. Listening to the music, I half expect the people on the street to suddenly start dancing and singing. If you only used Indian TV to form a view of the country, you’d think it was ruled by Gene Kelly and Liberace.

We get to our hotel safely, though not without a few more shocks. At one point, the driver avoids a traffic jam ahead of him, by swerving over to the other side of the road and weaving through the oncoming traffic. Nobody seems surprised. He slams on the brakes a little later to avoid flattening a young girl on a scooter who swerves across the oncoming traffic to access a side road. Her face remained impassive as she just got across in time – she didn’t even glance at the oncoming traffic (she’d make one hell of a poker player). I doubt if many visitors rent cars when they come to India – it’s not for the faint hearted.

Posted by Monasette at 09:07 AM | Comments (2)

Mad dogs and Englishmen

Yesterday, we decided to do some exploring. We’ll go to the City Market and then walk up to the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. The taxi-driver arrives, with a demeanour between melancholy and inconsolable. He doesn’t cheer up much when he hears our plan. The City Market is very busy, sirs. No problem ,we reply, we want to see it. But no-one visits the market, sirs. No problem, we won’t stay long. Where will I collect you, sirs? He looks like we just arrived from another planet. Sirs, it’s TWO KILOMETRES ! No problem - just a little stroll.

When we get to the market, it is everything that we had hoped for – a huge labyrinth of streets crammed with traders hawking every imaginable product and service. We stroll up one side street full of people and, just like a scene in a Western when the stranger strolls into the salon, the street as one fall silent and stare.For about two seconds - nothing much stands still for long here.

I don’t see a single westerner anywhere. We make our way through some quieter suburbs and get to the park The heat was beginning to tell – it’s thirty three degrees and a strong breeze kicks up a lot of dust. According to the guide books, the park was originally commissioned by Sultan Haider Ali – the British would later bring in gardeners from Kew to add to it, and is supposed to be full of trees and plants from around the world. All we can think about is a nice air-conditioned tea room to rest our weary bones.

By now, I’m really feeling the heat. I’ve managed to catch a cold (at least I hope it’s a cold)on the journey out (damn the airlines and their stingy recycled oxygen policy) so my head and throat feel a bit sore. With the added heat, I’m really beginning to fade. I’m not the only one. What the guide book didn’t mention is that, during the dry season, all the flowers wilt and every single blade of grass is scorched away. And there’s no tea room. As we sit, slowly melting on a park bench, there are families spreading out picnics under the canopies of the huge trees throughout the park. Clearly, none of them had walked there. No-one except the crazy gringos. The taxi-driver collects us at the appointed time. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to.

I’m writing this back in the hotel, half mad with the heat, coughing like a consumptive and with the complexion of a Galtee rasher. When I packed for the trip, I brought enough anti-diarrhoea pills to halt the Ganges. As it turned out, it’s the Lemsips that will have to get me through.

Posted by Monasette at 09:01 AM | Comments (3)


I have fairly limited image processing capabilities here, but I hope to update the posts with some pictures later in the week.

Posted by Monasette at 08:10 AM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2004

Eight hundred years and all that…

I didn’t get to watch Ireland beat England at rugby last weekend. A sunny Saturday in early March ? I had better things to be doing that sitting in a pub during the day supping porter and watching Ireland triumph over our nearest and dearest neighbour (OK, I had other things to do).

Anyway, there was so much coverage of the win on RTE that it felt like I’d seen it. On Des Cahill’s Sports Call (Radio 1) on Monday evening, half the callers seemed almost crestfallen that the English press (and the team) were so gracious in defeat – it took half the fun out of it. The day before, on the Sunday Show, Tom McGurk tried to stir it up when he rang the captain of the Irish Ladies Rugby team (motto: we’re no ladies! we play rugby!) to ask her about the exhibition match with the English Ladies rugby team that took place before the main event. There had been a story going about during the week that the Irish team would be escorted from Twickenham within forty minutes of their match ending, or face arrest. No tickets would be provided for them. Is it true, asked Tom, bristling at yet another example of perfidious Albion.

Indeed it was, confirmed the Irish captain, except that the English ladies got the same treatment and both teams watched the match together on TV across the road from the stadium. For all Tom’s indignation, he neglected to ask how the ladies had got on in the match (the cailíní came second, alas).

But the best reaction of all came from Donncha O’Dualing on the Saturday evening when the victory was still fresh. Donncha is well known for his love of all things Gaelic and I rather suspect that that he’d much prefer manly types to exert themselves playing hurling or Gaelic football rather than ‘furrin’ games such as soccer or rugby.

But, no, there he was on Saturday night, congratulating the Irish team on their victory over the Briti- er… the English. In the same breath, he was grumbling. “A pity about the national anthem, though”.[Because the Irish team is composed of players from both parts of the island, the Irish team has a specially composed tune, Ireland’s Call, as an anthem rather than Amhrain na bhFiann]. So what song did Donncha play next? A Nation Once Again. No surrender, Donny boy, no surrender.

Posted by Monasette at 05:49 AM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2004


Posted by Monasette at 10:06 PM | Comments (0)

No Blacks,No Dogs,No Irish

One of the prices of living in a hurling county is that, occasionally, one's repose is disturbed by the clatter of a sliotar bouncing off the car, window or cat (a price that would be easier to pay if the All-Ireland came west more often). I looked out the window yesterday morning to see who was the culprit. It was a Chinese boy - a neighbour - having a puck around with his dad.

Along with a large photograph in this week's Connacht Tribune of a group of black African women in Galway who are learning Irish, one gets an insight of how immigrants to Ireland are adapting to life in the west of Ireland. But it was another article in the Tribune that got more attention during the week. It was an apology on behalf of it's sister paper, The Connacht Sentinel, for running an ad in the property section that specified no coloured [tenants]. The ad had been placed by a letting company, who also apologised subsequently.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence around the country to suggest that when someone rings up a landlord or letting agency looking for a place to stay, their prospect of success depends on how Irish they sound. The only surprise about this particular ad is that someone was foolish enough to put their prejudice, sorry mistake, in writing.

The reaction of the British press to the prospect of 10 new countries joining the EU has been as depressing as it has been predictable. "Overrun by filthy hordes" basically summarizes their opinion pieces. It's funny - the same press that complain constantly about the state of the NHS also raises the spectre of people from the accession countries wanting to undertake long journeys to use it. I mention this only to contrast with the Irish view. Last year, RTE correspondent Tommy Gorman made a documentary based on his own experience of receiving treatment for cancer in Sweden. The programme was practically an instruction manual on how to get treatment in other EU countries - so much for health care tourism. Incidentally, I was on a flight to London during the week, and the couple beside me were returning to Bahrain after making use of, in their words, Ireland excellent health care system. The private one, that is.

Posted by Monasette at 09:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sky High

I mentioned the saga of the Achill island cable car before. It looks like the story is nearing its end (via Western People)

The cable-car linking Inisbiggle with the mainland is to go ahead. After years of proposals, plans and problems Minister Eamon O Cuiv announced in Ballycroy last Friday that the EUR4 million project is to go to contract document stage immediately with the first passengers scheduled to use the service in 2006.
"This has been a dream for many years and I can now say that the money is in place to go ahead with the project. It will be the final piece in the jigsaw that will preserve and revive life on Inisbiggle now that we have upgraded the road system and the sea access to and from the island," he said in a speech in Ballycroy Community Centre. He had just opened new slipways at Doran's Point and Gob a Dubh and a heli-pad in the centre of the island.

And he wasn't finished yet.

The cost of the three projects ran to more than EUR1million and he had a word for those who have been critical of the finances being spent on island infrastructure.
"These people were ignored by the state for decades and I make no apologies for giving them the services they deserve. There are no halfway houses we either put in the proper infrastructure or the islands will die. I'm determined to give these people a chance to live proper lives in their own homes," he said.

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

First preferences

Left at a loose-end last week for a few hours, I decided to go the cinema to kill some time. And what a killer. The only movie that suited was the last chunk of Lord of the Rings, and despite swearing after the last episode that I'd never darken the door of a LOTR screening again, in I went. Dear God, I've now devoted nine hours of my life to it - it would have been faster to just fly to New Zealand - for a movie event that, lets face it, is dippier than a Marillion album. As I sat through yet another endless procession of fairies, elves, trolls, devils, angels, wizards, Enya choruses and talking trees, it struck me that, however bad Mel Gibson's version of the Easter story turns out to be, thank God Peter Jackson didn't have a go at it.

It's unlikely that anyone, on their deathbed, will go to their grave wishing they had spent more time watching LOTR movies. Or indeed, watching You're a Star. I never feel more like a stranger in my own land when confronted with the prospect of Linda Martin, Louis Walsh and Phil Coulter acting as arbiters of singing talent in Ireland. Much as I hate the programme (a phone-in talent show with a first prize of representing Ireland is the Eurovision song contest), there is no denying its popularity. One of the two remaining finalists is from Achill Island - I saw posters for him hanging from the bridges over the N4 in Dublin last weekend (and he didn't win it in the end). The clever thing about the programme is that people tend to support the singer from their area (I'm using the word singer as loosely as one can) irrespective of how interested they are in the Eurovision itself. Which is a bit sad.

Between You're a Star, and the local and European elections, the printers will be kept busy until summer. The Galway Advertiser carried the story (and large photo) of one independent candidate for the local elections during the summer. Tokie Laotan is a Nigerian immigrant and single mother, with a degree from a US university and is involved with a bucketload of local community organisations. She is also a model, so there will be at least one set of posters worth looking at during the election.

Posted by Monasette at 09:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 06, 2004

A View from the Bridge

The plaudits continue to roll in for Druid's "Playboy…" show, not that it has moved to Dublin - see the reverential reviews on RTE's The View and Countrywide (with obligatory focus on the beefcake properties of Cillian Murphy). I went to an amateur production of Arthur Millar's "A View from the Bridge" in An Taibhdearc during the week. Actually, I do them a disservice by calling them amateur - the company, KATS (Knocknacarra Amateur Theatre Society) won the All-Ireland amateur drama competition last year (held every year in Athlone), and "A view from the bridge" is their 2004 entry. You can see why they chose the play - the story is about the family of an Italian-American longshoreman and the tensions that arise when they allow their illegal immigrant cousins from Sicily to stay with them in their cramped apartment - which means that the entire cast must sport either Brooklyn or Italian accents. Now, I'm sure if you were from New york, you might quibble, but they seemed pretty good to me. The standard of acting was superb and, dare I say it, a more convincing ensemble piece than the Druid show.

The best compliment that I can pay to the cast is that they seem like the characters plucked from the New York shore, rather than merely actors. In particular, Michael Rooney as the gruff patriarch Eddie Carbone is faultless - his portrayal of a physical powerful man rendered impotent and confused by events that he hardly understands is both moving and wholly convincing.

While the play gives the cast a chance to show off their acting chops, I must confess that it is a tad predictable. The source of dramatic tension is the character of Catherine, a niece that Eddie and his wife have raised as their own. Catherine is eighteen and looking forward to leading her own life - she has just got a job and wants to lead school. Eddie is feeling the loneliness of every parent but his feelings for Catherine are more complex - she is not his daughter, and his affection for her is not entirely paternal. When the two cousins come to stay, one of them takes a shine to Catherine and she reciprocates. Eddie feels cuckolded and it's only a matter of time before he explodes.

As the play unfolds, it's pretty clear how it will end (actually, if you examine the publicity photos in the lobby, you'll see exactly how it ends). However, the play has a narrator, whose only purpose seems to be point out the bloody obvious, and tell the audience what they have already figured out for themselves. The narrator seems to be such an awkward construct that I wonder why Miller even included it (the play was originally a one-act that he rewrote as a full length play in 1955).

Nevertheless, it's well worth seeing, though I wonder how many people will ponder on the characterization of the sheer desperation of illegal immigrants to prosper and better themselves in a prosperous country - a pertinent topic in the this country today. Last year, KATS won their title with a production of Rashomon, with Rooney winning best actor, and Lorcan Mannion )(who plays on of the Sicilians in "View…") winning best supporting actor. I'd really like to have seen that production.

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March 01, 2004


Annaghdown cathedral on the shore of Lough Corrib, Co. Galway.

I usually make a rough plan of where I'm going to go when I set off on one of my jaunts around the West. And almost always, I get side-tracked and end up somewhere else, though no less interesting. Plans are important but it's just as important to abandon that plan when the road less travel'd presents itself. I had an idea to visit Inismaine and the Cong Canal on Saturday, and maybe drive up to Maumtrasna to photograph the mountains in the snow. I never made it - serendipity led me to a little spot forgotten by almost everyone.

Because I take a fairly relaxed attitude to my exploring, I never set too rigid a schedule for visiting sites. I'm lucky enough to live close to most of the west - if I don't have time to visit something this week, it will surely be there next week. Yesterday was a bit different - on four separate occasions, a minute or so one way or the other could have changed the whole day. As I drove along a narrow road, I passed a farmer walking along, gripping a new-born lamb by the neck. The lamb was clearly dead, and its mother was trotting behind the farmer, occasionally nuzzling it's offspring. It was a simply great photo-opportunity, but I couldn't stop since there was a local boyo barrelling along right behind me in a battered van - he didn't get those dents on the bonnet from stopping quickly. A little while later, I was driving down the narrow lane to Ross Errily Abbey - the lady who lives in the house at the end of the lane near the abbey reversed straight out of her house onto the road without looking. Though I was driving at less than 20 mph, I still got to test the ABS on the car - a few seconds later, I'd have crashed into her. Later on, on Inishmicatreer island while looking for the abbey there, I met the farmer who owned the land on which the remains of the abbey and holy well lie, and better still, he was a man who had plenty of stories and time to tell them. More of those later this week. Had I driven down the boreen a minute later, I wouldn't have had to pull in when he drove his tractor out of his field, and we wouldn't have met.

The last encounter was late in the day. I had pulled into a petrol station to refill the car, and decided to get coffee. I dithered a while deciding what type of coffee to get (or rather, what small plastic sachet to shove into the machine - the output was much the same in any case). When I went to the till, the girl behind the counter keyed in the prices of the coffee and other groceries. I mentioned the fill of petrol. Ah yes, you've already paid for that. Um, no, I replied. Yes you have, she said, it's already been paid for. Well, it wasn't me. The girl went to consult with a more senior colleague. The mystery was soon solved. A woman who was parked beside my car had been charged for my fuel by mistake. Considering her bill was around thirty euro for diesel, and mine was forty-five for petrol, she hadn't looked at her receipt too closely. Hmmm, what to do, mused the girl. Now, my first thought was that since she knew the other woman, who was clearly a regular customer, she should have charged me the forty-five euro, and refunded the other lady the next time she came into the shop. Mind you, I only thought it - I didn't say it. What the girl actually did, with the agreement of her colleague was to charge me the thirty euro for the lady's diesel, so that the till receipts would be 'balanced'. I just smiled - a perfect of example of Richard Dawkins' theory that all altruism is self-interest. Do you want any cash back?, she asked when I handed in my card. Sure you can afford it now, she giggled.

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Now I know where the winter has gone

During the summer, I often stare out the window and think how much nicer it would be to have a job that would entail working in the open air (and no, I don't mean cutting turf). On the other hand, during the current cold snap, my warm dry office job doesn't seem so bad after all. After all, it could be worse - I could be out snaggin' turnips. No sooner than I declare winter over than it comes back with a vengeance. Oh well.

Posted by Monasette at 12:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Playboy of the western world

I went to see the Druid's revival of The Playboy of the Western World at the Town Hall Theatre last week - it's playing in the Gaiety in Dublin for the next few weeks. The play famously caused riots when it debuted a century ago, and it's not hard to fathom why. The story of a small, thick-as-pigshit community in the west who treat a stranger as a hero when they discover that he killed his father, the play has no shortage of stock characters, the young heroine promised to a priest-fearing (and older) sleveen, the alcoholic father, the spiteful widow and the witless neighbours. Given that we live in an age when swill such as "I'm a celebrity…get me out of here" is regarding as a televisual event (rather than yet another reason to bring back keel-hauling for lazy TV producers), Playboy… could have been a chance to examine how fame is seen as an end in itself irrespective how it is earned. In the play, Christy Mahon is the young stranger who is lauded for his deed simply because the community where he fetches up is just so improvished in both spirit and intellect. No change there, so. There are no other deeds that rival the tale of a man that split his father open with a shovel, and he becomes a hero almost be default.

The story is simple - Pegeen Mike, the daughter of a hard-drinking owner of a shebeen is resigned to marrying a much older neighbour - a spineless farmer who is so afraid of the wrath of the local priest that he won't stay in the shebeen alone with Pegeen, lest there be gossip. The source of most of the gossip is an embittered old widow, the Widow Quin. Pegeen is much taken with the young Christy when he seeks shelter in the shebeen, and soon, she is ready to abandon her fiancée for him. But there is still that small matter of the killing…

Gary Hynes, the director chooses a different tack with this production. By casting Aisling O'Sullivan as the widow, the story becomes more of a straightforward romantic rivalry between the widow and Pegeen Mike for Christy's affections. Problem is, the script doesn't really make sense if the widow is as young and pretty as Pegeen. The widow laments that she has buried her husband and her children, and with them any chance of further happiness in life - when she proposes to Christy, it's supposed to be a compromise for both of them - she will have the companionship of a man who doesn't desire her, and he will be protected from the police if they come looking for him. But being married to Aishling O'Sullivan's Widow Quin doesn't seem like such a bad deal - not much of a sacrifice, that's for sure.

The upside is that the principals deliver solid performances, Cillian Murphy has real star presence as Christy (and was subjected to much drooling by the female members of the audience) - there's one scene where he whips off his shirt for no apparent reason other than to aid the ogling in the audience - and Ann-Marie Duff sparkles as Pegeen Mike. O'Sullivan plays the widow as playful and coquettish which rounds out a character that is essentially a cipher in the text. The acting is a bit ropey for some of the supporting actors (with the exception of Eamonn Morrissey as the father who can do this sort of stuff in his sleep) but they seem to settle into it as the play progressed. If I had any complaint, it would be that they didn't really get to grips with the flowery language of the play.

Druid intend to perform the entire Synge oeuvre during the next two years. This production is a good start - it will be interesting to see how they tackle some of the less familiar plays in the canon.

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