June 29, 2004

Guests of the nation

Well, the George Bush visit came and went with nary a hitch in the end. Yes, the security cost a fortune but it will be good practise for when the Pope comes later this year. Anyway, one international mystery can be cleared up, courtesy of the Carraig Bar outside Leenane.

Posted by Monasette at 12:51 AM | Comments (0)

No direction home

Last one home is Rogan Josh. Sheep trot back to their farm, near Aghagower, Co. Mayo. Photo taken June 26 2004.

The heavy rain of the last week has returned the mountain streams to near winter levels. This meandering stream was in full flood along the road between Maam Cross and Leenane and presented a bit of a challenge to the sheep trying to cross it.

One of them took the Bob Beamon approach whereas another one nearly drowned after it jumped into the deepest part of the stream. It hadn’t been sheared, so it’s woolly coat began to drag it down. It got across eventually.

Posted by Monasette at 12:40 AM | Comments (0)

It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry

The first time that I heard Bob Dylan, I mean really heard him, was in Tower Records in London in the summer of 1986. Yes, I’m aware that Bob had been around for a while at that stage, but back then, I was listening to the Smiths (in the mistaken belief that Morrissey had a sense of humour).Tower Records had a great sound system in the store, and I had just walked in when the opening bars of Ballad of a Thin Man sounded out. I had never it before and I was just transfixed as Bob snarled his way through song, lacerating just about everyone he had ever met up to that point in his career. As soon as the song ended (and it does get a bit strange at the end), I marched up to the counter. ‘I want that’.

The first time I ever saw Dylan in concert was at a racecourse in Waterford in 1994 – it was the Fleadh Mór at Tramore. On a whim, I drove down with two complete albatrosses from Cork. As soon as we pitched our tent on the freshly mown field, they began weeping. ‘Jeez lads, the tickets weren’t that dear’. But no, these two beauties had somehow forgotten that they had hayfever. Bigtime. The following morning, we drove into Waterford city for a breakfast fry-up and managed to find a café that wasn’t too crowded down on the docks. No sooner had we begun eating when the tears began again. I tried to console them, ’Ah lads, they were going to kill the pig anyway’. Outside, the cargo ship that was tied to the quay was being unloaded – of its cargo of hay.

But I digress. The line-up was eclectic – the usual suspects of Christy Moore and Van Morrison, along with Joan Baez, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. Chrisy was well, Christy, Joan was a bit of a curiosity (and an excuse to queue for the jacks) and Van was sulking. He delivered his set as if he was reading a ransom demand over the phone. And he did the same on the second day too, grumpy old sod. Jerry played up a storm (I think he headlined on one of the night) but Ray Charles stole the show. Most people (OK, me) would have been hard pushed to name many Ray Charles songs and were wondering what his performance would be like. It was hard to top – as a full moon rose over the stage on a warm summer night, and with what seemed like a full orchestra to accompany him, his voice and wit charmed us all.

But what of Bob? A work colleague, who might just be the most dedicated Bob fan ever™ warned us before hand that Bob could be a bit hit or miss. He spoke of gigs where Bob would shuffle out on stage with a hood on, and play his gig with his back to the crowd (a bit like going to Mass pre-Vatican 2, except the incense smelled a bit different). But you might be lucky, he said more in hope than conviction.

It didn’t start too well. Bob strode out on stage with an electric guitar, mumbled something into the mike, and began singing. Thirty thousand faces stared blankly back for a while until, eventually, people began to recognize snippets of words. Listening to the music wasn’t much good, since it didn’t even remotely resemble the original. And so it went. Mumble mumble mumble, generic guitar riff and a slow, sinking feeling. And then something happened. Bob let the rest of the band leave the stage, he strapped on an acoustic guitar and began singing. Not like an angel, but like Bob Dylan! The one we had come to see; the one that had wrote the songs and whose singing we actually liked. His voice, though worn with age, was miraculously resurrected, even his mid-song banter was understandable and the set was livened up by the appearance of a bald, pudgy Ulsterman at the back of the stage waving a bottle and shouting his head off. He shall remain nameless. When Bob finally left the stage, the audience was ecstatic. We were like pilgrims that had glimpsed an apparition – our faith not just restored but doubled.

And so to Bob’s gig last night in Galway. Despite being woken by the noise of rain hammering against the window yesterday morning, the sun broke through in the afternoon and the sky remained clear for the rest of the day. I didn’t bother with any of the support acts, choosing to have a couple of pints in a nearby pub before hand (and just as well, because the queue for the bar in the stadium was a complete joke). Bob came on to a great cheer and launched into erm…uh…oh wait a minute, it’s …no..it’s..em…Ok, eventually I figured out it was Rainy Day Woman etc. once he got to the chorus (i.e. ‘Everyone must get stoned’, and judging from the cheering around me, many of them must have been). Ah Bob, I had such great expectations, but why did I have to be Pip to your Estella ? Maybe it was just me but the gig was just brutal. Song after song of mish-mashed lyrics, heavy-handed arrangements (Bob doesn’t play guitar anymore, and the band were obviously being paid by the decibel) and every ounce of nuance and subtlety beaten out of the lyrics. Why does he even bother? When he listens to the crowd blissfully roaring back the chorus of Like a Rolling Stone to him as one, ‘How does it feeeel, to be on your own’, does he wonder if any of them get it? Does he care?

It’s like hearing about how the Pope can speak in 20 languages when everything he says sounds the same in any of them. I waited in vain for the redemption that would the acoustic set. But no, it was not to be. Why was I surprised – the decline was obvious when I heard him Kilkenny two years ago. Bob probably doesn’t know any other way. He’ll probably keep touring until the end. As I was standing there as the sun set, and watching the odd wisp of cloud pass over the stage tinged with orange and gold, I thought back to another gig ten years ago, and of two old men; captivating, brilliant and burning with energy. Maybe that’s the best way to remember.

Posted by Monasette at 12:33 AM | Comments (3)

June 22, 2004

Just call me John Hinde...

In one sense, this website is like Pravda...the sun is shining in every photograph. It's raining cats and dogs today, and there'll be more of the same for the rest of the week. I'm not a huge fan of going out in the rain to take photos, so the the sunny snaps will continue...

Posted by Monasette at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

Summer colour

The gardener's little helper. Alas, the brown and shriveled leaves on which the ladybird is foraging is the result of my disastrous attempts to transplant roses earlier this year.

I have a dwarf magnolia tree in my back garden (well, it's actually an ordinary magnolia that refuses to grow). since the flowers only last about ten minutes on it every year, I've grown an early-flowering clemitis through it. The flowers are starting to fall off it, and the heavy rain today will probably finish off the rest of the blooms.

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

Don't steal my mojo, man

You just can't trust a Corkman. The Western People provides an update on William A. Thomas' plan to buiild a new city on the west of Ireland. His plan is to build the city in east Mayo (Knock would be the local airport) but it seems that there are folks in Cork and Limerick that would like to place the city further south. Thomas' plan is ambitious

...it must be a beautiful city and not reflect what has gone wrong with Irish cities today.
You will always get crime where you have ghettoes. Any new city must incorporate excellent schooling, excellent social infrastructure and job opportunities for all," he adds.

He proposes that the new City of the Sacred Heart be made a district as opposed to being within the domain of Mayo County Council.

He hopes the government would consider moving out of Dublin, given their evident desire to decentralise, and move into the new city.

There were wider possibilities also. The EU could move part of its operation to the new city and it was very possible the UN would move lock, stock and barrel out of New York to a new city in a neutral country.

Indeed. Alas, he comes over all Dr. Evil, as he gives the primary reasons for not putting the city between Cork and Limerick

Firstly, it must have international access such as an international airport close by, secondly it must be at least 800-1000 feet above sea level and, thirdly, given that Ireland is on track to have an all-Ireland government within the next 25 years, it must be located at least in the centre part of the country and not in the South in West Cork. Mr Thomas adds that given the dire warnings about the gulf stream slowing down, NASA and other scientists have warned that Ireland's temperature could go well below - 40 degrees centigrade, so any new city must be a thermal-proofed city.

The article didn't mention if Mr. Thomas' went to mutter, BWAHAHAH! The fools, I'll destroy them all! but I'd say he was thinking it.

Posted by Monasette at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

Waiting for Dubya

George Bush will visit Ireland this weekend. Well, he's visiting Dromoland Castle and if that's the only bit of Ireland he sees, he really will be impressed by the Celtic Tiger. Every other Garda in the country is keeping him away from the locals, along with a good slice of the army. As part of the security operation, the only decent bit of road between Limerick and Galway (the bit of dual carriageway that's just been opened) will be closed down for the visit. Given that the US have brought over their own helicopters for the visit, why couldn't they just fly?

Though the Prez will only be in Ireland for 18 hours, including a night's sleep in the hotel, people are getting very worked up about it. There are various protests planned around the Limerick and Shannon area, though in what is clearly a sign from God, it's been raining heavily all day and more of the same is forecast until the end of the week.

Posted by Monasette at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2004

I like my women the way I like my coffee...etc.

When I was in India a couple of months ago, the local chain of coffee shops was running a promotion with Levi's. The slogan at the bottom of the leaflet (available at every table, as well as on the wall) reads:

It's dark. And full bodied. And strong enough to keep you going all night long. Are you man enough to ask for it?

Somehow, I doubt if Levi's run the same campaign in the States or Europe. Maybe they got Swiss Tony to dream up the slogan...

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

Under repair

One of the events planned for the Aughrim Summer School next month is a tour of Clonfert cathedral. You might need a hard hat to do the tour, since the Cathedral is currently under repairs, and the famous doorway is covered by scaffolding.

I was chatting briefly to the lads working on the site – they had just put up the scaffolds – and it seems that the cathedral walls and tower are going to be repointed (presumably after they’ve scraped the old plaster off). The cathedral interior is blocked off at the moment – more scaffolding – but I presume that the plan is to have the work done before the tour in three weeks time.

A pretty big jigsaw puzzle. A newly rebuilt wall, which is part of a side chapel to the cathedral. As you can see, each stone is numbered, to help the reconstruction.

While I was there, I paid a visit to the remains of the Clonfert/Ballinasloe Canal. If you drive down the narrow land beyond the cathedral, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a large expanse of processed bog – last Monday was a hot sunny day, but there was a steady breeze that kicked up large brown clouds of peat dust. On both sides of the road, large tractors and caterpillar-tracked machines were lumbering across the brown velvety surface. Here and there were huge dunes of processed peat , heaped up beside the narrow-guage rail lines that crisscross the bog. The peat is shipped via rail to Shannonbridge power station, where it is burned to generate electricity.

I stopped at one of the rail-lines to chat to some of the workmen who were munching their lunch in the shade of one of the covered rail-wagons. Yes, it was possible to reach the canal remains from there, but it meant I’d have to drive across the bog via a boreen. Hmmm… given my past record of sinking tractors in bogs, I decided to take the long way round (if you drive back towards Clonfert and follow the signs for Kylemore until you run out of road, you’ll find it.) A few pictures here.

Posted by Monasette at 11:31 PM | Comments (0)

Alfred the Great

Alfred attacked the whole pagan army fighting ferociously in dense order, and by divine will eventually won the victory, made great slaughter among them, and pursued them to their fortress... After fourteen days the pagans were brought to the extreme depths of despair by hunger, cold and fear, and they sought peace.

Alfred the Great was a ninth century king that finally stopped the advance of the Vikings across England, began the consolidation of Anglo-Saxons tribes and also found time to establish a code of laws and translate from Latin a set of books

most needful for men to know, and to bring it to pass ... if we have the peace, that all the youth now in England ... may be devoted to learning

The story of Alfred also has the most tenuous of links with Co. Galway…

Posted by Monasette at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

The Usual Suspects

Last year, one of my neighbours was rounded up as part of a Garda operation to deport illegal immigrants. He was released the next day - apparently, being "Chinese-looking" is in itself not grounds for deportation, though I wonder what his wife and two young children made of being rousted at 7.00am by three car loads of police and customs officers. In fact, most of those arrested were released - there was a time when Irish people would complain bitterly about the police rounding up people with bugger all evidence, but apparently our concern only extends to north of the border.

On Friday, my wife returned home to find a strange car in the driveway and a man at the door. Is this number 21?, he asked. It is, she said (it’s written in big numbers on the door in front of him). Does XXX from Iraq live here? Are you a policeman, enquired my wife, thinking that he looked a bit familiar, and that this was another round-up. It turned out that he was an insurance investigator, but that he had worked as a Garda in the area a few years earlier. He was checking out an insurance claim, and it seemed that an Iraqi was supposed to be living at this (i.e. our) address. If this guy is using your address, this could be a problem for you, he said. You’d better take down his name, handing her one of his bundle of documents. She took one look at the document and said, According to this, your Iraqi lives at number 46. He stared at the document for a long time. Aah yes. I’ll be off, then.

And then you wonder how a Garda could get the date wrong on a search warrant…

Posted by Monasette at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

The Longest Day

In every country church yesterday, half the population was praying for at least another week of dry sunny weather so that they can save the hay and the turf. The other half were praying that it lashes rain so that there’ll be enough grass for a second cut of silage and enough water in the streams and drains for thirsty cattle. It’s not looking good for pagans either – today is the summer solstice, one of the few days when a bit of sunshine would be welcome. Hard luck, lads, maybe next year...

It hasn’t stopped at least half the population to tackle the sun problem with all the technology that money can buy. We’ll know there’s really an energy crisis when the supply of fake tan dries up, or the ESB needs to build another power station to drive all the tanning machines in the country - it’s only a matter of time before they are installed in pubs. (It’s only when you watch your wife pack a hair straightener beside the curling tongs for a holiday that you realize the extent of the beauty industry).

Any religion that depended on regular appearances of the sun was always going to find the going hard in Ireland. Mind you, since the country goes stone mad if there’s more than three sunny days in a row, maybe we’re as well off. The fair complexion of many of the natives does not cope well with sunshine. (I’m still convinced the king of the Vikings gathered all the albinos that couldn’t turn up for anything on time in the eight century, and ordered them to invade Ireland. And not to come back.). Our only hope for long-term survival is that, by the time that global warming has given the west of Ireland a Mediterranean climate, our gene pool will have been extended to include a few people who won’t change colour like a traffic light after twenty minutes out of the shade. (Now you’re sorry you voted NO in the referendum…).

Posted by Monasette at 08:19 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2004

Clontuskert abbey

Drinking, carousing, bribery...Augustinians, eh? A particularly colourful bunch of them set up shop in Clontuskert, near Ballinasloe in Co. Galway - they lived fast and hard but left behind a beautiful ruins (despite managing to burn it down). A few pics here.

Posted by Monasette at 11:44 PM | Comments (3)

Making it up

Sean O’Hagan marks Bloomsday with an article in the Observer complaining about the Disneyfication of Irish culture. Bloomsday always gets commentators into a bit of a lather. No one wants to be seen as a philistine, though you can’t help feeling that, deep down, there is an uneasy suspicion that the rest of the literary world is laughing at us rather than with us. Despite the Nobel Prize and other plaudits, only Ireland could produce two internationally regarded and influential writers (Joyce and Beckett) that have so few readers at home. Me? I can think of worse things than hundreds of people roaming the streets celebrating a novel (as opposed to smashing up the Algarve, for example).

It seems to be a popular belief that, since the country got rich, we’ve been busy bastardizing out culture for easy consumption abroad (exhibit A – Riverdance). Newsflash, we were doing the same when we were poor. Did you ever see a John Hinde postcard depicting rain ?

Ireland has been spinning yarns about itself for centuries. The national narrative of a Celtic race that fought and defeated the Vikings, survived the Normans before enduring the eight hundred year occupation of the British is about as accurate as the Book of Genesis. Think about it, hundreds of Vikings settled across the country, as many Normans before tens of thousand of English and Scots settled. An Irish person today is as likely to have descended from one of the ‘invaders’ as from one of the ‘natives’. And it’s not like the ‘natives’ were great protectors of culture either. The existence of so many round towers and monasteries in Ireland is despite the attentions of the locals rather than because of it. For example, Clonmacnoise suffered far more from the local clans than from the British – in fact, the local yahoos nearly demolished it.

O Hagan quotes from Roy Foster’s “The Irish Story – Telling Tales and Making it up in Ireland”, a book that looks at Irish literary myth-making since 1800. Foster’s book is very interesting, though in my opinion, the weakest chapter by far is about the two best-known living Irish authors. He analyses, together, the literary oeuvre of Gerry Adams and Frank McCourt. He describes the absence of IRA details in Adams’ biographical stories as rather like reading a biography of Field Marshal Montgomery that leaves out the British Army. Which seems to rather the miss the point of why Adams probably wrote them.

As for McCourt, complaining that the yarns in Angela’s Ashes are, ahem, a little polished is a bit like complaining that the Blarney Stone tastes of spit. (And if you knew how the local langers anoint the Stone, not only would you not kiss it, but you wouldn’t kiss anyone who had).

I won’t be eating a big dirty fry-up in honour of James Joyce or anyone else tomorrow. But that’s only because, like much of the rest of the country, I don’t need any excuse for a plate of sausages and rashers.

Posted by Monasette at 11:38 PM | Comments (2)

June 14, 2004

Returning Home

When I got back from vacation, my garden had transformed itself into an overgrown but colourful jungle. A huge clump of golden Californian poppies dominate the flowerbed - I planted a few of them last year, and they reseeded themselves in a great swathe across the garden.

I don't know how common they are on the West Coast of the US, but, on a beautiful summer day here in Ireland, watching them sway in the breeze, where else would you want to be?

Posted by Monasette at 11:50 PM | Comments (2)

June 10, 2004


I have spent the last two weeks tracing the steps of genius; seen the telescope that Galileo used to make his first observations, and viewed the tools that Da Vinci used in his efforts to expand the boundaries of science. Was it anyhelp in trying to observe the transit of Venus during the week? Not a bloody bit. Despite the best efforts of a blazing sunrise over the azure beauty of the Bay of Naples, my attempts to view the transit weredoomed to failure, and after an hour of fiddling aout with cards with pinholes, camera lenses and filters, I gave up, went inside and watched it on the telly. It's the taking part, not the winning etc...

Posted by Monasette at 05:51 PM | Comments (0)

Them and us

Five years ago, An Tanaiste, Mary Harney, made a speech in Dublin in which she emphasised the need for a proper immigration policy; one that would not just meet the economic and social needs of Ireland but also one that would treat the the immigrants with respect and dignity. After all, Ireland had been a nation of emmigrants, so we knew wha it was like to be on the receiving end of an unwelcoming nation's attitudes and prejudices.

Mary still hasn't explained why it took another five years for her department to introduce even the most basic step of this much-heralded humane policy - that of allowing the spouses of working immigrants to join their family in
Ireland. When this regulation was introduced a few months ago, there was much self praise in government circles, rather than shame at having ensured enforced separation of tax-paying residents for so long. Whawere the government trying to protect us from, I wonder? Surely, it would be unthinkable that the government would conspire to ensure that, while people could come here to work and pay tax, they could not settle here and breed?

We're still waiting for that proper debate on immigraion promised to us yeas ago (or indeed any semblance of what could be called an immigration policy).
All that talk of introducing a green card system similar to the States or to Canada, and a proper and open policy that defines who gets to live here has been just that. Mary may express the sentiments of Ireland "being closer to Boston than to Berlin" but the rate of progress makes EU bureaucracy look dynamic.

Now the government have gone one better. Mary Harney's party colleague, Michael McDowell (the minister for Justice) has proposed a onstitutional amendment that would prevent children born in Ireland of non-Irish parents to gain Irish citizenship (they would have to have 2 years of continuous residency before it would be considered).

When McDowell was appointed minister, he was hailed as someone who had the potential to be a great reformer and legislator. Much was made of his fine legal mind and his years of experience as a Senior Council. You don't hear much of that anymore.In fact, all that's been visible so far in this debate is a bunch of cheap lawyer's tricks that would tarnish an episode of Matlock.

Upon proposing the change, McDowell cited as a reason the fact that the Masters of the Dublin maternity hospitals had come to him and pleaded for a change , because their wards were overrun with foreign expectant mothers in the very last sage of pregnancy. He withdrew that claim after the Masters promptly denied his claim, but like a sleazy courtroom lawyer that makes an outrageous claim and then is forced to withdraw it, the charge was out there and could not be unsaid. [For most Irish people using the health service, the foreigner they encounter will be called either 'Doctor' or 'Nurse'].

In an attempt to ridicule opponents, the minister claimed that if anyone had proposed the citizenship laws that we have today as a new proposal, they'd be laughed at. hy none of our fellow European countries grant citizenship on the basis of birth alone - why should Ireland?
Before May 1st, Ireland differed from most of our European partners in one
vital area - while they were once imperial powers with large overseas colonies, Ireland's history was of being at the receiving end of colonialism. And, as the people of Hong Kong found out in 1997, colonial powers (even former ones) love to extol the positive benefits and legacy of the shared relationship with their former colonies. Until, that is, the cousins decide to visit the motherland. Which is why most European countries have very specific laws to determine who is a citizen and who isn't. It mightn't be enlightened but the laws are there for a reason - colonialism is intended to be a one-way street. It's funny how quickly the people of Hong Kong went from being British to Chinese once some of them initmated that they'd live to move to Blighty. And I never thought I'd live to seee the day when Irish ministers would make speeches in the Dail lauding the German 'blood line' approach to citizenship. Enlightenment indeed.

Ten years ago, we wouldn't have needed this referendum (in fact, we'd just stopped selling Irish citizenship to anyone who made a donation to the right people - and you didn't even need to live here to take up the passport). But ten years ago, the argument over what constituted being Irish was being pursued to deadly effectin Northern Ireland. the IRA slogan "Brits Out" didn't just apply to squaddies holedup in barracks in the North - it also applied to the three quarters of a million Unionists. On that basis were Protestants deemed 'legitimate targets' to be killed or terrorised becaue they were not 'Irish' - they were part of the enemy. Only when the fantasy of the Unionist multitude sailing home with the troops finally disapated could the good Friday Agreement take place. And as part of that Agreement, Irish citizenship was conferred on almost a million people who were at best indifferent to the privilege. Today, Sinn Fein are among the most vigourous opposers of the referendum, so maybe some progress has been made.

Ostensibly, the referendum enables the Oireachtas to close a loophole opened by the Good Friday Agreement - anyone born in Northern Ireland becomes an Irish (and therefore EU) citizen, so a pregnant visitor visiting Britain could travel to NI, have the baby and, thanks to UK law, could remain in Britain because UK law enables parents of an EU citizen to avoid deportation. This loophole doesn't affect Ireland much because the Supreme court has already ruled that parents of a child born in Ireland do not have a de facto right to remain in Ireland with their child. So why doesn't the UK change their law instead? Well, that's a good question, and given tha the UK parliament seems to spend some of it's parliamentary calendar every year banging on about fox-hunting, it's not like they don't have the time to update their residency rules.

Ireland seems to be unique in that, the richer we get, the meaner as a nation we become. As a country with no history of mass immigration, or racial hatred, there is a real opportunity to ensure that immigration is a wholly positive experience. But, as the saying goes, this government never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. In a underpopulated country with a dwindling population, the list of jobs tha native-born Irish people won't do grows longer. And yet, the myth of being overrun, of being taken advantage of, is perpetuated, for the cheapest of political advantages.

The passing of this referendum won't make the slightest difference to the problems of our health service, the overall number of people wishing to work here or indeed anything much. But it will serve to underline to those who have come here to work and to live , and to their children, that they are not part of 'us', and tha the Ireland of the Welcomes only applies to to those who come, spend money and leave again. And maybe that's what it means to be Irish in the 21st century.

Posted by Monasette at 11:19 AM | Comments (5)