August 29, 2004

Town & Country

I had parked in the car park of the church at the foot of Abbey Hill in the Burren on Saturday. There were a number of horse-boxes there too – a local riding club were walking their ponies along the Green Road that runs around the base of the hill. When I came back after my climb, the riders were having a bit of a picnic, having just put the horses back in the trailers. A couple of the riders dutifully walked around the carpark, scooping up all the horse dung. While they were at it, the farmer who owned the field beside the church opened the gate to let his cows out for milking. As a rather prosperous-looking gentleman in jodhpurs strode around the park with a little pink plastic beach spade, scooping up piles of horse-poo and throwing them into the hedge, one hundred cows plodded past him and did what any bunch of moos would do after spending a day munching late summer grass – they coated the road in a thick green carpet of slurry.

Posted by Monasette at 10:27 PM | Comments (5)

August 23, 2004

Stone Circle at Nephin, Co. Mayo

Posted by Monasette at 12:43 AM | Comments (2)

Waiting for Dev

I got a letter from Eamonn De Valera during the week. Well, it was from his namesake and it was to my namesake, or to be more specific, it was from his grandson to my grandfather. Let me explain.

Back in 1919, when the War of Independence was hotting up, Eamonn De Valera went to America to raise money for the republican cause. He raised five million dollars, mainly from Irish immigrants, as a War Loan that would be repaid when Ireland became a republic and British forces had vacated the country. Of course, the war of Independence ended in messy compromise, with continued British rule in six Ulster counties and a vicious Civil War that pitted former comrades against each other. By 1922, the Anti-treaty forces had been defeated and, with De Valera as their de-facto leader, exiled from power. By 1927, De Valera had formed Fianna Fáil and, having swallowed his pride over the Oath of Allegiance, led his party into the Dáil as the principle Opposition party after the September election of that year. In the following election of 1931, the former exile became Taoiseach as Fianna Fáil became the largest political party in the State.

But what about the money? In the years immediately after the Civil War, the first Irish government was formed by the Pro-Treaty forces, consisting mainly of Cumann na nGaedhael, the Farmers’ Party and Labour (the anti-treaty forces campaigned mainly as Sinn Fein). Acts of violence were still being carried out by ‘dissident’ republicans and the government’s response was equally forceful. Ireland’s economy was just as shaky as its democratic process; apart from the loss of the Northern counties (which accounted for a good deal of Ireland’s economic output), the War of Independence had resulted in the destruction of economic output – the habit of the Black and Tans of destroying creameries had a particular impact on Ireland’s largest industry, agriculture. So the Provisional government (as it was called) took a legal action in New York to recover the money that had been raised by De Valera and others (this followed successful actions in the Irish courts to recognize the government as the rightful owner of such funds). De Valera and his supporters naturally opposed this claim.

In New York, the banks had their own view. Since the money was raised as a loan, in the event of a dispute, why not just return the money to the original owners. De Valera spotted an opportunity. He was hugely popular in the United States, so the appeal that he made to the contributors to the Loan [about to get their money back] received a sympathetic hearing.

The money which you gave in the years 1919 to 1921 to help the cause of Ireland is about to be given back to you. You are probably one of those who gave your money at that time as a free gift expecting no other return for it than the satisfaction of participating in a just cause and aiding the people of Ireland in a time of need. I feel accordingly that when you read this leaflet you will be disposed to make this money available a second time – again in a good cause and for the benefit of Ireland.

And what was the good cause? The creation of the Irish Press newspaper, that De Valera saw as essential for ensuring the success of his new political party Fianna Fail. At the time, the two other newspapers (the Irish Times and the Irish Independent) were firm supporters of the establishment, and had a fairly jaundiced view of De Valera and his supporters. And whatever about the benefit to Ireland, it certainly benefited De Valera and his family. Along with the appeal to the donors’ patriotism was a form letter that enabled them to assign power of attorney to De Valera of their shares in the Loan. As Tim Pat Coogan described it,

The form probably merits consideration for entry into the Guinness Book of Records as ‘the Blankest Blank Cheque of All Time’.

De Valera also appointed himself Controlling Director, an apt title since it gave him complete control over every aspect of the running of the newspaper. He also set up a Trust that owned 47% of the Irish Press. The Trust had two types of shares; the non-voting A shares, bought by the people who had responded to his appeal, and B shares, owned by himself that had all the voting rights.

In 1931, the paper rolled off the printing presses in Dublin for the first time. The button to start the presses was pushed by Margaret Pearse, mother of the two executed brothers in the 1916 Rising (Padraig and Willy). Around the country, local Fianna Fáil supporters were encouraged to buy shares, and they did with enthusiasm. My paternal grandfather, and my namesake, was one of them.

De Valera became Taoiseach in 1931. One of more emotive campaign issues had been the question of Land Annuities. In the decades before Independence, successive British governments had organised low-interest loan schemes to Irish tenant farmers to buy out their holdings, and to buy out the absentee landlords (Gladstone’s idea was to ‘kill Home Rule with kindness’) The continued payment of the Annuities had been agreed as a condition of Independence – but many Irish farmers had stopped paying them during the war and were therefore in arrears. De Valera had campaigned against them, a hugely popular stance. However, before he had time to act on his campaign pledge, events presented another opportunity. A number of European countries had defaulted on their war debts owed to the US. The British government announced that it would meet its obligations despite the projected loss of the Annuities income from Ireland. The hostile US media coverage put pressure on De Valera so he announced that Ireland would pay off it’s War Loan ahead of schedule. Of course, the Loan in question was the contested Loan, whose owners had largely been persuaded to contribute to the Irish Press. So ultimately, the Irish taxpayer would pay off the debt in a way that clearly benefited De Valera himself.

Talking to my father during the week about the letter, he doesn’t remember any dividends from the shares over the years (most FF supporters only bought £1 shares in any case, and for most of them, the purchase was an act of faith rather than a commercial decision). De Valera had always claimed that he received no real income from the Irish Press, which conveniently ignored the fact that he was the de facto owner of a very substantial asset – in fact, when forming his government in 1931, he insisted that none of his Ministers should hold directorships of commercial companies. He promptly resigned as Chairman of the Irish Press, a largely symbolic act since he was still Controlling Director. In 1958, more details of his ownership became public (as a result of investigative work by unlikely shareholder TD Noel Browne – he had been given a single share as a present) and Dev was forced to resign as Taoiseach (He was elected as President the same year).

By then, his son Vivion was running the newspaper group, which consisted of a daily, an evening and a Sunday paper. However, in the decades that followed, it began to decline. Even it’s unwavering support for Fianna Fail began to falter as Charles Haughey took power. Haughey was a divisive figure even within the party – his opponents within the party would eventually leave to form the Progressive Democrats (PD) and the Sunday Press journalist Geraldine Kennedy would later become a leading PD TD (she’s currently the editor of the Irish Times). The newspaper group collapsed in 1995 followed by a protracted legal battle between shareholders.

Despite the litigation, the Irish Press lives on, if only as a legal entity, managed by another Eamonn De Valera, grandson of the Long Fellow. There is also a little money left in the bank, and last year, that money made a little money. So along with a letter, there was a cheque. Alas, four shares in a defunct newspaper company doesn’t buy too much these days. After deductions of 25%, the cheque came to 80 cent. You can hardly buy a newspaper for that.

Details of the Irish
Press story is taken from Tim Pat Coogan's authoritative biography of Dev,
"De Valera, Long fellow, Long shadow". Coogan is a former Editor of
the Irish Press.

Posted by Monasette at 12:31 AM | Comments (2)

August 22, 2004

Special effects

The first time that I tried to develop film in a darkroom didn’t go too well. I had just shot three rolls of black and white film and couldn’t wait to see the results. The idea is to take the spool of film and wind it around a grooved spindle ( a miniature version of the spools that cable is wrapped around. The spool and the film are put into a container that is then loaded with chemicals, which develops the film. The problem is that you have to load the film in total darkness, and no matter how hard it tried, one roll of film just could not be coaxed onto the spindle. After about twenty minutes, I lost my temper, ripped the film out of its canister, and then stomped on the tangled mess. It made me feel better for about thirty seconds.

It was all my own fault really. I had used a bulk loader to load the film into the film container, so that instead of having a 36-shot roll, it was over forty. This made it harder to load onto the spindle for development. The really stupid thing was that, rather than experimenting with rolls of film that contained unimportant photos, the aforementioned three rolls of film contained shots of an unrepeatable event – the aftermath of a mini-tidal wave in the furthest part of Ireland from the sea. Part of the Grand Canal collapsed in the middle of a bog in Offaly and cut a 25-foot swathe through the landscape. Some of the photos did survive, but every time I look at the negatives, it only reminds me of my own stupidity.

So, while I appreciate the skill of traditional darkroom skills, I absolutely love the convenience of digital photography. No more nasty chemicals, no need to try to persuade your significant other that a darkroom is a great use for the spare bedroom/bathroom/etc. More to the point, it’s the speed of producing the desired result that makes the difference, at least to the hobbyist such as myself, trying to fit in photography around the rest of life.

I don’t have much time for the argument that the ease of digital manipulation has somehow devalued the art of photography. Sure, it’s ease to increase the saturation or contrast of an image, but these have been the tricks of the trade for photographers for years. I used to have a ‘spotting kit’ when I printed my own b/w prints – it was the most boring job imaginable to spend an evening painting out the little dust specks on an 8 x 10 print. I never bothered with the more advanced darkroom techniques – internegative, masking, montage, lith printing and many more. Nowadays, those effects, and many more, that used to take days of skilled and painstaking manipulation are available with one click of a mouse on a computer. Photoshop and other ‘digital darkroom’ software have opened up opportunities and techniques that would have remained inaccessible otherwise (not that any of this flexibility necessarily guarantees better photography).

Manipulation of photography is nothing new. There is a long article in today’s Observer describing how Frank Hurley, who was the photographer on the ill-fated Shackleton North Pole expedition, ‘added in’ a dramatic sky to the photograph of Shackleton (and Tom Crean) leaving Elephant Island to fetch help for the rest of the shipwrecked crew in 1916.

The most obvious manipulation in photography is to supply your own light; i.e. flash photography. . I remember my mother had a little 110 camera years ago that had a flash ‘cube’ that sat on top of the camera. The cube had four flash bulbs, each of which could be used only once.It turns out that one of the last remaining flash bulb manufacturers is based near Ennis. Co. Clare. Meggaflash Technologies Ltd. make single use flash bulbs, not for birthday parties but for heavy duty industrial use. Their bulbs are used for lighting up huge caves for underground photography or for high-speed photography where a slow-burning flash of several second duration is required. Check out their gallery here.

Posted by Monasette at 11:35 PM | Comments (3)

More Rain

On a day like today (almost non stop driving rain), you’d feel sorry for any tourist that had ventured over to visit. I’m actually writing this in front of a blazing fire – it was so gloomy and wet today that I actually lit a fire just to brighten things up. There’s a bit of a row brewing over tourist numbers for this year – Fáilte Ireland reports a increase in visitors whereas, as the Western People reports, others in the hospitality industry dispute this claim. Whatever about the figures, the effort to lure visitors here continues. An article describing in glowing terms a visit to the Aran Islands and Croagh Patrick appeared in newspapers from the US (here and here) and South Africa – God knows what would have been written if they had visited this weekend.

Posted by Monasette at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2004


There's an old ring fort marked on the map where the tree is planted. Most farmers tend to preserve ring forts (or fairie forts) and, despite all the changes in Irish farming over the last four or five decades, thousands of ring forts are still present across the countryside.

As you can see, I'm in the process of changing the page layout, so that there is more space for photographs (the old page can be found here). Yes, if I was more organised, I'd do it all at the same time. But...

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

August 16, 2004

Water's Edge

I watched the GAA football qualifier on Saturday in a Westmeath stronghold and things were pretty gloomy after the final whistle, as the dreams of a first All-Ireland were dashed by Derry.

Westmeath has plenty of lakes – nearby is Lough Ennel. Back in 1894, a fisherman caught a 26lb trout there. Later, it was a miracle that anything could live in the water as the town of Mullingar pumped its raw sewage into the lake. In the last decade, the county has restored the waters to its former glory – trout, perch and pike are plentiful. In the Sixties, one of the many Shannon drainage schemes included the river Brosna, which drains Lough Ennel. The level of the lake dropped such that the boathouse (right, above) lies 50 metres from the waterline, necessitating the building of a new one (left).

These photos were taken in Lilliput, an amenity area with a shallow sandy on the southern shore and so-called because Jonathan Swift is reputed to have spent some of his summers there.

Posted by Monasette at 11:38 PM | Comments (0)

The Voyage Home

Aasleagh Falls marks the place where the Erriff river flows into Ireland’s only major fjord – Killery Harbour. Every spring, millions of young eels (elvers) are carried all the way from the Sargasso Sea on the North Atlantic Drift . Some of those that reach the west coast of Ireland swim into the fjord and wriggle their way up the falls to spend their lives upriver. Years later, the survivors will journey downstream again to make the trip back to the Sargasso Sea to breed.

Posted by Monasette at 11:06 PM | Comments (1)

August 12, 2004


The light of a million sunrises has washed over these stones since they were erected around 3200 years ago. These two stones are the 'gateway' stones marking the entrance of the circle - they face due south and sit on a boggy hill surrounded by lakes and hills of pine forest and bog - a view not unlike the view that would have greeted the builders of the circle.

I remember a particularly sunny summer many years ago, when I was seven or eight. I would walk the mile or so to the national school every day, under the watchful eye of my older neighbour (who was probably only eleven or twelve at the time). I’m sure it rained on us many times, but in my John Hinde, Technicolor-tinged memories, the walk home each day was under a blazing sun, strolling past undulating swirls of meadow and listening to the rattle and rustle of ripening cornfields.

When you are a small child wandering about in the countryside, it’s amazing how much stuff you see, and catch. We thought nothing of running into the kitchen at home with a mouse or a baby rabbit cupped in our hands and wonder why our mother didn’t quite share our enthusiasm. On the walk home that summer, we watched, day after day, a family of foxes playing in the meadow, the vixen watching her brood of five or six cubs playing nearby. Alas, our area probably had as many guns as Kentucky – every farmer had at least one shotgun and two of my neighbours were members of the Irish Clay-Pigeon shooting team. The foxes didn’t see winter.

As summer ripened into Autumn, pheasants were a common sight. But there was another sight that was far less common but no less rewarding. One evening, we heard a crek-crek-crek sound in a cornfield and saw the dull shadow of a bird scurrying through the corn. It was a corncrake (in Latin, it goes by its onomatopoeic name crex crex), and it was the first and last time I heard or saw it at home. Many years later, I heard the same call again. I was in Athlone, with the local Birdwatch Ireland group. After a few pre-birding drinks in Sean’s Bar by the river, we wandered out to a field south of the lock gates that separates Lough Ree from the Shannon Callows. It was eleven o’clock on a beautiful clear, balmy August night. One of the group had a couple of bones with notches cut into them; by rubbing them together, it made the same noise as a lovelorn corncrake. And sure enough, after a couple of rattles of the bones, a corncrake croaked back in the darkness.

The Shannon Callows is Ireland’s Everglades – thousands of acres of land floods as the Shannon overflows from Athlone to Portumna every winter. In pre-silage days, this annual flood forced farmers to cut their hay late, in August. It is also one of the main habitats for the corncrake, which has become damn near extinct around the country. Though the bird can find its way from Africa to Ireland every year, all too often, it cannot find its way to safety from a meadow to a hedge. A corncrake won’t cross open ground, and the custom of cutting meadow from the edge inwards doomed many a bird. In the Callows, the farmers get a small grant to cut their hay late, and to cut the grass from the centre outwards, giving birds a chance to escape. Smaller groups of birds can be found across Galway and Mayo and on the Aran Islands.

I was driving out to a stone circle last weekend when something in a field caught my eye. I had driven on about a quarter of a mile before I finally decided to turn back for a second look. It was a field that had been cut for hay about a month previously. It was covered with a rich coat of aftergrass and there were clumps of hay scattered about the field, left over from where the baler had dropped them. I parked the car in the gateway so that the passenger door was closest to the gate. Through my binoculars, I stared at one particular ‘clump’. As I suspected, it was a bird. But it wasn’t a pheasant or grouse. Though it was sitting low in the grass, it looked like a corncrake. I sneaked out of the car, hiding behind the pier of the gate. The bird was clearly suspicious and hid down in the grass for about fifteen minutes. But then it stood up and began feeding. I was close enough that its image filled the view through binoculars and it looked like a juvenile, probably this year’s brood. Alas, as I reached for my camera, it made a run for it – I took a few shots as it high-tailed towards the hedgerow. I was shooting on film so I’ll have to wait awhile to see if they came out OK. But even if they don’t , I was happy. I might never get as good a view again, and I’m probably one of the few people in the country who will ever get to see them that close, so that would have to count as a good day.

When I got to the stone circle, I spent some time taking photographs of the area, which is a raised bog. While composing one photo, I was conscious of something swooping very close to my head. I presumed it was a cheeky crow and wasn’t going to even look up. But I did – it was a hen harrier. I never saw one of these until I came back to Ireland four years ago, and now there are a couple of places that I know that I have a better than average chance of seeing one. This area has a number of pairs.

The day didn’t end so well. Despite my Francis of Asissi moments during the day, I managed to inadvertently delete all the photographs I took that day due to an over-enthusiastic virus checker, which ‘restored’ all my photographs into meaningless gobbledegook when I booted up ( I had left the CF card in a drive at boot up and the software took this as a personal affront).Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

Posted by Monasette at 12:02 AM | Comments (7)

August 10, 2004

For Valour

Last weekend, an Irish soldier, born in Eyrecourt, east Galway was commemorated in Westport, Co. Mayo. Sgt Major Cornelius Coughlan of the Connaught Rangers died in 1915 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Aughavale Cemetery. At his funeral 89 years ago, he had received the funeral of a hero, for Sgt. Major Coughlan was the holder of the Victoria Cross, won during the Indian Mutiny.

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday (free registration needed)

Sgt Major Coughlan, born in Eyrecourt, Co Galway, was awarded the VC after a series of heroic acts in India in 1857. At the height of the Indian Mutiny, with all his officers of the Gordon Highlanders dead, the then Colour Sgt rallied the men and led a charge that took the Kabul Gate in Delhi. The NCO also rescued a private under heavy fire.
An account of his bravery in the London Gazette read: "Colour Sgt Coughlan encouraged a party who hesitated to charge down a lane raked by a cross-fire, then entering with the said party, into an enclosure filled with the enemy, destroyed every man; for having also on the same occasion returned under a cross-fire to collect dhoolies [early stretchers] to carry off the wounded."
Queen Victoria felt moved to write a personal letter to Sgt Major Coughlan on hearing about his act of bravery.

The Mutiny, caused by a growing fear among Indians that the British intended to convert them to Christianity, was short and brutal, as was the vengeance wreaked upon the insurgents after it failed.

Captain Donal Buckley , a director of Military Heritage Tours, pointed out:

The fact that this man served in an imperial army is not the point. The fact that he was denying the Indians their independence and imposing colonial rule was not the point.
The point is that soldiers in combat are not thinking of ambition or lofty ideals. They are thinking of staying alive and their loyalty is to their comrades.

It’s an interesting point since the traditional view in Ireland of the British Empire tends to overlook the fact that Irishmen played a large part in the conquest and rule of Britain’s many colonies. There were plenty of Irishmen in the British Army at the time of the Mutiny – in Bengal, the army consisted of 34% English, 11% Scottish and 48% Irish (almost all lower ranks).

Captain Buckley’s comment is also a reminder that, for some Irish people, the Indian Mutiny refers not to the 1857 revolt but to the mutiny by members of the Connaught Rangers (B & C Company) based in the Punjab in 1920. It began when a small number of troops, on hearing of Black and Tan activities during the War of Independence in Ireland, refused to follow orders on the basis that they ‘ were doing the same job that English regiments were doing in Ireland – holding down the people (of India)’. The mutiny grew until several hundred men were refusing orders. A minor skirmish led to a mutineer’s death, and eventually fourteen soldiers were sentenced to death, of which one, James Daly, was executed. He was shot on November 20, 1920 by a firing squad of all Irishmen, specially selected from an English regiment, the Royal Fusiliers.

Daly was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, where many Irish rebels are buried (he was also a member of the IRB at the time of his execution). And now Sgt. Major Coughlan has an official headstone too, and an acknowledgement by the state. Slowly but surely, the stories of all Irish soldiers are being told and remembered, not necessarily in celebration but at least in commemoration.

Posted by Monasette at 11:58 PM | Comments (1)

August 09, 2004


Every year, I vow that I will get some good photos of the huge clumps of foxgloves that grow in the woods near my home. And every year, I forget about it until most of the flowers are little more than green stalks and empty pods where the blossoms have fallen off. This flower was the last survivor of a group of flowers that have colonised a clearing in a forestry plantation in Galway.

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

August 05, 2004

In passing

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

Feeding frenzy - insects feed on a rowan tree. The rowan (caorthann as gaeilge) has been regarded as a sacred tree - according to Trees of Ireland - was believed 'to keep the dead from rising, helped to speed the hound, and helped the home, milk and dairy'. It didn't save us from Westlife, though.

And almost imperceptibly, we’re sliding into Autumn. The curse of St. Swithin is still with us – the weekend alternated between torrential rain and scorching sunshine – sometimes both at the same time.

The countryside is already turning. The leaves on the maples are already streaked with red and orange. Chesnuts, though still green, are growing fat and clusters of hazelnuts are beginning to take the colour of the Fall.

Sixspotted butterfly moth snuffles pollen on a blackberry blossom - some of the berries are beginning to ripen already

The real colour of the hedgerow comes from the berries – this is the time of the harvest , and animals, birds and insects will be busy for the next month to eat at much as they can before the countryside fades to grey for the winter.

Something I haven't seen in a long time - wild raspberries growing in a woodland hedge in Galway. This was all that was left by the time I was ready to take the photograph - the missus had scoffed the rest!.

Posted by Monasette at 10:50 PM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2004

Images a la Sauvette

The great French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson has died, aged 95. Some of his work can be found online here, here et ici.

UPDATE August 6:The Guardian devote a whole section to his life and work.

Posted by Monasette at 08:01 PM | Comments (3)

August 03, 2004

My Lovely Horse

Every month, the web logs for this site show that the same three phrases are the most popular for search engine 'hits'. They are "St. Patrick","Croagh Patrick" (particularly in June and July, before the annual climb), and "white horse". So let's see how many hits this entry garners in the coming months.

This black stallion was taking in the sunshine near Spiddal, on Saturday. One might even be moved to song at the sight of such a magnificent creature. Maybe.

Posted by Monasette at 10:25 AM | Comments (2)

August 02, 2004

This Modern World

Far from that we were reared. Ladies wait to be airlifted to the latest social engagement during the Galway Races on one of the forty helicopters chartered to ferry the Ballybriterati last week.

Twenty-first century road kill. One after-pub snack that didn’t make it home. Photo taken on Leitir Mór on Saturday.

Posted by Monasette at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)