September 29, 2004

flower Power

Despite the rain and the wind, there's still plenty of flowers growing - the poppies have been the stalwarts of the garden this year, and show no sign of fading.

Posted by Monasette at 10:56 PM

Three Hail Marys

The much-heralded cabinet reshuffle took place today and surprise surprise, there were no surprises. Brian Cowen was appointed Finance Minister and given his penchant for stuffing his own constituency with government agencies, don't be surprised if the Central Bank is decentralised to High St., Tullamore. Dermot Ahern replaces him in the department of foreign affairs and Mary Harney moves into the Dept. of Health. It will be interesting to see how her PD free-market, anti-monopoly philosophy is received in that department. Two other Marys have been appointed to the cabinet - Mary Hanafin to Education, and Mary Coughlan from Donegal to Agriculture. Martin Cullen always gave the impression that he saw the environment as just a good place to lay tarmac, so he should be happy with his move to the Transport ministry.

Of course, every region of the country was worried that they would lose 'their' minsiters, and no-one was more worried than the ministers themselves. So last week, every minister was falling over himself/herself with announcements of future works so that, should they be replaced and someone else claim the credit for delivering the bypass/swimming-pool/hospital extension, they could always pull out their old press releases and hope to share in the glory (hence the contretemps last week between Frank Fahey and Noel Grealish over the proposed ClareGalway bypass). There was a fear in Galway that at least one of the three existing ministers would get the chop, but Eamonn O' Cuiv has retained his Ministry while Frank Fahey and Noel Treacy have been assigned to other (junior) ministries.

Down in Limerick, promotion has come at last for Willie O'Dea, a man who firmly believes in attack as being the best form of defence, or even as away of just saying hello. So he's the right man for the Dept. of Defence - if there was ever a chance for the Navy to get an aircraft carrier, this is it.

Posted by Monasette at 10:46 PM

The lonely furrow

The ploughing championship is on this week in Carlow. Most of the ploughing competitions involve huge tractors and complicated machinery but there is also some traditional ploughing done with horses. I've actually tried ploughing with a horse, and a more soul-destroying exercise would be hard to find. The horse is going one way, the plough another, and neither in the direction intended. You spend most of your time roaring abuse at a horse's behind, and being met with the all the contempt that a pair of equine buttocks can muster. Mind you, I wasn't any good at it, either. And I was only ten at the time. The Carlow lads are probably a bit handier.

Posted by Monasette at 09:50 PM

September 26, 2004

Along came a spider

This spider was hanging over our back door. It's almost 2 inches long, and it practically growled when I poked it with a twig. It looks like a House Spider, albeit a very large one. I better keep the kitten away from it!

Posted by Monasette at 09:45 PM

The Great and the Good

I was flitting through the back pages of Irish Tatler magazine (never miss an issue) looking at the glossy colourful photos of the great and good of Ireland at various social occasions when one page caught my eye. Elegant ladies, with the sheen of good health and breeding, resplendent in evening gowns, smiling with the happy glow that only good and free champagne can bestow. From the magazine,

…in the glorious sunshine of Marbella. Over 240 guests which included members of the Smurfit family and party regulars such as Clodagh and Gerald Keane , gathered in Olivia Valare to enjoy a night of flamenco dancing, champagne, glitz and glamour….[the auction was]…one of the many highlights of the evening with Madonna tickets and a BMW Mini cooper. A total of 350,000 euro was raised with guests going home with ample Newbridge Silverwear goodie bags.

And, of course, their pictures plastered all over the magazine. Who knew that giving could be so much fun ? Maybe I#m just an auld begrudger but I suppose that there was no chance that they could have all just stayed at home and wrote a cheque? Oh, and the charity ? The Irish Famine Commemoration Fund. Let them eat cake.

Posted by Monasette at 09:25 PM


I can still remember the morning, when, as a child, I was sent down to the chicken coop on our farm to collect eggs. It was a chore I liked doing since, being too young to understand the biological source of eggs, I regarded their appearance under the hens as somewhat magical. Anyway, when I got to the coop, I was met with a ghostly silence (ghostly if you were a chicken, that is). The thirty-plus hens were dead, all killed by a bite to the neck. The culprit was no mystery – there were plenty of foxes in the area, and one of them had dug under the wire protecting the pen. In the wild, foxes will kill as much as they can (to bury or eat later), so rather than killing one hen and making off with it, it was curtains for them all.

There’s been a bit of talk about fox-hunting in the media here in the last week or so, ever since it became clear that the British government signalled their intent to ban hunting with hounds. There was a couple of rather predictable debates on “Mooney goes Wild on One” (Radio 1’s wildlife programme on Saturday mornings) and on RTE’s Question & Answers programme. Whatever views one has on hunting, let’s lay a couple of tired old arguments to rest. First of all, as a means of culling foxes, hunting with hounds is about as efficient as training a bunch of monkeys on unicycles to hunt them down. Hauling a bunch of horses and dogs by trailers and horseboxes across the countryside to go looking for foxes in broad daylight is about the least effective way of hunting foxes. Secondly, whatever about the argument that foxes kill lambs in the spring, no farmer in his right mind would address that problem by unleashing a pack of baying hounds and thundering horses through his fields to protect the self-same lambs.

Farmers and landowners have been culling foxes the same way for years - with Point-22 rifles and high-beam lights. At night, the foxes look into the beams, their eyes reflect the light in the dark and BANG (whose cunning now?). And that is how culling should be done / quickly, efficiently and as painlessly as possible. In the forests near my home, there is currently a cull of wild deer in process. They are breeding like rabbits, and are slowly but surely destroying the trees by “ringing” the barks (i.e. eating the bark right around the tree). The cull will be done, not with horses and dogs, but with guns. I still feel sorry for them – I’ve seen Bambi – but at least the job will be done humanely.

It’s been a few years since I’ve spent an afternoon on a horse but I never once dismounted thinking that the day out would have been somehow enhanced if I’d managed to kill a fox too. And that is what the pro hunting with hounds lobby seem afraid to say openly – that when you strip away the bogus arguments of culling and helping the farmers, the difference is that they enjoy the thrill of the kill.

Mind you, it‘s not like people in Ireland are getting too excited about the issue. It’s only if a bunch of English toffs decide to come to Ireland to do their hunting that the debate will heat up.

Posted by Monasette at 09:16 PM

September 19, 2004

The Battle of Knockdoe

I meant to mention this earlier…Last month, the people of Knockdoe commemorated the 500th anniversary of a battle between the Eighth Earl of Kildare, Gerald Fitzgerald and Finn Burke, Lord of Clanricarde. The hill, eight miles north east of Galway city overlooks flat, fertile farmland today, but on the 19th of August, 1504, ten thousand men fought a particularly bloody, hand-to-hand battle that left 2,000 men dead. The battle is noteworthy for a number of reasons; the first recorded use of a handgun in an Irish battle; the use of gallowglasses (Scottish mercenaries) on both sides and the fact that this battle was the biggest battle ever fought between Irish nobility. Finally, a fight that couldn’t be blamed on the British – in fact, Henry VII made Fitzgerald a knight of the Garter in 1505.

Posted by Monasette at 09:20 PM

Going for Gold

I was watching a bit of girl on girl action on the telly yesterday evening when one of the ladies bared her back to expose a rather fetching coiled dragon tattoo across the base of her spine. I was of course watching TG4’s coverage of the women’s football semi-final between Galway and Mayo, being played in a windswept GAA pitch in Roscommon. The lady in question had come off second best in a tackle with a Mayo lass and was writhing around on the grass in agony. The difference between the men and women’s GAA is not much really; the tackles tend to be a bit less medieval and they have a sin-bin for temporarily banishing errant players. There is, however, another far more insidious development, which hopefully will not creep into the men’s game too. A stricter drugs testing regime should ensure that the problem of sunbed overdose can be nipped in the bud once and for all. [Galway won by a point after extra time]

One point was enough for the Galway (male) minor hurlers to beat Kilkenny today in the All-Ireland Minor replay in Tullamore, However, next week, Mayo has a chance to win the big one next week – the All-Ireland Football Final against Kerry in Croke Park. It’s about time.

Posted by Monasette at 09:16 PM

Numero Uno

You’d swear that the US presidential election was being contested here in Ireland, such is the interest and media coverage. We were supposed to have one of our own this year, since the seven-year term of President Mary McAleese expires next month, but it’s looking increasingly likely that she will be unopposed (in which case, there will be no election at all). Last week, Mary nominated herself for a second term – as a non-aligned candidate, therefore enabling all the major parties to row in behind her (she was a Fianna Fáil nominee last time around). Her decision to nominate herself has effectively scared off the opposition parties from fielding their own candidates - the popular view is that Mary will beat any other candidate, so why spend scarce resources and lots of energy with little hope of winning?

The Green Party flirted briefly with nominating on their TDs, Eamonn Ryan – I’m not sure everybody in the Green Party even knew who he was, let alone the rest of the country. However, unable to scare up the 20 nominations required (from TDs or Senators), he announced on Saturday that he was ending his bid. At one point, it looked like there might be two west of Ireland candidates, but neither now looks likely. The first is Rosemary Scanlon, better known as Dana (former winner of the Eurovision Song Contest) and now a former MEP. Despite the date of the election being known pretty much since Mary McAleese took office seven years ago, the announcement of the time period for which nominations could be made seem to catch her completely by surprise. What’s more, she didn’t seem to really aware of the procedure – despite having run for the office herself the last time around. Since she doesn’t belong to a political party, her best chance of nomination would be to get four city or county councils to nominate her – that’s how she was nominated last time. It was clear that she hadn’t canvassed any of the councils in advance, and during the week, Mayo County Council decided not to nominate her. Galway and Clare have yet to announce but the omens are not good.

In truth, there has been a half-arsed quality to Dana’s political career since she was elected as MEP for Connacht-Ulster in 1999. Though she came a distant third in the presidential election in 1997, she had surprised many people with her easy manner and somewhat naïve enthusiasm. She had also tapped into a vein of unease at the prospect of European laws being imposed on Ireland against the people’s will – coupled with her generally conservative outlook and strong Roman Catholicism, she built up enough of a following to take a seat in the subsequent Euro elections. Alas, as any politician will tell you, winning a seat is only the first part of the struggle – keeping the seat is the really hard part. There’s no real evidence that Dana succeeded in building up a local party machine that would extend her power base. The problem with being an MEP is that the job takes you well away from your constituency, so you either need an army of willing helpers to spread the word on your behalf, or you need to spend every minute of every weekend visiting as many people as possible and being seen to be doing something.

By the time of the Euro elections last year, it was clear that she was in trouble. At a debate in the Radisson Hotel in Galway between all the candidates, Dana’s only issue was the dangers of closer European integration (code for the danger of European social laws, particularly abortion, being imposed on Ireland). Complaining that the government had made no effort to educate the public on the upcoming European constitution, she seemed totally unaware that there had been a government-sponsored road-show travelling around the country for the previous year – even the other opposition candidates corrected her. Even if she had been right, it’s hardly the most pressing European issue for a predominantly rural and agricultural west of Ireland constituency. In county Galway alone, an astounding 191 million euro has been paid to farmers under the REPS scheme alone since it began a decade ago. Farm grants and EU-funded road schemes are what concern many voters and, with apparently little to show for her five years in Brussels, it was little surprise that Dana lost her seat. This election would have been her chance to begin building her profile again – maybe now the end is in sight for Dana the politician.

The other prospective candidate is Michael D. Higgins. In truth, Michael D was born to be president of Ireland – writer, poet, politician with a reputation for political passion and outspokenness, he would have loved the world stage. I remember walking down Kungsgatan in Stockholm on the evening that the European City of Culture was about to be launched, when I spotted Michael D., lost in thought (and I’m sure that they were deep thoughts). I remember thinking, ”City of Culture, couldn’t start it without him”. When he became a government minister during the Nineties, Des O’Malley predicted that “he’d go mad”. He didn’t , though he moved as much as he could to Galway, and set up TG4. Alas, this is his time to run, and he’s not going to get a chance. The Labour Party have decided not to nominate him, unwilling to pitch him against what they figure is an unbeatable candidate.

And Mary McAleese really is unassailable. She hasn’t garnered the headlines perhaps as much as her predecessor, but she knows how to ruffles feathers to great effect. When she took Communion at an Anglican service, and was subsequently criticised by Cardinal O’Connell, it was his reputation that was damaged by the ensuing media debate –the public verdict seemed to be that if a devote Catholic (McAleese was the Roman Catholic Church’s counsel at the New Ireland Forum during the Eighties) couldn’t make an act of reconciliation and solidarity, then maybe the church was more out of touch than ever. And when she met Loyalist leaders in Belfast, it was more than a mere gesture – her family had been burned out by Loyalists at the beginning of the Troubles.

There is one way to solve the problem – limit the Presidential term to seven years and one term only. Fourteen years is too long in any job anyway, and this way, there would always be an election. Won’t do Michael D any good, though.

Posted by Monasette at 09:03 PM

Stone Free

What do you see ? A jigsaw pattern of vividly green fields ? Yes, but what else. I see generations of backbreaking work, reclaiming stony land from the Burren and the scrub. A thin band of greenery where animals could be raised, wedged between the unyielding bare limestone of Abbey Hill and the edge of Galway Bay. These fields tell a story of a constant process of husbandry, begun when the very first people in Ireland formed small communities and figured out that harvesting the land, and the animals in it, was the best way to survive and endure. Stones picked year after year, and later used as stone walls to delineate the boundaries and mark ownership; scrub, weeds and trees uprooted to ensure the full yield from the land, and the soil itself fertilised, both by the animals and by men, often by dragging seaweed or rotted manure from shore or shed to be scattered across the fields. There are lots of ways to ponder our existence, but for all the plays, books and speeches that attempt to define and explain the human will to survive, that instinct is etched simply in a stretch of farmland between the rocks and the sea.

Máirtín Ó Caithin’s column in the Galway Advertiser, ‘View from the Hills’ is always worth a read (alas, not online). This week, he examines the art of building stone walls and how the skills required have made a resurgence now that there is a fashion to put a limestone wall as a boundary marker around many new houses (at least in the West). He ends the column with a story;

A man [from Máirtín’s own area] was out in the field lifting stones onto a wall the day before he was due to emigrate to America, sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. Someone passing by asked him why he was bothering himself with stone walls and him going to America – possibly for ever – the following morning. His answer was : Tuige nach ndeanfainn…an áit a thug beatha dom (Sure why wouldn’t I…the place that gave me sustenance).

Posted by Monasette at 09:02 PM

September 14, 2004

All washed up

Bladder Wrack (Fucus Vesiculosus) washed up on the shore of Achill Island, Co. Mayo, at the Bull's Mouth looking out to Inishbiggle. And there's still no sign of the cable car...

Posted by Monasette at 07:12 PM

September 12, 2004

Silver Linings

Looking towards Trawmore, the cliffs beneath Mweelin, and Doeega Head, Achill island, Co. Mayo. Photograph taken from the Deserted Village on a beautiful, sunny Saturday.

Posted by Monasette at 11:42 PM

The Druid Theatre Company’s performance of the entire JM Synge canon continues at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway with a double bill of two short plays; The Tinker’s Wedding and The Well of the Saints. The Tinker’s Wedding is a very short, one act farce, telling the efforts of a sharp-tongued tinker to persuade the local priest to officiate at her wedding. The Well of the Saints is a longer piece, and recounts the story of two blind tramps who have their sight restored by a holy man.

The drawback of performing an entire canon of any playwright is that you get to see the weaker works as well as the strong. You’d be hard pushed to find a greater collection of caricatures than in The Tinker’s Wedding. The tinkers are portrayed as drunken, quarrelling, thieving, superstitious primitives – the bride to be a fierce-tempered shrew, her somewhat reluctant future husband is a complete sliveen, and his mother is a bawdy old drunk. The priest is as bad – a lazy, greedy and uncharitable snob. I don’t know how the play was received on its debut, but I’d say it would get a cool reception at Pavee Point.

The Well of the Saints is a morality tale – the two wandering tramps, Martin and Mary Doul, have spent years wondering what the world looks like – perceptions that are promptly shattered when a holy man restores their site using water from a holy well. It’s hard to warm to a play that treats its characters with such disdain. Having spent the opening scene of the play declaring their love for each other (and surmising what fine looking people they both are), the two react in horror and contempt once they can see each other and discover that they are both in fact grizzled old-timers. Martin in particular heaps vituperative upon his wife, abandons her and makes a fool of himself chasing a much young woman.

The Well is a rather nasty little play. Neither the two main characters, nor the supporting characters have any redeeming features at all. And unlike, say a Wilde play, where it’s quite fun to laugh at the misfortune of people who deserve it, the characters in this play are to be pitied rather than pilloried. And it is the central performances of Mick Lally and Marie Mullen that really makes the show so worthwhile – they perfectly capture the desolation, poignancy and sheer desperation of two old people desperately clinging onto their self-made illusions in order to survive. They really are wonderful – in fact, they invest their characters with more humanity than the play really deserves. The play doesn’t have much of a conclusion – it sort of just trails away, and I get the impression that director Garry Hynes wasn’t entirely sure how to pitch it. The final third of the play doesn’t really work at all, and doesn’t so much conclude as just trail off. The play is just too lightweight to really explore or exploit the bitter downside of having one’s wishes come through, and anyway, if you really wanted to see an Irish play examining the bleak reality of life as seen by down-at-luck tramps, you’d probably opt for Beckett.

Aside from the leads, most of the cast are familiar from the earlier Playboy of the Western World production, and it’s good to see some faces from the Galway Youth theatre’s production of Our Country’s Good. Gary Lydon features in both plays (playing two more sliveens), but was very hard to hear in The Tinkers Wedding. Simone Kirby gets promoted to a major role (as Molly) in The Well… and impresses as the capricious and ambitious young woman that so cruelly rejects Martin. Alas, the suggestion that her character too has resigned herself to a compromised life by her marriage to an unappreciative husband is not explored. Another missed opportunity is the role of the Holy Man. His presence is unintentionally funny (the actor Domhnall Gleeson, sporting a mad-looking orange wig and an improbably posh accent, ”I’m going to cure your soight, roight?”) but should represent something darker – having bestowed the gift of sight once when the tramps begged him for it, he threatens to impose it on them when they beg him not to. The production doesn’t really explore that angle, though, to be fair, one gets the impression that Synge didn’t either. The plays are on until the end of the week, is in Ennis at the end of the month, and heads to Dublin next month.

Posted by Monasette at 11:21 PM

September 10, 2004

Graffiti near the Claddagh

Speech is as shallow as time, silence is deep as eternity

A quote from Thomas Carlyle, about whose tempestous marriage Alfred Lord Tennyson observed that "By any other arrangement, four people would have been unhappy instead of two".

Posted by Monasette at 04:45 PM

September 05, 2004

No parking

Parking in Galway has become so strict, you really do have to follow the signs. Though I'd like to see somone try clamp this fellow.

Posted by Monasette at 11:06 PM | Comments (3)

New Quay

The Abbey Theatre is in trouble. This was supposed to be it’s big (centenary) year – instead, they plan to fire one third of their staff to save money.

I don’t know the ins and outs of the Abbey’s malaise, but it did seem strange that they chose to do Synge’s “Playboy of the Western World” when Druid were also committed to the Synge cycle, so that a few weeks after Druids play finished, the Abbey version came along (you wait a decade for a ‘definitive’ version of Playboy to come to Galway, and then two come along at once).

The Abbey was conceived (as the Irish National Theatre) by Lady Gregory and W B Yeats while they holidayed in the Galway village of New Quay a century ago.

Posted by Monasette at 10:12 PM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2004

Magic Mushroom

Image is near life-size. Photograph taken with Canon G3 digital camera on Saturday, August 28th, 2004 on Abbey Hill, Co. Clare.

For the next few mornings, you should be able to see Saturn and Venus close to each other in the dawn sky. Or rather, you could if it wasn't raining all the time. Of course, munch on a few of these colourful plants, and you can see all the planets even with your eyes closed.

P.S. I'd be grateful if anyone can give me the official/Irish name of the plant above.

Posted by Monasette at 07:36 AM | Comments (2)

Lard of the Ring

I missed the chance to ask Elijah Woods for nine hours of my life back when he visited Galway last week. His cheesy grin appears in all the local Galway papers, which is one expression more than he used in the three bloody Hobbit movies.

Meanwhile, the people of Athenry, Loughrea and Gort are providing the background to a new RTE drama series currently in production. It’s called Showbands, presumably about that musical era that gave us such cultural highlights as Dicky Rock and Ronan Collins (somewhere in Dickie Rock’s attic is a portrait of himself visibly ageing by the day). It stars Kerry McFadden who is well known for being, um, well known. For some reason, the newspapers describe this as if it was a good thing.

Posted by Monasette at 07:34 AM | Comments (0)

Immovable type

Anyone leaving a comment will probably get an error message. Don't worry, the comment will still be accepted. I was mucking about with the website templates and messed up a few things. I'll get around to fixing them eventually...

P.S. The archives aren't working either. I'll sort that out next week

Posted by Monasette at 07:15 AM | Comments (0)