October 31, 2004

Liquorice Allsorts

Solyent Green is people! Solyent Green is people! So wailed Charlton Heston at the end of the sci-fi movie when he realised that the eponymous green wonder foodstuff didn't exactly do what it said on the tin. Silage on the other hand is pretty much just grass, save the occasional frog, pheasant and unsuspecting German camper that get swept up in the grass-cutting process. There was a time when the only winter fodder for cattle was hay. The problem with hay is that it requires plenty of summer sunshine - great if you live in the south of France, not so good if you live in the west of Ireland. Silage doesn't need any sun. The grass is collected when green, and packed tight to remove air (so it won't rot) and treated with molasses (to sweeten it to make it more palatable). In the Seventies (after Ireland joined the European Union), agricultural advisors urged farmers to build huge concrete silage pits to store that silage. The cattle would start eating from one face of the pit and would slowly eat their way through the entire pit over an entire winter. With interest rates in the high teens, many farmers incurred high debts building them, and the combination of cattle slurry and winter rain wasn't very eco-friendly.

More recently, round silage bales have become popular. They've got plenty of advantages - you don't need to build a pit, and therefore, you can take the feed to the animals rather than the other way round. The round bales are wrapped using a tractor-towed machine that wraps the bales in the same was that those machines at the airport wrap suitcases. A tight seal is required to prevent air and water getting in. And, believe it or not, there's even a bit of science to choosing the colour of the wrapping. White plastic allows too much light into the bale, causing too much bacterial growth and eventually, rot. Black-wrapped bales absorb too much heat, also leading to rot, and unhappy heifers. Green plastic seems to be the happy medium, though I wonder if combining black and white plastic (above) gives the same result, or just looks kinda cool.

Posted by Monasette at 08:11 PM | Comments (3)

Singing for your supper

It's Halloween night, the culmination of every gurrier in the neighbourhood firing off bangers and fireworks at dogs, cats and anything else that moves for the last fortnight. I realised that I wasn't really prepared for it when a couple of little munchins in Scream masks arrived at the door demanding treats.

Um, I don't have any sweets. Erm, how about some fruit ?"

"Want sweets". [Underneath the mask, a lower lip was beginning to tremble.]

"Well, I don't have any. I could throw in a few vegetables if you like".

"WANT SWEETS". [Very soon, a foot would be stamped]


They flounced off, but I knew defeat when I saw it, so I drove up to the petrol station and bought a couple of big bags of sweets.
Ten minutes later, another motley crew arrived at the door, each carrying a shopping bag full of a dentist's mortgage repayments. When I opened the door, they held out the bags expectantly.

"Not so fast, kids. You going to have to sing for your tooth-rotting sugar buzz. Or dance."

Much shuffling and muttering ensued before one little Goth started off with "I love you, you love me-"

Oi! Absolutely no Barney! And no Britney either."

Blank stares and silence. I paid them off anyway.

Of course, the word soon went out that number 21 was a soft touch, and two minutes later, another bunch of miniature Marilyn Mansons arrived, expectantly.

I informed them of the conditions. This bunch were even less talented than the last. They didn't even know any songs - not unlike the real Marilyn Manson, then. Doesn't any kid spend their time gawping at MTV anymore - what’s the world coming to?. Finally, one kids faced brightened.

"I'll sing you a Mickey Harte song!"

Playing dirty, eh? I paid them off hurriedly and sent them on their way.

I stopped answering the door when I ran out of goodies. I had a tub of Ben & Jerry's in the fridge but I would have demanded the first hour of Riverdance before any of the little squirts were getting their mitts on that. The last bunch summed up the night. A trio of Draculas arrived at the door.

"No, we don't know any songs".

"Ah lads, you'll never make it to You're a Star at this rate"

"From the smallest of the three (all of two foot tall) came the grumble,

""We're better than you anyway"

Quick as a flash, one of the others bundled him out of the way, and held out his goody bag.

"He's being cheeky - I'll take his share."

Now that's showbiz.

PS Judging by Dervala's account of Halloween in New York, I got off lightly...

Posted by Monasette at 08:00 PM | Comments (2)

The fueds of Athenry

Portumna and Athenry meet in the Galway Club Hurling final today. If Athenry win (and they are favourites), don't expect to hear too much coverage on Galway Bay FM. The Athenry club are 'refusing to co-operate' with the station in protest at their coverage of their semi-final clash with Loughrea - clash being the operative word. Football and hurling as sports emerged from the faction fights between neighbouring villages centuries ago, and that connection is faithfully commemorated every year in club championship matches around the country.

Anyway, St. Mary's in Athenry took extreme umbrage to the coverage (I.e. Loughrea people ringing the station and slagging them off) so none of the players or officials will do interviews for the station. There's an element of cutting their noses off to spite their faces here - it's not like people from Athenry maintained radio silence either. The real pity is that local finals such as this are the sort of events that local radio do so well - capturing the local flavour and rivalries, particularly for people who won't be able to make it to the match. The radio station didn't exactly hold out an olive branch on Friday - they read out a letter from the Athenry COM-AH-TEE which was hilariously formal and threatening followed by the letter that the station's director sent back to them (telling them to stick it, basically). While the presenter was reading the letters, a particularly maudlin version of The Field's of Athenry was playing in the background. Appeasement, my ass!

This is exactly the sort of scenario that you would expect to be lampooned in Killnascully, the new comedy series by Pat Shortt showing on RTE1 on Sunday evenings. Or rather, it would be, if Killnascully was any good. I really wanted to like Killnascully, but after watching three episodes, I can't pretend any more. God, it's terrible. It's such a pity because, as D'Unbelievables, Shortt and Jon Kenny exploited an area of comedy that no one else in Ireland even bothered about - countryside humour, inter-parish rivalries and most famously, the passion of local GAA. And they were brilliant at it. Their partnership broke up when Kenny got cancer (since recovered), but on the strength of Killnascully, they need to get back together again. The first half of the pilot episode of Killnascully was the funniest 15 minute of Irish comedy I have seen in a long time. But it was downhill from there. What the series requires is a ruthless editor and better writing - last weeks episode was a spoof of The Field, a joke that was tired after the first few minutes. It's still funnier than every single minute of The Panel, mind. But that's not saying much.

P.S. Athenry won by two points.

Posted by Monasette at 07:59 PM | Comments (0)

El Presidente

TG4 showed another one of their excellent and thought-provoking documentaries Saturday evening. It was called Fáilte, Mr. President, and told of the protests that greeted Ronal Reagan's visit to Ireland twenty years ago. The documentary focused mainly on the Galway part of the visit, and featured extensive interviews with Michael D Higgins & Brendan Ryan (who were prominent among the protest organizers), Garret Fitzgerald (who was Taoiseach at the time), Sean Donlon (former Irish ambassador to the US) and a rather circumspect Eoghan Harris.

The cause of the protests was the ongoing violence in Central America - particularly in El Salvador and Nicaragua. And if ever the past was a foreign country, the grainy RTE footage certainly proved it. 1984 seems a strange place nowadays, the last days of a grim and hopeless Ireland. As the programme shows, unemployment was 15%, many people were hoping to emigrate (either legally or illegally) to the US and the Bishop Eamonn Casey was still best known for his work with Trocaire.

Naturally, the document drew comparisons between the protests against Reagan and the protests against George Bush earlier this year. There were a couple of similarities; the prospect of protests affecting the wider US-Ireland relationship (in 1984, the government wanted US support for the Anglo-Irish agreement; in 2004, the government just wanted the dollars to keep flowing). Though I missed the beginning of the programme, it seemed that Eoghan Harris' contribution was limited to a few pithy comments. As someone who has broadly welcomed the invasion of Iraq, and who is often critical of "the Left", a more detailed contribution from him would have provided a more interesting balance and analysis.

It's not hard to see how people could make the connection with the Central american situation. For many Irish people, the story of Ireland is the story of a small country struggling against overwhelming odds to be rid of the influence of a superpower - and to many people, the Nicaraguan independence struggle mirrored Ireland's own quest for independence. And there were uncomfortable analogies between El Salvador (where the government stood accused of repression )and the situation in Northern Ireland at the time. p>

The Catholic Church at home in Ireland was seen as very much as part of the Establishment (in 1984, there was no divorce, homosexuality was illegal and the previous year, abortion had been banned in a referendum and a doctor had been prosecuted for distributing condoms directly to a patient). Missionaries were a different story. They were well-respected – many families had a member who ‘was out on the missions - and their work in Central America reminded many in Ireland of the role that priests played in Ireland long ago - teacher, preacher and sometimes activists, and often the target of government repression [at the time of the visit, another missionary, Fr. Niall O' Brien was sharing a jail cell with local land activists in the Philippines - a case that was of huge interest in Ireland but is strangely not mentioned in the documentary ]. The situation in Central America had a powerful resonance with Irish people. The prospect of a small, struggling democracy being destablised by a neighbouring superpower (in Nicaragua) was something that identified closely with Ireland’s own recent history, as did the prospect of a puppet government using the army to suppress sections of its own population (in El Salvador). [The documentary showed an interview between Brian Farrell and Reagan, fobbing off criticism as Russian and Cuban propaganda, intercut with Eamonn Casey passionately arguing that all the [mainly religious and charitable] organizations who were present in the two countries could hardly all be Communist dupes].

It was also the case that, rightly or wrongly, Reagan, like Bush today, genuinely scared a lot of people in Ireland. The installation of Cruise Missiles throughout Europe had been deeply controversial – these battlefield nukes were smaller, less powerful and therefore ‘more usable’ missiles. So the protests were far more heartfelt and widespread than would be expected from the usual anti-American elements. And then, as now, there was the suspicion that the visit was part of a re-election photo-opportunity.

A rosier future lay in store for all. Reagan was re-elected later that year, and by the end of the decade, the Soviet Menace simply fell apart at the seams. From the mid-Eighties, the Irish economy began to grow, fuelled in no small part by American investment. And in Northern Ireland, the reason that Garret Fitzgerald wanted Reagan to visit in the first place, Garret's successor, Albert Reynolds and John Hume would begin the process to bring Sinn Féin and the IRA in from the cold (how much the Anglo-Irish agreement had to do with it is another story). Peace even broke out eventually in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Well, the future was not rosy for all. The influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland would collapse under a succession of scandals, beginning with, yes, the revelations about Bishop Eamonn Casey’s son in 1992.

There were a few threads in the programme that I would have liked to seen followed up. Even in the US, Reagan's US policy was controversial - his administration's support for the Contra guerrillas was banned by Congress (and famously circumvented by the Iran-contra affair, which, come to think of it, involved a few dodgy Irish passports). And while it was perhaps natural for a US government to denounce socialist organizations in Central America as pawns of the Soviet Union or Cuba, the Vatican was distinctly lukewarm in its support of clergymen and women involved in the struggles in El Salvador and Nicaragua, at least until the murder of Archbishop Romero. Though the link between the Reagan and Bush visits is an obvious one to make, given that the reception was much the same, it’s a pity that the programme didn't compare those visits against the more successful ones.

How could Bill Clinton, who probably ordered as many foreign interventions as his successor, be welcomed warmly in all parts of Ireland with nary a protest? And the most obvious question of all - twenty years before Reagan, another US president who had tried to overthrow the government of a neighbouring country in a bloody coup visited Ireland in a re-election year. But John Kennedy was not so much welcomed as worshipped when he arrived in Ireland, and in all the recent commemorations of his visit (it was forty years ago this summer), I don’t recall any mention of protests.

And finally, what about the missionaries ? There is a whole generation of old men and women from Ireland, living out their final days in far-flung corners of the globe. Even twenty years ago, they could have hoped for reinforcements from their own country. Now, it looks more likely that, if the Church is to survive in Ireland at all, it is the countries where they now live that will send their own missionaries back to Ireland to keep the faith alive. It would be interesting to hear their stories…


PS The toasts given by then Irish president Hillary, and Ronald Reagan at a state dinner can be read here.

PPS The single most striking image of the documentary was footage of the drive into Dublin from the US Embassy in the Phoenix Park. Not that, as a protest, people stayed away so that only an unbroken blue line of Gardai stood guarding empty streets, but that the streets (along the river) looked more like Beirut in 1984 rather than Dublin.

PPPS 1984 wasn't the first time that Reagan visited Ireland. He arrived, as Governor Reagan, in 1972 as a special envoy of President Nixon. Here is a picture of him with another president who elicted strong opinions…

Posted by Monasette at 07:57 PM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2004

A long hard road

Sunlight picks out details of a headstone in an alcove in Claregalway Abbey.

I wonder how many of the long-suffering Galway commuters who spend a couple of hours each day trying to get through the village of Claregalway have visited the Franciscan Abbey just over the river on the Tuam side.[The people of the village are collecting signatures for a petition right about now to try to speed up the construction of a bypass. And weather-wise, they couldn't have picked a worse day for it. But I digress.]

The headstone pictured above records the death of Mary D’arcy in August 1780. It looked to be a momentous time for Ireland. It was the year that politician Henry Grattan made his call for Irish parliamentary independence. At that time, Ireland had its own parliament (located on Dame Street in central Dublin in what is now the Bank of Ireland) but it was a parliament without power. All laws proposed in the parliament had to be approved (or vetoed) in the House of Commons in London, which meant that the Dublin parliament was seen as little more than a talking shop. But a new group of politicians - men such as Henry Flood , James Caulifield (Lord Charlamont) and Henry Grattan - emerged that were determined to wrest some authority from London. Their first battle (and victory) was against the severe restrictions on Irish trade with Britain's other colonies. Their victory was not entirely due to the power of their rhetoric or political argument. The Irish Volunteers had been formed early in 1778 and by the end of the year numbered around forty thousand men. Ostensibly formed to protect Ireland from the French while the regular British army was in America attempting to crush the rebellion there, they soon became a none-too-subtle display of Irish independence. In 1779, the parliamentarians demand for free trade was matched by a march of Volunteers through Dublin - the artillery pieces that they dragged past Parliament Hose bore placards like "Free Trade or This". Free trade was granted.

The British government at the time had become more amenable to concessions for their Irish colony. It was motivated not so much by humanitarianism but by an anxious pragmatism. There was more than a whiff of revolution in the air. The rebellion in America had shaken the British - if a group of wealthy, white, Protestant colonists could take arms against the crown, then so could any other part of the Empire. At first, the concessions were grudging, and aimed at relieving the worst elements of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws. In 1771, Catholics were allowed to lease bogland (as long as they reclaimed it ) and in 1778, it became possible for Catholics to lease any land for 999 years. [Ironically, the man who repealed these parts of the Penal Laws, Lord Mountjoy, was 'to learn something of Catholic Emancipation when he was piked and hacked to death at New Ross' during the 1798 Rising ].

The irony was that, while the British accepted the inevitability of rights for Catholics, the Irish parliament in Dublin, Protestant to a man, was not so keen, fearing that an empowered Catholic political class might decide to settle any number of old scores. Grattan was not one of those men - he addressed the Irish Parliament thus,

the question is now whether we shall be a Protestant settlement or an Irish nation…for so long as we exclude Catholics from natural liberty and the common rights of man we are not a people.

He spoke those words in 1782 . Two years earlier, he had unsuccessfully proposed a bill that would give independence to the Irish parliament - he was unsuccessful on that occasion but two years later, Irish parliamentary independence was granted, and became known as Grattan's parliament. In the same year, Catholics were finally granted the same property rights as Protestants.

Alas, the triumph did not last long. It became clear that the newly-gained independence was a sham - by appointing large numbers of MPs (via rotten boroughs and other corrupt wheezes), there was a sufficient number of yes-men in parliament to render it practically useless. By the end of the century, the French revolution would infuse the Irish Volunteers with a more radical republicanism, particularly after a young Protestant barrister called Theobald Wolfe Tone assumed command. In 1798, a French naval task force landed in Mayo to assist a Volunteer uprising. It was brutally crushed and three years later, the Act of Union effectively obliterated any semblance on Irish independence. Wolfe Tone killed himself in prison in 1798 before he could be hanged - he is commemorated every year around this time by Fianna Fáil.

Another crossroads on the road of Irish history, and one that served to, yet again, separate the people of the island. One wonders how Irish history would have progressed, had Grattan's parliament has been able to fulfil it's mandate? Would Ireland have gone the way of the American rebels, whose army (led by Washington) along with the French navy, smashed Cornwallis' army in 1781 at Yorktown and effectively won independence. Or would an empowered Irish parliament assert itself as a loyal but independent colony like Canada. Who knows ? One thing is for sure - all of the tumult did not disturb the eternal slumber of Mary D'arcy.

Posted by Monasette at 04:42 PM | Comments (1)

October 25, 2004

Clare Glens

Posted by Monasette at 10:26 PM

Ar nós na gaoithe

Maybe one day someone will explain to me why the very people who object so strenuously to one-off houses in the countryside have no problem at all with the building of wind farms. Now, I'm all for clean, renewable energy, and there is certainly no shortage of available wind energy in Ireland. But a wind farm (even if there only a handful of wind turbines) is an industrial installation and makes far more impact on the landscape than a house.

First of all, you need to find a mountainside, preferably deserted - there's plenty of them in the West. Some of them are planted with forestry - others are covered with layers of bog. To access the site, roads need to be constructed. Once the roads are built, then the digging can begin. A 70-foot turbine needs a solid foundation - a hole that could accommodate a two story house works best. Digging through bog is easy enough. However, the bogland covering most mountains in the West is a thin blanket covering solid rock - either limestone or something more solid such as basalt. Putting a hole in a layer of rock doesn't require a pick and shovel anymore - either an industrial jackhammer affixed to a hydraulic arm on a digger or bulldozer does the trick nicely - blasting with explosives works pretty well too. All that's needed then is the turbine itself - set into the hole with concrete - and ready to start generating green and guilt-free electricity. Who could complain about this?

Well, it's hard to imagine an installation that is more noticeable than a wind farm. Their very purpose requires that they are constructed along the skyline. In truth, I don't find them too obtrusive myself. But close-up, their impact is more noticeable. On large sites (anywhere between 50 and 200 turbines), the size of the site is considerable. And to build a farm that size requires a huge amount of engineering work - vast areas of bog or trees must be cleared, drainage ditches need to be dug and a large network of roads must be built. Bogland serves a useful purpose on mountains - it regulates the amount of water that runs off the hillsides. Once it is removed, rainfall runs straight down the hill, increasing the chance (and speed) of flooding downstream.

The construction of the road network (often a glorified network of boreens) on the site often puts pressure on the public road network in its vicinity. Since most wind farms are in fairly remote areas, the roads are usually narrow and certainly not suited to convoys of earthmovers and dump trucks thundering in and out of the construction site. Since the bigger wind farms require so much material, quarries are usually excavated on site. This is ironic, since it's tremendously difficult to get planning permission for quarries in their own right.

However, it is when the construction is complete that the biggest and most long-term impact can be noticed. I was hill-walking some weeks ago around the site of a small (and sensitively constructed) wind farm. By constructing new boreens to service the wind turbines, it was possible to access hills that were previously inaccessible, including a hidden lake whose water was supposed to have curative properties (no one chanced to drink it, mind). At the entrance, I stopped to admire the handiwork of the stonemason that had created two piers from the local stone available on the hill. At the same time, I regretted the fact that, soon, the hill would be off-limits. The piers would soon hold gates, and would serve to keep walkers such as myself off the hill. I don't really blame the developer - until the ludicrous insurance laws in Ireland are fixed, he has little other option.

In the meantime, as more farms are built, more and more mountainsides will become inaccessible and, to some extent, industrialised. A wind farm provides almost no employment locally once construction is complete, other than for security (and that is to keep locals and visitors out). And that's assuming that the construction is done properly. This week, in Galway, some of the construction companies involved in the building of the wind farm at Derrybrien were fined for causing fish kills in the river Owendalulleegh River. The kills were caused as a result of the landslides that occurred at the wind farm construction site. The Derrybrien site will eventually contain 70 turbines, and they will have to generate a lot of electricity to make up for the damage done by the landslide - tons of peatland and trees ripped from the Derrybrien hillside around the Sliabh Aughties. [The current head of An Taisce cluelessly described the local people as nimbies last year - given how upset members of An Taisce become at the prospect of rural housing, you'd wonder if she has ever visited a wind farm].

There is a sense of a great opportunity being missed when it comes to wind energy. My own preference would be that there should only be either large or small but not in between. For large wind farms (100+ turbines), they should be offshore. A couple of miles out, and no-one can see them, and the wind supply is greater and more constant. The smaller ones could be built nearly anywhere. It's a pity that Irish farmers have not embraced the opportunities of wind power in the same way as the Danes and Germans. There, farmers group together to erect a few turbines on their land and become at least self-sufficient in electricity, and manage to supply a bit extra to the grid. It means that there are small clumps of wind turbines visible pretty much everywhere in the countryside, but they are no more intrusive than electricity pylons. They are also handsomely grant-aided by the EU, so the financial outlay is not huge. Of course, given that many farmers find that they cannot get planning permission to build houses for their offspring, so their chances of putting up a few windmills are probably slim too.

Posted by Monasette at 10:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2004

Animal Crackers, Part I

My motto in life is ' Never be afraid to take a detour' so when I spotted a sign for a holy well along a country road, I didn't hesitate to point the car down the boreen to see where it led. I ended up in someone's farmyard, but the lady of the house didn't mind, and pointed me in the direction of the well (I'll post the pictures over the weekend). As I got out of the car, I kept an eye on the two dogs (a pair of sleepy old Labradors -yes they're cute, but the only time I was ever bitten by a dog was by a 'docile' Labrador). As you can see, the dogs were the least of my worries. No sooner had I opened the boot to grab my camera and wellies than these two 'assistants' appeared to help me unpack - a pair of pet goats who bundled me out of the way in their rush to have a good nose about. Just after I took this shot, the white one tried to jump into the back of the car.

Posted by Monasette at 11:07 PM

Animal Crackers, Part 2

In Sixmilebridge, there is a pub on the riverbank called the Greyhound Bar. I don't know if the owner keeps any dogs but there are plenty of ducks and geese around the place. Which presents its own problems...

Posted by Monasette at 11:00 PM

Clare Glens

The Clare river, rushing through the Clareglen valley in Co. Tipperary.

Posted by Monasette at 10:56 PM

October 13, 2004


Posted by Monasette at 11:19 PM

When a Stranger Calls

A few months ago, on a lazy Saturday morning, I was sprawled on the couch when there was a knock on the door. After waiting a while to see if Herself would answer, to no avail, I got up , grumpily unlocked the door and glared out . A second later, I had a guilty look on my face - there was a six year old standing outside, looking up shyly at me while her Dad hovered protectively in the background. I had forgotten that the local national school were putting on a production of Les Miserable and here was one of the stars, delivering the tickets in person (I was doubly cheered up because the missus and a friend would have to sit through it - I had an excuse).

It's funny how a knock on the door is greeted with a groan rather than excitement at the prospect of an unexpected visitor. The era of the 'Rambling In house' seems to be disappearing, where people can always drop in for a chat and a cuppa without being asked why you dropped in. I remember a priest from home commenting that in the old days, he felt he could drop in on people for a chat at any time, but more recently, he feels like he needs to make an appointment first. I know how he feels - I couldn't imagine turning up somewhere without ringing ahead.

Maybe it's because we lead busier lives, or maybe we have just found other things to occupy ourselves. The mobile phone has become a an essential tool. While I could never understand the attraction of the mobile when I lived in Sweden (typical conversation- SVEN"Hello? Hakan? This is Sven. Remember the couple of drinks that we arranged for six months ago? Well, I am in the bar at exactly the time that we said. HAKAN:"Hi Sven. Yes I know, I'm sitting beside you"), it made perfect sense in Ireland (Mick:"PJ, Mick here. I'm running a bit late. We're still stuck in the other pub". PJ"I'm not there meself yet - we said we'd have a few quiet ones before we go out". TOGETHER: Graaand).

Of course, there seems to be more unwanted callers these days. When I lived on the farm, there were plenty of callers but not many strangers - if you discount the neighbours, the vet, the AI man, the postman and the priest, you wouldn't have too many callers. About once a year , a vanload of travellers would arrive up selling gates, you'd have the occasional salesman (usually selling either encyclopaedias or insurance) and the odd lost soul looking for directions. The town land where I lived had nary a signpost for years, and was surround by other areas that were equally without signs, so every so often, an exasperated delivery man would drive up our boreen looking for directions, usually to find that he was miles from his destination.

Nowadays, it seems that there is someone knocking on the door every day, usually collecting money for something or other. Now, I don't mind giving for a good cause, even when every kid in the class decides to collect en masse, so that no sooner than you give paid off one kid and shut the door than the next one arrives. Then there are the professional collectors. There's a woman who has been pushing a catalogue for some useless tat through our door for the last two years. Despite being told on numerous occasions that WE ARE NOT INTERESTED, she still keeps pushing stuff through the door and we keep binning it.

At the last general election, I did a bit of canvassing (I'm trying to bring the system down from within, honest) and the most pressing topic when it came to tactics was; what was the best time to go knocking on doors. In many of the houses we would visit, all the adults were working, and many of them were commuters. The last thing a canvasser wanted to do was to interrupt them as they were having their tea, or collecting their kids from childminders. As it turns out, there isn't really a good time, simply because many people just don't have that much time anymore (and even less of it for politicians).

Many years ago, I shared a house with three other guys. One of them, whom I'll call X, didn't spend many weekend in the house. When he did, he like d to have a good long lie-in on the Saturday morning. When we could hear him coughing like an old diesel engine, we knew he was a wake and on his first ciggie of the day. This was normally followed by him roaring out at us to put on the kettle on (which we ignored). Eventually, he'd struggle out of bed, make some coffee and sink into the couch to spend the afternoon watching TV (which was either some black & white movie on RTE or Grand Prix fishing on Sky - he wasn't too choosy). One thing he did like to do was talk, or more to the point, chat. He could debate or argue with anyone on any point for hours, and the less he knew about it, the longer he's talk.

Anyway, one Saturday morning, I left the house early, before X had risen to go into town, and returned around 1pm. As I opened the front door , two men in dark suits burst past me and rushed down the path and off up the street, while X still talked after them. I recognised them as two Jehovah's Witnesses who used to call on every house in our small estate every two months or so in a (completely unsuccessful) attempt to convert us. They had called to the house two hours earlier just as X, with cigarette and coffee in hands, was heading towards the sofa. Bad move. Their delight at getting past the door soon faded as they spent an hour debating religion (to be fair, X could probably wear down the Pope given enough time) before X moved on to other topics. Actually, there was just one topic - Leitrim GAA and the relative prospects of Drumshambo and Dromahair in the forthcoming county championship. As two young American evangelists, the visitors were at a bit of a disadvantage. If I hadn't opened the door, they might be still there.

As it was, they never called to the house again, and they wouldn't even visit the other houses in the estate if X's car was outside our house. Today, X is married with a child. When someone asked his wife if the little'un had begun to talk yet, she replied that 'she's still waiting to get a word in edgeways'.

Posted by Monasette at 11:13 PM

October 10, 2004

I fought the law, and the law won

Oscar wasn't the only Wilde to fall foul of the legal system. His father, Sir George Wilde, enjoyed what is coyly described in the Encyclopaedia of Ireland as an energetic private life. One of his lovers sued him in 1864 which didn't do his reputation any good at all. Oscar, of course, famously sued the father of his lover, Sir Alfred "Bosie" Douglas for libel. Given that Douglas pere had accused Wilde of being a homosexual, it probably wasn't the wisest move, and Wilde ended up in prison as a result.

Funnily enough, Bosie ended up on the wrong end of a criminal libel case himself almost a quarter of a century after Oscar's death. During World War I, Winston Churchill (who was then, as First Lord of the Admiralty, in charge of the Royal Navy) had gave a rather glowing account of the Battle of Jutland, really the only pitched battle between the British and German fleets. The battle had been something of a draw, but given that there had been plenty of bad news around the same time, and there was a war on, his statement was hardly surprising (in fact, he had asked to 'talk up' the battle by the government at the time). Anyway, in 1924, Lord Douglas claimed that the reason for Churchill's positive statement was to manipulate the stock exchange for the benefit of a Jewish syndicate, who had subsequently rewarded Churchill with 40,000 pounds. Bad move - Douglas was naturally sued for libel and upon losing, spent six months in jail. Jail obviously agreed with him better than for Oscar – he lived until 1945. No-one remembers his poetry, though.

The statue of Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde in Shop St., Galway.

By coincidence, RTE2 showed a documentary on Bosie this evening, alas I didn't see it.

Posted by Monasette at 11:10 PM

Say it ain't so

Despite Mayo's hammering by Kerry in the All-Ireland Football final, there's been some good news on the GAA front in the West (well, for Galway anyway). Galway won the Ladies All-Ireland football final, and to make it sweeter, it was the Dubs that they beat. Of course, they would have had more support in Croke Park if the Galway Club Championship had not been scheduled for the same day in Pearse Park in Galway. Not too many suffragettes in the Galway County Board…

The Ladies made a triumphant return west with the Cup - as is tradition, they got off the bus and walked across the Shannon (and shook the Dublin dust off their feet while they were at it, no doubt). They stopped off in Ballinasloe, where the Horse Festival was in full swing (….desperately trying to avoid obvious champion filly analogies here…) as well as ClareGalway on their way into the city (thereby touring all the county's premier traffic chokepoints on the same night).

On a related equine note, it looks like Ireland's only medal of this year's Olympic Games is about to be rescinded. It seems that the horse failed the drug test that was done after the competition. His rider, Cian O’Connnor has denied cheating (he was due to be awarded the Irish Person of the Year last night but decided to decline it) and the horse is unlikely to have administered the tranquilliser itself, so I'm sure there must be an interesting explanation for it all.

On a related sporting note, I flicked over to TG4 last night after watching the Ireland-France soccer match (I watched it on BB2 to spare myself the sound of George Hamilton, and , since the opposition was France, the English commentator was 100% for Ireland anyway). The Ardan chat show was on, and there was a gorgeous young lady on, dolled up to the nines, ag caint as Gaeilge!. Turns out that she is the next Miss Ireland or something, from Gweedore, though for some reason, she spoke Irish with a Soutside Dublin accent (I guess nobody's perfect). Anyway, after a few minutes , the show went over to its sports correspondent in Paris, to comment for a minute or two on the match. Hmmm, so TG4 sent their reporter over to cover a match as Gaeilge that they didn't show and that was available on RTE anyway. Can I have his job, please?

Posted by Monasette at 11:00 PM

October 06, 2004


Close-up of an Oxeye daisy , taken about five weeks ago.

Even though I had planted some Feverview in a corner of my back garden which has thrived all summer, it is a another member of the daisy family that has made the biggest impact. It’s no mystery where the Oxeye daisy came from - it scaled the back wall along with less welcome accomplices such as thistle, nettles and docks. My neighbour is clearly not a gardener, and it was not until the weeds had reached about five foot tall that he decided to take action. About a month ago, he arrived home with a strimmer and began by cutting paths through the jungle. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if a bedraggled stranger had stumbled out of the undergrowth with the words, “Dr Livingstone I presume”, but after an hour or so, he had levelled it (of course, it has made a good attempt at growing back in the meantime).

It was too late for me - the weeds had long gone to seed and set for pastures new (or in this case, my back garden). But there’s no cloud without a silver lining, or a bright yellow one in my case. The daisies have grown to a large clump in one of the flowerbeds; long straggly stems each with a flower as bright as a sunbeam, swaying in the breeze.

Posted by Monasette at 11:33 PM

October 05, 2004

Doo Lough

The road to Doo Lough, Co. Mayo, on a sunny but breezy day at the end of June this year.

Posted by Monasette at 11:11 PM

October 04, 2004

Liam Mellows

I drove into Eyre Square late one Saturday night about five weeks ago to collect someone. It was around 2.30 in the morning, and I was parked at the top of the square, near where the taxis and buses gather. Bloody hell, it was like Sodom and Gomorrah. I realize that when you’re stone cold sober late at night, everybody else seems like raving alcoholics, but Galway at the weekend certainly runs on high octane spirits. One couple in particular caught my eye. A young fellow, unable to stand , was leaning against a statue giggling senselessly ,while his girlfriend was rolling around on the ground, roaring her head off laughing, blind drunk.

There’s less of Eyre Square to roll about in these days, due to the never-ending renovations, and last week, the afore-mentioned status was carted off to Headford for a clean-up. The statue in question, positioned so that it looks across at that of Padraig O Conaire’s (no stranger to a feed of porter himself) is that of Liam Mellows, who led the IRB in the Easter Rising in Galway.

The bland expression on the face of the statue looks nothing like the hard-faced man staring from the photograph in Spellissey’s History Of Galway, Mellows was as committed a socialist as he was a republican. Born in Lancashire in 1892, and raised in Wexford, he was reputed to have led a thousand men in the occupation of Athenry. However, another veteran (Tomas O Maoileoin) remembers the numbers as about 70 Volunteers and 10 Cumann na mBan (women volunteers). The rising petered out after a couple of days due to a lack of support and coordination, and the volunteers dispersed. Mellows spent some time in America fund-raising for the IRA and became Director of Purchases for the IRA at one point. Mellows is probably better know for his death during the Civil War than his activities during the War of Independence.

Mellows was profoundly anti-treaty [he didn‘t even turn up to watch Michael Collins take possession of Dublin Castle from the British in 1921] and ended up in Mountjoy prison in May 1922 as a result. As the Civil War deepened, the anti-Treaty side targeted the pro-Treaty members of the Dáil (which they didn’t recognize), and on December 7, 1922 they ambushed two pro-Treaty TDs, Sean Hayles and Padraig O Maille - Hayles was killed and O’Maille badly wounded. In reprisal, the Pro-Treaty government decided to execute four Anti-Treaty prisoners - one from each province. Mellows the Lancashireman was picked to represent Connacht. It was a controversial deed even at the time [though no further attacks on TDs occurred], since none of the prisoners had anything to do with the attack, and Hayles’s family publicly repudiated the deed.

Given that both pro- and anti- Treaty soldiers were brothers-in-arms just a year before, ironies abounded. Rory O’Connor was also one of the four, and his execution would have been approved by Kevin O’Higgins who was the best man at O’Connor’s wedding (and who would be murdered himself in 1927). Both Hayles and Mellows had been part of the Committee of Ten, formed during the summer of 1922 and consisting of five members of pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty republicans. It’s remit was to try to reconcile the two opposing positions - it’s failure would doom both Mellows and Hayles.

In our efforts now to win back public support to the Republic we are forced to recognise -whether we like it or not- that the commercial interest so-called money and gombeen men are on the side of the Treaty, because that Treaty means Imperialism and England. We are back to Tone -and it is just as well- relying on that great body, 'the men of now property'. The 'stake in the country' people were never with the Republic. (.) We should recognise that definitely now and base our appeals upon the understanding and needs of those who have always borne Ireland's fight.

So wrote Mellows from Mountjoy Prison in the late summer of 1922. For him, the Treaty was not just a fatal compromise of Republican ideals, but of socialist ideals too. I wonder what he would have made of the proposal to build low cost houses on land owned by the agricultural college that bears his name in Athenry (he probably wouldn‘t be too enamoured at the prospect of the capitalist running dogs that will no doubt profit from building them!). I have a book of photographs from the Civil War - two have a particular resonance. One is of Sean Hayles, in a carriage moments before he was shot and killed. The other is of a group of youngsters dressed like boy scouts in the Rotunda Gardens. The picture depicts a group of Fianna na hÉireann (probably taken in 1909) - a group founded by Countess Markievicz (nee Constance Gore-Booth) - and the unsmiling teenager on the left of the group is a young Liam Mellows.

Posted by Monasette at 11:41 PM

October 03, 2004

The Occasional Meadow

A hard rain’s going to fall - Turlough forms in Craughwell, east of Galway city.

The rain has been falling almost constantly for the last fortnight. This weekend, there was lightning, hailstones, winds and lots and lots of rain. The hoped-for Indian summer hasn’t appeared, and we are being hurried, with indecent haste, headlong towards Winter. The evenings have shortened dramatically, (not helped by the rain clouds) and the trees have begun to light up with autumn colour, the leaves glowing in their death throes. The only saving grace has been the temperature - for all the wintery gloom, it’s still quite warm which means that the grass is still growing strongly, and the flowers that haven’t been hammered into the ground from rain or hail are still flowering in defiance of the receding year.

The turloughs are beginning to fill. What once were meadows are beginning to disappear, as puddles become floods and eventually grow to small lakes. The water, as it expands from the centre, will evict the meadow wildlife, and an entirely new set of tenants will take up residence for the winter. Migrating birds, from frostier climes, will spend their winters nesting and feeding on these temporary lakes, often protected by the small islands that form from hillocks surrounded by the flood waters. It is a wonderous sight to stand at the edge of a turlough in the twilight of a winter’s day, the sky splattered with fire-tinged clouds and the sky filled with clouds of birds; the whoosh of flocks suddenly taking flight and swooping across the water with the perfect synchronisation that only millions of years of evolution can bestow, and the cacophony of thousands of birds whooping, crying, calling and crowing, all having their say before bedtime. In spring, the birds will heed their instincts and begin to migrate back to their summer feeding grounds. They leave behind receding waters. Though some turloughs remain as small lakes all year round, others will disappear completely. Summer meadows appear, to be gratefully colonised by flora and fauna alike.

Photo taken of dry turlough in early August.

These occasional meadows are of interest to the human colonisers too. Where the expanse of the turlough encompasses more than one farm, the land that appears in the summer must be shared. In the case of the turlough pictured, the meadow is commonage and administered by a committee of interested farmers.

Same view of turlough, Saturday.

Posted by Monasette at 11:24 PM