May 31, 2005

Even the gangs go round in pairs here...

Spelling prankster strikes in Ballycumber, Co. Offaly.

Posted by Monasette at 08:35 PM | Comments (1)

May 30, 2005

Sí Beag - The end of the chase

Hammer of the Gods - Sledgehammer in front of Sí Beag, reputed burial place of Fionn Mac Cumhaill.

When Fionn Mac Cumhaill saved Tara, ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland, he became leader of the Fianna, a legendary band of warriors. His king, Cormaic Mc Airt also promised him another reward - his daughter Grainne (though he had to wait until she grew up first). Alas, Fionn was an aging warrior when he laid eyes on Grainne and decided to claim his prize, and she had already fallen in love with the most handsome of the Fianna, Diarmuid. They eloped, and Fionn's pursuit, Toraíocht Diarmuid agus Grainne became one of Ireland's most enduring legends. The path of true love took the couple across the country but not to happiness. Diarmuid was mortally wounded during a hunt, and Fionn failed to save him. Grainne was returned to Fionn but killed herself from grief soon after. She was buried on Sí Beag, on a hill near the village of Keshcarrigan, Co. Leitrim. When Fionn died, he was buried beside her.

According to Cary Meehan's Sacred Ireland, when this site was escavated, two skeletons (side by side) were found.

If Fionn was alive today, he'd drive an Impreza...Across from Sí Beag is Sí Mór, the site of another cairn (though a Cristian cross marks the top now) . Though the hill at Si Beag has the same sort of atmosphere as that of Tara, I visited just as some of the locals were clearing up after a clay-pidgeon shoot. Both pictures taken on Sunday 29th May 2005.

Posted by Monasette at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

Ribwort Plantain

Over the last thirty years, I could vouch for this plant's effectiveness for swishing flies, teasing kittens and bugging siblings. And I never knew what it was called until a few weeks ago, when it dawned on me to look up the name. It's called a Ribwort Plantain (plantago lanceolata).

Posted by Monasette at 01:06 AM | Comments (3)

May 24, 2005

I have suffered

Detail from headstone, Fort Hill cemetery, The Docks, Galway.

"Miss McCann worked a sewing-machine, making habits for the dead. Sometimes girls from our quarter got her to make dresses and costumes, but mostly she stuck to the habits. They were a steady line, she said, and you didn't have to be always buying patterns, for the fashions didn't change, not even from summer to winter. They were like a brown shirt, and a hood attached, that was closed over the person's face before the coffin lid was screwn down. A sort of little banner hung out of one arm, made of the same material, and four silk rosettes in each corner, and in the middle, the letters I.H.S., which mean, Miss McCann said: 'I have suffered.' My grandmother and Miss McCann liked me more than any other kid they knew. I like being liked, and could only admire their taste."

..................................................................................................... The Confirmation Suit - Brendan Behan

Posted by Monasette at 08:18 PM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2005


N6 Phase 1 motorway under construction at Tyrellspass, Co. Westmeath. Photo taken in the rain yesterday.

In the summer of 1597, a small band of Irish troops under the command of a Captain Tyrell ambushed a force of English troops in the Irish midlands along the main route between Dublin and the west of Ireland. Tyrell was part of Hugh O'Neill's (ultimately doomed) rebellion against the rule of Elizabeth. Tyrell's mission was to intercept troops bound for O'Neill's Ulster stronghold. He completed his mission with grim efficiency. The English troop, more than twice as many in number, learned of his presence and set out to attack. But Tyrell has set his trap well, and only a single English soldier (one of a thousand) survived the battle. Though his cause failed (when O'Neill surrendered his title, he did so without realizing that Elizabeth had died the previous day) , Tyrell lived a long and prosperous life, leading to mutterings about his fealty to the Irish cause. Who could blame him - O'Neill and the other Irish Earls had fled to Europe. To live and prosper in Ireland meant making one's peace with the neighbours across the water.

The pass where Tyrell put a thousand men to the sword still bears his name (Tyrellspass, Co. Westmeath), and his castle still stands, on the side of the Dublin to Galway road. The road has existed before man ever left a footprint on Irish soil - the retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age spawned underground rivers of meltwater and, long after the ice had disappeared, those riverbeds became raised gravel banks known as eskers. In the vast wet peatlands of the Irish midlands, the eskers, spanning the width of the country, became the natural road network for the country. Cuchulainn, Brian Boru and any other Irish figure of legend that you can think of travelled the esker Riada - the name given to the best known series of gravel deposits that link east and west, which crosses the Shannon at Clonmacnoise. In fact, you can draw a line of monasteries along or near the line of the ancient road - a series of 'service stations' of the spiritual kind.

Now, a new motorway is inching it's way west. The construction of the N6 motorway, which will connect the N4 (from Kinnegad) to Athlone, is underway. Ultimately it will link Galway to Dublin when all phases are complete. And, unlike the current Dublin to Galway road, the new motorway will stick closely to the Esker's path. It's likely that much of the gravel and sand required to build it will be supplied from some of the many quarries fed by Esker Riada. So the most ancient of Irish roads will also be the most modern. The journey continues.

Grand Canal Harbour, Kilbeggan, Co.Westmeath. Photo taken yesterday.

A few miles away lies the remains of the another great transport network, laid down two centuries ago. My father remembers the odd barge chugging into this harbour, but by then, it's commercial use was dead. In fact, even the railroads that had killed off the canal business was in the doldrums by the end of the Second World War. As a gasun during the hard winter of 1947, he remembers venturing out on the frozen surface of the canal harbour basin to do a bit of skating (more like skidding) with his mates. Given that they ran the risk of plunging into 6 foot of freezing water, and none of them could swim, my father readily admits that it wasn't the smartest thing he ever did. Kids, eh?

Posted by Monasette at 11:09 PM | Comments (3)

May 22, 2005


Bark of birch tree

Posted by Monasette at 11:33 PM | Comments (1)

May 21, 2005

Castlebar Church

The Protestant Church in Castlebar, garlanded by horse-chesnut trees. The photograph was taken almost exactly a year ago to the minute (May 22, 2004 at 10.03am), using a Canon G3 digital compact camera on a tripod with a Hoya R75 Infra-Red filter over the lens.

Posted by Monasette at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)

Who do you have to kill to get thrown out of this government?

God, it is depressing. I don't know which is worse - listening to Junior Minister Conor Lenihan roaring across the Dail at TD Joe Higgins to 'stick with the kebabs' (meaning the poorly-paid Turkish workers that Higgins, rather than anyone in Government, has been trying to help) or the Justice Minister Michael McDowell, sneering and bragging that, if he had his way, he'd interview asylum seekers at the airport and send them home if he didn't believe their stories (except for the inconvenience of due process).

Lenihan slunk into the Dail later that day* and made the usual 'gee I'm sorry if I offended anyone but I don't know what the fuss is about" half-hearted apology. He is Minister for Overseas Development - I wonder what he calls the citizens of the other countries he visits as part of his job?

I suppose we can't blame Lenihan for being a gobshite. But McDowell should know better. But Minister McDowell approaches every issue with an open mouth and a closed mind, rather than the other way round. Do you remember how McDowell, kicking off the campaign for the citizenship referendum last year, declared that the hospitals were flooded with foreign women coming over to have babies to get citizenship, and that doctors were begging him to do something. Funnily enough, the aforementioned doctors repudiated the minister's claim almost immediately, and now that the referendum is passed, the hospitals are still overcrowded. Maybe that wasn't the problem after all…

It seems that this minister is determined to make immigration, and worse, race, a partisan political issue. When he mocks the stories that asylum seekers tell, as part of the asylum claim, such as "that they had been selected for ritual sacrifice or to carry out a ritual sacrifice in their home country ", that's his not-so-subtle way of referring to African immigrants. Despite the fact that we live in a country gasping for immigrants, and that there is no real competition between immigrant and 'native' workers for the same work, it would seem a mystery why the Minister would try to portray a different picture. Or maybe not.

His outburst comes at a time when gangland crime has increased dramatically, and the Gardai seem hopelessly under-resourced to tackle them (the latest announcement of increased Garda overtime overlooks the fact that Garda drivers were withdrawn from the state pathologist - the sole source of forensic evidence that might actually convict some of the gang members). The next general election may not be so far away and it seems like McDowell has decided to pick a topic on which he can seem 'strong' (since he seems to achieved bugger all else as Minister). That he should try to make an issue of immigration, not because he is racist (because he clearly is not) but because it seems it will gain a short-term political advantage, is truly shameful. (If McDowell really believes that such stories are 'cock-and-bull', maybe he should check out the UK's government advice on travelling to Nigeria, or even Amnesty's report on the same country )In Britain, three successive Conservative leaders attempted to make immigration a centrepiece of their election campaigns, and three times in a row, they were handed a proper caning by the electorate. I wish our own were as fair-minded, but I suspect not, if the last referendum was anything to go by.

But it gets worse. The former government minister from Donegal, Jim McDaid, drove up the wrong side of a dual-carriageway while blind drunk recently - he was only stopped by a motorist who gave chase and blocked him off. His last ministerial job was to lead the government's campaign against drunk-driving. So should he resign his seat. God, no - not only did the government defend him, but the main opposition parties could not bring themselves to call for his resignation. And you wonder why drinking-and -driving is so prevalent in this country…

* Originally stated that Lenihan apologised the following day. Thanks to Loopdiloop for the correction.

Posted by Monasette at 09:52 AM | Comments (5)

May 20, 2005


Set the controls for the heart of the sun!! Tractor on Mweenish Island, Co. Galway. Note the two speed settings - "F" and "S" - Fast and Superfast.

The Minister for Enterprise announced a new Science Council during the week. I imagined that this would be a bunch of chaps with unkempt hair in a windowless room spending their time poking dead things with sticks and blowing things up (though we have nearly enough of those guys already). Instead, he appointed pillars of the community. Bah! So no Dr. Strangelove (bang goes Ireland's chances of dominating the eugenics field in the future, then) or even someone like that crazy guy from Back to the Future(ditto our chances of dominating the time travel market, though as long as Dickie Rock is still singing, the past is never too far behind).

Let me be the first to deplore the Minister's action.

Posted by Monasette at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2005


Flies on new beech leaves in Menlough graveyard, on the side of Lough Corrib, Galway City.

Tá an Samhradh linn agus tá sé ag caitheamh sceana gréasaí. Arís.

Nothing symbolizes the early summer more than the canopy of satin green leaves adorning the long, muscular boughs of beech trees. I'm not sure about the insects canoodling on the back of this leaf in Menlough graveyard along the river Corrib - either mosquitos or craneflies.

Posted by Monasette at 08:14 PM | Comments (7)

May 17, 2005

Bord na Moaners

There was a time when this sight would fill me with dread. Now it's just schadenfreude. The turf-cutting season has started in earnest - unfortunately, that also means it's the start of the uncontrollable bog & forest fire season. Someone lights a fire to clear away the gorse and furze, the wind takes hold and hey presto, the heather blazing. The turf in the picture above hasn't seen a human hand yet - a mechanical digger scoops up a mound of peat, dumps it into a machine that squirts it out into neat rows. Hand won turf will be cut across Connemara on the smaller plots, but in most places, the slane has been replaced by the JCB. Of course, it still has to be stacked and loaded into trailers - and that is usually done by hand.

Posted by Monasette at 11:48 PM | Comments (6)

May 16, 2005

And if you can make it there...

It wasn't for a lack of support that Athenry lost the hurling club final earlier this year...

Galway footballers kicked off the Senior Football Championship campaign with a victory over that well-known Connacht county, New York, in the Big Apple yesterday. Why New York? For Galway, it's the next parish west (and they are easy to beat).

Posted by Monasette at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

Hairy Molly

I think that this is the caterpillar from a small tortoiseshell butterfly (aglais urticae) - based on a bit of browsing on a great Northern Ireland website for all things fluttery.

Posted by Monasette at 12:17 AM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2005


There is apparently a sci-fi movie about to be released in Ireland this week. I don't have much time for Mr. Lucas' dour collection of screensavers but I must acknowledge his effort to simultaneously give some people a much needed reason to get out of the house for once, and yet keep them off the streets.

I too was transported to a galaxy far far away on Friday evening, with David Norris' evening of anecdotes, recitations and yarns of James Joyce and his work. And with more farting jokes too.

Posted by Monasette at 09:46 PM | Comments (0)

Galway Online ?

There's an article on blogging in this week's Galway Advertiser - not that you'd glean much on the subject from the article other than it has something to do with d'internet. Even the online version of the article doesn't reference a single internet address, though it does mention Salam Pax and Belle du Jour by name ( that would be a blog that hasn't been updated for a year, and one that could well be made up, respectively). No Irish site gets a mention at all. It features a brief interview with Ina O'Murchu (whose lecture on blogging in the Menlo Park Hotel on May 18th is the reason for the article), but does it mention her blog even by name? Nah.

Posted by Monasette at 08:54 PM | Comments (2)

May 12, 2005

The Road to Perdition

Behind the pretty church on Leitir Mor, whose name I have forgotten, are a circle of granite stones - each of which bear the name of one of the seven deadly sins. As Gaeilge (they sound worse in Irish).

What's your favourite of the seven deadly sins carved? Mine's sloth, if only I could be bothered.

Posted by Monasette at 08:25 PM | Comments (1)

May 10, 2005

Potential Energy

There is always a fair amount of disruption caused by any major construction work, and Shell Oil's plan to build a pipeline and pumping station in north Mayo is no exception. The last time I was in Erris, dozens of trucks and escavation machines were busy clearing the site (and, as the Western People reports, not all of them make it to the destination safely).

Meanwhile in Donegal, the Irish Independent reports that the twelfth windfarm in the county was opened a couple of weekends ago. Donegal now produces one-third of all wind energy generated in the republic.

...the 38-turbine Meentycat windfarm in the Cark mountains, north of Ballybofey, can produce enough power to supply 45,000 households and is three times bigger than any windfarm in Ireland to date. Airtricity says it is capable of saving 200,000 carbon dioxide emissions per annum - the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

Great stuff, eh? The last sentence in the article does point to the downside of 'green' energy.

The 38 turbines at Meentycat in Co Donegal are accessible by 22km of specially constructed road in the €86m project, which has been under construction for the past year.

So that's how to get new road projects past those pesky tree-huggers - stick up a few windmills and you can tarmac the hills to your hearts content...

PS If you're wondering why the photo has a 'menacing' blue tint, let me explain... I've just got a new camera and headed off last weekend to try it out. It's got lot's of buttons on the back of it, and I used my own tried 'trial and error' method to figure them out (yes, the camera did come with a user manual, but do you really think the Almighty gave me a Y chromosome to waste it reading instructions?). As a result, the first gigabyte of photos taken have a nice blue tint, courtesy of my inadvertently switching the white balance to "Tungsten" - it's not quite on a par with leaving the lens cap on, but it's not far off.

Posted by Monasette at 11:21 PM | Comments (6)

May 09, 2005


Posted by Monasette at 11:38 PM | Comments (1)

Will's Wilde Years

Beside Ross Errily abbey near Headford in Co. Galway. I'm not sure what's more disturbing - seeing a dead sheep, or finding one that's been there so long that it has been picked clean...

Buy pictures of Ross Errilly Friary, near Headford, Co. Galway.

On my Reference page, is listed a book called Wilde's Lough Corrib. Written by Sir William Wilde (Oscar's father) and published one hundred years before I was born, it is everything that you would want in a travel guide - it is informative, opinionated, witty, passionate about the subject matter and best of all, a guide to a rather beautiful part of the country. I've only got around to reading it now, so I've decided to embark on a small project for this year.

The conceit of the guide is that the traveller is travelling around the lake by boat, and the chapters of the book reflect the parishes or districts as you steam clockwise around the lake. The book was first published in 1867, though it reflects many years of travelling, investigation, chatting and listening to yarns. My plan to follow the path taken by Wilde. The guide is primarily an archaeological one, (which just as well, because a list of B&Bs from 1867 wouldn't be much use today) so it will be interesting to see how many of the sites that he visited still remain.

I don't plan to visit the sites in the order listed in the book, in part because I have already visited some of them (Annaghdown is one of the first places listed in the guide - I visited there on a clear January day last year) but mainly because I'm not very organised. Unlike Sir William, most of my visits will be taken by road (I've already found out the hard way that Volkswagens don't float). I haven't figured out how to visit all the islands yet, so if anyone has a boat, give me a shout. I have begun to add links to a site map so that you'll be able to see exactly where the sites are located (not ready yet).

I kicked off this little odyssey about a month ago with a few sites in the Headford area (north of Annaghdown) and, if there was ever a good sign, the sun shone brightly and sometimes even warmly for most of the day. The places visited were Cahergal, Crossursa and Kilcoona.

Posted by Monasette at 12:37 AM | Comments (6)

May 07, 2005

Tempting Fate

Posted by Monasette at 02:23 PM | Comments (1)

May 06, 2005

Blacksod Crab

Crab on a granite boulder at Blacksod Bay, Mullet peninsula, Co. Mayo. If anyone can tell me what sort of crab it is, I'd be grateful (it's only about 3 inches across).

Posted by Monasette at 12:13 AM | Comments (1)

May 04, 2005


If you're walking near Menlough Castle in Galway, you'll probably smell the ramsoms (allium ursinum) before you see them. A creamy white carpet of blossoms covers the woodland floor and there is a distinctly garlicy smell from them. Early May is the time to see them, so don't miss the opportunity. *

Posted by Monasette at 11:19 PM | Comments (2)

May 03, 2005

The Trading Post

The United Nations ? The Israeli Embassey in Berlin ? Nah, it's the Trading Post service station in Headford, Co. Galway. You can't get a kosher full Irish breakfast there yet. Or sauerkraut. The sausages aren't bad, though.

Posted by Monasette at 10:58 PM | Comments (1)

May 02, 2005

May Day

On a dew-drenched May Day morning yesterday, a wooded clearing is carpeted by bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). And many of the flowers are crowned by another of nature's jewels - a seven spot ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata).

Posted by Monasette at 09:07 AM | Comments (1)

Are you right there, Martin, are you right?

No way back for this line - Droichead Cluain Bheag (Cloonbeg bridge) on the old Galway to Clifden line

Will the pressure pay off? Last week, the long-awaited report on the Western Rail Corridor was liberally leaked to the press - it appeared to recommend the re-opening of the Ennis to Sligo line, in stages - first, Ennis to Claremorris and later, from Claremorris to Sligo.

The Corridor is a rail route, over two hundred kilometres long, that will ultimately link Sligo to Limerick (whether either destination will welcome the connection is another thing). The first stage is already open since last year, linking Limerick to Ennis. However, that route is, to a large extent, already served by motorway (one which will be completed next year) - the real benefit will occur when people can commute into Galway from it's ever increasing and sprawling hinterland.

The best thing about the corridor is that the most difficult and expensive part of the work is already done - i.e. building the rail line, which has been sitting idle (save the odd goods train) since the mid-Seventies. Returning the line to operation should therefore be achieved in a relatively short period of time - the stations need to be refurbished and the line wil have to be upgraded in places to ensure the trains can travel at a reasonable speed . That's good news for everyone - the long suffering commuters, particularly the tens of thousands living in and around Tuam that waste hours of their lives daily, inching their way through Claregalway daily, and also the government politicians, who should be cutting ribbons on clean, shiny stations and new rolling stock just in time for the next general election.

That this rail line exists at all is a bit of a miracle. Many of the rail lines that crossed the country disappeared over the years. And the reason ? For the most part, because of the actions of Iarnród Éireann (formerly CIE [Córas Iompar Éireann]), the state company in charge of the railways. When Ireland gained independence, it took possession of a substantial rail network, that connected most towns. (This wasn't as a result of any great philanthropy - rather, it was a badly misjudged investment by the rail companies. They spent a fortune building the network, but the level of heavy industry required to make them profitable never materialised.) When CIE was created after World War II, it had responsibility for all state transport infrastructure - buses, canals and trains - and began replacing steam trains with diesels. However, despite being set a goal of being profitable by the mid-Sixties, the rail network has never made money, even after it was hived off to form Iarnrod Eireann. Since It cost money to operate each line, CIE (and later IE) began closing lines to save money. Unfortunately, rather than just leave them sit there, they also pulled up the rails and sold off the ground, meaning that they could never be reinstated (even last year, there was a story that Iarnrod Eireann was going to pull up the rails along part of the Western Corridor). It's hard to imagine more shortsighted decisions.

The rail service in general has improved immensely - in fact, it is a tribute to the current workforce that so many trains do leave and arrive on time (ok, they haven't reached Scandinavian or German standards yet, but they are getting there). Punctuality is made more difficult to achieve because so many of the trains travel along single lines of track. This means that, for example, the train from Dublin, must wait in Athenry or Clara to let oncoming Galway trains pass by. If one train is late, they are all affected, since there are very few passing spots.(It wasn't always so - there used to be double lines, but they were yanked out to save money years ago. If you look at the rail bridges that cross the rivers Shannon or Suck, each more than 150 years ago, they have space for a second set of tracks).

Since the reports last week, there has been no further comment, either from Martin Cullen (Minister for Transport) or An Taoiseach. Given the flak that both of them are getting over the second terminal at Dublin airport, a bit of good news in the west might be a useful distraction. The estimated cost is over 300 million euro - the Ennis to Claremorris section should cost about half that. The overall cost is roughly the same as the amount estimated to 'buy back' the West Link toll bridge. Priorities, priorities…

Posted by Monasette at 09:03 AM | Comments (0)