January 31, 2006

End of Winter

Fairhill cemetery, by the Docks in Galway.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:10 PM | Comments (4)

January 30, 2006

Shadows & Fog

The door to the sea...Galway Docks with the lock gates open. It was minus 5 degrees in the midlands yesterday morning, and chilly enough here in Galway too. As I write this on Monday night, the harbour is still swathed in fog.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:31 PM | Comments (2)

January 29, 2006

Niall of the Nine Hostages

Kilmacduagh Round tower, Co. Galway.

There was a story last week that researchers in Trinity College had traced the ancestry of nearly three million Irishmen back to the legendary Irish chieftain, Niall of the Nine Hostages. As his name suggests, he was a big fan of gunboat diplomacy. Mind you, his slave-taking, cattle-raiding hedonistic days did for us all in the end - one of the slaves turned out to be St. Patrick - who made a point of inflicting Christianity on Ireland in revenge for his abduction from his village in Wales.

And how did they know it was the bold Niall? Well, they didn't, of course. The sample of 800 men showed a common genetic trait that they attributed to the O'Neill clan - who claimed Niall as their ancestor. It could have easily been his cousin, or indeed Mickey of the Eight Sausages (whom I just made up).

But back to the end of hedonism when Christianity arrived. Well, not quite. Celibacy, going to bed early, passing on desert – yes, it would all happen in time, but not right away. Galway was a right hotbed of jiggery-pokery, so to speak. In Abbeknockmoy, the Abbot was censured for ‘having his hair washed’ by a woman - a euphemism if there was ever one. In Clontuskert, Pope Julius II took direct control of the abbey because of the corruption (keeping concubines and murder only two of the charges) – and Julius already his hands full keeping an eye on the Borgias and trying to get Michelangelo to come in and paint a certain ceiling.

So when Galway county councillor Michael Mullins made an impassioned plea last week for the media not to intrude into the private life of one of his fellow citizens, it was merely a reminder of good old ecclesiastical ‘traditional values’. And what was exercising the good councilor? . Hmmm. Let's see. The citizen in question was 73 and in a relationship. The lucky lady is thirty one. They've been dating for nearly a decade. She's had his baby last year. And that's about it. Oh yes, nearly forgot - he's a priest, and the reason the press know about it is because his bishop issued a press release (announcing the priest's retirement - retiring to stud, by the sound of it). The Galway Advertiser duly answered the councillor's cri de coeur<> …by putting his statement (and therefore the story) on the front page last week.

The priest in question picked a bad week to fess up. Another septuagenarian clergyman made an announcement on the difference between spiritual and erotic love. Given that it's the Pope, big emphasis on the former rather than the latter - it's not thought to be biographical, either. And if that's wasn't enough, Bishop Eamonn Casey, himself a father, has announced that he's coming home to live in Galway. He’s picking Kilmacduagh - no shenanigans there (well, not yet anyway).

As for Councillor Mullins, he must have really been mad, since his statement also appears in the national press (thereby ensuring that the Irish Times mentioned the priest's affair again last Saturday). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there was an editor in the People's Republic Daily in Beijing scratching his head in puzzlement last week at a fax from Ireland, describing how 'outraged' the councillor is at the media intrusion. It's going to be a looong election campaign…

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Posted by Monasette at 12:00 AM | Comments (1)

January 28, 2006

Silver and gold

The same cosmic forces that pushed the sea up into Dublin Bay early this morning, was draining the sea from Galway Bay at the same time. It was bitterly cold as dawn broke on Silver Strand, and given the time and the temperature, maybe it wasn’t too surprising that I had the place to myself.

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Posted by Monasette at 03:44 PM | Comments (4)

January 26, 2006

Little Killary

Along the Killary circuit on the last walk of 2005 organized by the Galway Walking Club.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:23 PM | Comments (1)

January 24, 2006

Flaggy Shore

The sea washes over Burren stone at dawn on Saturday along the coastline between New Quay and Finavarra Point, Co. Clare.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:14 PM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2006

From Greenland to the Flaggy Shore

Brent Geese over Galway Bay at dawn this morning, near the stretch of Clare coastline known as the Flaggy Shore. These birds winter along the bay after migrating from Norway and Greenland. With temperatures dropping to -60 degrees C in Siberia, and harsh conditions prevailing in most of Scandinavia and central Europe, we can expect to see more migrant species take refuge in Ireland (the ones that survive, that is).

What effect was used for this photo ?

The short answer is the "Taking an out-of-focus shot" effect but it's a little more complicated than that. In the early morning light this morning, I had to shoot with a fairly low shutterspeed and a shallow aperature (1/100 and f6.3). I used a 70-300mm Image Stabilised lens which allowed me to shoot at 300mm at such a low speed without blurring (the effective focal length is actually 480mm because of the 'multiplier' effect of a full frame lens on the Canon350D. Even so, the image wasn't entirely sharp when I enlarged it on the computer . To be honest, I only took the photo so that I could identify the birds afterwards, and to alleviate the boredom of sitting among the rocks on the shoreline waiting for something to walk by.

The original photo is of a larger number of birds, but I liked the composition of four birds close together (pure accidental composition). The shot was naturally grainy (the camera was set to ISO800) so I increased the contrast slightly to enhance it and desaturated the image to give more focus to the shape of the birds.

Twenty years ago, I'd have printed this on Agfa Grade 3 B/W paper to get the same effect and it would have taken me about 3 hours to get it right. Of course, twenty years ago, I wouldn't have had anything else to do, but that's another story.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:13 PM | Comments (0)

Place de la Defense

Inspired by pictures of Mayo on Phil's site, I decided to revisit a few places in North Mayo and set off early on Saturday morning for a day's exploring. The light was flat and dull and, in my heart, I know most of the pictures that I took are, at best, ordinary. Early that morning, I had just driven out of my garage when I noticed the dawn sky so I had to stop for a picture. It's taken from Lough Atalia road, looking across at the Department of Defence offices in Renmore. As it turned out, the best shot I would take on Saturday was the one that I took 30 seconds into the journey. Life's like that.

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Posted by Monasette at 12:43 PM | Comments (3)

January 20, 2006

Final furlong

This weekend is your last chance to vote for in the Irish Blog Awards, so if you like the snaps here, you know what to put in the Irish Photoblog category. Picture above from the Omey Races last July (on the one weekend in July when we got January weather)

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Posted by Monasette at 11:23 AM | Comments (1)

January 15, 2006


Whooper swans Cygnus cygnus flying across Rahasane turlough yesterday. Whooper swans are goose-like in appearance, get their name from their whoop whoop call, and migrate south in winter from Scandanavia and Russia.

I spent yesterday morning watching the sun rise over Rahasane turlough in east Galway (south of Craughwell). I wasn’t alone. As the sun appeared over the Sliabh Aughties, illuminating the frost-covered hummocks along the edge of the turlough, the thousands of birds roosting along the waters edge or further out became visible. Rahasane is the biggest turlough in Ireland – a seasonal lake that transforms from wild meadow in summer to a vast shallow lake in winter. It is home to a huge number of migrating and wintering birds; huge flocks of ducks along with lapwings, curlews and swans were visible yesterday and, boy, did they make some noise as the day progressed.

Rahasane turlough at dawn. The Ordnance Survey map shows a ring fort within the area under water, which may suggest that the turlough didn’t always occupy such a huge area (250 hectares). Or maybe planning rules were as lax 1200 years ago as they are now.

I wasn’t the only person out early that morning – I heard two cracks of a shotgun from the other side of the lake. I wasn’t entirely happy to hear that sound; more because I didn’t like the idea of someone shooting while I was wandering in the vicinity in low visibility clothing rather than the thought of killing one of the roughly 40,000 wildfowl that inhabit the lake (I had tucked into roast pheasant the night before in Ard Bia in Galway, so mustn’t be hypocritical). I wouldn’t mind if it was possible to buy real wildfowl in Galway, but I’ve never come across it. The lake is ‘preserved’ for a local gun club which means that there are never that many hunters about – the decline in wildfowl at the turlough over the last decade or so is suspected to be related to the increased use of fertilisers [because the fields flood in winter, the land lacks essential minerals for grass, leading farmers to spread fertiliser more heavily during spring.] Even though Rahasane is listed in the Conservation of Wild Bird Act Conservation of Wild Bird Act (it was added to the list by a Galway minister, Michael D Higgins, as it happens), it is legal to shoot birds unless the species is listed as protected too.

Flocks of birds wheel over Rahasane at dawn yesterday. In the background are the turbines of a wind farm in the Sliabh Aughties south of Loughrea.

I was just thinking last week how little rain we’ve had in the West of Ireland this winter. My daily route to work takes me across the two great arteries of the west, the rivers Suck and Shannon. They form a natural border between the west and the rest of the country, and have a huge hinterland. Rainfall in Leitrim, Cavan Roscommon, Galway, Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, Westmeath, and Offaly all drain into the two rivers (which meet in a bog south of Clonmacnoise along the east Galway/Offaly border). Until last week, the rivers flowed well within their banks, meandering slowly through the flood plains of east Galway and Roscommon/Westmeath. No more. The rains of the last week have begun to swell the rivers; south of Athlone, the Shannon Callows is beginning to spread out across the low fields, and just north of Ballinasloe, the meanders of the Suck are beginning to disappear into a lake as the river slops over its banks. It will take another week or so for all the water to trickle down from bogs and streams down to the midlands – both rivers have shallow gradients.

Further south of Rahasane lies the town of Gort which is practically an island in one giant lake during January and February. The surrounding area is an archipelago of turloughs and flooded rivers. One spot of interest (well, to me anyway) is near Kilmacduagh, on the road to the Burren. The difference between summer and winter is striking. I featured a couple of pictures before (taken in September) and after in January. I drove over there from Rahasane and took some photos at the same place but looking at the other side of the road.

Turlough at Castlequarter, near Gort. Photograph taken exactly a year ago.

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Turlough at Castlequarter, near Gort. Photograph taken yesterday.

Posted by Monasette at 07:38 PM | Comments (1)

2005 - more snaps

The November entry - Punch & Judy show on a sunny Sunday morning in Retiro Park, Madrid.

Reheated leftovers from Xmas? In the middle of January? I was going to do a round-up of 2005 but didn't really see the point (that's what the Archive is for). Anyway, here a collection of photos I took last year but never got round to posting (the pictures are large so you'll probably need broadband to view them).

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Posted by Monasette at 09:47 AM | Comments (1)

January 13, 2006

The Naked Truth

Circus elephants with their 'oppressor' at the 2005 St. Patrick's Day parade. The elephants followed their trainer through the crowd (if a little mouse had crossed their paths, there would have been carnage) - in comparison, all the dogs were on leads. Didn't look too unhappy to me.

All of the Galway Papers go with a front page picture and article on the protest from the Animal rights Action Network (ARAN) on the treatment of circus animals. The fact that the protest consisted of a student stripping off to her underwear and wearing a chain (it's, like, symbolism, man) probably had nothing to do with it. I was going to give some credit to the Advertiser for showing a picture of every other photographer in town crouched around the shivering young lady in question (it was a cold day), but they went with a 'money shot inside' too (the front page shot is visible on their homepage for this week). And Jeff Connell devoting a whole column to taking the mickey out of the protest doesn't disguise the fact that he still hurried across the Square to have a good look first.

As for the point of the protest, it must be great comfort to circus elephants in Ireland to know that someone is fighting for their rights (they never forget, you know). Instead of being forced to spend up to half an hour a week running around a ring to the applause of youngsters in exchange for as much hay as they can eat, they probably secretly yearn to be back in Africa, dodging poachers, or in Asia, lugging trees in rainforests all day. Oh, the humanity!

For those of you who want to learn more, I'm guessing that typing "girl in underwear + chains + animals" into Google probably won't hit PETA's site first. The protestors are taking their own little media circus on tour around Ireland - I hope the weather improves. Be warned

Another shot of circus elephants in Galway - note how they are cruelly restrained by large clumps of hay and strands of … string.

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Posted by Monasette at 07:21 AM | Comments (2)

January 08, 2006

The Fog

The thick fog that rolled in from Galway Bay this morning put me in mind of Dicken's Great Expectations. Luckily, Michael McDowell hasn't quite arranged for prison ships in the bay (not yet, anyway), but it was easier to imagine the Claddagh as it was before almost every square inch of it was built upon - a small seaside community built on a saltmarsh. The ice on the puddles meant that it fell below zero last night - the same is expected tonight.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:58 PM | Comments (2)


The Irish Blog Awards are open for voting - you can vote by sending an email to irishawards (at) gmail.com.


Best Blogger
Best Blog Post
Most Humorous Post
Best Photo Blog
Best Fictional Piece in a Blog
Best Arts and Culture Blog
Best Political Blog
Best Group Blog
Best Comment/Commenter
Best Personal Blog
Best Use of the Irish Language in a Blog
Best Contribution to the Irish Bloggersphere (Tech wise)

More details here.

Posted by Monasette at 09:07 PM | Comments (2)

January 04, 2006

Clew Bay

Geologically, this drumlin in Clew Bay doesn't have long to live. The Atlantic will wash it away just as it has with many others that dotted Clew Bay. There's still around 100 small islands left - piles of gravel laid down by glacial activity around 20,000 years ago (drumlin is derived from the Irish word for back or hump, droim)*. The coastline was further west until about 5000 years ago, but now, slowly but surely, wave action is returning the islands back to the sea. Photo taken from Croagh Patrick - the white dots on the island are sheep, which should give you an idea of the size of the island.

* source:- Mary Mulvihill's Ingenious Ireland

Posted by Monasette at 10:55 PM | Comments (2)

January 02, 2006

Cunning as a sheep?

A couple of months ago, I mentioned a mutt that had learned how to wheedle grub out of hillwalkers. This woolly panhandler has figured out the same. The grotto at Leaba Padraig in the Maumturks is a natural stopping point for walkers to take lunch, and this sheep was quick on the scene to do some taking of his own.

Posted by Monasette at 02:11 PM | Comments (1)