January 31, 2007

Stumped in Emo Court

Do you remember the summer? There's a noticeable stretch in the evenings as January draws to a close. The weather is in a No Man's Land between the storms of a few weeks ago, and the frost and sleet that one would normally expect in the next few weeks. Snowdrops, the first flowers of spring, should be spreading across the woodlands (must go have a look). In the meantime, here's a pic from high summer in Co. Laois (taken after I'd been to the Country Fair in Emo Court) where the glory of the sun was reflected in a wild summer meadow.

Posted by Monasette at 06:35 AM | Comments (2)

January 29, 2007

Down the Ramp

Members of the Galway Walking Club descend The Ramp on the north face of Mweel Rea in County Mayo last year. The lake below is Doo Lough, and the mountain behind is part of the Sheefry Hills.

Buy pictures of Mweelrea. Co. Mayo here

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The Minister of Justice was due to mark World Holocaust Day with a speech in Dublin last Saturday.

I don't know why Ireland even commemorates this day, given the marked lack of national discourse of Ireland's treatment of Jews and other minorities in World War 2. It doesn't even have much bearing on what is shaping up to be one of key election issues: immigration. Up to and during World War 2, the issue of Jewish refugees was handled purely as an immigration and asylum issue. And given the benefit of hindsight, and the experience of millions of Irish people as emigrants, you'd think that maybe some reflection would be in order. Not at all. The Minister made another speech last week, outlining plans [11] for detention camps for asylum seekers, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa, a part of the world where millions have died in war over the last decade.

It is always dispiriting when politicians take the low road. It is clear that many parties in the forthcoming election fear being soft on immigration, and are posturing accordingly. The number of asylum applications has dropped dramatically , from around 12,000 per year at the turn of the decade to about 3,000 now [most immigration to Ireland is entirely 'internal' - from other parts of the EU, or returning Irish citizens]. McDowell justifies the detention centres to prevent the scenario of an immigrant :-

…making a claim and then disappearing into Irish society and never resurfacing again.

Presumably, an immigrant disappearing into Irish society and never resurfacing would imply someone settling down, contributing to society and never making a claim against state resources or coming to the attention of the police. I would have thought this would be the definition of a perfect citizen, but I guess not. I suspect that the detention plan won't survive beyond the election, whatever the result.

The Opposition aren't any better. Last week, the Fine Gael party leader, Enda Kenny, spoke of a national debate on immigration, but didn't exactly accentuate the positive. By attributing the rise in mafia-type crime and traffic accidents to immigrants, you'd wonder if Enda lives in the same country as the rest of us at all. The problem for Enda, and other leading Irish politicians is that none of them have much idea of how to define or enunciate a modern Irish identity. How then can an immigrant conform to an ideal that even Irish people have not agreed upon ? Kenny's vision, invoking the notion of a "Christian and Celtic" people, might have been a be snappy definition around the time of the Battle of Clontarf, but doesn't offer much guidance today. And, given that the last decade has probably been the most prosperous and peaceful of the last thousand years, with inter-denominational Christian strife finally coming to an end on the island, and a booming economy, maybe the current Ireland, immigrants and all, is the one we've always been striving for.

Kenny in particular should choose his words carefully - his own party flirted with the far right in the past (the Blueshirts) and some of his party's representatives in Dáil Eireann were openly anti-Semitic. It was these sort of attitudes (right across the political spectrum) that led to the denial of asylum to Jews in Ireland.

A trawl through the Dáil record is revealing. Casual anti-Semitism [or indeed, anyone considered alien] was unremarkable. In the late summer of 1921, even before the Treaty with Britain was signed, George Gavan Duffy [who would be one of the signatories of the Treaty], and had defended Roger Casement at his trial for treason complained [1] that

… the main difficulty in getting facts known abroad lay in the existence of the octopus of the big foreign agency called by different names but all run by big Jew firms in London which had complete control of the first news wires in respect to Irish affairs as they appeared on the continent. … by no means was it possible to tap those poisonous wires at the source.

Denis Gorey, who led the Farmer's Party in the Fourth Dáil (and later became a deputy for Fine Gael) seemed to blame "the Jews" for pretty much anything he could think of. In May 1925, he participated in a debate [2] on Defence. His question related to the collection, by the Army, of old clothes which were then sold off [which gives you an idea of just how poor the country back then]

I believe it used to be the custom to sell it in one heap, and that the Jews are the people who get hold of it. It is said that one big Jew, who has been identified with army matters for some years, gets it. His name has been mentioned freely as the man who derives all the benefit with regard to this class of thing and some other classes of things. We have someone else to cater for in this country besides Jews. I suggest this clothing should be sold at the different Army depôts down the country, where it accumulates, and that it should not be brought up here and sold in one big heap to a big Jew

The Minister of Defence replied

I am interested only in getting the highest price, whether the tender be from a Jew or a Gentile. I do not believe that better prices would be procured if Deputy Gorey's suggestion were adopted.

In a debate [3] in 1931, he was at it again. The subject of the debate related to state support (either through subsidy or purchase) for various companies and assets. Another eputy had just asked if the valuation of 1,000 pounds (for plant equipment) was fair. Gorey's comment was that

They got it at a Jewman's price

After protest, he withdrew the remark. In this case, his comment was a sly dig at the previous speaker, Bob Briscoe. Briscoe was Jewish, and was probably unique in that, as both an Irish Republican and Zionist, helped in the creation of two states - Ireland and Israel - and would become the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin. As the only Jewish deputy in the Dail for long periods, he had to listen with a lot of anti-Jewish remarks from certain Fine Gael politicians.

In a debate [4] in 1931 [on the perceived monopoly on sheep skinning in the country], Patrick Belton (Fine Gael deputy for Dublin North from 1927 - 1943) complained :-

If the export market is shut down in the morning, is there anyone to buy a sheepskin in the City of Dublin for use in the City of Dublin? There will not be a Jew in Dublin who will not be buying sheepskins next week and making a corner in them and every Deputy knows they have cornered the trade in Dublin…That remark of mine had no reference to Deputy Briscoe, and I am sure Deputy Briscoe knows it.

Deputy Belton was in full flow again in a Finance debate [5] in 1937.

We hear the boasting coming from the Government Benches—we heard it to-day—of the progress of industrialisation. It is time that we in this country came down to tin-tacks and got some little moral courage. It is time for us to pull the wool off our eyes and tell this House and tell the country what industrialisation in this country really means. It means that we are handing this country over to a gang of international Jews…It is these international Jews who are reaping the harvest out of the sweat of the Irish people. It is to guarantee their dividends that the game is being kept up.

Belton's following remarks were in the context of the attempts of Germans and Austrians who were Jewish to seek asylum in Ireland. He protested at Government policy …

which allows the industrial development of this country to be a shelter for undesirable aliens coming into this country, many of them the outcasts of the countries in which they previously resided—coming in here and getting full citizenship rights.

Sean MacEntee, then Minister for Finance replied

Our people were often outcasts.

That cut no ice with Belton.

Yes, but they worked for their living wherever they went. Does the Minister compare the Irishman who, no matter what country he goes into, is prepared to take off his coat and work, with the Jew who comes to live on the people of this country——

MacEntee interrupted

I think the village of Nazareth has at least as much claims on humanity as Deputy Belton's birthplace.

Belton :-

We shall leave the Minister to his village of Nazareth. That is our industrial development. That is the policy which allowed these people to dig themselves in in industry, and as a result of which they have gone into commerce, with the consequence that in some of the principal streets in Dublin to-day you have not got a single Irishman owning one of the houses.

MacEntee :-

That must be Belton Park.

Belton continued in the same vein in the following week in a subsequent debate, to the point where another deputy asked him to stop Jew-baiting [6]. It would be tempting, from these exchanges, to believe that the then Government was sympathetic to the plight of Jews fleeing oppression in Europe. But the country admitted less than 100 refugees during WW II, despite the efforts of people such as Bob Briscoe, to have asylum applications for Jewish applicants processed . [RTE have just broadcast a 2 part documentary describing the number of Nazis that successfully sought refuge in Ireland after the war].

Even after the true horrors of the Holocaust became known, certain attitudes lingered, no matter how nonsensical. In a 1947 debate [8], John O'Leary (Labour Party) claimed that

I have a cutting here which says that we have neither butter nor bacon in [1459] rural Ireland. However, on the 10th August, 1946, 300 tons of bacon left the City of Dublin although the poor people in rural Ireland cannot get a rasher for their breakfast. Two thousand three hundred and forty tons of gift meat went out of this country in 15 months to the people on the other side. That concession was stopped because, I believe, the Jewish people were sending it to their friends in London. It was not all going to the Irish emigrants on the far side.

Hardly sound kosher, does it? He also claimed that Jews were running the cinema industry here. But probably one of the odious anti-Semites ever to grace the Dáil was Oliver J Flanagan (also Fine Gael). His debut in the Dail in 1943 summed up his philosophy

How is it that we do not see any of these [Emergency] Acts directed against the Jews, who crucified Our Saviour nineteen hundred years ago, and who are crucifying us every day in the week? …There is one thing that Germany did, and that was to rout the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country it does not matter a hair's breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are there is the honey, and where the Jews are there is the money.

In another debate [9], he declared that

The situation, as far as the control of Jews in this city and throughout the whole country is concerned, is very serious. Aliens are buying up land, houses, property, and something will have to be done or the country will be overrun by foreigners here while we will be looking on and we will be turned into the slaves of the foreigner again. Something will have to be done to see that the Irish race and the general public of this country are protected from the influence and destruction of aliens and Jews whose influence is growing stronger and stronger in this country every day.

He made that speech two years after the Nuremburg Trials had begun, in 1947, and the true horror of the Holocaust has become known. But for Oliver J, the enemy was still at large. It should be said that his views didn't seem to cost him a vote. It didn't stop him getting the highest award that the Catholic Church can award a lay person - the order of Order of St. Gregory the Great. Anti-Semitism didn't fall from the trees in Ireland.

[1] Dáil Éireann - Volume 4 - 23 August, 1921,

[2] Dáil Éireann - Volume 11 - 20 May, 1925, COMMITTEE ON FINANCE. - ESTIMATES FOR PUBLIC SERVICES.—VOTE No. 57 (ARMY) (RESUMED)

[3] Dáil Éireann - Volume 37 - 06 March, 1931,
In Committee on Finance. - Supplementary Estimates. Vote 52—Agriculture.

[4] Dáil Éireann - Volume 51 - 22 March, 1934,
Sheepskin (Control of Export) Bill, 1934—Committee Stage.

[5] Dáil Éireann - Volume 65 - 04 March, 1937,
Committee on Finance—Vote On Account.

[6] Dáil Éireann - Volume 65 - 10 March, 1937,
Private Business. - Central Fund Bill, 1937—Second Stage.

[7] Dáil Éireann - Volume 108 - 05 November, 1947,
Finance (No. 2) Bill, 1947—Second Stage.

[8] Dáil Éireann - Volume 108 - 05 November, 1947
Finance (No. 2) Bill, 1947—Second Stage.

[9] Dáil Éireann - Volume 105 - 27 March, 1947
Estimates for Public Services, 1947-48. - Vote 32—Office of the Minister for Justice (Resumed).

[10] Dáil Éireann - Volume 111 - 02 June, 1948
Committee on Finance. - Vote 52—Lands (Resumed).

[11] Irish Independent, January 27th 2007

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January 27, 2007

Sulpher Tuft

A clump of sulpher tuft fungus, downstream of Torc Waterfall in Killarney, Co. Kerry. I photographed it during the October Bank Holiday weekend last year. When I returned to the same spot on New Year's Eve, the winter storms had washed it away.

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 24-105@10mm, ISO=100, aperture=f13, speed=1/2 sec, -1.3 stop.

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January 23, 2007

Hurler on the ditch

This wayside cross marks part of the old road west - it's located near the ruins of Dysart old church in County Roscommon. It is dated 1639 - 2 years before the Catholic population of Ireland revolted against Protestant rule and 10 years before Cromwell arrived to spoil the fun for everyone.

The cross is decorated (see below) with a carving of what looks a severed hand holding a hurley - clearly, hurling was as dangerous then as it is today. It's visible from the road (the old church is signposted). The old road west is only used a short cut today for people trying to dodge weekend or rush-hour traffic through Ballinalsoe, Loughrea and Craughwell. Even now, preparations for the new motorway joining Athlone to Galway are well underway - the land is bought and paid for, and is being fenced off - and, soon, the old road will attract even less traffic than it does today.

Posted by Monasette at 08:29 PM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2007

Flaggy shore

The next walk of the Galway Walking Club sets off from New Quay in Co. Clare. New Quay is also a starting point for the Flaggy Shore, where Burren stone is polished and buffed by the sea and given a special sheen by the setting sun.

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January 17, 2007

Footprints in the snow

After weeks of storms and rain, we had a bit of snow today. It probably wont last long - another rain storm is predicted for tonight. The last time I left a footprint in snow was last March, atop Cnoc na hUilleann in Conneamara. The Galway Walking Club bumped into another group on the summit - the Athlone Walking club, who were a long way from home.

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January 14, 2007


The goldcrest is the smallest bird in Ireland. It's not much bigger than its chirp - weighing about 5 - 7 grammes (you'd get four of them for an ounce). Pictured here in its preferred habitat - a conifer tree, photographed near The Bloody Hollow at the Battle of Aughrim battle site in east Galway.

And the name ? The little guy has a gold stripe, bordered in black on the top of its head - you can barely see the black border in the picture above

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January 13, 2007


The rough weather continues, with tragic consequences. I'm away for most of this week, but I hope to post a few pictures anyway.

Posted by Monasette at 04:51 PM | Comments (2)

January 08, 2007

The Unicorn

I used to have a Despair.com poster in my office of an eagle soaring over a mountain range. The tagline : Leaders are like eagles; we don’t have either of them here.

Soon, we might be able to solve the eagle problem. There has already a small number of golden eagles introduced into Donegal, and soon, sea eagles will be introduced to Killarney National Park. Norwegian eagles will provide the breeding stock. Eagles became extinct about a century ago in Ireland, though place names give a clue. There’s Sliabh an Iolair (Mount Eagle) on the Dingle peninsula, which I climbed many moons ago while down in An Ghaeltacht, and even among the relatively low-lying Burren hills, there is a point called Eagle’s Rock along the cliff face of Sliabh Carron, overlooking the hazel scrub that now hides the remains of St. Mac Duach’s Well and Church. As for the leader problem, that might take a bit longer…

I had planned to walk along Sliabh Carron on Sunday, but the weather didn’t agree. Strong wind, driving rain and low cloud meant that I couldn’t see it, even while standing on Turloughmore hill a few hundred yards away (the weather is even worse now – I’m writing this to a soundtrack of shrieking winds and heavy rain splattering against the window). I had to be contented with a walk to Oughtmama, up by the holy well (Tobar Cholmáin) and on up to the cairn at Turloughmore, where we sheltered for lunch. Though the hill seemed empty, we had plenty of company. Fat, placid cattle sheltered behind walls from the rain – staring curiously at us as we walked past. Cattle here live much the same life as cattle have done over the centuries on the mountain (except they don’t have to worry about being carried off by the villagers from the next parish on a raiding party). We spooked a couple of hares, plenty of snipe, and even a flock of golden plovers. On the way back down, we stumbled across a unicorn, which doesn’t happen too often. Ok, it wasn’t really a unicorn, but something nearly as magical – a feral goat sheltering under a blackthorn. One of its horns was twisted sideways so the remaining horn looked as if it was growing from the centre of its head. Usually, the goats keep their distance, so it was unusual for this one to let us get close to it. Alas, the mystery was solved when it got up and began to painfully limp away into the mist. A goat without its leap doesn’t have much of a future. The rest of the herd were hiding further downhill –they never let us get too near. [There is now a group - the Burren Feral Goat Preservation Society - in Clare dedicated to preserving the pure breeds of wild goats living in the Burren ]

And eagles may fly over the Burren again soon too. The people running the Aillwee Cave have applied to open a falconry. Bad news for the little furry things already prey from the kestrels nesting along the ravines on Turloughmore.

Posted by Monasette at 11:12 PM | Comments (3)

January 07, 2007

If you build it, they will go

For how long more ? An oil tanker waits to enter Galway Harbour this evening.

Ahh…the Christmas rush. If you’re like me, you’ve ended up buying a few things you don’t need, or gotten a few things for people that they won’t use or don’t need. You’re not alone.

Take the Dublin Port Tunnel which opened last week. It enables trucks to drive under the city, from Dublin Port out to the M50 orbital route around the city, assuming the awkward buggers will actually use it. At a cost of 750 million euro*, it’s a major infrastructure investment, and intended to relieve traffic congestion in the city. So what does the Government propose to do next? Move Dublin Port up the road to either Balbriggan or Dundalk. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with the port where it is – it’s just that the dockland property has become so expensive and valuable that every developer in the country wants to build apartments there (the tunnel will come in handy for the dockland apartment-dwelling yuppies to get to their summer homes in the west faster, I suppose).

Down in Limerick, a tunnel is planned under the Shannon Estuary which will create a bypass of the city for traffic. The tunnel has been designed to be buried deep in the river bed so that it would not interfere with the deep water port at Limerick. But the deep water port is about to be moved downstream to Foynes so the extra engineering (and cost) is no longer necessary. But, since the contract has already been awarded, the money will be spent anyway on the original design. Joined up Government, eh ?

Meanwhile in Galway, a grand plan has been proposed to transform the dockland area in the city. It would mean building a new, deeper water port further out in Galway Bay, and using the land currently occupied by the oil terminal for more sedentary use – in other word, apartments and shops. The thought of all that newly-freed space in a prime location, and the heavy engineering required to effectively move the existing port a few hundred metres west must have every developer in the West salivating with anticipation. Except there is a wrinkle in the plan. Minister Frank Fahey has suggested that, rather than build new port facilities in the city, the fishing port at Ros a Mhíl (Rosaveel) should be enhanced instead. And just because it is a political crowd-pleasing suggestion in an election year doesn’t mean it is a bad idea.

There are a couple of compelling reasons for pursuing the Ros a Mhíl (Rosaveel) proposal. Firstly, the harbour business in the city cannot grow, except seaward. Already, apartment blocks nestle side-by-side with oil tanks, and there is no sign that the thirst for hydrocarbons will wane any time soon [Niall O Brolchain’s best efforts notwithstanding]. Ros a Mhíl (Rosaveel) doesn’t have that problem – there is lots of cheap and uninhabited land available, and is already a mainly industrial port – namely for tourist ferries to the islands and also for fishing. Secondly, the Ros a Mhíl (Rosaveel) harbour has just been upgraded [if you took a trip out to the Aran Islands in the last year, you’d have seen the earthmovers dumping tons of gravel into the harbour to create a new breakwater]. It is less affected by tides and is also closer to the mouth of the Bay.

There is a third reason too. Ros a Mhíl (Rosaveel) is one of the main fish processing sites on the west coast. But the days of the European fishing industry are well and truly numbered, and it’s unlikely that there will be many fishing boats landing catches there in a decade from now. [By the way, here is an
assurance from a senior civil servant in 1970
that the fishing port in Galway city would not be moved to Rosaveel].

Of course, moving the port to Ros a Mhíl (Rosaveel) means that everything landed there must be carted back into the city. Moving oil and bitumen could be done by pipeline but, given the protests in north Mayo, would be unlikely. Instead, it would have to be transported by trucks. And you’d need a new road for that. Luckily, just such a proposal exists – to link a new road along the coast from Ros a Mhíl (Rosaveel) to link up with the proposed Galway City Outer Bypass, which was announced a few weeks ago. An ambitious proposal, no doubt about it - just not a funded one. Come to think of it, the whole of the Dock proposal is unfunded – all 2 billion euros of it. Still, it is an election year – anything could happen.

* This NRA press release from 6 years ago shows how the costs has spiralled, from an original 175million pounds in 1999 to 353 million euros a year later and finally 750 million euros by the time it opened.

Posted by Monasette at 07:32 PM | Comments (5)

January 06, 2007

Rockin Robin

Coincidence is a funny thing. I was flicking TV channels the other night when I came upon a documentary on male perms. T'was a fearsome sight and I quickly moved on, but not before I was subjected to a clip of a Leo Sayer video, looking a bit like one of those ornamental bay trees you see outside buildings. Later on that week, Leo turned up on TV as an inmate on Celebrity Big Brother - bouffant intact (I switched channel even faster that time). And then today, as I approached the robin (above) in Oughterard this morning, it turned to me and began singing: You make me feel like dancing*. It's not just good things that happen in threes.

* Not strictly true, but now you're humming the bloody song too.

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 100-400@400mm, ISO=400, aperture=f5.6, speed=1/250 sec, spot metered, -2/3 exp.

Posted by Monasette at 05:35 PM | Comments (1)

January 04, 2007

Falling on Croagh Patrick

Cold winter rain falls on Croagh Patrick, viewed from Cross Strand, Co. Mayo.

Buy this picture of Croagh Patrick and Cross Strand, Co. Mayo..

Camera= Canon 350D, lens= Sigma 10-20@10mm, ISO=100, aperture=f5.6, speed=1/250 sec, -1 exp.

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January 02, 2007

The Magic Kingdom

While a huge storm was sweeping over Connacht, there was nothing more than a hair-ruffling wind gusting through the MacGillacuddy Reeks in Kerry. I climbed Carrauntoohil for the second time in three months though I still haven't seen the view from the top - I'll have to come back during the summer. The picture above was taken on December 30th, 2006, as weak sunlight cast the shadow of Carrauntoohil across a raised valley - the rocky outcrop known as the Hag's Tooth dominates the view. By New Year's Day, the tips of the Reeks were dusted with snow. If you look closely, you can see the tiny forms of two climbers standing in the 'saddle' behind the Tooth. Here, you can find a gallery of my climbing route to Carrauntoohil.

Because I was in Kerry, I didn't get a chance to take shots of the flooding in Salthill on New Year's Eve - you can see some pictures of the flood on Flickr here. I did take some before-and-after pictures of flooding on the Shannon in the midlands a while back - you'll have to make do with them instead.

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 24-105@28mm, ISO=250, aperture=f5, speed=1/800 sec. [Yes, I lugged the 5D up the hill and back].

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Posted by Monasette at 11:47 PM | Comments (1)