April 30, 2007


Common seals basking in the evening sun last week near Indreabhán (Inveran), Co. Galway. The Cliffs of Moher are in the background.

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 100-400@400mm, ISO=200, aperture=f5.6, speed=1/500 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:26 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2007

From Dusk Til Dawn

Scientists announced last week the prospect of an Earth-like planet. Its twenty light years away, so if it is inhabited (and the citizens there have invented TV), let's hope a few of them have put a few quid on Johnny Logan to win the Eurovision Song Contest.

Back here on Earth, or more specifically, Galway, we're seeing a lot more of the Moon and the Sun. The weather has been gorgeous this week from sunrise to sunset, with clear skies during the day and the night.

The picture of the sun (above) was taken this morning at around 7am as it rose over Renmore Barracks this morning. The morning haze acted like a filter and, apart from adjusting the contrast a bit, no other photo-editing was done. The 'blemish' on the face of the sun is a sunspot - an region of intense magnetic energy on the sun's surface which is cooler than surrounding areas (and therefore duller). The dot in the picture above is called 10953 and is tracked by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). It's about three times the size of the Earth.

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 100-400@400mm, ISO=100, aperture=f9, speed=1/640 sec, spot-metered

A couple of days earlier, I was walking along the beach on Spiddal on a warm sunny evening. Even before the sun had set, the moon rose above the Burren Hills across the Galway Bay.

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

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Posted by Monasette at 10:15 PM | Comments (1)

April 26, 2007

Dumping ground

Mutton Island lighthouse (and sewage works) in Galway City. The Burren is in the background across Galway Bay. Photo taken yesterday evening.

There's a great picture in this week's Galway Advertiser (you can see it if turn to page 9 in the PDF version of the paper. It shows a young girl at the city water protest. She's holding a placard which reads (and will probably be her nickname for the next decade) :-

Instead of our human rights...we're left with runny shites.

There's even a special website, Galway Wants Water.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

A Flying Leap

Fallow deer in flight in Portumna Forest, Co. Galway.

Having grown up on a farm, I've learned that when an animal decides to make a run for it, it's best get out of the way. Cattle will go through anything if they put their mind to it. Once, we had cattle in a pen when one of them panicked. Despite being no more than four foot tall at the shoulder, the bullock cleared a wall that was around five and a half feet high, with a jump that any show jumper would have been proud of.

Portumna Forest has plenty of (fairly) wild fallow deer - they are used to humans but wary of them. A small herd of them had got themselves trapped in a wire enclosure and when we encountered them last Saturday morning, they attempted to bolt. The eons-old instinct to escape the snapping jaws of predators by leaping and running is the only defence mechanism a deer has, even if the 'predator' is a sleepy photographer lugging a camera.

The deer had entered the enclosure by walking under the fence at a point where it spanned a drain. Some of them trotted back to that point and made their escape without fuss. Some of the smaller (i.e. younger) ones completely panicked and ran straight into the fence, before taking another run at it and leaping over it.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:15 PM | Comments (1)

April 25, 2007

Engine Number 3

A diesel locomotive used to haul turf for the Attymon Peat Coop in east Galway. Picture taken March 2005.

Camera= Canon 350D, lens= Canon 18-55@24mm, ISO=100, aperture=f11, speed=1/160 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2007

Plight of the bumblebee

Bumblebee feeding on bluebell nectar in Portumna, Co. Galway last Saturday morning.

In the United States of America, a mysterious ailment or behaviour is afflicting bee colonies. Called Colony Collapse Disorder, it causes bees to abandon a hive without any apparent reason and disappear. Even more mysteriously, it doesn't seem to affect bees in Canada. Though there have been reports that a similar situation has been seen in parts of Europe, CCD has not yet been reported in Ireland. Which is probably just as well, since bumblebees are already reported to be in decline, both in the UK and here in Ireland. Sitting on a bluebell-covered hillock in Portumna Forest, east Galway on a balmy Saturday morning, watching bees bumble from flower to flower (and pollinating them), their disappearance would be our loss.

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 100-400@400mm, ISO=640, aperture=f5.6, speed=1/400 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:03 PM | Comments (1)

April 23, 2007

Uisce, Briste

Huge wave crashing on shore at Doolin, Co. Clare.

The Galway Water Crisis group held a protest in the city today, to campaign for free drinking water to be supplied to everyone while the contaminated water crisis rumbles on. And, typically for Galway, their open-air protest coincided with the first downpour in weeks (at least it will put the bog fires out). And even more typically, not many people turned up. If there was a campaign for free booze, they might have got a better turn-out.

Meanwhile, the people of Eyrecourt, east Galway are also protesting - waste from the Mutton Island sewage plant in the city is due to be spread on land near their village. The sewage spreading is a planned activity - the locals are complaining that run-off will contaminate their water supply (and the current heavy rain certainly won't help). And whatever about the impact of the Eyrecourt activity on the water table of east Galway, a similar activity might point to the cause of the Corrib pollution that has contaminated the city's water supply.

The sewage treatment in Oughterard has been blamed for contaminating Lough Corrib, but the council insist that the treated waste pumped into Lough Corrib meets the minimum standard. However, in the last few decades, there has been a huge number of one-off houses (I.e. single dwellings) built around the lake and its environs. Many of those houses have their own septic tank. A septic tank collects sewage from a house, and 'treats' it by enabling bacteria to break down the material into a nitrogen-rich sludge and water. Well, that's what's supposed to happen. Toilet bleach can kill the bacteria, and overflowing septic tanks, due to rain, means that untreated waste can leach into the ground. I wonder if any private septic tanks have been inspected this year ?

And then there is the question of disposal. Each of those private tanks must be emptied regularly. I'd like to think that the contents of each of those tanks are disposed of in a careful and environmentally-safe manner. But, then again, I used to like to think there was a Santa Claus too.

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Posted by Monasette at 04:45 PM | Comments (1)

April 22, 2007


Sliabh Aughty hills on fire - furze, grass and heather burn fiercely in east Galway yesterday.

RTE reported yesterday that 20 fires were burning across the county of Galway. A few of us were out on a photo expedition when we saw a plume of smoke billowing from behind a hill in Peterswell, just south of Loughrea in east Galway. When a fire engine sped by, we followed it, up a laneway to a dead end without a clear view of the hill. A quick chat with the crew revealed that they weren't sure where the fire was exactly - we decided to climb the hill for a better look. After taking the number of one of the crew (so we could ring them if we found an access route to the fire), the fire crew set off to find a bog or forest road that would get them closer to the blaze.

A local farmer gave us directions to a path that was hardly passable for a tractor - after a 10 - 15 minute hike, we crested the hill to be greeted by an inferno. The next hill was ablaze - huge flames fanned by a westerly breeze. Soon afterwards, we could see the fire tender on a further hill behind the fire line.

The blaze was rapidly burning through the furze and wild grass. Unfortunately, the ridge downwind of the fire was planted with pine trees, and in the middle of it were a couple of microwave transmitters providing telecommunication links to the city, and also mobile coverage to a large stretch of east Galway (it appears that the forest was spared the flames in the end).

I very much doubt if any of the fires began accidently. It wasn't hot enough to cause 'spontaneous' combustion and there was no lightning. The fires are more than a nuisance. As RTE reported, every available fire engine was deployed yesterday, scattered in remote parts of the county, and threfore unavailable for any other emergencies. On Friday, just after lunch, one of the busiest commuter routes out of Galway City, the Headford Road, had to be closed off because a bog fire had reduced visiblity on the road. An already bad commute became a nightmare.

There is a real danger that someone will be injured, or worse - particularly a firefighter. There is also the danger to property - the fire in Moycullen 2 weeks ago could easily have destroyed houses built at the edge of the bog (and there are plenty of houses in the county built near either woodland or bog).

Camera= Canon 350D, lens= Canon 100-400@180mm, ISO=200, aperture=f8, speed=1/400 sec.

UPDATE 23rd April 2007: Heavy rain overnight has drenched most of Galway, which should reduce the risk of more fires for a while.

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Posted by Monasette at 04:59 PM | Comments (2)

April 16, 2007


There was a time when deer in Ireland feared a number of predators :- wolves, bears and human hunters. These days, the most likely way a human will kill a deer is accident - while driving. This deer had just died when I pulled up to take the photograph above, last week. It was still warm, and the blood seeping from its body had yet to coagulate. Galway County Council have erected signs along the road warning of deer, but there's isn't much a driver can do when a deer jumps out from the verge at the last minute. Judging by the lack of broken glass, etc beside the deer, I presume it got hit by a truck.

Humans are, unfortunately, far more likely to kill each other while driving. On average, at least one person a day in Ireland is killed in a road accident, and many more are injured. It's hard to drive more than a few miles without seeing yet another example of crazy overtaking or reckless speeding. Driving east from Galway at dawn a couple of weeks ago, I came across this crashed truck a few miles from Oranmore. I pulled in to see if anyone was trapped in the truck. I found out later that the crash had occurred the day before. The truck driver had apparently lost control of the vehicle, side-swiped a car parked on the hard shoulder before crashing through a stone wall and toppling over into a field. In this case, neither the truck driver or the car driver were injured. They were lucky.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:51 PM | Comments (6)

April 15, 2007

Celtic Explorer

The Celtic Explorer seen from The Claddagh as it prepares to dock in Galway Harbour this afternoon.

Want to know how many Blue Mackerel swims in our seas ? Or figure out exactly what the Irish seabed looks like ? The Celtic Explorer is Ireland's main marine research vessel and answering those questions is what occupies the the crew right now. The ship can be hired by private companies to do commercial research, at a cost of 20,000 euro a day, that might seem like a lot, but if you are an oil company exploring in Irish waters, the government already lets you write off every penny against tax (so I guess you and me are paying for it).

If you want to know where the ship is right now, the online tracking system can be found here (right now, it's tied up outside my apartment) and if you fancy working on the vessel, you can sign up here.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:28 PM | Comments (3)

April 12, 2007

Heartbreak ridge

Picture is of part of the Maumturk mountain range, with Lough Inagh in the foreground. The building at the lake edge is Lough Inagh Lodge, and here is a photograph taken from there, looking towards where I took the picture above (if you know what I mean). I was standing on the leftmost peak.

We were feeling fairly pleased with ourselves when we got back to the Ben Lettery Hostel, having just completed the Derryclare Horseshoe last Friday. What better preparation for the Maumturk Challenge (this Saturday) ? Until our leader pointed out that the Maumturk Challenge is the equivalent of doing the Horseshoe, followed by climbing Carrauntoohil. Oh oh.

Update 15th April 2007:Phew! Got up at 3.20 am - collected my fellow walkers and got the starting point [at Corcog] by 5am. It was still dark when we set off at 5.20 - in fact, there was a beautiful, starry sky and the only other light available was the dancing procession of lights from the torches of climbers as they set off up the side of Corcog.

Conditions were near perfect for climbing, and for the first couple of hours, the views were simply spectacular, including the sunrise. 106 walkers entered and I think less than 10 dropped out over the entire course, usually through injury/old wounds playing up/etc - nothing serious. Last year, it rained continuously and many people got lost and had to drop out. There are cut-off points along the way - if you don't pass them by a certain time, you have to stop. Last year in the rain, less than 30 (out of 200) finished the course.

This year, visibility was perfect. It was nearly seven before my group finished - we lost about ninety minutes at the end of the course, when one of our number picked up a knee injury. Rather than stop, she used a couple of borrowed walking sticks as crutches and hobbled from Binn Bhan, the aptly named Coll of Despondency and finally Leenane Hill. No quitters in the Galway Walking Club! At the bottom, as the setting sun lit up Killary Harbour and Leenane village in golden light, we munched on sandwiches and tea laid on by the organisers. Food never tasted so good.

The one improvement I would suggest is a water drop somewhere along the way. The hot day meant carrying a lot of water - if it were possible to pick up water at Leaba Padraig or Cnoc na hUilleann, it would have eased the burden somewhat. Congratulations to Miko Keane [of the Galway Walking Club], who finished the course in seven hours flat - that's a damn near unbelievable 30 minutes per hill. Kudos too to the unnamed Dublin hiker who left twenty euro at the finish point to buy a round of drinks for the lads at a checkpoint that had looked after him. And congrats to the NUIG Mountaineering Club who organised the whole thing and looked after us so well.

The NUIG page for the walk is here, but the best description of the Maumturk walk is on Simon Stewart's site, which is probably the most detailed walking site in Ireland.

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Posted by Monasette at 07:08 PM | Comments (1)

April 10, 2007

The Heather Blazing

There's a huge fire blazing in the hills around Moycullen this evening, sending a huge pall of smoke over the city. This is the second major fire in as many weeks, and there have been plenty of smaller ones too. Practically all such fires in the west are started deliberately. Full gallery to appear later in the week.

Update: Here is a short gallery of pictures of last night's fire near Moycullen, just west of Galway city. The first shot shows the huge plume of smoke seen from Menlough, about 50 km away. The second one shows the plume from 1-2 km away. The fire had begun around 5pm near Shannagurraun (Seanadh Gharrain) and began to slowly eat its way north eastwards through the dry grass and heather, driven by a light wind. These photographs were taken around Keeraunduff Hill (Cnoc na gCaoran Dubh) just off the narrow bog road that joins Spiddal to Moycullen. The dry undergrowth burns fiercly, and some of the flames were gusting to 6 to 10 feet high. While I was there., locals drove through the smoldering bogland to a point further up the hill to better assess the damage. The worry was that the flames were moving towards a large forested area at Knocklough (Cnoc an Locha), close to Moycullen and to the houses nearby.

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 100-400@370mm, ISO=1000, aperture=f5.6, speed=1/125 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:46 PM | Comments (1)

April 09, 2007

Moon over Connolly

Exactly ninety one years after the Easter Rising, a dawn moon shines over a building that bears the name of one of the Rising's leaders - James Connolly Tower in Ballymun, north Dublin.

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 100-400@130mm, ISO=500, aperture=f7.1, speed=1/250 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:52 PM | Comments (3)

April 07, 2007

The Really Long Good Friday

The second half of the loop (from right to left) is Benbreen [Binn Bhraoin , 691 m], Bengower [Binn Gabhar, 664 m] and Benlettery [Binn Leitir, 577m]. The Glencoaghan river [Abhainn Ghleann Chochan] meanders through the valley in the foreground, and above, is a beautiful, blue sky!

What a weekend ! Silver Strand was simply heaven this morning - small waves languidly lapping against the shore, and a heat haze burning way to give way to a clear blue sky. Along Salthill Prom, kids are digging sandcastles and scoffing ice-cream. Now, there is still an edge to the wind to remind us all that it is only the beginning of April, but no matter.

I spent all of yesterday hiking with friends along the "Derryclare Horseshoe" in perfect sunshine and no breeze. The Horseshoe is the name given to a loop of the Twelve Bens (not all of them, mind) - we left Galway at 8.30am and I got back to my apartment about 13 hours later, knackered but happy. I'll put up a few pictures over the weekend (for overseas readers, Easter is a four-day weekend in Ireland for many people) but right now, it's far too nice to be stuck in front of a computer.

Camera= Canon 350D, lens= Sigma 10-20@10mm, ISO=100, aperture=f8, speed=1/400 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

April 05, 2007

The road to Gethsemani

It pretty much rained for every minute of the day on March 10th, about 4 Saturdays ago. I didn't get a single picture of Connemara, but on the way home, I swung up a laneway near Glencorrib to Moyne Graveyard (not to be confused with Moyne Friary, in north Mayo).

At the gate is the statue pictured above. In the cemetery, there's the ruins of an old church, some headstones and two standing stones (see below) - it was a custom to place coffins between the two stones before burial (according to Cary Meehan's "The Traveller's Guide to Sacred Ireland").

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 24-105@28mm, ISO=250, aperture=f8, speed=1/100 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:26 PM | Comments (2)

April 04, 2007

Bright Skies

Wow - what a difference a few days of sunshine makes. This picture of snow-capped mountains around Killary Harbour was taken the day after St. Patrick's Day - 3 weeks ago. This week has almost felt like summer. Now, as long it lasts until the weekend...

Camera= Canon 5D, lens= Canon 24-105@58mm, ISO=100, aperture=f9, speed=1/320 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:47 PM | Comments (3)

April 02, 2007

Clare Surfers

You need to be a hardy soul to go surfing in Ireland. At 9am on Saturday morning, surfers (mostly foreigners, judging by the accents) decamped from their jeeps and campervans on Doolin Quay, pulled on their wetsuits and headed for the waves breaking off Crab Island.

Even wearing cap, gloves, fleece and over jacket, I soon got cold [and I was standing on dry land]. It must have been freezing in the water. I had particular sympathy for two Australians, who presumably learned their skills in much warmer waters (on the other hand, they don't have to worry about sharks on the Clare coast).

The Clare coast is a good spot for surfing. The same coastline that scuppered the Spanish Armada 419 years ago attracts surfers from all over Ireland and abroad (the outstanding pub life in many of the coastal towns probably doesn't hurt either). Last year, for a brief period, Lahinch held the world surf record.

For some, a greater challenge is required. A couple of hours later, I was a few miles down the road, at the Cliffs of Moher. There, I watched a group of surfers take the narrow (and very steep) path down to the base of the Cliffs so that they could surf the impressive swell that is slowly but surely chipping away at the cliffs.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:00 PM | Comments (5)

April 01, 2007

Spring Colour

The light of the sun - Lesser Celandines (ranunculus ficaria, aka pilewort) in bloom in woodland in Co. Clare.

The clocks go forward, the sun shines for a couple of days and suddenly, it seems like summer. The west of Ireland is bursting with colour and life. Birds are singing, flowers are blooming and people are ringing into radio programmes claiming the first swallow sighting. The Spanish Arch was thronged with people today, and there was even a queue for the ice-cream stands in Salthill. Now, if you could only get ice to go with your pint bottles of cider, the picture would be complete…

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Posted by Monasette at 09:27 PM | Comments (1)

Gan uisce, gan cliste

In the weeks and months after the atrocity of US 9/11 attacks, there was plenty of debate in Ireland about how the country would cope with a mass casualty event. Could planes be hijacked in an Irish airport ? What if Sellafield was attacked ? I still have the iodine tablets posted out to every household by the government to protect us from radiation poisoning [I'm hanging on to them in case Cork finally declares itself an independent republic and launches a pre-emptive strike on the rest of us].

Well, now we know what would happen if someone poisoned the water supply of one of our cities - sod all. The problem with Galway's water has the potential to kill people - the very young, the very old or anyone with a weakened immune system. It has severely sickened about 160 people so far, and more will probably fall ill in the weeks ahead. The solution so far, and I use the word in the loosest term possible, is not to drink any tap water without boiling it first. How, for example, a mother with three small children is supposed to ensure that her kids don't imbibe a drop without watching them 24 hours a day is a mystery. And, despite the Celtic Tiger, buying bottled water by the gallon is effectively a very hefty water charge for everyone.

The Mayor, Niall O'Brolcháin, has been the public face of the City councillors attempts in trying to find a solution. Except when he tried to call a meeting with Galway City Council officials, they didn't show up, citing procedure protocol (the necessary pre-meeting approving the emergency meeting hadn't been held first). Indeed. In the meetings that have gone ahead, the implementation of a solution has been spoken of in terms of weeks or months. Some emergency.

Now, there are three Government ministers based in the wider Galway area, so you'd expect some rapid government response, particularly since the Mayor and other councillors had appealed for Government help. That's when Eamonn O'Cuiv discovered that Galway City Council had already been allocated 21 million euro to improve water treatment in the city. And they still had the 21 million, not having spent a cent of it. Ah.

It has to be said that the reasons given for not spending the cash were of the "the dog ate my homework" variety. Dick Roche, Minister for the Environment, and usually a target for the Greens, announced that he would go to Galway and knock a few heads together. It must have made his week to lecture a potential Green Party TD on the merits of clean water. There could not have been a more fortuitous time for a local environmental issue to erupt [this close to a general election] short of O'Brolcháin driving up to Annaghdown with a trailer load of sheep and throwing them in off the pier himself. So much so, that the third Fianna Fail candidate, Michael Crowe, launched an attack on O'Brolcháin, claiming he hadn't reacted fast enough to the crisis. He did so just as an opinion poll showed O'Brolchain edging past Crowe. As a famous football manager once said, it's squeaky bum time.

Roche promised an extra 27 million euro when he visited Galway. The original 21 million will be spent replacing the Terryland water plant - it provides 30% of the water for the city it is that plant that cannot filter the cryptosporidium parasite. I would have thought it would have been better to just use the other plant (and maybe crank the capacity up to eleven) but apparently not. Since both plants feed into the same reservoir, a malfunction in either plant poisons all the water. Eventually, a new supply of water will be taken from that bastion of purity to the north, Tuam.

And that's it. Bottles of water for the foreseeable future, and hope for the best. If something more serious had been in the water supply, what then ? Both Mayo and Clare are reporting similar, though smaller, outbreaks.The problem isn't just confined to municipal water supplies. Over the last few years, group water supply schemes have been opened and extended all over the country, due to the rapid increase in housing development. And these RTE reports show, in Athenry and Ballinasloe, contamination continues to be a problem. Water, water everywhere, but should you drink it ?

McGarr solicitors have some interesting information on their website here, here and here.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)