November 28, 2007

Ulster misses another historic opportunity ?

Powers – I wouldn’t even treat wounds with it. Empty bottles outside Athenry, photographed at the beginning of November.

Every Christmas, I get a calendar for the following year from a company in a small village in Tennessee. Occasionally, the same people send me a hokey letter purporting to tell me about ‘gossip’ in the village, and sometimes, they send me a small present – a couple of years ago, they sent me a blank CD so that I could record my favourite tunes on it. Why such largesse?

Thirteen years ago, I visited the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. It’s a sleepy little spot, and I remember it as a leafy idyll. The distillery was huge, producing whisky on an industrial scale, and the tour was both slick and fascinating (I remember being taken aback at the sheer number of oak trees required to be cut down to make the barrels to mature the whiskey).

The professionalism of the tour couldn’t disguise one rather important fact - Lynchburg was a ‘dry’ county – you had as much chance of getting a drink there as in Riyadh. And doing a tour of a whisky distillery without being able to taste any of it leaves one feeling a little cheated (there’s only so much whiskey cake you can eat on a tour). Soon after I returned to Ireland, an Irish magazine carried an article on the distillery. The Irish journalist breathlessly listed lots of statistics about the distillery without ever mentioning the fact you couldn’t taste a drop of the stuff there – which lead me to believe that his ‘tour’ consisted of reading a brochure.

I haven’t drank much Jack Daniels in the last 13 years, but I can’t help admiring the marketing drive of the company – I had signed the visitors book when I was there, and from that, the long line of communication. Funnily enough, there is a distillery I would like to hear from, but don’t. The year after my visit to Tennessee, I visited the Bushmills Distillery in Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland. I was there with a friend who shared an interest in whiskey (i.e. in drinking it). The tour was great, but what really peaked our interest was a visit to one of the warehouses. There, hundreds of barrels were stacked to the ceiling, each a cask of what would be bottled as Millennium Malt. My friend and I glanced at each other – we were both thinking the same thing – We’ll take one!

A barrel of Millennium Malt cost 4,500 pounds sterling in 1995 (the year of our visit). The Celtic Tiger was just a wet little kitten back then, so we didn’t have that sort of cash to splash on hooch. We put together a consortium of 20 discerning drinkers (well, some of them were), purchased Cask 239 and christened it “Oscail agus Ol”[Irish for “Open and Drink”]. Five years later, in November 2000, we took possession of the cask (20 bottles for each person), and each bottle had the owner’s name on it. What better way to toast the new millennium than a glass of 25 year old single malt from a bottle with your own name on it?

We haven’t heard from Bushmills since., and it’s not like they don’t know our names. It didn’t seem to occur to them that we were exactly the sort of people that they should be sending marketing material to. And not just any old marketing fluff either. You see, next year is the four hundredth anniversary of Bushmills, and over the last few years, my friend repeatedly enquired if they were going to do anything special for it, ala the Millennium. And their response ? Nothing, other than a polite thank you for the enquiry. At least they answered him. I’ve sent a couple of enquiries this Autumn, explaining my interest and that I had already squandered, sorry, invested in one of their special offers already. I didn’t even get an automatically generated email answer.

Dear, oh dear. On their website, there is a hint that there will be some special products released to mark the anniversary. But since the really good stuff takes years to mature, they must already know what they are going to offer. So lads, how about it ? You’ve got prospective customers willing to throw good money after bad at you. I don’t need a calendar, and I’m not looking for whiskey cake. But a response would be nice. Oh, and just a bottle or two of the hard stuff. And I’ll be looking for a discount. I’m a regular customer, remember.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:34 PM | Comments (5)

November 26, 2007

Winter Migrations

Whooper Swans (two adults and a juvenile) at Rahasane turlough in east Galway.

Winter has arrived. Just as thousands of Irish shoppers will head off to New York for a shopping spree before Xmas, a far larger migration will take towards Ireland.

Whooper Swans in flight at Rahasane turlough in east Galway.

The late autumn rains have begun to fill the turloughs in East Galway. At Rahasane, near Craughwell, shallow pools have formed across the flat communal meadowlands. Rahasane is not just filling with water - it is also filling with thousands of migrating birds seeking refuge from the harshness of the Scandanavian and Russian winter.

Rahasane is the largest turlough in Ireland when full, but it is hard to imagine the inundation that will occur over the next two months, judging from the scene on Saturday. Water levels are down on previous years. At this time in 2004, the water at Rahasane had nearly reached the edge of the meadow.

For me, winter migration starts when you can hear the honking of whooper swans echoing across a lake on a cold morning. There are dozens of whoopers at Rahasane, grazing away and looking decidedly plump. There are also huge flocks of lapwing, wigeon as well as loads of other species - I hope to see some birds of prey the next time I'm out there. [See the Galway Bird Watching page for a larger list of species that you might see at Rahasane.]

Further references:

Rahasane turlough, October 2004.

Rahasane turlough, January 2006

Posted by Monasette at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2007

Walk on the Wet Side

I doubt if any of the hill walkers downing pints in The South Pole Inn over the Bank Holiday weekend had to endure even a fracture of the hardship of the former owner of the place. The pub, in Annascaul village (on the Dingle Peninsula in Kerry) was once owned by Tom Crean who managed to survive both Scott's doomed expedition to the Antarctic and Shackleton's failed Trans-Antarctic expedition. And maybe it was no harm to be reminded of what real hardship means, give our own humble efforts over the weekend.

The Annascaul Walking Festival was organised for the October Bank Holiday weekend and I had hoped that the weather would be better than last year's Killarney Walking festival, when it rained almost continually over the weekend. Alas, no. The weather was atrocious on Saturday when we climbed Mount Brandon - shrieking winds, thick cloud and low temperatures. The thing about Brandon is that there are markers all along the way (about 40 paces apart) so it's a fairly straightforward task to walk up to the summit in near-zero visibility. It's just not a very pleasant task.

The original plan by the organisers was to walk to the summit and then cross over to the Connor Pass. But because of the weather, and the large numbers of walkers, the guides decided to cut it short and just return back down the way we came. Fair enough - discretion is always the better part of valour. I had lugged a complete spare set of gear in my bag, so was feeling a little bit smug when I changed at the summit and began the descent. An hour later, when I was back at the point I'd started. A coach had brought us to the base of Brandon, and it didn't arrive until nearly 3pm - I had been the first to make it to the meeting point forty-five minutes earlier. And the bus had to wait for nearly an hour more to collect all the wet and miserable climbers before returning to Annascaul.

The bus smelled like a sett of wet badgers by the time it returned to the village, and most of us just wanted to go straight to our lodgings to change and try to warm up. However, the bus pulled up outside the village hall and inside, volunteers handed out piping-hot soup, sandwiches and cake. Wall heaters were turned to full blast and there was even some entertainment laid on (a couple of local girls with accordions playing trad). Fed and feted, we soon forgot our shivers and aches.

Sunday started so much better. The route was to walk the valley at Annascaul Lake, and then ascend Beeneskee. The sun lit up the cliffs overlooking the lake as we assembled at the car park there. But as soon as we began walking up the valley, past the waterfalls, the rain came in. And it wasn't just the drizzle of the day before. No - heavy driving rain was the perfect accompaniment to walking in squelch, boggy ground. We were all drenched again. . The day was shaping up for more misery when, luckily, the rain stopped after about 40 minutes, and though it was chilly for the rest of the day, at least it was clear - we even got a glimpse of Brandon Bay from the summit.

There's no point in even contemplating a hobby such as hill-walking in Ireland if rain and drizzle causes you upset. And even the fanciest gear doesn't seem to be able to fully protect against the worst of Irish weather - capillary action is an irresistible force. And sometimes a walking festival can seem like a Gore-Tex festival - every conceivable type of jacket, boot and waterproofing on display. Tom Crean certainly went a whole lot further with far less. And even as we were tramping up the seemingly unending dome of Bennoskee in the rain, a sheep farmer was trudging up behind us, wearing little more than an overcoat and a pair of wellies. And he had to drive a herd of the dumbest creatures ever to wander the countryside in front of him. Ok, second dumbest.

UPDATE 26/07/2007 Forgot to mention that I put some pictures of the walking weekend up on Flickr.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:12 PM | Comments (2)

Carrauntoohil Rescue Mission

Carrauntoohil, in the Magillacuddy Reeks, is Ireland's highest mountain - it is also one of Ireland's most dangerous mountains. It is not because the Reeks are particularly high, or hard to climb. Judging by the Kerry Mountain Rescue statistics, a lot of their 'customer base' is due to poor decision making.

The Irish Independent had a story last week about two walkers that had to be rescued from Carrauntoohil in October. They waited until after lunch to set off [I mentioned before about the number of people who set off to climb Carrauntoohill too late to get down safely ], didn't seem to have maps or compass and ended up stumbling about in almost no visibility.

Fifty members of Kerry Mountain Rescue - all volunteers - had to set off to cart them back down to safety. Luckily for the two walkers, it was a rescue mission rather than a recovery one.

Posted by Monasette at 11:04 PM | Comments (2)

November 20, 2007


Walking by the Spanish Arch under the light of the moon in October.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:22 PM | Comments (1)

November 19, 2007

The Price of Paradise

Even on Inishbofin island, off the Galway coast, the property boom is beginning to flag. I photographed this old cottage on the August Bank Holiday weekend, and it is still on the market. According to the auctioneer

[the cottage above] is a once off opportunity to have your own little piece of paradise

Who could put a price on paradise ? Well, as it happens, the auctioneer has - he's looking for 200,000 euro. As is.

200,000 smackers for a hovel ? I'd expect him to throw in a widow with a dowry for that.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:28 PM | Comments (1)

November 14, 2007

The Fall

Autumn colour clings on, in the Graigabbey river, between Attymon and Athenry, in east Galway.

Camera=Canon 5D, lens = Canon 24-105m@105, aperture=f10, speed=4sec, ISO=250, tripod.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2007

Final Approach

There is a video on YouTube showing an Airbus 380 landing at Galway Airport, located just east of Galway city in Carnmore. It's a flight simulator video, of course, since the real airport would nearly another mile of tarmac to handle the new Airbus or its Boeing rival, the Jumbo. Carnmore is more used to turbo-prop passenger craft or the BAE 146, though it occasionally hosts more exotic visitors during the Salthill Airshow every June.

Galway doesn't really need a large airport, since it is equidistant between Shannon and Knock, each of which are capable of handling any plane in operation today. The drawback is that neither the road or rail network linking Galway to the airports is complete yet.

According to Sean Spellissey's ever excellent History of Galway, Galway Airport began in the 1960s as a private airstrip for a German industrialist, Ernst Steiner, who used it to commute between his home in Germany and his factory near Carnmore. In the 1970s, Aer Arran (then a subsidised local airline providing air links to the islands off the west coast of Ireland) was mainly crewed at that time by ex-RAF pilots, including a Battle of Britain veteran, which was a tad ironic, given that Steiner was a Luftwaffe veteran.

Today, the airport is mainly owned by the Galway Chamber of Commerce, and the airport has air links to other Irish cities as well as a bunch of British and European regional airports . From March 2008, it will also host an air ambulance service.

Camera=Canon 5D, lens = Canon 100-400m@400, aperture=f11, speed=20sec, ISO=250, tripod.

The image above is a composite of two pictures, and thus records 40 seconds of an aircraft as it descends towards the runway. Unfortunately, even a camera like the 5D takes a bit of time to 'write' an exposure to the memory card, particularly a very long exposure. Because of the delay, I didn't get an image of the plane actually landing. I first planned to take this sort of picture of the airport about 3 years ago and only finally got around to it last night (I have a lot of other projects in similar abeyance). Though I'm not entirely happy with the final images (bit too much flare, and the angle of the airstrip isn't the best), I figured I'd be better off posting it than waiting another 3 years.

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Posted by Monasette at 01:21 AM | Comments (3)

November 08, 2007

Looking for Hybrasil

Hybrasil was a mythical island off the west coast of Ireland, glimpsed only occasionally through the mist. I was reminded of the legend while taking this shot of Slea Head and the Blasket Islands [off the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry] through a veil of evening rain at sunset over the October Bank Holiday Weekend this year.

Camera=5D, lens=100-400@400mm, ISO=250, speed=1/1600, aperture=f6.3, exposure=-1.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:17 PM | Comments (1)

November 04, 2007

Last splash

It's getting a bit nippy in the evenings, but there is always a few hardy types who brave the cold water for their daily swim in Salthill.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

World Wide Web

Strands of spiders webs fluttering in the breeze last week in East Galway.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:40 PM | Comments (1)

November 02, 2007

It's good for you...really

Guinness sign and comment on the wall outside Hanafin's Pub in Annascaul, Co. Kerry.

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Posted by Monasette at 12:02 AM | Comments (0)