A Travellerspoint blog

Paul Chatenoud RIP

I met Paul Chatenoud for the first and only time in 2008 when I stayed at his bed and breakfast on top of a mountain in Donegal.

I stayed for three days in one of his beautifully restored cottages overlooking Loughross Bay during 10 days in Donegal and remember his gargantuan breakfasts, quirky artworks that surrounded the buildings and plenty of good conversation.

It was Paul that told me the story of how, when he first converted the cottages into a b&b, he took a booking from a party of seven Americans, who when they arrived couldn't possibly stay as the water that came out of the taps was dirty. Paul explained that the water filtered down through the mountain bog so that was why it was a thin muddy colour, but perfectly ok. Unfortunately the fantastic views, great accommodation and the good company weren't enough compensation, so they turned their car around and headed back down the mountain. From then on Paul always made sure that potential customers from the USA were aware of the water situation and if they booked there was no refund!!

Paul died at the end of January and I saw his obituary and photo in the Irish Times last week. I knew that he'd come to Ireland and fallen inn love with the place and when he went back to Paris he sold his book shop and came back to Donegal permanently. He was a musicologist and philosopher and I always remember him with a cigarette clamped in his mouth, even when preparing breakfast.

His obituary described him as cross between Jean Paul Sartre and Charles Aznavour with

the furrowed face of a philosopher but the twinkling eye of an entertainer

I've never satyed anywhere quite like the Green Gate bed and breakfast and I'm fairly sure I never will again.

Posted by johnward 04:16 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

A 'neccesaire'

I was trawling through MyAntiques.ie t'other day and I came across the fact that Daniel O'Connell's (thats the Great Liberator from Kerry and not the droning troubador from Donegal) shaving kit had been sold at Sotheby's in London for the very reasonable price of £1,750. So, not only do you get a piece of history that is related to one of the great Irishmen of the 19th century, but also something that you can use.

The shaving kit, or neccesaire as the French call it, is in a red silk lined mahogony box with12 silver topped glass jars, with 10 blades and ivory handles. Very me.

This got me thinking. One of the things I miss most now I'm not mooching the highways and byeways of the Middle East, is my regular weekly shave. From Istanbul to Van, Damascus to Aleppo, Jerusalem through to Jenin and Cairo to Dahab via Siwa, I've spent many happy hours in rickety black leather chairs being lathered, debristled and threaded. Happy days!

I miss the hot towels, the time and effort it takes to apply the shaving foam, the endless cups of tea, the chit chat; the barbers is somewhere that men go to talk (never gossip), to meet old friends, to smoke incessantly and to get their ears de haired in the most painful way possible.

The barber is a true artist. The moment he has finished applying the shaving foam (which can take anywhere between 5 -10 minutes) and he lines the blade up for that first stroke, is the moment of truth. If he's confident and knows what he's doing, the blade will glide downward in a firm stroke over the skin, usually beginning by the ear. That first stroke should set the rhythm for the rest of the shave; stroke, clean blade, stroke, adjust head angle and repeat.

By the time he's finished, the skin would be tingling and often a little bloody, which is where the styptic pencil comes in. I make it a point of honour never to scream, although I do find myself gripping the chair arms firmly. Many barbers will assume you want your eyebrows and cheek bones threaded. Up until such an experience in Dahab, I had little idea of the pain involved or how clean you feel afterwards.

A shave in Turkey might be a little different from Syria and Syria would be a little different from Egypt and Egypt from Jordan and so on, but what they all have in common (apart from one rip off merchant in Goreme) is an hour of bliss. And all achieved whilst sitting down. Perfect.

Posted by johnward 08:15 Comments (0)

''They take you behind the sun''

A friend of mine, John Wreford, lived for a decade in Damascus, making his living as a very fine photographer. He finally left 4 months ago when it simply became too difficult for him to carry on living in his home. He moved onto Istanbul, a city he knows and loves. The BBC tracked him down a couple of weeks ago to see if he could introduce Radio 4 's iPM programme to some of the Syrian refugees living in Istanbul.

As a result, on Saturday we meet Hasan who works in the bazaar, Rema, a former banker, Mo, possibly the first stand up comic in Syria, Yasir who wants to escape to Europe and a deserter from the Syrian military who is existing without papers in Istanbul. They all speak frankly and openly about their experiences and it is Hasan who sets the tone as he describes the moment when the police/army/militias/mukhabarat come calling and take their victims 'behind the sun.'

This 30 minute programme gives a voice to the images we see on tv most nights.

The last time I saw John was in March this year in Cairo when he had a brilliant idea of opening a gallery on a boat on the Nile and introduced me to the finest fried liver and brain shop in the city. The Nile Gallery will have to wait a while and I really don't remember him sounding this posh!

For some reason I can't load the link but go to the Radio 4 website and you'll find the iPM programme link. It's well worth the listen.

Posted by johnward 11:33 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Time to hoik the haka?

Tomorrow Ireland take on the All Blacks in Dublin. New Zealand are aiming to get through the year by winning all their games (13 so far), whilst Ireland I fear, will settle for a good run out and some points on the board.

BOD will be hoping for a good 80 minutes as he still seems to carry a degree of, if not resentment, high dudgeon at missing out in the Lions/Australia third test match.

I have some real concerns over the development of Irish rugby, especially with all the confusion over the future of the Heinekin Cup, but some readers of the Irish Times seem more exercised by trying to ban the haka, particularly one Rory O'Grady from Shankill in Co Dublin, who describes the All Blacks pre kick off call to arms as an 'inappropriate charade.' I've always quite enjoyed the haka and would hate to see it disappear when the All Blacks go on tour.

The best suggestion to combat the influence of the haka was also carried in the Times earlier this week, when someone suggested that the IRFU send in the troika to undermine the confidence of the New Zealanders. The troika can break the spirit of the Irish nation, but I'm doubtful they would survive a set piece with the All Blacks.

Posted by johnward 02:28 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Note to self

I'm going to have to keep reminding myself that I've left my Cavan bolthole behind and am back in England: don't say hello to strangers as they don't like it!

Posted by johnward 07:08 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Who is Irish Sam?

Last week I was reading a piece in the Irish Times that outlined a court case in Rotterdam that found two Dutch men, identified only as Mohammad G and Omar C, guilty of readying themselves to travel to Syria and 'preparing to commit murder' on behalf of the rebels. (Who the rebels are is another question after almost three years of fighting).

Contained within the story was a line that said that for countries of their population, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland are providing more foreign fighters than any one else for the rebels. One of these fighters is Libyan - Irishman, Hosam Najjair, aka Irish Sam.

It's worth remembering that in the interweb universe there are lots of stories concerning foreign fighters in Syria. The one that caught my eye was one entitled


The article describes how 'Irish military elites...'

...train clerico fascists and counter revolutionaries in Syria, extreme right wing thugs who behead, torture, slaughter and abuse women; these hordes of a decadent empire in its death throes, sent into smash the last bastion of people's resistance (that would be everybody's favourite eye surgeon, Assad) against Zionism and Imperialism in the Middle East

You get the tone of the article. It then goes on to show a picture, purportedly of I assume, an Irish merc training these clerico fascist revolutionaries, although a glance at the caption confirms otherwise

This is a trainer, but we do not know his background, Irish or otherwise

So, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Irish Sam however is very real and we do know about his background. Born in Ireland and now in his mid 30's, he was raised in Dublin to an Irish mother and Libyan father and first came to attention after fighting for the anti Gaddafi rebels in Libya. He told a reporter that

I knew I could make a difference and had many talents to offer, namely being a fluent English speaker which could help the media aspect for the rebels, discovering my fighting talents and what I was made of as a soldier was a bonus and gave me new goals to achieve

Sam was fighting in Libya as part of the Tripoli Brigade, where it seems his skills as a sniper and weapons expert were put to good use. The Tripoli Brigade was a force founded and led by his brother in law, another Irish - Libyan called Mehdi al - Harati.

Following his time in Libya, Sam returned to Ireland where he decided to write a book about his experiences, Soldier for a Summer, including stories

...of a captured 19 year old girl sniper who had killed 16 men, and stories of African and Ukrainian mercenaries, and the horrors they inflicted on the Libyan people

In early 2012 Sam reunited with Harati, this time in northern Syria, via Turkey's porous border, and in a new fighting force the Liwa al Umma, where his Libyan experiences proved invaluable as at the time the rebels had very little practical experience of urban warfare. After six months of fighting Assad's army and training rebel forces, Sam re crossed the border into Turkey and headed back to Ireland. Interviewed by Newsweek earlier this year he talked about his fears for the increasing radicalisation of the opposition within Syria, and

...he worries for young men who will join the cause for romantic notions. The Free Syrian Army is disintegrating, but while it is still "the people's army - it is being weakened" by the more fundamentalist groups.

Supporting the Assad's regime is Hezbollah, who have decades of tough street fighting experience behind them.

Hezbollah are strong fighters, used to urban warfare. My message to young men wanting to fight in Syria is, 'Don't Go! Do not think of going over. The Army does not need manpower. There is a lot of humanitarian work you can do. But fighting is suicide.

Whilst he is right to fear the fighting efficiency of Hezbollah and the romantic notions of young Muslim men heading off to fight in the Middle East's version of the Spanish Civil War, he points out that it was his own sense of a disconnection as an Irish Muslim with Ireland and strong identification with the Sunnis of Libya and then Syria that decided his actions.

Idealistic young men, (it is estimated that 20 Irishmen have fought in Syria), radicalised by preachers, seductive websites and what they see on the tv will continue to go to Syria to fight. Two of the most recent victims were a 16 year old Navan schoolboy Shamseddin Gaidan and 22 year old Hudhaifa el Sayed from Drogheda. The circumstances of the teenagers death are unclear and el Sayyed was shot and killed in northern Syria at the end of 2012.

The chances are that more young Irishmen will die on the battlefields of Syria before some sort of peace descends on this beautiful but benighted country.

Posted by johnward 04:28 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle is in the far north of Thailand, a place where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet. The area is best known for two things, the growing of opium and the cultivation of tourists.

However, there is a new Golden Triangle a lot nearer home and it falls approximately between Kingscourt, Carrickmacross and Killeshandra, all but a short step from my Cavan bolthole.

It seems as if gold has been discovered and whilst not on par with the Klondike or California Gold Rushes of the 19th century, there is a fair amount of excitement. I'm not expecting a column of pack mules and bearded 49'ers appearing anytime over the horizon anttime soon, but it does seem that there maybe gold hereabouts.

A couple of companies have been 'prospecting' in the Cavan/Monaghan border areas and seem to think that results show there maybe upto 50,000 ounces of gold waiting to be mined yearly; and at today's price £877 plus some odd pence per ounce, this represents quite a return.

Professor Patrick Conroy, the founder of Cponroy Gold, one of the companies involved, is quoted as saying that a mine may be operational as soon as 2016. Now, I have to admit that my prospecting experience and qualifications on this subject are nil, I refer the Prof to one of my favourite dead Irishmen, Phil Lynot and the opening verse of his 1977 opus 'Fools Gold' -

The old prospector he makes it to the four lane highway
His old compadre, he lays dead in the sand
With outstretched hands he cries, Are you going my way?
The people passing by didn't seem to understand

Think on...

Posted by johnward 05:09 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Zorro was an Irishman...maybe

Michael D is (who looks like my uncle Jim, who in turn looks like the Dungeonmaster) is down Mexico way and points south at the moment on a Presidential tour.

There has been a long and honourable tradition of Irishmen involving themselves in the doings of Mexico. Perhaps the most famous were a sundry bunch of Irish deserters from the US army, adventurers and idealists who fought on Mexico's side during that country's war with the US in 1846-48. They formed what was known as St Patrick's Battalion and although renowned for their prowess with artillery, it all ended, as these things tend to, rather messily. The Americans won the war and hung the survivors. Having said that, the Battalion are still remembered every September by a grateful if slightly nonplussed Mexican nation. Paddy Moloney from the Chieftains and Ry Cooder are big fans of the Battalion's work.

My favourite story, although I doubt if you can put much store in it, is of one William Lamport born in Wexford in the early 17th century. Educated by Jesuits, he could speak 14 languages by 21, had been arrested for sedition, escaped and became a pirate. Like many Irishmen of this time he joined one of the Spanish sponsored Irish regiments, where he gave the Swedes and Dutch a bloody nose. By the time he entered the service of the Spanish king, he has Hispanised his name to Guillen Lombardo.

Exiled, allegedly because of a scandalous love affair, Lamport was sent to Mexico, to spy for the Count-Duke of Olivares. Here he began to sympathize with local Indians slaves and studied native medicine. Inquisition documents merit him with bravery, a love affair with one Spanish noblewoman and the support, if not the initiation of, a burgeoning independence movement.

Like his compadres in St Patrick's Battalion a couple of hundred years later, it all went fatally wrong. In the early 1640's, just before he was about to be engaged to a noblewoman Antonia Turcious, the Mexican Inquisition arrested him and accused him of plotting a war of independence against Spain. He got 10 years in jail, but escaped and was rearrested after only two days.

In 1659 the Mexican Inquisition finally decided to cut their losses and empty their cells, and condemned him to death as a heretic and sentenced him to be burned at the stake. Legend holds that he struggled out of his ropes before he would burn to death and strangled himself by his iron collar.

True or not, its better than the movie.

Posted by johnward 02:26 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Who Needs Paris?

Not I!

Paris in the 1920's, all Hemmingwayey (Ernest, not Wayne), Jimmy Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Picasso et al. A hotbed of creativity, where every street cafe is one best seller or absinthe soaked poet away from being a literary salon; where ex pats gather to write that great novel or have that love affair that will scar them for the rest of their, usually short and tortured, lives.

What's not to like.

These days you have to make Paris where you find it. And I have found it most recently in the Church St Cafe in Kingscourt. I've been coming here for breakfast for the past fortnight (scrambled egg and a very nice brown bread toast and refills on the coffee front). I've hijacked a corner table near the plugs so I can get the interweb and write my blog; the food hits the spot, the company is sound, business seems good and the owner, Miriam, is one of those people you doubted ever really existed, outside the the pages of A Moveable Feast.

She knows everybody's name, including mine after a couple of visits. She always has time for a chat, doesn't make any fuss over the fact that I sit here for a couple of hours drinking her almost free coffee and even prints off emails for me. For some reason, the cafe seems to attract a disproportionate amount of customers called John. Arriving this morning was reminiscent of Norm rocking up on the threshold of 'Cheers', where he is greeted by Sam and the rest. The only difference this morning was that two John's arrived simultaneously, closely followed by a third. I think the record is four of us on the premises at once.

My time here is coming to an end and I only have another couple of breakfasts to go. It's always difficult to move on when you've found a place that ticks all the boxes, but it does mean that I'll have to come back. Just like Paris.

Posted by johnward 03:51 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

The Wider the Better

There' s a sound argument to be made that Ireland's literary tradition is it's greatest contribution to the world. The same could be said of its Wilde western landscapes, or its music, its Saints and Scholars or Graham Norton.

I think the most undervalued attraction of the country is the width of its town and village streets. In a city you may expect wide streets, but its not unusual to find in a village of thirteen people, two dogs and a herd of cows, a street 50 metres wide. This is not a haphazard development but a product of planning, organisation and a need for a civilised approach to traffic management. As many of these towns are Planter towns, there's probably a case to be made that wide streets also allow the free passage of a marauding regiment of English cavalry and a clear view for cannon and grapeshot, if the the natives ever grew restless.

The Wide Streets Commission (officially the Commissioners for making Wide and Convenient Ways, Streets and Passages) was established by an Act of Parliament in 1757, at the request of Dublin Corporation, as a body to govern standards on the layout of streets, bridges, buildings and other architectural considerations in Dublin. The commission was abolished by the Dublin Improvement Act of 1849, with the final meeting of the Commission taking place on 2 January 1851. Whilst the Commission was wrapped up over 200 years ago, its spirit seems to live on.

Driving is often a real pleasure in these oasis of motorised Nirvana; parking is easy although there is still a tendency for Irish driver to simply abandon their cars outside the shops they want to use. In Kingscourt, with a street almost as wide as it is long, they've introduced four roundabouts, a Celtic Milton Keynes if you will, but with real cows as the cattle market is next door to the Church St Cafe, where I'm writing this.

There's always room to reverse into traffic, do a straightforward U turn or any other vehicular manoeuvre that takes your fancy and not to cause a snarl up.

The other wonder of driving in Ireland is the raised finger of recognition.It's more a rural phenomenon where approaching drivers raise a laconic forefinger in each others direction, simply to acknowledge how lucky we are to be driving in Ireland. How I will miss it!

Posted by johnward 03:09 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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