A Travellerspoint blog

Do ya ken, Ken

Up early this morning to see if the Scots would have the guts to vote for independence. Apparently not.

There's often lots of movement in and around the hostel early - people leaving to go onto Galway or south to Kerry, or to catch an early ferry to the islands. This morning I had the company of a grumpy elderly Australian, one of those people who insist on making their phone calls via the speaker on their mobile. Apart from learning more about the Australian ringtones, I expected nothing but vexation.

The first thing to know is that the call was between two Kens, one here, the other 12,000 miles away.

''It's Ken M-n, can I speak to Ken?''

Hello? I can't hear you. Hello.''

''It's Ken here. I'm in Ireland and I'm calling about my Superfund.''

''Hello? Is anyone there?''

Dead line.


Redials. ''Hello, it's Ken here can I speak to Ken?

''Hi Ken.''

''Hi Ken. I'm calling about my Superfund. Sell eBay.''

At this point I assumed he meant shares rather than the entire company, although you do hear about eccentric billionaires trawling along the west coast of Ireland and he did have a posh push bike.

''Ken, I can barely hear you. What do you want me to do?

The conversation went along like this for a couple of minutes until...dead line.


He went through all this again after redialling, until OzKen finally got it - sell eBay. ''Ok Ken, I'll send the confirmation to you.''

Two minutes later he was back on the phone.

''Hi, it's Ken here in Ireland, can I speak to Ken?''

It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to work out what followed next. Finally he made it through to 0zKen.

''Ken, keep the money from eBay in $US.''

''Im sorry Ken, I'm only hearing 10% of what you're saying.'' (I'm sure that 10% was OzKen's commission)

''Keep eBay in $US!''

Dead line. ''Shit.''

''Hi Ken. You want me to sell eBay and do what with the money? Ok, keep it in sterling?''

As can be imagined grumpy IrishKen was getting frustrated, and remember, he was called grumpy for a reason. Eventually OzKen got the message and all was well.

Two minutes later, grumpy IrishKen was back on the phone.

''Hi, its Ken. I'm calling from Ireland, can I speak to Ken?''

''Hello. who's this. Who do you want?''

''It's Ken. I'm in Ireland. I've been speaking to Ken about my Superfund.''

''Sorry, wrong number.''

Dead line.


Posted by johnward 06:44 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

''I'll get you audited''

As far as I know , Anthony Cafferkey and PJ Sheerin have never met and are unlikely to do so, but their worlds collided this week when both their names featured in the quarterly list of tax defaulters published in today's Irish Times. It's a list comprising 127 companies and individuals and Mr Cafferkey, a retired company director, was the star of the show with a €13, 546,478 settlement against him. That was the highest; PJ's settlement was a more modest, relatively speaking, €22,981 and that was the lowest.

These defaulters (a much politer term than some I could think of) are living right across the Republic, with a couple living in the North, including Anthony Cafferkey. Leitrim is the only county not represented in the list of shame and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Dublin featured the most debtors with 24. Mayo and Cork came a valiant second with 8 each and Wicklow made a late charge for second spot, with five. It was only on closer inspection that I realised that three out of the five Wicklow judgements were against two owners of the same fast food suppliers.

Probably the best known name on the list is Robert Mizzell, a well known country singer. He was on the Liveline radio show yesterday (Liveline with Joe Duuuuffy!!), explaining how he got himself into this mess - being on the road, self employed etc etc. Robert hasn't had a good few months; he's been audited, has to pay €60,000 in capital and fines (underdeclaration of income tax) and one of his favourite stars Garth Brooks didn't make it to Dublin. But, being a country singer, I'm sure there will be a song, the more maudlin the better, about his experiences.

There's a vast range of people and occupations on the list: engineers, builders, locksmiths, carpet fitters, farmers, grocers, retired company directors, publicans, an architect, a hotel owner from just up the road in Lisdoonvarna, taxi drivers, a farmer/fisherman/B+B owner from the Aran Islands, a used cooking oil importer, restaurant owners, hairdressers, a property developer/pony trekking service owner and retired auctioneers.

These audits, which Mizzell said can last upto a year and are very stressful, usually find undeclared or under declared Income Tax, VAT, PAYE, Corporation Tax or Capital Gains Tax. Occasionally there is something more exciting like an Offshore Funds Investigation, but 99% of the cases are run of the mill deliberate avoidance or perhaps genuine mistakes.

Some of the companies with charges against them are already in liquidation and Peter Wilcox, a retired dry cleaner from Wexford will be surprised to find out he owes just under €41,000 for an underdeclaration of VAT as he is listed as dead.

Anthony Cafferkey leads the Default Stakes by a country mile, but there are a two individuals, both in Dublin with €1m+ judgements against them. There is also a Dublin taxi driver, Michael Gill who owes the grand total of €636,447 and my personal favourite, purely from a schadenfreude point of view, is Marcella Gibbons, a debt collector. She owes €138,997. The old adage, 'walk a mile in my shoes' seems apt.

Some of these judgements may tip companies and individuals over the financial edge and whether they should be named and shamed in this way people will disagree over. The total levied in fines and added interest on the capital sums for this quarter comes to just over €31,633,000, not a small amount, but then I think of the penury that the bankers and politicians reduced Ireland to, without any obvious consequences, and I find myself thinking are these people all that bad?

The one glimmer of hope I found in the entire sorry mess is that Tipperary had five names on the list and Kerry only three and with the replay of the All Ireland Hurling at the end of the month between the two counties, perhaps Tipp fans will take this as a prophecy.

Posted by johnward 07:06 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

'Irish soldiers don't stand back'*

Ireland must be one of the few countries in the world where, the Minister for Defence also doubles as the Minister for Agriculture, although in fairness, over the years the Agriculture brief has been the more demanding and bruising. But whatever irate farmers across the land may think, the priorities for Simon Coveney, the Minister for Agrifence, changed at the end of August.

The Irish troops are currently in the Golan Heights, the de facto barrier between Israel and Syria, fulfilling a UN Mandate voted on 40 years ago. The UN are there to make sure that the Israelis and Syrians keep to the terms of their ceasefire and to monitor 'the zone of separation'; what was not envisaged was that the Golan would become what is essentially a southern frontline in the Syrian civil war. Last week Irish troops exchanged fire with Islamist insurgents in the course of a rescue mission to release 35 Fijian UN troops, whose base was surrounded by hundreds of insurgents. These fighters apparently included elements from Jabhat al Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate.

The rebel fighters attacked the UN base following the successful seizure of Queneitra, a town close to the Syrian border with the Heights, killing 20 or so Syrian soldiers; they then advanced on the UN base to the south of Quenetira where they seized the Fijian troops. Although the Irish rescued 35 Fijians, over 40 still remain captive.

As the situation in Syria (and the wider region) falls further and further into chaos, Irish peacekeepers are mediating between two governments, but are facing down Islamic insurgents and possibly fighters from the Islamic State, who are using the Golan as a base of operations.

Ireland has a proud history wearing the UN blue from the Congo, to Cyprus, Lebanon, parts of the former Yugoslavia and now the Golan Heights. As Tom Clonan, a security analyst pointed out in a piece in Tuesday's Irish Times, all the parties in the conflict - Israelis, Syrians, Hizbollah and Palestinian militias, have a track record of firing on the Irish peacekeepers.

Fifty percent of out casualties in Lebanon were inflicted by the Israelis and their proxies. The remainder were inflicted by Islamist resistance groups...Syrian troops shot dead an Irish army officer, Comdt Thomas Wickham, on Golan in 1967.

There is a rotation of Irish troops due later this month and I would think that this is the item on Coveney's desk that is causing him the most thought. Do the government carry on with their role in the mandate? (one of the reasons the Irish are there is that Austrian and Croat troops were pulled out by their respective governments). Do they get a fresh mandate from the UN taking cognizance of what the Israeli's like to call the 'facts on the ground'? Do they delay the rotation of troops? If the Irish pull out, who would replace them and if no one, presumably that would mean the end of the operation?

If an Irish withdrawal does mean an end to UN operations, would that not simply reinforce the Syrian people's belief that the rest of the world has abandoned them, and once abandoned, forgotten?

Simon Coveney has a big task pacifying Irish farmers, for slights and injustices real and imagined, but I think this may be his biggest challenge in government to date.

  • Paddy Horahan, retired Company Sgt, UN Congo Veteran, aged just 17, speaking at Veterans Day , Sept 2 2014

Posted by johnward 04:36 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Belfast, Bombings and Boxty

We had a big storm in north Clare last week (I'd been under the impression that I'd been living in west Clare for the last 6 weeks, but that's another story). Heavy rain and strong winds throughout the day turned into the expected miserable night; 'twas like sleeping in the Underground with a tube rushing by every seven seconds. A very damp and sodden Underground.

Friday morning found me in the Doolin Cafe, just down the road from my tent. The conversation went something like 'Would you like to see a menu?'
'No thanks, just a cup of black coffee and the biggest breakfast you have.'

The biggest breakfast is something called The Glutton, a beast consisting of poached eggs (2), crispy bacon (4 rashers), spicy chorizo (5 slices), beans (I didn't bother to count, but safe to say there were between 10 - 500), fried potatoes (ditto), roasted tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, haloumi on roasted peppers, toast, butter, apple juice brown sauce (the last is optional). And lots of black coffee.

Glancing through the Irish Times as I set about The Glutton, I came across an article about boxty and the possibility of it attaining the European Protected Geographical Indication status. This would confer on this once humble foodstuff, the same protection enjoyed by Champagne and Cheddar cheese.

It seems as if there is some doubt as to the origins of boxty and what it means. It is long thought to be known in Irish as aran bocht ti in, which translates as bread of the poor house or it may come from the word bacstai (to bake). Whether its a famine food or a more celebratory dish, this humble Irish fried potato pancake is now on sale in Dublin's Temple Bar and is becoming big business, particularly in the boxty heartlands of Cavan, Leitrim and Monaghan.

The Glutton polished off, I was joined by Hazel, a grandmother from Oregon via Canada and before that Belfast. She was back in Ireland for her granddaughter's wedding. She and the family left Belfast for Canada in the mid 50's and from there to Oregon in 1957. She remembers the night, sometime in 1941, when the family home, with her and her sister inside, were bombed out by the Luftwaffe.

She lived near the docks, so it was a target for German bombs; her father was in the RUC and was on duty that night, whilst her mother was doing relief work. For some reason, earlier that evening, Hazel had cleared out the cupboard under the stairs and when the bombs started falling she told her younger sister to come down from their bedroom and stay in the cupboard. Within a couple of minutes, the top floor had disappeared under German bombs and both sisters survived. Sometime later in the evening, while rescue workers were clearing the rubble away, Hazel's sister got her hands on their fathers old revolver, determined to shoot the first person through what remained of their front door.

That's how they rolled in Belfast in 1941.

I can also recommend the porridge that comes with honey, seeds and cranberries. The poached eggs are to die for and Hannah, mine host, is a poet and photographer in her spare time.

Posted by johnward 08:36 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

3:13 - not quite enough

It's not often that The Clash are referenced prior to one of the nation's major sporting events, but that is what happened today. Joe Brolly, ex player, All Ireland winner, pundit, contrarian (professional in execution, still amateur in enjoyment, in case the GAA were worried) and all round entertainer, was worried about the Mayo goalkeeper, Rob Hennelly. He thought he was indecisive when it mattered so came out with a verse from the Clash's 'Should I Stay or Should I Go?'

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

And there were moments in the game where Hennelly's play influenced the result, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This game was the result of last week's breathtaking draw in Croke Park, where Mayo and Kerry battled each other to a standstill in a game that neither deserved to lose. The replay, dependent on whether you subscribe to conspiracy or cock up theory by the GAA, was played in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, a home game in essence for Kerry and a trip into the unknown for Mayo (I think the last time Mayo played here was when Methuselah was a lad and Cavan were still looking forward to a run of success in the All Ireland).

The game was as expected - full of great individual performances, forwards jumping higher than defenders, defenders throwing themselves in front of forwards, goals, points, great saves (see Rob Hennelly), terrible kick outs (see Rob Hennelly), one team leading only to be pegged back, passion, players facing each other down, clashes of heads between teammates, a pitch invasion of one...and then extra time.

Mayo came, saw and fell just a little short; Kerry always seemed to have a little more in the tank, a bit more imagination and more options, so it was no surprise that they ran out 3:16 to 3:13 winners, but if these two games were your first introduction to Gaelic Football, the footballing Gods (and Joe Brolly) were smiling on you.

Posted by johnward 23:15 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Ireland's Killing Fields

This weekend was the Doolin Beer Festival, a celebration of all things craft and artisan in the world of Irish beers and food. This year was slightly different because the Friday events were cancelled following a funeral in the village. Last Wednesday, a local man, TJ McDonagh was working on his family farm in Liscannor, when a tyre he was fitting to a trailer exploded. Despite the efforts of the ambulance service, paramedics and the Irish Coastguard based in Shannon and Doolin, TJ died en route to Galway University Hospital.

Farms are dangerous places (my brother in law has had more than one close call with a chainsaw!) so perhaps a tragedy like this is not unexpected, but what is shocking is that TJ's death is already the 20th in the first eight months of 2014. The irony is that this latest farm death happened on the eve of a conference in Kilkenny looking at safety issues on Irish farms, particularly in relation to children's safety. So far this year, four children have died on Irish farms; the youngest, a one year old died after being struck by a tractor, the oldest, a 17 year old was crushed by a trailer wheel.

At the other end of the age range, eight of the 20 deaths have been farmers aged over 60, the oldest an 84 year old from Donegal who was attacked by a cow and died of his injuries. The county with most fatalities is Cork, with four. The conference heard that rushing to get work done, increased pressures on farmers and using increasingly larger and complicated machinery are leading to accidents, often fatal. The death total for 2013 was 16.

For decades Irish roads were where you would read about death and carnage, especially after a weekend. Its taken many, many years for the Irish state and Irish drivers to take road safety seriously, but improvements are being made, albeit slowly. Ireland is still a rural economy, especially in the west, and is therefore of vital importance to the local and national economy but somehow farmers have to be made aware, like road users, that 20 deaths in less than eight months is unacceptable. Embrace Farm Support is a national organisation, set up for families affected by farm deaths and accidents. Brian Rohan, who founded the organisation with his wife Norma, following his own father's death on the family farm in 2012, said that children who live on a farm need to be exposed to the farming life to encourage them, but it can be done safely. He also said that children needed to

put pressure on the parents because the 50 or 60 or 70 year old farmer who has been taking risks...and getting away with it, are set in their mind and won't change.

If the older farmer has been getting away with it, there seems little incentive to change. Dangerous or drunk driving has consequences for the driver but I'm unsure that dangerous practices on farms are treated with the same importance. I wonder how many more farming families will be meeting their neighbours at funeral masses up and down the country before they begin to say, enough is enough.

Posted by johnward 07:54 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Croker Choker

Yesterday was the All Ireland Football Semi Final between Mayo and Kerry and, inevitably it involved a revisit to the House of Pain that is the lot of a Mayo supporter (see entry Final Whistle. Cue deep existential despair). Mayo seem genetically incapable of doing things the easy way.

There must have been tens of thousands of words written about this game in the preceding week, with most of the experts tipping Mayo to win by a point or two, including it seemed North Korea's Defence Commission. There was a headline earlier in the week 'North Korea launches verbal attack on Kerry' and I thought who would have guessed that the world's most secret country had a passion for Gaelic football and supported the nearly men of the sport. Alas, it was not so - it was actually a tirade against US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who they described as a wolf in sheep's clothing with a hideous lantern jaw'. But I am expecting something from the North Korean politburo concerning Mayo's use of the sweeper system.

I settled down to watch the match at the hostel via my laptop, with Mark from San Antonio, who is interested in gaelic games. I'd barely explained that Kerry were in blue and Mayo in red, when Kerry were a point up. Obviously they'd come to do a job and hadn't read the pundits.

The first half was end to end, nip and tuck but Kerry always seemed to have a little extra about them. Goal chances came and went but the real turning point was the sending off of Mayo's Lee Keegan for a deliberate kick on Johnny Buckley. It was something and nothing - think David Beckham's petulance against Diego Simeone during the 1998 world cup, and you'll have an idea of what it was like. But the ref saw a foul and off he went. It was only a minute to half time.

Mayo ended the half one man down and 0-5 to 0-9 in arrears. Mayo hadn't played well and Kerry didn't need to.

Ten minutes into the second half it was all square. Mayo came out like a team knowing they had 35 minutes to save their season - they were first to kick outs, first to the second ball and simply ran hard and direct at the Kerry defence in order to get into scoring positions. In the 58 minute Mayo were awarded a penalty and the laptop crashed.

It took five minutes to get back to the live game and to find out that Mayo had scored from the penalty spot, and led the game for the first time, Kerry still had enough to snap to harry the Mayo backs - when they had the ball. In the 65 minute, Hawkeye was called into action to confirm a Mayo point. Five minutes to go and Mayo were leading 1-16 to 0-15. They simply had to hold on and not do anything rash.

With three minutes left and Mayo leaving space in their backs, Kerry grab the goal that leaves them just a point adrift. There are three minutes of extra time to play and the game is levelled in the 72 minute. The replay, rather bizarrely is to be held in Limerick, in the heart of county Munster, so its essentially a home game for Kerry; arguably all the sweeter when Mayo win.

There's no doubt that it was a great game and a draw was probably a fair result, but Mayo, oh Mayo... you are heartbreakers.

Posted by johnward 04:19 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

From County Cavan to Lincoln County

Two words guaranteed to send me into the slough of despair is 'comedy western' . Apart from Blazing Saddles, Butch and Sundance, Cat Ballou and couple of deliberately humorous moments in Silverado the concept simply does not work.

I'm a revisionist sort of chap - I like a western that revisits the old cliches of the 1940's and 50's and re examines, challenges and ideally overthrows them. That's why, when the German expressionist and noir director, Robert Siodmak got his hands on the Custer myth back in the 1960's, it was always going to be at the very least, interesting. The film was slaughtered by the critics and moviegoers alike, but it was interesting.

Movies like The Professionals, The Wild Bunch, The Outlaw Josie Wales and Major Dundee are much more my cup of tea. Although made within the mainstream Hollywood factory system, they all managed to subvert the genre to a lesser or greater extent. The Bad Man doesn't necessarily wear the black hat, he more often than not wears dusty cavalry blue. Add to that Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, another movie by Sam Peckinpah, and there you have my perfect Western night's viewing.

That last movie is particularly interesting to me (see my entry Ben Hur? Meet Billy the Kid! September 2010. It's also my most visited blog); it covers the period of the Lincoln County War in New Mexico in 1878 that involved Pat and Billy and John Chisum (architect of the Chisum Trail and played by John Wayne in the movie Chisum) and even more so now, as I've just found at that one of the main players William J Brady, Sheriff of Lincoln County at the time and bushwhacked (not often I get to use the word bushwhacked) by Billy, was a Cavan man.

The Mac Brádaigh family were prominent in Breifne since the 13th century but by the time our man was born in 1829, the family were in reduced circumstances - his father was a potato farmer; after he died William left for the US where he enlisted in the army and was posted for five years to southern Texas. Not getting enough of army life, Brady re enlisted and was transferred to New Mexico. From there he went to the New Mexico Volunteers, fought in the battle of Glorietta Pass (against the Johnny Rebs I think), and ended up as a First Lieutenant in the First Regiment, New Mexico Cavalry. Once the civil war was over, Brady continued his military career. leading missions against the Navajo and Apaches nations.

By 1866, Brady was married, out of the army and living the life of a rancher on the Rio Bonito, just a few miles east of the town of Lincoln. In 1870 he became sheriff of Lincoln County. The following year he was the first representative from Lincoln County to sit in the Territorial Legislature. He lost the seat in the succeeding election but was re elected as sheriff in 1876. All in all, William J was doing pretty well for himself - he had a solid if unspectacular military career behind him, he seems that he was making contacts with the local politicos and was elected sheriff twice. The coming man.

The Lincoln County War was little more than a dispute between a small group of rich and vain businessmen who wanted to control the dry goods monopoly of the territory. On one side was Englishman John Tunstall and his business partner Alexander McSween, both backed by cattleman, John Chisum. The present monopoly was held by a couple of Irishmen, Murphy and Dolan. A monopoly they intended to hang on to.

Lawrence Gustave Murphy born in Wexford a Union Army veteran, Grand Army of the Republic member, Republican Party leader, racketeer, Old West businessman and gunman, and a main instigator of the Lincoln County War. He was well connected, and totally unscrupulous. In 1869 he arrived in Lincoln County where he started L. G. Murphy & Co. By 1873 he had hired James Dolan, who by the following year had become a business partner in a profitable mercantile and banking operation. The business saw success mainly due to there being no competition. Murphy also became influential within law enforcement circles, controlling the local sheriff, William J. Brady. (Although there does seem to be some doubt as to Brady's malleability - it's the revisionist in me!).

James Dolan, an equally dodgy and vicious character, was born in Loughrea in Ireland and moved to the United States at the age of five with his family. He served in the Union Army from 1863 until the Civil War's end, after which he moved to Lincoln County, where he became Murphy's business partner. In May 1873, Dolan attempted to shoot and presumably kill, US Cavalry Captain James Randlett at Fort Stanton, NM, resulting in L. G. Murphy & Co. being evicted from the fort. On May 9, 1877, Dolan killed Hilario Jaramillo, claiming that the latter had charged him with a knife.

Dolan appears to be the type who preferred to hire others to do his killing rather than do it himself. By this time, Dolan had become close friends with Sheriff Brady. Because of the lack of competition, the Murphy-Dolan businesses charged high prices for their goods, making them hated by local farmers and ranchers.

Both sides simply wanted more and weren't too bothered how they got it. Each had gunmen who rode for them (rejoicing in the titles the Jesse Evans Gang, the John Kinney Gang, the Seven River Warriors, 'Buckshot' Roberts and the Regulators which included Henry McCarty aka William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid) and used the law and tame lawmen to try and bring their opponents down. The 'war' was a series of tit for tat killings and rustling and running off of stock

In 1877 Brady was attacked and beaten by unidentified men, but thought to be part of Tunstall's cowboys. Brady's role in the war was brief but bloody. Lincoln County deputies (perhaps including Brady, perhaps not) found Tunstall and shot him dead and the 'war' broke out. Whatever Brady's direct involvement in the killing, he wasn't in a rush to investigate and on April 1 1878, Regulators (working for McSween) Jim French, Frank McNab, John Middleton, Fred Waite, Henry Newton Brown and Billy the Kid ambushed Brady and four of his deputies on the main street of Lincoln. They fired on the five men from behind an adobe wall. Brady died of at least a dozen gunshot wounds. He was 48 years old.

The whole sorry affair came to an end in the so called Battle of Lincoln, a four day period of violence and boredom, during which McSWeen was shot and killed. With McSween dead, the Lincoln County War was effectively over. McSween's widow, Susan, hired a lawyer, Chapman to try and bring Dolan to justice. A year after Tunstall's death, Chapman was murdered (by Dolan?). Dolan was eventually tried for the murder of Tunstall but was acquitted.

Susan remarried some time later, to a businessman named George Barber, but the marriage ended in divorce. She would purchase a ranch in Three Rivers, New Mexico, and later became one of the most prominent cattlewomen of the Old West. She sold out in 1902 to politician Albert Fall, and moved to White Oaks, New Mexico, where she remained until her death in 1931, at age 85.

Nobody really came out of the war too well: Tunstall, Brady and McSween (obviously); Murphy died of cancer just a few months after Brady was killed; Dolan lived on into the 1890's but as an alcoholic. He died aged 49; Chisum, the cattle baron died in 1884; Billy, convicted of the killing of Brady, died in 1881, pursued by Pat Garrett, who had taken on Brady's role as sheriff of Lincoln County; Garrett, after the Lincoln wars had a series of fallings out with powerful men, including Albert Fall, who bought the McSween ranch, fell into debt and gambling and was shot dead in 1908. There remains a certain amount of mystery about the who's and why's of Garrett's death.

On a more positive note, most of the characters involved in the Lincoln County War went on to find immortality in books and movies, including that fine western 'Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid', which is where we came in.

Posted by johnward 08:35 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Irish Sam's Bro (in law)

A few months ago I wrote a short piece about Irish Sam, an Irish jihadist plying his trade in Syria and, one has to say plying his trade successively, as I haven't seen any reports of his death. He's related by marriage to Mahdi al Harati, who has also lived in Ireland for many years and, like his brother in law, has spent time in Syria, although he is better known for his 'work' in Libya as commander of the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade.

It seems that al Harati is following a hallowed Irish tradition of going abroad to make their political fame and fortune. Think of America and Irish politicians for example and only one name will spring to mind - Kennedy. The only reason we remember the Kennedy's is the manner and regularity of their deaths, so there's a lot more interesting Irish American duckers and divers out there.

Take one Timothy Daniel Sullivan, a New York politician who controlled Manhattan's Bowery and Lower East Side districts as a prominent figure within Tammany Hall. He was euphemistically known as "Dry Dollar", as the "Big Feller", and, later, as "Big Tim". During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he controlled much of the city's criminal activities; or James Michael Curley in/famous for his four terms as Democratic mayor of Boston, and one term as Governor of Massachusetts. He also served twice in the United States House of Representatives. He also served two prison sentences but was so popular that he was re elected mayor whilst a guest of the state; or John Kelly of New York City, known, ironically of course, as "Honest John", boss of Tammany Hall and a U.S. Representative from New York during the mid 19th century where he was able to amass a vast fortune, estimated at $800,000 by 1867, through fair means and foul.

The list is almost endless of Irishmen who have left to make something of themselves, regardless of means and method, and whilst al Harati may not seem typical of the bunch, he does fit in, albeit a tad uncomfortably. Dependent on what you want to believe, al Harati is either a warrior for God, a CIA deep cover asset or had some involvement in the killing of Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya in 2012 - all equally disreputable and probable.

It seems that al Harati, who has been back in Libya since late 2012 was elected or selected by Tripoli's new municipal council to be mayor of Libya's capital. As the country descends further into sectarian and political chaos, the capital has a boss who has made his bones.

Posted by johnward 04:31 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Like a Hurricane (thanks to N Young)

Back in January and February this year, the west coast of Ireland, including Clare was battered by exceptionally big storms and many communities are still rebuilding over six months on.

For the past few days, we've been catching the dying edge of Hurricane Bertha and, although only a fraction of the power of the earlier storms, its easy to see how vulnerable this coastline can be to Atlantic weather.

There are three stories my Dad repeats about Ireland and he repeats them regularly. The first is that during the War of Independence, the IRA in Cork, in order to 'liberate' some vehicles from the Ford factory in the county, declared war on the company. And as far as he knows, that remains the case. Mmmm. Not sure about that one.

The second is about the winter of 1947, a winter so cold with snow so deep that people could walk across the country via neighbours roofs and entire families in rural communities took to killing their beasts, disemboweling them and crawling inside for the warmth. I may have got that last part mixed up with a Robert Taylor movie from the 50's, but there's no doubt that 1947 was chilly.

The third story is about the Night of the Big Wind or Oíche na Gaoithe Móire as we say in these parts. On January 5 1839, a Saturday, it began to snow. On Sunday the weather was warmer, the snow began to melt and by noon it was raining heavily and by early evening the winds had gathered strength. A freak storm roared out of the Atlantic and devastated the countryside: trees were uprooted, thatch roofs were torn from houses; barns fell and a pleasing amount of church spires toppled. Homes were burned to the ground as fierce winds blew down the chimneys, scattering embers and setting light to the buildings. A quarter of houses in north Dublin were destroyed and 42 ships at anchor, mostly along the west coast were wrecked. It was the biggest storm in Ireland for 300 years and it eventually blew itself out over mainland Europe.

Some reports said that 300 people lost their lives but that is just guesswork. Thousands were left homeless, farmstock was killed and stores of food, meant for the winter was scattered; wildlife was decimated and there were reports that crows and jackdaws became almost extinct in some parts of the country. Apart from the workhouse, there was little if any support for those affected by the storm, so whilst they had to fend for themselves, the Night of the Great Wind entered folklore and myth and ironically formed part of the origin of the first old age pension system in Ireland.

The storm became a signpost for people - before the storm or after the storm. So, when in 1909 the British government introduced the old age pension to Ireland, there needed to be a way of judging whether people were entitled to claim the benefit. As birth records, especially in rural areas were often scanty, people were asked if they remembered the Night of the Big Wind - if they did, they got the pension.

So, whilst the storm ravaged large areas of the country in 1839 leaving people homeless and destitute, 70 years later it formed the crucial question as to whether people were eligible for, what most of us would recognise as the first state benefit in Britain. Hurricane Bertha is not going to be that memorable, but when it hit three nights ago, it certainly drowned out the noise of the snoring Latvian, two tents away from me. A silver lining I would say.

  • I just need to add that my Dad got in touch with me after reading this and disputed my dismissal of the IRA and Ford motor company being in a state of war story but did add that in 1909, the pension was set at 5 shillings and in real terms is probably worth more than some people are getting today. In 1922 when the Free State was established the Government of the day was unable to continue to pay the 5 shillings and reduced it. Perfidious Albion!

Posted by johnward 07:04 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Banned cheese, Putin, dodging fines and unwelcome carrots

It's not often that three farming stories appear on the front page of a national daily newspaper, but that's what happened earlier this week in the Irish Examiner.

Vladimir 'No Irish cheese on my watch' Putin, has responded to increased US and EU sanctions against Russia by hitting the cheesemakers of Ireland, particularly it seems those resident in Munster. Ireland exports over 200m euros of foodstuffs to Russia annually, so there will be some sort of knock on effect, although spokesmen from various agricultural organisations seem unsure what they might be.

Simon Coveney, the Agriculture Minister also holds the Defence brief (rather bizarrely), so it surprised me that a man with the armed might of Ireland behind him, decided the best approach to the problem, is to set up a helpline. The defence brief isn't what it used to be obviously and the cheesemaker are no longer blessed!

I'm still unconvinced that Putin meant to ban cheese; I'm fairly sure it was chessmakers of Ireland he had in his beady sights.

The second story is that farmers who are 'dodging debts' to the State should face new, and I have to say fairly rugged penalties including their earnings debited at source, their assets seized and interest rates on monies owed, raised. A new report has highlighted the Department of Agriculture's lacklustre performance against farmers who have been overpaid by the State (that's probably the governments fault). The department rarely takes action until the statute of limitations on the debt is approaching and retiring farmers often transfer herds and property into another persons name, so when the bailiff comes a calling, there are no assets to chase. One suggested idea to encourage slow payers is to bar them from accessing public services until they stump up' and then they will only be allowed to use those services on production of a debt clearance certificate.

The Irish approach to a problem, any problem, is to set up countless committees and tribunals that often cost more to create than the monies generated. This new committee doesn't yet exist, but its already been described as 'a super state central agency'. Catchy.

The third story also has an international flavour. It seems that SuperValu, one of Ireland's biggest supermarkets may have dipped the end of a reluctant toe into the rough and tumble of boycotting Israeli goods in Irish stores in retaliation for Israel's actions in Gaza. The supermarket have removed Israeli sourced carrots. Inevitably, SuperValu have said that they remain neutral in political issues, but I'm not sure how else you can interpret their move apart from that they are taking a definite position, albeit barely.

Irish companies are under pressure from trade unions and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign to ban Israeli goods on sale in Ireland. In fact Kinvara, a small town in south Galway banned all Israeli good in all their shops at the start of August. For almost 10 years the BDS has worked for international cooperation against Israel until it fulfils it international obligations and stops breaking international law. I've spent several months on the West Bank and all the Palestinians I spoke to supported the BDS campaign despite the fact they would be directly harmed, as many goods, especially fruit and veg that are exported from Israel are actually grown in Palestine and are mislabelled as Israeli for the purposes of export.

So, the cheesemakers of Ireland's loss is the carrot growers opportunity. Who said farming wasn't front page news?

Posted by johnward 04:15 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Hostel Chit Chat

One of the advantages of staying in one place for an extended period of time, is that you meet an incredible amount of people, most of whom are passing through after a day or two. A casual conversation can lead to a shared meal a night in the pub or just chatting. Usually all three.

I bumped into Scott and Sarah, a couple from Brisbane who are six weeks into a four year bike ride around the world. Along with Jay, who works for the Housing and Urban Development in Washington DC, aka Satan's Waiting Room, and Paul a university student from Germany. We discussed, in no order of preference:

why Australia has the best coffee (admittedly this was an Australian suggestion); French fascistic views on butter and cheese; how the Australian PM, Tony Abbott makes George W Bush appear positively Churchillian; how Mama Mia is so much better than Harry Potter; the advantages of travelling alone (myriad) to travelling in a group (limited); an Amazonian tribe who does not have a numbering system higher than three or has a concept of yesterday and tomorrow; vampire killers, who may or may not have been lesbians in Brisbane; Australian boarding schools (see previous item); the Man in Seat 61 website; the cost of train travel in Germany (which is higher than I thought); beatings I took at school from nuns; how Berlin is really a collection of small villages; food review writing; how Papua New Guinea is becoming an island concentration camp for Australian immigrants and asylum seekers; how Australian coffee really is the best (they would not let it go!); how difficult it will be to cycle across Tajikistan in five days (length of the visa); barefoot running; long distance cycling; vicious fire ants in Puerto Rico (although it may have been Costa Rica); building your own house; corrupt newspapers; lying politicians; chafing; living in Townsville (see previous item); why native Americans were not turned into settlers slaves (no answer to that one); great songs featured in the movies of Quentin Tarantino (undoubtedly Across 110th St in Jackie Brown); the relative merits of various generations of kindle; the movies of Terence Malik...and so the night went on.

The point is that travel does really expand the mind or at least make your head hurt.

Posted by johnward 03:34 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Final whistle. Cue bleak, existential despair.

No Gaelic Athletic Association football county has endured more anguish and disappointment in the quest for the Sam Maguire Cup than Mayo. More than half a century has passed since Mayo were the All-Ireland football champions in 1951. That year has become a bright and poignant touchstone, and while the county has produced glittering football players and achieved many days of glory since, the grand prize has eluded them.

From the bleak 1970s, when Mayo failed to win even a provincial championship, to the soul-wrenching defeat against Meath in 1996, not to mention the numbing September losses to Kerry in recent years, Mayo supporters might be forgiven for thinking that the gods enjoy toying with them. Five All-Ireland-final losses sum up a modern period of near-glory and ultimate despair.

But for all that, there is an abiding magnificence to Mayo football. They keep pressing and have never compromised the open, often flamboyant, style of play for which the county has been celebrated, while the passionate Mayo public has stayed loyal and loud through the setbacks...House of Pain is an entertaining, moving book about the people who have put their souls into the fight for All-Ireland glory. Packed with memorable anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories about the quest for success, it is a tribute to those who refuse to be daunted by the fact that fifty years of trying have brought no redemption.

That is the blurb from a book called the House of Pain:Through the Rooms of Mayo Football, which should give you an idea of what following Mayo football entails - great troughs of bleak, existential despair, with the hope that each September visit to Croke Park will finally lay to rest the curse that dogs this proud footballing county.

Last year I watched the All Ireland final with my cousin Paul and his family in a pub full of braying Dublin fans; Paul was Brayer -in- Chief and once again we fell at the final hurdle. A free kick was sent over the Dublin bar and the Mayo players thought they still had time to mount a final, possibly victorious attack. The ref seemed to give the indication that there was time left on the clock, but he blew time immediately the ball was back in play. Cue bleak existential despair for a further 12 months.

Last weekend, Mayo took on a Cork team in the quarter finals. In the run in to the game, members of the Cork management team highlighted a couple of Mayo players. Cillian O'Connor and Kevin McLoughlin, as adept at committing tactical fouls in order to break up the attacking rhythm of their opponents. Not only were they fouling opponents, they were getting away with it, was the not so hidden subtext.

Needless to say James Horan, the Mayo manager was not best pleased:

Our character was challenged in the lead up to this game by the Cork management, which I think is unprecedented in Gaelic football...For us it was taking the integrity of two of our players and our team - I think that's something that's disgraceful and they should be ashamed of what they done.

So far, so righteous indignation.

The game itself lived up to the hype with Mayo prevailing 1-19 to 2-15, a 1 point win that books Mayo its fourth successive All Ireland semi final. But as the Irish Independent's sports reporter, Malachy Clerkin pointed out

In the long and great Mayo tradition of doing things the hard way, this won't rank right at the top but it deserves mention in the conversation...

Mayo almost contrived to blow a seven point lead with 20 minutes to go but the real, perfect, beautiful symmetry of the game came right at the end. A free kick was sent over the Mayo bar and the Cork players thought they still had time to mount a final, possibly victorious attack. The ref seemed to give the indication that there was time left on the clock, but he blew time immediately the ball was back in play. Cue bleak existential despair for a further 12 months - this time for Cork (although in fairness, I'm not sure the Cork character is given to deep soul searching).

The ref was surrounded by irate Cork players demanding an explanation, whilst I imagine James Horan was a content man.

Posted by johnward 04:38 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

What's Irish for schadenfreude?

It's unlikely that you will have heard of Ivor Callely. For a few years he was a self proclaimed coming man in Fianna Fail, more First Division than Premiership if truth be told, and he seemed more popular with journalists and members of his family than party or political colleagues. But he was a great vote winner and this endeared him to Bertie, for a while at least. Ivor was never short of self belief, reinforced by a story he used to tell that when he was a babe in arms a 'wise woman' predicted he would become president of Ireland.

From TD for a Dublin seat to becoming a junior minister and then a Senator, Ivor is currently Prisoner 92995, banged up for five months for fraudulently claiming mobile phone expenses for the grand sum of 4,207.45 euros. This covered his time in the Senate and retrospectively as a TD.
In so many ways, this case personifies what is wrong with Ireland; this persistent belief that those in power have an entitlement to anything and everything and they are beyond sanction. They are certainly beyond contempt.

And it also shows that the people feel so downtrodden and powerless, they let these things slide with a shrug of the shoulders and an 'it’s the way its always been' comment. For decades, well before the Celtic Tiger and bust of 2008, the country has been abused by those who govern it - and that is not confined to elected politicians. Whether its jobs for the boys, things done on a nod and a wink, the wilful, criminal refusal to acknowledge, recognise and act on clerical abuse or the fact that those with mates in the police could get penalty traffic points expunged. When a police whistleblower having run out of options went public with what he knew about the penalty point scandal, his behaviour was described by the police commissioner as 'disgusting.' That particular commissioner, like Callely is yesterdays man, having resigned earlier this year.

One of the reasons I've heard put forward for the Irish people's resigned approach to increasing austerity measures over the past three or four years is down to a feeling that they are partially responsible for the country's woes. Whilst commendable as an example of taking personal responsibility, they continue to get screwed.

Back to Ivor. Open any newspaper in Ireland and you will find politicians and businessmen and bankers who have a lot more to answer for than Ivor; he didn't attack, injure or maim any one (apart from his own career); he claimed just over 4,000 euros he believed he was entitled to and that goes to the heart of the matter. He had a sense of entitlement. Once he found out that he was eligible to apply for this money, he saw little wrong in creating bogus invoices to make sure he got what he was 'entitled' to. He was so inept he claimed some of the expenses in pounds despite the fact that the period he was claiming for, Ireland now used the euro. Once the scam was exposed, his first course of defence was to blame a now dead former business partner.

Ivor was simply an accident waiting to happen. Bertie appointed him a minister in 2002. In 2005 he announced he thought he could succeed Bertie as top dog; he then blotted his copybook, when as chairman of the Eastern Health Board, his house was painted for free by a construction company. He lost his ministerial job closely followed by his seat in 2007, but Bertie doing a final favour for his Northside buddy, kicked him upstairs to the Senate. Cue current woes. Along the way there was some unpleasantness over travel expenses from his holiday home in Cork to Dublin and a misunderstanding over a damaged yacht that involved a kimono.

Ted, a man I know from Cork, had a brief comment about Ivor when I mentioned the case to him. He simply looked at me and said 'The prick.' Having lived in an English constituency 'represented' by the poster girl for our very own expenses scandal, I know how he felt!

Miriam Lord who writes the political sketch column for the Irish Times, described Ivor thus:

He always dreamed big but couldn't help acting the small time shyster...Blinded by self belief and an overweening sense of his own brilliance, Ivor Callely had a relentless ambition that stood in marked contrast to his ability. But he could never see this, because nobody ever took Ivor as seriously as he took himself.

That is one of the kinder comments from journalists, who I get the feeling have been writing Ivor's political obituary for some time.

The real tragedy is not that a second rate chancer came a cropper, but that Ivor Callely is is the tip of an mediocrity iceberg. Ireland seems to be a society that has never, or forgotten how to, with some notable exceptions, challenge power. Whether it’s the time servers in the civil service, politicians who are promoted not because of ability because of the value they have to the party machine, greedy, corrupt businessmen who think the rules, any rules don't apply, craven health boards who pay management over the odds from money raised from charity collections, a church that continues to be mired in controversy, they all form part of an exclusive club that doesn't want to take responsibility for their actions and protects their own. And whilst most don't crash and burn over 4,000 euros, there are it seems, plenty of small time shysters to go around.

Posted by johnward 20:41 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

The price of power

So now we know; after all the recent guesswork, consultations, predictions and political promises the price of water has finally been decided.
One of the big talking political debates (read controversy) in Ireland over the past 12 months or so, has been the introduction of a new system of paying for the use of domestic water. Most people see it as a simple taxation on the water they use and after the publication of pricing details today, I can guarantee that the media will hit the righteous indignation button on their laptops and letters pages will talk about nothing else.

Politicians have been promising, as recently as two months ago that households would not be paying more than €240 per household. This was a promise they couldn't possibly make as the size of households vary and they were not in control of the pricing policy.
The Irish Examiner cut straight to the chase with their front page headline


It's some little while since I've seen the price of a shower analysed to the nth decimal point but the gist of the new charge/tax is that each adult child or student living at home will cost the family around €102 a year each in water charges; families with an existing set charge will carry on paying that charge until six months after the water meter has been installed and average costs will vary between €382 and €482 a year.

A seven minute daily shower has been calculated to cost €87 per year, whilst an equivalent power shower will cost an eye watering (pun intended) €311 a year. Who says power comes with no price?

The Energy Regulator who has released the costing details explains the discrepancy between the government figures of €240 a year and their upper figure of €482 by saying that the government average included holiday homes without occupants which, unsurprisingly have very little water usage over 12 months.

I've just been chatting to Robert about the new charges. As he points out

It's pissing down five days out of seven in Ireland, and after this we're going to have some of the highest water charges in Europe.

According to The Examiner, after every house in the country has had a meter installed

... water will cost €4.88 per 1,000 litres, with a 30,000-litre free allowance per household and 21,000 litres per child. This will allow a child to use 57 litres of water a day before being charged, which amounts to one toilet flush and one seven-minute shower. A toilet flush uses seven litres of water, while a seven-minute shower uses up to 49 litres of water. Power showers can use up to 175 litres in the same time. Parents will have to pay for all other basic needs for children, such as brushing their teeth or washing their clothes.

Enda K (as I'm going to start calling him) promised the country before the local elections

We are giving an additional 38,000 litres per child up to the age of 18, so therefore, effectively, children are free.

The governments get out of jail card, unless showed to be untrue is that the energy regulator say the free allowance is based on updated analysis, which shows 21,000 is the “normal consumption”.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul said the proposed cost per unit cost is one of the highest in Europe and “establishes a culture of high charging” which will have “serious implications for low-earning families”.

On the up side (it's barely an upside) consumers will have to pay only half of their water bill if their supply is not safe for human consumption, and if that situation lasts for more than three months, they will get a 100% discount. People with additional medical needs will have their charges capped at €176 per annum.

It's still pissing down in Doolin. It must be one of the five in seven days.

Posted by johnward 06:45 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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