A Travellerspoint blog

At the court of King Kenny

A month ago, all must have seemed rosy in the world of John McNulty, an unknown businessman from Kilcar in County Donegal. Recently appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art by the neophyte Minister for Culture, Heather Humphreys and then picked as Enda's preferred candidate for a vacant Senate seat, what could possibly go wrong. Well, as it turned out, almost everything.

The problem was that McNulty's credentials for his appointment to IMMA were non existent and despite protestations to the contrary, most people in the country saw it as something they were promised would not happen under Enda - stroke politics. It seems that the deal was that McNulty would sit on the board of IMMA in order to beef up his non existent bona fides for a career on the culture committee in the Seanad. The country was asked to believe that his appointment to IMMA by Humphreys followed by his shoo in election to the Seanad, backed by Enda was a complete coincidence and that neither the Minister nor the Taoiseach knew what either one was planning for McNulty.

To make the event more risible, it turned out that a member of the board of IMMA is ineligible to stand for political election, so McNulty would have to resign in order to fight the Seanad election. Which he did. Heather Humphreys. new to the Cabinet and her post, was wheeled out to explain that it was all her doing and it was outrageous to suggest that any strokery was going on and McNulty was eminently suited to sit on the board of one of the most prestigious art organisations in the country. Tame TD's, particularly Michelle Mulherin from Enda's home patch in Mayo, were dropped in front of microphones to defend King Kenny. It was one of those media car crash moments. Enda meanwhile blustered and more than a little flustered, denied opposition claims that his fingerprints were all over the mess. Looking at King Kenny you'd be hard pressed to think of him as anything other than he is - a country teacher; but apparently he's more akin to a mixture of Pol Pot and Stalin, with a whiff of Nixon thrown in.

After a series of denials, counter denials, accusations and much guffawing, an increasingly bilious Enda came out and apologised, saying that he took full responsibility, but full responsibility for what? Nobody was quite sure, so cue more mirth at Enda's, Heather's, Fine Gael's and as collateral damage, a suspiciously quiet Labour Party's, expense.

Meanwhile John McNulty, whose political aspirations were by now as dead as it is possible to be, asked the electorate, which only consists of TD's and members of the Seanad, not to vote for him. It was then revealed that there was no legal procedure for removing a candidate's name from a ballot paper. So we had the situation of a candidate, who no longer wished to be a candidate still on the ballot paper. Then some voters announced that they had already voted for him via postal vote and others said they were going to disregard his wishes and vote for him anyway. Some of this was political mischief making by Enda's opponents within the party, of which there seem to be a growing number and, his more natural opponents in Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. For a politician with the reputation as the most 'managed' in recent Irish history and who likes to be in control of all around him, events were spiralling out of control with each passing hour.

There was an increasing possibility that a man, who no longer wanted to play with the grown ups, was going to be voted into Ireland's second chamber, whether he wanted it or not. There was speculation that if he did win the election whether he would immediately resign, but McNulty himself added to the uncertainty by refusing to comment until the election was over.

Lest we forget the hapless Minister for the Arts, Heather Humphreys, was still gently blowing in the wind and refusing to name the Fine Gael officials who put John McNulty's poisoned chalice of a CV across her desk. The best she could do was to say it was an internal party matter and that was that. So, John McNulty, coming man and next big thing in Donegal politics, finds himself at the centre of a perfect political storm - the controversy that keeps giving.

In the final few days before the vote King Kenny and his princes kept saying that people should honour McNulty's request for them not to vote for him. Enda found himself in the uncomfortable position of campaigning against the man he's personally selected. As it turned out, the Irish political system came to his rescue. Because it is based on PR, people's second preferences are as important as their first, so we found ourselves in the situation where the independent candidate Gerard Craughwell, former president of the Teachers Union of Ireland and an ex British soldier, became a Senator by 4 votes over McNulty, because Sinn Fein voted for him as their second preference. Sinn Fein votes sent an ex British soldier to the Seanad. Priceless!

When the coalition came to power, Enda said that politics would be different; cronyism and parish pump politics was the fiefdom of the other lot, the stroke was yesterdays way of doing things. ''Paddy wants to know'' said Enda and he's right Paddy does want to know, but nobody's telling him, I was talking to someone the other day, a man from Wicklow, about this peculiarly Irish mess and he said it's because the Irish are incapable of ruling themselves. Under the British they spent generations fighting the system, resisting and undermining it at every turn. What they haven't appreciated it seems, decades after independence that they are now the system and the only people being harmed and discomfited by Del Boy politics are themselves.

Depending on who you listen to, it seems that progress at King Kenny's court, you have to keep your mouth shut, vote the way you're told and generally toe the line if you want any chance of getting your nose into the government trough. Others say that the coalition government is more like Kennedy's Camelot. This mess is the result of political hubris and political incompetence in equal measure. Something that shouldn't even have made page 9 of any newspaper has been the main talking point here for the past month. The best that Fine Gael could do was claim that it was more cock up than conspiracy. Every political party in Ireland has access to patronage at a local, county, national and European level, and they all use it, often shamelessly. It's another example of the political elites sense of entitlement - if it's there, it's mine whether I need it or want it - I'm entitled to it.

The only upside is that I have discovered a radio programme called Callan's Kicks, a half hour satire (most of Irish political life is beyond satire actually) that has a particularly poisonous impression of Enda, the King from the Wesht at it's heart.

Posted by johnward 02:19 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

The long walk to a tea house (Slovak style)

My dad always told me that you don't need to leave the house to travel. He may not have used those actual words, but when he told me 'read this book' I knew what he meant. When I was 10 or 11 we had one of our regular 'read this book' moments. The book was called The Long Walk, and told the story of Slavomir Rawic, a Polish army lieutenant imprisoned by the Russians following Stalin's invasion of Poland, and his remarkable escape from the gulag . He and six others walked to 6,500km from Siberia, through the Gobi Desert, Tibet and the Himalaya before arriving in British India in 1942.

One part of the book has stayed with me for the past 35 years - it involved the men drinking yak butter tea somewhere in the Himalaya. The butter was rancid, the tea was disgusting and they drank it, forcing themselves to keep it down, in order to not offend their host.

Twenty years ago I found myself in a similar situation - not on the run from the Soviet state obviously - I was in Ladakh, aka Little Tibet, breaking bread with a farmer and about to be served yak butter tea (just to define Himalayan farmer: this was a man and his family who scratched a living at over 11,000', with a few animals and pits dug around his house to catch the starving wolves who came down from the surrounding hills during the winter. Said wolf would then be stoned to death and the pelt used by the family or sold. Not the Cotswolds then).

Back to the tea. I have to be honest and admit to a certain reluctance based on my memories from the book, but I was cold and tired and this man and his family, who by any standards had very little, was sharing what he had with me. The tea was wonderful. Warm and salty and malty and shiny - a Himalayan version of Ovaltine and I couldn't get enough.

All of which brings me to the Guru Tea Shop in Ennistimon. The town itself is typical of small town Ireland, all the shops you might need on the main street (often called Main St), and like every other small town in ireland it has seen tough times in the past six years, and if good times are not quite around the corner they seem to be making an appearance on the distant horizon. Ennistimon is not a pretty town in that gloopy, twee, Tidy Town sort of way but it has a real charm. It also has an art gallery, a fine second hand bookshop and the Guru Tea House.

Brainchild of Tomas and Luisca, the Guru is a reflection of the teahouses of their home country Solvakia, where teahouses were the place where people came together to chat, spend time together, relax and drink tea. Traditionally they opened between 3pm and midnight and didn't serve food. It's a big ask to come to a country like Ireland where tea is spelt two ways, Barrys or Lyons, and convince people to try something new. I've been coming here at least twice a week for three months and I never varied my order for the first few weeks - black coffee. One visit I decided this was crazy; here was a place selling over 100 loose leaf teas from across the world and I'm the only person drinking coffee.

I put myself in the hands of Tomas and Luicsa. They would happily drag half a dozen large jars of tea of the shelves so I could smell the leaves and the story of that particular tea. There were teas from Brazil and Argentina, China and Japan, the High Himalaya and Sri Lanka, green and black and fruit. There were teas that would help with digestion, colds and blocked sinuses, various aches and pains, in short there was a tea for what ails you.

Over the past few weeks I've had a Matcha, a green tea (oh, so green!) from the Gyouokuro leaf, served in the Japanese tea ceremony; I've had Mate, a South American 'all day tea'. it's brewed in a calabash or large gourd and topped up throughout the day with boiling water as the leaves do not lose their flavour. It's traditionally drunk through a straw called a bombilla, that acts as a filter for stray leaves. At the Guru it's served in a mini calabash with a straw. The tea is incredibly hot and slightly lip numbing. But in a good way. I've had nettle tea (nice with a little ginger), mint tea, Tea of the Pharaohs (rooibos, apple, peppers, lemon and basil) and King Monkey tea a spicy, warm concoction of rooibos, cinnamon and ginger.

The tea menu runs to a dozen pages or so, so it's not surprising that I missed Tibetan tea. Anyone who has ever spent anytime in India, Pakistan or Nepal will remember the milky street chai available on every street corner and railway station. In appearance, the Tibetan tea is very similar but has that extra buttery thing going on. Literally, not everyone's cup of tea, but for almost an hour I was back, cold and weary, with that farmer and his family in his small, dark and smoky house surrounded by wolf pits and enjoying his hospitality. It's difficult to put a price on that (€5.90 for a pot if you're ever in the area and want to have your very own Long Walk moment).

My time in Clare comes to an end tomorrow, when I then head to my Cavan bolthole. There are loads of things I'm going to miss: people (no need to name names), the unique landscape of the Burren and places like the Guru Tea House. For a land of emigrants, Ireland, in my experience, has not always been as welcoming as it should to people travelling in this direction. In Tomas and Luicsa, Ennistimon is definitely the winner and the teahouse celebrates it's second birthday in a few weeks. In a week or so, their website will be up and running and by the end of the year an e shop should be operating. So they must be doing something right. I look forward to getting back there, settled in a window seat watching the world drifting by.

(For over three decades The Long Walk has stayed with me. In 2006 the BBC released a report based on former Soviet records, including statements written by Rawicz himself, showing that Rawicz had been released as part of the 1942 general amnesty of Poles in the USSR and subsequently transported across the Caspian Sea to a refugee camp in Iran and that his escape to India never occurred! In May 2009, in a further twist to the story, Witold Gliński, a Polish WWII veteran living in the UK, came forward to claim that the story of Rawicz was true, but was actually an account of what happened to him, not Rawicz. Rupert Mayne, a British intelligence officer in wartime India interviewed three emaciated men in Calcutta in 1942, who claimed to have escaped from Siberia. Mayne always believed their story was the same as that of The Long Walk - but telling the story years later, he could not remember their names. I don't care whether the events happened or not, it's still a great story).

Posted by johnward 05:18 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

When 10 Commandments simply weren't enough

One of my favourite films is The Duellists, Ridley Scott's 1977 feature film debut based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, a story he based in turn on the real life exploits of two French officers, Dupont and Fournier-Sarlovèze, in the 1790's. These two characters couldn't abide each other and fought a series of duels over two decades. As neither killed the other, I assume honour was satisfied on both sides.

The reason I started thinking about this is that the Irish government are beginning one of their innumerable public consultations, this time on the abolition of antiquated laws or as the government website puts it

The Statute Law Revision Programme operates within the Government Reform Unit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and conducts comprehensive reviews of primary and secondary legislation, leading to the repeal or revocation of spent or obsolete legislation and instruments. The instruments under review in this phase all predate 1820... After a public consultation process, a Bill will be prepared to revoke those deemed obsolete. Ireland’s unique legislative past has left us with a complex stock of legislation, with enactments from Parliaments of Ireland, England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The website has a list of almost 4,500 laws, proclamations and declarations that they see no further need for, including the offering of a reward for the arrest of a Catholic priest, a proclamation for the suppression of robbers and Tories, a reward for Irish rebels (dead or alive), the 1665 order that made it a requirement that the first Wednesday in every month be classed as a day of penance and fasting for the relief of London from the Bubonic plague and a Proclamation banning His Majesty’s natural born subjects from enlisting or serving in the Military Forces or on the Ships of War of His Catholic
Majesty the King of Spain. There was also something about how the higher orders should refrain from feeding oatmeal and potatoes to their horses, in case the lower orders starved.

The one that caught my eye was the 1690 Proclamation prohibiting 'officers and soldiers of Their Majesties army from engaging in duels.' This was one of a raft of laws applicable to the military passed between 1688 and 1690 as the country headed towards the resolution of the differences between James and William at the Boyne. There were further proclamations in 1689 calling on all loyal subjects to rise up against William and declaring all those who supported William as rebels and traitors. Needless to say, after July 1690, the tone of these proclamations changed.

As an aside, Mayo seemed to figure very prominently in law makers minds in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne especially August and September 1690. - August 16, 1690, there was an order imposing a levy of beeves and weathers on County Mayo for the subsistence of the Jacobite
garrison at Galway, on August 16 there was also an order to raise soldiers on County Mayo in support of the Jacobite military; on August 24 there was a a levy on County Mayo for the subsistence of the Jacobites at Galway, in September an order was issued for the seizure of all saltpans in the county
followed by a proclamation ordering the appropriation of beef cattle.

This got me thinking about when was the last duel fought in Ireland. The best I could do was the last fatal duel fought and that was at Druminderry Bridge, near Buncrana, in County Donegal in 1810. Details are scant but it was fought between William Todd and somebody called Bateman. Presumably the lack of title for Bateman means that he was one of those oatmeal eating and potato guzzling lower orders.

Ireland actually played an important role in the development of European duelling via the 1777 Summer assizes in the town of Clonmel, County Tipperary. A copy of the duelling code known as 'The Twenty-Six Commandments', was to be kept in a gentleman's pistol case for reference should a dispute arise regarding procedure. This duelling 'best practice' was agreed by delegates (duelling delegates? Who would have thought it!) from Tipperary, Sligo, Roscommon, Mayo and Galway and was intended for use throughout the country. These twenty six commandments became known as the Irish Code of Honour and were also adopted in parts of the USA.

The Commandments cover all aspects of duelling, with sword and pistol, grading the offence offered and the permitted response, under what circumstance an apology can be proffered, the role of seconds, the accepted stance to be adopted by challenger and challenged, how pistols are to be loaded, what defines a misfire etc.etc. One of my particular favourite is Commandment Twenty One, which reads

Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake must end the business for that day

There is little point in having a code of conduct for duelling without the duellists and Ireland produced its fair share and like all successful organisations, there has to an effective disputes policy and duelling was no different:

All matters and doubts not herein mentioned will be explained and cleared up by application to the Committee, who meet alternately at Clonmel and Galway at the quarter sessions for that purpose.

In 1783, Richard Martin, aka Hairtrigger Dick, aka Humanity Dick, scion of one of the Tribes of Galway, MP, Governor of Galway, survivor of two shipwrecks, present at the start of two revolutions, the first in America the second in France, founder of Galway's first theatre, and survivor of 100 duels, fought George "Fighting" FitzGerald in the Castlebar barrack yard. FitzGerald was of the Fitzgeralds of Turlough, Castlebar, whose family home is now site of the rather fine Museum of Country Life. A highly eccentric character, George is said to have become so after a blow to the head sometime in his 20's. In 1770 he married Jane, daughter of William James Conolly, but the marriage effectively ended as soon as he, in the finest caddish fashion, had spent her dowry.

Martin and Fitzgerald were both wounded in the duel. Later, Fitzgerald fought a Mr French (also in Castlebar) who he accused of cattle rustling, neither of them sustaining serious injury. Fitzgerald ended his life, along with his law agent, courtesy of the hangman, found guilty of murder in 1786.

No such ignominy for Martin, who became famous for his campaigns for Catholic Emancipation and against animal cruelty. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the British government saw the campaign against animal cruelty as a priority, and legislation was passed in 1822, Martin is now best known for his work against animal cruelty, especially against bear baiting and dog fighting. His actions resulted eventually in Martin's Act of 1822, entitled "Ill Treatment of Cattle Bill". He also tried to spread his ideas in the streets of London, becoming the target of jokes and political cartoons that depicted him with ears of a donkey. He also sometimes paid fines of minor offenders. On 16 June 1824, Martin was present when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was founded in a London coffee shop "Old Slaughter's". He denied being the initiator of the society.

He continued his work towards Irish Catholic Emancipation till 1826, when he had to flee to France; Catholic Emancipation was finally granted in 1829, much to his delight.

The 19th-century statesman Daniel O'Connell, the Great Liberator himself, took part in a duel in 1815. O'Connell referred to the Ascendancy dominated Dublin Corporation as a "beggarly corporation" to which members of the Corporation took exception and one of them, John D'Esterre, noted duellist of that parish called O'Connell out, which was an error, as O'Connell shot and mortally wounded him. Appalled at what he had done, O'Connell offered to support D'Esterre's widow and daughter; she declined but agreed to an allowance for her daughter, which O'Connell paid for 30 years. He refused to fight another duel ever again.

In 1824 the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry and Ensign Battier was a cornet in the Marquess' regiment fought with pistols. When Battier's pistol misfired, he declined the offer of another shot and left. He was later horsewhipped by the Marquess' second Sir Henry Hardinge.

O'Connell,s son, Morgan,fought a duel with William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley, a captain in the British Army, at Chalk Farm, on 4 May 1835. A challenge had been sent by Alvanley to O'Connell's father, who, in accordance with a vow he had made after shooting D'Esterre, declined the meeting. Morgan thereupon took up the challenge. Two shots each were exchanged, but no one was hurt. In December 1835, he received a challenge from Benjamin Disraeli, in consequence of an attack made on Disraeli by Morgan's father. Morgan declined to meet Disraeli.

You can't keep a good duellist down and in 1839 Londonderry was at it again, this time with Henry Grattan, son of the Irish patriot of the same name. Londonderry receives Grattan’s fire, and then discharges his pistol into the air. Grattan's father, The Right Honourable Henry Grattan leader of the Irish House of Commons, was also handy with a pistol. He began by fighting John Scott, Lord Earlsfort and 1st earl of Clonmel, and ended by shooting the Honourable Isaac Corry, Chancellor of the Exchequer. He called him, in the debate on the Union, "a dancing-master," and while the debate was going on, went from the House to fight him, and shot him through the arm. Today most politicians would stand in front of a camera and try to draw blood with words.

Whether it's the Duke of Wellington, Lord Castlereagh, Major General James Stuart, Irish rake Beauchamp Bagenal or John “Bully” Egan, chairman of the Quarter Sessions for the county of Dublin, who although a man of good-natured disposition nevertheless is reputed to have fought more duels than any man on the bench, Ireland, like in most things in life, tended to fight above its weight when it came to duelling.

  • David Landale, a linen merchant from Kirkcaldy, duelled with his bank manager, George Morgan, who had slandered his business reputation. This was the last duel to be fought on Scottish soil; George Morgan, a trained soldier, was shot through the chest and mortally wounded by Landale, who had never before held a pistol. Landale was tried for murder but found not guilty. So, bankers beware!!

Posted by johnward 05:51 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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.

''Shit.''

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.

''Shit.''

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.

''Shit!!''

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 (1)

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 (1)

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)

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