A Travellerspoint blog

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)

The Philosopher's Stone (Cottage)

Boris is a German I met a week or so ago at the hostel in Doolin; he was reading a book on philosophy, the gist of it being can philosophy be taught in the same way that physics or history is taught? He promised to let me know how it turned out.

A couple of days and several showers later, Boris moved on for a few days in Connemara (the showers are important because Boris apparently makes all his big decisions whilst showering) to enjoy some hiking and improve his ability to pun in English.

He got back to the hostel last night, having had a splendid time in Connemara, apart from spraining a wrist after he fell off his bike showing off. As compensation, his punning had improved no end. He described a trip he took on the bike around Killary Fjord to the southern most tip, a small, and I mean small, fishing village called Rossroe.

'Ah! Rossroe' I said. 'If you went to Rossroe, you must have seen the house Wittgenstein stayed in in the late 40's'. Boris' face was as I imagined it appeared when he fell off his bike and hurt his wrist - drained of blood, slack of jaw and beads of sweat on brow. 'Wittgenstein? Wittgenstein lived in Rossroe?'

Wittgenstein, or to give him his full moniker, Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, mind and language, I have no real idea what any of that actually means but he seem to be a big noise in the philosophical world. Although he ended up teaching at Cambridge he began his career in a remote Austrian village where he seemed to enjoy hitting his students, concussing one and making the ears of another bleed. During his short lifetime he published just one slim book, the 75-page Tracatus Logico - Philsophucus in 1921, one article, one book review and a children's dictionary, which I assume includes a definition of child abuse.

He was born into one of the richest families in Europe, his sister's wedding portrait was painted by Klimt, which was nice and three of his five brothers committed suicide, which was not so nice. He served in the Austrian army, where he was decorated, during the First World War and as a hospital porter in London during the Second. He also suffered depression all his life.

Not unsurprisingly, he seemed happiest when ensconced in the world of philosophy.

Boris, having a philosophical turn of mind, was stunned by this information and immediately penciled in a return trip to Rossroe and contacted a philosopher friend in Germany, who is on his way to Ireland and had asked for places to visit.

Apparently the book on whether it is possible to teach philosophy as other subjects, ended unsatisfactorily. In philosophical terms, I assume that means that philosophy can be taught, but also, it can't. Maybe.

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

Old School Full Irish

Forget all the fancy Dan restaurants and cookery schools that have popped up all over Ireland in the past 20 years or so. Ireland's undisputed gift to world cuisine is the Full Irish breakfast, not the yuppie version with an egg lightly poached in water from a holy well in the Wicklow mountains or black pudding made from tofu. That's the sort of carry on that got Ireland into the mess its in now. Once a country forgets its heritage it will find itself adrift in the cosmos and in hock to the German banks.

FIB is not to be approached lightly; a casual approach is usually a rushed experience which diminishes the enjoyment and will lead to a poisonous bout of indigestion. I've eaten FIB's from the north to the south and east to west in Ireland an whilst there may be a variation or two, the beast is essentially the same. It must also be remembered that the Full Irish is once a week deal; anymore will kill you stone dead.

Firstly meats - rashers, sausages, black pudding and white pudding; poultry is a fried egg (ideally two) , not poached, boiled, scrambled - that's part of a different meal altogether. Baked beans, hash browns, mushrooms are the vegetable content and I've even had chips thrown on top as a homage to Ireland's love affair with the spud.

Toast - I'm open to brown bread being used as the healthy option.

Now condiments.Until today I was always sure that the FIB involved brown sauce; always, always brown sauce. I've only once been told that there is no brown sauce available, naturally I won't be going back there. Red sauce, or ketchup for those of you who went to public school, is no substitute.
Earlier today I was out on one of the Aran Islands, Inisheere to be precise. It's the one with the shipwreck that features in the opening credits of Father Ted (trying to explain the concept of Father Ted to some Americans fell on stony ground). Salt (low sodium is acceptable), but no pepper.

I was down by the aforementioned wreck where a couple of people have a hot dog stand, sandwich bar, cold drink emporium thing going on; there was also a harpist who played tin whistle on hand. It came up in conversation that the only suitable sauce for a full Irish is brown - an old school FIB if you will. I was met with what can only be described a disdain that was teetering over into contempt. Not only was red sauce the preferred choice of one, but mustard was the preference of the other.

An Australian lad who was waiting for a got dog (with mustard) looked bewildered by developments and I have to admit I wasn't far behind. Maybe it’s a Clare thing.

Posted by johnward 13:41 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Donegal - Ireland's forgotten county?

I was chatting to Charlie and Anne yesterday. They're a middle aged couple from Malin Head in Donegal and it turned out we have mutual friends. I was telling them about my trip to Inishowen last year and we inevitably began chatting about the economy and which bankers should be in prison; this led onto a to talk about emigration. Charlie and Anne have two kids, both living in Derry and so far have no need to think about leaving. A family friend has seven grown up children, all who have now left Ireland. The difference this time is that most emigrants seem to be heading to Canada, Australia, even the Middle East and less to the UK. The long weekend back in Ireland is no longer an option.

Then Anne said something that really shocked me. She said 'If you get cancer in Donegal, you're dead.'' I thought she was making an apocryphyl point about the general lack of medical support available in Donegal, but she was saying that there was no support available; unless you can get to Dublin for treatment or you are rich enough to have good and expensive, medical insurance, you will die.

Fast forward 24 hours and I was listening to a radio programme being broadcast live from Donegal. The gist of the piece was is Donegal Ireland's forgotten county?

One of the participants, a Donegal businessman, when contacted by the show to see if he would take part, was initially reluctant because he didn't want to appear on another programme that featured Donegal people whingeing. He was convinced that listeners would simply turn off when they heard the ''Donegal ones on again, crying''. There's no doubt that there are problems in Donegal, but as the same man said to the presenter ''You didn't need Sherpas and camels to get here.'' I've never seen a Sherpa with a camel, but I got his point.

If Ireland is on the periphery of Europe, then Donegal is perceived as being on the periphery of Ireland. There is less inward investment into Donegal than other counties, commercial rates are on a par with Galway city (although business' have doubled in the past two years), disposable income is 30%+ less than Dublin and unemployment is up. Access via road to Donegal is better than ever before, but train links are still poor.

Whilst the Troubles were at their height, a car journey from Dublin would take something like 6 hours and have to go through several British and Irish army checkpoints. Rather ironically, Derry now provides one of the best access points to Donegal via its airport and good road links in the north, although the city remains the only city in Europe without a motorway within 25km of it.

There seems to be a general feeling that Donegal and it's people are too negative about themselves and this need to change. The Wild Atlantic Way could deliver some economic success, but that will take several years to filter down; without doubt Donegal is in my opinion, the most dramatic county in Ireland in terms of landscape and seascape, it has some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe (the Cliffs of Moher in Clare and just 10 minutes drive from where I am at the moment, are pygmies by comparison), the largest fishing port in Ireland is in the county and it has a well deserved reputation for IT skills.

However, if Anne, who is a nurse is right, all these natural advantages will count for nothing.

Posted by johnward 08:28 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Where the City ends

Doolin in west Clare, hard by the Atlantic, hopping off point for the Aran Islands and home of trad music would fit most people's definition of a bucolic setting - green, if stony fields, donkeys and cows in those same fields, narrow lanes, a few pubs, big skies, space to breathe - all the things that command a premium for stressed city types who spend their time trying to figure out how to screw up the economy next time around.

The more pastoral the scene, the more insidious and hidden the dangers and perils. Think Sam Peckinpah meets the Good Life.

A new report has just been released this week by the Simon Community, a campaigning group for the homeless. The report is called Left Out in the Cold: a Review of Rural Homelessness in Ireland and it highlights the growing tragedy of homelessness in rural Ireland. In many ways what the report says doesn't come as a surprise: within the countryside, homelessness is

...more hidden, more stigmatised and more difficult to endure than being homeless in towns or cities...(Kitty Holland, journalist).

There are fewer resources available for people who find themselves homeless in the countryside and it is that that drives the homeless from rural areas into the cities, exacerbating the existing problems there. Homelessness is rarely top of many politicians priorities and the rural homeless have even less of a profile than their urban counterparts.

The definition of 'rural' in Ireland is simply anywhere outside Dublin, Galway Limerick or Cork.

Almost 4,000 people were in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough in the 2011 census, almost 40% of them were outside Dublin. The report goes on to say that things have deteriorated significantly since 2011, with unreliable public transport links and a reduction in the rural rent supplement adding to the problems.

A drive through any part of Ireland will show that houses, and business have been abandoned or shut down; people often bought at the height of the Tiger and simply couldn't service their debts when the economy crashed and the banks called their loans in.

Just down the road from here is the seaside town of Kilkee, which has the dubious honour of having the highest percentage of its houses unoccupied within the prosaically titled West Clare Municipal District. It has over 70% unoccupancy rate compared to a national average of 17%. Now its probable that some of that number is down to the fact that some of these houses are holiday homes, but the fact remains that there are over 7,000 empty homes in Clare and 4,000 or so homeless people in the entire country. Assuming that all these people wish to move to Clare, the housing problem is solved in one go.

Posted by johnward 04:13 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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