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Hello from Ireland where the talk is all about the unusually good weather we have been having - finally a decent Summer! Ireland has new world champion too - see the news snaps below.
This month we explore Connemara National Park, Powerscourt House and Gardens and have a couple of great readers contributions to enjoy.
Until next time,
RELENTLESS EMIGRATION FROM IRELAND CONTINUES
The latest figures released by the Central Statistics Office of Ireland have revealed that over 89,000 people left Ireland in the year up to April. This represents an increase on the previous year when over 87,000 emigrated. Of those leaving Ireland well over half (57.2%) were Irish citizens, the remainder likely being migrant workers and their families. Over 40% of those who left travelled to the UK or Australia.
The latest CSO report also revealed that the unemployment rate is now 14.2%, up from 13.9% earlier in the year. Nearly 85% of the fall in employment over the last year occurred in the Construction and Accommodation/Hospitality sectors, particularly emphasising the difficulties being faced by those industries.
OPINION PIECE: SEANAD ABOLITION REFERENDUM REVEALING MEDIA BIAS
The October 4th referendum to decide if the upper house of the Irish Parliament (known as the Seanad) should be abolished is having a number of interesting side-effects.
On the one hand it is both a tragicomedy and a farce to observe those who are members of the Seanad desperately try to convince a near bankrupt electorate that they should be kept in their privileged positions. Rarely in the history of Ireland have the 'working classes' been afforded an opportunity such as this to remind the elite of exactly who rules.
The irony of this situation is that if there is a low turnout at the polling stations (which is typically the case with referenda in Ireland) then it is this very apathy of 'the working classes' that may play into the hands of the elite, the professional classes, the legal professions, business interests and politicians.
Simply put, those most motivated to lose something are those most likely to act. The combined sudden and surprising action of the Senators over the past few months has quite possibly exceeded the previous activity of all previous Seanads since the foundation of the State.
It is just appalling to witness these privileged cosseted people debase themselves as they attempt to save their utterly useless and parasitic jobs.
The attitude of some sections of the Irish media has also been very interesting to observe. A series of Opinion Polls run by the Sunday Independent newspaper have been reported and re-reported by RTE (Irish National Television) and several other media outlets. The question 'Should the Seanad be abolished' or 'Should the Seanad be reformed' was asked in a survey with media outlets gleefully reporting that voters in favour of keeping the Seanad (either in its current format or in a reformed format) are rapidly closing the gap on those in favour of abolition of the Seanad. Trouble ahead for the Government! Jobs may be saved for those in the clique!
Until you realise that the question being put to the Irish people in the referendum is NOT 'should we reform the Seanad' but is in fact 'should the Seanad be abolished - yes or no'.
When asked about this apparent manipulation Richard Bruton, the director of elections for the Fine Gael campaign to abolish the Seanad agreed that the question in the Sunday Independent poll was not the same as that which will appear on the actual Referendum ballot paper:
'The Sunday Independent is not your usual Newspaper!' he remarked.
With the regular newspapers apparently having their own agenda it was left to Irish bookmaker Paddy Power to commission a survey that found support for abolition of the Seanad running at 58% compared to support for keeping it at 42% (ignoring those who replied 'dont know'). This is quite some difference from the poll by the Sunday Independent, breathlessly revealing that only 39% of those questioned said that they wanted the Seanad scrapped while those supporting its reform or retention actually amount to 40%!
Of course opinion polls are all in the phrasing. It was Dan Rather the former News Anchor of the US CBS Evening News who famously said:
'Journalists should denounce government by public opinion polls.'
Some of his Irish counter-parts clearly agree.
Perhaps the last word should go to the bookies. Paddy Power bookmakers are currently offering odds of 4/7 for the Seanad to be abolished, 5/4 for it to be retained.
Maybe the 'working classes' will take advantage of the 5/4 odds and intend to stay in the bookies on polling day?
SEAMUS HEANEY, IRELAND'S NOBEL PRIZE POET, DIES AGED 74
The death has occurred of Seamus Heaney. The renowned playwright, translator, lecturer and poet was internationally acclaimed and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Political and literary figures across the world have paid tribute to the Derry native who settled in Dublin and who is survived by his wife Marie and four children.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins led the tributes:
'(His) contribution to the republics of letters, conscience and humanity was immense. But those of us who have had the privilege of his friendship and presence will miss the extraordinary depth and warmth of his personality.'
Former US President Bill Clinton knew Seamus Heaney well:
'He was a good and true friend. We loved him and we will miss him. His wonderful work, like that of his fellow Irish Nobel Prize winners Shaw, Yeats and Beckett, will be a lasting gift for all the world.'
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny remarked:
(He was) the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people. He is mourned wherever poetry and the world of the spirit are cherished and celebrated.'
IRISH PROPERTY MARKET EMERGING FROM THE WILDERNESS
Mortgage approvals in Ireland have increased by 11.9% over the last year according to the Irish Bankers Federation. At any other time this number would be cause for alarm and might indicate the beginning of frenetic buying activity in the property market, perhaps even the creation of a 'property bubble'. Ireland however, has suffered greatly since the 2008 economic crisis when the entire economy was nearly collapsed under the weight of bad bank debts.
Most of the Irish banks were nationalised, their loan books heavily discounted and staff laid off. Home-owners were left in negative equity as the apartment they bought for 400,000 Euro plummeted in value to under 200,000 Euro.
Derelict housing estates and half-finished developments continue to blight the Irish landscape both in Dublin and in rural townlands. Despite the gloom though there are still signs that demand is growing and especially in Dublin where a mini-bubble may be actually developing in certain parts of the market.
ROB HEFFERNAN IS WORLD CHAMPION 50K WALKER
Ireland has a new world champion in the form of Rob Heffernan from Cork. Winning the 50K event at the World Championships in Moscow must have done a lot to quell the disappointment he surely felt after finishing fourth at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.
Heffernan won the grueling race by a 62-second margin crossing the line in 3:37.56. He has become only the third Irish World Champion in athletics, emulating Eamon Coghlan in 1983 and Sonia O'Sullivan in 1995. Arriving home at Dublin Airport he was clearly overwhelmed by the reception as he was mobbed by supporters:
We are a great nation, support like this breeds greatness, I'm so proud to be from Cork.
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FREE ATTRACTION #14: CONNEMARA NATIONAL PARK, GALWAY
Connemara National Park occupies nearly 3000 hectares and is located in the very western part of County Galway. It is a great place from which to experience the rugged yet beautiful scenery and landscapes of Ireland.
The Park Visitor Centre is based out of Letterfrack which is only a few miles from the Atlantic coast, just about as far west as you can go in Ireland (the next stop westwards is New York!). Located just 15km from Clifden, 53km from Westport and 82km from Galway City the park is best visited by car or tour bus although there are some public bus services available. The Visitor Centre is open from March through October while the park grounds are open throughout the year.
The Visitor Centre offers an exhibition and information desk, a Cafe and a Playground for the kids. Nearby Diamond Hill can be climbed along four different walking trails. Free Connemara Pony Rides are occasionally available but be sure to check the schedule so you arrive when this free service is provided.
The park makes up only part of the overall region known as Connemara which covers much of Galway and part of Mayo. Several days could easily be spent exploring the towns and villages of this picturesque location. Hikers and explorers will certainly enjoy the parklands, lakes and forests. Connemara includes the towns of Clifden and Oughterard and includes between 20,000 to 24,000 native Irish speakers in the region making it the largest Irish speaking Gaeltacht in the country. Kylemore Abbey is one of the most notable tourist attractions in the County while fans of the film 'The Quiet Man' will enjoy visiting nearby Cong, where the movie was shot.
A very good tip when planning your visit to Connemara or indeed just about any rural location in Ireland, is to time your visit with a festival event. Just about every town in Ireland has a festival during the year when streets are closed off, musicians play into the small hours and traders display their wares and stalls.
Remember, a lot of the villages you encounter in Connemara will be very small indeed, some only having a population of a few hundred people, or even less. Festivals bring a lot of people into these villages and there are festivals for just about everything!
Connemara is a fantastic place to explore and you could spend an entire week visiting Galway. The nearby Burren and Bunratty Castle, Oughterard, Kylemore Abbey, Clifden and the Connemara National Park are all on the doorstep of Galway city which makes a great base from which to travel the western part of Ireland.
Find out more here: http://www.connemaranationalpark.ie
FEE-PAYING ATTRACTION #14: POWERSCOURT HOUSE & GARDENS, WICKLOW
The grounds at Powerscourt are located at Enniskerry in County Wicklow, a short journey along the N11 motorway southwards from Dublin City. There are a number of distinct attractions near the site with Powerscourt Waterfall and picnic grounds offering an opportunity to have a lovely picnic or ramble in a majestic location, although the waterfall is some 5km away from the main estate. By far the most popular attraction though is the actual House and Gardens.
It is possible to take a public bus to nearby Enniskerry village but that will still leave you with a half-hour walk up to the House. If you are not driving there yourself then an organised coach-tour might be the way to go. Several tour operators offer day trips to Powerscourt from Dublin city.
The Gardens are an absolute delight. Falling away from the restored house down towards the pond and fountains the gardens are divided into a number of different sections. The Italian garden, a walled garden, a Japanese garden, and a tower valley are all in front of you to explore.
It is easy enough to ramble down the hill but getting back up it can take a little effort so you may wish to skip the Japanese garden if mobility is an issue. The long border at the far side of the gardens leads into the walled rose garden and greenhouses adjacent to the house.
A fine cafe is often very busy so keep this in mind if you are hungry when you arrive. Powerscourt is also home to quite a shopping experience with the famous Avoca brand heavily in evidence, and only a few yards from the cafe and house entrance.
Is Powerscourt Recommended? Most definitely. But a little planning always helps.
Dont arrive in the afternoon unless you are planing a very quick visit (this is not a place to be rushed). A lovely day out would consist of an early arrival at the grounds, perhaps a cup of coffee in the cafe, followed by a walk around the gardens, back into the house to explore 'Tara's Palace', one of the greatest Doll's Palaces in the World, and then have lunch in the cafe or do a little browsing in the shops. Once more around the lake after lunch or perhaps a short drive to view the waterfall would certainly round off a great experience. Bring your camera!
Find out more here: http://www.powerscourt.ie
HEATWAVE IN IRELAND
by Andrea Lutz