The State of the Irish Nation 2016


1916 Anniversary

When the rebels had been defeated in the GPO on Dublin’s O’Connell Street and the damage to the already shambles of a city was surveyed the soon-to-be martyrs were pilloried as traitors and criminals.

Easter Rising 1916

It was only after the leaders of 1916 were executed that public opinion began to turn against the ruling British regime. As has happened so often in British colonial history a military over-reaction led to a chain of events that ultimately caused that regimes downfall. The Amritsar massacre in India in 1919 turned public opinion against the British on the sub-continent and was one of the pivotal events along the road to Indian independence.

Events played out very similarly in Ireland.

The execution of Pearse and Connolly who were chief among the sixteen of the executed marked the moment when the sleeping Irish populace roused from its slumber.

The Easter Rising led directly to the war of independence championed by Michael Collins while Eamon deValera formed the first Government. A bitter civil war followed before the fledgling Irish State eventually stood on its own two feet. An Irish Republic was formally established in 1948.

What would the consequences have been for Ireland had the sixteen executed been simply imprisoned? Would the Irish have simply rebuilt Dublin and got on with the business of being under British rule? How long would it have taken for a new rebellion to occur? Would the entire island of Ireland still be under British rule today?

Of course it is impossible to know. History is written by the victors and those who even today proclaim the rebellion as an illegal and immoral act of madness are drowned out, their opinions trumped by the eventual results of the Rising.

The sacrifice made by the men and women of 1916 did indeed have profound consequences for every inhabitant of this island, and for every person who claims Irish heritage.

1916 will see a full series of events to commemorate the Rising, with plenty of comparisons between the motivations of those brave leaders and the leaders that we elect today.

The Economy

Perhaps you may have heard already? Ireland is back! Well, sort of.

Numbers rarely lie and there are numbers aplenty to shore up anecdotal evidence of a recovery in the Irish economy.

Unemployment is down from a 2012 peak of over 15% to 8.8%. The OECD has predicted that Irish GDP in 2016 will be over 4.1%, well ahead of the European average. Applications for planning permission for building projects are well up, new car sales are well up, strikes by workers are down and consumer confidence has improved greatly.

Irish GDP 2016

All good news.

Unless you conclude that the main reason the economy is recovering is because of the huge decline in the value of the Euro currency relative to the US dollar (greatly helping exports), and other currencies.

Or perhaps you conclude that the reduction in the cost of Oil (a major US and world economic factor) has helped the currency situation for Ireland.

Or perhaps you conclude that the only reason unemployment has dropped is because so many of the current generation have emigrated to America, Canada, Australia or beyond.

Or perhaps you consider the major threats to the Irish economy. An exit by the UK from the European Union (to be voted on later this year) would have major consequences for Ireland with no consensus on just what the cost might be. Massive immigration by EU nationals and non-EU refugees could cause a hugely expensive welfare system and an already creaking health care system to collapse.

Or perhaps you want to ignore the above and party like it is ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland of 1999?

We all know how that turned out.


Fine Gael enter the 1916 General Election year with the expectation of being returned to power. Rewarded by the Irish electorate for saving the country.

At least that is how Enda Kenny and his colleagues would like to view the situation.

Irish General Election 2016

On the one hand the Fine Gael leadership continue to berate their rivals Fianna Fail for introducing policies that they claim wrecked the economy.

On the other hand these same politicians continue to implement and expand those exact same policies, hoping against hope that the Irish electorate either wont notice or wont care. All that the average punter cares about, they will reason, is money in their back pocket.

They may well be right. If recent history is anything to go by then it is clear that the Irish voter is a lot less complicated than is often assumed.

Or perhaps that philosophy of self-interest will be further demonstrated by Irish voters who could easily cause electoral mayhem by electing a whole new raft of independent ‘local-issue’ T.D.’s (members of the Irish parliament).

Truly the upcoming election is very difficult to predict.

But surely Fine Gael will be leading the next Government. It would be a sensation if they were not.

Fianna Fail hope to recover lost ground but can have no real expectation of actually being in Government after the votes are counted. Although they can hope.

Sinn Fein continue to poll well but are utterly hamstrung by their violent IRA history and connections.

The Socialist left (including the Socialist Party, People Before Profit, and a whole raft of left-wing parties) fully expect to pummel the Labour Party who were supposed to be the guardians against excessive austerity. The Labour Party is facing a severe beating.

And what of the right-wing parties you might ask?

Well you can ask. But Ireland does not have any. Not really.

Not in the liberal-hating, abortion-denying, homophobic, xenophobic, gun-toting way of being a right-wing Party. And perhaps that is a good thing. Or perhaps not.

Surely every national discourse needs some degree of balance. Some lunatic fringe that exists if only to show how clever we all are to congregate in the middle ground.

And if not a lunatic fringe then at least a well-reasoned opinion that we can either agree or disagree with. The lack of a substantial right-wing party in Ireland that actually endures is one of the mysteries of Irish political history.

So with the 1916 Anniversary events soon to be exploited for political gain by any and all-comers it truly is business as usual in ‘Ireland of the self-interest’.

Social Changes in Ireland

Of course 2015 was the year that Ireland passed the ‘same-sex marriage’ referendum. The vote was carried by 62% in favor to nearly 38% against.
Regardless of your view on this issue it is clear that there have been unintended consequences of the vote and they have nothing to do with gay marriage.

Gay Marriage Referendum 2015

Perhaps the greatest problem with the outcome of the referendum has been the incredibly excessive smugness being demonstrated by certain sections of the Irish media who continue to proclaim the result as a victory for the entire nation. Of course, in their universe the outcome of the referendum is a big victory as they campaigned in collusion with the national print and broadcast media in favor of the vote being carried. But a victory for the entire country?

By the same logic the 1983 Abortion referendum that constitutionally banned abortion in Ireland (62% to 38%) was a victory for the entire country.

By the same logic the 2013 referendum to retain the parasitic and useless Seanad (lower house of parliament) was a victory for the entire country.

By the same logic the 2013 referendum to not lower the minimum age for the Presidency of Ireland from 35 to 21 years was a victory for the entire country.

Clearly many Irish writers and commentators are oblivious to the fact that every third voter who bothered to vote in the Gay marriage referendum was actually opposed to the introduction of the new laws.

Bigots and Homophobes, every last one!

The ease with which the concerns of the near 38% who opposed the referendum have been dismissed as belonging not just to another era of old Ireland but as being out of touch, bigoted, uninformed, unintelligent, backward, (insert demeaning word here), is truly astonishing.

Smugness is never an attractive quality in a person or group of people and yet smugness, condescension and disdain remain the constant theme of the discourse among most commentators since the gay marriage vote was passed.

The result is indeed a great triumph for those who support gay marriage (62%). For the 38% who opposed the measure (what were their reasons again?) the referendum result did not just change the Irish Constitution but also, apparently, has left them voiceless and abandoned by the well-funded and yet conceited, self-satisfied and egotistical liberal commentariat.

Ireland and Europe

The conversation in Europe will always be dominated by the economy but there are two other major issues now exercising European minds.

The massive influx of refugees into Eastern Europe and from there to Germany and Sweden in particular are causes for massive concern.

It is hard to understand just what the German (and the hence the EU) policy on immigration actually is.

By opening the doors to mostly Syrian citizens the Germans are risking more than the European economy. The terrorist attacks in Paris offer right-wing politicians a direct line between immigration and lawlessness. Rightly or wrongly they can point to a liberal immigration regime as one that will facilitate terrorism. On an economic level the policy will cause unemployment, they will argue, and on a social level it will create ghettos.

And that is not to diminish the genuine willingness and desire to help the poorest people from Syria, Africa and beyond who are exploited by soulless gangsters and military dictators.

In Ireland people want to help. They just dont want to be made a fool of. To have their own country subsumed by a culture from beyond their borders and all in the name of political correctness is liberalism gone wild.

Perhaps the feeling is the same in your country?

EU Issues 2016

The other big issue facing Europe this year is ‘the Brexit’. The potential for the UK to leave the European Union is one that could have enormous consequences for Ireland and may even necessitate the reintroduction of the border along the six partitioned Counties in Ulster, according to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

But as happened when the Scots were offered the chance to leave the UK but refused, it is likely that all manner of concessions will be thrown at the UK public. That carrot will quickly be followed by the stick with fear-mongering about massive financial costs being highlighted by the pro-European machine that is determined to keep the UK within the Union.

Most bookmakers have the odds of a Brexit at about 2 to 1 (or 1 occurrence of a Brexit every 3 opportunities). So they clearly think the referendum will be defeated.

Still though. You never know.


It is easy to look back on the Ireland of 1916 and regard it as the golden age of Irish literature. William Butler Yeats, Oliver St. John Gogarty, James Stephens, James Joyce and John Millington Synge were among the world-famous Irish writers of that era, the early part of the century. A wonderful golden era.

But wait! Ireland of 2016 is experiencing a new writing revolution!

Iris Murdoch, Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Anne Enright have all won the Mann Booker Prize with Seamus Heaney being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. These famous writers are the tip of the iceberg! Irish writing has rarely been more popular than it is today and for good reason with countless wonderful voices not named here producing truly memorable writing.

Saoirse Ronan

In the sporting realm Katie Taylor continues to dominate the Irish landscape while in team sports Irish soccer is on the way back with qualification for the European championships in France secured.

On the big screen Saoirse Ronan is getting rave reviews for her performance in ‘Brooklyn’ while Michael Fassbender, Colm Farrell, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Aidan Gillen are among the fine actors demonstrating that the Irish acting scene is in a very fine place.

Conclusion: The State of the Irish Nation in 2016

A century after the Easter Rising Ireland is still trying to find its true identity. Still searching for it.

The Irish of 2016 are as confusing a mix as any Irish generation that has gone before.

But perhaps just a bit too comfortable at times.

And perhaps just a bit too smug.

But after the humiliation of the last decade those that have written off the Irish had better get ready to start eating their words.

21 Funny Quotes About Ireland

Hal Roach

‘If there were only three Irishmen in the world you’d find two of them in a corner talking about the other.

Maria Brandan Araoz (Argentine writer)

The History of Ireland in two words: Ah well.

The Invasion by the Vikings: Ah well.
The Invasion by the Normans. Ah well.
The Flight of the Earls, Mr Oliver Cromwell.

Daniel O’Connell, Robert Emmett, The Famine, Charles Stewart Parnell, Easter Rising, Michael Collins, Éamon De Valera, Éamon De Valera again (Dear Germany, so sorry to learn of the death of your Mr Hitler), Éamon De Valera again, the Troubles, the Tribunals, the Fianna Fáil Party, The Church, the Banks, the eight hundred years of rain:
Ah well.

Niall Williams, Irish author, born 1958, from ‘History of the Rain’

One was definitely Irish…. The second man was unmistakably American. It wasn’t so much his tan or dark hair that gave him away as how he held himself. He had an eager air, as though the world was full of possibility. Irish people never looked like that.

Rachael English, Irish broadcaster and writer, from ‘Going Back’

I think being a woman is like being Irish. Everyone says you’re important and nice, but you take second place all the same.

Iris Murdoch, Novelist and Philosopher, (1919-1999)

I am married to Beatrice Salkeld, a painter. We have no children, except me.

Brendan Behan
Brendan Behan

I think the Irish woman was freed from slavery by bingo…. They can go out now, dressed up, with their handbags and have a drink and play bingo. And they deserve it.

John B. Keane, Irish writer, (1928-2002)

I still hold two truths with equal and fundamental certainty. One: the British did terrible things to the Irish. Two: the Irish, had they the power, would have done equally terrible things to the British. And so also for any other paired adversaries I can imagine. The difficulty is to hold on to both truths with equal intensity, not let either one negate the other, and know when to emphasize one without forgetting the other. Our humanity is probably lost and gained in the necessary tension between them both. I hope, by the way, that I do not sound anti-British. It is impossible not to admire a people who gave up India and held on to Northern Ireland. That shows a truly Celtic sense of humor.

John Dominic Crossan, Irish-American scholar and writer (born 1934)

The Irish ignore anything they can’t drink or punch.

James Boswell, Scottish writer, (1740-1795)

I formed a new group called Alcoholics-Unanimous. If you don’t feel like a drink, you ring another member and he comes over to persuade you.

Richard Harris, Irish actor, (1930-2002)

It’s not that the Irish are cynical. It’s rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.

Brendan Behan, Irish writer (1923-1964)

I’m an atheist and I thank God for it.

George Bernard Shaw, Irish writer (1856-1950)

A Garda recruit was asked during the exam: ‘What would you do if you had to arrest your own mother?’ He answered: ‘Call for reinforcements.’


If this humor be the safety of our race, then it is due largely to the infusion into the American people of the Irish brain.

William Howard Taft, 27th US President (1857-1930)

When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.

Edna O’Brien, Irish writer, (born in 1930)

An Irishman will always soften bad news, so that a major coronary is no more than ‘a bad turn’ and a near hurricane that leaves thousands homeless is ‘good drying weather’.

Hugh Leonard, Irish writer, (1926-2009)

The English are not happy unless they are miserable, the Irish are not at peace unless they are at war, and the Scots are not at home unless they are abroad.

George Orwell, English Writer (1903-1950)

Dublin University contains the cream of Ireland – rich and thick.

Samuel Beckett, Irish writer, (1926-1989)

He knows nothing and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.

George Bernard Shaw, Irish writer, (1856-1950)

Joseph O'Connor

The most important thing I would learn in school was that almost everything I would learn in school would be utterly useless. When I was fifteen I knew the principal industries of the Ruhr Valley, the underlying causes of World War One and what Peig Sayers had for her dinner every day…What I wanted to know when I was fifteen was the best way to chat up girls. That is what I still want to know.

Joseph O’Connor,Irish writer, from ‘The Secret World of the Irish Male’

by Michael Green
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Funny Irish Road Signs Found in Ireland

Funny Irish Sign
A candidate for the best sign ever! (love the parachute guy)

Spotted outside a lunchtime Restaurant in Dublin

Funny Irish Sign
Someone had too much time on their hands

Political Poster not quite up to the job

Funny Irish Sign
County Leitrim. We agree – dont shoot tourists

Dont stand on… something ??

Funny Irish Sign
100KM on this road/dirt-track! Please disobey this road sign

Dont walk on the water? Good advice!

Funny Irish Sign
You wait there. I’ll be out in a minute

Typical Tourist Town Blarney

Funny Irish Sign

It’s not easy being a sheep in Ireland

Funny Irish Sign
The Irish entrepreneurial spirit in action

Kids will love this one

Funny Irish Sign
Someone got busy with Photoshop!

Love’s Young Dream

Funny Irish Sign
Here is a DIY building situation that certainly does need a few warning signs!

No Latte or other Fancy Coffee!

Funny Irish Sign
Who says the European Union does not have a sense of humor!

Funny Irish Sign
Some things in Ireland are free!

Funny Irish Sign
Someone in this Church is taking things a bit literally

Funny Irish Sign
A Dublin Church at Booterstown gets with the times.

Funny Irish Sign
The Russian community in Ireland is very active!

Funny Irish Sign
All together now: “….you cant touch this…”

Funny Irish Sign
Cant imagine why this Chinese Restaurant in Dublin went out of business.

Funny Irish Sign
Another musical one – sing this to the tune of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen.

Funny Irish Sign
Creepy looking ‘kids crossing’ sign – must have been Halloween.

Funny Irish Sign
You get fined more if you dont have the exact amount! Make sure you have the 74 cents!

Funny Irish Sign
The sudden arrival of Summer causes consternation and panic among Irish citizenry.

Funny Irish Sign
Anyone who has a brother or sister can relate.
‘I wouldn’t do it again’ …..brilliant!

by Michael Green
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Some Irish Quotes about Christmas

Christmas Quote

‘A Turkey never voted for an early Christmas’

‘On St. Patrick’s Day I to pretend to be Irish. At Christmas I pretend to be good.’

‘I think after Christmas would be better for publication: I am hardly a Christmas present.’
Oscar Wilde

‘There is a remarkable breakdown of taste and intelligence at Christmastime. Mature, responsible grown men wear neckties made of holly leaves and drink alcoholic beverages with raw egg yolks in them.’
P.J. O’Rourke

‘I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.’
Shirley Temple

‘Our children await Christmas presents like politicians getting in election returns: there’s the Uncle Fred precinct and the Aunt Ruth district still to come in.’
Marcelene Cox

The Holidays are the one time you get to experience all the excitement of rush hour traffic in the mall parking lot.
Melanie White

‘The principal advantage of the non-parental lifestyle is that on Christmas Eve you need not be struck dumb by the three most terrifying words that the Government allows to be printed on any product: Some assembly required.’
John Leo

‘Sending Christmas cards is a good way to let your friends and family know that you think they’re worth the price of a stamp.
Melanie White

‘Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.’
Dave Barry’

‘There are 17 more shopping days until Christmas. So, guys, that means 16 more days till we start shopping, right?’
Conan O’Brien

Zen Christmas: the gift of nothingness.

by Michael Green
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14 Year Old Waterford Boy Was The Youngest Solider Killed In World War 1

Irish in World War One

During the 1970′s and 1980′s in Ireland the annual remembrance of those tens of thousands of Irish who gave their lives in the Great War was met with a kind of muted national indifference.

Certainly there was laying of wreaths and some elderly people would wear a poppy (before the poppy symbolism was hijacked by the British establishment in an effort to promote their own particular brand of nationalism).

But once the brief RTE television news report had been played the Irish people continued on without much acknowledgement of the anniversary, with younger people especially indifferent to what seemed like a quaint pre-independence ritual.

After all, the ‘real’ heroes of the Irish republic were the men of 1916, Pearse and Connolly, the men and women who had fought the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War, deValera and Collins, plunging Ireland into a scarring divide that would hold the economically bankrupt country back for generations to come.

The Civil War divide still remains in Ireland, but it is very much on its last knees. At last a left-wing Labour movement has emerged (although not necessarily via the Labour Party). Incredibly that may even necessitate a union of the two former political enemies. Even twenty years ago this would have seemed like a fanciful proposition. It was just impossible to conceive that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would form a coalition together. But now the electoral arithmetic makes that outcome a very real possibility.

What of the 50,000 who perished in the war? What is their legacy following the march of time.

First World War Recruiting Poster from Ireland

Finally it seems that their sacrifice is being realized. It was in 1966 that Sean Lemass, the Irish Taoiseach who is credited with dragging the country into the developed economic world remarked:

‘In later years, it was common – and I also was guilty in this respect – to question the motives of those men who joined the new British armies formed at the outbreak of the war, but it must, in their honour and in fairness to their memory, be said that they were motivated by the highest purpose, and died in their tens of thousands in Flanders believing they were giving their lives in the cause of human liberty everywhere, not excluding Ireland.’

It would be nearly a half century though before an admiration, or at least an acknowledgement, of those Irish troops who joined the British army could co-exist with a similar admiration (even worship in many cases) of those men and women who had fought in the cause of Irish freedom in the ruins of the GPO on Easter Sunday in 1916, or in the fields of Ireland against the Black and Tans in 1921.

Why did they do it? Why did the Irish volunteer for the British Army?

The motivation of soldiers in any age, including today, who are often impervious to any criticism, such is the level of bombast in certain places, is rarely easy to grasp.

Many initially volunteered for the money. This was the Ireland of ‘Strumpet City’ and ‘The Lockout’. Jobs were very hard to find and when found, paid poorly. Poverty, especially in the main Irish cities of Dublin and Cork was extraordinary, even by modern day standards.

Today there are various definitions of poverty, the most often used in Ireland is that anyone with an income of 60% of the average national wage is ‘in poverty’. In the decade leading up to the great war such a definition would have been much more relevant. In modern Ireland the lack of a TV satellite dish is regarded as a symbol of poverty. Everything is relative.

Most however, joined to represent their country and to fight for freedom. When the all but forgotten Irish nationalist John Redmond encouraged and even demanded that his Irish followers enlist in the British army to fight the German menace he did so in the hope that the service of the Irish would be remembered and rewarded. It is easy to look back now and lament at how naive he must have been.

Francis Ledwidge was an Irish volunteer who was to die in preparation of the Third battle of Ypres in 1917:

‘I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy of civilisation and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing but pass resolutions.’

John Condon - the Boy Soldier

The stage was set in Ireland for another dramatic failure, as that what the Easter Rising was from a military standing. But the British over-reacted, executed the Irish rebel leaders. Their martyrdom ensured that the die was cast and the Irish journey to independence was unstoppable.

What might those Irish trapped in the blood-filled trenches of Belgium and France have thought now?

Francis Ledwidge again:

‘If someone were to tell me now that the Germans were coming in over our back wall, I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them. They could come!’

Poelcapelle Cemetery in Flanders is the final resting place of Private John Condon who hailed from Waterford and was known as the ‘Boy Soldier’. He had worked as a bottler in Sullivan’s Bottling Stores in Waterford before, aged 13 years, he lied his way into the British army. He is recorded as the youngest military casualty of the first World War.

He died at the second battle of Ypres in May 1915, killed in action at Bellevarde Ridge on a day when ‘a strange greenish mist crept across from the enemy position, to attack the eyes and throat and burn out the lungs.’

So many Irish soldiers returned to their country with damage to their lungs from the poison they had breathed, many to suffer for decades with their injuries.

As many as 206,000 Irish soldiers served in the British army during the first world war.

Over 50,000 perished.

On this Remembrance Day nearly a century later should we not ask: Is Private John Condon any less of a martyr in the cause of Irish freedom than Pearse or Connolly?

by Michael Green
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19 Back-to-School Quotes about Irish Education & Learning

George Bernard Shaw

I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
Oscar Wilde, Writer (1856-1900),
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught
Oscar Wilde, Writer (1856-1900),
‘The Critic as Artist’

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education
Mark Twain (1835-1910), American writer.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) Irish poet, dramatist.

Books are but waste paper unless we spend in action the wisdom we get from thought – asleep. When we are weary of the living, we may repair to the dead, who have nothing of peevishness, pride, or design in their conversation.
William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) Irish poet, dramatist.

There’s no use saying anything in the schoolyard because there’s always someone with an answer and there’s nothing you can do but punch them in the nose and if you were to punch everyone who has an answer you’d be punching morning noon and night
Frank McCourt, Writer, (1930-2009), ‘Angela’s Ashes’

Oscar Wilde

He says, you have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.
Frank McCourt, Writer, (1930-2009), ‘Angela’s Ashes’

An Irish prayer-book is a thing which the poor [Catholic] Irish peasant has never seen. Not only has he not been taught the language which he speaks, but his clergy have never encouraged, and have sometimes forbidden him to learn it. This objection arose chiefly, I believe, from the impudent intermeddling of Bible Societies with the religion of the people. By their patronage of the Irish language, they had desecrated it in the eyes of the Irish themselves
Conor McSweeny, ‘Songs of the Irish’, 1843

…it would be the veriest mockery to say to those people – ‘Don’t speak English,
or emigrate: speak Irish, stay at home and starve, cry out yearly for doles, and
send your children picking winkles instead of being at school, and earn the
contemptuous pity of the world

Patrick Conroy, (Coimisiún na Gaeltachta, 1926)

A child miseducated is a child lost
US President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education
US President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child
George Bernard Shaw, Writer (1856-1950)

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn
Alvin Toffler, American Writer and Futurist (b. 1928)

While a significant part of learning certain comes from teaching – but good teaching and by good teachers – a major measure comes from exploration, from reinventing the wheel and finding out for oneself
Nicholas Negroponte, Founder and Director of the MIT Media Lab, (b. 1943)

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young
Henry Ford, Car Pioneer, (1863-1947(

I cherish the creation of public space and services, especially health, housing and the comprehensive education system which dared to give so many of us ideas ‘above our station
Frances O’Grady, British Trade Unionist (b. 1959)

You know there is a problem with the education system when you realize that out of the 3 R’s only one begins with an R
Dennis Miller, US Comedian (b. 1953)

by Michael Green
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Saint Patrick’s Day Traditions

The Wearing of the Green

The tradition of wearing Shamrock to celebrate Saint Patrick seems to date from the seventeenth or eighteenth century. This was a very turbulent time in Irish history. The suppression of the Gaelic way of life by the ruling British invaders resulted in many aspects of the Catholic religion in Ireland being forced underground. Strict laws were enforced which prevented the Catholic population from attending schools so ‘hedge-schools’ were operated in secret.

Shamrocks - one of the symbols of Ireland

These were schools run outdoors in secluded places (sometimes literally ‘under a hedge!). The teaching of religion was also forbidden so it is only to be expected that teachers would use naturally available resources to inform their pupils. Thus the Shamrock plant was used to illustrate the message of the Christian Holy Trinity.

Saint Patrick was credited with using the Shamrock in such a manner so the wearing of the Shamrock by the oppressed Catholic population became a means of demonstrating their defiance to the ruling British class. It also imbued a sense of kinship among the native Gaelic people, differentiating them from their oppressors.

Wearing a clump of Shamrock is now a firmly established tradition throughout the world to celebrate not just Saint Patrick but Ireland itself. The Shamrock symbol is widely used by businesses seeking to associate with Ireland and, along with the Harp, is perhaps the single most recognisable symbol of Ireland. It is a shame though that the Shamrock is not a blue plant as the color originally associated with Saint Patrick was blue!

Saint Patricks’s Day Parade

Saint Patrick’s Day is unique in that it is celebrated worldwide. It is most unusual that a country has such an international celebration and is really evidence of the generational effects of emigration that has afflicted Ireland for centuries. After the 1845 to 1849 Irish Famine emigration soared with as many as a million native Irish leaving their homes in the decades after the famine to settle in places like Boston, New York, Newfoundland, Perth, Sydney and beyond. The US Census Bureau now reports that 34 Million US Citizens claim Irish descent. Most emigrants like to commemorate their heritage and thus the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade came into being.

Saint Patrick's Day Parade, New York, 1909

The earliest record of a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was in the year 1762 when Irish soldiers serving in the British Army held a Parade in New York City. Earlier records suggest that the day was celebrated by the Irish in Ireland as early as the ninth and tenth centuries.

Again, this was a very difficult time in Irish history with Viking raiders terrorizing the native Gaelic population. It is thus no surprise then that in times of strife the local population would turn to religion and to a commemoration of their own heritage and individuality – a practice that has been repeated by populations of troubled places since the dawn of time. The New York Parade is now the longest running civilian Parade in the world with as many as three Million spectators watching the Parade of over 150,000 participants.

Saint Patrick's Day Parade, Dublin

The first official Parade in Ireland was in 1931. The 1901 law that copper-fastened March 17th as an Irish national holiday was later amended to insist that public houses close down on the day. This restriction was later lifted in the 1970′s. In the mid 1990′s the Irish Government really started to promote the event when it changed from a single day’s Parade into a 5-day festival attracting as many as a million visitors into the country. Parades are now held in just about every major city in the world with the biggest in several US cities reaching epic proportions.

Chicago River on Saint Patrick's Day

Greening of Rivers and Buildings

The use of the color green reached new heights (or plunged new depths!) when in 1962 the city of Chicago decided to dye part of the Chicago River green. Since then the campaign to have just about every possible landmark turned green for the day has taken off in earnest and in recent years has included the Irish Parliament building, the Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls and even the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt!

A Pint of Plain

The Irish association with drinking is well known and not always positive. Fortunately there are plenty of examples of the appropriate use of alcohol and Saint Patrick’s Day is one of them. It is a widely held tradition in Ireland that beer or whiskey can be taken on Saint Patrick’s Day although native Irish pub-goers can only look on aghast as visitors top the heads of their creamy pint of Guinness with a green Shamrock. Sacrilege! It is estimated that as many as 13 Million pints of Guinness are consumed on Saint Patrick’s Day, up from the usual 5.5 Million per day!

Saint Patrick's Day Girl

Dressing Up

The tradition of dressing up in Irish outfits is not just confined to participants in Parades. Jovial creatures of Irish origin the world over use the opportunity of Saint Patrick’s Day to dress up as Leprechaun or even as Saint Patrick himself. Kids love to wear the big green, white and orange hats and receive sweets thrown to them by similarly clad operators of the various Parade floats.

The Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner

Corned beef and cabbage is as traditional and Irish meal as you will ever find and it is often hauled out for Saint Patrick’s Day. Traditional Irish music in the background and a family gathering are other Irish Saint Patrick’s Day traditions that have been going on for centuries.

by Michael Green
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Origin of the Song ‘Danny Boy’

The famous Irish song ‘Dannny Boy’ is one of over 100 songs composed to the same tune. The author was the English lawyer, songwriter and entertainer, Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929). He wrote the lyrics to Danny Boy in the year 1910 but only used the traditional tune when he was sent the ‘Londonderry Air’ by his sister-in-law in 1912.

The song was republished in 1913. Alfred Perceval Graves was a friend of Weatherly but the two fell out when Graves claimed that his friend had stolen some of the lyrics that Graves himself had written for the song. The tune was also known as the ‘Air from County Derry’.

The earliest recorded appearance of the song in print was in the year 1855 in ‘Ancient Music of Ireland’ by George Petrie (1789-1866) when it was given to Petrie by Jane Ross of Limavady in County Derry, who claimed to have copied the tune from an itinerant piper.

The song became very popular in America where it was recorded by Bing Crosby. It has been used by many Irish folk, traditional and even rock musicians ever since. The famous Irish rock band, Thin Lizzy, used the music on their 1979 album, ‘Black Rose’.

It remains as one of the most popular and well known Irish love songs of all time.


Lyrics to the Song ‘Danny Boy’

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an ‘Ave’ there for me.

And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me
I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me

I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

Listen to the tune to this and other famous Irish songs here:

by Michael Green
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Origin of the ‘Black Irish’

There are a number of theories about the origin of the term ‘Black Irish’. Almost all were intended as a form of insult or as a means of differentiating one particular group from another.

The theories regarding the origin of the phrase ‘Black Irish’ include:

1. Descendants of Viking and Norman invaders who eventually settled in Ireland may have been referred to as ‘Black Irish’. This is more likely because of the dark intentions of the invaders rather than their physical appearance.

2. One of the consequences of the disastrous ‘Spanish Armada’ in the year 1588 was that groups of Spanish sailors were literally washed up onto the western shores of Ireland. In cases where these darker-skinned foreigners integrated into Irish society it is possible that their offspring were referred to as ‘Black Irish’.

3. Over a million of the poorest Irish people emigrated in the 1840′s and 1850′s in the wake of the great famine in Ireland. The height of the famine was the year 1847 – known as ‘Black 47′. The potato blight that savaged the countryside turned the potatoes black. It is possible that the arrival of the thousands of desperate emigrants into America, Canada Australia and beyond resulted in their being labelled as ‘Black Irish’, trying as they did to escape the black death they left behind.

4. Irish Emigrants to the West Indies and their families have often been referred to as ‘Black Irish’.

5. Catholics in Ulster referred to the immigrant Protestants as ‘Black Irish’.

A further examination of this history of the Black Irish can be found at:

Edited by Michael Green
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Osborne, Lavery and Leech – A Trio Of Irish Painters

Walter Osborne was born in 1859. He painted mainly in the French Brittany region of Quimperle but moved to England in 1884. His paintings of rural scenes that dominated his early years gradually gave way to an ‘impressionistic’ interpretation of those subjects that he had great empathy for, namely women, small children and old people. His superb images of young girls at play are still cherished by the National Gallery of Ireland: The Dolls School, The House Builders.

John Lavery was born in Belfast but was educated in Glasgow, London and Paris. He originally worked as an apprentice photographer but harboured ambitions to be a portrait artist. He became an official war artist and eventually a chronicler of his times with paintings such as ‘The Ratification of the Irish Treaty in the English House of Lords, 1921′ and ‘Blessing of the Colors: A Revolutionary Soldier Kneeling to be Blessed’. His most famous work was perhaps that of his wife, Lady Lavery, ‘The Red Rose’ which was a painting that had a number of incarnations before it forever bore the face of the woman who was to adorn the Irish Pound note for half a century.

William John Leech was born in Dublin in 1881 and studied under Walter Osborne at the Royal Hibernian Academy Schools. He became increasingly interested in sunlight and shadow and this perhaps might explain why the famous painting ‘The Goose Girl’ was accredited to him. So proud of this wonderful interpretation of a girl in a bluebell field was the National Gallery of Ireland that it adopted the image as their logo, only to finally have to accept that the painting was in fact completed by the Englishman Stanley Royle. He can be regarded as one of the great Irish ‘colorists’ as can be seen by his superb image: ‘Les Soeurs du Saint-Esprit, Concarneau’, c. 1910-1912 which has to be one of the finest of all Irish paintings.