Ned Kelly, Irish-Australian Outlaw Finally Laid to Rest

The infamous Irish bushranger Ned Kelly has been buried in an unmarked Australian grave some 132 years after his death. Despite being hanged in 1880 it was not until 2011 when DNA evidence from one of his living relatives was matched against bones and remains found in a derelict Melbourne Jail that any funeral could take place.

For a time there was a legal wrangle over the ownership of the remains but in the end his descendants won the right to give him the Catholic burial he is said to have wanted. A crowd of over 500 people turned up to witness the final journey for the Australian legend, despite pleas for privacy from the Kelly family.

Opinion on the legacy of Ned Kelly has always been divided. His crimes in the 1800′s include various armed robberies and murders. He was eventually hanged after his gang was convicted of killing three police officers who were pursuing the renegades. While police authorities have always maintained that Ned Kelly was merely a criminal it is without question that he was also a symbol of rebellion by the poorer particularly Irish immigrants against the Anglo-Australian authorities who ruled in nineteenth century Australia.

The final showdown took place at Glenrowan on 28th June 1880. Kelly wore his home-made metal armour (an image that has become synonymous with him) but was captured and put on trial. He had earlier written an 8000 word letter explaining how circumstances had forced him into a life of crime by situations over which he had no control. The letter was later used against him in court. Ned Kelly was hanged in November 1880. His last words were ‘Such is life’.

Edited by Michael Green
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Irish Government Finally Gets Tough on Public Service Pay

Irish Government Finally Gets Tough on Public Service Pay

The ‘Croke Park Agreement’ is a deal between Public Service Unions and the Irish Government. It broadly states that there the Government will not implement any further cuts in pay for Public Servants in exchange for an increase in productivity and greater flexibility in respect of work practices.

The rates of pay and conditions enjoyed by Irish public servants have been the subject of severe criticism in Ireland in the last few years, especially given the appalling state of the public finances.

A successor to the Cork Park Agreement is being negotiated between the Government and Union officials with both sides taking pot-shots at each other using the media as their weapon. The latest example of such public negotiating was by the Irish Taoiseach (leader, Prime Minister) Enda Kenny. His Fine Gael Party has been criticized for allowing the continuation of the Croke Park Agreement despite the fact that the country is effectively bankrupt. Fine Gael are to a certain extent hamstrung by the fact that they are in coalition with the Labour Party who are adamantly opposed to their core membership enduring any further pay cuts.

Enda Kenny has made it clear that if no agreement is forthcoming then the Irish Government will introduce legislation to enable it to reduce wages and automatic annual increments (pay rises), and to introduce a compulsory redundancy program.

Such a unilateral action would cause difficulties for the Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore who is already reeling from the criticism his Party has endured after the introduction of the annual Property Tax. He will be hoping that his Trade Union colleagues can strike a deal with his Government that will prevent such a necessity.

Both Fine Gael and Labour have suffered badly in recent Irish opinion polls and it is vital that they are seen to strike a deal that is good for the country.

Edited by Michael Green
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Sinn Fein Calls for Vote on United Ireland – a ‘border poll’

The ‘Good Friday Agreement’ that saw an end to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland has a number of provisions including the possibility of a vote on the removal of the border with the Republic and thus a United Ireland. It has always been the express political aim of Sinn Fein to achieve a United Ireland and the party has clearly taken heart from recent census results of the population in the six Counties.

The census revealed that the once significant gap between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority has diminished significantly. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency published the results of the 2011 census showing that 45% of the population are now Catholic while 48% are Protestant. This compares to the 2001 census when the ratio was 53% Protestant to 44% Catholic – a very significant closing of the gap.

When asked to identify themselves as British, Northern Irish or Irish 48% identified as British with 29% identifying as Northern Irish and 28% as Irish. Respondents were allowed to choose a number of identities in the census. 40% identified as ‘British only’, 25% as ‘Irish only’ with 21% ‘Northern Irish only’.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has ramped up the pressure by calling for a referendum during the lifetime of the current Northern Assembly (parliament). In an attempt to sway moderates he has also suggested that there would be economic benefits on both sides of the border should a United Ireland come into effect after a ‘border poll’. Of course any such moves are going to be fiercely resisted by Ulster Unionists who claim Ulster as their own.

Edited by Michael Green
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Irish Water Tax to be introduced in 2014

A new tax on the private use of tap water is to be introduced in Ireland in 2014. This is despite the fact that most Irish homes will not have an actual water meter installed until 2016 at the earliest. A flat-rate fee will be introduced initially and will be based on the size of a property as well as the number of occupants.

Irish businesses already pay for their water usage but private homes do not, the funding for which comes from general taxation revenue. The new plans to install a water meter in every house in the country have, like the property tax, been greeted with dismay by a population that is already groaning under the weight of a huge and increasing tax burden. It is expected that average annual usage per home would cost approximately 400 euro (approx US$530), with heavier users paying more.

It is broadly accepted that there is a case for charging for water usage. Estimates put the wastage of usable water at over 50% from the country’s creaking and in many cases Victorian water pipes network. Owners of rural houses usually have to sink their own well or else join a water scheme while urban houses do not have any such expense so there is a real urban/rural divide on the issue.

On the other hand Taxpayers can reasonably argue that they already pay for water in their income and sales taxes and are entitled to ask just why they are being told to pay again.

Edited 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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Grandma’s Gramophone – a story by Michael Collins

The wheelchair was uncomfortable and the retirement home smelt musty. Martin settled himself into the seat as best he could, trying to find the most favourable position for his withered and bony bottom and thighs. Ahead of him stretched another long day of inactivity. Since the stroke had paralysed his body but had left his mind intact he had had a long string of such days. Make the best of it, he thought. Use your mind. Think long and hard of good things and bad things. Spin the day out. So what’s today’s story that I’m going to re-tell myself? What about the inheritance I never had? That’s the one. He started to call up memories…

February was always cold. Outside, on that early morning in 1954, it had been damp and bone-chilling.

Martin ran the four hundred yards through the mist to the phone box. He never walked when he could run, never ran when he could sprint. His Dad had got him out of bed while his nose was just about sticking out from under the counterpane, the ice flowers thick on the bedroom window. He emerged from the warm covers reluctantly, washed and dressed briefly. Downstairs he found his father doing what Martin himself most enjoyed doing in the morning: laying the fire in the tiny grate. His father hushed his protests: ‘I know,” and pressed two pennies into his hand, ‘but I want you to run to the phone to find out how your Grandma is.”

Inside the red phone box he got his breath back. Lift the receiver and insert two pennies. Dial the number.

‘Hello. Warburton Hospital’, said a voice. He pressed button A.

‘Hello. Could you please tell me how Mrs Cotton is, ward sixteen?’

Unexpectedly the speaker asked who was making the enquiry. The lad stammered, explaining that he was her grandson and that, er, my Dad had asked me to call… His voice trailed off.

‘Just a second son’, said the friendly voice. ‘I’ll try to find out.’ He hoped that his two pennies would last.

The voice asked him if he was still there. He confirmed his presence.

‘And how old are you?’

‘Almost fourteen.’

‘Then you’ll have to be a brave lad. I’m afraid your gran died in the night. Can you tell your Dad to phone us immediately?’

He started to shiver. He would have to tell his Dad that his Mum had died. He was still trembling with apprehension when the kindly voiced asked him again if he was still on the line. He nodded silently, then realised how stupid that was, glad that nobody could see him do something so daft. He answered quietly that he was still there.

‘Did you understand what I said?’

‘You said my Grandma had died, didn’t you?’

‘I’m afraid so, yes.’

He replaced the receiver, feeling as cold and dark within as the morning without. Time was getting on. He had to catch the bus to school, but he trudged home unwillingly, shivering inside and out. He had no key to the front door so he just stood there, paralysed and scared to knock. But his Dad had heard him coming. The door swung open.

‘What…’ he began to say. Then he saw the lad’s face. He put an arm around his shoulder. ‘Come on in, son. The tea’s brewed and I’ve got some toast going.’

They sat at the table with their tea and toast and jam. ‘She’s dead, isn’t she.’ It was a statement, not a question. The boy nodded. ‘It’s not your fault, son. Drink your cuppa and get some toast down you. Then you can get off to school. I’ll take the day off and get things seen to.’

He had remembered very little of the rest of the week except that he started having thoughts that made him feel guilty. Now he would get Grandma’s gramophone and the Paul Robeson records. And one of his sisters would probably get the treadle sewing machine. There also seemed to be some tension between Mum and Dad. Not a row: they never rowed. Just something they couldn’t talk to the kids about. They never had done, though he had been aware of tensions in that area from an early age. Kids feel it, pick it up as if they have a sensitive antenna.

Grandma Cotton had come across to the grandchildren as an embittered old lady with a sharp tongue. Sunday afternoon visits to her had been no fun, except that she allowed Martin to play her old records on her wind-up gramophone. They didn’t have one at home but even then he had been crazy about music. And having no concept of how the sound was produced he had invented a fantasy world in which the gramophone sent out a secret message to the singer who would then perform for him alone. Only faint twinges of doubt arose when he had learned that some of the performers were dead. Anyway, Grandma was now to be buried and he would get the gramophone she had always promised him.

After the funeral they had gone home in an unaccustomed taxi. Mum brewed tea and made some sandwiches. They all ate in silence for a while. Then, emboldened by the fact that his Dad had, after all, not been mad at him when he had told him his Mum was dead, he asked the question that had been burning in his mind since that cold morning a week before.

‘Can I have Grandma’s gramophone now she’s dead?’

Mum and Dad exchanged quick glances. Dad had looked at him and said quietly: ‘I’m sorry, son, but the gramophone’s gone.’

‘Gone? Where to? Who’s got it?’ his questions tumbled out in a fluster.

‘It’s a bit difficult to explain’, he replied, again quietly, but gave no further explanation.

The lad thought he had got the message. He had asked the wrong question. His wish had been grossly out of order. He should have been grieving for a lost Grandma and here he was moaning about a stupid gramophone.

The years passed. Dead Grandma Cotton was scarcely mentioned, if at all. He had grown up, become what he considered to be a man, and had thought no more about his Grandma’s gramophone. Except once when, in the attic of a building he had been working in, he discovered exactly the same type of gramophone that Grandma had promised him. He knew he should have taken it. Nobody else was interested and it would have helped clear up the attic. But he had missed his chance: when he went back it was gone. A bit like when you see a really good bargain on the market and decide to buy it the next day. And when you go back not only has the bargain gone but the stall is no more.

Then his Dad died when Martin was thirty-two. Martin was helping his grieving and confused mother to contact family and friends and asked her the whereabouts of Uncle Jack, his Dad’s older brother. Martin had never heard Jack’s name mentioned since Grandma’s funeral and, indeed, not much before that because, he understood, Jack was ‘a right bad lot’. In a strangely distant tone of voice his Mum said she had no idea, so Martin rang his brother-in-law, a policeman, and asked him to make enquiries. Uncle Jack had disappeared.

Some months after his father’s funeral Martin was visiting his mother and she told him a sad story. When Grandma Cotton had died, Jack had got wind of it before Dad, had gone to their mother’s house, emptied the place and sold everything in record time. He had subsequently refused to pay any share of the funeral expenses and left Martin’s father, not a rich man, with a large bill to pay. The gramophone (and the treadle sewing machine) had disappeared off to some auction house and Uncle Jack was a few quid richer.

Later, now that Dad was dead, Martin’s mother told him some more stories that went a long way to explaining the family tensions. Jack had been his mother’s favourite, although he did things Grandma Cotton could not possibly have approved of. Grandma had not favoured Martin’s Dad, even though he was a model husband and father. She even disliked Martin and his sisters, her grandchildren, to some extent. Mum went on to tell some horror stories about Grandma’s husband, who had died five years before Martin was born: an extremely heavy drinker, he had beaten his wife and family on a regular basis. There were even more horror stories about Grandma’s heroic struggle for existence in the poverty-stricken 1930s.

Mum’s parents had disapproved of their only daughter marrying Dad, coming as he did from a family that would nowadays be regarded as fundamentally dysfunctional. The two sets of grandparents never exchanged a word though they attended the same church and their houses were a mere hundred yards apart.

Sixteen years later, when his mother had told a fairly tenuous string of stories about half-remembered events in the past, she finally was laid to rest herself and Martin began to make what investigations he could.

It turned out to have been like this. His Dad’s parents had been as unlike as one could imagine. Grandma had been a quiet, gentle, working-class English girl from the slums of Manchester. Grandpa had been a heavy-fisted, hard-drinking, illiterate labourer, son of a small farmer in the far west of Ireland. He had beaten his wife and the eldest son (Jack) constantly, so much so that the boy had been removed from the family for some time. After losing three children, two severely mentally handicapped, and having endured at least five years, if not more, of constant thrashings, Grandma Cotton had thrown her husband out of the house, despite the pleas of the local parish priest, and had further earned her bread and butter taking in washing. Jack’s character had been set in the context of a violent household dominated by drink. Not knowing anything different, Jack took whatever he could whenever he could. Jack was cynical. Jack was mean. Jack was a survivor.

And Jack had seen his mother’s death as a means of earning a quick penny. In doing so he had removed from the grandchildren’s minds the only potential memory that could have erased the real memories they had of Grandma Cotton as an embittered and sharp-tongued old lady.

Twelve months previously Martin had learned in a roundabout way that Uncle Jack had died of cancer in far-off Australia some years before. The passage of time had removed any childhood bad feelings from his adult mind and Grandma’s gramophone had long been compensated for by a hi-fi system, modern turntable, mini-disc player, CD player… And any rancour he had felt towards Uncle Jack had been wiped away with the years. But he knew one thing, and contemplated the prospect greedily as he sat slumped in the wheelchair: if there was a hereafter and Jack and he ended up in the same place, his first questions to Jack would be: ‘What did you do with Grandma’s gramophone? And why?’

Story by Michael Collins

Edited by Michael Green
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Unexpected Chinese Boost for Irish Tourism

In the wake of the unexpected blossoming of the Irish whale-watching business the Irish tourist industry is today celebrating another notable boost.

In a surprising boost for Irish tourism the Chinese ‘Oriental Morning Post’ newspaper has declared that Ireland is the world’s best travel destination. A poll conducted by the newspaper was announced at the ‘World Travel Awards’ in Shanghai. The vote of confidence for the Irish tourist experience follows on from the 2012 ‘most charming destination’ award from the Beijing ‘Life Style’ magazine.

As many as two million Chinese tourists visit Europe every year but clearly Irish Tourist businesses want to attract more than the 10,000 Chinese visitors that arrived in 2011. Perhaps the fact that Ireland is located at the very edge of the continent has played some part in the relatively few Chinese visitors over the years. It is hoped that a new visa waiver scheme that has been introduced for Chinese visitors will greatly boost the numbers that visit the shores of the Emerald Isle.

Late last year the Chinese celebrity couple Zhao Ruo Hong and Zhao Yan from Shanghai made the headlines in their native land when they visited Ireland on their honeymoon. Zhao Ruo Hong is vice-president of China’s first wedding website. Zhao Yan is a famous detective writer. Their tour of the Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, The Book of Kells and then the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry read like a travel brochure for Irish tourist chiefs who were clearly delighted to welcome such a high-profile celebrity endorsement.

By Michael Green
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Whale-Watching Season begins off Irish Coast

Perhaps it is a sign of global warming or maybe it is just the natural cycle of the seas but in recent years an unlikely tourist activity has begun in the Irish sea: Whale-Watching.

Several humpback and fin whales have arrived in Irish waters about 5km from the County Wexford coastline. An abundance of herring fish in the area has attracted the massive creatures with a ‘super-pod’ of dolphins also being reported.

The arrival of the whales is sure to boost the local economy with fishing and tourist boats able to bring visitors and photographers out onto the water for a close-up view.

The photo shown here is from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group at where you can find out more about Ireland’s newest tourist attraction.

By Michael Green
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Increase in Support for Fianna Fail as Government Parties Suffer

A recent opinion poll of Irish voters has shown a further increase in support for Fianna Fail. The party that has been blamed for the current economic downturn was pummeled in the last General Election but is now beginning to show signs of recovery.

Perhaps part of the reason for Fianna Fail’s rebound is the failure of Fine Gael to introduce a ‘new kind of politics’ as they promised. At the last General Election Enda Kenny’s party asked Fianna Fail supporters to ‘lend us your vote’ while they got the country back on track. Many voters did and it seems are now regretting their decision.

The poll showed Fine Gael at 29%, down 7% since the 2011 election. Fianna Fail are next at 21%, up 4% since election day. The vote for Sinn Fein is very volatile and they are currently at 16%, up by 6% from the last election. The biggest loser is the Labour Party who look certain to be severely punished for their collusion in introducing austerity budgets and a national property tax. They are currently on 13%, down by 6% since the election.

Of course it is difficult to say just how much of the Fianna Fail support is just a protest at the current government. What remains a real possibility though is that the party could at least hope to return to government in the next election, especially given the difficulties faced by the Labour Party.

A year ago that seemed like a fanciful thought.

Big Increase in Smoking Among Irish Women

There has been a big increase in the number of Irish women who smoke cigarettes. One in three Irish women now smoke regularly with lung cancer now overtaking breast cancer as the main cause of cancer death among women in Ireland.

Tobacco companies have been blamed for targeting women, depicting their products as glamorous and buying high-profile endorsements in television programs such as ‘Sex in the City’, among others. The desire of younger women especially to curb their weight has also led to an increase in smoking since the use of cigarettes curbs appetite.

Perhaps most depressing is the statistic released by the Irish Cancer Society revealing that among women in disadvantaged or poorer sections of Irish society the rate of smoking may be a high as 50%. It is quite clear that among such groups that smoking is seen as a ‘coming of age’ event with children starting to smoke younger and younger.

The World Health Organisation reports that smoking among men in developed countries is actually in decline yet among women smoking is on the increase. Recent WHO statistics have shown that of the near 59 Million deaths worldwide in 2004 nearly 10% were directly caused by smoking. The developing world (ie poorer countries than Western countries) account for 70% of these deaths, once again underlining the conclusion that smoking is much more prevalent among the poor.

A recent Australian study revealed the following rates of smoking internationally:
Afghanistan 50% Greece 39% Russia 35% India 32% Ireland 27% UK 24% Australia 18% Canada 17% USA 17% Iran 11%

by Michael Green
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