Irish Football Team Suffer World Cup Setback

The prospect of the Irish football team lining out in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup hangs in the balance. A fine battling performance in Sweden to gain an unexpected 0-0 draw and a vital qualifying point was followed up by a 2-2 draw with Austria in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.



It could have been so different. The young Irish team were a goal down within 11 minutes after a defensive mistake let in the Austrians who had dominated the early part of the game. Martin Harnik poked home the opening goal past the despairing dive of Irish keeper David Forde. The Irish team dug in and with the excellent Shane Long leading the attack got a lifeline with a penalty after an Austrian defender rashly chopped down Shane Long on the edge of the penalty box. A definite penalty that was expertly converted by Jonathan Walters. Long was unlucky not to score shortly after when his beautiful back-heel came back of the post. The Irish were in the ascendancy with the stadium erupting when Walters scored his second goal of the night, a header from a corner kick and right on the stroke of half-time.

The Austrians regrouped and started to dominate the game again in the second half. Ireland still threatened and might have had a third goal when the Austrian goalkeeper Heinza Lindner expertly prevented an own-goal from an Irish corner. Increasingly the Austrians gained the upper hand and it was with a sense of inevitability that they snatched a deserved equalizer deep into added time. Just seconds remained on the clock but the three points had been converted into just one with new questions abounding about the tactics employed by the Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni.



No-one doubts the ‘gameness’ of these Irish lads and they are not without genuine footballing quality but against Austria they were let down by their Manager’s unwillingness to believe that they could do more than just cling on and defend their goal advantage. With the Austrians dominating it became clear that the Irish team needed midfield reinforcements while the substitution of Shane Long was baffling to say the least.

It is not over yet and if the Irish can produce an away performance against Austria and turn over the Swedes in Dublin then they may yet claim second place in the group and a play-off place.

At the moment this looks like a very tall order.

Group C – Current Standing
Germany – Played: 6 – Points: 16
Austria – Played: 5 – Points: 8
Sweden – Played: 4 – Points: 8
Ireland – Played: 5 – Points: 8

Lose Your Cable TV If You Want a Mortgage Write-Down

The issue of mortgage write-downs or ‘debt forgiveness’ has been a very thorny one in Ireland ever since the Irish banks effectively collapsed and were taken into state ownership. Thousands of home-owners lost their jobs at about the same time as the value of their property plunged. They found themselves in negative equity, preventing them from selling their now-devalued property and trapping them in apartment blocks and rural housing estates in a vicious circle that is hard to escape.

The realization that a certain level of mortgage write-downs would have to be granted was greeted with a mixture of despair by those who actually managed somehow to pay their mortgage and with an opportunistic ‘nod and a wink’ by those who are trying to ‘game the system’. There is anecdotal evidence that a certain number of home-owners are deliberately not paying their mortgage in anticipation of a deal being struck in the future. This is preventing write-downs being offered to the most deserving of cases, stalling the property market, trapping people in homes they cannot afford.

It is estimated that as many as 100,000 Irish mortgages are now in arrears of at least three months. It is inevitable that deals will have to be done with some if not many of these cases. The banks are unsurprisingly being very cagey. Where home-owners in arrears present themselves to the bank they are being offered longer terms, mortgage holidays, interest-only payments, split mortgages, etc., in an effort to give them some breathing space. For some, even these measures will not be enough.

The new Personal Insolvency Service has laid out a number of concessions that they expect from those desperate for a deal including:

* getting rid of a second car and even trading down to a lesser model of car
* an end to taking foreign holidays
* removal of certain Cable TV services including sports and movies packages
* removal of children from private schools
* ending of private health insurance
* any other obvious ‘unnecessary’ expense

The Personal Insolvency Service is part of the Government’s overhaul of the outdated bankruptcy laws in Ireland. Irish banks are expected to use the new rules and restrictions laid out by the Service in dealing with people seeking mortgage write-downs.

It is likely that these new measures may be tested in the Courts. The spectre of desperate families choosing between private education for their children and private health insurance over keeping their family in their home is likely to be loom large in the national consciousness and soon.

It is a battle that will likely get ever more bitter as the stark reality of a bank-imposed ‘austerity lifestyle’ hits home.

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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Blow to Economy as Tourists from Britain Desert Ireland

The number of visitors from Britain has fallen by as many as a Million visits since 2007 when 3.7 Million trips from Britain to Ireland were recorded.

Six short years ago Ireland was a very different place. The ‘Celtic Tiger’ still stalked the land although his days were numbered. A property market collapse and financial ruin were just around the corner. Britain suffered its own recession too but was spared the carnage caused by the banks that Ireland suffered. Against this backdrop it is perhaps no surprise that visitors from our closest neighbour have decided to opt for sunnier climes.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) are doing everything they can to reverse the trend but are not helped by the high costs they face in running their businesses. Commercial Rates are effectively an extra big tax on their income. Many Hotels are also suffering negative equity in respect of the development of their Hotel property after the market collapsed in 2008. Consequently Hotel rates in 2012 were at their highest level since 2008 according to a Hotels.com survey.

Killarney at 101 euro per night was listed as the most expensive destination for Hotel rooms where the country averaged 90 euro per night. Irish Hoteliers are not at all happy with the survey though, claiming that the cost of rooms has been greatly reduced in recent years despite persistently high costs and that Ireland compares favourably to most other popular European destinations.

Tourism is vitally important to the Irish economy accounting for 5.3 Billion Euro in revenue and employing 11% of the entire workforce of the country.

by Michael Green
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