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Hello from Ireland where the turn of the new year has brought a fresh bout of optimism with the realization that things are starting to improve.
It does seem though that the mistakes of the past are destined to be repeated ad infinitum in some sort of cruel 'Groundhog Day' parody. Property prices in Dublin have shot through the roof again by as much as 24% in 2014. Incredible! A crash is inevitable. Lets hope the banks are not destroyed this time or we may all have to move to Greece!
Until next month, stay warm!
STATE OF THE IRISH NATION 2015
After years of austerity, cutbacks in services and increases in Taxation there is finally some good news for the Irish economy. Unemployment has fallen from its peak of over 15% to 10.7% in November with the trajectory very much downwards. In terms of GDP the economy grew by 2.7% in the first 3 quarters of 2014 and is predicted by the European Commission to grow by 3.6% in 2015, well above the European average of 1.2%. Inflation has risen too but off a modest starting point and is expected to remain at or near its current level of 1.5%.
The pragmatism (or 'economic treason' depending on your viewpoint) that saw 64BN Euro of private debt heaped onto the shoulders of the Irish citizenry resulted in the pummeling of the Fianna Fail Party at the 2011 election. Perhaps history will be kinder to the Fianna Fail politicians of the time than the electorate were. Michael Martin took over the reigns of the Party and although they have has recovered some of the ground it lost it seems impossible that Fianna Fail can fully recover until all of the politicians who were part of that last Government leave the scene for good. And that includes Michael Martin. Possible salvation by joining into a coalition with Fine Gael, or even merging with their former enemies, is still a real possibility.
The Labour Party did enter into a coalition with Fine Gael in 2011 and in retrospect this seems to have been a good move for the larger Party. It is Labour who are taking most of the blame for the tax hikes and service cuts that the current Government are implementing. And this despite their limited influence in shaping the economic policies. The future for the Labour Party looks very grim with Sinn Fein perfectly poised to benefit from the destruction that will be visited upon them at the next election.
Sinn Fein continue to be the real beneficiaries of the turmoil caused by the politics of austerity. Despite some problems of their own and especially the lingering connection that many Sinn Fein members have with the IRA, the Party has emerged as the real voice of the left wing. Their economic proposals are regularly pilloried by economists who despair at the lack of detail and costings offered. But when compared to some of the proposals of the fringe left wing Socialist and 'People Before Profit' Parties the Sinn Fein proposals almost seem conservative.
The election of Sinn Fein will have little enough to do with sound economic policies however. It may well be a case of 'lets give them a go' given the betrayal felt by many Irish voters in the wake of the Fine Gael capitulation to their European masters.
An what of Fine Gael? Rarely in the history of Ireland has a single party had such an opportunity to reform everything as that afforded to Enda Kenny and his colleagues in Fine Gael. In 2011 anything was possible for this Government. 'Burn the Bond-Holders' was the Labour Party mantra which Fine Gael all but subscribed to.
They had repeatedly berated Fianna Fail for their co-operation with the EU/ECB/IMF 'Troika' and accused them of selling out the country. And what did they then do when elected? They continued on with the exact same policies. They threw years of austerity and decades of debt onto the poorest of Irish people while the sheltered elite suffered little by comparison.
By any standard the implementation of the Property Tax and the Water Tax are wretched examples of just how toothless and useless this Government is widely regarded as being. No courage whatsoever. Power corrupts absolutely and Enda Kenny can be regarded as having missed perhaps the greatest ever opportunity to radically change Ireland, from top to bottom. They bottled it, and were clearly seduced by the trappings of their office. Fine Gael are sure to suffer in the next election as a consequence.
Ireland and Europe
The relationship that Ireland has with its European neighbors will be forever dominated by the EU/IMF/ECB loans that were provided in the wake of the financial crisis here. The banks collapsed, German and French bond-holders demanded their money back and funds from the 'Troika' were conditional on the bond-holders being repaid.
Thus it was that private debt (banks, bond-holders, private investors) became public debt (in the form of a huge tax burden imposed for decades on future generations of Irish children). You can view this as pragmatism (how long would it have been before rioting began if the ATM machines stopped working) or as 'economic treason' (the phrase infamously used by the Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore before his own Party was elected and he implemented the same policies as his predecessors).
Against this background it seems that 2015 may yet be a defining year for the Euro currency and the EU itself. With Britain set to hold a referendum on its continued membership of the European Union (it is very very possible that country will leave the EU if a referendum is held), the focus has also re-shifted to Greece where left-wing parties look set to seize power on a platform of anti-austerity and non-repayment of debt.
If Greece forces concessions from Brussels then the Irish People will be next in line trying to get similar concessions. Although it does not seem that the current brigade of politicians have either the willingness or the stomach to face down their European betters. As perfect an example of 'poachers turned game-keepers' as has ever been seen.
No less than former US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner recently described Ireland as being 'stupid' to guarantee the bond-holders in the wake of the banking collapse. In his book 'Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crisis' he also recalled that he was one of the principal US officials actually calling for the senior bond-holders in Europe to be repaid by the Irish Government. So in effect he is saying that he did wanted the Irish Government to guarantee the debts, but that we were stupid for doing so.
It was around this time that the ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet wrote to the late Finance Minister Brian Lenihan threatening to withdraw emergency funding unless the country agreed to pay off the Germans and French. The ATM machines were about to be turned off and we are all now living with the consequences.
Irish culture has typically followed the trends of other western countries in recent years, especially the UK and USA, with the cult of celebrity permeating every nook and cranny.
It is not all bad. The recent celebrity 'Ice Bucket Challenge' raised thousands for charities. And at least we dont have any kind of a version of Kim Kardashian. Irish celebrities tend to be musical, cinematic or sporting. U2, Colm Farrell and Katie Taylor spring to mind. Surely the World's best female Boxer would be a shoe-in for Irish person of the year/decade/century?
On the big screen there is an abundance of Irish talent with Saoirse Ronan and Michael Fassbender flying the flag. Thats right, Fassbender, he is from Kerry with his mother being the great-grand-niece of Michael Collins. Musically these are tough times with no Thin Lizzy of the 70's or U2 of the '80s or Cranberries of the 90's yet to emerge as a world force.
And as for the youth of Ireland. Not so much 'comely maidens... dancing at the crossroads' (an Eamon deValera misquote) as Tweeting from their iPhone while they await an Uber car to take them to the airport for a quick jaunt to Spain. Celebrity gossip, a sense of entitlement, an ambivalent attitude to those mores forced onto their parents, and an attitude that anything is possible, if not here then abroad. To summarize then, young people in Ireland are probably much like they are in your neighborhood or city.
The State of the Irish Nation in 2015: A battered place, full of well-off elderly people, angry middle-aged people and disinterested young people. But on the way back.
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CONAN SHOOTS HIS MOUTH OFF
From 'The Adventures of Conan From Tirdevlin'
It often comes as a surprise to visitors to Tirdevlin that the local shooting club is so active. Just about every weekend during the hunting season the band of dedicated outdoorsmen, and some women too, meet outside the tiny clubhouse they share with the Boy Scouts and set off up the mountain hunting Deer, Red Grouse, Hares and anything else that moves.
Generally the club members retire to the Hotel Bar afterwards to discuss the one that got away and the several that did not. A Bunch of 'weekend warriors' was Conan's attitude and it was with growing irritation that he found his ear drawn to their chatter one particularly sunny Sunday evening in Tirdevlin.
Supping a cold pint of Carlsberg and propped up against the Bar for support he did little to endear himself to 'the gun-runners' (another of Conan's favorite jibes when describing the hunters) when he pronounced that 'true hunting' would be to provide the deer with a shotgun and some booby-traps to even out the affair.
Most of the assembly of shooters displayed ample wisdom and paid him no mind. But alas the ability to own a firearm is not always matched by the patience and carefulness that it's ownership should require. It was Miley Durkin who took the bait.
'What are you on about Conan? Give a gun to a deer - what rot is that?'
'Am just saying!' Conan seized his opportunity. 'It is not very fair on those creatures to be wandering around the countryside one moment and to be chased down by a gang of amateur 'Rambos' the next - no offence Deirdre.'
Deirdre Dunne was the sole female member of the club in attendance that evening. She pursed her lips and gave Conan a withering stare.
'Most of the time we come back empty-handed and when we do shoot something it is often a hare. It takes great skill to hit a hare when it is moving fast Conan!'
Miley was on unstable ground if he thought he could promote any admiration for their shooting skills.
'Any time I have seen a hare on the side of the mountain above us it is generally sticking its head up looking around, wondering why all the humans are crawling in the dirt towards it. Not a lot of skill involved in that now is their Miley?'
Barely pausing for breath he continued. 'In fact I would say that there is a fair case to be made to outlaw the shooting of any creature unless it is given a running chance. Only fair. Give it a shout or fire a warning first and then take aim. That has to be better than crawling through the cow-dung as if Moriarty's field is a substitute for Vietnam. You lot are not US Marines you know but a tiny effin gun club from Tirdevlin. Apologies for the bad language Deirdre.'
Miley flicked his eyes to his companions who gave him an imploring look. 'Why are you bothering?' was the general consensus.
Miley sat down again. A few moments passed.
No, it was no use, he couldn't let it go.
'And anyway what do you know about it? Have you even been up the mountain shooting?'
'Never even once!' God this was lovely Carlsberg.
'Right then, next Sunday you are coming out with us to see exactly what hunting is all about - unless you haven't got the stomach for it?
Conan froze, then look a deep long sup of the golden lager.
Damn it. Trapped. It was time to go Conan.
'Right then, next Sunday it is and dont be surprised if I manage to bag the biggest game of the hunt AND I will give the animals a running start AND I will use less shots than any of you bunch of Mary's!
Sunday came around quicker than usual or so it seemed to Conan. In fact he actually had been hunting a few times before but it had been over a decade ago and while he had no problem with handling a weapon he did have concerns about his accuracy. No way did he want to look like a fool in front of the local wags who had heard of the challenge and were waiting for an opportunity to goad him about it.
There had to be a way out of this. Maybe he could get their gun licenses revoked. Maybe he could report one of their weapons as being stolen to the local Garda Station. Maybe he could get the hunt called off?
Now that was a thought!
Moriarty owned the fifty acres that the gun club used and had made them pay for his permission. He was notoriously skinflint. His bartering skills were legendary. I guess that is how you end up with fifty acres and a herd of prime cattle thought Conan.
I wonder how much he would want to refuse permission this coming Sunday?
It was Sunday morning and Conan was particularly chipper. He had met Moriarty in the Turfman's Bar the previous day. The bar was an ancient relic of old Ireland and was a cross between a cow-byre and a potting shed. Visitors to Tirdevlin thought it quaint. The locals thought it derelict.
Deep inside and warming himself by the meagre fire he had found Moriarty propped back into a high chair, puffing his smokeless pipe, nursing the solitary pint of stout he allowed himself of an evening. Conan entered just as the barman was giving Moriarty an especially disparaging look.
'Will you have a pint Seamus?'
Moriarty's answer was automatic, well-rehearsed and immediate.
'I will if you are buying!'
'Two pints of plain over here please.'
Conan was in. And by the third pint Moriarty had agreed to refuse permission to the gun club the following day.
'Will I chase you off? Will I shout at ye?' he asked.
Moriarty stood up to demonstrate.
'I'll Get you Conan, I'll get you if you shoot anything on my land Conan - I'll Get you!!!'
He sat down again, wobbling, the beer taking hold.
Conan stared at him doubtfully.
'No need for any dramatics Seamus.'
'You know Conan, those hunter lads usually give me a few quid for a pint of a Sunday night......"
Unsurprised by this turn of events Conan laid out a crisp tenner on the crate that served as a bar-table, drained his glass expertly and left for home.
'Away lads, lets get up the hill to inform Moriarty that we are on his land.'
Miley was looking forward to this. Ten of them piled into two cars.
Conan offered the stragglers a lift and with Miley in the front seat they set off up the mountain.
Now there is a special way that country people navigate tiny rural roads. Years of practice has honed them to every possible dangerous pothole or sudden incline. It was less of a race between the two vehicles as it was an exhibition of driving that saw Conan reach the ramshackle farmhouse first. And it was an amazing sight.
A pristine milking facility stood brightly among a variety of disused outhouses and rusting tractor parts. The Cow Milking Premises were perfect, clean, sterile, modern - Moriarty's living quarters were not. Conan understood why he huddled into the Turfman's Bar most evenings. He could not understand why Moriarty would spend so much on his cows and so little on himself. I guess that is how you end up with fifty acres and a herd of prime cattle thought Conan.
By now the few pints of the previous evening were long forgotten and Moriarty realized that he may not have made the most of this situation. He beckoned Conan to get out of the car and to come over for a word.
'Whats goin on?' asked Miley 'Is there a problem with Moriarty?'
Conan bounded out of the car with mock bravado.
'Stay here lads - I'll sort this out.'
'Conan, I have been having a little think and there is something else you can do for me.'
Conan's face fell. He suspected that he was about to be gouged.
'That old donkey tied up over there is fatally ill and needs to be put down. The Vet says he will charge me fifty Euro to do it but I told him I'd take care of it myself. Honestly I have not got the heart for it - would you do it?'
Conan looked at the decrepit creature.
'The Vet has said the animal is to be put down?'
Moriarty nodded - 'It will be a mercy you are doing Conan'.
In fairness the animal did look dreadful.
The proposal sounded reasonable.
Why else would Moriarty get rid of a creature that he could sell? Conan reasoned.
As if by magic a scheme suddenly crystalized in Conan's brain. He could save face while keeping his boast to bag the biggest shot of the day.
Miley and the other hunters were amazed to hear the exchange between Conan and the old farmer suddenly get very loud.
'What do you mean we cant hunt today! I'll get you for this Moriarty!'
Conan turned on his heels and stormed down the driveway and back into the car.
Miley had made an attempt to get out and speak with the farmer but Conan had the car started already.
'Dont worry lads - I'm gonna get my own back on this guy and right now too.'
Conan displayed dexterity he did not even know he possessed as he rapidly removed the shotgun from its case, loaded it and stuck it out the window as he proceeded to drive back down the hill.
A few moments of startled silence were followed by shouts of 'DONT SHOOT' and 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!'
Conan had felled the poor ailing donkey with a single shot. It hit the ground hard and departed this world instantly. A mercy-shot.
Conan eyed his rear mirror. Moriarty was motionless, playing his part. Job done.
'That'll teach him to mess with us right lads!'
Conan's triumphant mood lasted but two seconds. A further shot had echoed from the seat beside him. Miley had taken his inspiration from Conan.
Miley was jubilant. 'You may have shot a Donkey today Conan but I got a bigger Cow!'
Conan slammed the brakes to observe the scene. A beautiful adult Beef Calf lay prostrate in the adjacent field. Back up the hill Moriarty was displaying surprising nimbleness for a man of his age as he careened towards them.
'I'll Get you for this Conan - I'll Get you for this Conan!!!'
It was time to go Conan.
ASTONISHING CLARE ISLAND
by Michael Collins
We had just missed the boat to Clare. I didn't think we would, because we really were within the time limits stated. What we'd failed to realise, Pat and myself, was the clocks had stopped at the last small town we had passed through. We had even had time to pause on the way, at the top of the last rise before the land fell away to the shore, to admire the panorama. 'See Naples and die' they say. Pat had turned to me as we gazed: 'See Clew Bay and die' was his comment.
It was all spread out before us, a semi-circular stretch of the Atlantic, girdled by mountains and dotted with islets 'One for every day of the year,' Pat had remarked with the large hump of our destination plugging the gap to the open sea like a huge whale floating patiently on the surface: Clare Island, five miles out to sea, five miles long by two miles wide, rising from sea level at its eastern end to nine hundred feet at its western extremity, where high cliffs took the buffeting of the restless ocean. And in among all those islands and islets was a small sand bar that the Beatles had bought. It had been taken over by hippies who were attempting to raise cabbages there.
We'd missed the boat. Not our fault. You couldn't book your passage so there was no passenger list. But we had been assured that there would be a boat at 3.30 in the afternoon. Now, at 3 o'clock, we could see our boat as a speck on the water, drawing away from us towards our intended destination. There was nothing for it but to return the five miles to Louisburgh and phone from there. A frantic phone call from a phone booth where first you had to pick up the receiver and wind a handle to get the operator and only then insert your two pennies provided us with the information that no further 'official' boat was expected to sail that day but it was thought that a fishing boat would be making the crossing to Roonagh Quay and back at around 7.30. The only thing we could do was to go and get a pub meal and a pint or two and wait. I made sure we were back at the landing stage by 6.30.
At the time that the boat, with its two-man crew, arrived to deposit a passenger and return to the island before nightfall, the tide was at its lowest ebb. We had to scramble thirty feet down an iron ladder, manoeuvring our rucksacks, into the well of a boat that looked frighteningly small and smelt like a fishmonger's shop on a bad day. I had thought I was accustomed to boats, having crossed the English Channel and the Irish Sea up to fifty times. This was different. The large steamers I was used to ploughed through the waves: the tiny craft we were now sailing in sat on top of them like a cork. The waves rolled in from the stern, higher than the mast, and the boat was eased up the hills of water, to slide down the far side into the trough like a roller coaster. I did not feel confident, but the crew seemed to regard it all with the dispassionate attitude of experts.
Then County Clare loomed up out of drizzly mist, all grey and green, dotted with the white squares of cottages. It was dead calm in the lee of the island, enabling me to lean over the side. The sight was astonishing. The water was a crystal-clear, pale bluish-green and the bright sandy bottom was clearly visible, with small flatfish cruising around like aeroplanes.
The aged boat docked at 8 o'clock and once again we set about heaving and hauling to get our baggage on shore. We walked along the top of the harbour wall, in the curve of which nestled a ridiculously tiny castle, proceeded another fifty yards and entered the pub. I say 'pub': it was everything post office, grocery store, pub and private dwelling all rolled into one. Pints were pulled. Around 11.30 supper was called, a vast fry-up of sausages, eggs, bacon, black pudding. And more pints. It was like a hefty breakfast and a night out on the town all rolled into one.
At around 1 a.m. I wandered down to the tiny beach to clear my head and got strangely excited about finding a small dead dogfish stranded on the sand.
Our 3-week holiday started the next day. Our time was spent working on the 'roads' a euphemism for tracks made of compacted gravel and clay. Spare time was spent in the pub, wandering over the island, fishing for mackerel from a boat and for cod from the shore. The weather changed the first day: we could have been somewhere on the Mediterranean. A heat wave in the West of Ireland!
The newish watch on my wrist soon became redundant. I was used to a life regulated down to the nearest minute. The islanders lived much more according to the rhythms of daylight, darkness and weather. Not even the pub had real opening times: generally the first customers would trickle in around 9 p.m., the bar staying open until the last drinker left in the wee small hours or as the sun was coming up.
The end result was that I was rewarded by sights that are not usually granted to the clock-watcher. One morning, after a particularly fine night of story-telling and singing, two of us emerged into the fresh air just as rosy-fingered dawn was painting the sky. Rather than going home to bed we decided to climb to a point high above the track to watch the sun come up. We sat in the shelter of a tumbledown dry-stone wall and watched the sun rise above Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain of Ireland's patron saint that stands on the far mainland shore looking, from our vantage point, rather like a resting volcano. The sunlight shone on a grassy plateau some thirty feet beneath us, a plateau dotted with wild flowers. And as the cold air warmed we smelt the wild thyme and saw the hares emerging from their nighttime hiding places to jump and gambol like children just released from school.
Another early-morning exploit found me with two islanders in a curragh, a traditional rowing boat made of tarred sacking stretched over thin laths, dropping a handline weighted with a stone and bearing six hooks baited with bits of silver paper. I could feel the mackerel thudding into the hooks as the line became steadily heavier. We hauled the fish aboard six at a time. Ninety mackerel in half an hour. Fishing from the shoreline was different. The bait was limpet, knocked from the rocks, the prey small codlings or wrasse. Not sport: they were strictly for the pot.
Then there was the day that we decided to take the long walk to the west of the island, a steady five-mile slog as the land slowly rose from sea level to cliff height. We lay on our bellies on grass cropped by that most efficient of lawn mowers, the sheep, and watched the gulls wheel and scream along the cliff walls, hearing the dull boom of the ocean as it gently pummeled the rocks below. A curragh came into view, rounding a headland to our left, and bobbed about like a toy boat as its occupants hauled in lobster pots. We knew the men, but there was no point in greeting them: a wave of the hand would have gone unnoticed and any shouting would have been drowned by the ocean's deep bass voice.
I fear that this was likley an experience that I can never repeat. Tourism and commercial interests have changed the nature of Clare. The pub has closed. There is mains electricity and a helicopter pad. But the visitor to Clare Island will still be able to savour something of what I felt when I first landed there in June 1971.
© 2013 Michael J. Collins
|PHRASE:||Tá cupla focail Gaeilge agam|
|PRONOUNCED:||taw koo-pluh fuk-ill gale-geh ah/gum|
|MEANING:||I have a couple of words of Irish|
|PHRASE:||Tuigim Gaeilge shimpli|
|PRONOUNCED:||thug/imm gale/geh him/plee|
|MEANING:||I understand simple irish||PHRASE:
||Nil moran Gaeilge agam
||kneel more/on gale/geh ah/gum
||I dont have much Irish