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Many thanks to our two guest authors who this month have offered us an insight into visiting Ireland and also an original folk story. If you have a yarn or history article to contribute please do let us know!
Until next time,
IRISH GOVERNMENT REAPS REWARD FOR EXITING THE EU/IMF/ECB 'BAILOUT'
Calling it a bailout was never a good idea as it was anything but a bailout.
The loans provided by the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the Irish Government had two main purposes: to keep the Euro currency alive and to allow Ireland to repay French and German banks and bond-holders who were owed billions by the bankrupt Irish banks. The fact that the Irish Government needed the cash to meet the wage-bill of the ridiculous numbers of public and civil servants employed by this tiny country was very much incidental. The EU/EBC/IMF had their own agenda.
But now they are gone.
Ireland has again taken control of raising its own finances and regained its 'economic sovereignty' amid much fanfare and self-congratulation. Ratings Agency Moody's has added to the positive tone in Ireland by upgrading Irish 10-year debt bonds to 'investment grade' and as a result the cost of borrowing by the Irish Government has dropped dramatically from over 12% at the depth of the financial crisis to a much healthier 3.3% today. By comparison the US and UK borrow at about 2.8% while Germany borrows at 1.65%, Portugal at 5% and Greece at 8.5%.
Should the Irish economy recover and unemployment fall then this will be seen as a very significant turning point in recent Irish history. Fine Gael will claim the credit for steering the country through its darkest ever economic moments having implemented the Fianna Fail plan for recovery that they inherited, despite lambasting that same plan in the run up to the last General Election.
With the economy pointed in the right direction Fine Gael will expect to be rewarded by the Irish people with a second term in office. Despite being not quite half way through its five year term with the next General Election not due until 2016, the analysts in Fine Gael will surely be eyeing up the very best moment to 'go to the people', likely next year in 2015.
Of course a year is an eternity in politics and it is not out of the question that a fickle Irish electorate could yet punish Fine Gael for its failures, perceived or otherwise. Lack of political reform, controversial social policies and the never-ending implementation of the economics of austerity may yet come back to haunt the party.
For the time being Fine Gael are enjoying their time in office with the latest numbers from the opinion polls supporting their optimism:
Fine Gael: 30%
Fianna Fail: 26%
Sinn Fein: 16%
This survey suggests a return by vast groups of voters to the more mainstream political parties and away from independents and fringe groups. Even the Labour Party managed to increase its support although it is still in a very poor position. Looking at the numbers above, surely a grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is only a matter of time?
FORMATION OF NEW POLITICAL PARTY IN BALANCE
Against the backdrop of increased Government support and an improving economy 2014 may not be the best time to form a new political party in Ireland.
The 'Reform Alliance' is a group of seven politicians spear-headed by former Fine Gael T.D. Lucinda Creighton who were expelled from Fine Gael after their party carried legislation concerning the abortion laws in Ireland. They formed the 'Reform Alliance' which looked initially like it may prove a real thorn in the Government's side. The group has flirted with the notion of forming a new political party for some time but have not acted yet.
Lucinda Creighton: "The people admire us, even if they didn't agree with us on the abortion legislation. They admire us for the fact we honoured a commitment, we paid the price, we were expelled from our political party. I don't have a difficulty with people holding pro-life opinions, given I hold those opinions myself,"
A recent rally of 1000 supporters was regarded by many in the media as representing the very right-wing of the Irish political spectrum and particularly those disillusioned with Fine Gael's stance on abortion. Support for a new party though has dropped dramatically from 46% to 35%, after the departure of the EU/IMF/ECB 'troika' and a general improvement in the economic prospects of the country.
Most elections are won and lost on economic issues so it may be very difficult for the Reform Alliance to ultimately do anything other than try to rejoin Fine Gael.
CHILDREN FROM POORER FAMILIES FAR MORE LIKELY TO BE OBESE
Recent studies that have suggested that there is a link between the financial circumstances of a family and obesity have been borne out in a report by Brendan Walsh and Dr. John Cullinan of the NUI in Galway.
The report found that economic factors coupled with the lifestyle of parents combined dramatically to decide which children are most likely to become obese. Children in the poorest households are more than four times more likely to be obese than children of the wealthiest families. If a mother is obese then her child is 5.5 times more likely to be obese also, a dreadful statistic that suggests that obesity can become 'inherited' by the continuing bad choices of parents down the generations.
The report also found that children who are obese as a child are 82% as likely to be obese as adults, while just 15% of children of normal weight are likely to become obese. The study used data form the 'Growing up in Ireland programme' which is collecting data from 20,000 children over a period of seven years with a view to gaining a better understanding of the future health needs of the population.
ITS OFFICIAL: THE LIGHT IN IRELAND IS BEST
The only location in the Northern hemisphere to be accredited as an 'International Dark-Sky Gold Tier Reserve' is in...... Kerry.
The US-based International Dark-Sky organisation was founded to highlight the problems being caused by 'light pollution' and the effects of reduced light penetrating through to the planet. Ireland has joined Namibia and New Zealand as being havens of good light with the bid for accreditation being fronted by Julie Ormonde of the South Kerry Astronomy Group who was delighted with the news:
'The only other time I ever felt such joy was when I found out I was pregnant for the first time and you feel like you're floating on air'
Ireland is now one of the best places in the world to view the 'Milky Way' and can bid for 'astro-tourism', a growing tourist market. With over 1.5 million tourists traveling the 'Ring of Kerry' every year the hope is that at least some of them may be persuaded to stay for the evening attractions in the sky above.
'..come the night time ..there's a whole new scenery so they're actually missing half of what the Ring of Kerry is all about' Ms. Ormonde added.
The Irish tourist sector is obviously leaving no stone unturned and is mining every possible natural asset in its quest to bring visitors to Ireland. This latest coup comes hot on the heels of the unlikely influx of US and Australian surfers to Counties Clare and Donegal in the wake of the recent storms.
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The Monster of Lough Ree
by Pat Watson
The legend of the Monster of Lough Ree has always been, but smart modern people said it could not be true, as the lake was not deep enough to hide a monster. Moreover, they said that those who claimed to have seen it were probably poitin makers who were under the influence or were trying to scare off the police or customs men.
The clever monster was not impressed so he presented himself to three sober clergymen of impeccable character in the 1950s. They described him as being a giant eel-like creature about two and a half feet thick and up to forty or fifty feet long. For the few minutes that they saw him he had his head and four bodily loops above the water. They thought he had a lump on his head and mouth and teeth like a pike. Controversy reigned for a time but the real story never came to light.
Another story about the monster dates from a hundred years before that. Two brothers from Knockcrockery, Mick and Pat, said they saw the monster late one night when they were passing by the lake, looking out toward Quaker Island. Locals ignored this sighting, as the brothers were well-known poitin makers and drinkers who plied their trade between the islands and all along the west side of the lake. However, two Englishmen heard about it and decided to investigate. Their names were Percival and Donald. Both of them were related to well-known, brave, worldwide explorers, and by virtue of their fear of any danger and inability to achieve much, they were somewhat despised by their families.
Percival and Donald decided to make their names by capturing the Lough Ree Monster. To this end, they contacted Mick and Pat and employed them as guides and advisers. Mick introduced them to his brother-in-law, Tom, and his wife, Mary, who had a house with a spare room where Percival and Donald could board for only £1 each per day. They were lucky to get lodgings so near the lake!
Pat advised them to go to his brother-in-law, Joe, the blacksmith, and get him to make a giant hook. At that time, the local forge was the only sort of leisure centre available to male layabouts, newsmongers, gabsters and nosy backbiters. There was always news and action there, and in order to keep the fair side of the blacksmith, those fellows would help with sledging, fitting iron tyres on cart wheels or helping with young horses. Mick advised the Englishmen that their adventure needed to be kept strictly secret and that nothing would remove the hangers-on from the forge, only free drink. Mick suggested to Percival that a £5 float for a free bar in the local shebeen (illegal pub) would empty the forge so that they and the blacksmith could get down to business. Percival complemented Mick on his shrewdness and paid the money. He did not know that the shebeen was owned by Pat’s uncle.
Now, Joe, Percival, Donald, Pat and Mick got to work. The hook had to be designed and made properly. A six-foot-long crowbar an inch thick was selected. Joe heated it in the fire, two feet from one end, and he and Pat lifted it on to the anvil with big pincers. Then Joe beat it into a lovely hook. It was heating time again so that the point of the hook could be beaten and barbs cut out with a chisel and turned so that the hook would hold fast to the captured creature. This was then cooled and the other end heated white and beaten flat before a hole was punched in it, to hold a twenty-yard long chain.
Just about that time, another brother-in-law, Tim, had a litter of little piglets and Pat acquired one for bait on the giant hook. Pat only charged Percival a pound for the pig. The chain was anchored to a tree on land and the hook with the dead pig on it was brought out by boat seventeen yards and then dropped from the far side of the boat so that it hung nine feet down over the side. As they were afraid of the monster, they anchored the boat there and returned to land in another boat. Mick owned the boats but he only charged £1 per boat per day. The Englishmen were rich. They watched from the shore for several hours and when their patience wore out they went out and pulled up the hook. The pig was gone.
'Well, doesn't that beat Banagher,' said Mick.
'The bloody monster is as clever as a Christian. We will have to secure the bait better.'
They tried again the next day and this time they tied the pig on with a rope. It did no good and when they pulled up the hook there was nothing there but the rope. This went on every day, with more and better ropes used until all twelve of the litter of little pigs were gone. Every night Pat, Mick, and Tim procured expensive poitin for Percival and Donald, who drank themselves to sleep.
As they were eating their breakfast on the eleventh morning, Mary, who always had too much to say, asked:
'Are ye going to feed another pig to the pike today?'
The penny dropped with Donald.
'Is that what has been eating out bait? There must be no monster at all. We have been wasting our time. We will not go on the lake again. How much is our bill? We will be leaving today.'
'What sort of an Óinseach [fool] are you woman?' said Tom.
'How could pike get near the bait, sure the monster would eat them too. You're talking nonsense like always.' But the damage was done. The Englishmen were onto the ruse. That's when Pat and Mick arrived. Tom, interrupted often by his wife, told of the morning's conversation.
'Well, isn't that the best ever you heard,' said Pat, 'but don't worry, we'll catch him yet. We need a bigger pig with several ordinary fish hooks inserted in him and then, every pike that bites him will get caught and make a better bait altogether for the monster.'
'I am not convinced,' said Percival. 'I have lost faith in you, your bait, your boats and the monster. In fact, I'm sceptical as to whether there ever was a monster.'
'Didn't you tell me that your brother climbed the highest mountain in Europe, Mattie's Horn?' asked Mick, 'and I bet he didn't give up just when he could see the top.'
'It's the Matterhorn,' said Percival with a condescending smile at the ignorant peasant. But he was stung by the suggestion that he was a quitter or that he was less than his brother, the mountaineer.
'I suppose we could give it one more go if you are agreeable, Donald, and if another pig is available.'
By sheer luck, another brother-in law had arrived from Gaily Bay with a bigger pig in an ass's cart. Not only that, in spite of his great size, he was prepared to sell him for just £2. Luck struck again when a stranger turned up with fifty special hooks to implant in the pig and he even had short lines to attach to the hooks and to the big hook.
'It looks as if fate is on our side this time,' said Donald. The stage was set for the final trap to catch the monster. The pig was killed. The hooks were inserted and the pig was tied to the big hook. All was loaded on to the boat. It was rowed out the seventeen yards. The pig, complete with big hook and fifty small hooks, was dropped over the side. Then all hell broke loose!
The chain became taut and was wrenched over the end of the boat nearly overturning it. The tree that the chain was anchored to shook as great pressure was put on it. Then everything went quiet. Tim and Tom who were on the shore pulled in the slack chain. There was nothing on the end of it and the big inch thick hook had been straightened out. Pat, Percival and Donald who had been in the first boat, were busy hiding their embarrassment at what the fright caused. Mick was in the other boat with a bottle on his head.
There was a monster after all.
Everybody but the English were surprised. Pat and Mick did much less boating on the lake thereafter, and Percival and Donald had the best fishy story of all time.
Pat Watson is author of 'Roscommon Folk Tales' available from The History Press.
KEVIN BARRY - 18-YEAR-OLD MARTYR OF THE IRISH WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
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