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EU FISCAL REFERENDUM PASSES EASILY
The recent 'Fiscal Stability' referendum held in Ireland on 31st May last has been easily passed by a vote of 60.29% to 39.71%. Concerns had been raised among the 'Yes' campaigners that a low turn-out might favour those opposed to the new measures but in the end the turnout of just over 50% of the electorate proved enough to approve the referendum. The vote has been lauded by the Government as giving it more influence within Europe as it seeks to reduce the debt burden imposed on the country following the massive EU/IMF/ECB loans allocated in the wake of the economic collapse.
Ireland had been caught up in the property bubble which burst just as the rest of the world was plunging into recession. The Fianna Fail government of the time was voted out of office and replaced by a Fine Gael and Labour party coalition who promised sweeping reforms. While there is little enough evidence of those reforms so far the very least that can be said is that the economic situation has stabilized (if you can call 14%+ unemployment as a stable situation). The government success with this referendum should give it a stronger hand when dealing with the EU/IMF/ECB and possibly reduce the interest rate burden.
EUROPEAN DEBT CRISIS RUMBLES ON
The debt criss that has engulfed Ireland, Portugal and Greece looks set to claim its fourth victim as Spain formally requests assistance in dealing with its bank debts. The Mediterranean country is dealing with huge economic problems including an unemployment rate of over 23%. Like Ireland, the country was also caught up in a property bubble that left their economy in tatters when the market collapsed.
Events in France are also being monitored by those in Ireland who will be interested to see what kind of dynamic emerges between the new French leader Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel of Germany. The newly elected Socialist leader has promised to raise taxes to plug the huge French budget deficit. Hollande is at odds with his German counterparts who are determined to drive home the message of austerity while the French want an improved economic stimulus package similar to the one employed in the US.
The Euro currency is very much under the microscope. While the Greeks have elected new political leaders who are more likely to seek to stay within the eurozone it is becoming apparent that the citizenry of several other EU countries are beginning to doubt the currency altogether. A recent survey by Ifop-Fiducial has revealed that 39% of Germans now want to leave the euro, similarly 28% of Italians, 26% of French and 24% of Spaniards. This represents a huge dip in support in Germany for the currency which could certainly cause political problems in 2013 once the German general election is held.
ENGLISH QUEEN MEETS WITH SINN FEIN
In yet another landmark moment in recent Irish history the UK monarch Queen Elizabeth II met with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland. The Queen visited Ireland in 2011 and laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in what was broadly accepted as a very successful visit. This latest meeting with the Sinn Fein politician is a sure sign that relations between Ireland and England continue to improve.
GOVERNMENT PLANS TO ABOLISH SEANAD IN DOUBT
The Irish constitution provides for a national parliament (Dail Eireann) and a senate house (Seanad). In the wake of the severe financial restrictions imposed on the country the viability of every government agency has come under the spotlight, including the Seanad. Fine Gael campaigned in the last general election on the basis that they would hold a referendum to abolish the Seanad. When they went into coalition with the Labour Party they can little have realised that their partners in government might oppose the plan. This is exactly what is happening however with several Labour senators refusing to approve the government proposal.
The Seanad cannot prevent its abolition once a referendum is passed on the matter but it can still delay proceedings while clinging on to their largely ceremonial and well-paid roles. If this issue drags on then it has the potential to be very embarrassing for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael government who were elected with one of the largest parliamentary majorities in the history of the State.
'SPLIT' MORTGAGES TO BE INTRODUCED FOR STRUGGLING HOMEOWNERS
Seven Irish banks are to introduce an option to have mortgages split in two, with one part put in suspension for a number of years. The plan is just one of a number of measures that have been introduced to try to alleviate the burden of negative equity that many householders find themselves in after the 2008 property crash. It is estimated that as many as 116,000 mortgage holders are either in mortgage arrears for at least three months or have had to negotiate a new deal with their bank.
IRISH SOCCER TEAM HAMMERED AT EUROPEAN TOURNAMENT
The Irish football team have bowed out of the European Championships that are being held in Poland and the Ukraine. The team began the tournament with high hopes of causing an upset and getting past Croatia, Spain and Italy in order to qualify for the quarter-final. It was not to be though as a 3-1 defeat to Croatia was followed by a 4-0 drubbing by world champions Spain, and concluding with a 2-0 defeat to Italy. It was a dreadful showing by the Irish team who, despite plenty of honest endeavour were simply outclassed. Questions are now being asked about the management of Giovanni Trapattoni who has seemed quite defensive in his approach and predictable in his team selection. It is also likely that several players will retire from international football altogether after this humiliation.
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The full listing of the most popular free and fee-paying visitor attractions in Ireland is shown below. Over the next few months a description of each of these attractions will be provided in this newsletter and then compiled into a free ebook and PDF for easy downloading and reference.
1. The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
2. National Botanic Gardens, Dublin
3. Natural Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, Dublin
4. Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
5. Farmleigh, Dublin
6. National Museum of Ireland - Art & History, Dublin
7. National Museum of Ireland - Natural History, Dublin
8. Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
9. Science Gallery, Dublin
10. Holy Cross Abbey - Tipperary
11. The National Library of Ireland, Dublin
12. Dublin City Gallery - Hugh Lane
13. National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Mayo
14. Nicholas Mosse Pottery, Kilkenny
15. Galway City Museum, Galway
1. Guinness Storehouse, Dublin
2. Dublin Zoo, Dublin
3. National Aquatic Centre, Dublin
4. Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, Clare
5. Book of Kells, Dublin
6. Fota Wildlife Park, Cork
7. St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
8. Blarney Castle, Cork
9. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
10. Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, Clare
11. Rock of Cashel, Tipperary
12. Brú Na Bóinne Visitor Centre (Newgrange), Meath
13. Old Jameson Distillery, Dublin
14. Powerscourt House & Gardens, Wicklow
15. Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny
16. Connemara National Park, Galway/Mayo
17. Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
18. Aquadome, Kerry
19. The National Wax Museum, Dublin
20. Dublin Castle, Dublin
21. Dublinia, Dublin
FREE ATTRACTION #1: THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF IRELAND
The Dublin home to Ireland's art treasures tops the list of 'free to visit' attractions in the entire country and it is easy to see why. The Gallery is located on Merrion Square, literally next door to the national parliament of the country (Dail Eireann) and only a few hundred yards from St. Stephen's Green, Grafton Street, Trinity College and a host of other top visitor sites. It could hardly be more central.
The Gallery has two main entrances. The first faces Merrion Square with the second one located on Clare Street, just around the corner. The Dublin Luas (tram) line stops at nearby St. Stephens Green while the nearest DART (train) stop is located at nearby Pearse Station. The Gallery is very well served by Dublin bus routes as well.
If you are visiting Dublin city centre then you should allow at least two to three hours for your visit so allocating a full morning or an afternoon is a good idea and will afford you time to stop off for lunch or a snack in the Gallery restaurant.
The Gallery offers free guided tours and audio-tours and is very well regarded for its collection of Italian Baroque and Dutch masters paintings. Visitors are advised to check the Gallery's website at http://www.nationalgallery.ie for information about free tour times.
The Gallery cafe is of a very high standard but be warned, it can be quite busy at lunchtime as Dubliner's working nearby take advantage of the facility. If you like art, strolling around museums and admiring fine architecture then the National Gallery should definitely be on your list of places to visit during your Dublin stay, and its free!
FEE-PAYING ATTRACTION #1: GUINNESS STOREHOUSE, DUBLIN
The world famous Guinness brewery is showcased by this seven-floor marvel located a short distance from the city centre. The storehouse is located at St. James Gate. Visitors are not advised to walk from the city centre to the site. Take a tour bus, a regular bus or a taxi. The renovated and modern building boasts a completely renovated visitor experience beginning at the Atrium, home to the world's largest beer glass. It is recommended to allow one to two hours to complete your visit. Guided tours, self-tours and audio-tours are all available.
The landmark Guinness gift store is located adjacent to the Atrium where your tour will begin and end. The brewing process is explored and explained by expert staff who will even offer you a sample of the dark beer. You can then explore the ancient skill of 'coopering', making barrels. On the fourth floor visitors are invited to pour their own pint of Guinness - it is not as easy as it looks! The Brewers Dining Hall offers an array of cuisine all prepared using the finest Irish stout while also affording the visitor with fine views of the brewery in action. The Gravity Bar at the height of the tour offers a panoramic view of Dublin city - dont forget your camera.
If you like beer then the brewery is a must-visit attraction and even if you don't it still offers a fascinating insight into a business that has been at the very heart of Dublin city for centuries. Find out more at http://www.guinness-storehouse.com
There's a narrow road in Erin
White and dusty winding down
Through the hills of blooming heather,
To a quaint old Irish town,
Nestling close beside the harbor,
Facing out upon the sea,
Looking westward o'er the waters
Stands the town of old Tralee.
Down that narrow road and dusty
In the days of long ago
Have I traveled without sorrows
That I now have come to know
In the nooks along the wayside
Was the primrose given birth
And the hawthorn petal fluttered
As the snowflakes to the earth
From above the misted mountain
In a soft unending roll,
Came the lark song out of heaven
Bringing rapture to the soul,
And in answer down the valley
Came the cuckoo-call so clear
From the wood of Ballyseedy
In the springtime of the year.
I can almost smell the perfume
Of the blessed month of June,
I can almost hear the blackbird
Piping out his glorious tune,
Could I fly away tomorrow
Where my heart has flown today
I would soon forget my sorrows
In that town beside the bay.
I would rest upon a moss bank
At the crossroads looking down
On the vale that lies in beauty
'Neath the silent hills of brown.
I would hear the vesper bell note
On the breezes borne to me
From the holy friars' chapel
In the town of old Tralee.
Flights of Angels
by Cindy Brander
This is the prologue from the latest book in the Exit Unicorns series- Flights of Angels. These books chronicle the Irish Troubles through the lens of three main characters: Jamie Kirkpatrick, Pamela O'Flaherty and Casey Riordan. This is what one Amazon reader review had to say about the third book of the series: 'Cindy Brandner has taken her cadre of beloved characters to a new and pivotal level in this third installment of her Exit Unicorns series. It is a fast-paced tale that folds together the mysteries and lore of ancient Ireland, the fear and violence of the 'Troubles' and the poetic desolation of the Soviet winterscape.' Flights of Angels was recently nominated for a Global ebook award.
Excerpt from 'Flights of Angel' by Cindy Brander
We begin over a great sea, the western ocean on the rim of the world. Only stars light our way, for it is still night, though our travels will take us toward dawn. This is an ocean of great storm-tossed waters and strange, still latitudes, where things disappear, never to be seen again. At its surface, it is a bowl of tears—of loss and new hope and of families left behind. Below the surface it is a place of mystery as unfathomed as the very universe. A place that is as much home to such as we as the waning of the moon or the whispering heart of the forest.
For we are children born of sea foam and moon shadow, more dark than light and older than Time itself. We knew Leviathan before he had a name. We roamed the seas and the skies, the forests and the places of the earth as well as the places below it.
We have been called by many names: angel, demon, faerie, spirit, ghost, to name a very few, but we are the unnamed and can only be summoned with wisdom and grace, and, once in a great while, by pure need.
But the sea, despite its allure, is not our destination. For we seek land, a land of myth and madness, of poets and politicians, rebels and raconteurs, of blood and brotherhood. A land unlike any other, half legend, half truth, wholly and terribly beautiful.
We fly through the night until a thin line forms on the distant horizon and we feel the relief of homecoming after such a very long voyage over the faceless, undulating ocean. And so we arrive at the edge of a country of limestone cliffs, soft-faced with moss and nesting gulls. In we fly across a patchwork quilt of a thousand shades of green and low stone walls with sheep dotting the dawn's landscape. But do not let this enchantment fool you, for this is a land that has known much pain, whose fields are watered well and deep with blood. This is an old land, and our people have lived here long, some saying we were the small dark ones that dwelt in the trees before the coming of the Celts—but we are older even than they. We knew this land before man, before God, before light.
Now we wheel North, which in this land is spelled with a capital 'N', defined by political lines rather than geographical. Here lie the cities of industry with musical names like Londonderry, Ballymena, Magherafelt, Newtownabbey and last—the city of our concern—Belfast, meaning 'sandy fort at the river's mouth'. A fitting name, for it is a city built on red clay, with politics girded in ropes of sand and lives that dissipate as quickly through the hourglass of time and chance.
On a hill apart, wooded and enchanted, a house sparkles against the first rays of sunlight. A house that looks as though mead-maddened cluricaunes were involved in its conception and building, for the back half bears no resemblance to the front, and surely that birdcage of glass and curling iron must owe something to the little folk. A house of wealth and taste, nevertheless, and no doubt, should we venture inside, we would find inhabitants of both imagination and discernment.
But even this is not our true concern, nor is it entirely where the story shall occur. For that we travel south to a soft dell of ferns and bracken and trees in which nestles a wee, recently whitewashed farmhouse from another century. Indeed this shaded hollow looks as though it might disappear into the mists, only to re-emerge every one hundred years or so. But the people that dwell within are real enough, to be sure.
We cross the wall, wooded and vined over with brambles and old roses, damp and misted on this mid-winter morning. Early as it is, we can see someone move inside the house, and the scent of peat smoke and hot tea curls out in invitation. We accept gladly for it's very cold this morning. It is a bit of a walk down into this hollow that, come spring, will be filled with flowers, for their seeds can be sensed sleeping beneath the chilled earth. We spy a tiny door set high near a much larger one. This one is painted red so that we might not miss it, and even has a small step for us to rest our weary wings, and a mat of moss to wipe our feet. And so, badger bristle boots well cleaned, we enter.
The kitchen is snug and cozy, a fire in the hearth and the homely sound of an Aga with a kettle boiling atop it. The floors bask in the fire's heat and the scent of the tea, darkly fragrant and redolent of hills far, far away. Deep windowsills laden with green things greet the morning light as it pulls itself up and over the horizon. We stop for a sniff of the green: lavender, lemon verbena, thyme and rosemary. Above one window hangs a St. Brigid's cross made of silvered reeds. Ah yes, this is a house that knows how to show the welcome of the door to the small folk.
And now, perhaps it is time to look at the inhabitants of this home. Some are two-legged and some are four. In the kitchen are a dog, a great grey woolly beast, watching a man pour out the tea and listening with a sympathetic ear to his morning chatter, while keeping a keen eye out for possible crumbs falling to the floor.
The man himself arrests our eye, as he would in any room in any country, for he is a young man, large and well-made, broad-shouldered and darkly bearded, with black curls and a certain twinkle in his eye that tells us he is not entirely immune to the lure of the fairy world himself. And so it is that we must be extra careful not to be seen nor sensed. But we linger a little still, because it is very pleasant here with the fire and tea and toasting bread and the dog and the first sounds of morning.
But we feel the lure of the stairs just beyond the bookcase, for we are very curious folk and must needs know what and who are in every nook and cranny of a household. The stairway crooks back on itself like a twisted old elf, and this only makes it the more imperative that we travel up, up, up, past a window with eight sides—a most fortunate number that—and so all views from this window will be happy ones. It is only five more steps now to the top floor, still dark under its tightly thatched roof. 'Tis clear the inhabitants of this house understand the importance of the old ways.
In the first room, there is a woman asleep, one arm under her head, the other tucked around her belly in a gesture as old as the world itself. The first rays of morning catch the edge of her jaw line and we see that she is lovely in the way that humans sometimes are, a way that has nothing to do with what they call fads or epochs. She is well matched to the man downstairs, for he is fire and earth and she is water and air. We auld ones can tell such things at a glance, or merely by scent.
She stretches and opens her eyes, looking directly through the air at us. For a second we fear she has seen us, for she has mermaid eyes and a water soul, and both these qualities are notorious for catching glimpses of that which is not meant to be seen by man. But then she sits up, rather awkwardly for a woman with such grace in her lines, and we see there is nothing to fear. For at present her gaze is all inward, which is as it should be, for she is with child and absorbed fully by the tiny creature she harbors in the amniotic sea of her womb.
Ah babies, there is little about the human world we love more than those smelly, howling little creatures. For they do still see us but have not the words to reveal us. They communicate in the ancient way, through air and ether, with laughter and tears. If one can catch a bubble of their laughter out of the air, it can be made into a cloak that will warm one forever and never wear out.
We hear the quick tread of the man on the stairs, followed by the soft pad of the dog's paws, if indeed something the size of a small pony can rightly be called 'dog'.
The man enters with two mugs of tea and the woman smiles at him, tilting her face up for a kiss. He hands her the tea and kisses her tenderly, bending to greet the inhabitant of her stomach with morning salutations and soft words of sweet foolishness, and so we know this is a child of love, much wanted. The woman strokes the man's head and looks at him with her heart there in her eyes. He straightens up and leans toward her for a goodbye kiss, but she gives him a look from under her lashes and runs her hand up his thigh in a gesture that makes us smile knowingly, for this too is as old as the ages and not limited to the ways of man. He makes a mild protest, something about being late for work and then succumbs, as he knew he would from the moment she touched him. This love is both as fragile and strong as the tides of the sea and the movement of the planet. It is a thing of sacrament, and so we turn away, for there are things even we are not meant to observe.
We return to the kitchen, where the heart of the home is found. Beyond the green things where we settle is a field wherein we scent the stirring roots of fairy soap, an entire wooded field of it—what humans call bluebells—such a plebeian name for an ethereal flower. On the edge of the field, we can hear the murmur of water and know this is indeed a right place, for water guards the boundaries between worlds, between dreams and dimensions, between man and that which is not man. Water opens the doors to the unseen. The woods too are important to us, for they guard and protect, but they also hide when hiding is needed. We sigh, for this is a good place to rest and rest we must, for even among our kind, we are ancient and feel the ache of bone and the pain of flesh, when the moon is dark and the tides run hard toward the horizon.
Altogether, it must be said, this seems as fine a place as an auld one might hope to find, to settle in for a while and observe and see what stories shall be woven before our eyes. Perhaps you will stay, for having come this far, you too must be tired and in need of rest. Here, come, there are wee chairs amongst the lavender. Let us sit and be still and see and listen....
Flights of Angels is available from Amazon from here