IN THIS ISSUE
~~~ Keep us Free!
~~~ News Snaps from Ireland
~~~ Irish Christmas Traditions
~~~ Northern Ireland by Joe Hayden
~~~ Ireland's Heritage Plight by Roibeard McElroy
~~~ Last Chance for Christmas Gifts from Ireland
~~~ Irish Quotations of the Month
~~~ Monthly free competition result
Well Christmas is nearly upon us and there have
been some momentous developments in Ireland since
the last newsletter.
The first involves the historic decision by the
IRA in Northern Ireland to decommission their
weapons. We have included an explanatory article
by Joe Hayden on this subject below.
Less serious but just as dramatic is the success
of the Irish National Soccer team in qualifying
for the World Cup Finals in Japan and Korea in
2002. See the News Snaps section below.
We have reprinted our article on Irish Christmas
Traditions as we know just how popular it is,
especially at this time of the year! We have also
published an article by Roibeard McElroy who is
a little bit upset about something!
I hope this message finds you and yours,
safe and well.
Very Best Wishes from Ireland,
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NEWS SNAPS FROM IRELAND
IRA START TO DECOMMISSION THEIR WEAPONS
In a dramatic development in Northern Ireland the
Independent body dealing with the decommissioning
of weapons led by John de Chastelain have
reported that the process of the destruction of
weapons by the IRA has begun.
The breakthrough allowed for the reinstatement of
the Northern Ireland Executive (the government)
and the re-election of David Thrimble as First
HOUSE PRICES FALL SLIGHTLY
House prices fell by 0.8% in October, but the
overall figure for the year so far shows and
increase of 5.7%. This compares with a rise of
16.55% in the same period last year. The current
average cost of a house in Dublin is IR£190,000
(approx US$210,000) and outside Dublin the cost
is IR£127,000 (approx US$140,000).
RYANAIR OPEN NEW EUROPEAN BASE
The decision by Ryanair to open a new European
base in Frankfurt instead of Dublin will cost the
Irish economy the benefit of over 1 Million
tourists next year, according to the company
director, Michael O'Leary.
The decision to locate in Germany instead of
Ireland is due to the poor facilities available
and the excessively high costs imposed by the
state airport manager, Aer Rianta.
Ryanair have already offered to build an extra
terminal at Dublin Airport and to give the
Terminal to the Government for free. So far
they have not received a favourable response.
Irish tourism has been hit hard this year with
overall visitor numbers down by 10% and visitor
numbers from North America down by 20%
IRISH SOCCER TEAM QUALIFY FOR WORLD CUP FINALS
The chances of Ireland qualifying for the World
Cup seemed remote especially when drawn in the
same qualifying group as the Holland and Portugal.
But qualify is exactly what Mick McCarthy's team
has done following the two play-off matches against
Ian Harte despatched a first half penalty in
Dublin and this lead was doubled by Robbie Keane
early in the second half of the first match. The
Landsdowne Road crowd knew that Ireland had never
won a playoff and that the concession of an
'away' goal to the visitors would probably prove
The Iranians pressed hard in the second half and
had two excellent chances to score, both being
stopped by 'man of the match' Irish goalkeeper
The second match in Tehran was held in front of
over 80 thousands fanatical spectators who knew
that their team needed a 2-0 win to have any
prospect of progressing. The early exchanges were
tense with Iran having the better of the chances.
Had they scored in the first half then the second
may have been a very different affair from the
dull stalemate that it was. Many of the home
supporters had already drifted off home before
the Iranians scored from a corner kick in injury
Irish manager Mick McCarthy must have had
flashbacks to Skopje when Ireland were denied a
place in Euro 2000 by a last minute Macedonia
He need not have worried. Less than 60 seconds
later the referee brought the match to an end to
provoke wild scenes of jubilation by the Irish
team and management alike.
Mick McCarthy was in near tears in the press
conference afterwards as the full impact of
qualification dawned on him. That a country the
size of Ireland should qualify for the World's
biggest sporting event is an absolutely amazing
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IRISH CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
Ireland, like most countries, has a number of
Christmas traditions that are all of its own.
Many of these customs have their root in the
time when the Gaelic culture and religion of the
country were being suppressed and it is perhaps
because of that they have survived into modern
THE CANDLE IN THE WINDOW
The placing of a lighted candle in the window of
a house on Christmas eve is still practised today.
It has a number of purposes but primarily it was
a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they
travelled looking for shelter.
The candle also indicated a safe place for priests
to perform mass as, during Penal Times this was
A further element of the tradition is that the
candle should be lit by the youngest member of
the household and only be extinguished by a girl
bearing the name 'Mary'.
THE LADEN TABLE
After evening meal on Christmas eve the kitchen
table was again set and on it were placed a loaf
of bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, a
pitcher of milk and a large lit candle. The door
to the house was left unlatched so that Mary and
Joseph, or any wandering traveller, could avail of
THE WREN BOY PROCESSION
During Penal Times there was once a plot in a
village against the local soldiers. They were
surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a
group of wrens pecked on their drums and awakened
the soldiers. The plot failed and the wren became
known as 'The Devil's bird'.
On St. Stephens day a procession takes place where
a pole with a holly bush is carried from house to
house and families dress up in old clothes and
with blackened faces. In olden times an actual
wren would be killed and placed on top of the
This custom has to a large degree disappeared but
the tradition of visiting from house to house on
St. Stephens Day has survived and is very much
part of Christmas.
The placing of a ring of Holly on doors originated
in Ireland as Holly was one of the main plants
that flourished at Christmas time and which gave
the poor ample means with which to decorate their
All decorations are traditionally taken down on
Little Christmas (January 6th.) and it is
considered to be bad luck to take them down
TRADITIONAL GAELIC SALUTATION
The Gaelic greeting for 'Merry Christmas' is:
'Nollaig Shona Duit'
......which is pronounced as 'null-ig hun-a dit'.
NORTHERN IRELAND by Joe Hayden
The recent decision by the IRA to decommission or
'put beyond use' some of their stockpile of
weapons and explosives is truly one of the most
historic events in recent Irish history.
The purpose of this article is to give the reader
an insight into the causes of the Northern
conflict (the 'Troubles'), to illustrate who the
main people and organisations that are involved
are, and to put these into the modern context of
the changed political landscape in Ireland.
To understand this issue we need to understand the
causes so perhaps a brief history of Ireland is
in order first!
Ireland was a Celtic and pagan country until the
arrival of Saint Patrick in the fifth century.
Christianity flourished and Ireland became known
as the land of 'saints of scholars'. The era of
the Viking invasions peaked in 1014 when Brian
Boru defeated the Norsemen at the battle of
Clontarf. From then on the Vikings became
integrated into Irish society and it was not
until the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1170 that the
next wave of conquest in Ireland began. It was
not until the Plantation schemes of Elizabeth I
in the 16th century and the invasion by Cromwell
in 1649 that the widescale 'planting' of settlers
in Ulster began in earnest. Thousands of
Protestant families arrived into Ulster and were
granted lands that had previously been owned by
the Gaelic chieftains.
The consequent 'Battle of the Boyne' saw the
Catholic James the II defeated by the Dutch
'William of Orange' and the resistance to the
Anglo influx was thwarted. The enactment of the
Penal Laws in 1704 was an attempt to subjugate
the Catholic Gaelic way of life. Catholic mass was
outlawed, speaking of the Irish language was
discouraged, Gaelic names were anglicized into
Attempts by Grattan to establish a parliament in
Ireland failed and the century ended with two
notable events. The first was the founding of the
Orange Order in 1795 which was set up to promote
the interests of Protestant English settlers in
Ireland, especially in Ulster (the organisation
was named after William of Orange who had defeated
the Catholic James II). The second event was the
failed uprising by Wolfe Tone in 1798. The
implementation of the Act of Union in 1801 saw
Ireland become part of the United Kingdom.
The Catholic population were finally emancipated
in 1829 by Daniel O'Connell ('the Liberator'), and
the were now free to practice their religion. The
Great Famine of 1845-49 had the effect of further
devastating the old Gaelic culture as 1 million
people died of hunger while another 1 million
emigrated as a result of 'The Great Hunger'.
The Land War instigated by Davitt and Parnell
resulted in a recoupment of much of the Irish
countryside by the Irish themselves. The exception
was in Ulster where the immigrants were in a
It was clear that Ireland was ripe for revolution
and in 1916 the Easter Rising set in train the
events that lead to the War of Independence and
the subsequent Civil War, the cause of which was
the refusal by DeValera and his colleagues to
accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty which saw the
effective partition of the six counties from the
rest of Ireland.
The forces of Michael Collins (the pro-treaty
'Free State') overcame the anti-treaty forces
(the 'irregulars') who fought a guerrilla war
before eventually forming the Fianna Fail
political party. The Irish constitution was framed
by DeValera 1948 saw the declaration of an Irish
Republic by Costello. The English government
responded to the declaration by the implementation
of the Northern Ireland Act, which created
Northern Ireland as a separate country, still
within the United Kingdom.
The vast majority of Catholics were in the South
of Ireland and although the majority of people
living with the 6 counties were of Protestant
Unionist origin there still existed a large number
of Catholics who considered themselves as Irish
and nationalist in origin. The main impetus for
the start of the 'Troubles' in 1969 was the
inequality that the Catholic people felt they were
suffering. The Civil Rights movement of the late
60's culminated in 'Bloody Sunday' when 13
Catholics were shot and killed by English soldiers
who had been drafted into the Province by the
The situation was clear and stark. On the one side
were the Protestants who saw themselves as English,
loyal to the English crown and the Act of Union
(Unionists). On the other were the Catholics who
were Irish and wanted the removal of the border
and union with the Republic (a United Ireland).
The IRA and INLA fought a guerrilla war on behalf
of the Nationalist side while the UDA, LVF and UVF
did likewise for the Unionist side.
Literally thousands of people died and the
communities became even more polarised while
successive Governments seemed unwilling or unable
to find a solution.
The ceasefire by the paramilitary organisations
eventually culminated in the 'Good Friday
Agreement' which is the framework upon which the
current political process is today based.
The Unionists agreed to share power with the
Nationalists in an elected government based in
Stormont. In return the paramilitary organisations
would move towards a situation of demilitarisation
and the English soldiers would be withdrawn from
the Province. The Irish government would introduce
a referendum on the issues in the South which
would also see the Irish constitutional claim to
the 6 counties removed.
The referendum was overwhelmingly accepted in the
South (over 95%) whilst in the North the
simultaneous referendum was accepted by over 71%.
Thus was created an entirely new situation where
exclusively peaceful means would be employed by
all sides. The new government in Ulster worked
well until the issue of the decommissioning of
weapons saw the suspension of the government on
a number of occasions.
The recent announcement that the IRA have begun
this process is a real landmark as it shows the
exact moment when the 'ballot box' has finally
replaced the 'armalite gun'.
Before we put these events into context let us
first name the main parties involved.
SINN FEIN: Represented by Gerry Adams and Martin
McGuinness Sinn Fein is the political wing of the
IRA who have seen there electoral appeal greatly
strengthened by the role they have played in
bringing nationalism into the mainstream
THE PARAMILITARIES: The Irish Republican Army
(IRA) and the Irish National Liberation Army
(INLA) are the main nationalist forces whilst the
Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the Loyalist
Volunteer Force (LVF) and the Ulster Volunteer
Force (UVF) represent the Unionist side.
The more militant side of nationalism is
represented by the 'Continuity IRA' and the
SDLP: The Social Democratic & Labour Party is
the more moderate face of nationalism in Ulster
which has begun to lose support to Sinn Fein.
John Hume was the leader at the time of the Good
Friday agreement but he has now retired.
UUP: The Ulster Unionist Party represent the more
moderate face of Unionism and have lost some
electoral support as a result of their involvement
with the new Northern government. David Thrimble is
the leader of this party and is the First Minister
(the 'Prime Minister') of the Northern Executive
DUP: The Democratic Unionist Party are the more
extreme side of Unionism and contend that too many
concession have been made to nationalists in
Ulster already. Although the DUP have gained some
support at the expense of the UUP recently it is
unclear if the recent announcement by the IRA will
bolster the UUP and reduce the appeal of this more
ORANGE ORDER: This is a Protestant organisation
that holds marches every year, culmination in the
July 12th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.
The standoff at Drumcree where the Orangemen have
been refused permission to parade in a
nationalist area has been the main focus of the
Order in recent years.
THE ENGLISH GOVERNMENT: The Tony Blair led Labour
party have shown a willingness to negotiate with
the parties in Northern Ireland that the previous
Conservative parties did not show. They are
represented in Northern Ireland by the Northern
Secretary, currently John Reid. They are also
responsible for the allocation of British soldiers
throughout the Province.
THE IRISH GOVERNMENT: Bertie Ahearn's Fianna Fail
party have readily involved themselves in the
Peace Process and participated in the North-South
bodies which were set up as part of the Good
Friday agreement. The new popularity of Sinn Fein
in the Republic has caused a potential election
problem for Fianna Fail as well as the other
mainstream parties (including Fine Gael, Labour
and the PDs).
So what does all of this mean today?
Well for the province of Ulster it has seen the
quality of life improve dramatically. While there
still exists an undercurrent of violence in
certain areas it is clear that the bombings have
stopped. The old hatreds and bigotries still exist
but the people who promote them are becoming more
isolated and shown to be extremists, little by
little, day by day.
Many of the political leaders in the North have
taken great risks in order to promote the peace
process while at the same time having the voices
of these extremists shouting at them at every
The decision by the IRA to disarm was the last
major stumbling block to a lasting peace
settlement. Although the process can be
completely agonising at times it has so far
never failed to progress.
Anyone who has an opinion on these issues has had
to re-examine their stance, especially given the
fact that the other side are willing to
Like all negotiations, compromise is what will
ultimately win the day.
As one commentator put it:
' Compromise MUST win the day.
For after all, a child who meets you for the
first time does not know if you are Catholic
or Protestant but perhaps they do know that both
religions are Christian. A surgeon who operates
on a bullet wound does not know if you are Orange
or Green. All he sees is the red blood. '
Voice your opinion about this article here:
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF IRELAND'S HERITAGE
by Robert McElroy
A country's heritage is integral to it's sense of
identity, awareness, worth, pedigree and
consciousness. Nowhere, is this truer and more
pertinent than the Island of Ireland, for we have
an abundance of heritage and sites of great wonder
This land has been referred to, as a mystical Isle
and in ancient times as 'Inis Fail', The Land of
However, when this truism is being called into
question and undermined by powerful forces,
lurking like some dreadful ogre from a gory
horror story, then we must sit up and take notice!
I shall now elaborate on this, outlining and
conveying the plight of Ireland's heritage. A very
sad and lamentable state of affairs does it find
OUR HERITAGE IS BEING SYSTEMATICALLY DECIMATED.
Thirty four percent has actually been wiped out,
with an average of one site being destroyed every
decade. The 'crime' is being enacted
indiscriminately, but in particular, on Ring Forts
and Holy Wells and ancient Churches remains.
Some Ring Forts date to possibly a thousand years
B.C. They are remnants of our forefathers who
built them with great vigour and skill. It has
been argued that they formed some kind of
astronomical alignment. This you will agree showed
a people with an acute awareness of the world in
which they were living.
The ruins of ancient Churches were places of great
reverence, some of which would have been places
where learned Scribes congregated, making this
Island an oasis of learning and enlightenment in
the Dark Ages. One of which, in Co. Tipperary,
dating from the 13th century was destroyed last
Finally, this 'cultural genocide' has even been
inflicted on some megalithic stone cairns, e.g, on
Loughcrew Hill, Co. Meath, which again are a
legacy of our forefathers and their profound
knowledge. These cairns are priceless gems and
open the door to our mystical past!
The perpetrators of this wanton destruction and
calamity are Farmers and Building Speculators,
many of whom are seemingly able to act with
impunity. Soon, there will be few heritage sites
Is that what they want? To obliterate the
resonances of our past and our ancient
forefathers? To scythe-like sear and sever the
very soul of our identity? Is this the price that
must be paid in the far sweeping, onrushing tide
of progress? Like a Ram battering ruthlessly
anything that impedes the quick buck!
In conclusion, a Jamaican wise man and Prophet,
Marcus Garvey, once uttered these words: 'A people
without knowledge of their past history, origin
and culture is like a tree without its roots'. Do
we want future generations to be afflicted with
this woe? That our heritage, Ireland's heritage,
is no more? That our children can't behold the
wonders of our past? Don't let it happen! Act now
and publicise the plight of Ireland's heritage!
Voice your opinion about this article here:
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IRISH QUOTATIONS OF THE MONTH
Buy now while shops last
Anonymous, Graffiti in Belfast, 1970
With the possible exception of Jerusalem
and Mecca, Belfast must be the most
religion-conscious city in the world.
Tyrone Guthrie, A life in the Theatre, 1959
I feel a greater kinship with a Protestant from
Antrim than I do with a Catholic from Cork
Neil Blaney, View of a Nationalist TD, 1970
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