Archives for category: Ireland

Today marks the centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising, when a small group of Irish people occupied prominent locations across Dublin; declaring Ireland a free country, independent of Britain. Within days, the centre of Dublin was bombed to smithereens, hundreds were dead and many of the leaders of the Rising were executed by firing squad. Militarily, it was a disaster; but it set in motion a chain of events that lead to de facto independence for most of the country within six years, and actual independence somewhat later. It is credited with being the spark that lighted the torch of Irish freedom.

It’s a big day, worthy of commemoration, but I’m conflicted about it. It happened in the middle of World War I, when thousands of Irishmen were fighting and dying in Gallipoli and the Western Front; when Ireland had already won Home Rule from Britain: its implementation delayed until the war was over. It’s hard to see the Rising as anything less than a deliberate act of treason; given its declared overtures to Imperial Germany and its opportunism while the British government’s energies were focused elsewhere. 

There’s clear evidence that some of the leaders of the Rising saw it in romantic terms: a futile struggle that would inspire future Irish people. I’m conflicted because what I see here is the glorification of violence; the idea that violence is noble and beautiful. Patrick Pearce never fought in the trenches, so he never experienced the horror of war: the death, the screaming, the suffering and terror. I wonder would he have been so wrapped up in noble ideas seeing his comrades while shitting in his trousers as his comrades were pulped by artillery shells? The glorification of war is still here today, as if it was all worthwhile. It may have lead to the Irish Republic, but it also inspired the Troubles and the IRA.

War is an obscenity. It should never be glorified. It destroys lives, creates unacceptable pain and suffering, leaves a legacy of hatred, fear and damage that can take generations to undo. We lose a part of our humanity when we think of it as a viable option to be used on non-combatants. After the Brussels bombings this week, we had people talking about bombing Muslims. I honestly despair when I hear this. People who say this are deliberately ignorant of what such actions might mean. I make no apologies when I say that warmongers should be treated like child abusers. 

But I’m conflicted because, so long as there are people willing to resort to war to achieve their political ends, we need men and women to stand up to them. We need soldiers and police and armed forces. These are people who put themselves in harm’s way so that our hard won freedoms can be maintained, so that peace can be enforced and bloodshed stopped. They have my undying respect.

So on the day where we commemorate 1916, I have little thought for the instigators of the Rebellion. To me, they were fanatics who fetishised violence and set Ireland down the path of militarism – the effects of which we have yet to fully dispel. However, I also see men and women in uniform, who have opted to face danger and death in Lebanon and other parts of the world. I am thankful that they exist. I wish they didn’t have to do what they do, but I recognise their necessity; their importance in an unstable world.

A few days ago, during the General Election, I tweeted this:

It got a lot of retweets because the politicians I mentioned represent the extreme cases of those who are less interested in national politics than they are about pandering to the needs of their own local community. They are caricatures, easily lampooned and despised. To them, it’s all about Kerry and Tipperary, and the rest of the country can take a running jump.

But, honestly, I’m somewhat conflicted about all this. While I despise the gombeen image, I think the local nature of politics in this country serves us very well.

It’s important, I think, that we know the people we are voting for. If someone is effective on a local level, then we get to see through the slogans. We get an insight into the people themselves. We derive something about their character. The voting process can winnow the best of these from the less able. In the main, good people are sent to Leinster House.

Another thing to celebrate is that our political process is rooted in the life and history of our country.  We are never more than 10 feet away from a local politician here. This helps to mitigate the sense of disenfranchisement so keenly felt across the Western world. In Knocknaheeney, a deprived suburb of Cork I drive through almost every day, there was a palpable sense of energy in the run-up to the election. The next Dáil will contain many people who will represent the voices of the deprived, and this is a good thing.

The system can result in narrow-minded councillors topping the polls, but what’s amazing is that, more often than not, it delivers quite good people too. Michael Lowry, Mattie McGrath and the Healy-Raes represent the extreme of our local system, but that doesn’t mean that the system in general is dreadfully wrong. It might actually be the best thing to come from 1916 – something that makes us who we are: democrats by instinct and nature.

Even though the next government is still uncertain, I am quite optimistic about the outcome. Ireland is not built for grand overthrows but evolutionary change is quite possible. Our local system of politics, with its abundant compromises and contact with the struggles of real people, makes such change possible.

 

STPATS1

Wishing you all a happy St Patrick’s Day, wherever you are.

We were treated to a wonderful morning a few days back. Fog and frost covered the fields, the rivers and the hedges. All was quiet. Armed only with an iPhone and Instagram, I visited a few beauty spots and took some photos. Some of them had a good reaction on the Internet, so I have reproduced them here, going back to the originals and seeing if I could improve on them.

View from Belvelly Bridge

View from Belvelly Bridge

Belvelly Castle, Great Island, Co. Cork.

Belvelly Castle, Great Island, Co. Cork.

Fortified House, Ballyannan, Midleton, Co. Cork.

Fortified House, Ballyannan, Midleton, Co. Cork.

Estuary, Ballyannan, Midleton, Co. Cork.

Estuary, Ballyannan, Midleton, Co. Cork.

Midleton, Co. Cork.

Midleton, Co. Cork.

Castlemartyr Resort, Co. Cork.

Castlemartyr Resort, Co. Cork.

Castlemartyr Resort, Co. Cork.

Castlemartyr Resort, Co. Cork.

Last Sunday, we went on a boat trip in West Cork. We were hoping to come up close and personal with a large pod of fin whales, but, despite excellent weather on the day, they were nowhere to be seen.  Photos of these magnificent creatures will have to wait for another day.

The trip was remarkably uneventful. Not only did we not see fin whales, but we also failed to spot any sunfish, dolphins or minke whales either. Even the skipper couldn’t hide his frustration on the day, as the previous few days had been marvellous for spotting marine creatures. 

We did manage to see seals, but this time of the year they’re not likely to go too far as the females are heavily pregnant. And no, we didn’t see any newborn seal pups either, in case you’re asking.

The upside is that I managed to take some nice photos. The coastline around Castletownshend is gloriously photogenic, even if its marine inhabitants were in hiding.

20140825 - Boat Wake

The Stags

The Stags

Seal Rocks

Seal Rocks

So, yet another local politician has put his foot in it. He requested that the only people allowed to work on a new motorway be Irish, with the dark implication that those damned for’ners go back to the countries they came from forthwith. I’m sure, no doubt, we’ll hear that some of his best friends are “non-nationals”, just you wait.

via Mike Licht (CC Licenced on Flickr)

via Mike Licht (CC Licenced on Flickr)

But who are the Irish anyway? Is it people who were born in Ireland? Then what about the kids who were born here, but are not allowed Irish citizenship because their parents don’t come from these parts? How about Six County Nationalists or, God forbid, Ulster Unionists? Can we include them?

What about the thousands of people from all over the world who have acquired Irish citizenship through a lengthy and expensive process? Are they now Irish, or should we try to take their passports away when they aren’t looking? Can we overlook the fact that many foreigners pay tax here, thereby bolstering our public services?

Then there are the emigrants who left the country to better their prospects and now cannot vote in any of our elections. Should we drop them from the list too? Or the sons and grandsons of emigrants who find they can play on our national soccer team if they are good enough? Maybe if they lose the accent can we leave them in?

Maybe the accent clinches it, leaving us therefore with a “South Dublin Problem”.

And what about those people who hold a sentimental attachment to the aul’ sod? Should we ask them to refrain from calling themselves Irish Americans or Irish Canadians lest they dilute the magic of Irishness? Should we divide St. Patricks Day in two – a “real” one and a “continuity” one, perhaps?

Does Irish mean Catholic? Or lapsed Catholic, because, well, you know, actual Catholics are somewhat in decline these days.

Does it mean you need to have a surname like O’Carroll, O’Casey, Boyle or Desmond? Do we stop at the Norman invasions or can we let a few Old English in before we close the doors? Should they at least follow the hurling or the football, or must they have played it up to senior level? How then, in God’s name, should we deal with a women’s rugby team or Irish cricket players? The state of them.

Could we somehow leave Cork people from the list? Surely they want to secede anyways?

Oh dear. I despair. It’s such a hard thing these days figuring out what “Irish” actually means. Maybe we should leave it to the esteemed councillor Fahy to sort it out for us.

We Irish don’t look at St Patrick’s Day in quite the same way as other countries. While St. Patricks Day is a welcome break and a chance to prepare for spring, we tend to look at the kitch and global celebration of Irishness with mild embarrassment, as if someone invited us to a party in our honour, but sent it to the wrong people, and we went along with it anyway, rather than spoil it for them.

What is Irishness anyway? Perhaps, when Ireland was a mono-cultural society, defined along rigid sectarian lines, there might have been a case to be made – commemorating a history of oppression and struggle against sometimes massive odds. Nowadays this story holds none of the same resonance.

Ireland today is a relatively modern country and home to a broad range people from all over the world. Our religious identity is disappearing. We are quite well integrated into the wider European community and thus more likely to share most of the values and aspirations of our continental neighbours. Our health and education systems are chaotic and under-funded, but functional. Our political leaders are salesmen. Sport is a national obsession, as is the price of property. A bracing combination of engaging scenery and bad weather keeps us grounded. All thing considered, we don’t particularly stand out, and that’s ok with us.

But, to consider the pomp around St Patrick’s Day, you would think we are wildly special, different by a long shot from all other people on the planet.

Alcohol consumption might be a factor, but we’re certainly not the only nation with a love of drinking. In fact, if our empty pubs and middle-age health obsessions are anything to go by, drinking is rapidly on the wane here.

Arts, music, literature and poetry, yes, perhaps; but it seems this too is overblown. Our artistic heritage is often more complicated, in any case, than it appears at first glance – owing a lot, in many cases, to other nationalities, conveniently forgotten in our self-made myths.

Maybe it’s the love of the craic, the raconteur, the devil may care attitude, the life and soul of the party, or whatever you are having yourself, but it seems that these are more universal values than we care to accept.

It’s all very hazy. We’ve moved from a patriotic love of Ireland and its dominant religion to this nebulous concept of “Irishness”, and we don’t really know any more what it means.

Here’s what I think it should mean. Rather than focusing on one small culturally ambiguous island in the Atlantic, St. Patrick’s Day should be all about displacement. It should be a global celebration of emigration, immigration and movement away from home, both forced and unforced. In a world where mobility is expected and often mandated, it’s good to have a day when we can think about where we came from, and the journeys we have made to get to where we are. This is true, both for us as individuals and our wider historic backgrounds. The Irish, a nation with form in this area, are just as good ambassadors as anyone else.

So there it is: if you live somewhere that is far away from the homeland of your childhood, or even if you feel a connection to somewhere other than your current home, whether that be China, Gabon, Vietnam or Co. Offaly, then happy St. Patrick’s Day. This day is for you.

Just as London has Big Ben, and Paris the Eiffel Tower, Cork has Shandon Church. This modest chapel, by no means the largest or most ornate church in Cork, is by far the most emblematic.

I found myself in Cork very early one morning last September. Having a few hours to waste before work, I headed towards St Anne’s Church in an attempt to understand its enigmatic hold over the city.

St Anne’s dates from 1722, its famous bells installed in 1750, it’s clock mechanism a hundred years later. The church is built of red sandstone and white limestone, which have come to represent the colours of Cork City and county. The clock faces, notoriously inaccurate, have given the church its nickname ‘The Four Faced Liar’*.  The large gold-plated salmon, ‘de goldie fish’, on the top is a nod to Cork’s booming salmon industry of the time. Situated a short distance north of the River Lee and a stone’s throw from Cork’s North Cathedral, the narrow streets and alleys around it are a throwback to earlier times. The Butter Museum and the Firkin Crane theatre, Cork’s home of dance, rests in its shadow.

Because of its centrality, its central position and its idiosyncratic design, Shandon is the true heart of Cork City. While the city itself has gone through a transformation in the last few years, with glass and polished marble growing up where dowdy brick and concrete buildings once stood, this symbol of Cork’s heritage remains unchallenged.

Shandon Panorama

* This is the name of a famous Irish pub in New York City, which in turn became the name of a 2010 award winning independent movie.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with a different type of time-lapse shot: one where I take just one or two photos a day, and then bring all them together into a short movie.

The subject was an oilseed rape field close by the house. I noticed it was coming into bloom, so I decided to follow its progress as the entire field turned bright yellow over a two week period.

Rapeseed Field and Rainbow

The resulting video captures the changing weather of our country. Every day brings something new, as rain gives way to scattered clouds, with the occasional sunny day thrown in every so often. Another reminder of the beauty of our countryside.

 

Minister James Reilly must face a panel of 4 doctors and two psychologists if he wishes to keep his job, a government source revealed today.

“I really want to keep my job”, Reilly was quoted as saying, “but the doctors and psychologists think I’m a danger to civil life, and they are suggesting I abort my well paid government position as soon as I possibly can”. According to draft legislation, Reilly can appeal to a further panel of doctors and psychologists, but he faces stiff opposition. “We expect this legislation to go full-term, but not if it emerges out of an asshole”, commented one doctor, who wished to remain unnamed.

Since he became minister in 2011, his political life, rather than the health of his citizens, has been foremost in his mind. Now an expert panel will rule over whether his right to choose trumps the choices of everyone else, or whether this latest act, in a long sequence of mishaps, is political suicide.

A source close to the situation believes a termination is the only possible course of action in this instance. “Ideally it might lead to resignations on demand, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”

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