Archives for posts with tag: Dublin

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.

In this sometimes stressful year, I often let my eyes do the talking for me. Here are some of my favourite photos from 2014. I hope you like them. Click on any of them to get a better view.

1. Storm Clouds

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January of 2014 was incredibly stormy, with high winds lashing the coast at least once a week. One compensation was the wonderful cloudscapes such as this one above, taken in Garryvoe, Co. Cork.

2.  Shanghai Surprise

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2014 was the Chinese New Year of the Horse. On my first ever trip to China in February I came across this wonderful display in the city of Shanghai.

3. The Long Walk

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The annual 19km Ballycotton Cliff Walk is one of my favourite hikes, as it marks the approach of spring and the end of winter. This photo was taken on March 16th.

 4. Garnish Island

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The wonderful gardens of Garnish Island in West Cork are full of surprises. This photo, from April, was perhaps early in the year for full bloom, but the flowers of spring always have a special place in my heart.

5. Rhododendron Blooms


John F. Kennedy Park in Co. Wexford holds plenty of surprises too. During our visit in April I came across this wonderful display as a rhododendron bush shed its flowers.

6. Barley Fields

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A quick walk up the hill gives me a wonderful view over south Munster, from the Celtic Sea all the way to the Knockmealdowns, the Comeraghs and even the Galtees in the far distance.

7. Leaping Laddies

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By July, we had finally accepted that this was going to be one of the great summers. That’s worth jumping around for.

8. Summer Bees

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Bumblebees were everywhere this year. They go about their business with no real interest in us – focused on one thing only: nectar. When they have too much, they fall asleep, putting up a leg if you come too close. Mad about them, I am.

9. Coco the Cat

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Well, the Internet is all about cat photos, right? Right?

10. Glounthane Sunrise

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With the nights lengthening in October, I caught this morning sunrise in Glounthane, Co. Cork.

11. Ha’penny Bridge

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I took this during a day trip to Dublin in October. It captures many of its iconic structures quite well, I think.

12. Belvelly Castle

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I won’t forget the 26th of November too quickly. I had taken a few days off work and I rose early to discover a fog-shrouded landscape. What followed were some of my favourite photographs of the year. This one was taken from Belvelly Bridge near Fota Island.

13. Midleton Estuary

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After Cobh, I drove to Midleton, where I came across this scene. My parents had a painting at home that reminds me of this photo.

14. Castlemartyr Resort

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Then on to Castlemartyr Resort, where I took this photo as the sun was rising. Sometimes, you are just in the right place at the right time.

15. Little Spider

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After buying a macro lens for my iPhone in late November, I came across this little fellow climbing around a dandelion clock.

16. Dawn by the Lee

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This photo is from the 16th of December, taken during my morning commute. Though the sun had not yet risen, I just had to stop my car and start snapping.

17. Running Along

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I took this photo on Garryvoe beach just yesterday. It’s like the boys are running from a nuclear explosion.

18. Ballycotton Island

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Taken just this morning, this photo again saw me leaping out of my car. The sun was perfectly positioned over Ballycotton Island. Just glorious.

If any of you are interested, I post regularly to Instagram, and less often to Flickr. Maybe I’ll see you there.

I must be the slowest person ever to join Toastmasters.

My first meeting was in 1988, when I was a student in University College, Cork. I was terribly shy, somewhat socially inept and going through a very difficult period of adjustment in my life. Why I went along, I am not quite sure. Toastmasters just seemed like something I needed to do.

Having arrived late at Moore’s hotel in the centre of Cork city, I blushed awkwardly while asking the receptionist where the meeting was. I clearly remember her gawking at me and giggling as I self-consciously made my way to the meeting room. The people there were a bit older than me, but from the first day, they made me feel welcome. I joined up soon afterwards and very quickly I set myself the task of presenting an Icebreaker speech – the first speech you will do in a Toastmasters club. It was one of the most unnerving things I have ever done. Talking to the audience was almost like an out-of-body experience. I could not believe that this was my voice and that I was commanding the attention of a roomful of people.

Over the next two years I worked through more speeches, performing different roles in the club. I barely missed one meeting during that time. Toastmasters offered me something that I was not getting from college – a chance to express myself, to follow my own interests and to interact with friendly people from all different ages. It just seemed to suit.

After leaving college, my work found me in Belfast for a few years, then Prague and finally Dublin. Five years had passed since my last Toastmasters meeting, but despite the crazy hours I was doing in work, I had a yearning to go back. I joined the Dublin Toastmasters club in Buswells Hotel and I spent 3 years there, slowly grinding my way through the remaining speeches in the manual. I completed my tenth and final speech just before I relocated back to Cork.

It was now 1997, and marriage, babies, a house and new job opportunities were to take pride of place in my life until 2003, when I joined the local club in Midleton. I’ve been there ever since, and I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of it. Despite having served in all sorts of roles in the club and entering every competition that has been going, I’ve taken the advanced manuals at my own slow pace. I’ve yet to get any Advanced Toastmaster qualification. What I have gained, however, are great friends, a good deal of self-confidence and a relative proficiency in public speaking and presentation skills. I’ve gone on to set up a skeptics club in Blackrock Castle Observatory and to dabble in podcasting in my spare time. I am currently president of two clubs: Midleton and the club at my workplace.

Toastmasters for me has been a great experience. No two meetings are ever quite the same. You never know what is going to pop up that might give you a laugh, a jolt, or a pause for thought. The people who attend the meetings, irrespective of their backgrounds, all have fascinating stories to tell. I have learned to underestimate nobody. I have also learned the secret of good presentation skills: practice. The more you present in front of people, the easier it gets and the more polished you become. Toastmasters offers nothing except an opportunity to improve your abilities in a supportive environment. It’s the best way to learn.

I have only the vaguest of ideas where I go from here. I’m hoping to complete my first advanced stage in the next few months and to complete my presidency with two reasonably strong clubs by the end of the year. Beyond that, I don’t know. Maybe a new and scary challenge will present itself. I still have lots to learn and new challenges to take on. Here’s to the next 23 years.

Find a Toastmasters club in your area. World / UK Ireland

The latest report on child abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese does not fail to shock. The abuse itself is chilling, depressing and appalling, but compounding it is the behaviour of senior bishops and cardinals as they conspired – over a 40 year period – to cover up the scale of the scandal throughout the Dublin area. A new word has been added to the common lexicon – “mental reservation“: where bishops could freely excuse themselves from telling the truth when under pressure to do so. The welfare of children was of little importance to these men, and the resultant suffering is incalculable.

Mary Raftery neatly sums up the gravity of this report and it’s implications for the Catholic Church in Ireland. One passage in particular stands out:

What emerges most clearly from the report is that priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals had the greatest difficulty in telling right from wrong, and crucially that their determination of what constituted wrongdoing was vastly different from that of the population at large.

Let’s think about that, for a second. The Catholic Church, like most religions, believes that the greatest value it confers to society is its ability to guide people in distinguishing right from wrong. And yet, it’s most eminent leaders and scholars behaved – and still behave – in a way that would lead you to the firm conclusion that, despite their years of learning, refinement and experience, they have no clue as to what is commonly accepted as morally acceptable or morally abhorrent behaviour. If the very leaders of this church can’t distinguish between right and wrong, what use is Catholicism at all? Why should any sane society uncritically accept the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in our schools? What real benefit does it offer our children?

The implications of the report are clear: The Church badly needs to be removed from the affairs of the Irish State. Let the parents and teachers teach our children right from wrong – they will do a better job. The churchmen had their chance for long time and they blew it. Enough is enough.

I rediscovered this gem on YouTube tonight. The original recordings date back from the 1960’s and many years later they were turned into a series of short animations by Brown Bag Films.  This particular one gained an Academy Award nomination in 2001. All the films have recently been uploaded to YouTube in their entirety.

It harks back to a very different time in Ireland. More certainty, fewer questions, perhaps. Whatever the case, the twists the kids put on the stories were delightful. Note the strong Dublin accents! 

Is it me, or does John the Baptist look very like Chris de Burgh?

I took these shots with my mobile phone camera near Sean O’Casey Bridge on my way back from work last Monday.

The Liffey from John Rogersons Quay

This picture was taken just south of Sean O’Casey Bridge, a low sun and surprisingly few people around.

The Docklands from Sean O’Casey Bridge

The docklands are undergoing a massive transformation. For some years now, tall cranes have dominated this area, once populated by warehouses and derelict sites.

Sunset over Dublin

Finally the Ulsterbank group headquarters, Connolly Hall, the Customs House and the Spire in silhouette, as the sun diminishes into the west.

The new Irish Rail experience

Irish Rail recently purchased a whole set of super-duper railway carriages as part of a major government initiative to modernise our country’s rolling stock. You can book your train seats in advance, there is plenty of room for luggage and the journey itself is impressive by its relative silence.

One of the things that particularly interested me were the on-board toilets – automatic doors, push-button locking systems, triple action pee sprays for the loo-bowl, infrared systems for hand-washing, hot air blowers for drying. An almost totally hands-free waste management experience. The future has indeed arrived!

Except for one thing.

On my trip down from Dublin, the smell of cigarette smoke emanating from the little room was overpowering. The little room is being used as a smoking room by some of the lesser-evolved members of this society. And what do Irish Rail seem to be doing about it? Smoke alarms perhaps? Spot fines? Throwing the offenders out of the train at high speed? Garotting them on the emergency break cord? Naah. More than their job’s worth I would guess. After all, we are only talking about health and safety laws here..

In addition, what is it with the Irish male species that they feel obliged to bring on-board 12 packs of beer tins, and proceed to get pissed in front of their fellow travellers? Some of my fellow travellers were already stinking of drink before they boarded the train. If this was air-travel these people would never be allowed on in the first place.

I must be getting old, but it just seems that with all the changes in our country over the past few years, some old habits will take a long time to die out.

My friend Azahar got a laugh out of me this evening. It resonates with something I have been thinking about a lot since I started work in Dublin two weeks ago.

Temple Bar is the central tourist district in Dublin. Walking down its streets, you are assaulted by American themed sports bars, Spanish restaurants, Romanian buskers, French jugglers and Polish and Czech beer-joints, with all things Irish* well out of view. I’m sure this is no accident. Marketing being what it is nowadays, this is likely to be what most tourists to Dublin want. Instead of shamrock emblazoned bars, trad sessions, and Brendan Behan wannabes mouthing off about the price of a pint, what you get instead is an idiosyncratic and vibrant display of World Culture.

I don’t see this in a particularly negative light. To a large extent, “culture” is directly related to backwardness. When Ireland was a land of great culture, thousands of people were buying one-way tickets out of the place. Neither was it a mecca for hordes of tourists back then, as far as I know.

Actually, before I leave this entry, I remember reading once about an accident in the 19th century, where a very large whiskey barrel broke, its contents spilling out on the streets, flooding the gutters. Great crowds of people had to be physically pulled off the streets in a state of extreme inebriation.

Now that’s culture for ya.

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