The wit of the ‘Fair City’

As I’ve already said in a previous post, I’m no fan of big cities and I’m rarely in Dublin these days (even if Áth Cliath can’t be said to be very large). É sin ráite / That being said – as the cliche goes, some of my best friends hail from the capital (although admittedly hardly any of them live in the ‘big smoke’ anymore) and I’ve always loved the Dublin wit. Dubliners are quick as lightening when it comes to retorts and every single statue or monument seems to have a leasainm / nickname. It often seems that a work of art is barely commissioned and it already has a funny nickname! Before the ‘Daniel Day’ (the Luas, geddit?) went by Trinity, (a well endowed) Molly Malone statue stood with her wheelbarrow selling her cockles and mussels at the foot of Grafton Street. She quickly became known as the ‘Tart with the Cart’. Other names include ‘the ‘Dolly with the Trolley’, the ‘Flirt in the Skirt’ and the ‘Trollop with the Scallop’.

In St. Stephen’s Green we can see Oscar Wilde’s likeness sitting atop a rock. The famous homosexual was named the ‘Fag on the Crag’ or the ‘Queer with the Leer’. James Joyce’s statue just off O’Connell St. didn’t escape derision either. He’s seen holding a walking stick and so was dubbed the ‘Prick with the Stick’.

Just over the Ha’penny Bridge on the north side, there’s a bronze statue depicting 2 women with their shopping bags. Before long, this was given the nickname the ‘Hags with the Bags’.

As part of the Dublin Millennium celebrations, a number of works of art were built such as Anna Livia Plurabelle, a character from Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, who sits on a slope with water running past her. She has been said to embody the River Liffey and her art-piece could initially be seen in O’Connell St. before the ‘Floozie in the Jacuzzi’ had to be moved after it became a magnet for litter bugs and pranksters throwing washing-up liquid in the water (thereby causing loads of foam and making it seem like a foamy jacuzzi). She now resides in the altogether more peaceful Croppies Memorial Park, opposite the Ashling Hotel near Heuston Street.

The 120m stainless steel ‘Spire’ was also erected as part of the Millennium celebrations, even if was only completed 2 years after the Millennium! This seems to have the dubious claim of having most nicknames of a landmark/ monument in the city. The ‘Stilletto in the Ghetto’, the ‘Stiffy at the Liffey’, the ‘Erection at the Intersection’ or simply ‘Anna Rexia’ (another reference to Anna Livia). A Dubliner told me recently that a clock was placed in the Liffey in 1999 to count down the Millennium- this was called the ‘Time in the Slime’.

Finally, although most monuments and statues are derided and made fun of in Dublin, one statue was shown uncharacteristic respect – that of Phil Lynott, who is seen holding his guitar in Harry St., just of Grafton Street. Phil Lynott of course, was the lead singer and bassist of Thin Lizzy. His bronze icon was labelled the ‘Ace with the Bass’.

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Bród, sin an méid.

We live in a funny country – It may well be an urban myth that Freud said ‘The Irish are the one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever’but regardless of whether that statement is true or not, we are a strange nation in more ways than one. For example, we learn metric measurements in school but we all really still think in imperial. We still order our pints at the bar, we get our quarter pound burger once the munchies set in, and afterwards we walk the few (wobbly) miles home. Of course, we inherited our imperial ways from our British colonial masters but then a good while after joining the EU (EEC/ EC), Paddy decides we have to modernise and change to kilometres to satisfy our new (European) colonial masters. So, we changed over – kind of – to metric. For many years we had both metric and imperial road-signs co-existing quite happily. We had speed limits in miles for ages and the distances were (mainly) in kilometres. You still had the odd white one in miles while the green distance signs were in kilometres. Then a few years ago, Ireland really decides to get its act together and put all speed limits in metric – but with a twist – tiny little boiríns that nobody even bothered to put speed limits on previously, suddenly had the limit 80km/h on them. Now, trust me- I’ve tried to do 80km/h on some of these roads (when my banger of a Micra was still on the road) and I can declare that I was taking my life in my own hands at well below that limit on some of them. Some of the other limits make no sense to a European bureaucrat (or anyone) at all at all – 100km/h just before a roundabout anyone? As I once heard an English tourist once say: ‘It’s all a bit Irish, innit?’.

But seriously, it’s boring how every country in Europe and the world is becoming like everywhere else. Surely, we’re allowed our quirks and idiosyncrasies…..

Language is another thing – we have as the first official language Gaeilge, but just as everyone knows that the higher a litter fine, the less likely it’ll be enforced, so everyone knows that (unfortunately) these days Gaeilge is largely confined to small rural areas west of Galway and beyond some windswept valley in Donegal. You can easily survive without Irish in Ireland, but try getting by just through Irish – Manchán Magan tried it a few years ago on telly and that didn’t go well (but it may just be him!?!). But anyway – here are some amusing coincidental (?!) linguistic titbits: ‘Meas’ which means ‘respect’ sounds just like (church) mass although a hell of a lot of priests didn’t show much ‘meas’ /respect to little people over the years. Or what about ‘feamainn’? (seaweed). Maybe if those on the coast had eaten more dilsk (itself from the Irish duileasc) and other seaweed, there wouldn’t have been such a famine (same sound as feamainn). And back to mass or ‘aifreann’ in Irish – this word is so close to ‘ifreann’ (hell), that it really makes you wonder.

We really have to ditch the ‘bagáiste’ and the excuses if we want to stop Irish going the way of the dodo.  And don’t get me started on the ‘cúpla feck all’. We really have to get beyond the ‘cúpla feck all’ .Of the utmost importance is that we take pride (bród – no I don’t mean bród aerach/ gay pride…..- though that too) in Irish – take a leaf out of the Catalonian’s book. They are extremely proud of their Catalonian language. Pride, not some twisted republican notion, but pride/ bród in our oidhreacht (heritage), pride in ‘ár gcultúr (our culture). Irish/ Gaeilge is a vital part of that. The alternative is that we all start talking like ‘Friends’ characters (as many, especially young people, already do). If we don’t safeguard our language, who else will? The Catalonians? Actually – there’s an idea. Get a PR firm from Catalonia to market Gaeilge to the Irish. Or give a load of Polish people jobs in the Gaeltacht collecting ‘feamainn’ on the condition that they learn Irish. That’d work!

Londain, Sasana

These days it’s very rare I go to a large city – I’ve been to too many already – New York, Paris, Warsaw, Berlin, Chicago, Frankfurt and many more besides, including London a few times. For me, big cities mean stress, noise, pollution, crowds and lots of expense, so it was with quite a bit of reluctance I visited London again recently, even if I had a good excuse: Kasia, my Polish music teacher friend, from the Kaszub region of North Poland, was bringing her pupils on a school tour to the city. So for a few freezing December days, 30 or so pupils aged 11-16, three teachers and a guide trudged around such sites as the London Eye, Greenwich Village, Buckingham Palace and too many museums to mention (the free ones!), and I joined in for a bit of their marathon so as I could catch up with Kasia.

It was great to see an old friend – it’s funny but in some ways very little seemed to have changed – she has aged very little, she still has that quick wit, biting sarcasm and a wicked smile. In a way, it was as if I had seen her only yesterday and we just carried on conversations like there hadn’t been a gap of many years. (Apart from visiting me briefly in Ireland almost 10 years ago, an equally short visit of mine to Poland to see her and others about 15 years ago, it has been over 20 years since we spent any significant time in each others’ company). What wasn’t so great was traipsing around with a group of impatient, McDonald’s obsessed schoolkids and their teachers. (Although I avoided most of this, only dipping in and out of the tour when it suited, such as when it lashed rain and we ended up in the excellent National History Museum with its myriad exotic stuffed animals and fascinating facts on creepy crawlies and the like).

I should point out at this stage that the average Polish tour is an endurance test, not for the fainthearted. They are at the best of times thoroughly exhausting, trying as they do to fit in as much sightseeing as humanly possible (another thing that has scarcely changed in 20 years!). It’s Tuesday, so we have Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Hyde Park, Madame Tussaud’s, 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square to fit in. It’s Wednesday, so we must be in Belgium, it’s Thursday so we have to be in Germany – kind of thing. You get the picture……As one Polish tour organiser once said ‘ye’ll be so tired from sightseeing, ye’ll sleep on the bus, so no need for so many nights of accommodation’. (!)

No, not for me. I spent a lot of time exploring the greener parts of the city ‘far from the madding crowd’. I recommend the walk by Regent’s Canal from Little Venice to Camden Lock. There are numerous barges along the canal, many converted into cafés and restaurants. Not many people living in them, from what I could see, but then again, it could just have been the time of day – maybe canal fees and London living expenses are so high, that everyone needs to be constantly working to afford that lifestyle. I barely saw a single sinner. Maybe one day I’ll go back when the weather is nicer and I’ll see (what I hoped) hippies playing music on their barges. Another lovely underrated place is Richmond Park (the largest of the royal parks seemingly), full of mature trees, deer, squirrels, stunning views of the city from Richmond Hill and many acres of park to explore.

While in London, I was staying with a friend who has been living in the city for many years near to Portobello Road, which at the weekend is converted into a second-hand and antiques market. This market, along with the Camden Market was one of the highlights of my trip – the sheer variety on sale is astonishing: homemade jewellery from various materials such as wood, metal and ivory, dvds, cds, vinyl, clothes of all kinds, collectables such as badges, war memorabilia, food from around the globe, antiques etc. Wonderful!

My friend had several visits while I was there – mostly from older Irish men, many of whom have lived a long time in the city. One character was a Kerryman who has lived there for 50 years (he hasn’t lost the accent or the philosophical outlook on life, you’ll be glad to hear). I was very interested in hearing their stories – like when they first arrived in London, the only foreigners were Irish and black and how they queued up to get the (once) plentiful jobs in those days of no CVs or ‘Health and Safety’. Another guy (not quite the full shilling) seemed to have Tourette’s Syndrome – he constantly said ‘pink’, sometimes followed by ‘rectums’!

Kilburn and Cricklewood are names very familiar to a certain generation of Irish in London, but now have been largely replaced by other ethnic groups, such as Afro-Caribbean. The different waves of immigration are a fascinating phenomenon – one of the most recent ones seems to be Brazilians if the Elephant and Castle area (named after a local coaching inn which was situated at a famous crossroads) is anything to go by. There seemed to be loads of Brazilian cafes, pubs and shops in Elephant and Castle.

Soho, the West End and Carnaby Street, in particular were lit up in spectacular fashion for the Christmas period. Multi-coloured lights, decorations and even exotic birds made from paper/ papier maché were suspended above street level. This, along with the crowds, buskers and myriad street performers created a magical, fairy-tale atmosphere.

The last time I was in London was perhaps 15 years ago, and I noticed one huge change that came completely unexpected – that the place is no longer a low-rise city, especially the former Docklands area. Canary Wharf, for example, reminded me of Manhattan or Shanghai. You step out of the YouTube station (as I call it), and you immediately gaze upwards in a mixture of awe and shock at the towering skyscrapers – another sign of the gentrification (or ‘social cleansing’ as I’ve heard it described) of everywhere. Many of these structures are mega-banks and overpriced apartments for the rich part-time investor dwellers.

But the highlight of my journey was getting to see, hear and dance to the mighty Jah Shaka, a legend amongst dub reggae fans. Dub is a variation of reggae, characterised by its’ soundsystems, plentiful echo, reverb, deep, heavy bass and often quicker tempo. Jah Shaka has been doing what he does best for over 40 years, and his experience showed through with this spectacular gig, which took place in Tottenham. I danced my socks off! A sonic multiple orgasm!! What a way to end a trip…..

So, will I be rushing to go back to London? No way! You can shove your outrageous prices, crowds, noise, pollution and mass tourism. Dub is put on often in Galway and we even have good markets in Tullamore now. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my forests, mountains, national parks and friendly picturesque villages where the likelihood of me being blown up by state-sponsored terrorism is very low, where small shops with staff (not machines) still (just about) exist and where things are largely still paid in cash (as opposed to card and plastic). You can stuff your small cages and ridiculous rents, McDonald’s and Starbucks. I’ll shut up now.  Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh.

 

Tacaíocht do chairde

I have no interest whatsoever in telling people about my day-to-day banal activities – enough of that goes on already on Facebook and other unsocial media. I am, however,  lucky enough to have been exposed to different ways of seeing and interpreting the world from a very young age. I’ve had experiences that were far from ordinary and I’ve had the good fortune to have met – and been drawn to- colourful and unusual characters who don’t do things ‘by the book’. Such people have given me insights into unconventional perspectives and opinions. For this I am extremely grateful and I hope to share some of these alternative ways of looking at things in my blogs.

I also have as some of my friends, people who haven’t followed the usual routes to employment. For some this involves creating things or working for themselves. And so this brings to the topic of this blog – friends and work, supporting our friends:

We’ve reached that time of the year again when so many of us run around like headless chickens, creating stress for ourselves, getting deep into debt to buy things for people that they don’t really need – the annual Consumer Fest, better known as Christmas. Fortunately, we’ve been forced to ‘downsize’ and modify our extravagant spending habits of the short-lived Celtic Tiger era due to economic conditions. And this is my point: if we all helped out our friends more at Christmas, then we wouldn’t have any economic crises in the first place. If we have to go mad at Christmas, then at least support more friends. Most people know somebody who has a business or somebody who bakes cakes, makes soap, gives massages, prints T-shirts, makes jewellery, creates music or knits jumpers – if not a local business, then a small bit of trade on the side. We live in an era when so much our money goes to far off places, to sweatshops in China, to mega corporations such as Amazon and eBay. Sure, I buy from these places too, but even here there are other options. Use http://www.kennys.ie for books instead of Amazon. (They even deliver worldwide for free). Maybe you know someone who runs a restaurant- you could get a loved-one a voucher. Maybe somebody you know hasn’t even thought of vouchers for something they do. Suggest it to them.

While I’m at it- I may as well do a plug for something! I help out at the local Men’s Shed and we’re making wooden toys and presents, so that’s another option for people. We’re based where the old Charleville National School was, so if anyone’s in the area, call in.

Beannachtaí na Nollag oraibh uilig. Bíodh Nollaig mhaith, suaimhneach, síochánta agaibh.

Accept! Do not question!

Why do we unquestionably accept certain things in life? One of these things is ‘economic growth’. Politicians chant mantra-like “We need economic growth”, “We must have more growth”. Why is it we need constant economic growth? What is economic growth and is it really desirable? How can anything grow forever?

Of course, nothing can keep growing forever, yet our entire economic system is based on the assumption that it must, and if it slows or stops, economic stagnation, recession and unemployment are the results. One definition of  economic growth is ‘ an increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services, compared from one period of time to another’. In other words, the more we buy and sell goods and services, the more economic growth, but equally, the more self-sufficient we are, the less economic growth. Hardly a measure of well-being. Yet, GDP or GNP (Gross Domestic/ National Product) or economic growth is how we measure the well-being of a country.

Just to give you an idea of what a nerd I am, as a teenager I read (more than once, I might add!) a book called ‘The Growth Illusion’ by an English economist who was then living in Ireland as it happens, by the name of Richard Douthwaite. He gives the following examples of just how absurd this measure of ‘well-being’ is: if a country were to cut down all its forests and sold them to make tiddlywinks out of them, its GDP would go through the roof. This, although it would result in erosion and would have countless other negative consequences such as decreased soil fertility, decreased biodiversity etc. Similarly, if we lived in the vicinity of an airport and we installed triple glazing just to bring the noise level down to how it was before the airport was built, it would show up in increased GDP. This example in no way gives an indication of an improved way of life, just bringing it hopefully more or less back to the previous state before an airport existed. The author concludes that not only is GDP a nonsensical way of measuring well-being, in fact a high rate of economic growth, without fail, makes our lives more stressful, busy and worse off in multiple ways.

There exist other ways of measuring a nation’s well-being such as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) index which takes into account, health, community vitality and cultural diversity for example.

Another thing we accept unquestionably is interest. We take out loans and we pay  loans back with interest, even though in both the Christian and Muslim traditions theoretically interest (or ‘usury’) is immoral and unethical. Now, I’d be the first to say it’s a good thing that we no longer follow religious doctrines (for the most part), but hey, we may as well keep the good aspects of religion (and interest is certainly of no benefit to anyone except those in the banking system). In fact, unbeknownst to most people, we live in a completely interest/ debt based society. Our economic system as it stands, cannot function without debt and interest. Yet, surely this is something that must be radically altered if we are to have any chance of living free from poverty and all the troubles associated with it.

Insurance: We all complain about insurance but put up with ridiculous premiums (instead of getting together to form a group to put forward real reform). Meanwhile, insurance companies continue to rake in millions every year. But rarely is the question asked: do we really need insurance, and if so, why do private companies monopolise it? Let’s face it- insurance is one gigantic scam. As a friend put it: ‘It’s like legalised protection money’. Instead of an illegal mafia getting protection money, it’s the insurance company racket that legally gets money off us – for nothing – as those of us with years of ‘No claims bonuses’ will attest to. Surely if we have to have insurance, the state (or even better- the community) should provide it on a non-profit basis.

What else do we accept without question? Borders, passports, visas anyone? Any further ideas/ suggestions?

 

Tá ‘chuile rud bunoscionn

I’m looking for a job (again). I’m one of these people who can’t easily hold down a job. Either the boss is a bastard, the work hours are ridiculous, you’re treated like dirt or it’s yet another crap job. The best jobs I had were working in vegetable gardens – and they weren’t even ‘real’ jobs, but looking today at the jobs list: ‘scrum master’, ‘java technician’ – they’re not even English! In the crazy world we live in, computers are much more important than food production (because food production has been taken over by big business). This is madness- we cannot eat computers…..I am reminded of the Michael Ellner quote:

“Just look at us. Everything is backwards, everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom.”

And so it is. Everything is ‘trí na chéile’ and ‘bunoscionn’. From birth to death. It is very easy to point out what is wrong with the world, however. It is not so easy to offer solutions, but they are all out there and if the profit motive, vested interests (and private property, I would say) were taken out of the equation, the world would look very different. I’m not going to look at these solutions in depth for the simple reason that I know little about most of them but I can make a list.

Birth: home births. Our hospitals are becoming more and more like giant impersonal factories and of course, there is an awful lot more money to be made from sickness than health. I know nothing about home births but it’s an alternative and if carried out with a good midwife, maybe it’s kinder and more humane than some hospital births. Somebody mentioned water births but I’ve yet to give birth so I can’t comment!

Education: How can a system that has a hierarchy of subjects – maths, science etc be fair since we all have different abilities? How can an education system that promotes left brain subjects (rational, logical- maths, science) over right brain subjects (creative, intuitive) be good for kids? We use both parts of our brains, even if some people think more with their left than with their right, and vice versa. Any education system must reflect this. Surely it takes ‘a village to raise a child’? Surely we learn better when the generations are mixed? How is a class of 30+ to be taught? Surely tiny classes are preferable? Why are we obsessed with competition in schools as opposed to co-operation? There are alternatives: Steiner schools, Educate Together, Reggio schools, home schooling. Listen to Ken Robinson on Ted Talks.

Work: What do we mean by work? By occupation, by job? Most of us work in soulless, boring, repetitive, soul destroying, mind-numbing jobs that just make money for big international corporations. ‘How do you occupy your time?’, I would suggest is a better way of asking ‘what do you do?’ (as Americans always do) Do we work to live or live to work? Why do we need 9-5 jobs? In many traditional societies, work was done when it needed to be done- e.g. the harvest was brought in together and songs were sung during it, and then a celebration and dancing took place. Most jobs in Western society don’t actually contribute anything to society- insurance, stocks, bonds, etc. As somebody said to me recently “There are few jobs, but no shortage of work to be done”.

Health: we live in an extremely sick society- it’s enough to look at the size of our hospitals. Illness is big business and there is of course no money to be made if we are all healthy and not suffering from something. I really don’t believe that it’s an exaggeration to say that if people aren’t sick enough, certain vested interests would collude to make us sicker.  Do I need to persuade you? Look at the evidence of the sheer amount of needlessly harmful chemicals and technologies when almost always there are alternatives – pesticides, chemicals, fluoride, chlorine, plastic etc. Why do I have to go out of my way (and spend more money) to purchase benign/ safer/ harmless products? Why are these being produced in the first place?

There are many alternative medicines and complimentary health practices that, while they may not all work, at least they have very few of the horrific side effects of mainstream medicine. Homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, the list in endless. Prevention is surely better than cure and let us allow food to be our medicine. How many of us consistently eat genuinely healthy food (that is: grown by us or down the road, not sprayed, cooked from scratch, without GM, minimal processing)? Why are these poisons being produced in the first place? Investigate herbal medicines- after all, so many of our modern medicines derive from plants or are synthetic versions of those occurring in nature.

Shelter/ Housing: there is more than one way to build a shelter/ house. Yurts, mobile homes, cob houses, straw bale houses, hemp and lime, timber frame etc. Often, (especially if we draw on help from friends and/ or use second-hand materials) we can build houses for a fraction of the cost of conventional houses. Why do we need to get mortgages (which means ‘death grip’) and get deeply into debt to buy four walls and a roof?

I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point. Everything we do and take for granted should be questioned because we live in a world that is ruled by competition (as opposed to co-operation) and profit is king. If profit is primarily what matters for companies and dictates more and more of all governmental activities also, it follows that everything is suspect, since those low prices must be achieved regardless of the cost to society, the environment, the workers and animals. The system has it built into it that it blatantly encourages companies to exploit everything and everyone. Otherwise, the shareholders won’t be happy and/ or another company will take that ones place.

Back to work-  I’m still looking for work. If treated right, I will work hard. You respect me, I respect you. I’m reliable, honest, I keep good time and I am good at taking initiative…..Gis a job! But no! No experience – no job, no job – no experience- the age old dilemma, except that now employers are spoilt for choice.

To be honest, I think we need to create or invent our own jobs and future work has to be natural, clean and healthy. All products, services and jobs must reflect this. What’s the alternative? We can’t go on doing/ eating/ behaving/ buying as before. Let us start by questioning everything and exploring the alternatives.

Kernow

Well, it wasn’t exactly ‘Fawlty Towers’, but the Vyvyan Arms pub and B+B in Cornwall, England reminded me of the classic comedy when I stayed there a few nights recently when I went over for a cousin’s wedding in the same town. It’s not that the service from the two sisters(?) was unfriendly exactly, although with an in-house parrot called ‘Frosty’ and a cat which went by the name of ‘Extra Cold’ (their other cat, since deceased was called ‘Guinness’, geddit?), you could be forgiven for thinking the welcome was a little ‘icy’. Sure, we weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms in the establishment in the drab former mining town of Cambourne but our hosts were somewhat nonchalant and the place was akin to stepping back through time. There was the shared toilet (without handbasin) for 4 or 5 rooms, the aquarium at the end of the corridor, the basic facilities and the very simple breakfast. Still, the place had buckets of character and the shower was hot!. Fawlty Towers was in my mind for a few other reasons – it was a hotel in Torquay, Cornwall that inspired the comedy and I even picked up a Fawlty Towers DVD of the first series in a charity shop while I was there.

I was in Kernow (Cornwall in Cornish) for the first time. Cornwall is in the south west of England, it is one of the Celtic nations and although the Cornish language died out as long ago as the 18th century, a language revival is bringing it back to life. To me it seemed more like Welsh than Irish though. The region retains a strong identity with the Cornish flag seen everywhere (white cross on a black background), bilingual signs becoming more frequent and Cornish music and culture all undergoing a revival. Cornish pasties and clotted cream are for sale in all parts of the region.

Cornwall’s picturesque coastal villages such as Mevagissey, Charlestown and Fowey are full of character, built on hilly terrain, sometimes with cobbled stones, quaint little higgledy piggledy houses and narrow lanes. Many other coastal villages are to be found around beautiful little inlets and bays and were historically notorious for the smuggling that went on. The most pretty coastal village we visited in my opinion was a place called Polperro, a little fishing village which seems like it has barely changed for hundreds of years. We reached it via another lovely town called Looe (pronounced ‘loo’ funnily enough) and it in turn was reached by means of a regional single-wagoned train, which slowly wheeled it’s way through a dense forest and beside a meandering brook which opened out into a broad estuary at Looe. Because the names originate from Cornish and are simply anglicisations, the place names in Cornish are often pronounced quite differently from the spelling. For example, Mousehole = mowzel, Foxhole = vauxhall, Fowey = foy. It’s impossible not to mangle place names of the area….

It’s the little differences you notice between England and Ireland….England is known as a nation of dog lovers, and whether there are more in Cornwall than in the rest of the country, I don’t know, but I have never seen so many dogs in my life – all possible breeds – manicured poodles, Old English sheepdogs, collies, dachshunds, mongrels, labradors, jack russels, you name it- as well as every single cross breed and combination you can imagine. Often people could be seen with 2 or 3 dogs and more, his and her dogs, whole families each with their own dog, dog bowls in front of shops, cafes and pubs, dog shops, signs saying ‘Dogs Allowed’, ‘We love dogs but not in our shop’ etc. They are dog daft!

Another place I recommend visiting in Cornwall is the Eden Project. The best way to describe it is something between a jungle and a botanical garden with 2 huge ‘biomes’ incorporating a Mediterranean and a rainforest climate. There is a walkway over the canopy of the rainforest, a waterfall, dozens of exotic trees, flowers, herbs and plants but if the idea of something like a botanical garden doesn’t sound too appealing, believe me, this is something different and I can’t see how all age groups and types of people would fail to be inspired. It is all the more remarkable considering that it is located in a disused quarry. From a lifeless denuded landscape, a veritable paradise has been created. Cornwall has many disused quarries as the area was once famed for its copper and tin mines and indeed quarries and spoil heaps (colloquially known as the Cornish Alps!) litter the landscape. But don’t let that put you off the region- Cornwall is also well known for its wild moorland landscapes and all along the coast, the scenery is spectacular. Well worth a visit.

 

Self-governance

I recently finished a book about the island of St.Kilda, which is the most remote island off Britain or Ireland, located about 100km off the northwest coast of Scotland. It was evacuated only in 1930, but from at least the Late Middle Ages to that date, it was a self-governing island of between 100-180 Scots Gaelic speaking people. Indeed, the island was so remote, that the British government all but ignored them. Interestingly, their main source of food was not fish (as the seas were considered too unpredictable and rough), but seabirds such as gannet and fulmar.

I’ve long been fascinated by islands, possibly because my parents lived on the Isle of Skye off Scotland for a few years and I used to have a girlfriend who came from Achill Island. I also find it very interesting that so many islands are/were largely or even completely self-governing, and this, I believe is the ideal – we don’t need governments – look at the evidence around the world for the way we are governed. Governments are sources of unbelievable corruption, they provide us with endless red tape, wage never-ending wars and keep us constantly filling out forms, not to mention getting us to pay taxes for inadequate services and atrocious bureaucracy. We surely need to govern ourselves, and this has to be done on a small scale, at a local level so as WE decide on matters that affect us, not Dublin, not Brussels and Strasbourg or Washington. I’ve been greatly influenced by a book called ‘Small is Beautiful’ by E.F. Schumacher, in which he stated that there exists an optimum size for everything, beyond which things get increasingly more inefficient and harder to control. When something gets too big (a city for example), it needs to be split up into smaller, more manageable units/villages/sections. Seemingly, in many companies, if the size of the firm exceeds 150 staff, it is divided into smaller, more manageable departments. Likewise, we can only handle a certain amount of friends before it all becomes too overwhelming to catch up with everyone.

I have often been labelled utopian, a dreamer etc., yet many working examples exist and have existed all over the world of small-scale self-governing communities. Small islands as well as eco-villages or kibbutzes for instance. For sure, many of these communities in the past were far from perfect, often very conservative and religious, but hopefully we’ve moved on from this and we are more open-minded and liberal nowadays. Certainly, looking at how governments mismanage our countries across the world, other solutions need to be looked at. An bhfuil sibh ar aon intinn liom?

Oíche Airneáin

I have just come back from visiting a friend – we had a great evening of listening to music and chatting about everything under the sun. I have always loved visiting people on occasions (when I’m in the mood) and equally, I also enjoy when people visit me. There is a long tradition of social visiting in Ireland and indeed, there is a word for it in Irish: ‘airneán’. One can talk of ‘lucht airneáin’, ‘oíche airneáin’ and ‘teach airneáin’ (a house frequented by night visitors). These are words/ phrases that are rarely used now for the simple fact that TV, and now smart devices, have largely put paid to such customs.

I don’t have a television myself, but I can understand the appeal and I have watched my fair share of it in my life. But look at what it has done to us – we are cooped up in our bubbles and interacting less and less. However, if TV has destroyed a lot of social interaction, at least the family as a whole sat down to watch the odd programme together (if they didn’t squabble over which channel to watch first!). Now, everyone has their own smart Alec device and can be completely in their own little individual bubble.

I mo thuairim, is sea an t-am a bheith ag airneán arís. Cá bhfuil na lucht airneáin? Filligí ar ais! Let’s carry on an old tradition and let our houses once again become ‘tithe airneáin’.

Céad míle fáilte: Éire ilghnéitheach

Tullamore where I now live, is a very different place to when I was growing up. For starters, I was considered exotic having a Scottish background. Now the whole world is represented in Tullamore. As an example, the other day I walked into the Court Hotel and I saw 3 young girls dressed in beautiful, colourful national costumes, made of some fine material like silk. I’m guessing they were originally from Malaysia or some such Asian country. On the way home, I hardly batted an eyelid when I saw a man of Indian descent wearing an ‘Ireland’ shirt. We live in a multicultural Ireland whether or not we like it. Personally,  I think Ireland is much richer for it. Ireland now has access to cuisine from around the world, different cultures and fresh perspectives. There is a lot to be gained from multiculturalism.

But nothing in life is black and white – there is a limit to how many people a small country can absorb. I don’t know what that limit is, but it’s not limitless.

So why is it that we have so many people from  around the world, why do we still have huge levels of mobility, immigration and emigration? Most people, given the choice would not want to uproot their families and travel, in some cases thousands of miles, leaving their loved ones and friends. There are obviously many factors why people emigrate and live abroad, but the main ones are surely economic globalisation and the widening gap between rich and poor (which is as a direct consequence of globalisation). It suits the major corporations that we are all competing for jobs, that there are people desperate for any kind of job, paying any kind of wage. Big business greatly benefits from huge income inequality between people and countries.  And where do these policies emanate from? Who is to blame? As usual, cowards in faceless institutions are to blame – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the EU (where the lobbying power of multinationals is immense and dwarfs all others). These institutions exist not for the benefit of the common man, they exist purely for the power elite, for Big Business and mega corporations. Look at how they have directly turned country after country into bankrupt, strip-mined, hugely unequal basket cases and how the few, as usual, have made millions.

But of course, it’s easier to blame Tomek, the Polish carpenter for taking our jobs than to blame the WTO/ WB/ IMF and yes, the EU , which encourages privatisation of everything, cut-throat capitalism, the slashing of public services and giving free reign to Big Business – which in turn leads to closures of indigenous Polish industries and forces Tomek to emigrate to Ireland.

Is fearr bocht sona ná saibhir dona.