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Saturday, September 19, 2015

‘Half dead’: a town in rural Ireland


In 1989 ‘The Irish Times’ reported on Kiltimagh, Co Mayo, one of many towns then blighted by emigration. A boom and a bust later, it’s still a typical Irish town, fighting to keep its community spirit in the face of a dwindling youth population and struggling main street
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A drive down Main Street, Rural Ireland, in 2015 often takes you past closed shops, vacant houses, and premises for sale, some of them derelict. This is the case in Kiltimagh, in Co Mayo, a small town representative of so many others across the country.
The days when it was the norm for people to live over their shop are gone, as are many of those kinds of businesses. Towns and villages in rural Ireland have been changing slowly for years, adapting to survive. Many of the social spaces that once existed on their main streets are no longer there.

Roads radiate from Kiltimagh in six directions. The town is in the centre of a triangle roughly defined by Castlebar to the west, Swinford and Knock airport to the north, and Claremorris to the south. It recorded a population of 1,127 in the 2011 census. Kiltimagh’s population has been increasing over the past couple of decades. In 2006 it was 1,096. In 2002 it was 1,000.

Kiltimagh retains many services whose absences from other towns have become flashpoint topics in debate about small towns and the survival of rural Ireland. It still has a post office, a Garda station (with limited opening hours), a bank and ATM, a library, a credit union and a beautifully kept playground that would be a fine asset even in a far larger town. It has two hotels and seven pubs, plus the two hotel bars.

It has a big SuperValu and a Londis supermarket, as well as a small bakery, pharmacies, a shoe shop, a flower shop, a solicitors’ office and a high-end hair salon. It also has a small, well-kept public space, Market Square, that celebrates the poet Anthony Raftery, who was born nearby. Examples of community pride include a bright triangle of pansies and wallflowers in a corner of the local churchyard, “tenderly planted by the Kiltimagh scouts in June 2013”, as a notice says. The town is served by Bus Éireann.
Yet Kiltimagh is a town that Cahil Doherty, headmaster of St Louis Community School, says is “half dead”.

In 1989, Caroline Walsh, the late literary editor of this newspaper, who was an Irish Times reporter at the time, visited Kiltimagh and wrote an influential three-part series about emigration in the area, called “The Town They Left Behind”. Kiltimagh’s population was then just under 1,200.


“The GAA has its own disaster story,” she wrote. “Of the senior team that started last spring, half are no longer in the area.” It’s 26 years since that sentence was written, but it that could have appeared in any article about rural Ireland in recent times.

Kiltimagh people refer to their town’s single long street as Main Street; in fact it is broken into Chapel Street, Main Street, Aidan Street and Lower Aidan Street. As in so many towns and villages in rural Ireland, it is the traditional backbone of the community. It’s now a backbone with missing and damaged vertebrae. Several premises, both commercial and domestic, are in varying states of dereliction or closure, or are for sale. At what point does the backbone of a community break?

“The only difference between this place and the Titanic is that they had a band” read a sign, in 1989, by the desk of the chairman of the district community council at the time, Tom Higgins. He listed for Walsh some of the premises that had recently closed in Kiltimagh: “McNicholas’s pub, Corcoran’s pub, O’Dwyer’s. Ruane’s shop, McNamara’s shop . . .”
“We’ve lost a lot more businesses since 1989,” Marty O’Hora, the owner of Teach O’Hora bar, says matter of factly. He hands me a list of the 43 pubs Kiltimagh once had. “The thing is, a lot of those pubs were also little shops. Groceries, drapers, that sort of thing. So when the pub went, the shop went with it.”

His is one of the seven remaining pubs; his father, Aidan, bought it for £1,760 in 1967. Seven pubs plus two hotel bars seem like a lot for fewer than 1,200 people. O’Hora is reluctant to talk down his colleagues, but he suggests that at least some of the other bars do little business. I see this for myself when I walk around the town at night. As in other rural areas, some family-owned businesses here must survive largely because they own their premises, eliminating mortgages or rents.

O’Hora has worked at Teach O’Hora since 1976, the year after he sat his Leaving Certificate. He remembers people in the 1980s writing IOUs for their drinks on the backs of cigarette packets. “The only people who had mortgages back then were businesspeople. Now everyone has a mortgage, young and old, whether it’s for houses or cars or holidays.”

Every person I talk to during almost three days in Kiltimagh stresses how proud they are of their community, but not one is able to say their town is thriving. “Managing” and “surviving” are the words I hear most often. “Kiltimagh is just maintaining itself. Just making enough to survive. We are a dormitory town now. People live here and they work somewhere else. You can now buy cheaply one of the houses that were built in the boom, and then commute to somewhere like Galway, which is very expensive to buy property in,” O’Hora says. “Emigration back in the 1980s was school leavers. Now there are not that many people between 18 and 50 in the town.”
He sees the biggest challenge for Kiltimagh as “getting businesses back into the empty buildings on the main street”.

Community school
St Louis Community School, which has 700 students, is one of the town’s biggest employers, with 60 full- and part-time staff. Many of its students travel from other parts of Mayo to attend, such is its reputation, and a high percentage of its Leaving Cert students go on to third level. Doherty, its principal, has worked there for 30 years.

“Education is still a ticket out of the area,” he says. The day I interview Doherty is the day students have returned to collect their Leaving Cert results. “One girl said to me this morning, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing next, but I’m definitely leaving Kiltimagh.’ ”
Doherty is anxious not to offend the people among whom he works. He says several times that “you could not meet nicer people than the people of Kiltimagh” and that “the people here take fierce pride in their town”. But he also says: “Half the main street is derelict. And that’s all there is to the town, the main street.”
How would he define a rural town such as Kiltimagh today? “It’s urban without all the urban infrastructure. There are very few single people here between 18 and 40. There are a lot of people who work elsewhere and live outside the town and environs, but there isn’t the retail and transport that urban areas have. And when people work elsewhere what they want at the weekend is recreation. They don’t have the time to be thinking about the future of the town.”
Several of Doherty’s students have a parent – usually the father – who commutes to England each week, returning at weekends. This year Doherty had inquiries about school places from parents in the US, England and Spain who planned to move back to Mayo but commute, via Knock airport, out of the country to work.
For the past two or three years the airport has laid on additional weekend flights to and from London, for people who want to come home every weekend without having to take half days on Fridays or Mondays. Donal Healy, its spokesman, says that the flights are “90 per cent full, year round, and serve people living within an hour of the airport”. They began because of the volume of requests from people working in England but living in Mayo.
So while at least some of the emigration that Caroline Walsh wrote of in 1989 remains, it’s now largely of a different kind, and, thankfully, it seems to have a less visceral effect. She visited in January, when people were going back to work in England after Christmas, and she watched some of them leave at Knock airport.
“Children saying goodbye to parents, mothers saying goodbye to sons, but worst of all to observe – the wives who were saying goodbye to husbands . . . Some things married couples should not have to do in public, and parting like this is one of them . . . crying uncontrollable tears . . .”
There were no routine weekend visits home for those emigrants. At that time people who worked in England were gone “nine-tenths of the year”, according to the local curate at the time, Fr Padraic Brennan (who has since married and moved away).

Emigration
In 1989 Walsh spoke to Hugh McTigue, who was vice-principal of St Louis Community School. “What’s at stake is the survival of the community,” he told her, commenting on the emigration from the area.

“The only thing that has really prospered in the town since then is the school,” he says now. “Towns like Kiltimagh are really part of a bigger picture. It has become a satellite village of Castlebar. Its retail trade has practically disappeared. People do their shopping on their way out from work in Castlebar or Ballina. One of the mistakes a small town can make is to think of itself in isolation, but no town is an island, like no man is an island. Communities are organisms.”
The biggest thing to happen in Kiltimagh in recent times was the reopening of the Cill Aodáin Court Hotel, on the main street, in May. It had closed suddenly in November 2012. Given its anchor position in the town, opposite the little public square, its reopening was an important event.
PJ Staide, a local who emigrated 28 years ago, bought the 17-bedroom hotel with bar and restaurant last year, sight unseen, paying about €150,000. He returned from California in March, with his South African-born partner, Jacqui Salome, to run the hotel.
“The place was a mess,” he says, philosophically. “All the copper had been stolen, the lead was gone from the roof, most of the windows at the back were smashed, and people had been partying inside, throwing paint around and walking it into the carpets. The place was full of bottles. It was clear it had been party central.”
Staide employed only locals to work on the refurbishment, 20 of them at any one time. “We thought that was very important; to give local employment.”
He and Salome plan to keep the hotel and its restaurant open year round. “The town needs this hotel. This business isn’t necessarily just about accommodation; it’s also about food and providing a place for local people to come.”
After Walsh’s series appeared the debate it created in Kiltimagh prompted the establishment of a community-development organisation called Integrated Resourced Development (IRD).
An anniversary brochure from 2008 says that the articles “portrayed the town as decimated with no hope. This created a scenario where those who knew of the problem and never admitted it now had to come out of the denial phase. In essence this portrayal worked like an outsider criticising a member of a family. This family member may argue freely with others internally but faced with a threat from outside then they will all band together into an effective combating force.”

Local donations
The IRD, the force that was created, still exists. A registered charity, it relies mainly on income from its many rental properties. When it was established its funding came mainly from local donations. It has since received support from local and State authorities, Teagasc, Fás, Enterprise Ireland, Leader grants and Bord Fáilte, among others.

The IRD’s many projects over the years have included the development of 34 units of voluntary association housing; the establishment of a sculpture park, sculpture trail and town museum; the refurbishment of Market Square; and the creation of the playground. Its establishment of workspaces around the town also created jobs.
Last year Kiltimagh scored 281 points out of 450 in its Tidy Towns category. Its citation read, “We are delighted to see the high level of local participation on your committee, comprising nine members who are supported by 65 volunteers.”
As with any community-run organisation, not everyone in the community agrees with everything the IRD does. People I talk to in Kiltimagh struggle to explain what the IRD does and who makes its decisions. Some are critical and mention tension between townspeople and the IRD.
But not one wants to go on the record. The IRD website says: “We are happy to receive any feedback, suggestions, offers of help to get involved in making Kiltimagh a better place for all and even constructive criticism so long as it is not anonymous.”
Brian Mooney is a founding member of the IRD, a former long-standing chairman, and a current director. When it’s put to him that some locals seem confused about how the IRD now operates, and that others are critical of it, he says that the agm is open to the public and that the IRD’s records are publicly available.
In fact, he says, the IRD is always looking for local people to get involved, by volunteering to be on its board. “Positive people,” he adds. “Negative people close the shops. If there are some people who are bitching about us, I’d say to them, ‘You’re 20 years in this town: show me what you’ve achieved for the town and bring me to it.’ ”
Mooney is proud of the many things the IRD has done for Kiltimagh. “The challenge we didn’t succeed at was to keep the small shops open on the main street,” he says, regretfully. “We lost that battle with the Aldis and the Lidls.”
What, then, does he mean when he says that negative people close the shops? Surely, no matter how optimistic former shopkeepers might have been, they couldn’t stop competitors setting up elsewhere.
“The community closed the shops,” Mooney says. “They were complaining about the shops disappearing from the town, but they didn’t shop there themselves. That’s why they closed.”

Factory field
Kiltimagh’s second hotel is the Park, which has 45 bedrooms and opened in 2006. It is located just outside town, on the Swinford road, on an IRD-owned site known as the factory field. “But no factory ever came forward to take it, so we decided to get jobs via tourism instead,” Mooney says.

The IRD gave the site to a developer. “There are 40 jobs there now.” Did the IRD consult townspeople about giving away the site during the Celtic Tiger years? Or ask if they wanted a hotel there? “Of course we didn’t consult with them,” he says. “The IRD are representative of the whole community. Isn’t it obvious that a hotel is good for a town? How would we get anything done if we went round consulting with everyone?”
Like most people I speak to, Mooney is reluctant to admit that the main street gives visitors a strong impression of a community that is struggling. Whenever I ask about this the reply is understandably defensive, usually along the lines of, “Well, the main street of Claremorris” – or Ballinrobe, or Boyle, or Castlebar, or Ballyhaunis – “is just as bad, if not worse. Have you been to that town?”
When I ask Mooney about the main street’s visual impact he says, “The IRD painted up some of the derelict buildings on the street.” It’s true that some of the vacant premises on the street, such as the former Village News and the Raftery Room, look better for being painted, but they remain closed businesses, empty houses or derelict premises: defunct and redundant spaces.
What does Mooney suggest could be done with the main street? “The empty buildings need to bulldozed. I’d like to see them demolished and rebuilt as holiday town houses, built to a high standard.”
The IRD’s biggest investment in recent years has been in Cairn International Trade Centre, essentially a business park, which cost €7 million. It’s opposite the Park Hotel. The first sod for what is now 15 office spaces was turned in 2007. “A small town will not get jobs unless it has the infrastructure to support them. You have to provide the facilities first, and then try to attract them in,” Mooney says.
It was built at the start of the recession; the IRD hoped it would bring 150 jobs. The Cairn’s website describes the campus as offering a “dynamic, progressive and futuristic approach to business development” and being situated “in the vibrant and progressive town of Kiltimagh”.
The complex remains more or less empty. In the middle of one midweek afternoon only one car is parked in the whole car park.
In the time I spend in Kiltimagh I notice that nobody mentions Enda Kenny, the Mayo-born Taoiseach, whose constituency office is nearby, in Castlebar. “He has no interest in rural Ireland, or in Mayo,” is the answer everyone gives, usually accompanied by a snort, when I ask why nobody talks about him.
Nor does anybody mention Kiltimagh’s most famous son, Louis Walsh, creator of boy bands and former X Factor judge. “You’d hear the helicopter the very odd time, and that’d be Louis,” is the general shrugged observation.
Neither man appears to have a public relationship with Kiltimagh, which seems a lost opportunity to raise the town’s profile.

Black-economy jobs
When the topic of employment comes up people talk about two types. One is the formal, visible, accountable, taxpaying job, of which there are few. The other is the black-economy job, of which there appear to be many.

“There is no shortage of work here for them that want it” is a line I hear over and over. Neither employer nor employee will go on the record, but the black-economy jobs appear to be in construction and its associated skills.

According to research published last year by Teagasc’s rural-economy development programme, the unemployment rate in working-age households in small-town rural Ireland was a third, compared with less than a fifth in urban areas. Those figures do not take into account black-economy jobs, which makes the picture of unemployment more complicated, if what’s happening in Kiltimagh is also happening in other towns.

Patricia Meenaghan is chairwoman of Kiltimagh Historical Society. She returned to live here 15 years ago, after some time in Yorkshire. Like others I talk to, she praises the reopening of the Cill Aodáin Court Hotel. “It’s the best thing that’s happened here for a long time. It’s become the focal point of the town again.”
But she says Kiltimagh is in a worse state than it was in 1989. “Because after that series came out we saw how our community could grow and develop, through the IRD, and now it has reversed again, because there are no more grants coming in. I think this town is stifled now.”

Kiltimagh has become a dormitory town, she says. “The majority of people who live here don’t work here. People don’t want to leave, because even though they work elsewhere we come from a rural culture, where people don’t want to leave their roots and their land. And, also, there is no job security any more, so why would anyone move house just for a job?”
How does she see the future for rural Ireland and for towns like Kiltimagh? “If you look at Kiltimagh it’s not really going anywhere. So whatever is happening here must also be happening nationally. I don’t know how politicians can continue to ignore a hinterland as large as rural Ireland. Rural Ireland is like a limb that is slowly being cut off from the rest of the country, and if that keeps happening it’s going to affect the health of the whole country.”
She knows Kiltimagh main street was never Grafton Street, she says, but it used to be vibrant. “Shops and pubs were open and being supported. Nobody wants to open a business here now. I’m not optimistic about its future. I think businesses will continue to close. There’s no footfall at night on the street. The population is gone.”

Yet according to the census the population of the town has been increasing. When I mention this to Meenaghan she is astonished. “So where are these people?”
At night you see how empty and dark Kiltimagh’s main street is. Most of the lit houses are those with satellite dishes on their roofs. The Rath Cluain estate, just behind the main street, is far fuller, judging by the lights and by the cars in the driveways. It’s not that the town’s population has gone, it seems, it’s that they’ve migrated away from the main street.
The Kiltimagh electoral division had a population of 1,510 in the 2011 census. Of its 858 houses, 205 – or almost a quarter – were listed as vacant.

Of the 15 residential properties in Kiltimagh listed as sold on the residential property price register for 2014, the lowest sale price was €10,190. Only two properties sold for more than €100,000. Others fetched €15,000, €35,000 and €70,000. If, as Hugh McTigue, Marty O’Hora and Patricia Meenaghan suggest, Kiltimagh is now a dormitory town, its low house prices would be an attraction for anyone working elsewhere.

Picking up
Nancy Lavin has been living in the town for 42 years; Chris Glynn has been back for 25. Lavin recently took over from Brian Mooney as chair of the IRD; Glynn is on its board of directors. “The town is slowly picking up. Our quality of life in Kiltimagh has improved greatly since 1989,” Lavin says.

“Thriving is not a word we’d use yet,” Glynn says. “Whatever the Government says about recovery, the recession is not over in rural Ireland.”
Lavin says, “We are similar to all the other small towns in rural Ireland, in that we have to work together and demand more from our government.”

Glynn says, “It should be possible to negotiate lower rates to open businesses in small towns, and to renovate premises on the main street . . . Individuals are not going to fight for these things, which is why Kiltimagh needs the IRD to fight for a voice for its community. Businesses need to be in a town, so that people can spend money in their own town. People do their shopping where they work, and they socialise with the people they work with, so we’re missing out on that. Even though people are living here their money isn’t being reinvested back in the community.”

Monica Browne, Jo Kelly, Patricia McDonagh and Geraldine Gallagher all belong to Kiltimagh Women’s Group, founded 25 years ago to support returning emigrant women. Of the four, three have children abroad. Both of Gallagher’s are in Australia, McDonagh has two in the US, and Kelly has one in Scotland. But they’re not all gone. All three of Browne’s children are still in Mayo, as are three of McDonagh’s and two of Kelly’s.
What do they see as the challenges facing their town? “Employment,” Gallagher says. “The lack of local employment.”

“Isolation and an ageing population,” Browne says. “They should be encouraging people from country areas to move into towns. Safety in their homes is a big issue for people, even if they’re only a few miles from the town.”
McDonagh says, “When businesses close they are not replaced, or else they move their business elsewhere, to a bigger town.”
Kelly says, “When you drive up and down the town you can see it is not thriving. How do you change that?”

Shane Gilmartin employs eight people in his hygiene-supplies business, which he set up in 1993. He has lived in the town most of his life; he recalls playing football as a child on Thomas Street, just off the main street, where two jumpers served as goalposts.
“We’d be there for an hour at a time before a car would come. Now you couldn’t be in the middle of the street for more than a minute without a car coming at you.”

How does he think Kiltimagh has changed as a town? “I see the future of the town as residential, a dormitory town,” he says. “There are buildings on the main street with nothing going on in them, and that doesn’t help matters. The town has changed in that a lot of smaller shops have closed, and people don’t live over the shop any more.
“But there could be niche businesses here, like the flower shop, which is doing very well. The more people that live in a town, the more opportunities for niche businesses. There should be incentives to redevelop the main street and get people living and working there again.”

Community spirit
Like everyone I speak with, Gilmartin talks about the strong community spirit of the town. “Kiltimagh was never a shopping town, but it’s a great place to live. We’re a small town struggling to hold on to business, but there is a very good community spirit here. If you don’t have that you don’t have much. It’s a huge part of any town. And the more people that live in a town the more likely they are to invest emotionally in it.”

What’s clear is that towns such as Kiltimagh are gradually becoming different kinds of rural communities. The era when their people predominantly lived, worked, shopped and socialised in their immediate community is gone.
As Shane Gilmartin says, “In the 1980s people car-pooled, and the few people who had cars usually had old bangers.”
It’s possible to buy a second-hand car – an item that most people now consider an essential part of their lives – cheaply in 2015. So large numbers of people are now more mobile and less dependent on the limitations of rural public transport.

Even with the number of small businesses that Kiltimagh has lost in recent years, and the percentage of its population that now commutes to other towns to work, its residents are certain their town is still a community. So, like other places in rural Ireland, Kiltimagh has two contrasting stories: the visual narrative of what looks like a half-derelict main street, with its defunct social and commercial spaces, and the unseen narrative of the community of people who live in the town, a community they love and are proud of. The narrative of any town is always more complex than it first appears.

More than 1.5 million people live in rural Ireland, and many more who live in cities have our roots there. It is a considerable constituency, and its voice will surely be heard more and more often in the run-up to the next general election, because its communities are facing many challenges, including those of identity and regeneration.
The population of rural Ireland may be more mobile than in the past, and the business dynamics of towns have changed, but community endures. The question of what to do with the unoccupied social spaces of main streets in towns around the country needs to be addressed promptly, imaginatively and with vigour, because everyone agrees that they cannot be left to decline further.

One thing is clear: as long as people continue to live in rural Ireland, it is far from dead. What’s less obvious is that rural Ireland has gradually become a different kind of community, with a new set of challenges to meet.
Rosita Boland


Issue of human rights is centre stage


THE selection of the jury in the Jobstown trial will be an interesting process. The “Jobstown trial” may sound like a phrase lifted from apartheid South Africa, but that is what it will come to be known as.
Those on trial will include Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) TD Paul Murphy and two party councillors, all charged in relation to the incident in Jobstown in west Dublin last November, in which Tánaiste Joan Burton was the focus of an anti-water charge protest.
At least 20 people were served with summons last week to appear in court to answer charges ranging from false imprisonment to disorderly behaviour. Most are expected to have the case heard before a circuit court, which involves a jury trial.

Will prospective jury members be asked for their opinion on water charges? Or will they be deemed capable of reaching a decision on the facts, irrespective of positions on the issue?
The law will take its course. Away entirely from that case, there are disturbing issues around the reaction of the criminal justice system to the water charges protests.

At this juncture, it might be best to make a declaration. I believe in the concept of charging for water usage, in line with the practice in the rest of the developed world. I believe the main protest organisers care not a whit about the supply of water. It’s all electoral politics to them. I don’t believe in Irish Water, but neither do I believe that it is a thing of evil.
Now that that’s out of the way, did you know how easy it is to deny a political entity the right to collect money?

Last month, the Anti-Austerity Alliance was refused a permit for door to door collections. The alliance does not have a little book full of corporate supporters so it tends to ask citizens face to face for support.
Chief Supt Orla McPartlin refused the permit because she said she feared it might lead to criminal behaviour. Her denial is rooted in Section 9 (C) of the Street and House to House Collection Act 1962.
The relevant sections allows for the refusal of a permit if the senior officer is of the opinion that “proceeds of the collection or any portion thereof would be used in such a manner as to encourage, either directly or indirectly the commission of an unlawful act”. In a letter to AAA councillor Mick Murphy explaining the decision, Chief Supt McPartlin said there had been previous water protests where some members of the AAA had been arrested.

“The collection of a permit has been refused because I believe that the proceeds of the collection or a portion thereof would be used to facilitate protests sponsored by the Anti-Austerity Alliance. I believe any further protests within my division would see further public order offences being committed,” the superintendent wrote.

Her references to protests is understood to primarily refer to the incident at Jobstown, which is in the superintendent’s division. Is it reasonable to deny a democratic right on the basis that a similar incident could possibly occur sometime in the future, and that the AAA would be the culpable party for any such occurrence?

Whether or not there are further protests organised by AAA or anybody else is not dependent on how much, if any, money is collected door to door.
It’s just as well the forces of law and order were asleep in the not-too-distant past when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were collecting in a manner that definitely encouraged the commission of a crime.
The Pick-Me-Up system facilitated the refund of Vat for party donors by portraying donations as a service. This is called tax evasion. The two main parties conspired with their donors to rip off the State. Nobody was arrested after the system was discovered in the Moriarty Tribunal. No charges were pressed, no permits denied. All of that is apart from the dodgy politicians in both parties who hoovered up money for themselves under the guise of political donations.

The AAA is a broad-based coalition with a political agenda. Some of its members were involved in a protest that appears to have got out of hand. Is it really tenable to deny a political organisation the opportunity to collect money on such a flimsy basis?
This apparently doesn’t feature on the Government’s radar. If there had been hue and cry in the media and opposition, there might have been an appropriate response. In the absence of much comment, there is nothing to be politically gained by addressing an issue that touches on a democratic tenet, even if the Cabinet is allegedly a guardian of the Constitution.

Paul Murphy has said that denial of the permit was an example of “political policing”. It certainly wasn’t political in the sense that it was acting to favour any other political entity. But questions have to be raised as to whether it represented a proper, fair, and balanced decision.
The permit isn’t the only unsettling incident. The leaking of the fact that a number of people were going to be charged with criminal offences is a blatant abuse of basic rights.
On August 12, RTÉ News reported that more than 20 of those present at Jobstown would face serious charges in the Circuit Criminal Court. On September 10, the same outlet reported that summons to that effect would be issued in the following days. None of those involved were contacted by any State agency prior to the media reporting. There has been no outcry from Government about this breach of rights.

The leak could only have come from within the apparatus of the criminal justice system. Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has instigated an inquiry, but good luck to anybody who believes that this will ever result in criminal charges.
While the leak may have sprung in other elements of the criminal justice system, it is the gardaí who are at the frontline of the protests. The protesters portray An Garda Síochána as being intrinsically opposed to their movement. It’s far more likely that any negative sentiment in the force is attributable to what members have experienced and witnessed as flashpoints over the last 18 months.

The whole business has not been easy for the force, and particularly officers deployed to the flashpoints. But a professional force polices the law without fear or favour even in the face of provocation from hostile elements.

Those who are organising the anti-water campaign portray the issue as one of human rights, rather than the actuality of a political dispute over how to pay for the State’s water infrastructure. While the substantive issue is not about human rights, the manner in which the State’s agencies are reacting to elements within the protest is bringing the whole issue of rights centre stage.
Michael Clifford

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Photo Minute: Now it's fair!!!!!



Photo Minute: Oughterard Today





Galway as it was and its daily living in 1842

The old city (Galway) certainly has some relics of its former stateliness; and indeed, is the only town in Ireland I have seen, where an antiquary can find much subject for study, or a lover of the picturesque an occasion for using his pencil. It is a wild, fierce, and most original old town. Joyce’s Castle in one of the principal streets, a huge square grey tower, with many carvings and ornaments, is a gallant relic of its old days of prosperity, and gives one an awful idea of the tenements which the other families inhabited, and which are designed in the interesting plate which Mr. Hardiman gives in his work. The Collegiate Church, too, is still extant, without its fourteen altars, and looks to be something between a church and a castle, and as if it should be served by Templars with sword and helmet in place of mitre and crozier. The old houses in the Main Street are like fortresses the windows look into a court within; there is but a small low door, and a few grim windows peering suspiciously into the street.
                                                                Sketch of Irish Life in 1842

Then there is Lombard Street otherwise called Deadman’s Lane, with a raw-head and cross-bones and a “memento mori” over the door where the dreadful tragedy of the Lynches was acted in 1493. If Galway is the Rome of Connaught, James Lynch Fitzstephen, the Mayor, may be considered as the Lucius Junius Brutus thereof. Lynch had a son who went to Spain as master of one of his father’s ships, and being of an extravagant, wild turn, there contracted debts, and drew bills, and alarmed his father’s correspondent, who sent a clerk and nephew of his own back in young Lynch’s ship to Galway to settle accounts. On the fifteenth day, young Lynch threw the Spaniard overboard. Coming back to his own country, he reformed his life a little, and was on the point of marrying one of the Blakes, Burkes, Bodkins, or others, when a seaman who had sailed with him, being on the point of death, confessed the murder in which he had been a participator.

Hereon the father, who was chief magistrate of the town, tried his son, and sentenced him to death; and when the clan Lynch rose in a body to rescue the young man, and avert such a disgrace from their family, it is said that Fitzstephen Lynch hung the culprit with his own hand. A tragedy called “The Warden of Galway” has been written on the subject, and was acted a few nights before my arrival.
Sketch of Irish Life in 1842

The waters of Lough Corrib, which “permeate” under the bridges of the town, go rushing and roaring to the sea with a noise and eagerness only known in Galway; and along the banks you see all sorts of strange figures washing all sorts of wonderful rags, with red petticoats and redder shanks standing in the stream. Pigs are in every street: the whole town shrieks with them. There are numbers of idlers on the bridges, thousands in the streets, humming and swarming in and out of dark old ruinous houses; congregated round numberless apple-stalls, nail-stalls, bottle-stalls, pigsfoot-stalls; in queer old shops, that look to be two centuries old; loitering about warehouses, ruined or not; looking at the washerwomen washing in the river, or at the fish-donkeys, or at the potato-stalls, or at a vessel coming into the quay, or at the boats putting out to sea.


                                                      Galway docks in September 2015


                                                   Galway docks in September 2015

The boat at the quay, by the little old gate, is bound for Arranmore; and one next to it has a freight of passengers for the cliffs of Mohir on the Clare coast; and as the sketch is taken, a hundred of people have stopped in the street to look on, and are buzzing behind in Irish, telling the little boys in that language — who will persist in placing themselves exactly in the front of the designer — to get out of his way: which they do for some time; but at length curiosity is so intense that you are entirely hemmed in and the view rendered quite invisible. A sailor’s wife comes up — who speaks English — with a very wistful face, and begins to hint that them black pictures are very bad likenesses, and very dear too for a poor woman, and how much would a painted one cost does his honour think? And she has her husband that is going to sea to the West Indies to-morrow, and she’d give anything to have a picture of him. So I made bold to offer to take his likeness for nothing. But he never came, except, one day at dinner, and not at all on the next day, though I stayed on purpose to accommodate him. It is true that it was pouring with rain; and as English waterproof cloaks are not waterproof in Ireland, the traveller who has but one coat must of necessity respect it, and had better stay where he is, unless he prefers to go to bed while he has his clothes dried at the next stage.


The houses in the fashionable street where the club-house stands (a strong building, with an agreeable Old Bailey look,) have the appearance of so many little Newgates. The Catholic chapels are numerous, unfinished, and ugly. Great warehouses and mills rise up by the stream, or in the midst of unfinished streets here and there; and handsome convents with their gardens, justice-houses, barracks, and hospitals adorn the large, poor, bustling, rough-and-ready-looking town. A man who sells hunting-whips, gunpowder, guns, fishing-tackle, and brass and iron ware, has a few books on his counter; and a lady in a bystreet, who carries on the profession of a milliner, ekes out her stock in a similar way. But there were no regular book-shops that I saw, and when it came on to rain I had no resource but the hedge-school volumes again. They, like Patrick Spelman’s sign, present some very rude flowers of poetry and “entertainment” of an exceeding humble sort; but such shelter is not to be despised when no better is to be had: nay, possibly its novelty may be piquant to some readers, as an admirer of Shakspeare will occasionally condescend to listen to Mr. Punch, or an epicure to content himself with a homely dish of beans and bacon.

William Makepeace Thackeray writing about Galway in 1842

There’s one place like home in Newfoundland, Canada


Newfoundland feels like Ireland 20 years ago, when people left their doors unlocked, hitchhiked without fear and took time to stop and chat. Jennifer Hough feels right at home in the Canadian province.



Being Irish in Newfoundland is no big deal, because practically everyone is, descended from Irish fishermen who settled there in the 1700s and 1800s.
But if you are really Irish, born and bred, prepare to be treated like a celebrity.
Locals will hang on your every word, insist you stay longer, hug you tightly when you do leave.

On this craggy Atlantic island – the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador – connections to Celtic roots are so deeply woven into the fabric of life, it’s hard to believe you are in Canada at all.
Newfoundland (pronounced New-fun-land by locals) feels like Ireland 20 years ago, when people left their doors unlocked, hitchhiked without fear, had time to stop and talk to one another. Time moves at its own pace. Newfoundland has it’s own time zone, two and a half hours behind GMT.

Apart from the stunning scenery, lip-smacking seafood and foot-tapping music, it’s the characters that make this a must-visit destination.
Newfies, as the locals are known (though it can be seen as derogatory, not unlike Paddy’s), are so similar to people from rural Ireland, even to this day, that Irish historian Tim Pat Coogan called Newfoundland “the most Irish place in the world outside of Ireland”. The tone of our trip was set upon landing in St John’s, the province’s eastern seaboard capital.

The Cork man and I were picking up a car rental, from what sounded like a true-blue Dub.
“Never set foot in the place,” he laughed. As we left, he told us we’d “made his day,” just for stopping to have a chat.
Then there was the bartender, who gave us a late drink, but only “because we were proper Irish”.
And Thelma O’Brien, the B&B owner in the north of the province who sounded like she was from Donegal, and told the Cork man, “I could listen to you all day, bhoy”. It’s not often he hears that one.
St John’s, the island’s capital is a working port, so not a very pretty one, but it’s got bucket loads of rustic charm. Here they take their live music and drinking just as seriously as their fishing. George Street boasts the most pubs and bars per square foot of any street in North America.
From the outside, the bars look faded and a tad dingy, but inside you’ll find Irish-influenced music hopping ’til all hours.

The best way to blow away the cobwebs after night time adventures is to trek up to Signal Hill.

Towering above the city, Signal Hill was the reception point of the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901, as well as the site of harbour defenses for St John’s from the 18th century to the Second World War.
Views down to the city and its colourful “jelly bean” houses are spectacular. The Victorian houses in the downtown area, painted in red, blue, green, yellow, were initially constructed as temporary accommodation after the Great Fire of 1892, started, apparently, by a Mrs O’Leary in her cow shed.
About 20 km north of the city, is Cape Spear, home to the oldest surviving lighthouse in the province. This rugged spot is the most easterly point in North America – next stop Ireland.
Dee Jay Charters boat tour can get you closer, and offers regular (weather dependent) boat trips of the harbour in a bid to spot whales or icebergs.

Each year, huge icebergs float down from Greenland, and wherever they land, the tourists follow. Out of luck with whales on that particular day, a massive blue-white ‘berg had to do.
South of St John’s is the “Irish loop,” a coastal area where in the 1800’s there were more Irish concentrated than in any comparable location in Canada.

Today the scenic coast road boasts “whales, trails and Irish tales,” before looping back to the city.
At Cape Broyle, we stopped for yet another aquatic adventure, with Stan Cook Sea Kayaking.
Stan (son of the original Stan), lively and full of stories, takes us out on the water. Alas, there’s not a whale in sight. “We are normally beating them off this time of year,” he says. It’s a common theme around the island, apparently this year’s capelin fish have not arrived, hence the whales, which feed on them, have not either.
Instead we get lobsters, a sea cave, a waterfall and fresh uni sushi, a Japanese delicacy, presented on the paddle of a kayak.

We still needed lunch though, and headed for the unique experience of Ferryland Lighthouse Picnics. After a 1km trail onto a headland, lunch is served in a basket, with a blanket al fresco. You can sit anywhere you like on the headland, and watch for whales while you eat.
From here our road trip veered north to Terra Nova National Park, where, not unlike the whales, we were told we’d be beating off the moose.

The great Canadian beasts are not native to the island, but four were introduced in the 1904. With no natural predators, the island now has the highest concentration of moose in the world, about 120,000. Hunting is big business, but if you want to do it, make sure you are fully licensed. Otherwise, look out for them on the roadside, there’s about 500 to 600 car accidents involving moose every year.

Near Terra Nova, we stayed on the Eastport Peninsula, at the superb Inn at Happy Adventure.
This region is steeped in the history of infamous pirate Peter Easton, and owner of the Inn, Chuck Matchim, is only too happy to share his in-depth knowledge about the region and its fascinating history. The peninsula itself is a treasure trove of coastal seascapes, sandy beaches and picturesque communities.
Next, we headed for the remote islands of Twillingate, reached via a series of causeways and known as the iceberg capital of the world, if you don’t mind.

Having already seen an iceberg, we were looking for some whale action. Our boat captain, Grant Cudmore, of Ocean Quest Close Encounters had spotted Orcas in the bay earlier in the day, and we hunted them for two and half hours to no avail.
The trip was thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless but, says Cudmore, it can be tough to please tourists who come expecting whales and icebergs – sometimes there just aren’t any.
It was here we stayed at the Iceberg Alley B&B with the previously mentioned “Donegal” woman Thelma O’Brien.

She pointed us to the iceberg finder map, www.icebergfinder.com, a government-run site that pinpoints icebergs so tourists can track them to avoid disappointment.
This tiny island of Fogo, a ferry ride from the “mainland”, was the highlight of the trip, if only for its very distinctive Irishness and “Sláinte go Tilting” sign.
Jutting out to the north-east, towards Ireland, Fogo has a population of about 2,500 people, spread out over four communities. In the village of Tilting, you can visit a restored house from the 1830s, built by an Irish immigrant, and nearby, what historians believe to be the oldest Irish Catholic graveyard in North America.
Full of beaches, trails, music, great food and people, we could have stayed forever, but were headed for Gros Morne National Park, right over on the western side of Newfoundland.

With soaring mountains, deep valleys, forests, inlets, fjords, it is the “Galapagos of geology”. A world heritage site, the park provides a rare example of the process of continental drift, where deep ocean crust and the rocks of the earth’s mantle lie exposed.
The unique Tablelands mountains, where nothing grows, stand out, red and barren, against the rest of the green landscape.

There are several boat trips available in the area hosted by BonTours. Don’t miss the Western Brook Pond, a fresh water fjord carved out by glaciers during the most recent ice age.
If you think all of this sounds like a lot, remember it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Getting there: WestJet offers direct flights from Dublin, to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Seasonal service starts May 1, 2015 to October 24, 2015, and the journey is just 4.5 hours.
See go.westjet.com for pricing.
Accommodation: In St. John’s, try the Sheraton for easy access to the city, Signal Hill and free parking.
In Gros Morne National Park, where options are limited, try the Sugar Hill Inn in Norris Point, or the Ocean View Hotel in Rocky Harbour.

Be prepared: The summer season is a short and extremely busy one, accommodation and rental cars get booked months in advance, so make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment. Though Newfoundland may look small, don’t underestimate distances, we put 1,800km on the clock in ten days.
Jennifer Hough

Photo Minute: Coastlines Of England










US court blocks pesticide use over concerns about bees



A US federal appeals court has blocked the use of a pesticide over concerns about its effect on honey bees.

The 9th US circuit court of appeals ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not adequately study the pesticide sulfoxaflor before approving its use in 2013 on a wide variety of crops, including citrus and cotton.

The 9th circuit said initial studies showed sulfloxalor was highly toxic to honey bees, and the EPA was required to conduct further tests.

The 9th Circuit ruling said sulfloxalor is part of a group of insecticides known as neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids are suspected of being among several factors that have contributed to the collapse of honey bee colonies throughout the US.