Prague – a torturous wonderland

Morning session

I start the day with some lovely coffee courtesy of our host. The troops are slow to get roused this morning but have slept well. We catch the Tram at Andel and get off near the Charles Bridge (Karlov Most) and walk across amidst the throngs. We really must do this crossing again at a quieter time of day (or night).

First cultural stop is the Museum of Torture and if anything proves that modern law enforcement is gone a bit ‘soft’ this is it. We learn some interesting facts, such as, execution by garrotting stayed on Spanish Statute Books in Spain until 1975! I read this on the wall in the museum and haven’t bothered cross-checking that.

The torture tools have very romantic names – the ‘Virgin of Nurnberg’ was basically a sarcophagus with inward facing spikes, all mercifully positioned to avoid the victim’s vital organs – while simultaneously turning them into a human sieve. One recorded internee was inside this thing for three whole days. Another grape-like tool on display is called ‘The Spanish Tickler’, apparently it was useful in peeling skin off people who were unwilling to admit to doing stuff they probably never actually did. There was also the famous limb-pulling Rack and a medieval version of a water board. Most appear to have been reserved for witches and heretics. After this gruesome display we decided the only course was to repair, as quickly as possible, to the nearest Starbucks and once there we appreciated our iced macchiatos with new-found relish.

We wandered around the old quarter through its narrow streets housing mostly kitschy souvenir shops and over-priced cafes. The Old square is dominated by the Town Hall and it is a beautiful space if only it was devoid of the plague of tourists inhabiting every square inch of it. The Town Hall dates from 1338 making it one of the oldest still in use in the world. The building has had many changes and expansions in the meantime and been lovingly restored since its last significant damage in the Second World War.

One of the most common past times of the burghers of Prague in medieval times was chucking people out windows. These events are better known as the infamous ‘De-fenestrations of Prague’. Plural because there were several. The first one occurred in 1419 when a group of reformists (later known now as the Hussites) marched through the city towards the Town Hall. As they were doing so some clown threw a stone from one of the upper windows of the hall and struck the leader.  Apoplectic with rage (one of my favourite words that) the mob / rabble / angry crowd stormed into the Hall. Harsh words were exchanged, and it appears things got even more rowdy to the extent that somebody decided the only way of settling things was to eject the Burgomaster and several members of the City Council by the nearest exit. It should be pointed out that there not happening to be any elevators invented yet, the nearest exit was in fact the windows of the main hall. The unfortunate council members soon found themselves briefly airborne before coming to a shuddering halt on the hard-cobbled street below. These violent actions started a long and bitter conflict in Bohemia known as the ‘Hussite Wars’.

The next famous defenestration in Prague took place almost two hundred years later at the Bohemian Chancellory. This time two catholic lord regents and their secretary were thrown out a window by some irate protestant nobles. The falling men survived the 70-foot fall. To their Catholic supporters oy was a miraculous example of divine intervention. To the Protestant chucker outs the intervention was believed to be a fortunately placed dung heap. The event served to highlight the political & religious pressures in central Europe at the time which would lead to the Thirty Years War, so called because it lasted 30 years.

Back to the present – Huge crowds are gathered under the famous astronomical clock awaiting the famous figurines to come out of hiding on the hour. We walked a bit further into the newer areas around Wenceslas Square before deciding that this was enough for today’s first cultural walkabout and we got the underground from Mustek back to Andel. The metro system is impressive, and transfers are easy to master. Tickets are relatively cheap at less than one euro for an adult and half that for children for one 30-minute trip.

Cultural Tip – If you do happen to have a disagreement with a Czech citizen please make sure to do so at ground level (highly unlikely I should add – they are lovely people, really).

Afternoon session of great cultural learnings expedition

Klementinum is not some newly discovered mineral on the periodic table. It is in fact a sprawling complex of buildings covering 2 hectares right in the centre of Prague. The place started as a Jesuit College before becoming merged with the Charles University in 1654. The place is famous for numerous reasons but the most interesting for me are the Observatory and the Baroque Library. On a tour you are limited to a small group which is great and useful as there are some very tight stairs to be manouvered later.

When it advertises a tour of the Library it is not exactly accurate. The Library is a UNESCO site and although still technically in use its not the type of library where you can borrow some books on Yoga & Mindfulness for a month. Many of the books here are first editions and hundreds of years old. The Vyšehrad Codex is also here – it is a Latin Coronation Gospel Book, considered the most important and most valuable manuscript kept in Bohemia. It was probably made to honour the coronation of the Czech King Vratislav II in 1085.

Now the Tour of the library is really only a glimpse into it. A door is opened and four or five of the Group are allowed into a cordoned off area for circa two minutes to savour one of the most beautiful rooms in the world. For Kultur Vultures this is the equivalent of Hamleys Toy Store on Regents Street for kids. The ceiling has amazing frescoes created by Jan Hiebl with the temple of knowledge at its centre symbolizing the raison d’etre of the library. The floor contains numerous globes and astronomical clocks including one map of the heavens. Two minutes is not enough to savour the grandeur and style of this place but hey on with the tour.

Next we all squeeze up (well I squeezed others just ascended gracefully) up into the Observatory Tower – the second part of the Tour. The Astronomical Tower has been here since 1722 and is adorned with a statue of Atlas holding the celestial orb. From the 1750’s the Tower began to be equipped with astronomical instruments. The penultimate floor has a meridian line passing through it which was used for determining the Prague High Noon – which was then announced to fellow Praguers by the waving of a red flag – cue lots of gentlemen removing pocket watches from waist coat pockets and nodding approvingly.

From the top floor balcony the panoramic views of the City are stunning. For €15 I would recommend this Tour for a brief glimpse of the amazing library and the awe inspiring city views from the top of the Tower.

It was too early to head back so I managed another quick visit to the mind curing Wallenstein Gardens. Got a few snaps of the Peacock as well.

We ended up eating noodles in Smichov washed down by thirst destroying homemade lemonade. Quick change and refresh at the Apartment before a final evening stroll. Regretting didn’t get some concert tickets – lots of choice earlier. So much to do, so little time … so Prague

Lipno nad Vltavou to Prague

SatNav lady and I are not on the best of terms. She still talks to me, but the trust is gone, too many road works, too many twisty nausea-inducing mountain trails. Secretly I’ve been trying to usurp her authority at any opportunity. To say she took us off the beaten track this morning is just too cliched, yet somehow, against all hope and expectation it’s worked out quite well.

The winding forest roads and sleepy hamlets have given way to rolling Bohemian wheat fields and beautiful vistas, so much so that we have got a wonderful insight into rural Czech life. At the end of the day isn’t this what travel is supposed to be about? So, by default my rebelliousness combined with Mrs Satnav’s condescending tones have given us a lovely morning drive to Prague. Normality resumes when the young travellers view the golden arches of McDonalds at Pisek (the driver would have loved an Espresso it must be said) but it was on the other side of the dual carriage way and by then we had crossed a bridge and the moment was gone. Phew!

Approaching Prague from the South you are almost on top of the city before you realise it. One of the first things you see is the Žižkov Television Tower which dominates the skyline. Monday Mid-day traffic is relatively benign compared to some cities and we find our apartment building easy enough. It is in the district of Smíchov in Prague 5. It is on the west bank of the Vltava river close to the fashionable shopping district of Andel. Our host Monika is on time and shows us to a sleek modern apartment on the second floor. The building is quite old with a beautiful spiral staircase – we take the lift. The apartment is spotless and previous emails from Monika were very helpful with lots of travel and eating out tips.

Parking can be tricky in Prague if you arrive by car, but we used a Mr-Parkit website which has lots of sites around town and we paid €31 for two days. Our car park is quite a bit from the apartment – nearer ones had all sold out. We drive over to the parking lot which is near Újezd. Once we negotiated crossing the tram lines and getting through the narrow entrance alley we are in a back yard and find our allotted space is taken up. A handwritten note on another car advises their spot was also occupied when they arrived. We phone the company and they quickly re-assign us another spot.

As soon as we turn the corner the young-uns spot a candy store which we dare not pass. Not what I had planned as our first stop on a walking tour of this beautiful city. A few minutes later we emerge from the cornucopia of food colourings and sugar with a small bag each of everything form giant cola bottles to Chernobyl green gobstoppers.

Mala Strana has changed considerably since I first visited Prague 20 years ago. The city was much quieter then and a bit shabbier. Now these streets can rival Paris or Milan for chic. Our plans are thrown awry a few minutes later when we discover the funicular up to the Petřín Gardens and Tower is closed. With limbs still aching from the Tour de Lipno Lake last Saturday we decided to walk instead through the more horizontal streets of Malá Strana. We had a late lunch al fresco at a restaurant at the corner of Karmelitska and Tržiště. The fare was simple, a Caesar Salad, Margherita Pizza, two grilled chicken breasts with fries, three cokes and a small glass of chardonnay – €86 – which frankly speaking was taking the proverbial. A quick look at TripAdvisor (always after the event I find) confirmed I’m not the only sucker who fell for this place.

Undeterred we continued up the hill to Prague Castle which as always delivers panoramic views of the city below. One delightful place I had never been to before was the House of Wallenstein. I’m always intrigued by the famous general who was assassinated by Irish and Scots Wild Geese serving the Austrian emperor. The baroque palace is complimented by formal gardens with imposing statues, koi filled ponds and of course a few peacocks. The best part is its all free (except for access to those buildings that house the Czech Senate). I couldn’t but think of the builder of this beautiful palace, the man whose life was ended by one Walter Deveraux from Wexford. How different the geography of Europe and how more united the German states might have been had the Generalissimo, who favoured a more ecumenical empire, had lived.

 I’m already well over the rip off restaurant. We get the No. 20 tram back to Andel and stroll around the shops before settling back in for the night at our lovely apartment (ice cream and pastries in hand). I haven’t thought of SatNav Lady all day until now, perhaps this break will both do us good.

Fellow travellers’ initial observations on Prague – compact, easy to walk around city, amazing architecture, beautiful views, great tram system, good shopping (and we haven’t even crossed the Vltava yet)

Matthias Gate, Prague Castle with St. Vitus Cathedral in the background

The Year of the Tiger

It’s been a wonderful sporting year thusfar and we have only reached the middle of April.

We’ve seen the small mix it with the great. What a wonderful sight to see the half parish of Mullinalaghta take to the field in Croke Park for the All-Ireland Club semi-final in February.  The last day in March saw Leitrim – the Mullinalaghta St. Columbas of the County scene – also run out at HQ, their first appearance there since 2006. A few days later Mayo picked up their first piece of national silver ware in years making a talented Kerry team submit in a titanic struggle.

April has been the month of the two Tigers. Tiger Roll the smallest horse, with the oldest jockey and the biggest heart made history in Aintree – the first horse to win back to back Grand Nationals since the legendary Red Rum.

This weekend Tiger Woods had commentators reaching for every sports cliché that has ever been uttered. It was easy to share in the joy of this moment. I would hazard if the great man himself was asked he might say that of all his great wins – 15 Majors now – this was the greatest. He will certainly be hoping his comeback will be longer than the little General’s Cent Jours.

There could be more to come in this year, in the full bloom of it’s promise and hope. Soon we’ll know if my beloved Liverpool will once again be champions. They certainly have stuck with the star laden Man City squad every step of the way, and its hard not to like the goofy enthusiasm of Jurgen Klopp.  In 1990 Sean O’Heslins, a famous club from the town of Ballinamore in Leitrim won their 20th Senior Championship. If someone told me back then that in the next 30 years neither Sean O’Heslins nor Liverpool would win a championship, I would say that person was crazy. It shows that in Sport you can never take anything for granted. When Tiger (the Golfer) won his last major in 2008 I’m sure he would have thought by 2019 he would be comfortably ahead of the great Jack Nicklaus in number of majors won.

There is much to look forward to in the months ahead – lets hope for great Hurling and Football championships and there is also the small matter of the Rugby World Cup. We saw in the Six Nations that our national team and their acclaimed manager have wings and feet of clay after all. It could be the making of them but will be a massive challenge at the World Cup in Japan, a tournament where we have massively underachieved. It would also be a come back of sorts as to have a comeback you have to have a setback. A semi-final finish would be significant, a win would be glorious.

In Sport one can fail, not everyone can be a winner, yet some where, be it the next game, or way off on the future lies the opportunity of redemption. We could all do with seeing life like this too, the possibility of redemption lying around every corner, and the chance to let the little Tiger in all of us, ROAR.

To Win just once ………that would be enough

And you’re thinking about the Game, the tickets are sorted, the train booked, the Whatsapp group buzzing, what time to meet, where to meet and what if…

And you’re thinking of that moment this fine young team, race down the tunnel and on to that verdant green patch of Dublin, running in their Green & Gold colours, our beautiful colours.

And part of you fears for them, wants them to do well, pray they do well, hope they give a good account of themselves but another part of you says, even if they don’t, sure what about it…

And you’re thinking of the awestruck kids who look up to these local heroes, heroes who generously pose for selfiesand take time to autograph match programmes on the backs of future stars,starting the cycle off yet again. You think of these young warriors running themselvesto a standstill, dragging their boots through the mud and slop of winter pitches,in rain, wind and sleet….

And you’re thinking of all the people around this world that are also thinking about this team, emigrants and the sons and daughters of emigrants. Young men with the red dust of the Pilbara on their overalls, young women standing on busy Subway carriages in rush-hour, or running up escalators on the Tube, descendants of the men who mined deep under the dark Pennsylvanian soil, men who dug the canals, laid the railway tracks, built the motorways of Britain, who drove the buses and trains and policed the streets of New York. And your thinking of the women who delivered thousands of babies in London, Birmingham and Manchester, waited on tables in diners in Brooklyn and Dorchester, and you’re thinking of today’s boys and girls who plot their own paths and carve out their own niches.

Because its all there, bound tightly into an identity of a small, often forgotten place, where the soil was too poor to feed them all, and no government cared enough to do something for them, where nobody shouted stop. Let them scatter, let the leaves blow and the seed spread and hope they’ll land on fertile ground. They survive, some thrive and tied by bonds often unknown and unseen but somehow creating this shared identity. Oh it’s there and its real and its more than just bloody football, it’s much more important than that. It’s the hill of Sheemore and the majestic Glenade Valley, and the wandering waters of Glencar and the calmness of the Shannon calloughs, it’s in the music of Carolan and writings of McGahern, the fiddle and the Uileann pipes, its there, it exists, it will be all there at three o’clock Saturday and it will be there the day after, and the day after that……

And I’m thinking about all these things because that’s what football does in a football mad place, where parishes games have imperial importance and where every field, rock and bush has a name and every family a nickname and everyone has Aunts and Uncles in the Bronx, or Chicago, and cousins in Manchester and Melbourne and a thousand other far off places.

And I’m thinking, but possibly I’m dreaming, because that line is blurred at times like these, and I’m wondering, what if the Gods favour was with us this day? What if they were in a benevolent mood? What would it be like to see a son of Leitrim raise a piece of silverware aloft in the Dublin sky, overlooking those blessed three acres? When generations to come will hear old people say things like ‘That was the year of the Brexit bother’.

Well I’m dreaming but I’m also thinking, I’m thinking wouldn’t it be just GRAND!

And perchance tonight I’ll have a pleasant dream and I’ll wake up with a smile.

The Narrowgauge

Cavan & Leitrim Railway circa 1920’s Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim

The Cavan and Leitrim Railway operated from 1887 to 1959 and was known locally as ‘The Narrowgauge’.

During its lifetime it was never a big commercial success but the railway was beloved of the people who lived along its route from Dromod to Belturbet in Co. Cavan via the town of Mohill, with its headquarters in Ballinamore and a branch line to Drumshanbo and the Arigna coal mines.

In an area of high emigration the narrowgauge was also associated with sad partings and for many the last glimpse of their home place was from the windows of the carriage.

The little train came into its own on the large fair days in places like Mohill, Ballinamore, Ballymagovern and Belturbet.

You can check out the Cavan & Leitrim Railway Museum and restroration project in Dromod, Co. Leitrim beside the current Iarnrod Iarainn mainline station.

Locomotive Yard, Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim
C & L Railway route map
Mohill Station
Mohill Station today
Belturbet, Co. Cavan
T
Cavan and Leitrim Railway – The Last Decade: An Irish Railway Pictorial
By Tom Ferris & Patrick Flanagan

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cavan-Leitrim-Railway-Decade-Pictorial/dp/1857800737

This is a poem was written by local poet called N. J O’Rourke about the Narrowgauge around the turn of the century. O’Rourke hailed from Drumloughan in the parish of Cloone and his son P. O’Rourke owned the Central Hotel in Ballinamore.

The Narrowgauge

Ye jovial tourists who seek the purest
And grandest scenery in the land,
Pray pay attention whilst here I mention
A mode of travelling which will suit you grand

Not the motor I’m going to vote for
Nor the premier cycle though all the rage
But my advice is whatever the price is
Go buy a ticket on the Narrow Gauge

Just travel by it, it will take you quiet,
The best company you’re sure to meet,
Of donkey dealers and fowl retailers
From Church Lane, Canaloe and Chapel St.

Now grand Directors, and Line Inspectors,
And local Pressmen so cute and so sage,
All travel gratis-you know what that is
While others must, pay on the Narrow Gauge.

Oh: nature’s charms in all her forms
All along the line will enchant the view
St Caillen’s gander saw nothing grander
When round through Wicklow all alone he flew.

Moore’s Lalla Rook is, (a beauteous book ’tis,)
With blooming, flowered on it’s every page.
For Shearon’s roses can’t match the posies
That decked the borders of the Narrow Gauge.

Green hills and mountains, clear rills and fountains
With the placid lakes. There are hills between
Monastic ruins, the wicked doings
Of cursed Cromwell and the Virgin Queen

Historians tell us what befell us
In the ancient times, persecution’s age
Ere people spoke of a locomotive
Or knew the comfort of the Narrow Gauge

Going to Dromod there are still some would
Prefer to sit behind Dooner’s grey
If to Belturbet they’d surely spurn it.
The old brakes seem on all the blessed way.

If to Drumshambo you by the tram go
A slower passage no one could engage
Jack Redsy’s donkey he calls him spunkey
Could blind K. Edward on the Narrow Gauge.

Ye English loyal may shout disloyal
So here my meaning I will now define
King Ned is an engine made in Bengen
Fair lovely Bengen upon the lovely Rhine.

So John Thornton, he’s a cute and sly one
May seek promotion by some other stage.
Else, him I’ll sentence to due repentance
Of twenty miles on the new Narrow Gauge.

‘Twas my intention much more to mention
For half it’s praises I have not yet sung
But the baby is balling, Molly’s calling
With click, click, click o telegraphic tongue.

But sweet as thrushes in trees and bushes
And the pet canary in gilded cage
When I have leisure I’ll sing with pleasure
The countless beauties of the Narrow Gauge.

https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4658448/4656633/4660354?ChapterID=4658448

Re-possession or Eviction – reflections on the Strokestown affair

FI_EvictionASadReality

Some words in their ordinary meaning may describe something distasteful but are unlikely to cause offence to the general populace. The same words uttered in Ireland can be transformed and give rise to grave offence and public outrage. These words might even stir people to commit violent deeds. This is not to say that we Irish are thin skinned, though on balance we probably are, but rather that certain words remind us of sad, bad and shameful events.

These words uttered in Ireland may cause some to raise fists or whatever else they can find close by. Others they simply repair to the Law Library to hire the best defamation lawyer they can afford, demanding vindication of their good name. This is exactly what happened in the early 1970’s when a man called Peter Berry, a high-ranking civil servant took on the Irish Times. The plaintiff claimed that he had been defamed when the defendants published a photograph of a person at a protest carrying a sign with allegedly defamatory material printed on it.

“Peter Berry – twentieth century felon setter – helped jail republicans in England.”

Mr. Berry did not succeed in his claim but the dissenting views of some of the Supreme Court members are interesting. Fitzgerald J said that:

“’Felon-setter’ and ‘Helped Jail Republicans in England’ were not words in respect of which one has to have recourse to a dictionary to know what they meant to an Irishman; they were equivalent to calling him a traitor.”

McLoughlin J, also dissenting, took a similar view:

“Put in other words, the suggestion is that this Irishman, the plaintiff, has acted as a spy and informer for the British police concerning republicans in England, […] thus putting the plaintiff into the same category as the spies and informers of earlier centuries who were regarded with loathing and abomination by all decent people.”

It would appear if you don’t want to annoy an Irishman please refrain from calling him a Felon setter. Nor should you ever call him a “Gombeen Man” for it was this slight that led former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds to take on the Sunday Times for an article which was effectively his political obituary. For “Gombeen” is a pejorative term that hints at a shady, unscrupolous dealer who hoarded food during famine times until the price would rise and profits would flow.

In a country where Land Reform is just over a century old the word Eviction is still emotive. The recent goings on a farm outside Strokestown, County Roscommon have highlighted the fact that this word is still capable of stirring up the wildest of emotions in people. It also suggests that some people in KBC Bank ought to undertake a little cultural awareness training – at least intensive instruction for the bright spark who decided to hire a few gentlemen from the northern part of this Island, instructing them to travel to a farm in the rural west of Ireland for the purpose of forcefully removing (even if they argue the force used was reasonable) the legal owners of that property.

irelandevictions-6

As the English Landlord system gave County Mayo Captain Boycott so did Irish land agitation give to the English Language, a new word, defined as

‘to withdraw from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest’. In 1880 Captain Boycott had to avail of the services of up to fifty Orangemen from Cavan and Monaghan to save the harvest on Lord Ernes Estate. They were escorted to and from Claremorris by over one thousand policemen and soldiers.

In 2018 KBC in their wisdom hired a security firm from Northern Ireland to re-possess / evict the owners from a farm in Roscommon. Maybe it is true that History teaches us nothing, save that we are doomed to make the same mistakes as before. One incident from some amateur footage taken at the scene records the underlying tensions. The cameraman suggests to one of the security men that he should be ashamed to call yourself an Irish man. The security man, in a thick northern brogue, tells his accuser that he is not Irish, I’m British. The Ulster Plantation, the gift that keeps on giving, it is enough to break the Internet.

0011321b-1600The whole sequence of events also highlights the gulf between mainstream media and social media. In some newspapers the event is called a “re-possession” which is legally the correct term. On most social media sites it is referred to as an ‘eviction’ and therein lies the problem. Re-possession begs one to explore the background to how this situation was arrived at. Eviction on the other hand needs no such reflection, eviction is always bad, eviction pushes different buttons altogether in the Irish psyche.

The exchanges in the Dail after the eviction / re-possession was fiery. Pearse Doherty TD said that what happened when the family was evicted was a “disgrace. It was unjustified and it brought to mind the scenes of our past where families were being evicted and thrown onto the side of the road.”

It was an ordeal of thuggery from a group of men acting on behalf of a financial institution with the Gardaí watching on.”

The Taoiseach focus is in the ‘vigilantes’ and the risk to the peace of the State.

It really could have been Mayo in 1880, the Orange men under the guard of the Royal Irish Constabulary, mass evictions nearby. It lays the blame firmly at the feet of the bank and the State for not acting. Some online commentators allege state collusion but never is any evidence produced to back this up. The Gardai come in for a lot of blame but what is their function in what is a civil matter. Online forums are full of mis-information, false assumptions and ignorance of the law. But let’s not that get in the way of the various posters narrative building, they’ll just shout you down anyway.

The print media generally focussed more on the people who attacked the security firm. The narrative shifts depending on what viewpoint you wish to articulate. The Irish Independent describes those who attacked the security firm as “dissidents”,Vigilantes” “republican elements” who “exploited the anger”. The reports focus on the baseball bats, chainsaws, burnt out vehicles. You can’t be left without thinking that this was a well organised and executed punishment beating. Meanwhile online the perpetrators are hailed as “patriots”. Are they the modern incarnate of the land-leaguers that Davitt inspired? Or are they bigger thugs than the previous thugs.

Wherein lies the truth? What can we believe? Who can we believe? Where is the room for the moderate view in these conflicting narratives.

DK17_16_June20_1885Parnell asked a meeting in Ennis in 1880 what they would do to to a Tenant that bid for his evicted neighbour’s farm. The crowd replied in unison “shoot him, shoot him”. Parnell replied that there was a much better way “you must show him by leaving him severely alone, by putting him in a moral Coventry, your detestation for his crime”

By getting the crowd to illicit the extremist response Parnell then counselled the crowd on a moderate but more effective strategy.

The security firm that attended the property can hardly be said to be politically motivated. Most are simply there for the cash. In order to demonise them they must be labelled, they must become ‘loyalist thugs’ ‘ex UVF’, Ex UDR’, ‘Former British Soldiers’ and thereby ‘Scum’.

istock-000061298742-smallThe Re-possession must be portrayed as an Eviction in the same manner as Victorian Ireland evictions. KBC must assumes the role of cruel, tyrannical landlord. The Gardai (now headed by Drew Harris) are the RIC and are all in on it and are not there to protect the citizens. Its all one big conspiracy.

Nowhere in this particular narrative does one look at the chronology of events that lead up to the fateful moment these shady persons pulled up outside the farmhouse in Strokestown. Examining the dealings and behaviour of the borrower over the last decade or more also does not form part of the narrative – victimhood is simply assumed. Could it be that therein lies  some inconvenient truths. Would it assist a reasonable person in having information to hand such as; What was the original loan for? What were the funds used for? How many repayments were made? How much arrears were built up? What engagement had the borrower with the bank? When did Court proceedings issue? Did the borrower engage a Solicitor to act on his behalf? Did the borrower engage with the Courts? Did he engage with a Personal Insolvency Advisor? What efforts were made to make some payment? These matters are normally private but because of what has happened they are now very much in the public interest.

This information is crucial to understanding what has really happened at Strokestown. Colm Keena in the Times makes an attempt to give people some information about the financial health of the landowner. We know that Mr. McGann had a major tax settlement arising from an under-declaration as well as a number of Judgements registered, some involving local businesses. Again this is very factual and short on context but it does paint a picture of a man who cannot or possibly does not pay bills or repay loans.  An article by Keena today suggests that KBC have been seeking repayment for at least nine years now past. These are not irrelevant matters.

When a person takes out mortgage they are always advised that default of payment can lead to you losing your home. Sure we might not think it will ever come to that.  Many of us also think the doctor will never give us bad news about our health. It happens every day. The reality is we all must borrow money at some stage in our lives and we all must repay that money plus the interest. Similarly, we must pay our taxes even if we grumble about them. It might therefore be appropriate to also pose questions such as; What if we all stopped paying our taxes? What if we all stopped paying our mortgages?

We should also look at the answers; If we don’t pay our taxes we risk being audited by Revenue and been subjected to not just paying the original tax owed but also penalties and surcharges. Without this deterrent the State would not function. A Mortgage is a Contract and if we fail to meet our repayments we are in breach of that contract. The causes of the breach can then be looked but no matter what the cause, be it unemployment, illness, economic downturn etc the mortgage contract has been breached. The Courts in Ireland make the distinction between those who can’t pay and those who refuse to pay. The Family Home is also treated differently. It is convenient to attack the organs of state and financial institutions but we must never blindly absolve individuals of personal responsibility and obligations.

The truth behind this Strokestown Eviction / Re-possession is very well camoflauged and as such suits the many different narratives that have jumped on the bandwagon. On the one hand the security firm are ‘loyalist thugs’ and ‘Henchmen’ of the cruel Bank, on the other they could be just men in need of a few quid coming up to Christmas and doing a really crap job. Their attackers may be patriotic heroes, rural robin hoods or alternatively as the Independent tried to paint them ‘linked to dissidents’ and a well known criminal gang. The landowner maybe a victim of corporate greed, a citizen let down by the state, a foolish man who bit off more than he could chew, or a serial defaulter in his financial dealings. Wherein lies the truth?

This last week we have seen what can happen when imprudent lending and imprudent borrowing marry and what can quickly inhabit the vacuum that lies between. Never were the words of the wise Polonius more appropriate – ‘Neither a borrower nor a Lender be’.

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Life, Is changing every day, In every possible way.

Rockefeller centerIt was the Summer of 1994 I was working in New York. It was my first time to fly on  a plane and it was good to get away from Ireland for a little while. It was exciting, it was exhilarating, an amazing experience for a young buck from the west of Ireland who thought he knew it all. I lived in Elmhurst, Queens in a diverse ethnic neighbourhood but where the majority seemed to be either Colombians or Koreans. I had secured a Doorman’s job in a large Manhattan Apartment building and a couple of day jobs as well. Earning plenty of dollars I was able to pay the rent and have plenty of beer money. Mid-week we got the train up to Van Cortland Park for pretty basic Gaelic football training.  I remember there was a rock on an outcrop overlooking the playing fields and Broadway with an Irish Tricolour painted on it. At weekends we played matches in Gaelic Park and met people from home in the bar afterwards.  I threw myself completely into the City and when I was off work into Irish-Americana. An Irish-American friend gave me tours of old Bronx Irish neighbourhoods such as Fordham, Kingsbridge, and Bainbridge and regaled me with stories of famous local characters. We drank together in neighbourhood bars. With one ear we listened respectfully to ‘old-timers’ and with the other it was all  Nirvana and Pearl Jam from the jukebox.

gaelic parkwoodlawn

In many ways that summer was a rite of passage for me and my first real foray into the a wider world.  I still longed for news from home.  Occasionally I bought the Leitrim Observer in an Irish shop in Jackson heights. For national news I sometimes bought the Irish Independent from a Yemeni man who had a small kiosk not far from where I worked.

The start of the summer for us was the World Cup and that memorable game in Giants Stadium. Who can forget that moment Ray Houghton chipped Pagliuca. It was a great day to be Irish. It also gave us bragging rights in a City which culturally was so dominated up to that time by the Irish and Italian communities. It felt strange at the time defeating a big time soccer nation like Italy.

Later in the summer my native County also made history by winning the Connacht Championship for the first time in sixty seven years. The previous year Derry had won their first All-Ireland. There was much new ground broken in those crucial years, the collapse of communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the USSR. All these things were unimaginable and improbable just a short time earlier.

Despite all these new beginnings the Troubles in the North lingered on. A number of events stood out for me in 1993; the IRA bomb in the Shankill, the UFF massacre at Greysteel and the naked sectarianism on display in Windsor Park on the night Ireland qualified for USA ’94.

One other atrocity earlier that year had a huge effect on me. It happened in a town called Warrington which is about half way between Liverpool and Manchester. The IRA made a warning call to the Samaritans in Liverpool saying that they had planted a bomb outside Boots Chemist. The authorities still maintain that the caller never said what Boots shop the bomb had been placed at. Just 30 minutes later a bomb exploded outside Boots in Warrington. As people ran from the scene they were caught up in a second bomb planted outside Argos.

The bombs were placed in cast iron bins which ensured there was lots of shrapnel. Johnathan Ball died at the scene, only 3 years old he was in town with his babysitter. She was buying him a Mother’s Day card. About fifty people were injured and maimed by the explosions. warrington_parry_ball_pa

A few days later the parents of 12 year old Tim Parry had to make the awful decision to turn off his life support machine. The aftermath consisted of the IRA blaming the Police for not acting on precise warnings and the Police and most right thinking people blaming the bombers. The weeks following the bombing were punctuated by even more sectarian killings in the North. Tim Parry’s father made a huge impression on me when I heard him speak about reconciliation and conflict resolution on TV.

One morning late in my summer sojourn I was walking south on 3rd Avenue. I had walked past Hunter College and The Armoury. Suddenly I heard someone calling me. It was Asil the Yemeni kiosk owner. He was shouting ‘Irishman, Irishman, look, look, peace in your country’. He was holding up the latest edition of the Irish Independent an in big back letters I could clearly read the words ‘ITS OVER FOR GOOD’.  IRA Ceasfire

He looked like Neville Chamberlain come back from Munich. Of course my reaction was that this can’t be true and I think I actually said this to Asil. I was certainly dismissive. Nevertheless I bought the paper, which is probably what Asil really wanted. I read it as I walked and read it again several times on the subway home. It slowly began to sink in. It was true. It really was. Peace in our time. Ironically the roles are now reversed and I wish peace for Asil’s home country of Yemen.

The only reason I’m recalling those crazy days of 1993 and 1994 is the sad passing of Dolores O’Riordan. The Cranberries were the soundtrack of that period for thousands of young Irish people like me. The Band released the album ‘Everyone else is doing it why can’t we’ in 1993. In a way the title sums up how we felt when we beat the Italians over in New Jersey. The Cranberries were heading for rock stardom. They were touring the UK when the Warrington bomb went off. In the aftermath Dolores apparently penned the words to the song ‘Zombie’ . It would be released on the 1994 Album ‘No need to argue’ and later be a number one single. The song would also win best song at the MTV Music awards.

Another head hangs lowly

Child is slowly taken

And the violence caused such silence

Who are we mistaken

It’s not necessarily the Cranberries best song and is very much a departure from their songbook even if the instantly recognisable grungy riffs are still to the fore. It is at its heart a quintessential anti-war song and it struck a note big time with many of us, expressing as it did how we had come to feel about the Troubles. It was also marvellous that it was this feisty little rock chick from Limerick telling the World how we felt. There will be enough commentary about the premature passing of Ireland’s first global female rock star. For many of us she will always be simply the voice of the generation who lived either side of the watershed of peace on this Island. That’s how I’ll remember her.

life, Is changing every day,dolores-o-riordan

In every possible way.

And oh, my dreams,

It’s never quite as it seems

 

 

 

This too shall pass

House windSo it begins, our worst storm in fifty years, poised and ready to unleash its fury. News stations have no problem filling their schedules, feeding our puerile interest in natural disaster. Meteorologists and Weather forecasters, typically born to bloom unseen, take centre stage today.

I brought the dog for a walk earlier amidst balmy sunshine and humid weather – a pleasant but foreboding experience.  It was like taking ones seat in a fully lit theatre whilst behind the thick curtain Ophelia’s symphony orchestra tuned up ready for the big matinee. One thing that struck me was the absence of small birds. Normally I throw something to the sparrows – yesterday they were all busy fluttering about hither and tither over and back to the makeshift feeding board I have nailed to the boundary fence. This morning all are absent – presumably they watched Sky News all night and decided to hunker down.  A quick glance around the garden to make sure I didn’t miss anything on last night’s sally to nail everything down. Flasks filled with hot water, nothing says we’ll be alright like a cup of tea.

Ophelia! Ophelia! A tragic name and warning to us not to take this storm lightly. We’ve had disaster before and survived famine and economic calamity – for the latter we would have done better had we heeded Ophelia’s fathers advice to ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be’. The best advice from the wise old Polonius relevant to today is probably to paraphrase his next line, don’t lose yourself or friend today. Stay safe everyone.

The fog is lifting from the scene and I am forced to go… Lovely Leitrim and the call of duty

 

I set out to write this piece about a week ago but got completely side-tracked. One thing that distracted me was getting glued to the twenty four hour news coverage of the most recent terror attack on the Borough Market in London.  In horrific moments such as these we cling to any semblance of normality and hope. The pieces of shattered humanity can begin to be glued together by tales of came appearances of real heroes, ordinary people doing extraordinary acts to try to help and protect others. I’m thinking of the paramedics rushing in to tend to the injured whilst the attackers still roamed the streets. I’m also thinking of the Spanish man on Saturday evening last who took on one of the knife wielding attackers with his skateboard. What a brave man, a true hero. At moments like these you can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.

Irish people tend to remember heroes by penning songs about their feats. I intended writing today about one such hero and a song. The song isn’t about his heroism, it’s a song he wrote reminiscing about his home county in Ireland, his heroism was to come later. The song is not a complicated verse, it is quite simple in fact, typical of its age but it is very sincere. When music was put to the lyrics the verse became a waltz and when a man from Longford called Larry Cunningham sang it in the 1960’s it became a hit. By this time the author had already been dead for almost two decades. It is the nature of his death that makes the song all the more poignant today for Leitrim people everywhere.

I was in ‘Fitzpatricks’ Bar in Mohill, County Leitrim recently. This fine public house is run by Val Fitzpatrick and his wife Carmel and is also known as the Ceili House. The Fitzpatricks originally hail from the proud parish of Aughavas in the heart of South Leitrim. The family have a long musical tradition going back through the generations. As an aside the family are also related to the late BAFTA Award winning actor Patrick McGoohan, he who appeared in famous TV serials such as ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘Danger Man’ in addition to Hollywood blockbusters like ‘A Time to Kill’ and ‘Braveheart’.

Phil FitzpatrickAs usual I digress. The person I most want to discuss is a man named Phil Fitzpatrick who was born in Aughavas, Co. Leitrim in 1892. Phil emigrated to New York just after independence and he joined New York’s finest as a Patrolman in 1926. He spent most of his career in the mounted section patrolling precincts around Midtown and Central Park.

It probably seemed like an ordinary day. Fitzpatrick was off-duty and having lunch with a colleague Patrolman George Dammeyer in a tavern on the Upper East Side. Suddenly two armed men rushed into the Tavern and sought to rob the staff and all the patrons. Fitzpatrick and his colleague confronted the criminals. A shootout ensued. The two criminals were killed but Fitzpatrick was badly wounded in the stomach. He was taken to nearby Beth Israel Hospital and survived for six days before finally passing away on the 26th May, 1947. A year later he was posthumously awarded the NYPD Medal of Honor. He left behind a widow and five children.

The song ‘Lovely Leitrim’ was originally only a B-Side on the record released by Larry Cunningham. Gradually though it became popular and eventually it would go all the way to number one knocking The Beatles off top spot.

Today the song is synonymous with County Leitrim and sung on all occasions happy, sad and everything in between. I recall it being sung very poorly one night by three inebriated Leitrimites (including yours truly) in a taxi in Manchester. Perhaps the best renditions were given on those long nights in the summer of 1994 when Leitrim were crowned Connacht Champions for the first time in 67 years.

leitrim-cocoLast night I had a pleasant dream, I woke up with a smile

I dreamed that I was back again in dear old Erin’s isle.

I thought I saw Lough Allen’s banks in the valleys down below

It was my lovely Leitrim where the Shannon waters flow.

As is often the way one begins to write something that is already clear in your mind, yet somehow by the time it reaches the page it has transformed into something else altogether. I’ve since discovered numerous well written articles about Phil Fitzpatrick online and referencing the 70th anniversary of his death. I’m a bit behind the crowd so to speak ……. except, what I’m looking for now is a meaning and a modern parallel to this mans life and his death.

It seems to me that time moves on and so this emigrants lament just seems to tag along with it. This despite a lot of changes. The scene of the fatal shooting on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 96th is now opposite the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. Fitzpatrick’s grand-nephew Brian is now a Republican Congressman for Pennsylvania.  Phil Fitzpatrick put his body on the line seventy years ago to tackle two armed raiders. I’ve already mentioned a man who acted the same way last Saturday night in London. His name was Ignacio Echeverría.  ISIS and all terrorist s will not succeed in their hate and terror campaigns. I know this to be true because they are faced not just by powerful nations but with the might of ordinary citizens prepared to take on their armed and bloodthirsty cadres with nothing more than a skateboard.  In the frontline are people and responders motivated not by religion or hate but the simple desire to help a stranger. I’m also thinking of another line in another poem by Fitzpatrick that resonates. It is called ‘Soldiers of Peace’ and it contains the prophetic line, “when he kisses his wife and children goodbye, there’s the chance he will see them no more”.

Helping others

 

Keep your face toward the sunshine

thomas-edisonLet me introduce you to a young boy. His name is Thomas and he is naturally bright, savvy and streetwise. He is not afraid of hard work or long hours and is innovative and enterprising. His story is very relative to what we see happening in America today.

Thomas family fled their native country and found shelter in the US. The boy’s father had become involved in a political reform movement in his home country. The government there were extremely corrupt and power lay in the hands of just a few. This small group dominated the church, business and political institutions. A couple of recent bad harvests had only made matters worse. The people were starving, impoverished and desperate. The Government failed to act and simply ignored their plight. The Reformers were inspired by similar movements in other countries. They believed in ideas such as democracy, equality and liberty. The reformers slowly grew in number, meeting in private dwellings and later in public houses and taverns. As the movement spread the ruling elite began to get nervous. Armed supporters of the Regime began to attack the Reformers and break up their meetings. 

Gradually the reformers became more radical and believed that only physical force would advance their cause. In the wake of an election to the ruling assembly there was evidence of vote rigging by the State. Soon the country was in open rebellion and Thomas’s father was involved. Despite initial success the Military and Government-backed militias use dtheir overwhelming force to decisively crush the revolt. The leaders were rounded up and put on trial, many were imprisoned and some were executed. Reformist supporters become victims of sectarian vigilante mobs. 

Defeated and despondent Thomas father decides that they must leave. They cross into the US at night without any visa or green card and eventually settle in a small town in Ohio. Thomas finds school hard. He is easily distracted, his concentration span is short and the teachers find him difficult to handle. Thomas mother eventually decides to teach him at home and he quickly develops a voracious appetite for reading and learning. Thomas never returns to formal education but this is no hindrance to him in the land of opportunity, for he will go on to become a hugely successful businessman known all over the world.

Thomas’s life is an example of that all too elusive “American dream” – he is the embodiment of the self-taught, hard grafting self-made millionaire. This is a guy who made it big. The boy we are talking about is none other than the renowned inventor Thomas Edison. Edison’s father Samuel was a political refugee[i] from colonial Canada ….. Yes you did read it right, Canada! Edison invented the light bulb thus it would be remiss of me not to use the analogy of him enlightening the lives of his compatriots, and at the same time inventing a new pastime, dusting!

Sadly the modern day Edison family would find America to be a very different place. We must ask ourselves if young Thomas Edison were around today where would he be? Could he possibly be on a flimsy raft in the middle of the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea? Would he be shivering around an open fire in a Serbian detention camp? Perhaps he’d be getting ready to move in to a converted Hotel in Roscommon? Is the person who will finally find a cure for cancer amongst these desperate people? 

            k15210796The majority of the residents of the US are the descendants of refugees of some kind or another – they might be like Edison’s father, a political refugee, or perhaps their ancestry lies with some of the millions of Irish and Italians, fleeing famine and poverty. America has benefitted from these refugees; it is they who made America great. Trump’s malignant narcissism will destroy America and diminish whatever small bit of light she has left as a beacon for the rest of the world. America cannot hide away in isolated paranoia,  no more than Trump can solve its problems by creating scapegoats to prop up his alternative truths. Perhaps the better policy to pursue is the one the great Walt Whitman counselled ‘Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you’. A big wall creates a big shadow and soon America will need a new Edison to take them out of this darkness.

The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.’

Thomas Edison

[i] Samuel Ogden Edison fled Canada in the wake of the failed 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion. Ironically Samuels’s father had fled the US for Canada in the wake of US Independence. He had been a Loyalist in the Revolutionary War.

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rebellions-of-1837/