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March 30th 2007

Sexy dancing in Leitrim

Who put the sex in traditional Irish dance? "Why do they have their hands down by their side? Why don't they smile?," my American cousins used to ask me years ago when I landed on the shores of Yorktown Heights, New York and was the ONLY token Irishman there. Well, it wasn't my fault and I didn't know and took it as an unfair criticism of Irish step-dancing but, of course, couldn't do anything about it — even if I wanted to. Good news then! The girls have let their hair down and their skirts up. Gone are the old stiff skirts and arms by the side. Folies Bergere how are ye! Ye'll see more flesh now at an Irish dancing show than ever was seen at the Folies. And boy, does it pay! A Co Leitrim Irish-dancing club, which used to hold classes in local pubs, has just been granted almost €500,000 in cross-Border funding for a novel arts initiative.

The money was granted to Shaylin Traditional Arts Centre to establish Ireland’s first traditional talent agency and is offering classes for adult (yes, that's what it says) beginners in a variety of instruments as well as in Irish dance, set dance etc. It will run an International Dance Festival with guests from around the world in Ballinamore. This event will feature a week of dance workshops, lectures and performances for local and international guests. This has all been made possible by cross border funding and has come from the plan of well-known Leitrim-based Irish Dance Company Shaylyn, run by Jane Gilheaney (see pic below).

Perhaps dancing is just a human mating ritual as practised by the birds we see prancing about on the David Attenborough TV programmes. In December 2005 the journal Nature, published details of a study by Professor William Brown, of Rutgers University in New Jersey, that looked at how dancing ability was correlated with a person's body symmetry, which is a typical measure of the quality of a mate in evolutionary biology. Professor William Brown discovered that symmetrical women were evaluated as significantly better dancers than asymmetric ones. Not surprisingly, considering this finding, the men preferred the dances of symmetrical women, which perhaps explains why the dance floor might just be the place to choose a mate.

Shaylin dancers bare it for the camera on Sliabh an Iarainn near Ballinamore Co. Leitrim

"Dirty dancing" at the Ceilidhes then? Maybe. Maybe not. Four men danced in rhythm to a bodhrán at a show some time ago. Some women dancers performed a piece from Lord of the Dance in which they stripped off their skirts to reveal their underwear. "It went down a bomb," the organiser Olive Hurley said. But what did the men in the audience say was their highlight? The four men with the bodhrán! It received a standing ovation. Sounds dodgy to me! Maybe there was a gay convention in town!

Could Irish dancing be sexually charged? "I wouldn't see anything in our dancing that could be seen as something particularly sexual," says Bill Lynch, publisher of the Set Dancing News. "It's physically fulfilling, with a few short minutes to swing and twirl. But when the dance is over that's it. You're intimate for the duration of the dance. It's like a 20 minute marriage, but then you walk away."

It's the way he tells them. If you want to know more don't ask me. You might try Jane, director of Shaylin, over there in Leitrim. She's the one sneaking a peek over the brow of the hill above.

Ireland, she is a-changing.

Non-Irish nationals account for 10 per cent of persons usually resident in the State, a report released today by the Central Statistics Office shows. This information is contained in 2006 Census of Population Principal Demographic Results which gives the final results of the Census conducted on 23 April 2006. The report gives the breakdown of the population by age, sex, marital status, household composition, usual residence, nationality, place of birth, ethnic or cultural background as well as information on the Irish language, religion and housing. There is more religious diversity, with big increases in the numbers of people of the Islamic and Orthodox faiths and people of no religion constituting the second largest group.

Nearly 420,000 (10%) persons who were usual residents of the State in April 2006 indicated that they had a nationality other than Irish. The corresponding figure in 2002 was 224,000 (5.8%). The chart below gives a breakdown:

March 21st 2007

St. Patrick’s Day on Achill Island, Co. Mayo

Last week I promised to bring you something of the atmosphere, colour and spirit of the St. Patrick's Day celebrations on Achill Island Co. Mayo. Maybe I'll see you there next year?

The Heart of Ireland

Half awake and half asleep the pound of a single big bass drum enters my consciousness. An ass brays. A cock crows. Am I dreaming? I look at the clock. It is 6.30 a.m. Dawn has not yet broken. Realisation filters slowly through the mists of slumber: I am on Achill Island. The beat is that of the big drum of the Dooagh Pipe Band. It is the 17 th March, St. Patricks Day, and I am being nudged awake by this ghostly sentinel calling the pipes and drums of the island to a day of celebration.

"...skirl of the pipes and the beat of the drums."

This is one of the rare places where the real Ireland can still be found. Achill Islanders do not follow fashion. Unchanged for generations, here is an Ireland hidden except to the adventurer, or those lucky enough to stumble upon it. No pom poms here. No floats, no insipid imitation of foreign parades, no salsa dancers, no commercialism. I climb sleepily out of bed and join a trickle of island residents and a few visitors making their way on quiet roads to the distant sound of the band. The trickle becomes a stream. A soft rain is falling but no one cares. Dawn breaks to the skirl of the pipes and the beat of the drums in an open field beside a simple cottage. Moving out, they parade past knots of bystanders tumbled from their beds. They have come to view this early morning ancient tradition unique to this picturesque Mayo island. Emigrants return to their island homes from all over the world for this special day.

The future: will tradition have a place?

Dooagh Pipe band is joined by the Pollagh and Keel pipe bands as they parade to Mass ‘as Gaeilge’ in the nearby church. This Gaelic speaking island has five pipe bands, one in each village. After Mass, outside the chapel, in turn, they play a selection of tunes before marching on to Dookinella, another small village at the other end of the island. Mass in Irish is celebrated here again after which Junior bands join the Seniors in a massed bands spectacle. My rib cage resonates to the primeval beat of the drum, my heart surges to the stirring sound of the pipes. It swells and echoes from the walls of the church and re-echoes from the hills around. Small boys and girls look on, tap on drums bigger than themselves, or blow on tin whistles and gaze admiringly at the colour, pageantry and swagger of the senior pipes and drums.

The future of this unique celebration of St. Patricks Day is assured by the admiration in the eyes of the children as they look at the splendidly attired seniors and await impatiently the day when they too can take their place among the massed saffron and green, the pomp and swagger, the wild call of the pipes.

Following the massed musical extravaganza the bands move out and off down the road to parade and march from village to village all day long. Old men and women come out from their homes to greet and encourage them. I look on and wonder if perhaps in their youth it was they who played and marched. Although not an islander I am proud to be here, proud to be Irish and proud of the men and women of Achill who keep the old traditions alive and hold to the ancient faiths and tongue.

"...wait impatiently for the day when they too can take their place among the massed saffron and green..."

(In memory of Pat McNamara)

March 14th 2007

Farmers and water charges

Having grown up on a small farm I am intrigued by the current outcry of farmers at the imposition of water charges. There was no central water supply network for cattle until recent times. God supplied the water by an abundant rainfall, by lakes and spring wells. So what happened? What has changed? We still have copious rain and the springs, lakes and wells are still there — all we have to do is open them. So? Why pay for water at all when we get it for free? Except for cattle that are housed, of course. If cattle get piped cold water this year what will they be looking for next year? Warm baths?

Neverthess water charges are exercising farmers at the present time so let's take a wee look at the debate:
"The controversial issue of water charges can be settled amicably through democracy, transparency, diplomacy and negotiation." That’s the opinion of one Sligo farmer in a letter to the Sligo Weekender, but he warned that if Sligo County Council tried "any heavy-handed tactics such as court orders, or cutting off supplies, it will quickly find itself in a Rossport-type situation."

Water Charges are Unworkable
"The farmers have vowed to refuse all cooperation, assistance and access to Veolia [the company charged with collecting the tariff] employees. Without farmer cooperation, meters usually cannot be located, accessed or read, which leaves the whole idea unworkable, and just turns it into another crazy and expensive fiasco, like Sligo’s public loo, and electronic voting machines. "The most outlandish idea of all time must be the county manager’s suggestion that farmers should harvest the water from the roofs of their slatted houses. It shows how ignorant he is of the hygienic requirements of modern food production. I’m sure our customers would not take it took kindly if they discovered that the food they were eating was producing using stagnant water contaminated with bird faeces.

Willing to pay for water
"Farmers are quite willing to pay for their water. They have been paying for it for many years in group schemes or public supply, but nobody is gong to give nearly €6 per 1000 gallons when our neighbouring counties are charging less than half that. And certainly, nobody is going to pay an annual tax of €80 per water meter to Veolia, who are buying them at €38 each. That can only be described as an absolute rip-off.

"Ever the optimist, I believe this issue can be settled amicably, through democracy, transparency, diplomacy and negotiation. But I must warn Sligo County Council that if they try any heavy-handed tactics such as court orders, or cutting off supplies, it will quickly find itself in a Rossport-type situation," the letter concluded.

St. Patrick's Day Exodus

The above Irish Times cartoon depicts the Flight from the Land that takes place here every year around St. Patricks Day. If there's anywhere our public representatives don't want to be on our National Holiday that's Ireland! Can you imagine the American Congressmen and Senators fleeing the U.S. on the 4th of July? Or the French on Bastille Day?

So where are they going? Well Minister Cowan is off to Phoenix, Arizona, Mary Harney is off to Oslo, Sean Haughey to Moscow, Minister Mary Coughlan to New York, our second in command and Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell off to Moscow, Tom Parlon to Capetown, Minister Ahearn to Kuala Lumpur [can't spell it and doubt I'll ever see it!], Tim O'Malley is off to Osaka in Japan. Our brave and fearless leader Bertie is off to court President Bush with a big bowl of shamrocks. Just what Bush needs! Vietnam and Indonesia is on the list which goes on and on— and would you raise one blush among all those hard-nosed freeloaders? Not likely! And who are YOU going to vote for next time around?

SligoHeritage on Achill Island

Well, Sligo Heritage will be down on Achill Island on next Saturday the 17th and bring back a few photos to show you. There are several pipe bands on the island. Starting with Mass as gaeilge in Dooagh church at 8.00 a.m. they parade all day long, travelling from one village to another. The massed bands performance around midday at Dookinella Chapel is spectacular. You'd know you were in Ireland anyway.

Nothing left now but to wish you a very Happy St. Patrick's Day with this image:

March 7th 2007

€250,000 taken in bank ATMs scam

Time to tighten up on immigration to Ireland? See 'Immigrants and Crime' article of Feb. 14th below. Just this week Gerry McLoughlin of the Sligo Weekender reports that: " A gang of Eastern European thieves have taken almost €250,000 from bank account holders in Sligo. The gang, who are highly organised, have taken over E1000 from a Bank of Ireland ATM machine in Grattan Street a few weeks ago in a “skimming” scam which has left scores of Sligo customers severely distressed.

Bank of Ireland ATM machine installation in Fethard, Co. Tipperary

Hoods have been stealing thousands of euro from Sligo account holders in towns like Naas, Kildare, Blanchardstown, Newbridge and Drogheda in recent weeks to avoid suspicion. Garda sources are concerned that the problem is re-surfacing in the city after it was first reported in May 2005.
“We believe that up to E250,000 has been stolen from bank customers in this city since Christmas” said sources. “That may seem a high figure but these guys are targeting all financial institutions and there are a number of scams which have yet to be detected. “We have dealt with well over a dozen complaints since Christmas from people who arrived at the station in a highly distressed state. “When a person makes a complaint the gardai have to sign a form to verify that the details have not been given to a third party and then the banks compensate the injured party.
“We also believe that it is an Eastern European gang who are travelling around the country involved in similar operations”.
This sneaky theft takes place after the criminals have learned the pin numbers of the customers. The scam involves the use of highly sophisticated skimming devices where an unsuspecting customer is tracked by a gang member as they make their transaction. A plastic device is attached to the ATM when the customer inserts the card which copies the card’s details. A mini-camera is then used to photograph the transaction and record the pin number, allowing the criminals to take out the cash at their leisure in other venues.
In May 2005 a young Sligo mother, Tracey McGovern, had E1,300 taken from her AIB account in Wine Street when she was saving up to buy a car. The thieves initially took out small amounts to allay suspicion and then withdrew the maximum allowable amount of E300 over a period of days.
Ms McGovern was re-paid by the bank as she had not voluntarily given her card or pin numbers away to a third party. A spokesperson for Bank of Ireland confirmed that an ATM skimming incident did occur at one of its machines in Sligo in recent weeks. The matter is under investigation with the Gardai in Sligo and Bank of Ireland's Retail Fraud Unit who said: “We would like to assure any customer who is a genuine victim of ATM skimming at one of our machines that they will be refunded their losses”.

Sligo is Ireland's seventh wealthiest county

Courthouse, Sligo city

Perhaps the thieves had advance notification that Sligo is now the seventh wealthiest county in Ireland in terms of average income per person. The latest published statistics from the Central Statistics Office, which are for 2004, show that the total annual income per person in the county averaged out at E22,553. That was up by E1,211 from 2003.
The figures show that Sligo has now moved into “billionaire” status in terms of the county’s GVA (Gross Value Added) of E1.007 billion. GVA is a measure of economic prosperity, based on the value of goods and services produced in an area. Although Sligo is the 23rd smallest county out of 27 in terms of population (Tipperary is split in two for statistical purposes), it is seventh from the top when it comes to earning power.
The county has gone up five places in the wealth league table from the previous year, having overtaken Westmeath, Meath, Wicklow, North Tipperary and Waterford. Above Sligo, Dublin very much leads the way as the wealthiest county in the state with an average annual income of E26,229. It’s followed by Kildare, Limerick, Cork, Louth and Galway. At the bottom of the scale is Donegal, where the average income is E19,361.

Feb. 28th 2007

DNA testing and fatherhood or ' Whatever happened to "'Holy Ireland"'?

Bombs may rain down on Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran, the Arctic ice sheets may be melting, but worldwide we still have time to be enthralled by the trivial and the bizarre. Perhaps its a welcome diversion from the sordid sabre rattling and murderous intent of world powers. Take the case of late model Anna Nicole Smith. Newspapers, and we may presume readers, seem fascinated by her life and the current three-way paternity dispute about to be settled by DNA testing.

In Ireland too an increasing number of people are turning to DNA science to confirm a father's identity. This does not always have the intended result:
Recently reported in the Irish Times was the case of a woman who sent a probable father of her child for a DNA test to establish if he was the actual father. He wasn't — so she sent another possible father to be tested. This too proved negative. A total of five men had to be tested before a match was found!
In another case a young man recently tried to arrange DNA tests for three women in his life. Not only was his current girlfriend pregnant, but his ex-girlfriend and her sister were also pregnant. All three were due to give birth within weeks of each other.
Lastly the story of an estranged couple who arranged for a test to be done to establish the identity of their four year old boy. The couple were no longer speaking so the tests were scheduled on the same day but two hours apart. The man got delayed and so arrived an hour late. The woman arrived an hour early. Both arrived with their respective partners, with whom they both since had children. While the new partners sat in the waiting room the former couple confessed they missed each other and reconciled while the DNA samples were being taken.
When the results came back three weeks later it emerged that the man was not the father of the child!

Knock Marriage Bureau

Had the above couples met with the Knock Marriage Bureau their stories would surely have had a much happier ending. The Sligo Weekender reports that in the last year eight Sligonians, 4 men and 4 women, have applied in the hope of finding a lifelong partner.

The Bureau, a Catholic association, was set up in 1968. Out of 846 applicants for the service, eight found the perfect match and married them in 2006. In the 39 years of its operation the Bureau has received personal details and preferences from a total of 16,869 people resulting in 846 marriages. Since 1968, 20 men and 19 women from Sligo have been married, 11 Leitrim men and 20 women have tied the knot and 37 bachelors and 53 single women have found the perfect match in the Bureaus home county of Mayo.

After decades in which the over 40s and 50s were the main users of Knock Marriage Bureau, those in the 25-35 age group are coming to the fore as the prime age group seeking introductions. "This is to be welcomed", Canon Cooney said. "Traditionally, the bureau has been associated with an older age group but a new trend is emerging." The Ballyhaunis-based priest said he believed the reason for the increasing popularity of the service among younger people was the fact that the bureau, unlike the many dating agencies which are around at the moment, offered "face to face" introductions to potential partners. Many of the 846 couples married by the bureau did so with the first person introduced to them. "I suppose it goes to prove there is such a thing as love at first sight," Canon Cooney said.

The group takes in people from age 20 to over 65 and from all educations and all walks of life — so what are you waiting for?

Feb. 21st (Ash Wednesday)

Sligo Band 'Dervish' to represent Ireland in the Eurovision

'“They Can’t Stop The Spring” written by Roscommon men John Waters and Tommy Moran will be performed at the Eurovision song competition in Helsinki by Sligo group Dervish. The political song was selected by public vote on the Late Late Show last Friday night. It was chosen ahead of three other songs.
After the show lead singer Cathy Jordan said she is looking forward to performing the song in Helsinki on May 12. “The minute I heard John’s song I could imagine it being performed. It spoke to me,” she said. The songwriters were pleased with how Dervish performed the song.
“I have been listening to the song for months. They made their own of the song. I am liking it more and more,” said John Waters.
The panel of guests included Linda Martin, Marty Whelan and Frank McNamara. They all agreed on air that John Waters’ song was best just before voting lines were opened. It was obvious in the studio that the favourites were songs C and D – Don Mescall’s song called “Until We Meet Again” and John Waters’ entry. Dervish gave a rousing performance of the two songs, which were far more lively than song A, “The Thought of You”, and song B, “Walk with Me”.
However, Frank McNamara said he didn’t think any of the songs were good enough. His negative comments killed the party mood. The lively audience quietened down and there was a hint of disappointment in Pat Kenny’s voice as he probed McNamara for more. “That’s knocked the laugh out of the night.” said Marty Whelan, one of the judges on the panel.

They can't stop the Spring

Mr Waters and Tommy Moran grew up together in Castlerea, County Roscommon. “They Can’t Stop The Spring “is about the reported response of Czech leader Alexander Dubcek in 1968, when he watched the Russian tanks ploughing over flowers thrown at them by students protesting the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring. “They may crush the flowers,” he said, “but they can’t stop the spring”.
“That line just kept coming back to me and particularly now in Ireland we have got so many people from Eastern Europe, Czechs and Poles and Latvians –- it’s about the new Ireland as well,” Mr Waters said.
First with the news: Read the Sligo Weekender

Feb 14 (St Valentine's Day) 2007

More votes than voters

It has been said that even though counting heads is not an ideal way to govern it is better than breaking them. In Sligo, where we vote early and often, we can't even get that right. John Bromley of the Sligo Weekender reports that: 'The new electoral register for Sligo, to be used in the forthcoming General Election, has over 4,000 more voters on it than there are adults in the county.
Last November it was revealed that the new register had 49,114 electors – but the Central Statistics Office estimated that there were only 45,158 people living in the county who would be the required voting age of 18. That’s a difference of 3,956 people.' Who wants to bet that there's not politicians out there right now trying to figure out how to get all those ghost votes. No matter, it's nice to be appreciated and now with elections coming up we can be sure we will be, and the politicians will be paying close attention to our every whim — until the elections are over. Democracy, ah, yes.

Immigrants and Crime

By this time everyone knows how much Ireland has changed in the past few years because of prosperity and immigration. Is immigration good for the country? The weight of opinion says it is. However there is another side to the story, and that is that immigrants feature regularly in the newspapers who are caught in the commision of various crimes. From reading the papers it seems that certain nationalities seem to specialize in credit card fraud, others in drug importation. A case in point is the East European national who has recently been returned to trial on charges of rape and three major sexual assaults in Sligo on the same day. This is not at all unusual. His defending solicitor, Noel Kelly asked for the book of evidence to be translated into his own language. Let's hope it's not Irdu.

It's not 'politically correct' to say it, but tighter controls on the character of people we allow to stay here are essential. I speak from personal experience. When emigrating to America in the 60s I found out that not all of the 'huddled masses' were allowed free access. I had to prove financial security, or someone in the US to sponsor me so that I would not be a burden on the American taxpayer. I had to undergo a physical examination, be proficient in English, undergo an interview at the American Embassy in Dublin and provide Garda references to my character.

Isn't it time we introduced similar measures here?

Valentines' Day

Let's finish on a happy note and be grateful for good old St. Valentine! I hope you are having a nice day out there and doing something nice for someone you love. Here's a poem for all you lovers from the pen of that English man with the heart of an Irishman: Robin Flower:


They say the Gods are to the woodlands fled,
Or deep withdrawn into the heedless sky;
In solitudes and silence of the dead
Lies disenthroned each slumbering deity.
But I have seen in many a radiant street,
Through mists of morning or of evening gold,
A soundless vision borne on glancing feet,
Love delicately going as of old.
For he was made alone of man’s delight
And follows still the crowded ways of men;
Altars of others crumble in the night,
His with a kiss are builded up again;

And on those altars hearts instead of spice
Are made an offering and a sacrifice.

Shell to Sea campaign
Solidarity Day at Bellanaboy Friday 16th Feb

More information HERE

February 6th 2007

New Venture: Transatlantic flights from Knock Airport, Co. Mayo

With the borders of Sligo just five miles from Knock Airport, the recent announcement of the commencement of transatlantic flights at the end of May from there is set to play a major role in the future of the county’s tourism sector. A major marketing drive will now get underway in the United States to ensure the West will receive maximum benefit from the service in terms of tourist numbers.

In the first year of operation alone of flights to New York and Boston, industry sources are predicting a €28 million boost to the region. “North America is a key market for the West of Ireland and as Shannon already serves the South West I believe that this new service into Knock will create several opportunities for the North West region especially in the area of tourism,” said Failte Ireland North West chairman, Ray MacSharry.

Public meeting in Strandhill over local airport plans

The local Strandhill airport too is expanding — but the move is not pleasing everyone. Members of the Strandhill Development Association are to hold a public meeting in the village on Thursday evening to discuss concerns at plans by Sligo Aiport to extend the runway there. The residents claim the extension of the runway 270 metres into the bay would affect the area's status as a special area of conservation, and would impact on local fish farms and marine life.

The Board of the Airport insist what's planned is merely a reconfiguration of the runway, which is necessary if Sligo Airport is to meet the avaitation safety standards set down by the Irish Aviation Authority, and for the future progress of the Airport. Frank Martin of the Strandhill Development Association insists the public consultation process regarding the project was not adequate, and their concerns have still not been heeded.

The Manager of Sligo Airport, Joe Corcoran, says the Board of the Airport are only too willing to provide all the informatin they require about the expansion plans. He says the Airport has traditionally had an excellent relationship with the people of Strandhill, which he wants to see continue.

B-a-a-a-a-d News from the Clarion Hotel

The Sligo Weekender reports that: ' It was like a scene from a comedy when management at the Clarion Hotel in Sligo chased a flock of sheep around the hotel grounds lately. Around 40 sheep were the unwanted guests at the Clarion last week and staff got to see what it was like to be a shepherd . . . even if it was only for an afternoon!
When the sheep wandered into the grounds of the hotel from a nearby field, management were concerned – but soon saw the funny side. One by one, staff formed a human chain around their unwelcome wooly friends. Kate Draper, conference and banqueting manager, contacted a local radio station to find out if the owner could come forward and collect his sheep – but no one arrived.

The Gardai were called but informed the staff that they had to get an identity number for the sheep so that they could find out who the owner was. In order to get an identity number, one of the sheep had to be apprehended as the identity number was printed on a tag on the sheep’s ear.
Enter Johnny Gillen, the hotel's IT manager, who decided he would be the one best qualified to catch one of the animals. Dressed in his suit, Johnny got as far as the nearest creature, but in true Keystone cops style, the sheep bolted straight through the chain of people and was followed by the remainder of the animals.
With that, Johnny went back to where he was more comfortable — fixing a broken computer in his office. Other suited managers beat a sheepish retreat to take refuge inside the hotel.
NOTE: If lamb was on the menu at the hotel’s restaurant that evening no one is telling where it came from!

January 31st 2007 (Eve of Lá Fhéile Naomh Bhríd, the Festival of St. Brigid)

Festival of Brigid

St. Brigid's Cross

Today is the eve of the festival of St. Brigid, the beginning of the old Celtic season of Imbolc, the first day of Spring. While we have lost so many of our customs and traditions over the years it is heartening to see that the custom of making Brigid's crosses on the eve of the festival is still alive and well. Pictured left is one style of cross. There are many. Go to Gallery for image of island woman Florrie Brady putting out the Brat Bríd. Incidentally Bridget is incorrect spelling for the Irish saint. "Bridget" was Scandinavian. Bríd or Brighid is also correct. There are other variations such as Breda...

St. Patrick's Day is one of the biggest festivals of our calendar year. Why not make St. Brigid's Day equally so and create a Bank Holiday in her honour? Or move one of the current holidays. Given Brigid's background she is worthy of veneration both by Pagan and Christian. What is a "Bank Holiday" anyway? It's a silly name that tells you nothing and commemorates nothing. C'mon legislators, let's take a look at this!

Sotheby's sale of stolen Yeats stopped

THE sale in Sotheby's in London of a famous Jack Yeats painting stolen in 1990 from Dunsany Castle in Co Meath has been cancelled after the intervention of Scotland Yard. A restraining order was served on the sale, pending formal identification of the painting and its legal owner. The painting, "Bachelor's Walk, In Memory", reputed to be worth €250,000, was one of five paintings stolen in the robbery. The National Gallery said it had contacted gardai following publication of a photograph of the painting at the back of a Sotheby's catalogue for its Irish sale in May.

The painting will now be returned to the vendor by Sothebys until the issue of ownership is clarified by the UK courts. Enquiries under way may provide a link to the present whereabouts of the van Dyck painting stolen at the same time. The painting, "one of Yeats' most iconic images,' could fetch considerably more than the estimated price. The event that inspired the painting occurred at Bachelor's Walk near O'Connell Bridge in Dublin in 1914. Ireland was under British rule at the time. A group of British soldiers, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, fired on a crowd of people that were heckling and jeering them. Three people were killed, a man and a woman and a boy of 18. Thirty two people were injured.

Jack B. Yeats visited the area a few days later and made a sketch of the scene. "A few paces further towards O'Connell Bridge flower girls had thrown flowers. I suppose one of those murdered fell there" he wrote in his diary. The painting depicts a flower girl in a dark blue dress and a black shawl dropping a flower through an open gate, "an archetype representing Irish womanhood mourning the loss of their men," according to the English art critic T G Rosenthal.

Readers Letters

It's nice to hear from viewers now and again and to know that they enjoy the topics covered here. This is a solitary job so their letters cheer me up and keep me from falling asleep over the keyboard! One of these correspondents, an English reader Peter Durham of Kirtlington in Oxfordshire, enjoyed last week's story about the fairies possibly being responsible for the fallen electricity lines. He writes:

I've just been having a browse through your website as I try to keep up with your local news which I find interesting. Your presentation gives even the least pleasant items an air of gentleness. Most journalism in these weird times is painstakingly crafted to bring out the worst in the reader,with violence, obvious lies and great emphasis on subjects that dwell on and glory in the many frailties of the human animal. It is small wonder that your books make such good reading.

 I hope that it will be proven that the leaning and fallen electricity supply poles is the work of supernatural powers. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy". Mankind certainly needs to be taken down a peg or two. When I was younger I used to hope that a large sophisticated spaceship would land on earth, manned by beings that would surely make the inhabitants of this pathetic planet look like uncultured, partially civilised cavemen — which is what we are when seen in the greater scheme of things. I have even heard it said that some men believe that if we put our empty yogurt cartons in a dustbin of the wrong colour, we shall all be doomed.

What presumptuousness we funny little creatures are capable of, to imagine that most things resulting from our puny efforts cannot be rendered negative by this great world in a very short space of time. See how we little matchstick men run around like headless chickens at the very mention of something like bird flue or aids that could cleanse the world of mankind and his paltry toys in the blinking of an eye, leaving it fallow for a season, before having another, and hopefully better, try.Keep up the good work,


     Wednesday January 24th

Garda James Lavelle dismissed for theft

A 27 years old Garda who was given a two year’s suspended sentence for the theft of €700 had committed a grave offence, stated Judge Anthony Kennedy. The Judge said the jury’s unanimous verdict pointed to their belief that Garda James Lavelle (27), who was dismissed from the force , had engaged in an act of deliberate dishonesty. The fact that Lavelle, formerly of Old Quay Court, Sligo, was a serving Garda was an aggravating factor when considering sentence said Judge Kennedy who was scathing in his criticism of the defence mounted by the Garda to the charge.

The Judge said the attack on Liam Henderson junior who had found the €700 in cash near Sligo Cemetery and who subsequently handed it in to Garda Lavelle at Sligo Garda Station was disgraceful. Judge Kennedy said it was obviously considered that attack was the best form of defence and there had been a full frontal attack on the finder of the money. The Judge said that Lavelle had sworn to uphold the law and while the offence may have been committed impulsively this was speculation and the jury’s verdict was one of deliberate dishonesty. Lavelle was found guilty after a three day trial on October 19th last of stealing €700 in cash, the property of Sally Harte at Sligo Garda Station on August 26th 2004.In another case Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy was urged not to dismiss garda Jarlath Naughton who was convicted on two counts of theft from local supermarkets. He was given a one year suspended sentence. Both cases have been reported previously HERE on SligoHeritage.

Fairies blamed for fallen electricity poles

Image taken from a ringfort in Grange, Co. Sligo

FORCES other than the recent winds are being blamed for thwarting efforts to erect two large electricity poles near Sooey. The new power line, which will run along the Ballintogher road from Sooey, will pass over a local fairy fort, with one set of poles very close to it.
Contractors working for the ESB erected a number of sets of two poles (about 70 feet high) shortly before Christmas. However two poles erected within about 20 yards of the fairy fort were bent over by the wind in a short time. The workers returned and straightened the poles again just before Christmas. But over the holiday period both poles fell flat on the ground.
Last week the contractors returned again and re-erected the poles yet again but by the following day one pole had fallen to the ground again and the other was bent over at an angle. The strong winds have been blamed for knocking the poles but a local man suggested that darker forces were at work as well. He pointed out that other poles in the line have not been affected in the same way:
“Some of the others have bent over a bit but none have been knocked over completely like the two near the fort.”
He said people locally had great respect for the fairy fort and it had never been interfered with before for fear of what might happen. First with the news: read the Sligo Weekender

Wednesday January 17th

A dog named Sligo joins the internet generation…

SLIGO, a dog from the United States, shows that every dog really does have his say. This pooch has his own website on The barking mad Jack Russell Terrier was born in Maine. But his profile says he has Irish roots.
“My heart lies in Ireland and my ancestors are loyal working farm dogs that protect the farmers’ stock and chase the rats away,” his biography says. is an interactive social networking website. Users submit personal profiles, blog entries, photos, music and videos. Pages are linked together to create a network of friends. Sligo has nearly 2,000 registered friends. Over 3.000 comments have been posted on Sligo's site – making him one popular pooch. Most of Sligo’s 1,779 friends are other cats and dogs, who have their own web pages.
Sligo is 100 years old in dog years and now lives in California with his family. He is described as slender, one ft. tall, and single. His star sign is Aries. He is a fan of Celtic music, and U2. Fellow famous canine Lassie is among his favourite movie stars. Like other sophisticated Myspace sites, his features a gallery of pictures, videos and titbits of information. is currently the world’s fourth most popular English language website. It is the sixth most popular website in any language, and the third most popular website in the USA. The 100 millionth Myspace account was created in August 2006. By September this figure had risen to around 106 million, with the site reportedly attracting new registrations at a rate of 230,000 per day.
Paws to check out Sligo’s web page at
First with the news: The Sligo Weekender

Vandalism at Knocknarea

The grave of Queen Maebh of Connacht is under threat from vandals. Experts warn that the 4,000 year old monument has suffered serious damage in recent months because of climbers that remove stones from the cairn. The summit of the mountain is dotted with names and lover's messages spelled out on stones that have been removed from the heap. Heavy foot traffic and and persistent heavy rain have combined to create a deep scar on the mound of stones within which Queen Maebh is said to have been buried standing upright facing Ulster, in readiness for battle.

Typical of most monuments in Ireland no signs have been erected there to explain the historical and archaeological significance of the site to visitors. The mountain overlooks Carrowmore, one of the largest Neolithic cemeteries in Europe. Heritage officer Siobhaán Ryan said that 'We would very much discourage people from removing stones and, in fact, encourage the old tradition where people carried stones up rather than taking them away.'

Wednesday January 10th

"The Bull McSharry" and the Hillwalkers

Who is there that hasn't heard of the "Bull" Mc Cabe in the John B Keane production "The Field"? So you thought he was dead and that was long ago and it couldn't happen today? Wrong! The Bull is alive and well and living in Ballintrillick, Co. Sligo — and this is no stage or screen production, but the real thing! The Sligo Champion reports that well known North Sligo farmer, Andy ‘The Bull’ McSharry is set to enter the political arena once more as he bids to scupper Minister Eamon O’Cuiv’s proposals to bring an end to the long running dispute between hillwalkers and the rural community.

Despite a recent clash with hillwalkers near his land during which he had to lock himself in his van, which was substantially damaged, and on another occasion being threatened with a shotgun, the Bull is determined to bring his campaign to the front doors of the electorate. Community and Rural Affairs Minister Eamon O’Cuiv has announced a new €3 million funding package to build up rural walking routes in the hope of attracting more high-spending trekking tourists but Mr. McSharry, who lives at scenic Gleniff Horseshoe, believes farming groups along with taxpayers are being offered a bad deal.

The Bull's clashes with hillwalkers

The North Sligo farmer’s views have won him many admirers but he’s also had his detractors especially amongst the hillwalking community. A serious clash with two hillwakers took place a couple of months ago when he had to retreat to his van after being threatened. “I had to lock myself in and these two foreign nationals proceeded to kick the side of the van and also smash its windows,” said Mr. McSharry. He dialled 999 but he said he had to wait several hours before a Garda arrived and by this stage the perpetrators had left. And this past year has also seen Mr. McSharry allegedly threatened with a shotgun over his controversial views. “I made a full statement on this matter to the Gardai but no summonses have been issued and the matter could soon be statute barred. I’ve heard nothing from the Gardai since the incident and I’ll be asking a lot of questions if this matter does not proceed,” he said.

Death of Michael Yeats

Michael Yeats viewing a portrait of his father

Michael Yeats, son of the poet W.B.Yeats, passed away on January 3rd at the age of 85. A former Fianna Fail senator and vice-president of the European Parliament he also served as Cathaoirleach of the Irish Seanad. A loyal member of Fianna Fail all his life, he respected Eamonn de Valera, admired Sean Lemass and felt that Charles Haughey, financial scandals notwithstanding, deserved to go down in history, 'as a brilliantly successful Minister.'

He took a positive view of Ireland's position in the EU and believed Irish life had changed for the better because of its membership of that body: "With our new-found economic strength and prosperity, we have become, for the first time, a truly independent nation."

The above photo was taken in 2006 when Michael Yeats (85) acccompan
ied by his wife Grainne and daughter Síle visited the National Museum where they expressed their delight at having the opportunity of lending the various artefacts relating to W.Bs life. Among the items the family presented is a Japanese sword given to WB by a student in the US in 1920; an illuminated copy of the Lake Isle of Innisfree; and portraits of Georgie Hyde-Lee, wife of W.B. Yeats, by Edmund Dulac and John Butler Yeats.
Go nDeanaimh Dia Trocaire air an anam
(May God have mercy on his soul).

So who's winning the 'war on terrorism'?

While standing in a line recently at Dublin Airport enduring security checks prior to boarding an aircraft, the ridicilous sight of long lines of Americans and Europeans in stocking feet, belts strung over their shoulders, holding up their pants with one hand and their shoes in the other, set me to musing: 'Who's really winning the 'war on terrorism'?

In this fragile world order in which we live President Bush's policies, or lack of, creates terrorists and affects everyone in every corner of our planet. Osama and Al Queda don't have Westerners on their knees yet but sights like that at airports must give such groups tremendous satisfaction and comfort! As I write, Bush's bombers have extended the war to Somalia. As usual 'collateral damage' of civilians is mounting. And he's sending 20,000+ more troops to Iraq. Well, that should increase the body count! 'Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out'! Is that it, George? So who cares, and where next, and who's going to stop this madness, and are YOU dear reader, or I, innocent victims in all of this, going to be on that plane that gets blown out of the sky when the 'terrorists' breach the security measures?

Perhaps Terence McSwiney, the Irish hunger-strikers words, spoken in the war against the British, still has relevance: ' It is not those who inflict the most, but those who endure the most who will conquer."

Recent Irish Times cartoon

Wednesday January 3rd 2007

Sligo town planning for a population of 40,000

The Sligo Weekender reports that: "SLIGO’S local authorities are planning for Sligo town to grow to a population of 40,000. That is roughly two thirds of the population of the whole county at present. The population of the actual borough area fell by 572 people, from 18,473 in 2002 to 17,786 at present. In the same period the population of the electoral divisions within ten miles of Sligo increased by 1,810 people, a rise of 8.91% from 2002.

Right now two in every three people in the county (roughly 40,000) live within ten miles of Sligo town. But Pat Forkan, Sligo County Council’s outgoing Director of Planning and Environmental Services, said that the council now need to plan in the context of Sligo city itself growing to a population of 40,000. Writing in the current edition of the Sligo local authorities’ newsletter, Contact, Mr Forkan, sees the development of the port area as a key development in terms of the future development of the area.

"This key resource can be the catalyst for other renewal and regeneration projects", he states. New access to a growing city will be provided by a bridge linking the northern routes to the N4 and N17... Mr Forkan also firmly believes that Sligo has "almost limitless potential in the area of cultural tourism". "The unique legacy of the Yeats brothers, and their special association with Sligo, facilitates the promotion of county as a prime destination for the increasingly mobile, affluent and curious cultural tourist."

He points out that Sligo also boasts a wealth of scenic amenities:"Our coastal landscape alone, centred on our three blue flag beaches, attracts thousands of appreciative visitors each year. If we safeguard and promote our amenities in an environmentally sustainable manner, we will make greater inroads into the tourist market in 2007 and beyond."

First salmon of the year on River Drowse

The first salmon of the new year has been caught on the Drowse River in Kinlough, Co. Leitrim. The 3 kilogram fish was caught in the eel pool on the local Lareen Estate. It was caught by County Cavan anger, Derek Jermyn at around ten to nine on 1st January. A record 200 anglers lined the banks vieing for the honour.

Thursday December 28th 2006

Happy New Year

A very happy New Year to all my readers. A special thanks and good wishes to contributors and correspondents. Thanks to your participation and interest SligoHeritage continues to grow. You are always welcome to contact me and let me know which stories you like and make suggestions as to articles you wish to see in the future. Next week I will be carrying a short story, 'Tom and the Virgin' in the Heritage section. Within the remit of heritage, history and folklore, this is your site. Tell me what you want.

Athblian faoi Mhaise agaibh go leir

If you want to see the Co. Sligo Sidhe Gaoithe Christmas Mummers in action go to the Museum of Country Life on New Years Eve. For information click here

Wednesday 20th 2006

One Irishman's Christmas

Your web host was in Dublin on Monday and the shopping scene was frenetic.  Hordes of people on Henry St., , with loaded shopping bags — screaming children and Celtic pups everywhere. The Celtic tiger has wiped the thatched cottages from the landscape and brought a big purse, two cars plus an SUV to every garage, and a turkey to every pot. But has Prosperity, this new Irish phenomenon, brought happiness? Judging from the harried faces scurrying to and fro, like a scene from the Fourth Circle of Dante's inferno, it seems not! Smiles were scarce and it seems worries many — but sure we wouldn’t have it any other way. And anyway, darling, the really big spenders were doing their shopping in New York!

Oh yes, the Big Apple, you're nobody in Ireland now if you don't have a Macys or Bloomingdale bag lying discreetly about the living room to impress your friends. "Give me your retired, your rich, your huddled wealthy, yearning to spend freely…” And the savings! Sure isn't the dollar down 12% on the euro from last year? Ellis Island? Where's that? And the lads on the side streets in Chinatown selling genuine Gucci handbags for €20.00. Where else would ye get it! Ah now, don't be throwing cold water on the fun by asking me about hotel rates and airfare, sure didn't ' the man that made money make plenty of it!'

Needless to say shopping is not what brought me to Dublin.  I'm a bit old fashioned, a dropout from the modern, commercial scene altogether.  Give me a few Ceilis, a bit of holly for over the pictures, a boiled egg and I'm happy as Larry — (well maybe we could drop the boiled egg bit).

Christmas pleasures for me are the simpler things. Like going out with my daughter, Cathleen, and granddaughter Brigid along the mountain searching for holly on Sunday, an annual rite, walking through a countryside of tranquil fields and glens far from the madding crowd. The sight of a well berried holly bush, lit by a low winter sun, appearing in the corner of a field just when you thought the birds had won this year and you had given up hope of finding a nicely berried bush: now that’s a Christmas event not to be missed, a rare and special Christmas present, food for my pagan soul attuned to a time when holly, mistletoe and ivy decorated the sacred places of the Druids — who of course also celebrated at this season of winter solstice, as did most of the ancient peoples — but sin scéal eile!

Something for everyone, consumer and hermit alike— sure isn't it great!

Landslide at Ballintrillick

Work is due to begin today (Wednesday) to clear a mudslide that has blocked a road at Ballintrillick (near our holly fields) since last Thursday. The road is covered by hundreds of tons of bog and stone which slid from the hillside during the previous night. The material washed down from an area of about two acres. The mud is up to ten feet high in places on the road, and stretches almost 160 feet. The mudslide has meant that motorists cannot drive around the scenic Gleniff Horseshoe route, which runs in the shadow of Truskmore and Benwiskin mountains.Large areas of land throughout the county have been flooded and there have been some instances of flooding on roads. Thankfully, these have been minor and there has been no serious disruption to traffic. An indication of just how much rain has fallen was the fact that last Thursday even the all-weather astroturf pitch at the Regional Sports Complex at Cleveragh in Sligo was under water.

Nothing left to do now but wish my visitors a very happy Christmas, a delightful Druidic solstice and all the very best of good things in 2007. Beannachtaí na Nollaig agus na hAth-bhlíana ó SligoHeritage. For the all singing version go here:
We don't often have snow here in north-west Ireland but I will leave you with this Christmassy picture of what it looks like from the SligoHeritage Hq when we do:

See the Winter Solstice here

Wed. December 13th 2006

Téada 'Irish Christmas in America' Tour

As you have seen in the last Newsround item your web host has been absent for a while on tour in the USA with a Christmas musical produced by the traditional Irish group, Téada. The show, 'Irish Christmas in America' continues though with the last performance in Dallas, Texas on December 16th (see Giving American audiences a taste of Christmas in Ireland in the old, and not so old days, was a unique and worthwhile experience. We have lost so many of our customs here in Ireland that I'm sure Irish audiences now too would enjoy and learn from the show, a rich mixture of the very best of Irish traditional music, song, dance and traditions.

Warmest autumn on record

It was the warmest autumn on record but also wetter than normal. The majority of weather stations in the country, which have records extending back to the 1950s, recorded their warmest autumn ever.
At Malin Head it was the warmest since such readings began in 1885 as it was in Dublin, where the Phoenix Park weather station also dates back to 1885.

September and October were particularly warm, while mean temperatures for November were slightly higher than normal. There was no air frost during the season in coastal areas, but 2 or 3 air frosts were recorded at most inland stations. Rainfall totals for the season were above normal everywhere, with around 50% more rainfall than normal at several stations. It was the wettest autumn on record at both Cork Airport and Kilkenny. Apart from a short spell of dry weather in early November, the season was a wet one throughout.

Sunshine totals for the season were also above normal everywhere and it was the sunniest autumn for 20 years in the Dublin area. Almost all stations recorded their sunniest day of the season on either September 7th or 8th. Mean windspeeds for the season of between 8 and 16 knots (15 and 30 km/hour) were close to normal but the highest gust of the season, 72 knots (133 km/hour), was measured at Belmullet on November 19. Belmullet, the closest Met Eireann weather station to Sligo, had a mean average temperature of 1.9 degrees Celsius above normal for the time of year, with rainfall totals 40% above the normal and sunshine levels 27% more than usual.

The other north west station, Malin Head had temperatures 1.7 degrees above normal, rainfall 25% more than the usual and 12% more sunshine than normal. Knock Airport had the lowest mean seasonal temperature (10.1 degrees) in the country. But that was its warmest since records began there in 1996.

(Above: cloud formation at Benbulben)

First with the news: read the Sligo Weekender

Echoes of a Savage Land has been out of print for some time. It is now back in print and available in bookshops and online from December 1st. See Books

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