Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Two Books on Martin Cahill - aka The General

I wrote recently on people's attitudes to the human sides of criminals. This was prompted by Frances Cahill's appearance on the Late Late Show last month to talk about her new book Martin Cahill - My Father. I found myself subsequently buying and reading her book. Given that it was a daughter writing the book I felt it prudent to get an overall balanced view, so I simultaneously purchased and read the book The General by crime journalist Paul Williams.

Surprisingly to me, there was a reasonable amount of consistency about the human side of Martin Cahill in both books. I certainly came away with the view that the man was clever, imaginative, witty, full of ironies and indeed caring for family and friends. He wasn't involved in the drug business and although he certainly injured, terrorised and robbed many people, it clearly seems true that he didn't kill anyone (although there is much evidence on a few cases where it seems he may have tried). Oddly too perhaps for an underworld figure - Cahill neither drank alcohol nor smoked and was not a high social flyer or casual womaniser.

I found both books good reads but there was much more weight and substance in the Paul Williams book. Incidentally the Williams book also inspired the movie The General - in which actor Brendan Gleeson played a great part (and does have a good resemblance facially to photos of Martin Cahill). Having said that, Frances Cahill put together an interesting inside view of Martin Cahill the family man. It's possible by reading both books to unravel a little the areas which may be a daughter's natural tendency to glorify her father. One noticable feature was also Frances Cahill's bitterness to the authorities and the policing service. In spite on the many factual consistencies between the books, there is much left unsaid in Frances Cahill's book (she claims not to know about many things her father was allegedly up to) and there are also some differences. Frances, for instance, doesn't seem to like or accept the notion of her mother and her mother's sister both being lovers of her father. Williams treats this area quite sensitively, claiming that the sisters both loved him and shared him in full understanding with each other and that both had a number of children by him. A kind of happy ménage-a-trois. Williams claims that Martin Cahill was very respectful to women and was indeed very family oriented - as Frances claims too of course.

I've also spoken to a few of my friends who knew the General - one who was a neighbour in the middle-class Cowper Downs area of Rathgar and another who was a detective at the time. From all I've learned on the man my attitude to Cahill has weaved through all sorts of thoughts. My final overall impression is one of a fairly detestable and dangerous individual to most outside his circle of friends and family, but a nonetheless complex and interesting figure. He certainly was very different to other underworld people in his era and in spite of all the ugly activity there is much ironic humour and even warm humanity in evidence. I really would recommend reading the Paul Williams book. It's quite rivetting and actually seems to come across with a balanced treatment on The General's positive and negative traits. The Frances Cahill book does offer some additional internal family insight and certain other information - but it does not present anything like a full view of the General's alleged activities (and indeed to be fair it doesn't claim to). I would certainly only recommend it as a read after having read the Williams book.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

1913 Rural Ireland...stunning colour photographs!

I visited the In Search of Ireland exhibition in Temple Bar recently. I would highly recommend it.

It's a fascinating story. Two French ladies, Madelaine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet, aged in their early thirties visited Ireland during May and June of 1913. They were equipped with camera equipment and the newly invented autochrome colour photographic plates. They were destined to capture the first colour photographs of Ireland and it's people. The women were recent graduates of the French based Albert Kahn foundation which aimed to document and photograph the people and places in remote parts of the World which were likely to be subject to irrevocable change in the near future. The women travelled from the Galway area gradually eastwards through the midlands and ended up on the east coast around the Meath area. They seem to have avoided Dublin city and other large towns and were concentrating on the rural people, their appearance, lifestyle and landscape.

When we think of the rural Irish people in the early 1900s the images we have are invariably in B&W. To see the faces and garments of the local people in full colour gives a whole new dimension. I was completely blown away by the exhibition for number of reasons....

The notes and observations made by the French women were just as impressive as the colour images. What came across to me very much was that although many of the country folk were shy of the visitors with their cameras they still warmed to them. I think that being women and French made a difference. They were not a threat as part of any landlord system and the French were traditionally friends of Ireland at least in their common opposition to the British (the enemy of my enemy is my friend!). The intended photography was not part of any oppressive agenda. Nobody photographed was trying to either impress or be obstructive. Indeed - in spite of the 10 second exposure requiring people to be a bit still and stiff -the people appeared really natural in their genuine daily lives.

Madelaine and Marguerite noticed some women with a very dark haired and Hispanic look and postulated that the strong past Spanish Armada connections with Ireland would have produced this genetic feature. I smile to myself at this as we Irish today often think that the recent arrival of settling immigrants is unique in our history.

One of the photos which really wowed me was that of the young dark haired woman with the bright red shawl. On first glance at the girl's features in this amazing colour photograph she could easily pass for a Leaving Cert student in Ireland today. On closer inspection of the photograph the life of hardship does show...her hands and fingers are toughened and nails are grimy from hard manual work and indeed the same could be said about her bare feet. Her teeth look yellowy and in need of modern care!

Although the photographers were in Ireland in the summer months they were greeted with very high winds and much rain throughout their visit which was a painful parallel to the tough, bleak and often tragic lifestyles which they encountered. Some of the notes mention the baron nature of Connemara and the often wide separation of tiny isolated dwellings a well as the presence of typhoid and other sicknesses. They do however also mention some of the stories of the people and their simple optimism. One little story about stones and a cure for headaches stuck a personal reminder for me of the type of tales and cures my paternal granny (who was from a rural background) used to tell me when I was a child. We really are not so far separated from this type of Ireland..and seeing colour photographs of the early 1900s does bring this to mind even more.

There are 54 photos in the collection and plenty of interesting accompanying notes. I would dearly love to read all the notes that these ladies took on their visit, it would make for a great publication. It was not possible to buy any copies of the photographs and photography in the exhibition was not allowed. I did however naughtily sneak a rushed and blurred phone camera shot of the wall print of the girl with the red shawl. It was poor quality.

Update 28 Feb 2011: An Italian visitor to the same exhbition took a much better photo (shown above) and as he kindly said in comments below - this photo should belong to the Irish people. So thank you Gianni, your photo is wonderful. It is terrific to share an image of the first ever colour photo of a young rural Irish girl in 1913. From another comment on my blog it seems the girl's name was Mian Kelly, then aged about 15. Mian passed away in 1973 aged 75. Mian was also a grandmother of another commenter below.

I've since then purchased the full book "The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn: Colour Photographs from a Lost Age". It's available via bookstores or on Amazon. It includes great photos from around the World at the time and a fascinating selection from the Irish visit - including the above.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Do we want to hear about the warm human side of major criminals?

I watched Pat Kenny's TV interview on Friday with Frances Cahill - daughter of the late notorious Dublin criminal Martin Cahill who was also known as The General. Frances has written a book about her father. From what I can gather she has written it from the perspective of a child's view of her father as she was growing up.

Seemingly Martin Cahill was a loving father and Frances' has very good memories of him as she growing up. So the book was an attempt I suppose to show another side of the much hated criminal. Predictably, the messages sent into the show were almost entirely very negative about giving any airtime to a book that showed a warm side to this nasty criminal.

I'm not in a position to offer any useful specific comments on this new book as I have not read it. However, the barrage of negative comments coming in (presumably from people who had not read the book - as it is just published) set me thinking a little of how society view people who do evil. I think we often view criminals as inhuman monsters who have no right to respect for any positive human qualities. We do not want to hear about the side of an evil criminal who loves his daughter and reads her a bedtime story. We fear that by airing such notions that the criminal could be wrongly made to look humane and therefore lessen the evil of their crimes.

Life is never black and white the way we would like it to be. People are never pure 100% evil. But if my own life had been ruined by somebody like the General then I'll admit that my initial tendency would be to winch at the thought of listening to his kind human qualities.

On a bigger scale this attitude also applies in dealing with political dictators and terrorist leaders. Very often democratic leaders cannot accept that such people are anything but psychotic lunatics. No point at all in negotiating, listening and learning how to work such people around to more sensible ways. But like it or not, evil dictators are often lovers of art and music and are tender with children and families. At fundamental levels they are not as different to you and I as we like to believe. They become obsessed on a particular negative track and correcting inputs get ignored or dismissed. But there are many examples of people being persuaded to turn their back completely on violence and evil and leading normal productive lives.

A big subject and I'm not a psychologist, but certainly food for thought. By understanding people better at all levels maybe we have some of the ingredients to approach correction. Closing our ears to the full person seems wrong.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What were you doing when President John F Kennedy was shot?

Without even checking a calendar I can recall that 22nd November 1963 fell on a Friday. I was eight years old. My parents did not yet have television at the time. However my Uncle Paddy and his wife Sheila did have a television and at the end of the school week on a Friday night I was often allowed to watch some TV with them. Their house was right behind ours and accessed from our back garden into their back garden. So that evening I was merrily enjoying some interesting movie on RTE (Telifis Eireann as it was called then) in the inglorious days of snowy black and white reception. The movie was interrupted and a newsflash came up. A rather stunned looking news presenter - the famous Charles Mitchel - came on the screen to say that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and had been rushed to hospital. Even as an eight year old I was more than a little shocked. Kennedy was adored in our household and had only been over to Ireland in summer of the same year.

My Aunt Sheila's mother Mrs O'Brien was watching the newsflash with me and she was quite upset about it. She carefully told me to rush home and tell my parents about this shocking news.

I ran out the back door and across to our house. I told my mother that President Kennedy had been shot. To my surprise she just laughed and told me that I was confused. Mum knew I'd gone over to watch a movie and she announced to my Dad and I that I must have been watching the movie "PT109" which was about the young JFK and his adventures in the US navy during the Pacific war with Japan. It took me quite a bit of explaining to convince her to turn on the wireless. Our old valve radio seemed to take longer that usual to warm up. Eventually the radio confirmed my version of events and the household went into turmoil. I recall that initially there was hope that Kennedy might live but they speculated that the head wound could render him useless. Not long afterwards the death was confirmed.

I've written before on how important a figure Kennedy was to Irish people. It was almost as if a family member had died and the mood in the house descended into a deep sadness. I remember Mrs Farrell next door coming into our house and bawling her eyes out. Most households had Kennedy photographs on the walls and mantelpieces at the time which had equal status to religious pictures.

The death of Kennedy was really like a personal loss to Irish households in a way that I have never since witnessed in my long life by the death of any public figure. To us he was our proud son who reached the pinnacle. He had pure Irish lineage on his mother and father's side all the way back to the dark days of famine emigration. He was the leader of the most powerful nation on earth and he was ours! People in Ireland in the 1960s were still very introverted in looking out at our status in the World. But Kennedy gave us - myself very much included - the belief in ourselves that anything we dream was possible.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dublin can be Heaven.

Enjoying Autumn
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.

I had an opportunity to pop briefly into St. Stephens Green yesterday in early afternoon while on business. It was a lovely sunny Autumn afternoon and the place was like a paradise of nature within the busy city. I'm sure so many city workers de-stress briefly in this wonderful park on a daily basis.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Country road..take me home!

Goodbye Mountain!
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.

Dublin's M50 orbital motorway encloses a warm womb within which I am nurtured. Inside these castle walls I am spoiled with good straight roads, lights at night, slow traffic and low speed limits. Considering the volume of cars, bad car crashes are infrequent and fatalities very rare. I drive down straight wide roads where speed limits of 50kph are enforced with vigour and I feel I am driving at pedestrian pace.

I venture outside the safe womb on to secondary country roads and the feeling changes. Winding narrow roads, blind bends, pitch dark at night. But the speed limit says 80kph or even 100kph. I barely feel safe doing 50kph winding these roads. A representative and well known example to many on the eastern side of Ireland is the very winding road by the river leading from Enniskerry village in Wicklow to the N11 dual carriageway near Bray. Technically it is feasible to weave enthusiastically down this rally driver's paradise at the designated 80kph speed limit. But by golly it is not a safe exercise. If anything unusual happens you are a goner. And of course speed checks never seem to happen on such roads...ironically the police probably feel it too dangerous to attempt.

Something is seriously wrong with this logic. Predictably, most of the almost daily rituals of road deaths seem to be on secondary country roads. Very often it is a single vehicle accident where the driver crashes into a tree or goes off the road at a bend. Young drivers probably feel like wimps if they can't keep up with the message on the ridiculous speed limit signs.

It would seem to me like a no-brainer decision to reduce the speed limit on secondary country roads and enforce it properly.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Famine Statues

As with many Irish people, there is one view in Dublin which never fails to emotionally affect me. It is the vista of the iron Famine Statues along the river Liffey quays when seen against the backdrop of the modern glass pyramid shapes on the Ulster Bank HQ. My heart races from commingled emotions of pain and pride. If ever there was a single place which crystalizes Ireland's emergence on many levels then this is surely it.

The mid 19th century famine was a huge event in more ways than we Irish today even consider at a fully conscious level. It is still Freudianly lingering in our subconscious like a genetic imprint. Yes, I know it wasn't a famine in the clinical sense. The rural Irish were over-dependant on the potato with it's big food value per acre for poor families with small fields. I'm not getting into the blame game here as it is possible to throw shots at the British authorities, landlords and the Irish farmers...this is a separate debate. But over a modest period the event contributed to unbelievable misery and the population of Ireland was more than halved through death and emigration.

Many of us have stories in our families which are passed down from the famine. Stories of death and disease and loss of dignity abounded. My father came from a rural background and I always noticed that his family had an irrational fear of hunger. They had enough food of course but they did worry about the potential of going hungry. My mother was from a city background in Derry but they also had memories of the great hunger through Donegal connections. I know other intermediate factors played a bigger part such as shortages in the war years, generally poor pay, etc. But I'm absolutely convinced that the famine was still imprinted in the dark corridors of their brains. They passed similar irrational fears on to my generation. It manifests itself in subtle ways. Have we enough food in the house? What happens if we run out of something? Ilogical hoarding is still present in small ways and we don't even realise it. We hate to see people hungry. The Irish give more generously to Worldwide famine relief per capita than almost any nation on Earth. Even mention the word famine and it still hurts Irish people.

Volumes have been written on Irish emigration from famine times and beyond. It still amazes me how many people Worldwide have Irish roots and who have since then given something back in so many diverse ways. From careful study of the finer points in history it also touches me how many poor nations from various parts of the World were generous with contributions to Ireland during a time of bad communication in the mid 1800s famine years. Even native American Indians and Mexicans for instance. Little to give...but gave a lot.

The famine statues...surrounded by prosperity...a time gate...a tangible reminder of what we came from and where we are. Go there...reflect.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Rocky IV

Okay, following on from the last two posts, we had the tennis championship finals on Saturday. My main physical preparation was a medium 350 calories treadmill run on Friday followed by some sit ups. Oh, and plenty of deep heat for my poor tennis elbow before the match!

So the finals match took place in good conditions for tennis - cloudy, no wind and around 15C. My opponent at 6'2" was 4 inches taller, as well as younger, thinner and faster. He likes to sneak into the net and use his long arms to play volleys or hit overhead smashes. Not a massive hitter in terms of power and a very average server. So my plan was to put him under pressure right from the serve with power shots. As we got going my plan was working like a dream. I got to 3-0 and then he got better but I still managed to get to 5-3 up. I was rifling shots past him as he came to the net - which was part of my plan. However he eventually read this situation well and started to stay back at the baseline much more. I found it increasingly harder to put him under enough pressure and I even started to make more unforced errors. He played a bit better himself and pulled off the first set 7-5.

This was rather frustrating having been ahead by so much. It had been a long one hour first set. My tennis elbow was getter sore, my muscles were tiring. But I just gritted it out and again went off into a 3-0 lead and then continued to a 5-2 lead. After this he creeped back into the match. I can't fully put my finger on it, I think it was a combination of him slightly improving, me slowing slightly and either not hitting hard enough or making too many unforced errors. Either way we ended up at a tiebreak at 6-6. I went ahead in the tiebreak as well but I got a bit sloppy in my shots and ended up losing the set and the match. So he won the finals 7-5; 7-6. It was over two hours long and we were told it was a great match for the spectators. I guess I should be happy that I gave this talented guy a great fight and in truth I certainly had all the chances to have won it. But c'est la vie!

Well it was fun and we had a great spirited party afterwards in the clubhouse. As my youngest daughter wisely said to me later...there are always people better than you in sport...all you can do is keep improving your personal best. It's certainly nice to feel an ability to be competitive in sport when older. Fun and fitness can't be a bad combination!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rocky III

So from last post you can see that I survived a tough three-setter last Saturday to get to the semi-finals of the club tennis Plate championships. It was so tough that I aggravated a mild tennis elbow pain somewhat into a more painful injury. The semi-finals were scheduled for tonight.

On Sunday I had a usual Sunday morning doubles fun match and it was obvious that the tennis elbow was sore and also my muscles were still aching generally. Yesterday I did a medium 300 calorie workout on the gym treadmill to help my aerobic fitness and also some mild sit-ups. I avoided any arm exercises and later got some deep heat and other cream to help the tennis elbow.

So tonight I had the semi finals. The guy I was playing had just wiped out a fairly good player in the quarter finals (6-1; 6-2). My opponent was older than me (for a change!) and his style of play is very much error-free tennis and great placement. Certainly not a super fast guy or even a big hitter. But he would frustrate the soul out of you by keeping rallies going forever until you would make a mistake, tire out, or he would place the ball very well to beat you. He is notorious for giving good players a lot of trouble.

Anyway my plan was to hit harder and come into the net when appropriate to volley and shorten the rallies. After rubbing plenty of deep heat cream into my sore elbow we got going. The first set was tough and long but after a lot of concentration and effort my strategy largely paid off and I took the set 6-3.

I was feeling good now and that's not always an ideal emotion. He took a nasty lead in the second set to go 3-1 up. Mentally I was now struggling with self belief. I had to try to psyche myself that I could successfully hit big shots. I knew raw power with good placement could trouble him. I gradually got a bit better and went into a 5-3 lead and I was serving for the match. I blew that opportunity and he was serving at 4-5. With a bit more self belief and effort I managed to break him back and won the match 6-3; 6-4. It was long for a two setter at about 90 minutes.

So, I'm in the finals on Saturday...yippee!!! I don't even care if I lose the finals now, it's a great thrill to get this far. But I'll give it a good try anyway!

I also know who I'll be playing in the final...a very tall and fast lean guy who is about 6 years younger who loves to volley at the net. He's not a very big hitter and his serve is quite average. He is very tough though with his long arms at the net and his mobility and good placement. We shall see! At least I'll have a bit of finals glory with spectators watching and a party afterwards!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rocky II !!!

From my last post you will see that I was whipped in the first round of the club tennis championships by the classy No. 2 seeded player.

BUT......the club had organised a Plate competition for all the first round losers. Mmmmh...rebirth?

So I had my first round match in the Plate competition today. Up against another much younger guy, who is also a fast fit gym rat and a big hitter.

We played in today's hot midday Sun for well over two hours. It was gruelling. I felt I needed to win the first set to have a chance as my fitness is not too high lately due to pure laziness in avoiding the gym and I reckoned I wouldn't last a three setter. Well I made the worst of starts, I LOST the first set 4-6. Not good news!!! I was a bit dejected. But it was a close match and I felt I'd room for improvement.

I won the second set 6-2. But I was tiring, the games were long and close. We then swapped games in the third set to get to 3-3. At this stage I was very burned out. My legs wouldn't respond as well, he was firing shots past me. The age and fitness difference was catching up as we now were about two hours into this marathon match. I was looking down the barrel of defeat.

My mind picks up interesting messages when I'm in trouble. Another idea from boxing came into my head....your punching power stays longer than your legs....a puncher always has a chance. I decided to hit harder shots, go for it more, if I can put him under pressure I might have less running to do! It was pushing myself to the limit but I gave it a go. It was risky and even sloppy at times, but it did start to slowly make a difference. I pulled it off to win the final set 6-3.

So, I'm heading into the semi-final of the competition, yay!! Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stand up and fight until you hear the bell!

When do you know that you're licked, past it, a has-been? I've trouble admitting it sometimes and it was very tangibly manifested to me recently in a tennis match.

Now I'm a late-comer to tennis. I only joined a tennis club in my late 30s and at the time I couldn't hit an overheard serve to save my life! I've improved a lot since then and today I win singles matches more than I lose them against good quality club level players. So it has almost been a flush of youth seeing myself getting better and better at tennis even as I visibly aged....like a good wine or the picture of Dorian Gray in the attic!

However, being realistic, I'm 52 and overweight and I've no right to expect too much from my tennis skills. Recently I entered our club championships and in the first round I was unlucky to be up against the No. 2 seeded player in the club! Now this guy grew up on tennis courts, coached all the way. He's also half my age, fit and athletic. Listing our statistics side by side you would laugh and Paddy Power would make you a millionaire from a €1 flutter if I were to win.

The sad part is that I genuinely thought I had a shot at beating him. I even hit the gym for a few days before the encounter to improve my speed and fitness.

An optimistic start took place in the match. We had two long opening games and we each held serve. After that it was all downhill! I tried really hard and we had loads of very close games where I reached deuce or my advantage. I kept him really busy for an hour and twenty minutes. Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, the score ended 6-1; 6-1 in his favour. He complimented me afterwards and said he had to really concentrate to win.

I do recall several thoughts flashing into my head after each point which this great young tennis player won....

There was something Muhammad Ali had said after his loss in his last ever fight against Trevor Berbick..."I could sense his youth during the fight!"

Or the reply from the mother in the movie "The Goodbye Girl" when told after a tough rehearsal that the local dance group were looking for someone younger...."Okay" she panted. "I'll work on it!"

Why did I beat myself up thinking I could win this match? When I'm out on court a competitive streak kicks in and I just give it everything. I get annoyed with myself if I play badly but I never get annoyed with my opponent.

So when do you decide that you are past it? I'm not ready yet to admit it I'm afraid. I'm tempted to go back to the gym and get ready for next year!!

I'll borrow another quotation from boxing, this time from George Foreman who was knocked to the canvass during a fight against Ron Lyle in the mid 1970s. He told himself as he lay on the ground..

"What are you doing on the ground, George? Get up and win!"

He did get up and then knocked out Ron Lyle in the next round to win the fight. In fact George Foreman went on and on to prove what older athletes could achieve by regaining the World title when aged in his forties.

Get up and win! What a simple and effective motivating phrase to repeat when you seem down and out. It's a phrase I've tried to use all my adult life.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A tale of two 35 year old Irish fathers

On Sunday I watched with elation as 35 year old Padraig Harrington reached the pinnacle of his profession in golf by winning the British Open. It was heartwarming. He embraced his son and his wife. Happiness and warm positive feelings everywhere.

Meanwhile another tall well groomed 35 year old Irish father was spending his first day of a lifetime sentence in prison for the brutal murder of his wife. Joe O'Reilly had potential of achieving for himself and his family the positive happiness sensations of a Padraig Harrington. I wonder if he watched the TV and reflected. Two personifications of the zenith and the nadir of the human spirit.

Friday, June 29, 2007

John F. Kennedy's Irish visit...a brief reflection.

I'm possibly one of the youngest people alive who has a distinct recollection of John F. Kennedy's visit to Ireland in the summer of 1963. I was eight years old at the time. Today marks the 44th anniversary of Kennedy's departure from Ireland at the end of his visit.

One very representative memory actually came from my eighteen year old cousin who was staying in our house as a student in Dublin. She set off on her bicycle to Dublin airport to try to see the President. She left late and was warned by my mother that she would see nothing due to all the crowds. In any event she returned home after a few hours in a high state of excitement. My cousin related to us how she had been peddling along the road on the way to the airport when to her shock she saw the presidential cavalcade approaching up ahead. Stumbling off her bicycle she stood as a lone isolated figure on the roadside and began waving at the big limousine. To her utter amazement President Kennedy spotted the tall attractive lass with the bicycle on the roadside and waved back to her! Well I don't think my cousin could have felt any better if she had been given a personal autograph from the four Beatles!

It's hard to get across today to people how hugely important the Kennedy visit was at the time. Kennedy helped to teach all age groups in Ireland to stop being shy and introverted as part of a small nation. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a great grandchild of Irish emigrants. In many ways he remained a very pure Irish figure from both his paternal and maternal roots. Here he was coming back to Ireland as president of the most powerful nation on Earth. And he was one of us. Plus he was charming, full of humour, young, tall and handsome and had time for everyone he met. It's often a dull cliche when Americans say they love Ireland but there is ample evidence that Kennedy's love was genuine and heartfelt. Personal stories abound of him making time to mingle longer than scheduled with so many local people during his visit.

All his speeches including the address to the Irish Parliament were powerful and easy to follow - even for me as an eight year old kid. He was a great motivator, he respected everything Ireland had achieved and showed us we can reach any goals we dream of. Kennedy himself was living proof of this.

Some of you will remember the idolatry the man enjoyed in Ireland in the 1960s following his visit and indeed his assassination that same year. In our house and most others there were pictures of Kennedy on the wall which enjoyed a respect and reverence only narrowly beaten in intensity by the Sacred Heart of Jesus picture. There was open weeping when Kennedy died and everyone in Ireland from my age upwards can tell you exactly what they were doing when they heard of his shooting.

I don't think it is any exaggeration to say that Kennedy's presidency was the genesis of considerable tangible American commercial interest in Ireland coupled with a growing self-belief that we Irish could stand tall with any nation.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A new Government with a rub of the Green.

Some brief comments....

1. I'm very pleased for Brian Lenihan being made Minister for Justice. He has impressed me a lot in recent years. He is a calm intelligent man of barrister background who never gets caught out in any tough debates. Something about the man's demeanor makes me wonder if he could be Taoiseach material in the distant future....post Biffo (Brian Cowan) I guess. It's also nice to see him carrying the torch of his late father and namesake.

2. The Greens in Government. It can only do good for us all. I think they might be maturing as a party. I've been impressed by Eamon Ryan in debates. John Gormley less so, but let's see what happens. But it's clever how roads were taken out of Environment (Gormley's gig) into Transport and also Roche signing the M3 as his last act. All prearranged with the Greens in the recent hot talks - I've little doubt at all on this.

3. It's a major achievement for Bertie Ahern and assures him of a unique place in history. The tribunal is the only thing which could tarnish him now. However it's looking less likely as Tom Gilmartin's credibility as a witness is fading somewhat following recent retractions etc.

FG and Labour must be as sick as parrots. FF have the numbers, flexibility and clout to do deals with anyone to stay in Government. I've said this again and again in previous Blogs...FG must get bigger organically on their own, they've made a good recovery from the last election and I'm sure their day in the sun will come. As good as Brian Cowan might be as a vote getter and his nice Santa Claus budgets, I don't think he has great personality, nor he is ideal Taoiseach material in the wake of Bertie Ahern. If Biffo leads FF into the next election and FG have Enda Kenny and strong candidates - they could beat FF.

Anyway, a good Government seems to have been formed in my opinion.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Another daughter turns 21!

Our middle daughter, Jill, turned 21 today. It's a nice feeling for us as parents. You think back to her day of birth.

9th June 1986 was a lovely sunny day in Dublin - just like today was. Jill was born at 6.55 am. She was 24 days late and maybe that helped her to turn out to be nearly 9 pounds at birth!

I'll never forget walking down Grafton Street afterwards in the sunshine to buy flowers. It felt amazing. You would think that having experienced the joy of out firstborn, Amy, that a second birth would be getting routine. That was so far from the truth. Maybe because we had been through confusion and fear etc. with a first time experience it was now a time to focus more on the wonders of it all this time. And now there was Amy at two and half years old to be told about it all and be part of it. It was brilliant bringing Amy in to see her new little sister. The start of a lifelong friendship.

Jill has already had her party, so today we had fun with her opening presents. As I type this she is enjoying Beyonce in concert at the Point in Dublin with a pal.

Life ain't too bad at all!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sgt Pepper taught the band to play!

A bit of deserved publicity yesterday for the Beatles with the Sgt Pepper album's 40th anniversary. I was only twelve at the time but I recall all the hype. It was a big transitional album for the Fab 4 and it got me more and more interested in the Beatles. I think this album was a big artistic break for them and moved them on to being much more than a good pop band with catchy music. What a great album cover too.

I loved Sgt Pepper, The White double album (I recall listening to every single track of it live on radio the night before release - on Radio Luxembourg or Radio Caroline - Grandad on Head Rambles might recall which!), Let it Be and my personal favourite album Abbey Road. I love singing or quoting some mad Beatles lyrics when I'm in a good mood, they are so retro and typical sixties pseudo philosophical. Some examples include...

* Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

* It's wonderful to be here, it's certainly a thrill, you're such a lovely audience we'd like to take you home with us, we'd love to take you home.

* What would you think if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?

* You should see Polythene Pam, she's so good looking but she looks like a man!

* Hey Bungalow Bill, what did you kill, Bungalow Bill?

* When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom

* She came in through the bathroom window, protected by a silver spoon

The latter line was used wonderfully to title a great mad photo done my a young Leaving Cert student in Dublin I've noticed that even many young people still enjoy the Beatles.

Live long and prosper, may The Force be with you!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

People whose voices I like...

Blankpaige wrote an interesting piece about some radio presenters whose voices she liked and disliked.

I've tried to think of 10 male and 10 female voices that I've liked listening to over the years. Note that I'm purely judging the sound of the voice, I'm not necessarily a fan of the person. They are also not in any particular order of favourites, nor have I put long thought into this (I'll probably think of others afterwards or regret some of the ones I've chosen!).


1. Vincent Price - I loved his unique clear, haunting, slightly aristocratic mellow tones.

2. Anthony Hopkins - great clear distinct poetic voice. "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti...fffhhh fffhhh fffhh".

3. Richard Burton - similar reasons as for Hopkins. They are both Welsh of course.

4. Gay Byrne - great intonation and expression, impossible to lose interest in what he is saying.

5. Ian Paisley - a passionate and decisive voice. I love mimicking him (I'm told I do it well!).

6. John F. Kennedy - nice positive delivery, smooth and easy to listen to Boston accent.

7. Ronald Reagan - could inspire and move in his speeches with his soft yet passionate voice

8. John Cleese - great stiff upper lip voice with so many interesting characteristics.

9. Pat Kenny - probably has the clearest diction and best delivery of all Irish broadcasters

10. Terry Wogan - distinctive, laid-back and easy to listen to.


1. Hilary Clinton - clear and positive.

2. Mary Robinson - throaty and deep, but pleasant and distinctive.

3. Meryl Streep - soft and wide ranging in expression.

4. Julia Roberts - good clear and pleasant American accent.

5. Audrey Hepburn - sophisticated, friendly, fragile, nice mixture of English/Continental tones.

6. Barbara Stanwick - a bassy voice with good delivery.

8. Jodie Foster - slightly nasal, distinctive and easy to listen to.

9. Grace Kelly - soft and regal.

10. Jennifer Lopez - quite smooth and warm NY accent.

If I was to pick a voice I've personally loved more than any other...it would be that of my spouse. She has a nice soft blend of her parents Derry/Donegal accents peppered with south east Dublin tones. But I'm biased!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Michael McDowell's exit from politics

The actor John Cleese starred in a series of hilarious sales training videos in the 1980s. In one such video Cleese was a weak salesman who nevertheless was warm and friendly to his prospective clients, and they in turn loved him. In one scene Cleese is sitting in an office with one of his prospects and the client is enjoying a big cigar given to him by Cleese. The client tells Cleese how much he enjoys his visits and loves chatting to him. The phone on the client's desk then rings and he takes the call from reception. He seems irritated. After hanging up he says to Cleese:

"I'm really sorry, I'm afraid I'll have to take leave of you now. It's so annoying, you are my favourite visitor. But I've got to see a right bastard down at reception who keeps selling me tons of stuff!"

If ever there was a summary of Michael McDowell as a political creature it might be that he was similar to the successful but detested salesman at reception in the above video. McDowell was not always liked, he could be arrogant, aloof, egotistical, impulsive even. But he was visionary, skillful, single minded, and he got results.

Michael McDowell successfully tackled the insurance compensation culture in Ireland, created conditions for reduced insurance premiums, started the Garda Reserve, added many tough laws on crime and the gangland culture as well as anti social behaviour measures. Not all in the conservative legal World agreed with his tough measures, but McDowell came from a strong legal background himself and knew what could be achieved. I've also written before on how right he was to try to extend the licensing laws to provide many more cafe bars in Ireland.

Even in defeat and departure from politics McDowell was controversial and impulsive. An all or nothing man in many ways. I had thought he would be a great leader in the PDs but in truth he was a lone but skilled maverick. He was not always good at warming to and motivating people, both in his party and with the electorate. He did seem conscious of this as time moved along and I detected he was slowly working on improving his image. I still believe he achieved more in his post as Minister for Justice than anyone before him. Irish politics has lost a powerful, energetic and colourful character who also indeed provided much entertainment for the media.

To borrow from Theodore Roosevelt "...his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Proportional Representation - enjoy the ride!

Many Americans, British and others are confused by the PR voting system and even Fianna Fail many decades ago hated it and tried to get rid of it. But in the last few elections FF in particular have been getting good at vote management with their supporters using the PR single transferable vote (STV) system .

On Friday and Saturday it should be fun studying all the voting patterns, surpluses, transfers on 2nd, 3rd preferences etc. And with manual counting it's going to offer plenty of slow suspense!

Our PR system offers each voter a chance to help elect several candidates who are considered compatible with the voter's desires. With good knowledge of people in the constituency there are many clever possibilities.

For example, if one person is likely to smash the quota (e.g. a popular party leader or a powerful local person) then their surplus can help drag in second weaker candidate with 2nd preferences. This depends on party or pact loyalty being strong.

In another possible case, if one candidate is likely to be elected, but without a useful surplus, then it might make sense for some supporters to vote for a weaker compatible candidate as first preference. If the weak candidate gets elected than that's good. If they get eliminated - well at least your second preference can usually go to helping the prime candidate. If the prime candidate is already elected at that stage of counting by reaching the quota, then the 3rd preference can even help a further compatible candidate. In this case if too many voted for the moderately prime candidate as first preference and they barely reach the quota - then your 2nd preferences for the weaker candidate will not even be counted.

These are just examples of the logic that might be applied and every constituency will have it's own special features. As you can imagine - this vote management game needs careful co-ordination to get the best effect - it could easily go badly wrong if the numbers and estimates are not balanced right. In the end it's the people's choice and there is only so much that parties can attempt with working the system.

Let's get ready to rumble!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Internet fame?

I was in the local Off License this evening. A nice lady approached me and said...

"Hello, John, isn't it?"

Who is this person I thought? I hate when I forget people I've met before. She looked a lot like a neighbour we knew from a previous address, but seemed a bit taller.

"Ah, Eleanor! I haven't seen you in ages", I offered.

"No, I'm Esther" she said.

This was getting weird. Senility is setting in. But at least I got the first and last letters right! I surely don't know an Esther...do I!?

"I'm Claire's mother".

Mmmh, maybe a mother of one of my daughters' friends?

I struggled to think of a Claire. This friendly lady could see I was having difficulty.

"Gingerpixel's Mum! I saw your photograph on the Internet from the photo shoot on Killiney beach".

Ah, the penny dropped! Esther did indeed look like my blogging/photography pal Claire/Gingerpixel. We then exchanged a few pleasantries.

I can safely say that this is the only time in my life that a stranger has identified and spoken to me based on a photo on the Internet. The World is changing!

Friday, May 18, 2007

I'm voting for Fianna Fail and PDs

I don't think I've read one pro Government blog for so long in the election run-up. It's far cooler to be anti-establishment. But I'm brave. Forget all the silly media hype of scoring on individual events, who-said-what and Bertie's modest personal transactions etc. Here's the real deal...

The current Government is a coalition. It works well and has been stable for so long because FF and PDs have similar ideologies and the PDs are of course an original FF offshoot. Plus the PDs are very small but make a useful contribution. There is much hype about McDowell. He has arguably an irritating personality - but by golly he is the best Minister for Justice I can recall in my lifetime. Exactly the right decisive man for the job.

We have largely forgotten about how bad coalitions can normally be. FG+Labour+Greens is quite a bizarre cocktail of ideologies and has a high chance of failure when difficult choices come about. It may not always be apparent at the top table but you can be sure that grass roots in the respective parties will cause hell when it gets hot on policy implementations.

I don't trust this inexperienced Rainbow coalition to do any better on health or spending. It's much more likely they will squabble and argue and waste more time and money. Much of the problem in health is in sorting efficiencies in hospital management, sorting out consultants, increasing services and improving and balancing public and private care. It's certainly not to do with shortage of funding. The Government have a plan in place, it's slow and difficult but it is making progress. Do we really want to tear it all up and start again with a new government of very mixed colours? Can't you imagine FG and Labour arguing over private/public? Not apparent now? Everything sounds rosy when your just talking from the sidelines. Just wait to see them in Government making real and tough decisions.

The bottom line is I like stable democratic Government (which we have taken for granted in the last ten years) - the Rainbow simply don't convince me that they have the ideologies or experience to achieve this.


I wrote this before lastnight's Ahern-Kenny debate. I thought I'd hold back posting just in case I learned something interesting from it. All I learned was that Kenny sounded loud but inexperienced and full of individual anecdotal cases, but Ahern had all the big answers. In theory it's easier for opposition to attack the sitting tenants. This didn't happen - Kenny had his figures muddled - got worse as the debate went on - and just fired out good sounding individual cases when he was being cornered. He couldn't even be clear on economic figures nor be consistent on his Justice spokesman's figures. Can't you imagine how more muddled Kenny would be with Labour and the Greens at his side? Kenny isn't a bad politician but he and his party are still lightweights. Until they get much bigger with better players and can stand a good chance in Government without far left wing parties support, they simply don't have my vote. We may perceive that there are problems in the country now - I sure as hell don't want them getting worse.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sorrows and lessons from little Madeleine McCann

I hadn't intended to write on this subject but Twenty Major raised a few important questions and we found ourselves in total agreement in our respective comments. His brief article has provoked considerable healthy debate.

As parents who have three daughters who were once Madeleine's age, my wife and I are filled with sadness and sympathy for the parents and the little girl. It's a living nightmare for each one of them. What form of humanity is out there to do this? Whoever did this were once children themselves but must have had a bizarre upbringing.

Having said the above, I cannot help but comment on the fact that it is highly irresponsible to leave children this age unattended in any dwelling. Especially in a foreign holiday resort with such a huge mixture of non-locals and easy access to all sorts of further places to take kidnapped children. I think of the sacrifices so many of us parents make as the kids are small to ensure they are safe - it is a tiny price to pay in reality. They grow so fast and when they are older they don't want to go on holiday with you anyway - as we ourselves have discovered.

If your small daughters are pretty and look different to the locals, they do attract attention. I've noticed this in the past on our own holidays abroad. An example we had was in Turkey when our youngest was just 11. She was getting a lot of looks and friendly comments from some local men. It seemed innocent and I'm sure most of it was. I actually found the Turkish people very nice, but holiday places also attract different types of local people and foreigners. One guy serving us in a restaurant called my daughter a little princess and patted her head a lot. Another guy jokingly offered me a camel for her! I carefully avoided the quip I might have used at home that she was worth at least two camels. You must be careful in these places. The notion of us leaving her in the apartment without trusted adult supervision in these foreign holiday places would be beyond comprehension. I don't buy this checking her every 20 minutes idea. It's not remotely enough and 20 minutes is a very ill-defined term when you're chatting and having drinks.

Madeleine's parents will not read this article and even if they did I'm sure they already now know the lessons privately anyway. The media have - understandably I suppose - not made a major factor of the non supervision of the child in order not to hurt the parents more. This has the side effect however of almost implying this practise as acceptable. So if by speaking the raw truth I can somehow encourage anyone with small children to be very careful on holiday abroad - then it's worth me saying it.

I deeply hope for a good ending to this horrible episode and all other similar cases.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ireland and UK in Eurovision

In coming last Ireland did really badly on Saturday's Eurovision. I thought the standard was quite high this year from nearly all countries.

In recent years we seem to forget again and again that Eurovision is now big visual , big impact entertainment. It must have instant appeal for public voters all around Europe. It needs major professionalism put into the song, presentation and promotion. It's not near enough just to have a reasonable song. Both UK and Ireland and now increasingly insular remote places to the expanding Europe and it is no coincidence that we both made good company for each other at the end of the voting table. We need much more wow factor and imagination to get even noticed.

Anyway. It's just a bit of fun. Nobody died as they say! Well done Serbia.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Satellite Navigation - it's VERY USEFUL!!

I'm well known by friends as a gadget geek. In the last year I've been reading up on choices for portable satellite navigation units for the car or walking. The recent trip to Bordeaux kind of forced me into making my mind up on a purchase. For various timing and availability reasons we booked our flights in and out of Biarritz rather than Bordeaux. The prospect of driving a hired car up from Biarritz to a very rural chateau 30 minutes southeast of Bordeaux was kind of daunting - not to mention the local travelling we would be doing during the stay.

A few days before departure I finally purchased the latest TomTom 910 portable SatNav unit. It is an amazing unit - fitted with a micro 20GB hard disk it contains all the latest maps of everywhere in Europe (does Ireland very well too), North America and various other places on the hard disk. With a nice 4 inch screen it can also store your photographs, play MP3 music and act as a handsfree unit for your mobile phone via bluetooth.

Anyway - the cool thing was that I could programme the destination chateau's address into the unit when sitting planning in Dublin and it could demonstrate visually and aurally every step of the route for me from Biarritz airport all the way to the Chateau. This feature caused much amusement in the car when we eventually went on the real trip. I was saying things like - "Oh yea, I remember this junction!" My wife thought I had genuinely been there before!

The SatNav shows you your location as you go along and talks to you about junctions and next turns etc. It even bleeps when at a speed camera and tells you your speed and if you are over the speed limit etc. If you go wrong it can recalculate an alternative route within 5 seconds. It shows you where petrol stations and rest places and various other useful points of interest (POI) are. You can even make it phone the POI - e.g. restaurant - via the bluetooth link to your mobile phone (yes, it stores all the phone numbers of the POIs) to say make a booking. The unit brought us flawlessly on the two hour drive from Biarritz airport to the remote chateau without me going near a paper map. When we entered the courtyard of the correct chateau the unit calmly announced "Your have reached your destination". We cheered loudly and I felt like kissing the SatNav unit!

One really cool thing was when we wanted to go into Bordeaux to a particular recommended restaurant. I'd never been in Bordeaux in my life and it seemed a bit daunting to find this restaurant. We keyed into the unit the full restaurant address including the building number on the street. I gulped and nervously put my faith into the SatNav unit doing things right. I was stunned to experience the unit talking and guiding us into Bordeaux, through the streets and right up to - not just the correct street - but right outside the door of the restaurant, where it announced "You have reached your destination"! Brilliant!!

We also went on a trip to the lovely town of Saint Emilion one day. The safe predictable route for tourists was via main routes and motorways - which is how some friends in another car who left just before us went. However with SatNav - the unit guided us through very scenic and more direct smaller country roads. We had a much nicer view of vineyards and countryside and also arrived at the town long before the others - saving fuel money as well. I would never have attempted such a route with maps - we would be going crazy and getting lost at every small junction.

Anyway I'm hooked on the benefits of SatNav and I wont be going anywhere strange again without this baby! God bless technology.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bordeaux and it's trams

Tram in Bordeaux
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
My wife and I are just back from a break in the Bordeaux region. We were staying at an amazing old Chateau about 30 minutes from the city of Bordeaux. We were amongt sixty or so others who went over to the rented Chateau to help one of our friend's family celebrate the husband and two children's significant birthdays. It was a huge and magical castle sized place and I could blog for hours on the chateau itself and indeed the great wine, vineyards and countryside etc. Throw in all the good company of close friends, partying and late nights and it was indeed a blast!

In this instance I just want to briefly comment on the trams we experienced in the city of Bordeaux. I understand they were made by the same company who built the Dublin Luas trams. What struck me was how they designed them without overhead power feed lines - power comes from the ground. Much easier on the eye - no spoiling of the views of the wonderful city of Bordeaux. In particular - the trams travel across the lovely Pont-de-Pierre bridge and it would have been rather ugly to spoil the bridge with overheard lines.

Also, as you can see in my photo, along some of the route the tracks are over manicured grassed lawns. Trust the French to make a mundane city tram line look nice - and achieved with such a simple idea!

Bordeaux is a beautiful city and it has remained so even as it is being modernised. I wish we would more often put in the same attention to detail as we develop our own cities in Ireland. It doesn't always cost much money to enhance beauty, often just a bit of imagination. I take my hat of to the French in this category.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Viva La Difference!

I understand that in many parts of Africa, men and women don't see women's breasts as sexually attractive. They are seen as glands for feeding babies. I listened to a radio piece not long ago which described an African woman's reaction on being told that western men found breasts exciting. "You mean that western men are like babies!!??" She could just manage to say this amid fits of laughter.

I heard an interview with an author (whose name escapes me) from one of the southern USA states. This black lady grew up in an environment where toilets were always outside the house. She described how she still finds it hard to get used to the idea that modern society can accept the stink of fecal waste from bathrooms inside houses - and in particular from an ensuite right beside where you sleep!

I'm merely making the point that it is not always as obvious as we think to see other people's ingrained traditions. But with a little patient listening, dialogue and thought one can easily enough begin to understand.

I watched a Questions and Answers program a few months ago on RTE which got me thinking on similar lines to the above examples. One question asked reaction from the panel to Enda Kenny's initiative for making immigrants to the country feel more welcome and integrate better. A simple and jokey opening contribution from the DUP's Jeffery Donaldson passed without any comment from others in the panel, but it stopped me in my tracks. This is a paraphrase but it went like....

"Well, I speak for my own people in the North who were also immigrants to this island and we have felt the need for an initiative like this for the last 400 years!"

Wow! All many of us southerners can think about the families from the plantation of Ulster is that they were invaders. Did we ever consider that maybe they saw themselves in the 17th century as immigrants who were unwelcome? Yes, before I hear howls of protest from nationalists - there are two sides to this story, I'm well aware of the history of it all (and indeed my mother was a nationalist growing up in NI who could tell many a sorry tale). But I'm just making a general point that ordinary families only integrate and fuse into a society when they feel they are welcome and both sides respect each other's viewpoint. Hostility breeds more hostility and you often end up with ghettos and polarisation.

We need to forget about a united Ireland until we unite in welcome and fellowship and seeing the other viewpoint. The unionists and nationalists in NI have more to share and enjoy than they perhaps realise. It's the small things - as always - which offer clues that it is slowly happening. A great example was Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams jointly signing a request to have the UK Government's Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain and his staff vacate their Stormont offices. This was wonderful in itself, but equally good was the little human story behind closed doors afterwards which as far as I can detect was only barely reported....

Gerry Adams it seems quipped to Ian Paisley that he never thought he would see the big man so eager to get the Brits out! In reaction we are told that Ian howled with laughter in his well known and unique way. Laughter together, what a wonderful start.

Different outlooks, but in truth - not so different really.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Granny and good vote management!

What motivates a person's General Election voting choice? It's the economy, stupid! Nah, not in this case...

My paternal grandmother was an invalid and when quite elderly she lived with us for a number of years in the early 1970s. On the run up to a particular general election an official looking gentleman arrived with a clip-boarded registration list of voters. He was very sorry to hear Gran was an invalid and thought it was only fair and proper for her to exercise her right to vote. He said he would organise transport for Gran to be taken to the polling station. I was about seventeen at the time and on election day I recall the burly volunteers arriving at the house with a big van.

In utter respect to my granny's complete freedom of choice to vote for whoever she liked - a range of candidate leaflets were handed to her to read. While the men chatted to my parents I went over to my gran to see what she had. To my surprise at the time - all the leaflets were for Fianna Fail candidates! It was a bit like the old arrangement in the USSR - you can vote for anyone...in one party!

Equally interesting was Gran's selection process of the right person to vote for. She never had much interest in politics and had even less in her advanced years. She looked at one photo and then another and another. Did the person look honest, strong, too young, too old, devious, healthy etc. etc. She asked my opinion on a few, such as..."Does that fellow look like a crook?" "Does yer man look like he has heart problems?" etc.

So Gran was brought away in the van with her exceptionally well colour co-ordinated leaflets and returned safely in less than 30 minutes. I'll never forget the men's parting remarks to Gran...

"God bless you for voting Mam. There's many a country where nobody has a choice."

Friday, April 06, 2007

There's something about Marian!

Do you know any middle aged woman called Marian? If so, try saying to her... "You look well for a 53 year old!"

Chances are you will be right, or at worst she may be no more than a few years younger.

It's hard for us to grasp today the power which the 1954 Marian year had at the time throughout the Catholic World. Here in Ireland there must be hundreds of Marian shrines which were built that year in towns, villages and housing estates. This photo taken yesterday was in Monkstown here in Dublin. You can see the care and attention which is still put into the maintenance of this walled dedicated garden.

I was born a year later in 1955. In my late teens - as I went to discos with my shoulder length John Lennon hair, deep purple shirt and groovy bell bottoms - one of my cheesy comments if I met a girl called Marian was..."I can't be seen with an older chick!"

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hi, my name is John and I've an addiction!

Sky after sunset
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
I've been meaning to blog more on a few subjects recently. I want to talk about Ian Paisley and also election philosophy. But since I've bought this new feckin' camera in February I'm back addicted to photography! So I'm easier to find on Flickr these days and it's taking up a lot of my time.

In the past I used to love taking photos and developing and printing in B&W. Also went through a big phase of slide photography. Had a few different Olympus SLR cameras and good selection of lenses. I was in a tricky hybrid state in the last 7 years using a mixture of good film cameras and average digital cameras. Now I'm Back to the Future so to speak with a brilliant digital SLR beast and great editing software. It's incredibly addictive now and I'm learning more things at a great rate.

I will keep blogging but it's gonna be mixture of photoblog and wordy wisdom for the time being!

I'm not sure whether to thank or curse a certain blogging lady named after a picture element of ruddy hue. Her impressive photographic work, which combines artistic and technical skills, was the final inspiration in me getting back with enthusiasm to this addictive madness!!

Photo taken out our front window this evening.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mixed Signals

Mention the 40 foot to most people in Dublin and the swimming place below in Sandycove comes to mind...
But nearby in Dun Laoghaire there is another 40 foot - a newish trendy bar...

Recently the following dialogue ensued at home...

Daughter (in a hurry from the hall door): "See ya, going to 40 foot."

Me: "What? It's a bit dark out!"

Daughter: "Don't worry...with a bunch of friends"

Me: "But..it will be very cold, geez, you're one brave girl!"

Daughter (getting annoyed): "I've got a coat! Chill out!"

Me: "It aint me that will be chilling. Have you got a big towel?"

Daughter: "Are you drinking or something?"

Door slams.

Early Sun

Early Sun
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
A slightly hazy morning as I looked out at breakfast time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Big clean-up on Killiney Beach!

The last post on the Killiney Beach photo provoked some thoughts on colouring etc. Just for fun I'm including the unaltered and altered images below for further comment. In my humble opinion the unaltered photo, although representing the truth on the day, it is not quite as pleasing to the eye as the altered photo. I'd prefer to be on holiday in the second place! What do people think?

Original Untouched Image
Contrast and colour saturation increased

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sunny Saturday

Wasn't Saturday a fine day? A good to be alive day. Ireland always looks better when sunny. I was out roaming with the camera again.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Anyone for Cricket? Alas, not me!

Wasn't it cool that little Ireland beat the mighty Pakistan? There is suddenly more talk of cricket going around our island.

It is a game that I do not like much, but I've tried and will maybe try again. I've watched it very slightly more often on TV in the last six months on Sky Sports HD...but that's mainly because the finer details in the grass look excellent on our 50 inch high definition plasma!

I know there are many fans out there. Do any of you remember the book written in Irish "An Dialann Deorai" (The Diary of an Exile) written by Donal MacAmhlaigh? It was on the Leaving Cert Irish course in the 1970s and was based on Donal's experiences when having to emigrate from Ireland to Britain in the 1950s and his time doing Navvy work etc. The last thing I expected this ardent Irish language speaking, GAA fanatical, quintessentially rural Ireland man to write in his book was that he liked watching the English play cricket. But he did. He liked the relaxed pace and I think the civilised behaviour etc. Ever since reading this all those years ago I've attempted to take some interest in it. I've even a fair idea of the rules etc. It also perplexes me how people can go along to the big cricket grounds where you seem to be miles away from the action and sit there and enjoy it.

I like watching snooker on TV which is slow paced but intriguing. Even bowls to some extent. I'd like to warm more to cricket.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Music, sweet music!

Spousey has a flashy modern red sports car (yes, I'm jealous). She often notices young lads gawking when out on the road. Eh...I'm sure it's the car that's the gawk subject.... she's not a bad looking chick with natural dark hair and wearing the right sunglasses... but I'm certain there are quite stringent age limits with 20 year old lads for tastes in older women!!!

Anyway, yesterday she told me that a white mid 90s Honda Civic pulls up beside her at traffic lights. I'm sure you get the picture....black windows...fancy wheels....unnatural exhaust...blue underbelly lights....thumping bassy music.

The window winds down and two pimply faced lads in the front seats take a closer look at the gleaming red sports car. At this stage with the window down the noise of rap music is stronger. Spousey is in the Dublin County Choir and listens to difficult practise pieces in the car all the time. So in an attempt at counter-attack she winds down her window, turns up the CD player and gave them a 100 watt sample of Johann Sebastian Bach's more energetic works!

The irony of 300 year old music belting out in this setting was not lost on the lads and they went into resounding laughter. The lights then turned green and they accelerated off like escaping from Hell. Spousey just shook her head and hoped they would be safe.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Oil Power and Solar Power

I spotted this treat today at lunchtime from the shoreline at Blackrock. Maybe there is something symbolic for our future about the Poolbeg ESB power station being beside a bright rainbow....old energy and new energy?

New "kids" on the block!

Well....kids is truly an exaggeration, but it somehow seems apt. I'm referring to the invasion of the Blogosphere by Oldies.

First we've got Grandad over at Head Rambles. He writes great articles. Then his wife Granny started it at Granny Lost The Plot, another very good writer. The interaction between the two blogs is a riot of fun where I suspect fact and fiction blur beautifully. It's brilliant stuff.

We've also got another skilled writer Grannymar at oldbones who seems to be good pals with Granny. The communication between this pair is like watching One Foot in the Grave on the web. And Grannymar's daughter ellybabes has been blogging for quite awhile (and indeed Elly's partner whom Grannymar refers to as sin-in-law!). So this causes further fun and interactions. Indeed Grandad is now trying to encourage his grown up daughter to blog. Geez....in the modern IT world often dominated by youth, this might seem to some as the equivalent of the tail wagging the dog!

I think it's all terrific, adds great balance. Many popular bloggers seem to be young in their 20's or 30's. I was feeling a little old at 52, but now I feel younger!

The Oldies have lots to say, a long lifetime of rich experiences. Young people were never old but old people were young.

Be afraid, be very afraid! The invasion has started.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Smell - a very under-rated sense!

My wife and I were in the Avoca shop in Powerscourt yesterday. We noticed lavender sacks for sale. The shape and scent brought me back more than 40 years. My mother used to put these sacks in chests of drawers with clothes. The smell of lavender still reminds me of our old house, drawers, comfort, security, letting parents take care of you. When you're an adult you can take on big challenges, but a child should just enjoy growing up in blissful safety.

I'm currently reading a novel called the The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. There is a great passage in it about how the young girl Liesel relates through smell to her foster father, Hans, who is kind to her and is teaching her to read each evening in the basement of their house....

Some nights after working in the basement, Liesel would sit crouched in the bath and hear the same utterances from the kitchen.

"You stink", Mama would say to Hans. "Like cigarettes and kerosene."

Sitting in the water, she imagined the smell of it, mapped out on her papa's clothes. More than anything, it was the smell of friendship, and she could find it on herself too. Liesel loved the smell. She would sniff her arm and smile as the water cooled around her.

I've written last year about how under-rated and powerful the sense of smell can be (Smell..the sense of the past and also comments on the novel Perfume). I'm sure we can all relate certain smells to childhood or other memories. Any thoughts?

March Trees

March Trees
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
There are some great trees in Powerscourt Gardens, Co. Wicklow. These looked interesting yesterday with the fading sun in background

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Feeding Fun

Feeding Fun
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
Blackrock Park at lunchtime on Tuesday.

Monday, March 05, 2007

RTE's The Restaurant - snapshot of new Ireland

I find myself watching this TV piece regularly for various reasons.

The side show is sometimes more interesting than the celebrity chef and critics table. I refer to the other diners tables which are sometimes occupied by an obnoxious bunch of snobby pretentious Irish nouveau riche. Their holier than thou attitude to the food is often dramatically contrasted by their poor table manners. They would do themselves more favours if they could handle their cutlery properly, avoid pointing with their knives and in particular drop their pompous accents which are often clearly put-on for the night. Also, their silly attempts at being knowledgeable at wines nearly always lets them down spectacularly. It's very difficult to name grape type and regions from taste - see how often the real experts get it badly wrong. It would be far more honest for them to just say how they like the wine and comment on it's flavour and scent, rather than trying to impress by effectively picking a wine name and region (and even year) out of a hat.

To me it's a fine example of how immature many of us are in the middle class with our new found wealth. The English upper middle class could still run rings around many of us when it comes to dining breeding. But as long as we can laugh at ourselves it's harmless fun.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Irish Blog Awards - Oscar Night.

Well in spite of a nasty bacterial infection of cellulitis in my leg and doped with heavy antibiotics I ventured along to the Irish Blog Awards on Saturday night.

I do think that the most interesting winners of the night were those two great sisters Kirstie and Aisling of beaut.ie They were terrific to talk to and the idea of their webiste is excellent. I believe they are making money from it and things can only get better from the two awards they have now picked up. Aisling has the challenge of MS to contend with and is so cheerful, outgoing and optimistic. I wish them both every success.

The very warm Sinead Gleeson was also great to meet and talk to again and she so deserves the Best Arts and Culture award for her hard work on the Sigla Blog

I also got to talk to Red Mum - who is a great writer and photographer and did well with her Best Personal Blog award. Her nice northern accent makes me feel at home as all my maternal relations are also from Northern Ireland.

It was also good to chat briefly to the previously mysterious Twenty Major. For the last few years I couldn't get the image out of my mind of him looking like the weird Ho-Chi-Minh type guy at top of his website. He's quite Irish looking in reality as we all now know and did well again this year in the awards.

Also with the help of old blogging pal that girl I tracked down Omaniblog whom I'd been most anxious to meet and we had a great long chat.

Finally I settled down for awhile for a good chat with gingerpixel (Claire Wilson) and her husband Matt and some of their family. They are really nice people. I think Claire will sooner or later get an award for her great photography and her work has really motivated me to get back to this hobby which I've always enjoyed since my teens.

I'd been hoping to get a word with one of my favourite and most inspiring writers Sarah Carey but she was gone before I'd a chance. It's unbelievable that she has yet to win a blog award.

Well done to all the winners and to Damien again for his tireless work. More details of all this years winners are here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins

It reminded me of the logic I held in phases as a teenager. The book practically holds up placards to crystallize feelings that many would harbour in varying nebulous forms. Its easy to bare conventional religions to ridicule. Also, the Darwinian arguments have always made perfect sense to me.

The trouble is that we think too highly today of our current intellectual and scientific abilities. We are still minions in our knowledge of what the heck is going on. A small example in this book related to Dawkins' sneer on the Sun appearing to come down from the sky as witnessed by thousands of people at Fatima. He took the classical irrefutable line that no matter what they all witnessed - the Sun clearly did not come down from the sky - the whole planet would have been destroyed otherwise. Good smart-arsed teenager Physics logic. He doesn't bother trying to analyse it any further - not worthy. That's the trouble with conventional scientists. Anything unknown which doesn't fit into currently understood measurement tools is completely dismissed.

We all know that there are many things unexplained. Scientists try to analyse everything with conventional detection systems for energies in the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to gamma rays and for subatomic particles etc. It's poetry in motion when everything can be explained, controlled, repeated. We use it to ultimately build the predictable solutions we enjoy in our 21st century lives. But the weird stuff doesn't play ball. Try repeating the same experiment in the so called paranormal and it's different every time. Ghosts would be great if you could control them - very handy to be able to exploit something which goes through walls. Today's scientists don't seem to know where to begin in this area. It's much easier to rubbish everything. But many open minded scientists have called for a newer super-science. Face up to everything unexplained. Keep open minded and push the boundaries.

I agree with Dawkins in so many things. I agree it is reasonable to expect more answers from science. But science needs to discover more and more of the dynamics which drive the universe and life. We are only scratching the surface.

I want to know why people dying in operating theatres can describe in uncanny detail what is happening in other parts of the hospital. I want to know how my 2 year old daughter suddenly made detailed claims of contacts with her Grandad who died when she was a small baby before she could know him (see here). I want to know how truly bizarre things line up when loved ones pass away.

Scientists like Dawkins reckon that we are deluded. But if we are patient and continue our work, science will eventually provide answers and may even fuse with philosophy. However, here in 2007 Richard Dawkins does not have the answers, he instead offers ridicule at the obvious soft targets.