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Hello again from Ireland.
Where every Man is a King but no-one wears a Crown.
Home of the obscure phrase,
the unlikely reference,
the confusing direction,
and the misrepresented quote.
This tiny little country really does have everything needed to baffle and confound.
Come visit us and you will see why.
In this month's edition we continue our exploration of the tourist destinations in Ireland. We also have an obituary for the fine Irish actor Milo O'Shea and an article on legendary Irish hero Fionn MacCumhaill.
We welcome your input so please do send in your article or story!
Until next month,
RIP-OFF-IRELAND SHEDDING ITS EXPENSIVE IMAGE
The perception that Ireland had become a very expensive country - a rip-off Republic - emerged during the Celtic Tiger boom era of the 1990s and early part of the current century.
Photo From Free Public Domain Photographs
With near full employment (only 4% unemployment at the height of the prosperity - now unemployment it is over 14%), staff could afford to pick and choose their jobs, pushing up prices, offering poor value, inflating business costs.
How things have changed. With the Tiger slain the economic crisis that nearly sank the country in 2008 and 2009 has seen earnings plummet, taxes spiral upwards while employment opportunities have disappeared. The result for the Tourist Sector of the Irish Economy has been predictable. Widescale closures of Hotels and Golf Courses throughout the country while the devastating reduction in the standard of living for employees has meant that jobs have become cherished, meaning better customer service and value.
A 2009 Bord Failte survey of visitors to Ireland revealed that as many as 41% of Tourists felt that holidaying in Ireland was too expensive. The most recent survey has seen this figure plummet to 17%.
So what is happening?
Well the first thing that can be said is that with the devastation in the Hotel sector those who remain standing are having to offer ever more enticing deals and room rates to their visitors. Where this has resulted in more people through the Hotel lobby the staff in the hotels are now required to offer better service, and cheaper too.
An increase in advertising by the Irish Tourist agencies with promotions such as 'The Gathering' have also helped to drive more visitors into Ireland, whose Dollars and Pounds are going further, a lot further than before. The Currency Exchange rate with the US Dollar has helped too. The Greenback has recovered from the 1.60 ceiling it nearly shattered last year to the 1.30 level it occupies today. It is clearly more affordable and a better overall experience to visit Ireland during its financial humbling.
Visitors from America seem to agree. The Bord Failte survey cited over 50% of visitors from the US as indicating that their visit 'exceeded their expectations'.
Nothing like a bit of austerity to focus the minds of business owners and staff alike!
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GAY MARRIAGE REFERENDUM RECOMMENDED FOR IRELAND
The 'Convention on the Constitution' Committee' that is meeting to recommend changes to the Irish Constitution has voted in favour of legalizing Gay Marriage in Ireland.
The Committee is comprised of 66 members of the Irish public, who were chosen by random, with 33 politicians from the various political parties and a chairman making up the 100 strong group. The Committee voted by a margin of 79 to 19 in favour of recommending the Constitution be changed to allow Gay Marriage. The Government is now obliged to have a Parliamentary debate on the subject within four months and to then set out a timescale for a Referendum.
The timing of this decision will certainly cause problems for Fine Gael. The main Party in Government is regarded as being more conservative than their rivals Fianna Fail and certainly more conservative than the left-wing Labour Party who are in Government coalition with Fine Gael. They are now faced with being perceived as the Party that quickly brought both the abortion issue and the Gay Marriage issue to the Irish public, many of whom would prefer to just leave these issues alone.
The decision to legislate for the X-Case on foot of the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar has put the abortion issue front and centre. Not all Fine Gael T.D's (members of parliament) are at all happy with the proposed abortion legislation with many set to oppose the provision allowing for abortion in Ireland where there is a risk of suicide by the person seeking the abortion. Many Fine Gael T.D's are concerned that this will amount to 'abortion on demand' and are not assuaged by the assurances that any such provision would be strictly policed.
By also putting the question of Gay Marriage to the Irish people there is a fear within Fine Gael that the Party may be seen to be acting too radically or liberally, and too quickly. Of course asking the question about Gay Marriage of the Irish citizenry does not automatically mean the Referendum will be passed. The Irish public has in the past demonstrated itself to be liberal in the opinion polls and conservative at the ballot box.
An example of his occurred in the 1995 Referendum to allow Divorce in Ireland. The measure was enacted by a margin of 50.28% to 49.73%, and this despite the fact that it looked as if the measure would easily pass in the opinion polls prior to the actual vote. A previous Referendum on the same subject in 1986 was rejected by the Irish people by 63% to 37%, thus preventing the introduction of divorce in the country and again when opinion polls indicated that the Referendum would be easily passed. (note 1)
Consequently those who are in favour of Gay Marriage in Ireland will certainly not be taking the result of any future Referendum for granted.
The Local and European elections that are due to be held in 2014 also complicate the matter for Fine Gael. They will certainly not want these mid-term elections to become a de-facto vote on their decision to hold a Referendum on Gay Marriage. They have enough to be concerned about with Fianna Fail surging in the opinion polls and their austerity policies attracting ever-increasing criticism.
The battle-lines are being drawn up already with the Labour Party delighted to have a policy that they can promote as one of their own. Party Leader Eamon Gilmore:
I believe myself that same-sex couples have the right to marry, I'm glad the Constitutional Convention has recommended that
It is possible that Fine Gael may delay any actual Referendum until the next term of Government, making it a General Election issue or they could reject the recommendation altogether which, for a somewhat conservative Party would be quite a radical move.
note 1: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1277&context=djcil
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REBELLION IN LABOUR PARTY MIGHT SUIT FINE GAEL
The Irish Government Coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party looks very unlikely to run its full term despite the insistence of the two Party leaders.
Rarely has a Political Party leader looked in so much peril of removal as does Eamon Gilmore at this moment. To the despair of his Labour Party colleagues it is their Party who are taking the lions's share of the blame for the never-ending austerity measures that the current Government is imposing.
Never mind the fact that the policies now being implemented were first started by the previous Fianna Fail administration. Never mind the fact that Fine Gael is the largest Party in Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) and should shoulder most of the blame. The electorate has focused most of its ire on the Labour Party who seem to have abandoned just about every one of the core values for which it once stood.
It must seem amazing to Fianna Fail supporters and Fine Gael supporters alike that the Labour Party, that which is supposed to represent the interests of the working classes and unemployed, the poorest and the down-trodden, could be part of a Government that has introduced such savage and wide-ranging cuts in public services and incredible increases in taxation.
That the Labour Party supports the introduction of a Property Tax will probably be the final nail in its coffin. Of course both Fine Gael and Labour claim that they have no choice with the Property Tax and that they must introduce the tax as part of the EU/IMF/ECB loans to keep the country going. If that does not work then they will point to Fianna Fail and blame them for all of the austerity being foisted on the hapless Irish public.
This tactic worked for a while but has now worn very thin. Fianna Fail has bounced back in the polls while the Labour Party has plunged downwards. The Party has now lost 5 T.D.'s (members of the Irish parliament), all of whom have left in disgust at the direction the Party is heading. MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Nessa Childers is the latest member to resign from Labour's Parliamentary Party. The Labour Party candidate in the recent Meath by-election did not get even enough votes to secure the return of his election deposit! There is a public perception that the Labour Party leadership has sold out and the Party seems set to implode with rebellious factions fighting each other.
But does this suit Fine Gael?
The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has repeated his assertion that there will be no renegotiation of the 'Programme for Government' and that there will be no substantial reshuffle of his Cabinet. He is basically giving Labour no wriggle room whatsoever at precisely the moment when they are taking the flak for the severe policies the Fine Gael Government are implementing. That is pretty useful political cover!
If Labour left Government, as they must surely do in advance of any General Election, then Fine Gael would still have enough support to carry on, and, even if it did not, it could cut the smaller Party loose while attacking the policies of Fianna Fail and then the policies of their previous coalition partners.
A Fine Gael unencumbered and untainted by a link to a faltering Labour Party would certainly look more attractive to the Irish electorate than the current coalition Government does. Fine Gael will find a way to ditch Labour unless, as seems likely, Labour does it to itself.
The Labour Party is on the road to electoral decimation.
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UNICEF RANKS IRELAND TENTH BEST FOR KIDS
A report by UNICEF has provided mixed news for Irish parents with its findings ranging from very good to seriously bad. The report listed an average rank in the four elements of child well-being: material well-being, health, education, and behaviours and risks.
The report examined data from 2001 to 2010 for 29 developed OECD countries and ranked The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden at the top of the list with the UK in 16th place and the US in 21st place. The listing of Ireland in 10th place is relatively good but does however mask some shortcomings in the Irish treatment of its younger citizens.
Ireland ranked tenth overall with the report finding:
The full report can be accessed here: http://www.unicef-irc.org/Report-Card-11/
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FREE ATTRACTION #10: HOLY CROSS ABBEY, TIPPERARY
The Holy Cross Abbey is a restored Cistercian monastery and is located near Thurles in the heart of County Tipperary, less than a two-hours drive from Dublin, some 150km. A fragment of the 'true cross' on which Christ died was granted to the Abbey by the Plantagenet Queen, Isabella of Angoulême in the thirteenth century, estimated to be the year 1233.
The Abbey has thus been a place of significant Christina pilgrimage for centuries as well as a symbol of Catholic resistance during the Reformation of the Church in the sixteenth century. The Abbey fell into ruins after the Cromwellian war but was re-listed as a national monument in the year 1880. Its restoration was complete in 1969 when the Sacristan of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican provided the Abbey with an authenticated relic of the Holy Cross. These relics were stolen in 2011 but later recovered and returned to the Abbey.
The Abbey is one of the most popular tourist attractions in County Tipperary and is located a short distance from the Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle. Holycross village is small but has a number of public houses and cafes. The Rock of Cashel attracts much of the attention from visitors in this part of the country but those who take the trouble to visit Holycross are seldom disappointed. The local community have also pitched in and offer guided tours -check in advance so as not to be disappointed. They can tel you all about 'the whispering arch', the night stairs, the oldest bell in Ireland and the medieval painted friezes and the marvellous stone carvings.
The Abbey is something of a hidden gem.
FEE-PAYING ATTRACTION #10: BUNRATTY CASTLE & FOLK PARK, CLARE
The tourist site at Bunratty has been described as a 'window on Ireland's past'. The site offers an exploration of the 15th century Bunratty Castle, the 19th century Bunratty Folk Park and the Village Street in Bunratty.
Built in 1425 the Castle is now fully restored and is perhaps the finest example of a medieval castle in Ireland. It houses a fine collection of medieval furniture and has a recreation of houses and cottages around tis walls, much as they may have existed centuries ago. At night he Castle is scene to a unique recreating of a medieval banquet complete with the Bunratty Castle Entertainers accompanied by harp and violin - you will need a reservation!
The Bunratty Folk Park is a 26-acre site with over 30 buildings with actual 19th century characters to meet and greet (ok, these are portrayed by actors, but play along). The walled garden is also nice to explore.
Bunratty Castle is located next door to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher and is one of the major tourist attractions in Ireland. If you intend to visit this part of the country you should certainly consider visiting. It is a very 'deliberate' tourist experience with the medieval banquets perhaps not being everyone's idea of what they want to experience in Ireland. Nevertheless if you are prepared to suspend your disbelief then you are sure to enjoy the banquet and shows which regularly get great reviews.
Find out more at: http://www.shannonheritage.com/Attractions/BunrattyCastleandFolkPark/
THE LEGEND OF FIONN MacCUMHAILL
Fionn MacCumhaill was an ancient Irish legendary figure. His name has a number of different anglicized forms including Finn McCool and Fionn MacUmaill. The name Fionn is taken from a Gaelic word that translates as 'fair' likely referring to his lightly coloured hair. Fionn was the son of Cumhaill and who leader of the ancient Fianna, a band of mercenary warriors who lived apart from the rest of Gaelic society.
His mother, Muirne, was daughter to Tadg Mac Nuadat, who was a druid. Cumhaill kidnapped Muirne when her father refused him permission to wed. Outlawed by the High King of the time, Conn of the Hundred Battles, the subsequent battle of Cnucha resulted in the demise of Cumhaill by Goll MacMorna, who assumed leadership of the Fianna.
Muirne was exiled and was placed under the care of Fiacal MacConchinn, Cumhaills brother-in-law. After bearing a child Muirne left him in the care of his new family and a warrior woman named Liath Luachra, who was responsible for teaching him the ways of war and the Fianna. He was also tutored by Finnegas, the druid poet who had spent years searching for the 'salmon of knowledge', a mythical create that could endow all of the knowledge of the world. Eventually he caught the fish and instructed the young Fionn to cook it for him. While cooking the fish over the fire he scalded his thumb on the hot flesh and instinctively put the thumb to his mouth, instantly gaining the wisdom long sought after by Finnegas.
When an adult Fionn traveled to Tara, seat of the famous High Kings of Ireland. For 23 years the fairy Aillen razed the site to the ground every Samhain having first lulled its guards into slumber with her music. Fionn managed to defeat Aileen however, by keeping himself awake by piercing his own skin with the point of his spear. His nobility was recognised and Goll MacMorna, who was still leader of the Fianna, stepped aside to allow Fionn assume his rightful place. Gol even gave Fionn his home at the Hill of Almu as recompense for the death of his father.
Fionn's most famous wife was Sadbh who had been turned into a deer by the druid Fer Doirich. While out hunting, the hounds of Fionn, Bran and Sceolang, recognised the deer as a once-human form, since they too had once been human. Fionn did not kill the deer who was immediately transformed into his beautiful wife. She bore him a son, Oisin, who later became one of the greatest of all of the Fianna. The druid Fer Doirich returned however and re-cast Sadbh as a deer who then vanished into the forest forever.
The reigning High King, Cormac Mac Airt, later promised Fionn the hand of his daughter Grainne. It was not to be however as Grainne and Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, another of the Fianna, eloped with Fionn in desperate pursuit. The mater was resolved when Fionn allowed the lovers to be together, only for him to take revenge in later life by not using his powers to heal Diarmuid and prevent his death, after he had been gored by a boar.
Fionn's deeds are indeed legendary. He is credited with creating the Giants Causeway as stepping stones from the North of Ireland to Scotland. Another legend tells how he threw a large piece of the land into the sea at an enemy, that piece of land becoming the Isle of Man. The hole left behind by the clump of land he threw became Lough Neagh.
How Fionn MacCumhaill met his death is shrouded in mystery. One legend suggests that he is not dead but merely sleeping in a cave under Dublin, ready to strike back against Ireland's enemies, should the need ever arise.
MILO O'SHEA - MORE THAN JUST THE 'IRISHMAN WITH THE EYEBROWS'
The famed Irish actor Milo O'Shea has died. He was a renowned performer and had a marvellous career on both stage and screen.
Born in Dublin in 1926 his parents were both entertainers, his father a professional Singer and his mother a Harpist and Ballet Dancer. His earliest role was in a radio production of 'Oliver Twist' when he was just ten years old. Encouraged by his parents he pursued his dream of being an actor and left for America. Like so many aspiring actors his 'day-job' was a lot less glamorous than his acting turns. He worked as an Elevator operator in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City before returning to Ireland where he found fame with his performance in the 1967 film 'Ulysses', based on the notoriously difficult book by James Joyce. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote:
Milo O'Shea is perfect as a fortyish, black-haired Bloom, bright-eyed when fun and lust are rising, flaccid and pathetic when rebuffed
His first of two 'Tony' nominations was for appearing opposite Eli Wallach in the 1968 stage production of 'Staircase' in which the two leads portrayed a gay couple living together in what is regarded as one of the breakthrough roles depicting homosexuality on Broadway.
On the silver screen he starred in Franco Zeffirelli's renowned production of 'Romeo and Juliet' and as the mad scientist Durand Durand in the film 'Barbarella' with Jane Fonda. International pop band 'Duran Duran' took their name from the character so famously played by Milo O'Shea.
His second Tony nomination was in 1981 for his role as the Mercedes-driving priest in 'Mass Appeal' and was followed in 1981 by a most memorable performance as the biased judge sparring with Paul Newman in the Sidney Lumet production of 'The Verdict'.
He regularly appeared in Movies including 'The Purple Rose of Cairo' and 'The Playboys' while on television his performances included the TV series 'Murder in the Heartland' as well turns on 'The West Wing', 'Cheers', 'The Golden Girls' and 'Frasier'.
He will be remembered for the huge variety of roles that his versatility as an actor allowed him to carry off with such ease. From comedy to serious courtroom drama to bar-room comedy his range was huge. Survived by his wife, Kitty Sullivan, his sons, Colm and Steven, and three grandchildren, he will be missed.
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