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SOME GHOST ESTATES TO BE DEMOLISHED
The number of unfinished housing projects or 'ghost estates' in Ireland has been put at 2066 according to a Government report. The sudden collapse of the housing market in Ireland has seen prices plummet by anywhere between 50% and 60%, depending on which report you believe. Another consequence of the collapse was that partly built projects were simply abandoned by developers who went bust in the wake of declining demand for their product.
The results are plain to see in every County in the country. Part-finished houses and apartment schemes blight the landscape and have become a haven for anti-social behaviour and vandalism. The situation is even worse for those residents who have occupied part of a housing estate only to see the remaining houses left unbuilt while roads and parks remain uncompleted.
The government National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) is overseeing at least 166 of these projects and is fully expected to demolish some of the properties now in their ownership. NAMA acquired many of these housing schemes when it took over the assets of the failed banks, especially Anglo Irish Bank. The other main banks were also able to transfer troubled loans into NAMA at a severe discount. NAMA hopes to actually turn a profit by the year 2020 but it remains to be seen if market conditions improve sufficiently by then to make this feasible. In the meantime the sight of partly-built and in some cases derelict houses and apartment blocks continue to serve as a physical and tangible reminder of the folly that the country engaged in.
OBESITY IS PROVING TO BE A COMPLEX ISSUE
The scale of the resistance facing the Irish government in its attempts to tackle the ever-increasing obesity problem in Ireland has been highlighted recently by the reaction to some of its initiatives. The first effort was to provide an extra half-hour of physical education for school-children. This has been ruled out as school-hours in Ireland are already above the EU average. The second initiative was to reduce the sales tax (VAT) on mineral water drinks to encourage their consumption instead of fattening fizzy drinks. This too is under threat as, under current law similar products must have the same VAT rate. Plans to have restaurants and cafes provide calorie information of meals they provide on actual menus has also been resisted by the food trade as too expensive to implement.
The attempt to reduce fizzy drink consumption is proving especially difficult. Many schools have small shops and vending machines that actually provide fizzy drinks, and at a premium. It is estimated that as much as 1.3 Million Euro is being generated by these vending machines for schools and clearly this funding would have to be replaced by the government if it bans the machines completely. It is estimated that each school receives at least 3,500 euro annually to place a vending machine on their premises. An alternative strategy is to tax the fizzy drinks more heavily, thus reducing their consumption but unless the tax is very high then its effectiveness will likely be minimal.
Despite successive increases on alcohol and tobacco by Irish governments studies have shown that repeated small increases in cost are a lot less effective in reducing demand for a product that a single swift larger price-hike. This likely explains why the rate of smoking remains stubbornly high in Ireland, and remains in the 25 to 30% bracket, despite Ireland have the most expensive cigarettes in Europe (of which 79% is tax). Against this backdrop it is clear that if obesity is to be tackled by taxing fatty foods then a bold move by government is needed to drive the point home.
LATEST UNEMPLOYMENT STATISTICS MAKE GRIM READING
The fact that the overall rate of unemployment in Ireland has stabilized at about 14.6% is bad enough but a study of the makeup of that unemployment rate is even grimmer. Just under 40% of 15 to 25 year-olds are unemployed. One fifth of those unemployed are non-nationals. The unemployment rate among University graduates was 8%, while only 2% of people with a nursing qualification were out of work. The very high rate of unemployment among young people is further expected to accelerate the rate of emigration with the USA, Britain, Canada and Australia being the favoured destinations.
WORLD RECORD FOR IRISH FARMERS
The appalingly wet conditions of recent months have put many farmers in a very serious position, unable as they are to harvest their crops. Nevertheless the spirit of goodwill prevailed in County Louth recently when 208 Combine Harvesters packed into a 145 acre field to harvest the winter barley and set a new world record while also raising tens of thousands of euro for charity.
'ANGLO AVENGER' IN THE NEWS AGAIN
The colourful exploits of construction developer Joe McNamara have hit the headlines again. He originally hit the headlines when he drive a cement lorry into the gates of Dail Eireann (the national parliament) in an apparent protest against Anglo Irish Bank. He was later acquitted on charges of dangerous driving and criminal damage.
His latest project involved building a Stonehenge-like structure on Achill island off County Mayo. The local council have maintained that the structure was built without planning permission and must be destroyed and now the High Court has agreed. The structure must be dismantled by Mr. McNamara or else the Council will dismantle it and bill him for the expense.
JACK AND EMILY TOP BABY-NAMES LIST
The most popular first names in Ireland have been revealed by the Central Statistics Office. In 2011 the top 5 Boys names were: Jack, James, Sean, Daniel, Conor. The top 5 Girls names were Emily, Sophie, Emma, Grace, Lily.
IRISH HOPEFULS IN ACTION AT LONDON OLYMPICS
The Irish Olympic team are in action in London with the boxing arena offering the best chance of gold glory. The pressure is certainly on Katie Taylor. The young boxer from Bray is the favourite to win the Women’s Lightweight Boxing event but it definitely won't be easy for the current world champion.
Outside of the ring Robert Heffernan is a contender in the 50Km walking event while Analise Murphy has a chance in the Sailing.
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FREE ATTRACTION #2: NATIONAL BOTANIC GARDENS, DUBLIN
The Botanic Gardens are located in Glasnevin in Dublin, about 3.5 miles from the city centre. The gardens are a little bit off the beaten track but are well worth the effort to visit. From the city centre the best way to get there is by bus or taxi. The gardens have a large car park for those brave souls willing to face driving in Dublin traffic. We don't recommend visitors to the city drive anywhere!
Open to the public since 1800, the gardens serve as both a great visitor destination as well as a scientific research and conservation facility. Consequently this is not a typical public park and thus no dogs are allowed nor picnics, bicycles, fishing, ball games, jogging or running, nor the playing of musical instruments or recorded music.
The gardens are one of the hidden gems of Dublin city with marvellous walks, flower-beds, a walled vegetable garden, beautifully kept greenhouses as well as a newly built visitor centre with a fine cafe and exhibit hall. Musical, photographic and garden events are staged throughout the year so it is well worth checking the gardens website at www.botanicgardens.ie to see if you can plan your visit while an event is taking place. Remember - admission is free! The gardens close earlier during the winter months but stay open until 6pm in Spring and Summer. The Botanic Gardens have a limited number of wheelchairs available at the visitor centre near the main entrance. There are free Guided Tours every Sunday at 12 noon and 2.30 pm. A series of audio tours are also available.
The main problem with a tour of the garden is always going to be the weather. If rain can be avoided then you are guaranteed a lovely few hours in beautiful surroundings. Afternoons will always be busier than mornings. If you are interested in Irish history then you might want to take advantage of nearby Glasnevin Cemetery which offers a one-hour walking tour for a small fee. The cemetery is the final resting place of some giants of Irish history including O'Connell, deValera, Countess Markievicz and Parnell. The cemetery backs onto the botanic gardens and is a short walk away. See here for more: www.glasnevintrust.ie/glasnevin/.
So, a fine day-out might consist of a morning visit to the gardens, lunch at the visitor cafe and then a short walk to the cemetery to take the tour. Plenty of walking to be done for sure but well worth the effort! It is suggested that either bus or car be used to get to and from the location - don't try to walk it as you will be doing enough walking when you get there!
FEE-PAYING ATTRACTION #2: DUBLIN ZOO
Dublin Zoo is rightly regarded as one of the best city Zoos in Europe and rightly so. It is a large, modern, efficient and very well run facility and is a popular haunt at all times of the year for both visiting tourists and native Dubliners. The very popularity of the Zoo can also be one of its disadvantages. On a sunny Saturday or Sunday it can get very, very busy. The first thing to do then is to book a ticket online - this is important as the ticket-office queues can be very long. Get a ticket online and save yourself a whole load of hassle. Of course if you arrive early enough then this should not be a problem. The Zoo opens at 9.30am, closing at 6pm in Summer but earlier in Winter. There is a fine restaurant and Zoo shop so once inside you can enjoy your visit in comfort. The Zoo hosts lectures, photography camps and much more - be sure to check out their website in advance of your visit - a little planning here will go a log way to enhancing to your visit.
The Zoo is located in Phoenix Park and is very well served by buses. The Luas tram stops at Heuston Station and is reasonably near but if possible arrange your transport all the way into the park. If you drive into the park then there are car parks available but you are advised to get there early to claim one or else you will be parking a fair walk away. Phoenix Park itself is well worth a walk around especially in fine weather so an ideal itinerary would be to get to the Zoo early, have lunch in the restaurant and then have a stroll around the park which boasts Farmleigh House (a free visitor attraction), although it is a fair walk across the park from the zoo. It is not recommended that visitors walk to their city hotel or accommodation from the park. Get a taxi or bus and save yourself the trouble.
A fine map of the Phoenix Park can be found at http://www.farmleigh.ie/media/Tourism.pdf.
The website for Farmleigh House is www.farmleigh.ie while the website for Dublin Zoo is www.dublinzoo.ie
Dannny Boy is one of over 100 songs composed to
the same tune. The author was the English lawyer,
songwriter and entertainer, Frederic Edward
Weatherly (1848-1929). He wrote the lyrics to
Danny Boy in 1910 but only used the traditional
tune when he was sent the 'Londonderry Air' by his
sister-in-law in 1912. The song was republished in
1913. Alfred Perceval Graves was a friend of
Weatherly but the two fell out when Graves claimed
that his friend had stolen some of the lyrics that
Graves himself had written for the song. The tune
was also known as the 'Air from County Derry'.
The earliest appearance of the tune in print was
in 1855 in 'Ancient Music of Ireland' by George
Petrie (1789-1866) when it was given to Petrie by
Jane Ross of Limavady in County Derry, who claimed
to have copied the tune from an itinerant piper.
The song became very popular in America where it
was recorded by Bing Crosby. It has been used by
many Irish traditional and even rock musicians
ever since. The famous Irish rock band, Thin Lizzy,
used the music on their 1979 album, 'Black Rose'.
It remains one of the most popular and well known
Irish love songs of all time.
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.
And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an 'Ave' there for me.
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.
Listen to the tune to this and other famous Irish
FROM NEW ZEALAND TO IRELAND
by Nancy Hawks
I have just returned to New Zealand after that
long awaited trip to Ireland to find my 'roots'.
I grew up hearing stories from my father about
Roscommon where his mother was born, and to visit
the beautiful little town of Keadue was a
highlight of my trip.
I found a very distant relative (I reckon about 25
times removed if I stretch things a little) but
sadly no family headstones in the cemetery of the
Catholic Church. They may have been there but so
many were broken, indecipherable and covered with
weeds that I couldn't find anything that resembled
my Benison family name. I felt as though I was
walking all over my ancestors as I fought my way
through the prickles. Whose responsibility is it
to take care of these precious old cemeteries?
The Famine Museum in Roscommon was a sobering
experience, the numbers that died, 1.5 million, is
rather mind-numbing and to see that a million
emigrated as well must have had a huge impact on
a small country. I walked around the museum and
thought of what my grandmother and her 6 siblings
went through as children when they chose to leave
their parents and emigrate to New Zealand. A
journey that took months on those old ships,
knowing that they would never be able to return.
My 23 hours of flying was nothing in comparison.
I am a keen collector of fridge magnets and always
try to get one as a keepsake of places I have
visited on my travels. I did my usual hunt at the
Famine Museum and was horrified to see the magnets
that they had on display, 'Been there, done that,
enjoyed it, the Famine Museum"'. Needless to say I
didn't purchase one, whoever designed that
particular magnet certainly showed no sensitivity
and the thought ran through my mind that it would
be like someone saying about visiting the Jewish
death camps of the holocaust - 'Been there, done
that, enjoyed it'.
I loved just about every minute of my all too
brief visit to Ireland, from Ballymena where one
set of grandparents came from, (grandfather was
Northern Irish Presbyterian) to Roscommon where
my Southern Irish Catholic grandmother came from,
(they met and married in NZ).
I loved the accents, the lady looking for the
1,2,3 bus. The friendliness and good humour of the
people, the young lady who stopped in the street
of Dublin to ask us if we were lost and then
directed us to the train station. The hour and a
half trying to drive out of Dublin and the
directions that we were given to get out of Enniskerry.
Each person we asked contradicted the previous
person, and an hour later we were on our way to
Bray after trying each street in turn. The parking
attendant who said that we could park our car in
the street for half an hour and then added 'But
don't hurry back, it's nearly lunchtime'. The B&Bs,
who all wanted to be paid in cash. The bus trip
around Dublin and listening to the Tour operator
with his stories of Molly Malone, the 'tart with
I'm glad I've finally had the opportunity to find
my heritage. I'm waiting now for all my films to
be developed so that I can share my memories with
the rest of my family. We're proud of our Irish
ancestry and I know that I'll be back again if
ever our dollar improves and the bank isn't so
quick at sending out the credit card statements!
Nancy Hawks, Auckland, New Zealand