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Happy Halloween from Ireland!
The country is gearing up for the annual round of bonfires and Trick-or-Treaters. I have to admit that the procession of Goblins, Ghosts, Pirates and Princesses that darken my door and proclaim 'Trick or Treat' leaves me a little sad and even a wee bit bitter (or maybe that is just a symptom of the relentless advancement of the years).
'Trick or Treat'? Whatever happened to 'Help the Halloween Party'?
That is what we use to say in Ireland when calling to strange doors, begging for bags of peanuts and apples.
Lets keep this Irish saying alive! What do you say?
Here's what we will do: Refuse to give anything to any callers unless they say 'Help the Halloween Party'. Nothing. Not a single peanut or piece of candy.
And if they play a 'trick' on you in revenge?
Dont blame me. I am only trying to save an Irish tradition!
Until next time,
ALCOHOL ABUSE IN IRELAND TARGETED BY IRISH GOVERNMENT
A new Public Health Bill is to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol products based on the alcohol content of the drink.
The new laws are an effort to reduce the consumption of cheaper high-alcohol beers, wines and spirits. For the first time products will be targeted based on the actual amount of alcohol they contain.
Other new measures include:
* From 2016 alcohol advertising on TV and Radio is to be confined to evening time.
* Advertising of alcohol in Cinemas will be confined to over-18 movies only.
* Outdoor advertising of alcohol will also be restricted.
* Supermarkets and other outlets will have to relocate alcohol products to their own separate location within a premises.
* All alcohol products will in future carry health warnings (but significantly not with the kind of graphic pictures used on cigarette packets).
The President of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr Matthew Sadlier, welcomed the new regulations:
"In Ireland, despite high excise duties alcohol has become increasingly more affordable. Under a minimum pricing structure, the price per unit becomes more expensive particularly affecting demand by younger binge drinkers and excessive harmful drinkers. Thus minimum pricing can reduce alcohol-related harm without necessarily penalising moderate drinkers."
The new laws have been criticized for not going far enough and especially for not banning the sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol companies. In a surprising 'pact with the devil' the Irish sports lobby successfully persuaded Government that the withdrawal of sponsorship by the alcohol companies would severely impact on funding for sporting activities.
Pat Hickey, the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, clearly disagreed with some of his colleagues in the Irish sporting community and responded by launching a scathing attack on the drinks industry in Ireland and particularly on the veiled threats by Diageo to reduce its investment in Ireland should a ban on drinks-industry sponsorship of sporting events be implemented:
I thought it was an absolute disgrace to read a report of an international company, Diageo, making an attack on the Irish Government and the Irish State about how they should conduct their business and investment. This is a multinational that has no interest whatsoever in Ireland except they happen to have a product beginning with 'G' and they promote that in Irish pubs just to get bigger profits around the world.
A report that was recently published by the Health Research Board revealed that 58% of Irish people think the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption. 85% of those surveyed believe that the current level of consumption of alcohol in Ireland is far too high. Average consumption in the year 2010 was 145% higher than the average amount consumed in the year 1960, a huge increase by any standard.
While the drinks industry in Ireland may be concerned at the new regulations they will surely be celebrating their most recent success at being able to continue their sponsorship of Irish sporting events.
Where they can recruit new and young devotees.
And all aided and abetted by the Irish sports lobby!
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FUNERAL DIRECTORS AIM DAGGERS AT IRISH MINISTER
The recent decision by the Irish Government to scrap the 'Bereavement Grant' has less than impressed those involved in the Funeral business in Ireland.
The 850 Euro grant was previously paid to families of the recently deceased to assist with funeral expenses. In an attempt to deflect from criticism of the grant's abolition Ruairi Quinn, the Irish Education Minister, suggested that there is 'insufficient competition' in the funeral business in Ireland. Clearly he thinks that the cost of funerals is being inflated by the bereavement grant and thus has no problem disposing of it.
It is estimated that the cost of a Funeral in Ireland is about 5000 euro (just under 7000 US$). Welfare Minister Joan Burton pointed out that there is still a generous allowance in the event of the pensioner's death:
"If one partner of a pensioner couple dies, their spouse continues to get the social welfare payment of the deceased spouse for six months. That is worth roughly 1,200 to 1,400 Euro."
Apart from the Bereavement Grant the Telephone Allowance for Pensioners has also been scrapped while Welfare for those aged under 26 years has been reduced. The Fine Gael and Labour Party Government made much of the fact that they have not increased the rates of taxation in their most recent annual budgets. Nevertheless their tenure in office has seen a whole host of new 'stealth' taxes introduced in tandem with some pretty savage cuts to services.
These latest cutbacks are just one of a number of measures in the recent annual Budgets that have attempted to roll back some of the largesse offered to Irish citizens during the Celtic Tiger years.
Times are very different now.
With the country effectively bankrupt the last five years has seen some very severe so-called 'austerity' measures implemented by successive Irish Governments. It would be expected then that a people who enjoy their reputation as being 'The Fighting Irish' would hit back and hard.
Opposition from the Irish population has been relatively minimal. No Greek or French style riots. No imprisoning of Bankers and Government officials as happened in Iceland. The Irish have taken the economic downturn pretty much in their stride.
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OPINION: IRISH REJECTION OF SEANAD ABOLITION IS A NATIONAL DISGRACE
The defeat of the proposal to abolish the powerless Seanad House in the recent Referendum in Ireland is a damning indictment of the Irish people.
The Seanad House is the upper house of the Irish parliament. It cannot prevent legislation from Dail Eireann (the main parliament) being enacted and has for decades been used as a way to bail out failed politicians and to reward public figures who supported the Government of the time.
It is not accountable to the Irish electorate with many members of the Seanad either being appointed by University Graduates or directly by the Government of the time. Members of the Seanad enjoy huge financial benefits at the expense of the public and have no real power or function.
It should have been an easy decision therefore, to abolish the Seanad. All of the signs pointed to an easy victory for the abolitionists. An opinion poll just a few days before the vote indicated 62% of those in favour of the proposal and in the few intervening days nothing of any real substance happened. There were no major developments, no game-changing revelations.
How then was the proposal defeated by just under 52% to 48%? What is the reason for a 14 percentage points swing in only a few days when nothing significant occurred?
The answer is both simple and depressing: The Irish people did not vote.
The Constitution of a country is mostly regarded as a sacred thing.
In some countries.
But clearly not in Ireland.
With a turnout of only 39% of the approximately 3.15 Million eligible voters only 1.23 Million voted. Those who won the referendum amounted to 0.63 Million. Just over 623,000 voters decided the fate of the Irish Constitution. The population of Ireland is approximately 4.6 Million.
So where is the disgrace? A lot of people are just not interested in politics. Many are too worried about paying their bills.
By comparison European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Germany regularly have huge voter engagement compared to Ireland. Foreign Reporters who visit Ireland look on in amazement at the utter lack of interest shown by the citizens here. The country is on its knees financially and here was a perfect opportunity to save countless millions of euro over the coming years by greatly reducing the number of politicians in that rarest of events - an example of real political reform.
What did the Irish people do:
1. They did not vote.
2. Some of those that did vote used their ballot as a protest against Government policies.
3. Those that stood to gain from the retention of the Seanad enthusiastically campaigned in their own self-interest.
4. Some political parties (Fianna Fail in particular) cynically used the Referendum as an opportunity to give the Government a thumping. More self interest.
The biggest reason though is the first listed above. The Irish people have long since lost any right to complain or protest. You get the Government you vote for and the life you settle for. If you are not wiling to vote then you have lost any right to complain. You need to shut up.
Those pictures of lottery winners that regularly adorn the tabloid newspapers could today easily be replicated with pictures of the Seanad members after the Referendum votes were counted. They Have won the lottery and at our expense.
What do the Irish people do?
They sit in their bars drinking their pints, watching the football.
They moan and grumble about the latest round of austerity taxation.
They drink their bottles of wine while watching their soap operas on television.
While the well-heeled elite from the Universities and professional classes laugh at them for their ignorance and stupidity (and then count up the allowances and pensions they can parasitically squeeze from our system of Government) the Irish...... down another pint. And complain.
The upcoming 1916 anniversary of the Easter Rising should be cancelled immediately. The Republic for which those men and women fought is dead.
There are countries in this world that are today fighting and suffering to get the freedom and democracy we Irish so take for granted.
We are a disgrace.
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SUCCESS FOR IRISH BOXERS AT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Irish boxers claimed a silver and bronze medal at the recent World Amateur Boxing championships in Kazakhstan. Middleweight Jason Quigley from Donegal and Light-heavyweight Joe Ward from Westmeath did the honours in what is currently a golden period for Irish boxing, following on from the success at the London Olympics.
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IRISH HALLOWEEN TRADITIONS
The Celts celebrated Halloween as Samhain, 'All Hallowtide' - the 'Feast of the Dead', when the dead revisited the mortal world. The celebration marked the end of Summer and the start of the Winter months.
During the eighth century the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as 'All Saints Day' ('All Hallows') - a day of commemoration for those Saints that did not have a specific day of remembrance. The night before was known as 'All Hallows Eve' which, over time, became known as Halloween.
Here are the most notable Irish Halloween Traditions:
Colcannon for Dinner:
Boiled Potato, Curly Kale (a cabbage) and raw Onions are provided as the traditional Irish Halloween dinner. Clean coins are wrapped in baking paper and placed in the potato for children to find and keep.
The Barnbrack Cake:
The traditional Halloween cake in Ireland is the barnbrack which is a fruit bread. Each member of the family gets a slice. Great interest is taken in the outcome as there is a piece of rag, a coin and a ring in each cake. If you get the rag then your financial future is doubtful. If you get the coin then you can look forward to a prosperous year. Getting the ring is a sure sign of impending romance or continued happiness.
The Ivy Leaf:
Each member of the family places a perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and it is then left undisturbed overnight. If, in the morning, a leaf is still perfect and has not developed any spots then the person who placed the leaf in the cup can be sure of 12 months health until the following Halloween. If not.....
Carving Pumpkins dates back to the eighteenth century and to an Irish blacksmith named Jack who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry to Heaven. He was condemned to wander the earth but asked the Devil for some light. He was given a burning coal ember which he placed inside a turnip that he had gouged out.
Thus, the tradition of Jack O'Lanterns was born - the bearer being the wandering blacksmith - a damned soul. Villagers in Ireland hoped that the lantern in their window would keep the wanderer away. When the Irish emigrated in their millions to America there was not a great supply of turnips so pumpkins were used instead.
On Halloween night children would dress up in scary costumes and go house to house. 'Help the Halloween Party' and 'Trick or Treat' were the cries to be heard at each door. This tradition of wearing costumes also dates back to Celtic times. On the special night when the living and the dead were at their closest the Celtic Druids would dress up in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils in case they encountered other devils and spirits during the night. By disguising they hoped that they would be able to avoid being carried away at the end of the night. This explains why witches, goblins and ghosts remain the most popular choices for the costumes.
After the visits to the neighbours the Halloween games begin, the most popular of which is Snap Apple. An apple is suspended from a string and children are blindfolded. The first child to get a decent bite of the apple gets to keep their prize. The same game can be played by placing apples in a basin of water and trying to get a grip on the apple without too much mess!
The Halloween bonfire is a tradition to encourage dreams of who your future husband or wife is going to be. The idea was to drop a cutting of your hair into the burning embers and then dream of you future loved one. Halloween was one of the Celt 'fire' celebrations.
Blindfolded local girls would go out into the fields and pull up the first cabbage they could find. If their cabbage had a substantial amount of earth attached to the roots then their future loved one would have money. Eating the cabbage would reveal the nature of their future husband - bitter or sweet!
Another way of finding your future spouse is to peel an apple in one go. If done successfully the single apple peel could be dropped on the floor to reveal the initials of the future-intended.
Fairies and goblins try to collect as many souls as they can at Halloween but if they met a person who threw the dust from under their feet at the Fairy then they would be obliged to release any souls that they held captive.
Holy water was sometimes anointed on farm animals to keep them safe during the night. If the animals were showing signs of ill health on All Hallows Eve then they would be spat on to try to ward off any evil spirits.
Happy Halloween from Ireland!
FREE ATTRACTION #16: KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK, COUNTY KERRY
The County of Kerry in the very southwestern part of Ireland is renowned for its stunning scenery with many visitors proclaiming it the most beautiful County in all of Ireland.
It is easy to see why. Marvellous days out can be had touring the Dingle, Beara and Iveragh peninsuals. The latter is more commonly known as the 'Ring of Kerry' where the towns of Killorglin, Caheriveen, Portmagee, Waterville, Caherdaniel, Sneem and Kenmare all await exploration.
The main towns in Kerry are Tralee and Killarney and it is just outside Killarney town where the 26,000 acre National Park lies silently like a treasure nestled between the mountains. The park is home to the McGillycuddy's Reeks, Ireland's tallest mountains and of course to the famous lakes, immortalized in word and song.
A drive, cycle or hike up to 'Lady's View' affords stunning views back down the valley. A visit to the local tea-rooms is a must and if the weather is kind then you will be offered some of the most wonderful photo opportunities anywhere in Ireland.
Located within the park is Muckross House which is a 19th century mansion (there is a fee for admission) with lovely gardens famous for their collection of rhododendrons, hybrids, azaleas and exotic trees. Nearby Torc Waterfall is 7km from Killarney town and 2.5km from Muckross House and is included on many of the designated walking routes. This is great country for walking and cycling. Horse-driven Jaunting Cars can also be hired if you prefer. Alternatively if you choose to drive there are plenty of viewing points well signposted. Bring a picnic!
Other sites to see in the park include Dinis Cottage, Knockreer Demesne, Inisfallen Island, the Meeting of the Waters and the Old Weir Bridge, Ross Castle and Ross Island.
Killaney makes a great base for exploring Kerry. There is simply an abundance of attractions, both indoor and outdoor within a very short distance. There are plenty of organised tours but if you are willing to drive then you can make your own schedule and easily spend a week in the County enjoying the sites. Killarney town is quite 'touristy', much more so than nearby Tralee which is more of a 'working' town and home to the Aquadome which is great for kids.
Rent a house or apartment in Killarney, hire a car, get out and about. A great time is assured.
Find out more here: http://www.killarneynationalpark.ie
FEE-PAYING ATTRACTION #16: KILKENNY CASTLE
The imposing castle in the heart of Kilkenny was built in 1195 by William Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke. Home to the Butlers of Ormonde the castle was a symbol of Norman power in the region and played an important role in the defence of the town. The castle was sold to the Irish state for the princely sum of fifty pounds in 1967 by Arthur Butler, the 24th Earl of Ormonde. In modern times it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country and is a 'must-see' destination if visiting Kilkenny.
The gardens and parkland adjoining the castle are free to view while entrance to the castle itself requires an admission fee. Regular guided tours are a great way to experience the castle and last about 45 minutes. There is also a free audio-visual presentation located in the Medieval Room that takes about 12 minutes to view.
The castle takes some exploring! The library, drawing room and bedrooms decorated in 1830's splendour, as well as the beautiful Long Gallery are memorable. The Butler Art Gallery hosts frequently changing exhibitions of contemporary art. Outside the gardens are a great pace for a stroll if the weather permits. There is a cafe onsite.
Kilkenny Castle can get very busy. If you intend to visit then you might consider getting there early to avoid the crowds. Directly across from the Castle is the Kilkenny Design Centre with a very fine cafe and tourist shop featuring a lot of hand-crafted items. Kileknny town is great to walk around but is not so great to drive around. This really is a medieval city where a lot of the roads are windy and narrow. Ditch the car and walk instead.
Another great way to see the town is on the Kilkenny City 'Road Train' which crawls around the town offering a guided tour that lasts about 25 minutes. The starting point is just outside Kilkenny Castle. Kilkenny is also home to several world-renowned festivals including the Kilkenny Arts Festival and The Cat Laughs Comedy Festival.
Nearby St Canice's Cathedral was built in the thirteenth century and boasts a 30 metres high Round Tower which affords stunning 360 degree views of the region (a small admission fee required).
Kilkenny is located 75 miles or 125 km from Dublin. It is very possible to take a day-trip by hopping the train from Dublin's Heuston station. The journey takes about an hour and a half.
Worth it? Definitely. Kilkenny is a very different kind of town. Medieval in origin, somewhat touristy thanks to the castle, but still a bustling town with lots of energy, fine pubs and restaurants and a great location to explore with Wexford, Waterford and Cashel all within easy reach.
You can download a Brochure and get Walking Guides from here: http://www.kilkennytourism.ie
BRAM STOKER - THE IRISHMAN WHO CREATED DRACULA
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