Saturday, August 29, 2009

Great pictures of Ireland in the 40s from Life

Posted by TheYank at 8/29/2009 5:20 AM EDT

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which means I just stumbled onto 15,000 words from Life Magazine on 'old Ireland'. Life's web site has a collection of 15 pictures, mostly black and white from the 1940s. They're all great photographs.

These days we're all so familiar with those pictures of Ireland's beauty in full color that the black and white take a little getting used to. Colleen Bawn Rock in Killarney looks exactly the same today, but Life's 1946 black and white picture manages to make it look alive, if menacing, when compared with a color shot from today.

There are a number of rural scenes depicted, however I prefer the urban scenes to the rural, nature shots. Those shots more clearly show the changes in Ireland over the past 50 years.

There's a picture of a barge sailing down the Liffey, carrying "freshly sealed" casks of Guinness. That's a scene you don't see these days as Guinness leaves the brewery on trucks now. Another picture - in color - shows boys playing hurling on the streets of Dublin. You'll still see boys playing on the streets, but the clothes have certainly changed.

However, there are two in particular that interest me. The first is of O'Connell Street in Dublin on January 1, 1943. The picture was taken from the top of Nelson's Pillar, which has been gone since 1966. I wonder what sort of impact that picture made on America at the time. Compared with just about every other major European city, Dublin in the picture appears so tranquil and undamaged. By way of contrast, London was half way to becoming a ruin by this time and 90 miles north, Belfast endured more losses in the spring of 1941 than it did during the entire 30 years of the troubles.

And then there's my favorite - a picture of a vast throng of people in the center of Dublin at midnight on Easter Sunday 1949. The crowd is just tremendous. They're all there to celebrate Ireland finally becoming a republic, which was declared effective Easter Monday 1949, 33 years after the Easter Rising.

I've read about that moment before and I've even wondered if the decision to declare a republic was popular at the time. Based on this picture, I have my answer.

If you'd like to see the full collection, click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted's death - big news in Ireland, hardly news in France

Posted by TheYank at 8/27/2009 5:48 PM EDT

Last night I stayed in a little hotel just on the French side of the France/Belgium border. This morning I got a copy of the local paper (it was just lying around, I can't speak French) and was thumbing through it. Inside I came across a small item with the headline, "Ted Kennedy est mort." Like I said, I don't speak French, but even I could understand that one.

And I could pretty well understand the whole article. Why? Because it was about 35 words. That's it. That's all the coverage Senator Kennedy's death got in NW France. Quite a contrast to all the words written about Senator Kennedy in today's Irish papers.

There are times when America seems far away from Ireland, but when I'm in France or Belgium it seems as if the distance to Ireland is far greater than it is when I'm in New York. The death of Senator Kennedy was one of those times.

Of course Senator Kennedy was connected to Ireland, which is why the coverage was so extensive in the Irish papers. Still, there was a lot of analysis of his Senatorial career completely unrelated to his efforts on behalf of Ireland. There's just so much interest in America in Ireland, far more than there is in the goings-on in Ireland's fellow EU members.

Excepting Britain, I would say that 95% of the population would be hard pressed to name any European politicians that are not Prime Ministers. And, 95% may well be too low.

If you find yourself on the road to Doornik ...

Posted by TheYank at 8/27/2009 5:24 PM EDT

Yes, as you know if you've been reading my twitter posts, I'm back in Flanders again. Two more days. I didn't feel like I'd finished touring the WWI sites back in July so when I saw Ryanair flights were going for very, very little I decided to come again. It amazes me how cheaply I can fly to, travel around & stay (for a night) here.

Late August is not, apparently, an ideal time to visit Flanders. Why? Because it stinks. It's as if every farmer in the region is spreading slurry at this time. Farm smells are one thing, but slurry's another.

Driving in Belgium is an experience. I may have mentioned this after my last visit - can't remember now - but Belgians are nuts behind the wheel. There seem to be no rules of the road. There are speed signs, etc., but everyone ignores them. I'm pretty sure - never 100% certain of anything where all the signs are in Flemish - but I think I drove down a closed road yesterday.

I followed a dozen or more other cars doing the same thing - swinging out around a sign that seemed to me to be saying "local access only." Seeing as the detour signs were so infrequent, I was just as happy to ignore the signs so I could follow my map.

Also, I learned one hard lesson on this trip: when you pass into Flanders the names of cities change. Yup. I was driving south on the highway looking for the road to Tournai, which is how it was spelled on my map and on the signs coming up from the airport. However, in Flanders there were no signs for Tournai. Nor Mons. Fortunately they provide the French spelling for Rijsel (Lille).

It was only after I went wrong a few times and was driving around in circles and finally took the last road that was available to me that I saw a sign that helped: Tournai is Doornik and Mons is Bergen (as in the NJ county) in Flemish. All the signs in the Ieper (Ypres) region use only the Flemish spellings Doornik & Bergen. I saw many, many signs for Doornik, but had no idea that was the same city as Tournai. Other than a local, who would?.

That debacle cost me about 20 minutes when I was trying to find my way back to the airport, which was about 90 miles away. Those 20 minutes weren't crucial, but they were enough to cause me agita. And there's a lesson for Ireland in that.

A couple of years ago the Irish government decided that the town of Dingle should no longer be known as Dingle, but as An Daingean. An Daingean is the old, Irish name for the town; Dingle was a later development.

Some (most, I think) of the locals objected, claiming that tourists would have trouble finding the town because they're looking for Dingle. (I'm sure there were other objections too, but I can't remember them now.) And they have a point based on what I experienced in Flanders. It's one thing to change a town's name, but you'd better be sure to change all the road signs and maps otherwise, yes, tourists are going to get lost. And annoyed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Independence is the stake in the Nama bet

Posted by TheYank at 10:52AM on 8/21/09

Nama. Have you heard the name? If yes, you probably have a vague idea that Nama is some government scheme or new department to bail out the banks. And you're not wrong.

I'm not going to give a full economic/financial/philosophical explanation of Nama. All you need to know is that Nama is the government's last throw of the dice. Taoiseach Brian Cowen and friends have a stack of chips and they're betting it all on Nama. Nama's going to rescue the banks and get the government out from under the guarantee it provided to every bank depositor and bondholder last fall. If Nama fails, Ireland's banks will fall and they'll bring the state with them. And Ireland - for all intents and purposes - will cease to be an independent country.

What are the odds of a win or a loss? Well, I can't say with any certainty, but neither can the government or anyone else. The people who have drawn up this plan and made this bet are basically schooled in the same rules and philosophies as the people who got us into the mess in the first place. In fact, many of the people involved are the very same people who led us into this.

That makes me uneasy about this bet. A month ago or so I thought the government might just scrape by, but now I'm less certain. If I wasn't so invested in the government winning its bet I'd probably be looking to see if I could take some of that action myself and bet against Ireland succeeding. That's how shaky things seem right now.

Today we learned that the leading opposition party, Fine Gael, is going to vote against the government's Nama plan when it comes up for a vote in September. That's maybe not all that remarkable, but I like the language from party leader Enda Kenny: "At its core, Nama is a €90 billion 'double or quits' gamble by Fianna Fáil on the property market. A €22,500 bet for every man, woman and child in this country." I have very little faith in Kenny, but at least he seems to get what Nama is.

And if Nama fails, "What then?", you may well ask. Well, Ireland will have to be bailed out by some other entity and that will almost certainly be the European Central Bank - that is, the Germans. So after nearly 90 years of incrementally increasing independence and stability, a few short years of inebriated investment and indulgence could see Ireland as a 'province once again.' Only this time we'll be a German province living by Germany's rules.

JFK's Terminal 4 baggage checks

Posted by TheYank at 8/21/2009 10:54 AM EDT

This may be too narrow a topic for this blog, but I thought I'd put it out there anyway.

If you fly Aer Lingus from Kennedy Airport you have to go through the bag security process at Terminal 4. Now I have no problem with the team from Homeland Security scanning all the bags. However, the way the process works makes me uneasy.

After you check-in with Aer Lingus you have to haul your bags down to the security check. You're then told to "just leave them there" by the Homeland Security guy (I'm sure there are women working there too!). Most people then just walk away.

I don't.

I've gone through this a dozen times or so and each time I walk about ten feet, turn around and watch. It's amazing how often the security guy walks far enough away from the luggage so that it's out of his sight. This looks like a big security hole to me.

Okay, maybe there's only a small risk that a terrorist could make use of this situation, but it seems to me that an attentive criminal could easily steal a bag left there. All he'd need to do is ensure that the person leaving the bag has left and wait for that moment when the security guy has walked over to look at the other end of the scanning machine. No one else would bat an eye if he simply wheeled away one of the eight or so cases that are waiting there. And would anyone know the bag was missing until the plane arrived in Ireland? Maybe, but maybe not.

Is it just that I watch too many movies?

Now perhaps the whole place is watched by banks of cameras that I didn't see or perhaps I simply don't have enough trust in my fellow man. I don't know, but I think I'll keep spending those few minutes watching my bag until it is actually put up into the scanner and begins making its way through the more secure areas of the airport.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Luke Kelly — great talent and inspiration for Bono

Posted by TheYank at 8/19/2009 7:51 PM EDT

I won't claim to be anything like an expert on Irish folk music. I like it when I hear it, but I don't often seek it out. However, like I said I do like it and I own a few albums.

So, when I first moved to Ireland I hadn't heard of the Dubliners nor Luke Kelly, the Dubliners' singer who had died in 1984. My father-in-law was a big fan of Kelly and the Dubliners and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Of those Irish music tapes & CD's that I do have, the Dubliners albums are my favorites.

Last night RTE showed a 1999 documentary on Luke Kelly. I only caught the last 15-20 minutes. I was annoyed when I found it on because I would like to have seen all of it. I wasn't too worried, however, because I figured I'd find it on the RTE web site today and then I'd share the link with all of you.

Unfortunately, I presume due to rights-related issues, RTE hasn't made the program available for online viewing. However, I scoured the internet and found the documentary. It's well worth watching. Interviews mixed in with fairly long clips of Kelly & the Dubliners. One clip I'd never seen before was taken from from the Dubliners appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968.

One of those who contributed to the documentary was Bono, who was a big Luke Kelly fan. In fact, I think young Bono consciously (or unconsciously) mimicked Kelly. I've seen clips of Kelly singing a number of times over the years and in some of the older black and white clips of Kelly singing you can see how Bono aped Kelly.

The young Bono often twisted himself around as Kelly did and stood with his hand to the side of his head as Kelly did. These days when I see film of young Bono I'm reminded of a young kid trying to copy the batting stance of his favorite baseball player. {Watch the video and let me know if you agree. I suppose you'd have to have seen a lot of Bono to even make the comparison.}

I'm not criticizing Bono for this. In fact, I like it. I like the fact that this young would-be rock star so clearly admired this man who was a folk singer. I just find it amusing. I think this goes in Bono's credit column.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How costly will it be to be named one of the world's wonders?

Posted by TheYank at 8/18/2009 12:54 PM EDT

Maybe you saw the story on the Irish Central home page a few weeks ago about the Cliffs of Moher being short-listed in the competition to name the new seven wonders of the world. I didn't think about the story too much, but just figured it was a good thing.

Then last week while vacationing in upstate NY I was reading a copy of the Legislative Gazette, as one does when one is on vacation, and I came across a short article (p. 2) about Niagara Falls and the new seven wonders contest. Until I saw that story it hadn't occurred to me that the Falls were missing from the shortlist, but they are. And it isn't that they were simply overlooked.

According to the Legislative Gazette "[t]ourism officials on the U.S. side of the Falls say they
passed on the opportunity because of worries their cashstrapped community might be on the hook for costly promotional activities." Whoa! Hadn't ever considered this a possibility.

The Falls folks obviously believe it's going to require a lot of pocket cabbage, moolah, dough to make a serious attempt at being one of the new seven wonders. I never heard a mention of that back when we were all celebrating the Cliffs' success. I wonder how much the Irish tourism bodies are planning to spend on this campaign and will it be worth it.

Funny thing about the Cliffs' inclusion is that at the time I wasn't sure if the Cliffs were even the top wonder in Ireland. Are they really more wondrous and unique than the (near-by) Burren, the Giant's Causeway or even the Bog of Allen (which I accept ain't much to look at, but it's supposed to be something special in nature and endangered)? I don't know, but I'm even less sure that the Cliffs are more wondrous than Niagara Falls.

I suppose regardless I should wish the Cliffs of Moher people success in their efforts to be get the Cliffs named as one of the new seven wonders of the world, but mostly I hope they don't waste a lot of money on this.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Leaving Cert - equally unfair on all

Posted by TheYank at 8/17/2009 11:17 AM EDT

You may remember that a few months ago I mentioned that my daughter was doing the Leaving Cert. Well, last week she got her results and today - two full months since she did her last exam and only a few weeks before the new academic year - she found out where she will be going to college.

My daughter has been working for the summer in the Wal-mart in the town where I grew up and she's made a few friends there. The friends are all around her age and quite a few are at the same stage of their academic careers: that is, just finished high school and heading to college shortly. Needless to say her friends have been fascinated to learn about the Irish system.

These kids have had the usual American experience of getting marks along the way, doing the SAT (probably more than once), applying to colleges, getting accepted/rejected and finally settling on a place for the fall. This they all had done by, what?, April? Earlier? I don't really know, but I do know that all of them have been horrified on my daughter's behalf at the thought of having to wait so long to find out (a) if she had a place in college at all and (b) where she would be going.

Everything about this system stinks. Yeah, I know. I've heard all the arguments about how fair the Irish system is, but it isn't fair.

It's not fair on any 18-year-old to expect them to accept having to wait so long wondering what shape the next stage of their life will take. It's not fair on those students who wanted to study English in college to learn that they now cannot because they failed one three hour math test after 12-years of passing and now face having to put college on hold for a full year in order to take the whole set of exams again (this does happen). It's not fair to the kid who is hoping to study such-and-such in Galway that he/she has to wait til now to learn that they now have to choose between a completely different course in a different university in a different city or they too can "repeat" final year.

Today my daughter is both excited and relieved (probably not in that order), but there is no good reason why she shouldn't have had a better idea of where she was going long before today.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Minor League baseball is fun, League of Ireland soccer is serious

Posted by TheYank at 8/13/2009 9:33 AM EDT

I went to a minor league baseball game in Troy, NY the other night. Great time. I love minor league baseball. Last week I went to a game at the Mets' new stadium in Queens and that was fine, but for all sorts of reasons minor league baseball is better, especially for visitors from countries that are not 'baseball-friendly'. All that hokey razz-matazz.

In Ireland there is the League of Ireland, which is essentially a minor league soccer league, only without any affiliations to 'big league' clubs. I've often talked to people about minor league baseball as a model for what the League of Ireland should be, but as I was watching the game tonight I realized how that would never be possible.

Few people take minor league baseball seriously. It's fun, but not the sort of thing you get worked up about. You go to enjoy yourself. It's very family-friendly. The crowd is good-natured AND only barely involved in the outcome.

League of Ireland soccer is played - generally - in front of loads of empty seats, but those who do go care deeply. They simply wouldn't want the sort of half-hearted atmosphere that prevails at minor league baseball.

Fans of League of Ireland soccer (err, football) may not be many, but they have edge. There is pretty much zero edge at minor league baseball. To tell the truth, I like edge. I find it hard to watch sports where I don't really care who wins. Whenever I watch a game on t.v. I find myself really caring who wins, even when I had no interest before I started watching. So, I have a lot of sympathy with the League of Ireland fans.

Still, I can see how making a fun atmosphere makes sense for the sport as a business. I don't know the economics of minor league baseball, but it just looks more prosperous than the League of Ireland. Maybe a bit of hokey razz-matazz wouldn't be all that bad, although I doubt they'll adopt the buy-one-get-one-free offer on beer that I found on Tuesday night in Troy. That would absolutely never happen in Ireland.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What a clunker!

Posted by TheYank at 8/11/2009 5:30 PM EDT

The Clunker Law.

Back in the 90s Ireland had its "Scrappage Scheme", which was basically an Irish version of the Clunker Law. Only the Scrappage Scheme operated differently and was much less of a talking point.

I can't remember the details now, but car owners were encouraged to upgrade from old to new with £1,000 of government money. The government hoped to encourage people to trade in old 'bangers' for newer cars and, consequently, make the roads safer. I don't think the environment was much more than a passing interest in the Irish law and the

The environment didn't figure - not that I remember anyway - and I don't think the car industry was much of a factor either (there is not auto manufacturing in Ireland). The argument was that too many people were driving cars that were too old and unsafe so the government provided an incentive for people to upgrade. I remember little or no objection to the law. And little discussion.

That's why I'm enjoying the whole Clunker Law thing so much. Americans love talking about cars. I don't think I've gone an evening during my ten days in America without hearing about the Clunker Law. I even overheard two men talking about it at the Met game last Wednesday. (The Mets themselves are clunkers and should be traded in!)

Maybe it's only the people I've been talking to, but it's amazing how much conversation is about the Clunker Law. I haven't met anyone who thinks the law is a good idea, even though two of the people I've spoken to have taken advantage of it and others are considering it. And a radio discussion on a local station was almost entirely negative. I'm sure there are arguments in favor, but I haven't come across them yet. Maybe if I was visiting Detroit rather than upstate NY ...

Most of the complaints I've heard center on:
perfectly good cars are being junked;
the law rewards those who in the past bought gas-guzzlers and ignores those who bought environmentally-friendly cars;
it will provide a temporary boost to the car industry, but one that will fade away quickly;
those who sell used cars will lose out;
people only have so much money and what people will spend on new cars will not be spent on new, (mostly) American-made, more energy-efficient fridges, washing machines, dishwashers, etc.
To be honest, I don't really care, but I'm enjoying it. It's just a real piece of Americana. Changes to health care and tax laws are one thing, but when the American's car is in the mix, well, it's a big deal.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ellis Island - enjoyable, but are Irish slighted?

Posted by TheYank at 8/8/2009 11:04 AM EDT

I was at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Tuesday. I've been there a few times before. Based on my previous experience it seems like more Americans (and others) are discovering that you can get to the statue much more easily from New Jersey than from New York City. On previous visits the crowd on the Jersey side was non-existant, but this time there were quite a few people there.

One advantage to using Liberty State Park in Jersey City as the starting point for a visit to the statue is that the visitor center and ferry ticket window is in a restored train station. The train station is the one used by all immigrants who came through Ellis Island bound for points west of New York. I know that most Americans whose family members came through Ellis Island believe their ancestors went into Manhattan to start their lives in America, but most of the immigrants never saw New York. They were ferried to Jersey City, NJ and caught a train elsewhere.

Maybe it was my recent discovery of my grandfather's Ellis Island record or maybe it was because my children were a lot older this time, but I enjoyed Ellis Island a lot more than I did on my last visit. I spent more time on Ellis Island than I did at the Statue, which was not the case on my last visit.

One aspect of the Ellis Island museum that surprised me is how little mention the Irish get there. Okay, Annie Moore has a corner all to herself, but for the most part the Irish seem to hardly exist at Ellis Island. I don't know the numbers, but I doubt more English and Welsh immigrants came through Ellis Island than did Irish, but that's not the impression the exhibition gives. Or maybe I was just too sensitive to an imagined slight. Regardless, I wouldn't want anyone to think that this slight - real or imagined - ruined my visit.

And then there's the statue. Last time we went there we couldn't get in to the monument because we were too late. This time we made it to the top of the pedastal, but we couldn't get to the crown, which reopened about a month ago. You have to book those tickets well in advance and we didn't.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Post no bills here

Posted by TheYank at 8/4/2009 6:56 PM EDT

While driving along familiar American highways the past few days something struck me: you never see billboards in Ireland. Oh, occasionally you'll see an ad for some local establishment painted onto the side of an unused truck or semi-trailer (the back end of an "articulated lorry"), but you never see the huge billboards set hundreds of yards off the road that you see here. I'm sure a lot of people would consider that a blessing, but I like the big billboards.

Why do I like them? Well, because they have practical use - let you know where you can get food, etc. - and they often provide a bit of local flavor. Now, I'm not thrilled by an endless stream of McDonald's billboards, but I suppose even those can be useful if you're starving and the choice is severely limited. When you come across a billboard for Mabel's diner or an orchard or the Pinegrove Dude Ranch (or some such place) offering the "best family resort" in the Catskills or whatever. I love those kind of signs.

Another thing you don't see in Ireland are service areas along the highway. What makes this omission particularly odd is that Ireland was pretty late to the highway game and obviously missed the class on people needing gas or occasional cup of coffee along the road. Combine the lack of service areas with the lack of billboards and you have a traveler's nightmare for anyone who doesn't have a good grasp of the geography of the country before they embark on their journey.

UPDATE: I tried to get a few pictures of billboards as recommended by Kelly below, but none of them came out. I had hoped to snap a few on Saturday heading down the NY State Thruway, but last minute decision to take the Taconic Parkway meant no billboards.

This is the best picture and it's not the size, location or setting I was talking about. (This one is too small, too near the roadway and has no massive clearing in front of it.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ya gotta shop around

Posted by TheYank at 8/2/2009 11:24 AM EDT

Whenever I want to rent a car - whether in America or in Europe - I find that the quotes vary by web site, even for the same company. For example, I wanted to rent a car and tried going to Then I tried And? The price was almost half when I tried rather than Sometimes I find the opposite is true (especially with Budget). There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to any of it.