Monday, December 28, 2009

I wouldn't bet on horseracing's popularity

One of the biggest racetracks in the country, Leopardstown, is not far from where I live and racing on St. Stephen's Day (Dec 26) is one of the biggest days of the year on the sport's calendar. I'm not a big fan of horseracing, but I've always assumed St. Stephen's Day racing is a big deal given all the media coverage Leopardstown attracts on the 26th.

However, a report in today's Irish Independent has me wondering about things: Is the Stephen's Day festival that big? Is horse racing as popular here as I've always thought?

Why am I asking such questions you ask? Well, the Independent says the attendance at the racecourse on Saturday was 14,605, down by 1,400 over last year. So 16,000 attended the year before and, I'm guessing, that is about normal for Stephen's Day.

Like I said, I'm not a big fan of the sport, but when I was younger I used to go to Saratoga, which is near where I grew up. And on a big day at Saratoga the crowd would be a lot closer to 50,000 than 15,000. Yes, it's winter here and yes Saratoga is only on during the summer, but still.

If horse racing as a sport is as big as the media coverage would indicate I would've expected a much bigger crowd at Leopardstown on St. Stephen's Day. A million people live in this city and although it was cold, it was dry. The Leinster vs Ulster rugby game on the same day - a relatively minor affair based on media coverage - attracted a bigger crowd.

Irish people love gambling; there's no argument on that. Horseracing and gambling are closely entwined and it can be difficult to separate the fans of the sport from those who simply like betting, but the small crowd on Saturday tells me that gambling and not the racing is the real attraction.

Real fans would like to see the action live, no? 18,000 rugby fans could have watched Saturday night's game on t.v. but opted to put up with low temperatures to experience the game in person. If horseracing were truly a widely popular sport then a big event like the St. Stephen's Day meet would attract a much bigger crowd than that which turned up for the rugby game. It didn't, but I assume the bookies - all legal here - don't care.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Destroying land certificates seems so stupid.

I agree with the head of the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations that these documents should be preserved.

Sprouts shortage?

I have no idea where the brussels sprouts sold in Ireland are grown, but I won't miss them if the cold weather means there are none this year.

New home

As you now know, this page has moved and looks a bit different. I might try a few different things too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Government's message to the young: there's always the emigrant boat

Posted by TheYank at 12/10/2009 10:54 AM EST

Budget day. There's nothing like it in America. Oh, sure there's the always exciting appropriations bill, but that's hacked together publicly over a long time in the two houses so that there's no mystery when it's passed and sent on for the President's signature (or veto).

Here the government drafts the bill in secret. Nobody is supposed to know what's coming before the Minister for Finance rises to tell the nation - via live t.v. and radio - what the coming year will mean in terms of government spending and taxes. For days, weeks really, in advance the media is all of aflutter with speculation and leaks (since no one ever loses their job over these leaks I have to assume they're pretty deliberate) as to what the bill will contain.

This year the speculation was more intense than I've ever known it because the country is in worse shape than it's been for a long, long time. And we're still getting used to that idea. When you're in bad shape economically, but used to being in bad shape economically, you worry less.

Yesterday Minister Brian Lenihan delivered his message: 2010 will be a year of PAIN. Lots of it, unevenly distributed, but in such quantities that almost no one will escape unscathed. Cuts in pay for public sector workers, cuts in social welfare, cuts in spending in all sorts of areas. Cuts, cuts, cuts. Oh yeah, an increase in the price of gasoline and home heating oil/natural gas through a new "carbon tax" (pull the other one).

Amusingly, the government has also cut one tax: the tax on alcohol. So, at least we can drown our sorrows for a few dollars less.

Lots of people are angry today. Really angry. Funny enough the group that I think should be angriest is also the least likely to take revenge on the government: the young. No, not children, but those in their 20s & 30s whom the government has all but told to hit the road. They don't vote, however and probably still won't.

Yup, it's young people who have suffered the most in the current downturn what with their exorbitantly priced houses all too tenuous (well-paid) jobs. Thousands of young builders, IT workers, accountants and brokers & traders have gone from earning good salaries to the unemployment line. It seems likely they'll be there for a while yet. Many won't wait to see how things are going to turn out here.

It's almost like one of those natural phenomenon where some animals migrate to a specific hunting ground every twenty years. Young Irish people are the same as they head out - again - for Britain or America (if they'll have them) or Canada or Australia or New Zealand or continental Europe or ... wherever. And we can't afford to lose these people. All that energy and creativity is what the country sorely needs right now, but they were given no encouragement to remain here in yesterday's budget.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Another holiday tradition to resurface

As I was reading Piaras Mac Éinrí's article on the return of emigration it struck me that if Mac Éinrí is right, and I think he's a little ahead of the game but he will be right soon enough, that another Irish Christmas custom will be revived soon: the emigrants' Christmas visit.

Before the Celtic Tiger this was a phenomenon that everyone here knew or at least understood. RTE would report on it each year in the days before Christmas with clips of tearful, joyful reunions from the airports. The returnees would then embark on a week or two of living like there was no tomorrow, because for too many of them that's how it felt. And then, just like that, the Christmas visit was over and RTE was back at the airports, providing clips of tearful, sorrowful farewells.

The story was so familiar that the Electricity Supply Board ran an ad campaign that featured an emigrant returned for Christmas, even though if you watch the video you'll see nothing that blatantly says (a) it's Christmas or (b) the young man is an emigrant. Still, anyone who came of age here in the 1980s will recognize all the clues. For a lot of those people, even those who returned during the booming 90s, this ad is still very poignant.

Maybe the ESB will run this ad again.

Friday, December 4, 2009

'Gutted' by the lack of decent t.v. this Christmas

Posted by TheYank at 12/4/2009 10:04 AM EST

Christmas is really kicking in now. Christmas FM opened for business again the other day. You can listen in no matter where you are and it's quite an education as you soon realize that the number of truly awful Christmas songs or horrific renditions of Christmas favorites is far closer to infinity than you would ever imagine. Christmas FM is a new tradition and it's all done with a light heart and for charity, so much (but not all) is forgiven.

One of my favorite older Irish Christmas customs is the 'There's nothing on over the Christmas' tradition. 'There's nothing on over the Christmas' refers to the television and the paucity of good programming for the two weeks surrounding the big day. Today's Irish Independent got the ball rolling declaring RTE's Christmas schedule to be a "turkey."

But it won't just be cynical newspaper columnists who'll be pronouncing the Christmas television offerings as not up to scratch. Just about anyone and everyone will let you know that 'There's nothing on over the Christmas.'

At some point in Ireland's mythical past - a mythical past with a lot to answer for - Christmas was a time of two weeks of unbroken, spectacular televisual entertainment. This can be discerned easily as you'll often hear people add "this year" to "There's nothing on over the Christmas." The "this year" implies that there must have been some Christmas programming worth watching at one time, probably during the golden age of the Celts when Brian Boru ruled the land.

Regardless, the Christmas edition of the RTE Guide will sell in large numbers as people can't wait to see what's going to disappoint them this year. Many will even plump for the BBC's version (weirdly) known as the Radio Times, even though the RTE Guide provides the listings for all of the British channels too.

It took me a while to get used to just how important t.v. is in Ireland at Christmas time. All the Christmas specials are shown right around Christmas day, which is the opposite of how it works in America. In America, by the time Christmas Day arrives there's absolutely nothing worth watching unless you like the NBA or college football. When I first arrived here I was hard-wired to anticipate seeing Charlie Brown & The Grinch closer to Thanksgiving than Christmas. Here those shows are on right near - even after - Christmas Day. Bizarre, I know.

In addition to all the Christmas specials, the Irish t.v. schedules will be full of blockbuster Hollywood movies (not as good a selection as in previous years, of course) some embarrassingly bad Irish made programming, and depressing, holiday-themed episodes of over exposed (mostly British) soap operas.

Truth be told, I hate - HATE - those soap operas and would much prefer to watch Brian Boru hunt down, capture and gut a live reindeer on t.v. as I licked my fingers clean of my Christmas dinner. Maybe everyone else here feels the same, which would explain the annual disappointment.