Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ireland to the bond market: "We shall never surrender"

The Minister for Finance made a big announcement this morning on the state of Ireland's finances. Little in his announcement was really unexpected, but the reaction here is as if people were half hoping that things weren't really that bad and that we have been over-reacting. They are and we haven't.

What was funny was that as I listened to Minister Brian Lenihan I started singing "Turn out the lights, the party's over" in my best Don Meredith voice. Do you remember Meredith? He was the cowboy (and ex-Cowboy) who was part of the three person team of announcers for Monday Night Football back in the 70s and 80s. When Meredith burst into song the trailing team was usually still playing hard trying to win, but it was all over for them. I couldn't help thinking that's how it feels here today.

The Minister's announcement basically locked in the Irish people - those who are alive and nearly as many again who have yet to be born - to paying back debts they didn't incur on behalf of our criminally mismanaged banks. I know America's banks did stupid things, but American banks did different stupid things than our banks did and American banks were nowhere near as deranged in their pursuit of stupidity.

America's banks were led down the garden path by people who were the new alchemists: technologists who could turn risky loans into safe ones through securitization. Ireland's banks got into trouble because they didn't believe in rainy days and never gave a moment's thought to the fact that a three bedroom townhouse outside Dublin cost more than a three bedroom penthouse on the west side of Manhattan. Just plain D U M.

Now we all have to pay because, well, I'm not sure really. You see our banks are bust for making all those bad loans, but for reasons that escape me the Irish government has decided that those banks and pension funds and others who lent all the money to our banks - I think psychologists call them enablers, but they're really known as senior bondholders - must be repaid at all cost.

Yes, today the Minister announced that
We shall pay on the beaches, we shall pay in the fields and in the streets …
The figures are more than daunting. A cool €45bn ($61bn) or so (could be an even €50bn [$68bn] if things break just wrong) is what's supposedly required. That's about €10,000 ($13,600) per person. My family owes an extra €50,000 ($68,000) and, this is the best part, we have nothing to show for all this. Nothing.

You'll often hear people talk about a nation's or state's debts in these terms, but at least they'd have the satisfaction of having better schools or roads or hospitals or whatever. The only other situation that gives rise to such debts is war, which I think our government believes we're in. That might explain all the macho rhetoric.

All we have is the knowledge that German and French politicians and bureaucrats are telling us that we'll be fine and that we should ignore the fact that their bankers will not endure any pain for having stupidly lent all this money to our banks in the first place.

It gets better. This is all just to solve the big boys' problems. As many people on the radio have reminded us this morning, none of this takes into account all those small investors who borrowed money to buy a house or apartment or two as an investment and who now can't repay those loans. And there are many such people. All those bad debts have not yet been reckoned with. So our banks' debts remain unknown unknowns.

There weren't supposed to be any more unknowns - known or unknown - after this morning. The Minister's statement was flagged well in advance as the moment the government would provide clarity so that the markets could settle and we could get started on the decades of work required to turn this around. Unfortunately, all we've learned is that "Never was so much owed by so many to so few."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Leno's comment on Irish PM not the real issue

Jay Leno referred to Taoiseach Brian Cowen (Ireland's Prime Minister) in his September 22 monologue and, well, it's a big deal here despite the fact that Leno is not all that well known in Ireland. During the segment (seen here) Leno showed a picture of Cowen and asked the audience if the man in the picture was a "bartender, politician or comic." At the end Leno remarked that it was nice to know that America hasn't cornered the market on drunken morons in politics.

This Leno piece was clearly inspired by that interview, which was the source of the last big brouhaha to hit these shores.

Irish people are mostly embarrassed that the Taoiseach was featured in such a manner, one that reinforces a long held stereotype about Irish people. Some are even concerned - again - that those movers and shakers in the world of business and finance will hold this against us and cause us even more financial pain.

Last night Ireland's most po-faced commentator, Vincent Browne, asked the question, "Does Jay Leno's remark damage Ireland?" Browne definitely thinks so. I'm doubtful, not least because Americans are more used to Leno's use of such caustic humor and every American politician of note has been zinged by Leno at times.

As for Browne, he is a very serious gent. Even when he smiles or laughs it's to make a serious point. Even among those who like his views, and that does not include me, I would doubt many would want to spend many leisure hours in his company. He gives off a dull, tiresome vibe. (He could be great fun in private; I have no idea.)

I think we can safely assume that the bond traders don't give a hoot whether Brian Cowen socializes a tad excessively and foolishly allows himself to be photographed during one of these social occasions. From all that I know about bond traders, many of them are not above indulging at the occasional social outing. I am sure many of them would have seen that picture and thought, "Hey that Cowen's all right." Furthermore, as I said two weeks ago, I doubt decisions of direct investment will be affected by Leno's short segment.

However, there's also a possibility the picture of the Taoiseach clearly having a good time might appeal to some Americans, encourage them to visit, which is not to be sneezed at on a day when plans to increase tourism numbers was announced. The economic impact of Leno's remark will be, I'd assume, near to zero, but possibly slightly positive.

As for the stereotype, well that's a little trickier. The people of Ireland have a strange relationship with their image as drunks: they can get offended when someone in the non-Irish media makes mention of it (e.g. Leno), but at the same time it seems that most people here almost take pride in the nation's reputation for drinking.

I'm not just talking about undergraduate or pub talk either. I've heard people discuss the country's drinking on morning news programs as if it's a positive, as if it's just a bit of amusement and "isn't it great to be the world leaders in something." I've always found that strange.

Drinking too much, too young is a big problem here. That's the question that should be asked: are we too comfortable with drinking and drunkenness? Are we steering our young people down the wrong path with our ease with the overuse of alcohol?

Stereotype or not, that is the real problem here, not something said by Jay Leno about the Taoiseach.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ireland's Catholics rebuff media

An extremely well-publicized and media-promoted boycott of Mass by Ireland's Catholic women was almost universally ignored yesterday. The boycott was originally called by 81-year-old Jennifer Sleeman, who hoped the boycott would “let the Vatican and the Irish church know that women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens.”

Sleeman claimed that the empty pews at Mass yesterday would show the Church's hierarchy that “the days of an exclusively male-dominated church are over.” From what I saw at our parish yesterday and from what I read on Twitter and in the newspapers today attendance at Sunday Mass was unaffected by the boycott. Even a last minute appeal to those women who didn't want to miss Mass that they wear green arm bands was totally ignored. The boycott/protest was an abject failure.

The child abuse scandals in the Church that have dominated the headlines here for the past decade or more have seriously dented the Church. There is no denying that. However, the failure of Sunday's boycott's demonstrates that the Church in Ireland is far from dead, despite the fact that the media has pronounced its demise frequently.

The Irish media may not accept it, but they were seriously beaten this past weekend. Sleeman was the media's proxy in its war against the Church and this weekend Ireland's Catholics showed that despite all the problems in the Church they were not going to adhere to the agenda set by the editors and prominent opinion-makers in Ireland's newsrooms.

Yes, yesterday constituted a 'vote of confidence motion' in the Church and by any measure the media's hoped for empty pews failed to materialize.

If my parish is anything to go by, this weekend may even prove to be a significant positive for the Church. If anything, the congregation at Mass was younger than usual and there was no hint of any no-shows among women, young or old. The people voted with their feet – by attending Mass they voted against the no-confidence motion.

What this weekend proves is that the Irish Catholic Church may have hemorrhaged numbers in recent years, but a fairly large percentage of Catholics remain committed to the Church.

Problems remain, including a final reckoning for the child abuse scandals and a steep decline in vocations, but the decline may be at or at least near an end. The new Church will be smaller, no longer the dominant institution in Irish life that the old Church was was in decades past. However, this new Church will also be a strong counter-weight to the cynicism and liberal agenda beloved of the media.

Demands for change led by those inimical to the Church will be ignored. That doesn't mean that those who remain will be docile. Far from it. There will be a demand for better management and the laity will expect and be expected to take a more active role as the number of priests declines.

Change is coming, but it won't be the change desired by those whose dream is to see the end of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Friday, September 24, 2010

ND vs Navy will be security nightmare for Ireland

Notre Dame is going to play Navy at the new soccer/rugby stadium in Dublin on September 1, 2012. It will be a great occasion, but not one without some not-so-serious and very serious security implications.

In America Notre Dame vs Navy is simply a college football game. Nothing more. That will probably not be the case here because Navy is, after all, part of the United States Navy, which is, as we all know, part of the 'American death machine.' I fully expect tens of people from the usual anti-American rent-a-crowd to turn up to protest at the presence of the Navy's midshipmen in Dublin.

Those protesters will be annoying, at most, but nothing the local police force can't handle. However, there is a far more spine-chilling threat that the Irish government and gardaí (Ireland's police force) will have to devote a great deal of time and energy on: al Qaeda and friends.

Is it likely al Qaeda will target the game? I don't really know, but I do know that there are very few opportunities in Europe where 30,000 Americans, including possibly thousands in the military, are gathered in one place. Yet, that's exactly what we'll have here on September 1, 2012.

I have great faith in the gardaí and I trust the Irish government to do their damnedest to guarantee the security of all the Americans who come to Dublin for the game, but nothing is 100% certain. And although the game was only formally announced this week, the details are as they were when it was first mooted back in 2005. Seven years is a long time if you wanted to plan something.

Of course, it isn't just the few hours during the game that the police will have to be worried about, but the whole weekend. Back in 1996 when ND and Navy last played here Dublin seemed to be filled with Americans, many in uniform. The city will have to be on alert the whole weekend.

I don't want to put you off coming for the game. I hope to see you all there. Just don't be surprised if you see A LOT of police personnel while you're here.

Oh, while I'm at it, I'd like to recommend that this game be called the Commodore John Barry Bowl. He was, after all, an Irish Catholic and the father of the American Navy. What could be more appropriate?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

At least we still have Google and we aim to keep them

Anyone who willingly reads the business and finance pages in Ireland's newspapers is asking to be scared. Skyrocketing unemployment, bankrupt banks and a state that is piling up debt, which is getting pricier by the day. On top of that property prices are still tanking and a survey published yesterday claimed Ireland was the worst place to live in Europe. Unsurprisingly, people are streaming out of the country at a rate not seen here in two decades.

Bad news all around. Well, not quite everywhere. We still have Google.

Google's European headquarters are in Dublin, where they employ more than 1,500 people. The other day Google Ireland posted its accounts for 2009 and the results can only be described as tremendous. Revenues, profits and employment were all up last year.

Not only did the number of employees rise, but so did the average salary, up from €64,000 ($85,000) to €72,000 ($96,000). And that doesn't include the stock options that the staff received, which totaled €17m ($22.7m). All of this at a time when hundreds of thousands have been laid off, and just about everyone else has had to take pay cuts.

Google is a great story for Ireland, but there are those within and without who don't see it that way. Google like all companies operating here pay the corporate tax rate of 12.5% on their Irish earnings, which is a great enticement for them to stay here, but to some that rate of tax is too low.

Fortunately nearly everyone in Ireland supports this tax policy and other than a few cranky newspaper columnists nobody wants to increase the corporate tax rate. Irish people understand the footloose nature of business and employment in this globalized age and they believe we need to do all we can to keep Google - and all the other high-earning, high-paying employers from America and elsewhere - from going elsewhere.

No, the real threat to the corporate tax rate is external. There are those among our EU "partners" who would love to see us forced to change that tax rate to something more palatable to them, something around 30-35%, which would erode the only crumb of competitive advantage we have as an underpopulated, difficult-to-get-to island nation.

These people, who seem to be either French or German, see Ireland's difficulty as their opportunity to turn the screws even more. We're on our knees and, it's true, we're getting help from the big boys to stave off default, but the price some people want us to pay is too great. It would mean penury in perpetuity.

It's too high a price. We need to hold onto Google (& others) more than we need to stave off default and that means keeping our corporate tax rate LOW.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We sure could use Gov. Christie in Ireland

I've read a bit about Governor Christie before, but until today I had never heard him speak on the issues facing New Jersey. I caught a CNBC segment of him talking jobs and money at lunch hour and all I can say is, "Governor, will you adopt us?"

Last week I argued that the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen shouldn't be hounded out of the job because he was a little groggy during a morning interview. That doesn't mean, however, that he should remain in the job.

The truth is he has to go as does his party.

In many ways Cowen is almost my ideal politician. I don't want to like my political leaders. In fact, I think some gruffness and some meanness combined with arrogance can be excellent character traits in a leader, particularly at a time like this when tough decisions have to be made and stakeholders in the status quo have to be told where to go.

If you read the newspapers you'll see many references to Cowen being angry or whatever, but mostly what I hear is waffle and conciliation. He needs to be tougher, but even that wouldn't matter because he is UP TO HIS NECK in responsibility for what brought us to our knees in the first place. He was the Minister for Finance when the country was run into the ground.

So, it's time for a new leader and a new government. Unfortunately, everyone in Ireland is already very familiar with what the alternative will look like and it ain't all that appealing. The leader of the opposition is not all that likable, but nor does he project the toughness necessary to shake up the nation, take the burden on his shoulders and lead us to safety.

No, we need Chris Christie {photo} and, apparently, he is three quarters Irish so that's not an issue. For years there was an argument in politics here as to whether Ireland was (or should be) 'closer to Berlin or Boston.' Right now I say the heck with Berlin and Boston, we need to move much closer to Trenton.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Listening to Irish sports announcer a great cultural experience

Ireland's premier sports announcer shocked Irish sports fans when he declared that this Sunday he will broadcast his last All-Ireland Final. Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, who is 80, has been bringing Gaelic games to life for 60 years.

Ó Muircheartaigh (Moriarty in English) is Ireland's answer to Vin Scully. Only, whereas Scully is often described as lyrical, Ó Muircheartaigh is musical. Listening to Ó Muircheartaigh {photo} describe the action in a Gaelic football or hurling game is very like listening to traditional Irish music.

I can remember the first time I ever heard Ó Muircheartaigh. It was the 1980s and I just stumbled onto WFUV's live broadcast of the All-Ireland football final. I knew nothing about the game and, in truth, I had trouble following the details of what Ó Muircheartaigh was saying, but the sound of his voice was magical.

I was captivated as he called the play on the field without interruption: his voice rising and falling as the excitement waxed and waned. Occasionally, randomly and without warning he switched to his native Irish (Gaelic), which only enhanced my enjoyment. Whenever the players took a breather he'd take the opportunity to tell us something about one of the 30 athletes: what he did for a living, his hometown, his parents, brothers, sisters and, even grandparents. You got the idea that Ó Muircheartaigh knew everyone in the country (and he probably does).

Having lived here a long time I can now follow the action when Ó Muircheartaigh is calling it, except during those snippets of Irish, which I still enjoy. In fact, as has been said by others this week, listening to Ó Muircheartaigh on the radio is often superior to watching as he had that ability to make a pedestrian contest sound like an event you'd dearly have loved to have witnessed personally.

Oh, and that's another thing about Ó Muircheartaigh. He's strictly radio. Like Scully, Ó Muircheartaigh learned his trade in the days before TV. I don't know if he ever tried his hand at a television broadcast, but I can't imagine that would have worked. His words and the sound of his voice could transport you and seeing the image on a television set would only distract you and ruin the experience.

It's a sad day for fans of Gaelic games, but if you have never heard Ó Muircheartaigh you can listen tomorrow at 10:30EDT through (& on WFUV and probably other stations across America). It will be more than worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hungover or not Irish PM's interview is no big deal

"Irish Premier denies being drunk on air" was the headline and it seemed to be on just about every news site across the English-speaking world yesterday. Brian Cowen denied it, but was he "somewhere between drunk and hungover" as suggested by an opposition member of parliament? Well, I don't think so, but he sure sounded groggy and hoarse. He seemed to be stifling yawns at times. Exhausted I would definitely agree with.

I don't think this is a big deal, but the fact that he thought he could get away with the interview after a very late night of talking, laughing, singing and, at least some drinking, showed poor judgment.

Some listeners texted radio programs saying Cowen was incoherent. Well, God bless them for their discerning ears because to me he sounded as he always sounds when he's asked questions - incomprehensible. Whenever I hear Brian Cowen being interviewed I hear about 20 seconds of what he has to say before I start to hear a noise that sounds a lot like Charlie Brown's teacher.

Still, it's a huge story here and part of the story is that Cowen has "damaged Ireland in the eyes of the world." You might be surprised how many times I've heard that the past 24 hours. And, really, how many people around the world would have given this fluff item a moment's thought? Virtually none.

Sometimes Irish people let these things play on their minds too much. The absolute worst thing that might result from Cowen's interview and denials is that some people will have their stereotyped view of the Irish confirmed. I sincerely doubt any Chief Executive will alter his investment plans or any foreign leader will rethink negotiations with the Irish government based on this one minor lapse.

In fact, if anything, it might help Ireland in a way. If the reports are to be believed the somewhat charisma-challenged Cowen is absolutely great company late at night. He does impressions and sings - not badly from what I've read - and is often the life the party. Maybe that wavering Chief Executive or foreign head of state will be won over during the 'session' by the Taoiseach's heart-felt rendition of The Lakes of Pontchartrain. You never know.

Regardless, it was a blip on the international scene. Ireland's reputation is much more damaged by the daily reports on CNBC and in the Wall St. Journal and Financial Times detailing how Ireland's banks and government - including Cowen, who is very culpable - have wrecked our economy. Cowen has a long way to go before his clownish behavior even approaches that of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and I doubt he's done any real damage to Italy's reputation.

We need to maintain perspective. Whether he drinks or not is hardly an issue. After all, Churchill drank his way through the war and very few people have found cause to complain about his performance, which is all that matters. Cowen's performance of his duties is what matters and one poor interview is not nearly as crucial as the policies he and his government are pursuing to fix the problems that he and his predecessor have caused.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Driving in Ireland — sometimes you have to make up your own rules

If you've ever driven in Ireland you might well believe that there are no rules of the road only some general guidelines that you can ignore at your pleasure. Well, that's not quite true; there are rules of the road and they're even enforced, sometimes rigidly.

Yet recently the Dun Laoghaire County Council, which is responsible for the roads in the southeast part of County Dublin, created a situation that I don't think is covered by the actual rules of the road. They have established a 4‑Way Stop.

I know Americans (& Canadians too, I believe) are used to the concept of a 4‑Way (or All‑Way in some places), but I've never seen one here before. Generally speaking you will find round‑abouts here. And there. And just about everywhere.

The round‑about is just about ubiquitous. However, the intersection where this new 4‑Way Stop has been set up is, I'm guessing, not wide enough for a roundabout so the County Council just put up stop signs (minus the helpful "4‑Way") on the primary, busier road. They already existed on the smaller road.

However, nobody driving through here now seems to know how to treat the 4‑Way Stop. From what I've seen it's a mixture of (a) people on the bigger road just ignoring the new stop sign and (b) people on the bigger road slowing, sometimes stopping, but always acting like they have the right‑of‑way and blowing through before a car on the smaller road has a chance to move.

For all I know those who stop but act like they have the right‑of‑way could well be right. I could find no mention of 4‑Way Stops in the rules of the road. Still, when I pulled up there over the weekend I came to a stop and waited for the car on my left to go. {Note 'left' - I adjusted my 4‑Way instinct for driving on the left. Clever, no?}

What happened? Well, the driver looked stunned and took a bit of encouragement to go and the people behind me began tooting their horns as if I'd just waited for a pedestrian to cross in front of me as I made a turn off 2nd Avenue in Manhattan.

I was unfazed and smiled in the knowledge that I was the only one around who knew how to handle this 4‑Way phenomenon. I may even have shaken my head slightly in the way an adult might when a child has blurted out six or seven wrong answers to a question.

It was later that I started to wonder if I was actually right about how this Irish 4‑Way Stop should be handled. That thought and my fruitless search have wiped that smile right off my face. Still, this is just another one of the fun aspects of life here - getting a chance to make up your own "rule of the road."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

WWI poem appropriate for 9/11 heroes

I woke up this morning and the Rouge Bouquet by Joyce Kilmer was in my head.

In a wood they call Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave today,
Built by never a spade nor pick
Yet covered with earth 10 meters thick.
There lie many fighting men,
Dead in their youthful prime,
Never to laugh nor love again
Nor taste the Summertime.
For Death came flying through the air
And stopped his flight at the dugout stair,
Touched his prey and left them there,
Clay to clay.
He hid their bodies stealthily
In the soil of the land they fought to free
And fled away.
Now over the grave abrupt and clear
Three volleys ring;
And perhaps their brave young spirits hear
The bugles sing:
"Go to sleep!
Go to sleep!
Slumber well where the shell screamed and fell.
Let your rifles rest on the muddy floor,
You will not need them any more.
Danger's past;
Now at last,
Go to sleep!"

There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.
Never fear but in the skies
Saints and angels stand
Smiling with their holy eyes
On this new-come band.
St. Michael's sword darts through the air
and touches the aureole on his hair
As he sees them stand saluting there,
His stalwart sons:
And Patrick, Brigid, Columkill
Rejoice that in veins of warriors still
The Gael's blood runs.
And up to Heaven's doorway floats,
From the wood called Rouge Bouquet,
A delicate cloud of bugle notes
That softly say:
Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
Your souls shall be where the heroes are
And your memory shine like the morning-star.
Brave and dear,
Shield us here.

Kilmer wrote those words in 1918 about the Irish/Irish-American men he served with in the Fighting 69th, but the poem seems very appropriate for today.

I don't know if there are poems about September 11 or not, but Kilmer's description seems apt for so many of those who died that day. Besides, for all I know some of those heroes from the fire & police departments and among the civilians were descended from men who fought with the Fighting 69th in the Great War.

{Photo of the burial at Rouge Bouquet from SixtyNinth-net.}

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dublin's new stadium has two names

Last night the Irish soccer team played its first game at the new stadium built for soccer and rugby. The new stadium is called the Aviva Stadium because the naming rights were bought by the Aviva insurance company.

I know this is not new to any of you sports fans in America as most of the new sporting arenas have made similar deals. My own Mets traded Shea Stadium – named for Irish-American Bill Shea whose hard-ball tactics with Major League Baseball brought the Mets to life - for the stomach-churning Citi Field - named for one of the bail-outest of banks.

What makes the Aviva deal interesting is that it will not officially be the Aviva Stadium always. No, the money-grubbing Football Association of Ireland (the Irish soccer authorities) have done a deal with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to bring the Europa League final to Dublin next May. The game will be played in the FAI's new stadium, but the stadium will be called the Dublin Arena for that one game.

When I first heard this I thought, "Great! Someone with integrity and clout calling a halt to this 'naming rights' nonsense. Now to America with the same campaign."

Only that's not what's going on here. No, what you have is the bigger money-grubbing body telling the smaller money-grubbers, "Yes, we will deign to bring our (second-rate) European soccer final to your city, but we will not be caught dead in anything called Aviva. Why, they're not even one of our official sponsors."

And that's what happened. UEFA forced the FAI to change the name of the stadium for that one game because Aviva is not one of UEFA's official sponsors. Where's my gun?

It would be like the Olymipcs or World Cup going to America and forcing the money-grubbing Mets to change the name on their new baseball stadium to suit the Olympics or FIFA's sponsorship deals. {I'm sure the Mets would do it so long as the money-grubbing Mets and money-grubbing Citibank were monetarily satisfied.}

Oh, and although this name change is only for one game, it's a permanent change on UEFA's web site where the name is now and ever shall be the Dublin Arena. So two official names for the new stadium.

Thankfully the rail authorities have refused to play ball as the DART stop for the new stadium still has only the old Lansdowne Road. Their own attempts at money-grubbing apparently thwarted.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Harland & Wolff still at the cutting edge

Harland & Wolff is a name you will certainly know if you're an aficionado of the Titanic story. However, even if you are only familiar with Belfast you will recognize the two massive yellow cranes that loom over the Harland & Wolff shipyard.

I was in Belfast a few years ago and drove over to East Belfast to see what the Harland & Wolff site looked like. 'Desolate wasteland' sums up pretty much what I saw as I stared through the rusted iron gates. Broken glass, broken concrete, broken dreams were all that was visible.

However, on a later visit I toured the site and two things struck me. First, that although it's a modern day ruin, the dry dock where the Titanic was built is still there as is the building where the plans for the great ship were first drawn.

It didn't take me long to realize that the site had great potential as a tourist attraction. I'm not the only one – there are plans to transform the area from a derelict site into one that tourists will flock to. Whether it's all going to be ready for the 2012 100th anniversary of the Titanic's maiden (& only) voyage is hard to say.

The second thing that caught my eye was a strange red tower just off to the side of the yellow cranes. I knew that H & W were still doing some shipbuilding or repairs, but I knew it was nothing like the old days. However, this red tower was not a ship, but a wave power generator.

As I learned, H & W have diversified into ocean based renewable energy engineering projects. Wave power generators are only part of the project because H & W are also building wind turbines and in July they won a contract to build a tidal turbine, which will produce electricity from the tidal flows.

Harland & Wolff is at the cutting edge of 21st century technology, just as it was at the cutting edge of 20th century technology at the time of the Titanic.

Irish amateur sports final the equal of any pro championship

Yesterday's hurling final represented the third Sunday in a row that the GAA provided edge-of-your-seat sports excitement. In yesterday's game, underdog Tipperary beat Kilkenny to end the latter's bid for five straight championships.

You don't have to be an expert on hurling to have appreciated yesterday's contest. It was a replay of last year's final in which Kilkenny came from behind to go past Tipperary to win their fourth straight title. Yesterday for much of the game it looked like it might be more of the same as Tipperary led most of the game, but they just couldn't put Kilkenny away.

Then the magic moment arrived. Last year as the game entered the final few moments Kilkenny uppped the pressure and Tipperary buckled, lost their discipline and Kilkenny went past them for victory. Yesterday, when the critical moment arrived Tipperary held firm, found an extra step and buried Kilkenny with a late flurry of scores to make the final totals look lop-sided. The champions had been dethroned.

What's amazes me is that because Tipperary had won the game with a couple of minutes to play it was actually a let down in terms of late excitement compared with the two football semi-finals played the previous two Sundays. Both of those games were in doubt until the last minute and, in fact, the Down vs Kildare game was only settled when a last second shot at goal hit the crossbar.

Thrilling, heart-stopping stuff in front of 80,000 fans and hundreds of thousands watching on TV. You can't beat it, but the fact that the GAA is an amateur organization and all the players have to earn a living outside of sports only enhances the enjoyment. Of course professional sports are exciting, but they don't provide more excitement than what this great amateur body offers.