Friday, July 12, 2013

Nanny state reversal - Ireland's elected representatives need to be nannied

Tom Barry TD, disgraced himself and Ireland's
parliament when he dragged fellow TD,
Áine Collins into his lap in the Dáil.

To those outside Ireland today's Irish Times headline might seem opaque or of minimal importance, but to Irish people it speaks volumes: "Dáil bar stayed open until 5am."

The Dáil is the lower, but more powerful house in Ireland's Parliament, the equivalent to the UK's House of Commons. The Dáil has its own bar, one that is the subject of occasional light-hearted media coverage and occasionally the subject of what sounds like serious envy among those who are never invited in. The Dáil bar is exactly what you think it is, only with cheaper prices so that our elected and highly-paid representatives (TD's) can enjoy a tipple (or tipples) without overextending themselves financially.

Not to be a spoil-sport, but the Dáil bar should be shut down. Now. For good.

Early yesterday morning during an all-night debate one of our elected representatives, Tom Barry, pulled another of our elected representatives, Áine Collins, into his lap and held her there for a short while before letting her go. Inside the debating chamber. If it hadn't been for the live TV cameras none of us would be any the wiser.

That short, silent clip shouted out a few different things to Irish people and social media exploded early yesterday as that clip 'went viral.' Some saw in it that sexism is still an issue in Ireland. Others were simply appalled that this sort of thing could happen when the Dáil was supposed to be engaged in a serious political debate, one that required an all-night sitting. One or two hinted at the truth, which emerged later: Deputy Barry had been drinking in the Dáil bar.

This isn't the first time alcohol has been implicated in the affairs of the Irish state. There are rumors that many of the TDs were three sheets to the wind on the night they voted to approve the state guarantee of the country's banks, which eventually bankrupted the nation.

I don't care if clear headed TDs would have made no difference in how they voted. It's the principle of the matter. I can't think of any other job where drinking while on duty would be tolerated. Sure they might be working late, but they don't work year-round and they make a very good wage. If they have to put with a few late nights, tough. They should be able to do so without knocking back a few cold ones to make the work more 'interesting.'

I honestly don't understand why the Dáil needs a bar in the first place. Very few offices have one these days. On top of that, if there's one thing that marks the Dáil of recent years it's that it's full of busy-bodies: chock full of people who want to compel us by law to change our ways when it comes to drinking.

It's true Irish people probably do consume too much alcohol, but before our elected officials want to rule out drinks companies sponsoring sporting events or force supermarkets to raise the prices on beer and wine, why don't they try leading by example. They should collectively announce that they don't need a drink to get through their workday and that the Dáil bar is being shut down.

I can't imagine that happening because for our elected representatives it's a case of "do as I say and not as I do." They would much prefer to bar us from getting cheep booze than ever endure the same thing themselves.

Besides I don't want to give them a noble option. I'd rather see the Dáil bar shut in the face of our TD's opposition.

The Dáil bar should be closed because our representatives should not be drinking on the job on our dime. We pay their salaries and we pay to subsidize their cheap alcohol. Let them go to the pub or buy their own for home consumption like the rest of us. While we're at it, let's force them to take sobriety tests before they're allowed to enter the Dáil chamber to debate or vote.

It's about time we did an about turn on the 'nanny state.' We don't need the government to nanny us, but clearly, based on yesterday's antics, they need us to nanny them. Let's start by shutting the Dáil bar ... for their own good, of course.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ireland in the hot sun - melting roads, water shortages, but no better place on Earth

Children playing in the Irish Sea. Don't be fooled -
that water is freezing cold.
And the Lord said, "Let there be light," and there was light and quite a bit of heat too. I'm sure God saw that it was good, although he doesn't like to do it too often. 'What's seldom is wonderful' seems to be God's motto when it comes to Ireland and warm summer weather.

We are in the middle of one of infrequent heat waves. Temperatures have been as high as the mid 80s and we have about 15 hours of sunshine a day. Who could complain?

No one Irish anyway. We may have water shortages and melting roads, but nobody much minds. That's the real beauty of it - this fine weather really lifts the mood. It's such a rarity that the good weather just seems to cheer everyone. In weather like this Ireland can rival the Magic Kingdom for the "happiest place on Earth."

The only people I can imagine who might be slightly disgruntled are American tourists because away from the coasts it is actually pretty warm through the nights and there is no air conditioning anywhere here. Even fans are fairly rare. Hotels and restaurants can actually be uncomfortably warm. When darkness doesn't totally set in until well after 11pm and light starts breaking through around 4:30 sleeplessness can come into play. Whereas Irish people shrug that off at times like this, I would understand if a few tourists are a little grumpy and bleary-eyed with it all.

As for me, well I may be American, but I'm as sun-starved as any of the locals. I'm thrilled to see the sun for such long stretches. My family has been doing as all Irish families have: enjoying the sunshine immensely. We've gone swimming in the frigid Irish Sea, dined in the back yard, gone on excursions without even considering bringing umbrellas or rain jackets. That last one is a rare treat indeed.

On Sunday we went back to County Meath, which is, as advertised, Ireland's "heritage capital." This time we visited the site of the Battle of the Boyne, the Hill of Slane and the birthplace of Irish patriot John Boyle O'Reilly.

The Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre is in a lovely location. A big old house, pretty green fields with some period cannon scattered around, but ultimately the center is disappointing. Maybe there isn't much that can be done when you have no artifacts - a few replicas is about it - and the battle was 323 years ago. Still I left there feeling no wiser just poorer for having gone there.
Churchyard at Slane, Co Meath
If you're in Meath and have to choose between the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre and the Hill of Slane go to the Hill of Slane. The good weather helped, of course, but the Hill of Slane has great views, history and it's free. You have to do your own research to learn of Slane's importance, but just walking in the ancient friary and churchyard can be rewarding enough. I hadn't been there in years and was really glad to visit again on Sunday.

The last stop on our brief tour of the area was one my specialties. I caught a glimpse of a sign advertising a memorial to John Boyle O'Reilly and ignoring the wails from the back of the car I headed off in pursuit. One lucky guess at an unsigned crossroad (follow signs for Dowth) and I was there. The old school his father ran and the tower house he was born in are still there, although they've recently been refurbished.

John Boyle O'Reilly memorial
Dowth, Co Meath
O'Reilly - Irish patriot and
advocate for Catholics
in 19th Century Boston.
O'Reilly is another example of the links between Ireland and America. He was a determined Irish patriot, a Fenian. He was transported to Australia in 1868 after the failed Fenian uprising. From there he escaped to America. He settled in Boston where he argued for Home Rule, helped organize a rescue of his fellow Fenians in an Australian prison and became an advocate for Catholics in his adopted homeland. Oh yeah, and he edited a newspaper and wrote poetry too.

All in all, O'Reilly packed a lot of living into his 46 years. He is remembered with a memorial near Fenway Park in Boston, which I've never seen but I assume is much easier to find then the one at his birthplace. Finding that was the perfect end to a perfect day in sun-drenched Ireland. Hurry over before it goes, unless you prefer it damp and cool. If you do, just wait a week and I'm sure you'll be satisfied.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ireland remembers JFK, but forgets the Irish in the American Civil War

Fr William Corby,
Chaplan NY 88th of
the Irish Brigade.
Gettysburg, PA
This week, July 1-3, is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and it's being commemorated across America and especially at the battlefield itself all week. Unfortunately the anniversary will come and go in Ireland with barely a murmur.

Does this surprise me? Unfortunately, no. Yet, the Battle of Gettysburg should be remembered here as should the Civil War generally.

The Irish contribution to the American Civil War is simultaneously virtually unknown and grossly and dismissively exaggerated in Ireland. That the American Civil War involved a large number of Irish people and had a huge impact on the million or so post-famine Irish immigrants in America is barely acknowledged.

Nearly as bad is the off-handed way some talk about the war as being an almost entirely Irish affair. Such ignorance allows people to dismiss what it was really like for those Irishmen fighting a war to defend a nation that they'd only recently arrived in, a nation that didn't exactly welcome them with open arms.

Some Irishmen joined up because it was steady work. Others were simply drafted - they had no choice. Yet many enlisted because they felt an allegiance to the United States because, despite the lack of welcome, they had better opportunities for themselves and their families than they'd have had in post-famine Ireland. A number of those who had gone south fought for the Confederacy for similar reasons. There were also some on both sides of the Civil War who had joined the army because they thought the war would be quick and their military training would enable them to return to Ireland to lead a successful rebellion against British rule.

Whatever the reason for joining, they fought and they died in large numbers. Those deaths were felt keenly in the Irish ghettos in America and in Ireland, where family members who remained were left to mourn a death of a loved one in a war they probably only barely understood.

The 150th anniversaries of the start of Antietam and Fredericksburg - the Irish Brigade's worst day - passed without any real acknowledgment in Ireland so I actually expected nothing more this week.  I guess there was a small part of me that thought Gettysburg would be different simply because it's better known.

The quiet surrounding the Civil War anniversaries stands in stark contrast to the huge celebrations in June to mark the the 50th anniversary of the visit of President Kennedy. There were events in Wexford, the Kennedys ancestral home, Limerick, home to the Fitzgeralds and elsewhere across the country. Just about any place that could claim a connection to JFK or his visit had an official event to mark the occasion.

I think it's great that Kennedy's visit is remembered so fondly. His visit was a huge event for the young Irish state at the time, but it would have been nice if they had remembered some of what Kennedy said when he stood before the Irish parliament to deliver a speech that was followed by people across the country via television and, especially, radio.

His speech was about the "many and enduring links that have bound the Irish and the Americans since the earliest days." For Kennedy those enduring links were best exemplified by the Irish contribution in the Civil War. He chose to open his speech with a (somewhat garbled**) lesson on the Irish and the Civil War. He then presented a battle flag from the Irish Brigade to the people of Ireland.

Maybe that was the start of the problem. That flag was presented to the people of Ireland, but very few of them have ever been able to see it. It hangs on a wall inside the parliament building - Leinster House - where you can only see it if you work there or if you get an invite to visit the parliament.

Irish Brigade battle flag presented to the people of Ireland by
President John Kennedy, June 28, 1963.
{Photo from}

The Civil War battle flag should be in the National Museum where hundreds of thousands can see it each year. Moving that flag could be the start of a new understanding of the Irish contribution in the war and its impact on the Irish in America and in Ireland. Let's get going. Let's move that flag.

* There is one man in Ireland doing great work in promoting a change in the attitude towards the American Civil War – Damien Shiels (@irishacw). He writes a fantastic blog at

** Kennedy confused the date for the Battle of Fredericksburg, saying 13th September 1862 when he should have said December and put Fredericksburg in Maryland rather than Virginia.