Dashing Through the Snow

snowdriving

A fine morning, not a cloud over Cavan, sunshine. And, oh yeah, that pesky “yellow snow warning” (gets me giggling every time they say that on the radio). I mean, it started to come down yesterday afternoon at 3 pm, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise to find a blanket coverage in the morning, would it? But this is Ireland, so people panic, go extra slow, and make such informed decisions like braking and then revving it up in low gear when going up an incline.

In short, it was pandemonium again. But there you go, the fat German had reason to laugh … Continue reading

Eirtakon Dublin 2015 – an Image Selection

Eirtakon-Dublin-2015-00

Cosplay in Ireland? At a first glance that might be restricted to wearing a soccer outfit with a famous name on it, or dressing up like a gangsta … but far from it! The cosplay scene (and for an attempt at a definition see this Cosplay Primer on MediaMedusa) is indeed alive and well on the Emerald Isle. So much so that in November thousands flocked into Dublin’s Croke Park Conference Centre to see, be seen, buy, play, and have fun. Continue reading

Irish Game & Country Fair at Birr Castle 2015

Lady Bethany at the Irish Game & Country Fair - © Bernd Biege 2015

Off to another long day out, heading down into Offaly and to Birr Castle, for the Irish Game & Country Fair 2015. Billed as a “country sports and lifestyle event”, it certainly is dominated by wellies, practical clothing from tweed to waxed, dogs, guns … well, everything you’d expect from “the country set” really. Not as in “Country & Western” (though there was some line-dancing to Garth Brooks, and the dancers included a horse). Continue reading

MCM Comic Con Dublin

Stunning costumes at the MCM Comic Con 2015 in Dublin - © Bernd Biege 2015

Off to the MCM Comic Con in the RDS, Dublin … for a long day of weirdness. Or not weirdness, depending on your individual tastes. Well, there were scantily clad maidens (who looked fit to kick some serious butt), semi-historical costumes, steam- and dieselpunks, celebrities, the odd deranged killer, a time machine, some Doctors … just a normal day out then (for a full review, look at my article on the MCM Ireland Comic Con at About.com). So, what did strike the eye? Continue reading

Moynalty Steam Threshing 2015

moynalty-2015-threshing

Off to Moynalty, near Kells in County Meath, where the 40th Steam Threshing Festival was held in early August … as is the tradition. Not having been for a while, I was amazed how big it was. On this site, just a short collection of images follows – a more in-depth article will be published later on Ireland Travel at About.com.

So, in no particular order, here’s a dozen images you may like (and yes, that yellow Minibug was really street legal):

Midlands Home and Garden Festival at Belvedere House

Wood Nymph at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015
Sunflowers at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Sunflowers at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Another weekend, another festival … this time at Belvedere House near Mullingar, where the Midlands Home and Garden Festival opened the gates for three days at the end of June. Worth going? Well, to be quite honest, we’ve seen better incarnations of this festival in previous years. That is not to say that it was bad, but it has already been better.

And I do not mean the missing helicopter rides (sort of the last hairballs the Celtic Tiger coughed up), but we did not really discover anything new and exciting for, erm, home and garden. You go “Ah, there’s the folks flogging off the bamboo cushions again!” and “Oh, yeah, the sheds and gates were here every year, eh?” Maybe it is just to the repeat visitor, that is seems repetitive.

Folks I spoke to were generally content … there was good food, there were things to see, and the free entrance for children certainly was very welcome. So, yes, must have been us.

And even we discovered some new stuff … the first of which was an Iranian couple doing their own twist on the humble spud, creating “Twisted Potato Chips”. Which were delicious. Hats off to a novel idea on an old theme, and a very good outcome …

Twisted Potato Chips at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Twisted Potato Chips at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Novel ideas? Well, potted trees in colourful planters certainly help to break the uniformity of the typical suburban gardens … but a planter looking like a tractor is even better to me.

Potted Plants at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Potted Plants at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Planter Ideas at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Planter Ideas at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Mentioning colourful – this food truck owned by “Once Upon a Thai” certainly catches the eye. Unfortunately, food trucks are still a rarity in Ireland’s towns, mostly due to very restrictive practices regarding their deployment.

Thai Food Truck at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Thai Food Truck at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Making his way between the food stalls (with admirable restraint) was this young dog … four or so animal rescues had pitched their tents in Belvedere Gardens.

Adorable Adoptable at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Adorable Adoptable at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Boy’s Toys on show as well, the local classic car club had an outing too. While some kids were not restrained by their parents from using the playhouses that were marked “For Display Only!” (a health and safety nightmare, I presume). And yer man at the Sleepeazy stall showed that sleep came indeed easy …

A Classic MG at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

A Classic MG at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Display Only? Kids (and Parents) Often Did Not Care at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Display Only? Kids (and Parents) Often Did Not Care at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Sleeping ... at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Sleeping … at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Need some creative ideas for your own garden? Well, then how about recreating this garden seat for a start?

Whimsical Garden Seat at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Whimsical Garden Seat at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Or go all out and build a life-size wood nymph from … yes, wood. This sculpture (and the seat above) were created by artist Patsy Preston.

Wood Nymph at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Wood Nymph at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

And finally, another culinary delight – Akatshi Grill, offering Congolese food … but avoid the hot sauce, I’m tellin’ ya!

Akatshi Preparing Delicacies at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Akatshi Preparing Delicacies at the Midlands Home and Garden Festival 2015 – © Bernd Biege 2015

Castlewellan Show 2015

Happy as a Pig in a Cupcake - Castlewellan Show 2015 - © Bernd Biege 2015

Here we go … just some impressions from a quick visit to the 2015 edition of the Castlewellan Show, the main agricultural event in County Down (it seems). Loads of things to do and view, and good food too. The weather was “soft”, so not a bad day at all!

Ireland’s Immigration Problem

Japanese Knotweed Warning in County Cavan

Just as I was motoring along peacefully, I noticed a very disturbing sight – unwanted and unloved immigrants at the side of the road. And, lo and behold, shortly afterwards the local council put up signs regarding this. Because, those immigrants really take over everything and leave you out of house and home if you do not act fast. By killing them off.

Of course, we are talking “invasive species”, specifically foreign flora making its destructive way through Ireland’s forty shades of green. And even worse than the already dreaded rhododendron. Battle stations – Japanese knotweed has arrived in Cavan.

Japanese Knotweed Warning in County Cavan

So, what’s the story? According to the comprehensive website Invasive Species Ireland it is a big one indeed. Never mind that the plant has led homeowners in the UK to suicide already, seeing (literally) the worth and the walls of their family homes crumble. Even without such drastic extremes, the weed is ominous:

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), is an invasive herbaceous perennial (a plant that can live more than one year). Since it was introduced as an ornamental plant in the 19th Century from Japan, it has spread across the island of Ireland, particularly along watercourses, transport routes and waste grounds where its movement is unrestricted. Japanese knotweed can:

  • Seriously damage houses, buildings, hard surfaces and infrastructure growing through concrete, tarmac and other hard surfaces in some cases.
  • Threaten native plants and animals by forming dense thickets.
  • Block routes used by wildlife to disperse.
  • Riverside Japanese knotweed damages flood defence structures and reduces the capacity of channels to carry flood water.

Convinced? Then, by all that may be holy to you, do NOT go out with the old strimmer and cut it away. Because the not-so-little buggers will fall before the mighty blade, only to be reborn from even minute plant scratchings in all their glory. You’ll be fighting a losing battle, actually you’ll be helping to spread Japanese knotweed even further.

The only way to go – deep earth excavation under controlled conditions, picture the recovery of a nuclear device in your back garden. Or chemical warfare, because this plant can be killed off by some poisons. But even that is a process that has to be repeated over years.

Somehow, the council putting up notices strikes me as an almost futile gesture here – action is needed. And planting a sign where it will soon be overgrown will not discourage the old hedgetrimmer, on his phone in the air-conditioned cabin of his Massey or Deere. He’ll not even raise an eybrow when the sound of the sign being shredded, to be followed by the knotweed, reaches his ear – jist another feckin’ roadside ad, innit?

New Cat on the Block

blacky

blacky

Surprise guest yesterday – a black(ish) cat that lounged in the sun in our yard, peacefully, only about five metres from our resident feral. Very shy and a bit too slim, I guess. See how this will work out, always a free meal here (and don’t all the neighbourhood cats and dogs know that already).

Why Ireland Must Vote No Today

no

noThere is no question in my mind – wherever you are standing, left or right, whether you are Catholic, Hindu, Atheist, Jain, Buddhist, Baptist, or Jew, whether you are man, woman, or undecided, straight, gay, or swinging both ways … you have to vote “No!” in the referendum today.

Have I got your attention?

Of course, there are actually two referenda (referendums, as others say) going on in Ireland today. One is a no-brainer for a Yes vote. But the other should be equally obvious get a No from all of us.

Because lowering the minimum age for candidates to the Irish presidency to 21 would be the worst move ever. Despite the comic possibilities it will have.

The official reason for this plan is that it would make young people more interested in politics. Really? That’s why you throw them the bone of being able to run for the single one office in Ireland that has absolutely no power and relevancy, which is just a glamorous cherry on the top of an already overloaded political cake?

Because, you see, the President of Ireland, the Uachtarán na hÉireann, may well be the head of state … but he has no real power. But he appoints the Taoiseach? True, but he does this on the “advice” of the Dail, and cannot refuse to do so. He appoints the judges? Also true, but he does this on the “advice” of the Dail. If he wants to address the nation (or the Houses of the Oireachtas), this needs prior approval from the government. And he cannot even go on holidays – the government has to give permission for the President to leave the country.

But then he (or she) can go about and play the role of a VIP – which, in effect, he or she isn’t, in a political sense. All things considered.

Nonetheless, Ireland makes use of the President in representative events. He or she shakes the hands of the VIP guests, goes abroad to spread a little bit of Irish wisdom, and so on. He or she is perceived as Ireland’s most prominent ambassador (Bono might disagree, though).

And, to be quite honest, can any state afford to have a pimply 21-year-old going to, say, the US and speaking “on behalf of the Irish”? Just imaging! Jedward, the evil twins that already represented Ireland twice (without success) in the Eurovision Song Contest, have already hinted at being interested in the Prez job. And what about the Mullingar lad in One Direction? It might be a good thing that female preteens cannot vote. Yet.

Anyway, a state needs a representative that is, more or less, in compos mentis. Not somebody who sees the job as a party gig.

Is there really any danger of that happening? I think there is – just look at the last presidential election here, when Michael Twee Higgins just about beat off (by default and through dubious media incidents, not by being more charismatic or some such stuff) the populist candidate Seán Gallagher and Shinner McGuinness. Higgins received just over 700,000 first preference votes, finishing with just over a million.

Imagine somebody propping up Jedward as a “fun candidate” and giving it wellie, with everybody who was fed up with politics in general having a laugh at the polls – they’d have easily steamrollered the diminutive poet, even if they just had hopped up and down in typical ADHD style during the presidential debates. C’mon, Ireland sent Dustin to the Eurovision … which sort of strengthens my argument, I guess.

Lowering the age for the prez job, as useless as it may be, to 21? Just say no!

Same Sex Marriages and … Surrogacy?

Say no to ... surrogacy? - © Bernd Biege 2015

Say no to ... surrogacy? - © Bernd Biege 2015The merry month of May is almost upon us, and summer is coming, and so is a referendum … on marriage equality. Regarding the latter, the nutcases seem to be out and about already. Because, you see, stand where you want on marriage equality – but decide on the question actually asked, I say.

Driving through our rural backwater I saw the first “Vote No!” poster. And nearly crashed the car laughing.

There we have the eternal Irish stereotype poster child, all innocence and red hair. “Think about the children!” And a sentence that hammers home the issues at hand: “SHE NEEDS HER MOTHER FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR 9 MONTHS” Hang on, what are we voting about here, folks? The headline makes it clear: “SURROGACY?”

Okay, I thought, I might have missed a bit here … being generally fed up with politics I tend to pay not too much attention to details at times. But I had not, until now, grasped the fact that there is a vote on surrogacy coming up. My bad, let me check this with the Referendum Commission – Official Website. They should know.

Unfortunately, the nincompoops at the Referendum Commission seem to have it wrong as well. Because there is only mention of the referenda on Marriage and Presidential Age (the latter about as useful as nipples on a breastplate, to quote George R.R. Martin). And having a closer look at the Marriage Referendum, I notice that this seems to concern only one sentence, as the following will be added to Article 41 of the Constitution:

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Now, no mention of surrogacy here … but in the small print there is a mention of the dreaded S-word:

Donor assisted births

The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 deals with parentage in the cases of donor assisted births but not with surrogacy. While the Act has been passed, it is not intended to bring these particular provisions into effect for at least a year.

The Act provides that a mother’s spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner will be able to become the second parent of a child provided certain conditions are met. One of these is that the birth mother and the intending second parent consent in advance that they will be the parents of any child born through donor-assisted human reproduction. The donor will also have to consent in advance that he or she is a donor and does not intend to be a parent of the child.

Which sounds, to me at least, very much like a heterosexual or lesbian couple pulling in a sperm donor, with that donor waiving all rights, and the non-birth-giving partner becoming a legal parent. It does not touch upon surrogacy at all (which may disappoint gay couples), and it certainly does not rip a baby from his or her mother’s womb, to be spirited away by an unscrupulous person of undetermined sexual preference …

So, as the young folks say, WTF is that “Vote No!” poster on about?

It is published and put on display by an outfit calling itself “Mothers & Fathers Matter Website“, and its credo is simple (or even simplistic):

We believe that the Government’s new Children and Family Relationships Bill is unjust because it says mothers and fathers don’t matter to children. Mothers and Fathers Matter also favours retaining the present definition of marriage because this is in the best interests of children. Mothers and Fathers Matter Matter favours retaining the present definition of marriage in the Constitution.

So, it is all about the children. The poor wee ones. Cue tears in the Irish mammy’s eyes, and a lump in Padraig’s throat. And the best interest of children? Why, obviously, a heterosexual couple as parents. Because shirtlifters and those unspeakable women, they cannot be loving parents. Hence they should not get married at all. Or something like this. It is against the natural law. Rread: what the parish priest says. The connections of Mothers & Fathers Matter to the Catholic church (itself long a haven for those with a predilection for homo- and heterosexual contact with minors, one muses) are manifold.

And the Mothers & Fathers Matter have already predicted the future with that “SURROGACY?” poster, it seems. Because in the M&FM Leaflet (PDF-File) they ramble on about it:

“Courts could (sic!) decide that the rights to marry grants same-sex couples the right to procreate. They can only procreate through the use of donated sperm or eggs and, in the case of two men married to each other, by using a surrogate mother’s womb for nine months.”

It’ll be Elton John all over again, and that in Ireland – careful now! But note how this possibility is also made a fact on the poster. Mairead will not read about the finer legal points on her way to mass (the poster actually was found opposite a church, just to mention that).

But Mothers & Fathers Matter also make the referendum the biggest threat to Western civilisation since the Islamic State arrived on the scene. Because, and this is again taken from the leaflet:

“Because we are asked to redefine marriage, on which the family is founded, your decision will have far-reaching consequences for children, education, employment law, equality legislation, freedom of speech and religious liberty.”

Down with that sort of thing! Because, you know, when the benighted poofters and lezzies are being allowed to marry, next you’ll be forbidden to say the “Hail Mary”, and if you speak up against that, transvestites and transsexuals will garotte you with your own rosary. I’m tellin’ ya!

To me, a Yes vote is a no-brainer – if Paddy wants to marry Darren, or if Sinead wants to tie the knot with Gloria, who am I to say that they cannot do so? Okay, I would not force a Catholic priest to marry them in his church, that much I’ll allow. But otherwise?

And if Paddy, Darren, Sinead, and Gloria want to procreate (an ideal situation, come to think of it) or adopt … well, good luck to them. Having seen same-sex couples giving kids a great life, and having seen predatory heterosexuals abusing their own offspring, I somehow can not see TEOTWAWKI being quite near due to a (very likely) Yes decision.

But those nutcases will find believers. And they will get people to vote “No!” Because everything (“EVERYTHING!”) is at stake. Where those faggots should be, many will think too, at the stake.

But I have to be thankful to Mothers & Fathers Matter – their poster, and the website to boot, have at least convinced me that it might be worth to go out and vote this time. Just to throw a great, big spanner into the religious works. And give the electoral middle fingers to the lunatic fringe. All by voting a simple “Yes!”

Magen David Adom Ireland?

02-MH-9280 - an Irish-Jewish Ferrari Ambulance? - © Bernd Biege 2015

Now here’s a conundrum (with a sort of update at the end) … an ambulance spotted on April 1st (really) in Cavan Town. Which made me slightly confused. Okay, at first glance nothing exciting:

02-MH-9280 - an Irish-Jewish Ferrari Ambulance? - © Bernd Biege 2015

A more or less common and garden Citroen van, lots of blue lights, Battenberg livery, no ownership identifiable, but seems to have been used by Medilink once – at least one side window had the “ghost” of the corporate emblem.

02-MH-9280 - an Irish-Jewish Ferrari Ambulance? - © Bernd Biege 2015

But what really made me go “Huh?” was the front of this ambulance … at first glance I thought “Magen David Adom?”

02-MH-9280 - an Irish-Jewish Ferrari Ambulance? - © Bernd Biege 2015

Then I looked closer … true, there was a red Star of David in the middle, but there also were two black symbols of the same design to be found. And all had a tiny thing in the middle, so my next thought was “Rastafarian?”, as I had seen Stars of David with the lion of Zion in the middle before (though the Battenberg livery should be red, gold, and green in that case).

But no … it was the cavallino rampante, the emblem used by Ferrari (and the civil defence communications unit in Itzehoe, but that would be another story).

So, what the Dickens is this?

– – –

Update on April 28th, 2014:

Yesterday I actually met the owner of the ambulance – it belongs to an animal rescue here in Cavan. Hence the horse. And the Star of David apparently is a personal tribute to a family member, not used in any religious sense. More to come after a visit to the rescue …

Building Jerusalem Anew … in Ireland?

Oldcastle - Ireland's Answer to the Isle of Avalon?

Paging Doctor Jung … trudging through drizzly Oldcastle in County Meath, taking a break from re-reading Phil Rickman’s supernatural thriller “The Chalice“, I was having a severe attack of synchronicity. Because, you see, there was this new, Glastonbury-like shopfront. “Witch’s Hill“, taking its cue from the nearby Loughcrew hills.

Witch's Hill in Oldcastle, County Meath

Witch’s Hill in Oldcastle, County Meath

Okay, aside from the niggle that “the Witch’s Hill” is just one possible translation of the Irish “Sliabh na Caillí” (it could also be “the Hill of the Hag”, or more neutral “the Hill of the Old Women” – maybe referring to the oldest aspect of the triple goddess), the sign-writing is more Disney-lurid and Halloween-spirited than New Age, but that might be just me. And they weren’t open, anyway … but through the windows I could see a sort of “event space”, where an art exhibition was hosted. Fair enough.

So what do they say about themselves? “Witch’s Hill Interpretive Centre is a new local business which aims to promote Oldcastle as a cultural hub through art, drama music and storytelling”. So why the Glastonbury vibe I felt? Some of the artwork certainly gave off an “Avalonian” vibe, all goddess, druids, moons, and more colours than a Hindu temple:

Oldcastle - Ireland's Answer to the Isle of Avalon?

Oldcastle – Ireland’s Answer to the Isle of Avalon?

And then there were other developments … the hills of Loughcrew certainly seem to attract more and more attention, and even a new visitor centre has been opened (also to be visited soon, time is a bit sparse right now). Well deserved attention, as the cairns on the hilltops are certainly spectacular, and the have some very fine neolithic art to boot. And what a view!

Compare to Tara, which I tend to describe as “a rather unkempt golf course” at times, but which draws millions. Mainly due to the myth of the High Kings (such as they were). Or to the expensive, and even possibly “enhanced” Newgrange. Both are crowded, not very spiritual places. Whereas Loughcrew, once you get your breath back …

Anyway … is this going to change? Is Loughcrew to be the next big thing on the Boyne Valley Drive? Will Oldcastle slowly morph into an Irish version of Glastonbury? Hey, we already have a festival here, and there even is a bona fide saint. Oliver Plunkett, reliquary in the local (Catholic, needless to say) church, commemorative plaque on the pass beneath the Sliabh na Caillí, birthplace at Loughcrew. His feet in ancient time did indeed walk upon Ireland’s mountain green.

Will a New Age inspired mix of Christianity, neo-paganism, hippy-ish art folk shine forth upon our clouded hills?

Let me be honest … it can be a good thing, it can go tits up very fast as well. I am all for folks exploring Loughcrew in a sensitive, non-intrusive way. But when exploring becomes exploiting, a sour aftertaste is left. Too quick are people trying to make a fast buck, too soon will the snake-oil salesmen and the gombeens appear, followed by the oh-so-alternative folks who try to flog off “original Celtic” stuff they bought in bulk off Alibaba.com … remember the Cliffs of Moher in the old days?

But the Cliffs of Moher should also serve as a warning … develop something into a real attraction, and “the man” will take notice. Introducing first parking charges, then restrictions, then extortion.

Whatever, at this moment in time I feel that Oldcastle, which has been in a sort of coma for some years now, might revive itself. And that has to be a good thing. Hasn’t it?