Tag Archives: Kerry

Ireland: land of comedy, corruption and persuasive terrorism

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

I am back in the UK after a week in Kerry in south west Ireland.

My friend acquired five small pieces of flat grey slate to use as coffee cup coasters. They were confiscated at Kerry Airport on the way back home lest we fashion them on the plane as Stone Age axe heads and attack the cabin crew.

This is partly understandable and a good use of lateral thinking, though a tad fantastically paranoid and I did wonder if some of the massive amounts of cocaine smuggled in through Kerry had trickled down to the security lady who was evidently so proud to wear her overly-neat uniform.

Yes. Mieow. Indeed.

Still, we could indeed have turned out to be the Coffee Cup Coaster Terrorists.

There was no negotiating possible with the security lady which was odd, as chatting things over to sort out problems tends to be a national pastime and to work wonders.

I was told that, a few years ago, in the Iveragh Peninsula, where we stayed, there had been an attempt by the IRA to wield more local influence in Kray Twins like ways – a bit of protection money here, a bit of a percentage there. But this was nipped fairly quickly in the bud by “some people” having a chat with the RA lads and making it clear this was not acceptable.  Quite who “some people” were was unclear but, clearly, they had well-honed and persuasive negotiating skills.

Likewise the late lamented roguish Irish politician Charlie Haughey who was Taoiseach three times. I was told that once, when he was not Taoiseach, he needed a bit of money and his luxury yacht sank in suspicious circumstances.

The circumstances were so suspicious that the insurance company refused to pay out – until Charlie had a little chat with them and pointed out that this was Ireland and, if they gave him any trouble, they themselves might encounter similarly annoying obstacles to their interests when he became Taoiseach again.

They paid out.

It’s good to talk.

As I mentioned in a blog before, Charlie was that very Irish thing: a lovable rogue and his passing must have been much lamented by the tabloid press and by stand-up comedians and pub humorists across the country.

During his reign as leader, Charlie’s Fianna Fail party was known as “the party of the brown envelope”.

Of course, wagging tongues do not necessarily tell or even imply the truth and innocent people can be sullied. Charlie’s successor as Fianna Fail leader and as Taoiseach was Bertie Ahern, a much-respected Taoiseach untouched by scandal – he was known as the ‘Teflon Taoiseach’.

He came to power in the same year as Tony Blair and the two of them succeeded where many others had failed – getting a peace deal in Northern Ireland.

It’s good to talk.

Historic and highly admirable stuff but, oddly, Bertie had been an accountant before entering politics and then Minister for Finance before becoming Taoiseach.

I say “oddly” because, it later turned out, he had no bank account until December 1993. (He was Minister for Finance 1991-1994 and became Taoiseach in 1997 when he was aged 45.)

There’s no law which says you have to have a bank account but, given such facts, stand-up comedians and unfounded speculation can run amuck.

Later, in court, Bertie’s former girlfriend testified that he once drove her to a bank in Dublin’s O’Connell Street so she could withdraw £50,000 sterling in cash for him. A businessman involved with Bertie told of emptying a briefcase containing £28,000 onto a desk and Bertie put the cash into a safe, without counting it. And, indeed, without giving a receipt.

Comedy gold.

Recently, when both former Provisional IRA leader Martin McGuinness and former Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana ran for the post of President of the Irish Republic, McGuinness came third and Dana sixth out of the seven contenders.

This was said to be because fewer people could remember Dana’s hits.

Ireland. Land of comedy, corruption and persuasive terrorism.

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Filed under Ireland, Politics, Terrorism

Alien lifeforms, empty schools and sexual promiscuity in County Kerry

The people I am staying with on the currently rain-swept Iveragh Peninsula in south west Ireland obviously (despite the weather) have a refrigerator.

On a shelf inside the fridge is a 1,000 kg block of cheese.

On the wrapper are printed the words “EC Aid White Cheese”. The cheese is supplied free to locals by the European Union. You just go along and ask for it and you are given it. No-one knows why, but no-one is going to turn down 1,000 kg of free cheese.

EC Aid is part of the European Community’s Development Programme which stems from the Cotonou Agreement. The central objective of the agreement is “poverty reduction and ultimately its eradication; sustainable development; and progressive integration of 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries into the world economy”. Quite how my two chums living in considerable comfort with two cars and five TV sets in Kerry fit into this no doubt admirable scheme and qualify with all the other locals for 1,000 kg of free cheese, I know not.

But this odd circumstance is, of course, not a solitary example of a wee taste of the bizarre here in Kerry.

The local newspaper The Kerryman (established 1904) carries a headline:

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‘ALIEN’ INVADER WASHED UP ON VENTRY STRAND

PHRONIMAS, deep-sea creatures that inspired the Alien movies because of their practice of burrowing into their victims, were discovered on Ventry Beach last week.

The discovery is believed to be the first time creatures of this kind have been found in Kerry and, according to head aquarist at Dingle Oceanworld Katie O’dwyer:

“Phronimas are a type of amphipod, related to crustaceans, such as crab and lobster and they live in very deep oceanic waters,” she told The Kerryman. “They find a Salp, a type of Tunicate or Sea-squirt, and they carve them out to create a ‘barrel’ which they then live in.

“However, scientific studies have found that the bits of the Salp that are left when the Phronima is living in them, are actually still alive.”

The Phronima still has to swim around but uses the barrel like a little dwelling; as the food and water comes through it.

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The Kerryman’s editorial then rages at:

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BIZARRE SITUATION OF TEACHER IN SCHOOL WITH NO PUPILS

While the east Kerry Scoil Mhuire National School in Clonkeen has no pupils and is due to be shut down in the near future, a ludicrous regulation set down by officials at the Department of Education meant that for the last three months the school’s principal still had report for work every day at a completely empty school.

Since September this teacher, who was willing and waiting to be transferred to another school, was forced to fill his days compiling logs and rolls for a deserted school and wandering the empty classrooms and halls.

That this situation was allowed to continue, and was arguably ignored altogether by officials at the Department of Education, while schools the length and breadth of Kerry cry for additional teachers is nothing short of scandalous.

It’s a damning indictment of the culture of spin that exists and our government and the officials involved in this whole outrageous fiasco should hang their heads in shame.

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and, in even more personal social news, The Kerryman reports:

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KERRY’S LOVE CHEATS IN A RUSH TO LOG ON FOR AFFAIRS

Infidelity is on the rise in Kerry. According to figures published by website ashleymadison.com, which is designed to accommodate people who want to cheat on their partners, there are a huge number of people in Kerry seeking to play away from home.

The site, which was launched in Ireland in 2009, now has 3,692 members in Kerry. This is one of the highest figures in the country outside of the major cities. According to the site about a third of these users are women.

Users of the site, described as attached people by the website, can use it to flirt with other people who are married or in a relationship through online chat services and message boards.

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The AshleyMadison site’s slogan is:

LIFE IS SHORT. HAVE AN AFFAIR.

Perhaps my blog yesterday about the “feckin” nuns cavorting on a local beach during their summer holidays was not as odd as I thought.

Life in Kerry is never dull and often unexpected.

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Filed under Education, Ireland, Politics, Science, Sex

Bad language, cocaine smuggling and cavorting nuns in south west Ireland

All this week I have been in the Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry in the south west of Ireland – and I have been trying to figure out some way of blogging about it without seeming to be making an Irish joke.

The English make ‘Irish’ jokes.

In Ireland, they make the same jokes about people from Kerry.

The reason for this is presumably because it so so isolated. I am told an electricity supply only reached the populated island of Valentia, opposite where I am staying, in around 1963. The mobile phone signal here varies from eccentric to non-existent (mostly the latter) and, as for high-speed broadband, you can pretty much forget it. Modems tend to be dial-up and publicly-accessible WiFi in pubs and suchlike is a futuristic concept.

But it is always good to be in Ireland.

I am Scottish. I was born in a west coast fishing town and my parents grew up in two different seaside villages in south west Scotland – all of which look and feel exactly the same as Irish seaside villages. So I feel at home in Ireland.

I worked in Dublin in the 1990s. When people used to come over from England, I made sure they knew four of the key linguistic features of the language.

1) You must never talk of the larger of the two British Isles as “the mainland” – Never ever say you have come over from or are going back to “the mainland” – This will get right up people’s noses.

2) British-style football is called “soccer” in the Republic of Ireland – “Football” here refers to Gaelic Football.

3) Never, in a pub, ask for “plain crisps” when you mean salted crisps. Crisps here (as in Irish pubs on the “mainland”) are assumed to be cheese & onion or salt & vinegar. And those two are usually the only choice.

4) Finally, more difficult to explain in print, the Republic’s national flag – the three-coloured green, white and orange flag – is not pronounced with a short initial syllable but with a long one. So it is not said to be a “trick-olour” – it is pronounced like the two words “try colour”.

Some things have changed since I last worked here. In Kerry – and, the locals tell me, now in the rest of he Republic – you are taxed on the amount of rubbish you produce. As an inevitable result, people put padlocks on their wastebins to prevent other people putting extraneous garbage into their bins. There are also tax discs on rubbish bins.

Worse still, there is a high tax on chocolate which must surely, at some time, create cross-border chocolate smuggling. When I was in Dublin, Galway etc in the 1990s, there was a fairly hefty black market trade in cigarettes because of the tax difference north and south of the Border.

The Good News upside to all this, though, is that there are no Council Taxes/rates.

The landscapes here can be spectacularly other-worldly. Apparently J.R.R.Tolkien used to come on holiday here and sketched the Skelligs – two eccentrically pointed islands (I am told) before he wrote Lord of the Rings. They certainly look like some fantastical alien planet style Middle Earthly peaks.

I have been living in a house not too far from Ballinskelligs. When I get up in the morning, there are sheep on the hillside outside with red letters of the alphabet painted on their wool – to show which have been tupped. Some farmers use red, some green, some other colours; and occasionally one farmer’s cheap green dye has been known to run in rain resulting, I am told, in green sheep.

I am also told that, rarely but occasionally, the sheep with red letters on their wool can stand in an order which accidentally spells out a word. The people I am staying with swear they once looked out their window over breakfast and saw six sheep standing in the field spelling out the word FLEECE as if they were in some animal version of Countdown.

People around here often do not make wills and, when they die, any old cousin or familiar hanger-on can claim a bit of the estate, not just the immediate family, so disputes can drag on for years. Even when a will is made there can be problems.

Recently, a local man died and, in his will, he left his house to his son but one room in the house to his daughter. The brother and sister have since fallen out. The people I am staying with do not know how the sister gets to her room via the rest of the building which the brother owns if the brother decides to be really difficult about access.

But a harsher reality sometimes intrudes even here.

Recently, two £500 million cocaine shipments (ie together they were allegedly worth £1 billion) were intercepted within two weeks, both coming in by boat.

In the first case, in keeping with Kerry, the smugglers put petrol into a diesel engine, the ship broke down and broke up on the rocks. Packages of cocaine were washing up ashore all over the place like Whisky Galore!. If anyone found a bundle, they could be made for life. A spokesman for the Gardai (the police) said these sort of shipments were happening not just in this area but in several parts of Ireland every week. It was just a matter of luck if they were able to intercept occasional ones.

When I was here in the 1990s, I was told there was a problem intercepting drugs shipments because the Coastguard had boats and were responsible for guarding the seas, while the Gardai were responsible for inland security, including rivers, but had no boats.

So drug runners would bring shipments in around the Shannon area either by air or by sea and then use the Republic’s extensive river system to transport them to other parts of the country and to the North. If the Gardai wanted to intercept or chase them, they had to find some local with a boat and beg, borrow or negotiate a deal to rent it.

Inevitably things which seem to be likely plots from a sitcom like Father Ted become reality here.

Twenty or thirty nuns regularly take their summer holidays down the road from where I have been living and they used to wear their black and white habits while here (they no longer wear the habit on holiday). They were called “the penguins” by locals and could be seen cavorting on the beach.

“Ah! The penguins are on the beach!”

Someone I know here – who swears this is 100% true – says she was on the beach one day and heard two nuns shouting to each other:

“What’s the water like, Sister Mary?”

“Feckin’ freezin’!”

My chum (a practising Catholic) was shocked a nun would say “feckin”.

I am more bemused by the fact nuns were cavorting on the beach at all.

Who knew nuns took summer holidays? Not me. What else do they do on their holidays?

“Well,” my chum explained to me, “of course they have holidays. And lots of priests go to Cheltenham over the St Patrick’s Day weekend to bet on the horses. Maybe 80% of the people at the races that weekend are Irish, the local shops accept Euros and the place is awash with priests in dog collars.”

“But didn’t Jesus throw money-lenders and money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem?” I asked.

“Maybe,” came the reply, “but I am more worried about the ‘feckin’ nuns. What sort of language is that?”

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The familiar actor giving money to the homeless – and to a stand-up comedian

I am in the wilds of the Iveragh Peninsula in the south west of the Republic of Ireland all this week: not an area over-endowed with broadband availability.

But, yesterday, I received an email from London-based US comedian Lewis Schaffer in which he said:

I was in Soho and saw this drunkish, posh twat – an arty-type older man of around 60 – with fancy, hip black-framed glasses. He was giving a homeless dude money on Brewer Street. 

I had a flashback to New York, when people used to give money to the homeless and it caused them to proliferate, and I started screaming at him that he should give me money, instead, as I was six months behind in my mortgage payments (not exactly true, but close to it) and that I needed the money more than that other bum. 

So he offered me money (which I refused with a smile cause I didn’t expect that).

He told me he was going to New York the next day and I suggested he come into my show, which was about to start, and watch. I told him he could sit in the back. He said he was pressed for time but came in. 

He left halfway through and put a £20 note in my jar. 

Yesterday, I saw the dude’s picture in the Financial Times Magazine. Bill Nighy was his name. I thought I recognized him, but I thought he was just a generic London luvvy actor. 

I didn’t know who he was and I still don’t. I’m gonna Wikipedia him now. But he struck me as a decent guy because he was willing to give me money.

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