The Irish Water charges will be suspended if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil manage to cobble together some sort of political fudge in a desperate attempt to retain power.
Are we surprised?
Leave to one side the fact that water charges were conceived by Fianna Fáil and implemented by their evil twin, Fine Gael. Ignore the crass desire for power that allowed them both to arrive at this short-term deal. Disregard the fact that the hospitals are bursting with emergency cases and people are waiting years to get life-saving scans while the politicians agonise over a couple of hundred euros a year for water.
Put all that to one side and reflect instead on what these clowns in Fianna Gael / Fine Fáil have wrought by their ham-fisted introduction of a water utility, perhaps the most inept ever, thus book-ending our economic collapse as the most severe in the history of this most wealthy corner of the planet.
Rarely have we seen an issue so well-suited to cynics, opportunists and downright political disrupters, bless them. Where would we be without disrupters?
Let us disregard the question of charges for the moment and look at the infrastructure as it stands.
In this country, we have 31 local authorities, each of which, until the creation of Irish Water, was responsible for providing fresh water and sewerage services to its local community.
Is that a good model? Would it make sense to have thirty-one electricity monopolies? Thirty-one gas monopolies for a tiny population like Ireland’s? Would it not make more sense to create one single water and sewerage organisation in order to develop a plan for the entire country? And if not, please explain why not.
Many campaigned against the creation of Irish Water solely on the principle that it should not exist regardless of water charges, but many others objected to paying anyone anywhere any time and the arguments ranged from the strictly rational to the barking mad.
The rational people argued that they already pay for water in their taxes while the barking mad drifted towards the delusional, suggesting that treated, piped water should be free because it falls out of the sky.
Like food should be free.
I’m not too fond of the idea that I should pay for anything. I don’t like handing over money any more than the next man, and I’ll be up front about this: I haven’t paid an Irish Water bill yet, but that’s not because I don’t think I should pay to have water treated and delivered to my home, and then removed when I’m finished with it.
The reason I haven’t paid an Irish Water bill yet is because of the arrogant, intimidating, threatening attitude they took to us. I didn’t like the swagger of their ads or the condescension of their leading PR woman.
I didn’t like the attitude of their chief executive, once known as the million-dollar man when he was a middling clerk in Limerick County Council but since elevated to great office, even if he didn’t exactly grace that office with greatness.
I didn’t like them, I didn’t like their attitude and I didn’t pay them, but at the same time I knew that treating and delivering water costs money.
The other thing I didn’t like was the swaggering, condescending attitude of the anti-water lobby. I didn’t like being labelled as a corporate shill simply for questioning their opposition to water charges and I still don’t like it.
I don’t like the opposition to water metering since it is perfectly obvious that we should always measure what we waste if we are to protect this planet, but it seems that even if Irish Water is abolished there will be people opposed to metering for reasons they won’t be able to explain.
And besides, even if we abolish Irish Water, what will we replace it with? Thirty-one local authorities? No. We’ll replace it with Irish Water under another name, because that’s what makes sense.
What are the reasons to oppose Irish Water?
This: It could be taken over by private interests. A rational point that could easily be dealt with by legislation.
This: It charges us money even though we already pay for the service. A rational point that could be dealt with by debating the accounts.
This: Water is free. No it isn’t, any more than food is free.
This: Water is a human right. Not it’s not, unless that right is given to you by law.
There were many reasons to oppose the badly misconceived Irish Water Scheme but sadly, the opposition seems to have been hijacked by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Where would they be without Denis O’Brien to provide the scary bits?
Donald Trump might be many things, but he isn’t afraid to build walls. As we know, he’s going to build a wall from Cameron County, Texas, all the way to Tijuana to keep out those pesky Mexicans because, as he pointed out, They’re killin’ us.
The Mexicans, apparently, are killing the most heavily armed country in the world. The Mexicans are killing a country so militarised that it can’t spare any money to provide healthcare for its citizens. The Mexicans are killing the world’s most powerful country.
Imagine what those Mexicans would do to us here in Ireland. Imagine what they’d do to our little state with our tiny army and our public health system, already struggling under the demands of our own citizens.
Waves of Mexicans all trying to kill us, just like they’re killing Trump’s Americans.
A Mexican wave, probably composed of Muslims. Muslim Mexihadists determined to impose their values on our Western way of living.
Thank God we can look forward to to President Trump whose own great-grandfather, Adolf Drumpf, died in the German-Mexican war of 1839, fighting to save Europe from Mexican Muslim slavery.
Imagine what those Mexican Muslim killers would do to our country if they came here with their Islamic tendencies and their newly-found four wives. Before you know it, they’d have all of us chanting Dios es Grande! Far be it from Irish people (or Americans) to be shouting God is Great. It’s not how our people were brought up.
We leave that sort of thing to the Muslims.
But thankfully, future-President Trump hasn’t forgotten us Irish. He remembers how our finance minister lined up to greet him at the end of the red carpet when he arrived at Shannon in his private plane. He recalls how this has happened to him nowhere else in the entire world. He can hardly believe that a senior member of the government in a European Union member would pose with a harpist to greet a golf-club owner.
And Donald is grateful.
This is why future President Trump has announced that he will not only build a wall across the entire southern border of the United States to keep out the Mexihadists, but also on the West coast of Clare, or Doonbeg to be more precise. The place where he keeps his golf club and where the locals think he’s simply wonderful.
Future President Trump has submitted a planning application to build a sea wall in order to protect his golf club from the Atlantic waves and it’s hard to blame him. If those Mexican Muslims are prepared to invade America, why wouldn’t they invade Ireland too?
In many ways, future President Trump is a true Irish patriot for keeping out the Mexican Wave.
Let’s be honest with ourselves about George Redmond, the former Assistant City Manager of Dublin, who died recently at the age of 92.
George was a crook and we all knew it. Everyone in Dublin Corporation knew it. The Planning Tribunal knew it. Every journalist in Ireland knew it. But most of all, the developers knew it, and like the hyenas they were, they took full advantage of George’s greed to destroy Dublin and make themselves a fortune in the process.
George was a crony of every double-dealer from Matt Gallagher to Tom Roche. He was a pal of all those ignorant, aggressive, uneducated but brutal men who systematically raped this country in the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. A crony of rotten public representatives like Liam Lawlor. Enemies of the State, every one of them. Terrorists in their own brash, mohair-suited way. As destructive to our way of life as TB or mass emigration.
The vectors of poverty writ large in the shape of clown-faced men with stripy suits, red noses and no soul.
These were the men (and they were all men) who demolished Georgian Dublin under the benign oversight of successive philistine governments that viewed such buildings as the work of the hated English and who turned a blind eye, occluded all the more by a hefty wad of cash inserted in the way thanks to developers who cared nothing for history, craftsmanship or common decency.
And thus it was that over the years, George facilitated these cynics to drain a fine city of its architectural heritage in the name of the overarching principle that had defined his whole life: money. Thus it was that George not only allowed, but caused his native city to fall into decay in the name of private, venal profit: his own and that of the people who paid him.
According to the Planning Tribunal, George Redmond was receiving the equivalent value of a substantial house every year from corrupt payments. Let’s call it a million a year but what did George do with all this money?
Did he splurge in Las Vegas? No. Of course he didn’t. Don’t be silly.
Did he go crazy on cocaine and hookers? Absolutely not.
Did he, perhaps, buy himself a nice car, something extravagant and gangster-like? A Ford Focus, maybe. Or a Golf? No he did not because George was both too limited and too mean.
Contrary to popular belief, George Redmond wasn’t a professional planner, even though he controlled the planning department. In fact he had no professional training at all. He started as a clerk, a small man with a sharp mind who sneaked his way into a position of power but didn’t understand what to do with it apart from collecting bank-notes.
George, you see, was a miser.
George took all the money from the dodgy builders like Matt Gallagher and Tom Roche, and he hid it in his bathroom, in great thick wads of cash, while walking in and out of Dublin to his job because he was too stingy to pay for a bus or a train. Years later, when he found himself in front of the Planning Tribunal, this man who had hundreds of thousands stashed under his bath complained bitterly because a judge wouldn’t adjourn long enough to let him walk home for his lunch, thus forcing him to pay for a sandwich in the local deli.
George once boasted that he was Dublin Corporation, and when it came to planning matters, perhaps he was. He certainly collected most of the planning fees, but his boast points a spotlight on the various men who were his bosses during his career. It’s true that George had the delegated planning function but ultimately he also had many city managers to whom he theoretically answered. Did none of them ask what was going on, and if not, why not? Was it not plain to them, and to everyone who worked for him, that George was utterly corrupt? Why, for example, didn’t Frank Feely ask himself what was going on?
Nobody has put this question to the previous City Managers George worked for, and perhaps now it’s too late. Perhaps now we’ll never know why not one of them raised the issue, though the question is perplexing. Why one earth didn’t even a single City Manager wonder what George was up to?
Given the appalling treatment of whistleblowers in Ireland right up to the present day, perhaps we can forgive those who worked under him, even though they all knew that the department they were working in was hopelessly compromised, but what of the others? Why was it that not one of them asked hard questions, given the fact that Dublin was being destroyed in front of their eyes?
Why did no politician ask what was going on?
Why did no architect publicly point the finger? No engineer?
Why did the RIAI and the IEI remain silent as George Redmond and his accomplices systematically destroyed the built heritage of Dublin for the sake of a few shillings?
Nobody liked to see an 80-year-old man being sent to jail in 2003 for accepting bribes. Nobody wants to punish the elderly because we’re hard-wired to feel protective towards anyone radiating kindly old grandad signals, and that’s why we didn’t feel too comfortable about George Redmond hitting the slammer for corruption, even if we were wondering why exactly he was arrested carrying £300,000 in a suitcase coming back through Dublin Airport after an Isle of Man bank refused to accept the cash.
Who knows? Maybe he just made wise investments with his old-age pension. Maybe he won it on a horse, like other prominent figures of our time.
No. George was a crook, and we all know it.
Imagine what Dublin would look like today if its planning policy had been controlled by someone with a sense of decency instead of a venal, dishonest miser.
And while we’re at it, let’s not overlook the activities of corrupt administrators closer to home, whose activities might well mirror those of George Redmond. Watch this space.
As tempers rise to match the River Shannon floods, much anger is focused on the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power station and its associated dams, reservoirs and channels. Although many readers will already have a detailed knowledge of its design and layout, for those who don’t I thought it might be useful to provide a quick summary of the scheme and offer a few rough calculations of my own.
When the Shannon Scheme began operation in 1929, it was the largest hydroelectric station in the world, but perhaps more significantly for the government of the day, it was a huge statement of intent for a newly-independent country and a great gamble, since it cost more than one fifth of the State’s entire annual budget to construct. What’s more, with an initial generating capacity of 35 megawatts, later increased to 85 megawatts with the addition of a newer and more efficient fourth turbine, according to the project’s detractors Ireland would never need so much power. There were even some who condemned the project on the grounds that it amounted to Communism, much as the same people would later attack the Mother and Child Scheme, but that was Ireland for you.
Ninety years later, Ardnacrusha contributes about 2% of the total ESB output– enough for a town the size of Ennis.
It didn’t come without a social cost either, as I outlined in this post. They were hard days, different times and attitudes to workers were at best callous.
Thomas McLaughlin, the man behind the scheme, was 29 years old when his project began. A man with little interest in non-academic pursuits, he had achieved a PhD in engineering and a collection of influential friends from his college days who would become instrumental in persuading the government to invest in the scheme.
McLaughlin wasn’t the first to propose using the lower Shannon for power generation. As early as 1844, Robert Kane was pointing out the opportunity for hydro power presented by the drop in water level between Killaloe and Limerick. Potential energy, quite literally. But it wasn’t until John Chaloner-Smith’s research on river flows was published in 1921 that the hard research became available to design a workable scheme.
McLaughlin’s plan, developed with Siemens, required a dam at Parteen Villa (not to be confused with Parteen), just south of Lough Derg, to impound the lake and turn it into a reservoir.
From the dam, a 12-km canal, the head-race, diverts most of the Shannon’s water to the power station at Ardnacrusha where it falls nearly 30 metres through pipes 6 metres in diameter, the penstocks, to drive the turbines. The water leaving the power station runs along the tail-race, a 2-kilometre channel blasted out of solid rock until, at Corbally, it rejoins the old River Shannon which was reduced to a trickle by the diversion.
Before moving on, I have to acknowledge that the scheme is a magnificent engineering achievement by any standards and even today, almost a century later is still deeply impressive. Nothing like it had ever been seen in Ireland before.
Revealingly, the main contractor, Siemens-Schuckert, came from a country that was being crushed under punitive war reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, and yet that was the reason why Germany was so active in developing hydro-electricity.: France had control of all the German coal-fields Ireland’s infrastructure was so primitive that all the construction equipment had to be shipped from Germany because none existed here.
Everyone will have an opinion on the reasons why Ireland was so primitive compared to England, Wales and Scotland, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the London government prior to 1922 had little interest in promoting industrialisation in Ireland, apart from Dublin, Belfast and perhaps Cork.
According to Siemens, they imported the following:
Large multiple bucket dredgers on rails each about 220 tons
Large bank building machines on rails each about 240 tons
Smaller dredgers and shovel excavators on rails and caterpillars
Portable air compressors
Portable concrete mixers
Cableways, each 310 m long
Barges, trugs, launches and pontoons
In order to construct the power station, it was first necessary for Siemens to build a power station with nine diesel generators producing nearly 3 megawatts. They also built a large engineering shop, a smithy, a joiner’s department in addition to a tool-making shop and a welding shop.
Only when everything was in place could the project begin.
By law, the ESB is contractually obliged to guarantee a flow of only 10 cubic metres per second along the old course of the river, which is just one-fortieth of the volume it abstracts for the power station, and this has led to many different problems, both hydrological and environmental. With such drastically reduced flows, there has been a great amount of encroachment by alluvial forest, with alder, ash and willow clogging the river and causing major blockage when it floods. On top of that, the scheme killed what was once a world-famous salmon fishery and an eel-fishing industry.
Now, a few figures.
The average annual flow of the Shannon is a little over 200 cumecs (cubic metres per second), so the ESB wouldn’t always get its full 400 cumec flow, nor would it wish to. But in a flood it could take that much while leaving the old river bed untouched. If the flow goes above 410 cumec then the next step is to store the flood in Lough Derg, using the Parteen Weir, and releasing the extra water gradually down the old channel. All well and good until we get flows of 800 cumec and more as we have today. That means 400 cumec down the head-race and the other 400 going somewhere else, but the question is where?
It’s often suggested that the ESB could have created storage by lowering the lake in advance of the storm, and that’s true, but no matter by how much the lake is lowered, eventually it will fill up and after that, any excess flow is going straight over the weir and down the old Shannon channel, because it has nowhere else to go. Therefore, the only hope is that they can create enough capacity to store the excess water until the rain subsides and the water stops concentrating in the river. It’s a relatively slow river, and we don’t see it peaking until several days after the rain has stopped.
The lake’s surface area is 130 million square metres. Its average volume is 887 million cubic metres and its average depth is 7.6 metres. This allows us to make a crude estimate of how much storage can be created by reducing the water level during periods when there is no flooding.
The current flow into the lake is 840 cumec. How much storage do you reckon we’ll need?
A half-metre drop would give enough storage to contain a day and a half of flood, after which the water would need to be released down the old Shannon. But will the flood only last a day and a half?
A metre would give three days storage.
1.5 metres would give protection against a flood lasting four and a half days. That’s a five-foot drop, in the old money. Is that acceptable to the people and businesses who rely on Lough Derg? What if the flood lasts five days? A week? Two weeks?
Furthermore, you don’t just lower the level of a water body like Lough Derg overnight. It takes weeks and you’d be doing it in contemplation of an event like Storm Desmond, which does not provide weeks of warning.
What are the other factors?
With the exponential growth in paved, impervious areas around the country — roads, car-parks, driveways, roofs and all the rest of it — rainfall no longer has so much time to percolate through the soil and gradually make its way to the watercourses. With uncontrolled development, widely seen as A Good Thing, rainfall now concentrates in a flash, running straight down the gulleys, into the drains, out to the streams and into the rivers. Before you know it, you have a flood.
There’s the neglect of watercourses, as I mentioned. We could be clearing intrusive alluvial forest and replacing it with forestation on land.
Let’s not even mention climate change, but we all know it’s there and we all know it will lead to more of this.
The important thing to bear in mind is that there’s only a given, fixed amount of storage and you can make it as big as you want, but eventually a storm will come along that will fill it up and then the water will go where the water wants to go. Or to put it another way, the ESB can only delay the flood. It can’t prevent it.
Let’s remember something else. Shannon floods are nothing new. The river below Corbally has the same flow now as it did before the power station was built, though perhaps made worse by the factors I just mentioned. Whatever about upstream at Castleconnell, Montpelier or Plassey, Ardnacrusha is not to blame for flooding in Limerick City. In 1850, a fearful flood filled up all the basements of the houses and covered the quays in some places to a depth of three and four feet. It even threatened to tear the parapets off Mr Nimmo’s fine bridge across the Shannon, which had been replaced at great cost following a similar catastrophe some years earlier.
None of this is intended to get the ESB off the hook, but it seems to me that if we’re to have a rational debate on the issue of flooding, at the very least we should be basing it on some sort of rational facts and figures, and we should be looking at all the factors involved. Of course, I do realise that the figures I have here are very crude, but in the absence of a complete hydrological model, I’m afraid they’re the best I can do for now.
It was probably inevitable that Irish Water would end up looking as it does.
The name MC O’Sullivan might not be the first that springs to your tongue if you’re ever asked to name a highly-influential Irish company, but in fact the Cork-based engineering consultancy carved out for itself a huge share of the public service design market in its 35 years of existence before being taken over by RPS, the biggest environmental consultancy in Europe in a deal that saw MCOS retain its own corporate identity within Ireland.
MC O’Sullivan, or MCs as it’s affectionately referred to in county councils across the country, gained an extraordinary level of influence, writing waste-management strategies, designing water-distribution schemes, sewage-treatment plants, water-treatment plants, motorways, advising Bórd Gáis on pipeline routing, marine harbours, airports and river management. Not to mention being prominent in the Poolbeg incinerator saga where, no doubt, they’d have bumped into John Tierney from time to time when he was Dublin city manager before securing his current role as head of Irish Water. They even became involved in the Corrib gas project when they were invited to advise on rerouting the gas pipeline following highly-publicised protests by the local people.
What isn’t so well known is that MCOS routinely provided people to sit on government boards interviewing applicants for senior engineering positions in local authorities. Inevitably, some of the successful job-applicants would be responsible for appointing consultants to various projects.
Despite a public service obsessed with perceptions and appearances of probity, there was surprisingly little mention of a potential conflict of interest in such an arrangement.
Now that Irish Water has been carved out of the public service, we have a nationwide water-distribution system, an equally widespread sewerage system and literally hundreds of treatment plants, both for water and sewage, still operated by the local authorities under the service level agreements entered into with Irish Water. Even the management appears to be roughly the same, since four of Irish Water’s nine senior managers came from local authorities, another from the government department responsible for water, one from Bórd Gáís, one from the construction industry and two, comfortingly, from MC O’Sullivan, now known as RPS.
On the ground, the same staff are doing the same jobs and answering to the same people but with one difference: everyone is now paid more than they used to be.
Well, actually we can. Ireland leads the world in How Not To Do Things. We’re the best in the whole wide world at that.
How not to sell off a country’s gas resources.
How not to rescue defective banks.
How not to pour billions into the accounts of international gamblers.
How not to confront abusive clergy for money.
How not to build toll-bridges.
How not to design motorway layouts.
How not to break up a rail network.
How not to legislate for abortion.
How not to do e-voting.
Our latest entry in the Harvard Business School’s anthology of disastrous public policy research assignments is of course How not to launch a water company.
Leaving aside whether or not you think we already pay for our water, we can all agree that Irish Water‘s launch has been an unmitigated, ignominious flop. From the invisibility of its chief executive John Tierney to the imperious, condescending tone of its PR person Elizabeth Arnett, this organisation has exuded from every corporate pore the mentality that makes up its DNA.
The old Health Boards were originally part of the local councils. They shared the same staff, the same pedestrian bureaucratic attitudes and the same authoritarian streak, all of which transferred across to the Health Boards when they finally became separate entities, and those attitudes did not go away. Consequently, when they all became amalgamated into the HSE, we ended up with an organisation that was fit for no purpose, packed with unqualified administrators calling themselves managers — a shockingly arthritic and arrogant amalgam of people who thrive best in Irish local government. The dog-licence people.
With the creation of Irish Water, the Health Board step has been skipped and the government is trying to jump straight to HSE/H2O.
It’s precisely the same process with precisely the same overbearing, arrogant attitudes, reflected in the demand that people hand over their PPS numbers and underlined by the fact that it will cost you 35 cents a minute to call them if you have a question.
Insult upon insult, but who’s surprised when the organisation is run by a former local government apparatchik?
I’m not going into the rights and wrongs of paying for water because it’s outside the scope of this post. Let’s do it another day. However, I do think it’s about time the people expressed their rage at the things that have been done to them, including paying the likes of Roman Abramovich full value on the bonds he bought at 10% of face value, and including underwriting the losses of banks that had nothing to do with the broader economy.
It’s only a pity that the same people weren’t out on the streets in a rage when Bertie Ahern and Ray Burke signed over our gas resources to Shell Oil for no return at all to the public purse. What a shame that most people in Ireland swallowed the government’s spin and wrote off the Rossport protesters as cranks but at least they’re waking up now, even if it is in response to some of the stupidest arguments anyone has ever heard.
Clean water doesn’t come free. It never has, any more than food is free or shelter or clothing, and therefore, that end of the clamour is not worth exploring or engaging with.
However, the philosophical question as to whether government should supply unlimited clean water to everyone is another matter, and the debate needs to be conducted in a respectful manner. For myself, I can’t understand the logic of treating water to a level of sterility that it could almost be used in an operating theatre. Why deliver such germ-free water to every home so that most of it can be used to flush toilets, wash clothes, mop floors, water lawns, power-clean driveways and hose the mud from cars? Why do we deliver it to factories to cool machinery?
I think this is bordering on the insane and I think it illustrates very neatly the absurdity of the Irish Water argument.
We’re currently fighting for the right to flush toilets with sterile water.
Is that not mad?
Maybe if we reoriented ourselves and realised that we could resolve all this conflict by rethinking our needs, there might be no need at all for such conflict.
Still though. Didn’t the government make a complete shit of the Irish Water launch?
I have great sympathy for the residents of Priory Hall and I’d like to see them helped out of their predicament. I want the government to spend the money and get rid of the problem, even though it will cost me even more taxes than I’m already paying, but we should support our fellow citizens. So therefore, yes, go for it. Help these people. There is, however, a caveat. We do this because we feel sorry for the people who bought the apartments in Priory Hall, and perhaps because we detest the developer, Tom McFeely. I can tell you that I personally find him utterly detestable. He built shit apartments. He sold them to trusting customers. He walked away with the money.
Tom McFeely embodies everything that was wrong with the Celtic Tiger feeding frenzy and then he added a bit more of his own. He’s a thug. He’s a bully. He’s a convicted criminal. He’s a hypocrite, this former IRA hunger striker proclaiming his British citizenship to avoid Irish bankruptcy proceedings. Tom McFeely is an utter prick.
Having said all that, is the State responsible for compensating people who have been ripped off? No. It is not. There’s no law, no constitutional provision requiring the taxpayer to pay you back if some scumbag robs you. Most of the time, that’s why we pay insurance. There’s a widespread, naive belief that somehow the State is responsible for the actions of people like McFeely when the reality is that there is no such obligation. We fix the problem solely because we think we should, out of sheer altruism and that’s fine too. Altruism is what sets us apart from brutes, but there is not now, and never was, an obligation on the taxpayer, to pay the bills generated by chancers. It’s that simple.
I’m bothered about this Priory Hall thing, not because I think the residents should be abandoned, but because I wonder where it will stop. Should every homeowner who paid a bad builder for bad work be entitled to compensation at the expense of you and me? And if not, why not? Let’s define the circumstances in which we, the Irish people, pay extra taxes to cover the costs generated by bad builders. I’m not saying No. I’m just asking for a definition. When do I pay?
It would be a crime to waste this fine weather, so there was nothing for it but to get out on the water. Living here in Limerick, we have so much beauty on our doorstep, it’s never more than an hour’s work to get out there and enjoy the wonders of nature.
Today’s plan was to head for the Cliffs of Moher, but unfortunately, due to mechanical problems, we had to cut the journey short. Feckin mechanical problems are a pain in the arse, but not to worry. Let’s launch the boat at Tarbert instead. We’ll head for Scattery Island, have a stroll around and on the way home maybe catch a few mackerel for the dinner if this fancy new fish-finding gadget works properly. We might even bump into some of the many dolphin who inhabit the estuary. Who knows?
Here we go. There’s Scattery Island coming up. The last resident left in 1969 and now the homes of the old families are falling into ruin. Not only that, but the ancient monks who built the original monastic settlements are as dead as disco. I bet you don’t know that this uninhabited island in the Shannon estuary still has a bishop.
Yep. Scattery Island is a titular diocese and its titular bishop is Frank Caggiano, an auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn.
Frank’s parents moved to Brooklyn from, of all places, Caggiano, Salerno. He joined the priesthood and now he’s the bishop of Scattery.
Bada-bing, bada boom.
How did its name come about? Like almost every placename in Ireland, it’s an anglicisation of the original Irish. Inis Cathaigh was transliterated to Inishcathy. That in turn became Iniscattery and eventually Scattery, losing all its original meaning.
It has an interesting history: this is where the Shannon estuary pilots lived, the people who safely guided ships past the treacherous shoals, sandbars and rocks that threatened the lives of many an honest sailor. The old families made a good living from this ancient trade, and it’s said that even during the awful events of the Great Famine, nobody on the island went hungry. The old graveyard is testament to this: as we wandered around among the graves from the 1840s, it struck me that these were not the burials of poor people, but of the well-to-do, by the standards of the time. Hand-carved headstones, family vaults and a general feeling of prosperity through the generations. But nothing is free of tragedy. Every fourth stone records some young man lost at sea, or a few children who died “at a young age”.
Life might have been more secure on Scattery than it was on the mainland, but it was still hard.
There’s an ancient monastic settlement on the island, founded by Saint Senan in the 5th century. Senan is still a common first name in the locality, all the way from Kilrush to Labasheeda (Leaba Síoda — the bed of silk). The tourist people have painted up a couple of the cottages and built a visitor centre which was closed when we got there, but they seem to keep the place nice and tidy. All the grass is close-mown, something the ancient monks would hardly have done, given the acute shortage of petrol lawnmowers and electricity in the 5th century.
They built one of the first round towers with a fatal design flaw, though of course they could hardly have known that the Vikings would come charging up the river in their longboats four hundred years later.
What was the flaw? Well, most round towers don’t have a door at ground level. This one, for example, not too far away, in North Clare. See the height of the door? That’s to keep Vikings out and hopefully keep pillaging to a minimum.
Senan, I’m afraid, being a trusting sort, built his tower like this.
Not great for keeping the Vikings out. By the way, have a good look at that picture. Notice how the quoin-stones, the carefuly-cut cornerstones of the walls have been removed.
Was that the Viking? No.
Was it the evil English landlords? No.
Why, none other than the Irish parish priests of the 19th century, stealing them for their new churches.
Isn’t the colour nice? That’s not a characteristic of the stone, I was informed by my infinitely-knowledgeable companion, but a kind of of lichen that thrives in clean air.
What a lovely place.
Inis Cathaigh was part of the Viking settlement of Limerick, and this was where the legendary king Brian Boru killed the tyrant Ivar, last Norse king of the city-state of Limerick in 977, together with his two sons. All very Game of Thrones.
No other invaders sailed up the Shannon, apart from the Normans and the English, but in the late 18th century the British administration became extremely nervous about Napoleonic forces and created a number of artillery batteries to pound the hell out of intrusive flotillas, much as the Turks did to the British forces at the Dardanelles in 1915.
They built gun emplacements at six locations: Kilcreadaun Point, Doonaha, Kilkerrin Point, Carrig Island, Tarbert Island and Scattery.
The Scattery position is extraordinary. It’s a massive redoubt , built of clean-cut ashlar stone with a moat all round it twelve feet deep. The walls are battered to deflect cannon-balls and it’s reached only by a bridge, formerly a drawbridge, with a portcullis to keep out attackers. There are six gun emplacements outside it, heavily dug-in, and in the one that’s been exposed, you can see the channel carved into the stone base for traversing the cannon.
These were huge 24-pounder guns. In the absence of any photography from the Napoleonic Wars, due to the fact that there were no cameras and no photographic technology, here’s an example from the American civil war. This is one seriously dangerous cannon. You didn’t want to be out there in the narrow river with people firing this thing at you. Even more, you didn’t want a fort firing six of them at you, simultaneously.
The block-house is described as bomb-proof and besides its killing loop-holes, it had mounted two howitzers on its roof.
Even today, you would not lightly decide to storm this thing, unless you had air support, which didn’t exist in the 18th century. You might even call it impregnable, unless the attackers were prepared to expend unlimited resources, which is never an option in warfare.
Look at this.
Happily, the Scattery battery never had to kill anyone, since the Napoleonic forces found more pressing errands, much to the disappointment of some locals who hoped to benefit financially from their intervention. Meanwhile, the labouring man continued breaking rocks and cared not a jot which wealthy individual, whether Irish, French or British, oppressed him.
Time to go, boys.
This has been a great day out. Sadly, the fish finder fails to reveal great shoals of mackerel, so there’s going to be no delicious freshly-fried fish.
Will we catch this fellow on a line with a rod? I think not. Nor would we want to.
Here’s a video provided by a friend. Mungret to Scattery
I kinda like Joan Burton. No, not in strange way, but she always seemed (at least in 2008-9-10) to have a good solid handle on the banking calamity. It’s a pity she got the smeared end of the stick when Labour went into government. Actually, when you think of it – Labour got the ‘go away out foreign and don’t bother us’ Foreign Ministry post for its leader, the ‘minister for hardship’ for Howlin, the ‘minister for rolling back the welfare state’ for Burton and all for what?
Anyhow, I kinda like her.
I have no animus towards Billy Kelleher TD either. I have met the man once, over a coffee at a summer school and he seemed an affable enough version of FF V2.03, Haughey-free and not too infected with the Bert virus.
That said, the interplay between the two of them on the RTE news show “Saturday with Claire Byrne” (what used to be Saturday View when Rodney Rice ran it) was enough to cause me to begin to lose the will to live. In fact there were two episodes, either of which would cause one to lose hope in the ability of the Irish political system to take any form of action.
The first interplay was around the Anglo tapes. Claire Byrne asked both of them their reaction and also about the allegations (which I note here) by the Taoiseach that the main thing from any inquiry was to uncover collaboration between FF and the bankers (because we didn’t know that they were close). All round the country people are outraged at the arrogance and petulance of the Anglo dudes and still, for we are a charmingly naive people, look to the political class for leadership and some indication that there will be justice or even vengeance. Instead of a measured reaction from two intelligent people about the tapes, about the constitutional problems of the Dáil holding inquiries that apportion decisions and blame, about the nature of banking and finance, we got … squabbling. Political point scoring, squabbling, polite point scoring and name calling, and a degree of disconnect from the issues that was dispiriting. It’s a game. What we have in politics bears as much resemblance to the concerns of the ordinary world as Kabuki theatre does to the realities of modern day Japanese life.
The second spirit-sapping discussion came at the end, neatly bookmarking a show that resembled a political sandwich with a policy vacuum as filling. We heard about the turf cutting standoff. Farmers had moved heavy machinery onto protected peat bogs and were engaging in strip-mining it. Let’s be clear – this wasn’t a few auld lads with sleans and bottles of tae but commercial contractors, doing to protected boglands the same as illegal mahogany loggers do in the rainforest . This was being done on boglands that were designated special conservation areas under EU and Irish law. There were police present including a superintendent, a senior officer. The reporter noted that they were leaning over a ditch observing the law-breaking — observing it mind, not stopping it, not arresting those engaging in it, looking on at it. Again here was an opportunity for our political leaders to show leadership. During the show we had talked about the need for the Anglo issues to be dealt with, in criminal court if needed. We had talked about the legal aspects of the Dáil inquiry and on the need for forensic and detailed examinations of what happened when where and how. Then we moved onto flagrant, public, mass law-breaking in front of police. The two politicians hemmed and hawed, admitting that yes it was a breach of the law but there were circumstances, issues, complications etc. I asked how many of those breaking the law on the bog would that evening be supping stout in the pub decrying the Anglo chaps and urging the full rigour of the law to be applied, to silence.
If we don’t get leadership, if we cant get leadership, from two intelligent thoughtful politicians, if we cannot get them to urge on national radio that the law be respected fully and it be challenged by legal peaceful means only as we are a mature and peaceable democracy, then we wont be always. People will rightly despair that a state which allows open defiance of a senior police officer who is not then supported 100% by politicians, that that state can ever come to grips with as complex a catastrophe as the banking crisis that has engulfed us.
I happened to be up the lake today for assorted nefarious reasons, when I happened on the charming harbour of Mountshannon, a place well-known to me.
The Hound of Satan is in his sulphurous element, snarling at swans, but my eye is taken by a small forest of tripods, mounted with telescopes, all pointing in the same direction.
What’s this? Is a tumbling meteor about to strike Lough Derg at this precise point, extinguishing all human life apart from a hundred carefully-chosen and genetically perfect volunteers in deep stasis? Eighty hotties and twenty hunks, all with PhDs in nuclear astro-aesthetics, to repopulate the planet.
Have these men been sent from the future to document the final moments, I wonder? Will a man-made singularity tear open the space-time fabric, just as the calamity happens, and whisk them back to the safety of the future, just as the Hound, its master and the rest of humanity are vaporised?
Eh, no Ted. These guys don’t look like the descendants of the hundred most perfect specimens the world has ever known. They look like you and me, so it must be something else.
I say, my good man, I accost the nearest of them Explain yourself!
No, I don’t. Instead, I wander over and say, Go on. Tell me. What’s this about?
They’re nice, pleasant guys, all waiting for a sighting of a white-tailed sea eagle.
A sea eagle? I ask, in my ignorance. On a lake?
Yeah, they tell me. The eagles don’t care where the fish comes from.
A nesting pair of eagles have a pair of chicks on an island in Mountshannon Bay, which is a huge thing for Ireland. At one time, we had sea eagles, golden eagles, kites, goshawks, buzzards, ospreys and marsh harriers throughout Ireland, but guess what? That’s right. We killed them all. We whacked the last sea eagle in 1898, fair play to us.
Since 2007, the guys tell me, we’ve reintroduced 100 white-tailed eagles taken as chicks from Norway. Unfortunately, 21 of them have been found dead, at least nine of the deaths caused by poison, which is a sad reflection on our farming community, some of whom continue to believe that eagles take lambs, despite the absence of evidence. I say some, because many farmers understand the importance of restoring these birds to their natural habitats, and now we have this pair producing two chicks. Wonderful.
What sort of animal is this? I’m curious to know. Is it big?
Eight-foot wingspan, one of them says.
He’d come up to here, says the tall fellow, indicating his belt buckle.
That’s a big bird, I’m thinking. This isn’t the creature you’d have on your wrist if you were one of those Sheriff-of-Nottingham chaps in chain mail. This is one serious bird. He’d tear the arm off you if you tried to hold him on your wrist. Not a chap to mess with.
Eight feet! Holy shit. As it turns out, this is the fourth-biggest eagle in the world, right here in Ireland.