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October 5th 2007

Autumn Days in Sligo


Inishmurray Season Over

Spring was sprung, Summer rained cats and dogs down on us and now balmy autumn days lull us into winter's grip. In tune with nature the swallows have departed, the swans and wild geese are arriving, the fishermen are storing their nets while more are drawing their boats. Inishmurray summer season is over and pictured left is our 'Excalibur' on her way to winter storage.

Late Haymaking in Sligo

The unseasonal good weather has caused a flurry of late hay saving throughout the countryside. Pictured right is Gerard Barry making round bales ready for wrapping in the shadow of Classiebawn. Gone are the days when saving hay was a summer long occupation. Hay saving with rake and fork commenced in late June and continued until the middle of August. Turf too were cut in April or May then footed, reckled, clamped and stacked all summer long prior to being brought home for winter fuel in October or November. Late haymaking is now possible because the hay doesn't have to be dry before being packaged into round bales of what is essentially silage.

Ploughing with Asses

When horses were not available asses (or donkeys if you like) were used instead of horses to plough the land and reap. Denis Feehily of Calry, Co. Sligo and Liam Flynn of Tubbercurry keep up the old traditions so people can see how it used to be. Pictured left is Liam with ass and reaper team at the National Ploughing Championships held recently in Tullamore Co. Offaly.

Dan Brady now resident in Long Island, USA, told me how it was on Inishmurray Island, Co. Sligo where he was born. The ground had to be pre-dug with the spade to soften it up for the ass drawn wooden plough, he said.  Women worked alongside their men in the field:
  ‘Theresa Heraughty had to dig in her time.  All the women used to dig.  They used to leave the children in a corner of the field.  When you had ten or eleven in a house ye needed a good field of potatoes and every bit of help you could get.  The donkey drawing a wooden plough made the drill. This kind of plough was much lighter than a steel one and therefore much more suitable for a donkey.  Sometimes ye had to work two asses to pull the plough.  Ye had to lie in tight to the ass when he was ploughing, especially if ye had a bad ass, because if he was getting it tight he’d be waddlin’ an’ the drill would go crooked.  If ye were fairly strong ye could lie into him and ye didn’t let him waddle.  Mc Cann, the boatbuilder in Milk Harbour used to make the wooden ploughs, a lovely job he made of them.’ (from 'Inishmurray:IslandVoices')

I.R.A. Veteran dies

An unrepentant Republican to the end, the last surviving IRA veteran of the Irish War of Independence and Civil War has died at the age of 105. For more go to:

September 28th 2007

Judge Mary Devins and the 'Shell to Sea' Protesters

Judge M. Devins

DURING a week of renewed tensions over the Corrib gas issue, a District Court judge has revealed that since cases relating to the protests have begun to come before her, she has been receiving “hate mail”. At a sitting of Belmullet District Court, Judge Mary Devins — who is the wife of Sligo-North Leitrim TD and junior government minister Dr Jimmy Devins — said that despite this, she was fully satisfied as to her independence in handling such cases.

At Belmullet District Court last Wednesday, in a case against four defendants charged with assault, obstruction and threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place, Mr John O’Reilly BL, instructed by Mr Alan Gannon solicitor, asked the judge to disqualify herself from hearing the case. He made the request because Judge Devins had heard a previous, but unrelated case involving one of the accused - Patrick O’Donnell, of Purturlin Shore, Ballina - who was convicted and sentenced by Judge Devins in a previous case, which has since been appealed.

The Independent Judge

Enda Carey, Johnathan O’Donnell and his father Pat O’Donnell arrive at court

“I am quite satisfied as to my independence,” Judge Devins remarked. She said she would continue to hear the case and judge it on the evidence and would not disqualify herself. She adjourned the case against Michael Healy, Bunowna, Glenamoy; Martin O’Donnell, Purturlin, Ballina; Patrick O’Donnell, Purturlin Shore, Ballina; and Patrick Coyle, Knocknalower, Barnatra, Ballina to October 19 next for hearing.

nother application for Judge Devins to disqualify herself was made in a case against a 41-year old Dublin man charged with obstruction and public order offences arising from an anti-terminal protest. Forty-one year old Tadgh McGrath, of 570 North Circular Road, Dublin 7, was charged with the offences which were said to have occurred during a protest at Bellanaboy on Friday, June 29 last.

Can 'hate mail' cloud judgement?
Before the hearing, defending solicitor, Mr Alan Gannon made an application for Judge Mary Devins to disqualify herself, saying, ‘justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done.’ He said he did not support the fact the Judge had received ‘hate mail’, as she had claimed, which he said was wrong. But he was concerned that a reasonable person, sitting in the court, would say that perhaps justice was not seen to be done. Judge Devins said she had received mail in relation to other cases and it had absolutely no influence.

Garda Gary Walsh MY175, Garda Gerry Luby MY166 & Sgt James Gill MY23

After hearing the evidence in the case, Judge Devins said it was unsafe to convict Mr McGrath and the prosecution had not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. She dismissed the charges.On Thursday, at Ballycroy District Court, Kate Kirkpatrick, Anna Rudd and Emma Jackson of Millfield Road, Clapham, London; Julie Ryder of Nine Ladies, Recs Cross Station, Lees, Matlock; and Eoin O Leidhon of Meelagulleen, Ballinskelligs, County Kerry were convicted of engaging in threatening and abusive behaviour arising out of a blockade on June 5 last.

Before the case, solicitor Alan Gannon, solicitor for the five again asked Judge Devins to disqualify herself on the grounds that she might be perceived to have been influenced by the hate mail she received. After hearing the evidence, all five defendants were convicted of engaging in threatening and abusive behaviour. Charges of wilful obstruction and failure to comply with the direction of the Gardai were dismissed. The five were sentenced to 100 hours’ community service in lieu of three month’s imprisonment.

All three cases came before the courts in a week which saw a redoubling of efforts by members of Shell to Sea to highlight their cause. Last Friday, five protesters were arrested after around 50 people burst into the terminal site, pursued by Gardai. Two members of the force were hospitalised as a result of injuries sustained. The five who were detained were later released without charge and a file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to an alleged assault against a Garda.

Friday September 21st 2007

Riverdance Star, Michael Flatley, Visits Sligo Land of his Ancestors

THREE generations of Michael Flatley’s arrived in Sligo last week. Michael Flatley Snr, from Culfadda, County Sligo, joined Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley and his young son Michael Flatley Jnr in Sligo town last Thursday afternoon.
After posing for pictures with his young son and wife Niamh, the millionaire dancer then got on with the business of officially launching the Sligo Live festival. The launch, which took place at the Yeats statue on Stephen Street, was billed as something really special . . . and it lived up to its previous hype as Flatley joined musician Seamus Tansey in an impromptu trad session. Flatley’s flute-playing skills showed a different side to the dancer, and when Dervish joined them for more jigs and reels, the surrounding crowd were greatly entertained.

Flatley, 49, spoke passionately about Irish traditional music and how he grew up listening to his father whistling tunes. “He could whistle every tune,” he said. “He is a great inspiration to me and he has done very well for himself. He is one of the hardest working men that ever left Ireland. Something like this will pick up his spirits no end. For my dad to be here in Sligo to celebrate his birthday with his grandson, it just couldn't get any better than that. If I live anywhere near his age I’ll be a happy man.”
Michael Flatley Snr turns 80 shortly and spoke of how proud he is of his son’s achievements. “This is a lovely day for all of our family,” said Michael Snr, who left Culfadda for Chicago many years ago.

Flight of the Earls and Aftermath

Commemorations are being held in North Donegal to commemorate the "Flight of the Earls" four hundred years ago this year. Ruairi O Bradaigh explained to a gathering in Donegal town recently that at home in Ireland, the consequences of their departure from the scene were many and varied. With the Plantation of Ulster from 1608, the Gaelic order was eclipsed, and the great Irish Diaspora began. Also in Ireland began a great renaissance of culture and learning, in the Irish language. “Anocht is Uaigneach Éire” (see poem below), by Aindrias MacMarcais is a poem famous for its description of the Irish following the Departure. The plantation of Ulster, begun in 1608, was the greatest consequence of the Departure of the Earls. Their lands were confiscated by the English Crown. The revolt of Sir Cahir O’Doherty of Innishowen in January 1608 was initially successful in that he captured the city of Derry. But in July he was shot at Kilmacrennan, Co Donegal and his lands too were confiscated.

Chichester (ancestor of Captain Terence O’Neill) and Sir John Davies, the Attorney-General at Dublin Castle felt that war would never be at an end until there was “one king, one allegiance and one law”. The king would, of course, be the king of England and English ‘common law’ would replace the Irish Brehon code. This would be the new framework for Ulster.

The scheme adopted was not simply to redistribute the land seized but to build a new society – an exercise in social engineering and one of the earliest examples of ethnic cleansing. This is how the Ulster Plantation differed from earlier plantations elsewhere in Ireland and why it lasted so much longer. A homogeneous society at all levels was to be created, with English law, English courts and an English army in the background. The political implications are felt to this day with Ireland still divided and the descendants of the planters still allied to England and firmly in control of six counties of the province of Ulster. With the Belfast Agreement an uneasy peace has followed 30 years of armed conflict that began with a Civil Rights movement in 1969.

Above: recent re-enactment of the Earls leaving Ireland

Translation of “Anocht is Uaigneach Éire” by Aindrias mac Marcuis

(...“Anocht is uaigneach Éire,
Do-bheir fógra a firphréimhe
Gruidh a fear’s a fionnbhan fliuch
Treabh is longnadh go huaigneach...)

"This night sees Éire desolate,
Her chiefs are cast out of their state;
Her men, her maidens weep to see
Her desolate that should peopled be.

How desolate is Connla's plain,
Though aliens swarm in her domain;
Her rich bright soil had joy in these
That now are scattered overseas.

Man after man, day after day
Her noblest princes pass away
And leave to all the rabble rest
A land dispeopled of her best.

O'Donnell goes. In that stern strait
Sore-stricken Ulster mourns her fate,
And all the northern shore makes moan
To hear that Aodh of Annagh's gone.

Men smile at childhood's play no more,
Music and song, their day is o'er;
At wine, at Mass the kingdom's heirs
Are seen no more; changed hearts are theirs.

They feast no more, they gamble not,
All goodly pastime is forgot,
They barter not, they race no steeds,
They take no joy in stirring deeds.

Woe to the Gael in this sore plight!
Henceforth they shall not know delight.
No tidings now their woe relieves,
Too close the gnawing sorrow cleaves.

Her chiefs are gone. There's none to bear
Her cross or lift her from despair;
The grieving lords take ship. With these
Our very souls pass overseas."

Inishmurray Stones

A public meeting was held at the Embassy Rooms in Sligo town on Friday 14th September and a committee formed in the interest of the preservation and care of the altars and cross-inscribed slabs on Inishmurray Island. A letter of invitation to the OPW received no response. Work of the new committee, "Inishmurray Monuments Protection Alliance", has commenced and, as a first step, letters are being formulated to be sent to relevant parties.

September 28th to 30th 2007
Singing sessions, Lectures, Field Trips
For full schedule go to:

Friday September 14th

Markievicz House Renovation

Markievicz House. Pic courtesy Frank Ludwig

After many years of neglect Markievicz House atop the approach road to Sligo is to be renovated. Despite the name it has no connection with Constance Markievicz except that it was named, at the suggestion of Leitrim Cllr. Larry Mc Gowan, in her honour.
The building has associations with poet WB Yeats and his brother, the artist Jack B Yeats. It was owned by their uncle George Pollexfen and his maternal grandparents who also lived there. At that time it was called Charlemont House. Both the poet and the artist stayed there at different periods and it is believed that W B wrote many poems there when he returned to Sligo as an adult. In 1887 he stayed there to finish his first book "The Wandering of Oisin”.

In more recent times the building, which is a protected structure, was acquired by the former North Western Health Board as offices and is now owned by the Health Services Executive. Due to a dispute within the Health Board as to whether it should be demolished or preseved it fell into disrepair. Last week Sligo Borough Council granted planning permission to the HSE for renovation work on the building.
This will comprise of the replacement of the roof, including the removal of an external water tank and dormer windows, renovation and restoration of the building exterior, provision of new handrails to the main entrance and the reduction of the surrounding ground levels.

ew trains for Sligo line soon

Nostalgia: Train tickets and destinations circa 1949

Commuters will be delighted to know that Irish Rails new 'hi-tech' trains will be running on the Sligo to Dublin line by the end of the month. “There is no date as yet but the first one will by operating by the end of September. That is our plan,” Irish Rail spokesperson Jane Cregan said.
In-service testing of the new fleet is currently taking place in Limerick with one being tried out on the Sligo line. It is intended that the entire fleet will be phased-in over two to eight weeks. The old and tired orange Mark II trains and the bone-shaking, ear-shattering Class 2900 commuter railcars will be taken off the route. The new trains will be in three and six-car sets, with total seating capacity for 192 and 378 customers. The bigger train will have a buffet area and an improved trolley service is promised on the three-car sets.
Other new features include electronic seat reservation displays for web bookings, full air-conditioning, internal and external CCTV systems and power points at each seating area to facilitate the use of laptop computers, mobile phone chargers and MP3 players.
The Sligo line will be the first line in the country to benefit from the new Intercity Railcars. It is the fastest growing line in the country in terms of passenger journeys, with 1.1 million in 2006. Irish Rail plan to increase daily services from five to seven for 2008.

What the new trains will look like

Friday September 7th 2007

Sligo: "Summer's gone and Winter's in the meadow..."

So says the old song and sure enough it's September already folks, time to turn another leaf on the calendar, another year on the wane! "Summer", such as we had it in Ireland this year, came and went like a thief in the night, a rain-soaked night at that. Now we look for some compensation in an Indian summer of balmy Autumn days and late blooming flora, like that pictured on left, to delight our senses. 'A second youth in which to sing and dance and love’, is how the poet Patrick Kavanagh put it. We hope that wherever you are, in Ireland or overseas, our new weather feature on the home page will keep you in touch with Sligo to find out what the skies and seas are doing here — whether we are heading for the sea with surfboards tucked under our arms or desperately trying to keep our umbrellas from turning inside out with wind and rain.

Inishmurray Island Row rumbles on

A response has been printed in this weeks Sligo Champion resulting from the exposure in last week's paper (reported below) of mismanagement of the Early Christian site of Inishmurray Island. The letter is from Daniel Burt a professor at Wesleyan University, U.S.A.:

"To the editor:

As a frequent American visitor to Sligo and the academic director of annual educational and educational workshops for students and teachers based in Sligo, I read with considerable interest and alarm your recent article concerning the "repair" work being done by the OPW on Inishmurray Island and the threat to the priceless treasures on the island that should be an immediate concern not just to residents of County Sligo and Ireland but those around the world who want our links with the ancient past preserved and cherished. That the pre-Christian carved stones on the Clocha Breacha altar have not been copied and the originals kept safely for posterity is negligence and should be immediately rectified. That the OPW thinks it has acted responsibly by placing the stones in the unlocked Teach Molaise and piled sea stones on top of the ancient altar is a scandal that warrants a public outcry.

There is a serious disconnect between the commonsense approach offered by Joe McGowan and the jargon of the OPW that reads like a bureaucratic prescription for doing nothing, or worse. Inishmurray and its heritage deserve better. I urge everyone who wishes to see the riches of Ireland's past preserved responsibly to demand answers and an immediate and sensible response to conditions on Inishmurray by the official custodians of one of Ireland's greatest treasures.

Daniel S. Burt, Ph.D.
Professor, Wesleyan University
Middletown, Connecticut, USA"

A Public Meeting in Sligo

A public meeting is being held at the Embassy Rooms in Sligo town on Friday 14th September 8.00pm to address the issue. All interested members of the public and public representatives are welcome.

Friday August 26th 2007

Desecration of Inishmurray Island

This weeks Sligo Champion headline resulted from a letter sent from Sligo Heritage to the paper exposing the damage being done by the OPW to the unique early Christian monuments on Inishmurray Island. Here is an edited version:

"Dear Sir,

We wish to bring to the attention of you and your readers the desecration of what is arguably Sligo’s greatest treasure: Inishmurray Island and its Early Christian monuments.
A remarkable feature of Inishmurray Island is the Clocha Breacha altar popularly referred to as the ‘Cursing Stones’, inside the monastic enclosure.  On this altar are two remarkable stone vessels, almost certainly pre-Christian, and unique, not just in Ireland, but in the world.  Various groups have been lobbying the OPW for many years to have these priceless and irreplaceable objects duplicated and the originals taken into safekeeping.  Imagine our consternation earlier this summer when a visitor to the island reported that the stones were gone!  A telephone call to Sligo’s Heritage Office reassured us that the stones were taken into safe keeping by the OPW.  The following letter sent subsequently to Paul McMahon, chief executive of the OPW, is self-explanatory:

"Dear Paul McMahon,

... Given that anyone can land on the island and, in a single moment, steal these priceless objects I, and others, have been advocating for many years for copies to be made of the stones and the originals taken into safekeeping.  Imagine my concern on hearing some time ago that the stones were gone!  I immediately contacted the Heritage Office in Sligo and was reassured when told that the OPW had removed them for safety.  On visiting the island some days later I was utterly appalled to discover that, yes, the stones had been taken off the altar, only to be placed in the adjacent unlocked Teach Molaise.  This must surely be a rather pointless exercise as the stones were, and still are, readily accessible to a thief or any unscrupulous person.

Your name has been recommended to me as someone who may be able to take this matter in hand so I write to you in the hope that something can be done immediately to safeguard these unique and irreplaceable heritage objects.

Yours etc.”

To date I have received no reply to this letter.

But worse was to come!  On visiting Inishmurray some time afterwards I discovered that, yes, these precious stones still lay sterile and insignificant in the unlocked Teach Molaise, while the altar, without them, looked just like another heap of old stones.  Worse still, OPW workers on their last visit to the island had gathered round sea-stones along the shore, (23, I counted) and threw them on top of the other ancient stones on the Clocha Breacha altar!!  If holidaymakers to the island allowed their children to do that we'd be appalled.   So who cares?  And who's looking after Inishmurray and our precious heritage in any real sense?  If those who are paid to be the guardians of our inheritance are in effect the destroyers to whom do we turn?  Something must be done, and done soon.  Otherwise, if this irresponsible interference with the monuments is allowed to continue, this unique and precious heritage site will be ruined forever. 

We owe it to our children to pass on these historical treasures exactly as they were passed on to us.  Some license may be given to errors of judgement in custodianship as reported by Wakeman in the 19th century.  That was then, but for these things to happen in this 'enlightened' age just beggars belief.  Bring back the fairies I say, they did a better job of protecting these special places — and they cost the taxpayer nothing!"

An undisturbed altar on Inishmurray Island
A 'modified' altar

Friday 24th August

Sligo, Gaspe, Quebec and the Carrick of Whitehaven

If you were to travel Sligo today, stop people on the street and ask them what they know of the wrecking of the ‘Carrick of Whitehaven’ the likelihood is that you would be met with nothing more than blank expressions.  Yet the wrecking of this ship, in the Famine year of 1847, carrying a wretched cargo of Sligo emigrants, is vividly remembered and commemorated by the descendants of the survivors in Canada each year.  Special events were scheduled this year to mark the 160th anniversary of the sinking.

Cap des Rosier lighthouse

  The Carrick Of Whitehaven, was wrecked off Cap des Rosiers on the coast of Quebec in 1847, killing 119 of the 187 passengers onboard, all emigrants from Lord Palmerston’s estate. A monument was erected on the wreck site in 1890 by the Parish of St Patrick’s Montreal honouring the deceased. An Irish flag flies there 365 days a year at the monument site. Later the bell from the ship, which was washed ashore in 1968 was made part of the monument.  Moves are afoot to twin Sligo with the nearby town of Douglastown in Quebec where descendants of the survivors still reside. 

Fr. Doolan's premonition
A local man, Donald Delisle, sent this account of the ‘day of reflection and celebration’ held there recently:
  “The rain poured down on the day causing us to reflect on that fateful day and possibly similar conditions when the Carrick of Whitehaven was washed up on our shore.  Mass was celebrated by Fr. Allard in the morning and attended by over 100 people many of them descendants of the survivors. The Lord’s prayer was recited, trilingually, in French, English and Irish.  The choir at the church was from Douglastown and sang many Irish songs. In his sermon Fr. Allard recalled the events of 160 years ago and the strange experience of Fr. Doolan of Douglastown on the night of the April 28th 1847.  The priest was visiting in Grand Greve and woke up during the night announcing that he had a premonition, that he had to go to Cap des Rosiers ten miles distant immediately as he was needed there.  He was taken by boat and on arriving at the horrible scene, administered to the survivors and prayed all night for those drowned in the sea and cast up on the rocks.  He was so overcome with what he witnessed that night that he never celebrated Mass again!”

Celebrations at Cap des Rosiers

Greetings from Sligo to Gaspe  
Following the Mass a few brave souls proceeded to the monument site despite the pouring rain where Gerald Gaul from Douglastown read a salutation from Sligo sent by Joe Mc Gowan, Hon. Sec. of Mullaghmore Residents Association, Co. Sligo in both English and French.  It was well received by those attending and read as follows:
  "Fraternal greetings from Sligo to our brothers and sisters in Gaspe.  One hundred and sixty years after the event it is a wonderful and moving thing that you have not forgotten the tragedy that befell so many when the Carrick of Whithaven, full of Sligo people fleeing from famine, was wrecked on your shores.  Your hearts were big in your generous response then and it is very touching that the same generosity exists among your people today.  Hopefully some time in the near future our towns will be twinned — united in kinship and historic and fateful events that have brought us together.  Until that time when our ties and bonds are strengthened forever I wish you hearts and hands across the water.  God Bless you all.”

The Canadian Government presented a new Irish flag that now flies proudly over a little bit of Ireland that is the monument at Cap des Rosiers.

Friday 17th August 2007

Tom Ward hacked to death outside Sligo home

A young Sligo man died after being viciously assaulted with possibly a slash hook or an axe earlier this week. He was attacked minutes after dropping his pregnant wife home. Tom Ward (23), a settled Traveller, was on his way back to his parents' house at Joe McDonnell Drive, Cranmore, Sligo, when the violent assault took place just outside the house. Neighbours described yesterday how they were awoken by screams as Mr Ward's family discovered him lying on the road with fatal injuries at about 1.15am.

It is understood that four men wearing balaclavas, who were travelling in a Ford Focus car, had either followed the victim or were waiting for him at his parents' house where he had spent the evening with his wife and two-year-old daughter. While the killing is believed to be related to an ongoing feud between two families, gardaí say they are keeping an open mind as to the motive. A number of neighbours said they had heard gunshots about the time of the attack.

Dragged fom his van
It is understood Mr Ward's assailants dragged him from his Ford Transit van before inflicting the fatal blow to the back of his head with a weapon which gardaí say was a slash hook, hatchet or machete. The victim was removed to Sligo General Hospital but was pronounced dead there just after 6am. One of 13 children, he lived just a short distance from his parents' house.

Tom Ward was described by locals as a skilled boxer when in his teens. The killing is believed locally to be the result of a feud between two settled Traveller families. Uniformed gardai and armed detectives mingled with the crowd of about 500 in Ballymote cemetery while dozens of officers in riot gear were on standby in a fleet of vans close by. All shops and businesses in Ballymote closed for the duration of the funeral today (Friday) while gardai confiscated anything that could be used as an offensive weapon at a checkpoint outside the town.

Friends and family of Tom Ward at the scene of the crime Joe McDonnell Drive, Sligo on Monday morning last

Sligo no stranger to violent crime
In December 2005 another young man was murdered in the estate. Sam Smith, who was also 23 at the time of his killing, was shot when he opened the door of his sister's home in Carroll Drive. No one has been charged. Mr Ward's killing is the fifth violent death in Sligo since February 2003 when Lindita Kujak, an Albanian national, was strangled in her flat on Wolfe Tone Street.
In July 2004 former soldier Paul Watters was killed just off Stephen Street in the centre of the town. The most high-profile killing was that of Hughie McGinley, from Connaughton Road in Sligo town. He was shot in the head in April 2005 in front of his partner and baby by the pillion passenger of a motorbike as he sat in his parked van in a busy shopping area.
Cranmore, the largest housing estate in the northwest with a population of about 2,500, and a crime black spot, was given a significant boost recently with the approval of a multimillion-euro regeneration project.

And now, below, something more pleasant for you to contemplate:

Naturally occurring roadside flora at Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo:

Friday 10th August

"Bertiegate" continues

The Mahon Tribunal continues to investigate large sums of cash, up to €50,000 in one instance, paid over to Taoiseach Bertie Ahearn. Insisting that no favours had been offered, or received, Mr Ahern has justified his choices by saying: "I might have appointed somebody but I appointed them because they were friends, not because of anything they had given me." Under the Standards in Public Office Commission's rules, of course, State appointments "should be made on the basis of merit, taking into account the skills, qualifications and experience of the person to be appointed". The generosity of Bertie's benefactors, among them Jim Nugent, Padraig O'Connor and builder Joe Burke, paid off handsomely. Among those receiving plum appointments was Joe Burke who is now Chairman of the Dublin Port and Docks Board. The electorate don't seem to care and returned the bould Bertie to office for a third term proving once again that 'a people get the Government they deserve'. In all fairness it must be said that people who voted Fianna Fail explain it away as a case of voting for 'the dog you know' rather than the unthinkable alternative.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahearn denying favours for gifts

Through his recent Seanad nominations to the Irish Senate (salary €70,000 per annum) 'Ill Duce' Bertie once again has demonstrated that he doesn't care a straw for what the Irish people, or his own party, think of him or his decisions. According to the Irish Times the list 'has all the hallmarks of a politician who has fought his last general election' and feels free to indulge his idiosyncracies.

Leitrim farmers reacted angrily as top of the list of eleven appointees came politician John Ellis (see bottom of page for more on him) who has been involved in a few scandals of his own. 'Aithníon ciaróg ciaróg eile' the cynical might say. Four Dail deputies in all who lost their seats in the recent General Election were appointed so regardless of John Q Public's choice of representative they're stuck with the rejected candidates. Isn't Democracy great?

" He could have chosen people whose track record for hard work, intellect, contribution to our society and sheer imagination might have transformed the level of debate in the Seanad... We must conclude that for Bertie Ahearn the Seanad is nothing more than a sinecure for friends who need to be rewarded. An arm of parliament that he is now arrogant enough, in his third and final term of office, to think he can use for his own grace and favour": Sunday Tribune

A handy place to vegetate...

The appointment of Eoghan Harris, grumpy old man and anti-Irish Irishman, was one of the biggest surprises and looks like a reward for supporting Bertie in the pre-election scandals. He expressed strong support for Mr. Ahearn during the initial payments controversy last October and again during the election campaign. Dubliner Mr. Ivor Callely was another surprise pick as he was forced to resign his Dail seat in 2005 following a controversy over work done to his family home as a 'gift' by one of the largest building firms on the State. He received only 5 votes in the Seanad election.

What role models we're producing for the next generation!

Given that most people feel that the Seanad is as useful as teats on a bull anyway and haven't a clue what the members do all year perhaps no great harm to the nation will result. As Mary O'Rourke will tell you, it's a handy place to vegetate until another general election comes around and it pays better than the dole!

A moment in time: Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo, Friday August 10th 2007 9.00am

Me jewel an' darlin' Dublin
Paul Burns, a frequent visitor to Ireland and sometime contributor to SligoHeritage was in Dublin recently. Paul's letters are always pithy. Of his visit he had this to say:

...As for Dublin, about the only English I heard some days was in talking elevators. Europeans of every nationality but Irish flocked the rain-soaked streets (shopping for snorkels, maybe?). But it may be that most Dubliners are abroad "holidaying" in the countries where those Europeans came from. There were a few young Irish mothers around. They are easy to spot because they all seem to have two infants in a pram and another hanging onto their elbow. They use the prams as battering rams to get through the foreign hordes, and I found it wise to follow right behind to get anywhere. I wondered if they were headed for some local pub. Guinness is now so high (4.40 euros a pint) that perhaps Jonathan Swift's suggestion about raising Irish children for food has been adopted.
Actually, the pubs were devoid of small, fat children, and even Irish adults were scarce. I don't know if it is because of the high prices, the smoking ban, the summer holiday season, or what. All I can say is that Dublin isn't what it used to be. But then, it probably never was. Whatever! Being by nature a masochist, it really was fun.

(Now in Montana)

Friday August 3rd

Garland Sunday in Sligo
Twenty thousand people climbed Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo on last Sunday, many in bare feet, to celebrate Garland Sunday. All over Ireland thousands more visited other ancient sites to worship or celebrate this great pre-Christian festival of Lughnasa. In Sligo large crowds attended another Christianised Lughnasa site: Tobernalt Holy Well. Bishop Christopher Jones celebrated the dawn mass. There is a mass rock still to be seen on the site, which was used during Penal Times. When the monks from Church Island in Lough Gill feared to say mass in public for fear of persecution they offered Mass in such secret places.
Tobernalt became a secluded haven for the celebration of Mass in the early years of the 18th century when the Penal Laws were applied most severely. The faithful often set out the night before to journey in small quiet groups to be at the Holy Well before cock-crow. Not everyone who journeyed was present for Mass; those who were at the look-out positions at Dooney, Drumiskabole, Cairns and other secluded areas along the shore of Lough Gill, kept watch and provided security against attack by Yeomen and other soldiery.

Tobernalt Holy Well pictured by Sligo photographer Tadhg Kilgannon in the 1930's
Recent photo of Tobernalt Holy Well

Ten percent of Sligo population is non-Irish
Just under 10 percent of the population of Sligo is now from a foreign background. Of the total 58,692 living in the county some 5,780 are not Irish, according to latest census figures.
By far the largest ethnic grouping classed themselves as from 'any other white background'. Another 162 said they were African and 29 of 'any other African background'. Eighty people identified themselves as Chinese with a further 420 hailing from 'any other Asian background'. 520 were classified as 'other including mixed race background' and about 977 did not state their background.

Immigrant crime
Most of the immigrant community of Sligo work hard in their various jobs. A significant amount, however, far above the number one might expect given their numbers relative to the native population, show up in the papers every week convicted of one serious crime or another.

Jacek Sliwinski

This week a Polish construction worker, described as a sexual predator, was jailed for ten years for raping two women and sexually attacking another two. Jacek Sliwinski, a married father of one, of Ferndale, Sligo, pleaded guilty to the charges. Sliwinski arrived in Ireland with his wife in April 2006 and began work as a labourer. His wife was pregnant at the time of the attacks and gave birth to their child in January of this year.

Another immigrant and former member of the Slovakian police force, Ladislav Pavlak, raped a female relative in Sligo last year and was jailed for eight years. He denied the rape claiming they had consensual sex. The assault took place while the 20 year old victim slept over in his house. She had been placed in Pavlak's care by her family. She was woken by Pavlak shining a light from his mobile phone in her eyes and kissing her on the neck. Sgt. Donohue, giving witness, said she stood up clutching the sleeping bag to her body. A struggle ensued in which she finally stopped resisting in order for the ordeal to be over.

Seamus McGloin baling hay at Mullaghmore this week

Friday July 27th 2007

Mullaghmore Residents oppose new housing development

Residents in Mullaghmore have lodged a series of formal objections to three separate planning applications for housing developments.  Fifty new houses, including a 25-house estate and a number of holiday homes, are envisaged in the applications lodged by developers for the Kilkillogue area of Mullaghmore.

Bungalow blight at Mullaghmore

Liam McHugh, McHugh and Gallagher Construction, have lodged two separate applications, seeking permission to construct a total of 23 houses, while James Conway, John Dunlevy and Liam McHugh are seeking to construct 27 houses, which includes an estate of 25 houses.
A number of submissions and objections have been lodged with Sligo County Council by local residents, who are being supported by Clr. Declan Bree.  Although canvassed for support Cllrs Patsy Barry and Joe Leonard have refused.

Only 48 of a total of 238 houses in Mullaghmore are lived in by residents all year round.
Commending the residents for their consistent approach to sustainable development in Mullaghmore, Clr. Bree said the planning applications were unacceptable in view of the totally inadequate sewerage treatment facilities and poor public water supply in the area. He pointed out that a recent survey of the area revealed that only 48 of a total of 238 houses in Mullaghmore were lived in by residents all year round, representing a ratio of five holiday homes to one resident.
“This is totally at odds with the recommendations of the Department of the Environment, and if allowed continue, will destroy the rural character of the area”, Clr. Bree maintained. Describing Mullaghmore as an area of outstanding natural beauty and “one of the jewels in Sligo’s crown”, Clr. Bree said the resort was vulnerable to large scale housing and holiday homes developments. "It’s obvious that the three proposed housing developments are completely out of character with the area, and I hope the planners will be consistent in terms of dealing with these cases”, he said.

Death of Joan O'Hara

Actress Joan O'Hara best known for her role as Eunice Phelan in the television soap opera 'Fair City' has died. After her first stage appearance at age 14, as the lead in 'The Demon Piper' at the Sligo Feis, Joan went on to star in works by Brian Friel, Marina Carr, Frank McGuinness and Tom Murphy.
As well as her theatre career she also appeared on the big screen including roles in 'She Didn't Say NO!' (1958), 'Da' (1988) and 'Far And Away' (1992). On television Joan had previously played Countess Markievicz in the 1966 production of 'Insurrection', and also starred in the television series 'Teems of Times' in 1977. The following year, in 1978, she starred as Stella in the Maeve Binchy drama 'Deeply Regretted By' which took awards at the Prague Television Festival as well as two Jacob's awards. Later, in 1994, Joan provided a startling portrait of an Irish mother in RTÉ's 'Two Lives' series.

Ms O'Hara was the sister of the well-known singer and harpist, Mary O'Hara, and her son Sebastian shortlisted for the Booker Prize. "She had the most amazing energy. She was in the truest sense one of the last of the greats," said actor Alan Stanford.

Friday July 20th

North Sligo’s water ‘worse than in Africa’

Progress has arrived in Sligo and we have put the old ways behind us. Firmly behind us. We have closed up and/or abandoned the old spring wells and now draw our piped water from a central reservoir.
Great isn't it!
But is it?

Limerick residents picketing to retain spring water supply

We have now learned new words like water pollution that we never knew with the old spring wells. Or 'crypto-spirideum' a bug, for want of a better word, that has thrown Galway into confusion because of a water supply badly contaminated by this bug. You can't even brush your teeth with Galway water! And fluoridation? Well it's in piped water whether you like it or not, and high concentrates of iron — and aluminum chlorhydrates too that are suspected of contributing to Alzheimers.
Now, the Sligo Weekender reports that 'The public water supply in the north Sligo area is worse than it is in parts of Africa for where appeals for funds to provide clean water are now being made. An illustration of the poor quality of water in the area is a machine in Grange giving a filtered supply that can no longer handle mains water. The filtering machine at the local Londis supermarket and filling station gave people a cheaper alternative to bottled water, which many people are now using regularly for drinking instead of the public supply.
The machine filters the public water supply so that you can buy five litres of filtered water for €1.20. However, having had to turn it off on several occasions because of problems caused by the poor quality of the public water supply, owner Kevin Lowe is now installing a second filter, which will filter the water before it goes into the filter machine. He said he was talking to the suppliers of the machine Crystal Clear to install the new filter at a cost of 1,000 euro. He is also looking at installing a special filter for all the water coming into his premises at a cost of 1,200euro.
One north Sligo resident who has been a regular user of the machine is David Large from Maugherow. He worked in Africa for a number of years and said that the water supply was not as bad there as it is here in Ireland. “I see Trocaire running appeals for funds to provide clean water for children in Africa but the time is coming when we will be running appeals to provide clean water for children here. When I was in Africa the water was never as bad as it is here. As well as that there are very high levels of iron in the water here and too much iron is bad for you.”

July 14th 2007

An Orange March at Rosnowlagh, Co. Donegal

It might have been Maggie Thatchers home town of Finchley, or a London celebration of the Queen's jubilee. Red, white and blue everywhere. Red white and blue bunting, flags, banners, drums, plates. Red white and blue ribbons, Union Jacks as well as Red Hand of Ulster flags adorned stalls, telephone poles, fences and even people. Yet here I was in the Irish Republic, in Rosnowlagh, Co. Donegal, not twenty minutes away from my own Sligo home — but you'd have to pinch yourself to believe it. Not a bit of green or an Irish flag to be seen anywhere!

It was Orangemans day in this tiny holiday village of one hotel and no pub. Orangemen had come from all over Ireland, especially the Northern and border counties, to march with bands and banners in celebration of the Protestant King William's victory over the Catholic King James — both of them English monarchs. That was a long time ago, in 1690, but the victory is still celebrated as if it happened last week. Although just a few miles down the road from me it was my first time there. There had been no Drumcree type confrontations in Rosnowlagh and, although parades there were usually peaceful, it never quite seemed a welcoming affair that just anyone could go to.

The Wages of Sin is Death
The big march hadn't arrived yet. I strolled along looking around as Orangemen walked up and down wearing their distinctive sashes and bowler hats, licking ice cream cones, queuing up at hamburger stands, buying red white and blue souvenirs from red white and blue stalls. One lonely placard bearer proclaimed the age old warnings: "THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH " and "PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD". He had been an alcoholic, down and out, a scourge to his parents, he told me. Then he had found God and now was 'born again'.

There were other ordinary looking folk there too, grandmas and dads and whole families with deck chairs selecting good vantage points to view the march. They didn't look like bigots to me, just ordinary folk rubbing on suntan lotion, covering bald heads with hats or handkerchiefs. Still somehow they looked out of place. No sense of mission like the striding bandsmen and sober-suited sash-bedecked paraders. The contrast was quite incongruous. Wondering if my face would give me away as a non-Orange interloper I bought a souvenir booklet and tucked it under my arm. A kind of unofficial safe pass. Non-Irish may wonder at this, but in certain parts of Ireland one's face is an open book stamped with a persons place of birth and religion — and that's before the recent influx of immigrants. No need for DNA or fingerprints!

"Nice Day for the March"
This was thirsty work so I headed away for a cup of tea and a bun in a little cafeteria. There were two arrows pointing to the cafe. Trouble was they pointed in opposite directions. I went the wrong way and was directed by a shopkeeper to the back of the building. On pointing out the confusing signals my informant laughed and said: "Oh that other sign, that's there for donkey's years." Being a stranger in town I didn't want to seem a smartalec by asking why they didn't take it down. I'm sure there must be a good reason for keeping it. Perhaps this way some of the confused found his shop!

Finding the cafe I ordered a pot of tea and a bun. Spotting two sash wearers I sat down beside them:
"Nice day for the march" said I to break the ice. Not that there was any much ice to speak of, they looked friendly enough.
"Tis surely" they replied.
"What part are ye from."
"We're from Convoy."
The conversation blossomed from there. I knew Billy Fitzpatrick from Raphoe, a village near them, and they knew Francie Joe Mc Gowan the cattle jobber from Sligo. They had often done business up around North Sligo selling and buying sheep and cattle. Like myself they went back to the days when cattle were driven for miles along the road to fairs that were held in the middle of villages and towns. Long before cattle marts. They were retired from farming now.

Finishing my scone and bidding my sash wearing friends farewell I couldn't help but wonder what two such friendly and apparently quite normal people, with no apparent grudge against mankind or neighbour, were doing there. I didn't like to ask. It was a pleasant conversation and I didn't want to risk giving offense or embarrassment.

Living in Ireland but never Irish

Outside again I could hear the pounding of drums and marching feet. Down the hill they came with massed bands and banners proudly displaying King Billy in victorious stance on his white horse: Portadown Loyal Lodge, Clontibret, City of Londonderry, Sandy Row in Belfast, Donaghadee, Newtownbutler Border Defenders. Accordeon bands, pipe bands, brass bands and row after row of darksuited men, mostly men, in serried ranks marched sternly by. For God and country they came, their country: England or 'Ulster', not Ireland. Determined they seemed and for the most part unsmiling. This was no carnival, but a political demonstration of power and determination. Out of place and out of time they looked. Sinister and sad at the same time. Sinister in their dress, uniform and bearing. Sad that they seem determined to flaunt and preserve their foreigness. Born and living in Ireland but never Irish. Brave indeed, or foolish, the man that would wave an Irish flag that day among the massed Union Jacks and Red Hands, the pounding drums and shrilling fifes.

Embracing 'Orangefest'
It was a great day out in Rosnowlagh — if you were Orange or Protestant that is, or your orientation was English. To march in places where no one objects is, of course a democratic right. Having a sizeable Protestant population Rosnowlagh is such a place. However, most of the Western world has moved beyond religious differences. "The Northern Ireland Tourist Board is promoting 'Orangefest' on its website complete with pictures of laughing children and dignified looking Orangemen" an article in the Irish Times reads. Unconvinced, it quotes the Lonely Planet Guide to Ireland which concludes that "the Orange Order is an exclusive organisation, but the whole idea of a festival is to be inclusive... "

I suppose we should be grateful that in Rosnowlagh there is no display of 'KIT' banners (Kill all Taigs) as there are in Northern Ireland where Irish Tricolours, and effigies of the Pope are burned in massive bonfires. Still, triumphal processions celebrating a defeat and massacre of Irish people by the English King William of Orange all these years ago doesn't seem a fitting way to celebrate 'heritage' or be inclusive and welcoming. The Orange Order has a long way to go before a sceptical public can feel comfortable embracing 'Orangefest'.


Further information at:

Thursday July 5th 2007

John Ellis: Laughing all the way to the bank

John Ellis

John Ellis lost his Dail seat in the recent elections. The jubilation of creditors at the election defeat in May of the wealthy Fianna Fail TD ended abruptly when they learned that he qualifies for tax-free lump sum payments exceeding 270,000 under the Oireachtas employment termination scheme. In addition, he will receive an annual pension of 50,000.
Stanlow Trading Ltd was set up in December 1985 by John Ellis -- then a senator -- and his two brothers Caillian and Richard. An earlier joint venture, CJandR, had folded, but farmers supplying cattle for the brothers' meat factory in Ballintra, Co Donegal, did not suspect that the new operation would end in disaster.

In late 1986 trouble brewed as cheques issued for cattle bought by Stanlow Trading began to bounce. Stanlow Trading ceased trading in 1987, but was not wound up until 1993. Debts of over £300,000 had piled up. In October 1989 National Irish Bank issued bankruptcy proceedings against Ellis for £263,000 on the basis of personal guarantees given by him for debts incurred by Stanlow Trading Ltd. The bank did not settle with Ellis until January 1990 for a mere £20,000. The writeoff of £243,000 did not mean that Ellis was out of the financial slough, however.

Charlie gives Ellis 'a dig-out'!
At the end of 1989, Swinford and Manorhamilton marts initiated a bankruptcy action against him, apparently arising from the sale of cattle to Ellis in a personal capacity. He would tell the Moriarty Tribunal in September 1999 how he had been given £26,000 in cash by Charles Haughey from the Fianna Fail Leader's Allowance Account in order to pay off the marts. Political pragmatism rather than altruism fuelled Haughey's generosity. Bankruptcy, as with the Mayo Independent T.D. Beverly Cooper-Flynn now in the news, precludes membership of Dail Eireann.

Stanlow Trading was struck off by the Companies Office in 1993 for failing to file accounts. In fact, no papers had been furnished since 1986. With feelings running high among the farmers, a number of them turned their attention to the possibility of commencing legal action in order to secure payment. Ellis's hardiness emerged again as he threatened to retaliate against creditors' suits with his own legal action. The farmer creditors were now further galled by what they saw as his unbridled effrontery.

David Nally

Families devastation
Among the 80 farmers left unpaid in the north west when Stanlow Trading collapsed after two years in business were Johnny and Mary Nally from near Tulsk in Co Roscommon. The parents of 11 children, they never saw a penny of the £14,600 (18,500) they were owed when Stanlow ceased trading in 1987. Their son, David Nally, believes it broke their hearts.

"Imagine being owed that much money and 11 kids in the house, " David told the Sunday Tribune. "I was seven and I remember the banks coming out to our house and my father sick above in the bed. When my father died in 1989, my mother went to Ellis and asked him for the money to pay for the funeral but he wouldn't give it to her. She went to him three times. I was with her one of the times and we got a blunt reception. She was very upset about it right up to when she died two years ago.

"It affected all of us in our family, " said Nally, whose mother and father both died of cancer aged 59. "None of us went to college. Only four of the 11 of us went to school. My mother never had a holiday in her life. There was always stress in our house. To see Ellis' poster up in our village asking people to vote for him was rightly rubbing our noses in it."

Ellis a "wealthy man".
John Ellis, 55, has become a very wealthy man. He owns three properties in Co Leitrim, 153 acres of farmland and five development sites. When his previous electoral constituency of Sligo/Leitrim was re-drawn as Roscommon/South Leitrim for May's poll, local disgruntled farmers campaigned against him. Under the umbrella of the Farmers' Positive Action Group, they issued fliers urging people not to vote for him.

Ellis's home in Leitrim


Ellis lost the seat he held continuously since 1987 and Leitrim is now without a TD. The farmers remain unpaid but John Ellis, even with the loss of his Dail seat, is sitting pretty!



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