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February 1st

Tinkers, Itinerants and Travellers

'Tinkers' they were known as, and then 'itinerants', before political correctness set in and they became known as 'travellers'. Tinker seemed appropriate then as the dictionary defines 'tinker' as 'mender of kettles, pans etc'. They don't do that anymore, and for some reason consider the term offensive, so perhaps 'traveller' is more appropriate now.

Nevertheless it was an honest living then and many a tin can and ponger they made sitting on the side of the road, and many a hole in a milk can mended for my parents. That was in the long ago. Now townspeople fear their arrival, old people living alone lock their doors in fear of a footstep outside, shopkeepers dread their visits.

This week the Sligo Weekender couch their language very carefully as they describe a traveller visit to Grange:

"Gardai in Grange have been dealing with several complaints about attempted break-ins in the north Sligo village. The spate of incidents have worsened in the past few weeks and businesses and local residents have been forced to take increased security measures. Garda sources have confirmed that they have dealt with several calls about incidents in the area.
"We have been very busy over the past few weeks with calls from local residents and businesses about the activities of some travelling criminals. It is more than a nuisance and is very distressing for some elderly people who are living alone in the area. It is believed that some wooden pallets and cooking equipment have been stolen from homes in the area."
The complaints come as gardai have confirmed reports of a shooting in the Grange area.
Two shots were fired from a legally held shotgun. The shots were fired into the air after a man was confronted by two young men near his premises. A complaint was made to the gardai and the legally held shotgun was seized. Superintendent Michael Barrett said that there were no reported injuries in the incident. The shotgun owner has been interviewed by gardai.
One local resident, who did not wish to be named, said the break-ins were opportunistic.
"I believe that at least one of these incidents have been captured on CCTV. It is shocking to think that this is happening in a quiet place like Grange. What is happening is that a group of young fellows will go into a shop and create a disturbance. They are hoping to distract the shopkeeper enough to steal something. It is very worrying to have these travelling criminals targeting our village.
They are not from this area and hopefully the gardai will get some results in their investigations."

Pernik, Kukeri and Mummers

Last week I told you I was going to the Masquerade Festival in Bulgaria and promised a report on my return. Poverty, neglect and decay were everywhere in evidence in Pernik and Sofia, the towns I visited. Buildings, roads, all infrastructures had post-communist Russian satellite written all over. Wages are low, highways are potholed, buildings dilapidated, soot-laden atmosphere, clapped-out Ladas, poor lighting. 

On the other hand the food in most restaurants is exquisite: good service, fresh vegetables — and the most you can spend on a meal is about 6 or 7 euro.  No, that's not a misprint. Hospitality was second to none and the people very friendly.

Brothers in folk custom: your web host dressed as St. Patrick with masqueraders from Macedonia

And the carnival!  It’s the planet’s best kept secret. Forget the New Orleans Mardi Gras and the Venice Carnivale.  This has to be seen to be believed.  The costumes and pageantry were out of this world, so genuinely ethnic, colourful and inventive, a tradition going back thousands of years.  The word spectacle doesn't even begin to describe it. A memorable experience to share with you in these photos.




January 25th 2006

Your web host is going to the International Festival of Masquerade in Pernik, Bulgaria to represent the Co. Sligo 'Sidhe Gaoithe' Mummers. Because of this, next week's update to the site may be delayed. Nevertheless I plan to take some photos of this unique event and share the trip with you in an article on my return. For more information go to: WGT 'Hell's Kitchen' Blog

The Sligo Weekender reports that Summerhill College, built in 1890, will be getting a new school within two years.

The former Bishop of Killala, Thomas Finnegan, led the college through some of the most challenging times and that includes the appointment of well known Sligo Rovers star David Pugh to coach a soccer team which went on to take All-Ireland titles in the 1970s.

Past pupils have distinguished themselves in many fields of human endeavour. Of all the famous past pupils who have graced Summerhill, Count John McCormack is arguably the most legendary.
The golden-voiced tenor was one of the greatest singers of this century. John Francis McCormack was a tenor of the Bel Canto School who enjoyed an immensely successful career in opera. This talent was first honed on the stage in Summerhill where he was a pupil in the last years of the 19th century.
Count McCormack was given his title by Pope Pius XI for his work with catholic charities. He later sang for a reported 500,000 people at the Eucharistic Congress in the Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1932. The Count was born in Athlone to working class parents in 1884 and attended the Marist Brothers Primary School in Athlone before coming to Summerhill in 1895.
In 1903, with very little formal training, he won the gold medal as a tenor at the Feis Ceoil Sligigh. He studied briefly in Italy under Sabatini and came back to London in 1906 seeking opportunities to sing professionally. It took him less than a year as he made his debut at Covent Garden at the age of 23, the youngest ever principal tenor to sing there.
In less than three years he was singing opera in the United States as well as beginning a career on the recital stage which would make him one of the most successful singers of all time. In 1919, John McCormack became a citizen of the United States, his adopted country. This was the country where his popularity at concert level proved immense and unrelenting. The man, who first sang in Summerhill all those years ago, died in September 1945, mourned by his countrymen and his English and American public.

Some of other past pupils include such well known humanitarians as Father Flanagan of Boys Town, U.S.A. fame.  His name has recently been put forward for sainthood.

Fr. Michael O’Flanagan, also known as the ‘Patriot Priest’ taught there for several years up to 1904. In the political field, former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and ex European commissioner Ray MacSharry are also well-known past pupils.  

January 17th 2006

Yeats Treasures in New Exhibition

Personal treasures of W.B. Yeats were presented by his family recently to the National Library of Ireland. The Irish Times reports that the items, which will be on temporary loan, will be the first major exhibition on the poet, which will open in May and continue for three years.

Michael Yeats looking at a picture of his father

The poet's son Michael Yeats (85) acccompanied by his wife Grainne and daughter Síle visited the museum a few days ago where they expressed their delight at having the opportunity of lending the various artefacts. Among the items the family is presenting is a Japanese sword given to WB by a student in the US in 1920; an illuminated copy of the Lake Isle of Innisfree; and portraits of Georgie Hyde-Lee, wife of W.B. Yeats, by Edmund Dulac and John Butler Yeats.

Other personal items will include: a lock of his hair; his last pair of spectacles, with one lens blacked out; school report cards which show that he was bad at maths but was well behaved and good at languages and chemistry; his passport; and letters between him and his wife, previously unpublished. There are also drawings in watercolour of the poet as a baby by his father, family photographs and a cup for winning a school half-mile race.

"He [WB Yeats] was born 140 years ago," Michael Yeats said. "To many people he seems to be a rather remote historical figure, but I think that, as a result of this exhibition with the personal items, it will show he was a human person with a sense of humour and quite different from the poet in an ivory tower that people think he was. He'd be delighted to see this recognition. He was always anxious that the public as a whole should accept him, not just the few people who might be interested in his poetry"

Scribblers, would be poets, and writers among you will be interested and encouraged to know that the poet laureate wrote as many as thirty drafts of his poems before the final version. Even the mighty have to struggle for perfection!

The Sligo Drug Market

The news is not all good. On the other side of the coin we are told that cocaine and cannabis are more plentiful than ever around Sligo, and cheaper. Cocaine is now three to four times less expensive than it was five or six years ago. The drugs market in Sligo is set at an unbelievable €5 million or more per year. The figure for Ireland is €650 million.

Following a recent seizure of cannabis a Sligo mother told the court she was taking it in her tea as a cure for arthritis!

The amount in question was a nine bar worth about €875.00. Garda Inspector Gerry Roche wasn't buying that story and said the lady would have been as high as a kite if she was taking the quantity she claimed. Judge McVeigh convicted and fined Mary McLoughlin €150. Her son Val who has previous convictions for violent disorder, larceny and the unauthorised taking of a vehicle was fined €380 for possesion.

January 11th 2006

Brian Mc Hugh, Editor of the Sligo Weekender has this interesting story:

"SEAN Taheny read the leaflet in his hands. It promised peace. Peace on Christmas Day. In the distance he could hear singing. But these were not the voices of carol singers and this was no ordinary Christmas day. Within a few hours Sean Taheny would find himself in the heat of battle, fighting for his life and the lives of his friends.

Korean war veteran Sean Taheny, a native of Gurteen, wearing his medals for bravery and holding a picture of himself in uniform

Gurteen native Sean Taheny's recollections of his experiences while serving in the US army in the Korean war forms one of the central parts of a new a book called The Far Side of the World: Irish Servicemen in the Korean War. The book is the work of Kildare historian James Durney. Durney had a keen interest in Korea and the history of the war. However he decided to write the book when he stumbled on an internet website which was involved in a campaign to get recognition for 29 Irish immigrants who gave their lives in the Korean War.
The Irish involvement in the Korean War has for decades been largely ignored. This has been due to the fact that many of the Irish men and women that perished in the conflict did not hold US citizenship at the time; others were merely forgotten through neglect.
In October 2003, 29 Irish nationals were awarded posthumous citizenship after a long campaign for their recognition. In The Far Side of the World: Irish Servicemen in the Korean War’ Durney deals with the experiences of Irish people who served in the military side of the conflict but also people from Ireland who were involved in a missionary capacity in the war-torn region.
Sean Taheny's story is without doubt one of the most interesting in the book but it is also represents the huge sacrifices that Irish nationals made in the most appalling circumstances. The Sligo man went to America in 1949 but he scarcely could have envisaged what lay ahead. He was drafted into the American army in 1951 and by 1952, after only 16 weeks training, he found himself in Korea.
"It was awful looking, there was shocking poverty and everything was bombed."
Sean was sent straight to the frontline to the most dangerous of conditions. Every day was a battle to hold onto strategic positions against the onslaught from the Chinese and North Korean forces.
Thinking back, Sean Taheny remembers how each day he walked a fine line between life and death.

American artillery in a battle during the Korean War

"Looking back I think how lucky I was to escape. I lost many of my friends in combat."
Christmas day 1952 was Sean Taheny's defining moment in his Korean experience. The propaganda dropped from the sky that day promised peace, but soon after American forces came under attack. Sean found himself battling for his own life and the lives of his fellow men in the 45th Infantry. With his platoon sergeant dead, Corporal Sean Taheny phoned for artillery and distinguished himself in a battle that saw heavy American losses. For his bravery Sean Taheny was awarded Two Bronze Stars, a combat infantry badge and a UN medal.
"We were always in the line of fire, and they attacked at night."
Sean Taheny has never spoken about his time in Korea until recently. This is quite understandable as recalling that period of his life means resurrecting in his mind the unspeakable horrors of war.
For Sean Taheny to remain silent is acceptable but the silence that has surrounded the recognition of the Irish effort in Korea is a shameful legacy of neglect that has only very recently been addressed. The Far Side of the World: Irish Servicemen in the Korean War is a project that as a veteran of the conflict Sean Taheny is proud of.
"It is a great thing to have this book, it shows what we went through. I am very proud of it."

First with the news: The Sligo Weekender

January 4th 2006

The sobering news from 'Celtic Tiger' Ireland is that in the midst of prosperity exists the deepest despair. Suicide rates continue to rise. According to the Irish Times the end of year total for 2004 was 457: 356 male and 101 female. 2005 is expected to be higher. 11,000 people have presented at Accident and Emergency departments for treatment for self injury. Some suspect the true figure could be as high as 60,000. About 1 percent of these or 600 from each year are likely to go on to commit suicide.

Why is it that when things have never been better the suicide rate has never been higher?

In other news, following the release of State papers from 30 years ago, it is revealed that Lord Louis Mountbatten ( assassinated off Mullaghmore in 1979) offered the use of Classiebawn Castle rent free to the then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, in 1975. The former Viceroy of India suggested to the goverment that the castle could be available for the use of the President, Taoiseach, members of the government or official visitors to Ireland. The reason is not given but the generous offer was turned down.

Back to the future! Sligo cops get bikes.

The Sligo Weekender reports that:

'It will be a case of "on yer bike" for Sligo gardai from the new year onwards. And yes, the Mounties always get their man as Sligo gardai become peddling policemen for the first time in almost 50 years.

Sergeant Gerry Moylan will be heading up a five-strong team who will be patrolling the streets and estates of Sligo in mountain bikes. The pedal power will begin in January. Gardai believe that it will be a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of patrolling the streets. And it will also improve response times and give gardai an advantage when pursuing suspects on foot. Response time on a bike is much faster than on foot and in urban traffic, response times can often be faster than in car or a motorbike.
In terms of solving crimes, gardai can come on scene more silently, especially in areas of disorder.
Mountain bikes are fast, silent and give gardai an element of surprise on criminals and they can also get quick access to parks and alleyways. Apart from the crime prevention element the bikes have a strong social aspect also. The garda on  a bike is very visible and can cover a much wider area more quickly than the policeman on the beat. And a garda on a bicycle is always more accessible than a garda in a patrol car.
So communities in Sligo will have much greater access to their local garda. Sergeant Moylan¹s unit have been getting specialist training over the past few weeks. The high spec bikes in other areas include good quality front suspension forks and 24 gears. The bikes are also fitted with rear-mounted pannier bag,  digital cycle computer, rear-mounted kickstand and a good quality lighting system.
From a garda point of view, it increases the levels of fitness of the members and helps them get closer to the community. But would too long in the saddle cause medical problems down the line?
It  takes guts and considerable physical fitness to keep cycling around the city for four to five hours a day seven days a week.
In the experience of other areas like, Galway, Naas and Letterkenny no garda should have to spend any longer than two to three years as part of these patrols. One thing is certain - pedal power could be here to stay as the Mounties creep up on the criminals.

First with the news: The Sligo Weekender

Winter Solstice Wed. Dec. 21 2005

Ah, yes, the season of 'Peace on earth, goodwill to men'. Long time ago, when we were young, innocent and optimistic and all things were possible, we believed the world was going to be a better place. More peace, more prosperity, more justice, everyone older and wiser, the planet ageing gracefully.

Stone circle: site of ancient worship

Has it worked out that way? Not at all — not even here in little Ireland. We have a fascist Minister for Justice, Michael Mc Dowell, who just goes from one excess to another. Rule of Law? Not at all! His most recent venom was directed at Frank Connolly, head of the Centre for Public Inquiry. Why? Was it a coincidence that the Centre was just about to launch an investigation into the Minister's purchase of Thornton Hall in North Dublin? The DPP had nothing on Connolly but Minister McDowell leaked confidential Gardai files to his buddy at the Sunday Independent and to philanthropist, Chuck Feeney, funder of the organisation. By inference, innuendo and abuse of Dail privilege McDowell has practically destroyed the Centre. Hey presto: no more inquiry into the Minister's purchase!

In northern Ireland 'perfidious Albion' has been at it again. The 'Stormontgate' spy ring affair badly damaged and almost destroyed the peace process. Three years later prosecutions are dropped for lack of evidence and it turns out that Denis Donaldson, one of those arrested as a Sinn Fein spy, turns out to have been a British spy for over 20 years. Curioser and curioser as Alice would say. 'Bizarre' our Taoiseach, Bertie Ahearn called it. 'It doesn't get bigger than bringing down democratically elected institutions that people voted for.'

Did the disregard for democracy and justice begin in the US with George Bush and spread like the avian flu to the rest of the world? Remember the WMD word? George Bush went into Iraq on a pretext. He has ignored the UN and the Geneva Convention and added some interesting new words to the English language: detention for torture = 'rendition'. Nice word that! Accusations of illegal detention with no rights are circumvented by calling prisoners-of-war 'non-combatants' and incarcerating them on Cuban soil. 'Embedded reporters': I'll bet Goebbells wished he had thought of that one. And I'd like to offer this to the CIA as an alternative to the 'water torture' reported in the papers recently: How about tying a suspect to a chair and playing endless repetitions of 'The Little Drummer Boy' to him? It leaves no bruises and, mark my words, give the victim enough rum-pum-pum-pums and he will be gibbering like an idiot!

'When the whin is out of bloom, kissing is out of season'

Enough about that. Every year at this time I go out to collect holly near the Sligo mountains. When I was growing up here in North Sligo there were no Christmas trees. We decorated the house, just like the Druids did, with mistletoe and holly. We even hung it over the picture of the Sacred Heart and he didn't seem to mind a bit. The season of goodwill I suppose.

Collecting holly is a hit and miss affair. Sometimes the birds beat you to it and berried holly can be hard to find. Well this year it was impossible. Whins in bloom everywhere, but the birds had been working overtime and there wasn't a holly berry in sight. The old folk used to say that was a sign of a hard winter ahead. Look out for blizzards then. I did eventually find a small piece so well hidden that even the birds missed it. It was down at the Tawley Mass Rock. That's where Mass was celebrated in the woods in Penal times when the price

the British had on the head of a priest was five pounds — the same as that on the head of a wolf, actually. St.Oliver Plunkett is said to have ordained priests at the Tawley rock. He was eventually captured and was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in England.

On a cheerier note I'll wish all my visitors to this site a very happy Christmas to enjoy with friends and family with peace and prosperity in the New Year. Please contact me at any time with your comments and observations or suggestions on articles you would like to see. Beannachtai na Nollaig agaibh go leir. (The blessings of Christmas to all of you).


Wed. Dec. 14th

Everything's boom and boom around Sligo these days. The Weekender reports 50 new shops on the drawing board for the town, three other projects with 33 shops and 124 flats (that's apartments to you American readers), 141 flats and 14 shops under construction, and two new streets. Money no obstacle these days. Don't look at me. I don't have any. I spend too much time on non-profit projects like this website. I'll be lucky to have a few euros to spend in all these new shops! And there's more:

Work Begins on New 15-storey Hotel

Work began on Monday on the site of what will be Sligo's tallest building, a 15 storey hotel at Carraroe. Developer Ray Monaghan (yes, he that is married to P.V. Doyle's daugter, the beautiful Eileen, owners of the Jury-Doyle hotel group) said they are currently in talks with a well-known hotel chain with a view to operating it. The hotel will be located on the Sligo town side of the round-about at Carraroe, beside Clifford's Lighthouse.

The hotel was subject to a number of objections from local residents, the Carraroe Residents Committee, Clifford Electrical, An Taisce and the National Roads Association. However Sligo County Council granted permission for the hotel last year with a number of conditions. These included payment of more than €500,000 for the provision of sewerage and water supply services and footpaths.

This application was revised in December 2003 to propose a 144 bedroom, 15 storey hotel with underground car parking. Once again granted permission by Sligo Council that decision was appealed to Bord Pleanala but they gave it the go-ahead anyway. The revised scheme now consists of an underground car park with 114 spaces plus room for coaches. The hotel itself consists of a basement, ground floor and 14 upper floors. Incorporated into the building is a bar, lounge, restaurant, health club, conference centre and meeting rooms

Wed. Dec. 7

A delegation from Sligo’s Markievicz Memorial Committee was invited to attend the unveiling of a memorial to Constance Markievicz (nee Gore-Booth) in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin on Dec. 1st. In the Sligo group were Chairman Joe Mc Gowan; Secretary, Larry Mullen; Treasurer, Philomna Whitten and PRO Ursula Roest.

The Sligo Delegation

The Rotunda itself has had a remarkable history. In 1745 Bartholomew Mosse, surgeon and man-midwife, founded the original Rotunda as a maternity training hospital, the first of its kind in Britain or Ireland. To finance the erection of the building Mosse commenced a fundraising campaign which included two plays and performances of Handel Oratorios in 1746, 1747 and 1748. The first ever performance of Handel’s Messiah was in Dublin. The hospital has continued to provide an unbroken record of service to women and babies since its foundation in 1745.

Professor Alan Browne, ex-Master of the Rotunda, was introduced by the current Master Dr. Michael Geary. In a brief resume of the history of the Pillar Room Prof. Browne reminded the gathering that following Countess Markievicz’s death, on the morning of July 15th 1927, the Cumann na nGaedheal Government denied the use of City Hall or the Mansion House for her lying in state. She was laid out in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda. Relays of her Fianna boys stood to attention by her tricolour draped coffin for two days and nights as more than 100,000 people filed past her remains.

Foreground: Prof. Alan Browne. Back: Master Dr. Michael Geary

Her funeral procession took two hours to pass through O’Connell St. Flowers were an expensive luxury for those with hardly enough to eat at that time, but there were eight lorry loads of them in the cortege. Contingents of Sinn Fein, na Fianna Eireann, Inghinidhe na hEireann, Cumann na mBan, Fianna Fail, ITGWU, Women’s Defence League the Irish Citizen Army, all followed silently behind her coffin on its way to her burial place in the Republican plot in Glasnevin.

It is fitting, Prof. Browne said that the life of such a remarkable woman as Constance Markievicz should be commemorated, and that the room in which the people of Dublin, and Ireland, paid homage to her, should be memorialized in an appropriate manner.

Inscription: 'Constance Countess Markievicz lay in State in this PILLAR ROOM of the Rotunda Hospital on 16 July 1927.  Tens of thousands of people filed past the remains of one known as "The Lover of the Poor"  She was interred in Glasnevin Cemetery'.

In other news, the highest price ever paid in Ireland for a Yeats painting was achieved on last Wednesday for A Blackbird Bathing in Tír na nÓg (see previous item below). It was sold for €820,000 by de Vere’s auction room to Belfast businessman Barney Eastwood. The Irish Times reported that: ‘The price drew a round of applause at the auction on Wednesday evening and a “thank you very much Mr. Eastwood,” from auctioneer John de Vere White’.

Wed. Nov. 30th 2005

This week the Sligo Weekender reports that: 'A Canadian naval delegation visited Sligo last week to thank staff at Sligo General hospital for their treatment of injured submarine men. Captain Norm Jolin, Naval Attaché to the Republic Of Ireland, and Lieutenant Commander Steve Moffat presented a plaque to the staff of the hospital in appreciation of the part they played in the treatment of injured Canadian sailors from the submarine HMCS Chicoutimi in October last year.

Dr. McKenna, Capt. Norm Rolin, Dr. Ronan O'Hare, Sheila Smith, (Hospital Manager) and Lt. Col. Stephen Moffat

On October 5 HMCS Chicoutimi got into difficulties off the north west coast of Ireland after a fire broke out on board during the sub's journey home to Nova Scotia, Canada, from Scotland.
Three of the 57 men on board Chicoutimi crew suffered serious smoke inhalation and had to be airlifted to Sligo General hospital for treatment. One of the sailors, Lieutenant Chris Saunders, died on October 6  at Sligo General Hospital.
Master Seaman Archibald McMaster and Petty Officer 2nd class Denis Lafleur survived the ordeal and recovered at the hospital.

In a moving and heartfelt address Captain Jolin outlined the gratitude that the Canadian navy and the Canadian people wished to express toward the staff of Sligo General and the citizens of Sligo. Capt. Jolin paid a warm and glowing tribute to the staff of the hospital describing their "tenacity and professionalism" in saving the lives of the Canadian sailors. "We are truly thankful for the manner in which everyone in this hospital pitched in for our people, I am absolutely serious, your tenacity and professionalism ensured our people were taken care of in a manner which we are all very proud of in Canada".

Capt. Jolin told of the anguish and helplessness experienced when injured crew are taken into the care of people outside of the navy¹s control. He told of his first-hand experience of this as a ship's captain. However he pointed out that the case of Sligo was different. "You no longer have the ability to make sure that your crew receive the best level of care they can possible get. You are putting your faith in the hands of strangers. But strangers you are not. And that trust was incredibly well placed," Capt. Jolin stated.

Captain Jolin emphasised that Canada as an immigrant nation counts Ireland as a part of its founding heritage and also as an ally. "When tragedy and misfortune strike we know who our friends are," Capt. Jolin added. In his address Capt. Jolin thanked the attending physicians, members of the intensive care unit, and the reception and security staff at the hospital. The Captain stated that the compassion shown toward the Canadian navy in that difficult time "captured our hearts".

Captain Jolin concluded by saying that the plaque will be a way of recognising "your actions on our behalf"'.

The Sligo Weekender: First with the news.

Wed. Nov. 23rd 2005

Co. Sligo was graced with a visit by royalty today. Yes, indeed, you may eat your hearts out — Royal watchers were all a-twitter as no less a person than the Duchess of York deigned to visit our humble county this week.

She had never been to Sligo before but it ‘feels like coming home’ she burbled happily. Imagine that! Wouldn’t it just make you proud to be a Sligonian?

She must have been heart-broken then to leave so soon, as her charity visit only lasted a couple of hours before she flew off to Cork for a banquet for the Daisychain foundation. Yes, a banquet, no less. And you thought being a Royal was an easy life!

‘I love Ireland, I feel I have a great connection here’ she purred to her admirers. And yes you cynics! She does actually know some Irish people. She’s great friends with Robert Splaine, the show jumper from Cork and Sir Anthony O’Reilly hardly makes a move without consulting her. (Is Sir Anthony Irish?)

No, no, she didn’t mention any poor people among her acquaintances but c'mon now, I’m sure she knows some…

Let’s move on to something a little bit more edifying. Like asses, for instance. Yes, asses. I never met an ass I didn’t like, and God love the little creatures, all hard times and hard work behind them, they have finally come into their own. Live ass and ye’ll get grass indeed. My good friend James Nelson has a soft spot for this gentlest of animals too and tells us about it in his Sligo Weekender column. (Around my part of the country we always called them asses, not donkeys, and sometimes, up along the mountain, I often heard them called ‘dunkeys’ but ‘a rose by any other name…’) Here’s James:

"Over two thousand years ago, in a lowly stable in Bethlehem, shepherds, Wise Men and assorted farm animals were witness to the birth of the Christ-child. One of the animals present on that night was the gentle donkey. Thirty-three years later, a donkey carried Christ triumphantly into Jerusalem. The donkey seems to have always been an integral part of both sacred and secular literature, folklore, mythology, children¹s stories, and most recently Hollywood movies.
 Who could ever forget the somewhat gloomy, melancholic, blue-grey "Eeyore" from "Winnie the Pooh"? Along with his friends Piglet, Tigger, Kanga and Roo, Eeyore always attempted to make the most of any bad situation. Even more recently, Eddie Murphy’s visually and vocally animated "Donkey" in the "Shrek" movies is a total delight, as he pursues his dream of becoming a noble steed.
The donkey was once so much part of our own national heritage, famously portrayed in that John Hinde postcard of the red-haired West of Ireland children, alongside the donkey with its creel of turf.
This unique animal is thought to have originated in Africa and central Asia. After its arrival in Ireland, the donkey was employed in a variety of ways, primarily in transport and agriculture, hauling turf and pulling carts.
But with the advances in farm machinery and equipment, and in public transport, the unfortunate donkey ­ once a symbol of rural Ireland ­ has been somewhat forgotten and pushed aside. These neglected, abandoned and supposedly useless creatures, as well as the ridiculously outdated animal welfare laws, need much more public attention.
First and foremost, donkeys need shelter, a little TLC, and a good chiropodist. Donkey’s hooves can become deformed, split or cracked from overwork. Some abused donkeys suffer from serious malnutrition. There are large Donkey Sanctuaries at Liscarroll in County Cork, at Sidmouth in the UK, and elsewhere.
However, much closer to home, just off the N4 at Castlebaldwin, below the ancient neolithic site of Carrowkeel in the Bricklieve Mountains, Sue Paling runs the Sathya Sai Sanctuary for Nature, a home, primarily, for old, abused, unwanted and abandoned donkeys. The Sathya Sai Sanctuary was dedicated to an Indian holyman who initially blessed the project.

Asses at Sue Paling's farm

The sanctuary is a registered Irish charity, mostly surviving from private donations and charity events. The Department of Agriculture and Food give a generous annual grant towards foodstuff for the 26 donkeys, 9 ponies, 2 mules, 3 horses, and assorted cats, dogs and sheep. This is a place where donkeys can enjoy a happy retirement, while learning to trust human beings again.
A donkey doesn’t ask for much really ­ some food (hay, barley-straw, apples, carrots, ginger-nut biscuits etc), fresh clean water, perhaps a salt-lick or mineral-lick, clean and dry shelter at nightime (straw-bedding perhaps), a little exercise, some grooming and foot-care, the usual vaccinations and worming procedures, and if possible some companionship.
These characterful creatures, with their rasping Ee-aw bray, are known to make excellent stable companions for horses, foals, or other donkeys. A donkey in a field of sheep or goats will actively protect the flock from canine predators. Properly selected and trained donkeys can be excellent with children and the handicapped.
In much the same way the Andrex advertisement instigated a sudden demand for Labrador puppies, the Shrek movies revived the interest in having a donkey as a pet. As Sue Paling correctly says, these movies and ads are a mixed blessing, as we all know a pet is for life, and not just for Christmas.
At the Sathya Sai Sanctuary Sue runs an adoption programme, and perhaps a more realistic and more unique Christmas present might be to adopt a donkey, and then visit your adopted donkey.
For my most recent birthday, I was presented by some friends with a certificate and photo of my adopted donkey Tommi. Tommi is shaggy-coated, black, sweet-natured, though lacking in a little self-confidence, and bullied by his colleagues a little (so a little like his adoptive Daddy actually). From as little as E15 (though preferably more!) you can adopt a donkey, and help give these neglected creatures some badly-needed TLC.
Contact Sue on 071 ­ 9166196, or email to take part in her Adoption programme, or just to arrange a visit. While you’re up there, say Hi to Tommi for me."

Wed.Nov.16 2005

Three Jack Yeats paintings, formerly hung at Ballymaloe House in Co. Cork, will be included in the De Veres Irish art auction on November 30th next. Do bring your cheque book — and maybe your bank manager as well: 'A Blackbird Bathing in Tír na nÓg' (24 X 36 inches), painted by the Sligo artist in 1943, has a pre-sale estimate of €500,000 to €700,000!

'A Blackbird Bathing in Tír na nÓg'

The canvas, depicted at left, shows a blackbird bathing in a rock pool in the company of a youth splashing his face with the water. Also included in the sale are The Little Door oil on canvas (18 X 24 inches) from 1946, and Water Lilies, oil on canvas, also 18 X 24 inches.

According to the art critic, Dorothy Walker, in her book Modern Art in Ireland, the Blackbird was painted in the year Yeats entered, 'the sublime period' of his late work: 'The elements seemed to have entered the paint: tumultuous seas, wild land, colour streaked skies and individuals as far removed from the faceless urban masses as it is possible to imagine.'

The painting has never come up for auction since its original sale from the RIA in 1944.

In an interesting aside The Irish Times reports that there was a passing reference to the painting in The Bell in 1945 by Prisoner D83222, a gambler sentenced to three years for theft and embezzlement. He wrote of visiting a Yeats' exhibition in the National College of Art in Dublin in 1945 after his release, and meeting two former inmates there.

"They were standing behind the Minister for Justice," he wrote, "both looking arty and enraptured over the colour vistas of A Blackbird Bathing in Tir na nOg. Someone enquired as to the identities of the two such obviously distinguished artists. 'Two of our most promising post-Raphaelites' I said. 'But don't ask them for autographs. It only upsets them'!"



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