Not a stone will stand upon a stone

Sunday, 15 January, 2012

Boom skyline: Azerbaijan, Brazil, China or Dubai? No. In fact, the photo was taken in Dublin in July 2005. That was the year in which 80,957 residential houses were built in Ireland. By way of comparison, in the first 10 months of 2011a total of 8,692 houses were completed. Another indicator of the madness was […]

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Family photo taken by my mother in 1948

Sunday, 8 January, 2012

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it […]

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First footing into 2012

Sunday, 1 January, 2012

Happy New Year! The custom known as “first footing” dictates that the first person to cross the threshold of a home after midnight on New Year’s Eve will determine the homeowner’s luck for the new year. The ideal visitor bears gifts — preferably whiskey, coal for the fire, small cakes or a coin.

Note: Although it is acceptable in many places for the first-footer to be a resident of the house, they must not be in the house at the stroke of midnight in order to first-foot (thus going out of the house after midnight and then coming back in to the same house is not considered to be first-footing). By the way, the first-foot is traditionally a tall, dark-haired male; a fair-haired male is regarded as unlucky. Why? The answer hearkens back to the 8th century, when the fair-haired Vikings invaded the British Isles: a blond night visitor was not a good omen back then.

Carefully into the New Year

Do Not Use an Apostrophe to Form a Plural

Tuesday, 27 December, 2011

People of Ireland, listen up: when s is added to a word simply to make it a plural, no apostrophe is used (except in expressions where letters or numerals are treated like words, like “mind your p’s and q’s” and “learn your ABC’s”). Got that?

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The provisional wing of Occupy Wall Street

Thursday, 22 December, 2011

Dublin’s newest favela can be found on Dame Street in front of Ireland’s Central Bank. The occupants of Dame Street, however, do not appear to be suffering very much at the hands of the system they wish to destroy. Indeed, if only these scruffy types were to sell their iPhones and give the proceeds to […]

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Incredible Ireland

Monday, 19 December, 2011

Three recent headlines from the Irish Times with explanations for those not fully acquainted with the functioning of a small 21st-century kleptocracy.

1. Nama fails to stop developer being paid €5,000 a week. Nama is shorthand for Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency, which was set up in the wake to the collapse of the country’s banks as a result of excessive lending to the property sector. The story centres on property developer Ray Grehan, who is being paid €5,000 a week [emphasis added] in living expenses.This, by the way, is the same Mr Grehan who owes Nama a total of €650 million [emphasis added again].

2. “Court hears of ‘incredible’ claims from Quinn’s wife“. Background: On 20 November, the Financial Times reported that a court in Belfast had declared Irish businessman Sean Quinn bankrupt with debts of €416 million. Now, according to the Irish Times, “The wife of bankrupt Sean Quinn is making ‘incredible’ claims she does not have to repay a €3 million bank loan because she is a homemaker unduly influenced by her husband. Mrs Quinn told the Commercial Court today she regularly signed documents he put in front of her without reading them.”

3. “Two payments of €190,000 to union cannot be traced“. The article refers to SIPTU, Ireland’s largest trade union, which spends a lot of its time berating something called “the private sector” for its greed, corruption and general evil nature.
Language note: The word “kleptocracy” comes from the Greek klepto-, from kleptes (thief) + –cracy (rule).

Homeward bound

Sunday, 18 December, 2011 0 Comments

Homeward in the setting sun

“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.” Amelia Earhart

Remembering breakfast with Christopher Hitchens

Friday, 16 December, 2011

On 17 June 2007, Rainy Day shared breakfast in Dublin with the late, great Christopher Hitchens. The occasion was a debate about religion that was promoted under the banner of “God Is Not Great?” between Hitchens and John Waters of the Irish Times. It was a gladiatorial contest so the metaphor we picked to set […]

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Boomerang is a sad book, as well as a funny and enlightening one

Wednesday, 14 December, 2011

“The widely shared analysis in Ireland is that the disaster was caused by an unholy trinity of bankers, politicians, and house-builders, and involved a great deal of systematic corruption on the part of all three (especially over issues such as rezoning land). Lewis is gentler on the banker’s at the heart of the crash than the Irish themselves are: he thinks that the bubble ‘wasn’t as cynical’ as in other countries. The people indulging in the speculation genuinely believed that they were going to get rich. It was a bubble of greed and stupidity and excess, but not one in which the rich systematically stole from the poor. Perhaps the numbers are so bad that no more grimness needs to be troweled on:”

“A single bank, Anglo Irish, which, two years before, the Irish government claimed was suffering from a ‘liquidity problem,’ confessed to losses of 34 billion euros. To get a sense of how ’34 billion euros’ sounds to Irish ears, an American thinking in dollars needs to multiply it by roughly one hundred: $3.4 trillion. And that was for a single bank. As the sum total of loans made by Anglo Irish Bank, most of it to property developers, was only 72 billion euros, the bank had lost nearly half of every dollar it invested.”

“When the Irish banks collapsed, the state stepped in and guaranteed not just the deposits of their customers, but all the banks’ liabilities. Nobody knows quite why they covered the losses of the bondholders who had lent money to these fundamentally broken companies: but they did, and the promise in turn bankrupted Ireland, leading directly to a European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout. The fallout is going to dominate life in Ireland for years.”

From “How We Were All Misled” by John Lanchester in the current issue of the New York Review of Books.

B&W Digitalis purpurea

Sunday, 4 December, 2011 0 Comments

Dr. Prior, whose authority is great in the origin of popular names, says “It seems probably that the name was in the first place, foxes’ glew, or music, in reference to the favourite instrument of an earlier time, a ring of bells hung on an arched support, the tintinnabulum“… we cannot quite agree with Dr. […]

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