Skerries

LE_Roisin_at_Rockall

A skerry is a small islet or rocky reef, generally uninhabitable because they are washed by the sea in storms.  The word skerry derives from the Norse sker which is a rock in the sea.  It derives from the older proto-indo-european word sker meaning to cut.

Some say this refers to the fact that a skerry is a rock cut off from the mainland.  As a sailor I wonder if it refers to the result should you cross a skerry by accident.  It cuts a hole in your hull.

The SS Norge did exactly that on the Hasselwood rock, on the 24th of June 1904.  A Danish liner, she sank for the loss of 635 people.  Hasselwood rock is a skerry that lies just to the north of the contested Rockall, which lies far out in the North Atlantic between Ireland, Scotland, Faroe and Iceland.

Rockall has been claimed by the UK for many years, but the claim is contested because the rock is uninhabitable.  The huge Atlantic storm waves regularly break over the entire rock.  They officially claimed the rock in 1955, which would have made it the last imperial acquisition of the UK, if anyone had accepted it.  Nobody does.  But they did stick a plaque on the rock.

In 1971 the Royal Engineers and Royal Marines were dropped onto the rock by helicopter.  They used explosives to level a pad on the top of the rock, and this level base was the site for installation of a beacon.  They also installed another plaque to establish that the British owned the rock.

In 1978 the members of the Dangerous Sports Club held a cocktail party on the rock, and stole the 1971 plaque.

In 1985 survival expert Tom McClean lived on the rock for the month of June, and a little bit of May and July.  His occupation record was expunged when Greenpeace spent 42 days on the rock in 1997.  They wanted to protest any attempt to exploit the waters for fossil fuels.  It was around this time that the 1955 plaque seems to have disappeared.

Nick Hancock holds the current record at 45 days.

Visiting and claiming ownership of the rock has become something of a standing joke at the expense of the British Crown.  But Rockall will never become an “Insta” prize.  It is not an easy place to reach and a harder place to stay.  Still, I guess it’s only a matter of time before some intrepid instagrammer loses their life for the shot of a lifetime.

 

The Rock in the Sea; by Archibald MacLeish

Think of our blindness where the water burned!
Are we so certain that those wings, returned
and turning, we had half discerned
before our dazzled eyes had surely seen
the bird aloft there, did not mean? —
Our hearts so seized upon the sign!

Think how we sailed up-wind, the brine
tasting of daphne, the enormous wave
thundering in the water cave —
thunder in stone. And how we beached the skiff
and climbed the coral of that iron cliff
and found what only in our hearts we’d heard —
the silver screaming of that one, white bird:
The fabulous wings, the crimson beak
that opened, red as blood, to shriek
and clamor in that world of stone,
no voice to answer but its own.

What certainty, hidden in our hearts before,
found in the bird its metaphor?

 

Mad Mann

Gérard Dicks Pellerin 
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Canadian author Elizabeth Smart was introduced to the English poet George Barker by Lawrence Durrell at a writers colony in Big Sur in California.  After an affair Smart became pregnant and returned to Ottawa to have the baby.  The married Barker tried to visit her but her father, a prominent lawyer, notified the American authorities who arrested Barker under the Mann act in 1940.

The Mann act, passed on this day in 1910, is an interesting piece of nominative determinism.  Also called the “White-Slave Traffic Act” it was designed to prevent the for-commerce transportation of female prostitutes.  The act was famously misused by authorities it its lifetime.  Jack Johnson the black boxer was arrested twice and convicted under the act for travelling with a white woman.  She later became his wife.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Chuck Berry, Charles Manson and Charlie Chaplin were also arrested under the act.

When the act was employed to frustrate the affair of two writers it spawned novels by both Smart and Barker.  Smart wrote the poetry prose novel  “By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept”, published in 1945.  Barker published “The Dead Seagull” in 1950.  The couple went on to have 4 of Barker’s 15 children together.

In a bizarre coincidence another Elizabeth Smart, a Mormon from Salt Lake City,  was abducted by Brian David Mitchell and  his wife Wanda Ileen Barzee in 2002.  Smart escaped nine months later and Mitchell was charged and convicted under the Mann act.

To my Mother; by George Barker

Most near, most dear, most loved and most far,
under the window where I often found her
sitting as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter,
gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand,
irresistible as Rabelais, but most tender for
the lame dogs and hurt birds that surround her –
She is a procession no one can follow after
but be like a little dog following a brass band.

She will not glance up at the bomber, or condescend
to drop her gin and scuttle to a cellar,
but lean on the mahogany table like a mountain
whom only faith can move, and so I send
O all my faith, and all my love to tell her
that she will move from mourning into morning.

Poor Dad

Fava Beans

Fava beans are one of the oldest foods known to man.  In the middle east they are known as foul medames, and they are the basis for a bean soup or stew served from Morocco to Central Asia.  Foul is pronounced, usually, as “fool”.

These days most people reference fava beans to Hannibal the Cannibal of Red Dragon fame.  Hannibal Lecter is the doctor, serial killer and advisor to the FBI in Silence of the Lambs.  He famously told of the census taker who tried to quantify him “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone”.  When the book was made into a film the research demonstrated that the audience did not know what expensive Amarone was, so they changed it to a cheap Chianti.

If you come from Southern Italy or Sicily you might know about the association of fava beans with the Feast of St. Joseph.  Today is American Fathers day, a Hallmark holiday.  The Catholic Fathers day was always St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th.

In Ireland since we had St. Patricks Day on March 17th the feast of St. Joseph was not a thing.  But it was very popular in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Catholic Communities.  One of the symbols of Joseph is the “lucky bean”.  If you bring a dried fava bean to the church on St. Joseph’s Day and have it blessed by the priest it serves as a charm against poverty.  You keep the lucky bean in your wallet or purse and you will never completely run out of money.

The feast is preserved these days in the saying “I haven’t got a bean” meaning that you have no money.

 

 

 

Happy Juneteenth

England

Juneteenth is a holiday that originated in Galveston Texas, two years after emancipation.  It marks the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read a proclamation that informed the slaves in Texas that they were free.  It is known variously as Freedom day, Liberation day and Jubilee day.

A song closely associated with this day is “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, a negro song thought to have been used by slaves as a code to navigate the underground railroad.  It  has been adopted by English Rugby as an anthem for their team.  It began life when Chris Oti, the first English black player for 80 years, scored a hat-trick of tries against Ireland in 1988.  The RFU is actively working to replace it with a less racially charged anthem.

Here is a poem to America that serves as the polar opposite to the Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” slogan.  It is a perfect Juneteenth poem.  Someone should print LABAA hats.

 

Let America Be America Again: Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Friday Night Dinner

Friday Night

Last night we tried out a new restaurant:  Féte du Vendredi Soir.  It’s a bijou (very small) bistro hidden away in the countryside of County Tipperary, near Cashel.  Very hard to find, they have no website and are not on Trip Advisor.  Even harder to get reservations.  But they say you can find all the best people here.  Tamsin Greig is a regular and I heard that Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal have dined here.

We were lucky to get a table for our Wedding Anniversary.  The menu is set, there is no choice.  The chefs decide on it based on what they have available.  One week it could be squirrel, the next it could be soused herrings, always a surprise.  Louise, being a vegetarian, was delighted that our main was a mezze maniche rigate with a wild mushroom sauce.  I love the name of that pasta “striped half sleeves”.

When we arrived we were greeted with cocktails, a big G&T for me and a Mojito for Louise.  Her mint clearly came from the restaurant kitchen garden.  In the bistro you are dining in a half open kitchen, so you can see the chefs at work, smell the bread baking and hear all the clitter-clatter of a busy restaurant kitchen.  A little bit of “Gordon Ramsay” style shouting was going on between the head chef and the maître D which is a form of entertainment in itself, like watching Fawlty Towers.

The vibe was very chill, some great music playing in the background, Lou Reed, Kinks, ELO, Bryan Adams, Mungo Jerry, Rolling Stones etc.  Kind of a psychedelic rock theme.

The food was quite simple, but truly excellent.  When someone gives you a dish of salt, oil and bread it doesn’t sound like much.  But the bread is fresh baked out of the oven, first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and Breton grey sea salt – Gros Sel de l’ile de Ré.  When you taste it you understand the difference between what you can do in your own kitchen and the magic of a trained professional chef who selects the best ingredients.  That attention to the smallest details is what Michelin Stars are awarded for.

The service was excellent, a good balance between personable attentiveness without being intrusive.  Our glasses were never allowed to run dry.

Our journey through the menu was a voyage of the senses.  In a period of quarantine lockdown we had a tour of the Mediterranean.  Olives from Greece, white wine and pasta from Italy, red wine wine from Southern France, then to Canada for the Moose.

Dining here is not cheap, but let’s say no more about the price, because it is worth every penny.

As Bread and Salt; Janina Degutytė (trans Marija Stankus-Saulaitis)

Through a high gate, decorated
with wreaths and slogans…
Through a high gate
I enter
like a guest
the dale,
encompassed by woods, clouds, and flights of swans.
And I accept
with lips chapped by north winds
the black night and the white day
as bread and salt.

Bread and salt

Happy Birthday Jacques Cousteau

Cousteau

As a scuba diver myself I am eternally grateful to the father of the Aqualung, the pioneer of sport diving Jacques Cousteau.  Born on this day in Aquitaine, France in 1910.

His contribution to diving, and to marine conservation, cannot be overstated.  He was also hugely influential in the film industry and bringing nature documentaries to a mainstream audience.

If you look up the town of Kilkee in Ireland on Wikipedia you will see a note that Cousteau considered Kilkee the finest dive site in Europe.  He probably said it too.  He regularly dived there with the local Scuba fanatic, the owner of the fish and chip shop: Manuel Dilucia.   As you can tell from his surname Manuel was not a Kilkee native; he was born in Belfast.  Indeed so were his parents.  It was his grandparents who emigrated from Italy.

Manuel’s was the “good” chipper in Kilkee.  A bit more expensive but worth it if you had a spare penny.  Manuel Dilucia was involved in all things marine in Kilkee.  He brought his love of seafood to the Irish people, who rated the fruits of the sea low on the scale of things to eat.  Manuel brought his Italian delight of seafood together with his love of marine sport.  He eventually opened a gourmet seafood restaurant in Kilkee when the locals were ready for more than battered cod after the pub.

He helped the Gardai with underwater searches, he pioneered scuba diving, he worked tirelessly on conservation of the natural environment and he founded the marine rescue service. It is no surprise that Jacques Cousteau would seek him out if he was interested in diving the West of Ireland.  So it may be unaccredited but I believe that Jacques Cousteau said that Kilkee was the best place to dive in Europe.

 

Dover Beach; by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
upon the straits; on the French coast the light
gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
listen! you hear the grating roar
of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
at their return, up the high strand,
begin, and cease, and then again begin,
with tremulous cadence slow, and bring
the eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
of human misery; we
find also in the sound a thought,
hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
retreating, to the breath
of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
and naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
to one another! for the world, which seems
to lie before us like a land of dreams,
so various, so beautiful, so new,
hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
and we are here as on a darkling plain
swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
where ignorant armies clash by night.

Stay the course

Stay the Course

Sun Tzu and Terence McSwiney agree on this point.  It is not the side that can inflict the most, but those who can endure the most who will conquer.  It is a constant source of argument in military theory:  which side suffers most casualties; winners or losers?

In ancient Greece when battles were decided head to head on the field by two infantry armies it was accepted that the winning side often lost the most men.  By the time one side broke the winning side was so exhausted they were in no fit state to give chase.

This dynamic changed dramatically with the introduction of cavalry.  No horse alive will charge a well formed phalanx, but a routed enemy is manna to the cavalryman.  Any enemy who could not retire from the field in good order was sabre fodder.

The dynamic changed again with the introduction of artillery, especially mobile horse artillery, to the battlefield.  A solid infantry square was safe against marauding cavalry, but sitting ducks for artillery.  Dispersing to avoid the cannon fire opens your lines to the cavalry.  The Napoleonic wars were choreographed by the interplay between infantry, cavalry and artillery.

With the development of the rifle musket in the 1850’s the dynamic changed again.  The effective rifle range switched overnight from 3/4 rounds per minute at around 50 yards to 5/6 rounds per minute at 1,000 yards range.  The days of bright coloured lines of infantry standing toe to toe on the open field were over.  The US Civil War demonstrated that in such circumstances a defensive force with prepared earthworks could wreak havoc on forces attacking over open ground.

In WW1 the Western Front signaled the death of the horse on the battlefield.  The swan song of the horse in modern warfare was probably the charge of the Australian Mounted Infantry on Turkish Positions in Palestine.

Then at the end of the First World War the tiny forces of the IRA fought the all conquering British Army and Militarized Police to a standstill in Ireland, by enduring the most.

By the end of the Second World War it appeared that the infantryman with his rifle was almost redundant in a world of fighters, bombers, A-bombs, Aircraft Carriers and attack helicopters.  And then there was Vietnam when the people demonstrated again that it is the side that can endure the most who will conquer.  Despite overwhelming superiority of the USA in kill ratio and military technology they still lost.

Given the lack of appetite of the American people for losses in war raises many questions for the presence of US forces in far off battlefields like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq or Somalia.  If you are prepared to quit, don’t start.

 

Don’t Quit; by John Greenleaf Whittier
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
when the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
when the funds are low and the debts are high
and you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
when care is pressing you down a bit,
rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
as every one of us sometimes learns
and many a failure comes about
when he might have won had he stuck it out;
don’t give up though the pace seems slow —
you may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out —
the silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
and you never can tell just how close you are,
it may be near when it seems so far;
so stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit —
it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit

Black Irish

Black Irish

On June 7th 1832 the Asian Cholera arrived in Quebec.  The devastating disease took the lives of some 6,000 people, which was bad for the French and English Canadians who died.  It was worse for the Irish Canadians who were blamed for the disease.

It was not only in Canada that Irish were blamed for the Cholera.  All over the USA Irish Immigrants were held responsible for outbreaks of the disease.  Where Irish communities were absent the White Anglo Protestant ascendancy blamed the blacks.

From the caricatures above you can see that the Irish Immigrant on the right is portrayed with many of the features of the black reconstruction era politicians on the left.  Thick lips, vacant protruding eyes, aggressive postures; stupid, violent people.

The second cholera pandemic, also known as the Asiatic Cholera Pandemic, originated in Asia and spread to Eastern Russia.  From there it was tracked across the European continent.  The British Government quarantined vessels from Russia and Poland in 1831.  The symptoms were reported to the British Government from St Petersburgh, Russia by two English Doctors.

Yet when the disease reached Canada and the USA it was blamed on the minority groups of Irish and Negroes.  This is still happening today.  The English people want to blame the Coronavirus on Asian students.  Irish nationalist idiots attacked a fruit farm for employing Bulgarian strawberry pickers.  Donald Trump wants to blame the Chinese.

Populists harness diseases to push their agendas.  With Cholera this was quite easy.  Poor immigrants tend to live in the cheapest slums in the most unsanitary conditions.  They suffer worst from a water borne disease like Cholera.  It is easy to point the finger at them as a source of the illness.

This racism of 1832 was to have enduring consequences for the Irish.  When the Great Hunger struck in 1845 with the collapse of the Irish Potato Crop one route for the starving people was across the Atlantic to the New World.  But the memories were fresh of the Cholera outbreak and nobody was welcoming starving Irish to the Americas.

No_Irish_Need_Apply

 

Power and Influence

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The USA trumpets itself around the globe as a cradle of Democracy, Human Rights and Personal Freedom.  Viewed from outside it can be seen as a dubious democracy where millionaires compete with each other for seats in what looks very much like a two party system.

This got me thinking about Power and Influence and how they can be balanced in some political systems and imbalanced in others, and a balanced power/influence dynamic is a symptom of a healthy government.

In short, if a small number of people have too much power and influence, and make decisions to benefit themselves this is a failure of Government.

In the USA it takes deep pockets to compete for election.  Political Candidates need funding and in the home of Capitalism there is no such thing as a free lunch.  To get power you need money, what you sell is your influence; your votes on topics sensitive to your funders.  As a result decisions in US Government are skewed in favour of the interests of big business.

The ordinary man in the street is left out in the cold.  Not exactly the American Dream, Mom and Apple Pie.  The USA is classified as a Flawed Democracy scoring only 7.96 on the Democracy Index.

But the ordinary man in the street does have a vote and can wield that vote as a weapon.  It is possible, if highly unlikely, to change the system for the better.

In a pure autocracy the man in the street does not even have a dream of changing things for the better.  Decisions are made by an inner elite. China is classified as Authoritarian, scoring only 2.26 on the democracy index, but over twice the 1.08 scored by North Korea. In 18th Century France the Kings taxed the poor to pay for a libertine lifestyle.  They eventually paid for this excess with their heads at the guillotine.  If you remove the potential for evolution you risk revolution.

This is why we have anocracy.  Anocracy is a form of government where you operate as an autocracy with the trappings of democracy.  You hold elections but they change little.  The people you elect into power are paper tigers with no ability to influence the really key decisions on issues like what happens the money, who you invade or who goes to prison.  Some of these are monarchies where the rulers retain powers, as in Morocco (5.10 democracy index) or they may be led by religious or military Juntas or partial dictatorships.  Called “hybrid regimes”

People who come from autocracies, anocracies and majority governments do not understand the attraction of multi-party democracies.  What they see in the likes of Italy, Ireland, Israel, Greece etc are floundering confusions of coalition run governments.  What the voter sees is different.

In Ireland I can join a political party and attain a considerable level of influence within that party for a fairly modest investment of my time; assuming I have the social, political and economic tools to hold my own in open debate.  The larger the party is the more difficult it is to gain influence within the party.

I can opt to be a small cog in a larger party, which has a greater chance of getting into power in government.  I would have little influence in a party with much power.  Or I could have greater influence in a smaller party which is more likely to be sidelined in government.  Lots of influence, but little power.

When I see this natural balancing act between power and influence I see healthy government.  As Abraham Lincoln pointed out: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

We score 9.24 in fully democratic Ireland, currently the 6th most democratic country in the world.

Democracy

 

 

 

Sail Oil

Kilkee

Kilkee in County Clare on the West Coast of Ireland has an amazingly scenic beach, Moore Bay.  The strand is a perfect horseshoe open to the vastness of the North Atlantic.  On the north fringe of the beach is a small pier and boat slip used by the local fishermen.  Fishing is heavily weather dependent and Kilkee is not a bay in which you can keep a fleet due to it’s exposure to Western Storms.  And most of the storms on this coast are Western Storms.

Growing up I spent many years on holidays in Kilkee and our days were planned around the tides.  We went swimming almost every day.  If the tides were high we would walk out the headland to the North side of the bay to Byrne’s Cove.  For low tide days the pollock holes came into play, natural rock pools that lie just below this photo above on the bottom left corner.

The long channel gives some protection to Moore Bay, but not much.  I have seen breakers ten feet tall on the beach.

Sail Oil was a nickname given to the local village idiot.  That term is not used these days, but Jerry McDermott filled that role in the town.  He attempted to be a fisherman, but had the good sense to remain on his little boat within the bay so he didn’t catch a lot.

My oldest brothers went out in his currach with him once when they were young teenagers.  Along the way they encountered a basking shark, the second biggest fish in the world.  Basking sharks are enormous but placid plankton feeders.  When the boys tried to attract the shark by splashing their hands in the water poor Sail Oil had a meltdown.

If they had a good catch the real fishermen would toss Jerry a few mackerel or pollock to sell on the street corner beside Hickey’s Guesthouse.  When he gathered a few shillings he would nip into May Naughten’s Pub for a pint or two.  When the money ran short he would throw cow eyes at the locals and tourists in the hope of scamming a free pint.

He had a wooden pole with a bent metal hook for crabbing at the Pollock Holes.  Apparently he knew all the best spots for the plate sized brown crabs you can find there.

After storms he would walk the strand beach-combing for anything valuable that might have washed ashore.  That was how he found the mysterious cylinder that was behind the Thresher Hoax.  But that’s another story.