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?

 

Food Island

Clonmacnoise_castle_and_cattle

Ireland is a food island.  We have this fantastic mild climate, with a long spring and autumn and an incredible growing season.  Cattle and sheep thrive on fresh grass, and we have a very short wintering period.  This makes Ireland ideal for production of Beef, Dairy and Lamb.  The byproducts of the dairy industry supply inputs for pig and fowl rearing.

We also have a great climate for growing barley.  Ireland sits at the western end of the “beer belt” which stretches to Slovakia and includes the UK, north eastern France, the Benelux, Germany, southern Poland and the Czech republic.  In this belt you can grow good malting barley and make great beer, and whiskey.  Go south of the beer belt and the climate lends itself to grapes, so you get wine and brandy.  Go north of the beer belt and you are into grain alcohol country, where they produce various versions of Aquavit or Vodka in Scandinavia Poland, Russia and the Baltic Republics.

Given Ireland’s unique position on the Atlantic we SHOULD have the least polluted food production system in Western Europe.  At a political level this should be a number 1 priority.  It has not been!  We have seen scandal after scandal as standards have been allowed to slip.  We have adopted industrial food production short cuts from the USA, Britain and Central Europe.  This has to stop.  Irish food should be the purest food in the world.  We should concentrate on value add, not on mass production.  We should be the envy of food producers everywhere.  The badge of Ireland on food should be synonymous with purity, nature, traditional production, humane farming practices, free range, fed on grass watered by Atlantic rainfall.

Irish beef should command prices higher than Kobe beef.  We are nuclear free and we don’t house our cattle for most of the year and feed it on “unnatural” feed mix.

Irish lamb should be trademarked and should command a far higher cachet than New Zealand lamb which has circled the globe and accrued an enormous carbon debt.

Irish dairy should be seen for what it is – a pure conversion of unsullied Atlantic rains, through grass fed herds, into pristine milk, cream, butter and cheese.

Any farmer, producer or food manufacturer who threatens the image of the food island of Ireland should be dunked head first in a slurry pit.  It should be a form of public entertainment, designed to underline the importance of our reputation.

Inexpensive Progress; by John Betjeman

Encase your legs in nylons,
Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul;
Away with gentle willows
And all the elmy billows
That through your valleys roll.

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

Destroy the ancient inn-signs
But strew the roads with tin signs
‘Keep Left,’ ‘M4,’ ‘Keep Out!’
Command, instruction, warning,
Repetitive adorning
The rockeried roundabout;

For every raw obscenity
Must have its small ‘amenity,’
Its patch of shaven green,
And hoardings look a wonder
In banks of floribunda
With floodlights in between.

Leave no old village standing
Which could provide a landing
For aeroplanes to roar,
But spare such cheap defacements
As huts with shattered casements
Unlived-in since the war.

Let no provincial High Street
Which might be your or my street
Look as it used to do,
But let the chain stores place here
Their miles of black glass facia
And traffic thunder through.

And if there is some scenery,
Some unpretentious greenery,
Surviving anywhere,
It does not need protecting
For soon we’ll be erecting
A Power Station there.

When all our roads are lighted
By concrete monsters sited
Like gallows overhead,
Bathed in the yellow vomit
Each monster belches from it,
We’ll know that we are dead.