Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

Tag: ireland (Page 1 of 2)

“The Graves are Walking” – a review

One of my pleasures when back in Ireland is wander around some book shops for an hour or two. And when I come out I am slightly more stressed about my luggage allowance for the return trip as I may will have a few extra kilos to carry with me.

My book haul from last August.

It is not too hard to get English language books in Sweden. Though they can be expensive, and the selection is never as good. But I do love going into a book shop and picking up, and skimming, and coming away with 5 or 6 treasures to add to the stack on my bedside locker.

For a while I have wanted to do some reading about the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1840s. Obviously an Irish bookshop would be a better place to get books on that subject. But I was surprised to find that there are relatively few books available. Most Irish bookshops only have a handful, and often they were very local in subject matter. It can be a bit difficult to find something that is well regarded, and covers the full breadth of the famine across the country.

The two most recently published books (that were widely reviewed) were from 2013. One is “The Famine Plot” by Tim Pat Coogan. And the other is “The Graves Are Walking” by an American historian – John Kelly.

If you don’t know of him, Tim Pat Coogan is a well known, but controversial historian in Ireland. He has written a number of well researched, and well received books on events in Irish history. But he has strong, and sometimes contentious opinions on the topics he writes about. For that reason I decided I would go with a potentially more balanced take in John Kelly’s book.

I bought the book last summer but I found I kept putting off reading it. Having an interest in history, and spending plenty of time in the west you see a lot of evidence of the Ireland that was destroyed by the great famine – ruined stone cottages. Lazy beds where you think no person could ever have farmed anything. The famine graves. I find it moving. Though it can be hard for the mind to appreciate the scale of the catastrophe that happened. Every so often you hear some little thing that reaches you about it. Like when my father pointed out that Ireland is probably the only country in the world has a lower population today than it did 150 years ago. Demographically we still have not recovered.

Before Christmas I finally started reading it. I knew it would be emotionally difficult. I didn’t expect if to be so frustrating.

The books is well researched, and well written. As I read I felt it was opening up vistas to Ireland of 1845, and the horrors that were occurred. But it also leaves much unaddressed, and it came away with loads of questions.

After a good summary and historical background to the Ireland of the 1840s, Kelly quickly gets into the the failure of the potato crop. He shows how the press and the government quickly realised there was a significant problem. And he spends much of his tile going into great detail about the relief works that were started. He talks about immigration during the famine, and has many anecdotes about the death and suffering of those years. But the impression I came with was that in many ways this is half a book.

There is a problem when looking at the period. The peasants who were doing most of the dying were poor and illiterate, so they left few first hand accounts. Their experiences usually have to be recounted by others. But the book does not give you much of a feeling a personal, or even at a high level for the people who were actually suffering and dying. There are snapshot glimpses from those that observed them at the time. But even the big picture of what was happening to them seems incomplete. There is little to no information about the actual severity of the famine. It is not clear if anyone died in 1845. You can’t tell how much worse was 1847 to 1846?

And weirdly having spent 330 pages covering the first three years of the famine up to the end of 1847, the book suddenly ends. You have to go into the afterword (4 pages long) to see that the starvation, deaths, evictions, and suffering continued at a huge rate until 1850. I finished it and was left wondering “where is the rest of the book? Was this the first volume of a larger work?”

If your interest is limited to the British government’s response to the famine then there is a huge amount of detail. Most of the book is concerned with the relief efforts, and the politics around them. Understandably that is the area with a wealth of original documentation. But if feels like the people who were dying, the communities and the way of life that were shattered are barely touched on. It is like a book about a war that spends all its time writing about logistics and supplies and generals, rarely mentioning the civilians and soldiers experiencing it day to day.

Overall I would have to say that if you want an account of the Great Famine – one that covers the whole duration, and the national impact, then this is not the book to read. And personally I still need to find a book that gives me that picture. So with some hesitations I have ordered Tom Pat Coogan’s book.

I will finish with a mention of the genocide question. There seems to be a lot of debate as to whether the famine, and the actions of the British government at the time constituted an act of genocide. After reading one flawed book I certainly am not about to offer an opinion on that. But I do know that the book that is on its way to me has an opinion on that question…

[2020 Target: 8/52. 4,220/25,000]


Britain as Canada (or how to live as #2 to a much bigger and more powerful neighbour)

This was an interesting read. 

There is a major difficulty though. As the article says:

Canada’s understanding of its role in the world is one of its core strengths. “No Canadian ever kidded himself that we were a great power,” he said. “No such memory clouds our thinking.”

But that is one of the great difficulties Britain has. Too many in Britain (at all levels of society and government) still see Britain as a global power. It was inherent to the whole concept of Brexit. Clinging to it was one of the drivers of a desire to depart from the EU. There is little chance that those people would now take a realistic assessment of their diminished role on the global ladder. That would just negate so much of the justification for Brexit in the first place. 

It is one of the many reasons why Brexit is an illusionary destination. And having achieved it, the UK will remain trouble with itself for a long time to come.

It was nice as well to see further recognition of the blinder that was played by the Irish government and diplomatic service:

In Britain’s negotiations with Ireland over Brexit, some senior politicians in London were dismissive of the effectiveness of Irish diplomacy. One cabinet minister, who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, told me that Ireland was a small country, which meant that the quality of its ministers could not match that of those in the U.K.. And yet this attitude proved part of London’s undoing in the negotiations, which saw Ireland win more of its objectives than Britain did.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin deserve a huge amount of kudos for the work that has been done. I know a few people from the embassy here in Stockholm, and I like to praise them for their work on this when I meet them. It’s easy to bash the government and civil service at times. But they need to be recognised for they excellent work as well!

[2020 Target 2/52. Words 850] Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Using the weather to torture Brits and Dutch…

My Christmas visit to Ireland will end in the morning. Sweden should be nice and cold when I get there. Which is as well as my New Year plans for cross country skiing will work better in snow than mud. While I was back I enjoyed some nice Atlantic winter weather – heavy downpours, strong winds, and sometimes both at once. It’s why, despite the rain, umbrellas are not popular here,  unless you like running down the street!

Swedish summer houseI do miss the big storms you get in Ireland, and the violent Atlantic they unleash. As a child I fondly remember driving out to the Clare coast to look at huge storm waves crashing into the land. When I moved to Sweden I discovered that in the Stockholm Archipelago people’s summer houses are built right down to the water’s edge. This messed with my head for a long time. In Ireland you build high, and build far back from the water – if you want to still have a house come the spring!

Irish coast houseExperiencing and being able to deal with the worst of Atlantic weather does seem to be something we take perverse national pride in. A few years ago I was in Plano Texas and my phone woke me in the middle of the night with a weather warning. Winds of 70mph were expected, and I was advised to take shelter immediately! Two things went through my mind. The first was WTF Texas? Take shelter for 70mph? We hardly bring the washing in off the line for that in Ireland! And secondly – I need to figure out how to disable bloody push alerts on my phone.

Possibly because people are a little too blase about weather warnings, or just to make their work sound a bit cooler, the Irish and British met services agreed in 2015 to jointly name the big Atlantic storms. Each year they draft a list of 26 names for the coming winter. Storms of sufficient intensity (you know, the sort of ones where they send out Teresa Mannion) get their own name. And if they are sufficiently powerful, then the name is gifted to posterity, and retired from the long term rotation.

The Irish and UK met people have been having so much fun with this, that the Dutch met service asked to join in. So for this winter they contributed characteristically Dutch names like Gerda, Jan, and Piet to the 2019/20 list, alongside Atiyah, Francis, and the very ironic Noah!

Now English and Dutch are Germanic languages, and Irish/Gaelic is a totally different language family. Which means pronunciation can work very differently. So it did occur to me that we could really have a bit of fun here.

Imagine Met Eireann insisted that we had to have quintessentially Irish names in the list. Names like Aoife, Blathnaid, Caoimhe, Daithí, Eoghan, etc. Across the UK and Netherlands, professional weather forecasters and members of the public would be trying to figure out – how they hell are these pronounced? Or are the Irish just fucking with them?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Of statues and aero-nauts

Richard CrosbiePublic statuary in Ireland is a mixed bag. But I would like to nominate this statute of Richard Crosbie (the first man to fly in Ireland when he made a baloon ascent) located in Ranelagh gardens as the most god awful piece of crap commissioned in the country.
Now Rory Breslin is a well regarded sculptor, but this piece, put up to commemorate Crosbie’s flight, is junk. I don’t know was the design imposed on him, but…
It is supposed to represent Crosbie’s youthful curiosity, and interest in flight. But he flew in 1785. So no one would have known what a paper air plane was. And propellers would not make their first appearance (on ships) for another 40 years. And as for putting one on a peaked cap?
The whole thing is twee, affected, and artificial. I cringe whenever I see it.
Far better to remember Crosbie’s literal rise and fall by reading about his life here. 


Blasphemy –

Here is a list we can be happy that Ireland comes last on. But we should be a lot happier if we were not on it at all. Someone has taken the list of countries that have blasphemy laws – and then ranked them by the degree to which they are enforced. Regrettably Ireland is on the list, and will remain so until we are let vote through a change to the constitution. But at least there is recognition that the laws we have are token and not enforced.

Blasphemy is either:

  • An imaginary offence against an imaginary being
  • A real offence against a supernatural being who surely can take care of the punishment him/her/itself later when the blasphemer turns up in front of them after their death.

Of course it more usually is:

  • A way for one group to dominate and dictate to a weaker one within a society.






Time to stop the unquestioned reverence of 1916

There was an article today in the Irish Times, from the descendent of a person who fought in the Easter Rising. He pointed out that “sharing the glory of ancestors is a rational as sharing their guilt”. This needs to be said a lot more in Ireland. We have a worrying tendency to place these heirs on a pedestal, and defer to their views and opinions as if they were the men and women of 1916. This is of course daft. And it is the sort of hereditary privilege that republicanism (actual republicanism and not the Sinn Fein sort) is against.

It is a short step from there to questioning the whole reverence that the events of the 1916 rising are given in Ireland. The proclamation in particular is regularly wheeled out to decry some action action or inaction of the government. Or to bemoan how the aspirations that triggered the rising and the founding of the state have been betrayed or abandoned. Which is of course bollox.

1916 ProclamationYou can’t take a historical document like this, and use it to benchmark the progress of a modern country a century later*. People love to cherry pick and selectively quote bits of it. But you have to look at the whole, and put it in its proper context

The admirable sentiment about

“guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”

must be put alongside

“supported by gallant allies in Europe”

and note that those allies had broken treaties to invade a small neutral country where they then committed atrocities there.

The statement most often abused from the document is the one saying

“cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”

If only I had a euro for every time someone invoked it to talk about how not enough was being done to help children struggling with poverty, education issues, homelessness, special needs or whatever. These are real concerns, and ones the government should be addressing. But because this is the right thing to do, and not because of a faded document from the beginning of the last century. Especially when “children” here was a shorthand for “citizens”. Or should we insist the government needs to re-focus on ensuing our youth do more to live up to the call for:

the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good

The proclamation was a document written by a tiny unrepresentative group of people, who claimed to speak for the whole country. And while it has some admirable sentiments, more of them are questionable. And the whole thing is based on the idea that violence (and the regrettable deaths of innocents) is justifiable in pursuit of their goals. That alone makes it an anachronism today. And it certainly should not be constantly held up as the goal and height to which Irish people should be striving.

British troops on Moore streetWe should aspire to things, and decide how we want Ireland to be now, based on what we believe is right today. I would be very surprised if the men and women of 1916, good Catholics that most were, would have agreed with Gay Marriage, but modern Ireland voted overwhelmingly for it.

I recognise the sacrifice that was made, and acknowledge the part it played in the Ireland gaining it’s independence. But we have moved on. We can learn from the proclamation. But we should not be held captive to it.

* See also the US (pop 350 million) revering what a small number of rich white people (which included slave owners) wrote 230 years when it was a country of 2.5 million. Or the billions or religious who let their lives be dictated by what some tribes of itinerant bronze age goat herders wrote.


March 17 – lets be clear

I stopped off in a Dallas “sports” shop to pick up a baseball bat and a knife. If anyone refers to “Patty’s Day” near me today there will be a stunning and a disemboweling,

Happy St Patrick’s* Day to you where you are!


* Paddy’s Day is also acceptable.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

The need for trail equipment in Ireland

Yesterday I got into a discussion on Facebook about equipment being put on mountains to assist climbers and hikers. I clearly won the argument. Because despite being respectful and balanced, the Kerry Climbing group just chose to delete my comments. They don’t seem to like engaging with anyone who disagrees with their view point.

Trail shelter

Adirondock style shelter on a Swedish hiking trail

That view is that no one should put artificial aids in the mountains for climbers and walkers. No signs, no steps, boardwalks, or chains (used to help people on steep ground). Or rather not in Ireland. Because every Irish walker and climber who has spent time beyond the UK and Ireland has used these things. This hypocrisy is one thing that bugs me about this position. I was given a line about “Irish ethics” being different. But in 20 years of climbing and hiking in Ireland, other than a vocal minority, pretty much everyone I know would be happy with the idea of having trails in Ireland like you see elsewhere. And I have yet to see some of these fundamentalists refuse to use things in the few places they are in Ireland – like the bridge over the Dargle above Powerscourt waterfall for example.

The safety angle is the one most often cited: if you put these things in place then people who have no business in the mountains will come out, and get in trouble. Funnily enough that argument sounds exactly like the discredited “abstinence only” approach to sex education – the answer to young people having sex and getting pregnant is to tell them not to have sex.

The fundamentalists in each case are wrong. People will have sex, people will want to enjoy the mountains. So if you are worried about their safety then you have to be realistic and focus on doing what you can to reduce the risks. You recommend they go with experienced groups, who can teach them about navigation, mountain conditions, and so on. But you also lay out safe trails with transparent difficulty levels, provide signage to keep people from getting lost, and provide infrastructure to help ensure they don’t get caught out by difficult sections.

Erosion on Djouce

Erosion on Djouce from hikers.

The other benefit to all of this is the sustainability one. It would be better to direct hikers onto prepared trails that can take hundreds of walkers, than have them contribute further to erosion or have them open new paths as they try to avoid damaged areas.

The impression I get is that many of the objections are just elitist snobbery. They say “you are not fit to be in the mountains” and only those of the right calibre should use them. And this exclusionary attitude is damaging to the perception of the sport and the uplands as well. Why should the general public care about mountains and access issues if they are being told that these places are not for them to enjoy as well?

Boardwalk above Glendalough

Boardwalk above Glendalough

I am not arguing for trails and paths everywhere. I appreciate the wilderness feel of getting away from it all on unmarked routes as well. But popular areas (like Carrauntoohil), or sensitive ones where traffic has lead to damage (many locations in Wicklow) should have options that are equipped. This should be planned, and done to a high standard like the boardwalk above the Glendalough lake.

And those that then attempt to remove these items should not be praised, but should be treated as vandals.


The little things in life that make it all better

We moved into a new office on Monday. It’s more modern but also open plan and features hot desking everywhere. I hardly need to point out that all the studies show this sort of environment leads to increased sick days, staff turnouver, noise, stress, and distractions. While also reducing productivity, employee satisfaction and performance. It also sends a message to employees that they are seen as just another interchangable resource. But hey, it is about 30% cheaper so that’s all good in the end.

And it is a long way from the worst ever work space I had. Back in my Accenture days I had a length of shelf in the corridor of a client’s office. I worked there for a few months whenever I was in the office.

withsnowStill, if I get in early I can grab a desk with a nice view as we are on the 9th floor. This was it at 0800 on Monday.

withoutsnowThat’s Irish snow though. It manages to quietly sneak away when you are not looking. Four hours later it was all gone.

There was a moment of panic when I discovered that they had only stocked our caffeine stations with Lipton Early Gray tea (as well as the coffee of course). It would be a cold day in hell when I am reduced to drinking that. Fortunately I got a special delivery from home yesterday.

TeaMy productivity will go up a few notches tomorrow I think. Now if only I could get scones, and Ballymaloe relish delivered here as well.





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