Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

Tag: ireland

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?


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.



My Ireland

Brings a lump to my throat when I re-watch it. Yeah. I want to go back.


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.


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.






Rent controls damage housing supply in Ireland

The latest Daft.ie report on the state of the Irish property rental market has shown that the supply of rental homes is in free fall:

“In Dublin, between 2008 and 2012, there were an average of almost 5,200 properties available to rent at any one time. Since 2012, this has fallen again and again. As of February 1st, there were fewer than 1,400 properties available to rent – in a city of over half a million households, more than a third of whom rent.”

The problem of a collapse in building since the bubble burst in 2008 has been exacerbated by the government introducing rent controls. A large section of voters appealed for something to be done about spiralling rents. I am not sure if they were primarily Labour voters, but with Labour facing a collapse in popularity, and having their Deputy Leader – Alan Kelly, in charge of the relevant Environment portfolio they forced their coalition partner to take action. So they took a “lets do something quick” politician’s approach, and decided to go after the easy option of banning the symptom – “rent increases are prohibited”.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

H. L. Mencken

This is a classic complaint about politicians. That faced with a complex problem they go for the fast, solution, one that they can quickly identify as “we took action”.

Except this is not a complex problem. The property rental market is simple to understand. The issue is supply and demand. Demand is soaring, and supply has failed. This is something the likes of Daft.ie have been saying for years. Curtailing rents does not fix the underlying issue.

And it is not like there is a difference of opinion between economists in the left and right on this. It is one of the few areas of consensus between them – rent controls look nice in the short term (probably a few weeks) but encourage landlords to leave the market, reducing supply, encourage poor use of the remaining space, and benefit sitting tenants over those that are trying to get established – so it is another tax on the young (a topic I will come back to on this blog).

And you just have to look at the places where rent controls are implemented to see how toxic they are for a housing market. Like, em, Stockholm where I live. Rent controls offer you a decent place, at a low price. If you can get a primary lease. Except the waiting list for those is years. In popular neighborhoods it is decades*. Almost everyone is forced to look for a grey secondary lease where rents are significantly higher, demand is massive (the local equivalent of Daft doesn’t even show pictures of properties when they know people will rent them anyway), and supply is totally constrained. The actual result of rent controls is lack of supply, high rents, and young people (and those arriving in the country) getting penalised.

Why am I ranting about this? Because it is election time. And a scary number of candidates are saying that they back even stricter rent controls. If you want to fix the rental market in Ireland (and I totally agree it is broken) then they need to be challenged on the door step. Rent controls look nice in the short term. But ultimately everyone loses out. And the longer they go on the worse they make the situation. The focus needs to be on supply. Reject candidates offering you quick fixes that don’t fix!

I’ll see can I get another post up tonight with what I think needs to be done instead.

*  Last summer a person got an apartment in a place they have been waiting on since 1989!


Irish journalists get worked up about Privacy – when it is theirs

Irish journalist are getting in a tizzy over some of their own having being monitored by the Gardaí (Police). Except they never seemed to care when the government put the entire country under surveillance in contravention of European Court of Justice  rulings. So much for the fifth estate. And kudos to Karin Lillington to pointing out their hypocrisy.


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