The Truth about Ireland
I know that I'm going to get flak over this, but it has to done!!! I've had it up to here <points at region just below chin> with mushy mushy Irish sites. So here it is, the "truth" about Ireland, as I see it! (Truth, like beauty, exists only in the eye of the beholder). The opinions expressed here are my own and are based on personal observation (in other words they have not been stolen from books or other websites). These thoughts will be added to as time and motivation permits.
small island, measuring approximately 300 miles from top to bottom
and 150 miles across. In English it is known as "Ireland"
or in the native language "Éire".
Some (obviously non-natives) state that it is in the centre of the world (indeed the universe). In reality, it is situated in the northeast Atlantic Ocean, on the western fringe of Europe. Some folks say that it's off the east coat of the U.S.A. More properly, if you want to subscribe to that notion, it is actually off the east coat of Canada - but it's a LONG way off. In technical terms the island is bounded by the latitudes 51 - 56 degrees North and the longitudes 5 and 11 degrees west. This means that it is as far north as the southern parts of Alaska and Moscow. We share (plus or minus an hour or so) time zones with Portugal, Casablanca and most of West Africa. In summary, we are in the middle of nowhere.
The population of Ireland is about 100 million (300 million in and around March 17). Of this number about 4 million actually live on the island. The rest are on leave of absence - long may it last. Of those resident, approximately 51% are female, 48% male with the balance missing in action.
Officially the climate is "temperate". This is because the island is bathed by the warm Gulf Stream. However, this description does not do justice the the real life experience of Irish weather. Average temperatures range from 0 - 10 degrees C (32 - 50 F) in winter and 12 - 20 degrees C (55 - 68 F) in summer. Of course the extreme lows and highs can be breached and I have personally experienced -10C up to 30C - but not often. But that still doesn't tell the whole story. Ireland has a "soft" climate. That is to say, that even though the amount of rainfall is lower than many warmer climes, it manages to spread itself out to cover the maximum possible number of days each year. It's also windy. So when asked "what clothes should I bring to wear in Ireland in December / March / July / October", my reply is always "all of them".
Ireland is often childishly described as being like a saucer or soup bowl - flat in the middle and raised at the edges. This is not quite true. There is a central plain, much of which is occupied by the Bog of Allen. There are mountains around much of the coast, but these are not "mountains" as most people would expect them. The tallest is a mere 1000 meters (3300 feet). There are also plenty of inland mountains. The major river is the Shannon which rises in Leitrim, drains most of the midlands and exits into the Atlantic through the Shannon Estuary between counties Limerick and Clare. The Shannon is the longest river in Ireland or Britain. The river nowadays is mainly used for leisure purposes, but it has quite a history. Following the defeat of the Jacobites by the Williamites at the battle of the Boyne in 1691, James's army regrouped at Athlone on the west bank of the Shannon and a pitched battled ensued across the river. Again the Williamites won and following further battles at Aughrim and Limerick (also on the banks of the Shannon) the Jabobites were finally subdued. Two major canals (the Royal and the Grand) were built between Dublin and the Shannon, or one if its tributaries and in former centuries these represented the main form of transportation between the capital and the midlands. The first trans-Atlantic air flights employed huge sea-planes which landed and took off from Foynes in the Shannon estuary. The power of the river has also been harnessed by a hydro-electric plant at Ardnacrusha. Sadly many parts of the river and its lakes are polluted today, mainly by run off from farm land. High levels of nitrogen promote algal bloom.
According to statistics, 95% of the population of Ireland (that's the Republic part - more of this anon.) is Catholic. (On a side note, if there are "lies, damn lies and statistics" isn't it also true therefore that there area "lairs, damn liars and statisticians"?? It was, in fact, a statistician who brought this to my attention). The truth is that even in my lifetime, churches that used to struggle to cram in the multitudes every Sunday, now sit half empty on the Sabbath. The Church in Ireland, in common with the government and just about every other sector of Irish life) has been riddled with scandal and controversy, ranging from paedophile priests, bishops and priests with children, child and adult abuse in church institutions and so on. The net result is a severe lack of faith among the faithful. Ask an Irishman today what his religion is and he'll most likely tell you "I'm an agnostic, thank God".
tell you what, I don't have any more of an inside track on our
patron saint than anyone else, but I know a line of rubbish when I
see it. For example, from "authoritative" sources I have it
that he was born in Scotland / Wales / England / Cornwall / France.
Most agree that he was the son of a wealthy Roman official, but
others claim his daddy was a Briton and a churchman and his
grand-daddy a priest (now there's an auspicious beginning to the
church in Ireland). Almost all sources suggest that he was captured
during a raid by Irish pirates / brigands / robbers / ne'er-do-wells
who sold him into slavery in Antrim. But Irish folklore as recorded
by the Annalists (who were invariably priests) attribute his capture
to Niall Mór (Niall of the Nine Hostages) who was a a bit of a
step above pirate, being High King of Ireland. And, as his name
suggests, Niall had a tendency toward taking hostages rather than
slaves, so Patrick's Daddy either wasn't as rich as is claimed, or
didn't give a toss about his son, as he apparently didn't or couldn't
fork over the ransom. It is generally agreed that Patrick was sixteen
when captured and remained in Ireland for six years, after which time
he escaped. But his six years in Ireland had apparently imbued him
with the, now legendary, Irish homing instinct. Rather than taking
the short trip from Scotland / Wales / England / Cornwall / France,
he decided on the scenic route (another Irish trait) and came back
via Rome, becoming a priest en route. On fire with the Christian
spirit, he returned to Ireland to convert the pagan natives, which
task he achieved singlehandedly, using various forms of trickery
including snake banishing, bonfire lighting and slight of hand with
shamrocks. By the time of his death, the whole island was converted
and the Irish went on to further convert the rest of the world!
Sorry, but this simply doesn't wash. Though Ireland is not big, there
is no way that one man could walk it in a lifetime, taking sufficient
time to convert everyone he met along the way. My gut feeling on
Patrick is that he was probably a good story teller. The native Irish
liked nothing more than a good story - in fact the same holds true
today. The story of Christianity, even if you are not Christian, is a
good one. I can picture in my mind's eye Patrick sitting around the
fire in the evening relating the stories of the bible to the locals
of the day and their being fascinated by them. The Irish never had
much of a written tradition and employed bards to pass down their
folklore. After hundreds of years of spinning the same yarns, these
guys must have beeen thrilled to have a new story to tell. I have to
believe that this is how Patrick managed to spread his message. As it
spread, it became intermingled with the local lore, so Yule became
Christmas, the goddess of Spring was replaced by Mary (later
repersonified as Saint Brigid), etc. I'd need Donna here to give me
the entire list of "pagan" festivals that have been
christianised. Side note: the Roman Church was very much male
oriented, but the Celtic Irish viewed men and women as equal, which
view persisted in Brehon Law up until the arrival of the Normans in
the 12th century. I am convinced that it was the Irish missionaries
who later spread out all over Europe, that elevated the position of
women within the church and elevated Mary and the female saints to
The official unit of currency in Ireland is now the Euro which has replaced the Irish Pound (in the Irish language Punt - pronounced "poont"). However, the REAL until of currency in Ireland is the "brown envelope". This requires some explaining. Ireland has more bureaucracy per head of population than most countries (this is opinion and not backed up by lies, damn lies or statistics). Because of the multi-layered nature of this bureaucratic system, most issues that require handling become caught up ever increasing circles of shuffling and buck passing. This includes issues such as, but not limited to, planning permission, issuing of permits for various purposes and a whole series of other activities which I may not mention for fear on ending up in court. It seems that the only way to extract oneself from the infinite vortex is by waving a brown envelop (filled with cash) at an appropriate section of the bureaucracy Strangely, everybody in Ireland has known about this for many years - nay decades, hence my surprise at the national shock when it was revealed that a form Taoiseach (that's Prime Minister in English) received 8.5 million in hard currency (brown envelopes) over twenty years.
There are two
political parties in Ireland - the ones that are in and the ones that
aren't. Every few years we have an election and even though people
may vote for change, the ones that are in go on doing the same as the
last ones that were in, even if the ones that are in now are the ones
that were out before, even though they promised that that wouldn't.
In other words, we are no different than any other country in the
world. The ones that are in claim the credit for everything that is
going well as do the ones that are not in (on the basis that is is
all because of what they did when they were in). The ones that are
not in blame the ones that are in for everything that is not quite
right, while the ones that are in say it is all because of the mess
they inherited from the one that were in but are now not in any more.
In truth, very few of them could organise a good dog fight, let alone
run a country (albeit a small one). Here's an interesting statistic -
if the USA had as many Congressmen per head of population as we have
TDs (Teachta Dala - Members of Parliament), there would be about
10,000 of them! But back to explaining politics. Ireland (the bit
that's not part of the UK - I will get to that part - I promise), has
a President that is elected every seven years (unless the President
manages to bag a nice job with the United Nations in the meantime). A
President can serve up to two terms then retire on a big pension. The
President has no power and is essentially a guardian of the
Constitution. Mostly the President goes around opening festivals and
the like. An exception the this general rule was former President,
Mary Robinson, who went around the world visiting poor countries and
being high-profile in a most unprecedented manner. She landed a big
job with the U.N. There are two houses of the Oireachteas
(irr-ock-tass) - the Seanad (pronounced shannadd meaning Senate) and
the Dail (pronounced Dawl meaning lower house). The Senate is just
plain weird. Very few people get to vote for senators - I do, because
I am a University graduate, but most people don't. It's quite an
exclusive club and apart from being a University graduate, I'm not
sure what else you can do to get a vote. The vote doesn't mean much
anyway, because the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) gets to nominate
fifteen (I think) senators, which ensures that whoever is in, is also
"in" in the Senate. It's not quite democracy, but it sure
keeps the brown envelopes on one side of the house. The Dail or Lower
House is where real democracy can be seen. The various political
parties nominate candidates at election time (this nomination process
itself it a real eye opener - party branches elect their nominees and
if headquarters doesn't like the result, they "impose"
their own candidates). Then the general public get to pick from the
list that is presented to them. Of course, if you are not a member of
any particular party (and that's most of us) then you have no input
into the candidate selection process. Therefore, you only get to vote
for who "they" think you should be allowed to vote for.
Ireland uses a voting system known as "proportional
representation" which involves "multiple seat
constituencies" and "transferrable votes". Not only
that, but the number of seats (jobs) available in each constituency
varies from three to five. So, instead of voting "X" for
the guy you like, you get to vote "1", "2",
"3" .... for the guy you like best, second best and so on.
The nice thing about this is that you can really insult a candidate
you don't like by giving him your "27". So, you might have
20 candidates fighting for 3, 4 or five seats. They don't knock at
your door looking for your vote, but rather for your "number
one" (or your "number two" if they think you're joined
at the hip to another candidate. When the votes are counted,
candidates need to reach a "quota" number to get elected.
This "quota" is determined by a complex formula which is
essentially based on the number of valid votes divided by the number
of candidates (plus one to the power of the number of brown envelopes
in the voting box). When all the "number ones" are counted,
any candidate that has more than the quota is elected - but that's
not the end of it! The votes he has over and above the quota are
called his surplus and these are up for grabs by the other
candidates. They take the surplus, and look at the "number
twos" - giving them to the other candidates as dictated by the
voting pattern. When they run out of surpluses, they start
eliminating the candidates with the lowest number of "number
ones" and redistribute their votes in accordance with the
"number twos". This whole process is repeated with number
"threes", "fours" and so on until the required
number of candidates have been elected. If you have actually read
this far, I have no doubt that you are asking "why have they got
this daft system". Well, the official answer is that it ensures
that smaller parties and independents have a better chance of being
elected with this type of system than with a straight vote set up.
The real reason is that the system is so complicated, that it
requires a huge amount of bodies to administer, count and supervise.
This means more jobs for Irish people and wider distribution of the
tax take - in other words, it's another way to waste tax payers'
money. The nice thing about it is that even Microsoft, with all its
resources, couldn't possibly write a computer program that could
count the votes.
Independents can play a a more significant part in politics in Ireland than is most other countries. In recent years it has occurred more than once that non-party candidates have held the balance of power. The Dublin TD Tony Gregory, held out for a major inner city development plan before he agreed to support the government of the day. Not only did he hold out, but he won and the results can be seen in Dublin city today. In my own current constituency, a Mr. Foxe (sorry, but I forget his forename) campaigned on the single issue of an upgrade of Roscommon Hospital and won. The government was forced to accede to his wishes in return for his support.
The Irish race is pure Celtic. Ahem!!! In fact, prior to the arrival of the Celts, sometime around 500BC, Ireland was populated by somewhere between five and seven other racial groups (some that I can remember are the Parthelonians, Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg and Tuatha de Dannan). I find it unlikely that successive settlers obliterated the pre-existing population, so racial intermixing must have occurred. Since then, we have seen the coming of the Vikings, Normans, English and Scots as well as less extensive "invasions" by Spanish, French, Huguenots, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Chinese, Africans, and so on. If anyone wants to argue this point with me, they will first have to convince me that Phil Lynott wasn't Irish.
is a personal rant - just ignore it if you wish. I am SICK of
websites that promote Celtic designs such as (and I quote from one
such site without wishing to single it out from the many similarly misguided)
itself is not one big joke, then it certainly has generated plenty of
the same. One thing, however, that you must understand, is that the
only people permitted to tell Irish jokes are the Irish. So if you
are American, British, French, Polish, Russian, etc., bugger off and
tell jokes about your own country. And ... if you choose to ignore
this warning, at least tell them properly, for example, the correct
joke is ...