Snail Success in Ireland

Eva Milka came to Ireland by accident in the middle of a tourism degree in her native Poland when her then boyfriend suggested she join him in a job interview for the newly opened Lyrath hotel in Kilkenny.  She got the job while he did not, and so she cast aside her degree to work in Ireland much to her parent’s disappointment.

‘It just felt it was the right thing to do,’ says Eva. ‘ We moved over and settled into Ireland but the one delicacy we could not find was escargot snails – so we set up a mini breeding farm using plastic containers in our one bedroom apartment in Kilkenny.’

The love of snails only grew and now Eva is looking for other pioneering spirits to join her in the growing snail business.

‘Four years ago my partner and I decided to look at farming snails professionally,’ says Eva. ‘We took one year to conduct research and development, the second to set up our infrastructure and for the last two years we have streamlined snail production, found distributors and are now looking at value added products through a processing plant in Greece.’

‘There are no facilities to do it here in Ireland,’ she explains. ‘In fact, we had to learn everything from scratch in Ireland as nobody had done it successfully before.’

Eva and her partner Eoin are now on a mission to help other would-be farmers setup their own snail farms. ‘We have done the hard work and can now provide a step by step guide for other people wishing to enter this industry,’ she says.

Diversification in farming is the way forward. A recent Teagas report from 2016 offers stark reading when it comes to viable farming incomes. There are 130,000 registered farmers of which 50,000 do not even make €8,000 a year.

‘An acre will raise a cow,’ says Eva. ‘But that same acre can raise 10 tonnes of snails at a market value of approximately €40,000. It is not a difficult sell.’

‘We have learnt the hard way what it takes to produce a quality Irish snail product,’ says Eva. ‘Even down to selecting the best snail species; Helix Aspersa Muller. We have tried other variants including the closely related Helix Aspersa Maxima but it was not as successful.’

Eva stresses that they had to learn how best to suit the snail to the Irish climate. ‘In Poland and France they have four defined seasons with plenty of warm nights – essential for the nocturnal animals. Here in Ireland we tend to oscillate between Spring and Autumn so it was harder to plan the maturation cycle at first.’

There are four main stages to snail production. The first is the mating and production of eggs. Start-up snail farmers can skip this bit in the first year if they prefer, making their baptism into snail farming easier and go directly to the purchase of the baby snails.

The snails mate in a warm chamber before being encouraged to lay their eggs through the introduction of soil. Each snail may lay up to 150 eggs. These are gathered manually using a plastic spoon and placed in the incubation chamber. This is a small area where the stacked boxes of snails are kept at 20 C where they hatch after 15 days.

At stage three the tiny snails are placed in a poly tunnel to fatten. They will stay here for eight weeks.

Stage four is where the snails are moved into the field. Just one acre can accommodate 1.2 million snails and produce 10 tonnes of snail meat. The acre is laid out with tilted wooden supports, like pallets propped up, which both protect the snails from adverse weather and allow dry food to be place on top for when they come up to feed at night.

Netting covers the entire area and galvanised sheets primed with an electric fence on the border prevent the snails from escaping and birds and rats from entering.

Harvesting is done by hand and is, Eva admits, labour intensive. The snails are then purged, netted and exported. Breeding adults will be selected from the acre and placed in a hibernation room where they will sleep over winter until they woken in December to mate, beginning the cycle once more.

Eva has learnt the hard way in the past four years how to successfully farm snails and then to finding distribution to the untapped and huge demand on the continent. She wants to teach other farmers on small holdings to do the same and runs regular workshops to teach people everything she had learnt. These are run three times a month, cost €250 and last from 10am until 4pm. People attending the workshops are also encouraged to come and help as interns at critical times of the production.

She explains that the initial investment costs for 10tons production is approximately €24,000, of which baby snails account for €7,500. Year two these costs are eliminated as the farmer will now have their own breeding snails (approximately 25% of stock). Annual costs include feed, electricity, labour and maintenance and can be in the region of €17,000.

Baby snails cost 11 cent per thousand while mature breeding adults cost between 10 and15 cent per animal. Between 25 and 30 thousand breeders are required to populate an acre.

Sales of 10 tonnes of snails can achieve approximately 40,000 giving a net gross profit of €20,000.

The big distributors of snails on the continent are not interested in individual farms – they want to buy in bulk and this is where Eva is driving her business model – to create a Central Producer Hub of indigenous Irish snail farmers. She plans to keep Garryhill where the first farm is located as a research and development centre and move production to a joint venture in Kildare. She is also exploring the added value side of things creating products for wholesale and eventually direct to the public.

Snail meat is very versatile, high in protein, low in fat and yet has high reserves of calcium and iron. It also has a very low carbon footprint making it a very attractive food source for the future.

‘Ten years ago no body ate avocados in Ireland,’ says Eva. ‘And now they are ubiquitous.  Over the past four years we have learnt everything there is to know about how to farm snails in Ireland. It is a very suitable climate (just look at your back garden, it is full of snails), there is access to land, clean water, and good soils. In addition, we are a farming country with an excellent international reputation for food. So, if the rest of the world can do it, we can do it as well. And we can do it better.’

For more information please visit http://www.gaelicescargot.com/

 

Sometimes a Farmer needs a nurse

First ran in Farm Ireland on June 5, 2017

Four years ago, the HSE in conjunction with the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) ran a pilot to provide a free heart health check for farmers in their shared place of work, the Mart. The pilot was initially met with some resistance and suspicion according to Marese Damery, health check manager with the IHF.

‘Farmers were reluctant to agree to appointments,’ she said. ‘Some were in fear of what it might cost, although we explained it was free, and others were in fear of what they might discover medically.’

The IHF is a charity and is 93% funded through public donations. The remainder comes in the way of government funds of which the HSE is partially responsible. Most years the charity screens in excess of 15,000 people across the country in communities, institutions and corporates. There is a panel of 26 nurses sourced from across the country and one mobile unit recently purchased to travel to more remote areas.

‘The idea of checking farmers in marts was genius,’ says Marese. ‘It made sense to reach out to more isolated members of society, especially as recent census figures shows the growing number of male, elderly farmers living alone. We wanted to see if we could make a positive impact on their health.’

The first step was to persuade marts around the country to open their doors to the visiting nursing staff. Auctioneers such as Joe Kinsella at Baltinglass Mart in Co Wicklow, was an early convert. ‘Working in a mart you can see the importance of the social aspect to our customers,’ says Joe. ‘Sometimes the bit of food and banter in the canteen, or simply the comradery before and after the live auction, is as important as the actual sale. In fact, many regulars come even when they are not buying or selling – they come for the company and the social aspect,’ he says.

The attendance of the nurses is well flagged before their day in the mart and some appointments made in advance but the majority of farmers are encouraged to attend opportunistically.

‘Some men can be shy,’ says Marese. ‘They can give excuses that they need to change out of their work clothes but if possible we just get them to wash their hands so we can to do the pin-prick cholesterol test.’

Each farmer is a given a full half hour with the nurse. In addition to checking for vital statistics for risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), the men are also questioned about their lifestyle, alcohol consumption and perceived levels of stress.

‘Our surveys held in the first two years of the project show that farmers are not as healthy as one might imagine,’ says Marese. ‘The introduction of quads and modern equipment means they were not as active as they thought. In addition, farmers tend to have late meals and large portions. All in all it combines to make the majority of men surveyed fit into the obese category.’

In one self-assessed measure on stress the majority of farmers, more than 60%, professed to being stressed some of the time while more than 16% felt stressed most of the time.

Joe is very keen to see the IHF visit his mart and while at the beginning they only had two clinics a year now they host four clinics annually to be able to offer a greater reach within the farming community.

‘It is well known that men, especially older men, are reluctant to visit the doctor,’ says Joe. ‘Add to that the rural l isolation and the peaks and troughs of the cattle and sheep market prices and sometimes farmers allow these trends to affect their health and wellbeing. And for many the mart might be their main social interaction during week.’

During the course of the health checks over the past four years almost 4,000 farmers have been checked in 43 different marts in 22 countries. This has proven vital as 77% of men surveyed were found to have 3 or more CVD risk factors based on objective measured health outcomes from the heart health checks. However, when the non-measured, self-reported health risks were added in, a startling 80.7% of farmers had four or more CVD risk factors.

In fact, more than 79.2% of farmers surveyed were advised to visit their GP as a result of the screening.

‘Our health check can be vital,’ says Marese. ‘Farmers are at high risk of being impacted by CVD conditions, but the good news is that by taking action they can reduce their risk by introducing new lifestyle measures. CVD is 80% preventable.’

Another important component of the Health Check is the tying up with local services pertinent to each region. ‘We try and make sure our nurses are as local as possible,’ says Marese. ‘Then we make sure that we can provide details on local services, link in with the local GP, find out where the nearest Men’s Shed is located and provide information on other supports such the HSE funded Rural Farmers Stress helpline.

‘There is a lot of help out there but sometimes a farmer needs some guidance,’ says Marese. ‘Sometimes a farmer needs a nurse.’

To find where your nearest Health Check is taking place, please click here 

What the Nurses Say:

Matt Malone having his medical checkup in Nenagh Mart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Kidd is a nurse with the IHF and has been working with the Healthy Heart Check since 2005. With a background in farming and also now married to a farmer, her rural experience is important in her work. She stresses at the outset though that she does not remember individual cases, that everything is confidential.

‘Men’s experiences of doctors are very different from women’s,’ she explains. ‘Across the board – regardless of occupation. Women tend to visit their GP as an adult for family planning advice, then if they get pregnant they visit the GP throughout the pregnancy and afterwards as they bring their baby in for the different injections and developmental checks. Thereafter, it is most often the mother who brings a sick child to the doctor, so they develop a relationship with them. Men don’t and as a consequence have a great fear of doctors, rather like the stereotypical fear of dentists regardless of gender.

‘In addition, farmers being self-employed are very busy, says Linda. ‘With my farming background I can understand what type of farming they are doing and be also be suggest making an appointment to see a doctor when things ease up.’

Linda also explains that farmers arriving into the mart can be very stressful. ‘Perhaps the animals have been collected at 6am, there is a lot of paperwork required and it has to be in order for the animals to proceed to sale. When the farmer agrees to see us, we also try to find out how they are.  One of the questions is about stress. A majority of farmers are very stressed and if we feel it is appropriate then we suggest they visit their GP.

‘Mostly the advice we give is medical,’ though she says.

On occasion Linda has met women in the clinic. Sometimes they might be farmers in their own right, sometimes farmer’s wives with a more indoor lifestyle. ‘We have found they are also less healthy than women of the same age in a different profession. Farming is a tough physical career. It can be cold and wet outside. When people come indoors they want food and they want it fast,’ says Linda. ‘This can lead to a culture of comfort food.’

Another delusion might be that a farmer thinks because they are outside all day they are healthy. ‘However, perhaps they are checking the herd which calls for a lot of observation and leaning over gates to check on animals,’ says Linda. ‘No farmer is going to rush into the middle of a field and potentially scare the animals. So I often suggest to a farmer to head out at the start of the day and walk the fastest they can to their furthest field. And from there to walk slowly back and check their animals as they go. At the IHF we suggest a brisk walk of about 30 minutes five times a week. This is one way of increasing exercise.’

There is one other area where farmers and farm hands suffer and that is diet. ‘In a previous generation, farmers and farm labourers would work on a farm and be fed by the woman of the house. This doesn’t happen anymore so the farmer and labourer head off to the nearest chipper for lunch,’ says Linda. ‘Again this is not healthy or beneficial for the farmers.’

As part of the IHF Linda encourages farmers to get out walk.  ‘If they bringing their children to GAA training or similar I suggest they walk the pitch rather than chat on the side line. At the end of the day being out in the open and in the fresh air is great but farmers need to get more exercise,’ she says.

Finally Linda makes one more cogent observation. ‘Before foot and mouth there were a lot of callers to farms – people delivering seed, products, provisions. That stopped during the scare and has largely not resumed. As a result there are very few callers to farms. If you are a single or widowed farmer living on your own there is no one calling anymore. And that can have huge negative impacts.’

Young Farmer spends his Communion Money on a Belted Galloway

This article first ran in Farm Ireland on May 1, 2017

Ewan Hannay is ten years of age. A bright talkative child he meets your eyes confidently and answers questions in a direct manner. Last April his parents held a party for his First Communion and he collected rather a lot of money in presents. When asked just how much, he answers ‘loads’ while his mother Linda tells me it was almost €900.

Most children faced with such loot might consider buying the latest X Box or games console. Indeed Ewan tells me his friend Cormac used his money to buy a Samsung tablet. However, Ewan had different plans. His tells me his father is Scottish and that he is named after Ewan McGregor but Ewan had his eye on another Scottish celebrity – this time a Belted Galloway

Ewan lives next to his uncle’s farm in Moneyteigue, near Aughrim in county Wicklow. Ever since he could talk he has said he wants to be a farmer – as well as a construction worker, a driver of a lorry and a horse rider. Basically all the careers followed by his uncle Tom. As soon as Ewan could walk he has joined his Grandfather TJ and Tom every Saturday to help out on the farm. His jobs, when asked he says, are to feed the sheep, calves and lambs. He is also responsible for putting clean straw into the pens.

Ewan is the middle child of Richie and Linda Hannay. He has an older sister Evie, 12, and a younger Esme, 3. He is autistic but carries his condition in a bright outward inquisitive fashion. Since arriving he has quizzed me on other interview subjects and seems disappointed I have not really interviewed anyone famous.  He proceeds to question me about the animals resident in my home, what musical instruments I might have and if I could show him pictures of everything. Within a short while I am no longer sure who is the journalist in our conversation.

Originally Ewan had thought of buying hens with his communion money but Linda pooh-poohed the plan as ‘they will only encourage rats,’ says Ewan. He then looked at Jacob sheep as a possibility before turning to the Scottish breed. ‘Dad had me hounded to buy a Scottish animal,’ chuckles Ewan.

Finding a Belted Galloway is not straightforward as numbers are low and owners reluctant to sell the colourful animals. Pedigree belted Galloways are black rough haired animals with a distinctive white belt. A hill grazing animal their numbers are growing with almost a thousand across the island north and south. They are docile animals with high meat yields. They enjoy easy calving and many dairy farmers will use a Belted Galloway bull for their heifers which has produced mixed offspring. However, while the pedigree herds only have the white belt, mixed cattle may have white socks or tails and are not to be confused.

Originally Tom scoured Done Deal for a suitable animal, placing an alert to ensure whenever one came up for sale they would be the first to know. However, a chance encounter with a neighbour introduced them to Ronan Delaney, journalist with the Farmers Journal and secretary of the Belted Galloway Breeders association. A phone call ascertained that he had a number of heifers for sale and arrangement made for a road-trip to Dunshaughlin in County Meath in November of last year.

Ewan recounts the journey for me. He did not sleep a wink the night before. They travelled in the two seater Land Cruiser so his grandfather had to stay home. Along the way Tom tried to distract Ewan by suggesting a detour to Tayto Park or even to go on the beer but ten year old Ewan was not to be swayed. They reached Ronan’s farm and were invited to go and look at heifers in the field. A bull was there too but Ronan assured Ewan that he was safe too.

‘I had a choice of two heifers and I chose Abigail,’ he tells me. After the selection was made they went indoors to enjoy a cup of tea and do the paperwork.

Ronan was very happy to sell the heifer to Ewan. He explains: ‘I am building my own herd, I have twelve currently, but when I heard Ewan’s story I was delighted to sell him a heifer. Ewan is deadly. He asks a thousand questions a minute. He absolutely loves his heifer and when we got into the house for the cup of tea he had another thousand questions to ask my mother.’

Ronan gave Ewan luck money and he spent that on sweets on the way home. He could not wait to show Abigail to his grandfather.

Ewan then arranged for Abigail to go in calf with a handsome Scottish bull called Park Perseus. The calf is due at the end of the year. ‘She looks a little fat already,’ says Ewan. He let her out onto grass this weekend and now she won’t come to the gate when he calls. ‘I am not sure what to call the calf as yet,’ he says. ‘If it is a girl maybe Oreo because they look the Oreo biscuits. I love Oreos.’

 

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Wear your Pants at all times!

First published in the Irish Independent on March 31

Earlier this month I attended a theatrical performance in the Courthouse Art Centre in Tinahely in County Wicklow. There were two short monologues, both performed by Cora Fenton, co founder of Call Back Theatre. The second piece was called Bonfire Night. It was narrated by a middle aged woman with a history of disappointments and left to care for her elderly father. It was bonfire night and she was heading out. Oh, and she had a gun. The monologue riffed backwards and forwards through her life but always seemed to come back to the gun.

It was very much Chekhov’s gun and we all knew it was going to be used. However, when the moment came it was totally unexpected and the audience reacted with a collective intake of breath.

The Courthouse is a tiny centre and sadly, due to clash with another drama festival in Wicklow, there were only ten people in the entire audience. So as to show solidarity with the actor I insisted to my friend and fellow writer that we sit in the front row. We were two feet from the actor.

That level of intimacy is very powerful. It is hard to know where the actor finished and I began. I noticed she directed a lot of her dialogue to my male friend. And every so often she would make eye contact with me – but it was still as though we were separated by Perspex with her on stage and me on my front row chair.

Last week we were all given a glimpse into theatrical nature of reality on BBC World News when Korean expert Robert E Kelly was live broadcasting a segment. Just as he began his report first one child opened the door behind him to gatecrash his broadcast, swiftly followed by another, amusingly twirling around in a baby walker like a lost car from a carnival waltzer. The two children were then quickly followed by a woman who scooped both up, but from a crouching position apparently to avoid the camera, but in fact making the spectacle look even weirder. Kelly glanced back once but continued talking, putting out his hand to push his toddler out of view.

The internet, that other arbitrator of what is real, went a bit mad. Who was the woman?  A nanny or wife? It turned out to be his wife. A number of copycat memes appeared next, the funniest being that of a woman in Kelly’s place but when interrupted by her children she manages to bounce them on her lap, check the Sunday roast, find odd socks and even detonate a bomb without missing a beat. The interest ended up with Kelly giving a press conference with his family. He acknowledged sadly that this video will probably be the opening line in his obituary and yes, he was wearing pants (the most asked question after if the woman was his wife or nanny).

This is not new of course, except in the way the internet pounces on its soft prey. Back in 1977 Angela Rippon, one of the first female BBC newscasters, caused a sensation when she joined Morecambe and Wise in a show. The scene began harmlessly enough, with Angela reading the news, before she pushed aside the desk, flashing her dancer legs and embarking on a routine that gave her enough credit to present Strictly Come Dancing.

Even the American Eagle from The Muppets knows news is an illusion. He gave a serious news broadcast in which he bemoaned that animals, and even birds, were shockingly naked under their fur and feathers. The scene closes with the Eagle realising it applied to him also and he slinks out of camera clutching his wings on the bits that might be exposed.

We all know the broadcasting is a form of entertainment, even when news is the diet, but we suspend belief when it is presenting in a formal setting. Kelly is a dad and husband working abroad and using Skype to present his reports. We don’t want to know he has a young family and we all hope he is wearing pants.

Maybe that is why Trump’s tweets are so disconcerting. It is not just the juxtaposition of serious policy with pure Hollywood entertainment, it is the timing. Trump often posts some of his more outrageous claims and taunts at silly o’clock in the morning. It is hard to see him at a desk making those tweets. It is much more likely he is standing in the kitchen, perhaps at the open fridge, perhaps in his non-existent dressing gown. But if Spicer is right then at 5am he may only be wearing a teeshirt or just his underwear. Or perhaps nothing at all. We don’t like to get our information from naked people, especially not the President of the United States of America. Put some clothes on for goodness sake, Sir.

The lines blur all the time but should we cross them? Prior to attending the theatre on March 10th I prepared a dish of what mostly consisted of garlic. To my ruination the fact was forcibly making itself clear during the performance. During the delivery of Bonfire Night and leading, had I but known it, to the black humorous denouement of the play, I reached forward and picked up my handbag. I slowly and quietly opened the zip and searched blindly for some chewing gum. Successfully I found my prize, extracted a pellet and stopped fouling the air with my garlic. I was still two foot from my actor and my gaze never left her face.

Afterwards in the pub the actor stopped to speak with us. She looked at me and remarked that I was in the front row. I confirmed that I was. Then she looked at me harshly.

She had been convinced, by my lifting my bag onto my lap, that I was about to leave the theatre. Operating as we were on a ten man audience my supposed departure would have been tragic. Even as she acted her role in front of me, inside she was screaming at me not leave, to wait for the killer line.

When reality punctures the mask of self-projection, the best we can ask for is to be wearing pants. I just hope the President is. Or at least he has read Tweet Naked by Scott Levy https://www.amazon.com/Tweet-Naked-Bare-All-Strategy-Boosting/dp/1599185156/

 

 

 

 

 

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Theresa finds handholding can turn to hand-wringing

First printed in the Irish Independent on Feb 6, 2017

The last time I had a special relationship with another person we did, I confess, hold hands. It is what special friends do to show their affection and is moreover tolerated in public, even by puritanical bystanders.I recall vividly that the hands were not small; they were warm and friendly, closing over my fingers in a comfortable fashion.

And that is why I watched with some small horror the scenes between Theresa May and Donald Trump, arguably the two great leaders of the free and English-speaking world. It was a first press conference and their smiles were wide for each other, both giving the open-mouthed braying hahahas of leaders in debate. She, smiling coyly over at Mr Trump as she answered for both, dismissing the gaps that lay between them and focusing on the ties that bind.

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Mr Trump on his part swirled his flat-topped Barnet Fair like a small boy in a shop. Looking this way and that and waiting to be offered his choice of confectionery.

Smile, smile, smile – the hallmarks of a special relationship. But it did not end there. Later as they walked, another visual cue of solidarity, his little hand sought out hers. Captured by an observant videographer, his fingers crawled over hers and in a sweet demonstration of the special relationship enjoyed by the two countries, by the two leaders, their fingers entwined.

But wait – that is not the handholding required between nations. I have never seen two world leaders cosy up into a handholding, ever. What were they thinking?

As Mrs May went home, she discovered more gaps between them, the ones she had tried to cover up in the press conference. The subsequent travel bans on citizens from Muslim-majority countries. Mr Trump had not deemed it important to tell Mrs May this little surprise was up his sleeve. She went home and straight into a storm of criticism from the opposition benches. Had she known Mr Trump was about to sign those executive orders? Was the handholding more of a walk of shame?

And what strange accident of fate decided that the two leaders of the English-speaking world had verbs as their family names? What is the universe playing at there?

Later, at the start of Black History Month, Mr Trump, with notes in front of him, spoke of Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist leader. He said: “Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognised more and more, I notice.”

People scratched their heads at this. Did he not know who Mr Douglass was? Later his press officer Sean Spicer added clarity to the remarks. Yes, he said, what the president meant was that more and more recognition is being given to Mr Douglass.

People scratched their heads even more at this explanation which offered no new insight. It was up to the descendants of Frederick Douglass to post a statement of 15 achievements in the ‘Huffington Post’. We are not sure if Mr Trump read them, but on balance I think we can safely say not.

Which brings me to the novel ‘Transatlantic’ by Irishman Colum McCann. This fantastical book traces in part the journey by Mr Douglass when visiting Ireland in 1845. For Mr Trump’s benefit, let me quickly summarise the events. Mr Douglass had escaped slavery in the south and moved into Maine, where slavery was abolished. There he penned a book on his life which made him a potential target for bounty hunters wishing to return him to his ‘owner’. Aided by the abolitionists, Mr Douglass left for a two-year lecture tour of Ireland and the UK.

Mr Douglass acknowledged that speaking in Europe would greatly increase the chances of his being heard in his native America. A self-taught man, Mr Douglass was charismatic and a powerful speaker. While on his travels around Ireland he met Daniel O’Connell. Mr McCann writes of a meeting of the two, now with Mr Douglass being called the Black O’Connell in Ireland.

Mr McCann writes: “Two days later, in Conciliation Hall, O’Connell brought him [Douglass] on stage and he thrust Douglass’s hand in the air: Here, he said, the Black O’Connell! Douglass watched the hats go up the rafters.”

And later, towards the end of that chapter: “O’Connell walked on stage and raised his [Douglass’s] hand in the air once more. The Black O’Connell he said again.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how world leaders, arguably the main leaders in the English- speaking world, should hold hands. Not in the sweet touching of fingers almost hidden from view but thrust into the air, on a platform, with a message to give. The cause of humanity is one the world over.

Unless your surname is a verb that can alternatively be happily employed in a whist drive or used onomatopoeically as slang for flatulence – and then anything goes.

We are in danger of sliding into a modern version of history that looks all too familiar

First published in the Irish Independent on 23 December, 2016

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George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, is credited with the sage observation that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Sound advice, to which I would add a codicil – those who write the history dictate the repetition and in that case, are we actually repeating what happened, or inventing a past to repeat?

I have been boring my friends and anyone who cares to listen for the past five years or so that we are sliding into a new history that looks very much like the old one. I have said it on live radio, in live pubs and at live dinner party conversations. I am like a parrot at this stage.

Now I see it on Facebook, arguably the caretaker of trends, where people quote historic lessons and provide modern parallels. The rise of the Third Reich is no longer a chapter confined to a history book; it is now a series of videos on social media where people are tracing clear and obvious parallels between Hitler’s monster rallies and Donald Trump’s election rallies.

Where the Star of David may have isolated a minority ethnic group, now the hijab or even skin colour marks a huge ethnic community. Within the predominantly Caucasian America and Europe, the “otherness” of Muslims is outed.

It is a strange thing to out an entire community. Can they be outed where they are in the majority? Are the roles reversed? Today I saw a Muslim restaurant in London offering to feed for free any homeless people on Christmas Day. How many non-Muslim restaurants are doing the same? But that is a rational question and we are dealing with a rise of behaviour and attitudes that seems to directly mirror the rise of the Third Reich, and by its very nature is not based in logic or common sense, but in fear and desperation.

But how we read our history is a twin-headed beast, and not to be taken at face value.

Among the many videos I have watched on Trump, I saw a particularly insightful one by a fictitious news reporter, Jonathan Pie. Created by the comedian and actor Tom Walker, his character is a brash, fast-talking reporter who does all his piercing comedy parody just before going live – talking to an invisible producer about how he feels before he reports.

There are several Trump videos, but the most searing one was produced the week of Trump’s victory. Pie is positively foaming at the mouth when he rants at his producer. Of course Trump won, he says. Trump won because the liberals let us down. Pie rants that the right wing did its thing while the left looked smugly on. Anyone not expressing a liberal viewpoint was labelled in terms far more damning than any clumsy right-wing demagogue might muster.

“Build a wall”, “make America great”, “give America jobs” all played a straight game, while the liberal left threw labels like confetti. And that is never the way to win the game. With no debate, there is no understanding. With no understanding, there is no persuasion, and, as a consequence, no victory.

Pie called it right. We, the liberals, forgot to make good arguments and relied on lazy labels.

I was never one to defend Katie Hopkins, but she also nailed it when she appeared on the ‘Late Late Show’. She had a series of Post-its with labels already transcribed. At the time, I was aghast at her comments, but replayed again in my head with the benefit of Pie’s observations, I see it differently.

I also felt uncomfortable when a student spoke up in the audience. Also a Trump supporter, he felt unable to celebrate while watching the count in college for fear of derision by his liberal friends. Shutting down debate leaves it to fester underground, and we have a new army of Trump supporters going loud and proud. And all we have is labels to throw at them.

Is several weeks long enough to be called history? Can I look back on the most high-profile election campaign ever and see the trend, this disturbing trend?

And will history be rewritten this time? One must remember that history is written by the victors. Post-World War I, Germany was blamed for the war and reparations demanded. Revisionists have clearly turned that notion on its head, but not in time to prevent the rise of the Third Reich.

And closer to home, we see constant revisionism in this State. Tina Noonan wrote a play called ‘The Prodger’. It tells the story of her uncle returning from World War I and how he fought demons on all sides. At a showing in Dalkey, south Dublin, Ronan McGreevy, author and World War I historian, interviewed her after the performance. He pointed out that some 400,000 Irish men fought in the first war, that it was still “the” army in the first war, that it had not become the “British” army until De Valera got his hands on the history books and airbrushed out an entire generation.

Everyone on this island would have known someone in the army. But not everyone would have known someone once it became the British army. This is how history is rewritten with the connivance of victors and the acceptance of the populace. ‘The Prodger’ was performed last month in Magilligan Prison in Derry. A long-term inmate said it was not a play about war, but about love between men serving together. Or serving time together.

Before the next history gets written, maybe we need to understand it first and debate it without labels. Or maybe we should just write about love instead.trump

Always be careful to whom you choose to spill your fantasies

brainTroubled times beget troubled minds. Where once we might have crossed the entrance of our nearest church to ease our worries, now we seek solace in a range of diverse disciplines, from extreme politics to psychedelic culture to new world thinking and personal development.

But I have learnt that learning without humour is often lost or put into a drawer that remains unopened.

Last year, I attended a one-day boot camp with my daughter. It was a powerful day of new thinking and reorientation but one moment stands out.

We were doing an exercise on self-talking. We were tasked with pretending to talk with someone that we loved. We were told to silently tell them how much we loved them and how amazing they were. Once completed, we were then told to reverse roles – ie, to have our loved one tell us the same happy thoughts back.

At that stage my daughter started to giggle. She had slightly misunderstood the instructions. The loved one that she had been silently chatting to was in fact her horse. My daughter shrugged her shoulders for she wasn’t sure her horse loved her as much as she loved him. I will never forget that exercise. Maybe it is a question of being careful whom you choose to love.

I recently attended an intensive three-day personal development forum. It was an advanced course and we were keen, advanced students of life. There was a structure to the day, with lots of sharing but also reflection and contemplation.

One particular exercise late on the second day was to remove suffering in any particular area. Our leader guaranteed us that by the end of the exercise our pain would be gone. We were tasked with writing in detail – great, raw detail – about the thing that was causing us suffering.

Given that we were writing at length into our personal journals, I took a deep breath and wrote from the heart. I chose a topic that mattered to me on a deeply personal level. I began to write in a raw and savage way about my suffering and how it has caused deep and painful reverberations in my life.

I wrote my guts out, every pathway that I should not have taken and every path that I avoided. I wrote a minute history that was not edifying in its reach.

Having bared my entire soul, I looked to rest but our teacher ordered us to keep writing. I had already filled my emotional bucket to the brim, there was nothing left to say.

Instead, I scribbled that much of my suffering was caused by overthinking, that I needed to find a new way of extinguishing a thought, or stopping the chatter in my head.

And so, depleted of all the ways I might have suffered over the years, I began a new chapter where I posited that a young man with a six-pack and an even longer appendage might distract me from the clamour of unwelcome thoughts through the night. Here I would become fit and loved at the same time – what an idea I craved.

Finally, finally, after an eternity, we were allowed to cease writing. The relief was palpable in the room – that is until we received our next instructions.

Find your partner, sit opposite each other, knees no more than two inches apart and read your suffering out loud. The listener must not comment or show any facial expressions.

My partner was a young man, tall and handsome with kind brown eyes. I looked into those brown eyes and said “Do not judge me” before I began reading.

Of course, it was not enough to read once, we had to read again and again. I found it hard to look into those brown eyes for my messy life and when I hit the point of talking about a young lover graphically described, I could no longer meet his eyes. In fact, as I repeated my writing out loud, my suffering did not diminish but grew on every recitation.

I found my whole body had grown hot and my upper lip began to sweat. I now had the combined problem of reading my shame and feeling my body dissolve into a hot puddle and not in a good way.

Finally, my misery came to an end. It was time to swap roles.

I laughed a little now. At least I was going to be able to balance my suffering with his. Except his beautifully crafted essay, as befits a thoughtful and present young man, was on procrastination.

I am sorry to say I laughed and giggled quite a bit as he read, earnest and clear. It was not his suffering but mine and the more he read the more I blushed, although the cause for blushing was not his, oh no, not his.

Afterwards we laughed and hugged. I am not sure if I scarred him for life or gave him an insight into the mind of a very imperfect woman.

And then as we hugged he said we might go on a date – tomorrow.

Will the Big Boys please stand up!

‘Power of one’ can make a difference, so think what big business could do on climate change

sunrise

Thomas Clare

First published in the Irish Independent 19/10/2016

I read a beautiful piece of writing yesterday. It was by the American author Clarissa Pinkola Estés. She wrote a celebrated and exotically titled book called ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’. I bought it in Australia many years ago but read only the opening chapter. When I lost my house I gave that book away. It is a shame because I think I might now based on the piece I read yesterday.

Estés wrote a short essay called ‘We Were Made for These Times’. Contrary to our fears, she argues we were made for today and triangulated a beautiful conceit in which we were meant to let our souls shine, that others would join in and like an army of glow worms we would spread out as a protective blanket over the worn old world. Each glow worm would attract and light the next worm in an exploding sea of beauty and enlightenment.

In her essay, she argued we could become a flotilla that grew one by one. “Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do,” she writes. And she encourages us to hold fast in a powerful statement: “When a great ship is in harbour and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”

The power of one multiplied into many is the glory cry of our lost generation. The Dalai Lama is supposed to have said that size is not important. He compared the impact of a single tiny mosquito when trapped with a human being inside the protective mosquito net. He challenged us to believe that we could be enough, be powerful enough and make that change.

And I do believe. I do believe in the power of one. I believe in the power of the underdog. I believe in the power of passion over cynicism, in the power of right over wrong, in the power of believing I too can make a difference. However, and this is a big however, just because I believe I can make a difference in my tiny world, it does not excuse the powerful from making a difference in theirs. In fact, I call upon the powerful to do much, much more than is currently being done.

This is where Norman Crowley enters the stage. A serial entrepreneur with a flotilla of extremely successful businesses of his own in his wake, he has stepped into the climate change arena. Founder of Crowley Carbon, this West Cork businessman has created a technology company that saves large companies hundreds of thousands in wasted energy. In fact, such is his determination to strong-arm ‘Captains of Industry’ to turn off the fossil fuel tap, he promises to pay them if he does not save them money.

It’s a no-brainer, so it would seem. Engage with Crowley Carbon and save up to 50pc off spiralling energy costs. And if that doesn’t happen, then Crowley Carbon will pay you the missed savings. Except it’s not happening. Many, if not most, multinationals are stuck on small, single-digit reductions in energy usage. They puff themselves up on their miniscule saving and present it proudly like a school child in show and tell.

Norman travels the world talking about the issues. He has put his own money where his mouth is. Hell, he has even founded a not-for-profit foundation opening in Powerscourt in early 2017. Called Cool Planet Experience, it is Ireland’s first interactive climate change exhibition. He tells the ‘Captains of Industry’ that 97pc of all scientists believe in global warming (sorry, Danny Healy-Rae); that global temperatures are increasing year on year; that half of the global ocean heat increase since records began has taken place since 1997; that tropical diseases are on the move; that climate has as much to do with refugee displacement – if not more – than war; and it is predicted the earth will be incompatible with organised human society by 2050.

He blames lizard brains. What else can make sense? We all have them. It reduces our concerns to the immediate, the necessary, to the end of the week. You think that those horrifying statistics might wake up the consciences of big business and big government capable of doing big things. But no, those pesky lizard brains mean the current outbids the future. It is a losing bet and the house always wins. We have quotas imposed from every angle to reverse our climate change. World bodies, political agencies and global coalitions impose regulations on countries, institutions and businesses. We have quotas that are timid in their ambitions. Improvements and reductions are sought in low, single- digit steps.

And so hearing global executives telling big-swinging-mickey stories about their 2pc achievements is risible. Even Donald Trump would not boast about a two-inch appendage. It is simply not enough.

It is time for the ‘Big People’ to stand up and make a difference.

Norman Crowley was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Energy Symposium held in Cong, Co Mayo, on October 14

Irish Independentsunrise

I have embraced my inner clutter goddess after finding a home

First published in the Irish Independent 09/10/2016

 

I am now the proud possessor of a hammer. A proper hammer, and I have used it a goodly number of times. About 20 times so far. To hang pictures. On the walls of the house where I rent.

A little over a month ago, I did not have walls to rent. I had exited my old house, rented for the past 10 years, where I had lived with my two daughters and our animals.

I had exited our house as the lease had been terminated. There was no trouble, just the owner wanted her house back. I searched Wicklow high and low for alternative rental accommodation but nothing was to hand.

As the months rushed together, I found myself getting more and more frantic. I looked at caravans, thinking I might buy one at the end of the summer. But like time shares, caravans should never be bought in warm months. Fortunately, the ones I viewed were so shabby as to be unattractive even in the heat, which was one positive consequence of a modest budget.

I planted my daughters in a cottage, found at the eleventh hour. A friend offered to rent me a bedroom and at the grand old age of 51, I went couch surfing. I had tried to embrace the new me, the new rental-continental me, and now the trendy couch-surfing me. But I was failing miserably.

I went each day to Lawless Hotel in Aughrim and plugged myself into the net. I pestered those patient staff with gentle requests to reset the modem when the internet went down. I drank endless cups of tea and sometimes, when budget allowed, bought lunch as well. I hid myself in a corner and did my best to ignore the busy rural trade plied in front of me.

I resigned myself to several months of stealing internet while I tried to set up my business again. It stuck me forcibly that having no fixed abode made it very hard to be upbeat and win business. I chatted on the phone and joked about my incipient alcoholism should I continue to have to work out of bars with internet. It was tough going.

But back to the hammer. In the middle of all this angst, I got a message from a friend. He had heard about my latest predicament (and there have been quite a few) and got in touch to say he had a cottage to rent. I saw the cottage the next day and moved in the following weekend.

Since that time, I have thrown all notions of minimalism out the window. I have rejected the clean interior designs beloved by the very cool. Instead, I have embraced my inner clutter goddess and have been nesting with an enthusiasm that is religious in its zealotry.

I realise that I had not bought one thing for the house I rented for the previous 10 years. After losing my original home to the banks, I had been coasting. I lived in the house but it was not a home, not in the material sense. I thought I was ‘over’ possessions. I had them all taken from me, or I had sold them or I had lost them – and I no longer cared.

Now, in my little unexpected dreamboat of a house I can only see my possessions, which are growing daily. I have raided all the charity shops in a 50-mile radius. I buy things, small things, clutter, knick- knacks, bric-a-brac, and bring them home to my little house. I place them on small tables, on window sills, and I hang pictures on the walls. With my little hammer.

I have never been so given over to materialism. It matters not one whit that my budget is modest and my target shops are charitable ones. Last week, I was trying on a skirt in a Saint Vincent de Paul shop in Tinahely. In the make-shift dressing room, I spotted a tangle of coloured glass. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a pendant lamp shade.

It was intended for use in the shop but the kind attendant sold it to me for a fiver. I brought it home and hung it in my bedroom. And then I turned on the light. The bling is terrific. The ceiling and walls of my bedroom are littered with shards of coloured light.

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I, who once had crystal chandeliers, am riveted by my coloured glass. I rush guests up to my bedroom and turn on the display. I am prouder than a circus master of my precious find.

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I am the same for every stick of furniture in the house, every trinket I purchase and every plant I buy. I walk around my home and talk to the contents. I thank them for their use or their beauty and sometimes both. It is like a veneer of pixie dust is covering the entire house. I never knew that I had missed feeling at home so much and having now arrived at home, I am so happy.

Irish Independent

Festival Rules

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I can write this now. I had to wait until I could confirm my daughter had escaped from Electric Picnic alive with all her limbs intact and preferably with her tent still in tow. It is a good tent and I did not want to see it discarded with the other tents. Although I know that discarded tents and wellies can be collected for refugees which is a fabulous use for them. On this occasion and with this tent though I wanted to see returned home.

My daughter is a good daughter too and I wanted her safe home too. I bumped into many parents over the weekend whose daughters were also at the picnic. We shared stories and worries. I hope they all came home safe too.

Going to the picnic was a last minute decision for my daughter. A lone ticket attached to some friends was for sale and she jumped at the chance. I jumped too but with worry – and I am the most laid back mum on the planet. I do benign neglect with a passion but on this occasion I began to double and triple think.

I’m the same as Jonathan Healy of Newstalk fame. He announced several times on air last week that he had never done a music festival. I have to confess to being of the same breed – although it is not without trying hard to break my duck.

And so I had no real idea of what my daughter would witness on her three day sojourn.

She pulled the tent from the attic and said that would do her. But when I picked her up she had not actually opened the tent to see if it still worked and had all its pieces. I made her promise that if it was a failure she was to call me and I would collect her.

The other problem with the tent was the sheer size of it. And the weight. Then the sleeping bag took up most of the remainder of her space. She put the tent bag on her back and balanced another bag on front but she could not walk far with such a load.

She was to meet her friends on George’s Quay to catch a bus to the Picnic. But the day before she only had a vague meet up plan. I stood over her while she texted firm details.

She told me that the Happy Pear were going to be there and as a big fan of the brothers she planned on eating exclusively with them. I began to worry about food. What if the queues were too big, what if she couldn’t find the stall, what if she ran out of money?

Eat Chips I advised her. Chips are good, chips are soakage, chips are cheap. At a music festival eat lots of chips.

Then I started worrying about finding her tent in the dark, and more importantly finding her tent in the dark with drink taken. My next rule was to only drink near her tent. She was not to get tipsy unless she was in stumbling distance of her tent.

Then I started worrying about finding the toilet in the middle of the night. And then finding her tent on the way back. While driving her up to Dublin to join her friends I stopped at various garages and then at the Cornelscourt shopping centre looking for torches. I could not find a single torch between Aughrim and Blackrock.

Finally in Dunnes Stores I found some decorative Halloween-themed, battery-operated tea lights. The batteries were even included and I returned to the car and my daughter triumphantly clutching the set of four lights. I triumphantly presented the orange collection as proud as if I had won a medal.

As I said goodbye I asked her to text me morning and night to say she was still alive.

It turns out I need not have worried. The Happy Pear was not at the Picnic but there were plenty of other eateries and yes my daughter ate chips.

She did not bring enough drink she said and it was too expensive to buy drink there. However, I secretly smiled at this comment. Less is definitely more at a festival in my parental viewpoint.

The tents were well laid out. It was easy to find it even in the dark. Her own tent went up and was only a problem when the friend sharing the tent left the flap open in the rain. Even a good tent will let in rain if open.

She texted me the first night at 12 midnight as she went to bed. Her neighbours were not so good and kept her awake until 630am. The next night she got her festival legs and didn’t hit the sack until 430am.

And the little tea lights proved to be of some use in the tent itself. Their combined wattage was not enough to light the way to anywhere but they provided a little glow in the dark – enough to make the tent seem cosy when she finally went to bed.

So, she survived. The tent came home with her. The craic was mighty. She met other friends. Her legs are killing her with all the walking and generally standing around. She will probably sleep for two days straight.

And I am going next year!