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Visiting a different world – Baltimore in 1942.

I was at the Military Archives a couple of days ago, starting what looks as though it will be a long piece of research on an unexpected personal project, the collation of as much information as I can find on the subject of the EIRE signs which are being documented here. It was my first time at the archives, indeed in any archives at all, so I want, at this point, to take the opportunity to state that I found the staff at the Military Archives to be helpful far, far beyond my expectations. They are an absolute credit to their employers.

Part of the reason I was at the archives was to look at the logbooks of the lookout posts to find references to the construction of the signs. As far as I am aware, the signs were built between late 1942 and early 1944 with various adjustments to the signs in between time. I don’t have anything more exact than that for the moment. This means I’m at some disadvantage when looking at the log books – there is simply no short cut but to go through them all. There are 82 sets log books, and so, this is no small job. In a way, it is absolutely daunting.

Given the constraints of time, I requested one set of logbooks initially to basically get a feel for the sort of information and data I would be working on and the station I selected was Baltimore in County Cork. The EIRE sign associated with this post is still in place having been, I believe, renovated a few years ago, and while there’s an argument for starting from the beginning, with number 1, I chose, for my own reasons to start with number 29 because I am from Cork myself, although a long way distant from Baltimore. The county of Cork is not that small in the Irish scheme of things.

I’ll cut to the chase and state that I drew a blank on any comment about the sign and this piece is not about the sign in any case, it is purely the reason that on a beautiful April afternoon, I found myself sitting in a reading room in Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines, visiting a place and time that is quite far away now. I looked through the logbooks for 1940 and for 1942 (and came no place close to being finished with them) the other day and I was quite simply mesmerised at just what extraordinary documents they are. So much so that I have other plans for research ideas regarding these documents when the signs project is more or less complete.

The logbooks were written by volunteers of the coastal watch service during the war. There is an excellent book on the subject of the coastal watch called Guarding Neutral Ireland by Michael Kennedy which I strongly, strongly recommend reading if you are interested in Ireland’s history during the second world war. I want, at this point, to talk about some of the things which struck me most about the logbooks themselves, and the utterly different world that they pointed to. A world which I strongly suspect is now beyond the imagination of a lot of people in this country; not just because there was a war going on, but because it really, really was a completely different world.

The logs were written into specially printed books called LOP logbooks. LOP stood for Look Out Post, and Baltimore, in Cork, was L.O.P. number 29. There were 83 of these dotted around the coast at approximately 10-12 mile intervals – that would be 16-20km intervals for the modern amongst you – and they were located to maximise coverage. Their locations bore a lot in common with previous efforts to coastwatch in Ireland so many of them are near or in the shadow of 17th and 18th watch towers, for example. Baltimore is not an exception, it lies just in front of what I believe is Spain Tower, a 19th century signal station for that particular coast watch. The tower is in better condition now than the look out post is.

The first records from the look out post in Baltimore were written in pencil, between the nice wide lines which were pre-printed. They are largely legible, although the paper itself is very clearly old, from times past. It smells that way and above all, it feels that way. The front cover is missing off it; it is missing off at least another one. At some point in 1940, however, someone decided they would get more use out of the logbooks if they ruled between the lines as well. From then on, every page I read was ruled between lines either with a normal led pencil or a garish pink colour which I believe to have been a pencil rather than a pen. I need to look at it more closely.

The handwriting, for the most part, is immaculate, and very, very legible, be it in pen or pencil, although somewhat easier in pen, even where the books were subject to some sort of water damage. They contain the mundane “took over watch” and “handed over watch” comments at every watch change which was 8am, 4pm and midnight. Each change of watch was signed off by what I assume was the NCO for the post – I don’t know enough yet. Interesting things struck me – I could tell when the pen was refilled with ink, for example, between the heavier flow, and, additionally, the increase in the number of blots which were noticeable. There are key stylistic differences between the early 1940 log and the 1942 documents – the 1942 documents were much more regimented and organised. The 1940 log had, in certain respects, more detailed and frequent weather information. Descriptions of planes were significantly more detailed in 1942 (and frequent). One log describes a plane flying around the Fastnet a number of times.

Little detalis caught my attention – reports of explosions, followed some hours later of phone calls from Baltimore Garda Station inquiring whether specific local and overdue trawlers had been seen. I assume that with no further queries – every call was logged – the trawlers turned up.

The next nearest LOP to Baltimore was in Toe Head, and Toe Head occasionally called to see if Baltimore had noticed things they had, or to confirm the sounds of explosions. There were regular exchanges of information with respect to the locations of mines. Initially, every observation of note relating to shipping and trawlers, and aircraft, were reported to Cork IO; by 1942, the messages were being relayed to Cork Message Centre instead. The phones, while a technical marvel to be located where they were, were regularly subject to test calls. Most daily reports in Baltimore related 1 or more test calls from the Garda Barracks in Skibbereen, often noted as Guarda Barracks, Skibb, at least one a day from Skibbereen Exchange, and, as 1942 wore on, Cork Telephone Exchange started to appear every few days.

Mizen Head occasionally contacted Baltimore with expected arrival dates for Irish ships leaving Lisbon with the request that the LOP volunteers watch for the ships.

Vessels heading for Baltimore Harbour were reported to the Garda Siochána in Baltimore; the planes and other ships generally went to the Message Centre in Cork. On one occasion, the Barracks in Baltimore contacted the LOP requesting the volunteers to watch for a man who had been spotted near the Beacon with a receiving set, and to hold him if possible and contact them immediately on sighting. No further comments about that appear from which I only conclude that the man with the receiving set was not located by the volunteers of the LOP.

At the end of 1942, the authorities took a substantial interest in the behaviour and location of a Spanish fishing trawler in the area, to the extent that as its stay at an anchorage point outside Baltimore wore on, the volunteers at the lookout post were reporting whether it had moved or not almost every hour. This was very different to the comments about the various other trawlers which passed, either nationality unknown, or nationality British and a registration number or name given.

Mostly, ships and aircraft passed nationality unknown, but as 1942 wore on, the descriptions of the planes, in particular, become more detailed. And one ship which passed was marked as nationality Panama.

A lot of things fascinated me about the books such as I have had time to study the first of them. Certain things struck me about the use of language, even limited and all was it was to specific subjects. And for every one person who has a mobile phone with a 9 digit number, it’s remarkable to see comments about personnel calling Kinsale 21. Imagine that, a two digit phone number. The verb to make a call to another location was “call up” as in “Called up Skibb Guarda Barracks”, and yes, Guarda featured as a spelling on several occasions. That aside, the spelling was generally accurate with the occasional recourse to the less frequently used Mizzen head rather than the current standard, Mizen. Elements of the handwriting also fascinated me.

I have, at the moment, a mandate to review these logbooks to support one personal project, the Eire signs. But as I start to read them, to look at them, and seeing some of the comments about those logs in Michael Kennedy’s book on the coastal watch service, I see other projects, not necessarily war installation or direct war history coming out of them. If I didn’t have to work all day, I could spend my days reading them given how fascinating them are.

 

A Coruna, Northern Spain

This time last week I was in Galicia, northern Spain. I went with family who had always wanted to go to Santiago de Compostela, but on one day, we got a train out to La Coruna because I insisted on seeing the Tower of Hercules which is a world heritage site there.

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When the people at the Hook talk about it being one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, it’s because this is actually older. In fact, it’s one of only two surviving Roman lighthouses although based on my understanding of its history it may not have been in continuous use from the 2nd century to today. But it’s still about nine hundred years older than the Hook signal all the same.

And I wanted to see it, so we got on the train to A Coruna last Monday morning and went to see the lighthouse. And climbed the 220 steps in it, and walked around the foundations, and marvelled at the engineering skills of years and many years gone by.

I loved A Coruna. I probably hadn’t done enough research before I went to Santiago because we didn’t have a whole pile of time and what we had was already crammed. So I didn’t know, until we got there, that A Coruna was the second biggest city in Galicia, being two and a half times bigger than Santiago (which is the fifth biggest city in Galicia, despite being the capital). So while I knew it was a big fishing port, I didn’t realise that it was, for example, twice the size of Cork city.

I could bear living there I think. It’s a decent sized city with a surf beach right in the centre, a stunning looking beach at that. The Deportiva football stadium is on the sea front and looks like a glittering jewel in the sunshine. I’m not a football fan but this looked quite impressive. The whole way a long that beachfront is a stunning prom to walk along which is even more stunning than the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Seriously. Up the coast from the Tower of Hercules are rocks with breaking white water that acts like adrenaline to a wave and spray junkie like myself.

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Of course, the one problem is my Spanish would take some improving. I got by but have big vocabulary gaps particularly in the area of food which surprised me. I can still remember a lot of the grammar and I was told by quite a few people that my Spanish wasn’t so bad.

I’ve spent lots of dream time thinking how nice it would be to live in a city with a decent job and a decent beach and the ability to go surfing almost at will. The existence of a three hour lunch break such as most of the shops appear to have would facilitate that as well. I thought that really, Cork was going to be the closest I’d make it in Europe, or maybe Biarritz, but frankly, even though I’d probably have to live in an apartment, A Coruna is suddenly top of the list. Even though I can barely speak Spanish and really have no qualifications in the fishing industry. Maybe they need junior statisticians down there.

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Collector of things.

Being an art collector is not such a bad thing apparently. It signifies class, worth, wealth, taste. Apparently. We don’t necessarily attack art collectors for having lots of art because well, they’re clearly the right sort of people. Collectors of antiques as well, we applaud for their taste, nous, ability to recognise that yesterday’s tat is tomorrow’s inflation beating value holding pile of wood.

And yes, I watch the Antiques Road Show. RIght.

I was shopping yesterday. In fact, I intended to go to the Art and Hobby Store, pick up a single hole punch, maybe some decorative washi tape and go home. It didn’t quite work out like that. I bought stuff I don’t need (pens) more stuff I don’t need (beautiful notebooks), a book (like my personal library isn’t already out of control and some bookmarks which will work grand on the books but not necessarily on the Kindle. When I started locating space for this, I realised that in fact, I’m probably not that different to an art collector or an antique collector. Nor a Star Wars memorabilia nerd, nor a music fanatic with 9 metres of shelving for their extensive vinyl collection. We all collect stuff and in some ways, it’s a mild addiction, which I usually write off as being healthier than alcohol.

The girl at the shop reckoned she had a problem with notebooks. I think her problem was worse than mine because she typically only used a few pages before tossing them and starting a new one. I have many beautiful notebooks, this is true. However, a substantial number of them are full (because I collect memories of my life in the journals I have kept since I was 20 years old and all of them get pushed into some use. I have some beautiful notebooks.

I collect pens as well. I’m not a collector in the grand scale of collectors of pens but I have seven Caran D’Ache ball point Ecridors of one sort or another, a Caran D’Ache fountain, three Cross pens, ten Lamy fountain pens, a Papermate fountain pen and a Parker fountain pen and at least another 10 other fountain pens of indiscriminate marque. I have several disposable Pilot fountain pens in pink, aqua and purple. And beside me there are 8 bottles of ink not including the couple of spare bottles of ink. And no, I don’t really do calligraphy. I have nice handwriting but that’s about it. However, I own three calligraphy pens with a view to doing some (and you don’t want to see my baby steps efforts.

I have a substantial collection of loose leaf teas, accumulated over some time and which I have decided needs to be the subject of de-stashing. At some point in the next week I will be down to 0g of Fuego by La Compagnie Anglaise des Thés, a state of affairs not known since about 2004. So you could argue I’m making progress there. But that would be to deny the discovery of Marco Polo by Mariages Freres and the collection of Nordqvist Teas brought from the last trip to Finland.

I also have a personal library of cookbooks which is rather impressive for someone who typically cooks for one. I remember a time when my cookbook collection accountet to one, a Clairefontaine notebook (surprise surprise) bought in France with all sorts of things stuck into it from all sorts of magazines, post cards and the backs of chocolate wrappers. I still have it, actually; it’s in remarkably good nick and it contains my go-to-recipe for Sunday morning pancakes which was on a postcard I bought in Brittany. But in addition, I have an interesting mixture of which The Cork Cook Book, sold in aid of Cork Simon about 10 years ago is my most valued, not because I’ve every done much out of it (although the bread and butter pudding in it is pretty brilliant), but because it’s not still available. I probably don’t need all these cookbooks, but there is something comforting about them, and something extremely beautiful about some of them. The Tessa Kiros books in particular are bought not to be cooked from (this would be a fringe benefit) but to be looked at in quiet enjoyment late of an evening after work.

I don’t, on the other hand, have much of a wine collection – there are some bottles there but mostly other people’s taste because, living on my own, I don’t open bottles that often (but have been known to freeze very good white wine for future cooking projects rather than waste it 3 days after it has been opened).

I accumulate hobbies as well. I have an extensive collection of yarn linked to crochet and knitting. And several tapestries because I do that too. And tools of those trades. I have quite a lot of crochet hooks and am aware that there is an inherent danger in looking at the collection of gorgeous crochet hooks on sale on Etsy.com.

LInked to this, I have a substantial collection of shelving and storage and boxes mostly bought in IKEA and Homebase to store and organise all my things. And a substantial number of tins (because they are pretty and what is life if it is not beautiful and also I have this rather substantial collection of tea to be stored and yeah, about a million different cookie cutters and many different plastic bowls to cook with and all these things need to be organised and stored…

There are times – with a heavy dose of nostalgia – I look back on when my life could, for the most part, be stuffed into one rucksack and one carry all and I could move onto the next stage without having to do it in 94 car runs. In a way, the accumulation of things, life experiences and life attempts, is a mark of the passing of time. I do have kitesurfing gear, camera gear, climbing gear, bodyboarding stuff and all that. I never look back wishing I didn’t have all this stuff because this stuff is of my life and I may as well wish I didn’t exist.

The interesting thing, for all the inveterate collecting and hoarding of stuff, I’m not all that different to an antique or art collector. It is the same instinct; the same desire to appeal to a sense within yourself. Only difference in perception is that the antiques and the art represent the perception of an increase in wealth where as my collections represent the perception of an increase in clutter.

Beautiful, pretty, clutter that I would not be without.

The Calf Rock lighthouse disaster

The coast of Ireland is peppered with lighthouses, of which the Fastnet is probably the most famous, the teardrop of Ireland. Further to the west, beyond Dursey Island is the lighthouse at Bull Rock. It was built to replace the lighthouse on Calf Rock which was destroyed in a storm just fifteen years after it went into operation. .

Initial plans for a lighthouse in the area were to locate the light on Bull Rock but in the time that elapsed between first considering the matter and actually implementing the construction of a lighthouse, there was a decision made to situate the light on Calf Rock rather than Bull Rock. The lighthouse, I believe, was designed by George Halpin, responsible for a good number of lighthouses designs in Ireland, and following construction, the light was established in 1866. In relative terms, then, it was not a particularly old lighthouse.

The lighthouse was constructed of cast iron and in a storm in 1869 it suffered substantial damage when part of the balcony was swept away. As a result, some reinforcement work was done to protect the new lighthouse. That storm was not without local cost however; six fishermen who went to check on the safety of the lightkeepers drowned on their way home.

I started looking into the history of this lighthouse because the storm of 27 November 1881 is mentioned in the list of storm waves in L O’Brien’s recent paper on extreme wave events in Ireland and I had, in fact, forgotten it ever existed.

We tend to forget how different life is now to life in the late 19th century and it is probably hard to imagine that at the time, night was completely dark, except for the light from the lighthouse. The only light came from candles and the odd oil lamp. Without wanting to think too much about it, it’s pretty likely that the arrival of the lighthouse brought a substantial change to the nightscape at the western end of Dursey Island.

On 27 November 1881, however, it went out. There were six men on the rock, all fortunate enough to be in the base of the lighthouse when the top of the lighthouse was blown off above the reinforced section, and literally just washed away. They got to spend another 12 days on the rock, however, because it was not possible to safely land on the rock. Two British Gunboats attempted and failed the landing; in the event, the men were retrieved by the courage of the attendant boatman, Michael Shea, who lived on Dursey Island who went to retrieve them using a small boat and some of his fishing colleagues from the island. Considerations regarding the rescue were coloured by the loss of six men following storm damage to the lighthouse in 1869. You can find an account of the rescue here on a New Zealand Archive. The rescue also made the newspapers in New York, albeit in some less detail and a similarly short note made the Argus in Melbourne in Australia. Reports suggest that Michael Shea and his colleagues received a reward from the captain of one of the naval vessels attending.

Prior to the rescue, Henry Grissell, who built the lighthouse, wrote an account of the construction of the lighthouse and some comments regarding the suitability of the design of the lighthouse to the Times of London. You can find the text of his letter here (also in the New Zealand archives) at the end of that piece. The construction took 4 years and provided ample evidence of the difficulties of constructing the offshore lighthouses. He gave an account of the expedient efforts they made to relieve construction workers on the rock and provide them with supplies when the boats could not approach. He noted that the lighthouses, 90 foot high sat atop a rock which was 60-90 feet above sea level. The fury of storms sometimes hid the top of the tower for two minutes at a time. He noted that the tower was cast iron lined with brick. He felt that brick was not suitable as it would possibly allow condensation and water get between the inside of the iron and the brickwork, thus causing oxidation.

There is an interview with the head lighthouse keeper here, given to the correspondent of The Standard which syndicated to some of the Australian newspapers (this link goes to the Horsham Times). He notes the substantial rust remaining in the lighthouse and also suggests that it might have been possible to retrieve the men from the rock after 2 days had an approach been made from the other side of the rock.

The wreck of the lighthouse is still to be seen on Calf Rock and its fate was to impact on discussions on the value of cast iron lighthouses whose design was subsequently phased out.

The story appears to have caught the imagination of one of the writers of the Standard, who subsequently endeavoured to reach Dursey Island to give an account of life on the island. It is a fascinating and sobering account of life in West Cork in the 1880s.

At Ballynacallagh I called on Jerry Harrington, one of the three richest men on the island. He came out clad in a tattered flannel shirt, an old hat, a pair of frieze trousers, and a pair of boots which an English beggar would not pick up, half his right foog and half of the toes being exposed as he walked in the heave rain.

….

The little community governs itself and strives, with poor success, to feed itself.

Economically, the island was a basket case. About 200 people lived on it, of which 80 were children, and there were 23 farms. A number of the farmers had a secondary source of food in the fishing and there were twelve households whose sole occupation was fishing, working a total of five boats.

Most of the farming was for grazing with a small bit of planting done for potatoes or sometimes oats.

In 1881-1882, the potato crop was a total failure, and all but one of the fishing boats were knocked to pieces by the recent storm (I assume this is the November 1881 storm which destroyed the lighthouse) and anyway, it had been a bad fishing season too.

The farmers were tenants of Lord Bantry, whose agent, passing through 12 years previously, had substantially increased the rents. But Dursey was not really a cash economy and no one had any actual money. They survived, insofar as they could, on what they could fish or grow, and what credit they could obtain from the shopkeepers in Castletown Berehaven (Castletownbear). The piece described Michael Shea as having a large farm, one sufficient to support four cows. His rent had been increased on the visit of Lord Bantry’s agent from fifteen guineas to seventeen pounds.

Michael Shea also owned a fishing boat and earned income as the tenderman for the lighthouse (I suspect he is the Michael Shea who retrieved the men from Calf Rock at the start of December). In Dursey Island terms at the time, he almost certainly could have been considered well off. But with the lighthouse gone and the fishing poor and substantial rent, he enjoyed at best, a precarious situation and if he was well off by Dursey Island standards, the simple truth was he was not well off at all. He and his family lived on Indian meal and fish, with some buttermilk from time to time. He sold butter to the tradesmen who sold him the Indian meal. He may have earned 6 pounds on the deal but he still owed them forty. In the context of annual rent of seventeen pounds and one stream of income completely gone, this was a substantial debt.

In the early 1880s, apparently every man owned two to three years rent to Lord Bantry, and were afraid of the possibility of evictions to be carried out by Lord Bantry’s agent. The notices were apparently already at the post office at Allihies and so no man would go to collect his post as they could not afford to receive knowledge of their notice. The tradesmen in Castletownbear who traded with the islanders received no cash. On Dursey Island, the scope for paying rent or tax was as good as non-existent.

It is my firm conviction that these poor people would be willing to pay the arrears if they had the means ; but it is clear that they cannot pay in money.

The Standard’s correspondent noted that the people would be willing to pay off their arrears in alternative work (he mentions the construction of a road on the island) if they only had the opportunity.

Following the destruction of the lighthouse on Calf Rock, a temporary lighthouse was established on Dursey and according to Bear Tourism, the remains of the temporary lighthouse can still be seen. In the meantime, a new lighthouse was built on Bull Rock and it was established in 1889, roughly 8 years after the Atlantic had claimed the light on Calf Rock.

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Notes.

Most of the contemporaneous reports of the Calf Rock lighthouse destruction came from newspapers in the New Zealand archives (mainly because they are online) with the interview with Thomas Fortune, the head lightkeeper coming from the Australia Archives (Trove). It’s worth noting the delay in the detailed reports – the cablegram reports (three lines) appeared in December; the detailed reports were published around the start of February 1882. The account of life in Dursey Island made the newspapers in New Zealand in March. I loved this comment from one report prior to the rescue of the men on the rock though:

The persons who were on the Calf Rock lighthouse when it was swept away in the late storm and who were saved only by a miracle are still there ! 

from a report in the Otago Daily Times in February, two months after the men were retrieved from the rock. European news arrived in New Zealand either by cable gram (brief and to the point) or by ship (two to three months after the events in question).

You can access some of the New Zealand archives on this matter here.

So yeah, it snowed overnight

This goes out to the two drivers who left my estate before me, plus a myriad other bunch of drivers I encountered on the road to work.

Clear your car of snow. Properly.

Here’s the checklist.

  1. Clear the windscreen.
  2. Clear all the windows
  3. Clear all the mirrors
  4. Clear all the lights
  5. Clear the bonnet.
  6. Clear the roof because if you don’t, this might mean later that clearing the windscreen or the rear window was a waste of time.

I use a dustpan and brush which may or may not cause the occasional scratch but I can live with that. Said dustpan and brush is in the box in the car with the de-icer and the spare bottle of oil.

Fifty Reasons to love Ireland.

The Irish TImes has published a list of 50 reasons to love Ireland today. It doesn’t speak to my heart. Here’s the link although since they did the website redesign you now will have to click at least twice more to read the entire list. Sorry.

Anyway, as I said, it doesn’t speak to my heart, not all of it, or possibly, even much. We all, I guess, have our own things which cut into our feelings about the place, be it good or bad. Finding Hope In Bleak Theatre per Fintan O’Toole as sure as hell is not one of mine. So I decided to write my list.

Here goes.

  1. Doolin Point on a day with offshore wind. A person standing here can look to the wave off Crab Island if they are a surfer, the Cliffs of Moher away to the left, and the Aran Islands away to the right. On a clear day, the lighthouse that way is dead clear. I wish there was a webcam down there.IMG_1031
  2. The general mildness of the weather. Seriously. When we have snow, it’s minimal compared to a lot of other places on the same latitude. We have it easy. Our biggest complaint is the wind and the rain.
  3. In the 18th century, we had the biggest telescope in the world in Birr.
  4. William Rowan Hamilton and George Boole are two of our greatest mathematicians whose work has greatly facilitated the use of computers today.
  5. James Whelton started the coderdojo movement when he was still in school, something which may turn out to be one of the better contributions to this smart economy our politicians go on about when talking about rebuilding our economy.
  6. Flann O’Brien.
  7. John B Keane.
  8. Lough Corrib. Amazing place.
  9. The neutrality markers doubling as navigation aids in the second world war.
  10. The National Museum in Kildare Street, and yes it’s free and yes it’s on the Irish Times List but it is amazing and something we can be justifiably proud of.
  11. The Museum of Country Living in Mayo. I’m not going to box the individual museums when there is something special in all of them. I defy anyone not to be moved to tears by a comment in that museum from a man talking about hearing classical music for the first time when the radio came to the remote part of the country he lived in. We take stuff like this for granted.
  12. Marconi sending telegraphs across the Atlantic.
  13. The weather station in Valentia.
  14. Croke Park and Landsdown Road – two fantastic stadia. For a city the size of Dublin, quite an achievement.
  15. The small unknown music festivals all over the shop. Willy Clancy School. West Cork Chamber Music. Malahide Pipe Band. Cork Folk Festival. And that’s before you get to the big ones like the Guinness Jazz Festival.
  16. We’ve got fantastic climbing opportunities all over the place. Talk to Mountaineering Ireland.
  17. Alfred Tennyson wrote The Splendor Falls for very good reasons. The area around Killarney is beautiful and justifiably popular.
  18. We have some of the best surfing conditions in Europe on occasion. Right now, at 11.40 on a Sat morning, Bundoran looks particularly sweet.
  19. Even if you don’t surf, we’ve got some stunning beaches. Barleycove Co Cork. Silver Strand Mayo. Coumeenole Co Kerry
  20. We have some seriously scary roads. Scenic Road from Inch to Camp? Check. Keel to Keem Beach, Achill Island (check). The mountain road around Ballinskelligs?
  21. We have some fantastic myths and legends.
  22. The Book of Kells.
  23. The Crawford Art Gallery.
  24. We have one of the oldest operational lighthouse sites in Europe at Hook Head. And we’ve plonked lighthouses in some very dramatic and interesting places. The Fastnet counts.
  25. Bog snorkelling contests.
  26. Road bowling. Two examples of adapting the need to entertainment to locally available options.
  27. Trim Castle County Meath.
  28. Giants Causeway.
  29. We don’t take too much seriously.
  30. Some of our public art is quirky and amazing. Robot on the N21 between Charleville and Limerick? Model T Ford in West Cork? The bull somewhere outside Blarmey on the N21? The boats outside the tunnel in Limerick? Do I really need to make a whole list?
  31. We punch above our weight in golf. And boxing.
  32. Brown soda bread. Not long out of the oven wrapped in a tea towel.
  33. Barrys Tea.
  34. Taytos. There are two items on the lists demanded of visitors to emigrants. Strange that…
  35. Dara O’Briain.
  36. We have some ubertalented musicians in many fields of music who are doing their thing very successfully around the place.
  37. We have given the English language some very interesting idioms such as people looking like they have been dragged backwards through a hedge. How do we do this?
  38. The Dunbrody and the Jeanie Johnson and the famine ship memorial in County Mayo.
  39. We still have (despite it all) quite a few local newspapers, however much trouble the nationals are in.
  40. People talk. On trains, on buses, prior to concerts, in cafés.
  41. We have some very good street performers.
  42. It does not rain all the time. We owe the emerald branding to the stuff that does fall.
  43. Kilkenny sort of reinvented itself as a design centre. Good going.
  44. There’s that tree in Carlow that everyone has to take a photograph of.
  45. Our politicians are semi-accessible (seriously – compare it to getting at the ones in other bigger countries).
  46. We sort of embrace modern technology quite a bit. Don’t know why.
  47. The Pen Corner in Dublin.
  48. The English Market in Cork
  49. Maeve Binchy.
  50. The place is littered in history and the present. Regardless of how many gadgets you have in a 2013 car, you can’t go very far without tripping over a 12th century castle or a dolmen or something.

Microsoft/Yahoo…which way is it then?

Yahoo caused some consternation during the week when they announced that come June, all their remote workers would be expected to turn up to work at an office. Microsoft, in Ireland, at the moment, are running a competition about what people would do with the change in their lives if they could work from home.

Yahoo is in a bit of a bind and Microsoft have a cloud based office solution they are looking to sell. But…even so…

20 years ago I sat in a translation technology lecture talking about the Green Dream, and the beauty of being able to work from home because you’re connected to the network. It was in the very early days of the internet and email but the concept was under consideration. If you’re a freelance translator who can at least generate some work – increasingly difficult I believe – this works. But it may not work forever. Meanwhile, all the flexibility that technology related tools are giving us in terms of freedom from an office aren’t actually being used – much – in that way that I can see. Most knowledge based workers are still in some respect tethered to an office and working from home is not a regular feature of life but discretionary. Mostly, when I hear discussions about remote working, I hear the words “but you can’t trust…”

Trust is the issue. How do you trust that people are working if you can’t keep an eye on them? But you can’t really guarantee that unless you literally sit beside them and watch them doing their stuff.

I did a lean workshop a little while ago – and one of the comments I took away from it was the idea that what gets measured gets done. I’ve thought about this a lot, and realised that I don’t really agree with it. Mostly, we’re in the zone of organisational thinking here – how can we effectively get stuff done. A key answer to that question is to make it easy first up. Things that are easy to keep organised stay organised. I sometimes wonder if there is a way to compare which is likely to be more effective – making an organisational process easy versus making it measurable.

I find more people tend towards the measurable than the easy and I wonder why. And this need for measurable presentee-ism, it’s culturally driven. It’s not much good to Microsoft who are trying to sell this alternative lifestyle of distributed, remote work.

Decision-makers need to buy into it, facilitate it and make it easy to get work done. This, I suspect, may need a culture change because the one thing – in my experience in a lot of different places – that gets in the way of getting work done is the processes which many companies implement to measure how that work is getting done.

I think about this a lot lately. The technology allows me to live in west Clare – but industry culture has put all the work in a couple of central areas.

Our politicians talk a lot about the knowledge economy and I’ve always wondered what they exactly mean by that. I’d like a situation where it’s possible for more people to work remotely from parts of Ireland, rather than parts of Eastern Europe. Why do we accept offshoring to foreign countries but don’t necessarily facilitate it to parts of Ireland? This is a company culture thing as well.

We talk a lot about small and medium sized companies but we never talk about freelance individuals so much. I know a few people in that zone. When it gets discussed, what gets brought up is the tax they can avoid. But not the lack of coverage they get from social welfare despite paying quite a lot of money into it.

I’ve often felt that there is an issue in Ireland, and probably across humanity, with a culture of envy. The consumer society is, to some extent, built on it. I’m tired of hearing people tell me “Oh you’re so lucky” for some random thing which was an outcome of some decision or other I made (lately it’s the not having bought a house).

A flip side of it is the need to exert control as and when. This is part of the argument I hear against remote working. How can you control it? Control is a negative function. I’m more in line with looking at the question of how can we implement it and make it work easily. Because the easier it is to do, the more people will be able to to do with it.

Automattic who are responsible for WordPress have a distributed workforce – this I know because I know one person working for them but also because it was flagged in a lot of discussions around the Marissa Meyer decision for Yahoo regarding the pulling of remote working. A lot of offshoring involves distributed work forces. And the issue around measuring productivity in the knowledge economy exist regardless of whether you’re office tethered or not.

I happen to have Microsoft’s current iteration of Office and I like it a lot for various reasons. I recognise that Yahoo has lost its way and needs a reboot. A lot of comments focus on the idea that this might cause attrition and reduce Yahoo’s numbers accordingly. Some have focused on the culture that Meyer may have appreciated in Google.

But I think Microsoft’s way may well be the future, and Yahoo’s the past. Already, a lot of things are getting heavily and broadly distributed. Distributed university has existed for years courtesy of the Open University – and I have to say, electronic access to their journal library really, really rocks. MOOCs are currently big news although I suspect there’s a way to go before monetization is sorted out.

Most people, I believe, want to enjoy their work and flexibility tends to be demanded of them. But flexibility is a two way process. When I was answering Microsoft’s question regarding what I would do with time flexibility if I was able to work from home, I answered that location flexibility matters much, much more to me than time flexibility.

I sometimes thing people might forget that.

 

PDF reading in Windows 8

You know, I quite like the idea of a built in PDF reader coming with Windows 8. Unfortunately, I don’t know who did the testing but there is one absolutely huge problem with it. It will only allow you to read one document at a time.

This renders the application completely and utterly useless to me. It’s pointless to provide software which doesn’t give basic functionality like the ability to have two documents open at the time.

The Eire Markings

78 - EIRE

UPDATE: PLEASE GO TO WWW.EIREMARKINGS.ORG FOR MORE INDEPTH INFORMATION ON THIS SUBJECT. 26 SITES STILL REMAIN.

In 1986, I went to Donegal on a family holiday and before we were finally washed all the way down to Hurricane Charlie and Bantry Bay, we visited Malin Head on a cloudy, cool enough day. I don’t remember very much about it, but I remember seeing markings on the headline pointing out that this was Eire. We’d never seen them before, and somewhat surprisingly, my mother didn’t know anything about them. After some careful consideration, I assumed it went back to the early years of the state, and possibly linked to the fact that Malin was the pointiest bit north of the country. Logically I wouldn’t have been surprised to know they existed on Slyne Head (west). Mizen (south) and Wicklow Head (east).

In fact, they probably did, but it had little to do with the earliest years of the state. The subject of those markings came up during the week and somewhere along the line, between 1986, and 2012, I did learn that they had something to do with the Emergency. Following the discussion I had with a colleague during the week, I started looking in to them again. The best known appears to be the one on Malin, but it is far from being the only one. I tracked down the one on Malin on google maps and, having done a little research around them, I realised there really is no clear piece of information about them on the web.

I’m not a historian but in the way that various things catch my attention, I’m interested enough in these because they are a snapshot of time, and mostly, we tend to march over those snapshots.

During the war years, a number of coastal look out points were built around Ireland to monitor shipping and air traffic. Ireland had declared itself neutral. In total, 84 of these lookout points were constructed. They consisted of what can best be described as a little concrete bunker. About 50 of those structures have left footprints or are still standing. They look cheap, they are built of concrete, and most of them are in a state of disrepair. The only one I can recall ever being in is the one on Brandon Point in Kerry. I took some photographs from it.

IMG_1134

You really have no idea just how small this thing is. There was a tiny fire place in it, and otherwise it was pretty much open to the elements. I don’t know if they had glass in them. Having seen photographs of a lot of them lately, I doubt it. It cannot have been pleasant on a winter’s night in them.

Volunteers were assigned to each of the look out posts on eighthour shifts, one to watch, and take phone calls – these things were on the phone network – to keep abreast of any news from the other posts – one to patrol. Part of this was linked to the risk of an invasion of Ireland, a neutral country. Wikipedia has an interesting entry on Plan W. I really wouldn’t mind looking into that a bit more closely in the future but it’s a good starting point for the purposes of this piece.

The Clare Champion has a piece about the lookout post in Loop Head which is well worth a read.

Each of the lookout posts were numbered, 1 to 84, starting in the north east and finishing in the far north of the country. You can find an overview of the lookout posts here, along with photographs of the sites of all of them. I really appreciate this site because it speeded up some of what I wanted to do during the week quite a lot. Tim Schmelzer deserves an awful lot of kudos for that project but he concentrated mainly on the buildings and for myself, what interested me most was the markings.

According to one comment I have seen, the markings were put in place at the request of the American Air Force. I suspect that not only were they lined up to inform overflying pilots that they were over neutral territory (and shouldn’t be flying over) but as most of them were numbered and seem to face in specific directions, they may have also functioned as navigational aids. You can see this in a number of them. There are existing pictures of the marking in Inishowen, for example, and also of the one on Erris Head in Mayo. Interestingly, the numbers do not appear to have survived in all cases although the EIRE letters themselves have.

What I wanted to do was try and locate them on web available satellite imagery. There is very, very little information about the markings on the web so even now I am not sure how many of them still exist to be seen. If there is more than a dozen, I will be surprised. Most of the information I could glean about them have come from threads on Boards.ie and IrishMilitaryonline.com. From boards.ie I have learned that at least one other person has had a go at mapping them but I haven’t seen any evidence of the map. I initially looked at plotting them on Google but have found that the resolution on Bing’s service is slightly better for key parts of the west of Ireland

Until very recently, the EIRE sign linked to Loop Head was buried. In fact, it was uncovered so recently that you cannot see it on the Google map of Loop Head. Again, according to the Clare Champion it was unearthed and restored this year. The Bing map for West Clare has no resolution for that area.

As things stand, I can locate about ten of the signs on Bing Maps. I’m aware of an additional 1 which is in an area with inadequate resolution. In addition, I believe there are four more between Slieve League and Achill Island which are still visible but I have not yet been able to locate them. The two at Slieve League in particular have been noted as being in a state of disrepair.

Located on Bing Maps.

  1. Malin Head, County Donegal
  2. Saint John’s Head, County Donegal,
  3. Dursey Island, County Cork
  4. Black Head, County Clare
  5. Erris Head, County Mayo
  6. Horn Head, County Donegal
  7. Melmore Head, County Donegal
  8. Inishowen Head, County Donegal
  9. Toe Head, County Cork
  10. Arranmore Point, County Donegal
Location known but not available at time of satellite scan
  1. Loop Head County Clare
Known to exist but not located on a map:
  1. Achill Island, County Mayo ( 59 – Given as Moyteogue head on Tim’s site above) (x 2)
  2. Slieve League, County Donegal (x 2) <<<one of these located, other is now gone
  3. Baltimore 29 has been renovated. There are photographs of it but I can’t find it on a map (ETA)

My hope was to locate a dozen of them. I’ve a feeling I’ve actually seen the Black Head one driving past and just forgot. I don’t know why. I didn’t expect to find it too easily because I expected it to fade into the background of the Burren stone landscape.

I have seen a picture of one above which I haven’t identified (see here) so I’d obviously like to track that one down as well. The image is very clearly from google, but it doesn’t match any of the ones I have.

When I’ve done all this, I’ll write a proper summary of what I know about these markings and post it to a page either here or on my primary website. The map is very much under construction so I’ll post it here later.

The current map of those I have located is here:

It transpires that to get the pushpins, you need to view the larger map. You’ll also need to choose AERIAL view to get the images. This is not ideal for me – I’d prefer Google but seriously, the resolution is nowhere near adequate in a lot of key places.

There’s a bit of research going into this, so any help would be appreciated. In addition to the map plots on Bing and Google, I will look at seeing if an OSI map can be put together. I’m also interested in collecting photographs of the sites taken from the air, if possible, with a view to tracking changes in their condition. Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks.

Referenda – serious business

We had a referendum here in Ireland on Sat 10 November. The results were out today and the referendum was carried.

I don’t want to go into the rights and wrongs of this particular referendum, but one of the things that has been concerning me lately is that we seem to have spiked in the number of referenda lately. When I was a child, referenda were a big deal. They were quite talked about. It just feels like we have referenda at least once a year lately. So I wanted to have a look at the underlying data and see if there was an increase in referenda lately and additionally, because a key feature of yesterday’s referendum was a particularly low turnout, I wanted to have a look at voter turnout in Irish Referenda.

This is building up towards a bigger post on the subject later on one of my other websites but this is just a WIP which I’d be interested to see some comments on.

First up, the data relating to referenda, dates of same and turn out came from Wikipedia:

Okay.

The first thing I did was graph the number of referenda per decade. The output graph is here. graph of number of referenda per decade in Ireland

 

Okay, a couple of notes about this. There was only one referendum in the 1930s, and that was the referendum for the enactment of the current constitution in Ireland. There were none in the 1940s and from then on there’s a fairly clear suggestion that we’ve been having more and more constitutional referenda. We’re only in 2012 for the current decades so it’s not a full interval but we have already had 4 referenda since 2010 – 2 in 2011 and 2 in 2012. There were drops between the 70s and 80s and the 1990s and 2000s but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that we’re having more and more attempts to amend the constitution.

Now to turn out.

Okay, there’s a bit of work to be done here. One of the things that surprised me is that the turnout on 10 November 2012 isn’t actually the lowest turn out ever. Two referenda held in July 1979 came in lower and after that, one held in November 1996 was lower. The plateaus you see above by the way are where several referenda were held on the same occasion.

The data here are, in my view, a bit all over the place – there’s an argument to suggest turnout is on its way down – the highest turnout was the enactment of the constitution itself in 1937. The second highest was in 1972 for accession to the European Economic Community as it as then. For every other referendum since then, turnout has been below 70%.

So I wanted to see for how many referenda there was a turnout in excess of 50% of the electorate. There have been 35 referenda including the referendum to implement the 1937 constitution and of those, in 12 cases, the turnout was below 50%. This figure includes this year’s children’s referendum, however, the six previous to that were above 50%.

I want to have a look at the data in a little more detail, I want to look at the subjects of those referenda for example, and I believe I need to check some of those dates against the dates of other elections such as general elections – my memory is unclear on this but I’m pretty sure that at least one referendum has been held in tandem with another election. So more research is needed. I also want to see what the impact of running several referenda together is.

Part of this is based on a wider concern I have about how fit our constitution is for our country in today’s age. Our constitution does not require a minimum turn out for a referendum which I think is regrettable. I think it’s important to have this debate now because Fine Gael has flagged an intention to remove the second house of the Oireachtas (this would also be subject to a referendum) and I wonder if it might be a suitable time to consider implementing a change to the constitution regarding a minimum turnout for referenda. I am inclined to wonder how governments would react if constitutional amendments failed because there was not an adequate turn out to get the change implemented. I cannot help feeling that they would not like it.

I also have to question whether a constitution which needs to be updated as frequently as we have ours in the last 20 years is actually really suitable now. There are a lot of good things in our constitution but….we’re chopping and changing it quite a bit lately.

Subsequent to the Constitution being accepted in 1937 there were two amendments passed by the Oireachtas per a special provision in the Constitution. Between then and 1972, no changes were made to it. Three referenda were put to the people, one in 1958 and 2 in 1968 but they were rejected on turnouts of 58.4% and 65.8% respectively. Of the 35 referenda in total, 9 have been rejected, four since 2001.

The key issue I have, however, is that the creation of a new constitution requires someone with a bit of vision and someone who will not draft a constitution by committee. One of the key comments around the Children’s Referendum in 2012 was that wording it was extremely difficult. I honestly believe that the constitution of a country should be something a bit visionary and very accessible to the people in that country without law degrees. Again, the Children’s Referendum caused some difficulties in this area – some commentators are claiming the low turnout was linked to confusion. I’m not an expert in law but I believe that a constitution which requires approval from the people should be drafted in such a way as it doesn’t necessarily cause confusion for the people voting on it. This has been a massive issue with respect to European treaties as well.

I’m still looking at the numbers so this is a work in progress.