King Charles, Treason and ‘Romantic’ Fox Hunting

Now that Charles Philip Arthur George is King, will I be tried under Section 32 of the Treason Act of 1842 like teenager John Morgan who tossed a nine-pound breeze block at the Queen’s Rolls Royce in Belfast in 1966?

A few years ago Charles tried to sue me in Romania when I was editor of a national newspaper after I published an article based on British newspaper reports saying Charles had stated publicly he would leave England and give up his rights to Royalty if the Government passed a law banning fox hunting.

The then Labour Government did indeed pass such a law but Charles didn’t follow through on his promise.

Rather, he bought vast tracts of land in Transylvania, the birthplace of my wife, which he still owns today.

In view of fairness, I contacted Charles directly through his private secretary at Buckingham Palace by email asking him if he had purchased the land deep in the Romanian countryside simply to pursue his love of killing foxes for sport (which, for the record, I consider to be merciless and cruel in the extreme).

I received a prompt response.

But not in answer to my question.

Instead, it was in the form of a letter from one of Charles’s organisations in London – the Mihai Eminescu Trust, named after the poet laureate of Romania, which with the grandiosely named ‘Prince’s Foundation’ is under Charles’s supervision – threatening me with a lawsuit if I did not publish an immediate apology, the exact text for which it provided – but with still no answer to my original question. The letter also pointed put that the apology it wrote and demanded to be published was the very same word count as the original article in my newspaper.

Naturally, I politely declined to do so, quoting freedom of the press, which Charles had said previously he fully supported. After this exchange of love letters, no lawsuit ensued.

Now that Charles is the new-crowned King, is my liberty at risk? Must I seek political asylum aka Julian Assange in an endless array of Embassies worldwide?

I’m delighted since then that in April the UK passed a law declaring all animals as sentient beings with rights to a normal, decent life like the rest of us, thus protecting foxes from this awful ‘blood sport.’

In view of all this, it is despicable to learn of stories about unethical fund-raising schemes by Charles and the ‘Prince’s Foundation.’

For example, from oil-rich people in the Middle East. Charles’s foundation offered to help a Saudi Arabian billionaire obtain a knighthood and UK citizenship in exchange for generous donations, with police investigating this money-making ‘cash-for-honours’ racket. It must be remembered, Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s government, was murdered recently by Saudi officials inside its own Embassy in Istanbul and his dead body cut into pieces and dumped, allegedly to be eaten by dogs.

Charles also raised money by offering free accommodation and private dinners with him at Dumfries House, a Palladian mansion in Scotland he purchased and renovated with public money. Such people included former Russian bankers and the wife of Turkish billionaire, Cem Uzan, after the couple donated 400,000 pounds to the ‘Prince’s Foundation.’ It emerged Uzan was under investigation for fraud-related offences in the US.

Charles’s foundation was also found to have taken millions of euros from high-ranking Qatari officials – all in plastic bags – a total of three million euro (2.6m pounds) from billionaire Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, former prime minister of Qatar. The cash was handed to Charles in a suitcase on one occasion, a hold-all on another, as well as in Fortnum & Mason carrier bags, the up-market department store which holds a royal warrant to supply Charles with groceries. 

Jaber al-Thani, one of the richest men in the world who stayed regularly at Charles’s Royal castle in Mey, Scotland, also gave Charles a horse named Dark Swan worth around 200,000 euro.

On a political level, not being a Royalist, I cannot accept Charles as King. But on a personal level, he has my gravest sympathy upon the death of his mother.

Donegal man leaves top job at  Údarás na Gaeltachta, remains keen to support key projects

by Sean Hillen

After five years as CEO of Údarás na Gaeltachta – the leading economic development group in lrish-speaking areas – co-ordinating around 300 million euro in publicly funded projects, Donegal-based Mícheál Ó hÉanaigh has completed his contract, leaving some people in the county worried about future local projects.

Having remained in close contact with Mícheál over the last few years, I am one of those somewhat fearful, in the full realisation that Donegal, indeed Ireland, has just lost a loyal servant in a key national position.

Mícheál Ó hÉanaigh held key position at Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Mícheál, 63, took up his position as head of Údarás when the organisation was trying to overcome the worst public relations disaster in its history, when multiple scandals over misspending of public money rocked its foundations. This was highlighted when board members and their partners enjoyed first-class airline tickets and luxury accommodation in various places in the US, including Las Vegas – purportedly to meet officials of the Dublin-based Industrial Development Agency, which also has offices throughout Ireland, including Donegal.

It was believed such situations – including conflicts of interest among top officials – continued unchecked because successive Governments turned a blind eye, not wanting to criticise an organisation working within the Irish language, a politically sensitive sector. And also because few journalists and editors in Dublin knew much Irish and shied away from tackling Údarás’ operations, seeing the language as a challenge to proper investigation. Media in Galway, where Údarás is headquartered and has a major influence, also stayed clear of major controversy.

Donegal having the second largest Irish-speaking population and the largest in geographical size, I myself investigated the organisation and wrote a three-part series for the Donegal News and a series of stories for this blog (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). For other stories, simply type ‘Udaras’ in the Search engine of this blog. Members of the Dáil’s multi-party Public Action Committee, an important body whose aim is to ensure public money is spent properly, told me they were ’utterly shocked’ by revelations about corruption within Údarás.

It was in the midst of this furore that Letterkenny-based Mícheál bravely took up the gauntlet, and from all accounts, rose to the occasion, sorting out many of the difficulties Údarás faced such as image problems and personnel changes. His responsibilities also included governance and risk management.

Among many tasks, Mícheál also prepared and implemented the Gaeltacht Regional Strategy for Economic, Social and Cultural Development ‘based on sustainability, innovation, entrepreneurship, learning and creativity.’

Living in Donegal, Mícheál was enthusiastic to promote his home county and supported initiatives in the cultural, community and business sectors. I collaborated with him on tourism-related proposals for Gaoth Dobhair, one revolving around the Spanish Armada and another entitled ‘Fiddles and Faeries’ to promote traditional music and culture, awards for which were presented at Leon’s Tavern in Crolly this year.

Led by Mícheál, Údarás na Gaeltachta helped fund this cultural initiative of mine.

Mícheál told me proudly this weekend about his accomplishments during his five-year tenure at Údarás. 

“Tourism development in Donegal has been  a major focus of mine, with key projects such as the Fanad Lighthouse, Sliabh Liag, the Errigal Project and Crolly Visitor Centre being advanced, as well as the Blas na Gaeltachta project initiated in Annagaire and the Narosa Marine project in Machaire Rabhartaigh,’’ he said.

He added, “The Gteic Gaeltacht Digital Hub Network was also established and now comprises thirty hubs, with five established in Donegal and three more in development.’’

Mícheál also said, “last year saw record job creation in the overall national Gaeltacht region of Donegal, with employment on the Gaoth Dobhair Business Park growing to over seven hundred and companies such as Randox in Dungloe seeing substantial growth in employment.’’

Mícheál is keen to promote environmentally-friendly tourism and culture projects and renewable energy initiatives.

The ‘Green Economy’ was also among his top priorities. ‘’Plans are advanced for a 5MW community-owned photovoltaic renewable energy project in Gaoth Dobhair and marine resources harnessed, with plans for offshore renewable energy projects and the development of added value projects based on seaweed and fish processing,’’ he said.

In financial terms, Mícheál added, “Last year, a selection of larger Gaeltacht companies had combined sales of over one billion euro, with over 600 million euro in exports, 450 million spend in the Irish economy and 175 million paid in wages.’’

My fervent hope is that Mícheál remains deeply involved in the economic development of the Donegal Gaeltacht with his comprehensive experience not only as the eyes and ears of Údarás for the last five years but also as vice-president of Tourism, Culture and Youth for the Assembly of European Regions (AER) and former director of Services for Community and Enterprise at Donegal County Council.

What’s next for Mícheál – “At this time, I’m examining all my options,” he said simply. ‘I feel I have a lot more still to give.”

Sean Hillen, author and journalist, has worked on a series of Europe-wide projects for major NGOs, including UNICEF, the Rockefeller Foundation and billionaire philanthropist, George Soros

Driver’s Diary – Death At The Mouth of Flowers

READER WARNING:

Content in this post may be upsetting to some people.

Today (Monday, August 22) is the day exactly 100 years ago when Irish rebel leader, Michael Collins, was killed in an ambush near Béal na Bláth in his native county, a single bullet penetrating deep inside his brain. It is believed he died instantly.

Strangely, he was the only person killed or injured on that particular afternoon in a serene, bucolic wooded hillside on the bend of a countryside road in rural Cork.

Stranger still, especially considering Collins was the most popular and well-known person in Ireland at that time and probably could have been the new Republic of Ireland’s first-ever official President, no proper postmortem was ever conducted on his body. 

And the armored car he was travelling in on that fateful day was taken out of Ireland within weeks, then transported as far away as possible, all the way to Africa, to British-held Kenya. 

And isn’t it too coincidental that sworn enemies of Collins including Eamon De Valera, Erskine Childers, Liam Lynch and other anti-Treatyite leaders were all gathered together just a few short miles from the very spot where Collins was killed?

Bewildering mystery still surrounds this entire tragic incident, one that led to the transformation of Irish society with the Catholic Church being given almost complete control and oversight of the nation, including its all-important health and education systems by Eamon De Valera, a man bitterly jealous of the respectful moniker the charismatic Collins had earned among most people at the time in Ireland – The Big Fella.

With all this in mind, I spent much of the last three weeks, including an exhausting marathon 21-hour writing session this past weekend – completing my fictional version, based in part on verified historical facts, as to who planned, plotted and assassinated Michael Collins. And what they had to gain from such a dastardly act.

As part of the research for my book, I also travelled from Donegal to Béal na Bláth to see the site of the ambush and also held discussions with officials at the Michael Collins House Museum in nearby Clonakilty.

The result of all my efforts is ‘Driver’s Diary – Death At The Mouth Of Flowers.’

Some people may find various scenes in my book morally upsetting. Not by their graphic nature, but because they deal with sensitive social taboos such as homosexuality and clerical deceit, hypocrisy and worse which still unfortunately have not gained widespread acceptance in some places.

Some readers may also find the climax of my book – whilst credible and based on existing background evidence – too shocking to contemplate.

To encourage healthy open public debate on an event that created such long-lasting effects on an entire nation and before being published as a book available on various platforms for sale, I am making ‘Driver’s Diary – Death At The Mouth Of Flowers’ available free online until the end of this week, midnight Sunday, August 28.

Regardless of whether you agree with my conclusions or not, I truly hope you enjoy my story, one written with the best of literary intentions.

READ DRIVER’S DIARY HERE

Donegal’s Gay Pride Festival and Parade helps shape new era in Irish rural life

When Pól Penrose spoke tearfully at the end of Saturday’s Gay Pride Parade in the Irish rural town of Falcarragh in Donegal and thanked everyone profusely for their support, he probably didn’t fully realise how truly history-making his efforts – and those of his fellow committee members – had been.

In Ireland, but more specifically, rural Ireland, and in an Irish-speaking Gaeltacht to boot, he and his colleagues, and all those who marched in, and watched, the parade, including my wife and myself, or hung supportive rainbow-coloured banners and flags from their homes and shops, helped break through yet another socially backward barrier.

The well-organised festival, which included poetry readings, film workshops, drama, concerts and online discussions both as Gaeilge and as Bearla, and Saturday’s parade promoted dignity, equality and fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBTQ+), and their families.  

As Pól, a gay actor from Falcarragh who features in ‘Ros na Rún,’ TG4’s longest-running series, said to me during an interview for an article for this week’s ‘Donegal News.’

“Such a festival, BRÓD na Gaeltachta, is a long time coming, a celebration like this in an Irish rural town means people no longer have to move to bigger towns and cities due to their sexuality,” said Pól. “Though it was the first such event in any Gaeltacht, community, support was so strong our initial idea, a weekend event, exploded into a weeklong festival.” Pól co-ordinated the festival following a vigil he initiated after the death of two men in Sligo in April in homophobic attacks.

Maggie McKinney, originally from county Down who walked in the parade, summed up the views of many, “I’m delighted it happened, it was such an important event, promoting inclusivity for all.” Someone from Berlin said, “it was well worth the journey.”

There are probably few more experienced people than friendly author and archaeologist, Brian Lacey, to describe what a social milestone, Falcarragh’s Gay Pride Festival and Parade represented. Lacey, who has penned many scholarly books, as well as one entitled, ‘Terrible Queer Creatures: Homosexuality in Irish History,’ and a festival committee member living in Dunlewey, said, “It was a wonderful spectacle, one that clearly illustrates how Irish society has changed. It was fully supported by the community and businesses, most of which flew Gay Pride Banners. Keep in mind, long ago the Catholic Church burned people at the stake for being homosexual and in more modern times, gay people had to battle with issues such as AIDS and their civil and legal rights, with little public support. The same-sex marriage referendum here seven years ago was, of course, transformative.”

To all those, young and old, male and female, people of all religious and spiritual persuasions, who helped the recent festival in any way, shape or form, to be the success it was, I salute you and raise my glass to your long life and happiness.


Through your bravery, your vision, your determination, your sheer pioneering spirit, you have helped lead people – not just in Donegal, not just in Ireland, but in places far and wide – into a brand new emerging world of greater mutual understanding and acceptance. And there’s no better attitude than that to forge a better future for each and every one of us

That is an exemplary accomplishment, one to be proud of, one no amount of money can buy, no level of fame can achieve.

It was done through pure organisational grit and determination powered by an openness and a willingness to do more than just talk the talk – to literally go one step further – to walk the walk.

Bravo to you (us) all.

Is mise le meas mor, Sean.

Photos and videos by Columbia Hillen.

‘Fiddles and Faeries’ competition reaches climax

I am both delighted and proud that ‘Fiddles & Faeries,’ an international fiddle-playing competition I launched, has proved so successful, with ‘Awards for Excellence’ being presented at a most enjoyable event at Leo’s Tavern, home of famed Celtic group, Clannad, and singer, Enya, in west Donegal this past weekend.

While not a fiddle-player myself, I am an aficionado of traditional culture and this competition allowed me to highlight in a modest way the wonderful talents of so many musicians worldwide, younger and older – including a schoolgirl just 12 years old and a farmer and retired plasterer in his ‘70s – many of them from Donegal, the beautiful northwestern Irish county I now call home.

People from different countries including England, the US, Ireland and Australia celebrated fiddle-playing.

From so many different countries including Iceland, France, Canada, Ireland, the US, England and Scotland, the participants all had one thing in common – a passion for music – with the fiddle being their instrument of choice. 

There were some who told me the ‘Fiddles & Faeries’ project would never work. That it would require too much effort and organisation. And to an extent they were right. There was a tremendous amount of work involved, more than I ever anticipated, both for me and for my wife, Columbia, over the last nine months. 

But if we all simply gave up on projects – especially those projects close to our hearts – because others said that they couldn’t be done, sure maybe we’d never try anything.

Aside from the naysayers, there are a number of people I’d like to thank individually for their advice and support, without which I might not have gone ahead. Among them are Mícheál Ó hÉanaigh, chief executive of Údarás na Gaeltachta, and his colleague, Meadbh Seoighe, who trusted me to succeed to the best of my abilities; Colm Ó Baoill at Foras na Gaeilge in Donegal, a musician himself, who offered sound advice; the wonderfully tireless Mary Coyle, manager at  Ionad Naomh Pádraig Community Centre in Dore, who helped me host a launch event last autumn with Donegal musicians and poets, even though her husband was suffering symptoms of Covid; and Bartley Brennan and Sean Mac Ruairí who worked closely with me for the enjoyable ‘Awards for Excellence’ event at Leo’s Tavern last Saturday. 

Hopefully, pandemic permitting and financial support available, the ‘Fiddles & Faeries’ event will be a prelude to my proposed Guinness World Record breaking fiddle-playing attempt, an event that would bring much positive national and international attention to this little, economically marginalised, culturally-rich corner of Ireland. I found out that such a world record, which requires having the most fiddlers playing in one place at one time, has never been tried and promptly paid the dues necessary to do so. I am fearful, however, someone else, somewhere else, may organise it before I do. 

In preparing for the Guinness World Record breaking attempt last year, I conducted a lot of research on fiddle-playing. Within Donegal, communicating with such people and organisations as Rab Cherry at Cairdeas na bhFidiléirí, a non-profit friendship or association of fiddle players formed in the early 1980’s to support and promote the art of fiddle playing in the Donegal tradition and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan fame. But also outside Donegal, in Sligo, meeting with people like John McGettrick, manager of The Coleman Traditional Irish Music Centre, a living musical museum dedicated to Michael Coleman, a legendary fiddle-player who emigrated to America many years ago; in Wexford at the home of brilliant fiddle-player Colm Mac Con Iomaire, one of the founding members of dynamic traditional band, Kila, who also plays with The Frames alongside Glen Hansard; and in Kildare with Marina Guinness, descendant of the famous brewery family who has selflessly helped many struggling musicians over the years.

Sean meeting with Colm Mac Con Iomaire, renowned Irish composer, fiddle-player and founding member of The Frames and Kila, at his Wexford studio

My time on the project amounted to well over 100 hours of work and travel. And then, just as the world record attempt was beginning to take shape, Covid struck again last year, forcing me to shelve my plans.

Meeting Marina at her Kildare home – (l to r) Columbia Hillen, Sean Hillen and Marina Guinness.

But the unique idea of establishing such a world record is still out there in the ether, waiting for the right people at the right place at the right time. And with its strong tradition of fiddle-playing through the generations and over the centuries, it seems to me Donegal is the perfect place to do it.

If you know of a vibrant community centre or a music school to partner with on such a fabulous, albeit challenging, musical project, please get in touch with me.

And now all that’s left for me here is to have the honour of congratulating all participants in the inaugural ‘Fiddles & Faeries’ competition. For their initiative in entering it, the musical pleasure they gave to so many people and the hours and hours and hours of practice every day, every week, they’ve put in to become as talented as they are. 

In addition to those musicians in the videos above, other finalists included Ty Kelliher from Connecticut; Steve Blake from London; Charlotte Slater from Aberdeenshire in Scotland; James Timothy Plattes from Minnesota; and Jamesie Wray and Meghan McGinley from Donegal.

Go raibh maith agat – Thank you – to everyone involved in this cultural project.

Star-studded cast of musicians kick-off Guinness World Records attempt in Donegal, Ireland

Friday (tomorrow) evening will see a star-studded cast of musicians officially launch Donegal Ireland’s attempt to break not one but six (6) Guinness World Records – for fiddle playing – including an assembly of more than 1,000 fiddle players in one place at one time.

Admission is free and the extravaganza, starting at 7.30pm in Ionad Naomh Padraig in Gweedore, and themed ‘Fiddles and Faeries,’ is 90-minute long show featuring traditional music including an orchestral-style concert of more than 25 troubadours from all over Donegal and beyond, including maestros on fiddle, tin whistle, accordion, flute, uilleann pipes, mandolin, guitar and accordion, as well as award-winning sean nos dancers.

The talented cast of musicians includes many who are award-winners with their own CDs who have embarked on many top-notch international tours while others belong to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the primary Irish organisation dedicated to the promotion of the music, song, dance and the language of Ireland. Many of the fiddle players are under 12 years of age at least one being only eight, organised by Theresa Kavanagh and Sinead Hegarty.  

The young and not-so-young, the musicians, live in towns across Donegal, inc. Falcarragh, Dunfanaghy, Bunbeg, Lifford and Letterkenny. 

They include –

Theresa Kavanagh – fiddle player and music teacher, Gortahork, Donegal

Martin Crossin, uilleann pipe player and maker, from Milford, Donegal via Belfast

Tara Connaghan, fiddle player and teacher, Glenties, Donegal.

Noel Lenaghan (Ramelton, Donegal via Belfast) – whose repertoire includes rarely-performed songs from Galway, Mayo, Donegal, New Zealand, and Belfast.

Writers who will recite their poems linked to faeries as Gaeilge agus as Bearla on the evening include Colette Gallagher, Letterkenny and Gweedore and Máire Dinny Wren, Gweedore.

There will also be generous prizes on the evening for the best dressed ‘faeries’ for both children and adults, so organisers are advising audience members and performers to take out those Halloween costumes from the cupboard.

Worthy charities to benefit from the two musical Events include those supporting cancer sufferers, Alzheimer’s, debilitating genetic condition, amyloidosis (or Donegal Amy), motor neurone disease, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, suicide prevention and diabetes. 

“This exciting line-up of arts and cultural entertainers on Friday evening featuring top-class musicians, dancers and singers will highlight the rich seam of arts and cultural talent throughout Donegal and the efforts being made to harness it,” said Sean Hillen, lead organiser of the Guinness World Records breaking attempts. “The two events, this Friday and on New Year’s Eve, will not only help important charities but also help promote Donegal and particularly its Gaeltacht region as a prime tourism destination point for national and international visitors seeking exhilarating cultural and arts experiences on their world travels. This, in turn, will create added business for hotels, museums and heritage centres, cafes, pubs, Airbnb, taxi services, walking and bus tour guides and restaurants, thus creating greater employment opportunities for local people, thus helping the Irish language and culture to survive and flourish and bring attention to the need for regeneration of rural Ireland and its traditions.”   

The event on Friday evening follows an informal meeting earlier this week to discuss details of the New Year’s Eve 3-hour music extravaganza culminating in the attempts to set six (6) different fiddle playing world records, including the largest assembly of such musicians anywhere in the world at any given time. 

The meeting was attended by attended by such well-known figures as Mary Coyle, manager, Ionad Naomh Padraig; Donegal County Councillor and Udaras na Gaeltachta board member, John Sheamais O’Fhearraigh, and Michael Doherty, sound and video technician and highly-respected GAA supporter.

Due to its uniqueness and timeliness, the New Year’s Eve event is expected to attract widespread international  broadcast and print media attention nationally in Ireland and  across Europe and the North American continent. 

Register to receive updates HERE.

Due to Covid restrictions, rules regarding mask wearing and social distancing will be followed. Remember to bring your mask and vaccination certificate.

Half million euro missing in Donegal, 250 euro returned

Half a million euro would be considered a miraculous life-saver by Mary, the tireless community worker struggling on behalf of cancer patients from Donegal who can barely afford the hefty cost of travel to Galway for specialised treatments.

If the hardworking managers of local community centres in the Donegal Gaeltacht received half a million euro, they could hire additional full-time Irish, and English-language, staff for several years and expand exponentially their range of services and activities in support of local people. 

If Amharclann, the Irish-language theatre in Bunbeg, received half a million euro, it could run an exciting cultural programme of dance, music, cinematic and theatrical performances for the next five years.

Not to mention how hard-pressed individual artists and musicians bereft of gigs due to Covid could use that money. Or indeed the Donegal office of Irish-language organisation, Foras na Gaeilge, whose local members help keep our native language alive here. And as for those unfortunate people whose homes and businesses have been destroyed by mica ….

But none of these groups have the luxury of half a million euro. 

Such a notion would be considered pure and utter fantasy, especially in the hard financial times in which we now live. 

Yet that is about the sum of money former Donegal Fianna Fail Senator, Brian O’Donnell, from Falcarragh in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht, has just wasted. ‘Snatched brutally, selfishly and greedily’ some are saying, from the public purse. Others use the term ‘stolen,’ but in this article I wish to be diplomatic.

How did he do this?

Ironically, over the Irish language.

O’Donnell was caught taking money from the public purse by duplicating travel and subsistence expenses as both board member of Irish-language economic group, Údarás na Gaeltachta, and Donegal County Council. 

The accusations – and this beggars belief – investigated by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) – was that it would have been impossible for him to have been in two different parts of the country at exactly the same time, at two different conferences. 

And there I thought teleportation – where matter is de-materialised at one place and recreated instantly at another – happened only in science-fiction movies and fantasy comics.

If that wasn’t enough, the former Fianna Fail Senator then cowardly left the scene of an accident while driving his car in a drunken state.

But that’s only the beginning of the saga.

O’Donnell, with the aid of well-paid lawyers, fought the accusations against him, not on the basis of whether they were right or wrong, true or false, but on the simple basis that the cases should be heard as Gaeilge (in Irish) not English. The fact that both languages are official languages of the Republic of Ireland didn’t matter a damn to him, nor them. Nor the eventual cost to ordinary Irish citizens, including those unfortunate people suffering from cancer.

The rest of the story is spread across years of newsprint.

After deploying numerous tactics to delay the ‘claims investigation’ many times, he then decided to do the same to the ‘leaving the scene of an accident’ investigation, not once but a total of 20 times.

As a result, the total bill to the ordinary Irishman, woman and child has been estimated at around – yes, you’ve guessed it – half a million euro, the amount the board of trustees of Amharclann, Donegal’s proud Irish-language theatre, the hardworking staff of the county’s community centres and the many severely sick people – all dream of having to help them.

In the meantime, craftily devising his delaying tactics, which eventually spanned a massive eight years, did O’Donnell quietly planned his ‘get-out-of-jail card’ – his emigration to Canada? In fact, O’Donnell being found guilty could perhaps have led to a short prison sentence and would have prevented him emigrating to Canada. And certainly would have prevented him getting a Canadian driving license.

Was his delaying tactics also related to avoidance of his share of the legal costs? For example, I’ve been trying to find out if he ever paid a legal bill placed upon him by three judges who threw out of court his claim that the SIPO was not entitled to investigate his duplicitous behaviour because, he claimed, the allegations arose from ‘an anonymous complaint by a member of the public.’ 

I’d like to know not only if Mr. O’Donnell has paid his full legal bill but how much it was. If Mr O’Donnell is reading this, please get in touch. It’s only fair to hear his side of the story. And transparency is something we all should strive for.

Mysteriously the court hearing that finally put an end to one of the most ludicrous and wasteful cases in Irish legal history, almost went under the radar earlier this month, slipped quietly and quickly onto the docket of a mundane court sitting.

How did this happen? Donegal media said simply that, “according to court papers.. O’Donnell’s case was not due to be heard until the Wednesday after during a sitting  of Falcarragh District Court.” That’s when his (O’Donnell’s) solicitor, Sean Cannon, “brought the matter up with Judge Paul Kelly …during a family law sitting of Letterkenny District Court.” And the judge conveniently and quickly moved the case forward.

‘Brought the matter matter up?’ What the hell does that mean? And does such a serious case merit being in a sitting on family law? The mind boggles.

And this Judge Paul Kelly? Who is he? Was he appointed under a previous Fianna Fail government? Does it look like it from this article? But then again, that doesn’t matter, surely. After all, the Irish legal system is separate from the political one, isn’t it?

Though, as we well know, it is not unknown in Ireland for political favours and indeed, brown envelopes, or both, to pass hands.

The result of the long-delayed case: a ridiculously low fine, in my opinion, of 250 euro for charges of drunken driving leaving the scene of an accident and providing misinformation the police. I dare you to find any court case where such a laughable decision has been made in such a serious case. 

As for the short ban from driving, does it really matter? O’Donnell is sitting pretty in another country. Did an infamous Irish ‘brown envelope’ pass hands to facilitate this convenient legal accommodation in Letterkenny? No-one knows, and unfortunately no-one will probably ever know. Is this just an example of the old adage, ‘there’s a law for the ordinary working citizen but a very different one for the elite, well-connected in Irish society?’ 

So, while O’Donnell enjoys his new life in Quebec, Irish men, women and children in his very own constituency in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht continue to struggle to make ends meet, people continue to suffer pain and hardship, some desperately trying to raise enough money to help them avail of specialised life-saving cancer treatments. And young, talented teachers from the Donegal Gaeltacht, and other parts of the county, are forced to go abroad, to places like Quatar in the Middle East, because there’s no money to employ them here at home.

Is this called ‘fairness’ in Ireland today? 

Among all this misconduct (there are stronger words to describe O’Donnell’s behaviour), there are two other guilty parties that should not escape blame and require stronger scrutiny by the public at large and by themselves. 

At the very least, both Údarás na Gaeltachta and Donegal Council obviously urgently require a proper Code of Practice for Good Governance. And, more importantly, to enforce it. Want to know more about the failings of Údarás na Gaeltachta, an organisation that receives tens of millions of euro from the public purse every year? Read more here. Has it cleaned up its act since then? Time will tell.

There’s little anyone can do now about the regrettable situation surrounding the O’Donnell controversy, except two things.

Firstly, as a citizen you have the right to appeal to the relevant authorities about a court decision you consider overly-lenient and unfair and to have the case reviewed. One place to start is writing to the Complaints Department of the Law Society of Ireland at complaints@lsra.iethe

Then the Judicial Conduct Committee established by The Judicial Council recently. You can write a short email to: info@judicialcouncil.ie You can ask to remain anonymous in both instances. It’s time to stand up and speak out, don’t you think?

I have already sent a complaint about Judge Paul Kelly’s decision as I consider a 250 euro fine to be utterly ridiculous and a 3-year driving ban to be insignificant, considering that Mr. O’Donnell can simply come to Ireland in the intervening years and drive with no problems using a Canadian driving license I presume he will obtain quite easily, thus posing a danger yet again to ordinary people on our roads. On both sides of the Atlantic.  

Secondly, when election time comes round, and it will come quicker than you think, consider carefully which political party and candidates you vote for. Is it not better to avoid the Brian O’Donnells of this world and choose others with a much greater sense of decency and honesty? 

Faeries and music: top Irish fiddler sheds light on both at Ireland Writing Retreat

He has accomplished so much, in so many walks of life, and to top it all off he’s a wizard on the fiddle.

Irish music is firmly lodged in the family genes of maestro Martin McGinley.

And now, he and his partner, Violet, and fellow musician, Noel Lenaghan, flute-player, mandolin player and singer, have kindly agreed to open this year’s edition of the week-long international ‘Ireland Writing Retreat.’

With his mother, Kathleen, a well-known fiddle and melodeon player, as teacher and muse, there was no escaping Martin’s fate. As he played classical violin growing up since the age of eight, as well as banjo and mandolin, the only question was: what instrument and what genre of music would be adopt?

That question was answered in his late teens and his musical mastery of his chosen instrument can be enjoyed in his recently-released fiddle solo CD entitled ‘Full Circle.’

Produced in collaboration with Cairdeas na bhFidléirí (Association Of Fiddle Players) in the ‘Traditional Fiddle Music from Donegal’ series, the CD contains a whopping 30 tracks, 79 minutes of pure music to be exact, with a rich repertoire from many sources, including his own mother.

Tunes include esoteric titles such as Kiss the Maid Behind the Byre, Drowsy Maggie, The Old Man Rocking the Cradle, The Irish Washerwoman, My Love Is In America, Toss The Feathers, Down the Broom and The Pinch of Snuff. A booklet accompanying the CD is filled with comprehensive background information.

“I owe a great debt to my mother and her constant encouragement,” he said. “She was cracked on Irish music and would gather all the local fiddlers to a hotel for regular seisuns in my hometown of Raphoe. There I’d find myself among the most talented of musicians. When jazz became the big craze many years ago after American military personnel came to Derry, she became interested in that too.”

Martin’s background in music is impressive.

He played mandolin in a group called Ferdia and was founding member of Dervish, a band once described by the BBC as “an icon of Irish music.” He also presented the national television series ‘The Pure Drop,’ featuring solo instrumentalists and small groups, as well as various radio programmes focusing on the development of traditional Irish music. So talented is Martin, he has composed between 70 and 80 tunes (he said he stopped counting a long time ago) including jigs, reels, highlands and waltzes. He even attempted to transform ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by rock group, Queen, into a reel and a classical composition by Johann Sebastian Bach into an Irish jig.

“Music has always been there for me, it seems I’ve never not being playing the fiddle – at work, in my spare time,” he said. “While I have other hobbies, playing music is central to my life.”

One interesting theme Martin will discuss with retreat participants in September is the link between music and the spoken and written word. Another even more intriguing and unlikely of themes is that of faeries. “It’s said some fiddlers are visited by faeries who help them become brilliant musicians,” he said. “John Doherty, of one of Donegal’s most famous fiddlers, always wanted to be accompanied home after a late-night seisun, just in case the little folk were around.” As for meetings with faeries Martin may have encountered along the road of life, that question will be addressed at our special retreat evening.

Not only is Martin one of the leading fiddle players in Ireland, he is also deeply involved in education and training. With a Masters degree in music from Open University, he has been manager of Donegal Music Education Partnership (DMEP) for the last six years.

Part of the Donegal Education and Training Board, Martin spearheads a project that promotes the teaching of music across Donegal and helps hundreds of young people receive one-on-one tuition and the chance to perform in concerts, workshops, music weekends and masterclasses. The ten groups involved in DMEP include Donegal Youth Orchestra, Mind Your Quavers, a ‘return-to-music’ initiative, Donegal Chamber Orchestra, the Errigal Singers and Donegal Youth Choir.

The gregarious bearded musician from Raphoe in east Donegal is also board member of the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras and is involved in the annual Django Sur Lennon gypsy jazz festival in Donegal. Martin has also adjudicated fiddle and banjo competitions at a national and regional level, including the famous Fleadh Cheoil, an Irish music festival run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

Martin has led a colourful life, having once been co-owner and bartender at the Sail Inn, a famed traditional music pub in the Donegal fishing port of Killybegs; reporter for Radio Foyle in Derry; correspondent for the BBC in Belfast; an actor; and editor of several prominent newspapers in northwestern Ireland including the Derry Journal, the Donegal Democrat and the Donegal People’s Press. He also ran his own public relations company and now writes a popular weekly current affairs column for the ‘Donegal News.’

Curious to hear Martin live in an intimate setting while telling his favorite faery stories? There are a couple of places still available on our September retreat. Treat yourself.

And don’t forget to enter our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards.’ Deadline: Midnight Irish time, Thursday, September 30.

Was Columba gay?

Thousands of euro of public money are pouring into diverse celebrations this year throughout Ireland to celebrate the life of a 6th century Celtic monk called Columba (or Colmcille) – a strange and elusive man we know almost nothing about.

Even though schools, community centres, Christian churches, local councils and other groups celebrate the 1,500th year of the mystical monk’s birth, no-one knows exactly when he was born. Nor do we know exactly where. We think it was Donegal but we don’t know for sure what part. We know he left Ireland for the Scottish island of Iona where he spent a good part of his life. But we don’t know the real reasons why.

Sitting on the Torr an Aba (Hill of the Abbott) in front of Iona Abbey where it is said Columba did most of his meditating.

We don’t even know for sure if Columba had a mistress, a wife, children, or indeed whether he was gay or bisexual like many of the monks of his time. (Celibacy was not compulsory then, monks/priests could marry and have families and homosexuality was not denigrated as it is today by the Catholic Church).

Nor do we know where Columba is buried. It was thought his bones (or at least the smaller ones) were wrapped up inside a wooden casket covered with silver and copper-alloy designs known as a reliquary and carried by Scottish soldiers at the Battle of Bannockburn where they famously defeated the English. But we now learn there was nothing in the box, which now sits behind a glass case wired to a sophisticated security alarm system in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and labelled as the ‘Monymusk Reliquary.’

Make no bones about it – Columba’s relics are not in the ‘Monymusk Reliquary.’

The reason we know so little about Columba is that while he and his followers attracted a worldwide reputation for penning and illustrating magnificent books of all kinds including the famous Book of Kells, there are no records whatsoever of Columba’s own personal writing, not even a simple diary.

So, how is it then we’re spending so much public money celebrating a man we know nothing about, indeed a man who was never even declared a saint, though most people think he was. Why would the Vatican canonise him anyhow? After all, the Celtic Christian church Columba represented stood firmly against the Roman version, battling tooth and nail for ultimate supremacy, that issue being eventually settled at the Synod of Whitby in 664 with Rome being the victor.

Who knows, perhaps Columba, a lover of herbs, specially St. John’s Wort, followed too many Pagan practices, maybe even believing in faeries, and his writings were wilfully destroyed by the powers that be in Rome.

This brings me to another man, a man of our time.

Dr. Brian Lacey relaxes at his rural west Donegal home in the shadow of Errigal mountain.

Lively septuagenarian, author, archaeologist and historian, Brian Lacey is an exceptional dinner guest. A fine raconteur with quirky views of the world, he’s a man at ease with laughter and story-telling.

And he has just penned his latest book, on a spin-doctor called Adomnán (or Eunan) who single-handedly raised Columba’s name to ‘the High Heavens’ by inventing a series of mostly fictional or at the very least, highly-exaggerated, stories about the founder of Iona Monastery and the ‘miracles’ he supposedly performed.

Rather than it being a selfless literary endeavour, Adomnán’s reasons for writing his book were directly linked to both politics and money. In raising the profile of Columba, he also raised the public profile of the community of monks on Iona that he presided over 100 years after its founder had passed on, thus no doubt encouraging new recruits to sign up and more money donated to the monastery’s coffers.

Meeting the man himself, academic celebrity par excellence.

Some in Ireland might use local slang and call Adomnán ‘a cute hoor,’ loosely translated as ‘a shrewd scoundrel, especially in business or politics.’ Probably he was, but he also achieved much more, as you can see from the article below I wrote for the ‘Donegal News’ recently.

New Book On Columba’s Spin-doctor 

By Sean Hillen

Hemmed in by mountains in Dunlewey near the Poisoned Glen under the shadow of Errigal, one might think Dr. Brian Lacey has taken on the life of a hermit.

Far from it.

Instead, the gregarious 72-year-old regales visitors with colourful tales from bygone days with the natural gift of a seanchaí, explaining the complexities of early medieval life in an easy, entertaining manner.

That, and his vast experience as author, historian and archaeologist, has made him one of the most popular speakers on the life of Columba (Colmcille), the famed monk born yesterday (June 9) 1500 years ago.

Brian’s latest book, one of 15 he has penned, is of particular interest to scholars as the first written in over 1,000 years about a key 7th century figure called Adomnán, who was responsible for launching Columba into the forefront of popular folklore.

‘Without him, Columba could well have been simply a tiny blip on the radar screen of history,” said Brian, whose book entitled Adomnán, Adhamhnán, Eunan: Life and Afterlife published by Four Courts Press was launched during the recent American Conference for Irish Studies. “Adomnán wrote Vita Columbae, (Life of Columba) over a hundred years after Columba’s death in 597 AD and in doing so ‘made’ him into the saint later generations would celebrate.”

The Vita is in three sections – Columba’s alleged ‘miraculous’ powers,’ his ‘prophetic foreknowledge’ and his ‘angelic visions.’ While Brian admires Adomnán for his life’s achievements, he acknowledges he was, “an astute spin-doctor pushing his own Christian agenda.”

“If I met him, I would share few of the same beliefs, most particularly his religious views, but I certainly acknowledge his accomplishments and skill,” he said about the 9th abbot of Iona in Scotland where Columba established his community. “He probably ignored any evidence that cast Columba in a bad light. Instead of a biography he compiled a work of hagiography to extol his spirituality. He also voiced his own political convictions and raised the prestige of the monastic federation – the Familia Columbae – over which he was leader.”

He adds that Adomnán, who was probably born close to Raphoe and studied at Drumhome monastery in south Donegal, even had Columba ‘ordain’ Áedán mac Gabráin, King of Dál Riata, reputedly the earliest recorded instance in European history of the Christian inauguration of a king. “The story fitted Adomnán’s belief in an ideal Christian kingship established in Ireland and Britain,” said Brian.

Brian praises Adomnán for having many ‘firsts.’ 

“He was first to draft a law – Lex Innocentium – for the protection of noncombatants in war, a precursor of the Geneva Convention,” he said. “He also wrote the oldest surviving ‘guide-book’ from western Europe about the Holy Land, De Locis Sanctis, (Concerning Sacred Places), including famous buildings, structures and relics. In it, he also introduced to the English a character who would later become their patron saint – Saint George.”

Brian also said Adomnán was the first to write about the Lough Ness monster, which makes its appearance in the Vita when Columba sees people burying a man savaged by ‘a water beast.’ Adomnán also gained fame as a hostage negotiator, helping free 80 prisoners held by the King of Northumbria.

Flying  high

Eldest of nine children and son of a train driver in Donnybrook, history was not Brian’s first career choice. Before the academic bug hit, he worked in air traffic control in Dublin and Shannon, earning around eight pounds a week, before leaving for Brussels and Paris.

But investigating the past was a pet passion and he soon left the security of the skies and hit the ground running, studying early and medieval Irish history at UCD, becoming a lecturer at Magee College in Derry in the mid-1970s. Brian later led a team of 35 people on a one-year archaeological survey of Donegal, the first project of its kind in Ireland. “This brought us to almost every field in the county,” he recalls fondly. “Four thousand sites, including an Iron Age barracks near the Barnesmore Gap and over two thousand sites dated before 1700 AD.” That project, completed in 1983, helped Brian become head of Derry City Council’s Heritage and Museum Service and director of the Dublin-based Discovery Programme. 

In his pursuit of truth in history, Brian is not averse to controversy. He considers the Christian tale involving saints Colmcille, Fionán, Dubthach and Begley at Cnoc na Naomh (Hill of the Saints) at Machaire Rabhartaigh deciding by tossing their croziers who should convert Tory islanders, to be rooted in Paganism. “This story emerged out of the cult of Lugh and his spear. Adoration of Lugh was widespread through Europe, but the Romans, then Christianity, killed that belief.” 

Having already written an earlier book entitled ‘Saint Columba His Life and Legacy,’ Brian is something of an academic celebrity at many events linked to Columba throughout this special commemoration year.

Published in the ‘Donegal News’

If you want to know more about skulduggery disguised as religion and furious political struggles between Celtic Christians and their Roman counterparts, read the excellent series of Sister Fidelma novels by Peter Tremayne (pseudonym for Peter Berresford Ellis, historian, literary biographer and novelist). 

Fidelma is a ‘dálaigh’ or judge in ancient Ireland, a sexy red-haired female version of Sherlock Holmes in a habit.

Intrigued by the reputation of this early Irish mystic monk known as Columba, I decided as a travel writer to head for Iona, the Scottish island where he established his community of like-minded people. Here’s what I found after landing on a little stony pier after taking the ferry from Mull last autumn, a massive, treacherous sea crossing that took all of five minutes.

Click on the photo to read the story

Love boat sets sail again

With its clear water, impressive sea arches, interesting monuments and meandering stone pathways leading to a rustic cafe-cum-information centre, Gola Island is an idyllic, picture-book getaway from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

And if it wasn’t for Captain Sabba Curran and his daily ferry service, few people would be able to enjoy this west Donegal island’s rugged beauty.

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Many’s the time, stiff from sitting on a chair in front of a computer, I’ve jumped in my car and driven the ten minutes from my home on the slopes of Bloody Foreland towards Magheragallon Pier near the Gweedore Golf Course to catch Sabba’s regular crossings, greeting an old acquaintance on board or meeting a new friend ‘up from the country’ or from another country altogether.

After a short hike and a refreshing seawater swim if the notion takes me, I head to the Uncrowned King of the Island, Eddie McGee, sup an cupán tae and enjoy his lively raconteurship at one of the outside cafe tables overlooking the back pier near the toppled stones of the old schoolhouse. 

So enamoured am I of the island and its quiet, unassuming personality, I included it as a key location in my novel, ‘Pretty Ugly.

In honor of Sabba, Eddie and the beauty of the island, I penned this short news story for the ‘Donegal News’ this week.   

People welcomed the re-launch of the ferryboat service to Gola Island this week following easing of Covid restrictions, with some hailing it as a major boost for tourism.

Captain Sabba Curran, 58, from Dore, began the Gola Island Ferry Service five years ago after he purchased and renovated a 38-foot, 300-horsepower Aquastar, named ‘The Cricket’ (also known as ‘The Love Boat’) with 12-passenger capacity.

“There was a great need for a regular ferry service and as I have a strong interest in boats it was a good match,” said Sabba, who operates his service every day until September, leaving from Magheragallon Pier beside Gweedore Golf Club. “I’m delighted how things have gone so far though I encourage the county council to recognise the island’s tourism potential. It’s been twenty years since the council maintained the roads and the island has only one Portaloo. More are needed, as visitor numbers have increased.”

In addition to individual sightseers, Sabba caters to school groups, as well as hikers, rock-climbers, paddle-surfers, and those attending the island’s festival. Estimates vary but at least several thousand people, including visitors from the US, France and Germany, go to Gola every year. Among island highlights are old schoolhouse ruins, sea arches and monuments to victims of 9/11 and local people aboard the Asgard, used in a gun-running operation for Irish Volunteers in 1914.

Sabba provides other services to the council including transporting the island’s only Portaloo twice a week to the mainland for cleaning. He also brings leftover rubbish to a skip on Magheragallon Pier, thus keeping the island tidy. 

Margo and Paul McGinn from Rathcoffey, Kildare, often travel to west Donegal for holidays. “The Gaeltacht region offers some of the best scenery in Ireland, with Gola, ten minutes by ferry from the mainland, a jewel in the crown,” said Margo. “I like seawater swimming and the island has some of the clearest water I’ve ever been in, as well as sandy beaches. We’ve also enjoyed hiking there and have been rewarded with wonderful views. As a tourism destination, it’s greatly underrated.”

Added Eddie McGee, who manages an island information center-cum-cafe, “It’s great the ferry is back running again. Gola is becoming better known, with many Irish people coming for the first time after Covid prevented them travelling abroad.”

Local Sinn Fein Councillor John Seamais O’Fearraigh said, “without the ferry service, the island wouldn’t have developed as it has over the last few years. I will be pushing the council to fund better amenities to support this. I expected road funding this year but it went to three other islands.”