Death by Twitter

Rampant chaotic scenes that unfolded in and around the Capitol building in Washington DC yesterday – an attempted coup fermented by US President Trump – reminded me of a similar situation I once experienced in another country.

Capitol police point their guns as protestors try to break into a Congress chamber.

It was then, as a foreign correspondent for The Times of London, I learned first-hand how, unfortunately, violent coups can sometimes reap rich political rewards.

It was Bucharest, September 1991.  

President Ion Iliescu, a former member of the Communist apparatchik who had taken over the country after the Christmas Day 1989 execution of dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, wanted rid of the country’s Prime Minister, Petre Roman.

When all else failed, he and his henchmen urged thousands of burly coal miners from the countryside to come to Bucharest, promising them a better life while igniting fierce anger with false stories portraying peaceful protesters in the capital city as traitors to the nation.

Protestors, many of them young students, had occupied a city center square, Piata Victoriei, seeking civil rights. As miners armed with makeshift weapons rushed from buses and trains, massive street clashes began. Some people were killed, others severely injured.

Surrounded by miners, Romanian politician Ion Ratiu calls for calm in parliament.

As a journalist, I mingled with the crowds to cover the story, observing up-close as the shocking spectacle unfolded, defenceless people maimed and murdered with iron bars, shovels and pickaxes.

Soon, the bloody scene became utterly frenzied, as mobs of miners, some uniformed, some not, roamed the streets seeking new targets. Anyone nearby, regardless of age or gender, became victims, including myself. Caught and attacked by a group of miners, I consider myself lucky to have escaped alive, especially when the one who held me in a tight stranglehold kept screaming in my face ‘Te facem praf,’ which I was reliably informed later translated as ‘we will beat you into dust.

As for Prime Minister Petre Roman, he was forced to resign. In an interview with myself and one other journalist in his private office several days afterwards, he said he would be back in power soon. He never was.

That was Romania soon after Communism fell. That was before the explosion of social media. Before websites, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Yesterday’s shocking scenes in Washington took place not in a country just emerging from the shadow of Communism, but one that has enjoyed many decades of democracy, free of absolute dictatorship. Ironically, a country that has repeatedly criticised Romania for its lack of acceptable democratic norms.

Yesterday’s scenes in the US show that democracy cannot be taken for granted, that it can be so easily shattered, especially in today’s technological age where hate-filled individuals and organisations are allowed to spoon-feed false rhetoric to people on the Internet. 

Political and civic leaders must act now to control the immense power of social media which, too often, has become an echo chamber of fake news and xenophobia. Such platforms combust passions spontaneously. And once inflamed, create destruction and death in their wake.

Suspension of Donald Trump’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts is too little, too late. The world of social media must be better regulated, a powerful public-private collaboration, to make sure hate groups aren’t given a license to kill.

Irish officials designate Donegal’s Gola Island nation’s first nudist holiday resort

Irish officials are soon to designate one of Ireland’s prettiest islands, Gola Island off the northwest coast of Donegal, as location for the nation’s first official nudist holiday resort.

The announcement comes after an exclusive article in one of the county’s leading newspapers.

gola island, gola festival donegal

“Nudism, or naturism as it is often termed, is one of the fastest growing niche segments in the tourism market worldwide and we consider Gola Island a suitable place for such development,” said a spokesperson for the newly-formed Irish Ministry, Roinn na nDaoine Nochta. “This innovative initiative is a creative extension of our highly-successful ‘Oscar Wilde Atlantic Way’ programme, one that will boost tourism revenues over the coming years for the northwest, an economically marginalized region that has not benefited as much as other areas such as Galway, Dublin and Kerry from the rising tide of visitors.”

She added, “With top foreign guests to Ireland being from the US, France and Germany where naturism is well developed, we expect rapid economic benefits. Stripped to its bare essentials, this is extremely positive news for the island.”

According to respected international magazine, ‘Tourism Review,’ ( nudist tourism is a 440-million-dollar a year industry in the US alone, with the International Naturist Federation having over 2.5 million card-carrying members.

nudist beaches donegal, gola island donegal

Funding for this naturist initiative will be substantial, added a spokesperson for Government Agency, An Roinn um Fhorbairt Mhíchéillí. “With the support of the World Bank and the IMF, an emergency budget of 666 million euro is being aside immediately for a wide range of substructure and superstructure works supporting this island project. We consider this a bare minimum to fully cover cost of materials and manpower necessary for upgrade of facilities. This project will provide gainful employment for construction workers including carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, not to mention masseuses. It will also help redress the unfair balance in island funding nationwide. Under the present system, Donegal islands receive much less than islands in other parts of the country such as Galway.”

The spokesperson added, “Depending on the number of nudist visitors that descend upon Gola, we’ll consider further funding. If numbers rise as quickly as we expect, we may invite experts from Holland to advise on best methods for reclaiming submerged land and extend Gola out to the Three Sisters. That’s if they don’t mind, of course. Naturally, we’d seek their views before beginning such works. As Pagans, at One with Nature, I don’t foresee there’ll be any protest.”

nudism in donegal, nudist tourism, nude beaches in ireland

Views from Gola Island in the future?

Officials from An Roinn um Fhorbairt Mhíchéillí, Roinn na nDaoine Nochta and Aire na Forbartha Craiceáilte are also seeking private investors for the project.

Four officials, two men and two women, visited Gola last weekend for final inspections, including the evaluation of existing accommodation, the cleanliness of offshore water and the suitability of beaches as nude bathing sites.

irish naturist association, gola island donegal
Could cruise liners such as this soon be anchoring off Gola Island?

A horticultural expert from the Irish Parks and Recreation Association and another from the Irish Bird Life Society have been recruited as consultants on the project.

“We are particularly worried about clegs, or horse-flies, which can leave severe red welts on the bodies of unwary victims,” said a government inspector with the newly-formed An Roinn Turasóireachta do Dhaoine Lomnochta. “If they are found to be in abundance on the island, absolute mayhem could result. Quite frankly, it could be a bloody unholy mess.”

The inspector added, “We’re also very concerned about corncrakes, an endangered species. They’re shy birds and we’ll be monitoring their reaction to flocks of naked people. Such trauma could cause their mass migration from Irish shores forever.”

Island households as well as boat owners, especially passenger-carrying ones, are being asked to convert all wooden furnishings to metal. “When it comes to people without clothes, we have to be careful about the dangers from wooden splinters, especially in certain sensitive areas of the body,” said a health and environmental specialist. “Splinteritis is a very dangerous condition, one that can be handed down from generation to generation.”

Naturist Federation, gola island festival,

Could such facilities soon be common on Gola Island?

Gola, spelled ‘Gabhla’ in the Gaeilge language, lies about a mile off the northwest coast of Ireland, a region considered by many to be one of the most picturesque and attractive in the country. It may have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, ‘Treasure Island.’

Electricity connection to the island was installed some years ago but officials are now renovating an underwater cable supplying water as part of a general upgrading of facilities in advance of the naturist initiative taking effect.

Government officials said factors leading to their decision included Gola Island’s close offshore position, easy and convenient access by ferry, its many quiet coves and discreet beaches providing an acceptable level of privacy for both clothed and non-clothed people and, of course, its hot tropical micro-climate.

Other islands under consideration for the major economic boost included Inis Mór in Galway, Rathlin Island in Antrim, Clare Island in Mayo and even the Skellig Islands in Kerry, which gained famed recently as a location for the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie.

nudist beaches donegal, gola island

Naturism: now a popular practice in urban and rural areas.

While realizing the obvious economic benefits locally from the substantial cash injection, elected representatives are assessing the views of Gola islanders on the surprise initiative before making official statements, either for or against.

That’s when I woke from my dream. And into the bright light of reality.

It’s Saturday. It’s the first day of the annual Gola Island Festival. A committee led by Máirín Ui Fhearraigh has put together a wide range of enjoyable activities for both children and adults. Hard-working Sabba Curran, captain of ‘The Cricket,’ is busy ferrying passengers over.

Alas, Irish officials haven’t given the island 666 million euro for a ‘natural development’ or indeed development of any kind. Donegal still remains poor cousin to Galway, Kerry and Dublin when it comes to public funding.

Ah well, at least there’ll be a good bit of craic going on at King Eddie’s wee café.

I urge you. Go along and support this worthy community initiative.

For information on this weekend’s Gola Island festival, contact Máirín at 087 413 4244.


Traditional Tennessee music comes to northwest Ireland

Dressed in checked shirts, caps and denim dungarees with big colorful handkerchiefs sticking out of back pockets, American musicians at Letterkenny’s Regional Cultural Center (RCC) this week looked as ready for harvesting corn (or producing moonshine from it) as hosting a concert.

Fortunately, it was the latter and what a knee-slapping hoedown the evening turned out to be courtesy of the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, combining a mix of musical talent and fine stagemanship with good humor, including some zany ‘instruments.’

With an impressive number of CDs behind them, the five-member group are so at ease on stage, they often decide at the last minute which song they’ll play next, which lends their concerts a delightful sense of spontaneity, such as when they ended this week’s show with a lively rendering of that all-time Irish classic, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.’

As evidenced Wednesday evening at the RCC, their inventory of songs and tunes is diverse, ranging from romantic ballads to spine-chilling ghost stories to comical tales of ‘tooth picking time in false-tooth valley’ and revengeful chickens as in ‘Ghost Chickens In The Sky.’

Add to the mix, the well-honed skills of Dan Kelly on fiddle; smiling Ernie Sykes on bass and voice; bald-pated, nimble-fingered John Tomlin on mandolin and voice; versatile band leader Troy Boswell, known professionally as Leroy Troy, playing claw hammer-style banjo, harmonica and washboard and voice, as well as Mike Armistead on guitar and voice.

Concert-goers were also treated to the amusing sight of Troy teasing a tune out of a plastic milk jug and a water bottle and Sykes producing the same from closed hands on the song, ‘Sick, Sober and Sorry,’ and then later hilariously miming a chicken.

Among the song highlights of the evening were a touching ballad entitled ‘These Hands’ and the carefree ‘Chug-a-Lug,’ about aforesaid moonshine, written and recorded by American country artist Roger Miller, both sung by Sykes; the ghostly tale and bluegrass classic, ‘Bringing Mary Home’ written by Chaw Mank, Joe Kingston and John Duffey and sung by Tomlin; as well as ‘Miller’s Cave,’ a Don Williams melody and the hilarious and probably most confusing song yet written, for which a family diagram is required, ‘I’m My Own Grandpa,’ both sung by Troy. Instrumentally, Troy’s prowess on the scrub board on ‘They Cut Down The Old Pine Tree’ was a delight, as was the group’s interpretation of the Hank Williams song ‘A Mansion On The Hill.’

The evening’s concert was ably opened by singer-guitarist Nashville-born George Harper, who sang a variety of songs from his ‘I’ll Be Back’ and ‘No Smokin In Here’ albums including the lively ‘Overland Express’ and a traditional folk song with the amusing kick-line ‘sugar tit a mile wide and six feet long.’ Northwest Ireland wasn’t left out of his repertoire either, with ‘Why Do I Go To Sligo,’ a song about the pretty girls of that particular town, written after a previous gig there. His voice and Tomlin’s mandolin playing on the love ballad, ‘A Stone’s Throw Away’ made for a perfect combination.

Considering Letterkenny lies in the peripheral end of Ireland, about three-hours away from Dublin where music groups often congregate, great credit goes to RCC director, Shaun Hannigan and his colleagues there, as well as Donegal County Council Arts Officer, Traolach O’Fionnain, for bringing so many diverse bands to play. Last week I enjoyed a marvelous performance by ‘Hot Club of Cowtown’ and the series of US country concerts ends next Friday (Nov. 11) with singer-songwriter-musician, Maine-born Jude Johnston performing alongside Linley Hamilton and Dave Keary. After that it’s something different – a Swiss jazz trio, Vein, with New York saxophonist, Greg Osby, on Thursday Nov. 17, and acoustic guitarist Pierre Bensusan from France, the very next day, Fri. 18.

The concerts are presented in association with Earagail Arts Festival, Donegal Music Education Partnership and Music Network.

Alpha male tycoon Versus political grande dame

Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton face-off in the ring

The dust having settled on the first of three public debates between Donald Trump, business tycoon and alpha male, and Hilary Clinton, a 69-grandmother and grande dame of American politics, both vying for what many consider is the most powerful position in the world – below are two short analyses as to who won.

The first by my good self was for Donegal’s Highland Radio, the largest regional radio station in Ireland, in conversation with the station’s most popular host and former managing director, Shaun Doherty.

The second is a former journalist colleague of mine in the US, Stephen Farnsworth, now political science professor and founder of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies, University of Mary Washington, multi-book author and national commentator with The Washington Post, Reuters, The Chicago Tribune and MSNBC.

With two months still to go until election day and two more public debates, there is still time for a change of fortunes

Football: just a game? Or a complex metaphysical belief system?

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I assure you it is much more important than that.”

I was reminded of these memorable words of famous Scotland-born, Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly, as my spirits sank beyond despair in the bar of Teac Jack’s in Gaoth Dobhair, Donegal last night watching the team I have supported for the last 50 years of my life make a sow’s ear out of a silver purse.

Such was my wretched state of mind, my dear wife, Columbia, bought me bottle upon bottle of Kinnegar Rye extra-strength IPA in an effort to fortify my flagging spirits and Donal, the genial barman, meandered by my table several times his usual jovial smile replaced with a shadow of concern, trying to ascertain with that innate talent only a skilled barman possesses whether I was in need of an urgent dose of CPR, or at the very least, some immediate psychological counseling.

This was to be West Ham’s ‘BIG NIGHT.’ The last ever FA Cup match after more than 100 years playing there at the Boleyn Ground (Upton Park) in London’s East End (the ‘real’ London where Jack the Ripper so generously plied his trade, where people say ‘apples and pears’ for stairs and ‘Khyber Pass’ for ass – a unique language best illustrated by the late Ronnie Barker in his ‘Rhyming Slang Sermon’ skit).

It was here amid a lively capacity crowd booming out the team’s – rather unmanly – theme song ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ that the ‘Claret and Blues’ were to halt the march of the Mighty Red Army, then stride on proudly and purposefully to Wembley glory, both events being very rare occurrences in the annals of Hammers sporting history.

This was to be West Ham’s final adieu before it starts the new season at the sparkling new Olympic Stadium, a fitting goodbye to the old homestead for a team that modestly started its life in 1895 with a bunch of welders, plumbers, brickies, electricians and other tradesmen, known as Thames Ironworks FC, who themselves were built upon the remains of Old Castle Swifts FC, a club formed in 1892.

Sadly, things – as you may have already heard and certainly as you can read below – didn’t go quite according to plan.

However, as it was an historic game, for what’s worth – below is my one and only West Ham match report…….


Overall West Ham were pretty woeful last night against a bunch of inexperienced kids in Red with a lot of enthusiasm – in effect an experimental transitional team.

Hammers burst their bubble big time, and no worse time to do it, in the very last FA Cup match at Upton Park after 100 years, only one match away from double Wembley glory, against both the Toffees and Palace.

Blowing bubbles at West Ham

Bubbles bursting all around. But no champagne.

To use an old baseball term, they didn’t even step up to the plate. Aside from a final, frenetic 12 minutes gurgling-for-air display, they sank – in a flurry of bubbles – pretty much without trace.

MU are never easy to beat. Their enviable reputation alone means they step on to a field a goal ahead psychologically. West Ham are far from that and last night proved it. After all Bilic’s pre-march talk of not being afraid – that’s exactly what they were (in front of their home crowd too which, in itself, says a lot). West Ham simply doesn’t have the class it takes to win when it matters, during the big occasions. I guess it’s a mindset that enters a team’s DNA at some point in their development (strengthened by continued success, of course). And it’s not all about money either (though that helps). West Ham is nowhere near that point yet – class or money.

Manchester United winns agains West Ham

Hands shaking everywhere. Nerves on the big day?

Right now, they are apprentices in the trade, not craftsmen. Silver perhaps to MU’s platinum.

Their best ‘move’ came when Mark Noble carried off a melodramatic Ander Herrera. Aside from that, MU dominated the match, carried the ball forcefully and confidently into the Hammers half and punished them severely.

FA Cup West Ham

The beginning of the end.

They say you haven’t supported a team until you’ve experienced some pain – watching the SH_T West Ham troweled up last night on what was billed as their ‘BIG DAY’ was rather agonizing. The result simply added more salt to wounds that just won’t heal – the double shot-double save and rightly disallowed goal near the end last night being the vinegar. That’s five successive matches at least without a win to their name.
And as for that ludicrous out-swinging corner by Payet with a minute to go, with big Tompkins and Carroll waiting on the six-yard box to pounce  – what was the little island man hoping his captain could do – perform a soap opera-style ‘East Enders’ miracle.

West Ham against Manchester United

Best West Ham ‘move’ of the entire match – by team captain, Mark Noble.

It only remains for West Ham to beat MU in their final home game (which I think they will) but even that will be lame consolation after last night’s winner-takes-all flop – unless that crucial 4th place/Champions League spot is still in play, which could be, considering the two Manchesters are still in Cups, and may tire – in saying that, I do not want the Hammers to beat Leicester this Saturday, by doing so, they could help ruin a perfect modern-day football fairy story.

If West Ham don’t beat MU on that final home league game at Upton Park, it will be the most whimpering of ends to a season that just six weeks ago seemed like it could provide a delightfully thrilling finish for them.

West Ham manager

As the waiter-cum-football-fan asked an over-the-hill George Best in the room of his 5-star hotel with Miss World in his bed, “Where did it all go wrong?” Obviously here, Hammers manager Slaven Bilić doesn’t know.

West Ham must have been hoping for miracles last night. They brought on Moses (who did, after all, part the Red Sea, but alas, obviously couldn’t part the Reds).

Having said my piece, I’m off now to do my duty as a faithful football fan who’s just watched the team he has supported loyally for most of his life nonchalantly toss away yet another dream-in-the-making – to throw up soundly in the toilet.