Are yoga, thai chai and reiki dreaded Druidic distractions? Is the anti-cervical cancer vaccine, HPV, the Devil’s poison?

Glancing through last Friday’s edition of the ‘Donegal News,’ I was dazzled by the sheer creativity of people from Ireland, (see a particularly interesting article on page 47 focusing on a man who lasted 70 days in prison without food and is now a Doctor in Sociology and a well-known Irish playwright and film and documentary script writer).

It’s as if the artists of every shade throughout Ireland and particularly in my resident county, Donegal – musicians, actors, painters, dancers et al – feel they have a deep, abiding, age-old responsibility to uphold our ancient rich Gael culture, and in doing so, prevent its dilution.

And I don’t mean – wonderful though it is – simply the native folk music and song of the lauded, award-winning Frosses-native Rita Gallagher and Gaoth Dobhair’s Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh (who play this Thursday at the Balor Arts Centre as part of the Bluestacks Festival).

rita Gallagher, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh

Winners of TG4 Gradam Ceoil Awards.

I mean our vast spread of artistic talent, first brought here to these shores when definitive Celtic traditions arrived from places such as Romania and Gaul (Gallia) in the fourth century B.C.

Then, unlike all other islands, Alice Stopford Green tells us in her work ‘Irish Nationality,’ Ireland, “was circled round with mountains, whose precipitous cliffs rose sheer above the water standing as bulwarks against the immeasurable sea, providing a bulwark – though sadly not an invincible one – against invaders of all kinds. And certainly, helping far-flung places such as Donegal escape foreign domination.” (unlike the Pale of Dublin which followed a completely different tract).

Irish chroniclers tell of a vast Celtic antiquity, with a shadowy line of monarchs reaching back some two thousand years before Christ: legends of lakes springing forth; of lowlands cleared of wood; the appearance of rivers, the making of roads and causeways, the first digging of wells: the making of forts; invasions and battles and plagues.

The Celts or Gaels exalted and encouraged learning in national life. Professors of every school roamed freely here and the warrior’s duty was to protect them. There were periodical exhibitions of everything the people esteemed—democracy, literature, tradition, art, commerce, law, sport, the Druid religion, even rustic buffoonery. The years between one festival and another were spent in serious preparation for the next.

Innovative arts programme at the Balor Arts Center, Ballybofey, Donegal.

The law of the Celts was the law of the people. They never lost their trust in it. They never followed a central authority, for their law needed no such sanction. A multitude of maxims were drawn up to direct the conduct of the people.

While the code was one for the whole race, the administration on the other hand was divided into the widest possible range of self-governing communities, which were bound together in a willing federation. The forces of union were not material but spiritual, and the life of the people consisted not in its military cohesion but in its joint spiritual inheritance—in the union of those who shared the same tradition, the same glorious memory of heroes, the same unquestioned law, and the same pride of literature.

So deeply was their importance felt, the Irish have kept these tradition diligently, and even in the darkest times of our history, down to the 17th century, still gathered to ‘meetings on hills’ to exercise their law and hear their learned men.

Not-to-be-missed performer.

So please think of this rich vein of cultural tradition that we’ve inherited when you read this week about the wealth of artistic talent on display here in Donegal and throughout Ireland – the multi-talented Pat Kinevane from Temple Bar-based Fishamble enacting not one but three separate one-man plays beginning this Friday with ‘Forgotten,’ at An Grianan in Letterkenny, a fine venue under the organization of Patricia McBride, Helene McMenamin, Daithi Ramsay and other staff members; Fishamble’s literary officer, Gavin Kostick, hosting playwriting masterclasses this Saturday there; the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny, under the direction of Shaun Hannigan, presenting a feast of autumn concerts, kicking-off with the duet of Eliza Carty and Tim Eriksen this Friday evening; and ‘The Ghostlight Sessions’ at the Balor Arts Centre in Ballybofey tonight, an evening of original music curated by Nikki Pollock (Mojo Gogo) and Dean Maywood and featuring ‘In Their Thousands’ and ‘Without Willow.’

Not to mention ‘The Donegal Voices’ this Friday in Ballyshannon performing Handel’s magnificent ‘Coronation Anthems’ and the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ Many of the performances are funded by the Donegal County Council/An Comhairle Ealaion.

First Lady of Celtic music – Donegal-born Moya Brennan.

And if you missed Moya Brennan of Clannad performing a few days ago with her husband, Tim, daughter Aisling and son Paul, in Teac Leo in Crolly, in support of the Inishowen Floods Fund, you’ll surely get the chance again to hear this brilliantly talented family in the future. The same goes for ‘Shoot The Gear,’ a fine piece of theater with a fishing-community based theme facilitated by the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organization, written by An Grianan Theatre artist-in-residence, Guy Le Jeune, and performed by a cast of local actors, singers and musicians including Fionn Robinson, Louise Conaghan, Orlaith Gilchreest and Ronan Carr.

Speaking of music, what a terrific accomplishment by Donegal Music Education Partnership (DMEP) manager, Martin McGinley, and his team, including tutor and pianist, Ellen Quinn, Maureen Fryer-Kelsey and James Sarsteiner , with help from Marianne Lynch of Donegal County Council Library Services in putting together a new online library of more than 1,500 musical items that the public can easily access.

Martin McGinley (left) – Journalist, editor, fiddle player par excellence, now manager of Donegal Music Education Partnership.

However, as we rightly attempt to emulate our rich, multi-layered Celtic past, I would issue a sharp warning. While the keystone of our proud ancestors’ beliefs was based on the premise of democracy, each individual having a fair say, let us beware.

The Catholic Church – so long dominant in Irish society after vanquishing Druidic life, more so in rural Irish society – must now learn to accept – in turn – its rapidly changing place. And that place is no longer its own self-styled, unquestioning right to direct all community groups, especially on sensitive matters of finance. Too often have I heard complaints here in the Donegal Gaeltacht and elsewhere in Ireland about frocked priests and bishops sitting at the heads of tables, making vital decisions, often cunningly in an underhand way ahead of the formal committee meetings, on where vital monies should go. And not always to the benefit of the community as a whole – but to the church in particular.

My own area, Cnoc Fola, has just received a grant of 40,000 euro from Fine Gael Minister Joe McHugh. Considering the rather incestuous relationship between the Catholic Church and successive ruling political parties in Ireland – Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – is it reasonable for me to expect there is no payback expected, from both church and state, for this money, in terms of votes and support?

Is it also reasonable for me to trust the word of men in long black coats who describe yoga, thai chai and reiki as activities that ‘endanger our souls’ and who also discourage women from taking the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer, saying it simply encourages widespread promiscuity and immorality? And who move child abusing clergy from parish to parish?

Some months ago in a previous blog, I invited a well-known, rather affable west Donegal Gaeltacht priest, Brian O’Fearraigh, to join community members in our weekly yoga sessions at An Crann Og in Gaoth Dobhair. He hasn’t made an appearance yet. My offer is still open. He’d receive a warm ‘Cead Mile Failte’ from very friendly people there.

What do these seemingly unrelated issues – yoga, thai chai, reiki and the HPV vaccine – have in common, anyway? Freedom of mind and body, of course. And such displays of individual identity are perceived as hot, red-light dangers by most major corporation and institutions, especially the more conservative ones.
Wait for it, it’ll be swimming, cycling, swing dancing and jazz next. Oh, I forgot, the latter was already forbidden by the Church to all God-fearing people some years ago.

Does that mean God-loving people can enjoy such relaxing music? Even if they are Druids, Pagans, atheists, agnostics or pantheists and their God is Mother Nature herself?

Notes 

Hope you like my latest published novel, the suspense Pretty Ugly, linking Donegal and other parts of Ireland, including Belfast, with the US cities of Boston, New York, Kansas City and Washington DC.

Interested in creative writing? A novel? Biographical memoir? Play or movie script? See Ireland Writing Retreat

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A sad, rather pathetic, Christmas story

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.’ (Clement Clarke Moore)

As winds howl around me and rain rattles my window panes like the chattering of false teeth, I recall this sad, rather pathetic, Christmas story…

Prominent politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness on the Irish national stage gets stuck on a knife-edge. Someone with access to key information can prove he falsified expenses on the back of the average Seamus/Sean/Patrick ‘Joe O’Blow’ citizen, both as a board member of Irish-language body, Údarás na Gaeltachta, and Donegal County Council.

Concerned about the effects on its chances of returning to Power if things get sour, spin doctors at his political party’s Dublin head office get involved. Politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness also calls in his own local cronies, most from the west Donegal Gaeltacht area – well-paid fellows in silk suits, some of whom made financial hay on the back of his and his party’s long-term, some say overly-long, stay in power.

Christmas story Donegal, politicians in Donegal

Money, money – who says I’m interested in money?

They say ‘deny, deny,’ which said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness does. He’s hoping the custodians of the county council and the national Irish-language body – many of whose top brass owe their own cushy, well-paid admin jobs, expenses and pensions to his own political party – will sit on it like dementia-suffering chickens, and do nothing.

But the evidence is much too solid, and from a respected and knowledgeable insider too, comprising definitive documents that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the culpability of said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness.

Also, hushed voices are alleged to whisper in the Corridors of Power, ‘there’s so much more that could easily come to light and make donkeys of us all.

Aforesaid local top brass know they must do what’s unavoidable. Otherwise their own jobs, generous expenses and pensions could be on the line. So, faced with no alternative, they bring the allegations – rather reluctantly – to the attention of the relevant authorities, hoping it will all go away and they can return undisturbed to their comfy desks, genteel lifestyles and holiday homes on the Spanish coast.

But that doesn’t happen.

An investigation begins by the six-member, national Standards in Public Office (SIPO) chaired by an experienced, former High Court Judge.

corruption in Donegal, what's on in Donegal

Now let me think: two places at the same time. Mmmmm, surely it must be possible. Anyway, who’s lookin’?

Re-enter stage left the local and national spin-doctors-cum-advisors to said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness. Okay, not ‘deny, deny,’ but ‘delay, delay.’ Until it all blows over and our All-Consuming Party climbs back on to its Rightful Throne. ‘Knowing the fickleness of the average dumb, thick-as-shite, Irish voter, that’s inevitable,’ they say, ‘quicker than you can slip a brown envelope into a pocket.’ Then we can blow this under the carpet as we have done with much more serious stuff in the past.’

But national elections come around. And, lo and behold, the hoped-for Dramatic Return to Power, which they feel is theirs by Right, they being the ‘Soldiers of Destiny,’ doesn’t happen.

The battle cry, as per the silk-suited, well-heeled advisers and cronies, then becomes not ‘deny, deny’ or even ‘delay, delay’ but that bastion of Irish patriotism. The one, they feel, will blind the thick-as-shite voters to the insignificant wrongs of falsifying expenses and screwing the average Seamus/Sean/Patrick Joe O’Blow.

The sacred language. The language of Pearse, Plunkett and Wolfe Tone.

Let’s tell them, by George: ‘We want any investigation to be conducted in our native language, as Gaeilge, le do thoil. If not, we’ll not recognize this court.’ Quite ironic, as the comprehensive falsifying of expenses, by all accounts, was done in the dignified language of the Royal British Crown.

And so it’s done.

And so the cost continues to rise…and rise…and rise even more.

Finally, the rather inevitable conclusion was reached, just last week after around two years of delay: politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness has indeed screwed over the average thick-as-shite Seamus/Sean/Patrick ‘Joe O’Blow.’ Regardless of our rapid technological development, it seems it’s still impossible for a homo sapien to be in two separate physical places at the very same time.

But guess what?

poverty in Donegal, Senator O'Donnel Donegal

Hey Mister, Merry Christmas, can ye spare a penny cos the politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness stole all our parents’ money?

Instead of costing the average Seamus/Sean/Patrick thick-as-shite ‘Joe O’Blow’ a couple of thousand euro, it costs, wait for it – with lawyers’ fees, documents, photocopying, translation costs, administrators and secretarial overtime etc – a whopping 350,000 euro.

To put this sum in perspective, this is the equivalent of around 12,000 (that’s twelve thousand) round-trip airfares on flybe for cancer patients from Donegal’s Carrickfinn Airport for specialist treatment in Dublin.

Yet, even sadder, so unimportant and insignificant is scarce public money, both Donegal county council and Údarás na Gaeltachta have just announced they’re not going to ask for the money back from said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness.

Now isn’t that a sad and pathetic Christmas story?

But know what the even sadder thing is?

Said politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness continues to be paid out of Seamus/Sean/Patrick ‘Joe O’Blow’s’ thick-as-shite’ pocket. In fact, between 2011 and 2015, said politician was among the top ten most expensive Senators in the entire Irish nation – 409,183.06 euro to be exact in salaries and expenses. That’s about a 100,000 euro a year. Did you ever earn that figure?

As for the party of our politician-on-the-cusp-of-greatness. Fianna Fail by name. Beset by ever-increasing, power-hungry pains and after spending a great deal of time, effort and money defending ‘Their Man’ and spinning the truth, they – in their instantaneous wisdom – cut him loose. Snip. You can always come back another day, they say, the Seamus/Sean/Patrick thick-as-shite-Irish-voter suffers genetically from short-term memory problems, so we’re all okay, in it together, if you know what I mean.

Now, you tell me. Who’s the real loser in this sad, rather pathetic, Christmas story?

Donegal politicians, Fiana Foil Donegal

Yeah, it’s pretty bad. We ain’t got no shoes or socks. Where did the money for them go anyway, you ask? Well, it’s a sad, rather pathetic, Christmas story…


If you’re interested in political and corporate corruption in a suspense novel linking Donegal to the US, read newly-published ‘Pretty Ugly.’ Can be purchased direct from Amazon, in eBook or print form, or in Donegal from Gallaghers or Matt Bonners Bunbeg, or Easons Letterkenny.

 

‘Justice(s) in Ireland’ – a cozy cartel

Believe it or not, I’m not going to write about the national election, either the one here or the one across the Atlantic.

(except to say…Fianna Fail will support a minority Fine Gael government and acrobatically pretend to be ‘in’ Government and ‘out’ of Government and Hilary will win the White House but will be run close by Bernie Sanders whom she’ll choose as her vice-president in an effort to get him to stay quiet, though I’d prefer Bernie to win outright).

Rather than elections – we all need a break – I’m going to write about a poor, unfortunate woman who was shafted by what is loosely – very loosely – called ‘the justice system in Ireland.’

justice in Ireland, Concillor O'Donnell

The lady in question is an emigrant, the luckless Petra Kucklick of Creeslough and she was run over by reckless driver, John O’Donnell, a long-time Fianna Fail member, who in order to get elected to Donegal County Council at a time when that particular political party was rightly blamed for bankrupting Ireland became what I call a ‘pseudo Independent.’ He showed his true colors last week openly supporting Fianna Fail’s Pat the Cope Gallagher, a friend of the family, who, in turn, let down those who voted for him by saying he wanted to be Ceann Comhairle, where he won’t have any voting rights on any issues whatsoever – a fine, upstanding way to represent one’s constituents on the national stage.

But back to Petra.

Run over and injured by Chauffeur O’Donnell in the year 2000, she has been waiting for fair compensation for 16 long years. Does this seem like justice to you?

Not only, but even now, after the public tax payer has doled out tens of thousands of euro on repeated court hearings on this particular case – not on whether O’Donnell is guilty or not, that has been clear from the very beginning – but on why an obviously guilty party has not paid out proper compensation.

Even now, this week, at the latest episode in what has become a legal circus, an utter mockery of any justice system, Mr. O’Donnell comes to court, after being told last month to bring all documents showing he has no money – a claim he makes to avoid paying compensation – and raises two fingers high to all those present – document-less.

Donegal justice, legal system Ireland

As for the expensive clothes said Mr. O’Donnell has been buying and the fine dinners with the best of wines for himself and his friends, well……what’s a man to do, one has to live in the style to which one has become accustomed. A full year of payments he was finally asked to make to Ms. Kucklick amounted to less than the suit he chose at the local menswear shop.

But there’s one element to this whole story that has escaped attention thus far. Why would a judge of any kind, never mind the one in this particular case, Paul Kelly, let a man screw around like Mr. O’Donnell has done? After all, every time this case is adjourned – and O’Donnell has demanded that regularly – it costs the ordinary citizen a lot of money.

judges in Ireland, Irish corruption

A glimpse into the expenses of judges in Ireland may provide part of the answer. Judges claimed a total of 1.65 million euro last year, excluding salaries. All expenses for judges in Ireland, including mileage, are tax-free. Judge Kevin Kilraine, who presides in Donegal, for example, claimed 65,392 euro in 2014 and featured in the top five claims nationally last year also.

And what about Judge Kelly…. could money have something to do with why he seems so easily to allow Mr. O’Donnell to nonchalantly ignore repeated requests from the court for details on his personal financial worth, in a case that has lasted 16 years? After all, the more the cases are adjourned, the more judges get in expenses.

How much do you think Judge Kelly’s expenses amount to? Hazard a guess….

In journalism, the golden rule is: ‘Follow the money … or the politics.’ In the case of Councillor O’Donnell, it seems both elements play a role.

Are Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour and pseudo-Independents set on destroying power-sharing in Donegal?

Early last Monday morning as most of us woke up groggily and struggled out of bed to face the week, a dramatic closed-door meeting of the Independent Grouping within Donegal Council was taking place in Lifford at which the very future of politics in the county was being decided.

Or at least that’s one interpretation: that pseudo-Independents (my sobriquet for them) backed by the Coalition Government partners of Fine Gael and Labour together with Fianna Fail were aiming for.

But the political cat might be out of the bag, so to speak.

Could it be that someone poured (or was it self-administered?) poisonous elixir into the ears of certain councillors that the life of an independent within traditionally conservative Irish political circles is a short one, so they’d better rejoin the party fold again – before it is too late? “Being in a party makes for an easier life,” may have been the song on the hymn sheet. “You’ve got the company of like-minded people. Talk up the party you formerly belonged to until we win the Dail, then we – together with you – will control Lifford as well.” If it was, perhaps instead, without knowing, they’ve been listening to the Song of the Sirens.

Donegal councillors, county council meeting

(l to r) Let’s decide on a plan of action. Councillors Frank McBrearty and Michael McBride confer discreetly at Monday morning’s meeting of Donegal County council.

Intriguing backstory

As Councillor Michael McBride told me last week, a motion by John Campbell at Monday morning’s private Independent Grouping meeting to have John O’Donnell expelled from the group supported, by Michael Cholm MacGiolla Easbuig and himself, was defeated by five other councillors, a strange situation to say the least as only last month, they had all voted to make him resign.

But that wasn’t the biggest surprise of that morning.

That came just a few minutes later, immediately Campbell and Easbuig left the Independent Grouping in protest.

“Much to my amazement, someone suddenly called for the dissolution of the entire Grouping,” recalls McBride, who chaired the meeting but said he cannot remember who made what he considered a bizarre call (strange loss of concentration as chairperson at so vital a time). “And it was agreed upon so quickly I can’t but believe they had all discussed this much earlier, in private.”

The five councillors in the Independent Group who voted against O’Donnell’s expulsion were Nicholas Crossan, Tom Conaghan, Niamh Kennedy, Ian McGarvey, and John O’Donnell himself, most former party members.

Later that same evening McBride sent me an e-mail purportedly written by Kennedy stating that, “a decision has been taken to suspend the independent grouping and that no positions would be removed from any member as an investigation is currently underway by the ethics registrar of Donegal county council.”

She added, “None of us are involved in the 25/30 councillors referred to by Cllr.  O Donnell (on the RTE programme). This decision has been taken in the interest of the people of Donegal and in order to accommodate the smooth running of the business of Donegal county council following this past two months of turmoil.” But one is still left wondering why the Grouping was suddenly dissolved? Could it be, as McBride said, that they were fed up working with the fiery Frank McBrearty, who first proposed O’Donnell’s expulsion. Or with the intellectually able Campbell and passionate Easbuig? Or is something more sinister going down?

Franc McBrearty, Donegal councillors

Loosening his tie. But then again, Councillor McBride wasn’t wearing one, was he, at the council meeting? Just a bout of nervousness then? Or indecision?

Asked about his feelings on the dissolution of the Independent Grouping, McBride said, “I didn’t want that. It’s good for the council to have the four-group all-inclusive set-up that it has. To my understanding, that kind of power-sharing is unique in the whole country, something Donegal should be proud of.”

I asked McBride several questions

“Would you like O’Donnell – your former business partner in Dúncrua Teoranta, which was granted 120,000 euro from Udaras na Gaeltachta – expelled from all council committees.”

“I would have no problem with him being removed from all committees.”

“Why then did you abstain in the full council vote on the matter this Monday?”

“Because of the way I was treated fairly when I was co-opted on to the council for former Senator Jimmy Harte’s seat.”

“So, you would have been okay with a council decision to expel him, but not for you to vote on it?”

“Yes, it would have been democracy in action.”

Conversation ends.

Shakespeare: Is there something rotten in the state of …. Donegal?

Why would the trio of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour want the Independent Grouping at Donegal County Council dissolved? Here is a possible answer.

We’ll have a national elections very soon – we’ll know this week just when – and if the situation demands it, these three parties, regardless of what they say now, will try to ‘intermingle’ to form the next Government. But according to latest polls, their Donegal TD candidates desperately need all the help they can get even to shuffle lamely past the finish line – thus the pseudo-Independents. Fifteen years ago, the electoral breakdown was Fianna Fail a massive 70 per cent, Fine Gael 30 per cent, Sinn Fein 0.2 per cent and the rest Independents and Pseudos. Within the last five to six years, the Donegal political pendulum has swung dramatically and is now around 25 per cent Fianna Fail, Fine Gael 18 per cent, Sinn Fein a mighty 40 per cent, and rising, and the rest Independents and Pseudos.

And, let’s be quite clear about this: the main reason some pseudo-Independents are ‘Independents’ is that either their parties didn’t choose them to run last time out or that they’d never have won if they’d gone under that party’s ticket, especially if they’d gone under the Fianna Fail banner. In politics, however, such slights and inconveniences are often forgotten in the greedy grab for the prize piñata.

Concillor O'Donnell, Donegal politics

(r to l) Fianna Fail Donegal County Council chairperson, Ciaran Brogan, prepares for the meeting with council chief executive, Seamus Neely.

What happened behind closed doors Monday morning one week ago after Campbell and Easbuig stood on principle and left could be a classic political quid pro quo situation. ‘Talk up the party in the nationals in a few weeks time and you can run under our ticket for a council spot next time round, and, believe me, you’ll feel more secure for doing so,” could have been the way it was put.

Then again, my hunch might just be the workings of an over-active imagination. The truth might be that the Independent Grouping is a motley group, a raggle-taggle band with perhaps their hearts in the right places, but no cohesion. And so inexperienced and pulled apart by differences that they don’t even realize what their full potential could be if they created unity from diversity and voted for the right things.

This, however, is the perfect time – with national elections six weeks away – to find out which of the above-mentioned theories is the right one. True colors will begin to seep through. Threads will start to unravel.

If something more sinister is afoot, perpetrators of the cloak-and-dagger plotting have sadly overlooked one vital element – common decency. The overriding public mood is one of disillusionment, bordering on despair. If the three main political parties have indeed won the pseudo-Independents over – backed by business elites with much to gain by keeping O’Donnell on the council and on the ever-important ‘Roads’ committee which oversees tens of millions of euro in construction projects – trouble lies ahead. Keep in mind, the council’s annual budget is 133 million, 127 fixed and 6 to 7 discretionary. Construction of the Dungloe-Glenties road is in five-stages, the second, for example, cost around four million euro and the tender for the next stage is end of this month.

The ‘plotters’ may, however, have made the fatal mistake of ignoring the simple, unadorned hopes of ordinary folk, throughout Donegal and throughout the country, hopes for a sliver of common decency among politicians after all the putrid corruption they’ve been forced to roll in over the last five years or so.

Donegal people demonstrating, Donegal county council

Protestors inside the County Chamber voice their sentiments about Councillor John O’Donnell, corruption and cronyism within and outside Donegal County Council.

Another key question is now being asked in the corridors of power in Lifford: not if, but how many, high-level executives within Donegal Council – many of which were employed both within the county and imported from outside the county, with generous salaries and pensions under the previous, long-running Fianna Fail government – are involved in this purge of True Independents and the break-up of power-sharing? After all, they have to reward their paymasters.

What a shame if such a deceitful game is being played, in this of all years – the centennial anniversary of our national independence.

But in a very short time, you, dear Reader, will have the chance to put things right – by availing of your unalienable right to walk behind a curtain and put your ‘X’ exactly where you want it to be.

Perhaps, this blog will help you choose well. I certainly hope so. It’s a rare chance to truly show that we are indeed ‘different up here.’

As for Councillor O’Donnell….

Epitome of nonchalance

I was quite astounded watching the councillor last Monday morning nonchalantly reading that morning’s edition of the ‘Donegal News’ as the political maelstrom swirled all around him in the council chamber. Either this young man has nerves of steel, I thought, or he is so utterly sure of what will happen that there is absolutely no need for him to be concerned in any way, about anything or anyone. Wish I could wake up feeling that way, as I’m sure do thousands of unemployed, elderly, sick, disabled and struggling mothers trying desperately to feed their children on paltry, insufficient income coming into homes across this county, across the country.

John O'Donnell, Sinn Fein Donegal

Nonchalance or absolute certainty? John O’Donnell displays his lack of concern about the possibility he might be expelled from Donegal County Council on Monday morning. That very evening, he released a press statement thanking his fellow councillors for supporting him.

During a short adjournment, I approached O’Donnell and introduced myself as Gaeilge, thinking – as he had attracted so much Údarás funding – he would be fluent. Perhaps it was due to my poor pronunciation or stumbling vocal ways, but he didn’t seem to understand, so I changed my questioning to as Bearla.

“Can you speak? I’ve a few questions I’d like to ask.”

I’ve been told by my legal advisers not to say anything,” he responded. “They’ve told me to let the ethics investigation takes it course. I’ve nothing to answer for anyway. People are just out to get me and use me as a platform for their own political gains.”

“What would you say to your fellow councilors here if they ask you any questions about your various business interests and debts owed through them?”

“I’d say, ‘That’s none of anyone’s business. It’s my private affair, mine only.”

“What about the 120,000 euro granted to your company, Dúncrua Teoranta, by Údarás na Gaeltachta just before it went bust, can you explain that?

“My legal advisers have told me to say nothing and that’s what I’m going to do.”

“Will you pay the money back?

“No comment.”

Then he went back to reading his newspaper.

O’Donnell, a long-time family member of Fianna Fail, also declined to comment on the court case he faces this Wednesday, Feb. 3 for failing to pay 33,000 euro in compensation to a Creeslough woman whose foot he drove over in a car accident. If O’Donnell does not show up for that case, District Court Judge Paul Kelly has said he will have him arrested.

Next week’s court case should be just as entertaining as the county council meeting last  week – with potentially very serious consequences for all concerned. If, having said he has no money, he pays up, you have to ask yourself: where did the spondulix come from? If his solicitor delays the proceedings, you’ve got to ask yourself: why? Could it be waiting for the results of the upcoming elections? If, however, he is convicted, I am ainformed O’Donnell automatically loses his council seat. There’s a lot at stake.

Go along if you can. It should be as good as an episode of ‘Judge Judy,’ hopefully better – unless some shadowy person(s) gets to the judge before then.

D-Day approaches inside the Donegal County Council Chambers

As D-Day (O’Donnell Day) approaches within the chambers of Donegal County Council this morning perhaps it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that beleaguered Councilor John O’Donnell has simply been misunderstood over the last few weeks and that this occasion, the first full council meeting since airing of the RTE ‘cash for favors’ controversy, gives him the opportunity to clarify matters.

As the debate gets underway, the eyes and ears of many of the nation’s political and financial elite will be on little ole Donegal, that ‘wee beautiful place on the edge of the Atlantic’ in the very far corner of the country, that is and isn’t an integral part of the island of Ireland, depending which perspective from which you look.

Councillors John O’Donnell, Michael McBride, Ciaran Brogan and all their fellows in the chamber will have the chance to show that, in the right and proper way, “we are different up here.”

Now what that ‘difference’ means is the key question we all hope will be answered truthfully and forthrightly today, hopefully before lunch-time comes around – though that is as likely as seeing a polar bear wearing suntan lotion eating brussels sprouts with a spoon at the side of a heated swimming pool.

Will this morning’s open public event echo the catchphrase that became so popular in the 1970s after the Oscar-winning movie ‘Network’ was first screened? Then lead character, Howard Beale, (played wonderfully by actor Peter Finch), on the brink between brilliance and madness, says passionately, “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad,” then screams, “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” his words being carried swiftly from person to person, young and old, man and woman, boy and girl, city to city across the whole of the nation.

If these words are echoed in the council chamber today in Lifford, who’s going to say them first? And will they mean them?

Could they be the battle-cry for a new, rejuvenated Donegal?

Could this be the historical moment we begin to shrug off the cloak of cronyism and corruption that has draped this county for far too long, with the collusion of various governments, and stymied our cultural, social and economic development?

To achieve this not small feat, a comprehensive, collective community effort is required and for that we, in turn, require the strength of the media, broadcast, print and digital  – not the way the print media acted over the last few days, publishing what was in effect a joint press release from  Údarás na Gaeltachta and John O’Donnell on the front and inside pages, nor Highland Radio, avoiding the controversial, not-so transparent payments made from one entity to the other.

If efforts to rid this county of counterproductive ‘goings-on,’ we need local media to be brave, enterprising and outspoken. It is their future as much as it is ours that is at stake.

While this article in yesterday’s ‘The Sunday Business Post’ gives most of the facts surrounding Mr. O’Donnell and Údarás, there is still much more to be said.

Sean Hillen Sunday Business Post, Councillor O'Donnell Donegal

For the sake of fairness and democracy, let Cllrs. O’Donnell and McBride have their say. Give them the chance to explain how and why they were granted the 120,000 euro from Údarás and about how much exactly, and O’Donnell to clarify to whom one of his other companies, Kilmac Form Work Limited, owes millions of euro in debt, and where indeed those millions are now. And why he has still not paid 33,000 euro in injury compensation to an unfortunate Creeslough woman who’s foot he drove over in a car accident.

John O'Donnell Donegal, Donegal councillors

Oh, and let there be an explanation by O’Donnell about how his former company K&F Sarolla Teo (‘wool’ in English) went bust owing over 76,000 euro in 2013, which intriguingly led him to set up Glenveigh Woollen Mills Ltd in May of the same year .

Glenveigh Woolen Mills Ltd, councillor John O'Donnell

Strangely – perhaps merely a coincidence – K&F Sarolla Teo looks very much like K&F Superwools in Northern Ireland, with – and again it may just be a coincidence – the same director, namely John O’Donnell.

Would it be too much of a coincidence if it was discovered there were grants– those chunky cross-border kind of ones – involved in these companies also?

K&F Superwools, Donegal counicllors

For goodness sake, while we’re at it, as anyone who’s anyone will be there in the council chamber this morning, let Councillor Ciarán Brogan, Donegal County Council Chairperson, explain how his company, Sark Construction, perhaps now renamed Kasmor, managed to obtain an estimated 10 million euro in Donegal council construction contracts.

Gosh, it all sounds as if the craic will be mighty at the Donegal Council meeting this morning (kick-off 11am). For what it’s worth, alternative entertainment options on the box at exactly the same time are (and I kid you not) – ‘Wanted Down Under’ on BBC1; ‘The High Chaparral’ (or is that ‘Hang ‘Em High’) on TG4; ‘Judge Judy’ on TV3; ‘Conspiracy Theory’ on TCM; and ‘Four in a Bed’ on Channel 4.

Funny how all of them – including the local council option – have a similar ring to them.

I know which one I’m choosing.

Michael the modern Messiah

With gray beard, tousled hair and wrinkled coat and pants, writer Michael Harding descended upon Donegal Friday night looking all the world like the modern risen Messiah and promptly mesmerized his disciples.

As one who enjoys a night at the theatre  – pointing my rickety but faithful jalopy weekly out my pebble-stoned driveway enroute to one venue or another – it has been a long while since I last saw An Grianan theatre so packed (a shame really as it hosts so many enjoyable performances).

Photo courtesy of Michael Harding

Photo courtesy of Michael Harding

On this occasion, rightly, theatre director Patricia McBride and her marketing adjutant, Daithi Ramsay, should be marching triumphantly all the way to the bank. Or at least to the office of Traolach O’Fionnan, arts officer at Donegal County Council, with hands outstretched for a somewhat larger annual stipend.

So what magical message did the Messiah from Cavan (via Leitrim) bring northwards to have created such a keen fan base that left nary a seat unoccupied. Notwithstanding the writer-cum-playwright-cum-columnist-cum-actor’s obvious charisma, down-to-earth homeliness and ageless, sage-like physical bearing, I’ve narrowed his popularity in Donegal down to several things –

  • Humanism:  Harding carries a soothing, spiritual message that – in the stress-bedraggled world we inhabit – is manna from heaven. In this respect, he is suitably qualified – as a priest, a calling he abandoned after some years, then as a Buddhist, a calling he continues still. Summing up his lifestyle message Friday night, the author of ‘Staring at Lakes’ and ‘Hanging with the Elephant,’ said, “The ultimate wisdom is that there is no wisdom, so fuck it, just relax,” adding that his secret to contented living was following what he termed “the ancient Gaelic tradition of meditation” – in a word, ‘dozing.’ “I think I’ll start organising workshops training people how to doze properly,” he said tongue-in-cheek.
  • Nostalgia – he recounts homespun, heart-warming tales about life, love and growing old; about mothers and families and childhood, suggestions of innocence reminiscent of our own youth, of those fading bygone years we’ll never experience again but in which we bathe joyously for the remembering and the re-telling. In this respect, Harding is a wistful humourist, the Irish equivalent of Garrison Keillor whose radio programme, ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ I listened to faithfully on National Public Radio each Saturday evening when I lived across the Atlantic.

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  • Empathy – the performer’s first words after coming on stage Friday evening were, “I’m not well,” said with a downright doleful expression. Immediately he’d captured the audience’s undivided attention. After all, having all been sick at one time or another, hearing someone else who’s sick makes us feel both empathy for that person and better about ourselves, either because, fortunately, we are no longer sick or because we are still sick but as Mephistopheles tells Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s classic tale “Misery loves company.”
  • Sympathy – one of Harding’s strengths is that he is unafraid to bear his soul, to show his vulnerable side. With a hint of melancholy, he touches – often poignantly – upon self-doubts, mistakes, indecisions, depression and the other suitcases of distress that life tends to carry with it. And we feel for him and support him and want him so dearly to succeed because – aside from altruism – if he emerges okay at the other end, then there’s hope for the rest of us.

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  • Hilarity – Harding can be belly-wobblingly funny – no more so when he is in a self-deprecating mood or on a sudden flight of fancy. The aisles rocked with fits of laughter Friday night as he launched into a story about how – in the muddled midst of a mid-life crisis  – he read that shaving one’s pubic hair helped expand exponentially one’s erotic experiences.  So, fortified by a bottle of wine, he sallied forth, “with a Wilkinson triple blade.” Unfortunately, the mirror he was using was not tall enough so he had to balance himself precariously on a chair to accomplish the feat. The result: “fresh breezes in the nether regions and a boil from an ingrowing hair that had to be pierced by a doctor – a lady.”

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  • Familiarity – Michael has been to Donegal on several occasions, last year at An Earagail Arts Festival with singer Tommy Sands and in late 2013, speaking after the launch of ‘Staring at Lakes.’ He also spent some time previously on holiday in the county and opened the Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair a few months ago.

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Overall the evening with Michael Harding was a most enjoyable occasion ripe with amusing, philosophical ramblings that left the audience departing the theatre wrapped in added layers of warmth to fend off the cold, biting weather outside.

With but a mysterious suitcase on the floor stage centre, a padded armchair and his lectern as props, Harding took his listeners on a delightful stroll down ‘Nostalgia Avenue,’ his deft turns of phrase encapsulating many-layered meanings in a flurry of simple-seeming words.

His ability to mix ‘n match moods, swinging rapidly from melancholy to bittersweet to outright hilarity was impressive, all part and parcel of personal anecdotes gleaned from the trials and tribulations of his own life. One illustrative example was when he described how his mother would make him wait in the street in front of a draper’s shop while she went in to buy “women’s things” leaving him “to develop childhood neuroses outside,” then in response to the shop-owner asking if he was her son, she’d say yes but that she would have preferred a daughter.

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And how, not having sisters, it took a visit by three Letterkenny girls to his home for him to see “women’s things” first-hand. “Their bras hanging in the bathroom like a line of dead rabbits,” as he amusingly put it.

The writer’s description of rummaging through his mother’s belongs soon after her death was emotive by its sheer simplicity. “I found my dead mother in little boxes and drawers,” he said, before recounting exactly what he found.

Harding’s terse turns of phrase can be poetic as when he talks about his Aunt Molly, as “a woman like a tree with so many shaking bits” or love in Cavan as “not many hugs but a lot of apple tarts and extra portions of potatoes.” Or even a dead chicken hanging on an assembly line in a meat factory as “wrinkled and naked like an old man’s neck.” His sharp observations of everyday life are also impressive as when he describes his uncle sleeping as “heavy on the bed like a hammock” or the danger of men “having ideas” especially in the toilet, leading him to warn women to beware of men emerging saying, “I was just thinking…..”

His insights on Irish rural life are delightfully illuminating whether they about the tradition of “throwing cocks over neighbours walls” to keep a healthy gene pool or the differences between the rural walk (“with chakras open”) and the urban one – both of which were accompanied by amusing on-stage simulations. Or even the annual ‘Blessing of the Graves” which he describes as, “Getting out the deckchairs and sitting on top of the dead to keep them down.”

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Photo courtesy of Michael Harding

Harding, not surprisingly, has a love for his native Cavan, though he admits, with himself foremost in mind, that, “you’re not going up in the world merely by going from Cavan to Leitrim,” adding that he is more “a refugee seeking asylum.”

An oft-quoted saying is that ‘one can never go back home,’ but Harding achieves the next best thing, resurrecting vivid memories of places and people from his past that help bring an audience on an enjoyable and entertaining journey of nostalgia.

Donegal Gaeltacht community spirit rises: but where’s the money?

Some years ago, displaying immense creativity and skill, a local team of hard-working people in Galway created ‘Macnas,’ an organisation that produces a series of exciting, colourful outdoor parades and indoor shows filled with magnificent costumes and performers.
With generous funding from the Arts Council, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Culture Ireland and Galway Council, the company expanded rapidly; exciting and inspiring audiences worldwide with performances as diverse as U2’s Zooropa Tour; the Millennium parade in New York City; WOMADelaide, South Australia; Chaoyang Spring Carnival, Beijing; the President’s Garden Party, Áras an Uachtaráin; and in a host of festivals, towns and cities throughout Ireland and across Europe.

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Macnas, Galway – an estimated 40,000 euro cost per festival show. (photo courtesy Macnas)

This weekend in the west Donegal town of Falcarragh, a similar group of local hard-working people, under the leadership of festival director, Kathleen Gallagher, and Sean Fitzgerald, will recreate a similar dazzlingly entertaining costume and culture filled show entitled ‘Evil Eye’ (Féile na Súile Nimhe). Featuring large-scale puppet characters, a samba band with Formorian soldiers (ancient sea-farers) and stilt walkers, it will highlight unforgettable Celtic legendary characters such as Balor of the Evil Eye and Lugh, the Sun God (thus ‘Lugh’s Mountain’ now known as Errigal) and the history of the Cloch Cheann Fhaola area.

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‘Evil Eye’ Festival Falcarragh, Donegal – organised on a budget of around 4,000 euro. A whopping ten times less than Galway’s Macnas (photo courtesy Eddie McFadden).

But there’s one major difference between the two festivals: while the Galway team hosts its show with pockets bulging with euro (an estimated 40,000 euro per festival, according to national news reports) – the Falcarragh one has a few pennies. And most of that was raised through its own activities, including determined people who tackled their first adventure race – the 23-kilometer combined run, kayak and cycling Mulroy Bay competition– and, later, the even more challenging 44-kilometer ‘Gael Force’ race.
So how does Údarás na Gaeltachta, the Arts Council and Donegal County Council view this admirable cultural tourism project?
Representatives of the above organisations came to enjoy the Falcarragh festival last year, full of praise for the creators of the extravaganza, a highlight in the west Donegal social calendar. But when asked for money, they all suddenly shied away. While more than 500,000 euro has been given to Macnas in Galway, the Arts Council finally granted a paltry 600 euro for ‘Evil Eye’ and around 1,250 euro is supposed to be donated from the council’s ‘The Gathering’ fund (money not received as of blog posting – two day before event begins).
In its turn, Údarás Donegal contacted the organisers earlier this year, but not to offer financial support. Instead, it called only to inform the team that the application deadline had passed (would it not have been more constructive to have contacted them before, not after, the deadline, especially has it had moved the date forward?).
Later, when approached for some space in one of its industrial estates in which to construct the festival’s giant puppets and store equipment and costumes, Udaras demanded 50 per cent of the commercial rate, which obviously – on such a tiny budget – the community group could not afford. Ironically, Údarás has thousands of square meters of space lying empty and unused in its industrial estates throughout the Gaeltacht for which it is already paying utilities, spaces that are supposed to be used for ‘community development.’ In the end, it was the generosity of local Falcarragh man, John ‘the Rake’ McFadden, that helped save the annual ‘Evil Eye’ festival. He donated his large agricultural shed to organisers.

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‘Evil Eye’ festival combines entertainment with education on Celtic history for both adults and children.

Faced with a severe lack of funding assistance, the hardworking festival team were forced to borrow and beg – costumes from the Northwest Carnival Initiative in Derry for 30 members of the Cloughaneely Marching Band who will act as seahorses in the historical re-enactment and other costumes from the Inishowen Carnival Group for 12 volunteer samba dancers. They also had to rely on the efforts of organisers of a childrens’ summer camp in Ballina Resource Centre at which local kids made shields and swords, 10 of whom will march in the festival. Nine members of the Curragh Club of Magheraroarty, as well as local plasterers, who will walk on stilts, are also helping out.
If this kind of creativity and community spirit had been displayed in other countries such as the US or Australia, it would probably be recognized immediately as such and funding made readily available (as indeed it is in other Irish counties such as Galway).
Yet Údarás in Donegal, with Fine Gael national board member, John Curran, living nearby, continue to ignore such culture tourism projects, projects with the potential for economic development through tourism, while at the same time wasting public money on generous expenses and junkets for its staff members (including a large delegation who traveled, with their spouses, on an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas – to meet officials of Dublin-based Enterprise Ireland).

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Údarás Donegal refused to give ‘Evil Eye’ organisers free space in its empty industrial estates for the construction and storage of giant puppets.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Gallagher voiced her frustration: “It seems to me that Údarás either has no interest whatsoever in tourism development or simply doesn’t understand its potential,” she said. “The tourism officer for Údarás, Gearoid O’Smaolain who lives in Falcarragh, has never even approached us to see if we needed help of any kind. He doesn’t belong on any of the local community committees or attend meetings to find out what is happening on the ground.”
She added, “I carried out comprehensive research into possible funding from Údarás and on which individual staff members I should approach, something that is not very clear from its materials. Many of their job descriptions certainly include the word ‘community,’ such as ‘community enterprise’ and ‘community development and marketing’ yet strangely, there doesn’t seem to be much community development going on at all.”
As multi award-winning actor Diarmuid de Faoite said of the festival: “The ‘Evil Eye’ is our ancient past and living present in all its wild beauty.”
It’s a shame the Arts Council, Donegal County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta don’t seem to agree.

While misguided policies, cronyism and wastage of public money has been an unfortunate hallmark of Údarás almost since its inception, the good news in this instance is that due to the sterling efforts of Falcarragh volunteers, the ‘Evil Eye’ festival is going ahead.
So why not treat yourself, family and friends to a wonderful spectacle of colour, culture and heritage and pop along to Falcarragh between August 22nd and 24th.
A festival highlight will be a medieval banquet in St Ann’s Church Killult, the 1900’s structure providing an excellent setting for a magical evening of song, dance and drama. The festival will also pay tribute to the history of Muckish Mountain’s mining legacy with guided walks on the old Miners Path and disused railway tracks. It will also feature birds of prey and weaponry displays, complete with a pig on a spit in a ‘medieval field’ while skills of strength and agility will be tested in a range of quest games to find one of the story’s main characters, Lugh Lámhfhada.
For further information, see Evil Eye Festival site.