Monthly Archives: August 2015

Blog Awards Ireland 2015

imageI am thrilled to bits to have made it to the Long-list of the 2015 Blog Awards Ireland. I want to say a huge ‘thank you ‘to those who have considered my blog worth nominating in two categories –  Best Art & Culture Blog and Best Educational & Science Blog! I am already a winner ..thank you! It is an honour to be in such excellent company!
I would like to wish the bloggers I most admire and follow good luck in the next rounds,all of whom deserve recognition for the excellent work they do. Why not drop by and see what you might be missing by clicking on the links below!

Irish in the American Civil War

Limerick’s Life

Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland

Social Bridge

East Clare Emigrants

Concrete Stew

Good luck to EVERYONE involved!


Filed under Ireland

Tait’s Clothing Factory: Flowers in the rubble.

In June last there was an ‘Open House’ event in Limerick City, showcasing the historically important Tait’s Clothing Factory, ahead of the redevelopment of the site, to provide much needed housing in this part of the city.

The site today

The site today

It was a great honour to stroll through this significant industrial heritage site of international importance. Opened in 1853, the clothing factory became the biggest clothing manufacturer in the world, supplying military uniforms to the British Army,the Canadian Volunteer Militia and to the Confederates in the American Civil War. Many hundreds of Limerick men and women were employed here, up to the time it closed in 1975.

Sir Peter Tait was born in Lerwick Scotland in the early 19th Century and arrived in Limerick to join his sister in 1838. He was an astute and successful business person who became Mayor of Limerick in  three successive years from 1866 to 1868. During his thirty years in the city Peter Tait provided employment to hundreds of people who serviced contracts for military uniforms.

On the day of my visit,at first sight, it appeared to be a desolate site, but on closer inspection I was pleased to see an abundance of wildflowers amid the rubble. I was struck by the similarities with the poppy fields of the world war battlefields, and could not help but think of these beautiful wildflowers as a testament to the men and women who sewed and stitched the uniforms that went to the Crimea and to the United States, many of which became shrouds for their unfortunate wearers.

These are a few of my snaps in memory of all of them. Tomorrow in Limerick, as part of Heritage Week, there will be a day long seminar on Tait’s Clothing Factory,past and future, entitled  ‘A Testament to Time’. These wildflowers are a testament to all those whose lives were affected by the work carried out here.


Filed under American Civil War, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish at War, Irish Diaspora, Social History Ireland

Real Ireland:There’s no place like home.

I am vexed. It is not fitting to be vexed at the height of an Irish summer,with our lovely long evenings and supposedly balmy weather.Nor is it fitting to be vexed when,in the evening of my life and on the cusp of changed circumstances, I deconstruct my home of 34 years and sort treasured possessions into ‘irreplaceable’,’would like to keep’ or ‘dispensable’, in joyful preparation for a whole new life,new adventures and new possibilities in a new home.OK – perhaps the disappointing summer weather has contributed to my crankiness,but the more I think about this, the more I realize that not only am I vexed and cranky, but I am also as MAD AS HELL,which may not be good for my blood pressure and general health.

imageLast week in green warm comfortable Ireland, it was revealed that a family of five – a mother and a father who has a job and is working, both in their 30s, together with their three children aged 5 years, 3  years and 2 years in and around the ages of my own three grandchildren were issued with sleeping bags by Focus Ireland, a charity for the homeless in Ireland. They had already spent a couple of nights in the park, having been evicted as their house was repossessed, before calling on the services for the homeless. I could not believe my ears when I heard this on radio – a charity for the homeless could do no more for this family than issue them with sleeping bags so that they could sleep on benches in a public park in the open air?? What,in the name of God has happened with this supposedly ‘christian’ country?  What has gone wrong here?

This is a family that has been failed by not only the state but by society.This is a family that has been failed by overwhelmed charitable services that fill the vacuüm created by the state. This is a family that has been failed by the Government,led by a Taoiseach (Prime Minister) who earns more than the heads of Government of the bigger and more prosperous United Kingdom or France.The Minister with responsibility for housing seems to be on his holidays. His early  claim to fame was that he beefed up a train service for his own constituency and 73 commuters  at a cost of €20,000 per day. See news reports  here. Not only that, but in February last, having acquired the Environment portfolio he ‘bitched’ about Peter McVerry, a lifelong advocate for the homeless, suggesting that he was exaggerating the plight of the homeless, and that he was ‘negative’. See here.

Minister Alan Kelly. Image from Newstalk fm

Minister Alan Kelly. Image from Newstalk fm

In November 2014, the Irish Taoiseach,(Prime Minister- who as stated above is paid more than the French or British leaders) went on a walkabout to see for himself the population of  Irish people sleeping rough in Dublin. This was in response to the most embarrassing death of a homeless man, who chose to die on the steps of the Irish Parliament. Homeless people have died on a fairly regular basis across Ireland for years, in doorways, in parks, in refuse bins, but Jonathan Corrie chose to die at the very nerve centre of power,right there under the noses of those who have broadcast that everything is changing,austerity is over, we are all doing well, the economy is in great shape in this great little state of ours. Our ‘leading man’ rushed into action and went out among the homeless in Dublin City. He described seeing “rats skittering across sodden blankets”and a moment when “on Grafton Street, a Gucci sign beams over the remnants of humanity”. (Irish Times December 11, 2014). Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, proudly announced that there would be a change of Government focus ”from exclusively on the economy to include societal needs’, saying: “Our homeless crisis is a kind of autopsy of our national life, our priorities”. The reality is that 9 months later we have charities handing out sleeping bags to children as there is no shelter to be had in the entire city of Dublin. This situation is unfortunately reflected across Ireland with housing crises in all major towns and cities.

Homelessness is an unfortuante fact of life, even in the most prosperous societies. The typical homeless person in Ireland was single,someone whose life had disintegrated because of breakdown in relationships,mental health issues, substance abuse,whether drugs or alcohol,or all the above. These unfortunates had the services stretched,particularly in winter in this wet,cold climate. But all of this has changed in recent times. The stereotypical homeless of Ireland have been joined by people who have been overtaken by economic hardship, through loss of employment,reduction in wages,shorter working hours on the one hand,and more taxes,such as property tax,Universal Social Charge and water charges as well as a rising cost of living, in particular escalating rents. After six years of recession now we have entire families becoming homeless. The statistics are shocking. From July 20 to 26th 2015, there were 657 homeless families in Ireland with 1,383 children. There was a sharp increase from the January figure of 401 homeless families with 865 children. (Irish Times August 17 2015) Families are sleeping in cars, on park benches. In many cases they have been evicted as they cannot meet the cost of escalating rents, or have got into arrears  from which they cannot extricate themselves. Others simply cannot find anywhere to rent as they simply do not have enough money. Meanwhile, the Government has failed to give better access to affordable housing for people in need.

Also in Dublin, hundreds flock to the Capuchin Day Centre for free breakfast and lunch and there can be over 1,000 people queuing for food parcels on Wednesday mornings.

Ireland enjoys an international reputation as a green and pleasant land of thatched cottages, red-haired children, donkeys, sandy beaches, rolling Atlantic waves, exquisite scenery, great culture and language, music and dance. Some elements of our diaspora love to highlight the injustice of the historic British rule of our nation. Let’s hear it from them now,let’s hear it from them and indeed from those at home who are willing to shout loudly about the failure of this Republic, about the indignity and the shame of three little children being handed out sleeping bags to spend the night in the open air in Dublin almost a century after the 1916 rising that we will celebrate – at huge expense next year.

Focus Ireland (with who I had the pleasure of working in Limerick on an enabling programme) can be found here.

Peter McVerry Trust can be found here.

Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People can be found here.


Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, Social Justice, Social Policy, Working Poor

Postcards from Shanagolden,County Limerick.

Shanagolden! Such a beautiful place-name. I recall when I first heard it some four decades ago and I still think it is one of Ireland’s most beautiful place names. It is an anglicization of the Irish name Seanghualainn, with the much less romantic translation of ‘Old Shoulder’, I presume referring from the hills behind the village which act as a broad shelter.
The sun came out today, so I took a 10 minute trip down the road to have a stroll there, as it is just off  the Newcastle West to Foynes road. The most striking thing  about Shanagolden is the very wide street, with former shops set well back.


The village is set in beautiful pastureland


Hay being saved outside the village

The Roman Catholic Church of St Sennans is on high ground on the edge of the village.


Around the church

The Church interior has lovely plain leaded windows and a beautiful old floor.

The most surprising thing about the church is the cross –  normally catholic churches are dominated by a crucified Christ or an empty traditional shaped Cross. This church however has a most beautiful Celtic Cross as its focal point, high above the altar. If anyone knows more about it,I would love to know who the artist is.


On the way back to the main street of the village there are several interesting features.

Shanagolden is very proud of Tim Madigan who lost his life as a result of having been shot by the Black and Tans “As Timothy Madigan continued to run, we called on him to halt once again and as he paid no attention one more shot was fired at a distance of about 400 yards which caused him to fall”

The local Gaelic Ground is named after him.


From the car park at the Gaelic grounds there is a wonderful view of the old church tower which is I believe early 19th century, when it was part of the Church of Ireland, although I am not certain about this. image image image image

Shanagolden Creamery was once the nerve centre of this community. Every day local farmers would bring fresh milk from their cows to the Cooperative Society in the village where it would be turned into butter – not just any butter, but award-winning butter than was sought after even in  London’s most prestigious stores. In later years milk collected here was transported to the famous Cleeves Toffee factory in Limerick city.

The old creamery with its brick chimney stack stands testament to more prosperous times in Shanagolden.


Across the road is a very nice old stone building which was once a forge, in the wall of which is an inscribed stone commemorating James Clarence Mangan (1803 – 1849). He was a poet, who penned ‘My Dark Rosaleen’, (Rosaleen being a poetic symbol of an oppressed Ireland ) familiar to thousands of Irish schoolchildren. His  family apparently came from Shanagolden.

Nearby in total contrast is a very beautiful drinking  fountain erected and installed to the memory of the eldest son of the local landlord, Lord Monteagle,who lived at Mount Trenchard in Foynes.


Press report of the funeral can be seen here 

Shanagolden is a gem set in the Limerick countryside, well worth a visit if you are passing by!




Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Living in Ireland