Friday, May 22, 2009

More crimes on grammar - and Lismore Courthouse Theatre.

I haven't had a minute to blog lately but I haven't gone away, just busy. These two gems of mangling of the English language came into my radar in recent days and I just couldn't let them pass without sharing. Such blatant assaults on the English language are something that bring out my inner anorak and inspire "word rage". Suffice to say - Lynne Truss, watch out! The kids call it an "Eats Shoots and Leaves" moment and they are probably right - I was always intolerant of the "Greengrocer's Apostrophe" of superfluous and misplaced possessive apostrophes where plurals were intended, and the newspaper headline seems to combine a number of atrocities!

The words you and yours (or you're!) and its variants seem to cause endless headaches - I know spell-checkers are a get out of jail card for many but in an editing situation surely letting a glaring grammatical faux-pas like this headline for the local elections pass into print is unforgiveable. I won't even identify the offending paper, to avoid unnecessary blushes. Suffice to say it ain't a million miles away from here!

The other photo was seen in a college bar in Ireland and happily entreats the patrons to leave the premises "quitely" in order to respect the neighbours and young "familys". This might seem like I'm being even more pedantic than usual but I don't know how this got past proofing to printing at a signmakers, and as it did I despair for the standards of grammar in current usage. Now I sound like a right grumpy git, but believe me I had a good laugh at it.

And finally... I just had to share a photo of the lovely fruit hamper I won in the raffle at the show in Lismore some weeks back, A Night at the Movies, which was absolutely fabulous - staged by the Lismore Dramatic Society with a large cast of local talent - including our daughter and lots of other teenagers. They did song and dance selections from Grease, High School Musical, Hairspray and Mamma Mia and it ran for five nights over the May Bank Holiday weekend, for almost three hours a night. The standard was excellent (I know, I'm biased) and they played to a packed house each night, fully booked out in advance.
The Lismore Courthouse Theatre is a great intimate venue for the Dramatic Society plays and musicals, and shows how well the creative use of space works -it is also the venue for the local district court which sits monthly, some might say for more theatrical drama!
You can see the Courthouse in the photo at the top of my Blog - it's the big stone building with the clock tower and is at the heart of the town.
The theatre will host a number of the events at next month's Immrama Festival which I wrote about earlier here. Watch this space for more news on that great gig!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tourist Trails, Scenic Routes and Election Posters

I decided to come home from last week's Irish Nurses Organisation conference in Killarney via the scenic route of Kenmare and Glengarriff, as it was a lovely warm and sunny day. This was an opportunity to see Killarney's amazing mountain and lake scenery in all its glory, and I wasn't going to miss it. The road from Lismore via Fermoy and Mallow is pretty uninspiring on the stretch from Fermoy to Killarney, and is in appalling condition, with more potholes than the worst roads in Africa, so the tourist trail I took was a pleasant alternative. Kerry is one of Ireland's prime tourist counties, with the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, and Killarney being the main draws, not to mention the rather dated pageantry of the Rose of Tralee. I have plenty of Kerry blood in my veins, so I can take some proprietal pride in the county.

I dropped into Muckross Gardens just outside Killarney and walked down by the lake and the house, though I didn't go in, it has guided tours and I did that at the last conference there 18 months back.
Here are some nice photos of the house and gardens, overlooking the lake, somewhat similar to Belvedere House in Mullingar which I wrote about here.
Muckross seems to be the base for the jarveys and their jaunting cars that take tourists around the lakeshore drives, and I was nearly mowed down by a few enthusiastic horses! I climbed to the top of Torc Waterfall which has more steps that the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and nearly as crooked and disorientating, and realised how unfit I am, so it's time for a summer exercise programme of plenty of walking!

I had coffee at Lady's View overlooking the Lakes of Killarney, and dropped into that bastion of yummy-mummy-ness, the Avoca Shop and Café, at Moll's Gap near Kenmare. Certainly no recession in evidence there, with prices to match the quality of the wares. Most of the shops in Kerry have an abundance of shamrockery - Aran sweaters and scratchy Tweed scarves vie for space beside keyrings, mugs and glassware adorned in shamrocks and leprechauns - and are very tourist-oriented, which is understandable given that the season is so short but it does reinforce Ireland's well-earned reputation as a pricey place to visit.

Glengarriff looked positively Mediterranean in the evening sunshine, and it has a balmy climate - believe it or not Ireland's south-west has lots of sub-tropical plants as it rarely freezes there thanks to the proximity of the Gulf Stream and its warm air. The first time I visited Glengarriff in 1974 on a hitch-hiking trip around Ireland with my best friend from nursing student days it lashed rain in August - just after Nixon's resignation - and we squelched around Garnish Island in soaking jeans and trainers! I hadn't been along this road for about six years, when we went to Kerry for a weekend, and what I had remembered were the tunnels in the mountains between Killarney and Kenmare; I thought there were a lot more of them and that they were longer, but they are quite short and some are just like sea-arches only on the road.

Ireland really has some spectacular scenery and while Lismore has very lush and wooded landscapes, Kerry is very wild and rugged, and the mountains are barer than our Knockmealdowns - more like our Comeraghs. A trip like this reinforces my appreciation of our lovely scenery, and while I moan a lot about the political mess we're in as a nation, and all the economic doom, we do have a lovely country and if it was blessed with decent weather - why, we might even stop complaining about everything else!

My only other political comment on this post is a mention of the blight on the lovely landscape of the election posters. There wasn't a pole untouched in all of Cork and Kerry, and even Waterford has a few, though Lismore has a local agreement whereby none of the candidates for the town council - hubby included - will put up posters in the town. That won't stop all the county and European candidates and I spotted the first European one in Lismore today, much to my disgust. Labour's county candidate, John Pratt, and the South's European candidate, Alan Kelly, have both agreed to the Lismore Council's decision and won't be seen on a pole within sight of the town, though it remains to be seen whether the other party candidates will comply.

What is extremely noticeable by its absence is the near-invisibility of the government's Fianna Fáil name and logo from their election posters. (Just try to spot the FF party logo on this European Election poster at a Cork roundabout! Yes I thought so too, not easy - have they something to hide?)
This has been noted by media pundits as well as the opposition, much to their amusement, as it is seen as a ploy to distance the local candidates from guilt of being tainted by association with the party that has sunk the country through bad governing over too many years. It struck me on the way to Killarney how many Labour and Fine Gael posters there were and that I was seeing no Fianna Fáil posters, till the penny dropped! They are thin on the canvassing ground as well, and it is becoming a point of much hilarity to spot the elusive FF candidate on the stump. They are like the sightings of the first cuckoo, much anticipated and reported in the letters pages of the Irish Times!

I hope you like the photos and I might make a slide show of the better ones from this trip - the long way round - Irish style!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Conference and "Craic" in Killarney

I have spent the past three days in Killarney at the Irish Nurses Organisation's Annual Delegate Conference ( or INO ADC -we prefer acronyms for brevity!) The conference took place at one of the largest conference venues in the country, the Gleneagle Hotel and Conference Centre, which makes it about the fourth time I've been there in recent years. Killarney and Cavan's Slieve Russel Hotel are about the only two venues outside of Dublin's Citywest that can accomodate the 350-odd delegates under one roof.

Liam Doran, INO Secretary General.

There are plenty of conference centres big enough but not many that can house us all, which is one of the bonuses of the INO conference, as I have been to others like the Labour Party conferences where we've had to find a B&B nearby. Nothing ruins the ambience of the evening more than the prospect of heading out in the rain and cold (usually!) inadequately clad in party attire and probably killer heels to head back to the often cold dark confines of a B&B at 3 a.m. This usually entails either waiting in the hotel lobby for ages for a taxi and missing the fun in the hotel bar, or having to abstain all evening as the designated driver if you decide to bring the car - not that I'm a mad drinker but I like a glass of wine with my dinner and a Bailey's afterwards, and wouldn't risk driving after even one glass, though I might be technically under the Irish limit.

This event is a good opportunity to meet up with colleagues from around the country and there is a social aspect to the conference as well as very full days of talks, debates on the various motions submitted by the branches and sections. I am in the Waterford branch and also the PHN (Public Health Nurse) section, so there is a wide range of interest for me along with the broader policy and national issues.

The state of the economy underpinned practically every debate at the conference as the cutbacks in health have such far-reaching impact. In earlier posts I have alluded to these, and things are not getting better. So while the INO might be seen as only dealing with members' pay and conditions, which of course is any trade unions' remit, it also highlights the patient advocacy role of nurses, and indeed the conference theme was patient safety.

The conference debated the impact of cutbacks and their many adverse human and economic consequences. The fact that there will be few if any jobs for the newly graduating nurses, many of whom will emigrate demonstrates this as a poor investment return for Ireland - it costs about €80,000 to train a nurse over 4 college years - and if they leave never to return it doesn't make economic sense. The Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, spoke yesterday and got a fairly cool if polite reception. Her support for increasing privatisation of the health services in Ireland is strongly opposed by the INO as it will only worsen the existing inequity in our unique two-tier public-private healthcare system. Healthcare has to be based on the patient's needs, not ability to pay, and this should be fundamental to any civilised country.

A number of delegates took time to support colleagues in Killarney Community Hospital who had a lunchtime protest against the loss of a senior nursing post in their hospital. They are a small hospital and it was a good morale boost to have 3 busloads of delegates join them on the picket line for an hour and hopefully the accompanying media spotlight will help their cause.

Some of the Waterford branch members - Mary, Kerry, Claire and myself.
The weather was dreadful for most of the conference, but as we were in a bubble for most of the time in a huge hall with no natural light we didn't really mind. It was nice to go for a swim in the leisure centre at the end of the day, and we enjoyed the "craic" or fun of the social evenings. There was a fun table quiz on the first night, which raised over €1,000 for a Cambodian street childrens' charity that a Killarney nurse is involved with. The questions, set by Dave Hughes, the deputy Gen. Sec., were often cryptic and raised much laughter, and a clever delegate incorporated many of them the following day when speaking to her branch's motion!
The food was excellent and we all overindulged, force-fed like Gascogny geese - a detox for the next week or so seems very appealing right now. We danced to local musicians on two evenings, and were entertained after the lastnight's gala dinner by comedian Alan Shortt of RTE's Bull Island fame, who did some very funny impersonations of various politicians. This year is the INO's 90th Anniversary which is certainly a cause for celebration; from very small beginnings to a union with over 40,000 members is no mean feat. They had a wonderful cake to mark the anniversary (see above photo) and a DVD with the history of the organisation from 1919-2009. Hope I'll be around for the Centenary celebrations - and not pensioned off !

Monday, May 4, 2009

Launch of Immrama 2009 - a Lismore Cultural Landmark

Last Thursday evening saw the long-awaited launch of the 2009 Lismore Immrama Festival of Travel Writing in Lismore Castle's Ballroom, which I have already written about when I wrote a post on Devonshire Day. There is more than the ballroom linking these two events, as Devonshire Day is the key fundraiser for the Immrama Festival. For those readers who have no idea what Immrama is all about, have a look at the website for the details. June 11th - 14th are this year's dates for your diary!

Mayor of Lismore - Jan Rotte

It is Ireland's only Festival of Travel Writing and as far as I am aware the only one of its kind in the world. I notice there is a Traveller's Tales Festival in the UK but it seems a more commercial venture organised by a training agency for travel writers and photographers, whereas Immrama is a community festival with origins in the Lismore Mochuda Development Group, a voluntary body that serves to promote and support Lismore's artistic, cultural and business development.

Immrama began in 2003 after a diverse group of interested locals got together to brainstorm for ideas for an iconic festival to celebrate
Lismore in a unique fashion. Immrama is the result as it seemed very logical to celebrate travel in a town that is home to one of the most famous contemporary travel writers, Dervla Murphy. (There are so many sites about her on Google I chose this one as it is a recent article written by herself in The Guardian rather than an insipid biopic on Wikipedia!)
I declare a bias here as Dervla is a personal friend and an amazing woman - a truly intrepid traveller in the grand tradition of famous women travellers over the centuries, from Isabel Burton and Mary Kingsley to Freya Stark, and she lives a simple life in Lismore in between her travels, which seem to be as daring as ever even in her mid-70s.

This is the seventh year of Immrama and each year it goes from strength to strength. It has been a wonderful success, after a somewhat shaky start, where the travel theme formed part of a range of events rather than being central. Subsequently it has been primarily focused on the theme of travel writing with a literary perspective, not the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide sense, and each year has been driven by a theme. Africa, The Silk Road, Journeys to the Top of the World, and Travel and Conflict have all been Immrama themes.

Lismore Town (Jan) and County Waterford (Ger Barron) Mayors with Fáilte Ireland's Gary Breen
The festival is now recognised nationally and internationally as a uniquely iconic boutique festival, and visitors come from all corners of the world. Lismore has had a rich heritage of links with travel, going back to Thackeray and Marco Polo, right up to Dervla Murphy. The Marco Polo link inspired the Silk Road theme, as there is a translation in Irish of the Travels of Marco Polo in the Book of Lismore, an illuminated manuscript similar to the Book of Kells, one of Ireland's most visited tourist attractions in Trinity College Library in Dublin. The Book of Lismore was found in the walls of Lismore Castle during renovations in the 19th century and is now in Chatsworth House, while there is a facsimile in Ireland in the Lismore Heritage Centre.
As hubby is the Immrama administrator I get a sneak preview of the line-up each year, but am sworn to masonic secrecy not to leak anything, which is not too difficult. If anyone fishes, I just say - If I told you I'd have to kill you - which generally works! There are tantalising hints dropped if the theme is mentioned at either Devonshire Day or the January Table Quiz fundraiser - a great night in Ballyrafter House Hotel - which whets the appetite and leads to massive speculation, usually way wide of the mark.

Me, hubby Jan and Mary Houlihan, Heritage Centre manager
This year's theme is Extraordinary Travels- Extraordinary Lives, and has a great line-up of renowned speakers, including writers and journalists Kate Adie and Fergal Keane and Dervla Murphy herself being interviewed by Manchán Magan, who is probably better known in Ireland among Irish languge aficionados, as he has done a number of travel shows as Gaeilge (= in Irish). Catherine de Courcy and Dermot Somers will be making return visits to Immrama albeit in a different capacity than previously, and there will be Irish language children's literary activities from Aine Uí Foghlú from Ring in Gaeltacht na nDéise (the Waterford enclave - my work area - where Irish is the main language). Rory MacLean is a Canadian who seems to have written hilarious books which I look forward to reading.

There will be creative writing workshops from sometime-Lismore dweller Annie Rogers (whose memoir writing courses I enjoyed over a few summers in the early Noughties), and poet Mary Branley. There are a number of well-established fringe events over the weekend and a family fun afternoon in the Millenium Park on the Sunday afternoon. Poetry open mic sessions and a Literary Breakfast are part of the weekend, and Fortwilliam House will be the setting for Dervla's interview. The booking office opened the morning after the launch and already some sessions are nearly booked out!
Immrama Committee and friends

I will post about the festival after the event, but the build-up is always exciting, as we are so close to it. Though my involvement is from the health and saftey aspect and as at Devonshire Day I will be once again at all the gigs tastefully clad in my trusty yellow Hi-Viz jacket armed with a First-Aid kit, I do get to enjoy the events from the sidelines.

The Launch was hosted as usual by Lismore Castle who are great supporters of Immrama, and we enjoyed cheese and wine while the Mayors of town (hubby) and county spoke, the head of Tourism South East launched the festival, and there was a climactic slide presentation culminating in the announcement of the keynote speakers by the manager of Lismore Heritage Company. I took some photos and as I was wielding hubby's SLR as well as my little camera I was nearly mistaken for one of the local press photographers!

Meanwhile, hubby will be busy being Mayor, administrator for the festival and canvassing for the local elections (which take place with the European elections on 5th June, the week before Immrama).
It will be a hectic few weeks, and I am off to the INO (Irish Nurses Organisation) Annual Delegate Conference in Killarney this week for a few days debate and discussion on the state of our crumbling health services. Watch this space for a post on the sights of Killarney which I plan to see at some stage between motions and various other heated debates!
Crescent moon over Lismore Castle

A group of local artists (Corina Duyn, Alan Murphy and Jane Jermyn) enjoying the launch with Margaret O'Brien of Lismore
Courtyard of Lismore Castle at dusk