Cycling all around Lough Mask
Liam Horan has a persuasive voice and a winning way at telling a story. Having half woken to the sounds of Sunday miscellany, the as-yet unidentified voice had me convinced of the benefits of early morning cycles over the hills – not up the hills – of the Ballinrobe countryside.
I could see myself sharing in the grey dawn banter of our small, hardy group at the Cornmarket before wheeling out the northern route, up and over the hills, until Lough Mask lay basking in the morning sun. Fortified by a single banana and a bottle of water, I could already feel the early morning heat on the skin as we free-wheeled our way back to the town for the well-deserved hearty breakfast and the refreshing shower.
Oh, yes, the power of the spoken word, and it was only at the end, when I found that Liam Horan had indeed been holding forth on the ecstasies of cycling, that I felt the vocation stirring within me. It was time to roll back the years, don the old cycle kit, breathe new life into the old two-wheeler, and hit for the Cornmarket for a seven o’clock start come next Sunday.
The family listened and said nothing except to exchange knowing, seen-it-all-before, glances. True enough, by Monday, a trial spin once around the town had softened the cough somewhat. The emergency list of useful excuses was already beginning to develop at the back of the mind.
When the morning cloudburst on Wednesday threatened to wash away the back garden, the thought of being caught out in exposed conditions at Killateaun was enough to demand that a second opinion be sought.
And remember, the roads are a lot more dangerous for cyclists than they were 30 years ago, and these young guys in the group fairly clip along at a rate of knots. Maybe, on mature reflection, it might be better to give it a miss, this time, to leave it for another day, so to speak. And sure you couldn’t believe everything a journalist might tell you, anyway.
Cascader required, apply within
Although I have never actually met the man, I can state clearly that retired surgeon, James Milliken of Belmullet is a man after my own heart.
To go back to the beginning – readers will know that I have a particular detestation for the nebulous gobbledegook which so often appears nowadays whenever a job vacancy is advertised in the press. Some of the vilest drivel is used to describe job specifications which are totally meaningless, and which employ words and phrases which make not the slightest sense.
I have a soulmate, I find, in Mr Milliken. In a letter to the daily papers this week, he tells of coming across a job specification for the position of Head of Process and Operations with the Health Service Executive, and circulated to HSE staff.
The job, says the HSE, will ‘involve executive leadership of cross-pillar operational and process change, sponsorship of process developing projects and the cascading of process excellence throughout the HSE’.
Am I unusually simple, asks Mr Milliken, or is this just another example of administrative gobbledegook? What exactly is cross-pillar change? Or the cascading of process excellence?
Methinks, he concludes, it is time for ordinary people to realise that the emperor of the HSE has really got no clothes.
And amen to that.
Brian Hoban’s pride of place
Castlebar tour guide, Brian Hoban, tells us of a significant boost in demand for his twice-weekly historical tours of the town, launched some four years ago under the title ‘My Own Place’.
The tours, which start from the Imperial Hotel each Tuesday and Thursday, are becoming very popular not just with visitors but with local residents – many of them new to the town – who realise just how little they really know of the town in which they live.
Also high on the list of clients are returning emigrants, those who left the town perhaps 40 years ago and who now find it difficult even to get their bearings on a landscape which has changed beyond recognition. They are in turn often joined by the descendants of Castlebar emigrants, coming to the town for the first time, and anxious to see the places which their parents or grandparents talked about so longingly as they settled into new lives in England or America.
Brian Hoban’s talents as a tour guide are reaching a wider audience too. From earlier this year, Newport – a town with which he has long family connections – has been added to the tour menu where, in conjunction with the local hotel, visitors and residents alike are sure to learn much that is new to them about the town.
All the while, too, the admirable Heritage in the School programme continues apace, and Brian Hoban is very encouraged by the huge interest being awakened in national schools in local history. A publicly-funded initiative, the programme is giving young people a new sense of appreciation of who they are, and where they come from.
Testing questions for driving rules
Quite apart from the quality of life benefits, the better sense of community and the scenic advantage of the region, there is yet another good reason why it makes sense to live in the west.
Figures released this week by the Comptroller and Auditor General show that it is much easier to pass the driving test if you live in the west rather than on the other side of the Shannon. The C and AG does not hazard any guesses as to why there should be a geographical split – are testers in the west more lenient, or is it a case (our own view) that Connacht drivers are simply better than their city cousins – but the figures tell the story. Every test centre in the west has a pass rate well higher than the national average of 56%; every test centre in Leinster was less.
But that is not the only anomaly in relation to the question of provisional licence holders, the testing system, and the regulations. Each week up to 1,500 of the 4,500 driving tests scheduled to be taken are cancelled. The reason – the current regulations allow a driver on a second provisional licence to renew that licence for a year, providing they have proof of a test appointment, even if that subsequently turns out to be a ‘no show’.
Worse still, given the supposed backlog, is that 23,000 driving test appointments were cancelled last year too late to be given to another provisional driver, and at a cost to the state of over €1m.
The obvious conclusion to be drawn from these figures is that a large number of the 404,000 provisional licence holders on our roads are simply avoiding the test, having secured the test appointment required in order to get an extended licence.
And here’s another figure to make one stop and think of that huge cohort of provisional drivers: 27,000 are on their fifth (yes, fifth) licence, meaning they have been driving for at least eight years without having passed a test.
A further 30,000 are on their fourth provisional licence and 42,000 are on their third.
The town of antiques
According to a glowing report in the Irish Times about the growth of specialist antique shops around the rim of Clew Bay, one can buy the biggest antique mirror in Ireland in a Westport shop.
Seán Crean’s showrooms, called Zeus, is offering the mirror, which measures 10.5 x 6.5 feet, with a price tag of €10,000. The mirror was brought from a local convent and has the original glass and gilt wood frame.
The article itself is generous in its praise of the number and variety of antique outlets in the area from Herbie O’Connor’s furniture showroom in Islandeady to the long-established Satch Kiely antiques at Westport Quay.
At Long Acre Antiques in Bridge Street, John Moran specialises in posters of ‘The Quiet Man’, the film whose popularity endures and grows even after 50 years. The English language posters of the film now share space with French, Swedish and Romanian versions of the publicity blitz which launched the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara classic in 1951.
John Moran also has for sale an archive of photos by Irish Press photographers going back to the 30s and 40s. The press photographs were noted for the quality of their work down through the years of the paper’s existence and the Long Acre can now boast a pictorial wealth of images from sports to politics, current affairs to daily life in the country, news events to images of a more relaxed, unhurried Ireland.
The Times article also acknowledges the contribution to the west’s antiques renaissance of Noelle Carroll, who runs Bar of Gold, and her husband, Barry Young, proprietor of Young’s Interesting Books; Sheelyn Browne who specialises in Bartlett’s Maps at Westport House, and Roger Grimes and Vanessa Parker who now operate a comprehensive antique and book shop at the Thatched Cottage in Mulranny.
Blaney comes back to the fold
Niall Blaney’s return to the Fianna Fáil fold in Donegal tells as much about the practical application of local politics as it does about Bertie Ahern’s pragmatism when it comes to putting the numbers together.
Blaney, who occupies the seat once held by his larger-than-life uncle Neil, has obviously made the considered decision that things have moved on since the 1970s. In truth, voters of today know little about those turbulent times, of how the craggily defiant Blaney parted company with the Soldiers of Destiny which he had served all his life, and how he went on to form Independent Fianna Fáil in Donegal. This latter he turned into a formidable fighting machine such as that, 36 years on, it can still command such influence to retain the Dáil seat.
Fianna Fáil’s move to rope in young Blaney and re-admit him to party ranks – albeit without the assent of his more hardline family – is as much a tidying up of the books as anything else. Blaney was nothing other than Fianna Fáil at heart; in terms of voting power, he could be counted on if there came a crunch in the Dáil. What happens now is that Mr Ahern can sleep a little easier knowing that a Fianna Fáil seat is formally secured beyond doubt.
There will be mutterings of discontent here and there, and the volatile Jim McDaid’s decision to seek re-election threatens to upset the apple-cart.
But the bottom line for Fianna Fáil is that the first steps in bringing back the separated brethren who for the moment occupy the Independent benches, have been successful.
Visitor service in Louisburgh
A recent overseas visitor to west Mayo was understandably disappointed to find that the excellent Granuaile Centre in Louisburgh – one of the main objectives of her visit – was not open to callers on Saturday and Sunday.
However, Louisburgh’s valued sense of helpfulness came to the rescue, with Kitty O’Malley obligingly taking time out on Saturday to play host to a most appreciative visitor.
While one might question why such an obvious tourist attraction should be closed at weekends, when it comes to customer service and old style Mayo courtesy, it’s top marks to Louisburgh.