Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Harder Than Chinese Algebra

The Daily Telegraph has a story this morning about how a gap is yawning in mathematical standards between Great Britain and China. And 1916 or no, as it goes across the water, so it goes here. I’ve been assured that the current Leaving Cert Honours Maths paper is now considerably easier than the hellspawn that was delivered to Honours Maths students in that year of grace 1989, for instance, when your humble correspondent was in the van, trying to interpret the runes of the algebra question on the much feared Paper I.

The Telegraph, however, does more than just give out and tut-tut, the way we as a society do; no, it’s offering a marvellous prize of £500, sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry, to anyone that can solve the above three questions concerning a square prism ABCD. The closing date is Friday, April 27, and you can enter via the Royal Society’s website or its postal address as above. Best of luck!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Monageer: An Adjustment

I was doing a lot pontificating on this tragedy earlier today, and accusing people of bandwagoning over fresh corpses. Now it looks like I was as bad myself, using the tragedy as a platform for my own long held (and still held, incidentally) views on modern Ireland. But the RTÉ nine o'clock news had a story tonight that casts events in a whole new light.

The story is this: Adrian Dunne did more than just visit an undertaker's. He and his wife placed a family order, specifying white coffins for the children and what they were to be buried in.

Even in our rotten, deadwood-choked public service, surely that should have rung every damned bell in there. How could it not? Dear God in Heaven, what have we become?

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An Mhaighdean ag caoineadh a MacOne would be considerable less than human not to be deeply distressed by the tragic events that occurred in Monageer, Co Wexford, over the weekend. The events are so distressing that it’s hard to see how anyone will ever be able to mention Monageer again without people thinking of the harrowing deaths of the Dunne family. However, some of the coverage of the event has been considerably less than intelligent, and this is also beginning to distress your regular correspondent.

For instance – this morning, Ms Orla Barry, presenter of a show called “Life” on Newstalk 106, castigated the Garda response on Friday night. Ms Barry feels that the calling of a priest to provide pastoral care was an outrage, and the correct response would be for the Gardaí to “do something.” By the time I had switched over to Lyric FM, Ms Barry had not yet identified just what that something was – to take the misfortunate Mr Dunne down to the barracks, handcuff him to the radiator and beat him with truncheons until he told them where he’d buried Shergar, perhaps? Is that what Ms Barry thinks the Gardaí should have done?

An Spailpín Fánach gets the sickening feeling that we, the nation, are going to have to spend the coming week listening to liberal Ireland examining its conscience, but never going so far as to join the dots, or being logically consistent, or, in Ms Barry’s capturing of the zeitgeist, “doing something.”

Should the Gardaí have unlimited powers of seizure and arrest? Should we go from nanny state to police state? As it currently stands, the papers are reporting that the children could have been removed under Section 12 of the Childcare Act 1991, which allows the Gardaí to enter a house, without a warrant, and remove a child to the care of the local Health Board in circumstances of “immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child.”

Immediate and serious risk to the health and welfare of a child. I was walking into town down Amiens Street, Dublin 1, on Saturday evening, and I was asked for a light by a junkie who was in the company of a little girl, aged two or two and a half. Your man was middling shook – was there an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of that child? Should I have alerted the Gardaí on Saturday?

One of the more distressing sights in daily life in the city is seeing junkies with children. Junkies can’t look after themselves, generally. The thought of children being in their care is frightening. Does this constitute immediate and serious risk?

Section 13 of the 1991 Child Care Act allows for a justice of the District Court to issue an emergency care order to place a child at risk in the care of the local Health Board for a period of eight days. Section 13 of the 1991 Child Care Act doesn’t say what happens on the ninth day – is it the case that everything is automatically ok then? Is the child then returned from whence it came?

An Spailpín talks to teachers in Dublin a lot. I have heard stories about children in “normal” schools, parochial schools, that would curl your hair. The fact is that the State will not step in to the running of a family unit except in circumstances of the most profound and distressing horror, and then, as it was yesterday in Wexford, it may be too late.

Let’s try some joined up thinking. Suppose we, the people, thought that the State should act, and should step in where children are in danger, on the basis that we cannot put a price on our children’s future. This means that the local Health Boards (which no longer exist, of course) will have to look after these children for longer than the eight days specified in Section 13 of the 1991 Child Care Act. The only way to do that will be to build orphanages.

Hands up everyone who thinks the coming election can be won on a platform of raising taxes to build more orphanages?

Even if the State were to build orphanages, you then have the issue of staffing them. Orphanages are not easy to run. You need a ratio of about 3:1 in staff to children, and that’s not even counting teachers, doctors, counsellors and the rest. That is no small undertaking. And what do we have currently?

Well, we have a state where we can’t keep hospitals clean, something Florence Nightingale was able to manage in Crimea in the 19th Century. We have a State that can’t provide water to Galway, the third biggest city in the State, and it looks like the people of Portarlington will have to stock up on the bottles of Ballygowan now as well. And what’s the main issue in the election so far? The political establishment is bursting itself to be the first to abolish stamp duty for first time house buyers, a source of €2.7 billion of revenue to the State last year. Revenue that will be necessary to clean the hospitals, provide clean drinking water, build and staff the orphanages – fripperies like that. And necessary to pay the hospital consultants, of course, who last week condemned an offer of €200k pa as “Mickey Mouse money.”

As a nation we specialise in examining our consciences in hard cases, like this tragedy in Monageer, but when it comes to the bigger picture, to act, to try and prevent this happening again, we fail miserably. It’s not something that we do well. If journalists like Orla Barry want to do something about children at risk, then let her join the dots and look at the big picture. If she just wants to take a cheap shot at the guards or the priest who went to the house, wouldn’t we all be better off if she’d just shut up and go away?

God have mercy on the Dunne family. I hope they find the peace they never found here. Ar dhéis Dé go raibh an teaghlach bocht brónach.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Donegal Triumph as Mayo Well Goes Dry

When John O'Mahony is out on the stump for the impending general election, kissing hands and shaking babies, he would be forgiven, should he find any particular baby who shows any sort of point scoring ability, to fire said baby into the back of the van, to be sprung in less than one month's time into the white hot cauldron of Páirc an Phiarsaigh, Bóthar na Trá, Cathar na Gaillimhe, when Mayo face Galway in the Championship on May 20th.

O'Mahony, a man whose levels of preparation and foresight are justly famous, played another sly one yesterday at the start of the National League final, naming James Nallen at corner-forward instead of Kevin O'Neill, and then pairing Nallen at midfield with David Heaney, sending Pat Harte up to full forward. Donegal were surely expecting a two man full-forward line, and this would certainly put them thinking.

The makeshift midfield did their best against as fine a pairing as exists in the country, Gallagher and Cassidy of Donegal, but the centre of the park became as crowded as an Irish dole office during the bleak 'eighties, and what was happening at either end proved the difference between the teams. The Donegal forwards buzzed like those bees around the sweet cask that Dermot O'Leary and the Bards sang about many years ago; by contrast, the Mayo forward line were as one of those redwood forests in Northern California, USA - stately and imposing, certainly, but not displaying very many signs of movement.

It was all very disappointing, and it is a testimony to the Mayo backs that Mayo were still in the game at half-time, trailing by only two points, 0-7 to 0-5. There was a sense that Mayo were only hanging on though, and if Donegal broke through for a goal it would be goodnight Irene.

Mayo clawed their way back in the second half, chiefly through the impish Conor Mortimer's ability to get frees and then convert them. However, just as things were in the balance at ten points each with fifteen or so minutes to go, and your correspondent was feeling smug about tipping a draw while interviewed by Noel D. Walsh on Shannonside Northern Sound last Friday, Donegal sprung Adrian Sweeney from the bench and pushed on for a well deserved win.

Donegal have to start as favourites now against Armagh in Ballybofey on May 27th, as 2002 seems so very far away for the Orchard County. In Mayo, there are, as ever, more questions than answers. Mayo didn't get ripped open in the backs as had been feared in some quarters, but the frozen-in-the-headlights aspect of the forwards is a source of profound concern. Conor Mortimer has his critics, but a quick glance at Mayo's scoring figures for the league shows that Mortimer has scored twice as much (4-24) as Alan Dillon (1-15), who's second leading scorer. Which means that, for all intents and purposes, Conor is the only scoring threat Mayo currently have, and a single scoring forward is a small rock indeed upon which to build a church.

Forwards are only as good as their supply, of course, and as the Galway game looms the absence of Ciarán McDonald with a continuing back injury seems more and more critical. Kevin McStay was remarking in the Mayo News during the week that Mayo, while supremely organised, are lacking the spark of genius, and the Mayo faithful can only think of their missing hero, and hope. Former Dublin and Roscommon manager Tommy Carr told Paul Collins on Setanta during the week that McDonald isn't that good, actually, and if it were up to him, Thomas, he wouldn't even have McDonald about the place unless he "conformed." Thomas did little to ease the worries of your correspondent about football in the County Mayo, but he did solve in a sentence any lingering doubts as to why Tommy Carr managed teams never won a damn thing. So that was something.

There are five weeks to go until Salthill. John O'Mahony has five weeks to untie the Gordian Knot of how to get the ball to the forwards and how to get the forwards to kick said ball between the sticks, because he will know from long personal experience just how well Pádraic Joyce and chums will doing just that at the opposite end of the garden. David Heaney and Pat Harte have been doing a fine job in midfield, but how O'Mahony must rue the absence of David Brady and Ronan McGarrity. Your tireless typist was wondering whether or not it'd be feasible to put Barry Moran in there come Salthill, but Moran's injury as the Under-21s crashed and burned against impressive Laois in Dr Hyde Park on Saturday now just seems the tin hat on a miserable enough weekend for Mayo football.

The future holds Galway lurking with intent in the long grass to the south, and a Risen Ros banging their spears against their shields to the East. John O'Mahony's critics - and I think we'll be hearing from this week, as per usual - accused O'Mahony of taking the Mayo job in order to further his own electoral prospects. Right now, suggesting the building of a nuclear reactor in Murrisk at the foot of Croagh Patrick seems a quicker path to popular acclaim. Whatever O'Mahony's reasons are for his return to management in Mayo, he's certainly not doing it for a quiet life.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Class - It's a Little Bit Irish, Isn't it?

Cáit bhocht - ag eitilt i bhofógas na gréineJohn Harris is one of the few critics on the current iteration of Newsnight Review that do not have An Spailpín’s fingers inching towards his revolver as soon as they open their yaps. Harris has a marvellous discourse on class and British society in this morning’s Guardian, as the British media goes into a full feeding frenzy over the ending of the relationship between William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor, HRH Prince William of Wales, and Kate Middleton, er, full stop. It’s the full stop that broke the camel’s back, according to the blatts – the lovely Miss Middleton is rather too common to marry into royalty.

This “too common” notion about a doll whose siblings were educated at Marlborough, darling, and who herself when to St Andrews, founded in 1413, a long step of the road from NUI Galway, your quillsman’s own alma mater, is on Harris as the sound of the bugle is to the warhorse, and he gets stuck in with gusto. Harris is of his age, of course, and one of the great questions in Britain at the moment is how to respond to her class heritage and continuing monarchy. It's so less distressing as a topic at table than how the country itself is accelerating into oblivion.

It all makes for marvellous fun – your correspondent had to fight the urge to clasp his little handies together in joy when he read in Harris’ article that the contenders for the post of new girlfriend to HRH Prince William of Wales are Rosie Ruck-Keene, Davina Duckworth-Chad, Lady Rosanagh Innes-Ker and the nominee of The Sun newspaper, Isabella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe. Them’s handles right there. Even PG Wodehouse himself would have blushed before bunging that little lot off for a weekend at Blandings.

Sadly though, in Ireland, in rolling names like Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe around our palates and thinking ourselves, in Lennon’s words, so clever and classless and free, we are ignoring the cautionary words of St Matthew in the opening verses of the seventh chapter of his gospel. Class is as prevalent in 21st Century Ireland as it ever was in Great Britain. Not to the same extent of course – while milord was having his boots shone for seven hundred years over the water and building up that class tradition, poor Paddy was under said boot, dying – but the lines are just as real and the distinctions drawn just as nice, just as subtle, and every bit by God just as enforced as those defined in polite drawing rooms up and down the sceptred isle since the Restoration.

The Pope’s Children
, David McWilliams’ book about modern, Celtic Tiger, 21st Century Ireland leapt off the shelves here when it was published eighteen months ago. People bought it trying to understand how the country had changed so much in such a small space of time, but An Spailpín is convinced that the legacy of The Pope’s Children will be that it delineates the new Irish class structure that has arisen as the result of this boom and new money in the country. Breakfast Roll Men, Decklanders, Kells’ Angels, HiCos – what are those if not the new working, middle, aspirant and upper classes of modern Irish society?

McWilliams' neologisms' success as labels is reflected in the accuracy of the classifications, and the reaction of people when they found out which class they fitted into. A certain floppy haired economist, columnist, writer and TV presenter is filed as HiCo, Hibernian-Cosmopolitan, by the way, which McWilliams identifies as those that have created the perfect synergy between the ancient Gaelic traditions and the new, European-influenced-as-well-as-bankrolled generation. He was never backward about going forward, of course, Daithí.

The HiCo label is the loosest of the four classifications, of course, as the reaching into the Gaelic past bit goes no further than finding an ancient Irish name like Naoise for one’s issue that will cause a lot of difficulty to pronounce in eighteen years’ time for whoever is supervising Naoise’s shift gutting fish for the summer job in Scarborough, Maine, and Mater and Pater making sure that little Naoise goes to a Gaelscoil where he will not have to share the organically produced contents of his lunchbox with that great class that are totally left out of The Pope’s Children but whose common, non-David-McWilliams-coined designation generally rhymes with trackers.

The other great demographic that’s left out by McWilliams’ all-seeing eye is that part of the country that is outside of the Dublin commuter belt – Ireland, I believe, is what some geographers call it. People in the larger rural cities, like Galway, Cork or Limerick get a passing mention, but only insofar as they are aping the Dublin demographic (Galway apes it now more or less exactly – how heart-breakingly sad. They’ve turned the Emerald City into a strip mall. Dorothy and Toto may never go home again). Otherwise, of rural life on the land or in the country towns, there is nary a mention. I hope it was just sloth on McWilliams’ part, because the other possibility, that all of rural Ireland is on a slow but inevitable slide towards Dublin, to be assimilated on point of entry at the city’s hungry maw into Decklander or Kells’ Angels as appropriate, is a prospect that terrifies and appals.

Once tagged, the new recruit will find him- or herself picking through a series of social shibboleths that are becoming, in their way, as complex and arbitrary as those in force at Versailles before the Revolution. The reactions to the classifications are interesting – Decklanders are particularly offended, while those tagged as HiCo, top of the tree, A-number-one, are visibly relieved while steadfastly refusing to believe there is a class system in existence in the first place. And why should they, when they exist in the perfect homogeny of their own HiCo world, where everybody is sent for tennis lessons and the closest one gets to the “people-left-behind-by-the-Celtic-Tiger” is in reading about them in the election leaflets of socially concerned millionaire businessmen like Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party who, for all his wealth, doesn’t seem to spend much on ties?

But reader, spare a thought this day for poor Kate Middleton, who flew too close to the sun only to be slapped back down to where she belonged. Can you imagine the land she’ll get when she comes back to Ireland to forget, only to be cut dead in Reynards for not having attended Loreto, Foxrock? Good luck to Kate, where-ever her road takes her; she might be having a damned lucky escape.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Steady as She Goes on the Good Ship Mayo

An tUiginneachMayo 2-10
Galway 1-12

It all got a bit much for your correspondent at Croke Park this afternoon. As I sat there in the sun-bathed corner of the Hogan Stand and the Canal End, I thought of all the bloodshed and hatred and prejudice and misunderstanding in the ensanguined history of our sad little island, where all our wars are merry and all our songs are sad, and I asked myself if I ever really thought I’d ever live to see the day when Gaelic Games were played in Croke Park, our great “National Stadium.” Ah Christ, I’m tearing up again at the thought of it. I’d better go blow me nose – I’ll be right back.


There now. That’s better.

So it was first blood Mayo in the phoney war, and a considerable appetite-whetter for the Salthill showdown of May 20th, which is becoming even more epic a prospect as the days go by. The days preceding today’s game were suffused with a sense of unreality, as double and treble bluffs were played across the border about who’d be really trying. This was resolved on the publication of the teamsheets, when it looked as though even if it were a phoney war both Peter Ford and John O’Mahony were going to use real bullets, with each naming strong sides.

But once the game started, it changed back again. There were moments when it looked like the game would take off and become a classic encounter between legendary rivals, and yet it didn’t. It was like a voice in players’ heads on both sides cautioned “hold on; it’s only the League” just when someone was about to light the touchpaper. Will Padraig Joyce be as profligate in front of the sticks again? It’s hard to see it – although Joyce has never really cut up Mayo as he has other teams, most famously Meath in 2001 of course, he’s certainly dealt the killer blow in his day. Joyce missed two kicks to settle it at the end today; on all known evidence, he’s unlikely to stay his deadly blade in Salthill with a real prize on the line.

And at the same time there is much to savour on both sides. For Mayo, David Heaney was outstanding in the middle of the park, and Keith Higgins, rather than wither under the constructive criticism that’s been floating around lately, played an exemplary game on an admittedly out of sorts Michael Meehan. Over in the other corner, this new boy Bane gave Liam O’Malley a much more torrid afternoon than O’Malley has been experiencing lately, although the Burrishoole man came into it more in the second half.

For the Galwaymen, they have to be impressed with how their backs marshalled the Mayo forwards, especially Damien Burke, who hardly gave Conor Mortimer, mining a rich vein of form in recent weeks, a sniff of the football. So why did Galway lose? Probably because Mayo got more from midfield and the breaks than Galway did, and were more economical in their use of it. It could have gone either way, and it’s difficult to imagine too many dirges being sung in the Galway bus on the way home. It was, after all, a phoney war.

So where to from here? Both teams are expecting players to return to their respective panels, with the potential Mayo selection being quite appetising. If David Brady returns to midfield, will David Heaney move to centre-half back? Would Kevin O’Neill have the jets to be able to play centre-half forward in the event of Ciarán McDonald not returning? Is there any way to get Michael Conroy, who has been so impressive in his last two outings, into the team? And it did not go beyond An Spailpín Fánach’s notice that Barry Moran was named among the subs. They say that John O’Mahony is a master of preparation; he has enough variables at his command to keep him busy for a while yet. Enda will have to figure a Fine Gael policy on this nurses’ dispute on his own, while Johnno attends to the serious business of plotting victory in Salthill.

The National League Final itself will tell more, of course. Michael Lyster and your correspondent's sometime Mayo News colleague Kevin McStay said on the telly tonight that the final has been fixed for Croke Park on Sunday full stop, although a decision on geographical grounds would suggest either Dr Hyde Park or Clones. No matter; the footballs will be pumped and the grass cut wherever the game is played. McStay was making a case for Donegal being warm favourites but your correspondent, buoyed by McKelvey coming second in the Grand National yesterday with the unbearable weight of a lump of An Spailpín’s wages to carry, as well as the jockey and the handicap, is less sure. While Donegal may have laid waste to all before them in the League proper they struggled to polish off a Kildare team today who were so reliant on the great John Doyle at centre-half forward that if the misfortunate and over-worked Doyle had to drive the team bus back to Newbridge An Spailpín would not be a bit surprised. But Donegal certainly have a potent attack, all of whom seem scoring threats. It will be interesting to see how things pan out. To quote Raymond Chandler, baby feet take baby steps. It’s still very early days yet.

But if the game is going ahead at Croker, wouldn’t it be wonderful to fix the Roscommon v Cavan Division 2 semi-final there as well? Cavan are the only county not to have played at the new Croke Park and when Roscommon’s Under-21 manager, Fergal O’Donnell, said last year that Croke Park was for footballers and not for rock concerts An Spailpín was inclined to agree with him. It’s hard to imagine any Rossie, the proudest of supporters, refusing an invite to headquarters, and it could make for quite a day out on Sunday week. We shall wait and see, as ever, and be grateful for what we have in the GAA. Roll on the summer.

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Friday, April 13, 2007


There's a long - the guts of seven thousand words, give or take - article about commuting in the current New Yorker that's quite thought-provoking. We here in Ireland might like to print it out and have a read of it over the weekend, to know what we've got to look forward to before the old pension fund kicks in. Enjoy the weekend. And try to make the most of it - it doesn't last.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Filleann "Inherit the Wind" ar ais ar Ardán Broadway

Tá tuairisc spéisiúl ag Mark Lawson sa Ghuardian ar maidin ar ath-tháirgeadh an dráma "Inherit the Wind" ar ardán Broadway, Nua Eabhairc, faoi láthair. Scríobhadh an scéal ins na gCaogóidí ar triail a tharla i ndeisceart Mheiriceá ar múineadh Darwin 'sna scoileanna ansin, ach ba fháthscéal é ag an am céanna, ar an mbaol ag teacht ar saoirse Méiriceánach ó thionchar an Séanadóir Joseph McCarthy agus a lucht tacaíochta. Sa lá atá inniu ann, baineann an tuiscint fáthscéalach faoin ndráma fós, leis an tUachtarán GW Bush in ionad McCarthy, ach, dócréite a rá, tá an coisc ar Darwin ag filleadh ar ais i ceanntair éigin Méiriceá agus tá abhár na h-éabhlóide tabhachtach i saol na bpobal arís.

Rinneadh scannán ón ndráma i 1960, agus Spencer Tracy sa phríomhphart mar Henry Drummond, an dlíadóir a chosnaíonn an múinteoir a mhúineadh Darwin in ionad scéal an Bíobla. Is ceann de na scannáin is ansa liom riamh, toisc gurbh bhreá liom Tracy mar aisteoir, ach tá sár-phart ag Gene Kelly sa scannán freisin, mar iriseoir darbh ainm EK Hornbeck, a chuireadh sios chuig Tennessee chun scríobh ar an dtriail. Níor léigheas é in áit ar bith, ach tá do Spailpín beagnach cinnte go bhfuil an EK Hornbeck seo bunnaithe ar iar-iriseoir Méiriceánach a bhí ann ag an am, fear dárbh ainm HL Mencken, príomhfhear taobh thiar an "American Mercury," iris a bhí ana-thabhactach ag an aois. Tá clú agus cáil ar Gene Kelly mar fear rince, ach theaispéanann an scannán Inherit the Wind gurbh fhéídir leis an gCeallach na páirteanna dáirire a dhéanamh comh maith.

Tá Brian Dennehy agus Christopher Plummer ar an adrán anois mar príomhaisteoiri an dráma, Dennehy mar Matthew Harrison Brady, guth Dé, mar a shílfeadh sé féin, agus Plummer mar Henry Drummond, laoch na h-éabhlóide. Tá sé deachar dom fós creideamh go bhfuil an éabhlóid agus tuiscint litriúil an Bíobla i gcoinne a chéile arís, ach is docha go ndéantar déarmad anseo in Éirinn comh láidir an tír í Méiriceá, agus an méid daoine dífríochta le creidimh dífríochta atá ann. Tá níos mó ann i Méiriceá ná Gaelic Park, NY, agus Dealbh na Saoirse. Feicim gur osclaíodh iarsmalann le deanaí i Kentucky nach mbaineann leis an éabhlóid ar chur ar bith. B'fhéidir go raibh an ceart ag Hornbeck sa dráma nuair a dhéireann sé go raibh mícheart ar Darwin - nár tharla an éabhlóid ar chur ar bith, agus go bhfuil an duine ina ápa fós.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mayo's Easter Parade

Mayo 4-07
Tyrone 1-11

For a team that have the name of the biggest chokers in the Green Isle of Erin, Mayo are becoming quite the second-half specialists. Mayo’s second-half comebacks against Cork and Dublin in recent weeks were more notable than their second half performance against Tyrone today – Mayo were behind against both Cork and Dublin while they actually had a one-point lead today, undeserved though it was – but Mayo nonetheless emerged from the Healy Park dressing room different men from the shades of the first half, and ended up humiliating Tyrone to a degree that the host team did not deserve to suffer.

Mayo went off at half-time having only scored once from play yet bizarrely holding a one-point advantage, 2-2 to 0-7. Tyrone were easily the crisper of the teams in the first half, attacking in waves, cracking over their points and seeing a rasper come off the crossbar. Mayo were still in the game thanks to Conor Mortimer, who a converted a penalty awarded for a foul on himself – despite the local support’s vociferous protests that Conor succumbs to the law of gravity far more than he ought to – and also scored a goal that was a touching homage to Jimmy Burke’s legendary Connacht Final goal in that magical summer of 1989, when the only way was up.

John O’Mahony had rung the first change just before half-time, when James Kilcullen came on for Aidan Kilcoyne, whom the questions did not really suit on this trip to Tyrone. Kilcullen joined James Nallen at midfield, with Pat Harte, who got through a mountain of work in the game, and shipped no small amount of timber too, moving up to fill the gap. O’Mahony tweaked further by replacing Enda Devanney with Trevor Howley early in the second half and suddenly the Tyrone challenge began to crumble as Mayo moved up through their gears. The bottom fell out of Tyrone’s world with about fifteen minutes to go when Owen “Muggsy” Mulligan let his frustrations, well past critical mass after a galling afternoon in the close company of Aidan Higgins, blow up by making a reckless sliding tackle, and Mulligan was ejected from the field. Two goals and some celebratory points later, and the Tyrone faithful were leaving Healy Park with heads down, to be told of their Division 1 reprieve when they got to their car radios.

Tyrone, in truth, were a shadow of the team that won two All-Irelands in three years – there has been a lot of talk about northern systems and methods and tactics but a team is only as good as its players, and when that team can no longer call on the talents of Peter Canavan, Sean Cavanagh, Brian McGuigan and the others it will not be easy to paper over the cracks. For Mayo, twenty-four hours after a masterclass in the Connacht Under-21 Final in Castlebar, the future looks rosy indeed.

David Clarke, after some nervous moments at the start of the league, is taking his chance after Kenneth O’Malley’s cruel injury, and Clarke’s booming kickouts add considerably to his reassuringly pantheresque patrol of his goal. Suspicions that Aidan Higgins wintered not wisely but too well are countered by the fact that having someone with a little bit of beef on the bone on the full back line might do Mayo no harm for a change.

Aidan’s namesake, Keith Higgins, is a more vexed question. It has long been a debating point in Gaelic Football’s groves of academe as to whether football ability is an asset or a liability in the men who man the rearguard. The idea is that the members of the fullback line shouldn’t be too interested in the football at all, but in clinging tightly to their man in the fashion of the butcher’s dog and spare bones. Paidí Ó Sé, who knows something of the art, remarks in his autobiography that when he was playing for Kerry in the seventies he could still hear his old teacher roaring at him “Ó Sé! Where’s your man?” Paidí posits the view that question of his man’s whereabouts should be the only thing bothering a fullback on game day. Keith Higgins’ surging runs forward are thrilling, but seeing his man run at Higgins in the opposite direction has rather the opposite effect on the Mayo faithful. It seems unfair to hold a man’s football ability against him, but fair doesn’t always come into it I’m afraid.

The half-back line looks potent whatever combination O’Mahony chooses, and Billy Joe Padden’s perpetual presence at centre-half suggests that the shirt belongs to An tIolar Breá Iorrais for the foreseeable. Pat Harte has been outstanding all year in midfield, and O’Mahony’s pick in midfield is returning to the riches with which O’Mahony was spoiled in his first incarnation as bannisteoir Mhaigh Eo, injuries permitting of course.

Up front, Conor might be a scamp but he’s our scamp, and these recent days’ ability to keep his head up under shocking abuse from his markers (some of whom have been very much of the butchers’ dog school that An Spailpín was bigging up earlier) and his newfound fondness for the major score mean his place in the corner is copper-fastened. Michael Conroy was a revelation today, even if he didn’t get on the scoresheet as often as he would have liked. He tormented his man, and that’s not bad. Ger Brady struggled in the first half but once he cracked over his first point Brady’s confidence blossomed, and soon he was cracking over some more, casting markers from around him, setting up Conor Mortimer’s hat-trick goal and generally having a fine old time for himself. The search continues for a full-forward, and the county still wonders about Ciarán McDonald’s return and how he will integrate into John O’Mahony’s second coming, but there are far more pluses than minuses now the line has been drawn under the League season. The news that Mayo’s League semi-final opponents are Galway will have given great pause for thought on the long trek home but Mayo cannot but be happy with their Easter Sunday performance.

FOCAL SCOIR: While reflecting on Dublin’s demise today, An Spailpín Fánach cannot but reflect on the very nature of the GAA, and whether or not Dublin get it at all. One constant mantra in that disgraceful old lie about “Dublin needing to win an All-Ireland” is that children in Dublin are tempted by so many other sports, and the GAA needs to compete with those. What neither the Dublin GAA, nor their acolytes in the media – An Spailpín half expects tomorrow’s Irish Times sports pages to be bordered in black, you know – fail to realise is that the GAA is not another sport. The GAA is a cultural organisation, and that’s what makes it different, and that’s what makes it the best.

This is a point on which our hosts today in Tyrone are very clear. The Tyrone Board did not miss the opportunity to commemorate the 91st anniversary of the Rising, and the pre-match entertainment featured some marvellous traditional singing from Caola Reid, and an exhibition of set-dancing, when Ciara McAtasney, Nicola Currie, Erin Devlin, Kayleigh Devin, Rachel Cummings, Aileen Hughes, Paula Donaghy and Clare Cullen gave the boards some serious walloping in 4/4 time. I’m also happy to confirm that there was no cheering before the end of the anthem, something that should catch on nationally, but is sadly unlikely to.

Tyrone have got some bad press over the years and brought a lot of it on themselves if the unpleasant truth be told but today their hospitality for their visitors was first rate. The man on the PA, whose voice was just like that of the late Benedict Kiely, Tyrone’s second-greatest literary figure, started naming what Mayo had won as the team ran out, including the Under 21 title of last year and yesterday’s Connacht title, and then asked the Tyrone faithful to “show your respect for their achievements,” An Spailpín was genuinely stunned. I thought that level of courtesy and respect for opponents had been lost forever, or ruled out of existence by some division of the Modernity Police. Not only that, but in the light of the vitriol that can spew between Armagh and Tyrone supporters on the message boards of this world wide web, I thought it a lovely touch to have a panel in the program congratulating Crossmaglen – surely the greatest club team we have seen – on their fourth All-Ireland title last weekend.

The best was yet to come. At half-time The Boys of the County Mayo was played – whether it was a recording (and my guess would be John Feeney if it was) or a member of the local Scór, it was lovely to hear it, and sung beautifully. Tyrone lost a battle today, but at least they know what they’re playing for every time they pull on the shirt. Ná laga Dia na Gaeil den scoth seo go deo.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cryptosporidium, and Its Role in Irish Democracy

Reader, meet cryptosporidium. Looks trippy, doesn’t he? You’d get half a week’s dole off a hippy in some murky alley off O’Connell Street if you told him he’d be seeing visions like this vista to our left in half an hour.

Of course, that’s not what the people of Galway are seeing after a feed of cryptosporidium in recent weeks. The chief thing they’re seeing, God love them, are the insides of their underpants as they spend another indeterminable hour on the can after drinking their own tap water.

Somehow it’s not a national scandal that Galway, the fourth biggest city in the country, the citadel of our tourist industry, can’t provide its citizens with clean water to drink. Heads are manifestly not rolling over this, just as they’re not rolling over this nonsensical nurses’ dispute that could be solved in a day if people were really trying, just as they didn’t roll over the new maternity hospital in Cork, just as they didn’t roll in the electronic voting fiasco, just as they never roll ever for all the innumerable snafus in the history of the State.

Morning Ireland provided an insight into just why heads don’t roll around here in an interview this morning with Roderick O’Sullivan. Roderick O’Sullivan is an environmental scientist who carried out a survey on Lough Corrib on behalf of the Lough Corrib Angling Federation. The survey was the largest ever carried out on an Irish lake, testing for thirteen different physical and chemical elements at 31 different sites on the lake.

The survey found the lake was filthy, in a word. Sewage from the surrounding towns was combining with gallons of slurry sluicing off the fields to sweep into the lake, and that’s now what’s coming out of the faucets in Renmore and Salthill and Shantalla.

So how did Galway County Council react to this survey, that same County Council who are in charge of – that is to say, with whom the fabled buck stops – local water schemes? They “derided and ignored” the report, according to O’Sullivan, which sounds just like them. The only thing an Irish elected official does better than go on junkets is stick his or her head in the sand when the cryptosporidium hits the fan.

Roderick O’Sullivan must be one of those stubborn bucks though, because he took his survey to Europe and made a complaint there. After nine long years – because they’re not really the Action Jackson types beyond in Brussels, you know – why else would our bucks like it so much? – the Eurocrats agreed with Dr O’Sullivan and said yes, Lough Corrib is swimming in shit.

Back to Ireland and a meeting with Dick Roche, Minister for the environment. Dick Roche was having none of it. Ireland is a democracy, Roche lectured Dr O’Sullivan. If the people aren’t saying the lake is polluted, than the lake is not polluted.

Let’s savour that one once more. Ireland is a democracy. If the people aren’t saying that the lake is polluted, then it is not polluted.

An Spailpín Fánach has a question for Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche. If, God forbid, something were to go wrong with the Minister in a cardiovascular sense, whom would he prefer to perform the quadruple bypass – Dr Maurice Nelligan, or some phenomenally popularly-mandated vote sweeping-up machine like Willie O’Dea or Michael Ring? One gets the feeling that once the misfortunate minister lay on the table to look up at Ringy swinging the scalpel about the exposed ministerial chest cavity like a man that had just watched all three Lord of the Rings DVDs back to back and now thought he was wielding the Battle Axe of Gimli, the Minister would have cause to think again.

Dear God in Heaven. We deserve all we get if this is the best we can elect. And for God’s sake, if you’re in Galway, don’t drink the water. We know exactly what’s in it.

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