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This Week's Ireland Blog


Getting The Boot Hurts Police More Than Drivers Police in Dublin, one of Europe’s most traffic-congested cities, have been trying to get illegal parking under control by clamping so-called “boots" onto the tires of violators. Last year, more than 60,000 illegal parkers got a boot and a fine of €80. Unfortunately for the police and the city government, it costs almost twice that much to get a boot onto each car when the total costs of the program are accounted for. The City of Dublin is currently losing about €5 million each year on its boot program.

County Donegal’s Little Shake (Jan, 2010) Just a few weeks after the massive earthquake in Haiti, residents of County Donegal found themselves rattled a bit when two earthquakes occurred in the area. Thankfully, they measured just 1.5 and 1.7 respectively on the Richter scale. That was strong enough to be felt by a fair number of people, but weak enough so that none seemed scared, and some took to joking about not even having their glasses of Guinness knocked over. Overall, Ireland is one of the most earthquake-free nations on earth. The largest one ever recorded there was a 2.3 level tremor in County Leitrim back in 1994, and virtually no others have occurred there in the past century.

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Intense flooding in southwest Ireland during November left Cork City flooded, with its university closed for a week, numerous buildings along the River Lee unusable and thousands without electric power. Some chose to enjoy touring the wet city by paddling down it’s streets in kayaks.

Nasty Economics
Six out of every ten Irish households have experienced an income drop due to the recession, according to a new study by a market research company with the odd name “Empathy for Friends First." About a third of all breadwinners have had their pay cut back, and 15% are working reduced hours. Separately, The Irish Independent reported that about four companies in Ireland are going bankrupt every day, with construction and retail companies enduring the most pain. About 1,300 firms in all have disappeared during 2009. Financial write Ken Fennell, however, offered a sliver of good news, saying that the rate of bankruptcies appears to have slowed in November. And last but not least, there was less than cheerful news about the Irish farm economy. The Irish Emigrant reported that farmers in Ireland are now experiencing the worst financial crisis “in a generation." Average income on farms, Emigrant reported, is down 28% this year. Irish Farmer’s Association President Pádraig Walshe noted that most farmers earn only one-quarter of what Irish workers in other businesses earn. The many part-time farmers in rural Ireland, he added, earn only about €13k per year from their farming activities.

This Message Not Brought To You By God
Atheists in Northern Ireland may not believe in the almighty, but they still believe in the power of advertising. A large ad has now appeared on a Belfast wall with a photo of a child and a slogan saying “please don’t label me" as a Catholic or atheist. It’s an outgrowth of a campaign that’s run previously on buses in three English cities. A “humanist spokesman" told the Irish Times that the message is designed to knock down the “extreme religiosity" which goes in hand with insularity and bigotry in Northern Ireland. The atheist ads, which sometimes use a slogan "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," are a response to a campaign of “Consider Christ" ads the Catholic Church is paying to run on city buses.

Get On Your High Horse
If you’ve always wanted to be a member of the horsey set, one Irish website will provide you with some leads to get in at a reasonable price. Allhorse.ie lists “equestrian properties" for rent or purchase throughout the country. A sweet little 10-acre estate near Clonmel, for example, rents for just €1,000 per month and offers four beds, 6 stables, and lots of wonderful sounding things we don’t know the meaning of like a “foaling box," and a “tack room." A “sand ring" on the property, one presumes, is for riding around and around in circles on with your horse. Over in Eyrecourt, County Galway, a spanking new home with seven acres of land and 5 stables is on sale for the pretty reasonable sounding price (until you change it into dollars, that is) of €495,000. The horses cost extra.

Irish Roads, Safer Than They Seem
Ireland is now the sixth-ranked country in the EU for road safety, according to a new report from the European Transport Safety Council. In case you are wondering if that’s good or bad, there are 27 member states in the EU. This may seem surprising to visitors who’ve found Irish roadways to be completely terrifying, but the study says that deaths on Irish roads per capita have fallen by a whopping 32 per cent since 2001 (pm a per capita basis, the number has actually fallen 41 per cent since 2001).

A Bracing Start to 2010
If you’ve always wanted to shake off that post-New Year’s Eve hangover with a plunge into the bitterly cold ocean, your chance has arrived. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is running a New Year’s Day swim at 1pm on Friday January 1st at Dugort Strand on Achill Island, off the County Mayo coast. Achill is known for beautiful beaches (popular with surfers) and scenic hikes, though one expects that swimmers will have the place to themselves for this particular event. The water off Achill is extremely cold, even in summer. Soup will, however, be served to all participants. Call 0868381267 to participate or make a donation. A different swimming event that just took place in County Sligo in November got people downright heated up. The “Dip in the Nip" fundraiser scheduled for Rosses Point had to be moved to a private beach in Lissadell. There were simply too many spectators on hand as one hundred and eighty women prepared to swim naked to benefit breast cancer research. The relocated event raised about €80,000 for the Irish Cancer Society.

Not All In Belfast Welcome Immigrants
A small community of Romanian immigrants has found that Belfast isn’t entirely friendly to outsiders. After a series of “intimidation incidents," including masked youths shouting Nazi slogans and throwing things at them, about 100 Romanians have been moved to church halls and other locations where police can protect them. The entire group of immigrants is so fearful of more attacks that they’ve now asked the Irish government to send them back home.

Life Sentence – And More
We previously reported on alleged ghosts in Castlerea Prison in County Roscommon. Now it seems there also spooks haunting Wicklow Gaol, a prison that’s occupied several buildings that have been successively built, torn down and the replaced again since 1702 on a site in Wicklow town, south of Dublin. Tour guides at the old prison (which no longer houses any living inmates) report that a the ghost of a former warden has repeatedly appeared and thrown stones and people, moved furniture around and generally upset people on tours so much that they have run out of the place. It’s not clear, however, whether this is paranormal or simply paranormal marketing. The goal’s website loudly trumpets the ghostly activity at the prison, inviting visitors to “mingle with the ghosts" on night tours conducted by a psychic, before stopping off the buy a keepsake at the gift shop.

Working For The Government Is Just Sickening
The Irish Comptroller and Auditor General’s Office reports that in 2007, civil servants in the country took a whole lot of sick days off. The average government worker took 11 sick days that year, while clerical workers in the state’s employ took an average of 16 sick days. The days off cost the government €64 million.

Knock Not Very Reverent
The Irish Times reports that a late-October gathering at the famous shrine in Knock, County Mayo, turned out to be more like a rock and roll concert than a holy event. After a self-proclaimed visionary claimed he knew the exact moment when the Virgin Mary would appear at the shrine (offering a DHA or “definite hour of arrival," as opposed to the ETA or “estimated time of apparition" visionaries have provided in other years) and used a PR agency to help get his message out, about 10,000 people showed up at the Knock Basilica. Rather than the usual reverent pilgrims, however, this crowd included a large number of teenagers and young women in high heels and miniskirts (Knock’s horrified manager told an Irish Times reporter that many in the group had “spray-on tans") who proceeded to trash the place, throwing chairs around and spilling drinks all over the carpets. The Virgin Mary, smartly, did not make an appearance. While this event created a bigger mess than most, it was only the most recent visitation to Knock by bogus faith healers, mediums and financial advisors who draw followers in need of spiritual or financial help.

Electrifying An Outdoor Bathroom
The owner of an Ennis music store got so tired of people using his property as a bathroom at night came up with a shocking way to get revenge - literally. Proprietor John O’Connor installed electric equipment that caused a man who urinated on his storefront to get an electric shock. The event, which we assume the offender won’t soon forget, was captured on a security camera.

Get Me To The Courthouse On Time
The Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) reports that getting married in church may soon be a thing of the past in some parts of Ireland. Nationwide, civil marriage ceremonies are growing in popularity so quickly that by 2012, they will overtake religious marriages. While this is partly due a gradual decline in influence of the Catholic Church, the trend has been accelerated by new laws that allow Irish couples to get hitched not just in government registry offices, but in “off-site" venues including hotels, castles and country homes. The picture, however, varies from region to region, with almost half of Dublin marriages taking place in a civil environment, but about 90% of those in the more rural county of Donegal still being done in a church. As recently as 1996, just 6% of Irish weddings were civil. CSO notes that brides and grooms in civil weddings are, on average, about three years older than those at religious ceremonies.

Ireland Follows U.S. Lead on Homes, Cars & Debt
Ireland is clearly seeing the same kind of economic meltdown as the good old USA. On the real estate front, a builder in the Kilkenny area recently decided that the only way to sell off duplexes and apartments in the new “McDonagh Junction" development was to drop prices through the basement floor. Discounts of almost fifty per cent managed to attract buyers, though even at that rate a third of the properties remain unsold. Auto dealers are getting hammered as well. Car dealers in Dublin and Galway are teaming up with an online car dealer called Broadspeed to give buyers an offer they (hopefully) can’t refuse. Cars will be offered on a “buy one, get one free" basis. This tactic has apparently already been used in Britain, and has succeeded in moving inventory for car dealers – though it’s not clear if it’s made them any money. And finally, the Irish government announced, in a manner of speaking, that it was too broke to undertake a stimulus plan to kick-start the economy. A Department of Finance spokesperson said Ireland would not participate in a new European scheme to pump €200 billion into economies through a mix of tax cuts and capital spending, because Ireland not only has too big a public deficit, but is also borrowing money like mad to cover runaway government spending.

Million Euro Baby?
Katie Taylor, a boxer from Bray, County Wicklow, is hoping that women’s boxing is an event in the London Olympics in 2012. That’s because she’s currently beating the daylights out of every other lady she steps in the ring with. After taking the European Championship earlier this year, Ms. Taylor recently won the lightweight title in the Women’s World Championships in China by a convincing score of 31 – 2.

A Winning Whiskey
The best whiskey in the whole wide world comes from an old-style distillery in County Louth, according to the judges of the International Wine and Spirit Competition. Cooley, in Riverstown, has only been in operation since 1987. But its owners are on a mission to revive traditional Irish techniques, including the “peat smoking technique" to make both grain and malt varieties (brands include Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell). They must be doing something right. In spite of all the well-known Irish brands out there, Cooley is the first whiskey producer in Irelend to every be named world’s best by this organization.

Obama May Crunch Ireland’s Tax Advantage
Ireland’s recent strategy of using rock-bottom tax rates to draw foreign companies will take hit if president Barack Obama follows through on one campaign promise. As a candidate, Mr. Obama said he would end many of the incentives that encourage U.S. companies to move jobs off shore. A plan to charge American companies US tax rates even if they locate overseas, in particular, would wipe out a top reason so many US companies have built plants in Ireland. If Obama’s proposal becomes law, companies that now pay just a 12.5 percent Irish corporate tax would be billed by the US Treasury for the difference between that and the US corporate tax rate. That could result in a huge economic hit for Ireland. American tech companies, in particular, are doing so much manufacturing there that in 2003, Dell computers were Ireland’s number one export.

Hard Time For A Spirit
If you were a ghost, would you want to stay in prison? Apparently there’s one lurking around Castlerea Prison on County Roscommon – but only since the recent blessing of a prison burial ground by Catholic clergy. Numerous sightings of the specter and lights going on and offer without explanation are turning hardened criminals into fraidy cats. The most popular theory is that the prison is being haunted by a poor fellow who took his own life there many years ago, when the building houses a mental hospital. Meanwhile, the local Bishop recently denied that his most recent visit to Castlerea included an exorcism ceremony.

Irish Open Re-born
It wasn’t clear if the Irish Open Golf Championship would actually happen this year, because of the sponsorship-killing effects of the current economic downturn. But now an unnamed sponsor had jumped into the breach to keep the event, one of Europe’s oldest golf championships, on track for the next three years. Martin Cullen, Ireland’s Minister for Sport, announced recently that the championship will move to the Mount Juliet course in Thomastown, County Kilkenny this May. The event was previously played for several years at Adare Manor, where winners included Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer.

Emigration Revives
Ireland’s economic surge over the last decade or so effectively put an end to centuries of emigration that sent the Irish all over the globe looking for opportunity. The story in recent years has been one of immigrants coming into Ireland in droves, and many Irish who had left for American and other countries returning back home. But that may be changing now that Ireland is being hit with a set of economic woes at least as bad as those here in the U.S. The Irish Times recently reported that shop owners in traditional Irish enclaves around New York are seeing a big pickup in business, as young Irish people once again head for Amerikay. Irish centers also report that a new wave of Irish immigrants to the U.S., some legal and some not, are putting a strain on their resources.

One Irish Family Multiplies In Britain
One the biggest families in England apparently came from Ireland. The vast clan was on display in the Manchester suburb of Salford recently at the funeral of its leading lady, one Ms. Margaret Ward, who came over to England from Galway in the 1960’s with husband Charles. The couple certainly left their mark: 15 children, 172 grandchildren (every single one of whom attended the funeral), 35 great-grandchildren and 18 great-great-grandchildren.

Hotel Prices Fall, Everything Else Goes Through The Roof
According to hotels.com, the cost of staying at an Irish hotel has dropped an average of 8% in the past year. Dublin rooms actually fell an average of 10%, while sleepovers in Cork’s fair city were down 11% (average cost in Cork was €111 per night). Although that’s good news for visitors, the cost picture for the Irish is decidedly worse. A study by pricerunner.co.uk recently showed that Ireland is now the fourth most expensive place on earth to live. Consumer electronics, the study said, often sell in Dublin for more than double the price they go for in the U.S.

Celtic Tiger Meant Lots of Love & Babies
A new report by researchers at University College in Dublin seems to prove that good economic times encourage lots of marriages and births. During the “Celtic Tiger" years of 1995 to 2006, the report said, marriages in The Republic shot up 40 percent. Apparently a demographic “double whammy" helped power this marital boost. Not only were there more young people in Ireland’s population than in previous decades, but people over 30 also had a greater propensity to get married than at any time in the past. Happily, divorce rates did not see a similar rise. Meanwhile, births went up a whopping 46 percent, resulting in over 70,000 children entering the world in Ireland during 2007, versus just 48,000 back in 1994. Researchers noted that Ireland today is one of the only countries in Europe where it’s still common for families to have more than two children.

The Old Sod On Mars?
An Irish science professor who played around with bog plants has found that her odd interest has put her on NASA’s research team. Michelle Bennett, who heads the Limerick Institute of Techology’s Applied Science Department, stuck some samples of Irish bog fauna into airtight jars, put them in a garage and then forgot about them. A year later, she came across them again, opened them up and was surprised to discover they were all still alive. She approached the American space agency with the idea of testing the hearty sphagnum mosses to create self-sustaining sources of food and water on spaceships, and more specifically for future use on a mission to Mars. NASA is now has her working on the project for them.

Naked People And Wild Escapades To Appear On Irish Screens
The Irish Film Censor’s Office, which over the years cut or entirely banned movies including Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, Midnight Cowbay and others, was effectively cut itself recently when it was folded into another government agency. According to The Irish Times, the first Irish film censor, one Mr. James Montgomery, happily proclaimed he know nothing about movies when he was appointed in 1923. He said he simply consulted only the ten commandments (not the Charlton Heston version) for guidance on them. But he clearly took his work seriously. In his first year on the job, Mr. Montgomery banned 124 films.

Kenmare Squeeky Clean
Kenmare, in County Kerry, is the 2008 winner of the “Best Kept Town" competition. It’s the second win for Kenmare in eight years. The town has also won the national “Tidy Towns" contest in recent times.

O’Jellyfish
How do you put a tag on a piece of water? Irish and English scientists seem to have solved the problem. They’re currently placing “Lion’s Mane" and “Barrel" jellyfish off the Irish coastline to research their role as a food supply for a particular species of turtle. The jellyfish, which happen to be 98% water, can run as large as garbage can covers.

Forever Hurling
71 year-old Tom Randles of Tullylease, County Cork, is clearly still ready to take a whack at the ball, and at anyone who gets in his way. The lifelong hurler, who once won an All-Ireland medal in the rough and tumble sport, recently filled in for a missing player on a team in the Junior A League. The grandfather, who frequently works out with the hurling team, also stays fit by walking and dancing. Mr. Randles played the full 60 minutes of the match at the corner forward position.

Housing Boom In Reverse
Over the last few years, a whole lot of Irish folks have discovered the wonders of “zero deposit" mortgages, allowing them to buy a home with zero equity investment. Turns out it wasn’t such a good time to get into this type of investment. According to a report by Davy Stockbrokers, reported in The Irish Times, about 40,000 first time home purchasers who used the zero deposit option will soon be in a position of having negative equity in their homes if prices continue falling as they have recently. On average, dream homes purchased this way will soon be worth almost €20,000 less than the mortgages owners are holding on them. Getting out of these investments won’t be easy, however. A new quarterly real estate survey shows that home sales dropped 60% in Ireland in the first three months of 2008.

Guinness To Brew Less At St. James Gate
All true lovers of stout know that St. James Gate in Dublin is the world heart of the Guinness brewing empire. And while Diagio, the conglomerate that now owns Guinness, isn’t planning to skip out on the 9,000-year lease the company signed on the property in 1759, it looks as though the St. James Gate brewery is going to become more of a tourist site and less of a true brewery. Much of the brewing activities at the old site will be moved to other plants Guinness operates around Ireland, including a modern, efficient one being built near Dublin. Though the famous Guinness tour, which attracts some 900,000 visitors per year, will continue, numerous workers at the old plant could be in line to lose their jobs. A portion of the St. James Gate property is to be redeveloped, but another chunk will be sold off.

Island of Empty Cars
Arranmore Island, off the coast of Donegal, has a problem that may become common in America when gas reaches $10 a gallon. It seems as though tourists who visit the remote, beautiful outpost are in the habit of simply abandoning their cars when they run out of petrol. Over the years, more than 500 rusting hulks of automobiles have built up the island, which is only a few miles across. The local governmet has now dragged all the derelict vehicles back to Sligo on the mainland, where they are being crushed for recycling.

Grafton Street Is Costly For Store Owners Too
If you want to open a shop, don’t try to do it in Dublin. A new survey shows that Grafton Street in Dublin is the sixth most expensive location in the world to open a shop. The rents there are higher than top shopping strips in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

High On Love – Really, Really High
A helicopter pilot from Cashel literally bet the farm on his marriage proposal recently, plowing a huge message into a farm field asking his lady love to be accept his troth. His girlfriend, awakened at 7:30 am and taken on a surprise helicopter ride, apparently reacted well when she looked out the window and saw the proposal cut into wheat far below. The pilot, keeping one hand firmly on the controls, managed to pull out a ring to complete the proposal, which was accepted.

Gang Truce in Stab City
Two gangs who rank as the Hatfields and McCoys of Limerick, known as the Keane/Collopy and McCarthy/Dundon gangs, have reportedly made an agreement to stop fighting on the heels of a wave of violence that took ten lives. With the help of two “non-criminal intermediaries," according to Irish Emmigrant, the two groups have put their feud aside, at least for the moment.

Judges With Bad Blarney
Irish judges seem to be excelling these days at the art of sticking their feet in their mouths. In one recent incident, a judge suspended most of the five-year sentence of a County Waterford man convicted of raping a 26 year-old prostitute from Croatia. The judge made headlines for saying he felt the suspended sentence was appropriate because the Waterford man, a father of six who visits prostitutes frequently, is “a man of good character." Not long afterward, a Monaghan judge managed to offend an entire Irish county. When a student from County Tyrone said she had only obsolete sterling on hand to pay the standard €50 fine to have her case thrown out of court (a commmon but questionable practice in Irish courts), Judge Sean McBride said she was showing “the typical thickness of Tyrone people." The judge later apologized, claiming that his lack of tact was the result of a “long tiring day."

The Harlot’s Name Remains The Same
Long running efforts by residents of Doon, County Limerick, to bring back a name that was taken from their town in 2003 appear to have succeeded. The town has been known as “Dun Bleisce" as far back as 774. Problem is, that’s believed to translate into “Fort of the Harlot." In 2003, The Irish Placenames Commission decided that decent little towns shouldn’t be named after harlots, and changed the name to “An Dun," which apparently doesn’t mean much of anything. That set off a grand etymological debate, with some claiming that Dun Bleisce means “the stronghold of immoral women," and others saying that “harlot" once meant “powerful women." (How else could they have a fort?). After some 800 locals signed a petition to bring back the old name, the Placenames Commission director has issued an order to bring back the name Dun Bleisce.

Ryanair Plays Hardball With Rugby Fans
Faced with a tough economic climate, cut-rate Irish airline Ryanair apparently has decided to push the concept of fluid pricing to the max. Irish rugby fans who bought tickets far ahead of time to Bristol, England for finals of the European cup were thrilled when their team qualified for the big game – and then aggravated when they found that their Ryanair flight had suddenly been cancelled (they were offered refunds or alternative flights). Oddly enough, the same flight shortly re-appeared on the airline’s schedule, but with ticket prices six times as high as the rugby fans had originally paid. Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO, said that the airline had not been closely watching the rugby standings, and the whole thing was a technical mix up. The fans ultimately got free air tickets to travel to the big game.

Mangled Oscar Acceptance
Apparently those 12 years of Gaelic language that every Irish kid is required to take in school isn’t enough to teach ‘em to speak good. Dublin-bred Glen Hansard, who’s “Falling Slowly" from indie film “Once" earned him an Oscar for best song, apparently made a bit of a Gaelic boo-boo in front of a huge audience last month. The New York Times reports that in trying to say “Thanks a million" to the academy, he said “go raibh, mile, maith agat." We’re sure that all Ireland-Fun-Facts readers can spot that fact that the last word “agat" is singular, and should have been “agaibh." No word yet on whether Mr. Hansard’s primary school diploma will be revoked.

No Cells Allowed In Cellblocks
Denis Kelly of County Cork has the odd distinction of being the first prisoner in Ireland ever convicted of committing an odd crime: having a cell phone in jail. Posessing a mobile phone in Irish prison today can result in a fine of up to 5,000 Euros, and a sentence of five (additional) years in jail.

Green and Blue Jets Combine To Ireland
Aer Lingus has closed a deal with US budget airline Jet Blue to allow American travelers to buy a single ticket for trips that involve taking a domestic flight to New York and then going across the puddle on Aer Lingus. This will make it easier to set up flight plans to Ireland from US cities including Denver and Seattle, and make it possible to buy tickets to Ireland directly from these cities online. Passengers will change between Aer Lingus and Jet Blue flights at JFK’s Terminal 6.

Euros Even More Expensive
The dollar’s plunge against the Euro continued this week, reaching a low-water mark of $1.50 per Euro. It’s the first time the greenback has been that low since the Euro was launched in 1999.

Schools Galore In Capital
Perhaps the best statistic we’ve come across to illustrate how rapidly Dublin is growing: The Irish Minister of Education has announced that 30 new primary schools are planned to for the city.

America's Downturn Hits Eire
In economic terms, if the US catches cold, Ireland will get pneumonia. That’s the conclusion of a recent study by the International Monetary Fund, which warned the Ireland will be far more damaged by an American recession than by any slowdown in Europe’s economy. That’s because Ireland has an exceptionally high level of dependence on investment from the United States, and sells a very high proportion of its exports to Americans. At the same time, Ireland’s Exchequer reported that tax receipts fell significantly during January of 2008, due to a downturn in the Irish real estate market and weak consumer spending during the Christmas season.

Blarney Stone Bru Ha-Ha
A new book by two archaeologists from Britain has caused a minor furor over whether or not that piece of rock that tourists line up to plant their lips on in Blarney Castle is actually the real Blarney stone. Authors Mark Samuel and Kate Hamlyn say the true Blarney stone is actually somewhere else in the famous County Cork castle. Sir Charles Colthurst, the current owner of the castle, says they’re wrong. Though the approach to the stone was changed some years ago for safety purposes, he argues, the much-smootched rock is the real item. In case you’re wondering, there are two versions of the legend of how the Blarney Stone came into being. The first is that Cormac MacCarthy, owner of the castle during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, was extraordinarily skilled at never giving the queen what she wanted. Every request she made of MacCarthy was met with long-winded elaborations and bluffs, to the point where the “Virgin Queen" yelled out one day “This is all Blarney, he never says what he means!" Version number two is that a magic stone was built into the castle in the 1400’s, but no one knew exactly where. When one of the castle’s owners found a witch drowning in a river and saved her, she told him where the magic stone was, and that kissing it would give anyone the power of persuasion evermore.

Irish Immigrants Return To U.S.
In additional economic news, The Irish Times reports that there has been a new influx of Irish immigrants coming into the United States since the start of 2008. The reason: Ireland’s economy has weakened, making jobs there more difficult to find.

Stalactite Crazy In Clare
If you’re bringing young kids to Ireland and looking for ways to divert them this spring, you might try a visit to recently-opened Pol an Ionáin, a cave not far from Doolin in County Clare that boasts the largest free-hanging stalactite in the world. The owners of the cave are planning to build a visitor center there if the local planning council approves. Cave lovers can enjoy the smaller, more personal scale of the Pol an Ionain cave site after a visit to Ireland’s most popular cave, Aillwee Cave in Ballyvaughan, also in County Clare.

No More Ring In The Cake?
You wouldn’t think it would upset anyone but the makers of Cracker Jacks to have the EU ban toys or other foreign objects from being included in the packaging with food products. But the Irish are a bit upset about it. That’s because one of the oldest traditions in the Celtic world is to bake a ring into the Halloween “barmbrack" cake, and declare that whoever bites into it will soon get married, come into money are enjoy good luck of some other type. Apparently, only homemade barmbracks will carry on this tradition henceforth.

Irish Get Used To Welcoming Immigrants
Ireland’s economic success has attracted lots of immigrants, particularly from Eastern Europe. At times, that’s been a bit of a problem for Irish folk, most of whom grew up in the very homogenous environment that existed in the country until the early 1980’s. Reports have popped up in newspapers of immigrants feeling they were being discriminated against or treated rudely in Ireland. But apparently, most Irish people feel the new arrivals are a plus for the island. According to a survey conducted by the European Union, over 80% of people in Ireland feel that the nation’s cultural life has been improved by the arrival of new immigrants.

Fat Irish Lady To Sing In Wexford
A new ultra-modern Wexford Opera House is scheduled to stage it’s first production this September. The €33 million building, which is currently a hard-hat construction site, will feature a horseshoe-shaped auditorium that keeps even the “cheap seats" relatively close to the stage, and walls clad in Canadian walnut.

Paying More For Extras On Ryanair
Irish airlines are honing their skill at charging hidden fees. After Aer Lingus announced charges for baggage and then raised the rates less than a year later, budget airline Ryanair is boosting charges for bags and other sundry items. The fee for a checked bag will now go from €6 to €9, with the cost of a second bag rising from €12 to €18. This seems like small change, until you realize that some of Ryanair’s passenger tickets only cost €20. Charges for baby equipment, musical instruments and sports items will also go up.

No “Get Out Of Jail" Card Needed
You may have stayed in castles, but you haven’t lived until you’ve spent a night in prison. Under a proposal by a Dublin area developer, you could soon have the chance to fill in that gap in your resume, while being taken care of by a concierge instead of a prison guard. The Dublin City Council is considering a plan to convert 19th century Mountjoy prison into a boutique hotel, as part of a larger plan to repurpose a large government-owned property that includes the prison and several other old buildings. The building has wrought iron gates and numerous other old-world features, though the windows are said to be a bit on the small side. One small obstacle: the prison is currently full of, well, prisoners. Remodeling can begin after they are moved to a new facility in 2011.

St. Everywhere But Ireland
If you go to a hospital in Ireland these days, don’t expect to hear your nurses speaking in that familiar Irish brogue – or in any other European language for that matter. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland reports that over 50% of all new nurses registered in The Republic in 2006 were not only from outside Ireland, but outside the European Union.

Don’t Drink The Irish Water?
Ireland’s weak enforcement of environmental standards has become less and less of a secret as it’s building boom has spread new houses willy-nilly across the landscape and manufacturing companies have been given something close to a free ride on pollution issues (technology people have long referred to Ireland as “the ghetto," because of the unregulated production of CDs and other computer products that create very toxic waste). The Irish Environmental Protection Agency has now issued a statement that well over one third of all public water supplies in the country are so dirty that they may now pose a risk to the public, and need to be either replaced or simply closed down.

Lovin’ – And Stealin’ – That Good Old Guinness
A “low tech" thief with lots of moxie stole more than 450 kegs (about 40,000 bottles worth) of Guinness from the main factory in Dublin recently. The fellow, who has not been found as yet, simply backed a truck into the yard at the St. James Gate Facility, hitched up a trailer full of the brown stuff, and drove off unmolested. The trailer, minus the Guinness, was later discovered in the countryside.

Your Bag’s Airfare More Than Yours?
Aer Lingus seems to have fallen in love with baggage charges. The airline announced last week that it will raise their fees for checked baggage for the third time since the charges were introduced in early 2007. With a new fee of 9 Euro per bag each way now being levied, travel pundits estimate that an average family will probably be forking out over 100 Euro in baggage fees on a round trip from now on.

Irish Trinity
Right now, Ireland has three Catholic cardinals for the first time in its history. They are Cardinal Sean Brady, who was elevated to cardinal by The Pope in November 2007, and two retired cardinals: Cahal Daly and Desmond Connell.

Make Mine Cavan And Not Coca
You’ve seen the defunct brands of small beer brewers brought back in recent years, but what about old soft drinks? Apparently hearts in County Cavan are yearning for an old cola once sold their by Cavan Mineral Water Ltd. “Cavan Cola" was made from 1984 until the 1990’s, when its manufacturer was taken over by a larger concern. Enter one Mr. Don Leahy, who this year has created a website and a T-shirt to rekindle interest in the soft drink. Mr. Leahy has been covered in The Irish Times and seen lots of traffic to his website. He says he wants to bring the drink back because "Cavan Cola is a forgotten symbol of what Cavan stood for - Cavan Cola defines refreshment, coolness and vintage Cavan culture." Apparently, one key element in the drink’s popularity was the fact that when poured in a glass, it had a frothy head that allowed young bucks to pretend they were imbibing Guinness.

Collins Note Sells For A Bundle
A letter written by Michael Collins to Thomas Ashe, a 1916 Rising leader who ultimately died in a hunger strike, was recently sold at auction for €260, about five times what it was expected to draw. Written in 1917, the letter makes some rather negative comments about Éamon De Valera. It was offered up to auction by Ashe’s family, and bought by an anonymous collector.

Nervous Tax Cut
The Irish government, clearly nervous about a decline in the real estate market, recently lowered the “stamp duty" paid by buyers of second-hand homes. The move was made, according to Minister for Finance Brian Cowen, to “provide a floor" for homes prices.

Saving Kerry’s Stone Walls
A controversy has arisen about plans to put up precast concrete barriers along many parts of the Ring of Kerry. Irish Minister for the Environment John Gormley is complaining that the modern barriers will destroy the scenic vistas along the crowded tourist route.

Waterford’s Future Even Less Crystal Clear
The troubled Waterford Crystal Company appears to be continuing its long downhill slide. Owners recently announced they will cut another 470 jobs at the southeastern Ireland headquarters. That’s almost 50 per cent of the people left at the old factory. Waterford, once one of the biggest employers in Ireland, may shortly run out of people to cut.

A Crazy Way To Start A Water Company
Brand new company Clare Spring Water Ltd will draw it’s product from three top quality springs that they found the old fashioned way. Local government official P.J. Kelly seems to have proved that he has a talent for “divining." Not long ago he took a coat hanger and went out into the countryside looking for water, something he says he was been able to do for over forty years. Sure enough, Kelly located three water sources big enough to support a new company that’s going to employ 10 people. He says he discovered his talent for finding water four decades ago when he picked up a pair of tongs and felt a shock go through them.

Has The Celtic Tiger Caught A Flu?
You don’t have to look far these days for indications that the Irish economy, after an incredible run, is finally slowing signs of slowing down. After The Irish Times reported that, in September, the construction Irish sector fell to its lowest rate of output in 52 months, economists warned that Irish real estate faced a huge risk from the fallout of the American subprime market mess. The nation’s central band then followed with news that unemployment is expected to rise from 4.5 to 5.3% in 2008, and that consumer spending will probably fall by as much as 50%. Meanwhile, a few foreign observers expressed fear about the possibility of a bank run, given that unlike the U.S., where the FDIC covers depositor’s losses up to $100,000, Ireland’s government only covers losses up to 20,000 Euro – the lowest level of coverage anywhere in the European Union.

Continue To Page Two Of Our Ireland Blog.