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A Letter From Ireland – March 2015

I write today with nostalgia in mind. It’s March and we’re on the cusp of another St Patrick’s Day. Sure as Irish, we’ve much to celebrate…memories of grand times and some maybe not so. For Pat Fallon, a good friend and great Irish-festival entrepreneur, the 17th marks his eighty-first… may it be filled with many happy returns.
In remembering our patron saint…think back some sixteen-hundred years. Who would’ve imagined, standing on a grassy promontory over-looking a diminutive bit of rocky beach some fifty feet below, you wait and wonder. Today, that wee tract of Irish coastline once witnessed the arrival of a man of Anglo-Roman linage named Pádraig. It was his second visit to Ireland, the first being some years earlier.
As a lad of sixteen, he’d been captured by marauding Irish adventurers, likely near his Welsh home, and sentenced to a life of solitude, herding sheep along Ireland’s northeastern coast. His captivity lasted six years before he was able to escape homeward. Now, a grown man, full of God’s priestly intentions, Pádraig returned to Christianise the local pagans, most likely Picts and Anglo-Saxons, who then populated this remote island in the fifth century.
Stepping ashore, this assemblage of Christian missionaries was set upon by a group of locals intent on defending their land from strangers. No one is certain what happened next, but local history records one of the newly arrived was hit in the mouth by a stone. Despite being a victim of Irish ire, the man decided to stay and convert those who’d listen. So, in due course, the missionary, eventually called Manntach, the toothless one, established a church aptly named Cill Mhantán, the Church of Manntach. All the while, Pádraig and the others decided to move further afield, spreading their Holy message minus their sailing companion.
It should be noted four centuries later, more invaders, this time Norsemen, landed and renamed the little settlement Wyknlo, a Viking word for meadow or lake. Today, this early community is called Wicklow.
Sure, if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in Wicklow Town or anywhere else in Ireland over the next weeks, you might overhear those around you talking about the changing times. Provoked by the ongoing debate sparked by the latest ‘hot’ topic, the Government’s newly planned introduction of water rates/charges, your inquiry will likely ignite a passionate discussion. As you might know, lately hundreds of thousands of Irish have taken to the streets, from Dublin to Cork City and yes, up to Donegal, all voicing their displeasure with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Government’s controversial water scheme.
Irish Water Ltd is a newly created water utility company, founded in 2013, to provide safe, clean and affordable water for all residents living in the Republic. It is also charged with managing waste-water disposal. In the past, local governments were responsible for providing these services at no cost to the public.
Now, coupled with the massive austerity measures already in place due to the recent economic, housing and banking disasters, these newly mandated water charges have proven to be the preverbal straw that’s breaking the camel’s back.
The protests are wide ranging and far from being resolved. The people are refusing to pay the planned water usage rates and for the installations of home water meters. Over the strident objections of the citizenry, the Government has done some recent backtracking, which hasn’t helped their position. With the public thinking they’ve gained an advantage, the debate continues to fester.
With this growing dissatisfaction of Kenny’s Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government, tremors of discontent can be felt among the electorate. Once the source of positive popular support, the taoiseach’s polling numbers have been on a steady decline for months. Reaping the fruits of the Government’s slide, the fortunes of Sinn Féin plus the Independents and a group of smaller parties are on the ascendency. Combined, they’ve become a formidable foe for the two old centrist parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. In fact, it is rumoured that at the next general election some pundits think Fine Gael will jettison its partnership with Labour and seek joining with their one time rival, Fianna Fáil, to form a new Government. [Back in the 1920s, Ireland fought a Civil War as Pro-Treaty/Fine Gael proponents opposed Anti-Treaty/Fianna Fáil adherents in a bloody, internecine conflict.]
In creating such a marriage, the two parties could share in the spoils of Government while keeping the upstart Sinn Féiners out of power. [Today, SF is the most popular political party in Ireland despite its close association with the violence that ravaged the island in the 1970s and 1980s, while its leader, Gerry Adams, despite his own personal issues, is currently the most popular party head in the land.]
All this unrest came to a head recently when TD Lucinda Creighton announced she would soon be forming a ‘new’ political party. Yet unnamed, she was joined by other influential politicos who want, as she states, “…to Reboot Ireland…” and give political power back to the people. In speaking with RTÉ news recently, Creighton said, “We’re not attempting to launch another traditional political party, but rather a political movement that intends to radically change a political system that is a generation past its sell by date.”
All this dissatisfaction and public turmoil reminds me of an earlier time…the year was 1990 and Ireland had just installed a new president, a woman…Mary Robinson. In her inaugural address given on 3 December, she eloquently hoped, “May God direct me so that my Presidency is one of justice, peace and love. May I have the fortune to preside over an Ireland at a time of exciting transformation…where old wounds can be healed, a time when, in the words of Seamus Heaney, ‘hope and history rhyme.’ May it be a Presidency where I the President can sing to you, citizens of Ireland, the joyous refrain of the 14th-century Irish poet as recalled by W. B. Yeats: ‘I am of Ireland…come dance with me in Ireland.’” Up ’16, no royals and Éire Abú, Cathal

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