August 28, 2009 – Volume 12, Issue 10
I N · T H I S · I S S U E

The Mother Country

DISPATCH, 8 August 2009, Dublin, Ireland: “Black or white pudding? It’s lovely,” an Irish morning staple of pig’s blood.

It’s a ten-day birthday trip. Milestone and irony: Chinese gal drawn to Ireland, my roots. Terry and I and two daughters, Stephanie and Kristin, are off.

On patrol, on a mission to get a feel for the mother country. To celebrate life. After so many trips to Europe, finally a chance to see, taste, hear, and feel Ireland. It’s about going home and being immersed in a land of persistent precipitation, good values, better drink and cheer.
"Welcome Home Ted."
-Sean at Davey Byrnes

The Emerald Island

Ireland is small, about the size of Maine. It’s the third largest island in Europe and twentieth largest in the world. It’s about half the size of Great Britain, just slightly smaller than Iceland.

Ireland is surrounded by hundreds of islands and inlets. Our first full day: We drive from Dublin on the east coast to Galway on the west, stopping at the mystical Hill of Tara, the spiritual and political center of Celtic Ireland, and the seat of the high kings until the 11th century. In 1843, a million Irish gathered there for a rally. Broad expanses of Irish “midlands” stretch in every direction. I think Woodstock.

Not far afield, still in County Meath, is Trim. Its castle was built in the 12th century by a Norman lord, and is one of Europe’s largest medieval castles. Braveheart was shot there. A gigantic structure; our guide, born in Trim, tells of childhood adventures in the castle before it became an historic site. Imagine warring lords storming the castle, being doused in burning oil and excrement from parapets we stroll. We hike along the River Boyne.

Ireland came into existence 10,000 years ago after the end of the last ice age. It’s been inhabited for 9,000 years. In the past 1,000, Ireland has been influenced by Vikings, Normans, Scots, and English. Poland is currently the largest source of immigrants, followed by Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Latvia. There are also recent Romanian immigrants, and Chinese, and Nigerians.

The sovereign Republic of Ireland (initially known as Eire), formed in 1937 and was admitted to the United Nations in 1955 and covers five-sixths of the country. Northern Ireland elected to rejoin the United Kingdom after the Irish War of Independence that began in 1918 and ended in 1922. The IRA ceasefire in 1997 followed by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement terminated years of unrest between north and south.

Ireland is divided into four regions – Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster -- and 32 counties of which 26 are in the Republic. Soccer, rugby, and Celtic sports including hurling transcend borders. The Catholic Church dominates: 73% of the entire population and 87% of the Republic’s. Imagine St. Patrick’s Day.

Ireland’s history is as rocky as its landscape. It’s been marked by famines and flight. Ireland once had a population of 8 million. It now stands at 6 million, up from a post-blight low of 4 million. The country is rebuilding, “modernisation” by government decree. I question the Transport 21 policy priority given to upgrading roads over railways.

In 1840, the Great Famine began. It was caused by a blight that resulted in a total failure of the potato crop and the Irish staple. The blight lasted through 1849 and Ireland lost a million to hunger and disease, plus a million to America. By the late 1840s, half of all American immigrants were Irish. In 2005, 35 million Americans reported Irish ancestry.

The West Coast

DISPATCH, 10 August 2009, Galway: The port city of Ireland’s sparsely populated west coast, and Anglo-Norman stronghold in medieval times. A way-different feel, wind-swept mountains, a region battered by Atlantic storms. Guide books warn of, “being shrouded in a misty drizzle and accompanying heavy downpours.” It’s spot-on. We have all the weather and relish periods of sunshine.

We drive two hours further west through Connemara National Park – gorgeous expanses with grand views of inlets and islands, to Cleggan and ferry to Innishbofin, a summer getaway island. It's an hour to the island; swimmers accompanied by kayaks make the same eight-mile crossing for charity. We bushwhack around the port known for lobstering, past a beached dredging barge, climb walls topped with barbed wire, cross Moorish fields to visit the ancient Cromwell Barracks at the mouth of the harbor. Sheep are surprised. The ruined castle housed a Spanish pirate in the 16th century. Later, Catholic priests were imprisoned here by Cromwellian forces.

DISPATCH, 12 August 2009, County Clare: A break in the weather; a 10-kilometer hike along the Cliffs of Moher. Fantastic views of the 650-foot tall cliffs; no railings and liability concerns here apparently. The cliffs are daunting, distinguished by layers of black shale and sandstone, creating ledges for nesting birds, notably guillemots. It’s a harsh coastline; no running aground here. Livestock meander at the top, goats climb down impossible grades, a dog we name Moccha scratches mindlessly on the precipice. We stay in Liscannoor.

Another day, another island. Today it’s one of the Aran Islands on our seasoned vessel, the Happy Hooker. We step back in time on the smallest island called Innis Oir, pronounced “Enish-sheer.” It has some 300 year-round residents, Irish is the native tongue, more sheep and cows in walled pastures, a tiny airstrip. We bike the island; a maze of rock walls. I be-friend the pub owner. The island’s ferry service is its lifeline to mainland realities. We’re all sea-sick on the way home.

Driving Ireland

The Irish – as in the UK, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and other countries – drive on the left side of the road. So the steering wheel is on the right. Swing wide for right turns. Left on Red? No.

Pay regular unleaded gasoline prices from 1.149 to 1.199 Euros per liter, about $6.30 – 6.58 a gallon. Get a kick out of some of the gasoline brands, “Great Gas” in particular.

We drive counter-clockwise through Counties Clare, Limerick, and Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is shrouded in fog. We visit Cork, Waterford, and Kilkenny. We see castles and sheep, stone walls and tour buses ominous in approach.

Ireland is “the land of the roundabout,” often spaced just kilometers apart. They’re a challenge and/or thrill for visitors. (So this is why there are so many roundabouts in Boston.) Throughout the country, I see people who look like people I know. Some people look like me. Hey, is that Pat Conlon over there? Frank Lynch? Oh my, that is Patrick Collins.

Our Nissan is small and nimble; our navigators – both electronic and pedigreed -- are fantastic. We navigate Ireland’s windiest and most narrow roads without accident. I worry for bikers, many of whom sport I-buds plugging ears and senses. You won’t find me biking Ireland any time soon.

Keep Me Away!

On vacation and thinking power systems. Scary. Thirsty for a sketch of Ireland’s energy resources and issues.

We see wind turbines on hillsides. Ireland is planning the world’s largest offshore wind farm on the Arklow Bank off the Wicklow coast. It will produce 10% of Ireland’s power. On the Aran Islands we see an installation featuring three large turbines powering an island community on Innis Mohr.

Ireland’s power is provided by the Electricity Supply Board. It has power plants and contracts for 6,150 MW of capacity. Until recently, it was marked with one of the worst availability records in Western Europe, south of 66%. ESB’s capacity is about the size of the LADWP system serving Los Angeles.

ESB’s power mostly comes from natural gas, coal, and oil. ESB’s biggest power plant is the Ringsend plant in Dublin. ESB boasts the world’s largest peat power plant and wind production spurred by a feed-in tariff. We drive by the Moneypoint generating station along the River Shannon; a ferry takes us across the swollen river to County Limerick.

Family Lore

DISPATCH, 12 August 2009, County Limerick: My Irish roots are pretty typical: Uncle Peter tells me that a young John Flanigan left Ireland at the height of the famine bound for America. It was about 1848 when he left his parents in Newcastle-West, headed for the new world.

So this is it. We park on the square at the center of town and ponder ancestry. It’s a quaint, working community, off the tourist beat. I approach an electrician. Yes, he knows “Flanagans” on the road to Cork. But that’s not my name’s spelling. I’m struck. Was “Flanagan” changed to “Flanigan” at Ellis Island in New York Harbor? Throughout the trip we see Flanagans, a pharmacy, a pub, a family crest from Limerick.

Like so many, Johnny Flanigan left Newcastle-West during the potato famine. He hadn’t a nickel in his pocket when he arrived in New York City. He began by packaging goods at a Manhattan store. By 1895, he owned the store. Later he founded the Flanigan-Adams department store.

He married a gal whose family McGee had emigrated from Ireland a generation earlier. They’d settled in Douglaston, New Brunswick, Canada for a time. At the time of her marriage to my great grandfather John Flanigan, she was an Adams. Together they had three boys – including my grandfather William Flanigan – and three daughters.

His father, my great, great grandfather, remained in Ireland and ordered many a pint at the local pub. Each time, he “Put it on Johnny’s charge.” The owner repeatedly told the old man his son was gone to America forever. But the proud papa insisted that Johnny would settle his bill, “My son always pays his debts.” And sure enough, decades later, he did return and cleaned the tab!

Peat Power

Peat is the accumulation of decayed vegetation matter. When dried, it is a hydrocarbon suitable for combustion and energy production. “Peatlands,” or bogs, constitute 4 trillion cubic meters worldwide and cover 2% of the global land area. There are reportedly 8 billion terajoules of energy in these bogs. The largest peat bog is in Western Siberia; it’s the size of France and Germany combined.

Peat production at the utility scale, as it is done in Ireland and Finland, is controversial. Like all hydrocarbons, peat stores significant carbon, and when burned releases CO2. Like forests and oceans, peatlands are vital to the global ecosystem. And while alive, they sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. The Irish state-owned company Bord na Mona extracts and mills peat for power production. It also produces peat briquettes for domestic heating.

Proponents call peat a renewable resource and point to its energy security benefits. Opponents claim that peatlands are like forests, vital to the ecosystem, sequestering carbon. The IPCC notes that 82% of Ireland’s million+ hectares of peat-lands have been lost in the past four centuries, mostly the result of Bord na Mona’s peat extraction since the 1930s. The U.S. EPA reports that in the past decade, 23 million tons of CO2 have been emitted as a result of peat extraction and combustion in Ireland.

Renewables in Ireland

Ireland is energy dependent, drawing over 90% of its energy resources from beyond its borders. It has essentially no oil production and is the world’s 57th largest oil consumer. It has no coal. It produces just shy of 10% of its natural gas, some 16 billion cubic feet in 2007, from the Kinsale Head gas field off Cork/Cobh developed by Marathon Gas in the mid-1970s. Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), formerly the Irish Energy Centre was set up by the government in 2002 as Ireland’s national energy agency. Its mission is to promote and assist the development of sustainable energy. Ireland currently gets only about 2% of its energy from renewable resources, far below the European Union target. Ireland’s renewable energy mostly comes from wood and hydropower. Wouldn’t you know it? I go on vacation and feel the sores of promoting effective feed-in tariffs in the California legislature. So far, California’s tariffs have been marked by insufficient prices, stuck on an “avoided cost methodology” that makes the FIT prices too low to spur investments. Even Ireland has an effective FIT. There’s even a FIT price for wave energy, supporting Irish Energy Minister Eamon Ryan’s renewable initiatives. “We have unparalleled ocean resources in Ireland.” The 30 cent per kWh price is the first-ever guaranteed price for wave energy. Federal research grants aim to make ocean wave energy a viable, grid-connected renewable source. Much of this work is done at University College Cork along the southern coast.

Renewables in Ireland

DISPATCH, 13 August 2009, Cork: We spend night six in Cork along the southern coast. The Republic’s second largest city; it was where most emigrants left Ireland.

Blarney Castle visit. Built in 1446. A dungeon experience, narrow winding stairs to the top, an awkward back bend and an even-more awkward kiss. All in the name of eloquence! “Blarney” is somewhat like BS, but legend has it that one gains “magical eloquence” by kissing the stone. So we all line up to kiss the same spot! All this before concerns about infectious diseases.

We admire the “rock close,” a spectacular rock garden with rushing water and verdant vegetation. The gals check out the woolen mills, I hike the “lake route.” Less than a kilometer down the trail, I am all alone in the Irish countryside.

Later in the day we visit Waterford and its famous crystal factory. The company was founded in 1743. I had no idea that in addition to glasses and chandeliers, Waterford makes trophies for golf, tennis, and other sporting championships, and commissions glass works of all kinds, witness the millennium ball at Times Square. We too pay the piper before heading inland and north to County Kilkenny.

DISPATCH, 12 August 2009, Kilkenny: Some say that Kilkenny is “undoubtedly Ireland’s loveliest inland city,” and we agree. It was the medieval capital of Ireland in the 13th century. The city is noted for its local black limestone known as Kilkenny marble. It’s also a brewery city with some 80 pubs. We dine at the hip Zuni restaurant, for a moment I thought I was back in LA, and hit Andrew Ryan’s pub just past the café on High Street. There, we fell in with a prison guard from Dublin named Dan, and his wife Jan, and a Tanzanian IT guy named Albin living in Calgary, accompanying his wife to a Dublin conference of lawyers. It’s a really friendly place and Stephanie dances with the most colorful local.

We visit the Kilkenny Castle, a restored Norman fortress built in 1190 and capped with Victorian crenellations. Keen docents are happy to share the history of the Norman Butler family and anecdotes on the restoration. The castle has a commanding position overlooking the River Nore; an impressive Long Gallery was built to house the family’s art collection.

We drive northeast to Glendalough, a Celtic monastery built in 1100s, and then through the Wicklow Mountains and Sally Gap heading to Dublin. A narrow winding road takes us through a barren landscape, home to free-range sheep and periodic logging operations.

The Pride of Ireland

DISPATCH, 14 August 2009, St. James Gate Brewery: Despite a rich history, Trinity College founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I and its Old Library that displays the ancient and famed Book of Kells, by far the biggest attraction in Dublin is Guinness. The company celebrates 250 years in business, a fleeting moment compared to the 9,000 year land lease complete with precious water rights signed by Arthur Guinness.

Guinness brews in 50 countries; its largest brewery is in Nigeria. The largest market for Guinness, however, is the UK. Guinness sells its Draught, Extra Stout, and Foreign Extra Stout in 150 countries. Guinness makes only stouts, a bold, successful, and contrarian business decision. Along the way, Guinness developed the Guinness Book of World Records to settle many a bar-room debate!

So how do you make beer? Guinness malts its barley, roasts, mills, and mixes in hot water. Mashing. The liquid is then poured off and boiled with hops. Then yeast is added and fermentation takes place. The beer is then clarified and matured for shipping. Free pints at the panoramic Gravity Bar looking over the Dublin City skyline.

Pub Crawling

One of Ireland’s defining features is music. Following Guinness, Ireland seems most proud of Van Morrison, Enya, Riverdance, and U2. We see all sorts of live music throughout the country; traditional bands with four-string banjos, bazookis, elbow pipes, guitars, button accordions, and bodhran hand-held, goatskin drums.

Our musical tour began with the Blarney Café in Dublin on our first day, a father-daughter duo, a striking, four-string banjo player. Music was a constant throughout the trip, from the street musicians of Galway to Andrew Ryans in Kilkenny to Grafton Street and the crazy beat of Temple Bar.

Terry and I are struck by the “Galway Girl” made famous by the movie PS I Love You. We buy the CD, play it a million times, and drive the kids nuts. Hard to believe that as the clock struck midnight on August 14th, the band at Fitzsimmons played our song.

Pub crawling in Dublin is the beginning of the end. We choose the musical crawl over a noted literary crawl. Led by two local musicians, it’s a colorful, sensory and olfactory immersion. Mark is a great communicator and vocalist and gives us the inside scoop on Irish music. Thomas played with Riverdance; his fingers fly on the button accordian. They teach us about their instruments, traditional Irish music, and their lives in Ireland.

By the third pub, the group has bonded. We meet Brits that have never been to Ireland, Horst and Kirsten from Germany, promise to be in touch. A silent walk back to the hotel, our sixth in ten days, and we quietly lament the end of our trip, my arm sore from hoisting pints of Guinness!