Coast Diary – March 5th

Very little coasting this week and lots of computery stuff and deadlines. I went for a walk on the main beach earlier in the week. I was hoping to be inspired for this week’s post but all I got was my ear infection rebooted. Well not entirely true. I also saw a dead, thick-lipped grey mullet being pecked at by seagulls, a part of a sea potato and some crushed crabs. The insides of their shells are always such pretty colours. Hardly a consolation to them I suppose. What good is a pretty house when you’re dead?

I had been expecting some dolphins or porpoises to wash up up after all the storms we’ve had but happily I hadn’t heard of any, or not in these parts at least. A young fin whale washed up in east Cork in an emaciated condition. Perhaps, after possibly being seperated from its mother? I heard of it first through an organisation who have recently started competing with the IWDG (Irish Whale & Dolphin Group) for the public’s ceteacean reports. It emerged a few years back that the IWDG’s research, which they were sharing online for free, was being sold on – I suppose to companies who do surveys for developers. The IWDG do consultation work themselves, it is part of how they fund themselves in their mission to campaign to make Irish territorial waters a whale and dolphin sanctuary.

The IWDG’s more detailed information is now, as far as I can see, harder to access. Perhaps others still want in on the consultation business though because I can see no other reason for setting up companies to collect information on our wildlife. It makes me wonder if we will end up with developments getting green lit on the basis of incomplete environmental information? These are entirely my own thoughts but I, for one, will continue making my reports through the IWDG alone.

Typically enough a report of a dead dolphin came in the day after my walk, on exactly the part of the beach I had been poking at dead crabs on, but by then I was too busy to go back and take tissue samples. My new colleague, an old friend who has just volunteered to help with strandings, will hopefully get to it.

The rest of the week was writing and working in the city. I finally got the best of my biggest deadline yesterday. When I arrived back on the coast after what looked to have been a beautiful day by the sea, I sat and watched the pink clouds shading to purple then grey in the robin’s egg blue sky over an impossibly blue sea, its intensity deepening before brightening and fading into dusk. I thought then I would write about how the telegraph wires and poles – which I once appreciated for their sketchy, swooping lines – now, in their continuing profusion, are dissecting my sea and sky into ever smaller slivers. But I didn’t. Not really.

Coast Diary – February 19th

In the woods

It was a stormy week this week, though earlier on we had some blue skies. Out strolling I met a neighbour who always stops to chat. Recently we have both been bemoaning the increase in traffic – both on foot and in cars – due to lockdown and a temporary one way system that saw cars barrelling along the narrow road. All in a mad hurry to get from their swims down in the nearby cove back to civilisation I suppose. This time he told me ‘they’ will be tearing down an old wall that runs alongside the small woods before the road turns down to cove, in order to put in a footpath. However when I checked online I didn’t see any such plans so hopefully it’s just a rumour. Its a nice old wall and I know a footpath will depress me. Next it will be street lighting. And disco bars…the car park down at the cove is now like one on a saturday anyway.

The woods, which line the small glen that cuts down to the cove, are lovely, if a bit ragged now in early spring. Despite it only covering few of acres, there are beech trees, oak and poplar trees and I think horse chestnut too. In May the ground is carpeted with bluebells, in autumn the yellow and russet leaves spiral down to trim the path. There are the usual blue tits and robins, rooks and pigeons all about. There are wee goldcrest in there as well as coal tits too, if you stop and look for long enough. I once heard long-eared owls there, late in summer, the creaky call of their young sounding like an unoiled gate – but have never seen them. My neighbour told me that they are there still and I might see them as dusk comes on. I’d better get looking before the streetlights appear.

There’s an emergency access for the cove where a wide footpath splits off from the road and runs down through the woods. Beside the path, a river rushes over a series of tiny falls down to the stony cove at the sea’s edge. Until recently there were two wooden bridges spanning the stream, but they have now been replaced by one metal one. Locally the new bridge was seen as an ‘eyesore’ but I think its OK, probably safer too. And it’s been painted green, which helps. But I worry about the woods. The trees are tall and spindly, and, beset by ivy, they sway dangerously in the wind. Year on year I imagine they are thinning, that there are less and less of these rag-bag survivors from another era, hiding from the encroaching red roofs that can now be seen through the thin trunks up the side of the tiny glen. Maybe it’s my imagination.

Walking carefully back home – (I’ve been dizzy all week with an ear infection, which is why I have only taken you as far as the woods) – I saw the ‘Local Buzzard’ (Buzz) on a tree by the cliffs, his white breast shining in the sun. It wasn’t his usual hawthorn but as I watched he took off and flew low across the field towards me and swooped up to land in his thorny throne. Within seconds he was dive-bombed by a pair of hooded crows. You will often see buzzards picked on by crows. Their response is usually to move on, wings flapping heavily, like the large, plain child in the schoolyard, stumbling and bemused by the taunts of the more socially agile. Buzz took off, but for once he hesitated long enough to make a lunge at one of the crows before continuing on. It was gratifying to see. You’ve got to fight back.

Old wall and Homer Simpson Tree

Coast Diary – January 1st

Passage East, Waterford.

This is a start of a year-long, weekly series of picture posts from the Irish coast. Our coast has begun to change rapidly over the last 18 months or so. The area I live in, once rural, is daily becoming more unrecognisable. Development is inevitable but it makes me sad – why does it always have to be big, ugly, boastful houses lit like airports and surrounded by breeze blocks clad in fakery? Suburbia has crept up on us. On a wider scale, numerous windfarm developments look set to transform our coast onshore and offshore forever. But Coast Diary is not about those developments. It is meant as a record of the things that I cherish here – the birds and animals, the sea, the good neighbours – before it disappears. Every Saturday I will post a quick, A6 sketch with a few words. For those interested in more in depth information on the windfarms – particularly their impacts on nature – when I have something to share, I will post on wednesdays.

***

The last day of the old year, 2021, found me in Passage East on the Suir estuary checking out the report of a dead dolphin for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG). I forget how nice the little beach at Passage is, perhaps because it is unfamiliar as I am not often there. The last time I was there, was to check out a dolphin that had stranded in the harbour last March. It was stuck in the mud and could not be reached. The current carcass – which is very old – could even be its remains. I was in Woodstown last week – also on the estuary – recording a dolphin carcass there. Reports of sightings and strandings have increased over the lockdowns, in part because people are outdoors more and becoming more interested in the environment. Other animals are washed up too. A rare leatherback carcass washed up in the autumn and seals occasionally are found. As a volunteer for the IWDG, normally I don’t ‘do’ seals but I will pass on reports to Seal Rescue Ireland so when a friend asked me to check on a seal at Newtown Cove on the Saturday before Christmas I readily agreed.

I was taken aback to find the overcast car park and cove packed with people and swimmers accompanied by a coffee van and a fellow on a guitar … at 9:15am! This mass flocking to the coast is another change the lockdown has brought that I find hard to get used to. I suppose some like the socialisation but while I do have a need for occasional rowdiness, I tend to go urban for it.

When I masked up and fought my way down onto the little beach, I was a bit bewildered to see people swimming with the now dead seal. The seal had been barely alive the previous evening and, as it was washing about in the waves, it was hard to tell what it died of. Perhaps illness or exhaustion. Winter seas can be tough on them. Some months ago a young seal trying to rest on Tramore’s main beach died after being repeatedly chased back into the sea by curious walkers and their dogs.

Well that was cheery. Let’s see if I come up with something happier next week. Happy New Year to all my lovely readers, old and new. Here’s to more connection in 2022.

Winds of Change – An incomplete list of Irish Marine Life

In planning a post of our marine biodiversity, I had been envisioning a grid-like image representing all of our marine life so I was delighted to come across something called the The Sheldon Spectrum which suggests that the total mass of a marine population stays the same even as the individual size changes. So, even though a whale is trillions of trillions of times larger than a bacterium, its population size is smaller by the same order of magnitude, so the numbers even out. A grid image is the perfect way to represent this. To get more philosophical, one could wonder if the ordering of the squirmy, floating swimming, multicoloured, multilegged, finned, tentacly mass of sea life means there is some sort of intelligence at work…

With Ireland’s marine territory ten times the size of its land area, the waters surrounding Ireland are highly productive and provide a habitat for hundreds of species of invertebrates and fish including 35 species of sharks, 24 species of whales and dolphins, 192 species of echinodermata (starfish and sea urchins), 625 types of seaweed, 78 species of sea squirts, nearly 400 of ray-finned bony fish, 1,700 species of crustacean as well as hundred’s of species of sponges, anenomes and jellies. Oddly we only have 24 species of seabird but I suspect one of those species covers about a million different types of gulls.

The small amount of reading of environmental surveys for windfarm developments I have done so far seems to suggest they focus on only a few species – one survey seemed to only account for two – the harbour porpoise and the grey seal – with most other species, larger ones anyway, disregarded because they are ‘migrants’. This would see the imposition of another sort of system, one that excludes rather than includes, that reduces sea life affected by ignoring the organic interconnectedness suggested by our picture grid and favouring an artificial seperation of species from their environment. However I may be unfair in this early judgement and need to read on. I will report in the new year. In the mean time, I have listed the names of some of the creatures who are part of the vast biodiversity of our shore below in no particular order. Most have been chosen for their descriptive or entertaining names..

…bell-shaped medusae, sprat, mackerel, cod, corkwing wrasse, blue shark, grey seal, common seal, fin whale, humpback whale, harbour porpoise, blue ray limpet, cuttlefish, brown crab, bottle nose dolphin, starfish, sea urchin, jewel anemone, ragworm, strawberry anemone, barnacle, kelp, bladderwrack, limpet, whelk, cockle, leafscale gulper shark, mussel, periwinkle, dilisk, herring gull, shag, cormorant, black backed gull, jackdaw, chough, kestrel, peregrine falcon, clun tunicate, stonechat, gannet, common gull, common stingray, undulate ray, common skate, heron, oystercatcher, noctiluca scintillans, daisy anemone, deadman’s fingers, spurdog, basking shark, sea lettuce, seven armed seastar, conger eel, sunfish, red boring sponge, yellow tit sponge, crumb-of-bread sponge, feather star, sea cucumber, Emiliania huxleyi, serpent’s table brittle star, oyster, scallop, left-handed hermit crab, puffin, broken-backed shrimp, Chinese mitten crab, spider crab, green sea turtle, sand hopper, lesser cylinder anemone, sand flea, pistol shrimp, bamboo worm, common lobster, soldier crab, gutweed, European green crab, one-spotted water louse, blood red mysid, goose neck barnacle, light-bulb sea squirt, kittiwake, smooth sunstar, sea potato, barrel jelly fish, Portuguese man of war, by-the-wind sailor, zig zag coral, sea grape, moon jelly, compass jellyfish, montagu’s stellate barnacle, pea urchin, Atlantic hagfish, European river lamprey, otter, spiny dogfish, ghost catshark, thresher shark, porbeagle,  thorny skate, small-eyed ray, common dolphin, striped dolphin, large eyed rabbit fish, guillemot, great northern diver, stormy petrel, narrow nose chimaera, firework anemone, European sea sturgeon, ailis shad, pilchard, European anchovy, muddy arrow tooth eel, small mouth spiny eel,  tench, gudgeon, stone loach, Murray’s smooth-head, hawksbill sea turtle, barrel-eye, sea trout, arctic char, Irish pollan, sparkle anglemouth, constellationfish, Irish moss, threelight dragonfish, blackfin waryfish, sharpchin barracudina, john dory, Norway pout, poor cod, blue ling, hollow snout grenadier, Bean’s bigscale, orange roughy, pudgy cusk eel, Spanish shawl, Jeffrey’s goby, worm pipefish, bullet tuna, bluefin tuna, largehead hairtail, silver scabbardfish, plaice, sole, flounder, turbot, brill, Norwegian topknot, thicklip grey mullet, thin-lipped grey mullet, montagus’s blenny, wreckfish, blackbelly rosefish, tub gunard, white eelpout, black seasnail, monkfish, boarfish, risso’s dolphin, minke whale, sei whale, leathery sea squirt, tigger pod…I could go on…

Images are a mix of my own photos and drawings along with images downloaded from the internet, mostly Wikipedia, but some from Birdwatch Ireland, National Geographic, and others. For attribution, please use the contact form on this blog. I will be back next year with a post on how the impact on marine life is surveyed. Have a good December all.

Winds of Change: The Enemy Within

Crabs in a bucket…

Its been a hard week globally, nationally and (most importantly!) personally and, against the backdrop of my increasing understanding of the impact of wind power, I have reassessed my plan of posting my research journey. While a few people have found my posts useful and shared them (thank you!) and some more have been indifferent, or silent anyway, the most vigorous commenters – not many to be fair – are if not negative then pointlessly argumentative. The hard bit is that it has not come from those who hate (are frightened by) wild spaces or wildlife but from the conservation or environmental side.

The most disturbing was an Irish conservation group on Twitter, a group I had admired in one of my previous digital incarnations. In the only comment I got on any of my posts there, and quite out of the blue, they lectured me for the term ‘floating windfarm’* on a post’s featured image. When I engaged with them they accused me of spreading lies, refused to provide alternative terminology, would not tell me where their writing on wind energy is (if there is any) and implied I was at fault because I was researching windfarms long after they had. And this was only after they had looked at a picture on the blog from a post that had nothing to do with floating turbines. Jesus wept.

Then they read the post. Their response was…

Yeh, we read your “blog” 🙄’.

Including the quotes and the eye roll. Then they blocked me. No one’s getting conservation confused with conversation in that group then…

*They don’t like the term floating because its ‘lies!’ and all turbines are bad and we are not allowed talk or learn about them. Or something.

Even mild rebukes from “environmentally-friendly” (goddamn now I’m using “quotes” )people are not informative but vague and general “you will hardly see the turbines, the sea life will be fine, we have no choice” or – as with the Twitter Twats – nit-picking. Those arseholes are just the more shouty edge of a large wedge – most people just don’t want to know. While I am starting to appreciate the enormity of the changes about to be wrought and the desire to look away from it all, I find this drive to shut down conversation unsettling.

Am I giving up? No, but I don’t believe any more posts right now will do anything except disturb the comfortable and I just don’t have the time to deal with other people’s crap. Considering my deeply embedded misanthropy, I have done well to get this far. Time for a regroup. There’s enough information in the previous posts for the interested to think about so after next Saturday’s post – a list of our marine life – I will take a break to do some reading about environmental impacts and how they are measured and, in the new year, if I think a post on that will be useful, I’ll do one then.


For the last thoughts on what wind farms consist of, below is some information about onshore substations which connect wind farms to the national grid. Some questions might be – How many will there be in Waterford and Cork? Will one service all proposed wind farms? How big an area will a substation take up? Do we get a say in where they are built? Who builds them?

No don’t tell me. Go and ask someone involved in such a project if you’re interested.

The wind farms proposed for Waterford currently make up 5.6 GW The diagrams below show how things are connected up.

Figure 4. Diagram showing the transmission system from wind farms to landfall point via various cables, substations and converter stations. (Source: ABB)
https://dublinarray.com/project-information/how-it-works/

Below is an example of a substation.

Moray East

…is a 950MW wind farm 22km off the Scottish Coast. The substation, around 25km inland in farmland is an 85,000sq ft new build and includes road improvement works. The developers introduced elements to help in blend into the Aberdeenshre countryside including painting buildings green and planting trees.

Moray East substation at Deer. March 2019.
Moray East substation at Deer. February 2020

Links

https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/aberdeen-aberdeenshire/1449306/camouflaged-substation-planned-for-offshore-windfarm/
https://www.morayeast.com/current-works/onshore-works
https://northsearegion.eu/northsee/e-energy/existing-offshore-linear-energy-infrastructure-and-grid-connections/
https://dublinarray.com/project-information/how-it-works/
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-25731521
https://www.thescottishfarmer.co.uk/news/16976887.offshore-power-still-cross-farmland/

Archive – Into the Blue: Thoughts on Living and Dying

CROSSM

Going out to the cliffs last evening, I absentmindedly sat down right beside Eamonn Coady’s cross. I was thinking of Gillian Ryan. Gillian was an athlete from Tipperary who died after a fall while running in the Comeragh mountains at the weekend. Her death made international news and seems to have touched a nerve. As I sat there, I realised that it would be Eamonn’s anniversary today, April 22nd. 44 years ago the 14 year old Waterford boy died after a fall from the cliff. The subsequent, difficult retrieval saw the establishment of Tramore Sea Cliff Rescue and since then many other fantastic volunteer organisations such as SEMRA who, after 3 days searching, brought Gillian down from a gully at Coumshingaun on Tuesday in difficult conditions. Our search and rescue teams are the best of us. Here’s a post I wrote about Eamonn in 2013.

On the cliffs there is a cross. Maybe once it was painted black but now it’s the colour of raw umber. It is set into a smooth, rectangular, grey stone which is engraved with the name and age of a boy who died here over 30 years ago at the age of 14. Last week as I was sitting nearby watching for whales, the sea and the sky spreading south at my feet, my thoughts wandered to the boy again.

I imagined him to be like many 14-year-old boys as he crossed the fields on that long ago April day, full of laughter and trouble and fun and confusion and angst and possibility before that moment when he tumbled into the blue. I suppose his family will remember him as the person he was but the rest of us may be inclined to fashion the bare cross and its words into a story that makes us feel safe from the long searching finger of death, a story that is not our story because surely our story will make more sense?

When we hear someone has died young it often arouses pity in our hearts at the tragedy of the loss of years that could ‘reasonably’ have been depended on. But are we not all of us more than our deaths? Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations tells us that when we die, no matter what our span of years has been, we all lose the same thing and one thing only: the present moment. Everything else is illusion, the future, the past, they are only so much dust, mere constructs we have tried to impose on the chaos of life.

All this was in my head when I heard yesterday of the sudden death of the brother of a friend of mine (and the friend of a brother of mine) at the age of 41. I did not know him that well but there are connections between our families and the loss is deeply felt, the sudden manner of his death – slow enough for realisation perhaps but too swift for any chance of preparation- deeply saddening.

So I am feeling, saddened and sickened as I get on my bike and take off around the coast and the countryside. It is a grey day but mild for December. The south wind is raking the sea when I stop at Dunabrattin where large numbers of gulls hang and glide and turn on the currents overhead. I head inland, along country roads. There is no traffic and I feel alone in all the world but not lonely. It is not an unfriendly day. Two horses stand in a field, their dark tails fanning out in the breeze. A rook cocks its head at me from an overhead wire, a dog barks, a marmalade cat with a pale chest appears beside a red and white barn. There is a buzzard standing in the stubble of a field, ragged legs and yellow beak. It is a bird I have never seen before.

There is the human urge in me to see patterns everywhere. 41 years is 14 years backwards I think. The buzzard, the unusual stillness,  the gulls…But I dismiss them before I can even wonder what it all means.

If we start to feel sad for these ‘early’ deaths, pity separates us from them. But how are these boys that have gone different from us really?They were what we are now: people living out the span of their lives, whatever that span may be. Remove time from the equation and we are all just doing our best in the here and now: laughing, struggling, talking, fighting, loving, hating, despairing, panicking, angry, in pain and fear and occasional joy.

In an effort to relieve our sorrow we fit the dead into neat little stories and patterns. They are an anomaly we think. Our departure when it comes will be different, more graceful, more timely. But the truth is we are all of us tossed around on the sea of life navigating through whatever comes. We are all in the same big, bastardy boat. We are all in our ‘present moments’ and that is how we remember each other, those who have just walked out of the room and those who will not return.

I tear through the countryside my lungs heaving in the smokey air, flavoured with the occasional piney tang of fresh-cut logs, past the stone walls that line the undulating pale road. A dolmen, a red pump, skeletal trees scratching the grey sky. A magpie – no two!thank the gods – the cats and the dogs, horse and cows and strange birds weave in and out of my vision. I am in my moment as others have been in theirs, cycling, running, gallivanting on the cliffs or sitting, as Nick sometimes did, cat in lap, in front of a fire talking of everything under the sun. Like those moments, my moment will some day end too. Maybe today I will not make it home.

I do make it home. This time. I take off my helmet and gloves and wheel my bike inside without pausing and set to go about the business of living, intent on doing as little as possible to stir the great lake of sadness inside me this day.

“No one can lose either the past or the future – how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess? … It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived: and if this is all he has, he cannot lose what he does not have.”
~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

For Nick and Eamonn and Gillian. And all of us….

Archive: The Lads

the-lads-main-inage
The Lads

Here in Ireland we use the phrase ‘the lads’ a lot. ‘The lads’ can refer to groups of males or females or a mixture of both. For many of us ‘the lads’ are our closest friends, the ones we can let our hair down with, have a bit of craic . But ‘the lads’ can be applied to other groups too. ‘The lads’ can be work mates who may or may not be such good friends (though if they are giving you a really hard time you’ll most likely refer to them as ‘the bastards’ rather than ‘the lads’). Your manager may refer to you as ‘lads’ to engender a feeling of camaraderie. Some unfortunate bosses, desperate to keep up with modern trends have been known attempt ‘lads and lassies‘ with unfortunate results.

‘The lads’ can also be people you don’t know well but whom you find yourself spending time with such as people you meet at a conference…

“Well lads, will we have a drink?”..

..creates a feeling of familiarity. And the drink helps too I suppose.

Within families it is used also. My brother refers to his kids as ‘the lads’ and when my parents are going to visit them they always say they are going to see ‘the lads’. My brother and his wife are included in this but it is understood, by me anyway, that the kids are the main ‘lads’. In fact any group, no matter how small, that comes together with a positive spirit can be called ‘the lads’.

Maybe its because of my wonky hearing, which means I don’t get out so much, my understanding of ‘the lads’ has extended itself beyond humans. There are two inseparable doggie friends up the road, a Yorkshire Terrier and his pal, a Basenji, who, when they can escape their owner, hide behind a bush ready to jump out at passing cars. Luckily for them they are very bad at hiding and I always say to myself when I see them from 200 yards off…

‘There are the lads now, up to no good.’

When I run out of bird food to feed my gang of sparrows I remind myself that I must get some seed for ‘the lads’. If I see a gang of rooks I think…

crows

‘Would you look at the lads, they’re having great craic.’

When I think of the swallows at the end of the winter, I say to myself…

‘The lads will be back soon.’

So ‘the lads’ are symbolic of good connections. They are either your own crew or another crew in whom you recognise the friendships you enjoy or have once enjoyed. Even if you think you have no ‘lads’, when you recognise ‘the lads’ anywhere that means you are, always, one of ‘the lads’.

Slightly worryingly, I have found myself thinking of inanimate objects in this way too. My old boss Ans used the direct translation from Dutch when she spoke in English to refer to objects…

‘Ya dis chair, he is broken..’

…she would say and immediately the chair would have my sympathy. I liked the idea that no matter how hostile an environment is, there will always be something that you can project feelings of camaraderie onto. Being bullied at the office? Chairy will have your back. No one talking to you? Desky’s on your side. But mad as I may be starting to sound, so far I have not referred to anything inanimate as ‘the lads’. Until this morning that is…

I was looking out the window at two pairs of socks and a pair of knickers I had left on the line over night due to sheer laziness. There they were, abandoned the previous evening in favour of the ‘big’ clothes, flapping forlornly in the rising wind, alone against the elements, only each other for comfort and the sky darkening from the west.

“I must bring the lads in before they get wet”…I said to myself.

And then I thought…

‘I need to get out more…’

socks

Archive: Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, Tramore 2013

Walking in to Tramore town to collect my car, abandoned at the start of an unplanned night out, I was feeling a little fragile. When I came across the St. Patrick’s Day parade at the top of Gallwey’s hill over looking the beach, I took the opportunity to stop and take a breath. The exuberance, colour and good humour of both the parade and the crowd was immediately captivating as well as surprising. The growing media coverage of glitzier spectacles in the 80s and 90s began to make local parades, with their ragged processions of vans and trucks, the inevitably sodden troops of scouts and Irish dancers, look dull, made it hard to work up much interest.

This parade was a lot bigger than I expected. There were the shiny vans and ambulances of our Coastguard in their smart uniforms along with the Sea Cliff Rescue. Smiling tractor drivers chugged by on their colourful tractors and classic cars, carefully polished, gleamed in the surprising sunshine.

ROCKY DRIVING THE WOMEN NUTS
Rocky Mills..

Local businesses were represented on floats and by gleaming vans. Some extra vehicular oomph was provided by TCRFM and their sexy red convertible and Tramore Tourism’s retro caravan. T-Bay Surf Club, who won best float with their big funky bus and hawaiian shirts. Even the Pope was there in his Popemobile though he was naturally outclassed by the legendary Rocky Mills, local Elvis impersonator. There were many more participants who I missed: the bands, the scouts, the taekwondo club, the dancers, the athletes and all the various groups that make up a community. 

To see these people – the exuberant leprechauns with sacks of free goodies, the crowd with their balloons and wigs and flags, Rocky rocking out, the pirates in their wee boat and my own favourite, the Metal Man – was a burst of positivity that I didn’t know I needed. Life has been tough across the board in recent years and the future is weighs heavy on most. Yet here were crowds of people, people who had dressed up, washed their cars and tractors, who had made an effort to show their achievements with pride, all smiling and laughing in the sun together. Standing there, propped against the old pebbledashed wall in the bright spring air, I had a deeper understanding of the importance of community and I felt stirrings of local pride…

…then again it could have been the hangover….

Archive: The Battle for the Metal Man 2013

The Metal Man and his pillars in 2005 before some Waterford business people sponsored their repainting. Photo:The Author.

This is a synopsis of three posts from 2013 that were moved when the site name was changed. This summary was created as a part of a new archive of The Mermaid’s Purse posts and reposted in order to provide an historical account of some events in the life of The Metal Man, a local amenity in Tramore, Co.Waterford, Ireland. 

Back in 2009, a community group, Tramore Tourism, was encouraged by the then Waterford County Council to seek ownership of the Metal Man and his pillars – including the pillars at Brownstown Head – from the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) who, having no practical reasons for maintaining their upkeep, were prepared to gift them to an appropriate organisation. Waterford County Council had already refused ownership due to lack of money. In summer 2010 CIL determined that Tramore Tourism were the best candidates to do so.

It was necessary for Tramore Tourism to set up a legal entity to receive the pillars and Tramore Heritage Ltd. (THL) was born in October 2011. THL was limited by guarantee and was a public company. A public company in this instance means not-for-profit rather than being connected to the stock market. This appears to be the only way for a group or community to create a legal framework and is used by sports clubs and amenities such as Hook Head Lighthouse. None of the directors of a public company can make profit from it in any way nor sell any assets. If THL had wound up, the pillars would have to be passed onto another community group. The board of THL consisted of various local business people and, initially, a Tramore Town Councillor. THL had also applied for charitable status which, once granted, would have provided extra safeguards for the public.

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THL’s plan for the Metal Man Heritage Trail

THL worked towards getting the transfer of the pillars from CIL locally approved as well as negotiating access with the farmers on whose land the pillars stand. THL met with various interested parties a number of times to discuss their plans in detail. A public meeting was called for and held in January 2012 in the civic offices in Tramore.

Not everyone agreed that THL was the best way forward. In 2010 the Town Councillor had parted ways with THL. In December 2012 the concerned councillor wrote to An Taisce raising concerns around THL’s public company status. The fear was that the pillars were falling into private hands. Incidentally, in September 2012, that same councillor had set up a private company called Tramore Cultural Development (TCDL) to “assist individuals and organisations working to advance the preservation of the towns heritage.”

An Taisce then wrote to the Tramore Town Manager suggesting the deal be postponed until 2014 when Tramore Town Council – who had approval of any transfer of the pillars – would be dissolved, elections would take place and the new Amalgamated Council could take on the ownership of the pillars. It was suggested that the new Amalgamated Council (with some seats still to be contested at this point) could then lease the pillars to a private company interested in preserving local heritage. Any access to the pillars would have to be renegotiated.

Due to this confusion of the definition of public versus private company, in early 2013 things got heated. To cut a long story short, enough doubt and obsfuscation were created around company status – particularly in a social media campaign in March and April of 2013 that included personal attacks on THL’s board – that Tramore Town Council ultimately decided not to approve the transfer of the Metal Man and its pillars from CIL to THL. As An Taisce had suggested, on the back of the concerned councillor’s letter, a move was put forward to get the Council, soon to be The Waterford City & County Council, to take over the pillars. THL was dissolved as it had been set up for the sole purpose of managing the pillars for the community in the first place

Eight years on, it appears nothing came of that motion and without access to the land or any necessary legal framework, it may be very difficult to restart any venture there. Even if the Council do manage to gain access, as was suggested might be on the cards in the local press in 2015, the quality of the management of the amenity in either cash-strapped council hands or left to a private company, may not be popular with locals.

The pillars still remain, undisturbed.

Photo:The Author.

A Note on Sources

Most sources were public and included articles and letters in national and local newspapers incl. The Journal, The Waterford News and Star, The Munster Express, The Tramore Tourism and Friends of the Metal Man Facebook Pages and Solocheck for company information. Other sources included directors of THL interviewed by the author at their invitation while other individuals aired their views extensively on a public Facebook page which set up in March 2013 specifically to “save” the Metal Man from THL. It was deleted soon afterwards, however screenshots were taken.

Appendix

The Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) is the General Lighthouse Authority for all of Ireland, its adjacent seas and islands. The Metal Man and his pillars are defunct and CIL no longer want the responsibility of them.

Tramore Tourism is a community group established in 1991 to promote Tramore and has many active members from various business sectors in the community.They were encouraged by the County Council back in 2009 to begin the process of obtaining the Metal Man.

Tramore Heritage Ltd. (THL) was a legal entity set up by Tramore Tourism to receive the Metal Man and his pillars. It is limited by guarantee, it is non-profit and public. It has also been negotiating access, planning a cliff walk to the Metal Man. Its accountant, solicitor and surveyor worked for them pro bono. If THL is ever wound up the pillars and all assets will go to the next appropriate community group.

Tramore Cultural Development (TCDL), established in 2012 it is still operational and has been recently designated a micro company, a category created as part of the Companies Act 2017

Tramore Town Council was dissolved in 2014 when the Waterford City and County Councils were amalgamated. Some Town Councillors already had a seat on the new County Council at the time of these events while some would have to fight for one.

Waterford County Council (now Waterford  City & County Council) will always have an element control over the development of this area due to planning processes. The County Council tried to get access to the Metal Man some decades ago and failed despite the willingness of the land owner at the time.

An Taisce, our version of The National Trust in the UK, which is a far more influential organisation, must be informed of any developments in areas where there are archeological, environmental or architectural concerns. Local authorities are required to consult with them on certain applications.

The Landowners are those who own the working farmland on which the Metal Man stands and naturally enough they control the access.

Archive: Princesses

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Car Park 4:50am

One of my friends, one of my princesses, is having a sad time at the moment and I am reminded of this post about the place we both used to work.

I always used to get annoyed at the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne singing the praises of the blue-collar worker…

‘Try working with some of these people,’…I used to think….‘Then you’d change your tune.’

I worked in a factory for nearly ten years. It was, and remained for a long time, a foreign and confusing place for me. Factories have reputations for being hot beds of bitching, gossip and dissension. Within any factory one area will view the workers in another area as the very citizens of hell. During those years I would sometimes see myself as if from afar and wonder what I had done to be landed in this fluorescent, screeching Hades.

‘Surely I am a Princess?’…I would think, as machinery clattered around me…‘Surely this cannot be happening to me?’

…and I would imagine myself waking up on a heart-shaped bed in a mansion somewhere on a temperate coast, curtains ruffling in the warm breeze from the french windows, my heart rate slightly elevated after an unpleasant, half-remembered nightmare, looking forward to a champagne breakfast served by a nice young man. It became a bit of a joke. Sometimes when my manager would ask me to do something I would say…

“Don’t you know I am a Princess?!”

When a chair appeared with a capital letter ‘P’ scrawled on it, it became my chair.’P’ for Princess. Sometimes I would be called Princess. Though perhaps that could have been sarcastic.

People everywhere can be annoying but in a factory your movements are restricted, your breaks coordinated. Being confined for 12 hours with a rag-tag selection of people, especially overnight, can really turn the screws. Some people can be combative or surly, weird or helpless, hysterical or worse – relentlessly cheerful. Some might smell bad. Others insist on playing thrash metal stations on the radio. But by far the most annoying ones are the ones who will not pull their weight, leaving you exhausted and angry after every single shift.

night shift window cr

6am Break

I once worked on a team with a woman who, had she put the amount of effort into actual work that she put into avoiding work, would now be President of the World. I tied myself in knots to make sure that work got sent her way but only succeeded in increasing my own work load. Yet she always managed to look busy when a manager turned up. An extraordinary number of people combined laziness with delusion. One of my co-workers decided she was our boss. So she stopped doing her work in favour of bustling around with pieces of paper and having loud conversations with managers. What she wanted quickly became reality not because of any actual talent or universal magic but because, as I learned, managers are always on the look out for new people to blame things on. Soon she was authorized to bustle around with pieces of paper. She eventually bustled her way out of the company leaving a large swathe of annoyed and relieved people behind her.

The night shifts, so novel initially, were hell multiplied by ten. On a night shift everything you have ever learned, every adjustment you have ever made to your behaviour, every bit of personal growth is put to the test. And fails. You find yourself back at your worst self; sulky, cranky, angry, impatient and more. Add some other people undergoing the same testing and you get something as close to unbearable as to make you insane. On top of this there was incomprehensible training literature to be read, meetings to attend and re-training exercises to complete to stay abreast of regulations. At 6am when you’re so tired you crave to lie down and die, it smacked of torture. The first time someone told me I was to be tested at this time, I cracked up laughing. I thought it was a joke…

“You want me to do a test?Now?At 6am?”

Then…

“Don’t you know I am a Princess?”

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11pm Break

But it wasn’t all bad and sometimes it was even a tiny bit magical. There was that time I crashed a pallet truck and its load all over the floor at 5am and everyone abandoned their work to get down on their knees, laughing, to  help. Or when the books from the book club were brought in. When I went to the toilet and ended up accidentally taking the door off its hinges and couldn’t get it back on for laughing. When someone came in soaked because they walked into a ‘puddle’ in the car park that turned out to be two foot deep. When cake or a tin of sweets made an appearance. When someone told me to sit down while they dealt with the 100th alarm on my machine because my legs were aching so badly I literally couldn’t stand any more. There were the conversations about philosophy, hair, sociology, war, cake, culture, the nature of inspiration and poo. And entire shifts spent laughing.

I found out the good places to get my hair done, buy clothes, make up and heating oil. One of the technicians designed and machined some brackets for me, told me more than once what was wrong with my car and advised me what to invest in. Another told me how to fix the light in my bathroom and which web host was the best. Cheap DVDs made the rounds along with the Avon catalogue. There were duck eggs for sale, a weekly lottery and take out meals organised on a bank holiday when the canteen was closed. I was once given a tomato plant in the car park.

My colleagues went to a constant cycle of concerts and weekend breaks, holidays, christenings, parties, meals, birthdays and funerals. There were the shift nights out and foreign trips which I never went on and now wonder why. The whip rounds, which so annoyed me with the constant request for money for the relatives of people I had never laid eyes on, I see now, were part of something necessary. I learned of the different burdens people carried – the sicknesses, the losses, the griefs – borne lightly in many cases. And also the achievements; the college degrees, the babies, races run, new businesses, new cars, escaping a war zone. I glimpsed other lives, other ways of being, from having a mortally sick child to growing up around lions. And when I screwed up there was always someone there to help.

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7am Break

Leaving it all behind for college came as a shock. Suddenly I was among people, good people no doubt, but people for whom life was somewhere in the future. Or somewhere else. Getting to know fellow travellers was no longer necessary. Everyone I had worked with had asked how I slept, how my week was, how my life was, over and over and over again. In college no one even asked how the weekend was. Some students didn’t even acknowledge the existence of those outside their own circle. They just didn’t have to.

I look back at the people I worked with now and see them tearing into life, determined not to miss a beat. I miss this urgency, the ‘nowness’ that hummed below the surface. I miss the way someone would always find a way to connect even though they thought you were weird, or cantankerous, or a bitch (and I was). They would find something in you, some thread and they’d pull it, this thread, and somehow, like it or not, know it or not, you found yourself, over the years, woven into the fabric of something much bigger.

Sometimes in my last years, the best years, in the wee hours, hallucinating from weariness, numb and speechless, I would find myself surrounded by a clatter of co-workers snagged at some junction of machinery, gossiping, laughing, teasing, shoulder to shoulder, nylon coats crackling with electricity. Caught in this sea of silkiness topped by the gauzy hair nets that crowned our shining heads, it would occur to me that I wasn’t the only one who had thought they might end up somewhere else. Through eyes blurred with tiredness I might imagine us in a ballroom, lit by the blaze of a thousand chandeliers, about to step out, me and my fellow Princesses, to finally dance.