Monday, 28 September 2009

Don't get tyred in Dublin

It’s an unfortunate enough accident of birth to be born on a wet, misty*, miserable rock on the eastern edge of the harsh Atlantic. A barren outcrop where corruption, clientism, gombeenism, bockety byways, high road tax and VRT reign supreme. And it’s worse still if you happen to like your wheels… or even your tyres.

I checked my rear tyres the other day and was unpleasantly surprised to note that, while not quite coot-like, they were getting a bit thin top and bottom. Not completely, Garda, but touching on the legal minimum of 1.6 millimetres in places.

It had to happen, I suppose… what with all those very immature traffic light blast-offs. So a quick call to the local tyre centre ensued, a call that resulted in a quote of €540 for two rear tyres. Two.

If that sounds shocking to you, imagine how I felt. But fear not, dear reader, if you want to avoid such rip-off prices there is a solution, and I'm sure it applies no matter what breed of four-wheeled stallion resides in your stable. Simply hit the highway and head north to avoid robbery. Assuming your tyres have enough left in them to get you there safely.

A north-of-the-border Kwik-Fit will supply and fit the exact same tyres on my asphalt chariot for €200 less than my local tyre centre was looking for. That’s quite a saving. Quite enough, in fact, to cancel out any road tolls and petrol costs, and leave you with enough change to hit the Newry shops and fill your boot with a sizeable quantity of competitively priced booze.

Changing tyres has never been so profitable, or so enjoyable.

*Also in the German sense of the word

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Sunday, 27 September 2009

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair, and Yes to Lisbon

If, when living abroad some years ago, you had told me I would one day find myself in agreement with Michael O’Leary, I would not have believed it. Especially when running across the tarmac of some remote airstrip, elbows sharpened and flailing at fellow passengers in the unseemly rush to grab a decent seat on one of his 'planes.

“Does it have to be so undignified?”, I thought. But regular air travel was not an option with the money Aer Lingus was looking for… at least I could get back home often enough with Ryanair – even with the scramble for the ‘plane.

Just fresh from telling Declan Ganley that he's not wanted and that he should "bugger off", O'Leary is campaigning for a "yes" vote on the Lisbon referendum. One thing about O’Leary, though: it is obvious where the money for his “yes to Lisbon” campaign comes from. The same can’t be said for Ganley, whose backers are thought not to have the interests of a strong Ireland and a strong EU at heart.

And if sharing the same bed on Lisbon with O’Leary seems uncomfortable, it’s much the same for him; as he finds himself in agreement with SIPTU and several other trade unions, who are usually his mortal enemies.

So if it rankles finding yourself in agreement with Michael O'Leary, it's still got to be better than finding yourself at one with Sinn Fein and Coir.

Have a look at O’Leary’s amusing press announcement video below, courtesy of You Tube.

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Friday, 25 September 2009

Ireland is a great little country

Sure isn’t it a great little country? Isn’t it?

It’s great if you’re the dodgy retiring head of a dodgy State body, as you’ll get a big “golden handshake” of public money - even after you’ve already wasted shedloads of it on junkets and waste. And if anyone asks any questions, don’t worry – you’ll have the backing of the Government.

It’s great if you are the head of a venerable Irish financial institution, as you can run it into the ground and engage in all sorts of questionable practices and get the Government to bail you out, then still get a €1 million bonus on superannuation.

It’s great if you are a tax-dodging, hypocritical popstar, as you can spout all kinds of sanctimonous shite about saving the world and helping the poor while pontificating on what portion of the country’s tax takings – which you studiously avoid contributing towards - should be spent in relation to developing countries, many of which are more morally developed than here. And everyone will still think you’re great.

And the great thing for those in positions of power is that the half-wits that constitute a great proportion of the Irish public will continue to vote for corrupt and unprincipled leaders election after predicable election. Any student of the bankruptcy of patriotism and nationalism need look no further than Ireland for a case study.

There was one such half-wit on Matt Cooper's show yesterday being interviewed about Lisbon - apart from Declan Ganley, I mean. Some thick-as-shit Joe Sixpack type who opined “I’m voting 'no' because I want to keep my Oyrish nationality. I want to keep my Oyrish citizenship and not have EU citizenship”. Apparently our Joe had read the Treaty and unearthed this gem which even the lying proto-fascist lunatics of Coir/Youth Defence had missed. Sometimes I despair, I really do.

Well, as far as I know, Lisbon is not about throwing our home-grown corrupt politicians out of power. It’s not about introducing a fair taxation system and French, German or Belgian-style levels of public healthcare. It’s not about direct rule from Brussels to save us from ourselves. It’s not about giving us an opportunity to relinquish our narrow nationality for the right to refer to ourselves simply as European. It’s only about streamlining the internal workings of the EU to enable it to function properly with 27 member states. That’s all.

But despite those limitations, I will still be voting Yes

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Thursday, 24 September 2009

Mary Coughlan does not make sense.

There are splits at the top in Government regarding the implementation of the McCarthy Report (“Bord Snip”) which looks into areas where State spending can be cut.

When standing in for Cowen yesterday, Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) Mary Coughlan declared “there are many recommendations within McCarthy that don’t make sense, many” - much to the consternation of Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan.

Perhaps Mary feels the need for some populist posturing on this one, or maybe she feels a genuine affinity for some branches of the public service as hubby is a graduate of the University of Templemore?

And speaking of which. Matt Cooper had some public servants on his show the other day, discussing the recession and how it was affecting them. One was a prison warder, the other a garda and the other a nurse.

The nurse, as you might expect, focused on the impact of any cuts on frontline health services, which are already stretched (cue debate on the running of the HSE and where the money goes).

In contrast, the garda spoke only of having suffered “four pay cuts” already. When Cooper, incredulous, expressed ignorance of any such pay cuts, it turned out the garda was referring to the pension levy (paid by all public service employees), the health levy (which we all pay), the 1% income tax levy (which we all pay) and its increase to 2% (which again, we all pay). And this following revelations that the last Garda overtime bill was €155 million, with one individual pocketing a top-up of €80,990 in separate “extra payments”.

If McCarthy is looking to prioritise cuts in the public sector, there might be some pointers for him there.

Would would Mary think?

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Monday, 21 September 2009

Stephen Ireland and the granny rule

Back in our short-lived international football glory days when we qualified for things under Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy, the Republic of Ireland’s use of the granny rule sometimes came under fire. Predictably much of the unfair criticism came from the likes of Jimmy Hill, John Motson, Jimmy Greaves and so on – peeved by the FAI snapping up players who qualified to play for the Republic under FIFA rules.

More surprisingly, perhaps, was the criticism coming from a minority of Irish people who felt that players such as Ray Houghton, Tony Cascarino and John Aldridge were not sufficiently Irish to pull on the green shirt.

You might also add the name of Alan McLoughlin, an English-born player who stepped up and scored the vital goal against Northern Ireland at a hate-filled Windsor Park in 1993. The goal that sent the Republic to the World Cups finals in the United States the following year. A goal I will never, ever forget.

I was living and working in London at that time of my life, and was one of many expatriate paddies going mental in the Horse and Tram pub, Leytonstone Road when the ball hit the back of the net. Alan McLoughlin was a hero, and his commitment - and that of the other non Irish-born players in that team - was beyond question.

Which brings us to Stephen Ireland, who would have been about nine years old during that game - old enough for it to be one of his formative football memories. The Manchester City midflelder is, of course, first-generation Irish - hailing from the same part of the country as fellow Cork egomaniac Roy Keane.

However, Ireland recently reiterated his decision not to play for his country again, citing Giovanni Trapattoni’s “arrogance” as the reason for the no-show. It seems that when Trapattoni – someone who has won the game’s greatest honours – met the City starlet in an attempt to persuade him to play in the forthcoming World Cup, he took his mobile phones with him and failed to switch them onto “meeting” mode for the occasion. Apparently, this perceived lack of respect was the final straw for the Corkman.

Ireland, remember, fabricated the deaths of his two (Irish) grannies to get out of playing against the Czech Republic in 2007. So not only is he a liar - it seems he hasn't even the grace to say he won't play international football simply because he can’t be arsed. That’s his prerogative, of course – but let's have some honesty.

If we qualify for South Africa we will come up against far, far better players than Stephen Ireland. Many of them will be earning a fraction of the highly inflated salary he gets in the financial bubble environment of the Premiership. Others will be world-acknowledged great players who won't even have heard of Manchester City's bolshy little midfielder. All will have one thing in common: they will be true footballers who will want to play at the highest level, on the world's greatest football stage.

If we don’t qualify, perhaps it’s time to cast the net wide again and invoke the granny rule with the gusto we once did?

You never know, we might even Find An Irishman who wants to play in future World Cups.

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Friday, 18 September 2009

Irish national anthem for your mobile: a patriotic must-have

True patriots all over the country will know the feeling. You’re standing in Croke Park in your gaudy Gah top waiting for the match to start. The rousing strains of Amhran na bhFiann begin, and all around you 80,000 half-wits belt it out in unision, their chests bursting with patriotic pride.

Most of them won’t understand what they’re saying, of course, having just learned the words by rote. Their mouths are moving, fish-like, and unintelligible sounds are issuing forth. But every unintelligible sound is correct, as they have taken the trouble to learn how to make them… a bit like the Latin mass must have been.

However, an unsuspecting observer would swear they were proficient in the noble tongue of the True Gael. You feel bad at your inadequacy, and ask yourself “is this what the martyrs of 1916 died for?" You hang your head in shame.

But fear not, help is at hand. An application now exists for your mobile phone, developed by Gaelchultur, whose stated aim is “promote the Irish Language and various aspects of Irish culture”.

The application consists of a karaoke-style interface, which spells out the words of the Irish national anthem in its Gaelic form (it was originally written in English). So even if you don’t understand a word of it, you can just whip it out when necessary and follow the on-screen prompts. It even has a convenient audio pronunciation tutor, with a suitably cringe-inducing, cloying, Wolf Tones-style vocal accompaniment.

There is also a handy translation facility – just in case you don’t know how embarrassingly godawful it actually is. See below.

The Soldier’s Song

We'll sing a song, a soldier's song, With cheering rousing chorus, As round our blazing fires we throng, The starry heavens o'er us; Impatient for the coming fight, And as we wait the morning's light, Here in the silence of the night, We'll chant a soldier's song.

Soldiers are we whose lives are pledged to Ireland; Some have come from a land beyond the wave. Sworn to be free, No more our ancient sire land Shall shelter the despot or the slave. Tonight we man the gap of danger In Erin's cause, come woe or weal' Mid cannons' roar and rifles peal, We'll chant a soldier's song.

In valley green, on towering crag, Our fathers fought before us, And conquered 'neath the same old flag That's proudly floating o'er us. We're children of a fighting race, That never yet has known disgrace, And as we march, the foe to face, We'll chant a soldier's song.

Sons of the Gael! Men of the Pale! The long watched day is breaking; The serried ranks of Inisfail Shall set the Tyrant quaking. Our camp fires now are burning low; See in the east a silv'ry glow, Out yonder waits the Saxon foe, So chant a soldier's song.

Doesn't it bring a lump to your pants?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

NAMA. The banks' shareholders are happy.

So, we all now know how much of our money the Government wants to give to the banks under the auspices of the National Asset Management Agency. €54 billion of taxpayers’ (and mortgage payers) hard-earned to buy a bad loan book of €77 billion, even though the current market value of the properties underpinned by the loans is estimated at €47 billion.

Many would question the optimism of that current “valuation” in today’s market. Furthermore, the only way they are going in our little banama (sick) republic is downwards. But Brian Lenihan was on Morning Ireland earlier telling us what a good deal NAMA represented for us all, and how the property market was “near the bottom”. Right.

The problem with NAMA is the people behind it – Lenihan’s Government – are the ones that created the mess in the first place. So do you believe Lenihan’s upbeat, self back-slapping, assessment of his own plan, or his assessment of the state of the housing market? Or would you take more note of the following assessement by Barclays Capital, which appeared in the Irish Times on the 11th September:

Barclays noted Irish house prices remain the most expensive in Europe and are “especially elevated” in relation to disposable income. “There is no evidence to suggest that Irish house prices have yet reached a trough, despite the exceptionally low interest rates prevailing.”

Barclays paints a picture of a future Irish economy marked by extreme caution among consumers, following a reckless decade in which household and other private sector debt expanded at the most rapid pace in the euro zone. “With the Irish labour market deteriorating rapidly, real household disposable incomes are likely to be squeezed still further in the months ahead and precautionary savings look set to climb higher.” The squeeze on incomes could be even tighter if the next budget is as much of an “austerity budget” as expected.

But in the meantime we have to suffer the consequences of paying near-bubble prices for the bad property loans of the banks in order to spare them and their shareholders the vigours of the market. Once again, it seems that it’s all about privatising profit, and nationalising loss.

As if to illustrate, AIB shares were up 30% in the first twenty minutes of trading on the Irish Stock Exchange this morning.

Nice to see someone is happy.

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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A nice relaxing drive in Meath

As I had the day off work yesterday, I thought it would be a good idea to take a bit of time out from the moaning for a few hours and go for a drive, what with the uncharacteristically good weather we’ve been having lately.

As mentioned elsewhere on the blog, Wicklow is normally the favoured destination for a spin – usually over the boggy back of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains by the Sally Gap and onto Laragh. In full fuddy-duddy mode, I made up a flask of coffee and a few sarnies, revved up the engine, and set off for the great outdoors.

Sadly, by the time I got my arse into gear, the morning was long gone and I had to cancel the odyssey across Dublin from the wilds of D15 (in one sense) to the wilds of the Wicklow uplands (in another). No matter! Instead I decided to strike out in the direction of Meath in the posemobile, undeterred by the newly reinstated grey skies.

Problem. There is nowhere to go in Meath where you can pull over, stop your car, and eat your sarnies and drink your coffee, Roy Cropper style (only I’d say Roy is a tea man). Once you get into your car and go to Meath, you must keep driving, non-stop, until you get back home again. And if you follow the signs saying “Boyne Valley Drive” you’ll end up on a busy road much like any other, only worse: keep going and you will end up in Navan... and you don't want that.

In Meath there is nowhere, but nowhere, to stop; with the honourable exception of the N3 carpark (morning and evening) and maybe the Hill of Tara… but you don’t want to go there either, as the place is crawling with druids, wikka witches and crusties, and they will probably set fire to your car (see pic above).

What is it about Ireland? And why, why, oh why do tourists come here? Even in Wicklow, many of the car parks that do exist have been closed, with “anti-social behaviour” cited as an excuse. But in Meath you'll be hard pressed to find one at all.

Well sorry – don’t they have anti-social behaviour in Britain? Don’t they have it in France? Spain? Germany? For Christ’s sake, we have the monopoly on quite a few things in this country, including shysterism, cute-hoorism and gombeenism: but not anti-social behaviour.

In other countries, the authorities take responsibility, and attempt to eradicate the anti-social behaviour, rather than eradicate the car parks. But that’s Ireland, eh? Always the easy way out for those in authority.
So, moral of the story? If you decide to go for a spin in Meath, don’t bother with the flask or the sarnies.

And so much for not moaning on my day off.

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Sunday, 13 September 2009

Garda Credit Union - piggy bank debts increase

Despite the glad tidings, as reported in today’s Sunday Times, that gardai (police) received a total of €333m in “extra payments” (with one of them pocketing a pay top-up of €80,990) along with an overtime payout of €115 million, it is distressing to hear that some of them still manage to get up to their blue serge oxters in debt.

Indeed, it seems that one of the force’s biggest credit unions, St Raphael’s, has been compelled to take out court judgements against 20 plod who owe it almost €1 million, with one of its members – composed entirely of coppers and their families -attracting a judgement €187,716 against him/her, according to a piece in the Sunday Independent.

Stand by for another surge in overtime claims.

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Friday, 11 September 2009

AIB and Bank of Ireland overcharge customers - again

"To overcharge customers once, Irish bankers, might be regarded as a misfortune. To do so continually, looks like outright theft" Lady Bracknell did not say in The Importance of Being Earnest. But we know our bankers are far from earnest, don't we?

Today we are told that AIB is to return nearly €400,000 to tracker mortgage customers it has been overcharging. While only the day before yesterday we learned that Bank of Ireland made a "technical error" leading to some customers being charged twice on their Laser card transactions. And this type of thing is nothing new. Have a look at some past mistakes, taken from the Value Ireland website:

May 2008 Bank Of Ireland refund €200,000 in interest to 16,000 holders of child savings accounts, after paying the wrong rate of interest.

October 2007 Allied Irish Bank refunds €266,000 to 3,773 accounts having taken stamp duty from customers who had AIB credit cards, but were living abroad

November 2007 Ulster Bank took upwards of €950,000 from 26,000 student account holders, after it applied charges to the accounts when it shouldn't have.

April 2005 Bank of Ireland overcharge customers on insurance products used to cover borrowings such as car loans. 65,000 accounts thought to be affected, up to a total sum of €15m, including interest.

I'm sure this list is by no means exhaustive - but you get the idea. Funny how these "mistakes" are always in the banks' favour, isn't it? Or can I look forward to finding an extra million or two resting in my account one of these days?

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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Mulligans - Is it any wonder the pubs are empty?

Gombeen Man in dedicated pub-spy guise here, putting you wide to what's hot and what's not in Dublin publand.

I met an old school friend today for a lunchtime pint and a good moan about the state of the country. The venue was Mulligans on Poolbeg street, which styles itself as a no-nonsense "auld Dublin" pub offering convivial, if plain, drinking space for punters who still value a bit of an old chat with their pints and a corresponding absense of conversation-drowning musak.

So far so good, and I found it came up to scratch on those counts in the past. Today though, upon entering the darkened threshold, I was immediately aware of a similar absence of any customers. Well, maybe one or two - but this is lunchtime, remember. No wonder. One pint of Guinness and a rock shandy for my driving accomplice relieved me of a princely €10!!! Is it any wonder the place was empty if that's what they're charging these days?

Recession? What recession?

Irish publicans just don't get it, do they?

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Tuesday, 8 September 2009

O’Flynn wants more NAMA influence for developers.

According to this morning’s RTE news Michael O’Flynn, head of O’Flynn Construction, wants developers more involved in the proposed National Asset Management Agency.

The agency, as you will know by now, will compel the Irish taxpayer into buying the banks' bad loans, in the form of “bonds”, at a higher price than the loans are actually worth due to the fall in value of the speculative assets they were taken on.

For instance, if a loan to a developer was €60m, NAMA (the taxpayer) will buy it for €40m… yet if the assets for which the loan was raised was sold today they might only fetch €20m (these figures are examples only). So, while the banks will still get €40 for their toxic loan, the developer will continue to owe €60 to NAMA, we are assured.

NAMA is a taxpayers’ bail-out for the banks which, as has been said often enough on Gombeen Nation, contributed to the Monopoly-money inflation of the “boom” by lending carelessly, increasing lending multiples and repayment terms, and giving interest-only loans which further fuelled speculation – already encouraged by reckless Government tax breaks and shelters in the property sector.

The Irish banks, by the way, were "among the world’s most profitable (Sunday Business Post, Feb 05, 2006) coming up to the boom’s peak, with pre-tax operating margins of "about 50%" as compared with 32% for US banks and 35% for British banks. So their shareholders will have very good reason to applaud the setting up of NAMA, as it will ensure the banks' survival and their dividends.

But now the poor old developers are feeling left out. O’Flynn is already part of a small group of them who have consulted the Government via the CIF on the setting up of NAMA. He feels - according to the RTE report - that “it would be wrong to penalise developers by excluding them from the drafting of a solution to the current problems… [for while] developers had to accept some responsibility for the serious mistakes that led to the property crash, they should not be excluded from the recovery”.

"Some responsibility"? You don't say? And should we really expect those who made this mess - the Government, the banks and the developers - to be capable of cleaning it up, anyway?

Amazing, when even NAMA is optimistically talking about a 15-year period before the bad loans it takes on can be redeemed at 2006 values, and economist Morgan Kelly forecasts that “Irish property prices could remain below half their peak value “for the next decade or longer” (Irish Times, Sept 3rd) the developers are looking ahead to the next bubble, and hoping to cash in on a “recovery”.

NAMA is wrong on one premise, and one premise alone. That is: nobody willingly pays more for a product than the product is actually worth.

Unless they are Irish taxpayers, of course, and they have no choice in the matter.

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Saturday, 5 September 2009

We Irish and the begging bowl.

In a recent blog I reflected on the Irish habit of brandishing the begging bowl on a regular basis; further illustrated by an ever-present compulsion to attain grants and funding for this, that, and the other - both domestically and within Europe.

Ireland, in fact, has so far extracted over €20 billion in EU structural funds up until 2006. Now, of course, the funds are drying up, and the Irish have become Euro-sceptics all of a sudden. It’s shameful.

And speaking of shameful, I remember a farmer quoted in Der Spiegel many years ago saying something like “The EU’s great, you just hold out your hand and the money falls into it!”. I wonder what he’s saying now? “No to Lisbon”, I suppose.

But what is it about we Irish and begging? I’m not being cruel: I know that all sorts of circumstances can make people genuinely homeless and down-and-out. It could happen to you or me if our lives took a sufficiently pear-shaped turn for the worse... so I’m not having a go at them. But there seems to be an inordinate number of professional beggars in Dublin. So many, in fact, that we can assume that the market is now saturated.

I kid you not, I was in Delhi for two three-week periods a couple of years back, and it’s not a patch on Dublin when it comes to people hassling and pestering you in the streets for money. And India’s a country where you gladly keep a bit of cash to give to the poor sods who have no social welfare, who suffer from appalling diseases (leprosy, for example) and who live in poverty that most Irish people would find hard to imagine.

But back to Ireland. Worst of all, in my black book, are the chuggers (charity muggers). “Helloooo!!! Have you goosh a minush for Concuurrnn?” is the chugger's rallying cry. Not directly connected with Concern, but employed as salespeople, quite a few of them are drama students, I’m told. Their patch on Henry Street is their stage – their chance to shine. I’m not sure if that’s true, but one thing is for certain: they are the most irritating bastards you will meet on a day’s walk. And believe me, theres' a lot of competition - like the guy I saw collecting for the Asthma Society with a fag on the go.

No amount of malevolent staring seems to deter a chugger, as these people are often charitably described as being “bubbly” and "confident", and are therefore lacking in any emotional intelligence whatsoever. Sometimes, looking preoccupied or staring at your feet as you walk along can evade their attentions. But the more persistent ones will pursue you down the street, gesticulating and dancing at your side like an E-ed out Michael Flately. In such extreme circumstances a simple “fuck off” can sometimes deter them, inviting a cheery “noo problem” in response, before they skip off in search of another victim. Sometimes.

Then there are the bag-packers at the supermarket. It works like this: You are busy fumbling in your pocket for your money and your Clubcard to give to the cashier. By the time you have completed your transaction your shopping has been transported to the far end of the conveyor belt, into the podgy fingers of some gormless brat in a gaudy GAA shirt who mixes it all up and then expects you to pay him/her for the privilege. I find that the best technique is to keep your bags under your arm when paying, then walk down to the very end of the conveyor with a threatening look on your face before nudging them out of the way. You can use a sly elbow if nobody is looking.

I don’t know. It’s a good few years now since I lived abroad, but I've never seen this stuff anywhere else. Does it go on elsewhere, or is it just something that we are good at?

Or am I just getting grumpier?

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Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Senator Phelan says "grant" hurling special Unesco status

According to today’s Irish Times, Kilkenny senator John Paul Phelan has called for the sport of hurling to be designated a “safeguarded cultural activity” on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) heritage programme.

The programme currently includes such activities as the polyphonic singing of central Africa’s Aka pygmies, Belgium’s Binche Carnival, a mask dance performed in eastern Bhuta, Sardinian pastoral singing, and Catalan castelling – wherby teams of men with nothing better to do stand on each others shoulders to see who can make the highest human tower. Inclusion on the Unesco list does, of course, attract funding.

Hurling is an ancient game invented by the GAA, a cultural rivalist organisation formed in a Tipperary billiards room in 1884. It consists of finding 30 farmers and gardai, arming them with sticks, then putting them into a big field to beat seven colours of shite out of each other.

Although it is possibly Official Ireland's most in-your-face game and, therefore, anything but endangered (even Ronaldo can’t set foot here without having a hurley thrust into an unsuspecting hand), maybe Gombeen Nation should support its inclusion on the list... if only to encourage the above?

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