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Opening Up Ireland’s West

By Bill O'Donnell, November 30, 2012

Opening Up Ireland’s West – There are plans afoot to develop an exciting new driving route in the west of Ireland dubbed the Wild Atlantic Way. The proposed route, which would use existing coastal routes from Donegal to west Cork, would cover 850 miles (1,400 km) and be Ireland’s first long-distance driving route for tourists.

Over the past several months the Irish tourist board, the Western Development Commission, the Gaeltacht agency Udaras, and regional tourist agencies have been meeting to study a range of options for the Wild Atlantic Way, which would roughly follow as close to the actual coast as possible and involve parts of seven counties, Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway’s Connemara, Clare, Kerry, West Cork, and possibly the Bantry Bay area.

The Irish Government and Failte Ireland will be working with local tourism authorities to promote capitalizing on a long-distance driving route that would exploit the world class viewing points along the west coast, erecting signage, developing itineraries, and designing a marketing strategy.

Residents, businesses ,and anyone else interested in the routing of the new tourist highway are invited to register their views and comments by December 14.

The website is atlantic way. Possible launch of The Wild Atlantic Way has been put at sometime during 2014.
How To Pick A Winner – In the recent presidential election we were engulfed by numbers and polls on what most everyone assumed (from the conventional wisdom) would be a genuinely close election. The New York Times’s Nate Silver and the on-point Obama GOTV team called it right, but few were willing to back their choice with hard currency and trust in their opinion like Ireland’s premier bookmaker (turf accountant) Paddy Power. Some 36 hours before Americans went to their polling places Paddy Power, which had handled the major portion of wagering on President Obama to win, decided that Obama would beat Mitt Romney and began paying off the punters who had picked Obama long before the election results would be known. Paddy Power just decided it was a “done deal.” If Romney had won, Paddy Power would have been out of pocket to the tune of $850,000. Some gamble, some win.

Another Try For Irish TV Nexus In US –A former Derry native who owns radio stations in Canada and operates out of the US is dedicating himself to launching a television outlet in the states with an estimated audience of 35 million, he says. Tony Culley-Foster is looking to produce several hours of TV programming each week featuring Ireland and Derry, in particular. The new effort is to be up and running, Culley-Foster hopes, by March 17 in the new year.

 The plan is to have programming from Derry, Belfast, and Dublin with sponsors and advertising. One aspect of the planned TV launch is that Derry will be the UK 2013 City of Culture with an array of events and activities highlighting Derry’s historic past and colorful present.

As many in and around Boston remember there was an earlier, ambitious effort to create an all-Irish TV channel in the US with offices in Boston. It looked promising for a time but eventually had trouble attracting sufficient viewers and turned the key and departed, leaving  many here owed money.

We wish Mr. Culley-Foster good luck with his endeavor and hope his vision for Irish-US TV ties is more successful than its predecessor.

A Backward Glance at the Election –Three million popular votes and an electoral vote edge of 126 was the margin of President Obama’s decisive win over former Bay State governor Mitt Romney. As usual, it was a messy affair, beginning with almost a year devoted to the long-winded, empty- calorie Republican primary that elevated Romney over what charitably can only be called a lackluster lineup.

In a series of debates that Romney called “nuts” after the election (yes, indeed), Mitt spent his star time before the debate TV cameras trying to convince the far right wingnuts and Tea Party folks that he was “severly conservative.”  Following that bizarre marathon, Romney abandoned his heavy breathing romance of the right wing base in an effort to convince (wink, wink) independents and others that he was really a moderate. The American people didn’t buy it.

After Romney made the traditional phone call to the election victor, he went on stage alone to concede and he was graceful and generous. Where was this guy during the general election campaign?  We soon found that the Romney magnanimity was illusionary when in remarks in a phone hookup with donors he accused the president of using “gifts” to blacks, Hispanics and young voters; in essence he bought their votes. This notion was viscerally offensive to millions of Democrats, independents and, as we discovered, deeply out of touch with scores of Republican office holders and GOP campaign officials who knew they had put forth a flawed, gaffe-ridden, whining candidate even if he was one of their own. But, all said and done now, Romney was never really one of them. He didn’t exhibit the character, spine, or the consistency to convince them – or us.

The reality is that Obama and his committed team of battle-tested volunteers and campaign pros rocked the Romney effort, and routed the GOP troops decisively in the trenches by identifying the Obama vote and getting those people to the polls. Romney’s team, absent a dry run of the much-vaunted ORCA Project to get out their vote, floundered badly with the system crashing around 4 p.m. on election day.

Karl Rove, Peggy Noonan, Dick Morris, Donald Trump, Wall Street Journal columnists and Fox TV cheerleaders were more than a skosh off, many predicting a Romney landslide. Obama took eight of nine battleground states. If you discount the still developing deep South, the president virtually split the white vote with Romney (a stretch but not unreasonable) who predicted more of the same (I will take care of you when I’m elected!) in pandering to his rich, largely white, male constituency.

To wrap up, I was not surprised by the pay-to-play pundits who drank the laced Snapple and could not believe that the rich, handsome, well-turned-out white guy couldn’t beat Obama and the dreaded unemployment rate so as to fulfill the hopes of that hack de jure, Sen. Mitch McConnell, in holding the president to one term.

But in a turn, I found briefly entertaining the fact of the candidate’s and his inner circle’s stunned, disbelieving reaction to his losing. This gang not only couldn’t shoot straight but they were also a failure at reading their own tea leaves. The Bubble giveth and the Bubble taketh.

Finally, a lush line from the inimitable Jackie Gleason that sums it all up for this year —“How sweet it is!”


“In this environment, too many news organizations are holding back, out of fear — fear that we will be saddled with an uncomfortable political label, fear that we will be accused of bias, fear that we will be portrayed as negative,  fear that we will lose customers, fear that advertisers will run from us, fear that we will be assailed as anti-this or anti-that, fear that we will offend someone, anyone. Fear, in short, that our weakened financial condition will be made weaker because we did something strong and right, because we simply told the truth and told it straight.”
-Martin Baron, Boston Globe editor, who will become the executive editor of the Washington Post

Lance Armstrong Affair Threatens Irish Cycling Chief – Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and Greg LeMond, the only remaining American winner of the Tour following Armstrong’s disgrace, is seeking the immediate resignation of Pat McQuade, the president of cycling’s governing body, the UCI.

Dubliner McQuade has been seen as a supporter of Armstrong, a cycling sport leader who failed to aggressively go after Armstrong and someone who called into question the penalties Armstrong received.  LeMond, a longtime critic of McQuade and Armstrong ,has intensified his call for McQuade’s resignation, saying, “I have never seen such an abuse of power in cycling history.”

At press time,  McQuade remains the president of cycling’s governing organization.

Shifting Popularity of Irish Political Scene – Fine Gael, senior partner in the government coalition, remains the most popular party in the country at 30 percent. Fianna Fail has crept up from political oblivion to second place at 22 percent. Sinn Fein has stumbled, losing ground to Fianna Fail and is now third in popular support at 14 percent while Labour is trailing at 12 percent.

Micheal Martin, Fianna Fail chief, tops the party leaders at 42 percent favorable with Taoiseach Enda Kenny (41 percent) and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams (40 percent) on his heels. A statistical dead heat as they might describe it in stateside polling.

While many had written off Fianna Fail due to the failed leadership of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Martin’s slow and steady demeanor has impressed the country’s voters, leaving him the most popular politician in Ireland in the most recent polling.

A Voice From The Garden shack – Every great once in a while chance and propinquity come together and do grand things. One of those occasions happened recently in the air over the Atlantic not all that far from Boston’s Logan Airport. An Irish ham radio operator, Benny Young, 29, was spending another evening at his radio scanning the airwaves thousands of miles away from his Co. Tyrone garden shack. He heard two Yank voices discussing the mega-storm Sandy and the debris flying around outsidewhen suddenly came the call came: “Mayday, Mayday.” It was on an emergency frequency from the pilot of a United Airlines flight from Dublin to Boston.

Radio communications in the air can be unpredictable. What sometimes cannot be heard from one nearby radio to another receiver a short distance away can be heard many thousands of miles away. Benny Young knew that and he also knew that the pilot was in trouble radioing out and being heard. The plane had lost its transponder in the storm, which meant the pilot was unable to contact Logan Airport.

As Benny Young later explained it: “So, because I was able to speak with the pilot and the operator of the emergency frequency individually when they couldn’t speak to each other, I was able to relay the information between the two and the flight was safely diverted and landed.”

“The whole thing, said Young, “lasted about ten minutes ...but I felt good when the plane was on the ground and all the passengers arrived safely. As far as I know not one of them was in any way aware of the drama, or that a van driver from Castlederg was talking to their plane from his garden shack.”

(Author’s note: I wrote the above account from an article published in the Belfast Telegraph on Nov. 17. My thanks to the Telegraph.)

A Boost For the North –The rumor had been making the rounds for several weeks when confirmation came from British Prime Minister David Cameron that yes, indeed, next year’s G8 Summit of world leaders will be held in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh. The venue is a plush five-star spa, the Lough Erne resort, which comes with natural security surroundings for the leaders conference.

I am familiar with the area, having stayed nearby years ago when meeting with government job training officials. This is one of the island of Ireland’s most scenic areas with boating, swimming, and a full complement of tourist attractions, although I doubt that the G8  participants would stray too far from what is always a highly guarded and secure venue.

Expected to attend the 2013 sessions are the US, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan, and leaders of the European Union. This year’s G8 summit was hosted by President Obama at Camp David, Maryland. This is a solid accomplishment in attracting to Northern Ireland one of the important, highly publicized international meetings. Congratulations!

Given the level of support President Obama received from the Hispanic community it would be shocking if the administration does not make a strong push in Congress for immigration reform. … Whitey Bulger has been given a delay in his trial until next June. Speaking of James, the traveling man, one wonders if his recent trip to the hospital for “chest pains” was a rehearsal for  the “defendant’s disease” seen often in federal court trials. … The Republicans whined about the number of food stamp recipients. It’s the recession, stupid, and Obama didn’t create it. … Looking to own the airline Michael O’Leary and his Ryanair are determined to increase their 30 percent stake in Aer :Linmgus. … The long-awaited Finucane Report is due out on Dec. 10 and it said to contain highly secret material. … The report last month of an oil find off the Irish southwest coast has quadrupled Petrel Resources company value. … Gerry and Sinn Fein are campaigning in earnest for a border poll that many are doubtful will help the Unity cause.

The airlines are going mad as they attempt to tag a fee on everything from seat locations to anything that looks like its leather. Disgraceful and greed-driven. … A few of the lads working at a Belfast site took a quiet break to sneak a Tricolor onto a main police station. … Say a good word about the Unionist newspaper the Belfast News Letter, which is celebrating its 275th birthday. Founded in 1737, it is the oldest English language newspaper in the world. … It has been 40 years since the carnage on Bloody Sunday in Derry and not a single British Para has ever been questioned or arrested in connection with the 14 deaths. Imagine 40 years and by your leave for the lads in khaki who were shooting that day. A lawyer representing the families says he is “staggered” by the PSNI inaction. … Poppy Day in the North has more of the Green these days as Taoiseach Kenny laid a wreath in Enniskillen remembering those who died in the bombing there 25 years ago. The Taniste, Eamon Gilmore, was at a similar Poppy Day ceremony in Belfast.

The Irish poet, editor and publisher Peter Fallon is the 2012-2013 visiting scholar at BC’s Burns Library. … Gabriel Byrne doled out some criticism of the forthcoming “Gathering” set for next year in noting that Ireland is one of the few Euro countries that denies emigrants the vote in national and local elections. The entire Gathering idea seems harmless to me and if it can increase tourism and revenue to ease the load on native Irish during the austerity years, why not? … Phil Coulter, known worldwide for his Derry anthem “The Town I Loved So Well,” is writing a new song to mark Derry’s honor as the UK City of Culture. … The west of Ireland is still burdened with hungry children and Galway county reports that people there are struggling. … A related story out of Galway concerns the recession- era cuts in support programs and the growing number of abandoned homes there that Eamon O Cuiv, TD, has been hectoring the government about. He says conditions could trigger a mass emigration in the next 20 years. … A group of Dublin footballers were in New York recently to play a match at Gaelic Park but they took a detour to Breezy Point in Queens where they pitched in to help with some of the Sandy cleanup.. … The five-star Ritz Carlton Hotel that opened a few years near the stunning Powerscourt grounds in Co. Wicklow is $60 million in the hole and an examiner has been appointed to look into the matter. This was planned to be, and has been operated as, one of Ireland’s most luxurious destination resorts. The recession plays no favorites. … Signing off with this line about Donald Trump from former Clinton advisor and Newsweek columnist Paul Begala: “Clearly Donald Trump is living proof that hair spray causes brain damage.”

To one and all: Beannachtai Nollag