I CONFESS I cannot speak Irish. Don’t get me wrong, I am (and will always be) a champion of the Irish language, as I truly believe it belongs to all of us.
INTERNATIONAL acts take a shine to Irish talent this week, and some of the best acts in the country release their first new music in years. As the world continues to open, global touring makes a welcome return for both workers and punters. Ireland continues to be a popular stop for these acts, but a few have gone further and elected to take some of our acts with them. News broke this week that country-pop singer CMAT would open for alt-country songwriter BECK at his Trinity show in Dublin this summer. Further announcements came from Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, Body/Head), who will be taking Cork punk trio Pretty Happy on her European tour. The three-piece will perform in eight countries around Europe alongside the 90’s alternative legend and we wish them all the best for it.
JUST when you thought it was safe to go into a used car showroom, a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé built in 1955 has been sold at auction for a record price of €135,000,000 to a private collector. The car, which is one of only two created, and has always been regarded as one of the great jewels of motoring history, but few ever imagined that it would be offered for sale. The car is named after its creator and chief engineer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, and is considered to be one of the finest examples of automotive engineering and design, often cited as being ‘the most beautiful car in the world’ by automotive experts and enthusiasts worldwide.
“I don’t think anyone cares about the loved ones, all we want is justice and peace.” The words of Joe McKeown, son of Frank, as he stood outside the NIO offices protesting against the British Government’s Legacy Bill.
Some exhibitions grab you immediately, others lure you back over and over. The thoughts and observations you receive as a result can be poignant, unsettling, heart-breaking, compassionate — basically whatever is in your heart.
It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
AS part of LGBTQIA Awareness week, I was invited to speak at St George’s church Belfast for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. I had been thinking a lot about the story of the Lost Sheep told by Jesus in Luke 15. I love the opening verse in the Message translation: “By this time a lot of men and women of questionable reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religious scholars were not pleased, not pleased at all. They growled ‘He takes in sinners and eats meals with them like old friends.’ Questionable reputation? I love this! There’s just something about the misfits, the oddballs, the rejected, the marginalised and the ones with ‘questionable reputation’ who Jesus chose to hang out with, and this clearly irked the religious elite of His day.
NEWS emerges this week of Irish artists taking international steps and solidifying their base at the same time, whilst a summer of festivals looks set to wash away memories of the previous two years of lockdowns. A number of Irish artists of late have made their way to tastemakers’ Partisan Records. Fontaines D.C. and Just Mustard have both built sizeable global followings off the label’s backing, and are now joined by alternative folk singer Aoife Nessa Frances. Her first release on the label, ‘Emptiness Follows’, accompanied the news in the past week that Frances would sign with the UK/US label ahead of her debut headline world tour. She gives us a psychedelic swirl of dreamy folk vocals and arrangements that live in the margins of tangible and ethereal. She said: “The movement and colour of the music, the harp constantly flowing throughout, are emphasising profound importance in acknowledging an eternal kind of love. I wanted my voice to be close and upfront and vulnerable like Serge Ginsberg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson.”
THE army of swifts arrived in Belfast this week – but didn’t give a second glance to Dúlra’s offering of purpose-built, five-star nestboxes. These are super birds – not in the meaning of being great, but actually being Superbirds. Nothing nature has produced comes close to their aerial abilities. They are on the extremes of evolution in the same way the great white shark is considered the master of the oceans and the lion the king of the animals. And when we’re wandering through our streets and hear the screeching of those black arrows, we should look up in awe just like we’d do if we’d seen a shark or a lion. This week the swift’s plight was brought up at a Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss in Dublin, which is made up of 99 random citizens who will be involved in a six-month programme. It’s a brilliant idea and has already heard that Ireland risks turning into a ‘ghostland’ for nature if the destruction of habitats continues. The meeting was told that our swifts have declined 40 per cent in just 15 years. Dúlra can’t help thinking also how these insect-eating birds must struggle to find food as we turn more of our fields into green deserts and cut green areas everywhere to make them ‘neat’. But Dúlra has met the small band of swift devotees who are turning the tide. As barn owl enthusiast Ciarán Walsh has shown by coaxing that amazing bird back to barns and woods around Lough Neagh, one determined person can make a world of difference. The greatest threat to the Irish swift population has been the removal of nest sites. Buildings the length and breadth of the country have been done up and repaired with no thought for nesting birds. Cavities are filled when gutters are repaired or roofs replaced.The country’s swift lover-in-chief Mark Smyth – that’s a unique title of course but one that Mark couldn’t argue with – has way too many tales of churches, community halls and city buildings that have lost their swifts because of refurbishments. Mark’s fascination with swifts, gabhlán gaoithe in Irish, started 50 years ago when he was at Antrim Primary School and they buzzed all around the schoolyard. But then, every year, he noticed their numbers declining, well before any official organisations took notice. Years later when a neighbour replaced wooden eaves and thus lost the only pair in the Stiles estate, Mark took action. Today, his house is peppered with scores of swift boxes and most of them are taken. His crusade to fight back for the amazing bird has taken great steps forward as his growing WhatsApp swift group encourage housing bodies and hospitals and supermarkets to put up homes for swifts, some of them using swift nest ‘bricks’ in newbuilds, like here at Apex Housing in Ballycastle. Unlike garden birds like blue tits that go searching for a place to nest each year, swifts use the same one each year – and new birds will only nest where others already are. And that’s where technology has come to the aid of the swift. Mark and his pals are able to broadcast swift calls near new sites and the birds will arrive. Because these boxes are purpose-built for swifts, they are as secure a place to bring up a family as exists. Dúlra remembers when he was young a pair of swifts used to nest high up in a neighbour’s gable wall, and every year we’d find a poor wee chick dead on the ground below – it had slipped out to its death. That will never happen in these new homes. Although Mark helped Dúlra put up four new swift boxes, he hasn’t got a caller system hooked up yet. But that’s soon to be solved – and he’s on a race against time to get it up and running to attract breeding pairs this year. A guy in Kerry is selling that very thing on the internet – Dúlra never thought anyone would think there’s a market for a ‘swift nest calling system’, but a least one buyer in Belfast is eagerly waiting every morning for the postman. * It’s a pity so few or our hedgerow hawthorns are allowed to grow to show off their glory – like this one at the gate of the Waterworks in North Belfast. A hawthorn is a small bushy tree that's often overlooked for grander ones, but it deserves to be loved. The famous Mayflower on this one was just starting to fade when Dúlra took this picture on Tuesday, but it still brightens up the Antrim Road. Birds love to nest in it and when those flowers turn to haws in the autumn, they’re gobbled up by thrushes. The mighty oak is the national tree of Ireland, but for Dúlra, the humble hawthorn has a good claim to that title. * If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.
IN 2001 I had the privilege of standing in the Relatives for Justice office as families received word of the legal ground shifting in Europe. The late Hugh Jordan, with his wife Theresa, came in. Parents of Pearse, killed by the RUC on the Falls Road, Theresa looked at me and asked “Did we win?” and I couldn’t speak. Yes, yes, she had won. They, with families from Tyrone, Lurgan and Castlederg had put the legal system for victims of state violence and collusion on trial and Europe agreed – Britain was systemically failing them under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They had set up the system to fail these families. In the intervening years, families have come to use the term Article 2 as shorthand. Shorthand for fairness, justice and their rights. If a process is Article 2-compliant it will work in their interest, if it is not Article 2-compliant it will operate to deny victims their rights. While the sharp end of Article 2 is about victims of state actions, it operates to serve all victims, no matter where they come from or who killed their loved ones. Look at the inquest of the victims of shoot to kill. It has not been heard yet, but the coroner, because of disclosure he has already received, has reopened the inquest of three RUC officers killed by the IRA in Kinnego. When justice is blind it serves all. That is precisely why the British Government is acting with menace against victims this week. Their determination to deny victims a participative, rights-compliant investigation is an attempt to revert to their good old bad days. The days when families turned up to inquests, without legal representation, to hear the state ask for public interest immunity certificates, to not hear those responsible compelled, to hear regurgitated lies proposed as official accounts, to come away feeling like they had been whitewashed with state impunity. Make no mistake this new process to “deal with the past” is state impunity whitewash, with the insult and spin of being “in victims’ interests”. Of course, Stormont House was imperfect – it left victims in the south and those with serious injuries out in the cold, for God’s sake. But this is worse. Serving no-one is worse. Pretending that the worries about Stormont House were unfixable with goodwill and a victim-centred approach serves the intentions of those abusing those failings to introduce this slap in the face to victims. In the coming days the pup will be put on sale. We will be asked to trust appointed commissioners. We will be told they will investigate. We will be told that reconciliation will be built. Appointed commissioners have never delivered to victims and survivors. None of them. The proposed investigations lack police powers or mandates, their purpose is to provide paper-based reports – families are sick to the back teeth of impunity-framed paper reviews instead of truth and justice. Reconciliation will never be built through the denial of basic human rights and the abuse of memory and truth. Families have been left behind in this peace process. There were given cursory acknowledgement in the Good Friday Agreement. They have since been cast as the uncomfortable visitors. This legislation perpetuates that treatment. It cannot stand.
Are you a woman who has thought of having a career in the TV or film industry? If so, you would have enjoyed the recent initiative from Paula Crickard head of post-production at Millennium studio Hollywood, LA.
I received great news the other day: my teacher, Ryushin Paul Haller, will be here in September to lead a retreat at Tobar Mhuire retreat house at Crossgar. This is another good sign that Covid must be over — just as I am witnessing a reduction in having to wear masks everywhere I go these days.
THE fierce and powerful Maya Angelou came to mind this week as last week’s election results transformed the political landscape. We have lived a painful history,we know the shameful past,but I keep on marching forward,and you keep on coming last. Our two islands’ future was changed by the results last week. Irish and British citizens in this jurisdiction voted incontrovertibly for the Good Friday Agreement and all of the international agreements upon which our peace relies. Stormont House, the NDNA and yes, the Protocol. A republican party led the way. Citizens voted in hundreds of thousands for a future based on human rights and equality, where we resolve our differences in negotiation and through law. Sadly, there is currently a disproportionate focus on the convulsions of those who refuse to face the present or the future. The DUP, TUV and LCC axis of the past resides in the place where they think saying NO and NEVER will garner them a better future, despite the lessons of the past 25 years.
DÚLRA never gave starlings a second thought. That stunning, sparkling coat is easily overlooked when they're scrounging for scraps on a city street. But after this week, he’s viewing them in a whole new light. The pair of birds nesting on Dúlra’s chimney are simply phenomenal. If there was a gong for parents of the year, they’d be the deserving winners. From dawn to dusk, they dart back and forth with food for their young like they were in an Olympic race. For some reason, the gardens in our street don’t cut the mustard, so they head off to a park a half a mile away where worms are obviously more plentiful. And then they power back up, beaks full, to feed those hungry mouths.
HYUNDAI has announced the i30 N Limited Edition, an exclusive special version of the high-performance Hyundai i30 N. This unique edition of the i30 delivers the same high-performance driving experience but with a distinctive exterior and interior design. The limited run of 800 units began production in the last week of April, with 75 vehicles destined for our market, but you better be quick. To develop this Limited Edition, Hyundai listened to feedback from Hyundai enthusiasts using market and media feedback and its community of Hyundai N fans who have for years been modifying their i30 vehicles. The exclusive edition is available in two body colours, Phantom Black Pearl and Serenity White Pearl. The i30 N Drive-N Limited Edition is equipped with the i30 N’s 2.0 T-GDi engine, with a peak power of 276bhp, combined with an eight-speed gearbox and three performance boost button functions for an even sportier experience.