Seven years of Irish rain

Tuesday has been the rainiest day of the past seven years according to data from Met Éireann.

An average of 4.97mm of rainfall has been recorded at Met Éireann’s 25 weather stations on Tuesdays, with a total of 1794mm recorded across the country between 1st January 2008 and 31st December 2014.

The driest day is Thursday, with an average of just 4.18mm and a total of 1510mm recorded in that time according to the available data.

The good news is that the two next driest days are the weekend; with Saturday seeing an average of 4.32mm and a total of 1559mm while Sunday is slightly higher with an average of 4.51mm and a total of 1630mm.

The wettest day of the past seven years was 6th September 2010 with an average of 31.24mm recorded at weather stations across the country on that day, including a high of 86.5mm at Knock Airport.

Rainfall for every day of the past seven years can be viewed on this interactive map.

The West and South-West of the country have seen the most rain, with Valentia Observatory in Kerry having recorded the most rain in the period, with a total of 11582mm although there was no data available yet for December 2014 for that station.

There was also no data available for December 2014 from Belmullet Automatic Weather Station, Malin Head AWS and Dublin Airport.

Next come Newport Automatic Weather Station, Knock Airport and Calremorris, all in Co. Mayo, with totals of 11200mm, 9628mm and 8829mm respectively.

Athenry Automatic Weather Station in Co. Galway also has a high average rainfall of 3.34mm per day but due to data only being available since 26th June 2011 for that station, it has the lowest recorded total rainfall of 3345mm.

Similarly, Gurteen Agri College in Tipperary only has data from 9th February 2008 and Finner Automatic Weather Station in Donegal only has data from 27th January 2011 due to a new weather station being installed there in November 2010.

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Travel Ireland Magazine

image: pixabay

image: pixabay

I was was recently appointed as Features Writer for Travel Ireland Magazine.

Travel Ireland Magazine is a tourist magazine aimed at culturally curious visitors to Ireland. I write pieces on festivals, exhibitions, theatre shows, shopping destinations and places to dine in Ireland.

The magazine is a monthly publication available in visitor centres, hotels, heritage sites and airports all over the country with a monthly readership of 135,000.

My work in the April issue can be found here.

“I lost the primary thing that held meaning to me for my adult life” – An interview with an activist who spent 16 years in a radical left-wing organisation that he now views as a political cult

Photo: Matthew Willis (circled far right) in January 2008, the last photo he took as an Uhuru Movement member. (C) Matthew Willis

A lot of people become more politically engaged in college as they meet new people and are opened up to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Matthew Willis, who graduated from college in Massachusetts in 1992, certainly found himself becoming more politically engaged during his college years, coinciding as they did with the First Gulf War. He became involved in civil disobedience against the war, including a sit-in at Mac-Dill Airforce Base in Florida. These actions did little to prevent the war and Matthew became demoralised by the failure of the protest movement and his politics became further radicalised. “I wanted something with more power than the ‘peace movement’ seemed to have,” he says of that time.

This was also the time of the Los Angeles riots. The riots followed the acquittal on charges of assault and use of excessive force of four police officers after they had been filmed beating a black man named Rodney King. The riots were the biggest seen in America since the 1960s and Matthew felt a sense of solidarity with the black community, who were rebelling against the treatment that they were receiving from the LA police force. He began listening to Public Enemy and old Malcolm X speeches, and not long after he finished college he moved to Oakland, California, where his brother lived.

With no job, Matthew had time on his hands. “There was an interesting little coffee shop near where I was staying called Uhuru Café, which had a big red, black and green silhouette of Africa hanging in front,” he says. “Since I wasn’t working, I would go in there, order a coffee and read sometimes during the day. The coffee was good, I liked the atmosphere and I was also intrigued that the workers seemed to all be white even though the place gave off a ‘black power’ vibe.”

This was where Matthew first came in to contact with the Uhuru Movement, an organisation to which he would dedicate a large chunk of the next 16 years of his life.

It started when Matthew was reading a book of speeches by Malcolm X, and the woman behind the counter asked what he thought of it, engaging him in a discussion about Malcolm X. “She also introduced me to the politics of Uhuru. I was happy to have someone to talk and debate politics with, and challenged by her position that I had ‘white left’ views, which were reactionary from an Uhuru Movement perspective,” he says of this woman.

“White left is a term used by Uhuru to describe sectors of marginalized whites – working class, women, gays, etc – who are able to acknowledge their own contradictions, view themselves as oppressed and do political work to change things for themselves, but who are unable to recognize themselves as members of a colonizer nation who benefit from colonialism despite any oppression they might experience, and who will unite with the ruling class against colonized peoples’ interests when push comes to shove,” Matthew explains.

The Uhuru Movement is a radical organisation that grew from the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and is centred on the principles of Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism advocates the political and economic liberation of black Africans on the continent of Africa and those of African descent living elsewhere in the world. The movement is headed by chairman Omali Yeshitela, the leader of the African People’s Socialist Party, which was founded in 1972. The party believes that the US government and nation were founded on “the genocide of Native people, the theft of their land, and the forcible, dispersal, enslavement and colonization of millions of African people”.

According to the beliefs of the party, this means that the existence of people of African descent in the US amounts to colonialism and that colonialism is the biggest problem that black people in America face. Also under the umbrella of the Uhuru Movement is the African People’s Solidarity Committee, a group for white people who support the aims of the APSP. This is the group that Matthew came to join after he was invited to attend an event in East Oakland.

“It was electrifying,” he says of that first event. “It was the first time I heard Omali Yeshitela. I was also invited to volunteer at a fundraiser, selling sausages at an outdoor festival that was going to happen in Marin. I attended and had a good experience meeting interesting and nice people and being appreciated for my work.” That day, July 4 1992, was the first of many volunteer shifts that Matthew would put in over the next 16 years as he became heavily involved with the APSC and the Uhuru Movement.

Initially, things went well for Matthew. “I rose pretty high into the leadership in the African People’s Solidarity Committee,” he says of that time. “I was in the Political Bureau, which is the highest body in APSC (and the only white male to have ever achieved that level of leadership up to that point).”

“I was the local chairman of the Oakland unit. I had a reputation for producing the best propaganda in the entire movement.”

On top of this, Matthew did a lot of other work for the movement. “I produced artwork and literature, provided IT support, participated in fundraisers such as street fairs and bake sales, drove around in a truck to pick up and move furniture donations, did phone banking, participated in multiple weekly meetings, organized events, represented myself as a spokesperson, participated in civil disobedience and donated a significant portion of the money I could earn working at for-pay jobs,” he says.

However, things began to take a turn for the worse for Matthew in 2004 when he was put under pressure to move to St Petersburg in Florida, where the leadership of the Uhuru Movement is concentrated. This relocation was a common thing for Uhuru leaders to be called to do, but Matthew was resistant.

“The idea of uprooting from a place I had lived for 13 or so years to a place where I had no interest in living, where I’d have no job, no income and no network of people outside of the few people I worked with in Uhuru was something I essentially dreaded,” he says.

This reluctance caused trouble with his superiors within the movement. Matthew was declared as “being in struggle”, a move that he believes was made to intensify the pressure on him to relocate to St Petersburg. “’Being in struggle’ is to be in state of political backwardness, where one can do nothing right, and evidence for one’s political backwardness is presented in almost every meeting,” he explains. “When one is ‘in struggle’ he or she is usually stripped of some leadership. In my case, I was expelled from the political bureau. He or she is also expected to submit to a ‘rectification process’. In my case, it was to move to Florida, as was expected of me, and proving myself worthy through assisting APSP.”

And so Matthew found himself forced to move to Florida. Once he was there things did not go well. He was assigned to work with a party member for whom he felt he couldn’t do anything right. “She hated me and would regularly complain about me to the leadership.” This eventually led to Matthew being expelled from the APSC in 2006 and set to do “mass work”. Matthew tried his best to keep his head down, carry out his mass work and return to the party’s good graces but the resentment was building up inside.

“I was growing tired and resentful of working my ass off and getting nothing but disdain and unfair criticism from the people around me as thanks,” he says. “I resented having been bullied to move to St Petersburg where I hated it. I figured I could work hard in the mass work, limit the number of meetings I needed to attend and avoid the kind of criticism I had experienced as an APSC member.”

Throughout this time, Matthew was subjected to regular group criticism sessions. “I’d be denounced by members higher up in the Solidarity Committee and then the meeting would be ‘opened up’ so that other attendees could demonstrate their allegiance by agreeing with the denunciation and expressing in their own words how they experienced my shortcomings,” he says of these meetings.

The criticism ranged from valid things like falling short of a deadline, to strange things such as being accused of failing to produce some work that actually had been produced. “I remember sitting in one meeting where I was severely criticized for having ‘sabotaged’ the process of creating an important graphic that I had been assigned to create, listening to these terrible denunciations of me while looking at stacks of the recently published newspaper with the graphic I had supposedly sabotaged being the primary image on the front page.”

Things came to a head in February 2008 when Matthew attended a meeting where he made some criticisms of a paper that had been written, “instead of saying how much I agreed with it, and how profound it was, which was what was expected of everyone in these types of situations”.

“This culminated in receiving a long, wild diatribe accusing me of having done all sorts of terrible things over the years. A week or so later, I was called by a Political Bureau member and told that I was expelled from the mass work and I was no longer welcome to do anything,” he says. “A week or so after that, I was asked to attend a meeting where things could be ‘summed up’. This meeting proved to be nothing more than a kangaroo court, where party leaders could have an opportunity to endorse the content of the email. After that I was banished and shunned.”

Some of the things that Matthew was accused of were reproduced in this article and include accusations of Matthew being a sexual predator, an accusation that Matthew strongly denies. “Most of the leaders in APSC are women who come from radical feminist separatist political roots. While straight, white men are allowed to do work in the ‘Solidarity Movement’ there is a certain level of hostility one will experience,” he explains. “That political environment, coupled with the desire to defame my character with anything they could come up with is why that claim was made.”

After his banishment, Matthew felt somewhat lost. “For several years, I felt humiliation, shame, anger, terror, bitterness and hopelessness,” he says. “I lost the primary thing that held meaning to me for my adult life, along with many of my deepest friends.” Despite this he says he also felt some relief. “I was no longer accountable to the unreasonable demands I had sunken into after all those years as an Uhuru zealot,” he explains.

As time wore on, Matthew began to believe that the movement that he had been involved in was a political cult. In particular he cites Ideological Intransigence, Democratic Centralism and Cultism by Denis Tourish as an influence on his thinking. “Tourish spent 11 years as a member of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), was able to understand it as a political cult and write about his observations,” he says. “Substitute the names of the leaders and heroes mentioned in his essay with the Uhuru pantheon, and the story is exactly the same.”

Despite his experience, Matthew’s political beliefs remain intact. “My fundamental political beliefs remained unaltered,” he says. “After a while I discovered a number of individuals – many of whom were also Uhuru expatriates – to work with to act upon my leftist political views.” One of these individuals is Courtland Rowles, who had a similar experience in APSC and, like Matthew, believes that the organisation is a political cult.

“There was definitely good that came of it,” he says, when asked if he completely regrets his involvement with the movement. “I think their political and economic theories are mostly correct and I’m glad to be well versed in them.”

Things are less hectic for Matthew now, but he still stays involved with leftist politics. “I donate money and time to various organizations and activists on a case-by-case basis. I’ve helped build a few events. I’ve attended some local demonstrations to denounce police brutality,” he says. “I am much quieter politically now, but the fundamental convictions that led me to Uhuru remain with me.”

And does he think that the goal of the Uhuru Movement is achievable?

“Sadly, it seems most likely to me that humans will become extinct relatively soon and take a number of more innocent species with us as we go down,” he says before warning, “If the goal of African liberation is achievable, it will require as part of the process the exposing of the tendency on the left for organizations to function as political cults.”

The African People’s Solidarity Committee have not yet responded to requests for comment on this article. This article will be updated if they choose to do so.

 

This article originally appeared on www.contributoria.com on 1st April 2015 and was republished in The Big Issue South Africa on 15th April 2015.

First Fortnight articles

I was lucky enough to be involved with the media team for this year’s First Fortnight festival. First Fortnight is an annual festival that takes place in January. The aim of the festival is to challenge mental health awareness through the creative arts.

First Fortnight also run an art therapy centre and I spoke to Louise and Eithne from the centre who explain what art therapy is and how it can help those who are experiencing mental ill health.

I also spoke to festival headliners We Cut Corners about their involvement with the festival and their charity version of ‘Stop The Cavalry’ that they released this year.

I really enjoyed being a very small part of such a great festival and hope to help out again in future years.

Where to Now for Ireland?

Football corner

image: pixabay

In the weeks leading up to Euro 2012, the country was bathed in glorious sunshine and as the green, white and orange bunting began to appear on many houses, a sense of optimism began to grip a nation which has had its fair share of doom and gloom of late. However the weather has since turned and now the bunting hangs limp and nearly lifeless from the same houses, effectively mirroring the hopes of the Irish football team after two demoralising defeats against Croatia and Spain led to us becoming the first team to be knocked out of the competition.

 

While Group C was always going to be a tough group to get out of, no one expected Ireland to do quite as badly as we’ve done so far. Indeed, there was optimism that we could get a result in the opening game but this hope was quashed within three minutes when Mario Mandzukic’s header crept past Shay Given to set the tone for our European Championship campaign. Giovanni Trappattoni has said that we have made silly mistakes that we have not made in the past and while there is much to criticise Trappattoni for it is hard to disagree with that assessment.

 

It seems that the big occasion has gotten to even our most senior players, with the likes of Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane performing way below the level Irish fans are used to seeing at these championships. You would expect such experienced players to not be affected by the big occasion but the shot of the players lined up in the tunnel before the Spain game painted a worrying picture. The Spanish players looked calm, relaxed and focused while the Irish players looked tense and fearful. It was all downhill from there and while most would expect Spain to beat Ireland, the manner of the defeat was quite unexpected. In the past, Irish teams cold be expected to fight and battle against superior opposition and while we may not always get a positive result we would not disgrace ourselves in the way that we did on Thursday night.

 

There is a quite valid argument that we just don’t have the quality of player that we had when we qualified for previous finals tournaments and we are sorely lacking leadership on the pitch. In the past we could count on players such as McCarthy or Keane to cajole and demand the maximum level of performance from the players around them. As great a servant as Robbie Keane has been for Ireland, he’s not that type of inspirational captain and there are very few other candidates for that role. The hope is that we may salvage some pride against Italy on Monday but after that, where to next for Irish football?

 

Shay Given has already said that he is considering his international future and Damien Duff has also said he’s made up his mind on his, although he has not yet revealed what those intentions are. So the Irish team that begins the World Cup qualifying campaign could look quite different to the eleven that lines up against Italy. There are several questions that need to be asked though. Do we have the players to replace the possible retirees? Is Trap the right manager to take us forward? And are we in a position to produce international quality payers in the future?

 

The first two questions are intertwined to some degree. Yes, we have a number of players, young and slightly older, who could come in and potentially improve the side but will Trappatonni be willing to play these players or alter his system from the rigid, defensive 4-4-2 that has been his trademark since he took over the Irish side? Young players, such as Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Sane Duffy and Robbie Brady have all shown promise despite missing out on travelling to the Euros for various reasons. Then there are older players such as Keith Fahy, who missed out trough injury, and Wes Hoolahan, who could come in and play in a three man midfield which is favoured by most international sides. Hoolahan and Fahy are also a lot more comfortable on the ball than our current midfielders and could possibly allow us to play a more attractive brand of football. The likes of Swansea and Norwich have shown in the Premier League this season that it is possible to play attractive football and have success in spite of being one of the smaller fish in the footballing pond.

 

Then there is the Robbie Keane conundrum. If we were to change to a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation and style then there may not be room for Ireland’s all time leading scorer. The likes of Long, Doyle or Walters would surely be more suited to the lone striker role and Keane may have to settle for a role off the bench if we are trying to nick a goal late on in games. Of course these are all probably moot points because Trappatonni is very unlikely to change his style in spite of the overwhelming evidence that changes are required. What is even more baffling is that Wm Koovermans, the recently departed Technical Director of the FAI, had all of our underage sides playing 4-3-3.

 

Perhaps this disconnect between the underage and senior set ups contributed to Koovermans deciding to leave his post and take up the role of Indian national team manager. There are undoubtedly huge problems facing Ireland if we are to produce players for the future. The lack of any proper academy or coaching set up is a major problem and we essentially rely on English academies to develop our players. There is also the problem, as pointed out over the weekend by Ger O’Brien of St. Patrick’s Athletic, of the way our young players are coached at an early age with all of the emphasis on winning and not enough time spent developing young player’s technical ability.

 

Apart from the myriad of internal problems there is also the threat of losing players to other sports. The GAA and Irish rugby have far more professional set ups (despite the GAA being an amateur organisation) and there is every chance that a young player who is gifted in several of these codes would choose GAA or rugby over the shambles that is the FAI set up. Even from the point of view of fan interest the FAI are losing out, rarely filling the Aviva stadium for international matches while the likes of the Leinster and Irish rugby teams regularly fill the same stadium for Six Nations and Heineken Cup games. With the FAI seemingly unwilling to invest in improving the League of Ireland it is pretty easy to understand why someone would choose to spend what little disposable income they have these days on a trip to Thomand Park or the RDS to watch Munster or Leinster rather than visit a run down League of Ireland stadium. The League of Ireland will never be able to compete with the likes of the Premier League in terms of quality and finance but there is quality there, as evidenced by the fact that there are five players in the European Championship squad who started out in the League of Ireland and this would have been six had Keith Fahy not been forced to withdraw through injury. If the FAI showed more of an interest in developing the League and developing youth players the right way the benefits could be enormous in the long run but again, I fear this is mere wishful thinking.

 

So there is much to be concerned about in relation to the future of Irish football. Roy Keane was critical of the Irish fans going along to major tournaments just for the sing song regardless of the quality of the performance but the real worry is whether we will ever get the opportunity to have the sing song again.

This article originally appeared on Tattooed Football in June 2012

The Great Player Merry-Go-Round

football

image: pixabay

So you’ve just won just won your domestic league title and enjoyed an historic run in Europe that’s brought unprecedented attention and acclaim to your club. If you were a player playing for a club in most of the big leagues in Europe you wouldn’t be expecting to have to sign on the dole a few short weeks after such a successful season but that is the harsh reality that some of the playing staff of Shamrock Rovers will have had to face once their season ended after the home defeat to Spurs in the Europa League in December. The Rovers players were not the only ones who had to deal with this situation as it has become the norm for nearly every player plying their trade in the League of Ireland.

 

In a league that has never been blessed with high attendances or huge revenue streams, the economic downturn in Ireland has certainly bitten clubs in the League of Ireland hard and most players are now only able to secure 40 week contracts which cover the length of the season they sign for. In Rovers’ case, of the players signed for the 2011 season, only five were signed to contracts of longer than one year. While several players have since signed on for the 2012 season, eight players have left the club and a further three remain out of contract. With five new players signed so far for next season, the Rovers squad is already beginning to look radically different from the one that achieved such success in 2011.

 

Of the players who have left, two are exciting young prospects (and Irish under 21 internationals) who will be hoping to make an impact for the English sides that have snapped them up. Left back Enda Stevens was signed by Aston Villa in the summer transfer window but allowed to see out the season with Rovers before officially becoming a Villa player this month while striker Karl Sheppard has tread the by now well worn path from the League of Ireland to sign for Reading. Sheppard will be hoping to form a striking partnership with another ex-Rovers player, Noel Hunt.

 

Of the other players who have left, high profile summer signing Rohan Ricketts has announced on his website that he is looking for a club in England and will not be returning for the 2012 season, defender Pat Flynn has signed for St. Patricks Athletic and it has been announced that club captain Dan Murray will not be signing a new contract.

 

Meanwhile, right back Pat Sullivan, scorer of the wonder goal against Partizan Belgrade that helped Rovers in to the Europa League group stages, will also not be returning as he is taking a break from football to travel in Australia for a year. At the age of 29 it could be that Sullivan may not return to football at all which would be a shame as he was a solid and consistent performer and will be a great loss to the Rovers defence.

 

As things stand, both of the goalkeepers who played in the second half of last season have yet to sign new contracts. Jamaican Ryan Thompson, who became something of a cult figure in his season in Tallaght, has not yet signed a new contract but has stated on Twitter that he would be open to a return while Englishman Richard Brush is also out of contract and there have been rumours that he his ready to quit football to become an undertaker of all things!

 

On the credit side Rovers have signed defender Graham Gartland, who was released from his contract with St. Johnstone earlier this month and should prove a capable replacement for departed skipper Murray, provided he steers clear of the injuries that have blighted his career so far. Left back Conor Powell has also been signed and should prove an excellent replacement for the departed Stevens. After less than successful spells with Colchester and Sligo Rovers in 2011, Powell will be hoping to regain the form that saw him being talked up by Giovanni Trappatoni as a potential international player a few short years ago. Striker Daryl Kavanagh and skilful winger Killian Brennan have also been added to the squad, signing from St. Pats and Bohemians respectively, and should add healthy competition for places in the starting eleven.

 

Rovers will also be starting the season under a new manager after the departure of Michael O’Neill, who has subsequently been appointed as the manager of Northern Ireland. Stephen Kenny has left his post as manager of Derry City and has returned to his native Tallaght to take on the job of managing Rovers. Kenny has an impressive track record in League of Ireland football since being appointed as manager of Longford Town at the age of 27. Having won promotion with Longford and taken them to an FAI Cup final, he has subsequently won a League of Ireland Championship with Bohemians and four League of Ireland Cups and an FAI cup in two spells with Derry.

 

Kenny also guided Derry to a third place finish in the Premier Division last year in their first season back at that level, having been demoted to the First Division due to financial problems. While he may not have been as successful as he would have liked in his spell in charge of Scottish side Dunfirmline, Kenny’s record in Ireland speaks for itself and Rovers fans should be confident that their club is in good hands under his watch. There is a possibility that Rovers may even play a more attractive brand of football under Kenny than the long ball game that O’Neill liked to pay at times.

 

With so much upheaval in terms of player turnover at the club it may be difficult for Rovers to emulate the feats of last season and it also makes it difficult for fans to become attached to players when it is possible that the player will only be with the club for a season, or even less. This is a problem all across the League, as can be seen from the huge change in personnel at most clubs. For example, St. Patrick’s Athletic have signed 11 new players while 10 have left and Bohemians have signed 12 new players with 9 leaving. Sligo Rovers, who finished second in the League and won the FAI Cup, playing an attractive brand of passing football under former Wolves and Coventry player Paul Cook, had no players under contract once the season ended in November. While they have since re-signed a number of players from last season as well as signing a couple of new recruits, it shows that the close season can be a worrying time for almost every player in the league as they hope for a new contract from either their previous or new employers.

 

Stephen McGuinness of the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI), spoke recently on RTE radio about the steps the PFAI have taken to assist players who are out of contract. As well as setting up a training camp for out of contract players in an effort to help them find a new club, the PFAI tries to provide some financial support to players who wish to further their education and has even contributed money to some players who were unable to make their mortgage payments during the close season.

 

McGuinness also spoke of his hope that Ireland’s qualification for Euro 2012 will result in a financial windfall for the FAI which will allow them to provide more assistance to clubs. While it would be great if the FAI were to provide more assistance to clubs or even spend more promoting the League in an effort to get more fans through the turnstiles, it is more likely that the debt ridden association will be using any money earned from Ireland’s European adventure to repay some of the loan that was taken out to build the Aviva Stadium.

 

It is an unfortunate fact that the current situation of players scrambling around for a new club every year may be the norm for the foreseeable future. When the season kicks off in March many players will be pulling on a jersey with a different crest than the one they wore last year, knowing that they may be wearing a different crest again in 2013. It’s a far from ideal situation for all concerned and yet the league is still producing quality players, with five former League of Ireland players having played for Ireland in the past year.

 

What a shame the FAI doesn’t focus more on promoting the league. With such drama unfolding before a ball has even been kicked every year, it surely wouldn’t be a hard story to sell!

This article originally appeared on Tattooed Football in January 2012

The five gigs that marked a year of change

gig

image: pixabay

It took until about halfway through the second pint before the hangover started to recede. The night before had been a late, booze soaked evening and it was only now that the enormity of my decision was hitting home. Standing alone by the bar of Whelan’s in Dublin on that late March evening, watching Tokyo Police Club, my head was a whirl. I was meant to be reviewing the gig but my mind was elsewhere. I’d never been unemployed before. How was I going to survive? Would I be able to pay the rent? Am I mad leaving a secure job to try and become a writer? These were just some of the questions that were addling my sleep-deprived brain as David Monks and his band-mates wowed the hip people in the trendy beards with songs I’d never heard of; ‘Nature of the Experiment’, ‘Breakneck Speed’. At least I could relate to the titles.

I knew that leaving my job was the right move. I’d stuck it out for seven years, mainly because the recession had hit a year after I’d started and staying in a place where a regular pay cheque was forthcoming seemed like a sensible move. But as the years rolled by, I was growing more and more frustrated. I knew I was meant to be doing something else. Something that I could approach with passion and fire in my belly. I had always wanted to write for a living and had finally decided to take steps in that direction by starting a diploma in journalism the previous September.

From the first class I was hooked and I knew that I had finally found what it was that I wanted to do with my life after a very long and drawn out search. I didn’t care about the warnings from the lecturers about there being very little work because of declining revenues, that you had to be the very best and work extremely long hours to even stand a chance of making it in this ultra-competitive world. I wanted this and I wanted it badly. I wanted to write. I wanted to interview people. I wanted to chase down stories. This is what I was meant to be doing, the furnace inside me had finally started blazing. I knew I had to build up some experience though and so I decided to start writing on a voluntary basis for a music website in Dublin. Combining my love for music and my love for writing seemed like a good place to start but I couldn’t possibly imagine where it would lead.

It initially led to that night in Whelan’s, recovering from my leaving do the night before. I’d finally made the decision to leave my job and attempt to make it in the world of journalism. I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction of co-workers and friends when I told them what I intended to do. Instead of telling me I was mad, every single person told me that I was making the right move, that I should pursue my dream. Some even said that they were proud of me. Even strangers told me they admired what I was doing, with the exception of a woman that I met on 1 June.

This stranger was a girl that I got chatting to after the Forbidden Fruit festival. It had been a sun-soaked weekend, with a storming performance from hip-hop veterans Public Enemy proving to be the highlight. Like most of the high spirited, colourfully dressed revellers, I didn’t want the weekend to end after 2 Many DJ’s had dropped the metaphorical curtain on proceedings. How could we head home when it wasn’t even dark yet? We headed to the nearest pub in Kilmainham to indulge in the post-gig pints.

Out in the smoking area, a girl approached me looking for a cigarette and we got chatting. As the conversation flowed, I told her about leaving my job to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. She told me I was mad, a comment that I would have brushed off if it wasn’t for the fact that she was a journalist so she obviously knew what she was talking about.

Despite her firing a giant ball of flaming realism at my poorly constructed temple of dreams, there was something intriguing and attractive about this girl. She was ballsy and not afraid to speak her mind and there was something warm yet cheeky about her smile. She must have felt at least some sort of attraction to me too, as we ended up sharing a kiss that night, although I thought that would be the end of it. I texted her the next day and she told me she wasn’t interested in dating someone without a job. ‘Fair enough and quite understandable,’ I thought but we kept on chatting throughout the day and I must have worn her down a little or made some sort of a decent impression because she got back in touch the following week and we went for a drink.

I hadn’t been in a serious relationship in about ten years but I couldn’t have been happier when I my phone beeped with a text saying ‘alright then, I’ll be your missus’. We were stood watching Paul Weller at the time, back in Kilmainham where we had met a few weeks previously. She was standing right beside me and could have just said it aloud but there was something really sweet about this confident, gregarious woman suddenly coming over all shy. I knew that something special was happening.

As the summer wore on, we found ourselves sitting in a box overlooking The Olympia stage, her had wrapped warmly around mine, watching Eels deliver a set that bounced from melancholy to euphoria and back again, held together by the wonderfully self-effacing Mark Oliver Everett. Maybe it was the warm, fuzzy feeling that the gig left inside of us but afterwards she told me she loved me for the first time and I had no hesitation in telling her that I loved her too. All a bit of a whirlwind in some ways but it never would have happened if I hadn’t decided to leave my job and start writing.

The money is running thin and the ‘thanks but no thanks’ emails regularly pop into my inbox in response to job applications. My bills are overdue and my rent is in arrears, but as we stood in Whelan’s and she thanked me for introducing her to the music of Strand of Oaks, who were tearing up the stage in front of us, I knew that if journalism doesn’t give me anything else, it has given me her. That’s a gift that I never could have imagined receiving when I started out on this journey.

This article originally appeared on Contributoria on 1 December 2014

Income inequality: how big is the gap between Ireland’s rich and poor?

In July of this year, 39 families were made homeless in Dublin, Ireland’s capital city. In that same month, a report found that one in every 40 people living in the same city could be classed as a millionaire. While the criteria for measuring millionaires in that report may have its flaws; on the face of it, it would seem that with so many wealthy residents and so many residents who are being made homeless due to their financial situation, Ireland has a problem when it comes to income equality.

While we have turned a corner in terms of unemployment statistics and we have a welfare system that is effective at preventing people from falling into poverty, there are some warning signs that Ireland is failing some of the most vulnerable members of society, including children and those who are living with disabilities. These issues need to be addressed if Ireland is ensure that we do not become like New Zealand, a country of similar size to our own in terms of population. New Zealand’s income gap grew significantly in the 1980’s and 1990’s and there are some who argue that this gap is yet to be closed.

After sweeping economic reforms and deregulation of labour markets in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the gap between New Zealand’s rich and poor began to climb significantly. This has led to New Zealand being ranked 20th among the 34 OECD countries in 2010 in terms of income inequality. As a consequence of this, New Zealand now has high rates of mental illness, drug use, teenage birth rates and levels of imprisonment in comparison to other OECD countries. There are organisations, such as Closing the Gap who are working to highlight this issue in New Zealand but as yet in Ireland, we do not have such organisations. So is it time that we took a closer look at addressing Ireland’s income inequality issue, or is the issue as bad as it seems at first glance?

There are a number of positives that Ireland has in its favour according to Dr. Donal de Buitléir, Director of PublicPolicy.ie, an independent body that carries out research on public policy issues that affect the citizens of Ireland. “We have a very progressive tax system,” he says, before going on to add that, “Before the tax and transfer system comes into operation, half the people in the country are at risk of poverty. After that system operates it is one in six.”

This is a good sign and Dr. de Buitléir is also very keen to point out that Ireland’s social welfare system is one of the most effective in protecting against poverty. While this is encouraging to hear when one is worried about income inequality, his colleague Cormac O’Sullivan explains that this is necessary. “We have an incredibly, by European standards, unequal distribution of market income,” explains Cormac, before going on to add that, “We’ve got a very progressive tax system and we’ve got a decent welfare system that’s good at preventing poverty but we need to have a very progressive system and a very good welfare system to counteract our natural unequal distribution of market income.”

Dr. de Buitléir is also sceptical of the report that claims one in every 40 people in Dublin is a millionaire. “The plain fact is we have no information on personal wealth in this country,” he says. However this could well be addressed soon as the Irish Central Bank are currently carrying out a survey on people’s personal wealth. This will allow PublicPolicy.ie and others to properly analyse the finanical situation of Ireland’s citizens for the first time. At the moment, as Cormac explains, “When we’re looking at inequality, we can only look at the income component and then of course you’ll say something about income inequality and people will say ‘well what about people with high mortgages?’ They might have high income and be alright in the income equality statistics but you might have a high mortgage. So for the first time we’re actually going to have information on people’s asset positions.”

This is sure to make for an interesting study when the figures are available and it may well give a clearer picture of Ireland’s income distribution. As Dr. de Builtéir explains, there is a big difference between a person earning €30,000 per year but is paying a large mortgage and another person who is earning the same amount but inherited their home from a parent. For this reason, Dr. de Buitléir says that he is in favour of an inheritance tax in Ireland although he acknowledges that this would be difficult to implement in a country where farmers have historically passed on land to their children. Although he also points out that, “The evidence is that land that is passed on is much less efficient than land that’s bought.”

When looking at the statistics, it would seem that Ireland is broadly in line with the rest of Europe. “On the two numbers on the Gini we, after the tax and transfer system, we’re actually not too far off the EU average. On the quintile ratio we’re pretty much bang on, slightly better,” says Dr. de Buitléir. What he is speaking of here is the Gini Coefficient, which measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income in a country. 100% on the Gini Coefficient would imply complete inequality, with one person in the country holding all of the wealth. The EU average Gini Coefficient score is 30% and Ireland’s score currently stands at 31%. However, as Cormac explains, the Gini Coefficient only shows the overall picture of inequality and doesn’t show where that inequality exists, for example, is it between the top earners and the middle income earners or the top earners and the bottom earners? This is why the quintile ratios are also important as they measure the differences between different income groups in a society. In Ireland, as Donal explains, “Its 5.0 and the EU average from memory is 5.1.” So would it be fair to say that Ireland is in a pretty good place when it comes to income inequality? “I don’t think the data would support that it’s worse than anywhere else,” says Donal before adding, “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be better.”

Cormac agrees that there are encouraging signs for Ireland. “The jobs figures so far have been really encouraging and in terms of social policy, in terms of protecting people from poverty, in terms of decreasing inequality that’s a really good sign,” he says although he also notes that, “We’re going to join the rest of Europe as it were in sort of worrying about working poor and those issues but that’s a better place than where we are now when we have non-working poor.”

This evidence seems to show that Ireland, although still with its problems, is not the most unequal society and we are in a pretty good place in terms of tackling income inequality. But increased levels of homelessness and protests at water charges that are going to heap more financial burden on to already stretched families seem to tell a different story and Donal and Cormac point out a statistic that may explain why so many families are so stretched. This is the jobless household figure, or very low work intensity. “The percentage of persons aged between 18 and 59, excluding students, who are in households which are working less than one fifth of the time in Ireland in 2012 was 23.4% which is the highest in the EU by a distance,” says Dr. de Builtéir. “These are people who don’t necessarily turn up in the unemployment statistics because the unemployment rate is 11.2% so they might not be caught in that statistic,” explains Cormac.

What is even more alarming is that, according to the Work and Poverty in Ireland, 2004-2010 study carried out by Dorothy Watson, Bertrand Maitre and Christopher T. Whelan, of those in the jobless household figures;

“Eighteen per cent are adults with a disability and 41 per cent are people who live in a household with one or more adults with a disability. In almost one third of cases, the householder had no educational qualifications, or was unemployed. A quarter of all children are in jobless households, and they represent one third of the total jobless household population”

It would seem that while Ireland may not be the most unequal society in the world, we may be letting down those who are in the most need of our help.

This article originally appeared on Contributoria.com on 1 October 2014

10 Acts you must see at Electric Picnic 2014

The big one is almost upon us. The rousing climax of the festival season. Yes, this coming weekend will see the 11th Electric Picnic gloriously spring to life in Stradbally Estate in the little county of Laois. It’s been sold out for a few weeks now and if you’re lucky enough to have secured one of the hottest tickets in town, then have a gander below at 10 acts that we reckon you should check out over the weekend. With so much to do and see, there could have been 50 acts in this list. In fact, you could go to the picnic and not see a band all weekend and still have the time of your life. With that in mind, do let us know what acts you’re looking forward to seeing in the comments section and check out the Spotify playlist of our 10 top picks below.

Chic featuring Nile Rodgers – Saturday | Main Stage | 12.30am-1.45am

Chic and Nile Rodgers have been enjoying quite the resurgence of late, thanks in no small part to Mr. Rodgers’ collaborations with the likes of Daft Punk and Avicii. They also have a hugely impressive back catalogue of their own from which to draw on and their live shows are a joyous experience. If you don’t find yourself dancing to one of their many infectious disco hits then you could very well be dead inside.

St. Vincent – Sunday | Electric Arena Stage | 7pm-8pm

Annie Clark’s show with David Byrne at last year’s picnic was reportedly one of the highlights of the weekend. Since then she’s released her eponymous fourth album as St. Vincent and what an album it is. She’s built up a reputation for her exceptional live performances and her set this weekend is sure to go down a storm. Not to be missed.

Tucan – Sunday | The Mobile Home Stage, Trailer Park Area | 11.30pm

Tucan will bring their phenomenal musicianship and unique take on some well known tunes to the Mobile Home Stage in the Trailer Park on Sunday night at 11.30pm. The Sligo natives originally started out as a duo but have expanded to an 8 piece ban in recent times, with a brass section being added to flesh out their sound even further. If you’re looking for an alternative to the bigger acts to close out the weekend, then look no further than these guys.

New Secret Weapon – Friday | The Salty Dog Stage

The Salty Dog Stage in the forest is where you can find New Secret Weapon, and we recommend you do seek them out. The trio took their time from their first meeting at Kockanstockan to finally releasing their debut album earlier this year but that was time well spent honing their incredible sound. If any band will shiver your timbers this weekend then it will most likely be New Secret Weapon.

Cathy Davey – Saturday | Rankin’s Wood Stage | 5.30pm-6pm

With three critically acclaimed albums released in the past decade, Cathy Davey is one of Ireland’s foremost singer-songwriters. Her magnificent voice is something to behold and not only will she be wowing the crowds in Stradbally this year, she will also be doing her bit to help abandoned horses over the course of the weekend and there’s talk of secret gigs being lined up as well so expect to see a lot of Ms. Davey this weekend.

We Cut Corners – Saturday | Electric Arena | 4.45pm-5.30pm

School teachers by day and dynamic musical duo by night, these musical superheroes deliver a whole heap of clever, poetic lyrics over stomping tunes and will leave a lasting impression on those that see them live this weekend. Their second album ‘Think Nothing’ is a 27 minute tour de force of perfect, intelligent pop songs, at times rocky and at time melodic and quiet but always engaging, We Cut Corners are one of the finest Irish bands operating at the moment.

The Stranglers – Saturday | Main Stage | 2pm-3pm

One of the great things about the picnic is the fact that they mix the best new acts with some of the biggest names from years gone by. We don’t want to call them heritage acts because that’s a bit disingenuous – let’s go with culturally important instead. This year there are a few to choose from, with Chic who we’ve mentioned above, Pet Shop Boys and Blondie playing over the weekend. But the culturally important act that we’re most looking forward to is The Stranglers. Now in their fortieth year and with 17 albums behind them, these punk rock pioneers are surer to deliver a show not to be missed.

Ásgeir – Sunday | Cosby Stage | 8.15pm-9pm

Iceland has a third of the population of Dublin but when it comes to producing major international music artists, this nation on the edge of Europe punches well above its weight. The latest sensation to come from Iceland is Ásgeir, a 22 year old singer-songwriter who has been building up quite a reputation over the past year or so. Championed by Icelandic resident John Grant, who helped out with the English language version of Ásgeir’s album ‘Dýrð í dauðaþögn’ (In The Silence), this gig could very well turn out to be one of those “I was there,” moments that the picnic often throws up.

HamsandwicH – Sunday | Heineken Electric Arena | 3pm

With album number three in the works, HamsandwicH will hit the stage in Stradbally on a high following on from their biggest headline show yet in the Olympia earlier this year and supporting Pixies and Arcade Fire earlier this summer in Marlay Park. Their joyous live shows, that showcase Podge and Niamh’s wonderfully juxtaposed vocals over a remarkably tight band that has been augmented by a brass section recently, are not to be missed. And let’s face it, you can’t have a picnic without a few ham sambos.

Dublin Gospel Choir – Sunday | Main Stage | 1pm-2pm

So you wake up on Sunday morning, you’ve been sleeping in a tent for two days and living on warm cans and noodles. It could even have been raining so you’re feeling a little cold and miserable and you’re utterly fed up with baby wipe showers. You know there’s another day of great music to come today but you just aren’t feeling it. You dream of being at home, sitting in front of the fire after a steaming hot shower, waiting for the Chinese food you’ve ordered. You know that’s not right though and you have to get through this last day. There must be something that can pick up your flagging spirits and give you that second wind? Well yes, yes there is. Get yourself down to see the Dublin Gospel Choir and feel your soul soar and the energy flow back into those dancing shoes. Guaranteed to lift the spirits and send you on your way to a super Sunday to round off this magical weekend.

This article originally appeared on dublinconcerts.ie on 25 August 2014

10 Acts to see at Longitude

Next weekend sees the second staging of Longitude at Marlay Park. The festival enjoyed a fine debut last year and this year’s event promises to be just as good with some great acts set to take to the stages over the weekend. Here are some of the acts that we recommend you see over the weekend.

Parquet Courts

Coming from a long line of scuzzy New York rockers, Parquet Courts have taken on the baton passed down from the likes of The New York Dolls, The Ramones and The Strokes while stamping their own personality over their gloriously ramshackle tunes. If you count their cassette only debut American Specialties then the band are now on their third release, Sunbathing Animal which came out earlier this year. Check out the title track from that album.

Haim

Another group of Americans, the sisters Haim have been getting bigger and bigger since the release of their debut album last year. Their sound has been compared to acts as diverse as Fleetwood Mac and Destiny’s Child is quite unique – bound to get the crowds hopping about in Marlay. The band also have an Irish link. Drummer Dash Hutton’s father is Three Dog Night singer Danny Hutton, who was born in Buncrana in County Donegal which means that we can claim Haim under the Granny Rule.

Hozier

Remarkably, young Andrew Hozier-Byrne has yet to release a full length album. That still hasn’t stopped his nascent quest for world domination though. He’s received extensive airplay in the UK, wowed the crowds recently at Glastonbury and appeared on Ellen and David Letterman. That’s pretty good going in anyone’s book. Go and see him now before he’s filling stadiums around the world.

Le Galaxie

You’re guaranteed a good time at a Le Galaxie gig. Their combination of rock elements with dance music and amazing visuals make for a stunning live show. They’re also slowly making inroads in the UK and if there’s any justice in the world these guys will be huge, having spent several years grafting away and honing their sound. Check out their latest single Humanise.

James Vincent McMorrow

There was a time in the early part of the last decade when you couldn’t walk through the streets of Dublin without tripping over several sensitive singer-songwriters. Some of those artists were great but it did reach saturation point and the sensitive singer-songwriter had to evolve to survive. Like Hozier who we mentioned above, James Vincent McMorrow is one such singer-songwriter who is a little further down the career path with two stunning albums, Early In The Morning and Post Tropical, under his belt. Maybe it’s his devotion to hip-hop that helps him out among the crowd or maybe it’s just amazing tunes like Cavalier. Either way, he’s well worth checking out.

First Aid Kit

Their second album The Lion’s Roar rocketed them in to the big time and they’ve just released their third album Stay Gold. These Swedish sisters, Johanna and Klara Söderberg, have received wide critical acclaim and the new album has seen the band expand their sound palette while still retaining the country-tinged folk sound that has won them fans all over the globe.

Conor Oberst

Probably best known for his work as Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst has worn many musical masks since he released his first album at the tender age of 13. He’s discarded those masks for now and is back releasing music under his own name with his latest album Upside Down Mountain. While we can expect to hear much of the excellent new album at Longitude, we hope he also delves in to his extensive back catalogue too. Here’s Zigzagging Toward The Light from the new album.

Massive Attack

We can think of no better way to finish off a weekend than chilling out to the awesome blissed out vibes of trip-hop legends Massive Attack, who close out the festival on Sunday night. The band haven’t released any new material since 2010’s Heligoland but with a back catalogue to mine that includes the superb albums Mezzanine and Blue Lines, this is sure to be an amazing show.

Chvrches

Having placed high in the influential BBC Sounds of 2013 poll, Scottish trio Chvrches released their debut album The Bones of What You Believe to universal acclaim in September last year. A well crafted mix of synthpop, anchored by Lauren Mayberry’s tender vocals, Chvrches are one of the most exciting bands to emerge in recent years. Check out the dangerously catchy The Mother We Share.

Mano Le Tough

Originally from Greystones but now based in Berlin, Niall Mannion is in big demand all over the world under his Mano Le Tough alias. Renowned for his DJ skills and with remixes for Roisin Murphy and Aloe Black among others under his belt, Mano Le Tough released his debut album Changing Days last year. With tracks like Moment of Truth, his is sure to be an exceptional live performance.

This article originally appeared on dublinconcerts.ie on 10 July 2014