Galway Races: Where Ordinary Folk Rub Shoulders with Ireland's Elite

Race Week in Galway held earlier this month is Ireland's most famous Festival; it is when the rest of the country seems to pour like a tidal wave into the city to indulge in a 7 day extravaganza of gambling, drinking, frolicking, style, paddywackery & networking!! But all in good taste and humour.

The city abounds with fleets of helicopters setting the air a-buzzing; the very latest BMW & Mercs populating the hotel car- parks; restaurants and bars bursting at the seams; pink champagne flowing like tap-water; high class prostitutes turning tricks in city centre apartments & all-night card games offering pots of six figure sums.

The ruling political party –Fianna Fáil- host a special marquee tent at the Ballybrit race course where the captains and kings of business and industry come to pay homage and socialise with Bertie our honourable Taoiseach (prime minister). ‘Pay’ being the operative word as its 350Euro for a meal & seat in this illustrious tent!

Ladies' Day - A Race Course Full of Ireland's Most Beautifully Dressed Women
Thursday is ‘Ladies Day’ when women of all shapes & sizes dress up in their most beautiful finery to be praised and ogled.
From early in the morning, large groups of classy looking females wait at bus stops all over the city on their way to the race course.
Amazingly, once the event ended, hordes of girls in the most expensive dresses just take off their high heels and just walked the miles back to their city centre hostelries and hotels. There is something so refreshing about this attitude. People may dress up in fantastic clothing for the festival, but most are still just ordinary 'down to earth' folk underneath.

'All the Fun of the Fair'

So don’t believe for one minute that the city transforms into the playground for only the rich and famous.
The festival is an amazing egalitarian event when-for one week only-the ordinary office clerk rubs shoulders with aristocracy, gypsies, priests, farmers, alcoholics, hookers, politicians, beggars, tourists and billionaires. And there is something for all ages- from betting offices, bars, restaurants to fairground attractions.
It is in many ways a festival from Celtic pre-history when all members of the tribe would gather and stand equal on hallowed ground combining worship with sport, competitions and entertainment for all ages.

'Crazy Hat' Day!

One of the funniest events takes place on Sunday when girls and women (& a few men) wear "Crazy Hats'. The craftsmanship and time that people put into their headgear is absolutely fantastic. Fully fledged farm, stables and race tracks are recreated in the most detailed minuture to sit precariously on the top of people's heads!

Not only that, others create the most outrageous full length costumes to match their garish hats.
For hours these ostentatious individuals walk and mingle with the crowds before gathering together for the awards ceremony.
This year's competition was judged by none other than Rosanna Davision, the former Miss Ireland and daughter of the internationally renowned musician Chris de Burgh.

There is nothing else quite like the Galway Races on this planet!

Galway City Mayor Leads Public Protest Against Israeli Actions in Lebanon & Gaza

Israel's present campaign against the Lebanese civilian population & Palestinians in Gaza has finally unveiled the 'fascist' idealogy that exists at the heart of its state and its backers in Washington. By pure militaristic and terrorist tactics, both countries (& Britain) are trying to ensure that no country in the Middle East threatens Western control over its oilfields while also ensuring that Israel continues to re-draw the boundaries of Palestine to the detriment of the Arab population.

(Photo shows Galway City Mayor addressing the recent anti-war demonstration in Eyre Square)

European governments & the European Union have consistently done little more than gently complain about Israel's wars of aggressions against its neighbours. It has been reduced to imitating the squeal of a mouse rather than the roar of a lion.
Fear of the USA has castrated our political leaders' sense of injustice.
The big naval fleets of Europe gathered off the coast of Lebanon not to protect the citizens of the democratic and liberal state of Lebanon from armed invasion but to meekly seek permission of Israel to evacuate its own citizens before the coming firestorm.
Sadly all the millions of ordinary Europeans that have protested against the invasions of Lebanon & Iraq have not changed their government's cowardice.
(Photo shows Marie Crawley, an old campaign stalwart friend of mine, on the protest march. Poor girl- she came to Galway from Northern Ireland to leisurely enjoy the Arts Festival activities only to find herself out demonstrating!)
Yet what choice do we have but continue our street demos and hope someday that public opinion will win out and that the Middle East, Chechnya, Columbia, Mexico, Tibet, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Sudan...will no longer serve as the playthings of the big powers and their local puppets but that true democracy and human rights will blossom?
Recently a few hundred Galwegians of all ages led by the Lord Mayor marched through the streets of the city and demanded that the Irish government do more to end Israeli aggression...One can only live in hope that every individual action & every little protest will collectively make a change occur. Fool's Paradise? Maybe, but our vision of a better world may someday become a reality. Even if we never live to see it, we will have played our part. For why else do we exist?

(On the right of the photo are Doug -long beard!- & Ann, two highly motivated & veteran anti-war activists from America. Doug is actually a work colleague of mine at Galway university. Being 'anti-war' has nothing to do with being 'anti American'. In fact some of the fiercest critics of present U.S. foreign policy are Americans such as Michael Moore, Bruce Springstein, Susan Sarandon, Cindy Sheehan... )

The protest ended at the constituency offices of senior Irish government minister Eamon Ó Cuiv when hundreds of letters demanding firm government action against Israeli aggression were handed in. It is strange that this minister & our city's anti-war Mayor were earlier that week my special guests of honour at a university reception organised for my asylum seeker students -see my posting of August 1st-!! But that is the great thing about Ireland, we can disagree fundmentally on some issues but work together on areas of common agreement)

Israelis have Lost all Sense of Humanity
Finally, I recommend everyone to look at the following website that my friend Bill from India sent me which shows in gruesome detail the aftermath of Israel's indiscriminate bombings of civilian targets. Please note that it is not for the squemish

Europe must Expose the Lie of Israel's Terrorism Disguised as a Defence of 'Western' Values

& Palestinian Flags proudly fly over Galway City during a recent anti-war protest

Below is the text of a letter that I wrote that appeared in this week's 'Galway Advertiser', one of Ireland's best & most popular weekly newspapers

Time for the Israeli Myth to be Shattered

Dear Editor,
In light of recent events in Lebanon and Gaza, is it not time now for Europe to finally expose the lie that Israel is a beacon of democracy and freedom in an unstable totalitarian Middle East? In fact it is the very country that has created the regional instability in its never-ending wars of aggression that represents such a growing threat to world peace. Europe has consistently supported or acquiesced in its deliberate humiliation of the Arab peoples. Continuing failure by Israel to implement a string of UN resolutions and to secretively build a large nuclear arsenal has gone unpunished by the European Union.

Israel was created in the aftermath of World War Two largely due to the efforts of a guilt-ridden Europe shocked by the 6million Jews exterminated on its soil in the Holocaust.
Parts of the British-controlled Palestine were to become a homeland for the survivors of the death camps and would go some way in acting as a form of redemption for the thousand years of oppression suffered by Jews at the hands of Christian Europe. But right from its inception it metamorphosed into an expansionist, racist, militaristic state that has taken on so many aspects of the ideology of the Jews’ former Nazi oppressors.
In 1948, its military terrorised hundreds of thousands of the indigenous Palestinian natives to flee from their United Nations-designated lands into neighbouring countries where they and their descendents still live today in squalid refugee camps. These peoples are still denied the right of return. In 1967, the Israelis repeated a similar process by invading the remainder of Palestine.
Armed and financed by the United States, successive governments have encouraged hundreds of thousands of foreigners to colonise the lands of the Arab population. This process followed a similar path to the Nazi policy and plans for Poland in 1939-‘41: the best lands were given to racially or religiously-aligned settlers; the raw materials and main sources of water requisitioned; the natives confined to isolated apartheid-style Bantustans with all borders and main roads through the newly conquered territories controlled by the military. Gaza is no more than a large concentration camp completely surrounded by a perimeter fence with its air and seaways controlled by the Israelis. With the continued construction of a massive wall on Arab lands, the West Bank will soon follow suit. A whole people imprisoned in their own homeland.
Today, the famed biblical Jordan River is reduced to a trickle as the Israelis siphon off its waters to supply its own farms and cities. As with Nazi Poland, the occupying power sees the primary role of the governing councils of these glorified ghettos and camps is to ensure that the inmates do not undertake aggressive actions against the occupier. In classic racist parlance, the Israeli state warns that the whole population will suffer collective punishment for any individual attack on their soldiers or settlers. When the downtrodden rebel, the Israelis immediately implement a draconian 'Iron Fist' policy; until a few years ago, the family homes of young stone throwers were bulldozed to the ground. Today the offices of the democratically elected Palestinian Authority are demolished and its politicians imprisoned. When a Hezbollah unit recently kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and demanded a prisoner swap from some of the over 10,000 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, the response was to refuse negotiation and to publicly promise to send Lebanon back 20 years in time by a massive bombing campaign with the proviso that Israel considers all inhabitants in south Lebanon to be legitimate targets.

Furthermore, the need for the West to secure cheap oil supplies by invading Iraq, by supporting repressive Arab regimes and by ostracising democratically elected governments in the region has only increased awareness amongst ordinary Arabs that Europe and the United States are the enemy. Anti-western fundamentalism is understandably on the rise. It says a lot that if Osama Bin Laden was allowed to run in a free and fair election tomorrow in his native Saudi Arabia, he would win by a landslide.

The source of the cancer in the Middle East is Israeli expansionism. Europe should at the very least now impose a total economic embargo on the country and demand its compliance with UN Resolution 242 and begin a complete withdrawal to its pre-1967 boundaries.

Yours sincerely,

Brendan Smith

Surprise Gifts to the Minister, the Mayor & Myself!

-Photo shows yours truely & Galway City Mayor holding our beautiful wooden wildlife sculptors in the accompaniment of their creator Radoslav Benka-

As a surprise at the recent university reception for my asylum seeker students, I presented the two official guests with two beautiful wooden wildlife sculptors created by Radoslav Benka, a Slovak carver now based in Galway city. I am at the moment helping Rado to set up his own business website. I am a real fan of his creations; so I thought that it would be a nice idea to buy some of his artifacts for such an event and secure him in the process maximum exposure.
Both Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv and Mayor Ó Brolchain were chuffed with their gifts!
I thought I was being very clever! But it was me that got the biggest shock when I was publicly presented with one of Rado’s carvings by my colleague Liam Moran in recognition of my Online Social Networking activities/courses with community groups!
Nice one Liam.

The ‘Global Village’ arrives in the flesh(!) at Galway University

(Photo shows one of my students (Joy) with Irish government minister Eamon Ó Cuiv & the Galway City Mayor, Niall Ó Brolchain)

I had a really great time at an event I organised last Monday in Galway University for 18 of my asylum seeker students who had completed an Internet course held in their own hostel.
It was ‘standing room only’ for an event that had an extensive guest list that included a senior government minister (Eamon Ó Cuiv), the Lord Mayor of Galway City (Councillor Niall Ó Brolchain), local government officials, academics, police, media, community leaders…..
Speeches were made, certificates were presented, officlal photographs were taken, food was eaten…Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves!
While the Irish guests were amused at the wide ethnic diversity of the students present (Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Cameroon, Albania, Zimbabwe, Russia, Congo…), what I found most interesting was the comments made by the asylum seekers themselves. Many were pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to have a friendly relaxed chat with a major government minister or a mayor! Actually Eamon (the Minister!) himself said to me afterwards that he noticed how formal and reserved the students were when talking to him- some were treating him as if he was royalty.
In fact that is one of the nice things about Ireland. There is little engrained social snobbery in the country- the ordinary citizen seems to be on first name terms with everyone - even the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and the President are referred to by their first names (Bertie & Mary) by the crowds on the street!
Speaking of the ‘masses’ mixing with the ‘elite’, this happens on a massive scale at this week’s 'Galway Races'- probably the largest and most egalitarian festival in Europe- see my blog entry in last August's archive.
(Photo shows my two good Iraqi friends Doctors Adil & Huda Jaber with the guest politicians at the university reception)