Gran Canaria, Spain: Where even the Cliffs are being covered in Concrete

I really enjoy the pleasures of a tropical holiday. Sand, seas, sunshine, eating out every night, experimenting with native cuisine and new wines or beers, travelling into idyllic countryside, enjoying all the fun of a family leisure park with my children represents my idea of a perfect break from everyday life in Ireland.
Due to the fact that my wife Cepta has a sister living in Gran Canaria, we tend to book an apartment there once every 2 years.
The island has a lot going for it.
Fantastic beaches; sandy dunes straight out of some Sahara setting, stunning volcanic landscapes, mountain lakes and grand canyons. There are significant wildlife sanctuaries in the hinterland, a strong emphasis on maintaining cultural heritage by the preservation of old-style architecture in the villages of the interior that include traditional streetscapes and the finest of small baroque churches. There are also unique clusters of cave house dwellings carved into the sides of mountains where people still happily live. Within the modern holiday resorts there is an excellent safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and a myriad of family theme parks, the most noteworthy being Aqualand.
Paradise Lost
However the island is increasingly degenerating into one of the worst examples of the ‘Spanish disease’ as the authorities systematically destroy the land and seascapes with tasteless over-development. Everywhere you look there is non-stop construction of massive complexes of bland uniform apartment blocks and hotels. Once stunning cliff faces and picturesque little fishing villages are being covered over with urban concrete jungles. The developments now stretch along great swathes of the southern and eastern coastlines. Even further inland beyond Telde so many table top mountains and valleys are victims of urban sprawl. The majestic canyons south of Mogan are now dotted with housing and are almost unrecognisable from the panoramic landscapes that appeared in the 1960’s Spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood. What land is not now being built on is oftentimes characterised by great swathes of horrible plastic marking locations for industrial market gardening.
The end result is that one is faced with miles and miles of ugly high-rise tourist developments and rows of often cheap tacky plastic-coated shops, bars and restaurants that have all but obliterated Canarian culture.
The Canarians are killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Irish Centre: 'Tacky'
I have to give a special mention to the so-called 'Irish Centre' in Maspolomas which consists of a series of Irish-themed pubs, nightclubs, shops and a number of boarded up businesses. It looks outdated, bland and seems very short of clientele. The loud music from one bar eats into the environment of its neighbour leading to an ever-competing ever-losing battle of sound between the different venues to the ultimate detriment of any sober patrons present. A mix of ear-shattering dance music, burgers and chips, never-ending drinks promotions, pool tables and large tv screens is not my idea of the best way to promote Irish culture. Sadly there is little here these days to attract anyone truly interested in Celtic music or dance.

As a person interested in observing wildlife, I always take advantage of journeying to Los Palmitos Zoo Park. Though one can be disappointed to find that the park’s birds and fish life are largely caged and not native to the island. Yet the setting in the interior of the island is wonderful and the park is also populated with hordes of wild geckos and the famed indigenous Gran Canaria lizard.

Endangering DolphinsBut an excursion from Puerto Rico to view dolphins can as a bit of a shock. We did came across a large pod of dolphins. But what was upsetting was the decision of the skipper to drive the boat right into the area where the animals were obviously feeding. The sound of the boat’s motors must have been very distressing to these sea mammals and would have totally distorted their sonar mechanism. I recently wrote to the government offices at Las Palmas with photographic evidence of this activity and requesting the authorities to do more to protect marine life by introducing stringent new rules to govern boat-owners in their marine excursions

On a separate note...
Gran Canaria: A Connection with Ancient Ireland & India
In my excursions inland, I was amazed to discover a district known as Tara. I was told that it was pre-Spanish in origins and was the name given by the Guanches, the first known inhabitants of the Canary islands, to the Mother Goddess. Wow!
In Ireland, Tara is the most sacred of pre-Christian Celtic sites. But its history goes back to the mythical Tuatha Danann or the people of the Mother Goddess Dana. Both ‘Dana’ and ‘Tara’ appear as powerful fertility goddesses in ancient Hindi dating back thousands of years BC.
To think that two Atlantic islands, one located off the coast of Europe and one off the coast of Africa, had historical connections with the heart of Asia in Neolithic times is mind-blowing.
We tend to think of these prehistoric peoples as primitive savages living in small isolated communities. But maybe many were part of an ancient ‘Global Village’?
We still have much to learn of our ancestors.

Santa Brigida: Irish Female Saint of Fertility
To deepen the connection between the Canary islands and Ireland even further, just north of Tara is the district of Santa Brigida which is called after the Irish saint Saint Brigit.
Brigit was the earliest and most renowned of all female Celtic saints whose fame spread across Catholic Europe. But it is thought by some that she was originally a chief priestess to a powerful pagan goddess also known as Brigit who was associated with female fertility. Can you believe it?!!! Check out my previous article on St. Brigit and the power of Celtic women.

Georgia: A Pawn in a Game of International Chess played by the 'Big Powers'

Below is the text of a letter of mine that was published in last week's popular Galway Advertiser newspaper:
The Georgian conflict is a dangerous throwback to the days of Empire when little countries were pawns in a game of chess played by the Big Powers.
rather than the USA use its status as the world’s only superpower as a force for good over the last decade, the Bush Administration’s arrogant gung-ho unilateralism has encouraged the ‘new kids on the block’ of Russia and China to ignore international conventions and use their growing economic and military leverage to promote imperial self-interest. Chinese support of Sudan is only following a time-honoured American tradition of supporting tyrannical regimes in return for cheap oil and raw materials. Han colonisation of Tibet and the crushing of native resistance is analogous to the ongoing US-bankrolled Jewish racist settlements in Palestine. Putin said in 2005 that the break-up of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Not surprising then that a re-invigorated energy-rich Russia should now be trying to re-establish its influence in the former Soviet Empire. Violent repression in Chechnya, the cutting off of gas supplies to Ukraine, the refusal to co-operate with Britain into investigating the death of political dissident Alexander Litvinenko, the cyber attacks on Estonian websites that ‘coincidentally’ followed the controversy over the re-location of a Soviet war memorial in Tallinn and the invasion of Georgia are the flexing of muscles by a publicly supported Kremlin intent on reversing years of national humiliation on the international stage. US policy has only encouraged this ‘Cold War’ re-awakening and Russian fear of encirclement with the Pentagon's decision to site missile systems in Poland and Czech republic and by promoting NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia. So sadly more Russian aggression looks likely to follow possibly over the Crimean region of Ukraine or Transnistria in Moldova both of which have large Russian populations as well as the presence of Russian military bases. But it is hypocritical for the USA to call for the territorial integrity of sovereign states and condemn military build-ups, foreign invasion, the creation of satellite states, outside political interference in the affairs of small nations, the arming of separatist militias and ethnic cleansing when these are the very policies pursued by George Bush. For the neo-cons efforts to turn the 21st into the ‘American Century’ has destabilised the world and slashed hopes of securing collective action to tackle serious global problems such as climate change. The US administration, funded by the oil corporations and the Zionist lobby, regularly ignores or undermines multilateralism in the form of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, the Geneva Convention, Kyoto/Bali environmental agreements, conventions on the banning of landmines/cluster bombs and dismantling of nuclear arsenals. Talk of promoting ‘peace, freedom, justice, democracy and sovereignty’ is mere PR window-dressing. The United States supports brutal authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia. The illegal invasion of Iraq led to the deaths of million people, the setting up of internal misogynist Islamic theocratic fiefdoms, ethic cleansing on a massive scale, the virtual annihilation of 2,000 year old Christian communities and the greatest displacement of people since the 1940s with millions of Iraqis forced to flee to Jordan and Syria for protection. The invasion of Afghanistan resulted in warlord-run territories and the creation of the world’s first narcotic state with ever-increasing annual yields of poppy plants bringing untold misery across Europe. US agents snatch suspects off Italian streets and elsewhere to be sent blindfolded and chained to secret torture centres across the world where detainees as young as 14 years are locked up for years in solitary confinement. Threats are made to Iran’s nuclear programme while Israel is allowed to maintain a huge nuclear arsenal, invade Lebanon destroying infrastructure and dropping tens of thousands of US-made anti-personal cluster bombs. International borders are illegally redrawn by its construction of a ‘Security Wall’ on Arab lands. In the USA’s ‘backyard’ of Latin America, efforts by the democratically-elected governments of Venezuela and Bolivia to promote wealth distribution and wrest control of their natural resources from multi-nationals for the benefit of the poor indigenous majority peoples has led to increased US funding for the once all-powerful elitist wealthy white minority groups. In total disregard for Cuban sovereignty, Bush turned the US military base at Guantanamo in Cuba into the world’s most infamous prison torture camp while maintaining the five decades-old economic blockade of the island nation.
In an era when we need genuine co-operation to save the planet from humanity’s past and present mistakes we are being treated to the spectacle of the superpowers playing a game of musical chairs at the bar of a sinking Titanic.
Yours sincerely, Brendan SmithCheck out my previous articles on related topics:
A Jesus in Today's Palestine?
What Have the Anti-War Protesters Ever Done for Galway?
Galway Businesses Glorify Terrorist Bombers
Sights & Sounds of US Bombers Reawakens Fears in Galwegians

Irish Rebel Song 'Minstrel Boy' on Star Trek

One of the most beautiful and poignant of Irish songs. The fact that it is in Star Trek sung (by Chief Officer O'Brien) in a far distant galaxy centuries from now shows that Irish music travels well and has a great future ahead of it!

Irish Emigration & the Loneliness of An Unmarried Pregnant Irish Girl

The Girls They Left Behind

This little known song from Irish playwright John B. Keane is one of the best Irish ballads ever written about Irish emigration. For it mentions a subject that was taboo and ignored during pre-1970s Ireland, namely the loneliness and ostracising of an unmarried Irish woman made pregnant by a departing male emigrant. 

It is ironic that I have now posted this song. For I have just heard of the death of the singer of this version- the great Ronnie Drew.  

We will miss you so much Ronnie. You have brought us so many tears of joy & of sadness over the years. Ar Dheis Go Raibh A Anam

Sinéad O'Connor SIngs "Oro, Se Do Bheatha Bhaile" (Live)

Sinéad breathes new life into this Irish rebel song as she gives it a Reggae beat. It is so good to see internationally acclaimed Irish artists not forgetting their Irish heritage and being able to successfully bring our traditional Gaelic language ballads onto a world stage. Comhghairdeas, mo cailín deas!

Originally a Jacobean ballad for Bonnie Prince Charlie, the song was rewritten by Padraig Pearse, the leader of the 1916 Irish Rebellion, in homage to Grainne Mhaol (Grace O'Malley) the famous 16th century Irish pirate queen. It also featured prominently as a republican marching tune in that fantastic film on the War of Independence and its aftermath- 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley'

Manchester, United & the Irish

Photo: Shane & Martin lining out with the Manchester Utd Squad

My spirit surged with a feeling of patriotic pride when I entered the grounds of Old Trafford to watch Manchester United play Lyon in the Champions League earlier this year. For all around me the strong sounds of Irish accents emanated from the huge throng of fans filling up the stadium; two RTE sports commentators were prominently positioned with their crew on the pitch prior to kick-off; Irish flags and memorabilia dotted the landscape.
I noticed too that the ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade of the skyward corporate suites, so derided by Roy Keane towards the end of his playing days, contained a fair sprinkling of ostentatiously-dressed wealthy Irish businessmen.

Just before I entered the stadium, I counted 17 parked buses (photo above) in a row with Irish number plates and noticed stalls selling fused Irish-Man Utd

themed scarves.
On the pitch there was John O’Shea(photo) and a hero-worshipped Wayne Rooney ( photo below) who would not look out of place on a Gaelic football pitch in Connemara such are his strong physical Celtic features.

There is no doubt that Manchester United is unique in holding such a special warm place in Irish hearts. This is particularly so amongst working-class Dubliners where support for a ‘garrison sports’ team from the homeland of the ‘auld enemy’ was never undermined by long periods of nationalist struggle against the foreign occupier, eventual southern independence from Britain, the GAA ban on foreign sports or the general latent antipathy of the Irish Catholic Church towards what many priests perceived as an English Protestant game.

RTE (Irish Television) in action on the pitch!

Photo: The English-born former Republic of Ireland captain Andy Townsend signing autographs. Andy was at the match in his capacity as a ITV sports pundit

As I traveled over to the match on the Dublin-Hollyhead ‘Oscar Wilde’ ferry boat with my son Shane and his friend Martin one could see the near-religious adoration towards the Red Devils in the clothing, faces and ages of the hundreds of fans onboard. Young and old, male and female, fathers and sons happily wore Man United red interlaced with Irish green. Pilgrimages such as this to to the hallowed ground in England is a regular occurrence.Without the Irish, the atmosphere at Old Trafford would be so much the poorer.
Though it has to be said that the stewards, in their efforts to clean up the terraces, are probably a little too zealous in their sanitization policy as they clamp down (outside the hallowed Stretford end) on the ribald banter traditionally associated with football fans. I saw one quite innocent fan being ejected from the stadium for jumping up and down from his seat singing risqué football songs.

World’s First Industrial City Built by the ‘Paddies’
Manchester still retains a special Irish flavour that is found nowhere else on the British mainland with the notable exception of Glasgow.For the growth of Manchester as the modern world’s first industrial city coincided with the arrival of the emigrant Irish fleeing famine who acted as the workforce for the local textile factories and for the construction of the Industrial Revolution’s great transport infrastructure of railways, canals and roads. It was the 'Paddies' who were primarily responsible for building Manchester. During the 19th century, upwards of 25% of the population of this mushrooming city were Irish.
Paid pittance, they lived primarily in the overcrowded disease-infested urban ghettos known as ‘Little Ireland’ and ‘Irishtown’.The reaction of the local English inhabitants was initially one of hostility and it was in Manchester in 1807 that the first branch of the Grand Order of the Orange Order on mainland Britain was founded to fight the supposed threat from ‘dirty, treacherous , simian, Irish papists’ to the superior white British Protestant civilized way of life. With the Tory Party and aristocratic establishment strongly allied to Orange Unionism, it was not surprising that the Catholic Irish actively flocked to the standards of the Chartists and later the Labour Party who spearheaded the campaign for increased rights for the downtrodden working class. Yet over time the Irish in Britain, while being active in politics, tended to hide their Irish identity as many felt that their advancement in their new homeland would be curtailed if they promoted the cause of Irish nationalism.

Promoting an 'English Identity'
Ironically this assimilation into English society was promoted by the main organization that the majority of the Irish emigrants trusted, namely the Catholic Church. Though the church did Trojan work looking after the spiritual and social needs of the Irish, many of its native hierarchy wanted to ensure that it maintained its indigenous ambiance and made every effort to have the newcomers become first and foremost ‘English Catholics’. Of course they could not totally kill off support for Irish separatism. In fact it was in this northern city that one of the most famous episodes in Irish republicanism mythology occurred- the Manchester Martyrs. The hanging of 3 Fenians in 1867 for the accidental killing of a policeman during a successful operation to free their leaders from a prison van led to the immortalisation of the words of Edward Meagher Condon one of the prisoners when, after he was sentenced to death by the court, stated "I have nothing to regret, or to retract. I can only say God Save Ireland.”
The song ‘God Save Ireland’ written by Peader Kearney became the anthem of Irish republicanism until the adoption of Amhrán na bhFiann by the Irish Free State in 1926.
It was to Manchester that Eamon de Valera, President of Sinn Féin, was taken to stay with Irish republicans amongst the local population after he and others were sprung by the IRA from Lincoln Prison in February 1919 during the War of Independence before secretively returning to Ireland. 
So there was always a hard core of dedicated volunteers in the city that promoted Gaelic sports, music, nationalism and traditions in Manchester.
But they were too often swimming against the tide with many wanting to adopt lock, stock and barrel the key characteristics of the majority population. For some, Ireland was too closely identified with poverty, ruralism, backwardness and a lack of modernity. For others it was a sense of bitterness towards Ireland for forcing them to leave family and friends behind to endure a life of loneliness in order to eke out an existence of sorts in a foreign and often hostile land.
Oddly enough, a song written by an English Communist Manchurian of Scottish extraction about a district in Manchester became one of the most famous 'Irish' traditional ballads of all time. Ewan McColl wrote Dirty Old Town about his native Salford. But it secured such international status when it was covered by the Dubliners in the 1960s that its lyrics were deemed to refer to Dublin.

British & 'British Irish' Contribution to the Recent Global Popularity of 'Irishness'
From the early 1980s though, there was a marked revival in Gaelic culture amongst the young Manchester-Irish as a counter-reaction to the demonization of the Irish during the emergence of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland particularly during the period of the Hunger Strikers, the rise of radical Sinn Fein and the harshness of special legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act towards the Catholic Irish community. This was strengthened by the growing global popularity of English-Irish bands with their Celtic sounds such as the Pogues; the Irish soccer team with its English-Irish soccer players (John Aldridge, Mick McCarthy, Andy Townsend etc) led by an Englishman Jack Charlton and the phenomena of the Irish-American inspired Riverdance with its attractive sensual Irish dancing. Yet it was courageous English political activists such as Gareth Pierce, Tony Benn, Clare Short, Chris Mullen and notably Ken Livingstone (from his time as head of the Greater London Council {GLC} onwards) that acted as prime catalysts in the Irish in England, particularly the young and the more recent arrivals, throwing off what seemed to be a self-imposed collective ‘badge of shame’.

The mid 1990s saw massive progress on the 'Irish Question'. A new Labour government under Tony Blair (himself the son of a Donegal woman) finally had the tenacity to end the conflict in Northern Ireland by convincing Unionism to accept that the days of 'No Surrender' and a Loyalist monopoly were over. The great Mo Mowlan, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, emerged as a hero in this historical settlement.
Combined with Blair's official apology on behalf of Britain to Ireland for the deaths and miseries associated with the Great Famine, a new chapter opened up between both countries.
After centuries of suspicion and characterisation in some channels as almost sub-human psychopaths, it was suddenly cool to be Irish in Britain.
However the record of successive Irish governments from 1921 towards their countrymen and women living in England amounted to little more than verbal tokenism. The ongoing requests in helping to empower them in looking after their own special social, recreational and health needs went largely unanswered. They failed to recognize and honour the vital contribution of these emigrants to the homeland. For it was their regular postal payments back home that provided many households in Ireland with the bare necessities of life.

This new pride in their Celtic identity amongst second
generation Irish is most noticeable amongst those who became mainstream popular artists in Britain during the 1980s-1990s.
In Manchester this included Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis, the comedian Caroline Ahern and the Smiths.Former Smiths lead singer Morrissey brought out in 2004 a highly acclaimed song whose title and lyrics encapsulates his dual English and Irish heritage. Entitled ‘English Heart, Irish Blood’, its politically overt lyrics denounces Oliver Cromwell, the Tory and the Labour Parties.
See also my article on George Bernard Shaw's sarcastic quotation on the definition of Patriotism

Note: Many thanks to the
Manchester website with its Manchester's Irish Story

Plus! Check out the website for Irish supporters of Manchester United at

Irish Sayings & Quotations Part 9

Dearg aniar - soineann agus grian,
Dearg anoir - sneachta agus sioc,
Dearg aneas - doineann agus teas,
Dearg aduaidh - clagar agus fuacht.

Red in the west - sunshine and sun,
Red in the east - snow and frost,
Red in the south - storm and heat,
Red in the north - hail and cold.

Only a few decades ago, every child knew this saying and could look at the sky and accurately predict tomorrow's weather.

Sadly this is no longer the case as our global civilisation with all its technology and modernity has lost its understanding of and connectivity with nature. Ethically, we are the poorer for it and will soon be so economically. For in the process, we have planted the seeds of our own destruction as our increasing abuse of the planet through de-forestation, pollution, energy consumption and habitat loss will of course come round to haunt us through climate change, water shortage and other associated ills.