Monthly Archives: June 2011

Baring all and risking all for charity

I have spoken to two Wexford people in recent days whose charitable endeavours have involved taking to the sea and both of them had interesting stories to tell.

One of these people, 74-year-old Olive Vaughan from Kilrane, shed her inhibitions and her clothes in aid of cancer research.

Olive took part in the “Dip in the Nip” in Sligo last weekend and had a wonderful time. She went there with her brother Cyril and his wife Maureen, who is currently recovering from cancer.

All three took part in the mass skinny dip and their unusual choice of headwear meant they were able to pick their derrieres out of the many that appeared in the photos in the national newspapers today!

You can read all about how Olive got on (and see some cheeky photos) in the Wexford People on Wednesday, where you’ll also find the story of Pat Whitney (see below), who should have worn a bit more when he entered the water in Curracloe recently.

Pat will turn 60 soon, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down and the end of his cycling career last year has seen him switch his considerable energy and attention to open water swimming.

If you are partial to a dip yourself then please support Pat’s swim in aid of the Tracie Lawlor Turst for Cystic Fibrosis at Curracloe next Saturday. I’ve been in there a couple of times myself recently and it’s not that cold, though if you’re staying in for a while wear a wetsuit!

And you thought “golf widows” had it bad…

BADLY disorientated with hypothermia, Pat Whitney heard a familiar voice on the other end of the line when he dialled 999 from Curracloe recently.

Most people would have thought they were hallucinating in the same scenario, but then most people are not married to Ambulance Control Centre workers.

The Enniscorthy man’s wife Marie picked up the phone and couldn’t make much sense of what her husband was saying on the of the line, but she deciphered enough to get an ambulance out to him quickly.

The 59-year-old’s body temperature had dropped to a dangerously low 32 degrees after he had discarded his wetsuit in favour of his togs and went for a long open-sea swim in choppy water.

‘I felt as if I was drunk,’ recalled Pat. He said he got ‘a bad dose’ of hypothermia and was approaching a point where heart failure or slipping into a coma becomes a danger.

He said he was so disorientated it took him half an hour to get from the water to his car and in the meantime he was exposed to a harsh north easterly wind.

He recalled tha he met another man while he was out swimming (from Ballinesker to Curracloe and back) and he had told Pat he must be ‘hardy’ for swimming without a wetsuit. Apparently that’s not quite how Marie sees it!

He was back swimming in a few days and the incident hasn’t put Pat off his newfound passion, after he was forced to give up his first sporting love, cycling, last year.

‘I had to put the bike away last year. Both knees were gone after 35 years of racing and falls,’ said Pat, joking that he and Marie have spent much of their marriage in A&E due to his sporting interests.

To keep fit he took up swimming and quickly developed a love for sea or open water swimming. ‘I’m not waving the white flag just yet,’ said Pat, when asked about his ambitious plans for the coming months as he prepares to turn 60.

First on the agenda is a charity swim he has organised in Curracloe, which will take place on Saturday, July 2 (three weeks before his 60th birthday) at 5 p.m.

Pat has organised the swim as a precursor to, and fundraiser for, a sponsored swim he is doing in aid of the Tracie Lawlor Trust for Cystic Fibrosis next September, when he will be one of a group from Co Wexford who will swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

Registration for the Curracloe swim next Saturday will take place at The Winning Post in the main car park. There is a short swim and a long swim. The long swim is approximately one mile the short swim is as long as you are able for or comfortable with.

The entry fee is €25, which includes refreshments in Hotel Curracloe, who are sponsoring the event, after the swim.

Not content with the San Francisco swim, Pat is also hoping to mark his 60th birthday by being part of a team to swim the English Channel.

To qualify as a member of this team he will have to complete a two-mile open water swim – without a wetsuit – in Kinsale, Co Cork, on Saturday July 9. Although he said he’s not faring too bad – those hoping to swim solo across the channel have to complete six hours.

In the meantime, Pat is continuing his training in earnest and when she can Marie now walks along the shore to keep an eye on him!

Contact Pat on 086-8172231 or Ian Lawlor on 087-2696983 for an entry form or further details about next Saturday’s charity swim in Curracloe.

Registration forms can also be downloaded here.

My Secret Shame

Ladies and gentleman, I should hire a sniper to shoot me.

This is if I hold myself to the same standards I expect of others that is, which is what we all should be doing, right?

Well, in London recently, I succumbed. I donned my hypocrite’s coat and I joined the ranks of the masses who I routinely pray to the musical Gods will be struck down – or shot – where they stand.

I took out my iPhone (note: not just a “phone”) and recorded. A whole song too.  “So what?” I hear you ask.

Well I have now made my contribution to the continuing assault on the sanctity of live music. I often pray for snipers to be introduced to venues when I find myself looking over a sea of phones and cameras, all getting the same poor footage and all missing out on the same potentially great live music experience.

That connection between artist and audience is surely diluted by experiencing a gig through a little LCD screen? You could argue that they allow people to capture memories, but what use are these memories if attempting to preserve them leads to a much lessened experience?

Also, the quality (sound and picture) of most photos and video footage captured on phones and cameras is generally awful, as anyone who uses YouTube to search out music already knows.

Now I don’t mean a photo of you and your friends that takes all of a few seconds or even a quick shot of the blurry, distant stage – fair enough on both counts.

But at the Tallest Man on Earth in Vicar Street recently, there was a fella just in front of me who had a camera in the air for almost the entire gig. What for? There are countless videos of the Swedish troubadour out there already, live and otherwise, and this guy was missing out on what was taking place right in front of him.

And that’s all leaving aside the fact that your annoying loads of other people with your pointless, extended filming of gigs.  It makes me pine for the quaint days when the people clapping on the offbeat were the ones you’d roll your eyes at.

I think that constantly filming a gig is not just disrespectful and distracting for the artist, but also your fellow audience members. If it annoys and distracts me, at 6′ 4″ (thanks Naomi for the reality check!), I can only imagine what it’s like for people craning their necks to see the stage.

So what possessed me to abandon my principles so meekly? Well, the Rural Alberta Advantage.

We went to see them in Bush Hall. At the end of a great gig the band came out right into the middle of the crowd to sing us a lullaby before sending us all home happy. They stopped to sing “Good Night” right beside us. So close I lost my better judgement it seems.

I took out the phone and recorded it (offending footage posted below – in much lower quality). I was looking at it from over the phone too and just held it, so I wasn’t too distracted, but that’s not to say it wasn’t bugging the hell out of Nils Edenloff.

Having participated in the act I hate having to put up with so much, I can report back that it’s the memories of that gig I cherish (like many others) and not the footage. I have no photos or footage from Primavera last year, just memories of a wonderful week.

So sorry Nils (whom we met afterwards and seems a really down-to-earth, lovely guy), Paul and Amy. And sorry to anyone else there I inadvertently distracted during a really great moment at the end of a really great gig.

To the rest of you camera-phone=happy music heretics, I say this: “Shed your electronic prism and carpe diem!”

Interestingly, some people think snipers may not be needed as the copyright conscious music industry and Apple may be about to neuter the offenders.

This recent report from the Irish Times suggest that iPhones may soon be equipped with technology to make the recording of gigs difficult, if not impossible, as the phone will be able to determine if what’s being recorded is copyrighted material and then disable itself (the recording function) accordingly.

However, it seems the report is more than a bit sensationalist. Apple files a huge amount of patents they don’t follow through on, but don’t want others to either. They filed this one 18 months ago. Plus if you put your phone in Aeroplane mode you could bypass this straight away or if that doesn’t work people will quickly find another way.

Seems like bullets could still be the best way after all…

Strawberry Spirit

It’s not easy being a small town in rural Ireland these days.

Businesses are closing, young people are emigrating and in many cases the lifeblood of a lot of once vibrant towns is being drained away. The challenges facing these towns are huge and the government coffers are empty.

However, that’s not to say that all is lost and, to its credit, the Enniscorthy community seems to be rising to the challenge.

It’s a town I, like many others, usually just pass through on my way to Dublin, though I spent a few weeks working there last year and will again this year I’m sure.

My last visit there was for a piece for the Irish Times on the re-opening of Enniscorthy Castle, which was a great development for the town, which is steeped in history, and well worth a visit. It’s informative, uncluttered and has a nice social history aspect, always the most enjoyable part for me.

Hot on its heels was the recent installation of a new footbridge over the Slaney, which has extended the prom into a longer and (I’m assured by my colleagues from that part of the world) lovely riverside walk. I’ll be giving it a spin on my next working sojourn in Enniscorthy.

This weekend is a big one for the town as the long-running Strawberry Festival is taking place, here’s a preview piece I wrote about it.

It’s fair to say that the festival had lost its lustre in recent years and last year’s effort – for various reasons – was not well received in most quarters. But, the response to that setback has been emphatic.

The festival is back. It’s bigger and it should be a lot better. A huge amount of work has gone into it and there’s a wide range of events taking place, a lot of them for free. Crucially, the line-up of bands is a lot better too and it seems to cater for younger and older fans (Rubberbandits and Saw Doctors, Jedward and UB40 etc) .

You can check out the festival and all the various events for yourself here. Visitors from further afield than Co Wexford are being encouraged to come too and you don’t need to book into a local hotel, with camping available at Bellefield GAA grounds.

From the many fringe events, such as jazz in Market Square to a public paranormal investigation of Enniscorthy Castle (I didn’t pick up anything on my visit there!), and the big gigs on the weekend nights, it should be a fun weekend.

I hope that all the time and energy (and money) that has gone into it pays off this weekend as it’s great to see a town putting its best foot forward and trying to bring about something positive.

There are many more worthwhile initiatives underway in Enniscorthy than I have touched on here, just like there are many problems that need addressing there and in other Co Wexford towns too.

This post is not to suggest that everything is rosy in the garden in Enniscorthy, but merely to point out that green shoots have been emerging quietly this year amid what can sometimes seem like an overpowering cacophony of negative news.

Let’s hope the town can bask in sunshine for its big Strawberry weekend. If you are looking for a good day out then maybe consider heading down to Enniscorthy.

P.S. Some of my talented colleagues from this office will be in action in Enniscorthy this weekend, so make sure to cheer on Darragh Clifford in the Strawberry Half Marathon and keep an eye (and ear) out for the musical stylings of Shea Tomkins!

Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt

Wexford Special Olympian Carole Ryan

The reaction to Rory McIlroy’s fantastic win in the US Open shows clearly the effect that a sporting triumph can still have on the mood of our country.

His skill, determination, nerve and courage – following his collapse in the final round of the US Masters in Augusta – were outstanding throughout his record-breaking four days.

Golf has rarely has as many fans in Ireland as it did on Sunday night and the prodigiously talented 22-year-old golfer from Hollywood also excelled in his humble and mature reaction to what should be the first of many majors.

It was a win that lifted the mood of a nation, as great sporting triumphs tend to do.

We’re spoiled for choice at the moment when it comes to sports. Wimbledon has just started and the GAA season is in full swing, but it’s in Athens, starting next Sunday, where the most remarkable Irish athletes will be action.

The Irish Special Olympics team jetted out to Athens this (Monday) morning, ahead of next weekend’s opening ceremony.

7,500 athletes from 185 countries will be taking part and Ireland is punching well above its weight, sending out 126 athletes (from 12-year-old Fergal Gregory from Armagh to 69-year-old Mary Quigley from Carlow) and 49 coaches – the tenth biggest delegation in the Special Olympics World summer Games.

They will be supported by 200 volunteers and more than 400 family members making the trip to Athens for the games, which take place from June 25 to July 4. These are the people who – without fuss or fanfare – keep the country’s many Special Olympics clubs going and providing such a vital outlet for their many members, only a fraction of whom are going to Greece.

Four athletes from Wexford Special Olympics Club are on the Irish team and the club has coaches and volunteers making the journey too.  Wexford will be represented in badminton by Bernadette Kennedy from Gorey, in gymnastics by Carole Ryan from Newtown (just outside Wexford town) and in table tennis by Mary O’Brien from Duncormick and Ann Marie Talbot from Enniscorthy.

These athletes have dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to their respective disciplines and it would great to see them return home with medals. But, whatever the outcome, theirs is not a sporting triumph, it’s a triumph of the human spirit, which can’t be measured in gold, silver or bronze.

At a time when Ireland and Greece are making headlines all over the world for very different reasons and there’s sombre talk of huge challenges and insurmountable obstacles, we’d do well to keep an eye on sporting events in Athens in the days ahead, where there will be plenty of reasons to cheer and maybe just a little perspective on challenges and obstacles.

I spoke to Wexford gymnast Carole Ryan ahead of her departure.

My colleague David Medcalf spoke to Mary O’Brien and Anne-Marie Talbot.

And the Gorey Guardian’s Fintan Lambe talked to Bernadette Kennedy.

Maiden Post


I plan to share some of my writing from my work as a journalist, as well as some of my opinions, musings and photographs.

I will also share some of the more interesting things I come across – online and offline!


Conor Cullen