Monthly Archives: October 2011

Heartbreak Hotel

St Helen's Hotel

Sitting on the clifftop overlooking Rosslare Harbour is yet another monument to the “Celtic Tiger” .

St Helen’s Hotel (formerly the Great Southern) was a popular hotel with both locals and the many tourists that visit the seaside village.

It wasn’t the Four Seasons, but it was a good place to stay – a clean, comfortable hotel in a great location in the heart of the sunny south east. It was, essentially, a nice hotel for ordinary families, ordinary people.

It was the location for countless wedding receptions, birthday parties, gigs, family holidays and all sorts of special and not so special occasions. It also provided employment in the locality.

I’m tempted to use the word “modest”, but that became a dirty word in Ireland several years ago. Modest hotels? Modest profits? Modest prices? No thanks. The site was earmarked for property development.

Read all about the “stylish, modern” hotel here and see some photos of what it looked like not so long ago here. These are just two of many websites still advertising St Helen’s Hotel, indicating how swift its demise has been.


Dining room overlooking the harbour


In the space of a year St Helen’s Hotel has become a significant eyesore and a safety hazard. It has been destroyed as quickly and extensively as our economy was.

I paid it a visit and brought a camera with me, capturing the images you see here. It was sad to see what has become of a once fine hotel. This, I couldn’t help thinking, is modern Ireland.

The hotel was closed after a Dublin-based property development company was granted permission to demolish it and build sheltered accommodation for the elderly. You’d pay a pretty penny to retire in Rosslare Harbour.

However, that plan was conceived in different times – no apartments have been built and the hotel has not been demolished, instead it has been allowed to go to rack and ruin. Maybe the hope is that it will eventually be pulled completely apart.

Mirror behind the bar counter reflecting the damage

Dining room

Broken window - grass and glass

The owners gave the St Vincent de Paul charity permission to take out and sell off all the fixtures and fittings – from beds to radiators and kitchen equipment to mirrors – that were left in it when it closed as it was to be demolished.

The hotel has since been stripped even further, with holes in ceilings, walls and floors, and it is now instead full of all kinds of debris and rubbish – broken glass, beer cans and all the usual suspects.

It is completely accessible from all sides – through a huge amount of doors and broken windows – and, as a result, is attracting plenty of unwelcome visitors and activities.

Swimming pool and playful seal


Rear window

There have been plenty of complaints about the hotel and Wexford County Council have carried out an inspection and are in contact with the owners, making it clear what they want to see done – sooner rather than later.

Wexford Area Engineer Craig Innes said that there are two main priorities. Firstly, the hotel needs to be cleaned up. He said this would effectively just be a clear out as “there’s nothing of value in it anymore”.

He said that site also has to be made secure, which will involve boarding it up. Mr Innes said this will have to be done in a particular way. “We don’t want it left as an eyesore either, we want it look presentable,” he said, pointing out that it may be some time before the planned development for the site goes ahead – if it ever does.

To-do list in the dining room



For the full details on this story check out the Wexford People on Wednesday. The photos above and as many more again from the hotel are in the following slideshow.

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10 election facts from Wexford

Sorting the referendum votes at the Wexford count centre

  1. Seven out of ten people in Wexford gave their first preference to either our new president Michael D Higgins or runner-up Seán Gallagher. Gallagher ran Higgins closer here than most places and was just over 1,300 votes in it following the first count (21,010 to 19,685).
  2. Over 80 per cent of Model County residents believe that judges should take a pay cut in line with the rest of the public sector, with 46,783 in favour of the proposal and 10,388 against it.

    Should judges take a pay cut?

    Wexford count centre

  3. When Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell was eliminated not one of his then 4,101 votes was transferred to Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, then one of the three remaining candidates. In contrast, Labour’s Michael D Higgins received 2,720 transfers from Mitchell.
  4. Martin McGuinness had the highest amount of non transferable votes, with 2,866 people in Wexford giving the Sinn Féin candidate their number one, but stopping there.
  5. 322 people felt that Dana Rosemary Scallon was the only one of the seven candidates worth a vote.

    Fine Gael's Minister Paul Kehoe, Regional Organiser Willie Glesson and Minister Kehoe's Parliamentary Assistant Colum Cooney looking at the figures on a bad day for the party and its candidate Gay Mitchell

    Labour councillor George Lawlor enjoys the result with Wexford resident Eileen McKiernan, sister of our new "First Lady" Sabina Higgins

  6. The referendum on whether to give Oireachtas committees the power to conduct inquiries split people here right down the middle, with just 50.1% in favour of it. After several recounts the result was 28,517 in favour of the constitutional amendment – backed by Minister Brendan Howlin – and 28,397 against it.
  7. There is a total electorate of 108,490 people in Wexford and 58,629 (54%) of them voted on Thursday.
  8. There were 627 spoiled or invalid votes, just over 1%.

    Making sure every vote is accounted for

    Wexford count centre

    Wexford count centre

    Wexford count centre

  9. The narrowest margin between candidates on first preferences was the 15 votes separating the bottom two, Dana Rosemary Scallon (1,477) and Mary Davis (1,462).
  10. Once the final count was completed, 29,757 of the 1,000,000 plus votes that Michael D Higgins received came from Wexford.

I covered the count for RTE, look here for the full results. See the Wexford People on Wednesday for analysis of how the county voted and a bit of comment on the results from yours truly!

"The First Trolley"

Uachtaran na hEireann

Struggling with definitions

Tucked away behind a door in the corridor of a busy hospital earlier today I came across this heart.

It’s a wooden sculpture that Waterford man Anthony Thomas Power donated to his local hospital and I caught a glimpse of it as I was passing by.

So I stopped. I looked at it and I read the inscription on the wooden frame beneath it:

“From time to time our hearts haven been broken, cracked, twisted and distorted, but yet that beautiful creation beats on till the last breath of all that we are. What we choose to do with this beat is what defines our faith and hope.”

I’m not an art critic by any stretch of the imagination, but I really like this piece.

It may be too simple for some people’s artistic sensibilities, but not mine. It’s impressive visually and it also seems to me to be an appropriate piece of public art for a hospital.

I can see, for example, why this belongs in a hospital more clearly than why there’s a giant hedgehog on the side of the motorway outside Gorey.

Though again, visually, I think that’s quite a good piece – I appreciate the form, but not the content. More on that debate – from a photographer’s point of view – and some great images here.

Art, like people’s opinions of it, varies wildly though. That’s if we can even agree what is and isn’t art in the first place… it’s an endless black hole of debate that I don’t intend diving into.

We’ve always been told that art is largely subjective though and so it is. One thing we agree on then!

For everyone like me who peers in around the door in Waterford Regional Hospital you can be sure that hundreds more pass right by. If I’d been in a less introspective mood maybe I would have too.

Frankly, I had a lot on my mind today and wasn’t planning on making any detours, however brief.

In fact, I had postponed my planned trip to do a tour of all the great art and photography exhibitions in Wexford at the moment as part of the Opera Festival, so I really didn’t expect to end up writing a post like this tonight.

But I was glad I unexpectedly came across this piece and afterwards I couldn’t help thinking that Mr Power would have been happy to know I had stopped to look at, and listen to, his heart.

To experience it. To think about it. To enjoy it.

After all, isn’t that really the point of art?

“I realise my heart beats the same as yours, but it’s what I choose to do with this beat is what defines me,” Mr Power was telling me.

I heard him loud and clear. The struggle to define ourselves is far more difficult – and far more important – than defining art though.

What are you doing with your beat?

Thang, Grrl, Innit and Facebook – the enduring popularity of Scrabble

A lot of us enjoy words. Speaking them, hearing them, reading them, writing them, learning all about them and playing with them.

But let’s face it, no matter how great you imagine your vocabulary to be there are just some words you’ll never get the chance to use. It’s highly doubtful you ever bought a Kat at a Suq, for example. Unless you’re Arabic and into gardening, those words probably aren’t relevant to you.

That is, of course, unless you’re a Scrabble enthusiast. For they are the unsung heroes of the lexicon, the unassuming ninjas of the noun, the kind of people for whom reading the dictionary is a pleasurable pastime.

Most people reading this will have grown up in a home that featured a Scrabble set. Maybe you have one in your current home that gets dusted down and taken out every once in a while, to flex your word-making muscles.

Here are some scrabble facts:

– The highest number of points that can be scored on the first go is 128 – with “muzjiks'”(Russian peasants).

– There are over 260,000 legal words allowed under British Scrabble rules.

– Somewhere in the world there are over an estimated million missing Scrabble tiles.

–  There is a town called Scrabble in Berkeley County, West Virginia, USA. They don’t have a Scrabble club.

There is a scrabble club in Wexford though and they contacted me recently about their annual open tournament, which is coming up soon, so I took the opportunity to talk to two of its biggest scrabble enthusiasts (and best players) about the game and why they love it so much.

Mary Doyle and Theresa Scallan from Wexford Scrabble Club.

Mary Doyle and Theresa Scallan don’t immediately strike you as the type of women who’d have an impressive repertoire of South African slang, but they do.

In fact these two Wexford women would also be able to give as good as they get with the locals in New Zealand too.

The reason for this seemingly odd interest in the outer reaches of the lexicon in far flung countries is due to their love of Scrabble. For Mary and Theresa, Scrabble isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life.

Mary’s love affair with the game created by US architect Alfred Mosher Butts during the Great Depression was sparked on a ship as she made the long journey from Southampton to Australia, where she was going to work as a nurse.

“The moment I saw it I was fascinated,” said Mary, who found it not only a lot of fun, but a great away to while away the hours on her trip down under. She has never stopped playing since.

When she returned to Wexford 20 years ago she saw an ad in the Wexford People newspaper looking for like-minded people liked Scrabble and were interested in playing it on a regular basis.

She replied and at the home of Con and Mary Noonan in Kyle’s Cross, Crossabeg, she attended the first meeting of what would later become Wexford Scrabble Club.

Theresa found the club several years later when she was at Castlebridge Community Centre collecting her daughter from the Brigini (Girl Guides) and saw a notice on the wall from the Scrabble club.

“I had never heard of scrabble in my life, but the notice said that anyone interested in crosswords should come along and I love crosswords so I said I would give it a go,” said Theresa.

“I got such a welcome. I didn’t know anyone there, but I felt at home,’” said Theresa. The phrase “like a duck to water” doesn’t begin to do her justice.

She was consumed by the game for some time. “I was so hooked I’d be adding up how much the number plate of the car in front of me was worth,” admitted Theresa.

She also admitted she playing the game constantly at home, keeping her children up later than she should have been on school nights! This obsession got her up to a high level in a surprisingly short space out of time though.

Theresa is now the “A” player in Wexford Scrabble Club and along with Mary regularly plays in tournaments at home and abroad.

Scrabble is a serious business at the top level. Theresa and Mary don’t just play scrabble to hone their skills, they also study the English language, including all the slang and words of foreign origin, as well as other technical, archaic, obsolete, colloquial or lesser-known terms.

Have you ever heard of an Ozey? Do you know what a Pyxidium is? Ever heard someone playing a qin? This year the words ‘Thang’, Grrl’, ‘Innit’ and ‘Facebook’ have made it into the Collins Official Scrabble Words list.

If it’s in the dictionary, or added to it, they will hunt it down. They might never get to use these words on the Main Street in Wexford, but may just prove the difference in a tournament.

“I never get tired of it,” said Theresa “I love the challenge of finding new words,” said Mary.

However, despite all that, like all the casual Christmas time board game players, Mary accepts that sometimes you just get unlucky.

Anyone who has played some Scrabble will probably have found themselves drowning in a sea of vowels with not a consonant in sight (as it happens, ‘Scrabble’ means to “grope frantically” and was trademarked in 1948).

“You can get bad runs of letters or good runs, you just have to hope for the best,’”said Mary. The element of chance adds to the enjoyment it seems and it also makes it more challenging.

In tournaments, players generally get a limit of 25 minutes each, so the longest a game can last is 50 minutes. Dictionaries are now redundant. Computers are used to check the words.

Mary said that Scrabble, despite the solitary study, is actually a very sociable game and local clubs and tournaments are a great way to meet friends and make new ones. There are thousands all over the world.

She said Wexford Scrabble Club welcomes new members and assured anyone thinking of going along that it’s not competitive at club level and they always ensure a good and enjoyable start for newbies.

Theresa said that one of the great things about scrabble is that “you can play it anywhere”. This is particularly true since the online version of the game has become increasingly popular in recent years.

However, isn’t there is always the chance that people are cheating? “Who knows what anyone is doing? But it doesn’t bother me and if someone uses a very unusual word then I’ve learned something,” said Theresa.

“You’re not playing to win, you’re playing to learn,” said Mary. It’s this passion for words and Scrabble that will keep these two women fluent in South African slang for a long time to come.

Animal cruelty continues as legislation gathers dust

One of two surviving Shih Tzu dogs that were rescued from “horrendous conditions” in Wexford last Friday.

From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.
~M. Frida Hartley

THE ISPCA is calling on Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to sign the Dog Breeding Establishments Act into law, following the latest case of animal cruelty by a breeder uncovered in Co Wexford.

Four dogs in “horrendous condition” were seized from a small breeder from an area just outside Wexford town last weekend, with one of them having to be put down.

Gardai in Wexford were called to accompany the WSPCA to the home of the breeder last Friday and a Garda spokesman said they found four dogs living in very poor conditions.

The Garda spokesman said that they were in a very small shelter, with a small run and that there was ‘a significant amount of faeces’ in it, while the dogs themselves were in very poor health.

It’s understood the Wexford SPCA was tipped off by a woman in Dublin who bought a Shih Tzu puppy from the Wexford breeder recently only to find later – when she brought it to her vet – that it had lungworm and rickets. It was a pup from one of the dogs seized.

Barbara Bent, Honorary Secretary of the ISPCA, said the dogs, a Labrador and three Shih Tzus, were taken from the breeder, but one of the Shih Tzus had to be put down it was in such poor health.

The other two had to be completely shaved and receive veterinary treatment for a range of issues. ‘Their skin was in a very bad way,’ said Ms Bent.

‘Wexford continues to produce many of the little, high-maintenance breeds and they are kept in dreadfully unacceptable conditions to sell to unsuspecting members of the public, who sadly only realise the plight of their newly-acquired puppies once they have been paid for and taken to their vet to be checked,’ she said.

‘Ignorance is frequently used as an excuse for such neglect, but greed and indifference would be a more suitable description of the actions of these breeders,’ said Ms Bent.

Ms Bent said that the ISPCA is now ‘urgently pleading’ with the government to ‘be pro-active and enact the dog breeding regulations’.

She said that the bill has been through the Dail and the Seanad and all that’s left now is for Environment Minister Phil Hogan to sign it into law.

‘This legislation is gathering dust on a shelf somewhere while lovely little dogs continue to suffer at the hands of uncaring breeders,’ said Ms Bent.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said that the ‘commencement of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act (2010) is awaiting the passage of the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill, which is currently before the Oireachtas’.

‘The Welfare of Greyhounds Bill is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is intended that the two bills will commence simultaneously,’ he said.

Wexford’s time to shine

Dancers April Dowdall (16), and Gavin Byrne (16) and their "Butler" Patrick O'Connor (17) getting in some rehearsal time at Curracloe beach ahead of their performance in the Oyster Lane Theatre Group production of Disney’s "‘Beauty and the Beast", running from October 24 to 30 during the Wexford Fringe Festival.

It’s that time of the year again in Wexford, when the town comes alive like no other.

You can already sense it now – the Opera Festival is almost here. In a matter of days the hotels will be full and the streets will be buzzing again from early in the morning until late at night.

Anticipation is building ahead of Friday night’s launch, with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny coming to town to do the honours on the quay. Mr Kenny will be one of just many visitors to Wexford during the festival, which runs from Friday, October 21, to Saturday, November 5.

Tickets are selling very well for the Opera Festival’s main events and almost 40 per cent of those tickets are going to people who live overseas, highlighting the popularity of this internationally renowned festival, now in its 60th year.

It’s estimated that the festival will attract some 20,000 visitors and give the Wexford area an economic boost of somewhere in the region of €8 million, which is hugely significant for a relatively small town. People won’t just come from abroad, they will come from all over Ireland. The locals will be out in force too.

On that note, it is worth pointing out that Wexford Opera Festival was founded by a small group of volunteers and only became the renowned international event it is today through the hard work, enthusiasm and vision of Wexford people working for no personal profit.

The spirit of volunteerism that existed in 1950 is not just alive and well in Wexford, it remains essential to pull off the smooth running of the Opera Festival,  possibly even more so these days given the scale of it, and a huge band of locals will once again be lending a hand this year.

Everyone knows the importance of the festival and, it seems, everyone enjoys it too. The town is completely transformed and – even in recessionary times – the mood is lifted. You can’t put a price on that.

The Irish Independent had a nice piece on the festival last weekend, talking to Nora Liddy, whose father was a member of the founding committee, and the festival’s current Artistic Director David Agler.

The fun begins on Friday with the launch on the quay, which is always punctuated by a spectacular fireworks display. Mr Kenny is set to officially launch the 60th Wexford Opera Festival at 7 p.m. with the fireworks display set to begin at 7.30 p.m.

The entertainment on the quayfront begins at 4.30 p.m. and there are a number of great acts set to entertain the huge crowd expected to gather for the occasion, including Cork City Ballet, Oyster Lane Theatre Group (featured in the photo at the top of this post) and Extreme Rhythm.

Of course, the operas themselves also get underway at the magnificent Wexford Opera House (which just by itself is worth visiting if you’ve never been), with “La Cour de Célimène” beginning at 8 p.m. “Maria” follows on Saturday night and “Gianni di Parigi” on Sunday, with the three operas running until the close of the festival on Saturday, November 5.

You can check out Wexford Opera Festival’s site for full details on the three operas and all the other exciting events they have lined up this year, from lunchtime recitals to evening cabarets.

However, the great thing about Wexford Opera Festival is how inclusive it is and this is due, in no small part, to the Wexford Fringe Festival, which runs in tandem with it. You don’t have to like – or care about – opera to enjoy festival time in Wexford.

This year there are over 250 Fringe Festival events over 17 days (it runs just a little bit longer than the Opera Festival!) and there’s lots to look forward to.

The wide range of events include live gigs, theatrical performances, photography and art exhibitions, literary recitals, as well as dance, craft, children’s and street events… the list goes on for a while! You can check out exactly what’s on here or for updates follow the Fringe Festival on Twitter @wexfringefest

Personally, I can’t wait to get into town early on Saturday morning and start out on an Opera Festival Odyssey, taking my time as I make my way through the many excellent art and photography exhibitions, as well as enjoying all the weird and wonderful people and events you inevitably stumble upon when you wander through the historic and atmospheric streets of Wexford as it shows itself off to the world.