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Cullenstown Strand

I am back home again this weekend. I woke up early on Saturday and Dad, the other early riser, and myself decided to go for a walk.

Cullenstown Strand is a short drive from our house and it’s a small beach, but just about the right size for Dad at the moment as he builds his health and fitness back up following major heart surgery recently.

He has been doing really well and walking a little bit more every day, but as he said himself, has been getting fairly fed up of laps of the house!

Well, he couldn’t have wished for a better change of scenery, as Saturday was absolutely and unexpectedly beautiful. The sun was splitting the stones in Wexford and as we arrived at Cullenstown we could have been somewhere on the Indian Ocean, not the Atlantic, in Ireland, in October…

Walking the Raven Loop

The story behind a hero and a statue

Mark Richards hard at work on his statue of Nickey Rackard. The finished article will be unveiled at Selskar Square in Wexford town next March.

There aren’t too many statues being commissioned in Ireland these days.

Even if there was any money left in the public coffers, we veered away from statues some time ago, generally in favour of more contemporary pieces of public art.

However, in a studio on the English-Welsh border one of the UK’s finest exponents of portrait sculpture is currently dedicating almost every waking hour to a statue of one of this country’s greatest ever sportsmen.

Nickey Rackard will be immortalised in bronze in Selskar Square in Wexford town in March 2012.

The Rathnure man was one of the finest hurlers to ever grace the game and his exploits on the field in the purple and gold of Wexford are legendary.

However, Nickey experienced as many low moments as high ones in his life due to his chronic alcohol addiction.

He showed extraordinary courage to not only eventually come to terms with his problem after many years and, as the man himself wrote, experiencing “the depths of misery and degradation”, but to speak honestly and openly about it at a time when it was still very much a taboo subject in this country.

Nickey travelled the country with AA trying to help others and the pieces he penned on his life and battle with alcohol addiction remain as relevant today as they were then. He eventually died of cancer in 1976.

In my humble opinion, Nickey Rackard’s greatest battle was with himself and his greatest triumph was one of the human spirit. There are lessons there to be learned for all of us and that is why far more than a hurling hero is being honoured in Wexford next March.

His life and battle with alcoholism, including the views of Nickey’s son Bobby and some of his own words from pieces he wrote down through the years, are charted in this excellent article by Dermot Crowe.

The fascinating thing I’ve learned about the statue itself is the huge level of research, commitment and attention to detail that have gone into it by renowned sculptor Mark Richards.

Mark has made many visits to Wexford before and since he was awarded the commission by Wexford Borough Council and said he is well aware just how much Nickey Rackard means to people here.

“He’s an iconic figure, but you have to turn that pressure into inspiration or it could become overwhelming. It’s a tall order, but Nickey Rackard is my life at the moment. I’m really enjoying it. It’s very exciting and very challenging,’ he told me.

But before he ever thought about getting to work in the studio, Mark had a lot of research to do, on a number of fronts, starting with the site for the statue in Selskar Square.

However, this was far from the most challenging aspect of his research – hurling is not exactly a popular game where he’s from, he readily confesses! Then there was the significant task of researching the man to be commemorated by his statue.

Mark threw himself right into it and here’s just seven interesting aspects of his work to date:

  • Mark got Wexford’s Kevin Gore to show him hurling in action, paying particular attention to the movements and all the finer details, such as how the hurl and sliothar are held. He filmed the footage to study it.
  • Local hurl maker Philip Doyle made the sculptor a replica of a hurl used in the 1950s, which Mark describes as “a beautiful object”. He also visited the Croke Park Museum, to view a hurl used by Nickey’s brother Bobby in the 1955 All-Ireland Final.
  • He has been working closely with Nickey’s three children, Bobby, Marion and Bernadette. “They have been fantastic, they have been really great to me and provided me with a lot of information and inspiration,” said Mark, who was warmly welcomed and given access to the family archive, a veritable treasure trove of photographs and memorabilia, all of which have proved most helpful to him.
  • His most recent visit to the Rackards was an unusual one as it saw him bring with him a model of their late father’s head to ensure that he gets the likeness spot on! “You can only get so much from a photo and most of the photos are from the front, there’s no profile,” said Mark.
  • The statue will show Nickey Rackard in a pose familiar to people who saw the legendary full-forward play. “I want him to be caught in movement, looking at the goal just before he throws the sliothar up for a strike,” he said.
  • Nickey Rackard, the bronze version, will be over seven feet tall – or life-and-a-quarter size! Mark explained that this is because “humans are actually quite small things in isolation”, but that we seem bigger due to our personalities, movement and the noise we make. He said that you actually have to increase the size of a statue by 25% for it to seem life-size, describing it as “a trick of the trade”.
  • An unexpected by-product of his work has been the emergence of hurling – or a version of it at least – on the English-Welsh border. “The children and neighbours were playing it during the summer. It was funny to see a hurling scene on the common,” said Mark. However, it’s not exactly the game we know and love over here as he did point out that “we have our own version of hurling, which involves the dog!”

You can follow Mark’s progress, get a full behind-the-scenes look at his work on the Nickey Rakcard statue and delve into the more technical details of the sculpting process on this site.

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

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.


I met some Wexford people who have been giving generously of their time and energy to preserve a place that I – and many others – love.

The story is below some photos I took at The Raven/Curracloe on my phone earlier this year. It’s probably my favourite place and I can’t praise the “Friends of The Raven” enough for the work they have been doing.

They won’t get a warden, but hopefully they will raise awareness and engender a greater sense of ownership and pride in a paradise on our doorstep.


CALLS have been made for the by-laws governing one of Co Wexford’s most popular beauty spots to be enforced before it is spoiled.

The Friends of The Raven Coastcare Group have said that anti-social behaviour and littering are getting so bad in Curracloe that it’s now getting to their point where their voluntary efforts to clean the area are becoming ‘futile’.

The Raven Wood Nature Reserve, adjoining the hugely popular Curracloe beach, is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and by-laws there include no camping, no fires, no littering (including dog foul) and that all dogs must be kept on leads.

In a letter to Minister Brendan Howlin, their most senior local representative, the Friends of The Raven said: ‘as we embark on the coming busy summer season, we are increasingly concerned that the degree of camping and littering within the wood and its environs is seriously escalating’.

Sunny weekends attract visitors from all over Ireland and on the June Bank Holiday Weekend the local volunteers counted 19 tents in the area, ‘with a number of camp fires having to be put out and the garbage left behind having to ne gathered and hauled out by us’. The Friends of The Raven also made their case in person to Minister Howlin’s cabinet colleague Jimmy Deenihan at Wexford’s Wildfowl Reserve last Friday.

Dave Costelloe and Pat Burke are two of the longest serving members of The Friends of The Raven and carry out regular clean-ups and litter picks there. They are part of a small core group of volunteers that has become increasingly busy since the summer season kicked in.

The group was formed out of a love for the area, but Dave said the level of rubbish there at the moment, from campers and people littering as they walk through the woods, is ‘heartbreaking’.

Pat said one of the problems stems from the fact that the area is governed by a number of authorities. ‘The enforcement of the by-laws falls between a number of stools. This land in the woods is governed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service; Coillte are responsible for the trees and when you go out onto the dunes or beach or into the car park, that’s Wexford County Council’s area,’ he said.

‘It’s easy to write by-laws, but enforcing them is another matter,’ added Dave. He said that they are a small group and the mounting rubbish is becoming too much for them.

‘You could go on forever through other people’s dirt,’ said Pat. ‘We’re getting towards the quitting stage, we’re beginning to feel that our efforts are futile,’ added Dave.

Pat pointed out that The Raven Wood was one of five locations in Ireland recently chosen by the National Biodiversity Data Centre for its ‘Bioblitz’ initiative and is a site of national importance.

Senan Reilly, another Friend of The Raven, said they want to increase awareness of the area and ‘encourage a sense of ownership and pride’ among local people.

Pat pointed out that the majority of the regular users of the area are fully supportive of their efforts, but the problems there continue to escalate nonetheless. ‘There’s great good will out there and people really do appreciate this place and we can’t let a small number of brats ruin it for everyone,’ he said.

‘The by-laws are there, it just requires political will,’ said Dave. The Friends of The Raven have called for a full-time warden to oversee the area.

However, they acknowledged that funding is a major issue and at the very least want to see ‘joined-up thinking’  between the Gardaí, the Department of the Environment, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Wexford County Council and An Taisce.

The Friends of the Raven hope that this would lead to ‘more frequent weekend monitoring and policing’ of The Raven Wood and ‘more stringent application’ of the by-laws governing the area.

The Friends of The Raven also pointed out that many cars are broken into, on an ongoing basis, in the car parks adjoining Curracloe beach while people are out walking and that anti-social behaviour in the woods is also ‘causing some members of the public to avoid the area out of concern for their personal safety’.

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.