White loon in Ireland


Two great northern divers in Ireland, 'normal' winter plumage and leucistic, photo by Dermot Breen

From Dermot Breen’s blog in Ireland, with more photos there:

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Great White Diver

I was down around the Kilkieran way today. A fish farm just off Ardmore Pier has started up in the last year and has received a gathering of gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls. It’s becoming a bit a struggle to find any location in the county in recent years that att[racts] more than a dozen large gulls. Nimmo’s Pier, Rossaveel Harbour and a lot of the previously productive Connemara fish farms are a shadow of what they once were. I probably saw less than 30 large gulls in all at Ardmore today which included a very brief flyover first-winter white-winged gull. I also had a white colour ringed adult Mediterranean Gull also here (too far to read).

While looking through the gulls I noticed a few Great northern Divers feeding quite close to the fish cages. I was pleasantly surprised to come across a leucistic Great northern Diver. It looked also like a pure albino from a distance but the wings were less than white especially the primaries. You could also make out the ghost image of the colour patterning on the head and neck at certain angles. The bird had a bit of a habit of opening it’s bill almost as if it was gasping especially just prior to diving. I’m not sure if this is a great sign of good health unfortunately? While doing a quick search online for leucistic Great northerns I came across a bird seen on Skye island, Scotland over the winter of 2015/2016 which looks very similar to today’s bird – note the darker primaries along with the pale greater and median coverts contrasting with the darker lesser coverts and secondaries.

This isn’t the first leucistic Great northern Diver I’ve seen as I had one bird up in Renvyle back in 2011. I’ve added two record pictures below. This appeared very similar to a bird that has wintered on and off in the Black Head area of county Clare and may well have been the same individual (note the brown foreheads of both birds).

Irish stone age discovery


This video series is called Irish archaeology and early history.

From Science News:

Stone adze points to ancient burial rituals in Ireland

Ceremonial tool found with cremated remains in island’s earliest known gravesite

By Bruce Bower

4:33pm, November 9, 2016

A stone chopping tool found in Ireland’s earliest known human burial offers a rare peek at hunter-gatherers’ beliefs about death more than 9,000 years ago, researchers say.

The curved-edge implement, known as an adze, was made to be used at a ceremony in which an adult’s largely cremated remains were interred in a pit, says a team led by archaeologist Aimée Little of the University of York in England. Previous radiocarbon dating of burned wood and a bone fragment from the pit, at a site called Hermitage near the River Shannon, places the material at between 9,546 and 9,336 years old.

A new microscopic analysis revealed a small number of wear marks on the sharpened edge of the still highly polished adze, which was probably attached to a wooden handle, the researchers report online October 20 in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Little’s group suspects someone wielded the 19.4-centimeter-long adze to chop wood for a funeral pyre or to fell a tree for a grave marker. A hole dug into the bottom of the riverside pit once held a tall wooden post indicating that a person lay buried there, the scientists suspect.

Once the adze fulfilled its ritual duties, a hard stone was ground across the tool’s sharp edge to render it dull and useless, further microscopic study suggests. The researchers regard this act as a symbolic killing of the adze. The dulled tool blade was then placed in the pit, next to the post grave marker, perhaps to accompany the cremated individual to the afterlife.

“By 9,000 years ago, people in Ireland were making very high quality artifacts specifically to be placed in graves, giving us a tantalizing glimpse of ancient belief systems concerning death and the afterlife,” Little says. Her conclusion challenges a popular assumption among researchers that stone tools found in ancient hunter-gatherers’ graves belonged to the deceased while they were still alive. In that scenario, tools and other grave items played no role in burial activities and rituals.

Archaeologist Erik Brinch Petersen of the University of Copenhagen is skeptical. No other European stone adzes or axes from around 10,000 to 6,000 years ago display blunted edges, Petersen says. That makes it difficult to say how such an unusual artifact was used or whether it was intended to accompany a cremated person to the afterlife. In addition, researchers have found only a few European cremations from the same time period.

Since there was no practical reason to turn an effective tool into a chunk of stone that couldn’t cut, Little responds, intentionally dulling the adze’s edge was likely a ritual act. Whatever the meaning, people in Ireland made polished stone tools several thousand years before such implements achieved widespread use in Europe with the arrival of agriculture, Little says.

Excavations in 2001 revealed the Hermitage burial pit. Two small stone tools lay near the polished adze. A couple more burial pits turned up nearby. One contained cremated remains of an adult human from around 9,000 years ago; the other held roughly 8,600-year-old cremated remnants too fragmentary to enable a species identification.

“Hermitage was a special place known about and returned to over hundreds of years,” Little says.

African Irish photographer’s exhibition


This video from England says about itself:

A Short Film on the London Irish Centre

Shot in Camden, north London, on 6th of February 2008.

Filmed & Edited by Eoin O’Donnell.

By Angela Cobbinah in London, England:

Black, Irish and proud

Saturday 22nd October 2016

LORRAINE MAHER tells Angela Cobbinah what inspired her to mount the ground-breaking #iamirish photography exhibition at the Irish Centre in London

WHEN she was growing up in County Tipperary in the 1960s, Lorraine Maher met no other black people and on the few occasions they came into her midst she would avoid them.

“I didn’t want to draw attention to myself in any way,” she says.

“I grew up in a beautiful town full of beautiful people but there was racism all around me. This was the age of the golliwog and the ‘black baby box’ to collect money for starving African babies.

“I knew I was different but my blackness was never spoken about and I spent my childhood just wanting to hide away and not be noticed.”

It did not help that her mother had handed her over to her grandmother to be brought up while she lived nearby with her new family.

“In those days it would have been very hard for my mother to have not only had an illegitimate child but a black one too,” Lorraine acknowledges.

“However, I had a very difficult upbringing and I am living with the effects of that.”

There were children like herself scattered all over Ireland, many fathered by African doctors who were based there in the 1950s and ’60s as a result of bilateral work and study programmes. The unluckiest ended up in the dreaded “industrial schools”, children’s homes run by the Catholic Church where abuse was said to be widespread.

Not surprisingly, Lorraine left Ireland as soon as she could, heading for the bright lights of London aged 17. It proved to be a liberation. “I arrived at a place where I met people of all colours and where no-one questioned my identity,” she says.

“At last I felt I belonged. I dropped my Irish accent and I started seeing myself as a black woman.”

But as time went on, she realised she was still very much Irish. “It is the culture I was brought up in and it is important to me. These days I say I am black, I am Irish and I am proud.”

It is this often painful journey to self-realisation that laid the seeds of the #iamirish exhibition she has curated for the London Irish Centre, tellingly its first ever contribution to Black History Month. Opened last week by Ruaidri Dowling on behalf of the Irish embassy, it is a display of stunning portraits by photographer Tracey Anderson that aims to question the concept of what it looks like to be Irish.

“It is a celebration of Ireland’s diversity,” explains Lorraine, who works as an education manager at the Clean Break Theatre Company and has four children.

“The photos are accompanied by family crests, linked to Irish surnames, to dispel the idea that if you are from a non-white community you are automatically an immigrant. I myself can trace my ancestry back thousands of years.”

The Ireland of today is very different to the one she grew up in, she agrees. The economic boom of the 1980s and ’90s brought in migrants from all over the world transforming the country’s monocultural view of itself and when Muhammad Ali visited Ennis in County Clare in 2009 where his great great-grandfather hailed from he was given a huge welcome.

But according to Lorraine: “Ireland may look very different but it is not as blended as it looks.”

The contradictions were brought home to her by two events earlier this year, which spurred her into organising the exhibition.

The first was the mayor of Ennis’s announcement that he was going to attend Ali’s funeral and the second was news the following day that two African students had been refused entry into a Dublin bar.

“I felt I really had to do something to bring the two communities together.”

The exhibition consists of images of people aged from one to 70-plus but all are anonymous. Despite that, it is full of warmth and optimism.

Bar a few Facebook trolls, the response has been extremely positive, says Lorraine, touching as it does the hitherto hidden lives of children like herself and the generations who have followed.

#iamirish runs at London Irish Centre, Camden Square, London NW1 until October 31. There will be an accompanying workshop and a panel discussion during the month. Details: londonirishcentre.org.

Big Irish women’s rights demonstration


This video from Ireland says about itself:

Protest at death of [Dr] Savita [Halappanavar], denied an abortion in Irish hospital

2,000 protested over death of Savita, denied a termination in Irish hospital. The protest took place at parliament buildings where legislators have failed for 20 years to legislate for abortion, Dublin 14th November 2012.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Dublin demo demands end to ban on abortions

Sunday 25th September 2015

TENS of thousands marched through Dublin yesterday calling for abortion rights.

Marchers carried banners calling on the Irish government to “repeal the 8th,” the amendment to the Irish constitution which gives foetuses a “right to life” deemed equal with that of pregnant women, rendering almost all abortions illegal.

The Abortion Rights Campaign said it the march was about demanding “free, safe and legal” abortion rights in Ireland.

Spokeswoman Linda Kavanagh said: “100 years on from the Easter Rising, the equality promised in the 1916 proclamation hasn’t been realised.”

Her colleague Janet O’Sullivan accused governments of “burying their heads in the sand, ignoring the urgent need and desire for change.”

Solidarity marches by pro-choice campaigners also took place across the world, including in Berlin, London and New York.

This video from Ireland says about itself:

10,000 March for Abortion Rights in Ireland, September 2015

29 September 2015

Over 10,000 march for a woman’s right to bodily autonomy in Dublin on Saturday 26th 2015. Organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign, activists from all over Ireland and across Europe came out to demand that a referendum be held to Repeal the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution which equates the foetus with the pregnant person carrying the foetus.

Video © Paula Geraghty

Last Friday, the Polish parliament, the Sejm, approved a draft law in a first reading that provides for a near-total ban on abortion and criminalises both women and doctors involved in abortions. The bill was introduced by an ultra-right, Catholic lobby group and bans all abortion with the exception of those facing the imminent danger of death. Even underage girls who have been raped are denied a right to abortion. Women who abort face a charge of “prenatal murder” and a prison sentence of between three months and five years: here.

Great cormorant eats eel, video


This video from Ireland says about itself:

6 September 2016

Swallowing an enormous elongated fish is not an eating challenge for this most amazing fishing bird; the bird was hungry and dived under the water to hunt for fish. This fishing bird is an expert at catching big fish. The fishing bird spotted an enormous elongated fish under the water and it then attacked the fish. In this amazing predator vs. prey scene the enormous elongated fish battles hard to escape the attack from the hungry predator, but the fishing bird was relentless and it did not stop the attacks until the fish was beaten and exhausted and unable to defend itself anymore. The fishing bird then amazingly swallowed the enormous fish down its specially adapted throat in one huge gulp. Many animals of all shapes and sizes swallow their food whole.