Marking the Solstice: Ireland’s Ancient Stone Circles…

the sun is setting behind the clouds in the sky

With the winter solstice and shortest day of the year rapidly approaching it’s worth remembering the old traditions which predate any concept of Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, unionism or nationalism – specifically neolithic (meaning literally “new stone”) stone circles and other prehistoric constructions which were built specifically to align with the rising or setting sun on solstice day. You can watch a live stream broadcast of the solar alignment from possibly Ireland’s best-known megalithic site, Newgrange, on 21st December. The …

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PSNI on the Information Commissioner’s naughty step. Again…

person using macbook pro on white table

Hot on the heels of the major data breach in August of this year when thousands of officers’ personal information was accidentally leaked via a spreadsheet, the PSNI has once again found itself on the naughty step and received a slap on the wrist from the Information Commissioner following revelations of personal information having been unlawfully shared by the PSNI’s Extradition Unit (EU) with the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Information on 174 individuals was apparently routinely shared …

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Once more unto the data breach…

worm's eye-view photography of ceiling

PSNI and other NI public bodies face data breaches due to human errors. ICO investigates and warns. Ciaran Ward urges better data protection.

Ryan-off-air, LateLateGate and Marty’s car…

In over 100 years of its existence, the Irish state is no stranger to scandal. Such incidents in the past have mostly involved politicians, businessmen/women, priests or bishops. But now we have the unprecedented situation of the national broadcaster at the centre of the latest outrage. Although not totally unprecedented if you take into account the incident in 1972 when journalist Kevin O’Kelly attempted to circumvent the broadcasting ban on members of outlawed paramilitary groups from the airwaves by interviewing …

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Transatlantic Blonde on Blonde…

Is it mere coincidence that two former political leaders on either side of the Atlantic, both big, blonde and boisterous find themselves on the naughty step at the same time? And in a further coincidence, another former populist leader has just exited the stage for good. Silvio Berlusconi – an outspoken, controversial business tycoon who became premier of Italy arguably paved the way for the Trump presidency. So both Trump and Johnson see themselves as victims of witch hunts and …

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“How far do you live from the English border?”

brown wooden parsons chair on gray beach sand

One summer in the 1990s while I was a student I did what many other students do and crossed the Atlantic for gainful holiday employment. I spent a hot, humid festival season amidst the mosquito-infested lakes, pine forests and flatlands of rural Michigan where I slaved away scrubbing pans and mopping floors in the kitchen of a children’s summer camp with a number of other students from Slovakia, the Netherlands, England, Australia and Canada. Our passports had been confiscated on …

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A Snake banisher comes of age…

It’s that time of year when the Easter eggs have been in the shops since about early January, the daffodils (some of which have been in bloom since early January – which may or may not be a consequence of climate change) set the place alight with yellow and pubs throughout England’s green (and yellow) pleasant land celebrate a famous British saint adopted by Ireland – and I don’t mean Jack Charlton. In a convenient tie-in with the Six Nations …

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Passing the port in stormy weather….

Another decade has passed and my passport is due for renewal this year. A great deal has happened since 2013 – both in my own personal life (which I won’t go into) and within the wider world – which I won’t dwell on either as it’s been covered extensively both here and elsewhere. But of course one particular event which has affected people’s choice of passport(s) cannot be ignored. As a result we’ve seen the unprecedented phenomenon of diehard unionists …

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Should we boycott the World Cup?

gold-colored trophy and soccerball

You wait years for a world cup and four come along at once. In recent weeks we’ve had world cups in women’s rugby union, men’s rugby league, T20 cricket – and now we’ve got the big one coming up – the long awaited 2022 FIFA World Cup in soccer, possibly the most controversial tournament ever and dubbed by Amnesty International as the “world cup of shame” It will be the first world cup to be held in the Middle East, …

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The trouble with drama – Part 2: The big screen…

This article is the second and final part of my exploration of NI Troubles-related dramas. As Part 1 looked mostly at TV productions, Part 2 takes a look at the big screen. 2 out of 1001 On my bookshelf I have an old 2007 copy of 1001 Movies To See Before You Die which I found for a song at a charity sale. Of the 1001 films referenced, two are set in Northern Ireland. The first is one is Odd …

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The trouble with making drama – Part 1: The small screen…

Old TV

While I was watching Bloodlands the BBC drama series starring Jimmy Nesbitt as a bent PSNI detective, it occurred to me that a new sub-genre of post-Troubles legacy drama has effectively emerged. Like similar serials such as Line of Duty or The Fall, Bloodlands is not specifically about politico-sectarian conflict, but this theme is inevitably lurking in the background with regular references to past events involving paramilitaries. During my formative years in the 1980s and 90s there seemed to be …

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Houdini, the Teflon Taoiseach and the Polytetrafluoroethylene Prime Minister…

man in black and white shirt painting

So following an apparent pyrrhic victory in the party confidence ballot and notwithstanding the damning conclusions of the long-awaited “FINDINGS OF SECOND PERMANENT SECRETARY’S INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGED GATHERINGS ON GOVERNMENT PREMISES DURING COVID RESTRICTIONS” (better known as the Sue Gray report) Boris Johnson lives to fight another day. Partygate is simply the most serious in a long line of scandals which have dogged Johnson over the years. His alleged part in unlawfully promoting the business interests of ex-girlfriend Jennifer Arcuri …

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The untapped tourist potential of Tyrone…

Ulster American Folk Park

Having recovered from being effectively a no-go area for tourists for the best part of three decades Northern Ireland now has much to offer the discerning visitor. Although I seem to be one of the few people on the planet who have never seen Game Of Thrones, the show seems to have worked wonders for the local tourist industry now that places like the Dark Hedges and the Giants Causeway have become popular must-see destinations. There are of course the …

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What’s with the Accent?

Twins

Having lived in England for several years if I had a pound for every time someone on hearing my accent asked me “what part of Scotland are you from?” I’d certainly have a few extra quid in the bank. Now I’d understand this if I spoke with a strong north Antrim accent which clearly has a strong Scottish influence due to both geographical proximity and centuries (if not millennia) of inter-mingling – but I don’t. I then usually try to …

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Rebuilding the human factor…

brothers, boys, affection

Events of the past two years have demonstrated that thanks to modern technology and the increasingly individualistic nature of modern western society it’s now perfectly possible, especially if you live in an urban area to go for days and even weeks on end without any meaningful contact with other human beings. We can do our supermarket shopping online and have the groceries delivered to our door by an anonymous delivery driver on a zero contract. In fact we can now …

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Playing New Games Without Frontiers…

sochi 2014, russia, olympiad

As we’re all too aware in our own small corner of the world, politics and sport can often be a toxic mix. But in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine the combustion of sporting and politico-economic interests was inevitable. George Orwell famously described sport as “war minus the shooting”. The same principle applies today with many governments using it as a propaganda weapon. But one thing which has changed massively since Orwell’s day is the lucrative multi-billion dollar …

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Nostalgia – the double-edged sword…

photos, hands, hold

The nostalgia industry has become something of a lucrative business. There are now entire TV channels dedicated to repeats of old shows where (if you have time on your hands) you can spend all day watching the likes of Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Kojak, Starsky & Hutch or The Sweeney. There are radio stations which only play golden oldies. Ageing rock bands re-form (sometimes with less than half their original line-up) and go on tour thereby cashing in on the …

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Brave New Post Lockdown World: Same Office, Different River? 

despaired, businessman, business

In the early 2000s, TV viewers were invited to see the funny side of the drudgery and monotony of the white-collar workplace. The Office starring Ricky Gervais as David Brent, a deluded manager at a regional branch of paper merchant’s firm  Wernham Hogg cashed in on the then-new trend for reality TV, presenting itself as a fly-on-the-wall “mockumentary” and revelling in the incidents of social awkwardness, gaffes, flirtations, clashes of egos and professional rivalries which permeate workplaces throughout the world. If …

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Haunting Of Queen’s University Halls?

chamber, chair, mirrors

Back in the 1990s when I was a first-year student at Queen’s I lodged in one of the brutalist Soviet-style 1960s tower blocks known as the Elms halls of residence located just off the leafy Malone Road. During the week the area was a hive of activity, a self-contained student village where countless tomfoolery, pranks, romantic liaisons, all-night parties and all kinds of alcohol-fuelled debauchery and hedonism abounded – just as you would expect to find at any university campus …

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Notes from the outer regions…

Having lived in London for over 20 years now I’m always careful not to bring back too much of the local currency when I return from trips home. I’m referring of course to the regional banknotes produced by Danske Bank, Ulster Bank, First Trust and Bank of Ireland. It’s a well-worn rant that most retailers and service providers in GB won’t accept such notes despite the fact that they are sterling and should (in theory) be legal currency (albeit not …

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