Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Bit of Irish Legend

Since I like to read history, I get lots of mail relating to Celtic histories. I found this little tidbit earlier today.

Murder Of “Brown Earl” Of Ulster And Its Effects
April 29th, 2008 | by indo |

The most bitter quarrel of all, and one which had most important results, was that which ended in the assassination of the last De Burgh Earl of ” Ulster.” The ” Red Earl ” had died in 1326 in the monastery of Athaisil and had been succeeded by his grandson, the ” Brown Earl.” William De Burgh, the brother of the Red Earl and one of the victors at Athenry, had died in 1324. Between William’s son, Walter, and the Brown Earl, some fighting took place, and eventually Walter De Burgh was treacherously captured, and starved to death in the Brown Earl’s castle of Greencastle in Inis Eoghain. Walter’s brother-in-law, Sir Richard Mandeville, in revenge suddenly fell upon the Brown Earl, and murdered him near Carrickfergus (1333). The Earl left an only child, an infant girl, who was carried off to England, and the last of the Lordships thus met the same fate that had befallen all the others.

The Normans of Connacht Renounce English Authority.—The effects of this crime were severely felt in ” Ulster ” and in Connacht. In the former it resulted in the settlement of the Clann Aodha Buidhe O’Neills and the ultimate annihilation of the northern settlement. In the latter it caused the repudiation of English authority by the other branches of the De Burghs. These were descended from William, the brother of the first Earl of the family , and were now represented by two brothers, Ulick Burke and Edmond ” Albanach ” Burke. Knowing that the infant daughter of the Brown Earl would eventually carry the title and its possessions to some ” absentee ” husband, they definitely renounced allegiance to the English Crown and English law, and adopted the Irish names of Mac William from their ancestor, Ulick becoming Mac William ” Uachtar ” (or ” upper “), and Edmond becoming Mac William ” Iochtar ” (or ” lower “). To remove the only other claimant to any superior title over them, Edmund seized a surviving son of the Red Earl, and drowned him in Lough Mask (1338). The lesser Normans followed the example of their leaders, and all Connacht was thus lost to the English Crown for more than two centuries.

The New Earldoms: Kildare, Desmond, Ormonde.—It was just when the last of the early Lordships disappeared that there rose into clear prominence three family which from that time became the conspicuous leaders of the Irish of Norman descent. They were not late arrivals ; their founders had been amongst the earliest settlers, but hitherto they had occupied a secondary position to the Marshalls, De Lacys, De Burghs and others. Unlike most of these families, their interests lay altogether in Ireland, and they were only remotely concerned in English politics. They were the Fits-Geralds of Leinster, the Fitz-Geralds of Munster, and the Butlers, the respective heads of which were now created Earls of Kildare (1318), of Desmond (1330), and of Ormonde (1328).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A shocker?

From the Scotsman newspaper.........

Exclusive: Half man, half chimp - should we beware the apeman's coming?

Creation of a hybrid using human sperm to impregnate a female chimpanzee would be legal (Picture: Bill Henry)

Date: 29 April 2008
A LEADING scientist has warned a new species of "humanzee," created from breeding apes with humans, could become a reality unless the government acts to stop scientists experimenting.

In an interview with The Scotsman, Dr Calum MacKellar, director of research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, warned the controversial draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill did not prevent human sperm being inseminated into animals.

He said if a female chimpanzee was inseminated with human sperm the two species would be closely enough related that a hybrid could be born.

He said scientists could possibly try to develop the new species to fill the demand for organ donors.

Leading scientists say there is no reason why the two species could not breed, although they question why anyone would want to try such a technique.

Other hybrid species already created include crossed tigers and lions and sheep and goats.

Dr MacKellar said he feared the consequences if scientists made a concerted effort to cross humans with chimpanzees. He said: "Nobody knows what they would get if they tried hard enough. The insemination of animals with human sperm should be prohibited.

"The Human Fertilisation and Embryo Bill prohibits the placement of animal sperm into a woman The reverse is not prohibited. It's not even mentioned. This should not be the case."

He said if the process was not banned, scientists would be "very likely" to try it, and it would be likely humans and chimps could successfully reproduce.

"If you put human sperm into a frog it would probably create an embryo, but it probably wouldn't go very far," he said.

"But if you do it with a non-human primate it's not beyond the realms of possibility that it could be born alive."

Dr MacKellar said the resulting creature could raise ethical dilemmas, such as whether it would be treated as human or animal, and what rights it would have.

"If it was never able to be self-aware or self-conscious it would probably be considered an animal," he said. "However, if there was a possibility of humanzees developing a conscience, you have a far more difficult dilemma on your hands."

He said fascination would be enough of a motive for scientists to try crossing the two species.

But he also said there was a small chance of scientists using the method to "humanise" organs for transplant into humans. "There's a desperate need for organs. One of the solutions that has been looked at is using animal organs, but because there's a very serious risk of rejection using animal organs in humans they are already trying to humanise these organs.

"If they could create these humanzees who are substantially human but are not considered as humans in law , we could have a large provision of organs."

He wrote to the Department of Health to ask that the gap in the draft legislation be addressed.

The department confirmed that the bill "does not cover the artificial insemination of an animal with human sperm".

It said: "Owing to the significant differences between human and animal genomes, they are incompatible and the development of a foetus or progeny is impossible.

"Therefore such activity would have no rational scientific justification, as there would be no measurable outcome."

Dr MacKellar disagrees. He said: "The chromosomal difference between a goat and a sheep is greater than between humans and chimpanzees."

Professor Bob Millar, director of the Medical Research Council Human Reproductive Sciences Unit, based in Edinburgh, agreed viable offspring would be possible. He said: "Donkeys can mate with horses and create infertile offspring; maybe that could happen with chimpanzees."

But he said he would oppose any such attempt. "It's unnecessary and ridiculous and no serious scientist would consider such a thing. Ethically, it's not appropriate.

"It's also completely impractical. Chimps would never be a source of organs for humans because of the viruses they carry and the low numbers."

Professor Hugh McLachlan, professor of applied philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University's School of Law and Applied Sciences, said although the idea was "troublesome", he could see no ethical objections to the creation of humanzees.

"Any species came to be what it is now because of all sorts of interaction in the past," he said.

"If it turns out in the future there was fertilisation between a human animal and a non-human animal, it's an idea that is troublesome, but in terms of what particular ethical principle is breached it's not clear to me.

"I share their squeamishness and unease, but I'm not sure that unease can be expressed in terms of an ethical principle."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "It's just not a problem. If you inseminate an animal with human sperm, scientifically nothing happens. The species barriers are too great."


EVEN though hybrids of humans and animals have never been created, many other creatures have been crossed successfully.

Lions and tigers have been bred to create ligers, the world's largest cats.

And there are also zorses (zebra and horse), wholphins (whale and dolphin), tigons (tiger and lion), lepjags (leopard and jaguar) and zonkeys (zebra and donkey).

As well as these hybrid mammals, there are also hybrid birds, fish, insects and plants.

Many hybrids, such as mules, are sterile, which prevents the movement of genes from one species to another, keeping both species distinct. However, some can reproduce and there are scientists who believe that grey wolves and coyotes mated thousands of years ago to create a new species, the red wolf.

More commonly, hybrids mate with one of their parent species, which can influence the genetic mix of what gets passed along to subsequent generations.

Hybrids can have desirable traits, often being fitter or larger than either parent.

Most hybrid animals have been bred in captivity, but there are examples of the process occurring in the wild.

This is far more common in plants than animals but in April 2006 a hunter in Canada's North-west Territories shot a polar bear whose fur had an orange tint.

Research showed that it had a grizzly bear father, and it became known as a pizzly.

In 2003, DNA analysis confirmed that five odd-looking felines found in Maine and Minnesota were bobcat-lynx hybrids, dubbed blynxes.

Last Updated: 29 April 2008 8:08 AM
Source: The Scotsman
Location: Edinburgh

Monday, April 28, 2008

Nothing new

I've checked out both my Irish and my Scottish sites and just couldn't come up with anything interesting today.

But I did do a wonderful Internet Radio Show with Nikki Leigh. We talked alot about my Celtic stories and discussed the new book, Saratoga Winter: 1865. It is to be the second book about the five O'Malley brothers, two that came over to America in 1863. The first book, Saratoga Summer: 1863, is about the oldest of the five, Connor. He got to go through the Civil War Draft riots in New York City, along with the youngest O'Malley brother. This second book is about Egan...

And I should be off writing about it right now, 'cause I just got a wonderful idea.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Love this newsletter

I have gotten the Scottish Snippets newsletter for years and have always enjoyed it. I thought it would be nice to share it with some Celts.

Although the "Scottish Snippets" newsletter is now produced every second
week, the "Colour Supplement" of recently taken, larger-size graphics of
Scottish scenes, flora and fauna is continuing on a weekly basis.

This week's collection focuses on the Firth of Clyde:

~ The Firth of Clyde, looking north towards Loch Long;
~ Western Ferries terminus at Hunter's Quay on Cowal, with "Sound of Suna"
ferry departing;
~ The statue to "Highland Mary", immortalised by Scotland's national poet,
Robert Burns;
~ Ruins of Castle Toward, south of Dunoon, owned by the Lamonts and
captured and burnt by the Campbells;
~ The new Castle Toward, built as a mansion house in the 1820s;
~ A Treecreeper bird, running up a tree trunk as its name implies, probing
the bark with its curved bill;
~ A brightly coloured Anemone in the walled garden at Culzean Castle
Country Park.

For all these graphics and further information, see:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

An Irish fable and more

DoAn Art Studio displays art and the musings that go with it. This was put out this week. If you'd like, go to the site to see the picture.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Ériu – Queen of the Emerald Isle

Ériu was the sovereign earth-mother goddess of Ireland. She was one of a triad of goddesses: her sisters, Banbha and Fodla, were also goddess queens of the land. Ériu was married to the King Mac Gréine (Son of the Sun), who was himself the son of the Dagda, the father god of the Tuatha dé Danann.

When the Milesians (the humans) came to the Emerald Isle, they were confronted by the three sisters, each of them offered the island in exchange that the land be named after them. Banbha and Fodla became poetic names for the island, while Ériu became the chief name. We now know the land as Ireland, the root of the name coming from the name Ériu.

Ériu was an earth goddess, and this painting focuses primarily on that aspect of her. I wanted to tune in to earth energies rather than focus on form. As I worked on the piece, I filled my mind with images of Ireland, the land itself, and its plentiful plant and animal life. I used a photograph of a moss and lichen covered rock in Ireland as a guide to the composition. The range of colors in the painting reflect Ireland’s lushness and richness of life.

Ériu was also considered a solar goddess, through her marriage to Mac Gréine. When Ériu, as queen, conferred the land to the new human king, she offered him wine in a golden cup. Wine was the symbol of the earth, rich with life and plenty while the cup symbolized the sun, the source of illumination and healing. By using glazing techniques, I incorporated qualities of the sun in the painting as well. Glazing requires very thin layers of color layered over each other. The light shines through the transparent layers to the white canvas below, when the light bounces back, the colored layers blend, creating the different hues. I used only Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Blue, and Alizarin Crimson in the paintings. I didn’t mix colors on a palette. All the different colors appear solely from light blending together the multiple layers of color.

Ériu was also a goddess of sovereignty. In ancient times, the Celtic kings were married to the goddess of the land. It was the king’s responsibility to please the goddess, to make sure no one died in childbirth, that the food should grow plentifully, and so on. If the goddess was happy, the people thrived and were happy. If the king was unable to fulfill these duties—the king would be overthrown, having lost favor with the goddess.

I think about how such beliefs truly bonded people to the land they lived on. It was much more difficult to disrespect the land, or to take without first obtaining the permission of the land itself. How many of us today take a moment to consider how our actions affect the land we live on? If we thought of the earth as a living being would it be as easy to treat it so poorly? Imagine how much better off the environment would be if we each thought of ourselves married to the land?


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Getting Green is not Easy

Strange to see that other governments and people are having some of the same problems that we in America face. Here's a news item from the

Lewis wind farm vetoed – but green target 'will still be met'

SCOTLAND is still on course to hit its renewables target, the energy minister insisted last night, after he pulled the plug on plans for Europe's largest wind farm.

Jim Mather finally rejected a proposed 181-turbine development on Lewis, which provoked a fierce "environment-versus-development" debate over nearly four years.

Supporters said it was a lost opportunity to advance Scotland's renewables industry and the fragile economy of the Western Isles. It had been claimed the project would bring in £600 million annually and provide hundreds of jobs.

Ministers had indicated in January that they were "minded to refuse" the plan, and yesterday's announcement delighted objectors who said it was a rational decision to protect the environment.

Mr Mather said the Lewis Wind Power (LWP) project was incompatible with European law, as it would have had a serious impact on the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area. The land is designated under European Commission regulations because of its important birdlife.

However, he insisted the rejection did not mean there could not be wind farms in the Western Isles, nor did it affect the government's commitment to renewables – its target was still to generate 50 per cent of Scotland's electricity from renewables by 2020.

An action plan on how to develop renewables in the islands is to be completed in the autumn.

At present, 454 wind turbines are operating in Scotland, with a further 203 approved. Applications have been received for 1,700 others in 28 locations, including another two in the Western Isles.

Mr Mather said: "There is 6.4 gigawatts of renewable development either under construction or in existing or planned applications, well over twice the current installed renewables capacity of 2.8 gigawatts.

"Even allowing for refusals, we are well on the way to meeting our ambitious target to generate 50 per cent of Scotland's electricity demand from renewables by 2020."

But the Highland Renewable Energy Group said yesterday's decision was a social and economic disaster for the islands and raised major questions about the Scottish Government's commitment to renewable energy.

Bill McAllister, the group's secretary, said: "The Scottish administration cannot, in all strategic logic, decide to reject nuclear and opt for renewable energy instead, and then reject the large-scale scheme without which the administration has no chance of reaching its own renewable energy supply targets."

He said the future of a new interconnector between the islands and mainland was also now at risk.

Gareth Williams, of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, warned that, if the decision was allowed to set a precedent, it could mean large parts of Scotland near designated sites would now be closed to development.

The Liberal Democrats called for ministers to publish a strategy for the future of energy in Scotland.

LWP, meanwhile, said it was considering its next move. Kevin Murray, the firm's representative on Lewis, said the rejection represented a "huge missed opportunity". He went on: "For the sake of our generation and the generation coming after us, we need renewable energy. We also need this for the economy – fuel prices are going through the roof, fish farming is struggling, as is Harris Tweed."

It had been claimed the wind farm would employ more than 400 people and bring in £6 million annually to the islands, as well as using the former oil fabrication yard at Arnish for turbine manufacture.

Angus Campbell, the vice-convener of Western Isles Council, said the decision was "deeply disappointing and perplexing in view of the Scottish Government's renewable energy policy to make Scotland the green powerhouse of Europe". He added: "The government has got the balance between the environment and the socioeconomic benefits of the wind farm completely out of kilter."

The £500 million project has been controversial since it was put forward in October 2004 by LWP, a consortium of AMEC and British Energy.

Out of 11,022 representations, 10,924 were against the plan, with only 98 in favour.

Environmental bodies feared potential damage to the peatlands, which are home to species such as golden eagle, merlin, red throated diver, golden plover, dunlin and greenshank.

Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said the rejection of the project sent "a strong message that in meeting our ambitious and welcome renewable targets, we do not have to sacrifice our most important environmental resources".

Catriona Campbell, of the protest group Moorlands Without Turbines, said she was delighted while Alasdair Allan, the islands' SNP MSP, said the decision brought to an end a long and painful debate.

Precious peatland

THE Lewis peatlands are regarded as one of the most extensive and intact areas of blanket bog on the planet and one of Scotland's most important wildlife areas.

The development would have covered an area of 24,797 hectares (61,248 acres), much of it in the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area, the second largest in Scotland.

Environmentalists claimed the wind farm would hit populations of red-throated divers, black-throated divers, golden eagles, golden plovers and dunlins.

It was also felt that construction would cause irreversible damage to the structure of the peat and that carbon dioxide would be released.

But LWP said greenhouse gases released during construction would be cancelled out by the clean energy produced by the turbines within seven months. Dr Tom Dargie, who carried out analysis for LWP, said that the long-term structure and function of the peatland habitat was not under threat.

Charity has the clout to fly in face of controversial building proposals

WITH more than a million members, the RSPB has considerable power to influence decisions.

The charity, which last year had funds of almost £80 million, has fought vigorously against Lewis Wind Power's proposal to build a wind farm on peatland at Lewis.

The RSPB argues that renewable energy targets can be met without needing to threaten environmental resources. The RSPB, the largest conservation charity in Europe, has had similar clout when opposing other high-profile developments, such as Donald Trump's controversial plans for championship golf courses at Menie Estate north of Aberdeen.

Along with Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Government's conservation adviser, the RSPB has objected topart of the development being built on an site of special scientific interest, saying it could damage wildlife.

The organisation has an army of 12,200 volunteers and 150,000 youth members. It has 200 nature reserves covering about 130,000 hectares, which are home to 80 per cent of the country's rarest or most threatened bird species.

The charity, which was founded more than a century ago, is supported by a network of 175 local groups and there are at least nine volunteers for every paid member of staff.

The bulk of the charity's income is spent on conservation projects, maintenance of reserves and education schemes. It counts among its success stories the decision by governments in India, Nepal and Pakistan to ban Diclofenac, a veterinary drug that is wiping out vultures.

More than 1,000 RSPB members attended the Stop Climate Chaos Rally in London in November 2006.

Monday, April 21, 2008

It's not only in America

It seems that Scotland is also having its troubles.

Bank crisis, high street blues and now petrol pumps could run dry

The government’s response to the crisis of 2000, which saw cars queuing at petrol stations, would be the template if the strike at Grangemouth goes ahead.

SCOTLAND is facing its biggest energy crisis since the fuel blockades of 2000 which brought the country to a grinding halt. Then, petrol stations ran dry as truckers and farmers blockaded oil depots in protest at rising fuel duties. Now, as a strike at Scotland's sole oil refinery looks inevitable, filling stations across the country have only three days worth of fuel left.

Contingency plans are believed to have been drawn up to bring fuel up from refineries in England, such as the Stanlow facility in Cheshire, if the strike goes ahead as planned next weekend. But industry insiders believe that widespread and protracted petrol shortages are almost inevitable.

Fears have also been expressed that it could result in domestic power cuts, supermarket food shortages and put the emergency services and hospitals under severe pressure.

Grangemouth distributes more than 200,000 barrels of fuel every day and supplies petrol station across most of Scotland as well as parts of the north of England. Even a brief halt to production and distribution would have considerable knock-on effects.

A spokesman for the UK Petroleum Industry Association, which represents the country's nine major oil body, said filling stations had between three to seven days' fuel supply left, depending on their location.

He said: "Grangemouth is a significant oil refinery for the whole of Scotland. The danger is that people will dash out and stockpile fuel and generate shortages. Filling stations in the main towns and cities are usually resupplied two to three days a week – while in rural areas it is around one a week."

During the fuel blockades of 2000 hundreds of petrol stations across Scotland were forced to close with the severe shortages having a knock-on effect on buses, trains and supermarket supplies.

David Capitanchik, a national security and oil industry expert with Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, said a Grangemouth strike could have an even more severe impact as electricity is generated at the site.

"Any significant stoppage could cause serious fuel shortages in Scotland and beyond for a month or longer. It is does stop functioning then it could also have serious effects for domestic power supplies.

"I have heard it said in the past that any terrorist attack on Grangemouth would mean lights going out in parts of London. If the plant is brought to a halt by strike action then there is no doubt that it would be a very serious matter and peoples' domestic power supplies could be affected.

"It could also potentially impact on the movement of food supplies and the emergency services."

The problem for supermarkets is that they operate a "just in time" delivery system enabling them to cut down warehouse stocks, relying on regular deliveries to keep shelves filled. A day without deliveries would wipe out some stocks of chilled and perishable goods.

Other products would begin to run out within three or four days, although supermarkets say they can last a week without deliveries of most goods.

Supermarket giants Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury's and Morrisons have contingency supplies of fuel in their distribution centres which would be used in the event of shortages.

Fuel shortages would also leave water, gas and electricity companies without supplies to carry out repairs. The Scottish Government last night said it had "initiated appropriate contingency measures" but did not divulge details.

However, the fuel blockades of eight years ago give an insight to the likely UK-wide response to industrial action at Grangemouth.

Then Tony Blair readied the Army, with 80 fully-loaded military tankers and 160 troops moved to secret locations across the country. Business leaders said the crisis cost the country £250m a day.

Shops began rationing food, schools were closed, factories told workers to go home and farmers warned that livestock would starve.

In 2000 several hospitals were forced to cancel all routine operations and many ambulance services were forced to limit how many emergency calls they could respond to.

The stress on services meant the NHS was put on red alert for the first time in more than a decade.

Agreements mean that this time supplies from England will get through to the emergency services and hospitals.

However, it may see non-vital ambulance journeys being temporarily cancelled and other non-emergency incidents being put on hold.

The Federation of Small Business in Scotland believed the impact on strike could have a disastrous effect on the economy.

Spokesman Stuart Mackinnon said: "This has come totally out-of-the-blue and is terrible news for Scotland's small businesses.

"We would encourage both the unions and the management to get around the table and get this sorted."

Top prices

Even when it is available, the rising price of oil is driving UK fuel prices up to unprecedented levels, writes Marc Horne.

As ever, Scotland's most rural and remote areas are worst affected.

The Welcome Inn filling station at Lower Barvas, on the Isle of Lewis, may well be selling the most expensive petrol in the country.

Last night, unleaded petrol there was £1.20.9 a litre.

Richard Mackay & Sons at Durness, Sutherland, is thought to be selling the dearest diesel, at £1.32 a litre.

However, neither comes close to matching the prices of the Chelsea Cloisters filling station in London. There the cost of a litre of unleaded petrol is £1.34.

If you know of more expensive fuel, contact Scotland on Sunday at or phone 0131-620 8430

Consumers cutting back on treats as credit crunch bites

Murdo MacLeod, Jen Lavery and Samantha Novick

SCOTTISH consumers are cutting back on many of life's little luxuries as the credit crunch continues to bite.

Families hit by a wallet-crippling combination of rising food costs, soaring petrol prices and mortgage hikes are increasingly substituting budget options when it comes to shopping and services.

Last month, research by Scotland on Sunday revealed that living costs for many middle-class Scottish families would be between £1,000 and £4,000 more in the coming year, driven in part by an 11% increase in the typical shopping basket.

Many shoppers have been forced to find ways of sparing the pennies. They include:

• Avoiding £25 taxis by taking £2.50 night buses instead;

• Shunning £750 Highland dress outfits outright in favour of a £350 kilt and hiring the rest of the outfit for £65.

• Booking holidays in Scotland rather than flying overseas, with one budget hotel chain saying bookings for May are up by more than 20%.

Across the UK, budget shops are benefiting from the economic downturn as shoppers turn away from the high street where sales have slumped by 1.6%.

Primark, the discount clothes retailer, has seen trade increase by 4%. Aldi, the budget supermarket, has reported a 25% increase in sales.

John Keogh, proprietor of Greenock kilt firm Keogh and Savage, said: "We are noticing a difference because of the credit crunch. And it's in sales of Highland dress. Instead of buying the whole thing, they are instead buying the kilt and maybe hiring the rest. We also notice that, while previously you would see people come in and say that they wanted a complete outfit, just because they wanted it, it's now very much a special thing – say a 21st or a 30th or a 40th."

Taxi firms say the change has been noticeable for just over a month.

Andrew Walker, who runs D&S Cabs in Dunblane, said: "Yes, it is certainly noticeable. Not very many people are out taking taxis any more – and the pubs are quieter and the restaurants are quieter. We are definitely noticing an impact on our income."

Cut-price retailer TK Maxx – where a £130 designer Quiksilver coat can be bought for £50 – is among the winners. It said the economic squeeze would lead to it opening new stores in Scotland.

Spokeswoman Helen Gunter said: "Our value proposition is certainly very likeable during times like these. TK Maxx is very popular with people looking to save. We are currently doing very well in Scotland and will be expanding."

In addition, restaurants north of the Border have been telling suppliers to cut costs.

One wine supplier said: "This is my third recession and it's following a familiar pattern.

"Restaurants are talking to suppliers about how to cut costs – they will be using cheaper cuts of meat, for example. As far as wine is concerned, because of the weakness of the dollar, we are looking to source wine increasingly from dollar-based economies such as Chile and Argentina in order to cut costs.

"Very rich people are less affected by recessions and will continue to eat out. For the rest of us, eating out will return to being something of an occasion, like it used to be."

A spokesman for cut-price hotel chain Travelodge said bookings for Scottish leisure breaks had increased sharply.

"We are already seeing a 22.5% increase in bookings for the May bank holiday and that trend is being reflected at our 23 Scottish hotels, showing that more people are opting to take their holidays here. What we're finding is that travellers who would otherwise go for more expensive hotels are saving money by going for discount hotels."

The increase in discount hotel bookings is in sharp contrast to the overall hotel sector, where occupancy rates fell 1.3% in three months.

Shoppers at the Meadowbank Centre in Edinburgh admitted they were being squeezed.

Support worker Deborah Reilly said: "I've seen reports and I have felt we've had to cut back a bit recently."

Nick Gladding, an analyst at Verdict research, said: "It is clear that people are cutting back on discretionary spending. Electricals, furniture and DIY items are all showing signs of the slowdown.

"There is going to be a cloud over the consumer economy all year. And there are signs that middle-class shoppers are trading down, with discount stores doing very well out of people's belt tightening."

Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: "Things are slightly different in Scotland compared to the rest of the country. We're slightly helped by the fact that council tax is not going up by so much, and we have more people working in the public sector so they are not as much affected by the downturn."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Some Scottish Facts

Fact of the Day

In 1689 followers of the Covenanter Richard Cameron, who had assembled at Edinburgh to guard the Revolution Convention of Estates, formed into a regiment under the Earl of Angus. The Cameronians were disbanded in 1968.

Clan Gunn: Gerek, my Scottish novel, takes place in 1650, when the Covenanters were running rampant against the Royalists. Although the Gunns were not really connected to the war in great numbers, I have taken one of the Clan and made him a hero.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Finding new stuff

I didn't put anything in the blog today about Scotland or Ireland. I often wonder if people even bother to read those things. I must admit I find them interesting and it keeps my interest in those two Celtic countries.

I tend to write about Celtic characters. Having come from Albany, New York, which by default is an Irish city, I feel I know more about the Irish than I do about the Scots, but there is something about a Scot in a kilt...something about the strong, silent type........or it is just my fantasy. lol

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Scotland's Troubles in Green

Wind farms or peat bogs: Scotland's green dilemma

Campaigners say building wind farms on peatland will release the very carbon dioxide that renewables are meant to reduce.

POETS and scientists alike have sung its praises. The vast swathe of peatland that covers much of Lewis is held in high regard for its environmental qualities and the rich wildlife it sustains.

Scotland's vast expanses of peat bogs are regarded as our equivalent of the rainforests, and 17 per cent of the world's "blanket bog" is in this country. In all, Scottish peatlands cover some 1.9 million hectares and contain about two billion tons of carbon – roughly four times the UK's annual output – as well as "sucking in" carbon from the atmosphere.

But the wild land on Lewis could be turned into an industrial landscape if the building of 176 turbines is granted approval, and other vital peatlands face the same fate.

Campaigners against the proposal say building a renewable energy facility on an area of peatland is a massive contradiction, as it will release the very carbon dioxide that renewables are meant to reduce.

The Scottish Government has said it is "minded to refuse" the £500 million project but has yet to make a final decision. If it does go ahead, thousands of tonnes of peat would be excavated from the moor and huge amounts of concrete and aggregates poured into the ground to accommodate the foundations, roads and sub-stations.

The effect on the peatland, which has been built up over thousands of years, is a growing concern, not just on Lewis but in other parts of Scotland under pressure from the renewables race.

Last week, the Scottish Government approved an application for a 35-turbine development at Gordonbush, on the edge of the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Protection Area, despite local and national objections.

With dozens of applications either approved or awaiting a decision, a campaign is being stepped up for a moratorium on erecting wind farms on peatlands. Today, a meeting in the European Parliament in Brussels will hear of the damage that can be done to such land by the building of turbines and surrounding infrastructure. It has been arranged by Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson, who said peat bogs formed a crucial part of the world's "air-conditioning system".

He said: "Peatlands and wetland ecosystems accumulate plant material under saturated conditions to form layers of peat soil up to 20 metres thick – storing on average ten times more carbon per hectare than other ecosystems.

"In the headlong rush to cut carbon emissions, the EU and the UK government are throwing money into renewable energy without any coherent planning strategy to determine where wind farms should and shouldn't be built.

"The result is there are dozens of outstanding planning applications to build giant turbines on blanket peat bog in Scotland, causing immense damage to the environment and releasing vast quantities of – in other words, achieving the exact opposite of what was intended.

"The first thing a contractor does before constructing giant wind turbines, access roads, pylons and associated infrastructure on peatland is to drain the area, thus releasing all of the stored into the atmosphere. The peatland is also subsequently destroyed as a carbon sump, stopping any further carbon storage.

"Damage to peat can extend as much as 250 metres on either side of any excavation, so the peat will gradually dry out over the years, resulting in an ongoing release of carbon.

"The whole hydrology of the area will change forever and once damaged, peat can never be replaced. By destroying peat bogs in this way, these wind farms would create more carbon emissions than they would ever save." At today's seminar will be Sutherland residents who objected to the Gordonbush plan. Victoria Reeves, of the Landscape action group, said: "In other parts of the UK, people are trying to restore their peatlands because, as they gradually deteriorate, they are no longer able to absorb from the atmosphere and are also releasing it into the atmosphere, so you have a double whammy."

The John Muir Trust is commissioning new research on the effect of carbon releases from peatland. Helen McDade, its policy officer, said: "It's clear the science on this is not well established. One of the key things on carbon emissions from disturbed peat is how much of a peat bog is disturbed if a (wind-farm] scheme goes ahead. Until that is clear, it would be foolhardy to carry on."

Clifton Bain, climate change policy officer with the RSPB, said the effect on peatland depended on the location and size of development.

He said: "You avoid the most important, best condition peatland – these are places you just cannot replace. After that, it may be possible to design a wind farm in such a way that it reduces the carbon, but you have to think what effect it will have on the wildlife. This is a habitat that supports incredibly important bird populations. We have been calling for a long time for guidelines to help steer wind-farm developments away from these important habitats."

According to the Scottish Government, blanket bog is the most widespread peatland type in Scotland, particularly in the uplands, and is the one most commonly affected by electricity-generation developments.

A spokesman said: "We recognise the role peatlands play in storing carbon. Maintaining and enhancing carbon stores will play an important role in our overall approach to tackling climate change."

Jason Ormiston, the chief executive of Scottish Renewables, the green- energy trade body, said: "Struan Stevenson pitches a theory that has at its heart a fatally flawed premise and chooses to ignore experience of existing wind-farm development on areas of peat, where not only have the projects proved significant cutters of carbon emissions but have involved habitat restoration with a net gain of peatland in and around the site."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

Top-secret plan for Auld Lang Syne to head for the New World

View GalleryBy Craig Brown og

STORED in a custom-made safe within a walk-in strongroom in the depths of Glasgow's Mitchell Library is one of the original manuscripts of Robert Burns's Auld Lang Syne. It does not see the light of day too often.
But later this month, the precious 220-year-old script will be carefully packed into a carry case, padded with polystyrene cut specifically to cushion and secure it and transported across the Atlantic.

With the manuscript under lock and key until it has reached its destination, the prestigious Grolier Club in Manhattan, even the exact date of the journey is a closely guarded secret. When the revered cargo arrives, it will become part of the Scotland Week celebrations in New York.

Unique even among the six remaining copies of what is arguably the best-known song in the world, the document is an irreplaceable part of Scottish cultural history. The remaining music sheets are scattered across the United States and Scotland.

Karen Cunningham, head of libraries at Culture and Sport Glasgow, will accompany the manuscript on the journey.

She said: "The manuscript is in very good condition and we'll have it packed in a way that there won't be any damage.

"The Mitchell's insurance demands we follow strict guidelines when transporting the manuscript. As soon as I arrive, I'll take a car and install it personally at the Grolier Club. My staff have been talking to their staff, and they're happy with the storage and presentation conditions and security."

She added: "It's lasted all these years, and it's more robust than people imagine, but I certainly won't be leaving it lying about."

While in New York, Ms Cunningham will be giving a lecture on the manuscript and the Mitchell Library.

Written by Burns in 1788, the manuscript only came into the library's possession in 1998, after being bought at auction in New York for almost £200,000.

Though Burns is credited with writing the definitive version of Auld Lang Syne, it is believed to have originally existed in Scots oral tradition.

Valued at £250,000, though priceless in terms of historical importance, the manuscript has never been in a major Burns exhibition. That will change next year when it goes on display as part of Homecoming Scotland, a series of events for the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth.

Tom McWilliam, VisitScotland's area director for Glasgow, said: "Scotland Week gives us a fantastic platform to showcase Glasgow and Scotland. Our programme will focus on Homecoming Scotland, showing US consumers why they should come to Scotland in 2009 to join us in our year-long celebrations. The Burns manuscript will be an important element of this."

The manuscript will go on display in the Grolier Club, then the Bryant Park New York Public Library from 30 March to 6 April.

The Grolier Club of New York is America's oldest and largest society for book lovers. Formed in 1884 and named after Jean Grolier, the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library, it aims to foster the study of graphic arts.


THE popularity and literary worth of Burns' Auld Lang Syne has meant the surviving six manuscripts of the text are scattered between Scotland and the United States.

Two of the other original manuscripts are in the Burns Cottage Museum in Alloway. The remaining three are in the Library of Congress, the de facto US national library, based in Washington DC; the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (although not on public display), and the Lilley Library, at the Indiana University Bloomington, in the US.

Experts believe the song was originally transcribed by Burns for a collection of old Scots songs called A Select Collection of Scottish Airs which was then published by George Thomson in 1793.

Burns, who in addition to his role as poet was also a collector of folk songs, accompanied the manuscript with the note: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man's singing, is enough to recommend any air."

However it is widely accepted that he finished the lyric himself.

There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used both in Scotland and in the rest of the world.

The full article contains 741 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

740 miles of Scottish coast is crumbling into sea

View GalleryBy David Maddox Scottish Political Correspondent

SCOTLAND'S seas and coastline are facing a new series of threats because of rapid climate change, The Scotsman can reveal.

The first report into the state of the nation's seas highlights the fact that 12 per cent of the country's coastline is already subject to serious erosion, and that is set to get worse.

The report, Scotland's Seas – Towards Understanding Their State, was ordered by Richard Lochhead, the Rural Affairs Secretary, to provide an analysis of what needs to be done to protect Scotland's marine environment and to help inform forthcoming marine legislation.

The authors warn that climate change will bring stormier seas, higher sea levels and bigger waves. They claim that 740 miles of Scottish coastline has already suffered serious erosion problems, increasing the risk of more flooding and damage to the natural habitat of wildlife.

The report also states that sea temperatures are now rising at between 0.2 and 0.4 per cent per decade compared to 0.07 per cent 100 years ago.

There is also evidence that water acidity levels are increasing in some areas, which adversely affects wildlife such as bottlenose dolphins. But the report admits there are gaps in the knowledge on bottlenose dolphins, which are believed to be in decline in the Moray Firth and along the east coast.

Populations of common seals and Arctic terns are being dramatically reduced, although some species like gannets have seen an increase in numbers.

The report, which was drawn up by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Fisheries Research Council (FRC) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), once again underlines the problem of the over-fishing of cod in Scottish waters and says stocks are in a dangerous state.

Worries are also raised about some of the life forms at the bottom of the food chain – zooplankton – which are the diet for many seabirds.

The authors said that 34 special areas of conservation have been set up in Scottish seas and are showing "favourable signs" of improvement but that it may take "decades or even centuries for full recovery in some cases."

Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the environment, said: "Climate change is a truly global issue and can only be tackled if we work together.

"Our seas play a vital role in regulating our climate and are a lifeline for the communities that live around them. Our winters are getting wetter and warmer, sea levels are rising and coastal erosion is increasing. Our marine wildlife is now having to cope with these as well as other pressures, and is beginning to suffer as a result. Our marine industries also have to cope with changes. These are happening now and we must take action."

However, it was not all bad news, as Scotland's seas are much cleaner than they were in 2000. The report noted that 94 per cent of Scottish waters are now "clean and safe" and there has been a 72 per cent reduction in unsatisfactory or seriously polluted waters to just 90.5km of coastline in total.

Chemical contamination levels in samples taken from estuaries are also down, although 30 different types of metal, including cadmium, mercury, lead, copper and zinc, are present.

Problems remain with litter on Scottish beaches – 90 per cent of the rubbish contains plastic and 80 per cent comes from land-based sources, usually through fly-tipping or being casually discarded.

The report says more needs to be done to manage chemical discharges from towns and farms.

It also highlights the importance of the seas to the Scottish economy. Marine-based industries, including fishing but excluding oil and gas, are worth £2.2 billion in Scotland and employ around 50,000 people.

Robin Cook, the chief executive of the Fisheries Research Services (FRS), said: "Scotland's seas are rich, diverse and productive.

"This report forms an important step in ensuring the sound stewardship of our marine environment and the protection of the many thousands jobs that are dependent on our seas."

And SEPA chief executive Campbell Gemmell said: "There is a vast amount of work already being carried out. This is the first step to a more comprehensive and detailed report on the state of the marine environment, due in 2010."

SNH chief executive Ian Jardine added: "As a maritime nation, we have a long history of studying and exploiting our marine natural resources. In the 21st century, our challenge is to use our marine environment sustainably. Most of the population of Scotland has an interest in marine issues, even if that's to enjoy a day out on a clean beach.

"But we know there are challenges ahead in agreeing how best to use these resources, and protect them in the face of climate change and threats from new, invasive species.

"To ensure the future long-term health of Scottish seas, it is essential to maintain a balance between sustainable exploitation of marine resources and the protection of wildlife and natural features. This important report will help us all to co-ordinate action for our seas."


THE most obvious example of climate change is the rate at which the seas are warming up. This is now at 0.2 to 0.4 per cent per decade compared to 0.07 per cent a century ago.

About 12 per cent of the coastline is at serious risk of erosion, which is increasing because of rising sea levels.

In Aberdeen the sea is rising at a rate of 0.7mm a year, but at some places, such as Lerwick, the level has decreased slightly since 1957.

The report also suggests that the seas will get stormier, with higher waves creating surges that could create further coastal erosion.

This could damage habitats and cause problems for areas such as Moray which are prone to flooding.


MARINE agriculture is worth £2.2 billion to the Scottish economy and employs around 50,000 people, according to the report.

The biggest employer is fish processing, accounting for around 14,000 people. It was worth £481 million to the economy in 2004-5.

Building and repairing ships and boats, once Scotland's biggest industry, was worth £312.9 million and employed 7,216 people.

Sea fishing had 2,684 people employed and made £149.5 million. Fish farming covered 2,468 people and had an income of £121.7 million.

Oil and gas brought in £20 billion in 2005, one-fifth of the total Scottish gross domestic product. It employs around 145,000 people.


UNCERTAINTY surrounds the future of bottlenose dolphins. The authors believe that numbers have declined. This fits in with recent concerns of the Green Party about the impact of oil exploration in the Moray Firth.

The number of common seals has almost halved since the mid-1990s, but the grey seal population has shot up by around 25,000.

Many bird populations have also fallen, although actual numbers are not given. The proportion of breeding Arctic terns are down by 95 per cent since the mid-1980s; Arctic skuas were down 63 per cent and little terns 54 per cent. This could be due to a 70 per cent drop in zooplankton since the mid-1960s, the main food source for many seabirds.


SINCE 2000, there has been a 72 per cent improvement in the waters off the Scottish coast, with stretches totalling 90.5km still unsatisfactory or seriously polluted. It means that 94 per cent of the coastal waters are now clean and safe.

The report also notes that contamination levels in estuaries are down, although the authors say that more work needs to be done and note that over 30 metals, including copper and zinc, are still present in samples taken from the seabed. It says nitrogen levels in urban and agricultural discharges need to be better managed.

The report also highlights litter as a major problem, with 80 per cent of it coming from land-based sources.


THE Scotsman is campaigning to protect our precious marine life. We want:

• A network of marine reserves and protected areas to be created to safeguard sites properly

• A system of marine planning, effectively zoning areas for appropriate use, to safeguard important fishing grounds from offshore wind farms and other projects

• A single organisation to administer this system

• Scotland to be given control of conservation to the 200-mile boundary with international waters

It is hoped that many of these issues will be dealt in a Scottish marine bill, which has been promised by the Scottish Government. A draft UK Marine Bill was published in Westminster last week.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Snippets from Scotland

Got this from an on-line newspaper, called Scottish reading all these little bits of news.

Tartan Week To Go Down Under?
So far, the support of the Scottish Government to Tartan Week has been
concentrated largely in the USA, particularly in New York with the parade
along Sixth Avenue and other events. The tourism agency VisitScotland has
also hosted the first Scotland in Toronto Week to tap into the Scottish
ancestry of many Canadians. Now Scottish Culture Minister Linda Fabiani has
suggested that she is keen to strengthen links in the Antipodes, with a
Scotland Week in Australia. The Scottish Government is trying to change the
name of the event to "Scotland Week" to focus on the modern aspects of
Scotland - and also halved the budget this year for the event in the US to
around £400,000. So there are some mixed messages coming across.

7,000 Bikers Roar into Children's Hospital
Around 7,000 motor cyclists and their passengers roared into the Royal
Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill, Glasgow - to hand deliver thousands
of chocolate eggs to egg-cited young patients. This has become an annual
event organised by the Motorcycle Action Group which raised £30,000 for the
event last year.

Britain's Biggest Meteorite
Scientists from Aberdeen and Oxford universities have uncovered evidence
that the largest meteorite ever to hit the British Isles struck an area
near Ullapool in the west coast of Scotland - 1.2 billion years ago. The
unusual rock formations in the area were thought at one time to be caused
by volcanic activity, but with no volcanic vents or sediments nearby, that
theory had often been questioned. Now the researchers have found material
that had been ejected by a meteorite impact, spread over an area of 30
square miles. They estimate that the object must have been more than half a
mile wide and created a crater seven miles across. Craters on Earth tend to
get eroded, so the scientists are pleased to have found the new evidence.

Top of the Pecking Order
The Big Garden Bird Watch 2008, organised by the Royal Society for the
Protection of Birds, shows that the chaffinch is the most commonly-sighted
feathered friend in Scotland's gardens. Those taking part saw on average
5.43 chaffinches over an hour, when the survey was run in January. The
second most common bird reported was the house sparrow, followed by the
starling. Even though the total numbers were smaller, the blackbird was the
most widely-seen bird, found in over 90% of gardens. But being territorial,
blackies are rarely seen in any numbers in the one garden. For the first
time the colourful siskin flew into the top ten - their numbers bolstered
this year by Scandinavian immigrants. Overall, the survey suggested that
fewer birds were seen compared with last year. Last summer's poor weather
may have taken its toll of fledglings although milder winters also meant
fewer birds came in this year from the countryside to feed in gardens as
they had enough food in the wild.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Historical article

I just found this article from the Schenectady Gazette in New York and thought I'd put it on the blog. It's quite interesting and in keeping with some of the historical novels that I've done--and I just might use this piece as a start of the sequel to Clan Gunn: Gerek.

Focus on Mohawk Valley History
Sir William Johnson brings Scots over
By Bob Cudmore
Saturday, April 5, 2008


The year before he died, Sir William Johnson saw to it that hundreds of Scots came to his vast land estate in the American wilderness, an area that today is occupied by the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville.
Johnson came to America in 1738 from Ireland and built an alliance between the British colonial government and the native Iroquois people. He became Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

He constructed a fortified home in Fort Johnson and then a mansion in Johnstown, Johnson Hall. Both buildings are historic sites today. As a military leader, Johnson won a major battle against the French in 1755 at Lake George.
After the victory, Johnson was made a baronet and granted 100,000 acres of land the British previously had secured from the Mohawks. The land parcel was known as the Kingsborough Patent.

To populate this area, Johnson tapped into a tide of immigrants from the highlands of Scotland who were coming to America at a fast clip between 1770 and the American Revolution.

The Highlanders were a proud and strong people, who had strong loyalties to their clan chiefs. Many of their chiefs had been killed in the bloody but unsuccessful effort to install Prince Charles on the British throne in 1745.
The Highlanders fierce but futile resistance in 1745 had the unusual effect of convincing British authorities that Scottish soldiers would be effective in the British Army as the empire expanded in America. Also, times were hard in Scotland and many Highlanders simply opted to take a chance in the New World.
Johnson advertised leased land on his Kingsborough Patent through New York City agents, and convinced 400 Scots of the Highland Clan MacDonnell to settle on his property.
Many of the Scots who settled the Kingsborough Patent arrived in 1773, some of them on board a ship called the Pearl that came to New York harbor.
The Highlanders arrived under four chiefs, the MacDonnells of Aberchalder, Leek, Collachie and Scotas. Their land grants ranged from 100 to 500 acres.
After Sir William died in 1774, many of his Scots tenants were drawn into the Revolutionary War on the British side.
Some 300 of them followed Sir William’s son John into exile in Canada when the war broke out and served in the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, sometimes called Johnson’s Greens or the Royal Yorkers. Their final stand was in 1781 near Johnstown itself.
Those who survived the war lost their lands in New York to the new government. The British granted the Highlanders lands in Ontario, Canada where some of their descendants still reside.
In 1959, an Episcopal priest, Duncan Fraser, came to serve in Johnstown and wrote note cards with the names of each of Johnson’s tenants plus information about some of them.
Wanda Burch, site manager of Johnson Hall in Johnstown, said that people studying genealogy often ask to see Fraser’s notes. This year, Burch transcribed Fraser’s notes and composed an introductory essay. She plans to produce a small booklet for visitors interested in their Scots ancestry.
Burch said that Fraser, who is deceased, was in search of his own history when he began researching the individual names on the tenant list but provided valuable information for others as well. Burch developed a friendship with Fraser’s widow Dorothy who lived on William Street.

Burch said people wonder why the Highlanders, who lost their own lands to the British, fought so fiercely for the British in the American Revolution. One explanation she has heard is that the Highlanders felt that in each case they were not fighting for or against someone—they were fighting for their homeland.