WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH WOLVES?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 8 mins.)

The wolf was hunted to extinction in Ireland during English occupation1 – in fact, a similar bounty was paid by the colonial administration on delivery of Catholic priests and resistance fighters as was paid on a wolfskin2. They were extirpated in most of western Europe and in large parts of the USA and plans to reintroduce them run into lots of opposition. But really, what is the problem with wolves?

The canine with closest ancestry to our domestic dog is the wolf, the Eurasian and American subspecies – close enough to our dog to mate and produce viable offspring – and the divergence from a common ancestor is estimated to have occurred 11,00 to 16,00 years ago.3 The wolf is an apex predator usually in a pack ruled by an alpha male and alpha female, the only ones permitted to mate and their offspring are cared for by the whole pack.

Highly social, adaptable to different terrain and weather, the wolf is a highly-intelligent animal able to travel long distances and fierce in defence or attack. Many people might fear wolves through imagining they or their children being attacked by them – and certainly there are enough childhood stories to feed that fear — but the main opposition to their conservation or reintroduction does not come from that source. Nor is the source those pet owners, particularly of weak or diminutive descendants of the ancient canine stock, like those for example in Los Angeles who complain that a coyote ate their toy poodle.

Wolves playing among themselves in juxtaposition to humans in Gorbeia, the largest natural park in the south-western Basque Country. The presence of wolves there is mentioned in only some of the tourist promotional literature and no explanation was provided with the youtube posting of this remarkable video.

The main opposition, and by far the most powerful, are the livestock farmers4. And their fears are far from irrational. Wolves are top-range predators easily capable of killing a sheep, pig or goat and, as a pack, of killing cows and even horses too5. Most livestock farmers are not going to be convinced by arguments in favour of biodiversity when they largely favour one or two breeds of meat or dairy animal, selectively-bred for high production relative to maintenance cost.

And the bigger the livestock farmer, the more realistic his problem with wolf conservation — or worse, wolf reintroduction. The bigger the herd, the more widely it is dispersed for grazing, the more difficult to protect. Paid guards with high-powered rifles are only effective by day. Corralling by night requires electrified fencing and even they are not infallible.6

So how did people manage before? In some parts of Western Europe, there have been wolves in living memory and people raising livestock in those areas made a reasonable living. How did they do it?

The answer is dogs7. Not the poodle or spaniel or terrier type but big strong dogs capable of fighting wolves and, in the case of some breeds, more than a match in a one-on-one contest. The studded or spiked collar was invented to shield the dog’s vulnerable neck and throat.

PROTECTION FROM WOLVES BY DOG

In a video from the Basque Country I viewed some years ago, some villagers talked about wolves and the mastiff dogs they had and these are discussed also in a video in Spanish included here with shepherds from the Zamora region, in Castille and León, in central Spain. This type of dog is not a sheep or cattle herder8 but rather a livestock guard; living around the livestock, it knows them and does not permit predators of any size to approach them. In some parts of the world and in the case of some breeds, nor will they permit the approach of any humans, other than their masters and their known associates. Livestock guardian dogs are not all mastiffs but all are typically big and strong breeds, hardy to the prevalent weather conditions typical to their area, socialised to the herd animals and therefore at ease with them (and vice versa), protective of the livestock and inhibited from injuring or killing them, even when hungry. They are comfortable enough with their owners (although reputedly some do not enjoy petting) and his or her close associates, with some breeds also very protective of their owners.

Vikham LGD from Pakistan (Image sourced: Internet)

There are around fifty currently known breeds around the world to fill this role9 including: Akbash and Aksaray Malaklisi of Turkey, Bakharawal of India, Beauceron of France, Cane di Manara of Sicily, Estrella Mountain dog of Portugal, Georgian Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees and Pyrenean Mastiff, Greek Shepherd, Himalayan Sheepdog, Karakachan of Bulgaria, Mazandrani of Iran, Mucuchies of Venezuela, Slovak Cuvac, Vikhan Sheepdog of Pakistan. The Irish Wolfhound was probably not one, it seems to have been primarily a hunting chase dog, though its name suggests it might have been used to hunt wolves too.10

2019 interviews in Castillian Spanish with shepherds who use Mastiffs livestock guard dogs in Zamora region, central Spain.

It should be born in mind that in many parts of the world, wolves are not the only mammalian apex predators; big cats and bears compete with them; in those regions guard dogs have to be and are willing and able to confront those species too. Despite the size and armament differential, a good guard dog will confront such predators displaying extreme threat in appearance and sound (and possibly also summoning assistance). Livestock guard dogs have been known to fight to the death but bear or even lions will usually back off to seek easier prey. Besides, a flock needs a minimum of two livestock guard dogs and and there might be more.11

These breeds are mostly comparatively rare now in many parts of the world, where apex predators have been extirpated, since their function has largely been dispensed with, or they are maintained as pets or competition show dogs.

Carpathian LGD (Image sourced: Internet)

None of the Basque villagers interviewed had mastiffs any longer, although one Basque livestock farmer informed the interviewer that his father had two. However, in some other parts of Iberia, the mastiff breed is still active as a working dog and a shepherd in Zamora (Castille and León autonomous community, central Spain) with a flock of 450 sheep has five mastiffs; all five might not be necessary but as he explains, one must have a working reserve in case of injury, sickness etc among the guard dogs. He spends €5,000 p.a on the dogs. The shepherds there have no interest in the show specimens of the breed saying that they are not being judged by their working ability. “If a wolf sees a show dog, it laughs,” says another shepherd. “If our dogs see one, they’d laugh too.” “It is impossible for the necessary qualities of a working dog to be judged in show environment”, says another shepherd, pointing out too that a mastiff that is too heavy cannot run, thereby rendering it it useless for guarding the flock.12 The dogs also need to learn from experience how to respond not just to an individual wolf but to a pack, where individual members of the pack will seek to lure the dog away towards others in ambush, or to detach it from the prey which others will then attack.

Iberian Mastiffs LGD with sheep (Image sourced: Internet)

A wikipedia entry on Livestock Guard Dogs links their use with wolf coexistence: “With the reintroduction of predators into natural habitats in Europe and North America, environmentalists have come to appreciate Livestock Guard Dogs because they allow sheep and cattle farming to coexist with predators in the same or nearby habitats. Unlike trapping and poisoning, LGDs seldom kill predators; instead, their aggressive behaviors tend to condition predators to seek unguarded (thus, non-farm animal) prey. For instance, in Italy’s Gran Sasso National Park, where LGDs and wolves have coexisted for centuries, older, more experienced wolves seem to “know” the LGDs and leave their flocks alone.”13

Adult Akbash LGD & juvenile Central Asian Ovcharkas guarding beef calves, Sublette County, Wyoming, USA. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Some Basque and Spanish shepherds seem to agree and are prepared to coexist with the wolf, using more traditional methods of livestock farming, corralling their stock by night with dogs to protect on duty as they are also by day.14 With a different apex predator in Australia, the widely-hated by farmers dingo, a few farmers are seeking to coexist with the predator against the opposition of the majority of their colleagues, in areas where dead dingoes may be seen suspended from trees or even roadside structures.

Dingoes are pack animals in which only the alpha pair breed (like wolves) and one of the cattle farmers states that dingo extermination attempts break up the pack, resulting in more individuals breeding. He also relates that kangaroos eat down the vegetation which competes with his cattle but also contributes to drying out of the land. When he stopped trying to eliminate the dingo, he says, they preyed on the kangaroo which in turn resulted in more surviving vegetation and land in better condition.15

Dingoes (Canis familiaris dingo), Apex wild predator, Australia (Photo credit: Jurgen & Christine Sohns/Alamy)

A shepherd in the Zamora range states too that the wolf keeps down the numbers of wild boar and deer and generally across Europe these ungulates are reported to be on the increase (the white-tailed deer also in the USA). Boar are well-known in some regions for raiding cultivated fields, trampling growing plants to reach what they find edible, well able to knock down types of fencing, squeeze through gaps and so on. Increasingly on the Internet one can find videos of wild boar, often accompanied by their litter, foraging in villages and towns (in one video, even successfully overturning a trash dumper to feed on the contents). These types of ungulates contribute their own kind of environmental damage in addition in some cases to nuisance to humans16.

The Zamoran shepherd comments also that deer, a natural prey of wolves, often carry brucelosis and infect cattle, which in turn is is transmissible to humans and treated as a serious disease. In cattle it results in loss of weight, abortion of fetuses and lower milk production and as the shepherd says, state control procedures require the destruction of the whole herd upon finding of some infected animals. Apart from anything else, clearly this measure can have serious economic consequences for the farmer and for the whole state in question.17

If wolf conservation and reintroduction is be successful in the long-term, it will require livestock farmers to have smaller herds and a partnership with herd guard dogs, as well as other defensive means. This entails the irony that the expansion in herd protector dogs results in protection for wolves, in preventing their cousins from causing depredation in the herds, which would entail reprisals from humans.

It may be that farmers will occasionally lose a lamb or a calf or a pig from their ranges to a predator – but they lose occasional animals anyway, to pests, disease and mishap. Their stock animals will probably be healthier and tend towards the sturdier types.

Yes, but smaller herds? Well, is it not widely accepted (except by big farmers and banks) that we breed too many meat animals, with huge emission of greenhouse gasses and lots of waste? Smaller herds would surely be environmentally welcome.

Map of Grey Wolf distribution in the present (green) and past (red). (Source: Wikipedia, Grey Wolf distribution by Country)

CONSERVATION AND REINTRODUCTION PROGRAMS

Reintroduction methods for wolves vary from releasing adult animals from captivity, whether alone or as a pair, to placing captive-bred pups within a wild litter, when according to reports they are fostered without difficulty by the wolf bitch.

The problems involved in projects of conservation and reintroduction are not small. The wild mammalian apex predators can compete with and threaten the other mammalian apex predator – the human. Direct predation on humans by the other land-based predators is statistically low; fatal encounters for humans are much, much rarer than those for the other mammal involved and, when occurring, usually arise from self-defence by the animal or defence of kind (especially of the young), along with rabid animals. So, in general, leave them alone and they’ll leave us alone.

Still of a Mexican Wolf Reintroduction from video (Video credit: Arizona Game & Fish Dept. 2018)

OPPOSITION

But leaving our livestock alone is a different proposition entirely and even more so if our livestock and livestock management systems have reduced the wolves’ natural prey, both in number and variety. And we tend to do that. Our systems tend to reduce forest to favour grassland for our domesticated grazers, which reduces or wipes out forest prey. Then we set out to reduce or even eliminate the wild grazers competing with our domesticated ones. Even when we develop forests we tend to favour monoculture or restrict to a few species of commercial timber with high turnover in comparatively shorter time.

Hunting and fishing reserve managers kill predators ranging from hawks, eagles, and owls to stoats, badgers, wolverines, foxes, otters, bears, felines and wolves; legal and illegal means of killing predators include shooting, trapping and poisoning. But those practices also favour only those particular wild species valued for hunting, often edging out a diversity of other species which are now faced with “unfair competition” from the “sport” species, resulting in damage to diversity and to the particular eco-system.

Large-scale elimination of prey animals in order, for example, to protect crops, also reduces the natural prey available to predators. Growing only particular kinds of trees will result in quicker turnover and or greater profits but also in monoculture forests giving little shelter to diverse wild life.

For good reasons as explained by their supporters, the presence of apex predators affects not only their prey and other predators but also vegetation, which in turn affects other animals, birds and fish (through their effect on water courses) – in fact, a top-down effect on the whole local environment which has been shown to beneficial.

The objectors argue that large mammalian predators can cause significant problems to humans and most significant among those humans are the livestock farmers. They, ranging from rancher livestock operations of thousands of animals, down through the medium enterprises of some hundred head, to small farmers with up to a sore or so, are the main source of opposition to wolf conservation or – what are we thinking of? — reintroduction.

The opposition based on fear of attack on person, largely without contemporary logic but relying on ignorance and some folklore, can be educated and managed by conservationists but the livestock farmers are a different proposition. Those who rely on livestock to make a decent living and those companies for which it is big business, along with their shareholders and banks, are not going to be easily persuaded. The smaller or even medium-sized concerns are potentially more amenable to convincing, especially if aided by state grants to offset losses to predation18. The evidence is that for them a change to investing in livestock guard dogs would be manageable and very possibly more emotionally rewarding19.

Big business is another matter. Grants would have to be substantial to convince them and, in any case, ecological grants to big business have not turned out to be of benefit to the environment overall. Quite crudely, big business will need to be forced to reduce the size of its operations or be put out of business one way or another; how that may be achieved is another day’s discussion. Meanwhile, progressing with smaller and medium-sized livestock farmers will make some difference and play an important educational role in what is good for the environment and for us.

NATURAL REINTRODUCTION AND VIABILITY

Not all reintroduction is human-initiated. In the Pyrenean region of the Iberian peninsula, in areas devoid for years of the native wolf, they speak of the appearance of the Italian wolf (sub-species) slightly divergent from its Iberian cousin), though none of those migrants having yet bred and thereby established a pack. This situation is leading to increased discussion around the pros and cons of wolf conservation and herd protection there.

The wolf is protected in Iberia and though classified as game species in the northern part of the Spanish state20 a ban on hunting wolf was introduced even there in February of this year (2021). This had been agreed some years earlier by the Euskadi regional Government but not implemented, until conservationists (with the support of some traditional shepherds took a successful court case to force the implementation.21 Compensation is paid for livestock killed by wolf or bear but in uneven amounts and by different systems across the state.

In the case of achieving general agreement and support for reintroduction, there remains the problem of viability of the reintroduced animals. Although the White-Tailed Eagle reintroduction to Ireland has been successful, reintroduced Golden Eagles struggle to survive and expand on the amount of suitable prey available to them. Wolves might not fare much better, once they had reduced the red and roe deer populations in the country.

However, a puzzle for us is that the earlier well-referenced wolf existence in Ireland predates that of the deer, raising questions on what were its main prey animals at that time. Perhaps it was the wild boar and certainly the presence of the torc is attested to in many Irish place-names.

In a number of other European countries, wolves could probably build sustainable populations preying on deer and boar, in addition to rodents and lagomorphs, along with some waterfowl (in particular ground-nesting ones such as the mallard). Swans in Ireland for example would presumably have to change their nesting habits to more isolated reed-beds and islands (though wolves are good swimmers).

In countries with large wild areas the problems of wolf and human interaction are reduced but Ireland is not such a country. The success of such a project in Ireland would require substantial areas apart from bogland being given over to wildness, with substantial forest coverage (the benefits of the latter are discussed below). Sheep flocks and cattle herds would need to be smaller and require guarding by day and night; the benefits of smaller livestock herds and a mechanism for their protection has been discussed earlier here.

Also required would be a rigorous enforcement of predator protection legislation which does not have a good record in Ireland (see http://trinitynews.ie/2016/10/farmers-wildlife-freak-outs-and-facts/) and and a compensation scheme for farmers in case of livestock loss (or indeed cultivated land loss to wilding habitat, multi-species deciduous forest planting, etc).

SUPPORT — WHY BOTHER?

The financial and educational benefits of eco-tourism are often quoted in defence of reintroduction of wolves and other terrestrial apex predators and, for some, those are sufficient justification. Eco-tourists are particularly interested in seeing apex predators and even hearing them, especially in the case of wolves. Certainly providing for such tourism is a niche which can permit a living to be made from management of low livestock numbers or even land without any livestock at all. As such it can be a convincing argument for small herding communities or for individual farms in livestock country.

Another reason quoted is the psychological and scientific benefits of living more in tune with the natural world and, though hard to quantify, in a world heading for ecological disaster such potential benefit should not be ignored. Which is what it is likely to be, however, in communities and enterprises focused on surviving in the present (not to mention those for whom extracting maximum profits is the only viable reason for any undertaking).

Another and more tangible benefit of encouraging mammalian apex predator conservation or reintroduction is the early and visible environmental improvement resulting in places where it has been tried. Wild grazers compete with livestock grazers, often more efficiently than livestock can manage. Not only that but they will graze areas being left for regrowth by the farmer. Such overgrazing results in arid ground, retaining little moisture, soil erosion and can even end in desertification. What long-term benefit to the environment if reducing domestic herds results in more and more land being overgrazed?

In addition, there are the problems of infection of livestock and in turn humans by diseases carried by wild ungulates (e.g. deer, bison, antelope, boar, wild goats, mountain sheep22).

The large predator can be the solution. Wolves and other apex predators keep down the numbers of wild ungulates, keeping them also on the move (in fear of predators), allowing vegetation to recover from grazing, in turn assisting moisture retention in the soil. These changes in turn benefit many other animals and plants, from invertebrates up to birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Previously to wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, the moose had only the occasional bear to worry about and they chewed their way through branch and leaf; rangers had to cull large numbers every year and even so there was substantial deforestation and large numbers of moose would die during severe winters, only to be quickly replenished the following year. Only one family of beavers was seen at work (their food of shrubs and low trees by the water margins was being eaten by the moose).

Twenty-five years after the reintroduction of wolves, willow and aspen had recovered in some areas of Yellowstone, beaver colonies had increased 14-fold, song-birds had recovered and some new species were being seen. The soil is retaining greater moisture. There are arguments about how much these changes are due to the action of the wolves but most experts grant the wolves at least some credit while some others give them a lot.23

Yellowstone Park protected wolf pack (Photo credit: Doug Smith, via National Park Service)

So that’s good news for the environment and the wolf, not so good for the moose, right? Actually, it seems to be good news for the moose too, with lower die-off for moose in winter,24 signalling a general improvement in health of the stock surviving predation.

When the numbers of grazers is controlled, tree seedlings of willow and alder get a chance to grow on the edges and banks of bodies of freshwater, which tends to control soil erosion on banks and reduce flooding. When grazers are prevented or restricted from eating seedlings, new trees survive to extend the woods and forests or to replace fallen trees and harvested timber.

Beaver in Yellowstone National Park (Photo crdt: Neal Herbert, National Park Service). Although wolves will kill and eat beaver if they can, the wolves also control Moose which were a greater threat to the beaver, eating the woody waterside vegetation upon which the beaver depends for food.

Many ecologists and forestry experts blame the white-tailed deer for changes across large parts of the USA, involving reductions in canopy-cover, reductions in diversity of tree species and general forestry maintenance (to say nothing of failure to extend)25.

For the ecology of the world, the thinning out of wild grazers is perhaps the most valuable service rendered by large mammalian predators although other factors need to be taken into account, including pattern and variety of planting and management, domestic herd sizes, along with of course responses to insect and fungal pests.26

It has long been known too that many species of trees prevent or restrict soil erosion and restrict flooding by holding water margins and, in some cases such as mangroves, sap the effects of hurricanes coming from the seaward side, along with tidal waves.

More crucially, trees produce oxygen and consume or hoard carbon. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen”.

We all know that we need oxygen to breathe and also to combine with other elements, such as carbon dioxide, to produce water.27 But the problem of excess loose carbon dioxide is recognised as one of the most serious confronting the eco-system at this moment, with carbon dioxide emissions creating part of the “greenhouse” cover over the earth, contributing hugely to global warming. This process in return is causing sea-levels to rise and also to warm, causing mass deaths in seas, along with big changes in weather systems with devastating effects for human and animal populations.

The wolf can also play a role in mediating the effect of other predators and has done so in part of the USA with regard to the coyote, similar to what the dingo has done to the European-introduced red fox, which has become a problem in Australia.

American mink in Ireland, an invasive versatile semi-aquatic predator (Photo sourced: Irish News). Could the wolf help control this pest?

In Ireland another introduced species, more likely through escape from fur farms, the american mink, is also a problem and is spreading.28 It may be that the wolf can play a helpful role there too, along with having some effect in controlling that other american, the grey squirrel which, in turn, might assist the red squirrel’s return to areas from which it has long been absent.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1Though indications exist of some hunting of wolves by humans in Ireland, in England, wolf persecution was enforced by legislation and the last wolf was killed in the early 16th century during the reign of Henry VII (see Wikipedia on the Eurasian Wolf). Ireland was invaded by British-based forces in 1169 and over time native forces were defeated and the whole country came under English rule until partly independent in 1921.

2For priests: “An 1709 Penal Act demanded that Catholic priests take the Oath of Abjuration and recognise the Protestant Queen Anne as Supreme Head of the Church of England and, by implication, in Ireland. Priests who refused to conform were arrested and executed. ……….The reward rates for capture varied from £50–100 for a bishop, to £10–20 for the capture of an unregistered priest; substantial amounts of money at the time. The work was dangerous, and some priests fought in self-defence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priest_hunter

For Wolves: “In AD 1652 the Commissioners of the Revenue of Cromwell’s Irish Government set substantial bounties on wolves, £6 for a female, £5 for a male, £2 for a subadult and 10 shillings for a cub”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolves_in_Ireland

For Resistance fighters: https://www.historyireland.com/early-modern-history-1500-1700/some-days-two-heads-and-some-days-four/

3This estimate relies on assumptions on the mutation rate, which has not been directly estimated for domestic dogs (see https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982215004327#:~:text=The%20divergence%20between%20the%20wolf,directly%20estimated%20for%20domestic%20dogs). As the paper discusses, this is a highly-contentious area of study with some theories proposing the existence of domestic canids as early as 36,000 years ago and the appearance of the domestic canid predating that of the current grey wolf.

4In some parts of the USA and Western Europe, where hunting big game is a widespread activity, fear of competition with the wolf in hunting season is also an important factor and one where “the common man” may come into conflict with those wishing to protect or reintroduce the wolf.

5It is worth noting that wild grazing mammals are capable of defence against hunting canines by outrunning them and, usually as a last resort, by fighting them with horn, antler, tusk, teeth or hoof. In turn, wolves have to plan, ambush, select targets and coordinate attacks. Old and very young grazers are vulnerable but calves and foals are pushed by their mothers to stand minutes after birth; in an hour or two, they can run. A wolf injured in attack cannot travel with the pack and will miss out on most food and, if failing to heal rapidly enough, will die. There is a constantly flexing relationship between the survival mechanisms of both prey and predator.

6In the first place they need to be high enough to prevent wolves leaping or scrambling over them, also proof against digging under. And since anecdotal evidence relates livestock guard dogs being willing to stand the pain of electric shock if sufficient stimulus is provided to get out of an electrified enclosure, one must assume that wolves will develop that same resolution at some point. Finally, there is the issue of possible weather damage and failure of the power supply to the barrier.

7In some situations donkeys and alpacas have also been used with success as livestock guard dogs, though a Spanish shepherd commented that the donkey only functions with cattle, since they respond to its warning, while sheep ignore it. (See also https://www.jandohner.com/single-post/2016/05/01/the-other-livestock-guardians-llamas-and-donkeys and https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/guard-donkey-zbcz1310). None of these are capable of physically defending against a canine pack, however.

8There are a few types that can combine the characteristics of herding and guard, such as the Beauceron but in general livestock dog breeds specialise in either guarding or herding. In Australia, where the apex land predator is not the wolf but the smaller and lighter Dingo, some herding breeds also act as livestock guard dogs.

9Two are known to be extinct: The Alpine Mastiff and the Molossus.

10It seems that this breed was so valued abroad that Irish chieftains and English occupiers exported them, so that no originals of the breed remain. The current breed that goes by that name, a gentle attractive dog of high stature, is derived by cross-breeding. Wikipedia: “Based on the writings of others, Graham had formed the opinion that a dog resembling the original wolfhound could be recreated through using the biggest and best examples of the Scottish Deerhound and the Great Dane, two breeds which he believed had been derived earlier from the wolfhound. Into the mix went a Borzoi (“Korotai”), who had proved his wolf hunting abilities earlier in his native Russia. For an outbreed a “huge shaggy dog” was added, which may have possibly been a Tibetan Mastiff.

11https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock_guardian_dog

12https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GScuF2ZEGOA

13https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock_guardian_dog

14See videos in Spanish from Zamora and the Basque Government region (latter in References & Resources)

15See Sources and References at article end for items in relation to dingo conservation,

16Apart from upending trash containers and raiding farms, boar may also attack humans, especially in the case of a sow accompanied by her litter and is capable of inflicting mortal wounds. Should boar become widespread in very close contact with humans, children might be attacked too.

17https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/brucellosis/downloads/bruc-facts.pdf

18A Zamoran shepherd says he receives no grant and though not asking for one, says he should be supplied free of charge the ID chip he is required by law to embed in his dogs. On the other hand the Euskadi regional Government agreed to pay a grant and other regions have done so too, in areas where the wolf and bear are known to be in residence, without having to prove or even claim a kill of any of their stock.

19Partnership with working dogs is likely to be therapeutic in itself and surely wholly preferable to setting out traps, poison bait (which kills other predators and scavengers too) and shooting, including even killing cubs. Besides, break up the pack and more wolves will mate and bear litters.

20Ironically that status can serve to protect predators from extermination and since it was given that status in Poland, the wolf population increased substantially (see Wikipedia the Eurasian Wolf).

21https://www.eitb.eus/es/noticias/sociedad/videos/detalle/5937840/video-el-gobierno-vasco-incluira-al-lobo-catalogo-especies-amenazadas/

22In some parts of the world these would also included wild horses, camels, llamas, alpaca …. See earlier mention of brucellosis

23https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/csp2.413

24Ibid.

25https://blog.nature.org/science/2013/08/22/too-many-deer/

26https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10342-011-0523-3

27https://www.savatree.com/whytrees.html

28p.4, Mink distribution and populations, https://www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/IWM40.pdf

SOURCES & REFERENCES:

The Eurasian wolf: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurasian_wolf

Grey Wolf previous and current population around the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gray_wolf_populations_by_country

Dogs bred for guarding livestock: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock_guardian_dog

Introducing wolves in northern Europe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_reintroduction#Northern_Europe

Wolf repopulation and conservation in southern Europe: https://www.lavanguardia.com/local/girona/20190220/454285446272/lobo-pirineos-abre-debate-proteccion-projecte-llop.html

Catalonia: https://www.lavanguardia.com/natural/20200212/473446529246/lobos-catalunya-fotografias-camara-oculta-dos-ejemplares-localizados.html

Aragon: https://www.heraldo.es/noticias/aragon/huesca/2018/02/25/tras-las-huellas-del-lobo-pirineo-1226897-2261127.html

Basque Country: https://www.eitb.eus/es/noticias/sociedad/videos/detalle/5937840/video-el-gobierno-vasco-incluira-al-lobo-catalogo-especies-amenazadas/

EU: https://blog.humanesociety.org/2019/10/breaking-news-european-court-upholds-strong-protections-for-wolves.html

Issues and effects of reintroduction in Yellowstone USA: https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/csp2.413

Issues in reintroduction of the American Red Wolf: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/10/can-red-wolves-come-back-from-the-brink-of-extinction-again-aoe

Protection and reintroduction of the American Grey Wolf: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/gray_wolves/

Not wolves but related subject — conservation of dingoes in Australia: https://theconversation.com/why-do-some-graziers-want-to-retain-not-kill-dingoes-77457

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-25/farmers-suggest-changing-regional-australia-approach-to-dingoes/100147468

Protection of forests by predation on grazers and other issues: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/275na4_en.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10342-011-0523-3

Importance of trees and grazing damage: https://www.savatree.com/whytrees.html

Adverse effect of present levels of loose carbon dioxide: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/greenhouse-gases

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/greenhouse-gases

Mexican Wolf: https://www.breakingnews.ie/world/mexican-wolf-breeding-programme-gets-boost-from-zoo-1160719.html

Suggestion of reintroduction of grey wolves to Scotland: https://www.conservationjobs.co.uk/articles/wolf-reintroduction-in-scotland/

Ireland: https://greennews.ie/why-we-need-to-plan-for-the-reintroduction-of-wolves/

https://www.thejournal.ie/is-ireland-ready-to-reintroduce-wolves-ireland-2029-podcast-4761981-Oct2019/

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/the-return-of-the-large-predator-to-mainland-europe-1.3727602

Related — Issues of reintroduction of raptors to Ireland: https://www.goldeneagle.ie/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=660&Itemid=195

https://www.tobinconsultingengineers.com/blog/a-brief-overview-of-the-reintroduction-of-raptor-species-in-ireland/

https://www.jstor.org/stable/24394182

Survival of reintroduced raptors, hostile propaganda, illegal poisoning and low number of prosecutions: http://trinitynews.ie/2016/10/farmers-wildlife-freak-outs-and-facts/

Wild mink control: https://www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/IWM40.pdf

FLYING TURTLES, SF VOTER PROFILES AND POSSIBLY EXTENDED LOCKDOWN

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 5 mins.)

Skimming through some of the material posted on the internet today as “breaking news”, I came across items under the categories listed above.

To take the first, a car driver on Interstate 95 highway in Florida was stunned by an object that flew through her windscreen and struck her on the head. Luckily for her and her mother who was a passenger, the woman managed to guide the car to the roadside where her mother summoned assistance.

A man who stopped to help was surprised to find a turtle among the broken glass inside the car but not as surprised as both women.

The media report speculated that the turtle was probably crossing the road and got knocked into the air by another vehicle.

Though there was a lot of blood as is often the case with a scalp wound, the woman was not badly injured. “I swear to God this lady has the worst luck of anything,” the daughter told the 911 operator as she tended to her injured mother, according to the report. Her daughter will no doubt remember those words of comfort for a long time.

What about the turtle? According to a Port Orange police officer, the turtle was uninjured apart from some scratches on its shell and was released into some local woods (where it has no doubt gained legendary status already among the local wildlife; hopefully the woods were in the direction in which it had been headed, so it did not have to cross the road once more).

In this part of the world we tend to think of turtles as those big marine animals or, for some, as little stripey shellback reptiles kept in aquaria. There are actually four species of native land turtles in Europe, which we call “tortoises”, found mostly around the Mediterranean and at one time it was not unusual to have one as a pet in Ireland, even at loose in the garden, where dogs, cats and other predators eventually learned the uselessness of attacking them. Sometimes they survived winters by hibernation and lived on for years, becoming quite accustomed to their owners, extending their heads out of their shell to accept bits of lettuce from people, etc. Perhaps the expression of a shy person “emerging from their shell” comes from such instances.

The cute little stripey ones in the aquarium if they lived could grow to a similar size as their land cousins but unlike European tortoises, were carnivorous. There are seven European species of which two have been introduced but none indigenous or large-scale colonisers here or in Britain (yet, at any rate – but see concern about the “Florida Turtle” invasion).

These animals in general on land or in water when fully grown are about a foot long at most but the shell adds considerable weight.

The United States is home to more species of tortoises and freshwater turtles (which we call “terrapins”), along with marine turtles than any other country in the world – 57 of the world’s 320 currently recognized species. A handful of the turtles of the Florida state are land-dwellers and like most land-dwellers, have on occasion to cross those avenues of death: roads and motorways. Which is why predators and scavengers regularly patrol these for the motor vehicle-impact corpses strewn along them.

In areas where deer might be expected to be encountered crossing the road, or even in areas near airports, traffic signs warn of the possible danger of accidental impact. Can we now expect flying turtle warning signs in Florida?

SINN FÉIN AND THEIR VOTER DATABASE

Shock and horror greeted the news that the Sinn Féin political party has a voter database. Really, how could they! Yes, they keep track of who voted for them so they can call them out for a repeat vote when they need to. Of course, most political parties do that but … but … this is different!

Actually, SF are probably emulating Dublin Fianna Fáil in this respect – it was said years ago that a Dublin FF Councillor could name his voters and that a FF T.D (parliamentary representative) could name the streets in their constituency where the majority voted for them. And since SF are emulating FF in so many other ways, why not? As one of the party’s policy advisors Éoin Ó Broin remarked also, they are “a professional party” – yes indeed.

Eoin Ó Broin TD, SF spokesperson on Housing answering press questions (photo: Gareth Chaney/ Collins)

The next horror revelation was not only that SF had such a database but that they had removed it from its usual location and lodged it somewhere else – Serbia! However this turned out to be a complete invention based on the fact that one SF member was married to a Serb. Really? A whole scandal was built on that?

So if not Serbia, where is that database now? In Germany, boss of the EU, it is rumoured, though Ó Broin declined to say. Well that’s alright then. But where was it before? In Britain, it turns out, from where SF moved it due to the UK’s Brexit. The state whose invaders Irish people have been fighting for eight-and-a-half centuries and which is still in military occupation of one-sixth of our land. Of course, no worry there for our political class and media – but Serbia! Thankfully it was never there.

POSSIBLY EXTENDED LOCKDOWN

It is reported that Leo Varadkar, the Tánaiste (like Prime Minister in Irish government) said publicly that he is not as confident as he was recently about the pace of relaxation of restrictions.

Those who are hostile to Varadkar and his party, or even the whole Government Coalition may let forth an expletive while the vast majority who are sick of restrictions on so many levels of normal life may groan in despair. But Varadkar is right to be cautious.

He has been made so, he says by the state’s experience in December, when the Government ignored their medical advisors and strong statements from left-wing TDs and, under pressure from commercial interests, relaxed the restrictions in the run-up to the Christmas period. A spike in rates of Covid19 infections and death rates a few weeks later was the result.

Currently infection rates in the state have fallen to the lowest level since October last year (i.e before the disastrous decision to relax restrictions) but even a composite table of a number of agencies’ predictions envisages a possible fall to 1,558 cases a week or 222 cases per day by May 15th. However that is still high enough and really the way to go is what has been advocated by left-wing TDs, which is a zero-level target. In a capitalist system that will not be the choice of the Government but rather one of managing the number of sick and tolerating the number of dead within “acceptable limits”. But hopefully the Government will at least wait until the vaccines are widely available and being administered, with testing stations throughout the state, before they risk any further relaxations of the restrictions.

We do not wish to return to the climbing rate of infection and hospital cases of earlier this year, nor do our hospital staff need any such repeat. And France and India have given graphic evidence of the penalties of too-early lifting of restrictions, if our own experience has not been enough.

End.

A US land turtle on a road (image sourced: Internet)

SOURCES:

(in case you don’t believe me): https://www.breakingnews.ie/world/flying-turtle-smashes-through-cars-windscreen-in-florida-1115824.html

https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-herps/florida-amphibians-reptiles/turtles/

Photos: https://www.gertjanverspui.com/eu-species-list/reptiles-of-europe/terrapins-tortoises/

European invasion of the Florida Turtle: https://www.nytimes.com/1994/07/05/science/europe-fights-invasion-of-aggressive-american-turtles.html

SF voter database controversy: https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/mary-lou-mcdonald-denies-wrongdoing-over-party-voter-database-1116020.html

Possibly extended lockdown: https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/covid-varadkar-not-as-confident-over-reopening-pace-as-some-days-ago-1115818.html

Covid19 crisis in France: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56622471

In India: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/22/india-hits-global-record-of-315000-new-daily-cases-as-covid-wave-worsens

LÁ FHÉILE PÁDRAIG IN DUBLIN MARRED BY FAR-RIGHT DEMONSTRATIONS

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 5 mins.)

Instead of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, this year saw a number of far Right-organised demonstrations. The Level 5 Lockdown as part of measures to prevent the continued spread of the Covid19 virus meant the cancelling of the traditional parade and the ongoing closure of bars, people instead taking advantage of the fair weather to head out to parks, river and canal banks and the seaside. A number of far-Right organisations however convened protest events for a number of locations in Dublin under the pretence of caring for mental health and defending civil rights. Hot food services for those in need normally served from outside the GPO were cancelled due to concerns about possible trouble from far-Rightists and a limited service was provided instead.

Unlike many other occasions in the past year, the Gardaí mobilised to take control of the demonstrations, in some cases arresting people who could not give a valid excuse for exceeding the 5-kilometer from home permitted limit without a valid reason, or refusing to give their name and address, or preventing their re-entering the city centre later in the day. The Gardaí general tolerance of far-Right events and of the latter’s continual flouting of anti-contagion measures appears to be worn down, at least for the moment. This tolerance (and at times actual collusion), at marked variance with their treatment of Republican and some other Left events, seems to have been broken by the Far-Right event at Stephen’s Green, where some of the demonstrators threw fireworks at the police.

The most effective operation of the police was in the surrounding of the RTÉ’s campus, the national television service. Unlike a protest last year when they permitted far-Right demonstrators to enter the grounds, on this occasion they were effective in keeping them out. At least two of those arrested there, a man and a woman, had traveled down from the North, they were detained for refusing to give their names and addresses. Altogether, the Gardaí reported having arrested 21 people, including four females, and that 14 were taken before a magistrate’s court that evening and seven charged and released on bail. A number of others may have been told they would be fined for having exceeded their permitted traveling distance without reasonable excuse.

One of the arrested was Joe Doocey from Mayo, variously a member of Gemma Doherty’s “Anti-Corruption Ireland” and “Integrity Ireland”, both racist and far-Right organisations; Doocey was sentenced to prison a few years ago for driving over a Garda at a checkpoint and running an on-line harassment campaign against his victim.

The small gathering earlier at the Garden of Remembrance seems to have been somewhat different, apparently a Christian fundamentalist group calling for “Reclaim St. Patrick’s Day for the Holy Trinity”1. At least handful of those present were seen the previous day in O’Connell Street, wearing a red sash and dispensing Catholic leaflets from the “Irish Society for Christian Civilization”, with a right-wing message.2

“Soldiers of the Immaculate Conception”, part of the right-wing fundamentalist Irish Society for Christian Civilisation, in O’Connell Street on 16th March. They were also present at an event at Garden of Remembrance on St. Patrick’s Day, among other Catholic fundamentalists. (Photo: C.Sulish)

The fairly small gatherings at the GPO and the Garden of Remembrance earlier in the day were monitored with a heavy Garda presence, some of which was in evidence there later that evening. Hot food services and tea for the needy, which would normally be provided in the evening, were cancelled due to worries about possible far-Right interference. One low-level cold food service was however in operation with antifascists, mostly of Irish Republican origin, in the vicinity in case of trouble from the far-Right, who however did not materialise.

DEMONSTRATING IN SUPPORT OF MENTAL HEALTH?

For public consumption, these far-Right groups pretend to be demonstrating for civil rights to to march etc and in defence of mental health. To see Far-Rightists who wish to push their authoritarian agenda on the public now marching in defence of “democracy” and “civil right” would be amusing were it not for the serious intentions of fascists hiding behind those slogans.

Mental health services in Ireland are and have been underfunded and overstretched for many years, with long waiting lists for treatment. So are these far-Rightists at least marching to remedy that situation? No, they are demonstrating for an end to the Lockdown which they say is the cause of mental illness.

Not to be unkind but mental health services might help some of the believers in crazy conspiracy theories which make up the numbers at these events organised by far-Rightists and fascists. Believing that the Irish Government is part of a communist plot organised by the Communist Party of China through the UN and EU is surely not a sign of a healthy mind. Nor is a belief that antifascism is a paedophile ring support group, or that pregnancy termination and gay marriage rights are intended to reduce the native (white) population so they can be replaced by (non-white) migrants – an alleged plot which Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party declares is being run by the EU and by the Irish Government.

Far-Right marchers approaching Donnybrook, with placards displaying some of the fantastic conspiracy theories: one in foreground suggests the Government is introducing communism under the guise of the Covid19 pandemic. (Photo credit: C. Lally, Irish Times).

And in fact Kelly’s “Irish Freedom Party” is the reality behind the false mental health event organised for St. Patrick’s Day in Herbert Park, through the newly-created front organisation “Le Chéile”3 claimed by Tracey Mahoney of the IFP, who spoke there. The remaining speaker was Dr. Anne McCloskey (who last October resigned from her Derry & Strabane Councillor seat for the right-wing Aontú party) and her daughter was arrested outside RTÉ. The party’s Vice-President (and castle owner in Athy), Dolores Cahill, was the main speaker at the event and claimed that wearing face-masks leads to oxygen deprivation which in turn led to a reduced IQ in children and would harm their career prospects in adult life.

These bizarre claims would have all those whose work requires wearing masks in healthcare, surgery, laboratories, “clean workshops” etc worried – if there were any scientific basis for them. There isn’t of course and Cahill can no longer use her position as lecturer in Medicine at UCD as some kind of validation for her claims, since she has been replaced on the course. Not before more than 130 UCD students, mostly from its School of Medicine, had signed a letter protesting the University’s silence on her claims. The University had however already publicly disassociated itself from Cahill’s view, though not at the time replacing her in her First Year course in Science, Medicine and Society, which it has now done.4 According to the text introducing an on-line petition calling for her to be disciplined by UCD because of her publicity-seeking statements being in contravention of all scientific health understanding, Cahill has also been asked to resign from the EU’s Scientific Committee of the Innovative Medicines Initiative and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Studies.

Irish Freedom Party lineup, Herman Kelly centre back row with Rowan Croft (aka “Grand Torino” to left of photo) and Dolores Cahill centre front row.

Cahill’s claim and that of other far-Right conspiracy theorists is that “oxygen-deprivation” leads to passivity, which is why it is being enforced against an “invented” pandemic. Completely contrary to her own logic (but being cheered by many in attendance) was her complaint that the HSE is failing to obtain a particular substance which would be effective treatment (in the “imagined pandemic”)!

“FOR FREEDOM AND CIVIL RIGHTS”?

These campaigners for the right to congregate without masks (i.e freedom to spread the virus) are far from general advocates of freedom. At a Dublin event organised in August last year on Custom House Quay by the Irish Yellow Vests, a mob organised by the National Party (another fascist party) attacked unarmed counter-protesters with metal bars and clubs disguised as flags, leaving one of their victims unconscious. A few weeks later they assaulted a tiny group of LGBT campaigners in Kildare Street, clubbing one of the women to the ground.5

Alan Sweeney6 of Irish Yellow Vests and others boarded a LUAS tram in Dublin after one of their events and abused passengers who were wearing masks and far-Right demonstrators regularly accuse passers-by of being “muzzled”. A man arrested the day before St.Bridget’s Day in Faughart was said to have been ripping masks off elderly people (picking on older people might be thought as safer than others) and Ben Gilroy, one of the Irish Yellow Vest leaders, videoed himself following a masked elderly man around a supermarket while abusing him. Karl Cohalon from Limerick, who goes by the name James Collins on YouTube also had himself videoed on his way to an event in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, shouting homophobic and other insults at a man in the front garden of his home.

Many of the far-Right and fascists are Catholic fundamentalists too, also not known for supporting democratic rights such as the rights of LGBT people or of women needing a pregnancy termination, not to mention vulnerable children (of course they do not condemn the Church for paedophilia and in fact claim the accusations are false). These include not only the openly fascist parties mentioned earlier and Síol na hÉireann but also QAnon and the likes of Gemma O’Doherty (“make Ireland Catholic again”!) of Anti-Corruption Ireland and Dolores Webster (aka Dee Wall) of QAnon, both of whom who demonstrated last year against Croke Park being made available to a Muslim group to celebrate the Eid Festival. Both those women were seen during the events of St. Patrick’s Day as were other fascists such as Carey (“helping the homeless”) and Andy Heasman from Mayo, a supporter of the fascist Síol na hÉireann party, who shared a video expressing his disappointment at the poor turnout, blaming Sinn Féin (undeserved credit there!) and Glen Miller of the Yellow Vests, who apparently cautioned people not to attend.

Whether people genuinely confused or believers in fantasy conspiracies of devil-worshippers, paedophiles or faraway communist parties, they are kept together to make up the numbers by fascist organisations with racist agendas, pretending Irish nationalism too although a number have Far-Right British and Loyalist connections. Those who for other reasons demonstrate alongside racists and fascists cannot escape the facts of their association by declaring that they are not fascists, racists or even far-Rightists – they are giving those forces the numbers they need to seem like a viable force and to attract other supporters. Of course, once they have served their purpose, like the SA “Brownshirts” in Nazi Germany, they will be disposed of. But meanwhile …

More placards of fantastic conspiracy theories displayed on pedestrian bridge outside RTÉ campus: one placard claims that a vaccine kills while another claims it is genocide, yet another claims that the “true agenda” is (Irish) depopulation to facilitate a Chinese (communist) takeover. (Photo credit: Sam Boal, The Journal).

ST. PATRICK WAS …

St Patrick is one of three patron saints of Ireland, the others being Brigid and Columba and is revered not only by Irish Catholics but also by other Christian sects, for having established Christianity in Ireland around the 5th Century CE. However over the centuries since, St. Patrick has become symbolic of far more, being a representation politically and culturally of Irish nationhood at home and among the nation’s far-flung diaspora.

Contrary to those who try to employ this symbol to push an “ethnic” racism against immigrants, it needs to remembered that Patrick first came to Ireland as a captive taken in a raid by pagan Gaels, was then sold as a slave and exploited as a swineherd. Some time after escaping from his servitude (probably back to Britain), he returned to spread his faith in Ireland. He was then a migrant, one of the very group against which many of the far-Right and fascists organise.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1No doubt drawing on the legend of Patrick using the shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity, which no serious historian credits because a) he did not mention it himself in his biography, b) the Gaels already had pagan divine trinities and c) the legend only surfaced comparatively recently.

2Their website declares that the “The aim of the association is to resist, in the realm of ideas, the atheistic, liberal, and socialist trends of our times and proudly affirm the positive values of Christian Civilisation”.

3Not at all to be confused with the youthwork organisation NGO of the same name, nor the Catholic schools management trust, nor the very recent antifascist and anti-racist coalition, all of which have the same name.

4https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/ucd-professor-dolores-cahill-moved-from-lecturer-role-1.4514141

5The National Party played it safe and held their event on the Hill of Tara where their Fuhrer, Justin Barret made a speech celebrating St. Patrick, ignoring the man’s origins, of course. The Irish Yellow Vests stayed home.

6Who operates far from his Co. Galway home and who last year attempted to strike a disabled woman counter-protester on the ground and spat at her

SOURCES:

Irish Times report: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/large-garda-presence-sustained-in-dublin-for-anti-lockdown-protests-1.4512885

The Journal report: https://www.thejournal.ie/gardai-arrests-protests-5384055-Mar2021/

The Indo report: https://www.independent.ie/news/21-arrests-during-mostly-peaceful-anti-lockdown-protests-40208402.html

Videos on Facebook:

Text and petition against Cahill’s anti-scientific claims while employed by UCD: https://www.change.org/p/students-dolores-cahill-is-an-anti-scientist-who-threatens-ucd-s-integrity-she-must-go?fbclid=IwAR2v2yjsPZABdvruCHD6qrTzJHqEMW7FKA5orKaBEC-0FKsL_psbGVzATb8

Allegation of a “St. Patrick’s Day” party at castle owned by Dolores Cahill: https://www.thejournal.ie/dolores-cahill-party-probe-castle-5386356-Mar2021/

EP REVIEW: SEAN TOBIN AND THE BOARDWALK FIRE- ‘St. Patrick’s Day Forever’ (2021)

Great upbeat number about a difficult time.

The following review is reprinted from https://londoncelticpunks.wordpress.com

Born and raised on the New Jersey shore, Sean Tobin was influenced by Folk-song troubadours like Guy Clark, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, as well as high-energy rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and Tom Petty. Self-taught and trained by the New Jersey bar scene, Tobin owes much to his time spent busking on the streets of Galway, Ireland throughout 2015 and 2017. After graduating college in 2017 and uncertain of which direction to take he undertook the El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trail through Spain, with his guitar tied to his pack. Upon completion, the future became obvious and on returning to New Jersey he worked hard to fund his music. He released his first album, This Midnight, in the summer of 2018, and in 2019 he played Frank Turner’s Lost Evenings III Festival at the House of Blues in Boston and soon after quit his day job.

In July 2019, Sean released ‘Dreams & Black Caffeine,’ a four-song EP recorded in Ocean, NJ with his band, The Boardwalk Fire. The group played several shows promoting the work, and had planned a tour for the summer of 2020, but were forced to cancel due to the Covid lockdown. The last year has seen the release of ‘East Coast Artifacts’, a compilation of his first EP, various tracks recorded through lockdown and three new songs.

“We’ve all played together as duos or trios in the past, but St. Patrick’s Day Forever really fortified us as a band,” said Tobin. “I just wish we could play live. That’s what we’re best at.”

Well he has a lot of catching up to do and on his new 4-track EP, accompanied by his band The Boardwalk Fire, he has made a pretty good start.

Released at the end of February, 2021 the EP features two originals and two covers and kicks off with the title track, a fast paced Irish trad influenced Celtic-Punk song about the lockdown and it’s first anniversary in New Jersey. It was after all the cancellations of St. Patrick’s Day events around the world that set the scene for what was going to follow. Lively, upbeat and catchy as hell Sean Tobin tells a great story with a brilliant accompanying video too!

It was winter 2020, we were playing on the roof, Jack was slapping stand-up to another song by Bruce. A mere twenty hours later, we heard it on the news: the Jersey Shore’s in lockdown, so stock up on your booze!*

Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*

Not long later it was Easter, I was sippin’ on some stout. I’d horded fifty cases out of fear that they’d run out, but I couldn’t taste a drop ’cause I gave it up for Lent. So come Easter, fifty cases, up the field they went!*

Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*

Murphy! Your laws are screwin’ me! But frankly, I don’t blame you. If it’s what we gotta do, to keep people from dyin’, then I’ll stay home for you. I just miss my friends…and the bar…*

So now it’s comin’ up on summer, and I’m still drinkin’ stout. I would be switchin’ to Corona, but I don’t think that’s allowed…So instead I’ve got a toucan on one can, three cans, five. If Guinness makes you stronger, I’m the strongest man alive!*

Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.

Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*

The EP’s other original song is titled ‘Ode to Anna Liffey’s’ a bittersweet love song to the now closed Irish bar Anna Liffey’s in New Haven, Connecticut. As with all of Sean’s songs and in common with Irish music in general the songs tell intricate stories and at over six minutes the song gives him plenty of scope in telling his story of days spent propping up the bar there. A swirling gentle song with Sean’s strong voice backed by accordion and percussion that soon enough gets faster and faster with Sean’s guitar and Sean-David’s fiddle smoking! A real Irish tinged bluegrass/country floor filler that ends on a sad note (especially for us Irish!) with the last chorus going out to all the bars that are forced to close but “go down swinging”.

RUPTURE AND REVOLUTION – PART I

Environment and the National Question

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 8 mins.)

A new periodical has emerged from the Irish Left. At the time of writing two issues of Rupture have been produced and Parts I and II of this article consist of a political overview (but of course from my individual viewpoint) of a number of issues discussed in the magazine. While the assessment of some is highly critical, overall my opinion is that Rupture is a welcome introduction to socialist analysis of conditions in Ireland.

Rupture is a quarterly magazine format produced by RISE, a group of socialists whose most publicly-prominent individual is Paul Murphy (see Appendix) who is also a TD, i.e a member of the Parliament of the 26 Counties. The formation of the party RISE was announced in September 2019 when Murphy announced his departure from the Socialist Party and his joining this new organisation, of which he is a founding member.

Rupture espouses “eco-socialism”, a drive to organise the production of food and fuel under socialist control while dramatically reducing its harmful impact on the environment. Most of its contributors address issues from a Marxist perspective but interviews with activists from some other perspectives are included.

The magazine’s two issues to date included features on public health and private services, the environment and food production. In addition there have been a number of articles on developing a broad socialist front, combating racism and fascism, multi-national companies and neo-liberal capitalism, Big Pharm and trade union struggle. For the first time, the latest issue (November 2020) addressed the issue of the national question (and struggle) in Ireland. PART I of this article deals mostly with the magazine’s discussion of a) the Environment and b) the National Question, while PART II focuses on its coverage of c) the Health Service and d) the Broad Front and Anti-Fascism. As a consequence each Part contains both positive and negative evaluation.

For another aspect, the layout is generally attractive and mostly easy to read with photography and artwork which is interesting (if its relevance is not always clear). Some articles are perhaps on the longer side for some tastes but then these are big issues being discussed, in many cases literally of life-and/or-death dimensions.

An annual subscription costs €40 all Ireland or €60 international and I would recommend taking out one for 2021).

Environment

As with most serious commentators on the environment, the articles in Rupture point to an accelerating crisis and the need for urgent action right now. At the same time they point to the unwillingness or inability of the capitalist system – which means the governments of most states today — to take the necessary steps. In fact, unwillingness and inability are almost the same thing with the capitalist system because if one capitalist does not maximise his profit he will be undercut and crushed – or taken over – by another who will do “what is necessary” according to the rules and logic of the system. Even if in the longer term (or the medium term, in this case) the scramble for profit maximisation destroys the very resource — cod and herring, for example or rainforest. In this case, without the slightest exaggeration, it is the whole civilisation-sustaining environment that is at stake.

Not Fun Facts

“In 2017 a habitat area the size of a football field was lost every second.” “Eirgrid has projected that 2027 as much as 31% of Ireland’s electricty could by consumed by data centres” (most of it for cooling the servers to prevent them overheating). “In Ireland a fairly normal herd of pigs consists of 3,000 animals — only 2% of pigs are living in small herds of 5 or less. ….. a flock of chickens can normally be around 3,000.” Diseases due to overcrowding of animals enter the food chain for humans, causing infections of “bird ‘flu” and “swine ‘flu” through ‘zoonotic spillover’ (remember that term — you’ll be hearing more of it in future).

The prediction a fairly long time ago that the choice, rather than being between socialism or capitalism is in reality socialism or barbarism, is facing us now as an urgent practical question. Because when civilisation crashes the remaining groups of humanity around the world, assuming their survival, will indeed be thrust back into barbarism.

The contributors to Rupture quote writings of Karl Marx and Engels which one never hears from non-Marxist environmentalists and rarely either from Marxists themselves. These early developers of Marxist thought studied not only economics, class struggle and philosophy but also (and dare I say it, necessarily), history, science and culture too.

Mental health is an issue discussed in the magazine not only in respect to the appalling lack of health services in that area or the stresses and strains of work under capitalism but also in the divorcing of most humans in cities from nature. The agricultural landscape, having been moulded by humanity is far from natural and yet retains much of nature, the environment in which humanity first came to exist and in which it developed …. but most people in the West are not employed in agriculture. In these times of fear of infection along with isolation from our regular social contacts, even a walk in a park, in woods, on hills or botanic gardens can be rewarding and a reminder of what we have lost and are losing.

It is a challenge to radically change the way we produce food and generate power in a long-term sustainable way but only a socialist system, with overall benefit replacing profit as the ruling motivation has the possibility of bringing an end to the ruthless exploitation of not only labour but the very environment.

THE NATIONAL STRUGGLE

This is a question rarely dealt with by the socialist parties in Ireland, a situation which surprises revolutionary socialists across Latin America and much of Europe in particular. Some might ascribe that to the British origin of a number of those parties, particularly the main Trotskyist ones which in that respect established a tradition very far from the theory and personal practice of Karl Marx. So although I have much to disagree with in this article, the fact that it is being discussed at all should be encouraged.

I hope it will serve to encourage further discussion rather than its opposite when I summarise the piece as containing partial history and poor analysis with however one important recommendation. This critique really deserves a treatment all of its own but since this evaluation of the magazine has already got appreciably longer than was my original intent, I will have to be brief and therefore blunt.

The brief overview of history does not even mention that the United Irishmen (and therefore the uprisings of 1798 and 1803) was led almost exclusively by a section of the colonist-descended bourgeoisie, which is why the leadership was virtually all of various Protestant religious backgrounds. This is important because this is not the same bourgeoisie that rules the Irish state today. The article also omits any mention whatsoever of the linguistic genocidal legislation and practice of the conquerors of Ireland and for any treatment of “the national question” one would have to wonder how or why one would omit that. In dealing with the occupied Six Counties, the treatment of the civil rights movement is poor, even for a very brief overview – it was not only “anti-Unionist unity” that drove or characterised it but opposition to the violent response of the Unionist statelet, Loyalist mobs and paramilitaries and their resolute backing by the armed force of the British State.

Wolfe Tone Monument by Edward Delaney (d.2009) at Stephen’s Green (image sourced: Internet). He and other United Irishmen leaders represented the revolutionary national Protestant bourgeoise and they were descended from colonists.

The article remarks on the“weak capitalist class” in Ireland. But what is the nature of the weakness of this class? In other words, towards which forces are they weak? Not towards the working class, with programs of austerity funding bank bailouts, decades of emigration, slow adoption of equal social rights, high homelessness. Not towards the working class, with the Army used to undermine the Dublin Bus strikers in 1963 and 1979 or the restrictions on the right to strike and solidarity action. Not towards the Irish Republican movement with its Civil War history, special non-jury courts, its repressive legislation and armed police.

No, it is not those towards which the Irish capitalist class is weak. But it is weak in developing its own industry and developing an independent political line. Its weakness economically is marked by the takeover by big foreign capitalists of nearly all of its industry and telecommunications network, along with chunks of its transport infrastructure and services, its health services (private religious and foreign companies) and its national airline and large pieces of its agriculture. Its weakness is demonstrated in failure to develop its own natural resources and selling them off or giving them away.

The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its firstly accepting the partition if its national territory and going to war with the independence movement rather than join it gaining total independence. The same weakness manifested itself in its inability to unite its territory and subsequently abandoning any claim to do so. The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its permitting atrocities committed against its citizens at home and abroad by the occupying power, only once taking a case against it to the European Courts of Human Rights and never to the European Court of Justice or the United Nations. And it permitted without protest the intelligence services of that occupying power to bomb its capital city many times, including in 1974, with the murder of 26 people (and another eight in Monaghan). And there are many other examples too.

The article admits that the Irish capitalist class has been “acting to facilitate the exploitation of people and resources by foreign capital”. What would we call a capitalist class that behaved like that in Latin America, Asia or Africa? Yes, neo-colonial. Or in Latin America, possibly “comprador”. The difference is not just in location but in the minds of the Irish electoral Left – but none of any significance in the reality on the ground. As the contributor from Talamh Beo points out, “even though we’re geographically in Europe, our land history is radically different.” Of course defining the Irish capitalist class as neo-colonial might give one a very different outlook on the national struggle, right?

And also on socialist revolution, which we would understand to be opposed in Ireland not only by the majority native and the minority colonial capitalist classes and their apparatus, not only by our powerful imperialist neighbour, but also against economic interests in the imperialist USA and EU.

In addition, despite the officially neutral status of the Irish State, its armed forces are being integrated into the European imperialist military alliance. Ireland has not (yet) joined NATO but has the EU Battlegroups, as part of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union (EU).

Fianna Fáil, although a split from Sinn Féin in the 1930s and therefore the losing side in the Civil War, has become the first party of choice of the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” class, a neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with its main rival, Fine Gael (and the Greens).
Fine Gael, although formed from the victorious side in the Civil War, has become only the second party of choice of the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” class, a neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with its main rival, Fianna Fáil (and the Greens).
Ireland’s main social-democratic party, whenever in Government it has always been as a minor partner in coalition. It always supports the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” neo-colonial capitalist class. It is currently sits on the Opposition bench.

The truth is that in the above respects, Irish Republicans in general have a much better understanding of the Irish State, the representative of that neo-colonial capitalist class, than do the electoral left parties in Ireland. The Republicans have traditions and history and recurring practical experience that teaches them.

The Green Party of Ireland, whenever in Government it has always been as a minor partner in coalition. It always supports the Irish national bourgeoisie, the “Gombeen” neo-colonial capitalist class. In the historically two-party state, it is currently in power in coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The electoral socialist Left, far from joining with the Republicans, chooses instead to snipe at them on occasion and to ignore them the rest of the time. And to permit their civil liberties and human rights to be attacked for the most part without protest.

POSITIVE RECOMMENDATION

The positive recommendation in the article regards the projected Border Poll. While not wishing for any kind of capitalist Ireland, whether partitioned or united, the article recommends voting YES in any such referendum. I myself must agree with that and along with them find it difficult to imagine how any socialists could advocate any other position.

Recommending a NO vote even if for the best of reasons would isolate any party from the majority of the Irish people, while recommending abstention would leave the party on the sidelines not only regarding the poll but in important debates about what kind of Ireland we should have. Even the British & Irish Communist Organisation deviation of the 1960s and 1970s with their two-nation theory, although it generated much discussion, never looked likely to grow to any size, much less become a mass party of the Left.

I am far from convinced however that a genuine poll on the reunification of Ireland will ever be agreed by the ruling classes of the UK and of Ireland or, should it be held and have a majority for reunification, that the ruling classes will implement the verdict.

End.

(See also Part II published separately)

APPENDIX

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PAUL MURPHY (RISE)

Formerly an activist and TD of the Irish Socialist Party, an Irish child of the British Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Party (and formerly, Militant, the largest among a number of entrist groups into the British Labour Party), Murphy left them gently in September 2019 to form the RISE group. It may be remembered that Clare Daly, also a TD, left the SP in August 2012 in a somewhat more acrimonious dispute and became part of Independent Left with some other socialist TDs and municipal councillors, since when she and her partner Mick Wallace were elected Members of the European Parliament and virtually disappeared from the Irish political scene (to be missed by many without allegiance to either group). Paul Murphy has also been an MEP in the past, from 2011-2014. Although now a member of a different political party, he has remained in the Solidarity-People Before Profit coalition of SP and PBP which retains another five TDs (four essentially of the Socialist Workers’ Party but no longer any of the SP).

Murphy has a long record of activism and has been violently handled by the Gardaí (Irish state police force) on a number of occasions and also arrested as part of the celebrated Jobstown case defendants in 2015 (all acquitted two years later). His international activism includes participation in the Gaza blockade flotilla in 2011 and high seas capture by the Israeli Zionist state, detention and deportation. His production of regular video broadcasts to date during the Covid19 crisis, both from home and of his interventions in the Dáil have included lashing the Government on placing accommodation of capitalism above the lives or ordinary people, denouncing its “yo-yo policy” of precautionary restrictions followed by much-too-early relaxation and also demanding the nationalisation of private health facilities.

“DON’T CLAP FOR US”

(PLEA FROM A HEALTH WORKER)

Don’t clap for us

None of us heroes, or don’t you see

A rampant infection, as vile as can be

A clap from your door, won’t be enough

As we fight for survival, it’s brutal and tough

Explain to the patient, gasping for air

They hear your clapping, while alone in despair

To the nurse who’s exhausted, stressed and so scared

As they grieved for a colleague, and yet still they cared.

(Image sourced: Internet)

What good is your clapping, or ringing your bell

When all around us, is Lucifer’s hell?

Close up your doorways, stay safe inside

Choke this oblivion, force it to hide

No time for mixing, do the right thing

Hope for salvation, the vaccine might bring

Until this horizon comes into view

The change that can happen, is all down to you

The time to say thank you, will be at the end

When together we fought this, and broke this trend.

(Image sourced: Internet)

The tunnel light flickers, we can see it in sight

But now it’s not daylight, it’s still a dark night

Help us to help you, with rules to obey

Hope for a future, when this goes away

This is a journey, we all must take

Don’t listen to theories, who say it’s all fake

Look into my tears, the fear I can’t hide

Every day a tsunami, that will not subside

I thank you for reading, please keep safe and well

Please do the right thing, I beg you all to compel.

Written by Mark Dawn 6th January 2021

(Image sourced: Internet)

FURTHER READING:

https://www.psypost.org/2020/04/frontline-covid-19-healthcare-workers-suffer-increased-risk-of-depression-anxiety-and-insomnia-56449

Childcare needed for healthcare workers as usual one shut down: https://www.inmo.ie/Home/Index/217/13576

What Nurses and GPs face and how they feel: https://www.thejournal.ie/healthcare-workers-experiences-covid-19-5316572-Jan2021/

Dear Mr. Tony Holohan

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 1 min.)

Dear Mr. Tony Holohan, We write to congratulate you on being voted Man of the Year for 2020 in the Today FM poll this month1. It must have come as a pleasant surprise to you – it certainly surprised us. We couldn’t have expected the Irish public would forget that embarrassing debacle with the cervical cancer checks.

People might think it reasonable to send the test results off to the USA for screening but, when it turned out that many of those “all clear” results were in error and that some who who later learned of the error were too late for treatment and going die …. you couldn’t hope they would forgive you for trying to keep a lid on the news or for declining to create an urgent response. Well, of course, some of those who wouldn’t be likely to forgive you aren’t with us any more …. but surely so many others would remember? Well thank God for short memories, you must’ve thought!2

Mr. Tony Holohan in a sombre moment. (Image sourced: Internet)

Still, that was news in 2018 and your award was for this year. What is more surprising is that they forgot that when the HSE first became officially aware of the pandemic in February this year, as Chief Medical Officer, you did not advise the Government to close the ports. Or even to isolate those returning from watching the rugby in Italy, where the pandemic was raging. Well, we can’t have the flow of capital interrupted, can we?

We wonder too how it slipped the mind of so many that you did not advise the Government to order precautionary arrangements and protective measures in essential services, so that An Post workers had to strike for such provision and shops and supermarkets only put them in place slowly, piecemeal. We’re sure your thinking was that those who are making money out of such establishments are the best placed to decide what is needed and when – even if they won’t actually be working at the danger point.

Then there was the advice to lockdown, relax, lockdown, relax, lockdown again …. what one know-it all TD called “the yo-yo policy” as reducing rates of contagion recovered and shot up again, etc.

More surprising still — and must have been more than you dared hope — was that people who are nearly unanimously and everywhere now wearing masks, apparently forgot that back in the early days you declared in public that wearing masks was of no help at all in reducing the spread of the virus.

We thought your humble acknowledgement of the award was excellent and especially that you refrained from one of those insincere responses one often hears like: “I feel I don’t really deserve this award.”

Sincerely,

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1https://www.buzz.ie/entertainment/tony-holohan-named-man-of-the-year-in-today-fm-end-of-year-poll-407121

2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CervicalCheck_cancer_scandal

JARDUN MANIFESTO OF AIMS

Translation by D.Breatnach

(Reading time:  5 mins)

The construction of an Independent and Socialist State that integrates Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Behera, Nafarroa Garaia and Zuberoa.

(On the 18th I reported on the launch of the Basque organisation Jardun, a coordinating body seeking to unite Basque left-national organisations and collectives in a revolutionary movement.  Since then they have published a fuller manifesto of their aims, here translated from the Castillian version.)

The construction of a society based on the power of the Basque working class, on overcoming the class struggle and on the socialization of the means of production.

Overcoming all oppression against working women.

Reunification of Euskal Herria.

Remaking Euskal Herria Basque-speaking.

Map showing the seven provinces of the Basque Country — the three northern ones are currently ruled by the French State, the others by the Spanish State.
(Source image: Internet)

The new alternative of the Basque Working People is a pro-independence and socialist political project whose ideological principles have six main points:

Independence.

Socialism.

Internationalism.

Class feminism.

Amnesty.

Environmentalism.

Independence.
The national question is framed within the various oppressions suffered by the Basque Working People, oppression that in the opinion of this coordinating organisation can only be overcome through independence. In other words, when we speak of self-determination, we are referring to the undeniable right of the Basque Working People to separate from the states that oppress them and to undertake a process of building an independent and socialist state.

Socialism.
Before talking about socialism, it is convenient to specify what we mean when we speak of the Basque Working People. The Basque Working People is made up of everyone who lives and sells their labour power in Euskal Herria. Every worker within the Basque Working People, from the moment they suffer exploitation and oppression, that is, from the moment they suffer the blow of capital in a crude way in their day to day life, has the potential to organize the revolution. Therefore, when we speak of socialism, we refer to overcoming the class oppression suffered by the Basque Working People, on the way to creating a classless society.

Internationalism.
We must understand that the Basque Working People cannot undertake the fight against capital alone. It is necessary to maintain contact with the different oppressed peoples and to accept mutual aid. Even so, JARDUN will always set down an unpassable red line, that the national framework of the Basque working people can never be doubted. (Translator’s note: I was unsure about what exactly was meant by this sentence but one Jardun’s supporters told me it means that any struggle expecting solidarity from Jardun must accept the Basque people as a nation).

Class feminism.
It is necessary to overcome the sex-gender dichotomy and the reproductive role that capital imposes on working women, in order to overcome the oppression suffered by working women and the structural reasons that originate it.

“Freedom for political prisoners; Jail for those who oppress the people.”
Cartoon poster from Chile but which summarises the Jardun position.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Amnesty.
Amnesty is a strategic term that, going beyond confining itself to the freedom of all those fighters who have worked for the freedom of Euskal Herria, implies political recognition in the eyes of working people of the struggle they have carried out and placing at the disposal of popular justice those who have systematically oppressed them.

Environmentalism.
Within the current capitalist production model, the environment suffers from overexploitation, responding to the logic of obtaining the highest possible economic performance, generating more waste than can be managed and creating a degradation that in many cases puts living conditions at risk. That is why the environmental struggle can only be approached from a root change in the production processes.

Photo taken during the Albertia battle commemoration and launch of Jardun earlier this month.
(Photo source: Jardun)

The six points outlined above that define the ideology of JARDUN cannot be understood or addressed in an isolated way, since if their achievement does not go hand in hand with the others, the only thing that we will achieve will be to perpetuate the oppression suffered by the Basque Working People. In the same way, only by addressing these points from a class point of view will the workers of Euskal Herria be able to obtain control of the productive processes and political power, neutralizing the bourgeoisie.

Although the Basque Working People have the potential to carry out the revolution, only by acquiring awareness of their situation and organizing themselves in pursuit of national and social liberation can they begin the revolutionary process, forming the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. JARDUN needs to be the organizational space of the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. At the same time, the working people at an organic level should be composed of different sectoral organizations working under the same strategic objectives, for the construction of an independent and socialist Euskal Herria.

In the same way that our predecessors faced the oppression that this people has suffered and fought against fascism in Albertia, today, it is up to us to confront the oppression that working people suffer and for that, unity is necessary, it is necessary join forces. It is time to start joining forces. It is time to start adding forces. It is necessary to get together with different groups in Euskal Herria and defend a common project. It is necessary for different groups to join JARDUN, so that each one from their own fighting trenches can contribute what they can, with a firm commitment, and thus respond as a people, as a working people to capital. Since we are very clear about the way forward and what strategy has to be carried out. And let there be no doubt that we will continue working in that direction. For those who have given their lives, for Euskal Herria and for the workers of Euskal Herria.

Gora Euskal Herria askatuta!

Inependentzia eta sozialismoa!

Albertia, 2020ko abuztuaren 15

Reference:

http://www.euskoekintza.eu/presentacion-de-jardun-coordinadora-de-izquierda-independentista-en-el-albertia-eguna-2020/#more-2164

 

COLONISERS AND INNOVATORS PART II

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 mins)

In Part I, we remarked that “Plants are pioneers, colonisers, innovators and builders at least comparable to the animal kingdom, to which they are related and …. with a superior record.” We followed their emergence from the waters and their colonising of land, along with various strategies they developed for their new environment. Now we watch them constructing their very own environments and adapting to some of the most challenging climes of the earth.

ENVIRONMENT-BUILDERS

          Most plants have leaves, which is where the photosynthesis takes place; they are in fact sunlight collectors and the plants deploy them to best effect to catch the available sun. Quite a late development, they were flanges on the stems first before becoming appendages further out of the plant’s main body. Most leaves are intricately veined and contain many different layers and parts and although it is within them that photosynthesis takes place, strangely they are mostly short-lived and in cold seasons, even in perennial plants, all but the conifers let them fall.

The greater the volume of material created by plants, the more there was to decompose with their deaths or seasonal decline. Bacteria, already long existent on the planet, evolved to feed on this detritus and break it down into soil, which the same plants or others could turn to their advantage as a medium in which to anchor but also from which to draw nutrients. Other organisms evolved to live on and break down cellulose too, the main building material of plants: fungi, gastropods like snails and slugs, woodlice, termites …..

The plants, with the help of bacteria and other organisms, were creating the environment below them!

But they were and are doing more than that: they are also creating an environment immediately around them. The most concentrated examples are perhaps rain forests, tropical, temperate or cold-climate, retaining a surrounding moisture-laden air, in which not only the local tree species thrive but also providing ideal environments for ferns, algae, orchids and epiphytes and, of course, mosses.

Inside a tropical rainforest.
(Photo source: Internet)

Temperate Rainforest — parts of the Wicklow hills and valleys would almost qualify.
(Photo source: Wikipeda)

Away from forests, sphagnum moss creates a mini-atmosphere around itself and as generations die, their bodies create a spongy moisture-laden medium. This bog is quite capable of existing on an incline, with much of the water being retained by the vegetation and ‘soil’, as may be seen in a number of examples in Ireland, such as parts of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains.

Close-up of sphagnum moss, creator of its own environment and changer of landscape.
(Photo source: Internet)

 

Plants, especially trees, discharge oxygen into the air and consume carbon dioxide during the daytime, for which reason they are sometimes called “the lungs of the world”. They have not only created an environment for themselves, below, around and above but also for so many other life-forms – including ourselves.

LEARNING TO LIVE IN DIFFERENT CLIMES

          Creating one’s climate isn’t always possible and, when it’s not, adaptation is the other option. Plants that adapted to grow in arid areas developed fleshy ‘leaves’ and often stalks, in which to store water and also sometimes long tap roots to find that water. But extensive shallow root networks are good too, to collect the occasional rain water that is quickly absorbed into the soil or otherwise evaporates. The “pores” on leaves through which plants absorb carbon dioxide and allow the gas-exchange necessary for photosynthesis (stomates) also permit evaporation of water, hence many dry-condition plants have fewer of them. Some only open to collect carbon dioxide in the cool of the night and store it for use on the following day. Plants grow trichomes, tiny bristles, underneath their leaves but some arid-dwellers grow them also on top of their leaves; these ‘trap’ a layer of air that prevents or slows evaporation.

Arid-adapted plants, SW USA (Photo source: Internet)

In very wet areas, plants learned to remain active by a number of strategies. Of course they originally came from aquatic environments but for some of them, returning there again after adapting to dry land, produced challenges (think of the changes necessary for land mammals to evolve into seals, otters, dolphins and whales). Nevertheless we have lillies growing in shallow water with wide floating leaves, reeds with upright blade-like leaves growing inside the water margins, thin spears of rushes in damp and water-logged land. That too is the preferred environment of some other plants and grasses, including the rice plant. And of the willows, alders and hazels growing on the banks and stabilising them. In the tropics and semi-tropics, mangroves do a similar job to willows but on a much grander scale – and they tolerate seawater too.

Reeds and two different species of willow on the Royal Canal, Dublin. (Photo source: D.Breatnach)

The alder, a tree with a high toleration of water around its roots, is thought to have been the major post-glacial coloniser of Ireland, following the retreating ice across the land. It is the only native tree which though not an evergreen produces cones, an indication of its early adaptation to cold climate. Cones, when closed, protect the seeds inside against continual freezing and thawing and, when the cones begin to dry and automatically open in spring and summer, allow the seeds inside to drop out to the ground, to be carried by river or on the wind. A closed cone collected and brought home will open as it dries; shake it then and the seeds will fall out. Alder timber, incidentally, remains waterproof for centuries, witness the wooden piles in Venice.

Close view of alder cones and leaves from tree on the Royal Canal, Dublin north city centre. (Photo source: D.Breatnach)

Adapting to cold seasons required protective materials, structures and timing. The deciduous trees (and it is worth noting that many trees have both a deciduous and an evergreen version for different climes) shed their leaves and close down for the winter, the sap retreating down to the roots. Were the sap to remain in the exposed branches it would freeze, expand and destroy them. The leaves drop because they no longer receive anything from the tree; it is going into a kind of hibernation, in preparation for the coming winter.

Many of the conifers have downward-sloping branches, to allow most of the snow to slide off, rather than break the branches with its weight. People who live in areas with heavy snowfall also tend to live under sharply sloping roofs. The “leaves” of the conifers are small, narrow and hard so that most snow falls through them and are also covered in a waxy polymer to withstand freezing. The plant cells can be emptied of water to prevent freezing but a dense waxy residue keeps them open for refilling. So, of course, they have to be tolerant of dehydration. Concentration of sugars also lowers the freezing point and small flexible conduits for water resist the formation of large ice bubbles that can burst those “pipes”.

The “needles” on pine twigs. (Photo sourced: Internet)

The downward direction of the branches of many conifers ensures slide off by snow when it reaches a certain weight — but long before the branch might break. (Photo source: Internet)

Red and white spruce in snow. Though the branches incline slightly upward, they are very flexible and will bend and dislodge the snow overlaying them long before the branch is in danger of snapping.
(Photo source: Internet)

THE YOUNG TAKE TO THE WATER AND THE AIR

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 minutes)

Some young take to the water, others to the air …..

          The last weeks of May and first half of June saw the young of many species take to air or water. On my walks in the Drumcondra area of Dublin where I live, although Glasnevin Cemetery and the Botanic Gardens were unreasonably closed (the Botanic is now open but on restricted hours, again unreasonably), the banks of the Tolka river in Griffith Park and the banks of the Royal Canal were open to the public.

A pair of mute swans (ealaí) nested on the stretch of Royal Canal east of Cross Guns Bridge but quite near to it. Well, the female, the pen, at least did, while the cob (male) was usually swimming nearby. So how did the pen feed during the long hatching period? Unlike some bird species, this male does not feed the broody female. Well, the male may take a turn, spelling her to go off and feed herself and difficult to know when that happens, as both genders look so much alike. Fumbling with my phone once I failed to catch a photo of the large grey eggs beneath the shifting body of the sitting bird – three, an East Asian woman told me, using her fingers. Later, I saw both parents with just one cygnet – whether some of the eggs were infertile or two of its siblings died I don’t know.

Mute Swan cygnet in ‘duvet’ on land
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Mute Swan parents and lone cygnet, Royal Canal, Glasnevin.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Predators can take cygnets but the parents are very good at protecting them and eggs in the nest will not be left untended until the cygnets are hatched – and then it’s straight into the water. When not swimming itself, the cygnet climbs on to a swimming parent’s back and sits there surrounded by a natural feather duvet. From then on, the nest is not needed except perhaps in stormy weather.

A few days later I was fortunate to see another pair of mute swans on the Tolka in Griffith Park, these with no less than seven cygnets! Their parents took them upstream, the cygnets swimming easily, even under the branches of a fallen tree-trunk. Until they came to a mini-weir which the parents simply walked over but their offspring were too small to do that. However, they maintained position for quite a while swimming against the mini-waterfall, their parents seemingly unable to understand why their young could not follow them and, eventually, having to turn back to them. Many mammals, confronted with a similar problem, would simply pick its young in its mouth and carry them over the obstacle and then go back for the rest. A small crowd of Homo Sapiens mammals gathered to watch the proceedings with interest and delight.

Some of the mute swan brood following their parent upriver on the Tolka.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Can we go under this obstacle?
(Photo: D.Breatnach

Yes, we CAN go under that obstacle!
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Why aren’t you coming?
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Also out with their young were mallards (Lachain), the ducks and drakes (bardaill). Some had hatched their young as far back as April but most seemed to be doing so at this time period and then it’s straight into the water. I remember witnessing the unpleasant scene of a duck with a clutch of tiny ducklings on the Tolka being harassed by a couple of drakes, one in particular trying to mate with her, she quacking that she wanted no part of it. Contrary to comment by some writers, rape is not unknown in the animal world and though in most species it is rare, mallard drakes are known for it.

Delightful it was however on another day to see a newly-hatched clutch of ducklings zooming around on the water, in their fluffy chocolate brown-and-yellow down looking like aquatic bumblebees, both parents close by.

Duck and very young ducklings, Tolka, Griffith Park.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Walking past the high waterside vegetation of the canal one day I heard a kind of cheeping which I guessed to be the chicks of a moorhen (Cearc Uisce). These waterfowl are very shy and careful too not to reveal their nest locations which are constructed in waterside vegetation only inches above the water level and sometimes actually afloat on a kind of raft. Though egg-laying is in March-April and they will not fledge until about 50 days later, we should be seeing the chicks with their parents already. So where are they?

Moorhen, Royal Canal, Phibsboro, not hanging around to be photographed.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Grey herons (Corr Ghlas) fish the Tolka and the Royal but their nests are nowhere there. They prefer to nest in trees, somewhat incongrously for birds with such long legs. I have never seen their nests in Ireland myself, though I read that a colony is to be found in St. Anne’s Park, in County Dublin. Grey herons take turns on the nest and also in feeding their young – which require a lot of fish and frogs. They would take a duckling or cygnet too, given the chance …. Which is why herons often get mobbed by other birds. In Drumcondra I watched one on house rooftop being dived at by seagulls, no angels themselves but they have nests of their own in higher rooftops nearby.

Grey Heron, Royal Canal, Glasnevin.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

And one day, a Little Egret (Éigrit Beag) spent a little while looking for fish in the Tolka before departing. It’s a relatively new settler in Ireland but no longer rare along the east coast.

Not so much “taking to the water” as already in it are the tiny young of the three-spined stickleback (Garmachán), hatched out in underwater nests cared for only by the male. I have seen shoals of the fry of larger fish in the Tolka too, once heading downriver through the Botanic Gardens; what species they were I don’t know but a large stock of brown trout (Breac Donn/ Rua) lives in the river. Many sprats are at this moment concentrated in different parts of the Tolka.

However, on a number of occasions large numbers of fish have been killed by pollutants in the water. A few years ago it was reported that salmon (Bradán) had been seen making their way upriver and this year I saw some myself in the Tolka. These spawn in freshwater and after a few years their young make their way to the sea, the survivors returning years later to spawn in the river again. If the young are killed before making it into the sea obviously they won’t coming back to spawn in a few years’ time so a fishkill incident in one week can wipe out a species in the river for a number of years. I photographed the sprats of some species of fish a few weeks ago in the Tolka and again this week while walking through Griffith Park (I, not the fish).

Sprats, young of some fish species, Tolka, Griffith Park, 25 June 2020. Difficult to photograph with mobile phone even through not much more than a foot of water. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Among the young taking to the air now are those of the magpie (Snag Breac) and the distinctive and irritating high-pitched calls of the juveniles can be heard just about everywhere, usually from above in the trees. The call is “feed me” and is designed to be difficult to ignore. However, they need to learn not only to fly but to find their own food, so the parents will feed them only on occasion. This corvid is apparently an invader recorded arriving in Wexford in 1676, over two decades after that other invader, Oliver Cromwell. It has settled in well but is recognised as a predator by songbirds and sometimes attacked by them; on the other hand the magpies themselves will gang up on seagulls, hooded crows and cats, when they will give a frequent rattling kind of call.

The juveniles who are calling to be fed were in the egg for 20 days and fledging for nearly a month, which means the eggs were laid in April. The nests are large, a mass of twigs and can be seen in trees all over Dublin.

Some of the cottonwood seed-carrying medium on the banks of the Tolka, Griffith Park, end of May.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Bullrushes, Royal Canal, Drumcondra, shedding some cotton but not where the main cotton fall is coming from.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Bedstraw, perhaps, flowers mostly gone to seed.
Royal Canal, Drumcondra; Yellow Flag Iris nearby.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The young of plants have taken to air too and along the banks of both the Royal Canal and the Tolka the flowers have died and are turning to see-capsules or to pods, while other species are bursting into flower.

Some days the ground was covered in drifts of a kind of cotton and I assumed this was seed-carrying material. But from what? Along the Royal I might suspect the bullrush or reed-mace, with tattered tufts of cotton around the mace “head” …. or perhaps the pussy willow … but surely not in these quantities? However, in Griffith Park clumps of it were drifting across my path and I remembered reading about “cottonwood trees” in stories set in the “Wild West”. Yes, three species of cottonwood are part of the larger poplar family and have been around for 55 million years in North America, Eurasia and Asia and although not native they do grow in Ireland. And poplar-type trees have been planted along stretches of the Royal but in particular in Griffith Park, recognisable by their somewhat rounded leaves and the compact upright growth of their branches, so perhaps they are the source of the cotton? Their name in Irish is Poibleog Mheiriceá Thuaidh, translating as “North American Poplar”; that’s a bit of a long one and if they become more popular (forgive the pun) we might have to start calling them ‘Crann Chadáis’ (Cotton Tree).

But it wasn’t them either.  The culprit was, after all, the willow (Sail) tree; but not the pussy or weeping willow, but the giant willows.

End (A Chríoch)