Atheist? Muslim? Hindu? Buddhist? Christian? My Religion Is Very Simple

My spiritual compass is guided by the clarity of Francesco Forgione (1887 – 1968), John Woolley (1928 – 2008), and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (1935-).

I am a Catholic first and last because I believe the highest moral standard one can have are the teachings of Jesus. In addition, I also have credence in Buddhism’s karma.

That is my faith in a nutshell.

“No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means”

(George Bernard Shaw)

My Religion Is Very Simple - Padre Pio
Francesco Forgione (1887 – 1968)
My Religion Is Very Simple - Father John Woolley
John Woolley (1928 – 2008)
My Religion Is Very Simple - 14th Dalai Lama
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (1935- ).

Character is higher than ability

A person’s lack of ability should not be feared: Ability can be learned.

However, it is strength of mind, overcoming fear – humiliation, or any adversity a person would naturally take flight from – and rebounding, which is much more difficult to foster: Such is the mark of true character, a moral fibre that comes from within.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, Life only really demands a certain temperament from us: Looking adversity straight in the eye, having the backbone to do the thing we think we cannot do, and being able to say to ourselves, “I triumphed over this hard time. With this experience I have gained the strength, guts, and self-belief to face up to the next challenge”.

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value” ~Albert Einstein

Photographs above: Ireland Basketball team at the Special Olympic Games 2007 in Shanghai

Two days in January: Guinness, drugs, bar brawls in China, the Gardai (Irish Police), and a roller-coaster

Saturday 10th / Sunday 11th January

Irish and Chinese pub scenes

Last Sunday appears a bit hazy, but now come to think of it, that’s probably due to the four pints of Plain (Guinness) I swallowed the previous Saturday evening with close friend and business partner P at the swank (for Dun Laoghaire at least) setting of Bordega’s Bar −well it used to be when it first opened as the 40 Foot Bar.

We didn’t mention the ‘A’ (Accurate) word once, except to remind ourselves not to mention the ‘A’ word (we’d our thinking caps on all week long planning our line of attack for 2009 and it was now time for a break, let the hair down). More to the point, there were far too many distractions in the Pub, and I’m not referring to the overly cosmeticized peroxide blondes, or the Chinese bar-tenders speaking in a Dublin dialect…. “How’r yah…what’ill yah ave” and the like. Dalian seemed another planet away.  No, the highlight was the barney (argument) between what appeared to be a Concerned Parents Against Drugs parent who over in the far corner of the bar had confronted a peddler of death and destruction, otherwise known as a drug dealer (like their European neighbours, Ireland’s towns and cities are blighted by the scourge of cocaine, heroin, and just about everything else that has caused indescribable misery for so many families). “They were having words”, as we’d say in Dublin, and things were getting a bit heated. Perhaps it was the drink, I initially thought. Nothing too unusual so far until the unremarkable looking parent, a man in his 50s, suddenly pounced on the à la mode dressed dealer, a man in his 20s. All hell broke loose, and fists were flying.

The pub’s brawny, bald and tattooed security people (we call them “bouncers”) excitedly swung into action, burying themselves in the mêlée to the point where it was difficult to make out who was who.  In due course, however, the well-practised bouncers emerged from the fray with three louts and the parent, all of whom were strong-armed from the bar.

[As an aside, I just had a rare ‘Niall deliberation’. At least three additional bar brawls and one street fight have been observed by myself over the years, and all in China…  :

  1. In 1989 I was drinking in a bar, one of those cosy diminutive bars typical of Beijing at the time, which was owned by a local Chinese friend and his English wife. Three sinister looking, thug-like, plain clothes policemen dressed in black leather jackets were seated in a dark corner apparently playing cards. They had been following my friend around for weeks. The Government didn’t like the fact he was becoming quite well-known outside China for expressing opinions they considered to be ‘counter revolutionary’, and they were taking every opportunity to harass him. Imbibing with me were  BW an Irish diplomat, and Didi, a Nigerian diplomat and Didi. Suddenly a full bottle of beer came hurtling through the air smashing against the wall within an inch of Didi’s head. One of the thugs pretending to be swaggered his way to our table: “Hei ren zou ba!” (black man get out!). We left abruptly.
  2. In 2000 I was drinking in a bar in Hangzhou with an Italian friend and two local female friends. A thug at the bar clearly very drunk was taking exception to two local ladies drinking with foreign men. He wobbled over to our table and asked the girls to leave, before cursing them in Chinese. The noisy bar Kana Bar turned eerily quiet. We ignored him, which made him even madder. Eventually, still full of bluster he turned around and headed back to his Russian and American friends gutlessly seated at the bar. We thought the intense stand-off was over, were congratulating ourselves when suddenly a wooden bar stool swished by us before crashing on to someone else’s table, whereupon all hell broke loose. Tables and chairs were flung everywhere… The four of us hide under the table before crawling out the door, untouched. Incidentally, the Russian guy at the bar is one of the most feared people mafia types in Hangzhou, while his American friend runs a bar and language school in Hangzhou.
  3. In 2002 was enjoying the Salsa at Hangzhou’s popular Night and Day when suddenly a large street-level window disintegrated from the force of a street sign post lobbed through it. A fight ensued, and there was a lot of blood… Within five minutes all was over. Apparently, the owner of the bar had fallen out with some local thugs.
  4. Oh and the fight on a street in Suzhou between two women, squealing like injured pigs, pulling hard at each other’s hair and scratching each other with their long nails, and a crowd of onlookers egging them on, nobody brave enough to intervene, least of all myself.

Curiously in all four incidents, not a uniformed policeman in sight. But I digress…]

Meanwhile back in Bordega’s a sense of normality had been restored, not that the tussle had really distracted us:  The pints and the crisps were going down well. We were having too much of craic (as in Irish for “fun” not to be confused with the Crack derivative of heroin) nattering on about our existence when about six members of An Garda Siochana  (the Irish Police) appeared from nowhere.

The Gardai have been a source of public dissatisfaction for years (some would say deservedly so, while others would say the Force shouldn’t be judged on the indiscretions of a few black sheep) on account of past recklessness including bribery, beatings (they were particularly partial to a good old-fashioned riot, especially the anti-Establishment anti-Globalisation protests run by a motley mix of Guevaraesque leftist students, anarchists,  greenies, students,  and other ‘new-age’ thinkers where they could swing their batons at will), doctoring evidence, being a little too close to certain politicians, and bumbling ineptitude.

How times have changed. After this particular Saturday night, no more will I paint all Gardai with the same villain brush, but rather they have earned my wholehearted admiration and respect. Watching them vigorously go about their work with a strong sense of purpose and duty it was clear to me this ‘new look’ Irish police force, dressed in their standard issue anti-stab vests (they don’t carry guns), has learned not only to be politely civil (they now speak clearly enunciated English, as opposed to heavily accented country-speak!!. In the 1980s a UK publication referred to them as akin to thick lumps of red meat from the mountains of Kerry, ape-like), but projects an appearance that is able-bodied, robust and confident, a clear force for the  thugs, who of late seem to gaining the advantage, to reckon with.

They courteously asked several men who they suspected of being involved in the fight to join them outside, while at the scene of the initial argument a Garda was down on all fours minutely searching the floor…. Hopefully, in his haste to defend himself from the irate parent, the ‘merchant of death’ had dropped enough traces of the misery he peddles for the Gardai to take him off the streets for a few years at least.

But really, for what they have to deal with in a daily basis I say “hats off to the Gardai”…which reminds me of the time in my youth when a friend of mind, the worse for wear after a few post international rugby match drinks too many, grabbed the hat off the head of a Garda, and started sprinting down the road.. the Garda gave chase but after about thirty meters was huffing and puffing.  Not anymore.

Still what I actually did on Sunday is still a bit obscure (now blaming the void in my brain on the jet lag)… I remember the delicious dinner of stuffed pork cooked by Mum and the bottle of Romanian red wine.

Investing in an Investor and ‘Cast-iron guarantees”

Ah, another rare ‘Niall deliberation’ has occurred. The call from Tim S, the prospective investor in ‘A’, which brought me to my senses with a thud:

“I talked to three potential investors, and they won’t be putting their money into A unless you can provide them with a cast iron guarantee of a return of investment….  but I consider what you are doing in China to be the future for Ireland”… So says Tim S. who had recently lost his shirt to the tune of €300,000 from investments in AIB, a leading Irish bank tethering on the brink of collapse (I was quick to tell him I’d lost an additional part of my clothing in the hugely over-hyped Marrakech, a memory which still touches a raw-nerve, so we’ll leave that one there).

So the NSP team that is A have put together a solid investment proposal for a business which based on some of the exciting programs coming together at last will see investors being repaid with a nice big interest within 24 months.  I am told by the movers and shakers in Ireland’s investor community that 12 months ago, given the scope for two of the key projects we are working on, and the specific plan to build a strong, stable and well-branded business, we’d have had investors queuing up.

Now the buzz term used by the private investors, venture capitalists, and banks  when turning down an investment proposal or a loan request is there need for a “cast iron guarantee” of return on investment.  Of course this is pure nonsense. Nobody can give a 100% guarantee about anything these days.

The reality is the fear of much worse financial turmoil to come, and no person, company, or bank wants to part with money they already have.  With banks not lending and investors not investing, or, worse, tightening the screws on ordinary people and businesses, they have already loaned to or invested in, there is a burning need for Government to restore confidence by decisively taking the lead in stimulating demand. Alas the half-hearted Irish Government appears like a deer standing in the middle of a dark road dazed by the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut.

Like many people running a small business, Sunday’s sleep was troubling at best: the ‘A’ dream roller-coaster analogy trundles forward at full-speed: front seat passenger (the buck stops with me), white knuckles (hanging on for my dear life, trying to keep my eyes open), massive loop-the-loops (stomach churning highs and lows), followed by huge senses of elation and delight as the roller coaster flattens out and the expected calm returns. Yes, I am looking forward to looking back and telling myself “yes  the journey was hell, but the sense of achievement, having endured and succeeded are much more important than the pain and hardship, which we’ll eventually chalk down to experience”.


China – Under The Hood: “Bu Hao Yisi” – The animated joys of everyday living in China

Butt Head Against The Wall - China - Under The Hood -Bu Hao Yisi - The animated joys of everyday living in ChinaOh the mind-numbing exhilaration of everyday living in China, especially if you are a “laowai 老外 ” or foreigner. The longer I live in China the more I appreciate how listening Chinese style has potentially more health benefits than Yoga!
Appreciating …
  • that what’s not being said often hints at the true meaning
  • that Chinese will hear the same words but interpret things completely differently
  • that Chinese are not comfortable with being direct and confronting people with bad news

… is for China veterans one of the best ways for soothing mind, body, and spirit, as distinct from blood curdling angst.

 Here’s what happened yesterday within a 1 km radius of my place of abode in downtown Hangzhou:

Act  #1 —-  Provincial Headquarters of Bank of China (China’s largest State-owned bank)

Grrrr. Why do I need to provide five signatures to change a US$100 bill into local Chinese RMB? And why do I have to wait for the Bank of China teller assigned to the task of changing money to come back from her lunch when at least 5 other staff in front of me can do the same job? Why oh why?

Act #2 —-  China Mobile (China’s largest mobile phone service monopoly)

Finally, local money in hand I headed out onto Fengqi Road and up to Yan’an Road where China Mobile‘s main office is located.  As as a customer of 5 years standing – on my 3rd China Mobile number and having spent 10s of thousands of RMB (would consider myself to be a dream customer) I wanted to subscribe to China Mobile‘s roaming service so I could use my China mobile number during my Christmas vacation back home in Ireland. Perfectly straight-forward, so you would think.

Me: “I wish to apply for the roaming feature please.”
Customer Service agent: “You have to go to ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) to pay a RMB 3,000 deposit.”
Me: “What?”
Customer Service agent: “Yes, that is the regulation.”
Me: “But, when I went home last August I only paid RMB 500 for roaming.”
Customer Service (CS) agent:  “Ah yes, but since October you have a new number so you have to pay RMB 3,000. If you have a number for 6 months or more then you pay only RMB 500”
Me (frustrated): “But I have been your VIP customer for 5 years. What is more important to you, the 5 year customer loyalty, or the new number? Surely the business relationship I give you is more important and I should only have to pay RMB 500”
CS agent: “Wo bu hao yisi” (I’m so embarrassed我不好意思),  which is the habitually spoken ‘crisis management reaction’ used by customer facing workers throughout China when asked to do something they can’t do or or not assigned to do.
CS Manager: “Women bu hao yisi (We’re so embarrassed我们不好意思), as the manager gets in on the act, simultaneously absolving himself and his team of all responsibility. 
CS Manager’s Manager: “Mei banfa (it can’t be done, no way out / 没办法 ). When these words are spoken my request becomes a lost cause. There is no solution since nobody has the power to agree to authorise a reduced roaming fee taking into account my 5 years of loyalty to their brand. 

Act #3 —– The Plumber

Scene #1 —  Floor of apartment is flooded (again)
Me: “Where is all the water coming from?”
Plumber #1: “Wo kan yi kan (Let’s take a look / 我看一看)
Scene #2 — 15 minutes later cigarette half way down his throat, mobile phone pinned to his ear, door bell rings, Plumber #2 arrives, not too happy to be woken up from his afternoon slumberThey both stare at the floor, press their feet up and down on the tiles water spurting everywhere, shake their heads, breath in (guttural sounds) deeply,  exhaling in unison, blowing out a thick cloud of smoke….
View from Hangzhou – Wild joys of everyday living in China
“Haven’t a clue”.
Plumber #1: “Bu xiao de (Local Hangzhou dialect for “I have no clue” / 不晓得).
Me: Baring teeth “Hey, no smoking in the apartment!”
Plumber #2: “Bu hao yisi.” (I’m embarrassed /不好意思) and proceeds to stub the cigarette out in the kitchen sink.
Me: “Where is the water coming from?” Crying
Plumbers: “Zhen de bu xiao de” (Really don’t know /真的不晓得 ).
Me: “Huh!! You are plumbers, right? What do you mean you don’t know?
Emotional State of Mind: Has been a long day, and my patience has been worn super thin, “angst” comes to mind but manifestly I am still projecting an air of calm.

Plumber #2 (Glancing at his watch): “Wu dian zheng. Xia ban!” (It’s 5 o’clock, we’re finished for the day / 五点钟.下班!).
Me: But, what about the water and leak?
Plumbers: “Women bu hao yisi” (We’re so embarrassed / 我们不好意思).

View from Hangzhou - Wild joys of everyday living in China - The Plumber
“We’re so embarrassed”

…and on that closing note they are gone for the day.

Act #4 —– The Cake Shop Attendent

Scene #1 —–  11.30 am – The Cake Shop, Sofitel Hangzhou West Lake Hotel 

Me: “I want you to send this cake and these chocolates on Christmas Day to these people, at this address, with this telephone number. It’s meant to be a surprise gift, so please don’t contact them until Christmas Day!”
Cake Shop Attendent (CSA): “Hao. Mei wenti.” (Yes. No problem /好.没问题)

Scene #2—–  5.00 pm – My Hangzhou apartment, having just received a text message from the Cake Shop notifying me that that the cake and chocolates have already been delivered. Immediately I telephone the Cake Shop. 

Me: You said you would deliver the cake on Christmas Day. It was meant to be a surprise
CSA: “Bu hao yisi.” (I’m  embarrassed /不好意思), “but the receiver of the chocolates and cake was very surprised!

And so ended Friday 19th December, an otherwise uneventful day living in Hangzhou.
China - Under The Hood - Bu Hao Yisi - The animated joys of everyday living in China - keep calm and take a deep breath

China – Under The Hood: Condom Branding and Fuzzy Logic in China

Was in the local “xiao mai bu” (or local quintessential neighbourhood grocery store… like the ones throughout Ireland that have been driven out of business by the mega-stores …anyway I digress)… so I was in the local grocery buying my usual milk, water, soap and ice lollies (everything else was the big “mei you” (as in “don’t have, now feck off and leave me to me own devices”…. Actually, most shopkeepers are not that unfriendly…. it’s the heat, and it is very very hot) when I notice a box with packaging art showing a loving foreign couple.

Sure isn’t that an odd couple, your one and what’s ‘er name from Four Weddings and a Funeral?”

I asked no one in particular.

Certainly the shopkeeper didn’t take a blind bit of notice, or at least pretended not to..

Yeah that’s Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell entangled on the front“. .

But what really caught my eye was the word DAMAGE emblazoned as a brand of………………CONDOMS!

China - Under The Hood: The evolution of condom branding in China - 'Damage' Starring Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell

Who, I ask, in their right mind would buy a box of DAMAGE branded condoms? Ok, so this is China, but hold on!

Can you imagine the scene in an English-speaking country, for instance, Ireland?

Impatient, embarrassed fella (girlfriend waiting outside) to shop assistant (first day on the job):

“I need a box of DAMAGE”

Shop assistant:

Yah wha?

Yer man, by now perspiring profusely (confidently winking back at the impatient girlfriend):

Giv us a box of DAMAGEd condoms. Will yah hurry up for feck sake!

Shop assistant, sussing out the scene, having only recently viewed Bonnie and Clyde film trailer on Youtube, swiftly hits the alarm button.

But, seriously, what kind of branding gurus came up with this gem? What is the fuzzy logic thinking here? Because this packet of Hugh and Andies has me reflecting deeply on the fundamentally non-rational nature of Chinese thought processes. Yes, Chinese can hear the same words but interpret things completely differently, but come on. Did the creative team actually make a conscious effort to survey consumer preferences and subsequently report back to HQ that what members of the public really wanted to see next time they purchased a box of condoms was…

“DAMAGE”. Brilliant, that’s it! We have a winner!” (Another great moment in China-style product branding!)

… and then, after further brainstorming, decide that the best way to package the DAMAGE brand was to feature a picture of Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell in the throes of passion?  Sure, that’s like marketing a bottle of beer branded as POISON.

Mr. Branding and Product Marketing Gurus here are two definitions of “damage” I just found in the Collins Dictionary that you may have missed and hopefully will find useful when you’re undertaking your next annual sales review and wondering why your sales performance has been a little.. let’s say… limp:

 Damage (损坏):

    • Harm or injury to property or a person
    • To suffer or be susceptible to harm

Plenty of Damage done here and not just to the reputations of Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell (who I’d expect were consulted beforehand, bought into the concept, and were handsomely rewarded…Not!)…..

Oh, and what happens if the merchandise doesn’t perform its key task, as in protect against unplanned pregnancy? Well, that would be some serious “damage” …. So maybe these bi yun tao  (the direct Chinese translation of condom being “avoid pregnancy sheath” or 避孕套) aren’t meant to work in the first place!  

Ahh…  the mind boggles. Nevertheless, I still can’t figure out the ‘creative work’ behind the branding ….DAMAGE? It’s so weird.

And then there’s that “surely not / God forbid” question:

Do you think Hugh and Andie are still getting a bit on the side? If you know what I mean. Obviously you haven’t a clue what I mean.

Of course,  I am referring to “money”, or “royalties”, for such a public (performance) endorsement of the “DAMAGE” brand? After all it’s this endorsement that will soon have DAMAGE challenging Durex’s grip on the global market, right?

In truth, Fuji Condom’s product marketing team (if such a team exists outside the realm of ‘factory boss’ decision-making –influenced by ‘Er Nai’ wife #2) likely thinks all foreigners look the same, and if we don’t than we all look like Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell, especially when we’re stark naked.

Wonder if Hugh and Andie would be libel for any of the above damage?

Irish eccentricities….. Dustin The Turkey

Over in Europe, 5,820 miles (or 9,366 kilometers) away to the north west of “The Pond” (or  Hangzhou) is a mere slip of an island of beauty ( “a terrible beauty” wrote Leon Uris), and enormous historical, cultural and religious heritage: Ireland

Also known as “The Celtic Tiger”, and “the land of saints and scholars”, and home to Nobel Lauretes James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Seamus Heaney, musicians U2, Westlife, The Corrs, Van Morrison, and Riverdance, actors Liam Neeson and Colm Farrell, Ireland is considered the “world’s friendliest country to visit” (Lonely Planet, October 2007), “the most globalised country in the world” (A.T. Kearney), and until very recently was the fastest growing European and OECD economy – for nine years in a row.

Given all this ballyhoo, for years our more self-important inhabitants have been slapping themselves on the back in deference to “this great little nation”. “Pretty good for a population of 4.1 millions” (which is about half the population of the City of Hangzhou) they would purr. And sure why wouldn’t they feel swollen with pride, with the southern part of the Ireland or “The Republic” (as our Northern brethren call us Southerners) now the envy of the world? A happening place is our Ireland!

Or t’was! What goes up, comes down, and balloons filled with too much hot air eventually burst. Of late for a nation that never had it so good there appears to be a lot of doom and gloom around. The rugby team’s performance in the 6 nations was woeful, and the economy is adrift in very stormy waters with nobody at the rudder (Prime Minister Bertie Ahern is too busy trying to clarify which of his own many explanations about how he amassed £453,000 as the Minister of Finance in the mid-1990s is true) with some fairly big rocks looming rather largely that need to be steered well clear of if a economic catastrophe is to be avoided.

Which brings me to the point of this missive: Dustin the Turkey

Who is Dustin The Turkey?  

If you haven’t heard of him… You will! It seems that the onus of restoring this great little nation’s greatness has fallen on his wings. OK, so he is a sock / glove puppet, looks like a Turkey, is renowned for his burps, belches and thick Dublin accent, and gets wheeled around in a shopping trolley.

However, Dustin is no ordinary Turkey. No other turkey in the world is a top class pop-star, builder, and Irish TV personality at the same time. And not resting on his feathers, Dustin The Turkey has also tried his wing in politics, running campaigns for a number of Irish presidential elections as a representative of the ‘Poultry Party’.  Eager now to increase his political activities throughout Europe Dustin is said to be in talks with many major European political parties in relation to launching a bid for the presidency of the European Union, which he believes is his by right.

Dustin is confident he has found the winning formula to not only restore his nation’s position of greatness, but one that  will also see him appointed President of Europe.  Declaring a direct link between the recent downturn in Ireland’s economy and Ireland’s poor showing in the Eurovision Song Contest over the last number of years (Ireland have won this European event a record seven times, but recent contests have consistently ranked us near the bottom).

In what he describes as a selfless act based on his desire to help restore his nation’s position as the High Kings of the Eurovision Song Contest, he entered the Irish song contest finals and won.  His song Irelande Douze Pointe (Ireland Twelve Points — in reference to the maximum points each country can give a contestant) will represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia, this coming May, and he is expected to win.

Thereafter he reckons the people of Europe will unite to the turkey beat and have him appointed President of Europe and all Ireland’s economic problems will be solved.

And if you don’t believe that then read the song’s lyrics:

Irelande Douze Pointe

“Oh I come from a nation what knows how to write a song

Oh Europe where oh where did it all go wrong

C’mon, Irelande douze pointe


Drag acts and bad acts and Terry Wogan’s wig

Mad acts and sad acts, it was Johnny Logan’s gig 


Shake your feathers and bop your beak

Shake ‘em to the west and to the east

Wave Euro hands and Euro feet

Wave ‘em in the air to the turkey beat

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! To the funky beat 


G-o-b gobble b-l-e yeah

Hello Abba, hello Bono, hello Helsinki,

Hola Prague, hello sailor, c’est la vie,

Auf wiedersehen, mamma mia and God save the Queen

G’day Austria, bonjour Serbia, you know what I mean 


Shake your feathers and bop your beak

Shake ‘em to the west and to the east

Wave Euro hands and Euro feet

Wave ‘em in the air to the funky beat

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

To the funky beat


Give us another chance, we’re sorry for Riverdance

Sure Flatley he’s a Yank and the Danube flows through France

Block votes! Shock votes! Give us your 12 today

You’re all invited to Dublin, Ireland

And we’ll party the shamrock way 


Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe! I

relande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! Do the funky beat c’mon

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe! 


Eastern Europe we love you do you like Irish stew?

Or goulash as it is to you, Irelande douze pointe

Yes it’s Bulgaria we love you Belarus, Georgia,

Montenegro, Moldova, Albania, Croatia, Poland,

Russia, Ukraine, Macedonia, don’t forget Turkey,

Hungary, Estonia, Slovakia, Armenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina

and don’t forget the Swiss….. Cheese .”

Likely, Dustin The Turkey will be construed as the Irish having a bit of craic (The Irish language for “fun”) at the expense of our European neighbours.

However, European eyes will also be glued to Ireland in the run up to the Ireland’s highly anticipated European Union Treaty referendum to be held on 12th June. The Treaty is effectively a Constitutuon for the European Commmunity. All 27 members of the EU must approve the Treaty for it to come into force in January 2009. Ireland is the only country holding a referendum. If Ireland rejects the Treaty, which many observers forecast will happen, as hardly anyone appears to understand what the Treaty is  about, then “this great little nation will effectively be isolated from Europe.

Nervous European lawmakers are already asking: How can you trust a country to have a serious vote when its citizens have recently voted to have a puppet turkey represent it in the Eurovision song contest?

 If you haven’t yet heard of Dustin The Turkey you soon will


Turkey                        tur·key      /ˈtɜrki/ [tur-kee]


  1. a large, gallinaceous bird of the family Meleagrididae, esp. Meleagris gallopavo, of America, that typically has green, reddish-brown, and yellowish-brown plumage of a metallic luster and that is domesticated in most parts of the world.
  1. Slang.
  •  a person or thing of little appeal; dud; loser.
  •  a naive, stupid, or inept person.


May 20th Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals: Well Dustin got well and truly stuffed. Our friends in continential Europe didn’t see the humour. Oh well. One thing is for sure, when Dustin The Turkey returns to Ireland he is in for a roasting, such is the dismay back home.

Words matter: Mentally retarded or human gift? Looking back at the 12th Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai

Growing up in 1970s and early 1980s Ireland I remember the labels “mentally retarded”, “mongolian”, “mongol” and “mongoloid” being used in casual conversations when referring to people with intellectual disabilities, or Down Syndrome. I plead guilty to pronouncing such stereotypes. By condoning or even saying such humiliating remarks, unknowingly I was in effect robbing people with intellectual disabilities of their individuality and dignity.

Such degrading descriptions of people with intellectual disabilities have been cultivated over many years:

  • P.M. Duncan noted in 1866 a girl “with a small round head, Chinese looking eyes, projecting a large tongue who only knew a few words” in ‘A manual for the classification, training and education of the feeble-minded, imbecile and idiotic. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
  • John Langdon H. Down (1828-1896), an Edinburgh physician, published in 1866 the first clinical description of individuals with Down Syndrome that bears his name in the landmark paper, ‘Observations on ethnic classifications of idiots’.
  • Benjamin Spock suggests in ‘Baby and Child Care (1946)’ that babies born mongoloid should immediately be institutionalized based on the premise that “If (the infant) merely exists at a level that is hardly human, it is much better for the other children and the parents to have him cared for elsewhere“.
  • The theologian Joseph Fletcher attempting to comfort a bereaved parent, concludes in 1968 that there is “no reason to feel guilty about putting a Down syndrome baby away, whether it’s ‘put away’ in the sense of hidden in a sanitarium or in a more responsible lethal sense. It is sad, yes. Dreadful. But it carries no guilt. True guilt arises only from an offense against a person, and a Down’s is not a person.

Words matter!

Imbecile, idiotic, hardly human, retarded, not a person..?  No way!

Why the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games contestant will never match the spirit, resolve and strength of mind of the Shanghai 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games athlete?

Held in Shanghai from October 2nd to October 11th, my colleague and I attended the Games as volunteers hoping to be of some assistance to the 151 member Irish team, their euphoric family members and the 200 volunteers who had fund-raised over €1,000,000 for Special Olympics Ireland.

Looking back on that week I can honestly express it as one of the most heartening, and touching experiences of my life.

Vivid memories:

  • … The ‘Team Ireland’ hotel, the Equatorial. If I hadn’t of known about the Special Olympics I would be forgiven for thinking I had by chance walked into the Shanghai leg of the world’s most famous rock group on tour. The atmosphere in the lobby was electric, noisy and very cheery. And who was making all the clatter? The families of the Irish athletes. Hundreds of family members and volunteers had flown in from all over Ireland, Australia, New Zealand to support their Ruth Gribbon and Pauline Rush in Bocce, James in the Basketball, and Sarah in the Athletics.
  •   … The spectacular Opening Ceremony wasn’t just about huge fireworks displays, and appearances by celebrities Jackie Chan, Colm Farrell, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Shanghai, with the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games less than twelve months away, sought to display its organisational prowess. The true symbolism of the night was the picture beamed to almost every household in China of President Hu Jintao hugging and playing with Down Syndrome children. 
  • … The scenes of jubilation after Ireland’s basketball team at 4 points versus India’s 18 slam dunked to go to 7…. It was as if they’d just scored the winning point in the world cup final. Spine chilling and poignant indeed…. Such jubilation… Yep, that’s what sport is all about. They were having fun no matter what the score was.
  • … The barefooted 1,500 metres athlete #9, running in the yellow colours of Tanzania, who literally danced around the outside lane of Shanghai’s Olympic Stadium and then stopped to wait for his fellow competitors to catch up with him. When he finally crossed the line in first he just kept running, enjoying himself immensely as stewards and minders tried to catch up with him…
  •  …“I know I can”. First or last it didn’t matter, all the athletes finished walking or running around this 400 metres Olympics track. Their single-minded focusr on crossing the finish line, and competitive it was. Team Ireland’s Sarah, #4 in the women’s 1,500 metre walk, briskly walked around the track as if she was going for a breath of air with her dog such was her look of she enjoyment. Not one of the athletes dropped out.  It was a sight to behold, never to be forgotten.
  • … Making friends: A Danish athlete swapping badge pins with her Irish athlete counterpart, spur-of-the-moment stuff. This was their stage and they were thoroughly enjoying it.
  • … The devotion and enthusiasm of each Chinese volunteer assigned to an athlete as a minder. The clearly genuine amity between the two for me really captured the power of the Special Olympics spirit. Despite the enormous challenge of convincing China’s populace at large that the intellectually disabled are able to lead a happy life and contribute to society these volunteers in my mind have really shown the way.

And so much more…..

For anyone who has never been to one of these momentous events, it is worth the time and effort to appreciate the extent of human potential and to recognise that each unique human gift has a place in society.

Words matter!

Witnessing the social and cultural transformation of the underserved and often marginalised intellectually disabled as I did at the Games in Shanghai certainly made me feel ashamed, very ashamed.

Imbecile, idiotic, hardly human, retarded, not a person..?  No way!

Appreciating the value and importance of including people with intellectual disabilities into all aspects of life, I look forward to the next Special Olympics World Summer Games, which will be held in Athens in 2011.

[Note: The previous 11th Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Dublin, Ireland, in 2003 was mired in controversy even before the Opening Ceremony following the Irish Government’s banning of the Team Hong Kong’s participation due to worries about SARS. An outraged Niall O’Reilly decides to write two letters highlighting the Irish Government irrational and hypocritical decision…. To read more click: ]

Special Olympics World Summer Games Euphoria – From Dublin 2003 to Shanghai 2007

Wow! It’s already over four years since the last Special Olympics World Summer Games were hosted Dublin. It was the largest sports event ever hosted in Ireland.

From 2nd to 11th October the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be hosted by Shanghai [], the first of the three Olympic Games to be staged in China over the next 14 months, including the Summer Olympics and the Paralympic Games to be held next Summer in Beijing.

Unlike now, the days before the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2003 in Dublin were mired in controversy. At the time both Hong Kong and China were affected by the outbreak of the illness known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Irish Government fearful of SARS spreading to Ireland decided to ban the Hong Kong Special Olympics team from traveling to Ireland to compete at the Games. There was outrage in Hong Kong with protests outside the office of the Honorary Consul of Ireland. For me what was particular odious about this decision was the fact that business men and women were still allowed to freely travel to Ireland.

In Ireland on the radio, television and in the newspapers there was intense debate about the Irish Government’s decision. Living and working in Hong Kong there was a palpable sense of outage amongst the Irish community. Something had to be done. I decided to write two letters. The first which was published on 6th June, was to the Irish Examiner newspaper, while the second letter was to Chairman of the Organising Committee, Mr. Denis O’Brien (who was also an investor in the company I was working for at the time).

Irish Examiner Newpaper

Friday 6th June, 2003

 “Hong Kong’s special athletes hit by a peculiar Irish infection”

I WRITE in response to the latest “final” June 4 decision of the Department of Health and Children’s expert group on SARS and the Special Olympics to maintain its ban on Hong Kong’s disabled athletes travelling to Ireland, thus depriving them of the chance to attend what likely would be the most thrilling event in their lives.

This illogical decision comes after a period of unprecedented high-level dialogue between senior Hong Kong government officials and Irish medical experts in which the Hong Kong side sought to articulate a clearer understanding of the situation and the extra efforts that it would make to guarantee the health of its athletes before departure.

It is almost two weeks since the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the lifting of its travel advisory against Hong Kong, noting that SARS outbreaks had been contained, which is not much different to its observations regarding the status of Canada and mainland China.

In fact, all new SARS cases confirmed in Hong Kong over the past month (an average of fewer than five cases per day compared to upwards of 60 daily at the end of March) have occurred in people who were already identified as contacts of a person with SARS and under active surveillance by the local health authorities.

None of the Hong Kong Special Olympics athletes hoping to travel to Ireland has had contact with any SARS patients, or any suspected cases.

The WHO has highly commended Hong Kong’s transparency and aggressive Hong Kong Special Olympics procedures.

All close contacts of known SARS cases are quarantined at home.

In addition, their Hong Kong ID numbers are passed to the immigration department to ensure that they cannot leave the territory.

Since the implementation of these rigorous exit-screening procedures at border checkpoints, which also include mandatory temperature checking of all outbound travellers, there have been no reports of internationally exported cases of SARS from Hong Kong.

What is more, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended against cancelling or postponing gatherings that will include people travelling to the US from areas with SARS, and the quarantine of persons arriving from SARS-affected areas who have shown no fever or respiratory symptoms.

As such, over the past fortnight Hong Kong exhibitors have been welcomed to the Las Vegas Jewellery Fair and the Cannes Film Festival as a result of the precautionary measures that the exhibitors had undertaken voluntarily.

And yet, it is against such transparency that Ireland still maintains its travel ban depriving athletes, some of whom have trained for up to eight years and whose team won 53 gold medals at the last Special Olympics, their chance to be the pride of Hong Kong.

Remarkably, no such travel ban has been imposed on other travellers from Hong Kong seeking entry to Ireland.

This ‘final’ decision appears not only irrational, but also hypocritical, given the latest guidelines conveniently lifting the travel ban on athletes from cities and regions where local transmission of SARS has not been reported, meaning that the Special Olympic Games will not be devoid of two of the largest participating teams, Canada and China.

It demonstrates that the Department of Health and Children has chosen not to follow the WHO‘s advice and made a decision without due regard to the precautionary measures that the Hong Kong Special Olympics Committee had proposed to take before their departure for the games.

The official flag presentation ceremony for the Hong Kong Special Olympics team is set to take place here on June 8, an event supported by The Hong Kong Gaelic Athletic Association, the St Patrick’s Society of Hong Kong, the Irish Business Forum and Enterprise Ireland.

It is the fervent wish of the Irish community in Hong Kong that the Irish government remove this unnecessary travel ban.

Niall O’Reilly,

15, Mosque Street,


Hong Kong.

[Source: This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, June 06, 2003]

The about-turn was remarkable.

Three days before the Opening Ceremony in Dublin, without prior notice, at 3.00 am I was awaken by the loud ringing sound of my telephone.  On the other end of the line was Denis O’Brien excitedly describing the excellent news that the Irish Government had decided to lift its travel ban and that the special athletes from Hong Kong were free to travel to Ireland. Denis O’Brien also offered to send his private jet to collect the Hong Kong team from London.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin were a wonderful success, and I have heard from several people who were lucky enough to attend, the Opening Ceremony or witness it television that one of the most emotional memories of the evening was the arrival in the Croke Park stadium of the Hong Kong team when the packed house of 80,000 people stood up to cheer them these very special athletes. 

For me the abiding memory that will stay with me is being invited to represent the Irish Community of Hong Kong at the welcome home ceremony for the successful Hong Kong team. The sparkling smiles on the faces of the Hong Kong Special Olympics athletes, bedecked with gleaming gold and silver medals, will always stay in my mind.

“On June 19, I had the privilege of carrying the Olympic Torch – or Flame of Hope as it is called – and leading the Final Leg Torch Run team into Clonmel. Clonmel is a town of about 25,000 people and I would estimate that about half were on the streets to greet us. I have never seen so many Hong Kong flags in my life. They flew from the rooftops, from the buildings, from the churches and from the hands of thousands of people on the streets. And everyone was shouting Hong Kong! Hong Kong! at the tops of their voices.

“We ran into the town square where the Lord Mayor was present to greet us. I handed over the Flame of Hope. The Mayor took me to one side and told me that the Hong Kong team had not arrived. They were still in Macao under quarantine for SARS.

“To have run so far (over 200 miles) and not see the Hong Kong team was heartbreaking. I am not ashamed to say that I fell to my knees and wept.

“However, the Mayor told me that the Hong Kong team would be arriving in Dublin the following day and that a delegation from Clonmel would go to meet and welcome them. On the evening of June 21, we carried the Flame of Hope into Croke Park, Dublin, for the start of the games.

“The Special Olympics teams then marched into Croke Park in alphabetical order. I heard the master of ceremonies say “And now I see a particular team coming into the stadium. This is a team that we thought we would never see. But now they are here and we are so pleased to see them. Give a big, big welcome for Hong Kong!” About 85,000 people stood up and at the tops of their voices shouted: Hong Kong! Hong Kong! The noise was unbelievable! But it was obviously inspiring Ñ the Hong Kong Special Olympics team won 31 medals at this year’s games.

“I had a wonderful career with the Hong Kong Police Force and have had a wonderful life. But nothing in my experience is likely to top the emotion that I felt running for Hong Kong on the Law Enforcement Final Leg Torch Run.”

Source: Mr Peter Halliday, former Assistant Commissioner (Information Systems), Hong Kong Police Force helped carry the Special Olympics Games torch from Athens to Dublin

"Special Olympics has not only given me the opportunity to compete, but also the confidence to compete. I am very proud of my accomplishments, and where else would I get to travel around the world?" (Source: Mei-Yu Lau - ]
Gymnast Mei-Yu Lau, Team Hong Kong, on the vault at the 2003 Special Olympics Summer Games in Dublin: “Special Olympics has not only given me the opportunity to compete, but also the confidence to compete. I am very proud of my accomplishments, and where else would I get to travel around the world?”                                (Source: Mei-Yu Lau – )

And so fast forward to late next week when a delegation of 1,000 Irish Special Olympians and their families will arrive in Shanghai to participate in the Special Olympics World Summer Games, 2007. Let the Games begin!

[Note: Special Olympics is an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition]

Note: My review of the Special Olympics World Summer Games, 2000, in Shanghai  ‘Words matter: Mentally retarded or human gift? Looking back at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai’ is posted here: ]

JC come back and we’ll play a different tune

JC come back and we ll play a different tune

Those who knew JC, and who should have known better, didn’t pursue him, they left him alone. They said JC has gone away to Thailand with his buddy J, wait for another day, he’ll come home. That was in 1996. J never came home. I took charge of his funeral in Bangkok.

JC was all about reassuring the people who knew him “I’ll see you soon” … “I’m going away to find a place to stay, I’m going to dance on the Moon” … “One of these days when I change my ways, I’ll come back home”.

I have finally deciphered JC. His purpose of being in Thailand is to be a nobody in the way of a terminal alcoholic. Such a role is too stressful back in his utopia of origin up North. Blind to the fact that it is his addiction and its consequences that are making him miserable, JC falsely believes that the drink is the only source of comfort and security available to him in a cruel, cruel world.

You see JC has been telling me for three years that he is perfectly aware he has a drinking problem, that he does not intend to let it get out of hand, and that he will be taking steps to control it. He has been adamant that he can and will deal with it by himself rather than seeking any kind of professional or support group help.

Yet, as an alcoholic JC still doesn’t understand the nature of his alcohol addiction and still supposes his recovery to be merely a matter of will power. He doesn’t have the courage to ask for help from others for what he feels he ought to be able to do by himself.

In Thailand JC always has a cheap bottle he can turn to, and he has been turning every day… Long hard drinking.

The bottle doesn’t take effect the way it used to and he’s hurting in old familiar ways. It has let him down and JC has gone beyond the point of no return. He has lost his self-esteem and just can’t find the will to stop.