brent at st anne's

An early morning in December, the drizzle falling almost warm, mistle thrushes chuckling ominously from a stand of old yews. Apart from them not a living soul to be seen. Around me an old-fashioned park with huge holm oaks, before me a football pitch forming a glade in its midst. I had lost my way in unfamiliar surroundings, didn't know which way to turn, and there was no one to ask. Had the citizens taken to their souterrains, their round towers? But lo and behold, there was some movement: a team of Lilliputians training lineouts on the pitch! The next second they were flushed by a stray dog, and the magic moment was gone. ( Not Lilliputians, but geese, grazing on the green. Maybe this was a city inhabited by dogs and geese only? ). Wait for me, geese, I wonder what Latitude or Longitude have i got to?

To the notebook: St Anne's Park, 0830: 122 Brent geese, some wearing colour-rings on both tarsi.

The geographical identity of a place, that elusive and unique sense
of difference which distinguishes each locality from its neighbours,
is notoriously hard to define and even harder to uncover. What is it
that gives a townland or village, a city or a region its character and
sense of identity?

Lindsay Proudfoot (ed.) in: Down. History and Society.

If you find the column too broad for comfortable reading - narrow the browser window!

The environment: the city

Running water gives some consistency, or in the best cases: uniqueness, to parts of Dublin, as it does to parts of Venice, or parts of Stockholm. The visitor is grateful for that water - not in order to still his thirst, there are plenty of venues for thirsty throats - but to provide some sort of orientation or grid when he loses his way. Other parts of the same cities - Blanchardstown, Mestre, Rinkeby - can not be rescued from their two-dimensional anonymity, they will always remain the undisputed territory of taxi-drivers and GSP enthusiasts. But when i stumble upon the Liffey, the Tolka, the Dodder, some antediluvian instinct tells me to follow the water downhill and suddenly i spot the Poolbeg chimneys, my North Pool, i'm back on track again.

the dublin north pole

This is the South Dublin Bay, part of it, Booterstown to the right, Sandymount to the left. Throughout Ireland each "development" serves as a mortgage on nature and landscape, and each mortgage can be followed by another one. The Irish way of living is based on that insight: the first mortgage can be followed by a second, and a third. (This is why it's so important to the nation that An Bord Pleanála listens to His Master's Voice, the initial mortgage must be taken at all costs). The two Poolbeg chimneys are the original mortgage on Dublin Bay (or maybe it was the Great South Wall), behind our back are the Merrion Gates, an unbearable traffic bottleneck, a pain in everybody's ass. So, the next mortgage involves a landfill, covering the inner part of South Dublin Bay, and a two-lane motorway from Irishtown to Dun Laoghaire, the connection at the latter point posing some minor problem, but one could sacrifice the harbour basin and terror bomb the no-good centre of Dun Laoghaire. It will be called the M51. When the M51 is jammed up, a new landfill will take place, and the M53 will be built (since an M52 will already have been built inland - and been jammed up - in the intervening time). And so on and so forth.

the essential dublin

Essential Dublin, Core Dublin, if there ever was one, in the bull's eye. And the focus is appropriately on The Meadow of the Bull: Clontarf. (More comments to this very simplified map in the text).

I guess one can live one's whole life in Dublin and never note any flowing water other than the Liffey; the Tolka is an appalling stormwater canal near its mouth, the Dodder is almost hidden in its canyon, and the Santry is little more than a runnel in concrete trenches, finally pressed into a pipe. Dublin City Council actually monitors forty such "water courses" , most of them extremely confined and sterile, one cause for the recurring floodings throughout the city ( "...Sweeney (1991) estimates that some 139 km of Dublin’s original open channel watercourses are hidden or forgotten." The river Poddle , at its tidal estuary creating the "black pool" that gave Dublin, Dubh Linn, one of its names, runs in a walkable brick tunnel under much of central Dublin today, entering the Liffey at Wellington Quay. It runs up at Cookstown in Tallaght and once provided Dublin with its drinking water; the water in the culvert is said to be "clean spring water" - in a city bending over backwards to provide drinking water for all... ). On the whole there is scant buffering capacity, a wealth of primitive "gutters", countless cross-connections between streams; plenty of brute civil engineering, little soft landscape modelling. But the topography of the original river valleys bears witness to more potent precursors, and many of them can offer shelter, lee, guidance, for birds and men. The North Bull Wall (pointing SE from Bull Island, completed in 1825) and The Great South Wall (completed in 1795) were built in order to divert and trap the silt brought by the Liffey to the Dublin Port entry; the bay water moves southward with ebb tides and northward with flood tides, creating a circulation pattern that can be used for the purpose. The tidal flats on both sides of the estuary, the North Bull and the South Bull, were firmly established before this intervention, in addition there was a very annoying sand-bar across the entry channel. As a result of the new current pattern, North Bull Island gradually rose on the northern mudflat in the 19th century; it was well established when the Joyce family had Sunday picnics here in the 1890's. WB (map above) = Wooden Bridge, connecting Dollymount Strand to the North Wall, the water passes freely under it, CW (map above) = solid causeway, bridging the lagoon at St Anne's Park. The causeway was built in 1962/64, it is a typically Dublinish wrong against the Bull Island, bringing an army of irresponsible dog-owners + their canid appendices into the heart of the reserve. The acronyms MR and HR mark the two historical arteries to the north: Malahide Road and Howth Road. The economical commuter train, the DART, has a station at Clontarf Road, a stone's throw from the Tolka Basin, continuing in a north-northeasterly direction between the Malahide and Howth Roads, branching off for Malahide and Howth at Howth Junction in Kilbarrack.

the dogs of dublin

And i see no reason why the stray dog of the introduction should ever be forgot. Eclipsis is a phenomenon peculiar to the Irish language: a letter is dropped by one word and hooked onto the next one: like dog poop attaching to shoes. The dogs still deliver their side of the deal, but the other side doesn't know what to do with the droppings, can't understand this language any longer, or at least not its eclipsis.

If some part of this is intended to be about Dublin's identity, or lack of identity, the topic invites a groping approach, with digressions, retreats. By way of introduction i want to level the road for my points, or conclusions, anxious not to urge them. So i take off with some tentative introspection, lining up my own motives. Circumventing politics, religion, ideology, philosophy, all those charged and dangerous areas, turning first to something very simple, very unproblematic, very straightforward: birds and men.

Birds and men. Part 1.

I learnt to read when i was five, one of those dreadful and unhappy, precocious and absolutely unbearable children. My mother took me to the library; i got a card there, had wept over "The Last of the Mohicans" before i was seven, and knew my "Robinson Crusoe" by heart. (That is very revealing). So my mother went to the adult library and pleaded for me: couldn't he be allowed to borrow a book or two there, once in a while? I was ten when English appeared on the school timetable for the first time, it was in 1953, that same year i brought home a book from the natural history section of the library: "Birds and Men", by one E. M. Nicholson. It was bound in green leather, printed on glossy paper, had the most peculiar scent, probably from its being so impregnated with ornithological learning. It was a magical object, to be possessed, like the Book of Kells, so i borrowed it again and again for several years. It just stood there on the shelf; i doubt i could read more than three lines of it the first year. I know i couldn't. So, it must have been that most peculiar scent. Ah, i can still smell it!


That same year i brought home a book from the adult library.

For some reason the author of "Birds and men" remained anonymous to me for a long time. Much later i found out that he was a sort of grey eminence in British field ornithology, a strange mixture of insider and outsider, connected throughout his career to a dozen well-known enterprises: co-founder of the British Trust for Ornithology (1932) and World Wildlife Fund (1961), director of the original, non-broken Nature Conservancy, editor of the Birds of the Western Palearctic ( that huge pterodactyl, outdated already when the first volume emerged... ), writing the "habitat" sections for all species on his own. He embodied all that competence, empiricism, responsibility-taking and organisational skill, that the British themselves consider typical of the British character. He was the germ, the seed of British field ornithology as we know it today. His obituary in The Independent . From this man i got the guiding idea that human interference needn't be detrimental to nature - or just to birds - there might be some gain for them, or for both sides. Such an idea could be born from simple observation and deliberation, or it could be utopian, with a metaphysical overtone: naturalisation of man, humanisation of nature.

Ah, so that was the scent emerging from that green book!

Quote from the obituary: When he accepted the Gold Medal of the World Wildlife Fund from the Duke of Edinburgh in June 1982, he described himself as a man who had been dreaming for the best part of 78 years. "Imagination is the stuff that dreams are made of," he said: "Without it we become prisoners of the built-in stationary bias of our institutions and our education, with fatal results for society and our own mental well-being. We miss the essential challenge." (He quotes his Shakespeare like Churchill would have done, pragmatically, making him sound almost trivial). This practical man with all his achievements, this builder of institutions, this live database on habitat information - is he trying to fool us? No, i think there was a revival for "dreaming" after the Second World-War, with the whole world in ruins; now comes "The Principle of Hope" by the philosopher Ernst Bloch, with the original title "Dreams of a Better World". Now comes "Birds and men", and it's not written by some idealistic birdwatcher, riding his hobbyhorse, there is a PROJECT behind it, practical Utopia, konkrete Utopie . I would suggest that the postwar E. M. Nicholson is already something of a problem, and a challenge; he is tentatively opposing - and at the same time adapting to - some British cultural ban on utopian thinking (or alternatively: a universal positivist dictate). This is even more obvious in "The System", a book which reminds me of "Slutlikvid med Svea Rikes Lag" by the councillor Nils-Herman Quiding of my birth-town Malmö, an early bourgeois utopist pre-dating Nicholson by a century, whose concepts exerted some influence on Strindberg (he borrowed the concept "underclass" from Quiding, who probably picked it up from the French utopists). William Morris (News from Nowhere) is another problem/challenge of the same kind under British skies, Conrad Hal Waddington (Towards a Theoretical Biology) a third, later in history. Saint Thomas More hovering like a guardian angel above them all. Robert Owen, never to be forgotten; he is more saintly than More. How many of them are there: ten, a hundred, even thousands? I don't know, but there was a period in the late 19th century when the utopian impulse was seen as presentable, or at least house-trained. I am by no means trying to degrade Edward Max Nicholson by this, instead i am promoting him to his rightful size and position, and i will return to him, as a problem, as a challenge. And when the time is ripe i will introduce him to the light-bellied brent geese of Dublin, i'm sure he will be delighted!

edward max nicholson

The boy seems almost wary, some innocence lost, with a reserve for an opinion of his own, and he can let his hobbyhorse rest. Victorian montage from c1910-15, i assume: by the father-photographer. There are two world-wars between this picture and "Birds and men". Dad, why are you placing me next to this emblem of capitalist development?

Edward Max Nicholson was born in 1904 in Kilternan, in the outskirts of Dublin, by parents of English descent. The family left Ireland in 1909, when Home Rule began to look like a threatening possibility. His experience of birds and men in the foothills of the Dublin mountains might have been that of landowners (or maybe as often: dovecote owners) killing raptors and corvids by putting out poisoned carcasses, a colonial and irresponsible practice, still rampant in Ireland a hundred years later and not unheard of in the UK, either. So, Edward Max decided to take the bull by the horns, returning to his mother country and introducing the subversive idea of "birds peacefully coexisting with men", for the benefit of all. Let's stick to that, provisionally. About Kilternan in Wikipedia : "It is a suburban village in rural surroundings, separated from the continuous built-up Dublin area but as of 2009 that is due to change with major development just starting or about to start. Some people are unhappy about this." Well, isn't that a shame! I quote from the Irish Times, 2 April 2014: Nama has finally moved to sell the Kilternan Hotel and Country Club in south Dublin despite fears it could well set a record for its collapse in value. Marcus Magnier of agents Colliers International is quoting between €5 million and €10 million for the unfinished complex on which €171.5 million in borrowings from the former Irish Nationwide Building Society was spent. Even if a buyer is found around the half way mark of €7.5 million the writedown in value will still be a startling 95.6 per cent. (A second Nama: NCA investigating six people over £1bn sale of Irish property portfolio , with a beautiful picture).

A-a-a-a-a-a-ah-ja! (A deep sigh from the intestines, i picked it up from Wolf Biermann). They say all roads lead to Rome; in this text all circular, evasive movement returns to Dublin or its environs.

That was birds and boys, the way it begins, but the topic is far from exhausted by that. Next follows a more grown-up morality: Birds and men. Part 2.

Birds and men. Part 2.

This happened in the mid-fifties. My father worked in a spinning industry in Limhamn, a suburb of Malmö. One of the workers there had a dovecot, where wild birds used to enter in order to share the food of the pigeons. He told a story of two strange doves that had entered on a cold winter's day; he had closed the door and locked them up till spring came. In May they bred in a sawed-off coffee tin, hatching two young. The rumour spread around, and i, as an interested young birdwatcher, was invited to have a look at them. I stood outside the cage, seeing the Collared Dove for the first time in my life, and i turned on him, accusingly: But they are WILD! He shrugged his shoulders: How on earth would i know? They look perfectly tame to me.

collared dove

But they are WILD! The Collared Dove is well adapted to the grey concrete colour-tone of Dublin architecture, all urban settlement in Ireland could be joined under one name: Na Clocha Liatha. The dove was meant for it, all the time.

There are certain living organisms that always occur together with man, or maybe better: with human culture. They are not outsiders, not "nature" as opposed to "society", in a sense they are rather a synthesis of nature and society. No-one will ever think of remitting them to external "nature reserves" to safeguard their existence. Such species are called synanthropic , "simultaneous with man". There are degrees to this quality, all from a tentative proximity to a total dependency; many are called, but few are chosen. It is e.g. tempting to think of the Hooded Crow Corvus cornix as belonging to this category, but it can breed in Arctic birch-forest, hundreds of kilometers from the nearest settlement - it is not completely house-broken. On the other hand its close relative the House Crow Corvus splendens qualifies, it is inseparable from civilization, and the global momentum seems to lie with splendens right now. The House Sparrow is another synanthropic species, its spread along the Trans-Siberian Railroad quoted in biological text-books as one very instructive example of synanthropism. And: the Collared Dove, too, qualifies for the "house team", species living in the oikos erected and dominated by man. (Keep an eye on the Sacred Ibis , it has all it takes to sweep the world!)

Biology is always on the outlook for some circumstantial evidence in such cases, a smoking gun, indicating how things came to be the way they are. The earliest find of the House Sparrow dates back to some cave in Palestine, inhabited by Paleolithic hunters; first it was birds and troglodytes! One formula applied to the Collared Dove has been about its being connected to some "harem culture" of the Ottoman Empire, it was an inhabitant of the shaded, walled inner yards of patrician houses. This in turn indicates an older provenance than the Ottoman, since there is a very ancient oriental culture of architecture and gardening, pointing from the Levant by way of Persia to India. And when it comes to it, the Indian peninsula is considered the origin of the Collared Dove.

the hosh

Orientalist paintings of the hosh , the central courtyard for family life, where light and air - and birds - enter from above. LEFT: Jean-Louis Gérome (1894): Harem Women feeding Pigeons in a Courtyard, RIGHT: John Frederick Lewis (1869): The Hosh of the House of the Coptic Patriarch, Cairo (as a matter of fact the physical setting was Lewis's own backyard in Cairo). It is not difficult to envisage how a synanthropic tendency might be encouraged in this atmosphere. When doves are fed by Muslims - no bread on the ground, only grain! - it's a belated tribute to them for shielding the Prophet with their nest when his persecutors had him cornered in a cave. The habit of putting up breeding baskets for doves gets its raison d'être from the same episode, but again there is a much older dove cult behind. Such religious conventions have benefited many organisms historically; in the past the White Stork wasn't hunted on migration in Muslim countries, being a pilgrim on its way to Mecca. Having overcome the Maronite hurdle of the Lebanon, migrating storks had safe conduct all the way to East Africa.

How far can a synanthropic tendency take a species? By the end of the 1820's, with the Greek War of Independence approaching its bloody end, with massacres and deportations on both sides, the reverse of coexistence with man became manifest for Collared Doves: they were massacred alongside with their former patrons, the Turks. By 1878, when Bulgaria emerged as an independent "principality", Macedonia and Albania being the only remaining Ottoman provinces, Collared Doves were clinging to a few strongholds with Muslim population, like Plovdiv and Sarajevo. But this was not only a period of war and changing borders and redistribution of land, it was also a time of radical socio-economic transition, with European capital in practice recolonising the old Ottoman empire. Here railways acted as battering rams; in August 1888 the first "Orient Express" departed from Vienna for Constantinople. And, in the wake of railways: roller mills, grain silos, cement factories, all the paraphernalia of early capitalism - and the refuse, the spill, the emissions of industrial production as well! Again the tide turned for the Collared Dove, and, defining much the same niche as the House Sparrow in the older, horse-based transport system, it colonised the whole of Europe within a century, arriving in Ireland about 1960. And, after being introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970's, it repeated the whole process even faster (which shouldn't surprise us, given the ultra-Ottoman character of modern US) in North America, moving from east to west coast in little more than a decade.

Now, don't make too much of this! To many species, say in arctic regions or in deserts, man is just a nuisance, or at best a disturbance. They are not even remotely considering the option of establishing themselves as hangers-on to society. But humans are meddlesome, to say the least, and they tend to leave their fingerprints everywhere, on the tundra, in the desert. And this is the really interesting thing right now, not thoroughgoing synanthropism, but the human FINGERPRINT on species and its effects on behaviour. Level of shyness, niche recognition, feeding habits. I will return to this, but first a loop back to Dublin, arriving from outer space at Clontarf Road.

brent at the busstop

"...but the human fingerprint on species and its effects on behaviour". Brent Geese queueing for de bussy, Clontarf Road, 4 January 2011. Four juveniles can be discerned in the picture, from their white edges to greater and median coverts. Click the picture for another Clontarf Road situation in 2017.

The junction between Alfie Byrne Road and Clontarf Road was, and still is a sort of gear for Dublin's brent geese, the Tolka basin acting as a compelling topographical guiding-line in foggy weather, concentrating birds just above the junction. I have counted more than 3,000 geese - almost 1/10 of the Irish visiting population of light-bellied - flying inland along Clontarf Road on a foggy morning, many of them grazing for a short while on surrounding lawns, till they are flushed by the pet-dogs, who are also brought here by converging guiding-lines. This is a site mixing droppings of dogs, cats, rats, foxes, gulls, ducks, geese and men, and i suspect it is one of the most important spots in Dublin for transmission of endoparasites and bacterial infection, to which juveniles are generally more susceptible than adults. Infection is not a huge problem, most parasites are species- or genus-specific, but i think the risk is there and should be kept in mind. My point is: there might be a reason for experienced brent geese to be a little skeptical about the most frequented "hotspots" of the Dublin area. Among adult geese i can discern two strategies: many just follow the big flocks with their young, "coasting along" with the majority. A minority, however, obviously tries to isolate the brood from too much turmoil and competition, grazing in secluded corners with just a few other families. As the season advances, many parent birds apparently try to press or coax their young into overflying the Fairview area, i guess they belong to that second, skeptical category. (Having seen this for a couple of years, i wonder if it's not more about shooting-range; some birds having bad experiences, foot and leg damage from pellets. Anyway, in years of good reproduction all nuances are erased; hordes of hungry juveniles invading lawns throughout Dublin, grazing from dawn till dusk. The eelgrass of the mudflats, and whatever else was consumed there, is depleted hurry-scurry at the arrival).

Sometimes there is little choice: the attraction from other geese is imperative, a MUST to brent geese. As the season advances, juveniles often descend tentatively before the adults when they spot grazing flocks at the Clontarf crossing, some actually managing to overrule the commands of the adults, creating a "flock attraction" of their own. I guess, it's the same way as in humans: some parents prevail, some succumb to their young.

This is a highly dynamic development, constantly shifting its venue: by 2009, 2010 Clontarf was the nexus where juveniles experimentally savoured slack discipline and some citybroken behaviour (tolerance of dogs, just running out of their way); there may be some benefit from such an adaptation, some cost to it, and the final bill hasn't been added up yet. The specific site turned out to be of minor importance - or it just lost its attraction - in 2012 the "front" had moved to the Bangor Circle in Crumlin (the overall area is a Dublin Corporation project, built in the shape of the Eucharistic cross, roads named after the Irish dioceses), where some shabby and lean brent juveniles did their best to coexist with litter, herring gulls and errant pet dogs under the supervision of worried parents - maybe the Clontarf young from 2009? As a matter of fact there is some pattern here, too, i saw it clearly in 2016, and again in 2017; in midwinter the intensive GAA + school use of some pitches transforms them into veritable clay pits, and they have nothing to offer grazing brent any longer. Foxfield Green and St Malachy's were ruined by single matches in February 2017, the flocks immediately extending their range to Ballyfermot, Ashtown and Tymon Park. Crucial here is the experience of adults.

This, on an evolutionary scale very fast change of behaviour, is interesting, a little thrilling; will it end the same way as in the Barnacle Goose (the southward expansion of the barnacle appointed "the biggest faunal event of the Baltic area in the 20th century"), with the Brent expanding its breeding range southwards? Escapes from parks speeded up the Barnacle process in the Baltic, urban birds attaching themselves to wild birds from Kola Peninsula and pulling them down to a moulting area in the Baltic. That is what we don't have in the case of the Brent, park-breeders, at least not to my knowledge. (Castle Espie may provide that bit).

Something for the tummy

There is another aspect to the grazing business: wildfowl herbivores have to eat MUCH, 10 - 20 % of their body weight each day. Their basal metabolic rate uses up some 100 kcal per kg body weight and day - which makes a resting goose burn energy like a 6 Watt lamp. At the other end of the scale, flight consumes some 14 times more. All other activities fall between these two extremes. (So, the energy supporting a resting Brent flock for an hour is burnt in four minutes when it's flushed by a dog). That is why the quality of food matters to geese; if the share of "neutral detergent fibre" (NDF) is high, the digestible contents are correspondingly lower. One example: cordgrass rootstocks have more than 50 % NDF, sedge rootstocks only half as much (they are consumed by cranes and larger geese, not brent). Furthermore brent geese have a "short food retention time", delivering one dropping every 3.5 minutes ( McKay et al. 1994 ). All this adds up to: brent geese target the digestible, water-soluble carbonhydrates more than the fibre and the cell wall of a plant. Which means that the foraging business is more quickly settled if the food is of an advantageous composition, depending on seasonal demands (feather growth and muscle growth increases the demand for proteins). Readily available freshwater is always a plus. In the end some sort of compromise always has to be struck in an urban environment: wasteful flight (caused by disturbance, or scouting for water) should be avoided as much as possible. At the same time some minimum of nutritionally valuable carbonhydrates must be ingested; if the grazing is meagre, adult birds soon direct their "inner eye" over (and beyond) the fences, envisaging greener pastures.

Against this background: note the extended, hanging bellies in the bus stop picture! These geese have gulped down quite a volume, 2 - 3 hours before sunset, they can cope with the task imposed on them by Nature. And more than that, they are in a generally good condition, with fat-/muscle-imbedded breastbones, barmy, en bon point. I ask myself: how much do cars contribute to the fertilization of Dublin lawns, is that part of the city attraction? Furthermore: are diesel-fertilized strips - diesel combustion creates three times as much NO x as petrol - preferred by the geese? And is that degree of fertilization acceptable to them?
( References: breeder experience , a UK study involving fertilizer (ammonium nitrate) application , a review of UK research up till 1999: Vickery & Gill (1999) in Biological Conservation (only summary) ).

bills being added up

In the end all bills ARE added up, that insight is a cornerstone of biology. It has some application to human societies, too, i think Abraham Lincoln said that. Don't pity the poor ostrich, this is not Napolitan baroque "Leda and the Swan". The ostrich is there as a guarantor of a fair and square trial, the incriminating evidence weighed against one of its feathers.

Back to the river Saile

anseres repleti urbis felicitas

Second take of that goddess, more proper dress-code, as "national" as the solo-dress of young girl Irish dancing, i.e.: universal kitsch. I played a little with Dublin's motto, the true motto is plures eiusdem , more of the same.

Dublin: a black pool of pollution, noise, poor planning and bad habits. An endless desert of terraced houses: little boxes on the hillsides. Half a score of areas that are absolutely sickening - go and enjoy the Mars landscape at Clongriffin Dart Station (welcome to the real world)! A traffic noise and traffic emissions that can't be cured, must be endured. (Disturbing noise is considered to begin at 55 dB, and that is most of Dublin City; only Phoenix Park is blessed with 45 - 50 dB in the daytime). IT'S A NON-SUSTAINABLE CITY , as is obvious to the visitor at the very first encounter. But what is sustainable in today's world? Little, if anything. Besides, the attraction of dirty old towns to humans doesn't lie in their sustainability. And some cities still retain a certain charm, down by the river Sa-a-a-aile... So let's forget about that. A good strategy could be to expect nothing from Dublin City, or very little, and look for no more. One could for example choose Dublin's GREEN GRASS , as a sustainable minimum. Again, we shouldn't think of green grass as something particularly everlasting; Mesopotamia's soils became salinated, to the extent that no ordinary grass would grow there. Some similar disaster might strike the incorrigible Irish nation: a grass blight, escaping from one of its artificial and stressed golf-courses. So, what we come for, the wild geese and i, is the green grass of Dublin, here and now. Tomorrow it may be gone, and Dublin will be no longer worth a Mass.


The green grass of Dublin, from a Nils Holgersson perspective. The map has been snatched from irelandstory.com and re-edited. Some patches are a little inflated, considering today's REAL extension of green areas, but it's probably correct when the city boasts: "Dublin city has more green spaces per square mile than any other European capital city". The general, "planless" pattern of growth is striking; Dublin expands like oil slick on water or a mould spot on a stock substrate, floating out to all sides, in a seemingly endless expansion. Irish Independent 2 February 2017: How Dublin is eating Ireland. It's sanctioned urban sprawl at its worst, the Los Angeles paradigm. Up to the left, Phoenix Park inserts itself like an enormous green lung into this stone body. 3.7 % of the Irish population lives in flats, against the European average of 42 %, while 81 % of Irish homes are owner-occupied, here lies one reason for the enormous devastation of land and coastal habitats in eastern Ireland, the wasteful use of national resources adding insult to injury during the anarchy of the "Celtic Tiger" years after 1997. Water and electricity supply becomes very problematic with such a pattern of settlement (more than 40 % of the freshwater pumped into Dublin leaks into the ground), and the car traffic develops an inhuman, anti-social character that attacks human sense organs: ears, nose, eyes. (It is ameliorated by the highly social, good-natured behaviour of most car-drivers - not forgetting the five percent share of tricksters that always leaps out!) Dublin should be de-developed, a ban issued on further expansion, before it tips its supportive platform into the Irish Sea. ( Map updated 24.12.16; i have visited most of the existing green areas, know their true extents; there was an original 10 - 15 % exaggeration in the map, but its scale doesn't invite to retouching. Use it to get an overview, the areas shown green are pitches, playing-grounds, private parks and Dublin City Council parks . From 2016 i will insert red capital B:s next to the position of pitches that have been ear-marked for "development". /CP/ )

North Dublin was the underclass territory of old, with marginal exceptions - note the extension of green patches there - while South Dublin was more middleclass, wealthier. Modern, 21st century underclass is centrifugated to the extreme outskirts, to the north, northwest, west and southwest. This creates a sort of clannish separation or outright apartheid, and every (middleclass) Irish person i know has knowledge to share with a foreigner: don't go there, don't go there. (And for Christ's sake: NEVER GO THERE!) * I wouldn't be going anywhere if i had followed that advice. The 19th century ring just south of the city centre contains practically no "green lungs", while the green patches have their highest concentration in a half moon stretching from Glasnevin and Marino up to Darndale and Donaghmede. The same half moon also abounds with clerical institutions of all sorts, there is a very pronounced, active church presence with a midpoint at, say, Coolock. Ninety percent of Ireland's primary schools have Catholic patronage, it's an endless sequence of St John's and St Joseph's and St David's and St Vincent's and St Kevin's and St Columba's, not forgetting: St Brendan's. The system reminds of Italy, where the primary school system was a pawn in the Vatican's uneasy truce with Berlusconi, still is. Each school - and girls mustn't be made invisible: St Mary's and St Anne's and St Brigid's belong in the enumeration - in turn has access to some near-by pitch. This strange patchwork quilt has a history, and it should be told and remembered - parallel with other, more cherished aspects of Irish history.
* Ireland buries sensitive topics under mountains of silence; the frantic house-building or the rabbit-like nativity are givens and off limits in public discussion. The class apartheid is off limits, too, and considered once and forever given. So i raised my eye-brows when Ross O'Carroll-Kelly in standup comedian style had his say in The Irish Times (20.12.14): Honor /a daughter's name; my remark/ asks what the fock we’re doing here. She gets dark moods if she’s asked to travel anywhere north of College Green – she’s very much my daughter in that regord. Whatthefock is negotiable in south and north alike, it's neutrally vulgar, but i guess "regord" is a sort of subtle territorial marking... Class divisions still go VERY deep in Dublin, it comes as a shock when you realize it.

So: we came for the GREEN GRASS of Dublin, the geese and i. And there is a surprising acreage of it, even in the more recent extensions of the city. How come? In the prevailing hard times the city authorities are also rebuilding concrete sidewalks with some fervour - why not cover the whole of Dublin with a shell of hard concrete while they are at it, reversing the hierarchy of centre and suburb and transforming it all into an extension of Dublin Airport? Builders are eyeing the green patches, and the owners of green patches are making calculations, checking their dwindling accounts. Here is an ill-boding link (The Irish Times, January 28th 2013) to ongoing preparatory work by the City Council; nobody notices such things until it's too late. Areas used by brent geese are typically involved, so what we see may be the first moves of an all-in assault on green areas conserved to the benefit of Dublin for a very long time by orders, schools and sports clubs. The Brickfield area of Seagrange Park was targeted for rezoning by Fingal Co Council as early as 2010, very typical. In late 2014 there is a massive "development" (Sion Hill) next to the pitch of Maryfield College, another one next to St Silvester's in Malahide, a third one next to Eirinn's Isle GAA in Finglas (the houses almost leaning out over the pitches, sucking in fresh air, in a city choked by car emissions), a fourth one, very intrusive, in front of the Christian Brothers' centre for teachers training next to the Marino Institute. And on 12 January 2016 i detected that the eastern half of the pitch at Beneavin de la Salle College in Finglas had been claimed by builders; it was the most sheltered resting area in Finglas, the geese could stand there all day. I guess someone has profited from that interference, but not the local community. And Dublin has lost another little green breathing-hole, it's almost an avalanche of destruction by now.


"...so what we see may be the first moves of an all-in assault on green areas conserved to the benefit of Dublin for a very long time by orders, schools and sports clubs." The Vincentians, who own St. Paul’s College in Sybil Hill, sold 15 acres of land directly behind the college - at the same time an integral part of St Anne's Park - to Arklow property developers New Generation Homes (aka Crekav - Crean & Kavanagh) "in a deal worth more than 25m euro". (The Irish Times, 13 March 2015). An environmental consultant was hired to confuse the issue (oh, how i hate them, these vultures!) It's a scandalous affair, and it's true - as The Irish Times correctly remarks - that it has all the hallmarks of "development" in the Celtic Tiger years. Shame on the Vincentians! The site has always been among the ten most important resting areas for brent geese in Dublin (in 2016 it is among the top 3), the pic was taken on 5 March 2015. Ten years ago, large parts of St Anne's Park served the geese as grazing areas (the opening pic of this webpage is from SAP 2006 - it was a fairly nice place back then), but the pet dog anarchy has worsened over the intervening period, to the extent that only St Paul's pitches are visited by geese today, since they are fenced.

It is obvious to me that Dublin has reached the end of its line, the city should be recycling land and not rezoning its breathing holes. But Irish politics is not ready for that insight, not by a long shot, it is too unripe, too immature, mirroring its electorate. Only crises can pave the way for necessary reform (e.g. towards responsible land use) - during the "good" times the country is thrown to the dogs.


The religious orders, cashing in on Dublin's green areas. (In 2016 An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for a "development" of the Carmelite convent next to Griffith Avenue, it was a "lung" in this over-developed and congested area, it should of course have been set aside. This whole area, up to the Marino Institute and the new building site there, is an instructive example of collapsed or absent city planning in 2019. What a pity, what a pity, the things that are done here). 2018 news item about St Paul's Pitches . It was very instructive to follow how the St Paul's issue was treated in Dublin-related media: reduced to an almost weightless, sugary stance, advocated by hastily mobilised childcare cohorts. Environment is not an "adult" issue in Dublin. Where is Dublin's Green Party in this scandal? Where is concern for the health, the looks of the city, these things that are so important for the self-esteem of its human occupants: health and looks, almost sort of a Dubliners' obsession? It is notable only by its absence in Dublin.

Is there any hope for the city? There still may be some sort of an ideological obstacle or check to an overall concretisation; a green taboo attached to certain areas. That will be tested in the decades to come. What i am holding out is a very weak Hope, the kind that emerges from Pandora's box, totally spent after heaving itself up to the edge; i must admit that i can't even say where it is housed any longer. Not in the laws; Irish laws, rules, regulations are there to be circumvented and gradually bent according to the perceived needs of the day. The rezoning gimmick of January 2013 is a very familiar, universal bulldozer, and worse is to come. Church commitment to nature is lip service: the only grass that mattered to religion grew in the Elysian fields. Irish organized conservancy is meek, subservient, lacks stentorean voices. And there is no widespread popular awareness of urban biology either, no all-encompassing "care" for living things in the city. Weedkillers, "glyphosate" (if Roundup with the surfactant POEA is used, it kills amphibians) are routinely sprayed in parks, for example Edenmore Park, all around the new plastic grass pitch at Kilbarrack United FC, along the edges of nature reserves like North Bull Island and Baldoyle Bay and along motorways at least in Fingal Co. In January 2016 i saw a playing-ground in Walkinstown, where all spots under carousels, climbing frames, swings etc. had been sprayed with a strong weedkiller, to keep vegetation off. The stone bench at Ard Na Mara/Yellow Walls Road in Malahide, where hundreds of school-children pass by every day, had its "undergrowth" sterilized with weedkiller in February 2018. ( The Guardian 20180811: Monsanto ordered to pay $289m as jury rules weedkiller caused man's cancer ).


Lazy strips from Portmarnock, December 2018. Brent geese graze the whole of this area, and parents come with children in the daytime to feed the mallards. It would interest me to know if this spraying was sanctioned by some council level, or if it is simply the result of a private initiative (where "the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is up to"). The same pattern of robust spraying can be observed in Carrickhill Park and around the pitch at the Sports & Leisure Centre. Note the traffic come to a halt around 08.30 in the morning, it looks the same throughout Dublin by this hour: emissions, emissions, emissions.

I cannot refrain from a quote here, re Los Angeles, from Reuters, 1 February 2019: Tailpipe pollution ... is going up, not down, despite billions of dollars spent by one of the most environmentally progressive governments on earth. “The strategies that we’ve used up until now just haven’t been effective,” Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters. That failure has less to do with energy or environmental policies and more with decades-old urban planning decisions that made California – and especially Los Angeles – a haven for sprawling development of single-family homes and long commutes , according to state officials. California’s struggle bodes poorly for other major U.S. cities with similar sprawl and expensive urban housing – such as Houston, Atlanta, and others that planned their cities around cars - and casts doubt on whether the United States can meet its pledged carbon cuts under an international agreement to fight climate change.
A top-up to this from RTÉ, 20190213: Dublin third worst city for time spent sitting in traffic - survey (And still An Bord Pleanála is allowed to continue to drive this city into the Pit of Doom... As if planning and resulting traffic weren't connected! I have said it before, and i repeat: Dublin has reached the end of its line).
I finish with a link to an excellent article from The Guardian, 20190517: Revealed: air pollution may be damaging ‘every organ in the body’.

So weeds are killed, while trees get away with being "dressed", that sounds gentler. But dressing trees in Dublin in most cases means maiming them; hedgerows are just razed with blunt machinery (that is a curse of the Irish countryside, too), twigs ripped off, and all this happens because the work is done by a person who doesn't give a damn about esthetics and understands chainsaws better than trees. The average Dublin citizen doesn't see beyond his pet dog. Most Fine Gael politicians cock their guns when they hear the word "environment". The Irish Green Party is a disappointing nought, too much Irish establishment, very little of the original German and Swedish Green counter-culture (which is by the way gradually eroding in both those countries). As a consequence the Greens are going to be wiped out in the coming election (written a week before the election on 25 February 2011). It all began when the Greens entered government and took the pressure off three - four projects that should have been harassed to the bitter end. The only bodies taking some sort of robust responsibility, e.g. Birdwatch Ireland, were inspired by Anglo-Saxon conservancy ideology (that boy from Kilternan again, returning in spirit to Ireland with the gospel of conservancy, much like St Patrick), this in turn representing not only some universal common sense or even morality, but as much the bad conscience of centuries of British imperialism - which might not be the best way to approach the Irish mind. I could be more scathing re Birdwatch Ireland: it is also built on that Irish house-broken, self-effacing, non-offensive charity model that doesn't worry about roots of evil. There seems to have been a palace revolution in 2016-17, aiming to petrify this model for time eternal. Here is a recent manifestation of BI making , a wreath to embellish the Irish EU presidency. The whole thing is not essentially "wrong", it is just essentially helpless. And here another sample of the particular babbling, officious style of Birdwatch Ireland messages, it concerns the international scandal Bull Island. Still, all that said: the Kilcoole Little Tern project , a Birdwatch Ireland project, is commendable and very successful.

a caring gesture

A caring gesture, embracing grass and roses alike, but the main concern of religion always was with the green grass of the Elysian fields. This transcendent concern can still be traced in a sort of Irish carelessness towards nature. Instead it is "the gospel of Irish misery" - misery from Vikings and Normans by way of Cromwell and Famine to severance of Ulster and banking system collapse - that decides the material relationship to landscape, soil, water, air, living things of the green isle. Which means: everything can be thrown into the crucible, in a sort of desperation, if it holds out the promise of "employment". Behind the wall in the background a G.A.A. pitch: Naomh Uinsionn's, paving the way for the next section.

So, adieu to mudflats, bogs, the beauty of landscapes, natural diversity! Let's put a marina in Rogerstown estuary (the whole area is mudflats at low tide, a marina would need some dredging) - the first mortgage on that area was a leaking landfill - to ease the national misery! There is a new mortgage behind next corner, everyone knows that, but is there really any choice, once the boulder has started rolling? The headlong leisure consumption of 4,6 million people is a terrible material force, stronger than Cromwell's cannons, it cannot be resisted. And the Irish are almost desperate at using all sorts of gadgets & gizmos to enhance their spare time; i remember my horror when first seeing mountaineers training with fancy equipment next to the Peregrine's nest in the Dalkey quarry, the wail of the female could be heard down to Dalkey town. The Irishman enjoying his or her leisure is a very self-centered person, a not-so-charming aspect where open-air activities are involved, and some unnoticed third part is suffering. But then again; this is almost a universal feature. Dogs are running free on tidal beaches all over the world, it's a huge source of disturbance everywhere, and the dog owners will be the last ones to notice or care. ( References: 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ).

chanel college

Early morning hour, Oystercatchers collected where the first sunlight thaws the frosty lawn outside the Chanel College in Coolock (22 December, 2009). Note the outstanding evergreens! There is thought behind, but that thought belongs to the past, in a near future these trees will have no defenders. (The one to the left was maimed in 2014, or maybe storm-broken, i had a hunch that it would be broken either way). Brent Geese will soon arrive from the North Bull for half an hour of undisturbed grazing. Church institutions are the only ones willing and capable of opposing the pet dog terror in Ireland; parallel to that there still is a sort of public decorum, keeping dogs at bay in graveyards and outside churches. Such small, protected patches form a web of sanctuaries (sic) throughout Dublin, Terenure College even announces: strictly no dogs, in line with Carmelite charism. Das war also des Pudels Kern, says Faust as Mefisto emerges from the poodle; dogs are an incarnation of the Devil - and let us provisionally equate the modern Devil with disturbance and waste of resources. (When Luther found a dog in his bed in the castle of Wartburg, he saw the Devil in disguise and hurled the animal through the window. But Dublin isn't Germany: there is much Sympathy for the Devil in Ireland, always was, get thee to a nunnery, Ophelia).

chanel college 2015

The cost of the project: confinement, loss of perspective. In the long run all Dublin grass will be replaced by green Potemkin backdrop, the dogs will be remitted to where they came from, the gutter. Chanel College, 27 December, 2015.


This is what is called a negative spiral. Throughout Europe, when landowners plan to exploit in two steps, they often let some ground, set aside in the first step, decay for a while before offering to save it from its decay. I have seen such orchestrations of decay in a thousand places through my life, and i can point out a hundred of them in today's Dublin. At first sight one could be tempted to assume that it's part of the bourgeois Klassenbewusstsein, done on instinct - but there is not an underclass area in Dublin that isn't decaying, so there are obviously different species of decay. No, it's more about horror pulchri: avoid doing anything that could make your immediate environment attractive. (Credit to the "initiatives" that plant pansies at the centre roundabouts of villages...). Coolock, 7 January 2019. [CP]

Come thus far i will make a detour, an excurse into something very Irish, very "endemic": The Gaelic Athletic Association. After that, finally, the time is ripe for a full-fledged introduction of my protagonist: the light-bellied brent goose. All of it as exotic as it can ever become: a travel report from some very distant island, news from nowhere.

Standing up to Britannia with hurlers and piping: the GAA

In 1901 the present Saint Laurence O'Toole G.A.A. club was formed from the Gaelic League branch at Seville Place. An earlier Saint Laurence O'Toole G.A.A. club had existed in the North Wall area from 1888 to 1896 but disappeared from the scene because of a lack of properly organised juvenile competitions. The St. Laurence O'Toole branch of the Gaelic League held their inaugural meeting in February 1901 and Brother J. A. O'Mahoney, Superior of O'Connells schools was elected its first president.(...) In 1910 a pipers band was founded in connection with the O'Tooles G.A.A. club and the 1916 leader, Tom Clarke was elected president and the playwright, Sean O'Casey was the first secretary. When the Irish Republic was declared on Easter Monday, 1916, over seventy members of the O'Tooles club answered the call and took their stand among the city garrisons. Tom Clarke was executed after the Rising, as was Sean Mac Dermott, a non playing member of the O'Tooles club. Others who took part included Liam O'Briain, Professor of Romance Languages at U.C.G., Citizen Army Sergeant, Frank Robbins, who later became President of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and Tom Ennis who was later a Free State Army General. A number of players from O'Tooles were on the Dublin team in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday when the Black and Tans attacked and Michael Hogan of Tipperary was killed.

Excerpt from An Cumann Uí Thuathail: Brief history.

To the note-book: When brent geese are flushed at Darndale Park, they often land firstly at O'Tooles, before continuing to Donahies Community School and after that e.g. to the Naomh Barróg G.A.A. pitch in Kilbarrack or Mount Olive Green in Raheny. After a few hours of grazing, and if they cannot access fresh water on the pitches (they even chew mud for the water content), they return to drink from the Santry outlet, next to the causeway at North Bull, or from the Nanekin outlet east of St Anne's Park. The geese have developed a very strict Dublin schedule in just a few years.

brother gildas

The pipes of the Gaelic movement were uilleann pipes , powered by a bellow attached to the elbow, with drones and regulators (here: under the right hand) humming the keynote and playing simple chords, and a chanter (here: left hand) covering two full octaves, playing the melody line. Normally both hands are occupied on the chanter, while the right hand wrist serves the regulators. In its early days, the instrument was called píob sionnach, pipe with bellows, it could be termed a chamber version of the old (mouth-blown) Irish warpipe, an píob mhór, discredited after the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798 ("hang the harpers wherever found". And here a link exposing that quotation as a sort of historical "urban myth"; Irish history writing is full of them. I let it stand, acknowledging the function of historical myths. Nicholas Carolan's investigation into the early naming of Irish pipes ). A "brother" belonged to a Catholic order, he was unmarried, lived according to a set of rules, having made a vow of obedience to the hierarchy, serving in all sorts of secular functions within the order. Many teachers of the emerging Irish nation belonged to an order (the system gradually compromising itself to the extent that the Catholic Church lost most of its former influence in Ireland. A second reference , and here all reports from the parliamentary Child Abuse Commission, they take a month to read. The picture shows Brother Gildas of the De la Salle Brothers with his 16 1/2 inch Egan chanter (giving a "flat pitch", maybe C#, the older standard), he was a Kerryman, headmaster of the De la Salle Schools in Downpatrick and Belfast, a legend among Irish pipers . When brother Gildas needed a repair to his pipes, he visited Leo Rowsome on Belton Park Road in Dublin ( 1 , 2 ); at the age of sixteen, in 1919, Rowsome was appointed teacher of the uilleann pipes at Dublin's Municipal School of Music, holding the position to his death in 1970. Another beacon of this generation: Seamus Ennis ; a trained ear immediately recognises the expert fingerwork on his 130-year-old Coyne set (passed on to Liam O'Flynn, of The Planxty ), and he ventures into the third octave. Master of the regulators: Johnny Doran . Faith, sports, music, politics - and abuse - walked hand in hand in those years. Grounds were rented or purchased, grass was sown, teams were organised, messages spread around, the Artane Boys Band spoken to; the crowds attending were overwhelming. ("The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.") A friar playing a bagpipe was an emblem for lechery in medieval church paintings throughout Northern Europe, and even in Ireland only the harp was considered a "noble" instrument. The conventional pose of an Irish piper with his uilleann pipes is almost antithetic to that; serene, controlled. Same in Johnny Doran, in spite of his dishevelled tie. These are grown-up men, a friar and a Traveller, they have experienced things, things that might be best told in music, and they hold up their instruments as if to shelter their own humanity.

I'm not a Celtic nerd, i should have developed immunity to that kind of ideology long ago*. The Celtic fashion in turn is a modern, commercially viable dilution of the older preoccupation with "Gaelic" virtues and values, which served a purpose, had some background in language and culture, but involved illusionary elements as well. Still, the self-presentation of O'Tooles touches me: a highly charged text, so full of information that it threatens to burst (and a peculiar provincial, narrowed perspective). A strange birth-certificate for a football club - if it had been somewhere other than Ireland! Sean O'Casey himself played both in the piping band and the hurling team. Tom Clarke is - well - Ireland's Nelson Mandela. Many of the 1916 men were exponents of a very specific Irish blend of "Literary revival" and working-class movement (but the Christian Brothers were never far away - Eamonn Ceannt, Seán MacDiarmada and Patrick Pearse came from this direction (much later: Gerry Adams) - nor were the Spiritans (De Valera, Thomas MacDonagh) or the Jesuits (Joseph Plunkett)). I experience an enormous distance to this whole context, it seems to lie light-years away... Its people are dead and gone, only the grass is still there, for some time yet. It cannot be avoided: i must dig deeper here, to learn more about the roots of this grass.

The same pattern recurs in most European countries, in the wake of Seven Years' War, French Revolution, Napoleonic wars, the "revolution" years of 1830 and 1848: a fitness movement, aiming at advancing martial virtues in the young male population. Some brainchild of Jean-Jacques Rousseau lies at the bottom of it; his idea that culture, civilisation, development deprives nations of their ability to defend themselves, or just to fight for some purpose. It was not about fitness for a selfish, individual purpose, not slí na sláinte, but promotion of fitness, team spirit for social, political causes ; young men were to train sports in order to be able to contribute to national and political liberation. The whole thing started as a slightly pinkish and patriotic movement among university students, gradually making its way into the working-class and in the end also contributing to the anti-colonial struggle in countries like China and Vietnam. Friedrich Ludwig Jahn was the portal figure in Germany, where the humbling defeats of Austerlitz and Jena had provided the subjective basis for fear and feelings of inferiority, the movement was later on totally compromised by the Nazis, and finally bankrupted by the monocausal East German state. Per-Henrik Ling was the first to promulgate these ideas in Sweden, in Ireland the primary organiser was Michael Cusack . With some time-lag relative to mainland Europe, and an emphasis on Gaelic virtues: The meeting that founded "The Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes" was held on 1 November 1884 in Hayes Commercial Hotel, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. The patronage was clerical and political from the very outset: "Archbishop Thomas William Croke (Cashel, and that means: Church of Ireland, Anglican), Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt were asked to become patrons." The Christian Brothers of Ireland, Catholics believing in - or at least teaching - Mortal Sin and Hell, flaming nationalists, flaming hurlers and perpetrators of child abuse, were early and vehement G.A.A. supporters (and patrons of handball alleys); Irish nationalism by this time had a Janus face. ( Timeline of the G.A.A. 1884 - 1945. ) In 1913 the G.A.A. decided to purchase the Jones Road Sports Ground, renaming it 'Croke Park' in honour of Archbishop Croke. The blessing of an archbishop being exchanged for the blessing of an insurance company - planning to lay off half of its Irish staff in 2012 - when Lansdowne Road is renamed Aviva Stadium almost a century later. Such small details give us a measure of the slow landslide of secularization in Ireland, and the (still) religious submission of the indigenous assistants to big capital. A donkey, loaded with gold, can conquer any city. The modern venue (Croke Park) darkens the horizon next to the Royal Canal in North Central Dublin today. But my concern is not with the monuments of the G.A.A., not even with the Gaelic games - it is with Dublin's pitches and green grass.

foxfield green, kilbarrack

Where pitches are fenced - and the ones of early origin often are, even walled - they offer the Brent a second system of "sanctuaries" in the Dublin area. There are some ninety-five G.A.A. clubs in Dublin - or were in the heyday of Gaelic games. ( Sixty active ones are listed here). In addition there are school pitches - like the Christian Brothers Schools St David's in Artane and the Secondary School in Glasnevin - and communal pitches unconnected to a club. Some pitches are private property, like Kenilsworth Square in Haroldscross and the one next to Pobalscoil Rosmini in Drumcondra. Dublin City Council parks like Éamonn Ceannt Park (Crumlin), McAuley Park (Coolock), Seagrange Park (Baldoyle), Darndale Park, Belcamp Park, St Anne's Park (Clontarf/Raheny) and Brackenbush Park (Killiney) have pitches, on top of that there are the greens of "estates" and "parks", the open spaces in the middle of residential developments. The overall sum must exceed 250, and possibly 500. They are ubiquitous, and each one features the "H"-shaped goal for Gaelic football and hurling. I would not hesitate to call the H-shaped goals of Dublin (or Ireland) one of the most impressive and long-lasting examples of ideological penetration i have ever seen (related to the Lenin statues of the former Soviet Union) - in spite of the fact that the whole thing is evaporating right now, like all ideology does when it becomes redundant. Foxfield Green, Kilbarrack, 10 December 2010.

If the Churchill cabinet had opted to occupy Ireland after 1940, England would have had to land parachuters on each one of these pitches, and cut out the heart of every club member. Resistance was the original purpose of the G.A.A. club, membership a sort of conscription. I still cannot see to what extent the GAA went out of the way of the anarchist tendencies of Irish republicanism; was it just a prolonged arm of the IRA - at least in the early years - or did it gradually reflect a more non-violent position? (A good article on this topic by Brian O'Connor in The Irish Times 28.10.2013, it is likely to enter the unavailability vault rather soon, so be quick to read, and here the dressing-room of the All-Ireland winning hurling team in August 2018 . Sean South was one of two IRA men killed during an attack on Brookborough RUC station (N.Ireland) on New Year’s Day 1957). I think there is reason to believe that the GAA for a long time paid more than lip service to the IRA, so it is credible and could be expected that seventy members of O'Tooles took their stand at the rising of the moon on Easter Monday, 1916. All this is quickly fading into oblivion, more rural than urban, and the pitches are looking for a new, commercial purpose today. Which means: they are handed over to a "developer", he builds semi-d's on one half and a leisure centre for the club on the other. The pitch next to Parnell's GAA/Chanel College (originating from Marist Brothers, the third force among Irish "brethren") in Coolock was the first to be caught on this cleverly baited hook, the whole affair bearing the hallmark of Irish political culture, with its particular brand of clientism. I think something similar is boiling in Crumlin, too, and a very typical example of the novel and future partitioning of existing land resources can already be studied in the "Carlisle Health & Fitness Club", next to Lorcan O'Toole Park in Kimmage. The Irish Times reveals another similar attempt on 30.11.13: "Blackrock (College RFC) had an opportunity to accept €800,000 from a property developer during the boom years for the right to build on a portion of the 13 acres but the members rejected the proposal." I expect half of Dublin's pitches to be devoured by such developments in the coming decades, and i wouldn't be surprised to see a two- or threefold over-establishment of fitness centres. That is nothing specifically Irish; whether the brave new (and improductive) investments conjure up spas, fitness centres, golf-courses or marinas, it is the same underlying speculative tendencies that destroy landscapes and cities throughout Europe. In the meantime, the free space remaining is occupied by a particular band of Irish Travellers: the Light-bellied Brent Geese.

The Light-bellied Brent Goose

The route used by the Knots, Turnstones and Brant Geese migrating from Iceland to N Canada/NW Greenland is now well documented(...) Orientation conditions are extreme on this long-distance flight close to the geographic and magnetic north poles. This allows us to reject a number of different possible mechanisms of solar and magnetic orientation by the birds. The extensive knowledge available in the field of animal orientation seems to offer no reasonable explanation of how the birds manage to orient close to the 300° rhumbline # route.

Alerstam et al. (1990), Orientation, Migration Routes and Flight Behaviour of Knots, Turnstones and Brant Geese Departing from Iceland in Spring. Arctic (43): 201-214.

# = loxodrome, crossing all meridian lines at a constant angle, here WNW to NW.

On a time-scale of centuries, and even decades, the Arctic is a highly changeable environment. Its living organisms of course reproduce best under "stable" conditions, since they are adapted to them, but in the long run the best adaptation would seem to be a finger always held on the "change" button. It is important to realise that both warm periods (interstadials, interglacials) and outright glaciations present problems to arctic ecosystems, the former by elbowing arctic biotopes into more southerly systems, the latter by covering them with impenetrable ice-caps. As a result, there has been much temporary fragmentation of Arctic populations, and extermination has led to bottlenecks , where species have been deprived of valuable genetic variation. Both Turnstones and Knots have been through such baptisms of frost, and today's problems for Knot populations are partly due to the Knot's not-quite-successful recovery from one or several glacial rebuffs; the migration supply lines are vulnerable.

The Brent Goose, on the other hand, seems to be very robust, very capable of coping with the demand for continuous re-establishment; there are no huge cavities in the present distribution. During one interstadial (Denekamp?, c33.000 - 25.000 BP) of the last megainterstadial (called the "Vistulian" in Central Europe), when vast areas of Central Europe were covered by tundra, Brent Goose bones are present in (eagle) owl pellets from Obtazowa Cave in the Polish Carpathians. By this time the retreat of the south border of the Weichselian ice-cap made a halt at the NW/SE runway of the Vistula, not far from the cave; it could have been situated in a sort of transition zone, suitable for temporary accommodation of not too finicky Arctic breeders. A sketch of today's distribution of the Brent Goose subspecies is shown below. The distribution is almost circumpolar, with a weak link today between NE Greenland and Taymyr, and some unexplained patchiness in Siberia - but it should be remembered that Svalbard once may have had at least 25,000 breeding pairs (now down to 2 - 3,000), the decline of that population being a recent affair, with humans partly to blame. Barnacle Geese moved in and filled the vacuum; they are now probably blocking the recovery of the Svalbard Brent population. And here the notion of "recovery" of course is a trap to thought, blinding us to the possibility of new paths, new equilibriums. When trying to restore equilibriums of the past, conservancy is truly conservative.

References : One link to North America, i'm not sure if it is state-of-the-art, but it's better than most. The number of "Eastern High Arctic Brant" (the light-bellied) is order of magnitude 40,000 by 2011. For Dark-bellied Brent the Waterbird Review Series (take the distribution map with a pinch of salt; it may be too generous), for hrota in Svalbard the Norwegian Polar Institute and for the whole circumpolar distribution the UNEP-WCMC Species Database . A Waterbird Review study with particular focus on the Canadian Light bellied Brent .

distribution of the brent goose

The white disk in the centre shows the average minimum extent of sea ice in late summer by 2010. During the Last Glacial Maximum, 18,000 years ago, the whole of the breeding distribution shown here, except for the broad land-bridge then connecting Siberia and Alaska, was covered by a compact ice-cap.

One cannot always expect to find brent geese where they bred the year before; brent don't even attempt to breed if they arrive with low reserves during extreme weather (although most Arctic bird species will lay in snow if they have ample reserves). Nor do they breed if too many predators (fox, arctic fox, even polar bear) are present - as long as lemmings are absent. This rule of thumb is complicated by the fact that not all Arctic areas have lemming cycles, which makes predation particularly unpredictable there. There was a declining breeding populations in NW Greenland before 1950 (so the map shows history, but equally much: future possibility), the "provenance" of these birds is unknown, while recent breeders in NE Greenland winter with the Svalbard population in Denmark.

In the North Canadian islands very little of the total area is suitable for breeding, and the breeding birds are highly dispersed in order to utilize all suitable habitat. In addition brent don't breed more than, say, 10 kms from water; in Siberia fox-free, barren islands at a safe distance from the coastline attract many breeders. Inland freshwater lakes, like Lake Taymyr, will also hold substantial breeding populations, and many large Canadian lakes, like Nettiling and Amadjuak Lakes in Baffin Island and Lake Hazen in Ellesmere Island, act as "thermal oases", breaking up early enough for geese to breed successfully. The red dot to the west of the Lena delta refers to the Olonets delta , where nigricans males in recent years have occurred in a bernicla colony. I guess there is an unbroken presence of bernicla all the way up to that point.

There are three recognised subspecies of Brent, 1.) the Dark-bellied Brent Goose , Branta b. bernicla , breeding in W Siberia, 2.) the Light-bellied Brent Goose , Branta b. hrota , with four rather distinct subpopulations breeding in N and NE Canada, Greenland, Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, and 3.) the Black Brent Goose , Branta b. nigricans , breeding in E. Siberia, Alaska and W Canada. In addition there is an intergradation zone between nigricans and hrota somewhere around 108° W, such "Gray Brants" from e.g. Melville Island may be forming a stabilised hybrid population (there could be a black brant gene or two in the bird to the left of the midline in the opening picture. Pacific Black Brant are more streamlined than other Brent, with a full neck-ring, they are strikingly graceful, and there is no doubt when you see one. In contrast the Light-bellied is a little stocky, tubby. Addition : i saw a perfect Grey Brent at Seafield House, Malahide Bay by the time i am writing this: on 8 April 2011. It could be added that two American Light-bellied wintered in Dublin in 2011-12, they were still there with last year's juveniles on 28 April 2012, next to them in the flock a fine Dark-bellied...). Some Canadian nigricans migrate W and SW to the Pacific by way of the wintering area in the Puget Sound , Wash., USA, another group flying all the way to California and Mexico. The E. Siberian population was tentatively separated as Branta bernicla orientalis , but this subspecies failed to gain support. At the other end of the scale, Black Brant and Light-bellied Brent were treated as "good" # species for a short period.
# Reproductive isolation, one way or another, is demanded from a species, but this cannot always be tested or proven or even assumed, since ducks and geese are notorious hybridizers - e.g. Canada X Greylag among geese, Tufted Duck X Scaup in diving ducks - all having very similar genomes and fertile offspring. Brent may have developed colour morphs, but if subspecies/"species" were to meet, e.g. through males associating themselves with females of other morphs, as in the Olonets delta, i doubt very much that they would experience each other as very alien.

Stable subspecies or not, this is where Dublin's wild geese come from: Melville, Bathurst, Axel Heiberg, Ellesmere Islands, to graze with Travellers' piebalds in Darndale Park and savour the water of the Santry. Travelling some 4500 kms as the bird flies - added to that all the extras and detours - either crossing Greenland at the latitude of the Arctic Circle or passing to the north of Greenland, after that following the east coast of Greenland southwards. Birds in both these flyways refuel for some time in Iceland. It has been suggested that others fly non-stop to Ireland along the west coast of Greenland. From September onwards many Light-bellied Brent congregate in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, before passing on to the more permanent wintering-grounds throughout the Republic: Tralee Bay, Dungarvan Harbour, the Wexford Slobs, Dublin... This dispersal takes place in October and November. So Dublin hosts its Wild Geese for five-six months, from October/November till April, while three summer months are spent in the Arctic. They can call themselves Dubliners, by rights.

strangford lough from scrabo

"From September onwards many of these birds congregate in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland." Strangford is a Norse name, Strangrfjordr, referring to the strong and dangerous currents at the inlet, the Narrows. The Vikings had safe havens in the lough and raided its monasteries on a more or less permanent basis. The contrasting Irish name was Loch Cuan, the calm loch, the harbour loch, its navigable parts serving as a natural harbour. The picture is from Scrabo Hill to the north-west of the Lough, Newtonards and the "Floodgates" are situated to the extreme left, hidden behind the slope, the mudflats of the Comber estuary, with eelgrass beds visited by Brent Geese and Wigeons, to the right. This is a wonderful place, a piece of Paradise on Earth, but as with many estuaries/harbours in the South, it has been over-exploited and subjected to mutilating reclamations. 3 November, 2007.

Light-bellied phenology in Dublin


In the above figure the material is presented as an "XY-day moving average". A moving average serves as a low-pass filter, retaining sharp steps but reducing the random noise created by e.g. the choice of excursion days for a census. (For example i avoid the dog nuisance on weekends in Dublin). I have chosen a central 13-day moving average here, asymmetric at start and end, that should be enough to conserve short-term trends, but maybe there is still some gain from upgrading it to 15-, 17- or 19-day. One setback with a low-pass filter is that some high-frequency noise (limited outbursts) may get amplified, that sets the upper limit for the useful interval. That problem can however be overcome and i may add some improvement to the diagram later if i suspect that there is some "undue" amplification anywhere.

The diagram shows how observations of colour-ringed brent - i have included only own sightings - can be used to illustrate the phenology of the species in an area; here greater Dublin from Rogerstown to Bray, Greystones and Kilcoole not included. There are three limitations and one reservation applied: I. Only one observation per day has been included. 5 % of the birds were seen twice or more on any single day in the period 2006 - 2014, the share independent of the time of year; i think an anonymous material can be reduced at a set rate without disadvantage. II. Ringings in Dublin "inject" new ringed birds into the sampled population, a dozen such ringings took place, mainly in February and March, and they were always followed by a week of frantic ring-reading, aiming at connecting juveniles with parents and mates within established pairs. Such data were excluded up till the first following migration, they skew the whole distribution. III. Birds with only one ring were excluded, because one can seldom be sure if they are one or two (or even three) individuals. IV. The material from October to mid-November is weak, it could be weighte. I could add that the 2006 spring sightings are too few to distort. When it comes to it, all these exclusions and reservations don't matter much; for the particular purpose of phenology it would be enough just to have a count of the number of ringed (but anonymous) birds in each flock, it would give us a marvelous statistic. Recently ringed birds must still be excluded, however.

In general, birds don't mill around; they migrate in intense outbursts and then settle down, don't move an eye-lid if they can avoid it. I am familiar with this pattern from e.g. my fieldwork with Arctic waders. That is the main message of the diagram: Dublin has much the same number of wintering brent geese from late November till early April, and the "ceiling" of the distribution curve is related to the carrying capacity of the overall area. Having noted that, i still insist on the "correctness" of three short-term trends. There is an early arrival, including some passage for Wexford, France etc. in the second half of November, after that there is a top-up around Christmas. The raggedness in January and February is by all likelihood caused by weather migration in years with frost and ice-cover, there have been a few. Following that, there is a slight build-up from late February through March, when the first birds go north to Dundalk, Carlingford, Strangford and Killough. True Dublin winterers are involved, but the numbers are not that overwhelming. The decisive departure signal for Dublin brent is beckoned just after 5 April. (This is catastrophic dynamics, if i ever saw some, almost palolo worm, but then again: all migrant breakups are). Note that the figure comprises the first ten years of brent occurring in numbers in Dublin, it illustrates a unique piece of natural history . The remarkable smoothness and instant magic of a restricted piece of adaptation! Is there a Christmas/New Year effect in the diagram? Not in the level of my field activity, i read geese on Xmas Eve. But there is a holiday buzz in Dublin, the city dwellers suddenly emerging from their burrows, so there may be a "dog factor", the dog interference increasing by a factor 2X or 3X. I will quantify that; i will start collecting data on the level of dog disturbance. And publish it here.

The diagram is freeware; anyone is free to download it and use it (and comment on it)! And enjoy it (the version shown is 2015.05.06).

Potato blight, eelgrass blight - and the regulation of numbers

Sometimes, in August, i forget to water the tomatoes in my greenhouse for half a day. In the evening the leaves hang vertically and the tops are drooping, the plants are crying out: WE ARE STRESSED! I hasten to make amends, give them a little more than necessary, and the atmosphere in the greenhouse is nice humid again - maybe a little chilly? The next day the tomato blight strikes, and i know that the season is over, it's only downhill for the tomatoes from there. I regulate my tomato harvest that way, through sloppiness, but Phytophthora infestans does the dirty job.

Labyrinthula is a eukaryote, a unicellular organism with a nucleus. One species causes "rapid blight" (or "slime mould" or "wasting disease") in marine sea-grasses, another has gone terrestrial in recent decades, attacking the cool-season grasses of golf turf. More than 90 % of the eelgrass beds along the Atlantic coasts of the US and W Europe disappeared between 1931 and 1933, following an attack by Labyrinthula zosterae. Many eelgrass beds hadn't recovered fully after two, three decades, some haven't recovered yet. It is thought that Labyrinthula only affects already "stressed" eelgrass and that healthy tissue can tolerate its presence. Such stress can be caused by low insolation during the growth season, due to e.g. cloudy weather or increases in the turbidity of coastal waters (from wastewater, dredging) - or a combination of the two.

So, it's much about UNSUSTAINABLE PRACTICES : pushing organisms over the limit, ignoring basic demands, and it needn't be said that human use of nature is involved in most cases in today's world. Not exclusively, however; the natural processes themselves, even the purely physical processes of the planet (like shifts of circulation patterns in the oceans), sometimes put a random spoke in some organism's wheel, even upsetting or overturning whole biological systems. Threats and Human Impacts on Eelgrass .

A habitat or a specific area can be looked upon as a beam or a pillar, with a carrying capacity for the "weight" of some biological community erected on top of it. This carrying capacity is no given, once and forever; a particular resource may be depleted, weakening the pillar, or some new resource may develop over time, strengthening it. In the end the carrying capacity is a dynamic function, defined and redefined by the interactions of all members of an ecosystem. The lemming cycle of arctic areas illustrates such an interaction, affecting and being affected by an array of surrounding, dependent or interconnected populations. Applying such a concept to human societies would be wrong, biologistic, since human societies function in another way, at a "higher", more complex level. Through import and export of resources and division of labour between people and areas, societies may overstep a local, constraining carrying capacity and outgrow it. The carrying capacity for a modern city is defined on a global scale, and economy and technology weigh in, heavily. That doesn't mean that the concept as such has lost its relevance. Whenever there is a crisis, a disturbance in the global flows of commodities and services, a sort of regression takes place and the original, basic concept of carrying capacity gains new relevance; modern societies have low storage capacities, everything is expected to be delivered "just-in-time". (Example: the worst cold-snap in a century, a nation suddenly running out of grit, and new grit is slow to arrive. Added to this "everyday" tribulations like droughts, floods and storms - i suspect we ain't seen nothing there yet). With the growth of global consumption a complementary carrying capacity comes into play as well: the (local or global) c.c. for emissions, all kinds of refuse. In that context we are all just driving around in our cars, waiting for the carbon dioxide emissions to really bite. Not i, exclude me; i walk on my feet.


"...societies can overstep a local, constraining carrying capacity and outgrow it." In a series of pictures under the title "Totem", the French photographer Alain Delorme has looked with an artist's eye at the Chinese way of overloading small, man-driven vehicles. I'm not so sure that all his installations are operational - but they work the way art should work, triggering reflection in the viewer: what is the carrying capacity of a tricycle? And what is the correct pressure for the back tyres, and what is in the load...? (Eventually, pressing the picture into the extreme: do we see the outline of France in the outline of the whole mass of boxes...)? One is tempted to add, in hindsight: we needn't go to Shanghai for such considerations, they could begin e.g. in Dublin. If we were to build a pyramid from all empty plastic bottles floating about in Dublin's Royal Canal (or up the Liffey when the tide comes in), how high would it be? Zero and nothing: a note in Guinness World Records. A remarkable picture, with some dreamlike quality, and punch!

The annual cycle of Brent Goose populations can be divided into a number of seasonal sectors, each one resting on a separate pillar with a certain carrying capacity. For a population just to break even, all (or most of) these carrying capacities must be at hand when needed, otherwise numbers will go "into the red" (this colour so abhorrent to the honest capitalist mind). The juveniles are still rather lean when they leave the breeding area, and they need a proximate staging area, where they can fatten before going on to the final wintering grounds. If the winter arrives early in the Arctic, the fattening project may be foiled, the young are unable to continue, and most of the reproduction of that year is lost. (Remember what was said above: herbivores have to eat much, they can't subsist on scraps). Bear Island (Bjørnøya) serves as such an in-between-station for the Eastern Light-bellied Brent from Svalbard; in the past it sometimes turned out to be the end-station for the young birds. Later on, when they arrive at the wintering-grounds in America and W Europe, the geese expect another resource to be there to carry them through the first months: the eelgrass, Zostera , two species growing on the intertidal or subtidal sands and mudflats of tidal shores. It is estimated that the Dark-bellied Brent Goose population wintering in NW Europe decreased by 75 % following the eelgrass blight in the early 30's, down to 16,500 birds by 1955. And the Light-bellied population wintering in Ireland didn't fare much better: 'In a telegram to Joe Cunningham, a ministerial advisor at the time, Peter Scott estimated that the population was at around 10,000 in 1934. The decline probably continued until the early 1950s.' ( Reference, not functioning ).

Now, if we had all the relevant information about the wasting disease in the thirties and the ensuing decline of Brent populations, this event would have entered the textbooks, standing there with supporting statistics as a paragon of change in numbers, following change in carrying capacity, following changes in..., the whole chain of events. But we haven't, and the eelgrass & brent goose decline is quoted in passing, with a teaspoonful of anecdotal evidence. The hordes of ornithologists doing nothing but counting birds hadn't emerged yet, and there is little documentation of the extent of eelgrass beds before the event. Still, i think it's justified to assume that the thirties was a decade when the effects of water pollution moved closer to men's eyes and noses - 90 % or more of US wastewater being dumped into the "recipients" untreated as late as 1928, and the intrinsic cleansing capacity of coastal habitats continuously being cut down on both sides of the Atlantic. (60 % of the greater Dublin area's sewage passed the old Ringsend works untreated until a new plant was built in 2003, there is a bathing ban at Blackrock and Seapoint in the winter of 2016, due to poor water quality...) In 1932, when the brent downturn began, the Zuidersee was closed, that event a natural catastrophe in itself, resulting in vast, permanent damage (References: 1 , 2 ). Later on preventive action became impossible for a while, another kind of wasting disease on the agenda after 1939.

There is a close-by, rather well-documented event, however, from which we can gain a perspective on what happened to the brent geese, and pick up some empathy for their case: An Gorta Mór , the Great Hunger of Ireland, following the failure of potato crops in 1845 and onwards. (The following was revised in February 2017). Such an inversion is tempting and a little thrilling; it wouldn't be the first time insight into an essentially "natural" event resulted from the study of human history. I had better add a saving clause: records of social and political events are read and quoted with some reserve, since they are always put forward by some interested party, even: some vested interest. So let us take historical representation for what it is worth, not swearing on the detail. First the [population + wealth] development, in a simple-naïve form, after that a three-point statement, boiling down this human niche expansion to its carrying pillars.

irish population development

No oats, no barley in large parts of Ireland during the heyday of the potato, only spuds and buttermilk, then only spuds, and in the end nothing at all, famine and emigration.

There is a handful of important events in the timeline of the above figure; James Watt patented his improved steam engine in 1775, the take-off for what has been termed the first industrial revolution in England is nestled somewhere close by. The year 1765 is sometimes quoted, i go for that. Prior to this there was a build-up by means of a "proto-industrialization", carried by an emerging, market-oriented but still essentially rural industry. The flax industry of Ulster and Cork is Ireland's best (and only) example. This overture in one respect served as an ideological preparation, creating a pre-capitalist "vogue" or style (the improved Bronze Age production mode seemed to be ushered in the same way). The Irish version of it - apart from flax industry - was rather insipid, essentially meaning that the landed gentry managed to extort leases from the up till then improductive lands between 150 and 250 mtrs a.s.l. (I guess some part of this revenue was in turn invested into railway stock, such behaviour prescribed by the protoindustrial "vogue" throughout Europe). Here we meet with the "original accumulation of capital" postulated by Marx/Engels, spot-on. So, it was all, at least on the surface, a textbook "niche expansion", driven by manual labour and an unassuming crop, the potato , no revolutionary "industrial" organization or technology involved. The expansion leading up to An Gorta Mór rested on the following three pillars:
  1. A traditional method for tillage, based on natural fertilizer (seaweed, ashes) and plentiful manual labour, the marrying age moving downwards in the ages.
  2. A novum, the potato, grown in this labour-intensive tillage.
  3. Increasing exploitation of land between 150 and 250 mtrs a.s.l., with acid, poorly drained soils.
By this time Ireland was held in a colonial bondage, much like Bengal one and a half century later, and tenants could be evicted when leases were not paid - which happened promptly. But it was a bondage close to the world's economical nave: from 1800 onwards the English per capita income had started to rise at a formerly unheard of pace, after staying virtually unchanged over the preceding 500 years - and some of that general wealth must have been passed on to unskilled labour even at the outskirts of Greater Britain. There was money around, and it spilled over in all directions. This income rise continued at much the same pace - with interposed setbacks - throughout the 19th century. As a result of improving overall economy the life expectancy of children grew drastically, and populations exploded everywhere, in England, in Ireland. Later on, the 1840's saw a boom in railway building, and the Irish navvy departed on his historical mission. A melody line crops up in my mind: In eighteen hundred and forty-one/The corduroy breeches I put on/Me corduroy breeches I put on/To work upon the railway, the ra-a-ilway!/I'm weary of the railway/Poor Paddy works on the railway. It ended with a credit crisis by 1846 and financial panic in eighteen-hundred-and-forty-seven - by then Poor Paddy was thinking of going to Heaven. In retrospect we know that that was little more than a breathing-pause, a prelude to what has been termed the second industrial revolution from 1850 onwards. It lies close at hand to hypothesize: the population tsunami we see here was powered by the overriding ideology of proto-industrialization, and broken by the events from 1846 onwards. Then: why didn't it repeat itself after 1850, when things had settled, why didn't the second industrial revolution lift the Irish population to new, unprecedented heights? Some essential factor seems to have eluded us here, maybe it was the ideology itself that imploded?

I will meet the question at issue with a counter question: do populations as a rule explode and collapse from the same cause? Consider the extremes, the lukewarm middle course doesn't interest us. I think not: the dynamics of downturn don't imply merely running the growth history backwards. A collapse is simpler, faster, often monocausal - and growth is not; sweet potatoes are not the cause of today's Nigerian population explosion. Famine acts like a guillotine, clinically, manifesting itself not only as nutritional deficency, but hurting even more through disease like typhus and cholera. In the Thirty-Years' War "plague" harvested more lives than war actions did. Irrespective of the source of deaths there are also delayed after-effects ; some essential organisation most often survives the ordeal, and yet what remains is not as resourceful as before, the guillotine seems to have cut off half of its head. The "recovery" - when there is one - is painfully slow, its pace decided by the average length of generation, with some extra allowance for bottleneck effects , genetic and social, in both humans and geese. I think one can trace this "ideological bottleneck" in the Irish mind, this very day. (In passing; how many populations did British imperialism bottleneck during its career, in Africa, in Asia? The American Indians were bottlenecked, it was common practice, as far as liberals could go with a clean conscience in matters of genocide. General Custer, for one, knew that his task was to attack women and children, the reproductive basis of Indian tribes. And the Indians never recovered, they internalized their own collapse, carrying it with them this very day).

Generation length may have been less than 15 years in the human population that ran into An Gorta Mór, given the then legal marriage age of 14 for boys and 12 for girls, while Brent Geese seem to reproduce successfully for the first time when they are 3 to 5 years of age, judging from sightings of ringed geese returning with young of the year to Ireland. The generation length of the human population is c30 years in Germany today, closing in on that in Ireland, too; birth control at play. Still, Ireland has one of the highest birth-rates in Europe, and the industrial development doesn't match such a level of reproduction. This is one of the permanent contradictions in the Irish society, and the saddest thing of all is: some of this over-reproduction just serves as cannon-fodder for the publicans. And the pushers. It's about the social perspective of individuals, too; the reproduction imperative hanging like a millstone around the neck of every Irish woman.

Summing up: we could expect to see a scale factor of 3 - 5 if we were to compare the reproductive potentials of the two species, not that huge a difference.


Herbivores have to eat much, they can't subsist on scraps: "By 1840, a Connaught farmer would have eaten three potato meals a day, containing a total of around 5 to 6 kg (12 to 14 lb) of potatoes." ( Reference . One kg of potatoes contains 760 kcal, a hard-working man needs 45 - 60 kcal per kg body weight and day, which is order of magnitude 4000 kcal/day). The colonial system of Ireland withheld all naturally fertile land from a subsistence agriculture that could satisfy such demands, and the potato fields climbed the summits. Traces of these "lazy beds" can be seen in the most peculiar situations throughout the country, more than 150 years after they were abandoned. (As a matter of fact lazy beds may fall back on a much older, well-established method for draining soggy slopes; initially they may have served other crops). They were labour-intensive, dug with spades, the ridges elevated, with channels between them for better drainage. Some top mulch may have been involved, too, reducing weed growth. Here they follow the natural outline, in e.g. Achill Island i've seen horizontal ridges only a few metres of width, stepwise descending along a slope. A new potato sort, the Lumper, introduced in Munster by 1810, needed less fertilizer than older sorts, but was more sensitive to potato blight; it had spread to Connaught and W Leinster by 1840. Note the rush, it is typical of poorly drained, acidic soils, throughout Ireland. Slieve Croob, Co. Down, 12 January 2005.

That was all about otherness, or sameness

"The basic textbooks of ecology were (...) first to introduce a separation (eine Trennung) between human and animal perceptions of environments. There is undoubtedly always a fundamental contradiction (ein grundsätzlicher Gegensatz) between what we humans perceive as surrounding the animals, and the specific environments (Umwelten) built by themselves and filled with their own Merkdingen (objects with certain properties that are recorded, observed) , says Jacob von Uexküll, one of the pioneers of modern ecology, in his magnum opus "A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men. A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds" . On one side this quotation bears witness of a radical dehumanisation of nature, since the environments of humans and animals are not only separated, but stand in opposition to each other. At the same time it introduces a category for the human observation of animals, that can be availed only from the animal itself, namely the specific demands of an organism on its Umwelt."

Cord Riechelmann in, "Zoological Gardens do harm to the species diversity" (in German; the article inspired by the humanised polar bear "Knut" of the Berlin Zoo for a time being incorporated into the global celebrity circuit, on a par with Bono, the Beckhams and Paris Hilton. I believe Riechelmann is inspired by the "alienated" transcendence of Husserl when stating this "opposition"; we are unable to share the perception of the Other, although we can perceive it as an Other). Die Welt 14.1.2008.

So ist HARTMANN ein ausgezeichneter Zellforscher und Chemiker, aber mit der Biologie als der Lehre vom Leben haben seine Arbeiten nichts zu tun.

Jakob von Uexküll, in the foreword to the first edition of "Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen" (1934), i leave it untranslated, enjoy it as a piece of German poetry.

I read the above lines once, i read them twice. Translated, read again, they stirred some sediments in the catacombs of memory. As a matter of fact i continued to reflect on them into the summer of 2011, when i began reading Uexküll, a little bit here, a little bit there. And gradually i realized that i was running along a beaten trail, where many unexpected contributors had left their marks.

Jacob Johann Baron von Uexküll, 1864 - 1944, reading Kant's works already during his school years, study of zoology at the University of Dorpat, loss of all Estonian holdings in the Russian revolution, German citizenship from 1918; the first theoretical, "heavy" advocate of the concept Umwelt (which should better be left untranslated). After my very first reading of Uexküll i sat with the impression that he was familiar with more than Kant; he seemed to me to be staring hard at Self and Other * (in this case Man and Nature, both good subjects, a German-Romantic stance) with eyes that had just taken in the awesome lines from page 145 onwards in "Phänomenologie des Geistes" , the chapter Independence and Dependence of Self-consciousness; Domination and Bondage : "Also must each side aim at the death of the Other". But that death is the synthesis of Hegel's system, including and negating the former levels, and the synthesis we are eyeing stands under the header: humanisation of nature, naturalisation of man.
* For a good Self-Other pair, think of British versus Irish up till recent time, the "West Brits" of the Dublin area left out of the equation. A tension still very much alive: British/Irish petit bourgeois or countryside versus Traveller. It may also be one-sided; Swedes are one aspect of the Other to Finns, Finns are not the Other to Swedes (and both share the Russians as the Other, while the Russian governing elite is doing all it can to reinforce that position right now). Old exploitative and imperialist patterns - and loads of religion - often stand in the background: Israeli versus Palestinians, Turks against Kurds; the whole world a battleground for Others against Others.

wolverinesqueezingitselfbetween trees

Also must each side aim at the death of the Other. The wolverine ("gulones", after Latin for glutton) squeezing himself between two trees in order to be able to have a second serving from a carcass - probably considered "lawful" property of the hunter and essential to his survival. Historically, cock and bull stories about Jews, Gypsies, Chinese, Irish, blondes, suffragettes, mothers-in-law, policewomen, wolves, wolverines, goshawks, martens etc., etc. had wide circulation; they were and are instrumental in creating and maintaining the Other of some particular sphere. Even today, when you meet with Sami in the Lapland wilderness, they are not slow to tell some story about recent encounters with wolf, bear or wolverine, and the economical damage incurred. Most members of reinherding cultures still "aim at the death" of large carnivores with a distressing intensity. (Another verse of the same song is about farmers and geese gulones, and we mustn't forget the everlasting badger Holocaust in Ireland and the UK). From Olaus Magnus' Carta Marina, Lafreri's reprint from 1572, hand-coloured. The old Swedish name for wolverine: "fjällfräs" = mountain sputter, became "Vielfrass" = much-eater when the animal was introduced to German and Dutch audiences, a translation tort less innocent than "Jerusalem" artichokes. Luckily the old Indoeuropean-based name is still with us, short and concise, free of ideology: järv. Is the järv of the picture sputtering, too? (I always saw whiskers). It is, i never realized that before, wonder if anyone did. I see another thing: some of these early maps anticipated the comic strips (cartoon) aesthetics, it's all there. A second thing: the artist had never seen a wolverine alive. (No, i think it's intended to be one bear and one wolverine, in a sense both are "gulones", and the wolverine often is a hanger-on to the top predator of an ecosystem.)

That was all a bit premature, my initial reading misfired a little, but at the same time i am anxious to establish and retain it for later use. I choose to let it stand as it is and make amends by recurring fallbacks to Uexküll's original text. My foremost concern is the brent geese, my first question related to them: What IS there for the brent when they fly up the Tolka basin, what do they perceive of this boisterous city, apart from its alluring pitches and lawns? First a quotation containing Uexküll's essential "guiding idea", it is taken from the anthology Instinctive Behaviour. The development of a modern concept, dating back to 1957, containing contributions by both Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen. It's a Reader's Digest of European positions for American experimental biologists; i strongly doubt that the quintessence of it was ever appreciated on the US side of the Atlantic. Uexküll is represented with the already mentioned "A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men. A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds" , first printed in 1934. Its biological background is not up-to-date, as can be expected, so read it with some reserve - but the semi-philosophical introduction it offers is still rewarding! (I am not entirely happy with the 1st edition American translation of the German text, would have preferred to quote from the original language):

The best time to set out on such an adventure is on a sunny day. The place, a flower-strewn meadow, humming with insects, fluttering with butterflies. Here we may glimpse the worlds of the lowly dwellers of the meadow. To do so, we must first blow, in fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows. When we ourselves then step into one of these bubbles, the familiar meadow is transformed. Many of its colourful features disappear, others no longer belong together but appear in new relationships. A new world comes into being. Through the bubble we see the world of the burrowing worm, of the butterfly, or of the field mouse; the world as it appears to the animals themselves, not as it appears to us. This we may call the phenomenal world or the self-world of the animal.


This we may call the phenomenal world or the self-world of the animal. Many scientific concepts are built antithetically; in terms of set theory the simple word Umwelt (surrounding-world) is NOT-GOOSE. I emphasize again: Umwelt and environment are not synonyms, the Umwelt is a subjective selection of the overall, neutral environment (there is a neologism "umbworld" to consider for translation). And we mustn't let ourselves be seduced by the surface value of words; Umwelt is in the goose, as invironment, perceived environment (our internal chamber of perception should count as invironment, too). Inversely, the goose affects its surrounding world, the parts of it that are Merkwelt (perceptual world, world to take notice of) and Wirkwelt (effector world, the world to act upon), so goose is part of its Umwelt, the two sets penetrate each other.

Back to the problem of reading Uexküll in the 21st century. My first impression was that he was caught, victimised by the dialectic figure of thought (Hegel's addition to or superimposition on Kant), to some extent hooked on the antithesis, or even consciously, deliberately applying it. That approach is probably not very rewarding, and after a month of reading i'm convinced that Kant was all Uexküll needed to build his Umweltlehre. The Hegelian touch emerges only in my reading of him, besides: Hegel is always in a sense anticipated in Kant's own writings. I will return to this topic at some later stage, because it has implications that Uexküll may not have been aware of, or implications that were of no interest to him. The whole thing goes back to Kant's claim in "Critique of Pure Reason" that space and time are subjective and ideal , not objective and real, as they were to Newton, or rationally inferred (that is the "pure reason" referred to in the title) from their relations to objective and real things, as they were to Leibniz (this "rational inference" could follow gradually in a kind of hermeneutic circle, making physics not-so-pure any longer...). Incidentally, Königsberg didn't stand alone in this tug-of-war, Dublin pulled on the subjective side, offering the strong support of one Berkeley. These positions developed over time in a sort of co-evolution and hybridization, but that needn't trouble us here. We should insist on the fact that the concept of time is originally "perceived", subjective time has the birthright, whatever relativity theory later on might have to say about e.g. time in gravity fields. Kant's position must have had an immediate appeal to a biologist, even an early 20th century biologist, who saw himself surrounded by countless unique combinations of perceptions of space and time, perceptions that could be studied experimentally:

We are easily deluded into assuming that the relationship between a foreign subject (sic; CP) and the objects in his world exists on the same spatial and temporal plane as our own relations with the objects in our human world. This fallacy is fed by a belief in the existence of a single world, into which all living creatures are pigeonholed. This gives rise to the widespread conviction that there is only one space and one time for all living things.

According to Kant the faculty of cognition is there beforehand, a priori, providing every being with useful "forms" like time or space, even with unique vessels to contain them. These systems of cognition change as we move between taxa at the same level, say, from family to family. The notion that evolution "works" on them doesn't seem unreasonable; an improductive aprioric form should be weeded out or modified. Inversely, additions to the cognitive power, expansions of, or alterations to the self-world, could be a cheap (although risky) way for an organism to adapt, increase its fitness in a particular situation. The tool could be some innovative imprinting on the juvenile "blank sheet" (e.g. from new habitats, new flight-paths, new objects of perception). As far as i can see, all recent development that matters in the human ape has been of this kind, the resulting self-worlds differing slightly between classes and tribes.

Summing this up in some way, as a stepping-stone for what comes next: There is a lot of genetic determination, innate factors that lay out the road for organisms, decides what is possible and what cannot be done. We know a lot more about that today than Kant or even Uexküll did. At the same time these innate, aprioric capacities offer some OPENING, some possibility for e.g. learning, they are not only constraints. Kant had his finger on the problem when he taught a sparrow, taken from the nest, to sing like a canary, and there is that story about Jürgen Nicolai, teaching his bullfinch to whistle "Ein Jäger aus Kurpfalz" , the web is full of similar - follies. The disgraceful "breaking" of sea lions, dolphins, whales and large predators/raptors belongs in the same category. In a sense all this is inadequate, futile; the acquired learning is never full, it doesn't comprise THE WHOLE THING. It's episodic, fragmentized, out of context, the organism shouldn't be burdened with a lot of dead wood, and the aprioric preconditions for any expanded performance are missing. So, not even philosophical naturalists will ever be able to teach Dublin's brent geese to whistle - or prut - "The Wild Rover", and goose search-engines will never ever be Google-like. Much simpler, but serving the needs of the geese quite well. I don't have the full picture, just hunches.

Assimilating new elements to the self-world: step by step by step...

I was new to my environment, the geese were new to their environment, and we were both looked upon with the reserve that the nation holds in readiness for dubhghaill, travellers. (Setting their mongrels on us). Wasn't there an intimation in this double alienation: we could join forces and learn from each other while creating our Umwelts from what Dublin had to offer. I was notoriously lost outside the city centre, always caught in a labyrinth that knew no exit. Why is Dublin (not the centre) built like a Greek labyrinth, a sort of antique folly? It's a piece of province, not metropol, capital; the province Ireland holding the capital city Dublin in an iron grip. How do the geese cope with it? (They fly, soar above it all). Oh, not an option for me. But look at them, how they are guided by small hints, pointers in the wind and the contour underneath; they never fly head first into a wall, like you do. (Walk along a STREET, a ROAD, an AVENUE, a BOULEVARD, avoid CLOSES, GROVES, TERRACES, CRESCENTS, DRIVES!) Do it their way: first expand your self-world, then choose your clues from the gross environment! The semantic finesses of the human self-world are there to aid you, words are signposts in themselves.

One possible explanation... ...was the landholding system, which carried more of the feudal paradigm into urban living than would have been the case in most continental towns at the time.

Anngret Simms in: J. Brady & A. Simms, Dublin through space & time, (Dublin 2001).


The three original grazing-areas at the Clontarf crossing have been marked with goose symbols (there was a fourth, early one, on the Clontarf Cricket Club grounds, but that area was not for common human eyes, all walled). Much of the land lying between sea level and the 5 m level today is landfill, The Strand (pointing to the SW) marking the old coastline between the Liffey and the Tolka. First to try their hands at land reclamation were the early Anglo-Normans, they built up the south quays along the Liffey, while the "cover-up" of the South Bull is a recent affair. Griffith Avenue (an almost Haussmannian boulevard; click the map) points up to the NW, passing through the old Goose Green area, Malahide Road and Howth Road point to the NE, the East Wall Road to the SE, changing its name to York Road at Ringsend; they are all marked with black to facilitate orientation for the reader.

Dublin has a TOPOGRAPHY, an eye-catching, interesting topography. I should know, i have walked every major road, uphill and downhill, on aching legs, and all the time my only regret was that this topography is hidden underneath, or behind, so much ugliness. Note the Tolka funnel, gaping like a huge Heligoland trap over all creatures arriving from the southeast. And of course the Liffey funnel, bringing migrant Woodcocks into the heart of Dublin on misty November nights. Guiding birds in another way, because of the goose's tendency for "transport" flight against the wind: the rather steep gradient to the north side of the Tolka Basin, the slope turned southwards, offering "uphill headwinds" from the north over quite some distance. Inversely, Dublin airport has a lower-than-expected frequency of interfering strong southerly winds (on the other hand pilots sometimes have to cope with wily crosswinds), because of some sheltering effect - here a larger area is involved, and the Wicklow mountains do their part. There are probably other, unrecorded phenomena; a topography like that of Dublin BENDS weather, cold air flows downwards along the valleys, winds are trapped and deflected. A storm will wipe out all deviations from the mainstream, but under normal winter conditions, with moderate northwesterly winds, it's pretty evident that there is a Dublin weather pattern .

The area shown could be Brent Goose "homeland", sharing many features with the breeding-grounds in Greenland, or Canada, or the staging-grounds in Iceland. I came here, almost accidentally, in December 2005, stumbled over the geese at Clontarf for the first time. Stewart Holohan was already reading (colour-rings on) the first geese at Fairview, and i didn't even have a telescope, but i managed to read a few rings with ordinary binoculars in St Anne's Park. Such was the beginning of it all, the geese flying up along the Tolka basin as if it were some Greenland firth or Iceland fjörður, and halting by the "lowland", at the very edge of the water, where the good grass could be expected to grow. There were already rumours circulating about other haunts: mention of geese flying over Raheny on a daily basis, and Kilbarrack, and even deep inland to Crumlin... I have come upon one source to the early development: in "Exploring Dublin Wildlife" Christopher Moriarty provides some Dublin data from the nineties, indicating a rather extended, groping start, with flocks - order of magnitude less than 100 birds - entering the city already by 1990, Fairview explicitly mentioned as a grazing area. By 2013 we can say in retrospect: grazing at Fairview/East Point Park/Alfie Byrne Road always was difficult, sooner or later the geese were flushed by pet-dogs, birds visiting that area had to pay extra expenses. (Dublin dog-keeping has deteriorated in recent years, first with the economical crisis, then with the recovery; licentious and inconsiderate dog-keepers increasingly setting the standards). In 2015 brent geese don't look at Fairview, and i haven't seen them many times at the crossing either; in one respect their threshold of tolerance has been raised. But they have learnt from experience and are grazing in a hundred other places, some of them even blessedly dogfree.

I think topography and winds/currents are the ultimate factors, deciding how an organism approaches and enters unknown land from the seaside. The migrant, the traveller puts himself in mother nature's cradle and is gently rocked to some goal, a mooring. Firths, bays have some basic features in common; stretching reality a little i venture the proposition: "when you have seen one, you have seen them all". And there is some safety in just following their guiding-lines; the entry will serve as an exit, and you keep the option of returning to square one if the trial turns out to be an error. THIS IS THE SIMPLEST FORM OF IMPRINTING, A BASIC TOOL IN EVOLUTION: being cradled by some topography, some fixed or recurring pattern in nature, and remembering how the whole thing worked (caves are another structure that "sucks in" organisms). The early Vikings scouted the coast of Ireland in this way, entering bays, finding landing-places, fleeing the way they arrived if they met with hostile residents. I doubt they were much more capable than the geese during their early raids. (Readers have remarked: the Vikings used pilots, voluntary or pressed, maybe distant relatives from the Northern Isles, at an early stage. Well, i agree there - so, should we expect the brent to have been guided by some brentish Lóuþræll ?) But once you are landed, the eye takes over, scouting for specific resources: grass, fresh water (cattle, gold), and OBSERVATIONS ARE COLLECTED IN THE MIND, SORTED; PROCESSED. I'm still after the groping start , not the later development where tradition and social interaction enter the equation; the primordial trial-and-error LEARNING by birds of all ages, not the TEACHING of juveniles in social units. Again that leaves us with the question about the sensual capacities of brent geese, how much can they see, hear, feel, taste from what Dublin is offering them on a plate? Let's leave the city centre for a while and move north to a more handy, surveyable area, for a first excurse on goose senses. I present to you Malahide Bay, a "Special Area of Conservation" - the quotation marks very, very intentional - within Fingal County.

brent grazing areas at malahide bay

The south side of Malahide Bay is one of the Irish environmental catastrophes, taken over by semi-detacheds & pet dogs within two, three decades. The railway bank strangles the water circulation of the water body, the marina (its development partly financed with EU money) is mal placé, to say the least. There is much talk of Irish sewage treatment these days; Malahide Bay stinks, the urban authorities blaming the countryside, the private septic tanks of farms for the pollution. I wonder, there was an urban tradition up till very recent time for pumping untreated sewage into the Irish Sea; have people in responsible positions all of a sudden become Mr and Mrs Cleans? The "Swords Wastewater Treatment Plant" is situated just inside the Broadmeadow estuary, it's being upgraded, i actually suspect the problem still lies there. Last, but not least, soaring above it all, audio-pollution . Throughout Fingal county one can hear the bangs of carbide cannons, bangers out at Dublin airport are clearly audible at St Stephen's Green in central Dublin, a real nuke at Maynetown poisons the lives of North Dublin dwellers (no prayer calls from the upcoming mosque in Clongriffin, too disturbing!), St Doolagh's Church staggers at each sound blow, and the Malahide area is not exempt from the sound overkill. The brent geese raise their heads a thousand times a day, the bangers are a constant stress on them. I have never heard anything so obsessed in its stupid exaggeration, this "Concerto for ten Carbide Cannons"; more than anything else the bay is a Special Area of Brussels Sprouts Conservation . (Or maybe the bangs are simply the Irish farmer barking: now i'm the top dog of the Irish society, the developers gone. The word Brussels rings a bell; the only prospect of reform lying there. It strikes me: am i hearing less bangs in December 2014? Maybe i just gone deaf). In my opinion Malahide Bay has been callously sacrificed - with the required amount of "protection" balderdash. It's beyond repair as a whole, as a unit, although the remaining water circulation still is sufficient to offer some minute value to birds.

In spite of all dismal interference then: the estuary harbours golden plovers, black-tailed godwits and lapwings, and brent geese graze along its shores. I have numbered the important grazing areas for geese and marked them with red stars: 1. Burrow Strand, saltmarshes, 2. Burrow Strand, golf-course, 3. Kilcrea, cereal fields, 4. Seafield House, a manor with a vast lawn in front of it, 5. Seapoint, cereal fields, 6. Broadmeadow, a very maltreated estuary, 7. Seatown East, cereal field with a howitzer-sized banger, 8. Seabury, pitch, 9. Old Yellow Walls Road, pitch and playing-ground, 10. Yellow Walls, lawn, 11. Malahide Castle, vast lawns and pitches, 12. Robswalls, lawn and pitches. Three of these sites are shown in the pictures below: Seafield House, Seabury and Old Yellow Walls Road, with arrows in the above map indicating the flight-paths between them, the distance is c1.5 km. When i stand at Seafield House, i can detect brent geese at Seabury with the naked eye, a dark reef in a green sea, and i expect at least the same capacity in the geese.

seafield house

A little spooky: Seafield House from the Malahide side on a cloudy day. I have never seen dogs in there (one would expect the hound of Baskervilles on a dark night), so the fenced and walled lawn in front of the building is a real sanctuary for brent geese. 2000 geese may graze there simultaneously. But the grass isn't fertilized, at least it is of inferior quality in 2012, and the geese get restless after an hour. At some point certain "compass geese" (a sort of trendsetters in the flock) start pointing at Seabury or Yellow Walls Road at the opposite side of the bay, and the flock gradually walks in that direction. By then the observer knows that his time is running out; this gradual "nudging" towards a goal creates a sort of tension that won't last long. Within ten - fifteen minutes the whole flock has departed for greener grass. So, Seafield House is safety, but inferior food; the geese balance their daily schedule between these two poles. Malahide Bay, 14 February 2012. (The "sea field" is a typical Irish toponym: gort na mara , each little village has one).

seafield house

At the other side of the bay: Old Yellow Walls Road (to the left) and Seabury (to the right). Old Yellow Walls Road was much visited by geese in 2009-10 and 2010-11, flocks often grazing on the slope close to the road, but it seems to have lost its attraction in 2011-12. The sloping upper edge leaks nutrients in Ireland's climate, and i think the lawn has been mown several times, but not fertilized and reseeded. The grass is pale, yellowish, indicating nitrogen deficit, which affects shoot density as well. (I think goose grazing deprives a lawn of some nitrogen content, too, the droppings are not an adequate payback). In contrast, the pitch at Seabury is dark green and healthy; it is preferred by the geese in 2011-12, although the dog disturbance is a real nuisance at this site. I will try to get better pictures of all three sites on a sunny day, but i think that the paler grass at Old Yellow Walls Road is already visible. I state it here, but i will return to the topic in the plain text: the geese have fine-tuned QUALITATIVE DEMANDS on their grazing-grounds, and visual clues are likely to play a major role, once the birds gain some experience - although an initial visit, savouring the grass, may have decided the matter for them. Geese will make compromises, stick with inferior sites for a while, but not long. Malahide Bay, 17 February 2012.

I have a feeling i have three balls in the air here, and most certainly half a dozen in the whole document. Some reshuffling may be necessary, some sharpening, but i must think first, wait for some inspiration. It will come. In the meantime i will add a somewhat puzzling introduction - and little more. What follows has been foreboded above, in some sense heralded by the whole document. It is still only a draft, and i'm going to step carefully here. (It suits me well to have it inserted like this, unfinished, with tectonic rifts on both sides; i will hook onto it when and if there is some external cause, maybe publish a video or two on YouTube).

Singing the Limping Goose Blues

I was standing at Ardscoil Ris in central Dublin, reading brent colour rings over the fence. A woman came up to me, said: One of the geese is limping. I have called the Bird Care on my mobile and told them to come and fetch it. I was puzzled for a few seconds, i knew of no "Bird Care" in Dublin, only some abyssmally petty-bourgeois "Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" - and they wouldn't care about some limping goose. After a moment i answered: I have seen her, she has been shot at and has pellet wounds to her right leg. But she flies well, nobody is going to take her away. And she has a mate and two young in the flock, you wouldn't want to separate her from her family, would you? The goose was at least fifty metres away, how had she spotted the limp? She frowned and went away, leaving me there, still puzzled: Had i got the whole message? What was she trying to tell me?

I chat a lot with people i meet; people come up to me, ask about the geese, tell me about their own observations. Sometimes i have a feeling that i spend half my time talking, half my time observing the geese. I enjoy these chats, and i would probably be even more useful to nature conservancy if i spent 90 % of my time "naturalizing" the ultra-urban Dubliners. When there is a limping goose, i tell the story of the goose shot by an eskimo in Canada, it carried a satellite transmitter, still active when the bird was shut up in a freezer, a tracking team found it there.

Eskimos - or inuit, or whatever we choose to call them - hunt brent geese, in Canada, in Greenland. Brent geese are hunted - and wounded - by people indigenous to the Arctic area, people partly dependent on hunting for their subsistence. Wounded , because geese can take a lot of pellets without being grounded; goose hunting takes experience, skill and good judgement, and only a minority of hunters, globally, live up to those standards. There are cultural differences, too; in the US and Canada 40 yards is considered the "effective shooting range", in Sweden young hunters are taught: no shooting beyond 20 metres. I suggest: there may be more tolerance for a widespread crippling of birds in Anglo-Saxon cultures than in, say, Sweden or Germany. Anyhow, this is legal in Arctic areas, hunting for subsistence is allowed there. On the wintering grounds in Ireland, however, geese are protected by international conventions and by the Irish state itself; St Patrick is holding his hand over these lovely God's creatures. Handing them over to hunters here would be like shooting at sitting ducks, grossly unethical, the geese have practically no natural shyness left. They are involved in a process that is revolutionizing them as living beings - brent geese will never be the same again after meeting Dublin in the 21st century. (So, what's all the fuss about?)

We need a morality here, the nth one, to guide us a little: I remember when my bicycle was stolen many years ago, i had left it on a lane in a wood, was on my way back when i spotted a young fellow running with a bicycle through the wood. Oh, a bicycle thief, i thought, somebody is going to walk home today. Complacence is the descriptive term for such a state of mind, isn't it? An Irish person would immediately have assumed that he or she was the victim. A few minutes later i came to the spot where my bicycle should have been, and i realised that i was the one who would have to walk home. That episode didn't come to my mind at Ardscoil Ris - but it might have been helpful, illuminating, if it had. (Don't jump at conclusions when you hear the bell toll).

The following day i saw TWO limping geese in another flock, they had been shot at. Strange, i hadn't seen them there the day before. Those damn eskimos, we have to do something about them!

Now, we shouldn't push this farce too far; everyone who can read between lines understands that protected brent geese were shot at in Dublin in the winter 2011/12. And they were shot at from huge distance, for injury, to feel the sting of the pellets. The whole affair reeked of a reaction from some dark past, an attempt to discipline nature, like a Brother lunging out with the leather hanging at his waist. Most people even knew what was going on while it was going on, and i haven't heard one of them utter a single word about it. Let me say this much: i didn't like anything of what i saw or heard - or didn't hear, or was only reluctantly informed about. Not a squeak on any of the fiddly sighting websites. I learnt a lot about "modern" Irish people from that event. I will return to the topic, but for the time being i take the custom of my environment, keeping my mouth shut. More text will follow here later on; for a month or two i will be educating myself on Irish government, Irish institutions, Irish laws and - Irish law enforcement, or lack thereof.


The maimed and suffering young brent goose is as expressive as Edward Delaney's Famine victims in St Stephen's Green - or, since there is more of human Gestalt to them, maybe rather Rowan Gillespie's phantoms on Custom House Quay.


The Auld Triangle: Class, Tradition, Self-Interest

Men were linked together by a variety of surety relationships by which they guaranteed one another for the righting of wrongs, and for the enforcement of justice and the decisions of the brehons. In short, the brehons themselves were not involved in the enforcement of decisions, which rested again with private individuals linked through sureties.

Murray N. Rothbard (ed.) in: For A New Liberty.

It will be clear that the maintenance of customary law was not due to the power of any central authority, but it in fact rested on its own venerability, ritual potency, and popular acceptability.

T. G. E, Powell, The Celts.

When i began travelling with the DART in Dublin, i noted everywhere the round labels stuck to the windows: No feet on seats. I also noted that every youth with some measure of juvenile dignity was sitting with his or her feet on the seats in front of him/her. This was only the first in a series of similar observations: the Irish society is full of prohibitions, and perpetrators are threatened with eternal purgatory in hell (or at least an X thousand fine, in punts if the ineffectual sign has been there for the last fifty years) - but there is little or no enforcement. This enforcement vacuum permeates most levels of the Irish society and constitutes one of its most exotic - and at the same time alienating - features to a North European, raised in a country with a traditional emphasis on state and state interference where private sureties fail.

In December 2012 i notice that the labels have been removed.

please, no feet on seats

Et voilá: in December 2013 the notice is there again, the think-tank of Iarnród Éireann working on it for a year. (I dare not think of the consultant fees). One could write a whole thesis on the use of the lubricant "please" in Irish everyday language. In RTÉ charity ads it takes on a particular bleaty vibrato: ple-e-e-e-ease! Maybe that is intended here, too. (No, there is a new, lisping quality to it, repeated over and over again in the carriages). The top line language is the forgotten language of the Fianna - who always sat with their strong limbs rested on seats. Le do thoil means: with your will; in most languages this construction is essentially anti-authoritarian. There is something very gentle about such a way of putting it, but if the will isn't there, anarchy is lurking around the corner (the most glaring example of full-fledged anarchy is Dublin dog-keeping, the binge-drinking of Irish pet culture; pleases won't put it right).

Where are the roots of this "conciliatory" double message (please with a penalty in the hip pocket)? I would immediately point to a pre-industrial, pre-capitalist origin, the rural tradition of Ireland. The logic behind is well explained in this link : ...there IS a social obligation, and it would be almost impossible not to comply... . Such social obligations are a thing of the past, however, or at least their scope is shrinking by the day; in Ireland a citizen may be made homeless or forced to emigrate, and there never were "pleases" with the power to soften such commands, never the social obligation that made them invalid. Such a non-committal, part-time validity of a word is typical of ideology; it invokes values that some users are expected to "believe in", but that don't have coverage throughout a society. A bleating or lisping metacommunication is called for to unmask their ambiguity. (The religious logo of Irish welfare belongs in the same camp, my first association when i see it goes to the Magdalen laundries . A secular, less charged logo is called for). But Ireland lives on illusions, wants to continue to live on illusions, so: pleaf pick up after your dog, pl-e-e-e-ase pick up your litter, pleaf do not put your feet on featf, ple-e-e-e-ase no mobiles while driving!

One can live with such social insubordination as long as it is "lightweight", involving only feet on seats. But rebellious follies are often symptomatic of more central issues in a society, like for example the general willingness to pay fees, dues, taxes; if there is no large-scale solidarity within the society, then there will be no small-scale either. I came upon a Wikipedia entry on Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, and noted the statement: It was estimated in 2009 that 50 per cent of committals in that year, or 2,000 prisoners, were committed due to defaulting on fines. Some fraction of the Irish population doesn't pay fines, dues or taxes, it seems to be a widespread conditioned reflex, much the same as in, say, Italy or Greece. ( Reference: "Two thirds of Dublin litter fines go unpaid" ). And here a modern example (November 2017), the extent of evasion quite impressive: Irish Herald 20171121: Judge hits motorists with €130k in fines for M50 toll dodging. Another drain on the overall household was the fraud with subsidized, dyed diesel for agricultural use, just a year or two ago it cost Ireland an estimated €150 million per annum ( The Irish Times, February 2nd, 2012, not functioning ), and a third one: cigarettes are smuggled into Ireland at an amazing rate, they are considered to be more profitable than drugs, this particular evasion costing the taxpayers an estimated €525 million ( The Irish Times, September 7th, 2012, not functioning. ). A legal 20-pack of cigarettes costs ten euro in Ireland, on average twice as much as in other European countries. (There is a pseudo-political aspect to all this, a very "traditional" criminality in the border counties between the Republic and Northern Ireland, financing its activities by laundering diesel and peddling untaxed cigarettes. A subdued embarrassment in the relationship between south and north, perpetuating the northern notion of all southerners as dangerous highwaymen and fraudsters).

In this same country the government decided to introduce a "household charge" (amounting to tin-pot €100) from the onset of 2012, its aim being to "fund local services through local property-based charges". Ireland is one of the last European countries to introduce such a tax, so the whole thing is highly legitimate, long overdue. The 2012 impromptu levy will be succeeded by a regular property tax in 2013, that one long overdue, too. More than 1.6 million households are liable; on December 27th the Minister for Environment lauds it as a great achievement that 1,126 million - some 70 % of all properties - had registered and paid within the scope of the year 2012. The sum collected - with blood, sweat and tears - in revenue for local authorities amounts to €113.35 million, less than the estimated cost of the diesel fraud. For 2013 the funding for local services has been cut back, according to the delinquent payments. [The same synopsis, small but significant changes in performance, is repeated with the introduction of water meters and water fees in Ireland from 2014 onwards; 56 % of the population had registered for the scheme by the end of January 2015. Again the lacking political culture of the Irish populist and leftist fractions is obvious; the ruling establishment can cross its arms and wait for the unforced errors of the "We won't pay" people. The Irish Greens are typically absent, partly because the resource preservation aspect is conspicuous by its absence. Après nous le déluge could be the slogan of the protesters; when they have prevailed, ample water will flow for everyone. By 2017 the whole water fee project was mothballed, for the future the prime minister holds out the prospect of fining over-consumption (caused mainly by leakage in the old and over-extended supply system; 70,000 households (out of 1.7 million) "consuming" one third of the treated water). Imposing fines in Ireland means one thing: that authorities are turning their backs on a problem and ignoring it. Everyone knows that. I quote from the RTÉ website, 30 March 2017: Green Party leader Eamon Ryan described the proposed system as "madness". And former environment minister Alan Kelly on the same website, 5 April 2017: Water charge issue 'complete farce'. Irish politics in 2017 is like that, a sort of Jesuite evasion of necessity. In the end i think the matter will be solved with the formula: "ple-e-e-e-ase don't consume more water than necessary!"]

watercharge 1983

All reform sails in a permanent headwind in the particular Irish climate.

Enough of this. I'm not going to immerse myself into an excurse on tax discipline, nor do i intend to portray it as a particularly Irish issue. Each nation has its specific problems with taxation. And taxation isn't at the core of the problem, it's only a symptom of an even bigger malady: the fact that Ireland is a snake-pit of class contradictions, and the fact that these contradictions haven't been addressed in the past, still aren't addressed, and by all likelihood are not going to be addressed in the near future, either. (Privatizing "affordable council housing" doesn't do the trick). The present crisis management aims at rescuing the middle-class, and there is a well-trodden path of defence in Ireland for the non-propertied when they get squeezed: REFUSAL. An easy task with so much historical inspiration around, Irish people always were good at refusing.

So, the recent government is building a protective fence around the middle-class, at the same time herding le bourgeois into a fold where he can be milked more intensively. That is the innovative thing: the middle-class is finally going to pay some protection money. When i write that, another insight strikes me: THE FENCE IS THE TYPICAL, DEFINING ARTEFACT of Irish culture, it is as much tradition and past as any other historical litter lying around. Both sides can resort to traditional resources; when have-nots refuse, governments can fence in their customers and fence out the refuse, cementing the already existing apartheid system. As a matter of fact: South Africa always was another big market for steel palisade fences. The paralysis of Labour in this trench warfare is most ominous, they are going to pay for it. The raison d'être of any reformist party always was, always will be: equality, egalité, and steel palisade fences are there to protect status quo , the petrified state of things from yesterday. Fences must be The Growth Industry No. 1 in Ireland , they are everywhere, reflecting a fundamental insecurity and its basic conviction: When no one else looks after my interests, i must do it on my own. There are other reasons: the excessive land-use for urban purposes (216,533 empty, unoccupied housing units standing around in 2006, when the crisis erupted), i'm pretty certain insurance companies demand that each spooky claim be fenced. The result is a fenced-in society, with higher fences, six spikes instead of three, double fences, nine spikes instead of six, barbed wire, razor wire, shattered glass, ugly, barking rottweilers, CCTVs and so on and so forth. At the same time a society losing something essential: the human, brotherly countenance. Charities are no remedy for that loss, they are there to point out that the Irish society is under-organised.
(Ireland had 9,061 registered charities by the end of 2017; Sweden, with twice as many citizens, had 425 with registered "90 accounts" in 2016. Charities clearly are an aspect of the Irish litter problem; this pool of 9,061 most definitely has its share of self-serving scams).

brent and fences

"The fence is the typical, defining artefact of Irish culture."

Given this sad state of affairs, it's so wonderful to see the brent geese cross all barriers; trespassing at will, classless, independent, a memento to the feckless and flightless humans on the ground. And they don't just point out the fences by ignoring them, the geese know how to use them to their advantage as well, selecting dog-free enclosures and staying there from sunrise till sunset, with breaks for freshwater intake. Some of these enclosures are real fortresses; at one central Dublin site i had the geese under my nose for three years without ever noticing them (the Cross and Passion nuns once dug in here, Beleaguered Faith). The Christmas and New Year vacations carry a particular relief: when schools close for fourteen days, their pitches are often sequestered as well.

brent and fences2

Where three fences meet - run! Or does the wall decorator want to tell us that there are secrets on Earth and in Heaven? In that case, secrets in between the gates, too; at the very moment when the pic was taken, 1,250 brent were cowering under the wall to the right, faoi rún, enjoying the high and juicy grass at the edges of a GAA pitch. That is not the typical sward of the brent eco-scheme, and still they go for it. Date 11 January 2013, guess where - and Trifencium gives zero points (Gary Moore and "Run for Cover" provides sort of a clue...). All surface water in this area is gull-polluted and should be avoided; juicy grass may make digestion easier for the young, allowing longer grazing sessions without drinking. I'm not sure if i see cause and effect here, or mere coincidence - but i believe adult brent geese are wise as old elephants, and very picky. I repeat an earlier reference a second time: McKay et al. 1994 .

I have a purpose with each new direction i take in this labyrinthic exploration of Dublin and its Wild Geese, an intent with every emphasis i make. The aim of the project is to create a natural history in the 18th century sense of the word - at the same time an enterprise in the era of the Internet and the web - one where threads from political economy, popular culture, sociology, unadulterated (if there is such a thing) natural science, visual arts, philosophy, religion and all sorts of confused ideology are woven into a comprehensive one-species/one-city account, with a focus on DEVELOPMENT over decades, not evolution over aeons (which leaves me cold).

Goose colour-rings have been read in the Dublin area for a decade now, with the bulk of sightings coming in after December 2005; there has been a massive brent presence in the city for no more than ten years (as of December 2015). In 2012 Dublin took over from Strangford Lough as the overall Ireland site yielding most sightings of ringed geese - although more individuals were still read in the north, and the reading effort spent on each new individual seemed to be lower here. (That was an artifact, caused by Matt Silk's intense efforts over two years; without him, autumn Dublin have reverted to some general 1 new bird per 2.5 sightings ratio). EVERY DUBLINER WHO WALKS THE CITY REGULARLY HAS NOTICED THEM, and they are topics of every conversation (yesterday at Malahide Castle): "You are here for the geese?" ( abandoning the "one-stroke" communication, always my basic "error" ) "Yes, i am, and they don't seem to come today." "There were hundreds of them yesterday. ( pointing to the dog ) I had a hairrt operation and the doctor ordered me to walk the dog every day". That is the Irish way if you reach out a hand, a very direct approach, i experience it ten times a day, the geese often acting as catalysts. The brent goose is a significant newcomer to the Dublin environment, something to marvel at, open-mouthed, like Dorothy (Judy Garland) in The Wizard of Oz.

marvelling at the geese

Our Dorothy wisely taking up her small dog in order not to flush the birds (it was probably done by the Wicked Witch). The German phenomenologists called this mixture of thrill and awe Staunen (the same stem as stun , i guess astonishment qualifies, too); you come to a clearing in the wood of existence, and you are stunned by the sudden brightness, a sublime peak experience. Epiphany in the Oz woodlands, probably a GAA pitch in their midst. All science begins there: "the original knowledge can be had only in astonishment". The beast looks like a blood-sucking vampire, but dogs look like that, take my word for it.

A strategy then, for the "maintenance of customary law" pertaining to nature in Ireland. 1. Don't bother the enforcement. It's too weak. And overwrought. And not really committed to the task. 2. Don't bother the birdwatchers. They are too weak. And they have jobs, some of them. 3. Use the social web media, publish pictures and videos there (involve an untouchable middleman if you are afraid, a person of documented integrity, or some diehard), and refer to such publications in messages to papers, journals and broadcasting companies. There is still the risk of failure; media are likely to be system-preserving, and therefore veiling and screening issues, that is also Irish tradition, but there is always the shame of not complying with EU legislation. That tool worked to some extent in the past, providing some incentive in an essentially conservative society. I think that extent should be tested not only on landfills, sewage outlets and air emissions, but also when it comes to the maltreatment of red-listed living creatures.

Shadowing the geese

shadowing the geese

Dublin is a very littered, very polluted city, some areas almost drowning in their own excretions. (RTE 29.04.13: "Dublin City Council to collect illegally dumped rubbish" and 14.05.13: "Claims illegal dumping causing rat infestation" ). There is an "over-packaging" in all shops - Ireland being "Treasure Island" in that respect, too - a double plastic tray mobilised in order to sell five parsnips (franchise-based SuperValu - with much Irish involvement - is the vanguard, but i notice a similar development in Lidl when they try to appeal by "going Irish", they do it by increasing the output of litter. Tesco is as bad as SuperValu, but Marks&Spencer are the worst, they never heard of "overuse of packaging", or they know that they get away with everything in Ireland). The consumer in turn is hooked on this pattern and unable to manage his exploding bin. A "nation of shopkeepers" doesn't give a damn about such a thing. Middleclass areas in South Dublin have higher hygienic standards than North Dublin (and an area like Carrickmines looks very "standard NW European" to my eyes), but the good patterns don't hold throughout, there are littered and filthy pockets in Bray, in Dun Laoghaire, in Sandymount, in Irishtown. And dogs are the same problem everywhere, their poop a primary food source for rats (when it contains undigested items) - notwithstanding that dogs themselves are the most devoted poop eaters of the animal kingdom. Study what the dogs are after at Dogshit Parade, the beachwalk at Kilcoole - i have seen open competition over the self-created food assets between ratlike dogs and doglike rats. (Kilcoole is without comparison in Ireland; i would suggest that its dirty twins all hang out in Asia and South America). The burning of litter has increased by a factor ten in Darndale and Kilmore in the winter 2012-2013, the sooty patches discolouring many lawns. Finglas and Donaghmede may be next in turn, the practice hasn't exploded there yet, while the patches are filled in with topsoil and reseeded in Coolock and Edenmore, some sort of ceasefire established there, for the time being (i was too hopeful: the open burning has increased at least 3x in both Finglas and Edenmore in the winter 2013/14, and as late as 2019 it is obvious that there are households in Finglas next to the Tolka Park that burn more waste than they deliver to the bins. The Traveller camp at Grand Canal in Ballyfermot (Labre Park, Link 1 ) is on a par with the worst places i have seen in Europe - i think it has a pollution history of at least fifty years, and possibly seventy, eighty, ninety - and California Hill Park in the same area serves mainly as a "receiver" for illegal dumping. Likewise Edenmore reaches new records in 2017, the whole of the Santry valley adorned by a pearl-band of dumped sacks with food, plastics, glass).
The main outcome of the last ten years of Dublin class war seems to have been that the underclass has reconquered for itself the right to pollute. The response to this from the widespread liberal "charity mentality" is to ameliorate, try to smooth out the symptoms. In the meantime, pockets in Dublin are fostering a new generation of real Lumpenproletariat, that will be the long-lasting heritage of the 2007/08 downturn.

N32 at darndale

One of those signs, one of those fences, Buddleja davidii providing the back drop. The plinths are all that remains of the pillars once carrying the inscription: Nec plus ultra. (Well, maybe: Fan taobh thoir ). 23.1.2014. I walked through the same area in January 2015 and 2016, it is in a sense exterritorial relative to Dublin city rules and regulations, and the decay goes on and on. In 2018 communal crews are shovelling away the remains of garbage fires at Snowdrop Walk, week after week, it's a Sisyphos task, no improvement in sight. In spring 2017 litter was picked up along R139 up to Clonshaugh Road; in January 2018 the litter again banks up along the same road section. I can see no obvious solution, because the area lives outside the law. Still, the permanent and even worsening pollution calls for some sort of public initiative to counter the decay. One problem for any attempt at law enforcement will be the preferred exit for all such initiatives in Ireland: indulgence. So let me state: there is no relief from heavy metals and poisons in the soil, never ever. They just accumulate and accumulate, and in the end they reach the top tenant of the local habitat: man. Which in this case is: woman. They reach pregnant women and they reach growing children, the ultimate victims of the garbage fires. Horses are more sensitive to dioxins than most other species, and humans may develop countless disorders later in life if exposed to dioxins during the foetus stage. Most dioxins are not that toxic in themselves, they pave the way for secondary sufferings. So, i would like to know more about the levels of dioxins in Darndale soils (dioxin has an "affinity" for clay, builds up in pitches and lawns), in Darndale air, and in local surface water. Link: Dioxins Produced by Backyard Burning from the US EPA, and here one from the German EPA .
And how do brent geese fit into the picture? They graze at Foxfield Green: garbage fires, St Malachy's: garbage fires, McAuley Park: garbage fires, Donahies Community School: garbage fires, Darndale Park: garbage fires, LeFanu Park: garbage fires, Dunsink Road: garbage fires. The geese fatten before the spring departure, this fat is the perfect medium to contain and accumulate dioxins. (We won't learn about the level of uptake through Irish initiatives, the nation is unlikely to compromise itself with any kind of environmental concern: Cashlaundrumlahan Mountain Wind Farm . Nobody in Dublin wants to hear about dioxins; i expect to learn about dioxins in Light-bellied Brent Geese from Canadian sources).

Parallel to general degradation there is high mortality among rats throughout Dublin, i see dead rats all the way from Kilcoole to Portmarnock, but the cause could simply be poisoning, local authority campaigns often coinciding with rat population peaks (the nth campaign in north Portmarnock in March 2015, poison cages outside Clontarf Road Dart station in March 2017). Or is it the Black Death looming at our doors? Of course there is a particular reason for the huge rat population right now; the huge amounts of household rubbish just dumped in bags on sidewalks, squares, lawns, pitches, or fed to gulls; some people considering the dumping of stale bread, old rashers, pork bones, potato peel, cabbage leaves etc. an excellent way to get around their private bin problem. And urban gulls carry all strains of Salmonella , sharing generously with organisms around them. (Reference: 1 .) Dublin foxes should be mentioned here, too; they feed from bins and are rat predators. Every single fox observed by me in the winter 2013 was mange-infested, and i expect the population to crash, quickly dropping to maybe 1/10 of its former level. (The possibility that mangy foxes are less shy cannot be excluded, in that case a healthy majority remains unseen. The first fox i saw in 2015, in Ballybrack, was mangy). That will actually aggravate the problems, to start with, foxes are an essential link in Dublin's ecosystem. I think open feeding of all sorts of animals should be very emphatically banned in Dublin (it probably is already) , but after pronouncing my verdict i recall the deadlock between antisocial behaviour and enforcement, so: forget about that suggestion. The overt, official policy in many US cities, like New York, is: NO OPEN FEEDING whatsoever, but i guess they have problems with enforcement over there, too. There is another side to the feeding of animals; i think the gesture is deeply "embedded" in the Irish psyche, maybe as a sort of alms-giving to nature. Herons , for one example, are fed at several sites in North Dublin (this is a world-wide phenomenon ), and here the act is almost symbiotic, since herons seem to be more effective rat-predators than foxes. I guess they get their fair share of rat poison, too, it's obvious in the field. Next, St Kevin's strange interactions with animals come to the surface, a sequence of utopian episodes that "are nowhere"; here the human pole is most often at the receiving end. Summing up: the general health of the Dublin environment has deteriorated radically between 2005 and 2013, as could be expected in the aftermath of the economical crisis. Dublin was a cleaner city in 2005 than it is in 2013, reminding us of the fact that we are not automatically coasting downhill into the best of worlds, at present the road is rising to bother the city...

heron in grand canal

Heron with catch in Grand Canal, Labre Park, Ballyfermot, 4 March 2017. Polluted leachate is seeping from the meadow in front of Labre Park into the canal, has probably been doing so since time immemorial. Fishing is encouraged in the Grand Canal , and not a word is said about water pollution or contamination of the fish stock. Is there a slight yellowish green tinge to the skin of the fish? Then: rudd, the classical last-survivor from polluted waters. Its slender body-form indicates that pikes are absent, rudds are rhombic in pike waters, hard for the slough sharks to gape over.

rat and fox

The French one and the clever one. There is a Swedish saying: "When the cat is out, the mice are dancing on the table." I guess it's soon "ten and out" for Dublin's foxes (for a while, till the city is recolonised from the countryside); as long as their decline lasts, rats will be dancing on the laid table. The rat is from Sutton Strand, one of Dublin's rat strongholds, the very mangy, almost finished fox from Dalkey, a fox AND rat stronghold, both May 2013. Note the attempt to feed the fox half an apple, all in vain, the fox of the picture is a pizza and chips fox, garbage collector of an affluent and wasteful society. Stray dogs and foxes take turns in hosting the mange mite; in February 2014 a very mangy dog is let out in Johnstown Park in Finglas each morning, rolling itself in the grass for hours, many free-running Darndale dogs have been mangy for years, and there is at least one free-running mange dog from the Turnberry area that runs regularly into Seagrange Park, Baldoyle (an occupied fox den nearby). This is a sad serial: the mangiest dog i have seen so far was at St Malachy's, Edenmore on 18 November 2014, it runs around freely, was still around, mangier than ever, in March 2015. What we see is simply one consequence of the lacking supervision of Dublin dogs and the general disinterest for these matters in the public and among local authorities. The dog-owner who wants to avoid infection walks his dog in the saltmarshes of the "natural reserve" Bull Island (although the fox is omnipresent there, too).

"The word RAT is of Celtic origin and an early Celtic borrowing into English" - i have it from a chat on the web, with the seal of chatty correctness. And pet is Celtic, too, goes without saying. I wonder if this primordial rat was the - now almost extinct - "black" roof-rat, while the francach (French), emerging much later, stands for today's "brown" rat, assumed to have been introduced into Ireland by the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. It would be wrong to leave the fox unnamed: sionnach or madra rua ; both are evasive "noa" names, since the TRUE NAME of the fox had better not be mentioned. I am pretty certain that goes for the rat, too. Sion means "wise" and the Shannon (Sionainn) is the river of wisdom, while Siona, the sagacious goddess of the river, is the Foxy Lady of a matriarchal pantheon, here everything hangs together. The Old Irish name for fox was crimthan, valid for both wolf and fox, a royal name in the Ireland of the sagas, Columcille's first name. This fox/wolf confusion is deliberate and universal, it "blunts" the dangerous greyleg and flatters the less threatening fox. We won't get closer to the true name of the fox than that, so here a copula in its rightful place: is crimthan é sin.

A brent goose that isn't "100 %" droops its wings, it's pretty easy to get a general idea of the health status of a flock by just scanning it, with the focus on wing tips. Around 2007 there were normally ONE or TWO drooping wings in a 500-flock in central Dublin, but when i decided to make drooping wing a topic, on January 9th 2013, i had noticed that a few percent of all birds were spreading their wings. This symptom had also increased by an estimated factor ten. That is where some observational discipline must come in, so i started to COUNT the drooping wings, in order to be able to offer some statistics. Was i seeing a restricted outbreak of something under midwinter conditions, or was i confronted with a slowly increasing tendency for Dublin's brent geese (or: the wintering brent of Ireland) to become more unhealthy or more unfit? There is a parallel worry in this context, the breeding "inefficiency" of Greenland White-fronted Geese wintering in Ireland; if we find out what is ailing the brent, maybe that knowledge can be converted for the good of the white-fronteds, too.

drooping wing in brent

(I gradually learnt what drooping wing was about, so i could drop the groping approach and simply state my case here, but i want to retain some of the early text as a sort of documentation. The following was written in 2013.) "Drooping wing": wing tips hanging very low, secondaries also fanned, the eye hazy. The bird shown is weakened and has distanced itself from the intense competition of the flock proper; Blackrock College, 26 December 2013. Every breeder of poultry and wildfowl knows this symptom of disease, but discerning it in its early stages takes a keen eye, some experience. (Some say it's so common in wild geese that it's nothing to worry about, the laissez-faire position). Many possible causes have been brought forward as a cause for drooping wings: lead poisoning is one, renal coccidiosis and salmonellosis among the suspected infectional causes. The goose is poisoned or infected, or just affected by something anonymous, but keeps the affliction at bay - although sterility may follow from lead poisoning. Even very sick birds try to follow the flock when it departs, in the end they often "drop out" and are found unable to fly in e.g. a busy Dublin street. A bird like this is like the canary in the mine; it reminds us of the fact that there is some insidious, detrimental influence in the overall Dublin environment. We know that Irish wastewater treatment in many cases doesn't live up to EU standards, although it was expected to do so by 2015. Still, the drooping wing of Dublin brent needn't be a one-cause malady, i have a hunch that lead would make things worse, if it occurs in the water. (There is some lead content in the Dublin bedrock). Note how the bird is tilting forward; this is another symptom of an advanced stage of infection (when the kidneys are petering out). Weakened birds often topple over and take the impact on the breast-bone when landing, in particular in tight spots. Another clue: the symptom isn't visible in a swimming goose, how come? Joints are involved in some way, inflammation and some pain in loaded joints; am i not on the right track there? I suggest: reactive arthritis or some gout-like affliction, following a transient or recurring infection of the intestines (and maybe the kidneys). The same birds show the symptoms in consecutive winters, arriving without symptoms in the autumns.


North Bull, 14 April 2014: horses as a rule don't lie down, nor do Black-tailed godwits. This species is not unaffected by the rampant Dublin infection(-s), on the contrary; i can discern hundreds with mild symptoms. Aber, aber: there is a "tail-display" in spring that complicates matters for the observer. Normally sick godwits are taken by Peregrine females in very spectacular chases, but as a matter of fact: the frequency of my encounters with peregrine at Bull Island has decreased in 2014. Wouldn't surprise me if the present sprawl of the Irish society affects peregrines as well, maybe they are suffering some looseness of the bowels, too. Bull Island was set aside as a natural reserve in 1976, and the few remaining signs are from that year, but nothing seems to have happened beyond that; the place doesn't seem to be managed, there's no response to the worsening pollution and the onslaught of dog-walkers. I haven't seen one single person insisting on or defending the reserve status of the area over eleven years of visits; it's totally abandoned to the dogs. In much it's like an old five-star restaurant gradually declining to one-star status - and that was in the cards already when the causeway was built. Yes, the bird behind has a yellow ring on tibia, and more of the same sort hidden. Note the saturated and extended rufous tinge of the Icelandic subspecies, BTGWs from the Continent are almost pink in comparison.

A blessing in disguise then, the fact that Dublin's brent geese are studied, monitored, counted, ringed. We know a lot about the movements of individuals, know where a particular bird grazed and drank and rested a week, a month, a year ago. It should be possible to add one and one together pretty soon, coming up with some well-founded conclusions. So, i was up on my toes, making a big sweep over Dublin on Januaries 14th and 16th. In the dawn hour of the 16th the scene was set at Malahide Castle. There were 550 birds on the big lawn in front of the castle, drinking and chewing mud in the little pool of standing water, ten or eleven of them had drooping wings, that adds up to 2 % of the birds, much the same as i had in the city centre a few days before. After that i went to Seabury, 325 birds there, 21 - 23 of them had drooping wings, i.e. some 7 % of all birds. . As a matter of fact even more birds were affected than those counted, i would say every tenth brent goose wasn't feeling so well at Seabury on 16 January. The Seabury geese are based at the Broadmeadow Estuary, they drink their "freshwater" there in this "Special Area of Conservation" - and i have expressed my doubts as to the water quality of that area earlier in this document. The extreme rat population of the inner bay doesn't inspire confidence, either. It could be added that the outrageous persecution of brent geese took place in the same area a year ago. I would still like to know more before i point my finger; for all we know the geese could have been peppered with lead pellets in some other part of the world, where law enforcement is even poorer - or where people care even less - than in Ireland. At the same time i shouldn't be cagey about what i believe; the problem is situated somewhere in the Malahide area. I also believe there is more than one source of infection/pollution (gulls, overflows of sewage), and that several factors are interacting. The overflows are probably a global phenomenon, caused by inadequate or underdimensioned cleansing systems; in the US gulls take the blame for all infection - but aren't they being permanently infected by overflows? There, too.

geese drinking at malahide castle

Brent geese collected around a pool of stagnant water at Malahide Castle, dawn hour 16.1.13. They are drinking freshwater, or chewing or sifting mud for the water content, in order to be able to extract as much water-soluble carbon hydrates as possible from their food intake. I am pretty sure the picture illustrates the situation where brent geese come to ingest enriched dioxins in the Dublin area. Inset a bird with drooping wing from Seabury the same morning; some of these birds were almost dragging their wing tips on the ground. It may look as if a goose is merely spreading its wings in order to moisten them or ventilate, but after a minute or two you realize that the bird is actually UNABLE to keep its wing closed. The bird at the forefront to the left is spreading its primaries, but the wing is still not drooping, instead it is slightly arched above the back. It may be another version of the same symptom, i'm not sure, maybe it's only ventilation.

After checking most Dublin flocks in the winter 2012/13 i dare say that there were more than 50 but probably not 100 drooping wings in the overall Dublin area in February 2013. A sneak peek at the situation 2013/14: many birds with drooping wing from last winter appear again with drooping wings (i have no observations from September/October), and the symptom takes off at a higher level than in 2012: 2, 3, 4 % in flocks 100 inds. On 4 February 2014 i had 42 birds with drooping wings out of a total of 115 on the Kilbarrack United pitch, the worst so far; these birds move in a band along the Santry. The Santry banks up to Clonshaugh Road are all landfill, a lot of drinking from gull-polluted pools here in January 2014. And an even higher absolute sum at Old Yellow Walls Road in Malahide on 18 February: at least 55 geese with drooping wing out of 193 counted. I expect that there will be mass mortality among brent long before Dublin's new wastewater plant comes into action. (I visited Broadmeadows in the evening of February 28th 2014; a distinct sewage smell over the whole inner bay; some 450 geese from Seatown East drank twice and some 700 - 800 from the Rogerstown direction also arrived and drank once. The infection had got the better of half a dozen birds on 7 March, still Seatown East; they lay down, could barely keep their eyes open. And STILL: they flew each time the flock flew. How far can they follow? I wonder).

juvenile brent with drooping wing 20150310

A juvenile bird with drooping wing from Donahies Community School, 10 March 2015. Its plumage is slightly dishevelled, while the two attending parents seem to be in good condition. Let's assume that it's all about renal coccidiosis, caused by the protozoan Eimeria truncata . About the life-cycle of this parasite in the US Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases . In January and February 2015 as much as 20 % of the birds in a North Dublin brent goose flock could exhibit drooping wing simultaneously. I'm not foreign to the idea that the absence of brent from whole "sectors" of Dublin (Crumlin/Dolphins Barn, the area from Ashtown to Finglas, Drumcondra-Marino-Coolock, the Donaghmede/Baldoyle strip, etc.) for a sequence of days is an adaptation aiming at avoiding high densities of oocysts of Eimeria .
(Juvenile wing coverts are generally of poor quality and exchanged in March-April, the bird above may have shed its first small coverts. Feather-growth needs sulfur-containing amino acids, cysteine or methionine, but since Irish grass contains all the cystine (decomposed into cysteine) needed to build e.g. sheep fleece, grass should be an adequate nutrient source for moulting geese).

In 2018 i'm beginning to hesitate and falter as to the cause of poor condition in Dublin's brent geese, more and more suspecting that the "light-bellied brent syndrome" (to some extent also a "black-tailed godwit syndrome") is caused by the collective impact of Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, Eimeria and dioxins - plus several unknowns - on brent geese grazing in a very polluted zone from the Tolka Basin up to south Malahide Bay. A broad palette of ailments afflicting North Dublin humans and animals alike is not caused by one single agent; it is symptomatic of an area with diverse and complicated pollution, where different agents interact and reinforce each other.

This last picture doesn't mean that i am ready to relieve the pressure in the search for other disease agents; i can see in the field that some Dublin 1y/2y Herring Gulls and Great Blackbacks are affected by an infection during their first years of life, and i suspect that sewage overflows are the ultimate source behind, and that strains of Salmonella are involved. (Stephen Newton mentions refuse dumps and "mortality due to botulism" in a Birdwatch Ireland call for information in April 2015, and of course botulism is always there, too). Cryptosporidium is omnipresent in Irish water; it affects drinking-water for humans as well. According to The Irish Times, 15 May 2013, a recent outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Roscommon was traced back to a source "in the agricultural community". My own nose tells me that pollution is a permanent or recurring phenomenon in all water surrounding or belonging to the Dublin area. It's very difficult to obtain information in this respect, however; in Ireland you don't just go up to the nearest sewage works and request a list of their recent "accidents". And the "agricultural community" of Ireland is taboo.

outlet at broadmeadows

"WAR IS PEACE", "FREEDOM IS SLAVERY", "IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH" were slogans on the walls of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's "1984". Ireland has a similar approach to pollution and degradation of long standing; when it reaches some venerable age, there suddenly pops up a sign naming the area involved: "SPECIAL AREA OF CONSERVATION". The Irish smile their sad smiles and say to each other: We have seen it before, some other place. Broadmeadows Estuary, 7 March 2014. Some investment here in 2017, a new gate, but detergent bubbles still sailing on top of the outflow. (These detergents are very potent in dilution; a malfunction at the Klagshamn sewage works south of Malmö created a bubble carpet covering some 50 sq. kms in June, when a northwesterly gale blew up. Arctic Terns and Avocets breeding on islets to the south of the works couldn't find their eggs in the foam).

The future development, the fate of the poisoned or infected birds is still ambiguous. Most of them manage their daily calory intake, their "plain" survival, in the Dublin area, but at a cost.


I strongly doubt it, these things have repercussions. In that case, a group of geese wintering in the Dublin area will be at a disadvantage relative to other groups spending the winter in safer or less polluted surroundings; it will reproduce at a lower rate. Is there any possible compensation? I can't see one right now. And how about the immediate future? I expect environmental conditions to deteriorate even more in the years to come (although i already see some uncoordinated attempts from councils to "tighten up"). It will take ten - fifteen years to turn an unwieldy hulk like Dublin around, once it starts wandering about on its own.

bank ad

A snapshot in motion through a stained Dart pane, April 2014: I once stumbled over the statement: Many Irish people still seldom use the words ”yes” and “no” when answering a question, even in English. This is particularly noticeable in rural Ireland. That statement doesn't apply to ultra-urban Dublin, Dubliners are quick to say YE$$$. Pictures like the one above codify the land-use of "developers" within the city, they replace law in Ireland. Europe mainland readers tentatively dated it "around 2000?". NO, NO, NO: March 2014. There is a blatant vulgarity to much Irish advertising (very disturbing in e.g. RTÉ).

The Unwieldy Hulk of Nature Conservancy

Many environmental indicators have been accepted within * the tourism industry. However while purporting to represent the environment, indicator research fails to evaluate the ecological impact of tourism. There are well-founded reasons for this failure, including the ambiguous character of science, which promises a regulatory regime for managing the environmental impact of tourism that cannot be delivered. To illustrate this dilemma, the difficulties involved in developing bio-indicators for a coral reef are discussed. The inconclusiveness of current knowledge is illustrated and attention drawn to the disturbing implication that the present situation offers little protection when called upon in the arbitration of land use decisions. (* I raised some eye-brows at this; is it a case of conscious overstatement, or just linguistic imprecision? I would expect: suggested for. CP)

Abstract of George Hughes (2002): Environmental Indicators.

A product from University of Edinburgh; i can almost see that Trump golf-course hovering in the background, a pioneering victory for crude and vacuous exploitation. Who in Ireland is likely to put "the ecological impact of golf" or "the ecological impact of dog-walking" on the agenda? No-one. And why? Here is a typical situation , from Northern Ireland which is actually weighed down under the dog yoke as much as The Republic, and here one from Malahide 16 January 2019: Dog owners in Fingal protest over new rules in public parks. A rural, provincial, slightly backward society is setting the standards at all latitudes, from Wexford to Belfast, these dog-owners simply want the parks for themselves. In St Anne's Park in central Dublin the favorite pastime of unattended dogs is to stalk the grey squirrels feeding on the ground, a "body count" would reveal a remarkable predation level. But those are our only ways of touching nature, with one finger-tip!!! Ohhh-kayyy, i take back, golf has to be endured, dogs have to be endured... Are there any other untouchable invariants in Hibernia? (Carbide cannons, what keeps us from famine!)

When i stand there, counting the geese at some pitch, it has happened, more than once, that some sports-teacher or trainer comes up to me, his voice a little wailing, his mouth pinched, suddenly erupting: How-long-are-they-going-to-stay-here? It's not like the woman who passed five minutes before him, glittering eyes, calling out in passing: Aren't they lovely! Rather the opposite, a lithany that has been without a listener for long and suddenly spots a potential saviour. In some way i'm held responsible for the geese - and i don't mind, am only happy to take his confession. I listen for a while, then i say: Why do you come alone, why do you not bring the biology teacher as well, for some balance? (That is ruuude says my Irish reader. Yes, but there is system to my rudeness).

What does the expression on his face mean? "Do we have biology teachers?" I am not sure, i am not that good at Irish bewilderment. Still learning. So, for a start: Does Ireland have biology teachers, and if they do exist, what is their status relative to, say, second assistant football trainers?


How-long-are-they-going-to-stay-here? - a stray phrase from the perpetual conflict between sedentary and itinerant souls. Itinerants epitomize what is actually a national littering addiction (one Lucozade bottle per ten lengths of Irish roadnet), and geese pollute pitches with their droppings. On the other hand sedentaries pollute existence with countless aspects of their lifestyle: their houses, their cars, their dogs, their golf-courses - and where the impact of itinerants is lighter than a feather, the pressure from sedentaries is heavy as a mountain, twin of The Great Sugar Loaf. Problems emanating from a majority side are seldom measured with the same cup as problems attributed to some Other. (Link: "They don't live the same way we do, it's just a fact.", Irish Times 15 October, 2015. )

That introduction was all in order to get a few cards on the table, each with one key-word: geese, laws, different interests, the role of environmentalists. I will explain at some length what i am aiming at; ripe to deliver an insight, a nugget panned out during my ramblings. It is very striking to a foreigner: the way a person born out of Irish tradition selects a stranger, seemingly at random, and confides in him (it isn't really about confidence): an observation, a question, a worry. In the pub, in a Dublin street, at the North Bull. The daily visitors to the latter place seem to collect and save their observations of presumed rara aves as a topic for conversation until they spot the suitable binocular man/woman: What is the name of that duck, or almost small goose, white, black, reddish on the back...? Such behaviour is not Nordic, we find it kind of intrusive, our No. 1 way is to look up the Shelduck in a Field Guide. Again i think this habit of swooping down on strangers - instead of removing oneself, or them - has something to do with the old habit of obtaining "personal sureties". Not the final pact, rather a feeler. Everything that has an all too abstract (like field guides) or all too absolute (in particular: law) flavour is shunned by the average Irish person; if there is a choice, he steers away from it for some sort of PERSONAL MEDIATION. The farmer who is worried about the brent visiting his barley field approaches the Wildlife Ranger: There is this problem, could there be an exception from the rules, could something be arranged...? (Reference: 1 ). That is the way the Irish still approach their politicians, and that is the way the brown envelopes come in; the whole pattern older than Methuselah. As a foreigner you have to find a way to deal with it without resorting to avoidance or refusal; a pivotal social ritual shouldn't be avoided. I look to the sky for inspiration, no help from my friends, and i must admit: I am still wrestling with the difficulty. I have an idea that the constellation should be turned like a mirror to the other side, me swooping down - after that i would be more than willing to play my role as a mediator. (If it had only been about some common interest and not that old, miserly self-interest...)

So, the letter of law is a stumbling-stone, the letter of law pertaining to the environment no less than other branches of legislation. And the immediate reaction when some rule is perceived as contrary to individual interests is more often than not: Can something be arranged? (Why can't i run my septic tank the way i have done in all years?) Where nature is involved the whole thing is aggravated by a knowledge vacuum; the Irish are sharp-eyed - you wouldn't believe the extent of it, this is still a rural society, where every trespassing butterfly is spotted. But many of them can't TELL a daffodil from a sparrow (the English verb is quite to the point), they have no umbilical cord to the Linnaean tradition - or some other naming tradition. NO NAMES, which are imperative for some order to be created from the bewildering diversity around them. "What's the name of the bird forming that big flock out there?" "They are dunlins." "Dunlin - is that an Irish name?" "No, i think they were called 'circin thrá', little beach-hen." ( There are two layers of Celtic origin in names, a "recent" Christian-Irish one and an early one from the time when some Celtic tongue was spoken in most of these isles. "Dunlin" may have at least Celtic first cousins there, the Old English root is dunn (-ling), still present in the Irish donnóg , dunnock. A third, analogous dunlin-nomen is breacóg , black-spotted or speckled one. ) That was one of my early name-giving triumphs at Bull Island, but the question startled me a little: Is that an Irish name? Such innocent questions. They set my brain working: Ní dúlra gan teanga... Not the orthodox version of an old catchphrase - but maybe equally relevant and true. Admitted, we have the Greater Yellowleg twitchers at North Bull, but i always saw them as belonging to a particular breed: The Universal Consumer. They are the opposite of the namelose Irish, having only bird names in their vocabulary and one single line in their conversation: Have you seen the Greater Yellowleg? Not very inspiring, still i think they shouldn't be left out of the equation; there might be a universal consumer outcry if Greater Yellowlegs were no longer on the shelves, twitchable - or replaced by less tasty Lesser Yellowlegs. So let's keep Greater Yellowleg twitchers on ice for future use, their potential being an unknown X as things stand.


Ní dúlra gan teanga... The robin ace of hearts from a deck of cards to be handed out to all needy visitors at Bull Island: fifty-two species all seen somewhere, fifty-two species names all forgotten. That would be CONSERVATION IN THE 21st CENTURY; giving them an incentive to guard their inherited treasure of names, relate responsibly to the objects they signify. Spide means "little or nothing" (that could stand for nature at large in Irish perception), and i suspect that spideog/spideag was originally just an anonymous passerine, a smallbird. /cf the Norse igða, tit or nuthatch or just smallbird with a pointed bill/. If we want to qualify a little, the redbreast emerges by means of an addition, e.g. spideog Mhuire , Our Lady's little fecker.
So, what Irish name applies to brent? It's not that clearcut: many authors use cadhan , but that word is often translated just "wild goose" or "barnacle goose", and Barnacle was considered a synonym of the family name Coyne (Cadhain). I suggest guirán or guirneán as a designation for brent only; the attribute coirneán ("with a ringlet"; cf the German name "Ringelgans") could lie behind. We must remember that part of what we know about Irish is - sometimes defective - transcription of everyday, spoken language, and translation back and forth between English and Irish often amplifies an error. Click the spideog for the guirán ace of clubs. In medieval times Branta geese were not thought to be hatched from eggs like other birds; they emerged suddenly from the sea in autumn, bred by barnacles - the most likely pretendent for Mother Goose being Lepas anatifera , the "gooseneck barnacle". As so often the case, there was an element of practicality to this attribution; born by a crustacean, Brent and Barnacle geese - optimally fat prior to spring migration - could be eaten during Lent. Much theological infighting, pro and con, surrounded this item on the menu. A final point: i don't think there was a strict separation between Brent and Barnacle at all levels, the naming wavered. Salted, in barrels, they looked much the same, and with the name Barnacle, the banquet guests kept a clean conscience.

The human condition at North Bull, or: hermeneutics of ring-reading

Whosoever shall come guided by the call and flight of birds of sure omen, that man shall have advantage through my voice, and I will not deceive him. But whoso shall trust to idly-chattering birds and shall seek to invoke my prophetic art contrary to my will, and to understand more than the eternal gods, I declare that he shall come on an idle journey.

Homeric hymn to Hermes, transl. Hugh G. Evelyn-White.

There is also good evidence that for many low vision readers (older or partially-sighted), light (white or yellow) letters on a dark (black) background are more readable than dark letters on a light background. (...)Two colours that contrast sharply to someone with normal vision may be far less distinguishable to someone with a visual disorder. It is difficult to achieve very high contrasts with colour combinations other than black and white.

E. Russell-Minda et al. in: Clear Print. CNIB Library, Canada, April 2006.

TK /the letters on the rings, right to left/ W(hite)B(lue) /the ring colours, right to left/ , 11/02/13, MALEMC /code for Malahide Castle/ . Not been seen since ringing at Castlemaine Harbour, Kerry, in March 2009. Intend to exclude - these birds are pretty site-faithful to there, in general.

Graham McElwaine, goose resightings coordinator of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group , 18 March 2013 .


There i walk the streets of Dublin, reading its signs and its symbols, listening to its diverse voices. Well knowing the inherent risk of all interpretation: to get it wrong. Or almost worse: being fooled by the idly-chattering birds. So, can i know anything at all (with reasonable certainty), what resources do i command? (I limp, one leg longer than the other, i don't use one eye, i have a rocket-propellered grenade deafness to one ear; Achilles heels everywhere).

Remember: Hermes is the god of merchants, and of thieves. Of shepherds, and of rustlers. Ambivalence is his nature, he will swear on a false statement as easily as he swears on some truth. ( Ulf Gran, director of the Swedish "Mercury Theatre", complains about my backbiting of his house god here, but i actually want to defend the Delphic, oracular communication, in particular of theatre, so i stand my ground. Maybe i should say "ciphered" and ambivalent statement... No, Hermes tells Apollo a straight lie, to his face, i think part of his pedigree is African and Asian trickster gods. The same applies to Lugh, Hermes and Apollo in one, he is a trickster in Irish folklore. ) In our enlightened times Hermes's talents are still in demand: now he presides over the interpretation of hazy, ambiguous phenomena, messages of unclear origin, with faded colours, missing pages. So, he is there as a mediator when a tricky set of colour-rings is read, flustering some subtle solution to the problem over the shoulder of the telescope carrier. There is every reason to watch out, knowing the nature of this helper. Maybe he wants some added value, an effort from your side, the invention of a false statement detector? The correct combination can often be concluded from some erroneous "first-attempt", and redundancy strengthens any case; Graham McElwaine is not only a merciless repudiator, but the High Hermeneut of the ring-reading congregation as well. The insight strikes me: aren't there some Presbyterian virtues at work here? We are tailored for our roles at the most unexpected levels. (I will explain: The same way the scholastics paved the way for differential calculus in trying to approximate God with differentials, the Calvinists were torpedoes of hermeneutics, stubbornly insisting on their right to - if not freedom of - interpretation at all levels. It was all about how to interpret some ole book, but the stance spread like rings on water, encompassing new fields of interest).

black on white rings

Tell the geese to stand in line and walk past your camera lens at 50 cm distance (they just love it and shake the rings right), get your hard evidence, black on white; that's all there is to ring-reading, i'll swear to it.

black on white rings

Comes your rainy day, fog and drizzle, poor visibility, muck clinging to the rings, and suddenly all letters seem to be half turned away. What is left and what is right? Is that a K or an X? A 9 or a 4 or an S? What business do you have outdoors on such days? And this is still an easy piece, elementary, my dear Persson: X9WW from South Inner Bay at Dundrum. Geese have a supporting leg and a working leg (swing leg), in most cases you can read the ring on the supporting leg. But when birds get agitated, the swing of the other leg is too fast; after focusing in vain on the "swing ring" for three minutes, you abandon that bird. I walk like a goose myself, i can feel it; my left leg supports, my right leg swings.

red colour-ring with white X

The brent colour-ring is made of two-layer engraving laminates of a rigid PVC material called Darvic. The material is said to last 10 - 15 years in gulls ; in brent some rings are very worn and disintegrating after half a dozen years. Birds walking much on cliffs simply grind down the rings (many BW rings used at Dundrum in 2005 were in shambles already by 2012, almost impossible to read), and the decay is speeded up if a metal ring is put on top of the Darvic - Icelandic practice of the past, and still Icelandic practice in 2015 and 2016; metal rings put on in May are cutting right through thermoplast rings nine months later. The oldest brent around was ringed at Alftanes, Reykjavik on May 16th 2001, its right leg ring was missing at Alftanes on April 26th 2009, and it has since been sighted in Dublin until March 2013, determined partly by means of its associate, which has also lost one ring. In Wildfowl Rees et al. (1990) stated for Barnacle colour-rings: "Several rings survived for at least five years after first being recorded as broken" - a remark that doesn't cover the aspect of the bird's comfort with the ring.

These rings have to be glued or welded, and the choice of the locking agent is critical. Risto Juvaste states:"...“Plastmo" plumber glue works..., but it makes the code a bit hazy"; here the problem is presented in a nutshell. (Plumber glues are made for PVC and ABS, they are not chemowelders but true glues, with a non-transparent filler [CP].) He adds: "Any epoxy I do not recommend" - and again i agree; some epoxy joints get discoloured, and the joint is harder than the surrounding plastics. Difficulties with the glue/welder can be studied in most schemes, and it recurs in Dublin ringings; there has been some permanent loss of contrast in particular in red and blue rings with white letters (which makes the analysis of survival, based on sightings, very tricky. I can already say with certainty that the BLUEBLUE strain fizzles out "prematurely", the early REDRED is inferior, letters hazed by the glue, too). The correct locking of rings shouldn't be such a problem; there is a lot of good, non-clouding, low-odour glues and welders on the market. I myself have shifted entirely to welding, using the powerful PolyWeld, thin, medium and thick, from StarLoc. (But suddenly it is very hard to get hold off).

The ring shown was picked up at North Bull Island; sick or injured geese left behind on grazing grounds in the evening are taken by foxes overnight, throughout Dublin. All contagion is held at a low level that way, it works the same way as in the classical elk/wolf-pack system. Note the slight discolouring of the X, the letter over the glued seam is most exposed to colour diffusion, and most rings will have one or several letters with good contrast.

It is obvious that the Darvic used so far is not the optimal ring material for brent, given state-of-the-art in 2014. Considering the enormous investment of subjective energy and skilled fieldwork into the light-bellied colour-ringing project, i think there should be larger dividends on the work invested. Thermoplast may contain a lot of filler - sawdust, coal and sand have been attemped - at early stages these fillers lowered both costs and structural strength. Recent years have seen fillers that contribute to structural strength, e.g. polybutadien rubber (5 - 15 %) that enters into cross-bindings with a polystyrene matrix. Polybutadiene is not UV-stable, but plastics containing it can be given a protective layer (two layers!) of acrylic varnish, of the type used on plastic hubs for cars. As i see it ornithologists have been using PVC for too long without asking the right questions about the material - and now it's being phased out because of the chlorine content. If we are willing to pay a few bucks extra, we can have excellent plastic material for rings. I think rings of HIPS (high-impact polystyrene) or polymethylmethacrylate, PMMA (in Europe e.g. something like the new Durmark laminates from Rowmark) should be tested, they would by all likelihood resist wear better, although PVC itself can probably be made much more impact-resistant if the intent is there. The Vynalast material, used on UK swans between 1982 and 1987 was one attempt at such strengthening, here the PVC matrix was reinforced through an addition of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). ABS is very impact-resistant, stronger than polybutadiene, but like polybutadiene it is quickly degraded by UV radiation, and the material was abandoned after the first test period. Acrylic rings are said to be brittle, too (possibly caused by over-heating), and it's true that some break when applied by force, but softened with hot water from a thermos they become quite supple (credit to Peter Olsson).

metal ring opens darvic

Here one real sighting problem kicks off: an Icelandic metal ring has ground open the white "A" Darvic of AUWR. Some weakness of the material may be involved in this particular case; the bird was ringed in May 2009 in Iceland, the damage to the A ring noted in Dublin already in January 2010. But the same type of damage is haunting YY and LY combinations from Iceland much earlier; -U-Y, -V-Y, -X-Y and -Z-Y (among others) with metal rings in splendid isolation on the right tarsus have been noted in both Iceland and Ireland from 2007/2008 onwards, in some cases standing for two birds or more. Metal on top or metal below, to no avail, again i speak from own experience; the top metal ends up below, the Darvic ends up as mermaids tears. Metal and thermoplast simply don't belong together.
How do i see that it is a U and not a J? Well, one bar of the next U is showing. Many faulty J readings would have been avoided if the observer had the patience to wait for that bar to turn up. But who can be patient with two free-running pet dogs showing on the horizon? My own worst problem is that i read from left to right and memorize from left to right; i am the most refractory "inverter" among the sighters.

brentgoosehavinglost plasticringundermetal

And a second example: -N-Y from Sutton 18 February 2016. A -N-Y was first noted by Liam Kane at Sutton, 9 January 2011, there was a second one at Strangford and a third at Port Beach/Co. Louth by the same time. On 4 Nov, 2013, Pat Watson added to her sighting report: "FNYY?? In exactly her little place!". FNYY was ringed at Hausastadir, Alftanes, Iceland on 19 May 2002, sticking to the Dinghy Club of Sutton over the winter months in years to follow; if confirmed, it would be one of the oldest birds of the project. The AF function of my camera missed its target by 1/2 m, it's so difficult with moving birds; you focus on the drab neck and get the rich-in-detail mudflat surface behind it instead. I could see the first two numerals: "18", there are three more - wouldn't that be just the kind of challenge that Graham Prole loves? There is an avalanche of one-ring birds in Dublin in 2016, several Iceland-ringed BY birds from 2015 have the metal ring halfway through its plastic "socket" already. On top of material deficiencies, insult is added to injury by the profoundly stupid and a little antisocial Icelandic practice of putting metal next to plastic; it perpetuates the picture of individuals who don't take reason other than their own.

So, i was thrown into this turmoil, a blank sheet without any notions about the combinations or colours used. Like a child hurled into the sea and told: learn how to swim! For one example i didn't know that a large batch used at The Red Arches, Baldoyle always had a letter on the right leg, numeral on the left leg, so when i offered some letter-letter combination from Red Arches, the coordinator sometimes scented the possibility of my "S" being a "6", since the letter-letter bird hadn't been around for some time. Although the combination existed , used in Iceland, with a metal ring underneath the right colour-ring.

The blank sheet state is an honest, candid state, it makes honest errors. On the next step, experience, memorized combinations enter the equation. Now calculated, premeditated errors are likely to occur, and they are not equally transparent, self-evident. You are out at the Red Arches, you read "BSRY", cannot see a metal ring and immediately think: that "S" must have been a 6. I have seen this process at work again and again, in other ringing schemes as well; the state where ring-reading abandons innocence (or let us say: ignorance) and becomes mature, calculating. The obvious advantage is that all the wildly implausible observations are weeded out, nobody regrets that. And still i cannot help wondering: will the more streamlined material be more reliable as well? Should we at least consider the possibility of a reversal to innocence/ignorance in sightings? That in turn might be a little like trying to read the Bible, ignoring the interpretative guide-lines from Popes and Emperors... Hmm. I always found that guiding individual conscience surprisingly pragmatic, with hidden agenda of its own. There should be a golden middle-road here: one finger given to over-self reason, one finger to immediate impression, but not the whole hand to either.

All good and well, if it hadn't been for that fragility of the material. Consider a situation where you are expected to consult a road-sign in order to adjust your speed, the limit is 30 mph, and you interpret it as 50 mph, because of a shabby design, or because the sign breaks down after five years. Would you accept penalty points? I suggested: "In some future, we'll send a signal to a chip, and it responds with an identification signal. No interpretation errors." Graham's glum answer: "Yes, probably. But it wouldn't be as fun, would it?"

I guess he is right. I connect a chip to a tablet, direct an antenna towards the flock, two seconds later all marked individuals appear on the screen in alphabetical order. (And before i know it, the whole thing has been forwarded to some database). Ah, the Brave New World, where every entity is known by its true name (well: registration code)! We can't wait for it to dawn.

Looking for hospitality in a class society: the wild geese knocking on the doors of the GAA and the GUI. (It's all about the reception).

I am quite used to being beaten and having things thrown at me. I have been so much buffeted about in war and by sea that I am case-hardened, and this too may go with the rest.

Homer, The Odyssey, Book XVII; transl. Samuel Butler.

She wrapped him in swadling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because for them there was no room in the inns.

Luke 2, my own translation into English from Gustav Vasas Bibel (Swedish; 1541). (I wouldn't trust this line in the hands of a Liberal or Victorian interpret).

If the guest only knew, how often he is loathed, no man would ever accept an invitation in this world.

Johann Nepomuk Nestroy, in Das Mädel aus der Vorstadt .

This is for people.

Employee at Naomh Barróg's GAA, when flushing the brent from the pitch. I took the implicit meaning as: This is for people and dogs only.

I remarked above on the constant need for adaptation in Arctic organisms: the best adaptation would seem to be a finger always held on the "change" button. If you look around in your everyday environment (say: at the starlings outside Dublin Airport), a species may sometimes give the impression of being "settled in for good"; starlings pick up their wafer crumbs today the same way they did yesterday and by all likelihood will tomorrow. But we shouldn't be deceived by such apparent constancy; a species that relaxes for a minute in the overall field of inter-species and intra-species competition is likely to find itself in arrears before morning. No exception for starlings (they have decreased by 90 % in Sweden in just a few decades), no exception for any species. Hovering in the background, when i present my case like that, is of course the question: Are Brent geese (ever) likely to adapt successfully to Dublin? Not Arctic conditions any longer, but something much more unrelenting: a stalled socio-economic constellation. Generosity - hospitality was the word chosen in the header - generosity isn't the distinguishing feature of such environments; if i were to suggest anything it would be: the hunt for scapegoats. Can the brent geese shoulder the blame for the banking crisis, or just for the pitiable state of a broken backwater like Edenmore? (Here is something very interesting and hopeful: "Dining on Dublin's Docks" , showing how the brent attempts at adapting to Dublin environments and possibilities are "branching out").
The Starling decline in Scandinavia was not a journey into the Pit of Doom, it was a passage through the Squeezer; something in the environment didn't carry any longer, and the population was heavy-handedly reduced, mangled. A very similar development can be seen in the North Atlantic Puffin population, although no one can be certain about that one yet (it seems to be about sandeels, overfishing in the past, and climate change). Let's hope that it is the Squeezer again. If the Puffin is too specialized, if it can't make ends meet any longer and adapts too slowly, it is the Pit of Doom.

brent geese and starlings

Brent geese and starlings, adapting to circumstances as best they can, every second of the day. A few minutes of flight will waste an hour of grazing for the geese; they try to avoid flying by all means - a true paradox for a member of the class Aves ! Fit and healthy birds, one single drooping wing in the background, and the droop is under control. Two of the front geese carry Darvic colour-rings. McAuley Park, 15 January, 2014.

Setting the scene: Each autumn when the brent geese arrive in Ireland there seems to be a "theme" to their behaviour, an emphasis on aspects of their self-world that was subdued or lacking the year before. In September 2013 they arrived in Ireland without young, after a catastrophic breeding season in Canada, and the receiving ornithologists immediately noted: these are not "last year's geese", not the hordes of parents with hungry young; there were small but important shifts of emphasis in their behaviour. The geese seemed to be more wary, either having some bad experiences in their luggage, or bracing themselves for new ones. Some sort of dynamical adjustment precedes such shifts, it thrills me more than almost anything else to try to envisage how they come about. Humans are prone to the same sort of infectious formation, steeping them in some "revolutionary spirit" or "collective depression": by the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept... In any collective species, this capacity in a sense adds a finger to a hand that had formerly only five, or takes one away. (Awkward, yes, if you can't use it). There is some hope in this observation, that a whole group of organisms can be tuned, and maybe re-tuned to meet changing conditions in their Umwelt.

Next, the Gathering in Dublin, the Mayor giving them the Freedom of the City, etcetera, etcetera. A new bridge over the Liffey has been named in their honour during their absence: Brent Bridge, how encouraging when there is finally a change to petrified Irish naming conventions! There already is a Snowdrop Walk, isn't there? And a Watermint Court. (The Mayor admits: we are running out of 1916 heroes, otherwise we would have had to mobilize the skirts). With such an overwhelming reception one would expect to see all wariness wiped out, turned into its opposite. But not so: the brent approach the grazing grounds of Dublin like explorers entering cannibal territory for the first time, the whole flock on its wings in a trice. So, was the warm reception just something i imagined, an illusion?

Possibly, yes: or wishful thinking. The inviting lawn was already occupied, by a yelping four-leg.

Well, geese are flying beings, arent they? Let's be cowards for a minute and depart for some grassy area where yelping four-legs cannot be seen for miles. (Ooops: out of the frying-pan into the firing-line, as they say).

geese on the golf-course

Ah, the wonderful body language! The background species isn't entirely uninteresting; it could deserve some attention on its own merits. St Anne's Golf Course, afternoon of March 12th, 2014. Note the yellowish smog haze - accentuated by the evening light - this close to the sea-front. ( London area measurements from the same smog "episode" ). Like all metropols with absurd levels of private car transportation the Greater Dublin area should restrict the movements of cars on such days. (A wealth of philistine gas-guzzlers in the car-fleet, many registered as late as 2007/08). The geese form an elliptical lens, the long axis pointing to one player, the short axis to the other: "La Physique est une magie controllée par la géométrie". ( Brent geese are SO SMALL, veritable goose spideogs ! I have sat there, cradling birds after they were hit by golf-balls; you could almost hide one in your pocket. Don't attempt that, they will fill it with shit in no time. These are no isolated accidents, but rather a system of serial killings (or stunnings), with a history of at least two years; the fox knows where to search for stunned geese along the fences just after dusk. In contrast i would like to commend the practice range of Royal Dublin; it is a refuge for brent, the birds are very confident and the players circumspect) .

Clever evasive strategy: i am trying to peek into the self-world of the goose Lilliputians - and they offer me a lens through which to watch some other, strange and alien society....


We need an angle of approach, a mind-set to golf here, not sentimental like the introduction to the GAA above, more emphasizing the here and now. Golf, seen not as a national oddity, but rather as a global phenomenon, in its context of economical and social power. In a "globalized" economy this means that the most lavish projects no longer emerge as a result of local considerations and local investment; they are objects of speculation for multinational investment groups. Goldman Sachs has been one player in this field, once scooping up hundreds of failed speculations in the Pacific area. Real bargains; the devaluation of capitalist "bubble" projects often amounts to 95 - 99 % (an endemic example: Anglo Irish Bank in January 2008), the same for stocks and built structures. Ireland in its entirety will be picked up by Goldman Sachs in one of the future crises, the Republic has the right "victim profile". Don't see this as a demonizing of GS; if i have my own way, i study them and pick up morals in their wake: one is that gambling losses can be purchased and written off by some meta-player of the market, or by the whole society through recession. Let me state it here: laws, opinions, organized conservancy are absolutely powerless, confronted with these looming promises of huge return; for a start governments are more than happy to overrule what there might be of national conservancy legislation in order to pave the way for such speculative, virtual "development". The Old Head of Kinsale is Ireland's horrific example. I have less than ten years of excursions in the Dublin area; during that period i saw a golf-course conjured up out of nothing at Turvey/Donabate, again an object of pure, unadulterated speculation - and subsequently being taken back by meadow and shrubland in a surprisingly short time! (The ritual, purposeless turnover of capital fascinates me, it's much like heathen sacrifice). It may be advisable to look at the golf establishments in two layers; older courses with some tradition and local support, and modern abominations, focusing on the global golf tourism. In the meantime an argument for those, who (still) oppose the fast lane for golf in planning: The facts, however, suggest that years of free-to-air Open Championships have done nothing to affect the decline of golf as a participation sport. The statistics in Europe and the United States show a steady drop-off in the numbers of those playing a game whose years of peak popularity appear to have passed. The phenomenon is particularly marked among younger people: in the 16-25 age group, numbers are down by almost a quarter in the past year alone, and the eclipse of Tiger Woods can hardly be the sole cause. (Richard Williams in The Guardian, 6.2.15).

donabate development

"The ritual, purposeless turnover of capital fascinates me, it's much like heathen sacrifice." Donabate, in the middle of nowhere, wanted a piece of the cake, so it applied to that foreign Cargo cult, for a few slices. All didn't turn out as expected. Has anyone ever noted the huge, empty office temples overlooking the East Wall Road at the Tolka mouth in Dublin? Very Ancient-Egyptian in style, all death crystal; those architects really got the accord between (non-)function and frontage, spot-on! I call that a sort of perverted architectural genius, but i guess the blame really is with the "developer" that hired it. (I saw a twin of those buildings in Downpatrick, NI on 7 April 2015; it also stood empty) The Tolka mouth - and Dublin - could have been given a facelift, using less than one tenth of the capital invested there.
Domhnach = Sunday, but also church; Donabate was the church at the ferry. That ferry gives a boost to the prima facie name of the pic: "L'Embarquement pour l'avenir"; there are countless such pics to be taken in Ireland, of slowly degrading structures, failed investments into the future. Even more interesting: after being exposed to the winds of the world for almost a decade, the Donabate dilapidation is being touched up in the autumn of 2017. I smell social housing. Some other place where the owls can be evicted? Belcamp College looks much the same. /The law should prevent builders from erecting living quarters in a location like this. For each and every one of these disgraces An Bord Pleanála could exclaim: Mea culpa, mea culpa - but part of the blame falls (back) on the thoroughly politicized juridical system of Ireland. There is always a judge to overturn a decision when An Bord Pleanála dithers. When will this two-headed dinosaur be replaced by something modern and in step with the time?/

With that picture the Kilternan Hotel and Country Club springs to mind, so, let's put Edward Max on the team again, this is his moment of vindication:
A third group of habitats which urgently need protecting from further disturbance and alienation is the small series of sand-dunes, isolated beaches and spits, lagoons and saltings, bird-cliffs and islets dotted here and there round our coasts. (Birds and Men, p. 224).
Written more than 60 years ago; both England and Ireland have lost much biological diversity over that period, gained a few things, too. I like the fact that Nicholson has both the courage and the education to use the term "alienation" - a philosophical concept, translating the Hegel/Feuerbach/Marx/Engels tag Entfremdung and the Russian ostraneniya. (The next step involves Heidegger's invariant Unheimlichkeit - i prefer "homesickness" to "uncannyness" for its translation, un-homelike-ness would be best - and Sartre's more historical and developing concept of alienation; we must latch on to that). In our case the word pinpoints the degradation of coastal habitats; they are often just alienated, not obliterated, because they have some utility value that can be exploited, free of charge. / This whole arrangement is intriguing; the alienation takes place within myself, the one who "looks", but i attribute it to some "habitat" outside me. Sartre claims that values - both positive and negative - are automatically bred from our perception of the world: "(our actions make) values spring up like partridges". "Truth" about the world is established that way. Still, the particular, ecological identification - and the dumping of alienation on some aspect of environment - hadn't really dawned on him, it's a post-Sartrian phenomenon. In social alienation we ourselves are the main sufferers; in biological alienation we create an ally, a shady Doppelgänger and co-sufferer out there. / Let's continue this self-torment for a while.

Placing a golf-course on top of Skellig Michael could be envisaged as the ultimate Irish act of estrangement, the apex of alienation. It entails a lot of investment; for some reason that money has not been forthcoming, yet. Let's admit: there has been some indisputable, almost accidental protection for "bird-cliffs and islets" in Ireland. Not so for sand-dunes and the like; look at the worn and distorted face the Dublin area is turning to the Irish Sea! The golf clubs have really been greedy here, they have taken it all. And, they are turning gradually into supermarkets for one hour of golf consumption, the practice getting more and more roughshod, in particular where juveniles are left unattended on the courses. (I can discern the same development in Sweden). All ancient code of golfmanship is gradually dumped into the sea, the way the Irish do it.

golf courses of east dublin

The violet patches denote golf courses in east Dublin. It seems to me that Clontarf Golf Club (18) and Malahide Golf Club (27) have "earned" the rights of their locations; they both sit on transformed park landscapes. But how about Royal Dublin (18), St Anne's (18), Howth Golf Club (18), Portmarnock Championship Course (27), Portmarnock Golf Links (18) and the Island Golf Club at Corballis (18), sea links sitting on sand dunes and heath? As i see it, they are stewards of coastal landscape, belonging to the Irish nation. Do they live up to their responsibilities?

No answers given, it's not up to me; i am asking the questions here. Let's move to another end of the golf scale: the small, often slightly substandard "pitch and putts" inserted here and there in Dublin, obviously in an attempt to provide affordable golf for those who can't afford club fees. (I don't quite understand the intention behind; golf is desirable status, and status is never bought cheaply in Ireland, nor do i think that stew can be force-fed at a discount). Have you ever come upon Dublin's "Crooked Glen", Cruimghlinn - it sounds vaguely familiar, yes - to some known as Lansdowne Valley? The glenn is a creation of the river Cama ( camb is Old Gaelic for "crooked"), that flows past Drimnagh Castle and is tunnelled under the Grand Canal. At one end of this valley lies the "Lansdowne Pitch and Putt", blocking the right of way for anyone who would feel inclined to explore the valley in its entirety. This golf-course has no economy; one local councillor wanted to get rid of it in 2010 and the council deprived it of staff in February 2014 - so why on earth was it ever planted there? The stream itself is severely littered along the edges, the water often surprisingly cloudy. At the entry the tarmac of the lanes is stained by dozens of garbage fires, and bramble is threatening to take over everywhere. The whole place is crying to the gods about its decay - like so many other Dublin sites with some "memory" of previous, more natural conditions. (There are traces of quarrying and brick deposits throughout the area, more or less merged with original topography; i try to see it all, down to the detail, with sober eyes).

The blind spot of Ireland: environment

The sad truth is that one can no longer be proud to call oneself a Dubliner. The condition of the city is a cause for shame, a cause for outrage. There is degradation almost everywhere.

Frank McDonald in The Irish Times, November 1979 (reference and exact date will follow, i will read McDonald's oeuvre first. Very difficult to get hold of. Was this FMD:s Sturm und Drang ; is he still active or has he been silenced? Oh, there he is: George Redmond among most corrupt officials in Irish history , Irish Times, 20.2.16. I humbly request some investigative journalism on the assassination of St Paul's Pitches... On 16 August 2018 he writes as a "former Environment Editor" of The Irish Times, so let's consider him an elder statesman of the environmental business).

Protection of the Irish landscape has been a low priority; there is still widespread insensitivity to landscape deterioration and spineless acquiescence in brutal acts of spoliation. Although public concern for the landscape is growing, it remains too diffuse to influence sufficiently the agencies and individuals responsible for change. Certain features of landscape change, such as the uncontrolled proliferation of dispersed bungalows , the destruction of bog environments which are rare elsewhere in Europe, and the general weakness of nature conservation policies, have been repeatedly condemned by conservationists within and outside Ireland. In the Republic there is no clear landscape policy; no central authority exists to develop integrated conservation policies for landscape, nature and historic heritage, and the planning system remains too weak to implement any.

F.H.A. Aalen in Atlas of the Irish rural landscape (1997) .
Thanks to Graham McElwaine for bringing this passage to my attention. The whole book is remarkably rich, a true cornucopia. For mainland European readers who want to read something about how havoc was wrought on Ireland from the late 90s, i recommend the chapter "Celtic Tiger housing" by Ruth McManus.

There is no environment. It doesn't exist. It is not seen. There is a very restricted, almost solipsist "umbworld", heartfelt, superimposed on whatever might be out there. No more. That is why urban settlement, coastal areas, part of the road-net are in such a sad state, so repulsive. I'm going to let eloquent pictures speak for themselves here, pictures saying with a straight face: this is wrong.

Saving clauses: 1. Some Irish people are very poor, still. They will be flat-footed before fifty, because of inferior footwear. (Options and faculties are influenced by the means at hand). 2. "Ireland" isn't identical with "Dublin". I know something about Dublin, less about the western parts of Ireland, but i have a suspicion that what i'm talking about here goes very, very deep.


So, like they do in those waterparks: just jump into the water slide and allow yourself to be flushed away! The Santry, Tonlegee Road, Coolock, 16 January 2015.

Ireland is a nation dotted with memories of saintly virtue and saintly miracle. I have heard Irish people, born as late as the fifties, stating: In school i had one goal: to become a saint. Canonization was the utmost distinction, proof of moral peak performance; such targets are not abandoned easily, or at all. They are replaced with a stand-in, the old ghost dressed up in a new coat. That's how the "developer" as a modern, secular saint came into being. Living in the parish of St Olaf in southernmost Sweden (when not in Dublin), i have a healthy skepticism regarding the standards of the original incarnations of all this saintliness. Saints were created retroactively, by sycophants in the saintly succession. Developer-saints were created by journalists with some hidden agenda, and in general they were as ill suited for promoting urban development as Olav the Holy was for converting people to Christian faith.


Crosbie Yards and Business Park, not far from Connolly Station, inserted a view from the DART. Study the tentative and harmless comments by would-be tenants on the Crosbie Yards forum at neighbours.ie , they illustrate the level of awareness in the potential custom. A train brushes past the backside of the complex every five minutes. To the south the Yards are clasped by North Dublin scorched earth: marshalling yard, Royal Canal, Buddleja davidii.

At this point, in order not to allow me to speak uncontradicted, let's establish some sort of counterforce, an opposition, spoken from the guts (or the green bin) of the Irish citizen. I needn't go along with it myself, but i could bow my head in reverence, the same way i do before religious creed, because i see religion, at the core, as an expression of human wishes and human hope. So, if someone says to me: You shall not speak evil of Malahide beauty, i nod and concur with the underlying assertion of value: beauty is a watchword in matters of urban development.


The other side presents itself by way of a picture insisting on Malahide's beauty, as an initial condition. One way or another, beauty can be classified as environment, so this doesn't lead me too far away from my introduction. If i had started out: "there is no beauty in Ireland" (and i would never have said that), some authority is most definitely contradicting me: Malahide is already beautiful. I could also have hedged a little, said: the Irish are experts at destroying, perverting environment - including what beauty might be out there. That way the antagonism would be established and manifest, and i could say: Whatever might have been there at the outset - today Malahide is nothing but repulsive urban sprawl.

I have a lot to show in this section, so let's keep up the tempo. My basic criticism is not unique; in many respects i am only repeating what others have said a thousand times before me. And there are both architects and city planners in Dublin, who have tried, try to do the right thing. Or at least have tried to advocate some sound thinking . In a way they remind me of beetles, caught in a jug of syryp, held up by the surface tension and flouncing in a circle without getting anywhere. Dublin is not a very rational contrivance, and the political organization of the Irish society is basically flawed, a volcano incessantly throwing up new problems for future generations to (try to) manipulate. I think that individuals can learn from past mistakes, but in my experience national governing systems are very slow learners, sticking to what they know: "more of the same". Problems are never really solved in Dublin, because measures are not radical enough, in the true sense of the word: they don't go to the roots.


"Shuffle and deal". If Ireland is "Na Clocha Liatha", a possible remedy could be to introduce some colour. That has been attempted here. If Ireland is disconsolate uniformity, down to the smallest detail, the contour could be broken up, some difference introduced. That has been attempted here, too. And after that, what comes third, and fourth? How many tricks must be pulled, before it goes without saying that Baldoyle is beautiful? Our vantage point is Clongriffin Dart Station, by way of Dublin scorched earth we are gazing on the estate "The Coast", to the left glimpses of Baldoyle and the Howth head. Here the builders threw away their spades and ran from everything around 2007/2008, it was a rout. Due to the excessive land prices (and the preferred house volumes) the necessary buffer zones weren't deployed; everything crept a little too close to the DART line, and to the neighbouring houses, the shoehorn was applied everywhere. The margins of vegetation are scant, more decoration than screening or softening function (that is very typical of recent developments in Dublin, and it's not only about plant material with dwarf stems). By 2015 there is some absent-minded patching going on in the whole area, but can it be saved from its desolation? Maybe it got the kiss of death already on the drawing-board, somewhere around the years 2004-2005? (As a matter of fact the "North Fringe Action Area Plan" dates back to the year 2000, a "Local Area Plan" for Clongriffin-Belmayne superimposed on it in December 2012). The "centre" of Clongriffin is still a ghost town, much like the eerie "Point Village" in the Docklands (another matter of the heart for the earlier mentioned Harry Crosbie), few commuters use the station. A treatise on the theme of absent environment could be written, departing from this platform, in a wider sense.
Would expropriation of land at some pre-present-time price level help up things in Dublin? I have seen that tool abused so often, in so many places; the lower cost of land isn't converted to the benefit of the "customers". It could be attempted in consort with some legislative ring-fencing.
What if we tried to put a price-tag on corrupted environment in the Dublin area, departing from estimated repair costs; would that impress? I suggest that the initial bid should lie at order of magnitude 100 billion euro, the licentious car use the Gordian knot. Any counteroffers? ("You are naive; there is neglect for 250 billion euro out there, a trillion if you dig deep. And the public would resist every aspect of a repair programme, tooth and nail.") In a recent cost-benefit analysis, the city of Copenhagen estimated the gain for a densely built-up area from 1 km travelled by bicycle at 2 euro, the loss from 1 km travelled by car at the same sum: 2 euro. In a follow-up study at Lund University, these figures were corroborated. (That is how local opinions are prepared for more bicycle lanes).


Next under the theme of neglected environment: Clasac, in some ways reminding of the Crosbie Yards. It's a stylish architectural building, you would expect to meet it in correspondingly stylish environs, like Alftanes in Reykjavik or Talludden in Helsinki (or Phoenix Park in Dublin...). But some Irish mentality has been at work, producing a subversive disarming of the whole project, it has been lost in the shuffle. The DART line runs just behind the rear wall - one can only just insert a stamp between its back and a palissade fence. The heavily trafficked Alfie Byrne Road runs in front of it, and beyond the road lies the noisy Dublin City Motocross Track! Clasac was under-utilised by the time this article was written in 2009, i hope things have improved in 2017 - but the place cannot be saved from its contextual humiliation. I will be mercifully silent and say no more. Pay it a visit when in Dublin, this "Irish-way-of-doing-the-wrong-thing-open-eyed" must be seen at close quarters, open-eyed. The mess created by the binge-building in central/north Dublin in 2019 has much in common with the same desperate mentality, it is pressed through contrary to the discretion of common sense. Afterwards everyone asks: how could this be allowed?


The Baldoyle picture needs the Platonic idea of Irish settlement for reference; Ballyfermot, 18 January 2016. (I could have sworn i saw that row before, at St Malachy's! No, no, it's Kilbarrack, Edenmore, Finglas...! Wrong, friends, there is a ridge of Wicklow mountains looming in the background, to the south-west.) This is sort of Holy Ground, Paddy Keenan grew up twenty stone's throws from here, i add a pic of father & two brothers Keenan . I can read much from that picture, here Zina Lee's empathetic biographical sketch in "Celtic Café". Cherry Orchard, not far from Oranmore Road, once was the largest halt for Travellers in Ireland, in 1953 a "fever hospital" was built there. (100 - 200 cases of polio per annum in the juvenile population of Ireland up till the first vaccination year, 1957. Tuberculosis was a constant affliction among Travellers).

Now: every human project, every intervention in nature has a history. When some area is buried for good and gets its coffin-lid of concrete (the term for that in Dublin is: development), some little leprechaun is often there, scratching the year-mark for all descendants to see.


"Some little leprechaun scratching the year-mark for all descendants to see."
Note the crossbar on the '2', isn't that a convention from Germany, Italy, Spain? I haven't seen it in Ireland before.

Why bother about years, don't we all think: done is done? Not a chance of holding the past responsible, every interference back there was done with impunity. We may all bemoan the action of Arthur Price in 1749; he is safely entrenched outside our jurisdiction. (There is the option of an Irish "Divine Comedy"; Celtic Tigers mangling the flesh of chained developers for eternity...) But what if one of those years blazed a trail, establishing a practice that goes on and on without being challenged? Hasn't Ireland (only just) come out of the shadow of the nineteen-twenties?


Na Clocha Liatha, this time the real ones, in the background from left to right: Bray Head, Killiney Hill and Howth. Good things come in threes, the fourth is an embarrassment. This rubble cairn will never feature in glossy tourist brochures, alongside the Cliffs of Moher and Arainn Mor. It doesn't exist. It is not seen. ( Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape grunts about "the clutter around the Cliffs of Moher", wonder what the verdict would be on the clutter at Greystones... ).

There was an Irish jubilee a few years ago, passing without much ado; it is three hundred years since Berkeley coined his famous formula Esse est percipi : To be perceived (or to perceive) is the measure of being. It has been surpassed or expanded by later philosophical developments, but it still walks among us, as a positive or negative conviction. A "reverse" of the formula of course implies: when something is not perceived, it isn't there. This particular approach can be extended to include the neighbours (and eventually the whole clan), you expect him or them not to see as well, and next - the problem has been taken off the table! (Are there any more problems that need to be solved? Just bring them, we'll all shut our eyes, close our ears!)

That was a bit rich, i need to catch my breath after that. I have noticed that many Irish photographers, amateur and professional, providers for television and press alike, quail from taking, or at least quail from presenting, "ugly" pictures. In all media (e.g. the Irish Times) there seems to be a premium on the idyllic-ingratiating or majestic-ingratiating or just: generally inoffensive composition. I call that ambition "ideological"; representations of natural objects or natural layouts are smeared with the ideology of bland inoffensiveness, distorting them almost beyond recognition. Some degree of self-censorship is most certainly involved (i don't think Photoshop can be blamed; there is no ideological airbrush in the toolbox, not to my knowledge). Is there a general fear of getting cornered in a position, where people would defend their "everyday ugliness" - were it to be presented under too negative a key signature? I leave that question hanging in the air, unanswered.

Admittedly, taking pictures that expose, uncover some wrong is not an unproblematic task. A particular dilemma occurs the moment poverty or disease or some human emergency occupies the view-finder (e.g. the exodus of Syrian fugitives in 2015, that was an ugly thing); the photographer must decide if his primary goal is to wallow in revulsion or pity, creating vicarious indignation (the most short-lived of Irish emotions), or if he should aim at something more "slow-burning". If television is the client, the choice has already been made for him. A similar problem, more low-key, occurs with pictures of alienated environments, where "populated". When i walk along Malahide Bay, there are motives entering my internal picture viewer every hundred metres, the whole area has been brutalized - but it's inhabited by living people, who stroll or walk their dogs, or push their prams, or do a few things more, i am all blank, can't come up with them right now. Anyway, the everyday situation, with people included, creates a sort of inhibition that i must struggle to overcome. (I hesitated for two days before publishing the pic from St Anne's Golf Course above, but its message is so complex or ambivalent that all hesitation was eliminated). A second example: can i take a picture of "Estuary House" in the Broadmeadow estuary - as the epitome of Ireland's "misplaced house"? ( The Irish Independent calls such houses "dream homes", probably as a tribute to their lack of realism; there are thousands of them in the Shannon floodplain). I'm sorely tempted: fisheye objective, from a very low position next to the stream! But it's occupied by living people, and i don't know one thing about its prehistory, so i keep my finger off the shutter. Sometimes i sit with the feeling that even "Ireland's Rural Landscape" is holding back a little, shunning populated present-time pictures.

I think photographers should struggle more than they do, in order to overcome the obvious contradiction between reality and illusion presented. As a possible explanation for their cowardice, i suggest that there is a well-established horror pulchri in Ireland, and that this revulsion still constitutes part of the Catholic heritage, from some crucial period onwards. No bias here: Protestantism has evinced as much horror pulchri as Catholicism over its history, and Islam is an almost perpetual iconoclasm. (Admitted: present-time photography is contrarian on this point, but that is a facile achievement, it should be more, much more, it should be meta-communicating. ) Many of Dublin's modern churches are real eyesores - no illustrations, but i'm still weighing my options - that cannot be accidental. Beauty was shunned, because it was a sin, ugliness the desirable state, because it helped turning people's eyes away from this world, towards a realm of transcendental, unsurpassed beauty. An additional bonus: if horror pulchri could be allowed to taint the physical landscape, there would be less that bound us to that aspect of homeland and environment, and no more of those lascivious, spoken or sung apostrophes of nature:

Dá mbeinn féin in Airdí Cuan
In aice an tsléibhe úd 'tá i bhfad uaim
B'annamh liom gan dul ar cuairt
Go Gleann na gCuach Dé Domhnaigh

The dominant ideology needn't be like that any longer, Ireland is changing on this point, but the nation is a slow-moving caterpillar, in many ways its builders still tread the concrete of 40 - 50 years ago under their crawlers. I think there will be much ugly concrete ahead of us, much reason to see, or to turn a blind eye. I could add a positive symptom for the sake of balance: the widespread public rejection of the concrete seafront at Greystones; here we meet with a dawning environmental awareness, slowly hardening into concreteness... The public rejection (in 2017) of the plans for Bullock Harbour in Dalkey, and the fact that a politician (Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor) took a stance, belongs in the same camp. These two events suggest a minor breakthrough for basic environmental ideas in middleclass strata of the Irish society; the Greystones reaction came after the event, but Dalkey citizens entered the barricades in time. Opposing the Dalkey project was much of a penalty kick; these builders (or coalitions: builder+banker) are a strange lot, not a clue to the world around them, when they emerge from their Irish backwaters. A similar, fresh confrontation seems to be brewing on Howth in spring 2019, with Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin "and a local group of residents looking to raise funds for the court challenge".

Back to Business: perceiving Brent, Brent perception

The uniqueness, vastly surpassing mere necessity, in other words the symbolic character of an animal Gestalt, increases with increasing rank in the hierarchy.

Adolf Portmann, excerpt from lecture manuscript 1938/39. This is ambivalent, one exit transcendence, another the abyss, but given the context, we should give Portmann some leeway. What he is suggesting is that communicational form can be whittled, or honed. (Thanks to Mårten Björk, for bringing up Portmann when i needed a reminder). The bird above is surrounded by a "no-brent's-land" with radius 1 individual distance, where no goose intrudes. Is it unmated? Not necessarily; the watching eye to the right could belong to the male. Juno's sacred, vigilant geese, watching out for Gauls - and some birds watching more than others.


"The internal life (Innerlichkeit) of this, from our own organization strongly different living being, addresses us through its appearance. The fact, that we cannot translate its language into human words, is no good reason to ignore this appearance. If i were to witness the performance of some theatre play in some foreign country, where i didn't understand a single word, it would be wrong to claim afterwards, that no performance had taken place, that nothing happened, that there was just a random noise." Adolf Portmann quoted in: M. Grene (1968), Approaches to a Philosophical Biology , pp. 38 - 39. This field has been deep-ploughed; cf. Merleau-Ponty's sixth chapter in "Phenomenologie de la Perception" : The Body as Expression, and Speech , and the early contribution by Darwin (1872): The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Read the latter as history of science, it's attack at Pavlov level.
The two geese are standing on the pier just below the Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club, gnawing green algae from the concrete, the introductory picture above them was taken at Donahies Community School, 10 March 2015.
A "joint posture" like this has some history, some genesis. It's not ad hoc, it's a product of evolution (even if the female has put one foot forward, and has to balance her body differently. Anyway, i have a hundred pics of the same intrasex balance). Where does its cradle stand, how far back? Note the thicker base of the male neck, it's the same way in most geese, and in e.g. Mute Swans.

So, back to the pilgrim fathers, the major prophets and the minor prophets. I have gradually learnt to be very wary around them, to handle them only with tongs and to weigh each word they say on gold scales. Biology is so full of ideology that it barely qualifies as a science, but it's what we have. (All those titles, "Towards a Theoretical Biology" (ed. Waddington), "Approaches to a Philosophical Biology" (Grene), "New Paths in Biology" (Portmann), etc., etc., indicate that there is some immutable - unhappiness - with biology, lasting for more than fifty years now. One could say that the desire for a new regime has been solidly announced).

Adolf Portmann (1897-1982), professor of zoology in Basel from 1931 onwards. In the neighbouring country, Germany, five million workers are unemployed by 1931, and a grotesque political reaction is fermenting. Portmann is watching with horror how Darwinist ideology is contributing to that movement. As he sees it, increasingly specialized biological sub-disciplines are increasingly concealing the living world under a snowcover of disjointed "facts", and in that process losing their proper object out of sight (Uexküll is airing similar misgivings about the same time). As a remedy, he attempts several informational approaches, tentatively focusing on the outward appearance of organisms and its double semiotic position; mediating messages from some interior world (Innenwelt, taken from Uexküll) and sending them on in some form to an environment. The phenomenological tradition of the time encroaches on this program (there is a period of contact with Heidegger), and in the sixties the general quest is for a time overshadowed by the more instrumental ethology bandwagon (Lorenz, Tinbergen). Behind closed doors Portmann warns against exposing students to Lorenz; it was a well-known fact that there was a hardcore "Swiss" stance on this point after the war, the firewall still up and active. (I held a talk on Lorenz in secondary school when i was twelve, could have dropped on the spot from palpitations, but i survived it, have had my time to digest him since then, and possibly to develop immunity to whatever contamination there was...:-). I could give countless examples from art and science of talented people with dubious stances outside their pet subjects, we learn to live with that. When it comes to it, Lorenz has the keenest eye, more of the "primordial astonishment" than anyone else in the animal psychology movement (the term originally used by L. was "Tierpsychologie"), he is unique. The baroque had a similar deep-felt understanding of some aspects of this "surface language", and i dare the contention: fascist movements always had symbolic intuition.


Measuring the project today, with the benefit of a few extra decades for perspective, i think Portmann was striking a tentative chord, several notes at the same time. Following my own preferences, i'm going to connect to only one of them here, the semiotic note. First with some anecdotal evidence:



Herring Gulls breed on roofs in parts of Dublin; with one centre between the Liffey quays and Connolly Station, another in North Dublin from Kilbarrack up to Finglas (and probably the same "litter population" in Crumlin and Ballyfermot). A common feature of all the northern breeding areas is that household waste is disposed of in the open, outside houses, throughout the year. As a consequence many gull territories are also occupied and defended all year round, serving as feeding territories part of the year; the young of the year remain in at least some territories over the first winter, a huge bonus for them. This means that a lot of display and infighting is going on in the winter months. This population seems to have grown strongly between 2014 and 2016, reflecting increasing "self-sufficiency" in North Dublin over that period. I know of some 50 permanent territories by April 1st, 2016, and there are vast areas that i know nothing about; the overall population could be order-of-magnitude 500 pairs. (These estimates should be updated annually; with an explosion of illegal dumping in 2017 and many tentative Herring Gull breeders searching for new nest-sites, the available population might well exceed 1000 pairs in the spring of 2017. The question is how much there is to the west of the M50, i really don't know).

The Brent pioneers to Dublin had a lot to cope with the first years. Burglar alarms misfire around them every five minutes; they had to learn to leave that worry to the neighbours. Dublin ambulances and garda cars make much noise, insistent and loud, but they stick to their tracks most of the time and can be met with sullen tolerance. Carbide cannons sound like distant shotguns, but again there is no imminent danger, they can be ignored (i would like to see the carbide cannons banned; they are not needed in Sweden and Germany, why should they be necessary in Ireland?). An excavator has been chopping up concrete sidewalks around me for five months now, it seems to be some sort of perpetual work therapy, nothing to do about such force majeur. A final one: Large developments are underway in the Portmarnock-Maynetown area, just underneath the central noise strips of planes going down for Dublin Airport. Measure the sound levels on Clonshaugh Road in front of Belcamp Park during take-off of four-engine planes! This problem is not heeded, it is ignored. All in all Dublin is a very boisterous city, whose spectrum of unknown and confusing signals had to be catalogued; the survival of the flock could depend on the outcome.

One thing the geese find it very hard to reconcile themselves with is Herring Gull display. A territorial dispute or some forceful display within earshot - and kaboom! - the whole flock is on its wings in a split second. It comes as a bit of a surprise when i see it for the hundredth time: will they ever get used to it? Herring Gull manifestations seem to be charged in some way, to Brent ears. I have a hunch what it's about, some insight may lie just around the corner here. The surprisingly shrill call (in this version of it) of the Glaucous Gull has much the same pitch as a central element of at least the female Herring Gull vocabulary, although it may be bi-tonal: ee'ao rather than a diphtong: eeao . Still, even with this difference, a mix-up is an obvious possibility. And, as i have indicated in the top picture, brent memories of the Glaucous Gull may include some traumatic moments. (I owe the HG and GG recordings to the xeno-canto website , the Javascript programming for this section will be further improved, it is not flexible enough).

Aren't some of these Herring Gulls great mockers? I had one over St Paul's Pitches in the afternoon of 27 January 2016; it came innocently gliding from the south, crossing the pitch diagonally, pulling off some great display when it came within sight. The whole thing was as if calculated to flush six hundred geese on the pitch - and that was exactly what happened! The same pattern was repeated at Royal Dublin Golf Course on 1 February, late in the afternoon in a ferocious hail-storm, and at Naomh Mearnóg GAA in Malahide on 5 February; irrespective of site, time and weather, herring gulls pull off their display, and brent geese flocks simply explode under its impact. There is a foreign accent to that dáinsear! (we must assume that at least Irish Herring Gulls speak Irish) , but it still seems to be understood as "danger". (One possibility: it is a "pedagogical" reaction in the geese, the adults are "burning" it into the minds of the juveniles. I will have to compare with years when they have no young). On 29th February 2016 i had two cases - at Pobalscoil Rosmini and at St Paul's Pitches, where 4 and 6 Herring Gulls formed up in order to "display-mob" brent geese off the pitches, with success in both cases. They weren't successful in the first two attempts, but they returned for a third try - the geese up on their toes and obviously tender from the first two assaults. Here quantity mattered, it was conscious "battering ram strategy", but the gulls still gave all they had in a diverse, rich, strong chorus of display. One minute later they were undisputed Kings of the Pitch.

That was one of Niko Tinbergen's early discoveries; that at least young Herring Gulls - and in general: inexperienced, untrained juveniles - have a slight imprecision to their perception. (I could escalate that to cover all ages, all species: we perceive in adumbrations, facets of an object before our eyes, and based on earlier experience we fill out the shady areas that we didn't catch). Also, the intensity of some signal or stimulus in many cases has a certain normal distribution, and if you only take it within, say, one standard deviation from peak intensity, some form of mainstream, "correct" response can always be defended. That is the rationale behind the phenomenon of mimicry; the likeness needn't be 100 % (far from it). Next, the existence of polysemic messages (signs or aggregates of signs with several "meanings") springs to mind. So, how about the Brent Geese: can they separate display from warning calls in e.g. Herring and Glaucous Gulls, or are these vociferations one and the same "Japanese face" to them? If they were able to discern two different gull messages, then they should know better than to panic, confronted with display. On the other hand; if they can only perceive one single, smoothed "gull call", then their reaction to it should preferably change with context, from Axel Heiberg Island in the pack ice to Foxfield Green on the littered emerald isle. That isn't the case, not yet. Let me sum this up: since gull display is irrelevant to brent geese, it is obviously not perceived as such, as display. Why this shortcoming? Because all brent dealings with their environment are characterized by the utmost economy, extras are not provided. What disturbs me here is: at some point wholesale economy turns into ineptitude, and that costs the geese dearly in this case, it's bad economy. (Took me three attempts to get this right, but a point or two may still be missing).
I always had a feeling that gulls speak to me, the same way music does, by way of pitch, intensity, rhythm, tempo, accord and discord, and that i have an intuitive understanding of the message. Lorenz's book from the nineteen-fifties: "He talked with the animals" ( King Solomon's Ring ) conveys this feeling, and i believe that Herring Gulls were already talking to Tinbergen when he set out to study them. Gulls are closer to us than many other genera.

I'm not going to force this, insights may come to the surface when i am ripe for them. The first episode was about constraints, shortcomings. A more "positive" approach would be to focus on signals that geese perceive very "eagle-eyed" (if they ever do that), involving details that i myself cannot perceive from my distance. Most likely because i observe the reaction to some breach of code, but wasn't focused on the original infringement. Here i run into difficulties; i am not convinced that this is the case at all. Instead i must confess: most of the time i stand there with a feeling that there really is no (good) cause for all the bickering in a flock, that it only serves to confirm a pre-existing social order. Pretexts for quarrels are invented, on the spur of the moment, willy-nilly, with little preceding observation. (There may still be some benefit from this, and the target may still be "selected", e.g. from some pool of aspiring young males). I had better add a reservation: the reason could still be that i am not looking at the spot where things are happening, because my viewing angle is shrunk to nothingness with 60x magnification. I just need to develop my power of anticipation a little and wiggle the telescope at the right moment...
I had a warning on 23 February 2016 at Bull Island, one could almost call it a "field morality", a divine reminder to the field observer. I had a curlew and a brent goose simultaneously in view, both were scanning the sky with intense concentration. I looked up to see for myself. There was nothing. One minute later they were both still gazing at the sky. I set the telescope aside and looked REALLY HARD, was there a balloon? Yes, there was some flyspeck, and 10x binoculars revealed that it was a white-tailed eagle, making only slow progress against the strong northwesterly wind (it was heading NNE, towards England). I have some experience with raptor migration from Falsterbo, estimated its altitude at between 300 and 400 m. I would never have detected it on my own, because i didn't expect it to be there. But one curlew detected it, or one brent detected it, or two birds detected it, independently of each other. Never more will i condescend toward brent goose observance! (Did it cheat by squinting to the curlew?)

This boils down to: Either NO EXTERNAL CAUSE + EFFECT. That would have repercussions, but it first leads me into the library, no more speculation until i have done some reading. Or EXTERNAL CAUSE + EFFECT, i just cannot discern the cause(-s) yet. That would feel like more normal progress, calling for more field-work, more observation. In order to show what it's all about, i will try my hand at Photoshop again. But should i do it in the Lorenz, very definitive way, with broad ink contour "encompassing" the whole animal subject? I think not, not in the long run. I will offer two attempts, work on them with the tools at hand.
When i make general assertions (A), i will use the phrasing: It seems to me , e.g.: "It seems to me that brent geese have a developed communication system, based on discrete vocalizations and discrete body signals. Furthermore it seems to me that there is a "syntax", regulating the combination of vocalizations, the combination of body signals and the interaction between vocalizations and body language (kinesics)". (That would be a wonderful thing if true, a syntax bridging the gap between essentially digital and essentially analog. Brent do not always react mechanically to key stimuli - the reaction to herring gull calls is an example of automatic response - sometimes there is deliberation and a choice. That is the beginning of language). When i refer to observations (B), i will make blunt statements, à la: "This signal means: i intend to depart in that direction within ten seconds".

So here the signal "i intend to depart". It is either taken up and so amplified, or ignored and so quashed, in a sort of majority decision. That presupposes continuous observation within the flock, but there is obvious redundancy in all signals, just in case:


NOTA BENE: this is directional intentionality ; the bird(s) will depart in the direction to which the bill points. The genesis of this "sign" could possibly be traced back to function: e.g. a straightforward form of magnetoreception, establishing the North direction. Click the picture, i will try to get the frequency right first. The whole event lasts less than a second, but is repeated again and again, the head quickly quivering or shuddering sideways (horizontally), as if the bird is shaking off water-drops. The frequency is not constant, there is a slight crescendo. All signals can be modified; when the beak is distinctly tilted (mainly downwards) it may imply some sort of modification. I must first learn to use my eyes here, Chesterton's caution in mind: "If you look at a thing nine hundred and ninety-nine times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it the thousandth time, you are in frightful danger of seeing it for the first time."
The shudder could also be an intensification of a more vague signal: "i am/we are not satisfied (here)" , where certain adults start looking and slowly walking in a particular direction with stretched necks, set heads. The intention isn't very clear, but the direction is; these birds always seem to know their cardinal directions. Such cajolement "persuasion" may go on for as long as ten minutes (juveniles tend to ignore it first), the goal most often being distant freshwater, better grazing or shelter from the wind. (I want to show this as animated GIF, my "modernity" relative to the nature morte of Lorenz and Tinbergen. The shudder doesn't look too bad with a delay 50 ms between four pics, but the true delay between the stages is probably o.o.m. 25 milliseconds, i.e. 0.10 - 0.15 s for the swing in one direction, 1/4 second to and fro).

A necessary interlude: geese with transmitter collars

The following was written "after the events" in the season 2016-17, i straightened it up a little and introduced a linear chronology on 20 May 2017.

The Irish Light-bellied Goose Research Group is an interest organisation for Exeter University and a Northern Irish catching group, centered around Kendrew Colhoun, Kerry Mackie and Graham McElwaine. It has a poor conservation "profile" (or none at all) and essentially acts as a back door by which British research interests can access Ireland. All decisions and choices are taken outside the Republic. I am not particularly upset about this state of things, and the Irish themselves take it pragmatically; it reflects the neo-colonial position of Ireland relative to the UK. In many professions an Irish person who wants to really educate himself goes abroad, and it goes without saying that e.g. zoology students want to maintain a good relationship with whatever foreign, benevolent tutor they are heading for.

In April 2016 Exeter University announced that they were going to make a series of brent goose catches with cannon-net in Dublin, with the aim of furnishing a score of birds with satellite transmitter collars. It was mainly an Exeter enterprise, the catching crew arriving from the UK. To the ordinary Birdwatch Ireland crowd the catching team held out the prospect of evaluating the fit of the first transmitters for a time before putting on the rest.

I had slipped on wet rocks in the field a few days before, cracked my telescope open and jammed the shutter of my camera, was really handicapped for the rest of the spring and not even aware of the extent of the damage. In the end i got the telescope passably functioning again, using the good old recipe: tape and rubber bands, and made a few excursions in order to locate the newly collared geese. By the same time the rest of the collars were slammed on. I managed to locate thirteen collared geese, stealing a few glances at the "evaluators" by the same time as well. I saw some sloppy, uncommitted field presence - the birds should have been studied for hours from hides - and i saw geese really suffering from this violent intrusion into their daily life.

Brent geese are highly social beings, living in a web of perpetual observation, constantly sending and receiving signals. This applies in particular for the period prior to departure in April-May. The intensity of exchange may be hard to envisage for anyone not familiar with these "imploding" spring flocks, where birds literally come to step on each other's toes for a short time. It goes without saying that the evaluation of the function of a collar presupposes profound knowledge of goose ethology; the "fit" or "non-fit" of the collar is secondary to the ethological findings. AND SOME OF THE COLLARED BIRDS REALLY EXPERIENCED HELL ON EARTH FOR A COUPLE OF WEEKS AFTER GETTING THEIR STRANGE POSTICHES. Nobody seems to have noticed it except me. (Many people at the North Bull are sharp-eyed, but few are observant, a strange, widespread contradiction. I think i see negative effects of both confessional upbringing and the triviality of the birdwatching culture; people with a secular upbringing and untainted by the birdwatcherei - i don't know the background of every individual i talk to, can only make detectivic assumptions - turn out to have less blinkers). It's a cultural numbness, the individual is socialized into not seeing. Et voilà: this connects like a jigsaw to the preceding and ensuing chapters. And i was unable to take videos! There is something particularly poignant about pics that mere description can't live up to, i could notice that when everyone simply chose to ignore what i had to say. So, a narrow escape for Exeter there, they would have been the heroes of YouTube under normal circumstances.


"Men han har jo ikke noget på," sagde et lille barn. "Herregud, hør den uskyldiges røst," sagde faderen; og den ene hviskede til den anden, hvad barnet sagde.
In translation: "But that isn't the emperor, that is Stuart Bearhop!" said an infant. "Mother of God, hear the voice of the innocent," said the father; and one whispered to the other what the child said.

There followed an animated quarrel on
the ILBGRG blog , where the catchers and the Northern Irish godfathers had their say. In the end i was censored, and that was the end of it for me, i have zero tolerance with censorship of free speech. At the same time i was unhappy with the commotion i had created while still providing data for the group's database; in a very characteristic way my criticism could be presented as a "quarrel within the family".

A short digression here. For many years i ringed and controlled swans in the Sound area between Denmark and Sweden under winter conditions, handling, ringing and reading thousands of individuals. During those years i saw the negative effects of neck collars (put on at other sites) during severe frosts. In many cases the fluffy underdown of the neck is exposed along the edges of such a collar, the down getting soaked and the water freezing overnight, or even in the daytime. The birds' response is to gnaw off this icy down, exposing the skin. Those birds as a rule lasted less than a month, suffering badly in the nighttime, slowly fading away under our eyes. I could add, narrowing the perspective to geese: Canada Geese didn't carry neck collars well, either. (It's best if a collar rests exactly on top of the feather contour, but then the bird will get hold of the edge with its bill tip, in the end most collars are gnawed off). And as a matter of fact: an exposure of underdown was noted on Dublin's collared brent already in April, described by the perpetrators as a somewhat unfortunate and undesirable side-effect of (fortunate and desirable) collaring.

Of course i couldn't say with certainty in April 2016 that things would go even more wrong than (just) the social harassment of some brent geese, nobody could at that stage. But i had a hunch that they might, and such a hunch is important in projects of this kind; it makes us anticipate injury or damage and avoid it. In general i think the ILBGRG has been and is a little placid, always avoiding discussion (= not listening to the other point of view) if it can be avoided.

In the second half of November 2016 there was an inflow of cold air over Ireland, with a sequence of cold nights hitting the newly arrived brent geese. This is a recurring meteorological phenomenon, one must always include it in one's considerations: there will be frosts in Ireland, when least expected (there was another one, very troubling for orchards in April 2017). Without delay there was ice around the collars and the geese started gnawing at the surrounding edge of feathers (or scratching with the hind-claw, which is more effective, and hurts more). Graham Prole offered a pic of two collared geese that seemed to be negatively affected already on November 13th (2016), i think he is asking: should they really look like the front bird? I myself, not arriving in Dublin until the last week of November, had the first really bad case at Red Arches, Baldoyle on 30th November. There will be more of this, and worse:


This bird had entered the Red Arches at Baldoyle together with five families; as a precursor to the larger flocks in midwinter. It was obviously feeling the effects of half a dozen frost nights (surface of Malahide Bay next to the railway bridge frozen on November 30th) and was scratching itself vigorously with the hind claw, down flying in all directions. It was also targeted by the parents of the families, starting to run the moment it spotted one of them stretch out its neck and come for it. It is difficult for me to see through the logic of these attacks; one reason could be that parents in a "sweeping" way attack all "alienness" in other geese, as a possible threat to their young.


"Some guy forgot to turn that neck twenty turns and attach it properly" (anonymous at Red Arches). I am not a devoted field photographer, photography robs me of observation time - and i still don't had my camera fully up and running after the reparation. I could have mounted it on the tripod, that would have given me better pics, i could have focused manually. Poor pics aside; anyone with some measure of zoological empathy can see that this bird is heavily "affected" by the human intrusion into its world. Such marking shouldn't be tolerated. Red Arches, Baldoyle, 30 November 2016.

On 23rd December, before sunrise, i met with collared SSRB from Axel Schei Island at Foxfield Green (Kilbarrack). It was a mild and cloudy morning, no stress from weather, but this bird had gnawed off its down under the collar during the frost a few weeks earlier, had a broad belt of bare skin under the collar and the surrounding neck down in general disorder. (I thought when i saw it: one should find some way to sue the ILBSG...). This bird was one of the poor sods that took a direct hit from the collaring in April 2016; i met it together with SCRB (ad, possibly female) and DVON (juv) several times on 20 April, it was running about like a scalded pig, not behaving adequately in what was probably its family unit; didn't defend SCRB in the countless skirmishes, didn't defend itself - and DVON was running in constant confusion between its two collapsed parents. No trace of SCRB or DVON on 23 December, they probably abandoned this hapless nervous wreck. Not so - i saw SCRB and SSRB united on 9 January, a remarkable metal in that bond. On 27 February SSRB seemed to be alone again, but the RB rings are notoriously hard to find, and read, in a goose turmoil. SCRB and SSRB continued their zigzag relationship up till the departure in April 2017; at times SSRB preferred to graze in isolation. He had lost his goose "personality" from the collaring, was behaving like an autistic individual. There are more victims around, two of them have lost their collars, or had them removed. When will we experience e.g. Kendrew Colhoun publish a public apology on the ILBSG chat, instead of the bullshit he has been writing there? When Bill Clinton was caught fooling about, at least he offered a public apology - the brent group (its central representatives), in contrast, seems to be chemically free of remorse after doing an unimaginably foolish thing.[CP]


3U from Seagrange Park, 29 December 2016. Compare the indignity of this picture to the reserved dignity of the bird under the header Back to Business: perceiving Brent, Brent perception . The Exeter catching team has been degrading brent geese in Dublin, and this activity is being condoned by anyone not speaking up against it.


A collage on the same bird.

As a consequence of this development i decided to distance myself from the group, not contributing more observations, informing Graham McElwaine about my decision in November 2016. In May 2017, after studying the public profiles of Kendrew Colhoun and Graham McElwaine when they surfaced from their half-year-long "silence of shame" and realizing that they can't be cured, i decided to cut all ties to the group. It is tainted by the south-north division of Ireland, a fellowship of Duckmäuse, ducking mice, and i realize what made Stewart Holohan so special: he wasn't one, an untypical Irish person in that respect. My point of course is: animal conservancy is a cross-border issue, and with a bit of personal courage on part of the individuals involved, the Light-bellied Study Group might have been something more than a local community of interest. As i see it now, a functioning group presupposes the resignation of Kendrew Colhoun and Graham McElwaine, they are the main holdbacks of the group in their deeply rooted "northern irishness", considering themselves non-accountable (a mainstream tendency in Northern Irish politics). At the same time it must be emphasized that south Irish people have an embedded tendency to "sit on the fence" (ain't my dog in this fight), watching events from the sidelines. This combination of Northern and Southern impotence is what creates that dysfunctional, mute Irish Light-Bellied Brent Goose Study Group - a reflection of a larger, national gridlock.


Repeat of an earlier illustration: the Northern and the Southern Duckmaus Obtusus hibernicus , and the hybrid between them, thinly distributed but nowhere common in Co Louth and Co Fermanagh. The web between the 1st and the 2nd fingers goes deeper in the Northern subspecies, the cleavage 64 - 71 mm deep (n=114), against 60 - 66 mm in the Southern subspecies (n=226).

So, now i'm going to blackmail the Irish Light-bellied Brent Goose Research Group. I'm going to say: i have five-thousand sightings that you are not going to get, i have ten-thousand sightings that you are not going to get, i have fifteen-thousand sightings that you are not going to get. (I saw BILY, I9WR and JIRB deep into Dublin the other day, oldies and goodies, and you are not going to get sightings data for them. Anyone who wants to support my crusade can send their sightings to me, i will enter them into Excel sheets and put them on ice). And what i want is the following:

1. I want the Icelandic ringing centre to act as a responsible member of the international ornithological community - or just as a responsible national ringing centre with some rudimentary scientific morale - which means that i want them to cease putting plastic rings on top of, or below metal rings. Over all years they have closed their eyes to the sufferings of birds with open plastic rings, scratching and hurting the tarsi. If they want to argue for their present practice, i want to hear their argumentation. A lot of sightings of Icelandic birds are being held back together with sightings of Dublin-ringed birds, the boycot is going to hurt Icelandic recovery rates in the long run.

2. I want to know who is or who are responsible for the choice of colours, and i want to hear arguments for colours in the past and colour choice in the future. It seems to me that the scheme would gain from these people stepping out into the light, giving arguments for their choices. The "colour policy" of the ILBGSG has been far from optimal, all the time a little ad hoc: short term "fixes" with no overall, guiding plan. The recent choice "orange-noir" is more than stupid, but early red-red and blue-blue didn't work out well, either. ( The crucial point is: each batch has a unique sighting probability - differing between men and women when red is involved - and differences get accentuated when birds are read over some distance and when colours and symbols fade. This creates nebulous differences between year-classes, ringed with more or less "successful" colour combinations. )

3. Maybe it is wrong to speak of the brent study group (this gang of ornithological ruffians at the outskirts of the civilized world) as if it still exists. When i measure the development of the original group, i come to think of an avalanche, impossible to direct, once set in motion. It split on some resistance; the hardcore metal ring approach went into one side valley, the soft plastic ring approach into another. The really annoying thing is that there is no running, overt, available evaluation of the fieldwork, no dialogue between metal rings and plastic rings. Just silence. The individuals involved seem singularly unsuited for the task they have taken upon themselves, for a start they can't even cooperate. I'm under the strong impression that this inability is based on a desperate need to be in control, resulting in a totally freewheeling line of action for the whole project.
And: there's nothing to be gained from dawdling. If Reykjavik postpones the correct decision for, say, three years, i will hold the material for another three years before handing it over. (There has been some mixing of metal rings and plastic rings by Exeter in Dublin, too - British crew using Icelandic rings on Irish territory - i know that, too; the metal rings are greedily eating through the plastic rings right now in the spring of 2018).

4. I can see that the Northern Irish project is getting back on its feet as a sort of local freemasonry in spring 2018; i expect the scientific guidance to be as poor as before, the concern for animal welfare as poor as before. (There was a vacuum for Exeter to fill here, and that vacuum is still there). I'm keeping out of the whole thing - it's a general distrust, of the NI people, of the "cooperation" between Ireland and Iceland, and the clever exploitation of the messy situation by the British - but when (or if) REYKJAVIK qualifies for data by no longer mixing plastic and metal rings on the same leg, i will hand over all data of interest, with some delay. On 15th February i'm sitting on 2,000 sightings of 650 individuals, by 1 May 2018 i will have some 4,000 sightings of 750 individuals, quite a lot pertaining to birds ringed in Iceland. I'm beginning to find the birds in 2019, too; they are behaving differently, and they are heavily pressed and stressed by the fact that there is no nature conservancy, no protection, in Dublin.

5. When i arrive at 10,000 unreported sightings, and there is no change to the Icelandic practice, i will erase all data and burn the sightings in effigy; they will cease to exist. [CP]

Update in 2020: It's a new world with the corona crisis, there is little field-work done on the brent in Ireland, and the Study Group and its database don't function. In the summer i released my withheld data to Graham McElwaine, and by much the same time he retired as coordinator. The work on new reporting routines progresses sluggishly, or not at all. I would say: nothing has improved so far.

sisyphos dwarves

Tomas Moczek/Wroclaw, "Sisyphos dwarves"

In general i don't trust much that i hear or read, i'm a sceptic. I read How to lie with statistics early in life, attracted by its punchline title, and later on when i mastered the art, i always had an evil eye for statistical presentation. (I want the raw material, want to be able to check the calculations, which is a little absurd, contrary to the spirit of statistics. Statistics should be based on trust, at all levels). So, when an Irish health minister asserts to the public: "Our goal is for cigarette smoking to be down to XY percent of the population in Ireland in 20XY and more or less abolished by 20WZ", my natural instinct is to doubt the underlying assumptions; this is politics "keeping up appearances". My eyes tell me another story: when i stand on a DART platform in the morning, or walk a Dublin street in the daytime, my first impression is that smoking is on the rise in Dublin. Like dog-keeping, it seems to be getting more aggressive, trying to reconquer lost territory, or conquering new; the smoker stands in the door of a DART carriage, holding it open with his foot and the cigarette smouldering outside. I also bristle when i see the number of staff sneaking out from Beaumont Hospital in order to suck a cigarette in the surrounding filthy streets; when the anti-smoking message hasn't "sunk in" among hospital staff, something is wrong. (It's an underclass stigma, middle-class people allow themselves to be seen smoking only outside Finnegan's in Dalkey. So, maybe what i see is: smoking on the rise in North Dublin).

Now, a critic shouldn't give overmuch weight to such first impressions, they may be just whims, caused by him turning more negative, conservative or generally misanthropic with age, or just overwhelmed by the general bankruptcy around him. But an impression can provide some guidance, and i know that i can perform better than that if i draw on my entrained toolbox. How do i keep count of confused phenomena in nature, converting flimsy impressions to irrefutable facts? I use a small manual tally , mechanical or electronic, and press a button for each "unit" i wish to record. For example, if i stand under a stream of chaffinch migration, i can press a button for every estimated 1,000 over my head and read the gizmo when i get home; "350" means that some 350,000 chaffinches flew over my head that day. So i bring my tallies with me in Dublin, pressing a button for each cigarette addict encountered, or for each sack of litter stumbled over on a walk in Edenmore. This in turn can be converted into good parameters, like "cigarette addicts encountered per kilometer walked in Dublin", or "litter items counted in Edenmore per kilometer walked". When the time is ripe i will present the findings in diagram form, with standard deviations and all, and everyone can investigate for himself if i am lying or telling the truth with statistics. Be patient for a few months, and it will be there. Dogshit: i bring you the smoking hot dogshit statistics for Dublin City! Another possible target, not unlike chaffinch migration: isn't the stream of cyclists in the morning and evening hours expanding by the day...? I see it as a reaction to the perverted car traffic of Dublin: four-five frenzied outbursts a day, accompanied by traffic jams and a lot of idling. These cyclists cannot avoid getting exposed to high concentrations of very, very dangerous emissions (partly caused by MOTHERS bringing their CHILDREN to school by car, often keeping cars idling outside the schools in winter! Cf.: UK parents 'worryingly unaware' of damage from air pollution , The Guardian 20190205). Cyclists are a sort of kamikaze pilots, the spearheads of new-and-better-Dublin. (And i will be the first to admit that the average "Irish-person-conquering-the-space-around-him" always is a problematic figure; blind, self-centered. I have seen mountain-bikers in the Wicklow mountains, they bring problems with them wherever they go, much the same way as Irish dog-walkers do. Dublin is there to be conquered by cyclists, but they must develop a culture of consideration, of the kind most car-drivers already embrace - where individual interactions are concerned, of course not if the impact of cars on the social whole is taken into account). Link to The Guardian, 22.4.17; i guess the UK figures apply to Ireland as well, UK and the Republic are two sides of the same coin. Also: irishcycle.com, an insightful article. /To be expanded; i'm still weighing my options/.


(Latest development on a zigzag trajectory: Irish Independent, 1 August 2018 )

In February 2015 Stena Line announced that it would end the ferry service between Dun Laoghaire (Dublin) and Holyhead (Wales) that had been running more or less without interruption since 1835. Still, three years after the event, the merry voice entertaining the passengers of DART carriages announces when the train approaches Dun Laoghaire: "Change here for ferry services!"

To me that is Ireland, or one very typical aspect of Ireland, its political sphere. If you refuse to acknowledge that the ferry service is no longer there, you are in some sense resisting this painful fact. Victims of a recalcitrant reality act like that. So you steel yourself, stare into the void, not moving an eye-lid, while the DART goes on for Sandycove and Glasthule. At some time in the future, you will again change here for ferry services, like in the good old days. I have used an expression earlier, keeping up appearances ; it's a little like Mrs Bucket, and it reaches up to ministerial level in Ireland. Analogous to this, in the year of 2018, the Dublin City Council continues to trumpet: "Dublin city has more green spaces per square mile than any other European capital city" (one example) . I have a feeling it will continue to do so for the next hundred years, while the effects of the rezoning of green areas in the central parts of the city are spreading like some lethal disease. The "green space per square mile" is the necessary window-dressing behind which Dublin feels free to disperse its legacy.

Now, when you walk around in Dublin - to see what little there is to see, apart from the brent geese - you quickly notice that whole areas were built with a "best before"-date of fifteen to twenty years. The plaster is falling off, the wood cracks and moulds, moisture rises from the ground in intricate patterns, sunlight degrades all external plastic piping. The ridged concrete roads and the concrete sidewalks are full of cracks. Most asphalt work of some seniority suffers from poor foundation work, slowly sinking into the ground along the edges. Much of what I'm referring to is obviously Dublin Corporation/City Council housing projects of some near past, but moisture is a problem even in quite fresh additions to the housing market, e.g. in Malahide (clearly visible from the outside). Look at an area like Bayside, squeezed in between Baldoyle and Kilbarrack, to my eyes it's ripe for demolition! But that is not the Irish way; the endemic way is to subsume Bayside into an economic system of "home consumption" and let it feed batallions of craftsmen and breadwinners. So, one trick of the magicians keeping the Irish economy running is hasty/shabby construction, intended to feed an economic perpetuum mobile. You don't demolish, you repair, refurbish. At least this was the trick from 1975 onwards, when Ireland stirred out of its thousand-year sleep and hesitantly started to embrace the Western market economy. (1975 is approximately the time of Jack Lynch - prepared for his job as Irish premier through GAA and Christian Brothers, always the same sources behind the particular Irish myopia).


...mustn't forget the developments of the last three, four years, however...
Here i suspect a consortium has bought up a row of rather shabby small houses facing the North Bull and are building new. More similar projects are in the pipeline, and i actually find them defendable if they lead to condensation, better quality and more people living on a particular space. The next step must be to close roads and introduce electrified (or at least natural gas buses) public transport, there is no other way to save Dublin (or actually: to prevent Dublin from polluting the rest of the world - first and foremost the UK - the way it does today). What would James Larkin have said about the social profile to be expected from this area in the future? Maybe he would demand his name be taken off the road... St Anne's Golf Course, 20190410. Morning hour, and hence the smog isn't fully developed, but the brownish taint to the light is already visible.

I mustn't forget the new developments of the last three, four years, however. Here, suddenly, Practical Pig is at work, and he builds his house with mortar and brick, buildings that can stand the Irish weather for a hundred years, much like the Victorian areas of south central Dublin. Lo and behold! But the manifest inequality of the Irish society soon enters the equation and sours the admiration: people accommodated in drab, worn and decaying areas - let us estimate their number at one million (i saw an estimate "half a million" in the autumn of 2018, so it's somewhere around the million level) - lift their eyes to the new developments and wish they lived in something like that. Next, the price-tag pulls them back to reality: this is not for your sort. And still, the land used was claimed in their immediate environment, from semi-public grounds like football pitches, communal meadows and edges of parks! The same mechanisms that once allowed the Irish bourgeois to conquer and claim so much common land for his or her trivial pursuit, golf, are again at work in urban areas, and what is going on must be classified as: a huge social conquest, a land-grab, with building-firms and investors as the main benefactors. The seesaw is tilted one degree further from have-nots to haves.

There is much more to be said in the wake of the St Paul's Pitches Affair: one part of it relates to the inferior Irish press, or wider: Ireland's inferior "public forum". But here i enter thin ice; i don't want to be part of a widespread populist-conservative lamentation over bias or "fake news" in media, and a central problem in Ireland is no doubt poorly educated journalists (tolerated or even favoured by the system) and inferior daily papers. (It's as bad everywhere, editorships should have a tenure, as things stand today they buckle under the market forces). So i will keep my general criticism of the Irish public discussion under lid and concentrate myself on one item: artificial turf as an invasive alien into Dublin's ecosystem, or the undisputed lure of modernity.


The undisputed lure of modernity. (I could as well have used a pic illustrating the Irish overuse of weedkillers. Weedkillers will be banned in Ireland in twenty years, we can look forward to that, but i pity the innocent victims of the intervening time. Synthetic turf will go the same way; modernity walks a thorny path.)

To put it bluntly, it annoys me that no journalist in a central position has questioned the poisoned gifts of "developers" who seek to buy the gold of Dublin's green grass for the glass-pearls of synthetic turf. (Oh yes, i oversaw this one in The Irish Times: Dutch findings point to health danger of rubber infill on synthetic pitches , tribute to Johnny Watterson!) What i say here is done with the benefit of hindsight from Sweden: artificial turf is losing steam there and gradually being abandoned in a row of communes. The problem is that synthetic turf, the way it is made and maintained right now, leaks large amounts of microparticles into water courses, lakes and oceans. In Ireland it is an extra load on the environment in a nation, where so many environmental loads are simply ignored. There are hidden costs for synthetic turf - costs that should be involved in the calculus of the users - these costs are never mentioned in Dublin. (All matter swept up or brushed off the artificial turf surface should be treated as environmentally hazardous waste and mustn't be deposited in ordinary dumps!) A national economy project that listed the costs of neglected Irish environmental pollution - and pressed this list into the minds of Irish consumers, i suggest: by distributing it as leaflets in Grafton Streeet! - would be a highly progressive endeavour. Links: 1 , 2 .

Now, i am not going to make things easy for myself. Have you ever seen a Dublin pitch in (a rainy) January, after the first Irish football or hurling matches in the school leagues? It looks like a sugar beet field after the November harvest, cannot be used again for months (no more grazing for the brent, either). There is a clear connection between the GAA sports and the ploughing competitions of the Irish farming community; they both rummage around with the purpose of overturning the surface layer.

So there is a problem. But that problem can be addressed in many ways. The correct way is to install some sort of drainage and prevent pools of stagnant water from forming on the pitches. There is, however, the shortcut of artificial pitch; you cover the ground with a dead duvet of artificial turf (no photosynthesis there, it's just a continuation of the general concrete "lidding" of Dublin) and let the drainage with dangerous microparticles go into the ordinary daywater system. So, you have a problem, solve it by creating other problems. This is a pattern that i meet with in every corner of Dublin - and some of the artificials are put to good use; the Pembroke Wanderers pitch in Ballsbridge is always occupied when you pass with the DART in the evening, the same goes for the "all weather" pitches at Clontarf Road. All good and well, however: i would like to hear something about all the clever precautions taken to prevent these pitches from contaminating Dublin environment...


"Dublin city has more green spaces per square mile than any other European capital city". St Vincent's, 7 February 2019. The artificial pitches are fenced and locked up, don't invite spontaneous ball-kicking, nor are they attractive for real competition, there is a whole syndrome of "artificial-turf-injury". Next to the artificial pitch in front of the St Vincent's clubhouse lies an unmolested, very fine pitch - with roots in the old days - that can still harbour the real thing.
The large field in front of Blackrock College is divided in the same way in 2019, and next to the Bluebell Community Center there is a brand new pitch, a little revolting in its artificiality. Both are locked up and fenced fortresses, a fortune in mere fencing. I guess there are some subventions - but who pays the (true) costs in the long run?


And what are they doing here? Is there a small reserve of wisdom and insight in Dublin? Let us not hope for too much. Ardscoil Ris Pitch Development . The lawn shown is (was) one of the naves in Brent daily movement over central Dublin, together with ten other grazing areas it was ripped away under the bills of the geese in the winter 2018-19.

Two new links from 20190415: Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment and an article in The Guardian: Winds carry microplastics 'everywhere' .


To The environment: the city .
Stumbling into Dublin city and discovering it for the first time.
To Birds and men. Part 1. .
Mention of E.M.Nicholson and a few others that have all been central to me. I hear about Kilternan Hotel and Country Club for the first time and shed a few tears. Pic of brent from 4 January 2011, that very charged picture gave me a boost. Written in 2011, a reference to Bangor Circle from 2012.
To Birds and men. Part 2. .
Anglo-Saxon biologists rarely use the term synanthropism; it is of German-Russian descent, with metaphysical overtones. (I don't give a damn about this prudishness; i just notice that many British ornithologists are - narrow gauge. They create their own inch/ounce reserve in the jungle of scientific terms, writing something positivist or watered-out like anthropophilous instead. But biology is full of metaphysics, you get it one way or the other, it can't be avoided). Additions: one Irish Times reference from 28th January 2013, remark on how the wear of GAA and school pitches affects brent dispersion in Dublin (February 2017).
To Something for the tummy .
Brent geese have particular needs, they don't digest cellulose, the way ruminants, horses or rabbits do.
To Back to the river Saile .
First mention of environmentally damaging practices. The city boasting: "Dublin city has more green spaces per square mile than any other European capital city". Behind a statue at St Vincent's i discovered the wall surrounding a GAA pitch: Naomh Uinsinn's, the next day i read all i could find about the GAA.
To Standing up to Britannia with hurlers and piping: the GAA. .
A very overcharged chapter, ending with the almost Arcadian peace surrounding Foxfield Green in Kilbarrack. I had that pic already on 10 December 2010.
To The light-bellied Brent Goose .
My protagonist, introduced with a quote from the 1990 paper in Arctic on brent orientation near the North Pole.
To Light-bellied phenology in Dublin .
This section is for the Dublin ring-readers; they are a central force when it comes to field performance, but they have no say and are very anonymous and silent within the research group. As a result the support and interest is dwindling. The Irish Brent Goose Research Group is in itself rather dysfunctional and self-sufficient, with no obvious structure in the eyes of the surrounding world - and Iceland always running its own race. It took the slightly neo-colonial "missions" from Exeter University to give some recent momentum to the whole project; i think it's time to improve on that. The group should be reorganized, rendered a more transparent formal structure. I think that Kendrew Colhoun is the major "democratic" problem of the group, but the fact that Graham McElwaine allows himself to be pulled around by the nose by almost anyone with some semblance of authority, adds to the problems.
To Potato blight, eelgrass blight - and the regulation of numbers .
About carrying capacities and regulation of numbers, with the wonderful pic by Alain Delorme, much text revised in January 2017.
To That was all about otherness, or sameness .
Give this some effort, it's very central. Uexküll's dialectic Kantianism should be possible to digest for anybody, the set theory under the goose picture may be a bit special, but it could be worse; i have more behind my back than i am showing. Give it a go departing from the basic Wikipedia introduction to set theory ! The thinking and reading for this section was done in the summer of 2011.
To Assimilating new elements to the self-world: step by step by step... .
To some extent about how the topography of a place navigates us. On top of that an introduction to the maltreated Malahide Bay; some comment on its environmental status. Three pictures from mid-February 2012.
To Singing the Limping Goose Blues .
A permit was given to a few farmers in the Malahide Bay area to shoot brent, grazing in their barley fields. It served as a cry of havoc; the people endowed with these permits (and some without permits as well) sent injured geese all the way to Sutton, Raheny and Marino. People tried to inform me, but they wouldn't say much (do they want me to act like a priest in confession, pulling the sins out of their dark souls?). The sister of one of the illegal shooters came up to me, nodded her head to the house: The fahhmer doesn't like the geese. Her smile had a strange acrimony, but she wouldn't say one word more, so i stayed in the area, hidden in a hedge. That was February 2012. It was the first time i noticed the strange restraint of members of the Light-bellied Study Group; they didn't want to commit themselves in favour of the geese, and the same restraint was obvious in many of the Dublin sighters. Michael Davitt said it: “If the Irish had a weakness worse than drink, it was moral cowardice.” I began to feel alienated from the group already at that stage, the members seemed to be what the Germans call Duckmäuse. This cowering is so widespread that it is tempting to speak of a Hibernian "national character". People say to me: It's the damn Church. But it's two different systems deforming people in the South and the North: a Northern Irish Duckmaus is schooled by Presbyterians, a Southern one by Catholics! It's like the co-evolution of Stalin and Hitler and the systems behind them; the opposites converge.
To The Auld Triangle: Class, Tradition, Self-Interest .
About the "citoyen"-ship of the Irish. The nation has very few citizens; Ireland is a jungle, where everyone fights for him- or herself. (I'm lukewarm about charities, detest liberal "do-gooders"). The picture "Please do not put your feet on seats" from December 2013, inserted. Two wonderful pictures of steel palisade fences, one collage, one real gem from 11 January 2013. Finally, Judy Garland, stunned by the overwhelming sight of a brent goose flock; i'm not so sure that she ever visited Dublin, but we must all be prepared to learn new things.
To Shadowing the geese .
About the degradation of Dublin (which in one sense began with the abolition of the Irish Parliament in 1800), quote from Irish Times 14 May 2013, the "cosc ar" pic from 23.1.2014 (that area looks ten times worse in 2016, monumental pollution in a hotbed between Darndale and Belcamp Parks). Mange in foxes and dogs, infections, possibly genus- or species-specific, that are affecting brent geese and black-tailed godwits (bar-tailed godwits, too). Figures on "drooping wing" from Malahide Castle and Seabury 14.1, 16.1.2013 and further data from 2014 and 2015. Finally: "We're giving a Big Yes to 8/10 first-time buyer mortgage applications" - a new lowpoint in Irish advertising. (This chapter was very sprawling, i am giving it an overhaul, cutting a little).
To The unwieldy hulk of nature conservancy .
As true as it is said (=Swedish euphemism, which means approximately: as true as if St Patrick himself had said it). Starts with a quote from George Hughes: Environmental Indicators. Pics of spideog and guiran . This section is about attitudes, at different levels. I got lost here, something is missing, but i dare not touch the existing text. Yet.
To The human condition at North Bull, or: hermeneutics of ring-reading .
About la condition humaine, one aspect of it; can we know anything with certainty? Writing this section was a great relief, it relaxed my fingers. A lot of information on ring materials and ring wear. The hermeneutic approach to ring-reading could deserve some systematic, academic framework. In that context i would have bundled a dozen of spectacular sightings (giving a measure of age, movements; it's mainly waders) and canvassed them anew; everything in the annals isn't up to scratch, and there is a minor increase in the frequency of frauds, sightings scams. The picture texts were tidied up in March 2016.
To Looking for hospitality in a class society: the wild geese knocking on the doors of the GAA and the GUI. (It's all about the reception). .
Knock-knock-knockin' on Dublin's door... ( Just like so many done before ). The reception of the brent geese in Dublin leaves much to be wished; many city dwellers - it doesn't matter whether they live in Malahide or Edenmore - seem to think that the geese were introduced as a sort of greyhound lures, toys for their pets. In adolescents there is an obsession with selfies against the background of flushed brent, pics to be thrown into the void of social media... Stupidity is evenly distributed among classes and ages in Ireland, i never see any revenue of that renowned education system when i happen to stray into La Grande Jatte on a Sunday. The chapter flows into a short discourse on golf and golf courses in the capital. Pics from St Anne's Golf Club (smog) and Donabate.
To The blind spot of Ireland: environment .
A long deployment up to this key chapter.
To Back to Business: perceiving Brent, Brent perception .
Getting my act together now, i see each next step, well ahead. Information on Herring Gull breeding in Dublin continuously updated in this section.
To A necessary interlude: geese with transmitter collars .
A sad necessity, can't be avoided.
To Progress, a boon we shall always be parched for

This webpage is being written and constructed by Christer Persson. The first text was published on 17 February 2011, new text and pictures are uploaded practically every day in the winter half-year, as long as the major construction work is going on - but text and pictures may also be taken back and deleted (i'm aiming at an overall, chaotic logic, an almost random movement relative to some point of gravity, and i demand LIGHTNING-QUICK ASSOCIATION from my reader. Catchwords and catch phrases appearing for the second and third time are intended to ring bells). The project has been pressed on for three years now (April 2014), with some degree of impatience; i think the time has come for some fine-tuning, some "chiseling" of the text, so a major revision was begun in April 2013. I can see when my blood is warming to the topic; inversely i can also easily detect where i have wrestled with some resistance, so what i need to do now is: bridge the troughs. The pictures first uploaded were lean, with few pixels, but since i am not short of space i will gradually upgrade what can be improved to medium or high quality. The first text has been checked by English-speakers and corrected, these checks continue on a monthly basis. Errors in the font instructions have occurred now and then, i have had warnings from readers. Please inform me if such errors still occur on other browsers! (After a check on all browsers in December 2014; i realised that i must do some reprogramming). I'm working hard to cut down on my parentheses, they are part of the writing process but seem a little affected in the long run, unbracketed sentences are better. Note that the web loses references/links with time; in some near past that loss was order of magnitude 10 % per year. The Waterbird Review Series has messed with links since i began, one eelgrass link has been repaired, The Irish Times is trying to squeeze a buck out of its archive, all links quickly turned into pay-as-you-read, so i will cut out all links to the IT, quote instead. I have a webmail address that i use in a public context: cpsweden'at'gmail.com , the risk of being weeded out by the spam filter, anyone can contact me that way.


Last updated: 11.02.2019.