News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 31st & 1st September 2013

A great, great poet who changed my life says Bono about Seamus Heaney


Bono described Seamus Heaney as “a great, great poet” who “changed my life”

“In so many things he was a gentle genius, whose words challenged us with the grit and beauty of life as much as they gave us solace. He wrote with a brevity that strangely spilled to the brim,” he said.

“We all envied how he made that most complicated of things, the balancing of work and family, appear so simple. In Marie he found his other whole. And it is a joy to be around his kids. . . Michael, Chris and Catherine Ann. They have all of his humility in their sharpness.”

And Bono revealed he carried Heaney’s poetry with him, including on a recent trip to Liberia. “I’m bewildered to think Seamus is no longer with us. Because his words will be around forever, it seemed so would he.”

Actor Liam Neeson also said: “He crafted, through his poetry, who we are as a species. By doing so, he defined our place in the universe. May he rest in peace.”

Fretting about money can make you stupid, A study finds


Financial worries create cognitive deficit equivalent to 13-point loss in IQ, research shows

Finding it hard to make ends meet can impoverish the brain and reduce your ability to think, say scientists. Financial worries tax the brain so much they create a “cognitive deficit” equivalent to a 13-point loss in IQ, a study found.

The problem is distinct from the effects of stress and results from too much “mental bandwidth” being used to fret about money. Someone overwhelmed with worries about rent, feeding and clothing children, and paying household bills can suffer a genuine mental handicap, the research shows.

This in turn may lead to poor decisions, such as racking up debt, creating even more difficulties in a vicious cycle. Economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan, from Harvard University in the US, said: “Our results suggest that when you’re poor, money is not the only thing in short supply. Cognitive capacity is also stretched thin.

“That’s not to say that poor people are less intelligent than others. What we show is that the same person experiencing poverty suffers a cognitive deficit, as opposed to when they’re not experiencing poverty.

“What happens is that your effective capacity gets smaller because you have all these other things on your mind. You have less mind to give to everything else. “Imagine you’re sitting in front of a computer and it’s just incredibly slow. But then you realise that it’s working in the background toplay a huge video that’s downloading. It’s not that the computer is slow, it’s that it’s doing something else, so it seems slow to you. I think that’s the heart of what we’re trying to say.”

Prof Mullanathan’s team carried out a series of experiments in the US and India to highlight the mental cost of poverty. In the first, conducted in a shopping mall inNew Jersey, around 400 people were randomly chosen and asked to ponder how they would solve hypothetical financial problems, such as paying for a car repair. Some problems were easier, that is, cheaper, to sort out than others. For instance, the car repair bill could be either 150 dollars, or 1,500.

At the same time, the volunteers had to undergo simple computer tests of IQ and mental performance. They were split into “poor” and “rich” groups based on their income which ranged from 20,000 dollars per year to around 70,000 dollars. The results, reported in the journal Science, show that when the financial problems were not too severe, both groups performed equally well in the tests. But when they were forced to consider difficult, costly problems, people with lower incomes had significantly worse scores.

In fact, the effect was so strong that for those generally preoccupied with money, merely thinking about a tricky financial problem led to a 13-point dip in IQ. That is on the same scale as losing an entire night’s sleep.

The scientists followed up their study with a visit to rural India where they tested a group of sugar cane farmers who rely on the annual harvest for at least 60 per cent of their income. Since the harvests occur once a year, the farmers find themselves poor before a harvest and rich after it. Given the same tests as the New Jersey shoppers, they did significantly better when they sat them after the harvest.

The impact of poverty on mental capacity reflects a more general phenomenon related to scarcity, say the researchers. Lacking something, whether it be money, time, social ties or even calories, puts a strain on the brain. Co-author Jiaying Zhao, from Princeton University in the US, said: “These findings fit in with our story of how scarcity captures attention. It consumes your mental bandwidth. “Just asking a poor person to think about hypothetical financial problems reduces mental bandwidth. This is an acute, immediate impact and has implications for scarcity of resources of any kind.”

Professor Eldar Shafir, another member of the Princeton team, said: “When you’re poor you can’t say, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m not going to be poor any more, or ‘forget it, I just won’t give my kids dinner, or pay rent this month’. “Poverty imposes a much stronger load that’s not optional and in very many cases is long lasting. It’s not a choice you’re making, you’re just reduced to a few options. This is not something you see with many other types of scarcity.”

Services to the poor should take account of the mental effect of poverty, for instance by providing simpler forms and making it easier to seek assistance, said Prof Shafir. “The poor, who our research suggests are bound to make more mistakes and pay more dearly for errors, inhabit contexts often not designed to help.”

Permanent TSB is on course to get back to profit by 2017


Permanent TSB remains on course to return to profitability — on a group basis — by 2017, with its so-called ‘good bank’ core element likely to make a profit as early as next year, management said yesterday.

On the back of an improving set of interim results showing an annualised reduction in pre-tax losses from €587m to €131m, group chief executive Jeremy Masding said “great progress” had been made this year and PTSB’s core banking element was on track to be profitable, on a pre-provision basis, “in the next 12 months”.

Management’s ‘Bank plus Two’ restructuring strategy, which will see a ‘good’ core lending bank split from a non-core division, and a specialist asset management unit, is expected to be approved by the European Commission by early December.

In the six months to the end of June, PTSB showed an operating loss, before exceptional items, of €449m, down from a figure of €457m a year earlier.

The after-tax loss was €141m, as opposed to €565m last year.

The pre-tax loss figure includes provisions for impairment of €430m and net exceptional items of €318m.

The ‘good bank’ alone made a pre-impairment loss of €12m and a post-impairment/underlying loss of €39m, leading management to say “it’s getting to where we want it to be”.

Mr Masding said PTSB’s recent financial performance had been “firmly in line” with its restructuring plan.

He said the performance showed the bank could, at its core, be a viable business and “an asset of value” to the Irish taxpayer.

Current management had, earlier this year, considered shutting the bank down in order to deal with its problems.

“We are achieving what we said we would achieve,” Mr Masding said, although he did admit that the reduction in group losses was “flattered” by technical accounting issues.

However, he also noted there had been “a modest improvement” in the bank’s like-for-like operating performance, “despite an ongoing prudent approach to impairment provisions”.

PTSB had signed up nearly 30,000 new current account customers to date, this year, and he said it would add “a lot more customers” over the rest of the year.

“We’ve made a good start in re-establishing ourselves as a competitive force for mortgages, deposits and current accounts and we’re very much open for business,” Mr Masding said.

Men lose their desire for physical challenges over the years “a research shows”


The desire for adventure and thrilling activities has decreased in men over the past 35 years, according to research.

A team from the school of psychology and neuro-science at St Andrews University discovered men are less willing to take part in physical challenges such as skydiving than before.

The findings of the research led by Dr Kate Cross which was published in the journal Scientific Reports and was co-authored by Dr De-Laine Cyrenne and Dr Gillian Brown.

Researchers focused on the sensation-seeking personality trait which has been described by the university as the desire to pursue novel or intense experiences even if this involves risk.

A sensation-seeking scale, version V (SSS-V) questionnaire was used to find out if people were willing to try various activities.

In the late 1970s more men were more likely to try parachuting, scuba diving or mountaineering than women, but over the years their desire for thrills has decreased.

The male average is now closer to the female average, backing up the argument that some sex differences in behaviour have decreased which is linked to cultural changes. It is thought the reason for this decrease could be because people are less fit.

Dr Cross said: “The decline in the sex difference in thrill and adventure-seeking scores could reflect declines in average fitness levels, which might have reduced people’s interest in physically-challenging activities. Alternatively, the questions were designed in the 1970s, so could now be out of date.”

The activities suggested in the 1970s may be viewed as less intense now – such as skiing.

Ancient monastic find could be next ‘Clonmacnoise’


Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient monastic settlement of ‘huge national importance’ during project work for a church car park.

The treasure trove of discoveries in just 48 hours is set to put a boggy field beside an old rural parish church on the archaeological map of Ireland.

Expert Mick O’Droma compared the find in Co Donegal this week to the settlement at Clonmacnoise.

The field beside the Drumholm Church of Ireland graveyard, near the village of Ballintra, is set to be classified a national monument as a result of just two days’ excavation work.

Archaeologist Mick moved onto the site on Monday after being commissioned by the Anglican parishoners to survey the one-acre plot as part of a planning application for a car park and cemetery extension.

“We had mapped the area from above ground, taking pictures and readings and I could see then that it could be exciting,” said the expert from Wexford-based Wolfhound Archaeology.

“When we cut five exploratory trenches to take a closer look it became clear very quickly that we were standing on the remains of a early Christian settlement, probably from around the 7th century.

“The exterior walls of the site are clearly there and there is what could be the remains of a round tower on one part of it. I can’t over-state the national importance of this, it is very very exciting.”

Legend has it that St Ernan, nephew of the late 6th century St Colmcille, was buried in the Drumholm area.

“It is very likely we have found the monastic site where Ernan was based,” said Mick.

A Neolithic axe was discovered two fields away in the 1920s close to an ancient cairn.

“This site beside the old church and graveyard dates back 1300 years and we know from previous discoveries in the area that there has been human activity going back to at least 5,800BC,” he said.

And yesterday he made another discovery in the church field which had this archaeologist even more excited.

He produced two pieces of pottery found in one excavated trench – one from the gaelic tradition and one from the Anglo-Norman tradition.

“We know from the Annals of the Four Masters that the English arrived here at Drumholm and settled with the O’Connors from Munster in 1242 in pursuit of the chieftains here in Donegal,” said the archaeologist.

“And here in my hand is pottery from that time, that was made between around 1200 and 1350.

“This whole site is like a time capsule of a period from the 7th century until the 16th or 17th century.”

Yesterday afternoon as his work was coming to an end, he said he now believes there was a ‘cathedral-style’ church at one end of the plot, the foundations of the outer walls visible under the boggy earth.

He also found ancient animal bones, evidence of a woven wooden footpath and areas used to make iron ore implements.

“Our work is finished here now,” said Mick.

“Our job was to check the site to see if it was of any archaeological importance before any development went ahead.

“I will be reporting the discoveries here to the National Museum of Ireland and to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht so that it can be declared a national monument and protected.

“Perhaps some day there might be funding for a project or a university project that can come back and explore further but there is no doubt that this is one of the most important discoveries here in many years,” he added.

A spokesman for the Church of Ireland said the parishoners had met yesterday to discuss the find and would now withdraw the car park planning application.

“We will work now with the authorities to have the site protected,” he added.

Freshwater Jellyfish Discovered In Fermanagh’s Lough Derg lake


One angler’s disbelieving discovery in Lough Derg has led to a surprise new marine wildlife find for Ireland’s inland waterways.

Pat Joyce from Caslteconnell in Limerick nearly fell off his fishing stand when, in early August, he spotted what looked like a single small jellyfish pulsing in the water in front of him.

The jellyfish disappeared and Joyce thought that perhaps he was mistaken since, as everyone knows, ‘there is no such thing as a freshwater jellyfish’.

Two weeks later, again angling for bream in the tranquil surrounds of Scarriff Harbour, just off Lough Derg, Joyce noticed not one but hundreds of tiny jellyfish moving on and below the surface.

He immediately contacted the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to seek clarity, and they put him on to Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). Staff from the Clare region of IFI’s Shannon River Basin District sped to the scene and collected up to 20 live specimens. They really did exist!

IFI’s Colum Walsh and Dave Germaine contacted Dr Joe Caffrey, invasive species specialist with IFI, who immediately organised a site visit to Lough Derg with a team of marine science experts. These included Dr Tom Doyle, a jellyfish expert from the Coastal & Marine Research Centre in UCC, and Dr Dan Minchin from the Lough Derg Science Group.

The survey revealed small numbers of the jellyfish at Scarriff Harbour, but specimens were also recorded from two other locations within the lake – at Rossmore Harbour and at Dromineer.

So what is this jellyfish, where did it come from and why was it never spotted in Ireland before?

As soon as specimens were collected IFI forwarded them to Dr Doyle, who identification them as the free-swimming life stage of a species called Craspedacusta sowerbii. This marks the the first official record for this species in Ireland.

This freshwater jellyfish hails from the Yangtze River Valley in China but currently has a worldwide distribution. It was initially discovered in exotic aquatic plant tanks in Regent’s Park, London in 1880 but has since spread to widely throughout the globe.

The jellyfish is about the size of a euro coin and broadly resemble their marine cousins. It is more or less transparent with a distinctive white/greenish cross and a white/cream circular outline, and possesses in the region of 250–300 small tentacles.

These jellyfish have two distinct life stages; one is a tiny attached polyp and the second is what we know as the jellyfish or medusa stage. The polyp buds off medusa under warm water conditions, generally when water temperature reaches 25 degrees centigrade.

The species is known to occur in single sexed populations, and Dr Doyle confirmed that all of the specimens he examined from Lough Derg were female.

It is probable that the discovery of this jellyfish relates to the wonderfully warm summer that we experienced in Ireland this year, when water temperatures in many watercourses exceeded 25 degrees for prolonged periods. This probably stimulated the budding off of the medusae or jellyfish, which pulsed in the warm water in search of plankton prey. It is noteworthy that jellyfish were also reported from Lough Erne in recent days.

Experience in other countries suggests that blooms of such freshwater jellyfish occur only sporadically and that they last, in any one year, for only a few weeks. So it is possible that we may not see such a sight again for many years.

It is important to state that the freshwater jellyfish is not harmful to humans and that, while they do capture their tiny prey by stinging, the stinging cells are not sufficiently powerful to harm humans.

In addition, the jellyfish do not appear to have any significant effect on the biology or ecology of the waters they are recorded in, probably due to their sporadic occurrence and the short period that the jellyfish blooms are in any water body.

“Anglers are the eyes and ears on our rivers and lakes,” said Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd following this amazing discovery. “I ask all anglers to continue to assist in the protection and conservation of this resource, reporting any invasive species they come across to the IFI Hotline immediately.”

One serious cause for concern relates to the pathway whereby this jellyfish – and many other non-native and potentially harmful or invasive species – was introduced to Ireland.

The fact that the two watercourses from which the jellyfish was recently recorded (Loughs Derg and Erne) are both internationally renowned navigation waterways suggests that boating and perhaps ballast water from newly introduced craft may represent an important causative agent.

Boats and cruisers are commonly imported from abroad and are introduced into our waters without having to prove that they were cleaned and disinfected before leaving their country of origin.

“This practice is unacceptable and poses a significant threat to biodiversity in our waters and to their functionality, be it as recreational, amenity or municipal waters,” said Dr Caffrey. “It is imperative that boats being imported into this country carry certificates of disinfection prior to being granted entry if we are to stop the ever-increasing spread of harmful invasive species.”


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