Here I am sat in my office anticipating the joys of the 7pm Dublin-Belfast Enterprise service, looking forward to the orgy of smells that will greet me as I step on board the premier north-south railway line. In case you are confused I refer not to the various perfumes, colognes and oxter sprays worn by the more discerning commuters but instead to the stench, stink and attractions of such fine scents as the signature  Eau d’Enterprise itself, the Eau du Sour Milk, Parfum de Diesel, Le Stale Biere, and the incredibly overpowering Aroma de Derriere (well as far as Dundalk in any case!!).

Now since it is a Friday evening the buffet carriage (known as the bar or microwave food center) will indeed resemble a bar fitting of the Enterprise but I mean the Enterprise of Star Trek fame. I make this judgment on the basis of the motley shapes of the characters usually gathered therein. One only needs to have a quick peek in there and you will need no further convincing on the veracity of the Roswell incident!

I must also mention the timeliness or lack of same of Translink’s premier service. It operates on a Greek Style timetable (complete with Greek Style Yoghurt smells) and leaves 7pm or thereabouts and gets into Newry literally whenever. I am lucky I guess as at least I don’t have to run the OK Corral of Ye Olde Lurgan Towne during this wonderful part of July!

I should also note my irritation at the phenomenon of pre-booked seats, especially in the last carriage. What gives random day trippers the right to pre-booked cheap internet seats? Surely those of us who shell out for an annual ticket should be treated a tad better than third class passengers. It is bizarre really. It wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world. At times annual ticket holders can hardly get a seat. Again surely this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

On the plus side I look forward to catching up with my Enterprise buddies-those of us who commute as a group on a regular basis. Strangers on a train soon become friends and this makes the commute highly enjoyable. It can be social too in that I often bump into old friends and colleagues and the Enterprise network that we make up is useful in terms of sharing information on cross-border tax avoidance, euro-sterling exchange rates and the best places to holiday and to eat at home and abroad.

So off I go to sniff l’eau…Beam me up Scotty!

So if you are like me and occasionally wonder about the universe, about God, about life and about death then I bet you have more unanswered questions than a trillion inquisitive children… Those of you who used follow my blog with much enthusiasm were probably wondering where I had disappeared to or were silently delighting and hoping that I had vanished from the blogosphere altogether. Well the subject of this little treatise will amongst other things offer some sort of explanation for my absence.

I have been literally drowning in death. In the last year I have seen enough death to last me a lifetime if that is not more than a tad ironic.  Death populated my existence in all shapes and sizes and guises. I met unexpected sudden death in the demise of one of my longest and closest friends Adrian; I was rocked to my very core. I met death at the age of ninety-nine in the shape of Aunt Anna who was an ass’s roar away from a telegram from the non-Guinness drinking Queen of England. Come to think of it-if she or the healthy ninety year old that is her husband Phillip hit the ton then who sends and signs their telegrams?! It cannot be much fun getting a telegram from oneself. Anyway I digress…

So death dressed up as a malignant brain tumour and took away my friend Stephen at the tender age of 49.  Death took a good neighbour, again fairly young in the guise of emphysema and robbed my family of our good friend Jim in the malicious costume of kidney cancer and pneumonia and more worryingly, did so hard on the heels of taking Jim’s wife Eileen in a nasty variation of the same costume. Death pervaded the workplace as well.  My good friend and colleague Colette lost her sister Sinéad at 39 after a courageous battle with the fancy dress of melanoma…and it didn’t end there because like many of you I was numbed at the horror that robbed Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte of his beautiful daughter Michaela while on honeymoon. Our colleague Harry lost his brother to the veiled spectre of sudden death as well and our colleague Mairéad her sister, also to melanoma, and my children’s good friend Dianamh lost her mother to another one of cancer’s many sartorial manifestations…and it continues.

Death and grief do strange things to people and to those who have lost their family and friends. They say that every person has their own grief experience and that it is a very personal journey. I have always believed that death is as natural as life itself and indeed is the fulfillment of the same. It is the randomness of death that scares us most however I believe and the struggle to come to terms with the death of a loved one comes in such terrifying waves. There is no pattern.  There is no script. There is no clear and charted path through the unpredictable sea of grief. All we do know is that life goes on and surely this is a good thing. There is no way back and we must edge forward inch by inch, stopping as frequently as necessary to drink in the pain and enormity of the loss and on again. It is ok to talk about those  who have died.  It is ok to pretend to be happy.  It is really ok to feel guilty for moments of genuine happiness. That is life just rolling on. And I repeat-that is good….really good.

I remember some years ago my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and told that he had cancer in four spots in his brain. It was a wet miserable night in December and his 80th birthday. The night of his diagnosis I remember that in a conversation with his wife of 55 years he said I cannot believe that I am going to die but I was just thinking that I will at last get to meet your mother and father. The cynic in me was amused at that thought and really envious of a faith so strong that such a possibility could be countenanced. Did he expect to see them standing at the pearly gates to greet him? Was he expecting to see his brothers, armed with fistfuls of pints to greet him after his journey to the other side? A remarkable testimony to faith and belief in God.

So that’s death all cleared up: so what about God? It is after all well nigh impossible to talk of death without consideration of the afterlife and of god. All variations on a theme I would suggest.

I read the God Delusion recently and while Richard Dawkins makes some good arguments the style of writing is a bit tedious and contrived in terms of humour. He does make difficult subjects amenable though and he builds solid arguments to support his own hypotheses. The book got me thinking about religion though and about churches and faiths and the impact that such things have on all of us either through how we live our lives or are impacted on by terrorism, by war, by sexual discrimination, by charity, by prayerful living etc.

Some would argue about where god sits in all of this and with good reason too. Most of us could easily identify with the concept of an Abrahamic God, with monotheism and with a manly figure with a long flowing white beard, sat in the clouds. Christianity, Islam and Judaism all purvey this manly image and those who analyse such things would proffer such a view as the reason for 2,000 years of the oppression of women for example.  Dawkins cites Gore Vidal who states that:

The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved-Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally patriarchal- God is the Omnipotent Father -hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates.

Many of us would want to believe as fervently as my late father-in-law. Many of us and of those we know draw immense succour from god and from religion and all of its trappings. religion and god are ingrained into our psyche and deeply imbued in our very existence, in our language and in how many of us live our lives. I won’t attempt to make a judgment or to offer up a deep philosophical argument. I just want to muse and to put the question of god out there.

From my own perspective I am inclining towards the burden of proof. Give me the evidence for something and I will likely believe. Prove or disprove something and you have my ears. Like so many who have posed the trillion unanswered questions I constantly pose questions about my own existence and about the world that I inhabit. I look at the sky on a starry night in stunning awe of the beguiling canvas above me,  or I see a flower in bloom, or I marvel at the sheen of the sea as I walk along the shore on a warm sunny day. I am in awe of a snowflake or consumed by the sight of a frozen cobweb in a snow-clad garden…the universe and all its interrelationships and dependencies fascinates me daily. I love life and I treasure the world in which I live. I am constantly amazed by the miracle that is life. You note I use the word miracle- I too must be imbued.  These are all things that I can witness and see and feel and experience and enjoy. Yes I can fashion such daily wonders on to a tapestry of a greater and more powerful being but that to me is to ignore the fundamental burden of proof.

I guess like many I am also a bit of a coward and since I cannot disprove the existence of God no more than I can prove his or her or its existence I will sit on the fence of what Dawkin’s describes as De Facto Atheism. He notes  ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’

So this brings me full circle in a sense. Do we link death and god? Certainly religions do that for a living. Yeah, I have the odd god delusion and a few times in the throes of grief I have drawn on 1 Corinthians 15:56 ‘Where, O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?’ but I am for now firmly in the corner which fights the notion of death as the work of God and which seeks to beat it into a corner which regards death as an experience as natural as birth. Life is a journey and we know not when that journey will end but somethings we do know and prime amongst these is the firm belief and recognition that life goes on and that all journeys through the sea of grief will end. What is at the end of the journey will be different but will be warm and nice and safe. Each day a little bit of grief ebbs away and a little bit of the onward march of life replaces it. The world at journey’s end might be an altered place to be but it’s the only show in town and we can prove that.

As for all of us robbed and cheated by the Grim Reaper in all his myriad guises I would exhort you to find comfort and contentment where you can, whether that be in the company of loved ones, or of the bereaved or just with friends. If you find comfort in God then go there too because we do know and can evidence that grief is real and who am I to tell you what to do. No doubt I will have the odd delusion about god and death going forward but sure who won’t? Maybe If I make the journey I will be met by my good friend Adrian. He will for sure await me with a Count of Monte Christo cigar and a glass of Chivas Regal on the rocks; and if those circumstances were to unfold a certain other man would have the last laugh as he greeted me in the company of all the relations that I have never gotten to know. It’s a nice warm thought and on that note let’s say the creed…

Bits and Bobs

It has been a busy few weeks at NCI. Honestly, it has and that is not a lame excuse for the late posting of my weekly blog.

Last weekend we hosted the Newstalk 106-108fm Student Enterprise Competition. The event was a great success and the standard and quality of the teams who entered was exceptional. The judges, all busy entrepreneurs and senior figures from Industry and the media gave so generously of their time. I had the pleasure of being MC and working with the judging team for the finals and it took some deliberation and hair splitting before the team from Tipperary Institute emerged as the competition winners. Their prize is a trip to the Caribbean to work with Digicel and clearly to have oodles of fun! Maybe I should join them…I think that my hard work deserves that but that’s a personal view and I doubt very much if it is shared by many others.

After the competition I did an interview with Conor Brophy for TV 3’s weekend business programme, Business Matters, which is hosted by Ivan Yates. If you are so inclined you can watch me on the show by clicking the following link: . The interview was about entrepreneurship in Ireland and entrepreneurship in recession. I do believe that there are myriad opportunities in the current economic down turn and that there is no shortage of funding for good ideas in recession. It is not all doom and gloom. Yes, maybe the reckless lending and indiscriminate grant culture is gone but the financial scrutiny that we have now will allow genuine entrepreneurial companies to emerge. I also believe that a full review and restructuring of the support for start-up firms is urgently required. Start-ups require more hand-holding and closer mentoring support. In addition, I believe that this country requires a simplification strategy which will streamline the labyrinthine and arcane support structures for entrepreneurial start-ups that currently operate and which only serve to confuse and deter the early-stage entrepreneurial company. One other point that I feel strongly about is that there is insufficient attention paid to the agri-food sector. New initiatives are urgently required that will build off of our national competence in this sector and which more importantly will allow the economy and its recovery to leverage off of a fertile hotbed of entrepreneurial opportunity.

This week I had the immense pleasure and personal privilege to act as Quizmaster for the College’s Early Learning Initiative (ELI) Primary School Table Quiz. The annual table quiz is part of the Stretch to Learn Programme which is core to the ELI. 96 children came to NCI to represent their schools on 16 teams and their parents and families came along to support them. These children hail from the four local parishes which surround the College in Dublin city centre. These are some of the most socially and economically deprived areas in the country and the College works in partnership with the local communities to provide support on a range of valuable educational initiatives from home tutoring, to reading support, to advocacy, to competitions in the College all aimed at improving educational opportunity for all of the children of the area; and indeed or their parents. Personally the ELI is my favourite part of what we do in terms of community support. Our School of Community Studies at NCI is engaged in a variety of programmes that seek to improve local communities but for me the ELI takes some beating.

The children had a ball. We laughed. We sang. We joked. We basically had fun. In truth, nobody had more fun than me. I grew up in a tough neighbourhood myself and money and life’s luxuries were in short supply but like all others I forget sometimes. Events like this serve to remind me of the importance of the provision of educational opportunities to all and to making education and especially third level education accessible to everyone. Education is a road to social mobility. Education does unlock potential. Education does change lives. It is indeed a great thing that the College is an integral part of the Dublin Docklands and that it is so active on many fronts within the local communities.

Have a great weekend!

So I never moved far from base camp today…I was struggling a little bit as it was also the day after the night before and feeling good came dropping slowly, maybe even grudgingly! We had a special party at the College last night to say farewell to our outgoing President Dr. Paul Mooney. It was a real celebration of his time at NCI and it was well attended by the many friends internal and external that he made during his three year tenure with us. Needless to say the hospitality was great and the glasses never emptied. We all repaired to the Laguna Bar across from the College where a little impromptu music session ensued and let’s just say that we stayed until late! So the plans for today were put on ice as the world interrupted my attempts to sleep. But in truth it is a rare occasion for most of us off late and it was enormous fun and craic. All  great fun actually…

So some other news-I was shortlisted in 3 categories for the Irish Blog Awards-, best newcomer, best personal blog and best specialist blog! All good fun and maybe just the incentive I need to keep blogging.

Today, being a slow day for the reasons intimated above was brightened by the defeat  of Chelsea by the oul enemy City! It makes for an interesting run in for the Premiership title. Mind you looking at the various run-ins I would have to say the the Gunners have it pretty handy so you’d just never know. Speaking of the Gunners I was also watching the Arsenal game and was horrified at the leg break that young Aaron Ramsey sustained. It was Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross who made the tackle but it was in my view just a bad tackle rather than a dirty one. Young Shawcross, who just earned an England call up, is a very committed player and he was in tears as he traipsed off the field on receipt of a red card. It is tough for the players on the field to witness that happening and for some Arsenal players it is the third time they have witnessed such breaks in the last few seasons-Diaby, Eduardo and now poor Ramsey. He is young and without complications he should make a full recovery-let’s hope that he does.

I was also saddened by today’s news of the earthquake in Chile. So hard on the heels of Haiti, it is sad to see the death toll climbing and to note the number of tsunami warnings in place, especially that in place for Hawaii. So whatever the worries any of us have today they are in the halfpenny place when contrasted to what is going on in other parts of the globe.

So it is work tomorrow for me. Last year a team from the College won the Newstalk 106-108 Enterprise Competition and we are hosting the competition this year. It will be a busy few days in and around NCI but I am looking forward to it immensely.

Catch up soon…

Did you ever get that lonesome feeling?

I was on a day’s leave today. So that’s good news I hear you say and indeed it is. Instead of rising at 6.15am I finally surfaced at a more respectable 10am. I breakfasted late, watched the news, and checked the sport on the teletext, had a cup of tea, jumped into the shower…just general daily ablutions…no need to over laden you with the detail on that front!

And then I lift up my work Blackberry and scan my emails. I have a text and I reply to that and at that point no missed calls…indeed only two calls all day-one from the USA and one from a colleague in the office checking on some urgent work matters. I make one call to ascertain something which I never ever manage to ascertain and back about my business. A little while later my Blackberry rings and I am too late to answer it. It is from somebody in the office. I go to call back and my Blackberry won’t recognise my password, you know the safety one that locks the keypad? So you have 10 attempts at this but that’s neither here nor there when you are keying in the right one and it is not recognised! Time for my thinking cap…

So I open the back of the phone and take out the battery on the assumption that this is some sort of technical glitch. It comes on and I key in the PUK number and hey presto it proceeds as expected and then requests my keypad password again and informs me that I have used 6/10 attempts. Getting antsy and tense at this stage…so I say to myself just be calm and you will figure this out. Now the Blackberry gives me a prompt to type in “Blackberry” which I do over and over but the keypad starts doing its own thing and numbers become letters and there is just no way to get it to work… and next thing you know I am at tipping point when it says 9/10 attempts-if the next one fails everything will be wiped!!! Mood not improving…

So I lift the house phone and call the office and get a message to IT. Somewhere, somehow the message gets lost and confused in the telling and I get a call back saying to key in the following number etc and you should be able to reset it. I do this and a little time bar appears saying “wiping” 10%, 20% until I am presented with a Blackberry no longer synced to the server, no contacts, no email, no photos, nada, diddly squat all vamoosed!  I feel the blood pressure rise; I am beside myself with anger; I am feeling lost and as equally angry at myself for being stupid enough to do this; not to mention being so irrationally upset about a phone. So there I was cut off from everyone I knew- it was my own little very belated Y2K! Happy Friday Jimmy!

So in the course of a series of panic calls to IT I find out that the data is irretrievable. Surely it must be out there somewhere. If I was a murderer or a gangster or a member of some high risk terrorist group you can be rest assured that somebody would have all of this info about me for me to retrieve (if you are feeling generous up there!). IT informs me that they have a new Blackberry for me in the office and ask me if my contacts are backed up. I know that that seems like a smart thing to do but I am not good around technology. My kids swear that my body holds some sort of electrical charge that screws up all technology that I come into contact with-all my phones go hay wire, the laptops break, DVD players stop running, the Sky Box is temperamental etc etc etc .So I assume all contacts lost forever.

In a desperate attempt to make contact with the world again I decide now on my day off that I will go online with the desktop. It is not working. I have a laptop. Not working. I have two other laptops. Not working. But needs must so I use a borrowed phone to get onto Gmail and send an important series of emails. Then I (yes me who is useless with technology) fix the desktop. Yep. I figured it out and am now typing this celebratory blog on it. Go on, admit it, you are impressed as well as feeling sorry for me for being such a loser and not enjoying a day’s leave. I also checked my work email remotely and guess what? All my phone contacts are in fact backed up. Technology can be smart! All my precious photos are lost and gone forever though-other than being viewable by the Men-in-Black only!

But I re-learned something today. Necessity is the mother of invention and hunger does make good kitchen. I learned a lot of other insightful and personal things too but those are for another day. So as the King would have crooned: “Are you lonesome tonight, do you miss me tonight…?”

And the answer: A little bit less now that I am reconnected with the universe and all of you. I hope that the spy satellites appreciate my gargantuan efforts! I am back boys! Your rest day is over too.

A slice of carrot cake anyone? A Post-Valentine’s Reflection

I would style myself as something of a romantic. I admit to liking romance, maybe even to being in love with romance itself (on the assumption it is genderless). I was always taken by the romantic poets, I am a sap for romantic music whether it is rock, pop, classical or dare I say country! I love the romantic genre in all of its myriad guises but I am particularly in love with rom-com…romantic comedies to you the uninitiated. You know the type of movie to which I refer even if your head is dipped deep in a bucket of denial-Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, As Good as It Gets, 10 Things I hate About You, While You Were Sleeping, Legally Blonde, French Kiss (I detect a Meg Ryan pattern emerging there!) and such recent offerings as The Proposal which I happened to watch last night to top off my Valentine’s Day.  Yep, I went there…

Of course I made the mistake of admitting that I did to some colleagues this morning and as you might guess the collective cynic was hard at work within and without NCI! “You must be joking! I wouldn’t watch that $%^&* if you paid me!” etc etc etc. So this got me thinking about the romantic that lurks within us all and how we show that and how it reflects in our personalities. Indeed it got me thinking that how we show and display emotion speaks volumes about each one of us as individuals. I would posit that our attitude to romance is a little window to our soul, a little précis of our life, a little history of our rearing and so on.

I know too well that romance is manifest in many ways and my accusers of which there are many out there would allege that I have too much time on my hands to be trifled with such matters. I disagree. I believe that our sense of and connections with romance in its various shades and hues defines us as individuals, as a community and arguably as a nation. Look no further than our wonderful literary tradition. It is all in how it is manifest. It needn’t always be poetry and flowers, champagne and candle lit dinners (mind you I have no objections to any of these) but instead it could as easily reside in the making of a dinner, a nice walk, a nice conversation, a slice of carrot cake, a not so subtle message, a semaphore etc. The point is-it is there whether we choose to see it or not. Indeed, once in a discussion with a former Antrim GAA manager he told me how in his team talks he used talk in the language of romance and mythology and used reference and allusion to Celtic warriors to inspire his charges on the field of play-they never won anything but that would be to miss the wider point, for I also know that when Wexford last won the Liam McCarthy Cup they too invoked the spirits of former greats and dipped deep into the well of romantic cultural memory.

It is as if romance is at the unconscious level where many of us are concerned. We just need to work a little harder to upgrade our awareness of this innate trait, this undeniable characteristic that is so typical of the Celtic psyche. So if you checked your bank balance today and discovered that you are after shelling out an obscene or even paltry sum of money for scant return then don’t feel bad for being true to yourself but instead have a private chuckle for on all things good, on all things romantic, on all things deep and pithy, you have on this damp and rainy Monday afternoon a firm foothold in the often dodgy field of romantic play.  “Oh I don’t know why I love you but I do…doo, doo, doo doo…”

Memories are made of this…

I was driving home from work last night and I was running low on petrol so I stopped off at Drogheda to fill up. When I got back into the car I was, as I often am, acutely aware of the smell from the metal of the petrol pump and from the petrol on my hand. As I drove away from the petrol station I started station hopping with the radio and hit upon a country and western channel and paused for a moment as the song that was playing was a big country hit when I was in my teens and working a part-time job as a petrol pump attendant after school and at the weekends. For the record I would like to state that my taste in music is eclectic. In fact the two stations that I listen to most are Classic FM and Radio na Gaeltachta and the thousands of songs on my iphone cover just about every musical taste and genre. I am sure that says more about me than I care to reflect on!

So back to my story: the garage at which I used to work had a fairly spacious office with nothing but a desk and a cash register. We had a few accessories for sale such as wiper blades, air fresheners, WD40 etc but that was about it… I spoke with the boss and suggested that we turn it into a shop selling car stereos, car radios and tapes etc (no CDs back then!). He agreed and we started to do a regular trade in a limited range of merchandise. The tapes, first 8-tracks and then 4-tracks, proved to be mightily popular with the locals in the heart of west Tyrone. Top sellers were such country luminaries and national treasures as Philomena Begley, Brian Coll, Roly Daniels, The Indians, Susan McCann, Frankie McBride and Dickie Rock as well as a range of American country greats such as Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Pride and Hank Williams. My mother was an aficionado of such music and I suppose as a consequence I couldn’t help but escape it either…and dare I say, actually grew to like and enjoy much of it. In terms of context the great days of disco were just threatening to appear and aside from attending live and emerging bands in the local Foresters’ Hall on a Sunday afternoon the only fare available to the burgeoning youth of the district was the many country and western dances that took us on adventures to such exotic locations as the Royal Arms in Omagh, the Parish Hall in Drumquin on a Friday night, or The Gap Ballroom in Mullaslin on a Saturday…and when really adventurous we might stray as far afield as the Emyvale Inn in County Monaghan or the Astoria Ballroom in Bundoran. And trust me, they were all adventures of sorts, especially when you throw into the mix that we were firmly in the throes of that period in the north of Ireland which we fondly refer to as the Troubles and getting to and from anywhere late at night could be an adventure of a different sort entirely!

So the smell of petrol on my hands, the act of pumping petrol, something about the coldness and crispness of the night accompanied by the mood music of the era conspired to transport me to my teenage years. It was as if everything had aligned perfectly for a moment and I have to tell you that I dallied happily there for a while. If truth be told I was overwhelmed with a warm and homely wave of nostalgia and I found myself indulgent of the transient comfort in the safety that I happened on there amidst my kith and kin; and all the time I was keenly aware that this was a momentary suspension of the factual complexity of the reality. I have no doubt either that I had somehow donned those famed and misused rose-tinted spectacles and that the lens that they gave me somehow distorted reality and kindly filtered out the background of angst that prevailed in those years in that part of Ireland. I am grateful for that and it should be no surprise that a homing instinct kicked in and seconds later I was on the phone (hands’ free!!) talking to my parents. So much has changed over the intervening years, as it has for all of us; so many of the characters who starred or had bit part roles in those memory pockets no longer shuffle the mortal coil and in our individual dalliances with the past we confront what is essentially a microcosm of life’s journey. That is nice. That is warm. That is a real glass of cheer on this bitterly and bitingly cold February morning!

I get that Friday feeling…

I don’t know how many of my regular readers know that the National College of Ireland where I work is located in the heart of Dublin’s International Financial Services’ Centre (IFSC). I have been heading up the School of Business here at NCI for 16 months and in that short time the IFSC is a much changed place. I remember coming here for my interviews in April and May 2008 and this was a busy part of the city. It was literally a hive of industry, the bars and restaurants were packed and the streets were teeming with the nouveau riche. Let’s put it another way-in a bar across the street from the College you’d pay 9 euro for a pint and the queue at the bar would be 5 deep! So when I arrived to take up my position as Dean of the School of Business in September 2008 the sub prime crisis was just bubbling to the surface, the financial markets were in melt down and the property market had gone into free fall. Let’s put it another way-the same bar across the street now only opens on selected nights and there might be 5 people in total there and you’d be hard pressed to pay 5 euro for a beer, and if you moved to a bar up the street a bit you might only have to pay 3 euro!

I remember when I lived in the Mid West that they used say that the RV (recreational vehicle-camper to you and me) industry was a barometer of the economy and in Ireland’s case the IFSC fills the same role. Some would argue and who am I to disagree that the green shoots of recovery are to be loosely discerned in the concrete streets of the IFSC. I travel daily on the Enterprise train between Dublin and Belfast and sit with a bunch of equally regular commuters who are all employed in the various financial houses around the IFSC and the ‘tales from the field’ if I might paraphrase Van Mannen are not so optimistic. Indeed, I am just done looking at the recent slide in the euro and it is not awe inspiring to say the least. Recovery will come dropping slowly but there are reasons to be cheerful Part 4!

So what do we do? Well we can lie down, roll over and put out the light or we can embrace the opportunities with which recession presents us. At NCI we are in the business of education, re-skilling and retraining and recession provides ample opportunity to provide innovative programmes to address the problems of the unemployed. One recent such example is an entrepreneurship programme that we developed for FÁS which was targeted at the highly educated recently unemployed. The course was aimed at encouraging the unemployed to explore the possibility of business creation and skilling them to do so. The participants on the programme were required to develop a plan for a business start-up and were provided with an opportunity to present this plan to an expert panel. That is only one such example but we have also developed a Certificate in Management for those from a range of sectors looking to retrain and a range of programmes in conflict resolution, employment law as well as in various aspects of the financial services sector(on the assumption that the darkest hour is just before the dawn!). Our distinct competitive advantage at the College is that we are small enough to be flexible and to be able to respond quickly to what the market needs. In summary we see the green shoots of recovery through a different lens, that of a photo-synthesis of growth in the myriad beams of opportunity that recession presents. Our business is to convert these beams into exciting and innovative products that allow us to complement our existing portfolio of offerings.

The lesson is a positive one as it is about the need to be upbeat in the face of adversity and to see the glass as half full. Adverse circumstances force us to question our own commitment to what we seek to do. For me the lesson is a simple one- we must be prepared to stick to what we said we would do when the mood in which we said it has long since past!

Do you fancy a swift one Paddy?

So United finally hit a rich vein of form; it has been a great week-seeing off the moneybag pretenders at Eastlands and disarming the Gunners at the Emirates. Even those of you who consort with the ABU brigade must have been literally mesmerised by the sheer quality of the United and particularly the Rooney show. That boy Rooney! As the United faithful chant- he really is the white Pele!

That said it has been an uncomfortable year for United supporters. The club’s finances and how they are currently structured defies belief. I keep reading about the debt and I keep interrogating my friends in the finance industry on how the debt is structured and there is simply nothing good to report. Surely there must be one wealthy oil oligarch or filthy rich Sheik out there who wants to buy a real club, with real history…time to start flicking through my contacts…

So back to Rooney: he could have played for Ireland. I believe that his provenance is in County Down as is that of the famed Rooney who owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. A little town land called Annaclone to be exact can lay some claim to the pair! Now imagine the sight of Rooney the former in the green of Ireland-something tells me that we wouldn’t be crying into our beer about Henry’s little piece of handiwork, not that I cried anyway! I am on the Roy Keane page on that one.

So anyway one night about 4 years ago a colleague of mine at the University of Liverpool was engaged in some empirical data gathering on Irish pubs-oh the joys of academic freedom. In fairness it was an excellent doctoral thesis based on post-colonialism and the symbolic role of the Irish pub and all the cultural, social and folk memories attaching to such hostelries. It is a fascinating thing actually how the Irish on holiday or overseas often gravitate to the Irish pub scene as it is not only a touch stone for the oul sod but a place that provides the emigrant or his or her descendants with a sense of identity and belonging in the often multi-racial and multi-cultural melting pots around the globe.

So my colleague informs me that he has never been to a famous Liverpool pub called Flanagan’s Apple, officially the first Irish pub in the UK. That should not come as much of a surprise with the historical links between Liverpool and Ireland. I remember at Primary School in Omagh CBS and we’d be doing world capitals and Brother Kelly used say that the real capital of Ireland was Liverpool. In fairness it has a distinct Irish feel to it. As soon as the Scousers realise that you are Irish you are welcome. They all have Irish ancestry and it is almost anachronistic Irishness-they all know the words of Irish rebel songs, St. Patrick’s Day is a massive event, and the announcements in the Liverpool Echo are more Irish than the announcements in any Daily on these fine shores.

So anyway my colleague asks me if I will accompany him to Flanagan’s so as he can do some research. I have to be honest here too-it’s what would be known as a grab-a-granny bar, populated by a motley crew of patrons, not my scene, but still and with all it didn’t take much persuasion. So off the pair of Irish lads to the UK’s first Irish pub…

There are two floors in Flanagan’s, ground floor and basement; the live music is usually downstairs but so is the less attractive patron! We sup a beer on the ground level and my colleague is busy trying to drink in the ambience of the place and making mental notes on decor, on the in-your-face paddywhackery, all whilst trying to enjoy the Flanagan’s experience. I suggest after our first beer that we repair to the grimier climes of the lower floor and he hastily agrees. So we are standing at the bar having a beer when in breeze a veritable bunch of locals, led by a small pugnacious alpha male attired in an Everton track suit…instantly recognised and known to the locals the bar spontaneously breaks into that old Stretford End strain-“Who the f%$£ are Man United!” The alpha male looks agitated and his flummoxed riposte is-“ F£”& off! I am a blue!” and he proceeds to kiss his Everton badge. It is of course all just good banter.

So the new arrivals stand beside us at the bar and on closer inspection I think that I am talking to Wayne Rooney! As it happens it is his father who was only something like 36 years old at the time! We get chatting and all he wants to talk about is his Irish heritage. It means so much. Flanagan’s is a cultural touch stone and he and others like him the world over feel that they belong in such places.. It reminded me of that great travel story by the late Pete McCarthy, McCarthy’s Bar where a lad born and reared in Warrington embarks on what amounts to a personal pilgrimage of belonging to Ireland in an effort to find out who he really is.

Aside from the irony of Wayne Rooney’s Irish heritage inclining him to declare for England, I do believe that there is a homing instinct in all of us and that in times of joy but more particularly in times of need that that homing instinct kicks in. Personally I love the sense of comfort that envelopes me when I am back amongst the bushes in west Tyrone or soaking up the tribal atmosphere that characterises so many inter-county games.

Finally, to hammer the general point home, I had the privilege of spending some time as a visiting Professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, home of the famed Fighting Irish. I loved it there and to this day I regret coming home. It is a special place, in the middle of the corn fields on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and aside from home I felt happy there, welcome there and felt a strong sense of belonging. There is irony there too I hear you say but it was perhaps the sheer wealth of cultural touch stones which conspired to create a home away from home. But I got lucky and struck emigrant’s gold. So next time you pass an Irish Pub on your travels stop by and have one for and with all of your kinsfolk who are searching for that inner peace, that contentment, that sense of identity and belonging and who knows, if the mood takes you you might even stop for a second.

And finally, finally-talking of Indiana, I am excited for this year’s Super Bowl and even more excited at the thought of Peyton Manning getting the ultimate honour that his distinguished career truly deserves. Go Colts!

I thought that I should make my way back into my blog before I was forgotten by all of my avid fans in the blogosphere.  It has been a busy period on the work front at the College. We have an Institutional Review in two weeks and a full Programmatic Review in the School of Business and we await the imminent announcement of who will be our new President at NCI. The grapevine and the rumour mills are in overdrive but some things you just know because you are smart! Enough said. It’s all good fun.  A new dawn beckons, a new door opens, sliding doors, ifs and buts…you get where I am going with this and sure isn’t it all exciting!

So I am going to leave you with a little poem that I wrote one night in Liverpool some years ago. It was a period of my life where I was confronting some indecision. Usually I am quite positive and won’t worry something for too long but now and then it is really healthy to reflect. This blog is reflective. My blog critics accuse me of being morose too often but that is not what it is about. I have always encouraged honest reflection and introspection in my classes. I encourage students to keep reflective diaries. Sometimes you just have to venture to the outer reaches of your being and to project yourself beyond that to see who you really are and to find the answer. This short poem was one such reflective attempt. I had better hurry up and post it as I think I hear the men in white coats approaching along the corridor…

The Worn Out Remains

It’s all ebb now,

The flow is gone,

Gravity the mystery

That leaves me alone;

What am I looking for?

What do I try to carve

From the worn out remains?

What do I now have?

Somewhere in the dark night,

Lives that thing

That once was mine,

Not true, ours actually,


Can I fashion you again

From the ruins of what we haven’t?

I think I’d like that;

What will be wasn’t.

Have a good one! God speed Man Utd on their run to glory and may Tyrone show Donegal who reigns supreme in the Kingdom of Ulster!