Archive for Maynooth

Golf and other Hazards

Posted in History, Maynooth, Sport with tags , , , , , on August 27, 2018 by telescoper

Back in the office with a few minutes to go before a meeting starts I thought I’d give a little insight into life in the throbbing metropolis that is Maynooth, County Kildare. This week sees the start of the World Amateur Team Golf Championships, which is being held at Carton House (above) which is a short walk from downtown Maynooth. Some of the competitors will be staying on Maynooth University campus for the duration, which will no doubt provide welcome revenue.

Now the game of golf is obviously of no conceivable interest to anyone, but the venue – Carton House – is quite fascinating. The current house was built on the Carton Estate in the 18th Century to accommodate the Earl of Kildare, when their fortunes had slowly recovered after Thomas Fitzgerald (`Silken Thomas’) the 10th Earl of Kildare was executed, along with several others of the Fitzgerald family, by Henry VIII for plotting a rebellion against the English. If you have been paying attention you will know that it was the Fitzgeralds who built the stone castle in Maynooth that was destroyed in the 16th Century. Carton House is at the other end of town, and is approached by a very pleasant tree-lined avenue. The extensive grounds are also surrounded by a wall. The latter-day Fitzgeralds obviously wanted to keep the hoi polloi at arm’s length.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Carton House fell into disrepair in the second half of the 20th Century and was eventually sold off and turned into a hotel and spa resort, with two golf courses.

In the meantime, among many other things, Carton House and it its grounds were used as one of the locations for Stanley Kubrick’s (1975) film Barry Lyndon. That was of course before the beautiful landscaped gardens were destroyed and turned into golf courses. I went for a pleasant walk in the grounds earlier this summer, during the heatwave, but the path runs alongside a small lake beside one of the fairways where a group of people were openly committing acts of golf. A not-very-competent member of this group sent several balls into the water before finally managing to hit dry land with a tee shot. For a while I wished I’d brought a tin hat with me.

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The Rooks of Maynooth

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , , on August 3, 2018 by telescoper

In a previous post I mentioned the proliferation of crows in Maynooth. It turns out that was a terminological inexactitude, in that the birds in question were actually rooks. It’s true that rooks are part of the crow family (genus Corvus, family Corvidae) which also includes ravens and jackdaws but they do have a distinctive look and character. See the above picture (taken in Maynooth but not by me; picture credit here).

The rooks have been prevalent in Maynooth for centuries. A quick google found this quote from 1802 from the poet W.M.Letts:

The men of Maynooth are like o’ the rooks,
With their solemn black coats an’ their serious looks.

This refers to the young men studying at the Roman Catholic seminary of St Patrick’s College, of whom there were 500 or so in those days. The seminarians are somewhat fewer in number now, but the rooks are still plentiful.

I wouldn’t say that rooks are the most visually attractive birds, and they do have a slightly sinister aspect, but they are very characterful creatures and I find them very amusing to watch. They’re very sociable and tend to go about their business in large groups, especially when scouring pieces of open land for insects and other things to eat. They also seem to tolerate the presence of their cousins the jackdaws (of which there are also quite a few in Maynooth, though not as many as the rooks). Jackdaws are a bit smaller, prettier, and neater in appearance than rooks (which often look very scruffy indeed). I imagine that the jackdaws look down on the rooks rather snootily, as one might one’s less sophisticated relatives. The collective noun for rooks is a `Parliament’, which also suggests that they are not held in very high regard.

Like jackdaws, rooks have two modes of locomotion along the ground: a sort of strutting walk and a two-legged hop, both of which are rather comical. Their walk makes them look like officious constables, whereas the hop is more like a child pretending to be a horse. The rooks are basically scavengers and they have a penchant for systematically emptying litter bins in their quest for scraps of food. At the rear of the apartment block in which I live there is a place for storing rubbish for collection in large dumpsters. Sometimes somebody forgets to close the lid with the inevitable result that a large group of rooks gets inside and strews garbage all over the place. When they’re not patrolling around or rooting through rubbish they tend just to sit there watching the world go by, waiting for another opportunity for mischief.

I’m told that, in the old days, the rooks of Maynooth used to gather at the Old Mill, but since that was demolished to make way for a shopping centre they seem mostly to congregate on the playing fields on or near the Royal Canal. Anyway, I’ve got used to them in the short time I’ve been in Maynooth and I always look out for them when I’m walking around.

What prompted me to write this post is that on my way to the Department yesterday morning I came across a dead rook lying on the path. It looked like it had died only recently, as there was no sign of decay. It was well away from the road, so it seemed unlikely it had been hit by a car. I suppose it just died of natural causes.

The Maynooth Pound

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , on June 2, 2018 by telescoper

Taking a stroll around Maynooth this afternoon I came across a little bit of local history that I thought I would share. On the appropriately name Pound Lane, right next to the stream that used to run past an ancient mill where there is now a shopping centre, there is a small enclosure called the Maynooth Pound, marked with this sign:

If you can’t read the sign it explains that this is the only surviving example of a type of pound which used to be common all over Ireland. Stray animals were brought here to be fed and watered before being reunited with their owners (for a small fee).

The walls are of interesting dry stone construction and have survived the passage of time rather well; they were built in 1822, although the Pound itself is a bit older.

The interior of the Pound was virtually derelict until quite recently but has been tidied up and is now a pleasant place to sit down and perhaps feed the birds. The old mill was famous for its crows, of which there are still a great many in Maynooth although they tend now to congregate on the playing fields near the Royal Canal.

In the picture, the mill stream is to the right of the shot and you can see the roof of the Manor Mill shopping centre to the upper right.

End of Term Thoughts

Posted in Biographical, Finance with tags , , , on May 4, 2018 by telescoper

Today is the last day of teaching term at Maynooth University. My last lecture, a revision lecture, was yesterday morning and I spent most of the afternoon helping students put the finishing touches on their project work, which is due in on Tuesday next week. Next Monday is a bank holiday in Ireland (as it is in the UK), then there’s a short period of private study before the examinations start next Friday. As it happens, the theory paper for the module I’ve been teaching on Computational Physics is on the first day of the examination period.

It’s `Study Week’ in Cardiff next week too, and I have a revision lecture there. Owing to the Monday holiday we’ve juggled the schedule a bit to ensure all modules have a revision lecture so I’m doing my revision lecture on Thursday rather than the usual Tuesday. I have a meeting at the Institute of Physics in London on Tuesday and it’s the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society (also in London) on Friday so I’ll be spending all of next week in the UK, in between Cardiff and London. Since teaching is over I’m not planning any more midweek travel (unless it’s absolutely necessary) and intend to spend one week in the UK and one week in Ireland, and so on, apart from conferences and the like, until I fully relocate in July.

I thought I’d mention another thing, which represents a fortuitous bit of timing. Twenty-five years ago, while I was living in London, I took out a savings policy of the sort that involves making a regular monthly payment into a mixture of investment funds. The term of this policy was 25 years, and the maturity date was 23rd April 2018. On a couple of occasions I have been tempted to cash it in early but decided to let it run until maturity. The performance of my chosen funds has fluctuated over the last two and a half decades, but when the price of units drops and you invest a fixed cash amount you end up buying more units than when they’re expensive so if they do recover in value you do well. This is called Pound Cost Averaging.

However, when a policy like this reaches the end of its term the amount you get back depends on the value of the units on the day that it matures. Although my policy wasn’t doing at all well a decade ago, it seems my portfolio (more by luck than judgement) has done well over the last ten years, but with the stock market being rather volatile in the early part of this year it’s been a bit of a white knuckle ride recently. Thankfully the last few weeks seem to have been more stable, and although the units are not at an all-time high in terms of value they were not far off that when they were cashed in. aturity value turned out to be about three times the total amount I’ve invested. I received the money on 30th April, and the proceeds will make a significant contribution to the cost of purchasing a house here in Ireland.

The downside of pound cost averaging is that the final sum is paid in pounds to a UK bank account, and with the pound languishing against the euro there’s now a decision to be made about when to transfer it to Ireland..

Cardiff Bound

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , on April 21, 2018 by telescoper

Just time for a quick post using the airport WIFI to fill some time before my flight leaves from Dublin Airport. Once again on a Saturday morning I was up at 5am to get the 6am bus here from Maynooth. The journey back to Cardiff is far from arduous, but I won’t be sorry when I won’t have to do it every week. Fortunately, term is coming to an end and after teaching finishes I won’t be dictated to by the timetables of Cardiff and Maynooth Universities. And after July I won’t have to do the trip at all!

This morning a large group – I believe the correct collective noun is a murder – of crows gathered to give the bus a sendoff. I did think of Hitchcock’s The Birds but the birds in this case were more interested in rummaging through the rubbish bin than attacking any of us waiting for the bus. Incidentally, it was the anniversary of Daphne Du Maurier’s death on 19th April; she wrote the short story on which that film was based.

Anyway, it’s a lovely sunny morning. Yesterday was a nice day too, both in terms of weather and other things. In the afternoon there was a staff barbecue and an awards ceremony at Maynooth University. There was a big crowd already there when I arrived, a bit late because I’d been at a seminar. Standing at the back I couldn’t really hear the speeches. I didn’t win any awards, of course, but I did get a glass of wine and a beefburger.

On my way home I bumped into the President, Philip Nolan, who is the equivalent of a Vice-Chancellor. To my surprise he mentioned a point I had raised in a recent Faculty meeting about the possibility of Maynooth signing up to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). To my even greater surprise he went on to say that this was going to be in the University’s strategic plan. Good news!

Anyway, I’d better make my way to the gate.  Have a nice day!

 

The Day’s Events

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 13, 2018 by telescoper

Today has been a very strange day. The strangeness started last night when, without any notice being given to us mere residents, a crew arrived at 8pm to do roadworks (resurfacing). There then followed an excruciating racket right outside my window well into the early hours of the morning.

So, having not had much sleep at all, I wasn’t in a very good mood when I got up. Things went from bad to worse when, just after 8am, all the electricity in my flat went off. I checked the trip switches and saw no problem. I then went outside and saw the traffic lights were off. It turned out that the power supply to all of Maynooth was off (including the entire University), as well as quite a bit of the rest of County Kildare.

With no electricity I couldn’t have a shower or make any coffee or have the bacon sandwich I’d planned to have for breakfast. The prospect of sitting in a cold flat all morning with nothing to do and not even the radio to listen to didn’t appeal so I got dressed and went to the office (which is only 15 minutes walk away). No shops were open on the way. There was no electricity anywhere on campus, so no internet connection, and quite a lot of students sitting around wondering what to do. At least the office was fairly warm and I had plenty of things I could do without a computer.

News eventually started coming through that power was returning gradually to the campus buildings. Ours came back at about 10.30. At that point I finally got a cup of coffee. I still don’t know what caused the fault.

The other major event of the day was that the result came through from the Universities and Colleges Union ballot on whether to accept the Employers’ offer on pensions. A majority of the members voted `yes’, so strike action – which had been planned to resume at Cardiff on Monday 16th April – is now suspended. I wouldn’t bet against a resumption later this year, as the major issues seem to me unresolved. However, I will be leaving Cardiff in July so that’s the end of the matter for me.

Anyway, this now means that I’ll be resuming my teaching in Cardiff on Tuesday next week (17th April). I’d already decided to spend this weekend in Ireland so I’ll be going back on Monday morning, Flybe willing…

Back to Maynooth

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , on March 7, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am back in Maynooth. The University re-opened on Monday after being closed from Wednesday last week owing to the extremely bad weather. I’m told the snow was several feet deep and the town was virtually cut off until the weekend. There is still some snow lying here and there, but the thaw has begun and you can see the effect of the meltwater on the river (the Lyreen) that flows through town, which is usually no more than a little stream:

Picture Credit: Coyne’s Family Butcher, Maynooth

It’s not quite a raging torrent, but getting there!

At the moment there’s no sign of a resolution to the industrial action that’s affecting Cardiff University (as well as others in the UK) so I decided to travel to Ireland yesterday rather than my usual Wednesday. The flight over was virtually empty and so was Dublin Airport, so I got on the bus well ahead of schedule and made it back to my flat (which was cold, but otherwise all in order) in time to buy some groceries and make dinner. The panic-buying of bread had caused a shortage, but all seems to be back to normal again.

I had arranged for someone else to do last week’s Thursday lecture and Lab session so I could attend the event the IOP event I posted about, but as the campus was closed they were cancelled anyway and I now have to find a way to catch up. Do not worry, though, I have a cunning plan.

Unless there’s an announcement in the next couple of days that next week’s strike is off I plan to stay in Ireland over the weekend, which will give me the chance to explore Dublin a bit, something that my schedule has not so far allowed. Next week will be the fourth week of industrial action and the last of the current batch of strike days, this time a full week (having escalated from two, three and four days in the preceding weeks). If there is no resolution by then I don’t know what will happen, possibly an all-out indefinite strike. Nobody wants that, but there’s no doubt in my mind who is to blame for this dispute and it’s not the Universities and Colleges Union. However, there are some signs of movement, so let’s hope for a negotiated settlement. If not, I’m seriously thinking of trying to bring forward my full-time move to Maynooth. There’s little point continuing in my post in Cardiff if I’m going to be permanently on strike.

Anyway, I have a 9am lecture to give tomorrow so I think I’ll toddle off, get some tea and have an early night.