protests as part of a movement for organising change in society from the bottom up.
Ever since then, people have been marching through Ballyhea in protest, sometimes once a week, sometimes more often, and just recently, they passed the 100 march mark. People come from all over Ireland to take part, so it's no longer a local curiosity, and people carry placards with slogans like
"Stop punishing the poor for the sins of the rich". When the protests started, they were little more than the smallest pebble in the boot of the European Central Bank, but now they have become something much more significant, aided by the amount of national media interest they have
created in Ireland. More and more international media sources too are finding the protests interesting, including most recently, the English language service of Al Jazeera.
Gene Kerrigan, a journalist with the Sunday Independent newspaper in Dublin, says that when the history of this ignoble little era comes to be written. Ballyhea will be a byword for honour. Amazingly, the Irish Republic, with a population of 4.2 million, is carrying 42 per cent of Europe's bank debt.
An excellent example of how Ireland is so out of kilter came the other day when the latest Scottish
unemployment figures were published. In the latest period under review, the figures fell by 14,000, giving Scotland just over 200,000 people out of work. Scotland has one million more people than the
Irish Republic, but the unemployment rate in Ireland is close to half a million. Given the similarities between the two economies, no-one has come out and explained the obvious: why the huge disparity?
Actually, you'd wonder what the hell is going on. The French employment minister, Michel Sapin, caused something akin to panic earlier this week, when he said that the French state is "totally
bankrupt". That may have been an exaggeration, but there's probably a grain of truth in what he blurted out. A further problem in France comes from the fact that so many people have fallen out of love with buying new cars. Sales of new cars in France are back to what they were 15 and 20 years ago, which is creating huge problems for the French economy. And in Italy, scandalised chatter surrounds the country's third largest bank, the Banca dei Paschi di Siena. People want to know: is it
going bust? But finding the straight answers is the hard bit. Meanwhile, the Republic of Cyprus, the Greek part of the island, is going through its own financial traumas: where is it all going to end?
Trying to find answers anywhere is difficult. Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, who's also a member of the Irish parliament, said on RTÉ Radio this week that he wouldn't send the present Irish government out for a bottle of milk. Exactly the same could be said for many governments across
Europe, including the UK coalition, where the austerity programme seems to have done nothing except create more austerity. This UK coalition government is due to run its term until 2015, but I wonder will it make it that far?
At least, we have something to celebrate this week. At the Gare de Lyon in Paris the other day, there was a ceremony to mark the two billionth passenger on the TGV network of super fast trains in France. Originally, the trains were designed to be powered by gas turbines, but the oil crisis of
1973 put an end to that and the engines were modified to be electrically powered. It's very unfashionable to admit it, but most of France's electricity is nuclear generated, which is a far safer source of energy than oil. The first TGV came into service in 1981 on the Paris-Lyon route. Eventually, the line was extended to Marseille.
Over the years, the network has been rolled out across France. When the second phase of the eastern section of the TGV is completed, journey time from Paris to Strasbourg will be cut to a mere one hour, 50 minutes. The TGV is due to reach Bordeaux in four years' time. The highest speed ever reached with a TGV was 574.8km/h, on April 3, 2007. The network of high speed lines in
France has now reached just over 2,000 km.
The TGV has prompted other countries in Europe, such as Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain to follow suit with their own high speed trains and of course, Eurostar between London and Paris and
Brussels, has proved equally successful.
When you're on the TGV, as we've been, the sheer speed is impressive. But the train is going so fast that you the countryside flashes past in an instant blur, too quick to see much detail. The trains travel so fast that the signalling is automatic; the traditional lineside signals would be useless for the drivers because of the speed of the train. What is equally astonishing is how the French railways system, SNCF, has rolled out the TGV system across France with so little disruption or protest and so
I've a funny feeling that the planned high speed rail links between London, Birmingham and Manchester and the north of England, will never come to pass. There'll be so much disputation over the routes, land acquisition and a host of other issues, that by the time everyone has stopped arguing the toss, the system will remain unbuilt.
All of which brings me to a wonderful project I heard about on Radio 4 the other day. The Black Isle is a wonderful part of Scotland, right up in the far north-east, not far from the city of Inverness. A memory project is under way to preserve the memories of older folk in this very distinctive area: who
lived where and in what buildings, the kind of local history that's swept away as the generations pass. Inverness is also a fast-growing city and a lot of people who are working there now live in the Black Isle, which is increasing development pressure and hastening the oblivion of old memories. So this very worthwhile project is well under way and yielding a lot of information that will be vital for future generations.
I've recently been involved in a local history project, for a book called Old Achill Island. It's the largest island off the Irish coast and naturally, being Ireland, it's had a very turbulent but fascinating history. The book I did that was launched recently has lots of old photographs, all taken around a century ago. What's been really interesting about the launch is that it has had zero coverage in the traditional
media, yet the book has really off, thanks to word of mouth and such social media asTwitter. That's all an interesting conundrum to ponder, just as much as the real state of the French state finances.
But at least we have St Brigid's Day here in Ireland on this Friday, the first of February. It's the first day of Celtic spring and by February 1st, you can see a big improvement, with the mornings getting much brighter and the evenings doing the same. It's a real marker that the horrible days of this past winter are now behind us.