Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An American Cowboy in Killarney – Day Eleven in Ireland

The Irish Cob is a massive horse that holds its own against the Clydesdale, a Scottish breed that is the largest of all horses, in plowing competitions and working on the farm. Their nimble-footed nature allows them to make tighter turns than their bigger brethren while still providing the power needed to complete just about any tough farming job.

Today I didn’t just see one of these mammoths – I rode one. We decided to go horseback riding in Muckross, a small area in the forests near Killarney. We arrived via taxi and noticed that we weren’t at a commercial ranch. We were at someone’s country home, complete with sheep in the yard.

A relative of the rancher came out to tell us that he’d be running late. She said she tried to ring his mobile phone, but he doesn’t hear so well. When he finally pulled up in a red Renault car – he asked us to wait a minute while he had some tea. We said it wasn’t a problem. I didn’t mind sitting back for a bit and taking a break from the go-go-go pace of city living.

We were led to the stables and mounted the hulking beasts. I was given a Godzilla-sized horse named Bill. He was the largest of the herd, and had a slick black and white coat. I took a few minutes to pat him on the neck and assure him that I wasn’t going to bring him any harm. It’s important to try to bond with a horse even if only briefly.

The ride was the perfect length and took about an hour. We caught up-close glimpses of the countryside including the mountains of the Ring of Kerry area. The forest was interesting because it transitioned between parts that looked like the woods of Pennsylvania and the plains of Colorado. A mix of moss, pines and a jagged yellow bush created the backdrop for the ride.

Meanwhile back at the ranch (sorry - I just had to use this), other students were preparing for a meeting with Declan Malone, group editor of The Kerryman. The meeting was in the snooker room (pool room) of the International Hotel in Killarney. His newspaper is the top regional paper of County Kerry. It carries a Pittsburgh-related trait in that sports are a huge part of the paper.

The Kerryman is a publication of the Independent Media Company – the same corporation that owns The Irish Independent, The Belfast Telegraph and many other news media ventures.

Malone was the model of a salty, old-school journalist. He was rough around the edges, which he showed by dropping a variety of swearwords into the conversation, however, he was very knowledgeable about the field and spoke with honesty. He said his newspaper has been affected by the recession, but continues solider on due to strong provincial backing from Kerry sports fans and local families.

The Kerryman has not made much of a transition to the Web either. There is a digital edition, but consumers have to pay for it. This is not unlike the other newspapers of Ireland.

“Newspapers [in Ireland] are underdeveloped on the Web because no one has figured out how to make money from it,” said Malone.

He also spoke about the strict libel laws of Ireland. He gave an example of a case that involved a mother putting a memoriam poem in the newspaper about her dead son. The young man had died to diabetes while his girlfriend was in the apartment. The poem alluded to the fact that she didn’t help him while he died from hypoglycemia. The upset girlfriend sued the newspaper and they had to settle with her for 100,000 euro.

The lawsuit happy public isn’t the only problems that Malone cited either. Politicians are a major thorn in his side because they try to take credit and attach their name to any positive event in the community, even if they had nothing to do with it.

“You meet some really unforgiving b_______ in it,” said Malone, in regard to working in the newspaper industry.

Despite these problems, Malone did end the session on a positive note. He said that journalism keeps the mind active and that its practitioners, in accordance with Neil Young's "My, My, Hey Hey", are more likely to burn out than fade away.

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