Photographing the invisible

Waterways Ireland is having a photographic competition for which it is

seeking contributions from the public on what they think best fulfils the theme “Waterways Heritage”.

Details here. You can win an iPad Air, which I think is a sort of pocket calculator for chaps with ponytails.

I was in two minds about whether to publicise this competition. You see, many of the bits of “heritage” I’m interested in are invisible, having vanished since the late nineteenth century. So maybe they’re not heritage at all?

But I decided that it would probably be difficult for Waterways Ireland to judge a competition in which all the photographs were of invisible objects, so I should encourage the photographing of the visible.

I was asked recently by another respectable public sector body to say, for publication, why industrial heritage was important to me. Unfortunately my response was deemed to be unusable, because it was too controversial. I’ll write more about that soon.

Hard sums on Lough Derg

According to the Clare Champion, a Clare county councillor called Pat Hayes, who is a member of Fianna Fáil [an excitable lot, Fianna Fáil], is boycotting something or other for some reason that is not clear to me [and, to be honest, is probably entirely unimportant]. Mr Hayes thinks that water from Lough Derg should be sent to the Atlantic, where it is wasted, rather than to Dublin, where it might be used, and the newspaper cites the River Shannon Protection Alliance as estimating that

… up to 350 million litres of water could be taken from Lough Derg by 2030.

The River Shannon Protection Alliance itself doesn’t agree with those figures. It says:

The central principal and immediate purpose of the organisation is to prevent the proposal of Dublin City Council to abstract in excess of 350 million litres of water on a daily basis from Lough Ree on the river Shannon, and to oppose any action that may be harmful to the well being of the river Shannon system. Since then, the abstraction options have been considered and the current recommended proposal is to abstract upwards 500 million litres of water from Lough Derg and store it in a depleted bog hole to be developed by Bord na Móna at Garryhinch bog, (near Portarlington) where the water will then be treated and pumped on to Dublin.

Eek. That’s a bignum: a lot of litres. Let’s all panic.

On the other hand, 500 000 000 litres is 500 000 cubic metres. Each of Ardnacrusha’s four turbines uses 100 cubic metres per second. So the amount of water to be sent to Dublin every day is less than Ardnacrusha uses in 21 minutes.

If the Alliance wants to save the Shannon, shouldn’t it be trying to get Ardnacrusha closed down first?

Piscator, Navita and Shannon navigation rights

I was never any good at fishing. The only time I ever caught anything was when fishing for mackerel with feathers from a boat, which is [I gather] the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel [surely a pointless exercise: if you wanted to catch or kill them you could just let the water out of the barrel].

My knowledge of angling comes, therefore, almost entirely from two sources. The first is observation: from the comfort of a boat, I’ve seen anglers along riverbanks, huddled under umbrellas in the rain, miles from any amenities. They don’t seem to be having a lot of fun, but that is no doubt because they “affect a holy melancholy”, as explained in my second source.

Izaak Walton begins his The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation, being a Discourse of Rivers, Fishponds, Fish, and Fishing [a 1904 edition available here] with a friendly argument between Piscator, Venator and Auceps, each lauding his own pastime. They cite learned authorities, refer to scripture and quote poets at length before refreshing themselves at the Thatched House.

Then Venator, having become an apprentice angler, learns “How to Fish for, and to Dress, the Chavender or Chub” and many another fish, pausing to hear Maudlin, the milkmaid, sing her song and her mother sing a response. After a supper of barley-wine and trout, Piscator, Venator and two more anglers, Peter and Coridon, sing more songs, including The Angler’s Song, which includes this stanza:

Of recreation there is none
So free as fishing is alone;
All other pastimes do no less
Than mind and body both possess;
My hand alone my work can do,
So I can fish and study too.

Towards the end of the book’s first part [the second being written by Charles Cotton], Piscator recites a poem attributed to Sir Harry Wotton, this being the last stanza:

Welcome, pure thoughts, welcome, ye silent groves,
These guests, these courts, my soul most dearly loves;
Now the wing’d people of the sky shall sing
My cheerful anthems to the gladsome spring;
A prayer-book, now, shall be my looking-glass,
In which I shall adore sweet virtue’s face,
Here dwell no hateful looks, no palace cares,
No broken vows dwell here, nor pale-faced fears;
Then here I’ll sit, and sigh my hot love’s folly,
And learn t’affect a holy melancholy;
And if contentment be a stranger, then
I’ll ne’er look for it, but in heaven, again.

They don’t write ’em like that any more.

Piscator iratus

I had assumed that this blend of contentment and holy melancholy characterised the anglers of today. But when, having visited the excellent website of the Limerick and District Anglers Association, I moved instead to their FaceTweet page, I found that the modern angler’s lot is not a happy one. The angler has to contend with the iniquities of the Electricity Supply Board [which owns fishing rights on the Shannon], Inland Fisheries Ireland  [whose role on the Shannon I know not] and, now, kayakers.

In discussion of another post on the subject, the Association said:

Therefore canoeists who enter this section of river without permission are trespassing.

That interested me, and I thought I should look further into navigation rights on the Shannon. I’ll post my conclusions after I’ve completed my investigations.

There is a second point. The Old River Shannon Research Group repeated the kayaking topic on its FaceTweet page with this comment:

This is a commercial company trying to turn the Castleconnell beats into something like Lahinch has become with surfers. See their website here. This type of “development” requires Appropriate Assessment.

I am most reluctant to disagree with the learned Dr William O’Connor on anything, as he knows far more than I do about environmental matters, but his comment raised a second topic of interest and I thought I might look into that too. Again, I’ll post separately on that.

Please don’t look at these photos

I regret to say that I have published, on these pages, several photos of the Shannon, Parteen Villa Weir, Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power station and its headrace and tailrace canals.

The storage basin between the road bridge over the River Shannon at Killaloe and the weir and canal intake at Parteen, including the right and left embankments constructed to form the said storage basin, together with the land outside and along the said right embankment delimited and separated from the adjoining land by post and wire fencing and also the land outside and, along the said left embankment delimited by the left bank of the Kilmastulla River Diversion.

Parteen Villa Weir from the embankment upstream (2008)

Parteen Villa Weir from the embankment upstream (2008)

The flooded area above Parteen Villa Weir

The flooded area above Parteen Villa Weir

The weir and canal intake, the embankments constructed to form abutments to the said intakes, the syphon under the said canal intake, and adjoining lands inside and bounded by post and wire fencing.

Parteen Villa Weir

Parteen Villa Weir

Parteen Villa Weir from upstream

Parteen Villa Weir from upstream

The six sluices controlling discharges down the old course of the river

The six sluices controlling discharges down the old course of the river

The head race between the canal intake and the power station including the right and left embankments constructed to form the said head race, together with the land outside and along the said embankments delimited and separated from the adjoining land by post and wire fencing, and also the road bridges over and the syphons and culverts under the said race.

The headrace from the bridge at Clonlara 20 November 2009

The headrace from the bridge at Clonlara 20 November 2009

The headrace from the bridge at O'Briensbridge 22 November 2009

The headrace from the bridge at O’Briensbridge 22 November 2009

The power station, the intake to the said power station, the locks and all adjoining buildings and land within the area around the said power station, all of which are delimited and separated from the adjoining land by post and wire fencing.

The upper chamber at Ardnacrusha lock

The upper chamber at Ardnacrusha lock

Ardnacrusha: looking up at the top chamber from the bottom

Ardnacrusha: looking up at the top chamber from the bottom

The penstocks that feed the turbines at Ardnacrusha

The penstocks that feed the turbines at Ardnacrusha

Ardnacrusha power station from the headrace

Ardnacrusha power station from the headrace

The fishpass

The fishpass

The tail race from the power station to the River Shannon, the branch railway running along the said tail race, and the land on either side of the said tail race, all of which are delimited and separated from the adjoining land by post and wire fencing.

Outflow

Outflow

And I have lots more photos … here and here and here, which I ask readers not to look at either.

You see the thing is, Your Honour, Sir, I didn’t know. I didn’t realise that, under Statutory Instrument 73 of 1935 Shannon Electricity Works (Declaration of Prohibited Place) Order 1935, the places as described are prohibited places under paragraph (d) of Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, as amended by the Official Secrets Act 1920, and as adapted by or under the Adaptation of Enactments Act 1922 (No 2 of 1922). That’s because

information with respect thereto, or the destruction or obstruction thereof, or interference therewith, would be useful to an enemy.

Apparently, under those acts, giving anyone information about a prohibited place is a felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to fourteen years.

Wikipedia says that, in Ireland, those acts were repealed by the Official Secrets Act 1963, but was the statutory instrument repealed? I don’t know, but I’ve written to the Department of Justice to ask.

In the meantime, please don’t look at the photos, especially if you’re a Foreign Agent: a term that, under the 1963 act,

includes any person who is or has been or is reasonably suspected of being or having been employed by a foreign power either directly or indirectly for the purpose of committing an act (whether within or outside the State) prejudicial to the safety or preservation of the State, or who has or is reasonably suspected of having (whether within or outside the State) committed or attempted to commit any such act.

I wonder whether that includes the European Central Bank.

Bloody Fianna Fáil …

… obviously didn’t get the memo. [They didn’t get the marriage equality memo either, thus losing one of their better people — who needs to update the banner under her photos.] But a nos moutons ….

According to Northern Sound, Monaghan County Council wants the Monaghan Minister for Fairytales, Heather Humphreys, to meet her Northern Ireland counterpart, the Minister for Marching Bands [and boxing clubs, football stadiums and various other things about which MLAs ask questions: they’re as bad as TDs], to do something about the Clones Sheugh.

I suspect this means that FF, and perhaps the citizens of Monaghan, have realised that, despite the Momentous Day on the Ulster Canal [oops: sorry; not that one, this one], the Clones Sheugh has been hijacked by Co Cavan and is not actually going to reach Co Monaghan in the foreseeable future [which means until the next round of election promises].

As far as I can see, the deal was that Sinn Féin would shut up about the Sheugh provided that they got photos of activity before the UKoGB&NI general election. By nicking the money from other navigations in WI’s budget, the Minister for Fairytales was able to deliver the photos. And, as far as Google Alerts can tell, there hasn’t been a word about the Sheugh from the Shinners, north or south, since then. Of course I could be wrong about the deal and, if both departments will send me their full files on the subject, I’ll be happy to use that evidence to correct the story.

Now, though, a Fianna Fáil councillor in Monaghan has

… put forward the motion requesting the Ministers to meet to advance the project and asking Sinn Féin and Fine Gael members of the council to arrange the meeting urgently.

I don’t suppose he’d be trying to embarrass the parties that made the deal, would he? [If they did make a deal, of course, which they may not have, but we won’t know until the departments send on their files.]

SF has 7 members on Monaghan County Council, FG 5, FF 4 and there are two non-party members.

Speaking of parties, or their aftermath, a thought struck me:

Ulster Canal 01 whole_resize

Fianna Fáil’s original conception for the Sheugh: bold, upstanding, thrusting …

Ulster Canal 04 whole_resize

The current plan: brewer’s droop

 

Interesting info from Waterways Ireland

Two interesting PDF documents available on this page:

No mention of Saunderson’s Sheugh, but I suppose dredging of the River Finn is proceeding.

Big it up for the OSI

I don’t know whether there is any official award scheme for contributions to historical research but, if there is, I reckon Ordnance Survey Ireland should get one. By making available, free, online versions of the OSI 6″ [~1840s] and 25″ [~1900] maps, they have provided amateur historians with an invaluable resource.

Using their public viewer, you can go to somewhere like Lecarrow, on Lough Ree, and look at what it was like before the Famine, around the start of the twentieth century or, using the Ortho options, in 1995, 2000 and 2005. As well, of course, as a bang-up-to-date map of Lecarrow today.

The most recent map was updated recently and the site fell over altogether for a while, then operated without the historical maps for another while. I suspect that I wasn’t the only person to realise, while it was down, how valuable the site was (and how far superior, at least for historical study, to the godawful Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland version).

So big it up for Ordnance Survey Ireland: delighted it’s back up again.

Archives strategy

If you boogie on over to the National Archives of Ireland website, you can download a copy of its Strategic Plan 2015–2017 [PDF], whereof the NAI says:

The National Archives’ Strategic Plan 2015 – 2017 outlines the challenges and priorities for us as an organisation. In it, we have identified the key areas we wish to develop, grounded in our vision, mission and values.

Well, yes, I suppose that is so. The thing is, though, that the Plan as published has only six pages, of which the first is a cover page and the last has the Vision, Mission, Values and Strategic Priorities set out in boxes. There are only four pages of meat.

So, although the Vision, Mission, Values and Strategic Priorities are present as advertised, there’s very little else. Using Rumelt’s three-part kernel structure as a model, we find that the NAI’s published strategic plan

  • lacks diagnosis
  • does have a guiding policy
  • has no action plans.

Perhaps the NAI has a lengthier document that, for diplomatic reasons, it is keeping out of public view.

Diagnosis

There is a sad little paragraph on the second page:

We are progressing these responsibilities in a time of restrained financial resources and significant reductions in staffing. We are operating with only 75% of our sanctioned numbers and this is a major obstacle to meeting our statutory requirements with regard to accepting annual accessions, dealing with backlogs and providing services to government bodies. There are technical and legislative changes being progressed which will directly impact on our role and function as they relate to the records of government. The ubiquity of digital information requires earlier intervention in the approach to current records management. Collectively these present huge challenges for us in meeting our obligations and in trying to deliver existing and develop enhanced services.

I’m sure all of that is true, but — apart from the “sanctioned numbers”, which may or may not be relevant to the required workload — there is nothing to enable the concerned citizen [the singular citizen mentioned on the third page] to grasp the scale of the problems.

I have been told [but have no evidence] that there are unopened boxes or archival material that the NAI hasn’t got the staff to deal with [but if that’s not so, please leave a Comment so that I can correct this]. I can see that the amount of material made available on tinterweb is very small. And I can guess that there is difficulty in coping with public sector record management, not just because of “the ubiquity of digital information” but because some departments may not write everything down lest they have to release it under Freedom of Information legislation. But in these and other areas of activity it would be nice to have some figures to go on.

For diagnosis, then, the plan does very little to inform the concerned citizen.

Action plans

There aren’t any. There are no targets, goals, aims, performance measures, milestones … and no concrete plans for reaching, meeting, achieving or otherwise carrying them out.

What we get instead is a list of “five key strategic priorities”. Priority 1 is

Develop a secure footing for the National Archives

but

Priority 1 is foundational in that it directly addresses physical and staffing resources and the overarching legislative framework in which we operate. Priority 1 is also directly related to external factors with which the National Archives has limited influence. The inability to deliver on priority 1 will impact upon our core functions.

I don’t like that. If there is something you can do little or nothing about, it shouldn’t be in your strategic plan: it should be in your letter to Santa or your when-I-win-the-lottery wishlist.

Nor do I like the use of the verb “develop”, which is in three of the five strategic priorities, with the equally weak “improve” in a fourth:

  • Develop a secure footing
  • Improve the visibility and accessibility of our services
  • Transition to digital
  • Develop our people
  • Develop collaboration.

They, and most of the other verbs used in the text, are all about making unquantified changes but not about reaching goals. What’s lacking is any sense that the organisation knows exactly what needs to be done to bring itself to some defined state [which might be that of coping fully with its legal obligations or handling some quantity of material or serving some number of clients or …]. I want some specific targets and some hard-nosed verbs about how they’re to be met.

I’m sure, for instance, that it’s nice to

…  provide all staff with opportunities for professional development …

but I’d be more interested in knowing what capabilities the organisation lacks and how it proposes to acquire them.

I’m generally on the side of the poor buggers in public service bodies who have to cope with the contradictory demands and short-term agendas of nitwitted politicians, and it seems to me that the NAI is probably suffering from both of those. But I would be more reassured by a more detailed strategy, with achievable targets and concrete plans for reaching them, than I am by the short document made available to the public. I hope that some longer, more explicit version has been developed for use by NAI management.

 

Non-recreation

A new workboat in Grand Canal Docks.

Re-invention or re-creation?

I realise that many folk visit this website in order to find out what is hip and trendy, cool and with-it, in all sorts of fields, from beer to boating, casual dining to cost-benefit analysis. So, in order to keep readers down wid da kidz in da hood [as the young folk say], I’ve been checking out the latest, baddest [which means ‘goodest’, I gather, or what in the old days we would have called ‘best’], grooviest developments on tinterweb. It’s a thing called FaceTweet, and those cool dudes at Waterways Ireland have one of them. Hep to the jive, daddy-o [which means ‘How perfectly splendid, old boy’.]

As far as I can see, FaceTweet is in general intended for folk whose attention span renders them unable to read more than a single paragraph of continuous prose. But brevity is sometimes the soul of wit and good goods come in small parcels [sentiments for whose veracity I have not found peer-reviewed evidence]. And I was interested in Waterways Ireland’s self-description on the page:

Waterways Ireland is the Recreation Authority for over 1000km of Ireland’s Inland navigable waterways.

That phrase, Recreation Authority, does not occur in Waterways Ireland’s Business Plan 2015 [as approved by the North South Ministerial Council on 18 December 2014 and screwed up by the Council shortly afterwards] or in its Corporate Plan 2014–2016 [ditto]. Nor, according to its own search engine, is the phrase used on Waterways Ireland’s proper website [the search engine rather bafflingly reports “We don’t have any refiners to show you”].

Yet the concept of Waterways Ireland as a Recreation Authority is almost entirely in tune with the thinking underlying both of the plans and it is the neatest encapsulation I have yet seen of what WI is about.

I put in ‘almost’ there because the Corporate Plan‘s Executive Summary includes this:

Central to our vision for the future is the development of recreational, heritage and environmental opportunities that link people, history and nature, providing both local communities and visitors with compelling reasons to spend more time in the waterways environment.

While I’m all — well, somewhat — in favour of heritage and environment, the words seem to sit uneasily in that sentence: added as a form of ritual obeisance to the shade of Michael D Higgins, who ripped the rivers and canals from the sheltering embrace of the Office of Public Works engineers and proclaimed the waterways to be heritage artefacts. Heritage is no longer of great interest to TPTB and most people’s experience of it [whatever it is] is as entertainment or recreation; much the same applies to environment, which — for most people — is of interest only as providing a scenic background for more interesting activities.

So both heritage and environment can be subsumed under the heading of recreation, leaving Waterways Ireland with a neat, well-focused description of itself, a subheading for its title, and one that matches its Mission and Vision.

Mind you, it’s not entirely clear what a recreation authority is — Google finds relatively few [129000] instances of the term’s use, most of them in the Americas — but that might be no harm.

Waterways Ireland — the recreation authority

Hep to the jive, daddy-o: I like it.