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May 02, 2005

Marathon Diverted After Bomb Find

News About Ireland & The Irish

BB 05/02/05 Marathon Diverted After Bomb Find
BB 05/02/05 Attack 'Threatens Club's Future'
IT 05/03/05 The Shape Of Things To Come In North
IT 05/03/05 Bitter Nationalist Contest Will Go Down To The Wire
IT 05/03/05 A Unionist Stronghold But Who Will Get Bronze?
IT 05/03/05 FG Politicians To Lobby In US For Illegal Irish
EP 05/02/05 Murphy Looks To Success For Ulster Moderates
UT 05/02/05 Kennedy Attacks UDA Murals
SM 05/02/05 Four Arrested Over Hassan Murder
IT 05/03/05 Irish Woman's 'Titanic' Watch Fetches $24,675
IT 05/03/05 Ancient Way Of Life On Lough Neagh Now Under Threat


Marathon Diverted After Bomb Find

A bomb alert along the route of the Belfast Marathon left organisers
with no option but to divert runners, race officials have admitted.

Several hundred metres were added to the route because of the alert
at Gideon's Green in Newtownabbey.

The alert has since ended. Police said the device was a sophisticated
pipe bomb.

Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Ekin, of the Alliance Party, said the
attempted bombing was "an absolute disgrace".

Mr Ekin said it carried the potential risk of killing and maiming
hundreds of people.

"They (the bombers) are damaging our whole society, we have got to
get rid of them," he said.

'No alternative'

Marathon officials said they opted to re-route rather than halt the

Race director David Seaton said this "added a few hundred metres
on to the race but we thought it better to do that than anything else".

"The majority of people have run slightly more than the 26 miles 385
yards but there was no alternative," he said.

"It was either that or abandon the race, which we obviously didn't
want to do because people had trained so hard for the event."

Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde condemned those
responsible for the security alert, calling it "reckless and cowardly".

"I commend the organisers and police officers, who through swift
action, rendered this device harmless and allowed everybody to
enjoy the day with minimal disruption."

The alert began when police received a report of a suspicious device
at the second changeover point of the relay race.

Competitors were directed towards the roundabout at Whitehouse
Park, under the pedestrian underpass and onto a cycle path.

The distance ran by the first 20 runners was not affected as they had
already passed this point before the alert began.

Erick Kiplagat from Kenya was the overall winner of the men's
marathon, crossing the line in two hours, 22 minutes and 20

The race began at 0900 BST on Monday at the city hall.

The route took the runners around the city before finishing near the
Odyssey Complex in east Belfast.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/05/02 21:16:56 GMT


Attack 'Threatens Club's Future'

A director of Glenavon Football Club has said it may be forced to
close if attacks on its ground continue.

George Malone was speaking after the fire at Mourneview Park, home
of the Irish League club in Lurgan.

Seven fire crews battled to bring the blaze, which broke out at about
0630 BST on Monday, under control.

A supporters' club bar under one of the stands was destroyed. The
fire brigade found the remains of a petrol bomb device.

It is thought that a window at the supporters' club bar was prised
open and a petrol bomb was thrown inside.

Mr Malone said he feared for the future of the club, if the constant
vandalism continued.

"We have tried everything we can to curtail this but it seems to be an
impossibility," he said.

"The police are doing all they can to keep these guys out.

"All the windows are broken, the far stand is damaged, seats are
damaged on a regular basis.

"If this keeps going on, this club will not be able to continue, the way
things are going."

History of attacks

It is understood the damage is mostly at the members' end.

As well as the bar which was gutted in the blaze, two other bars and
the press box were smoke and water damaged.

The damage is estimated at between £30,000 and £40,000. A motive
for the attack has not been established.

Forensic experts are examining the remains of the petrol bomb.

Divisional Officer Walter Johnston said it was a serious fire.

The Lurgan football ground has been attacked by arsonists on a
number of occasions.

On Tuesday, the scheduled first leg of the promotion/relegation play-
off between Glenavon and Crusaders will go ahead at Mourneview
Park as planned.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/05/02 12:09:03 GMT


The Shape Of Things To Come In North

Election Diary: The North could be moving towards a two-party
political entity, writes Gerry Moriarty Northern Editor.

This is the concluding stage of the election where candidates are apt
to get rash and ratty. Most of the tussles are two-horse races
between the SDLP and Sinn Féin, and the DUP versus the Ulster

Most crucial are the battles between SDLP leader Mark Durkan and
Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin and that in Upper Bann where Ulster
Unionist leader David Trimble is trying to resist the challenge of the
DUP's David Simpson.

The results here could dictate whether there is any future for the
SDLP and the Ulster Unionists.

But there are other important battles and South Belfast, uniquely a
three-horse race in the campaign, is one of them.

The closeness of the race here accounts for the deluge of statements
and claims from the three main candidates - Jimmy Spratt of the
DUP, Michael McGimpsey of the UUP and Dr Alisdair McDonnell of
the SDLP.

This, up to very recently, was viewed as an invincible UUP seat, but
not any more. Spratt, pretty convincingly, claims he is now the lead
candidate. McGimpsey in turn says this is a simple contest between
himself and McDonnell, and that Spratt could "gift" the seat to the

In turn, McDonnell is telling nationalist voters that anyone
considering voting for the Sinn Féin candidate Alex Maskey is
destroying an opportunity to build nationalist representation.
McDonnell says Maskey "would prefer to see the seat remain in
unionist hands rather than a nationalist winning it".

Yet, despite all this political hard sell you wonder is anybody paying
attention out there. This election could mark a watershed in Northern
politics where, like Britain, Northern Ireland essentially is a two-party

The difference, of course, is that across the water the winner takes
all. Here the first, second, third and fourth are expected to share the
spoils according to the division of the seats.

If the DUP and Sinn Féin hold, as is possible, 15 or 16 of the North's
18 Westminster seats after voting on Thursday, then future elections
may follow the same pattern. Proportional representation in the local
elections, also taking place on Thursday, may provide greater
comfort for the SDLP and Ulster Unionists as Sinn Féin and the DUP
are unlikely to achieve a virtual whitewash in that poll.

Nonetheless, the Westminster result is likely to determine the colour
and shape of politics into the mid-term future at least. It should
dictate whether the future is dark Orange and dark Green, or whether
the paler shades of unionism and nationalism can moderate the
overall political tone.

There is no shortage of observers out there who predict that with Ian
Paisley and Gerry Adams running the place Northern society is
destined to become more polarised and sectarian and generally

The more hopeful contend that even in this scenario, society need
not be so awful, because essentially everybody is now pro-Belfast
Agreement, notwithstanding the DUP rhetoric.

Whichever view you hold there is no gainsaying Gerry Adams's
analysis that politics ahead will be a "battle a day".

© The Irish Times


Bitter Nationalist Contest Will Go Down To The Wire

Constituency profile/South Down: The battle between the SDLP's
Eddie McGrady and Caitríona Ruane of Sinn Féin has been soured by
a leaked NIO memo, writes Deaglán de Bréadún.

No quarter is being asked and none given in a hard-fought battle for
the nationalist vote in South Down. They may belong to different
generations but Eddie McGrady, the sitting MP, of the SDLP and Sinn
Féin's Caitríona Ruane are both seasoned professionals.

McGrady won his place in the history of Northern Ireland elections
when he wrested the seat from the maverick Tory intellectual, the
late Enoch Powell in 1987. He is known for his "Big Tent" approach
to politics, a man who "gets to voters other SDLP candidates can't

When he failed to stand in the elections to the Northern Ireland
Assembly two years ago, there was speculation McGrady was about
to retire, like his party colleagues John Hume and Séamus Mallon.
But whereas Mallon's departure leaves Sinn Féin in a strong position
to pick up Newry-Armagh, McGrady's people are determined that the
republicans will not have it easy in South Down.

Without McGrady on the list, the SDLP's Assembly representation in
South Down went down from three to two. Even more ominously
from the party's viewpoint, the high-profile Ruane had won a seat for
Sinn Féin. But a stubborn determination not to cede the constituency
to the republicans has seen McGrady take to the hustings once
again. Caitríona Ruane is best known for her campaigning role on
behalf of the so-called "Colombia Three", the Irishmen accused of
training Colombia's FARC guerrillas in IRA bomb-making techniques.

A native of Castlebar, Co Mayo, Ruane was a full-time professional
tennis-player, and member of the Irish senior women's team, who
played against the likes of Czech star Hana Mandlikova, a
Wimbledon finalist. She spent several years on voluntary work in
Central America in the mid-80s before going to Belfast in 1988 as
full-time co-ordinator at the Centre for Research and Documentation,
a body engaged in human rights and conflict-resolution work. Later,
for five years, she was director of Féile an Phobail, the West Belfast
festival, and organised the first city-wide St Patrick's Day parade in
Belfast, which has now become an annual event.

Although clearly republican-minded, she only joined Sinn Féin two
years ago. Her rise in the party has been rapid: she is spokeswoman
on human rights and equality and, as a member of the Sinn Féin
negotiating team, has taken part in the talks at Leeds Castle as well
as Downing Street and Dublin.

There is speculation she could be a minister in a future power-
sharing administration.

The current South Down contest went from sharp to bitter when a
Northern Ireland Office (NIO) memo was leaked to the media in which
a senior NIO official reported that McGrady opposed John Hume's
strategy of working with Gerry Adams in the early stages of the
peace process.

He was reported in the memo as believing the strategy was
"elevating Sinn Féin/PIRA to a position of respectability they do not
deserve". The summary of the conversation between NIO official
Chris McCabe and McGrady about the 1994 Hume-Adams talks said:
"More than once he described them [Sinn Féin] as the 'scum of the
earth'." McGrady says the NIO document was confidential and "was
stolen and leaked". It was "a desperate attempt" to blacken his name,
he added.

Ruane says that, since McGrady is no longer an Assembly member,
he could not be appointed as a minister in a new power-sharing
administration, adding that South Down needs someone who will
make its case forcefully at the highest level.

McGrady counters that Sinn Féin is an extremist party and that
"South Down does not want to be represented by extremism in any
of its forms".

On the unionist side, the contest is between Democratic Unionist
Party candidate Jim Wells and Dermot Nesbitt of the Ulster
Unionists, with Wells seen as likely to come out ahead.

In the "main event", the McGrady-Ruane contest, observers believe
McGrady will hold the seat on this occasion, but with a substantially-
reduced majority.

© The Irish Times


A Unionist Stronghold But Who Will Get Bronze?

Constituency profile/East Derry: DUP and UUP candidates are vying
to be the most outspoken in their opposition to a deal with Sinn Féin,
writes Dan Keenan.

Canvassing in Coleraine, Gregory Campbell is so relaxed he feels he
can afford a joke at the expense of leading Ulster Unionist David
Burnside. Arriving in Burnside Park, the DUP MP for East Derry
quips: "We'll have to rename that Former MP Park," laughing at his
own one-liner.

He won this solidly unionist seat from UUP stalwart Willie Ross in
2001. Although his majority is a relatively slim 1,900, the DUP feels
there is little to threaten its grip on the seat. Door-step evidence
seems to support this, even allowing for Ulster politeness to
politicians who arrive at the front door unannounced.

For Campbell the mood change within the unionist electorate is
palpable. "The template has shifted," he says. "I remember
canvassing in this town shortly after I announced I was going to fight
the seat in 2001. After a few doors I thought I might have made a
terrible mistake."

". . .This time, I deliberately began canvassing in the same area. The
difference is amazing." The "difference" is the change in attitude
towards the party to which the area was once loyal, and to the
Belfast Agreement.

"These people feel they have been sold a pup and they will not be
conned again. They will not be duped twice," he explains.

"People voted for the agreement [ in the referendum] because they
thought they were voting for the IRA to go away."

He signs up to the theory that it is the unionist voter who gave the
agreement his support, and the benefit of the doubt, who is now
most opposed to it.

Caught up in that backlash is the UUP and David Trimble in
particular. Independent, anti-agreement unionists are not contesting
the seat, which Campbell says clears the way for the DUP.

The Ulster Unionists warn that the electorate must not leave the
stage to the "extremes" of the DUP and Sinn Féin.

David Trimble has asked the public to "vote for those building a
decent society". Locally, UUP candidate and Assembly member
David McClarty attacks Campbell on his parliamentary record,
portraying himself as the hardest-working constituency

A popular man around Coleraine, he promises "full-time
representation", a dig at Campbell's membership of both the
Assembly and the Commons. "I have made a promise to resign my
Assembly seat if elected to Westminster, making me a full-time MP,"
he vows.

He says there is no such thing as the pro- or anti-agreement divide
among unionism any more.

"The DUP would have done a deal with Sinn Féin last December were
it not for a grubby photograph. And we are not going into an
executive with Sinn Féin while the IRA is still around."

He claims "complacent Campbell" has the worst record of all
unionist MPs at Westminster, and believes that nationalist voters
may vote tactically for the UUP to keep the DUP man out.

As if working in a parallel universe, the SDLP's John Dallat knocks
on the doors in Foreglen, a nationalist hamlet just off the Derry-
Belfast road.

A handful of neat houses bordering an immaculate Gaelic football
pitch, this could be one of more than a dozen such villages nestled
among the unknown scenery. It seems as if all available flat land
around these parts is owned and mowed by the GAA.

Like the UUP, Dallat questions the "template shift" in unionist
allegiances, believing that the DUP is talking up the mood swing. His
SDLP team believes nationalists have lost patience with Sinn Féin
over the IRA's activities. Dallat denies it's a "Robert McCartney
factor". Rather, the trend was already established before the
Northern Bank robbery and the McCartney murder were blamed on
republicans. "McCartney just gave that mood a focus," he says.

His party is still recovering from the defection of Billy Leonard to
Sinn Féin. He was Dallat's election agent at the Assembly election in
November 2003 and quit the party for Sinn Féin a few weeks later,
claiming that the SDLP lacked direction.

Leonard claims Sinn Féin's "all-Ireland party and all-Ireland vision" is
what brought him into its ranks.

"We're fighting not two but three elections here," he claims. "The
council elections, the Westminster election and the next election."
The two parties are fighting their own battle for supremacy in a
constituency neither of them can win.

In 2001 the SDLP beat Sinn Féin by some 2,000 votes, but in the
Assembly election - fought on a PR basis - the two republican
candidates won some 700 more first preferences than the two SDLP

If any contest between the two parties can illustrate the wider tussle
between them, this constituency can. The bronze medal awarded for
third place in East Derry will tell us much.

© The Irish Times


FG Politicians To Lobby In US For Illegal Irish

Mark Brennock and Patsy McGarry

Four senior Fine Gael politicians will lobby US senators, members
of congress and administration officials this week on behalf of tens
of thousands of illegal Irish immigrants in the US whose position is
to be regularised in forthcoming legislation.

In a separate visit Bishop Séamus Hegarty of Derry, the chairman of
the Irish Bishops' Commission for Emigrants, will also visit the US
this week as part of the bishops' "2005 Supporting Irish Abroad"
(SIA) campaign.

They will visit Irish emigrant centres in Boston, New York and
Philadelphia and on Friday Bishop Hegarty will be briefed by Mark
Franken, director of the Migration and Refugee Service of the US
Bishops' Conference, on its policy on immigrants.

Fine Gael's spokesman on emigrant affairs Paul Connaughton said
yesterday that the illegal Irish feared that separate legislation
currently before the US Congress could lead to their being deported
before the forthcoming Kennedy-McCain legislation regularising
their status was enacted.

The Kennedy-McCain Bill would give an amnesty to thousands of
Irish working illegally in the US.

However, Irish people there fear that other legislation currently
before congress may result in many deportations of Irish people
before they can avail of the amnesty.

Mr Connaughton, who will lead the party delegation, said the Real ID
Act "which hinders undocumented workers from renewing their
driving licences, may lead to undocumented Irish being deported
before any immigration legislation to regularise their status is

"Our main priority is to secure a firm commitment from political
representatives in Washington that they will seek the best possible
outcome for undocumented Irish from this legislation, without any
penalties attached."

Dinny McGinley, the party spokesman on community, rural and
Gaeltacht affairs, Simon Coveney MEP and Mayo TD Michael Ring
will accompany Mr Connaughton.

They will meet congressmen Peter King and Stephen Lynch, former
Democratic congressman Bruce Morrison, the EU ambassador in
Washington and former taoiseach John Bruton, Ireland's Consul in
New York Eugene Hutchinson, Irish immigrant support groups and
US immigration attorneys.

"We will be urging these congressmen to lobby hard to ensure that
undocumented workers who have worked hard in the States and
have participated fully in their communities are given the chance to
live without the constant fear of deportation and have the
opportunity to regularise their status, without fear of being penalised
for coming forward," said Mr Connaughton yesterday in a statement.

Bishop Hegarty said yesterday that the Irish bishops would "work
with the Migration and Refugee Service of the United States Catholic
Conference of Bishops" to improve the plight of the undocumented

© The Irish Times


Murphy Looks To Success For Ulster Moderates

Murphy: Hopes NI "moderates" retain core vote

Paul Murphy has said he wants Ulster's more moderate parties to
have a "significant role" after the election.

Amid concern that the SDLP and UUP face electoral meltdown in
Thursday's poll, giving hardliners the upper hand, the Northern
Ireland secretary said he did not want to see them "out of the

Many believe that if the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein
significantly overshadow their main rivals in their respective
communities, the peace process will be harder to move forward.

In an interview with, the secretary of state said he
"wouldn't want any of the parties who I've been dealing with off and
on for the past 10 years not to have a significant role in a post-
election process".

"The Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP have played a hugely
significant role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland in the
same way that other parties have, so I wouldn't want them to be out
of the picture," he said.

"But obviously I can't comment on who should win or all the rest of

Murphy added: "I've worked with them intensely over this period and
I hope they still have representation."

Peace talks

The Cabinet minister said he believed Sinn Fein would at least hold
on to its core vote, despite the fall-out from the Northern Bank raid
and the murder of Robert McCartney.

"I think there will be a core vote still for Sinn Fein. What happens to
the floating voters, as I suppose you might call them in Northern
Ireland, I just don't know at the moment. We'll have to wait and see,"
Murphy said.

Questioned on peace talks after the election, Murphy said that
substantive negotiations were on hold until the IRA had dealt with
the issue of arms and criminality.

"I think first of all you have to talk, but we will not be in a position to
go into detailed negotiation-type talks before we have resolved the
issues of criminality, decommissioning, and paramilitary activity,
which is what our manifesto says," he said.

"Those issues have to be addressed before we can consider setting
up that inclusive objective. Obviously the unionists won't sit around
the table until we do.

"So, yes, of course we have to talk, but we have to understand that
the main issue which faces us is an issue of confidence, which has
collapsed because of what's happened in the weeks since Christmas
and just before."


Kennedy Attacks UDA Murals

An outspoken opponent of paramilitary street violence took his
General Election message to the heart of loyalist Belfast - flanked
only by a member of Dublin's parliament.

By:Press Association

Liam Kennedy, an independent candidate standing against Sinn Fein
President Gerry Adams in the Westminster poll, is locked in a
censorship row over gruesome campaign posters.

But even though an advertising company refused to display billboard
images of a so-called punishment beating, the economic history
professor laid out his depiction of savagery at the gates of City Hall
in Belfast.

Declaring that the public should have the right to decide on its
content, Mr Kennedy then headed for the fiercely Protestant Shankill

By his side was Fiona O`Malley, a Progressive Democrat TD in the
Irish Republic`s Daily.

As sinister Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force
murals towered over them, the unlikely pair handed out leaflets
telling paramilitaries it was time to go.

Ms O`Malley insisted she was prepared for any hostilities.

"I`m used to abuse, in the south any politician gets abuse," she said.

"It will be interesting to see what reception I get."

As it turned out there was no seething vitriol.

One Scotsman, who left his Stirling home three years ago in search
of work, was the only one to register any puzzlement about the Dun
TD`s presence on a street that prides itself on all things British.

"I dinnae really vote here hen, but you`re not from the north either,"
he remarked.

Possible converts to Mr Kennedy`s Human Rights campaign for the
West Belfast seat were thin on the ground on a bright Bank Holiday.

But as the candidate tried to convince any shoppers prepared to
listen to his message, Ms O`Malley discussed punishment attacks
with Ryan Hall, a 24-year-old waiting for a bus home.

Her face appeared frozen in a shocked grimace as they 24-year-old
casually told her: "None of my close friends have been (shot), But
people I went to school with have been knee-capped or shot in the
thigh for whatever reasons, mainly for hooding about."

His experiences brought to life the mock-beating portrayed in the
poster Mr Kennedy had been stopped from erecting.

An advertising company decided not to carry them because the
images were inappropriate and could cause offence.

But Mr Kennedy claimed the firm had censored him amid concerns
their sites could be attacked.

"It shows how insidious fear is," he said.

"But by putting it here (City Hall) I`m letting the Belfast public decide
if its offensive."

On Thursday that decision will be final.


Four Arrested Over Hassan Murder

James Reinl

US AND Iraqi forces have arrested four people in connection with the
murder of the British aid worker Margaret Hassan, officials said

The body of the 59-year-old CARE international worker has not been
recovered since she was abducted last October.

But "articles" found during a dawn raid on Sunday on an insurgent
stronghold south of Baghdad linked those arrested to the murder.

"The raid was part of a sweep by US and Iraqi forces on an area of
insurgent and criminal activity," said a spokesman for the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office.

"US forces alerted UK authorities when articles were found relating
to the Margaret Hassan case.

"Mrs Hassan was married to an Iraqi, became a Muslim and adopted
dual citizenship.

An official at the British Embassy in Baghdad confirmed a "direct
link" between the seized items and the woman.

"Articles were found which established a direct connection to
Margaret Hassan, including documentary evidence," the official said.

Suggestions that the items included a purse, woman’s shirts and
trousers, and documents bearing the CARE logo and signed by Mrs
Hassan, have yet to be confirmed.

Irish-born Mrs Hassan spent nearly half her life delivering food and
medicine in Iraq.

She was kidnapped in Baghdad on 19 October last year, and hours
later footage showing her bound and distressed was broadcast by
Al-Jazeera TV.

Less than a month after the kidnapping, a film of her apparent
murder was released.


Irish Woman's 'Titanic' Watch Fetches $24,675

A pocket watch owned by an Irish woman who survived the sinking
of the Titanic, sold for three times its asking price at a recent US

The 18-carat gold watch stopped ticking on the day the ship sank,
when Limerick woman Nora Keane was rescued by a lifeboat.

It sold for $24,675 at an auction in Massachusetts featuring dozens
of items salvaged from the liner.

Ms Keane had emigrated to Pennsylvania and was returning to the
US on the Titanic's maiden voyage after a four-month visit to see her
mother in Castleconnell. The watch had been given to her as a good
luck gift, but was damaged after the Titanic sank.

Jon Baddeley, marine collectibles expert at Bonhams & Butterfields
auction house, said the watch has been stopped ever since.

A message engraved on the back read: "To my dearest Nora, your
visit to county Limerick warmed my heart. God bless and be with you
on your return to Pennsylvania." It was signed: "Loving mother."

No other information was available about Ms Keane. The items
belonged to a British private collector and both buyer and seller
wished to remain anonymous.

The auction raised a total of more than $150,000 and included the
only known example of a third-class menu, dated April 14th, 1912.

The card featured a picture of the Titanic and the entire day's menu,
which included roast beef and gravy for dinner and stewed figs and
rice for tea. It sold for $44,650. - (PA)

© The Irish Times


Ancient Way Of Life On Lough Neagh Now Under Threat

The Lough Neagh fishery is the largest, as well as one of the last,
wild eel fisheries in Europe, but the supply of elvers continues to
decline, writes Susan McKay.

At dawn this morning the eel fishermen of Lough Neagh began to
pull in the lines they set yesterday evening, on the first day of the
new season. Their catch has been described by poet Seamus Heaney
as: "The furling, slippy/Haul, a knot of black and pewter belly."

Their's is an ancient way of life, and the Lough Neagh fishery is the
largest, as well as one of the last, wild eel fisheries in Europe.

However, the season opened this year under threat. The supply of
wild baby eels known as elvers continues to decline, and there is
conflict between the head of the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-
Operative and the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Association, the trade
union representing many of the fishermen, over how to deal with the

Ten-year-old James Donnelly is on half-term holiday, but he'll be up
like a lark at four all week. "I'm going to be a fisherman," he says.
"Like my Daddy." Martin Donnelly is proud his son wants to follow
him - he himself is a fourth-generation eel fisherman.

"It's in the blood," he says. However, he fears that without radical
action, the boy's ambition may be thwarted. "The eel fishing is in
decline. It needs a new strategy, even if that means closing it down
for a few years.

"Twenty years ago there were more than 200 boats fishing the lough
- it's down to 40 or 50 full-time now. Ten years ago you could put out
a line with 300 hooks and pull in 100 eels. These days, you're lucky
to get 40."

The Donnellys live on "the moss", on the shores of vast Lough
Neagh. Their house is just a few miles from the motorway connecting
Lurgan and Belfast, but their way of life feels like it belongs to an
earlier time.

The extended family works together in a rhythm. Martin inherited his
father’s permit to fish. His brother, Thomas, is his designated helper.
His mother, Mary, makes soda bread on the griddle and strong tea
for the fishermen when they come in off the lough.

The lorry from the co-operative arrives before 8am to weigh and take
away the barrels of live eels. Martin’s uncle, Eddie, spends his days
during the season seated with his elderly dogs beside a big coal fire,
unravelling the lines. Martin’s wife, Ashley, looks after the children.

It is peaceful on the shore. Behind the fishermen’s homes on the
"ramparts", there are stands of silvery willows, known locally as
"black sallies". Birds sing and herons stand in the tall bulrushes.

Across the water, the Sperrins rise gently on the horizon. The factory
at Toomebridge is on the far side of the lough. There, the live eels
are packed in ice and sent off to Belfast to be flown to the
Netherlands. They’ll be smoked and ready to eat within 24 hours of
being pulled from their deep waters.

These days, there are bulldozers on the moss, and the fishermen
supplement their incomes with out-of-season work as labourers on
"prestigious developments" of "exclusive homes" for commuters.
Donnelly says the association is fighting for better terms and
conditions and for a say in planning the future of the industry.

It has joined forces with Friends of the Earth to combat the growing
problem of pollution in the lough. It also wants to wrest the
ownership of Lough Neagh back from the British aristocracy. A rent
is still paid to the Shaftesbury estate for the right to fish.

"In the 1600s the British took the rights to the salmon and the
Catholics were pushed on to the moss to subsist on coarse fish,"
says the association’s treasurer Brian Bannon. "From then to the
present day goes the misery. The lough is still in the hands of
absentee landlords."

The association, which has 120 members, is critical of the co-
operative, set up by Fr Oliver Plunkett Kennedy 40 years ago, and
still chaired by him.

"The co-op is tired and has no new ideas. It should hand over the
sinking ship to those who want to rescue it," says Patricia Campbell,
the association’s chairwoman.

Fr Kennedy is dismissive of such claims. "There’s a junior group
down in one corner of the lough who’ve been causing a lot of
bother," he says. "The EU has a lot of idiotic proposals which they
say are to protect an endangered species but which would simply kill
off eel fishing.

"The Government has been simply useless. They don’t know
anything and they don’t care. There is a crisis. There is an
inadequate intake of young eels into the lough and we have to
restock it. Since the early 1980s we’ve spent £1 million, but prices
are rising. We apply every year for grants, and every year we are
turned down."

There is no known reason for the worldwide decline in elvers, though
global warming may be a factor. "The eel is a mysterious creature,"
says Donnelly. "His mother spawns in the Sargasso Sea in the Gulf
of Mexico and it takes three years for the elvers to drift down the Gulf
Stream and make their way up into the River Bann."

Heaney described this remarkable journey: "Against/ebb, current,
rock, rapids/a muscled icicle/that melts itself longer/and fatter."

Donnelly says the elver is "not much bigger than a darning needle".
The co-op catches the elvers at the Cutts near Coleraine, and brings
them the rest of the way to the lough. "They lie feeding then for
seven years or more. The Lough Neagh eel isn’t like the long hungry
eel you’ll get in a river," says Donnelly. "He’s fat and well fed, the
best eel in the world."

After another decade or more – some eels are aged 40 or so – the
brown eel turns silver and, in the autumn, heads back towards the
sea. "It depends on the flood waters. The surge comes and the
mother eel goes away in the dark of the moon. They won’t go in the
bright of the moon."

The silver eels head back to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn and

Many of them are trapped on their way at the weirs in Toomebridge
by the co-operative, but a "queen’s way" is left open. By this stage
they are "fat as a pipe", according to Donnelly. "The sale of the silver
eels pays all our expenses," says Fr Kennedy. "It pays for restocking
the lough, but the numbers are falling."

This is another source of dispute. The association says the co-op is
taking too many silver eels. Fr Kennedy says increased fishing of
brown eels has led to a decline in the number of silver ones.

Young James Donnelly’s future depends on the resolution of these
rows and the development of an agreed survival plan.

© The Irish Times
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