Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: "Peace and War: Britain in 1914" by Nigel Jones

The centenary of the start of World War I is just a few weeks away and there will no doubt be many new books published to mark this event. Nigel Jones has written an interesting take on the Great War as he describes Britain (and Ireland) in the lead up to and the beginning of the war. I had read a review of this book in the Irish Times, and at just £2.99 for the Kindle version (£25 for print version) it was excellent value.

Image source: Amazon.
The book is divided several interesting sections (and some uninteresting sections). This includes a chapter devoted to Ireland and the question of Home Rule. I had not realised how close Ireland was to Civil War in 1914 and that the Great War effectively interrupted our own march to internal strife. Other chapters of interest are on Votes for Women, Liners, Clubs, and "The Season". Of less interest to me were the chapters on Poets and Painters. Jones could do with a geography lesson - in the chapter on "Liners" he describes the Britannic (sister ship of the Titanic) being launched "into the waiting waters of Lough Neagh", which of course is an inland lake 25kms away from Belfast Lough where the ship was actually launched.

One thing that comes through in this and many other books on World War I is the inevitability that Europe was drifting helplessly towards war with nobody willing to stop it. As Jones points out at the beginning of Chapter 12: "Britain was not ready for war", but she fought anyway with a huge volunteer army that included thousands of Irishmen (including my great-grandfather - James Burns). Jones has written a super book with a different angle on this cataclysmic event that will appeal to all readers of popular history. Recommended.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

On The Pat Kenny Show talking about the #WildAtlanticWay @NewstalkFM @PatKennyNT #NTFM

Yesterday I was invited on to the Pat Kenny Show to talk about my new book "Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way: A Motorcycle Odyssey" which was broadcast from the Trident Hotel in Kinsale, Co Cork. The theme of the show was about the Wild Atlantic Way and it was a great opportunity for me to plug the book. I arrived in plenty of time and I could see the format of the show before I went "on air". The Newstalk staff put me at ease straight away, and Pat himself was very relaxed.

Before the show I had been asked by the show's researchers to send in some items from the book for Pat to ask me about - I was a  bit nervous as I did not know in advance which ones he would ask me. I even made an error when I said "year" instead of "day" when talking about the Blacksod Lighthouse. Before I know it the interview was over - it lasted exactly eight minutes. Below is the embed code from Newstalk website - my bit starts at 19:30 and ends at 27:30:

After the interview I had great reaction from the locals and even sold two books afterwards in the nearby Vista Bistro where I met an old school pal who lives in Kinsale for lunch. It was a long way to travel for such a short interview, but hopefully more exposure on a great show like Pat Kenny's will promote the book and add to sales!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Video in Education - DIT e-Learning Summer School 2014 #elss14

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting at the DIT e-Learning Summer School in the Bolton Street campus. My talk was on "Video in Education" and my theme throughout was "sharing content". The talk was attended by about 60 people who were really good at responding to questions and offering to share some of their own experiences. My introduction was recorded by Bernie Goldbach (@topgold) with whom I shared the morning session:

Despite the fact that my talk was about video, I forgot to check that everything in my presentation worked. I had embedded a video of "Voix et Image" to start off from the beginnings of my own journey into technology and education - but it did not play. So I had to switch out from PowerPoint, search for the video on YouTube, and play it. Below are my slides from Slideshare:

Many thanks to the organisers of the Summer School for inviting me to take part for the third time - see you all again next year!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Final Class of Long Semester

Today was my last class of Semester II - a Business Analysis class on the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics. It seems a long time since 27th January 19 weeks ago when I had my first class this semester.  This is much longer than normal and it was quite difficult to still be teaching while exams were taking place and had to be marked. The normal semester ended on 2nd May, and usually this means the end of teaching until September. This year, due to a late starting course, I am now finished with just a week to go before holidays. I still have a load of marking to do and little time to engage in normal academic activities in June such as attending Conferences and doing some research. I had also hoped to create a few more YouTube videos - I still might get one or two done before I finish.
Now for some of this!
Image source:
Thanks to all students who stuck with me this semester - I hope I don't see any of you back in College for the repeats in August!

Monday, June 16, 2014

"Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way" on the book shelves #egomoment

I popped into Eason's Bookshop on O'Connell Street in Dublin City Centre at the weekend and couldn't resist checking to see if my new book was on the shelves. I got a bit of a thrill when I saw it right in the middle of the Irish Travel Guides section and of course had to take a photo! I asked at Reception if I could sign these copies which I was allowed to do - an Eason's staff member put a "Signed by Author" sticker on each book. 

Now I hope the books will sell and that I will not see them in the Bargain Basement in a few months time!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Launch: "Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way"

Last evening in the National College of Ireland, my new book was formally launched by Paul Feeley of Fáilte Ireland. The event was introduced by Dr Philip Matthews, President of NCI. I was delighted to see so many family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues join me to mark the occasion. We sold a good number of books and had some great chat about the Wild Atlantic Way.

The only pity was that my Mum and Dad were not able to come - I know they would have loved to have been there. I got great support from the College with many colleagues coming along, many who couldn't make it dropped by my office today to pick up a copy. 

Overall it was a very successful evening - thank you to everyone who came along for your support!

With Paul Feely (left) and Philip Matthews (right).
Photo by Deryck Tormey.

Paul Feeley enjoying my book!
Photo by Deryck Tormey.

Monday, June 09, 2014

"Ireland is the world leader in educational snobbery" says Donal Lynch

Jackie Lavin was right to question if costly college degrees pay off in the Sunday Independent sees Donal Lynch adding to the debate started by Jackie Lavin who said that our graduates "haven’t a clue". Lynch chastises academics who "bridle" and "sniff" at anyone who questions the job they do in Ireland's third-level colleges. He further thunders that our "third-level system has become bloated beyond all recognition" and that we can't afford such "bullshit" as "critical thinking". 


Image source:
The Keep Calm-o-matic.
OK - so it is clear that Donal Lynch did not have a good experience in College where he "spent four years doing a law degree but I am not even close to being a lawyer". Perhaps he is angry that he did not get appointed to be a Judge, or get a top job in a law firm, or get a "high paying and meaningful job upon graduation"? Like Lavin, he is of course entitled to his opinion. But simply bashing Colleges and their Academics in a one-sided newspaper article, and accusing us of "educational snobbery" is in itself "bullshit".

If Lynch had paid attention in class he would have found that "critical thinking" might actually be useful in producing balanced articles in newspapers. The USA based National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking Instruction defines critical thinking as follows:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

So - instead of jumping on the Bash our Colleges and Universities Bandwagon, please try to be constructive as well as critical and look at both sides of the debate. According to the latest figures from the Higher Education Authority, 49% of undergraduates and 71% of postgraduates are in employment 9 months after graduation - somebody is hiring these students who "haven’t a clue". Maybe we are doing something right after all!

If above makes me an educational snob - so be it!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

World Cup 1994 Twenty Years Later #WorldCup

Almost 20 years to the day most of Ireland was glued to the television for Ireland's first World Cup Finals group game against Italy. I recall watching the game with my in-laws in Mayo and like everybody else found it almost unbearable that Ireland scored so early and had to wait so long for the final whistle. Many things are memorable from this game - Ray Houghton's goal in the 12th minute, the Irish dominating the crowd in Boston, and Paul McGrath's display at the heart of the Irish defence. recalls McGrath's performance against Italy: "there was no hiding the fact that Paul McGrath was outstanding as he stayed as cool of mind as the air was hot, and was always vigilant in snuffing out sources of danger; altogether a more impressive figure than his fellow 34-year-olds, the creaking Baresi and Tassotti, at the other end of the pitch". That was as good as it got for Ireland before the heat of Florida derailed our World Cup hopes.

Paul McGrath is just two months younger than me and I met him in Gorey yesterday while he was collecting for Irish Dogs for the Disabled. I think he is certainly ageing better than me and still looks like he could tog out for Ireland. I asked him if he would and he said "I wish I could!". No doubt we could do with Big Paul at the heart of the Irish defence right now.

Just in case you forgot - Ireland won 1-0 against Italy on 18th June 1994. Below is Ray Houghton's goal on a day that Irish football fans will never forget:

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Review: "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

Louie Zamperini was an Olympic athlete and an American POW during World War II. Now 97 years of age, his life story is documented by Laura Hillenbrand in her 2010 book "Unbroken". Never could a book title have been more apt.

Image source:
Zamperini was a bit of a tear-away as a kid but had a talent for running. He took part in the 1,500 metres in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but despite a fast finish he came home in eight position, after which he briefly met Hitler.

In the war Zamperini was a member of a B-29 air crew that crashed in the Pacific. The statistics for air accidents involving American planes during the war are incredible - on page 80 Hillenbrand tells us that 35,933 planes were lost in combat and accidents but that in 1943 alone for every plane lost in combat, six were lost in accidents. His chances of survival were slim, but he did after 47 days at sea in a raft before being captured by the Japanese. He spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. Later this year a film produced by Angelina Jolie, who turns out to be a near-neighbour of Zamperini's in Hollywood, is being released, below is the trailer for this movie.

Read this book to learn the meaning of the word "unbroken".

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Jackie Lavin hasn't got a clue

I suppose one thing Jackie Lavin has a clue about is how to gain headlines while at the same time annoy the hell out of those who work and study in Ireland's third level colleges. This morning she is the most read item in the Irish Independent where Brian O'Reilly writes that she "stands by ‘Prime Time’ comments after online uproar". She is quoted in the article as having said:

"Realistically you could cut a year off most college courses"

"Our academics and colleges need to look at the way they do business"

"A lot of graduates haven’t a clue about the business they’re going into, they’ve only approached things from an academic and theory point of view"

"It’s time academics and colleges take a look at the real world"

Image source:
Hard hitting stuff! Brian Lucey of Trinity College in his excellent blog takes her to task in a fair and balanced article "Jackie Lavin – A Meme Girl for Irish Higher Education" - he writes that "Education is a complex matter while reducing it to simple soundbites is easy" and that "Trotting out tired, ignorant, tropes on TV is easy. Education is hard". 

Clearly, Jackie Lavin just didn't wake up one morning and decide to make headlines by slagging off students and academics. Perhaps she has reasons from her experience that all our graduates that we do produce actually do not "have a clue"? She even defended her comments by saying (quoted in above article) "I absolutely stand by everything I said". Fair play to her for sticking to her guns.

Needless to say, while she is entitled to her opinion, I disagree with her bullshit. Following on from comments by the likes of Web Summit's Paddy Cosgrave (see my blog post on this here), and Paypal's Louise Phelan (see my blog post about her here), it seems that students and academics are fair game for some "expert" comments by pundits and celebrities. It seems that Jackie Lavin and others like her are expecting perfect graduates who are experienced in everything she wants, know it all before they start, hit the ground running without any training, and of course make money straight away. 

Students arrive at our Colleges from schools with mixed abilities, and leave three or four years later with mixed abilities. I will not claim that all our graduates are perfect, but I'm proud to say that I and my colleagues had a role in transforming our students' lives through education in the short time that we have them. Most go on to be productive members of our society, picking up "clues" along the way. Many have overcome huge difficulties to to be able to go to College in the first place. Some have struggled to juggle life, family, work, study, and overcome disability. Nevertheless, at graduation day - a proud day for both the College and its students, we see pride in their efforts as they accept their degrees, diplomas, and certificates. I challenge Jackie Lavin to repeat the insults to our students she has said at any Graduation Ceremony in the country.

Jackie Lavin hasn't got a clue.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty in Killarney #GodHasNoCountry

Last weekend during Bikefest I stopped off at a new statue unveiled last October to my third cousin (once removed) Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty - as known as "The Vatican Pimpernel". The sculpture is by Valentia Island-based artist Alan Ryan Hall and it depicts O'Flaherty striding across St Peter’s Square in Rome. Though born in North Cork (where my ancestors come from) he was raised in Killarney where his father was steward at Killarney Golf Club.

Cousin Hugh once famously said "God has no country" when asked why he helped thousands of Nazi prisoners of war to escape during World War II in Rome. On the wall behind his statue you can see replicas of the following awards he received:
  • Commander of the British Empire (CBE) from the UK
  • Medal of Freedom and Silver Palm from the USA
  • National Order of Honour and Merit from Haiti
  • Bronze Medal of Military Valour from Italy

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Revisiting the Wild Atlantic Way on Ring of Kerry #WildAtlanticWay

Last weekend while at Bikefest in Killarney, I took the opportunity to pay a quick visit to the Wild Atlantic Way between Killorglin and Caherciveen. Just like the last time I passed through this road, it was a dull day with light rain. The Dingle Peninsula to the north was barely visible. There are two Discovery Points along the northern side of the Ring of Kerry - Rossbeigh Strand and Mountain Stage. I was also looking for some photo opportunities with WAW signs. Unfortunately, Mountain Stage location is not yet sign-posted, but I did get to see Rossbeigh Strand which was badly damaged during storms last February. Much repair work was being done while I was there. The Way is well sign-posted, in some cases with just small WAW logos. Tourists should have no problem finding their way along this super 2,500 km route.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Bikefest in Killarney - a great gathering of bikers and bikes #irelandbikefest

I travelled the 194 miles (313 kms) home from Killarney to Dublin last evening with fond memories of my two days at Bikefest 2014. There were plenty of wonderful bikes on display, and the highlight for me was the parade through Killarney (see video below). I was there of course to promote and sell my book "Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way", but I did get the chance to see lots of bikes and chat with many bikers. On the left of my stand was the Christian Motorcycle Association, and I was honoured to have my bike blessed by their chaplain. To my right were Tallaght Powdering Coating where I got to chat with the owner (Andy) , and I will definitely think about the services for powder coating my wheels when the rust takes over.

Below is a selection of some of the photos I took at Bikefest 

The coolest bike at the show!

Gorgeous Harley-Davidson

Magnificent machine

Close up of tank of machine to left

Some of the new Harley-Davidsons available to demo 

Some of the many bikes on view


A Garda gets ready to lead the Parade

The video below (via jason gnanam) is taken in College Street in Killarney, and gives an idea of the number of bikes that took part in the parade (that's me passing in the orange vest 3rd behind the trike at 4 mins into video).

The Bikefest Parade