What follows are ten things I learned about Ireland during my visit that surprised me most. Brace yourself. This isn’t a cheerful travelogue nor a tourist postcard:
1. Abortion is illegal.
Abortion is illegal in Ireland. The only exception to this national law is in cases which save the life of the mother. No exceptions. Severe birth defects, rape, incest — all of these deplorable circumstances require the mother to bear the child. I don’t know why I was shocked by this. After all, this is an overwhelmingly Catholic nation (although the church’s influence is clearly in decline — more on that to come). My presumption was that virtually all of Europe was intransigent when it comes down to a woman’s right to control their own bodies and make choices for themselves. It’s hard to believe this is one issue where the United States is actually ahead of places like Ireland, which continue to impose severely restrictive abortion laws.
Now, a few consequences of these restrictions. One does tend to see comparatively more public facilities around the country to care for those with the most deformities. Since many more children are born with defects, it becomes incumbent upon the state to care for them. Another consequence of the Republic of Ireland’s abortion restrictions is the booming medical market across the Irish Sea over in England, which is accessible via a few hours ferry ride. Thousands of Irish women travel to England each year to terminate pregnancies (England’s abortion laws are similar to the U.S.). Finally, Northern Ireland allows for abortion, provided certain medical criteria are met.
The bottom line is — Ireland is very much a 1950s nation on the controversial topic of a woman’s right to chose.
Not the Las Vegas Strip. Not the Manhattan skyline. No man-made object can possibly surpass the splendor of nature’s abundant power and beauty. Borrowing a famous line I once heard somewhere — You think a tall building is impressive? Try making a butterfly from scratch. You can’t.
I was introduced to the magic of gardens by two very special people about five years ago. Marieta and I traveled to London. However, we also spent a week wandering around in the English countryside, in Cornwall. We were the guests of some dear friends — Des Wilson (the poker author) and his lovely wife Jane.
One afternoon, Des and Jane took us out to an traditional English garden, which was more of a huge estate surrounded by thousands of unusual plants and animals. Once there, I couldn’t believe was I was seeing. One doesn’t associate England with being a nature’s paradise. But it was, and still is — at least when it comes to flora and fauna. There are dozens of gardens sprinkled throughout the entire country, all worth visiting, no doubt. Perhaps the best destination of all for greenery is the famous Key Gardens, located in south-central London.
This past week, Marieta and I were in Ireland. We noticed, much like neighboring England, Ireland is absolutely filled with gardens in just about every part of the country. These estates are usually free and open to the public.
Zoos are sure fun to visit because you get to see lots of really cool animals. But they’re also a glaring and ugly reminder of our own inhumanity towards nature. Being an animal rights activist and then visiting a zoo is sort of like admitting pigs are intelligent and then ordering a full slab of baby backs.
I’m as guilty as anyone of hypocrisy and the double standards within most of us. Worse, even — because I’m aware and troubled by it, yet do little.
Late one evening in 1973, during the midst of the Watergate scandal when American democracy teetered in the brink of collapse, a young and enterprising beat reporter named Carl Bernstein who wrote for The Washington Post telephoned the Attorney General of the United States of America.
Bernstein sought a response from the highest law enforcement official in the country to substantiated allegations the White House was involved a crime and cover up that would ultimately force the President to resign from office. The phone rang at 11 pm and was picked up by Attorney General John Mitchell who was apparently sleeping at the time of the interruption.
“This is Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post,” the reporter said. “Tomorrow, we’re running a story on the front page which claims officials in the White House knew about the break in at Watergate and attempted to cover it up. Do you have any comment?”
L to R: Kara Scott, Mike Sexton, Nolan Dalla, Padraig Parkinson
What’s the world’s second-longest running poker tournament, behind only the World Series of Poker?
If you glanced at the title, you probably guessed correctly. The answer is — the Irish Poker Open.
First played in 1980, the Irish Poker Open has always been a “Who’s Who” of the game’s premier players, not only within Europe, but from just about everywhere. Even poker’s greatest legends came over here all the way from America, most notably Doyle Brunson, “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Puggy Pearson, Chip Reese, and Stu Ungar, back in 1984. The Irish developed a reputation for both hospitality and action, and an everlasting bond was formed between players on both sides of the Atlantic which continues to this day.