Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Emerald Isle

What Ireland does best is celebrate its history, which is ever-present, and this is a year of celebration. On a recent visit to the country to visit family, we luxuriated in the charm and beauty of the country, and in its past.
At Dublin's General Post Office, for example, there are many interactive displays illustrating the Easter Rising of 100 years ago. The highlight is a blood-stirring film recounting the events. As I left the small theatre, I wished I had been part of that rebellion, bloodshed and all. Much more is happening in that city. A new museum, the Little Museum of Dublin, gives excellent guided tours of its exhibits, to talk about the city and its story.

Another must-see is the Epic Ireland digital museum, which tells the story of Irish diaspora. One in every six Irish-born people alive in the world today lives outside Ireland – a staggering statistic, but in 1890 it was even higher: two in every five. One of the interactive exhibits illustrates emigration over more than a millennium.

Dublin has long been considered the centre of Irish literature and the arts, and in November 1991 the Dublin Writers Museum opened as a showcase of this literary culture. I'll return to this amazing story in my comments about Lady Gregory, below. If you have an interest in Irish literature, don't miss this absorbing museum.

Also worth a look in Dublin are the fantastic collections in the Chester Beatty Library. Mining magnate Alfred Chester Beatty established this amazing place by bequest in 1950. The feature exhibit at the moment year is an atonishing 16th century Qu'ran,  now under restoration. The accompanying exhibits are mostly displays from the other world religions. Each exhibit is superb.

If you are going to Galway, see Trad on the Prom, one of the best-ever musicals using traditional Irish folk tunes and dance. It's the best piece of Irish theatre since Michael Flattley's Lord of the Dance. Didn't see that one? Here's the Finale; it's definitely worth a look. 

Back to the matter of Irish history, there are other outings I highly recommend.

Brú na Bóinne: 
On a recent trip to the Emerald Isle, we visited two ancient structures – megalithic (“large stone”) and Neolithic – which UNESCO has designated World Heritage sites – in northeast Ireland. They were remarkable. Five thousand years ago, small people in stature – 5 feet, 2 inches or 1.57 metres – used nothing more than their muscles to transport over long distances great numbers of rocks weighing many tonnes each to create these two extraordinary sites. 

They built fantastic structures (probably based on sun/season religions), and decorated them with remarkable abstract art, like that in the photo, above.

Apparently constructed as tombs, one of the structures we visited may have been the largest building on the planet when completed – certainly nothing of that size has been discovered yet. It remained the largest man-made building in Ireland until after the Norman invasion. It has since been the object of a 40-year restoration project. For a detailed discussion, take a look at this commentary.

The site we visited was near the battleground of the Battle of the Boyne – a dot on the map, but a piece of history that had profound implications. In that battle, William of Orange (aka King William III of England, Ireland, and Scotland from 1689 until his death) defeated the Irish forces.

The Irish were still rebelling against the atrocities of Britain’s “Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell, the victor of the English Civil Wars, who spent nine months (1649–50) subduing Irish resistance to English rule. 

Convinced that God was behind his victories, Cromwell – he’s famous for telling the Irish to go “to Hell or to Connaught” (Connaught being in the West Country, where the land is not too good) – did not do too well for all that. He died in 1658 and was buried with kings in Westminster Abbey.  But by 1660, Charles II (29 May 1630 – 6 February 1685) was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He recalled Cromwell’s activities in the Civil Wars, had body was exhumed from the Abbey, and his head placed on a pole for all to see.

King William was a Protestant fanatic who set out to convert the people from Catholicism, and his efforts continued the damage which the Lord Protector had started. The result was centuries of religious conflict within that lovely island nation.

Only the spread of secularism may finally be putting those issues to rest. “When you go to church in Ireland,” my wife tells me, “you don't often see anyone under sixty.” 

Loughrea: We based ourselves in Loughrea (the name comes from the Irish “Baile Locha Riach,” which means the town of the Grey Lake) – a central location from which to explore the country. This town had quite an interesting history. For one, it was from this village that William III’s military commanders assigned lands stolen from the Irish to his favourites, thereby creating landed gentry loyal to the British crown.

Ironically, though, it was in the same town that the Irish Revival began, 300 years after the British invasion. The occasion was the construction St. Brendan's Cathedral in the town, construction of which began in 1897. The “jewel in the crown of the Celtic Revival,” the Cathedral lies on the northern shore of beautiful the lake after which the town got its name.

The International Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century sought to reunite the artist and the craftsman. It was born out of a reaction to the mass production of the industrial era and found fertile ground in Ireland during the Celtic Revival period (1880 - 1930). St. Brendan's was the first building in Ireland so comprehensively decorated by the artistic movement of the era.

Coole Park: We also visited the park created at the site of Lady Gregory’s former home. I didn't realize how huge an impact she had as a playwright in the Irish Literary Revival. With William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn, she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies.

Born into a class that identified closely with British rule, her conversion to cultural nationalism, as evidenced by her writings, was emblematic of many of the political struggles to occur in Ireland during her lifetime.

The walled garden at Coole Park contains a famous autograph tree - a copper beech in which many of the leading figures of the Literary Revival carved their names. Besides Lady Gregory herself, the old tree's trunk shows the names of William Butler Yeats, Edward Martyn, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey.

The beauty of the swans in the turlough (a geologically complex lake) at Coole Park inspired the Yeats poem The Wild Swans at Coole. Yeats’ home was nearby.

“Coole Park, 1929,” one of his poems, describes the park as a symbol for the revival of Irish literature:
Here traveller, scholar, poet, take your stand, 
When all these rooms and passages are gone
When nettles wave upon a shapeless mound
 And saplings root among the broken stone.

After the Irish Civil War (1922–23), Lady Gregory sold the estate to the Irish government, but retained life tenancy. After she died in 1932, an auction emptied the mansion of its furnishings.

By the 1960s the state had allowed the house to fall into ruin. Today, all that remains is the plinth on which it stood. The state has since turned the grounds into a lovely park, well worth the visit. Like most of Ireland, the place is beautiful. Cool.

Religious ruins: Another interesting – and photogenic – place to visit is the now-ruined monastery of Clonmacnoise. It’s in County Offaly on the River Shannon, south of the town of Athlone. Founded in 544 by St. Ciarán, as the story goes, the ruins are a silent tribute to the intensity of the monks and their mission.

The strategic location of the monastery helped it become a major centre of religion, learning, craftsmanship, and trade; it became one of the most famous in Ireland, visited by scholars from all over Europe. Many of the high kings of Tara and Connaught were buried there.

To better understand the endless religious ruins around the country, you might want to read How the Irish Saved Civilization, a charming book by Thomas Cahill. Here’s a New York Times book review.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Conservation and Reclamation of our Land

Footprints: The Evolution of Land Conservation and Reclamation in Alberta by Robert Bott, Graham Chandler, and Peter McKenzie-Brown (Kingsley, 2016) was released on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, at the Canadian Land Reclamation Association (CLRA) conference in Red Deer, Alberta. The illustrated and extensively annotated e-book is available for free (23MB) download or, to view an abstract before deciding whether you want to download, click here.

The CLRA purchased a limited print run of the book, initially intended for the association’s members. Some copies may be available for purchase at a later date.

Footprints is the story of how Alberta’s land conservation and reclamation program came into being and how it has progressed over the past half century. The goal is to provide an objective description for current and future generations. The book will be of interest and value to practitioners actively engaged in the numerous conservation and reclamation components, to landowners whose land is being disturbed, to industrial users responsible for the disturbance, to elected and appointed officials having a moral duty to see to the land’s conservation and reclamation, and to college or university students considering a career in this or a related field.

The book project was initiated by several dozen retired or still-active land reclamation practitioners whose careers, in some instances, reach as far back as the 1960s. Some are still employed in public or private life, conserving and reclaiming our rich natural heritage. The publication will help to assess how effectively we have been and are conserving our land base and providing the stewardship required to pass our legacy on to our progeny.

Those participating in the book’s creation included professional writers, former and current government regulators, researchers, academics, and former to current industry reclamation managers or practitioners. Some contributed text, memories of their actions and observations, photographs, and documents to help piece together this history.

Every word, picture, and illustration in Footprints bears multiple “fingerprints.” Producing the book involved intense collaboration among the steering group volunteers and the team of contractors assembled by Charlene Dobmeier of Kingsley Publishing Services in early 2014. As project coordinator and co-editor, Dobmeier brought her own extensive experience as a publisher and editor of historical and technical books on Western Canada and its industries.

The three professional writers had a collective century of experience writing about energy, the environment, and history, but little previous exposure to the specifics of land conservation and reclamation. Steering group members provided invaluable guidance, arranged site visits, and pointed the writers to interview subjects and documents; the group members and other experts also reviewed multiple drafts and provided numerous suggestions, corrections, and additions to the text, including several sidebars.

Henry Thiessen’s memoir of the policy and regulatory evolution prior to 1983 was a key resource and forms the core of Chapter 3. Chandler and McKenzie-Brown focused on researching and writing chapters on the main industrial sectors, while Bott worked mainly on overview sections and editing, but there was a great deal of overlap, cross-referencing, and mutual assistance.

As the project progressed, Chris Powter added his encyclopedic knowledge and keen eye for detail to the editorial skills of Bott and Dobmeier, while John Luckhurst deftly handled design, photo selection, and layout. Looking back, the writers were impressed by the professionalism, dedication, and generosity of the people working in this field, the scope and scale of what they have achieved, and the immensity of the tasks that still lie ahead.


Robert Bott is a Calgary-based writer, editor, and communications consultant specializing in energy, forestry, and the environment; he is also a senior affiliate with Ian Murray & Co. (IMC Projects). His publications as author or co-author include Life after Oil (Hurtig, 1983), Mileposts (Interprovincial Pipeline, 1989), A Place of Vision (University of Calgary, 1990), Our Petroleum Challenge (Petroleum Communication Foundation, 4 editions, 1991-2013), Our Growing Resource (Alberta Forest Products Association, 1992), Learning from the Forest (Fifth House, 2003), A Decade of Excellence (Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, 2003), Evolution of Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry (Canadian Centre for Energy Information, 2004), and more than 60 magazine articles. He worked on two major projects for the National Energy Board between 2007 and 2013 and has written corporate environmental reports for Amoco Canada, Weldwood Canada, and Alberta-Pacific. 

Earlier, he worked as a journalist with United Press International and the Calgary Herald, managing editor of Energy Magazine, writer-interviewer for the CBC-TV program Business Watch, editor of energy articles for The Canadian Encyclopedia, and columnist for the Calgary Herald and Oilweek Magazine. He served two terms as a public member on the Governing Council of the College of Alberta Professional Foresters (2003-2009) and is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the Calgary Association of Freelance Editors, the Petroleum History Society, and the Forest History Association. He is a recipient of the Petroleum History Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award, four National Journalism Awards, and one Western Magazine Award.
Graham Chandler is a Calgary-based writer specializing in heritage, aviation, energy, and the environment. His credits include more than 400 published articles in national and international magazines such as Saudi Aramco World, Air & Space/Smithsonian, National Geographic World, Equinox, Earth Explorer, Canadian Geographic, and several energy industry periodicals. He has won four national writing awards from publishing associations including the Canadian Business Press and the Society of National Association Publications. He holds an MBA from the University of Alberta and a PhD in archaeology from the University of London (England) and has done field research in Belize, the Canadian High Arctic, Greece, Turkey, and Pakistan, and a post-doctoral fellowship at the British School at Athens. His previous air force career included graduation from the US Naval Test Pilot School and 10 years of aerospace engineering and flight testing experience. He then worked in finance and marketing in the oil and gas industry in Calgary, Denver, and Houston. His corporate and educational writing clients have included the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Petroleum Communication Foundation, Suncor Energy, Petro-Canada, Schlumberger, and Shell Canada Limited. Memberships include the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Society of American Archaeology, the European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, and the Royal Asiatic Society.
Peter McKenzie-Brown is an author and historian specializing in oil and gas. He has written or contributed to five books in addition to Footprints; these include The Alberta Oil Sands: The technologies, leadership, politics, and passions behind them (to be published in in 2016); Barbecues, Booms and Blogs: Fifty years of public relations in Calgary (2008, co-editor and contributor); In Balance: An account of Alberta’s CA profession (2000,with Stacy Philips); The Richness of Discovery: Amoco’s first fifty years in Canada (1998); and The Great Oil Age: The petroleum industry in Canada (1993, with Gordon Jaremko and David Finch). In 2007, he contributed a five-part series on the history of Canada’s petroleum industry to Wikipedia. He has written many articles for energy-related magazines and was a coordinator and interviewer for the Petroleum History Society’s Oil Sands Oral History Project. Earlier in his career, he worked for the Reuters news agency in London, England. He has also worked for Gulf Oil Canada, the Canadian Petroleum Association, and Amoco Canada.

Co-Editors with Robert Bott

Chris Powter, BSc, MSc, is currently the owner of Enviro Q&A Services, a consulting firm providing environmental advice and guidance to the resource industry and government regulators.

From April 2010 to December 2014 Chris was the Executive Director of the Oil Sands Research and Information Network (OSRIN) in the School of Energy and the Environment at the University of Alberta. His work involved identifying research and information gaps related to environmental impacts of oil sands mining, filling those gaps through research and disseminating information to regulators, industry and the public.

Chris has a BSc in Ecology and a MSc in Plant Ecology from the University of Guelph. Chris worked for Alberta Environment for 29 years, including duties in land reclamation from 1981 to 2002, then in policy and legislation development from 2002 to 2007 and finally as the head of the provincial assessment program from 2007 to 2010.

Chris was the recipient of the Canadian Land Reclamation Association’s Edward M. Watkin Award in 1988, the Noranda Land Reclamation Award in 2001 and the Alberta Chamber of Resources 2004 Reclamation Citation for lifetime achievement.

Chris is also the author of the Curmudgeon’s Corner series in the Canadian Reclamation magazine.

Charlene Dobmeier of Kingsley Publishing Services Inc. has been in the book industry for more than thirty years and has edited and/or published more than 425 titles. She holds a B.Ed. and a B.A. Honours in History from the University of Saskatchewan and also has a background in volunteer international development work and not-for-profit board development. From 1985 to 2008, Charlene was managing editor then publisher at Fifth House Ltd. and led the company to Publisher of the Year Awards in 2006 and 2007 and numerous Best Book Awards, including the Governor-General Award shortlist.  She now owns and operates Kingsley Publishing Services with offices in Alberta and British Columbia offering consulting, project management, and professional publishing services to clients who have a commitment to quality.