Monday, June 18, 2007

Irish Solutions - Confucius, him say

I got to thinking recently about some Irish solutions to Irish problems over the years and thought I should share the fruits of our native inventiveness with a wider audience, so here goes.

Traffic lit roundabouts
I always thought roundabouts and traffic lights were alternative solutions to a traffic flow problem.

If, for example, you are trying to sort out traffic coming from four directions you can use a roundabout.

This has the following benefits:
  • it is eco-friendly - no electricity used - static signage
  • it does not delay traffic when there is no one on the roundabout
But it can have one big disadvantage. If the traffic flow on one axis predominates, such as with a main highway versus a minor crossing road, the low priority road may never get a look in.

In this case you need to use traffic lights, even if the timing needs to be varied depending on time of day or observed traffic flows.

Ireland has combined these two methods to give us the roundabout with traffic lights. The lights are just at the entry, and exit, points of the roundabout, and the chaos is appaling.

The site of one, at least, of these monstrosities, is at Ireland's first official roundabout in Artane on the northside of Dublin. Since writing this I have been through the roundabout at Dublin Airport which reminded me that this must be the mother of all trafficlit roundabouts. A webcam at this roundabout would provide weeks, if not months, of uninterrupted entertainment to rival anything Big Brother has to offer.

Oddly even numbers
I have seen street numbered in many different ways.
  • Numbers can go up on one side and come back down on the other.
  • numbers can progress along a street with odd numbers on one side and even numbers on the other, but both ascending in the same direction. These can sometimes get out of phase depending on the incidence of number interrupters, like other streets, on either side, but it is usually manageable.
  • you can have the odd effect in a cul de sac of numbers starting at the far end on one side, rising as they come towards you at the entrance, jumping across the entrance, and going on up the other side. You then see two adjacent numbers at the entrance and it can be difficult to know whether it is worth entering the cul de sac in pursuit of a particular number.
But I really came across a gem recently when trying to match up numbers before and after a number of separately numbered terraces were inegrated into a unified numbering system for the road.

The odd numbers start at one end of the road and go along one side, while the even numbers start at the other end and go in the opposite direction on the other side.

Mindboggling, but, perversely in my case, very welcome as for some reason, the terrace I was interested in started from 1 and had only odd numbers, which it fortuitously kept under the new system. So No. 31 was still No.31 after the changeover. My thanks to the mad hoor who thought that one up. [The terrace was Park View Terrace, and the road Brookfield Road, in the Old Kilmainham quarter of Dublin city.]

Bona fide contraception
In the first half of the last century the environment in Ireland was very repressive. There was strict censorship (sex not violence) and contraception was not available, unless you opted for abstention, coitus interruptus (also known as Vatican Roulette), or oral or anal sex, and the last two of these were considered immoral and abhorrent.

A woman could get the pill, supposedly to regularise periods, but this not only put the onus on the woman, it also left her open to the long term side effects of the medication.

Then Charlie Haughey thought up an Irish solution to an Irish problem. Contraceptives (ie condoms) would be made available on prescription to married couples who were practicing bona fide contraception.

In other words only those who were entitled to have babies were allowed to avoid having them. QED.

The empty oath
One of the things that kept Fianna Fáil out of the Dáil (Irish parliament) in the latter half of the 1920s was the requirement for deputies to to take an oath of allegiance to the Free State and of fidelity to the British King in his role as a symbol of the Commonwealth.

De Valera realised that to get into power he would have to take the oath, so he announced in advance that he considered it an empty formula and abolished it once he came to power.

There are two official languages in Ireland. The first one (Irish/Gaeilge) and the other one (English/Sacsbhéarla).

For the most part, or virtually entirely, the country lives its life through the medium of English and has done so for the last 200 years. As a result, its laws are conceived in English, drafted in English, debated in English, adopted in English and ultimately implemented in English.

There is a constitutional requirement that versions should also be available in the Irish language and these are invariably produced as translations from the English and published with a lag, which can be up to a fair number of years.

But here's the rub. In the event of a dispute over the meaning of a piece of legislation, the Irish language version takes precedence.

Believe it or not.

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