From Castlebar - County Mayo -

Local Papers Commentary
From the Connaught Telegraph - 5 May 2004
By The Jaundiced Eye
8, May 2004 - 18:06

Star-rating system suggested for all food outlets

A TOP food safety expert has called for the introduction of a star-rating system for all food outlets similar to that used in the hotel industry. Mr. Cathal Kearney, Principal Environmental Health Officer with the Western Health Board has called for better transparency in the food industry which, he believes would give consumers more confidence when eating out. Accreditation would also give proprietors of food premises and food handlers recognition for going the extra mile when it comes to food safety practices. Mr. Kearney, author of ‘Food Hygiene for Food Handlers’, questioned a system where consumers do not know what is going on behind closed doors. But he cautioned that an accreditation system could only be as good as the premises is on the day of inspection and warned that five star hotels have also caused food poisoning. However, he added, "Very often we will have a premises that will do the basics and do them well and that is fine. But you will have others who go the extra mile and you will have others who are under the basics. "If you are a customer going into a premises it would be nice to have some idea if the food safety standards are above the basic, at the basic or below the basic or has a really excellent system, a five star system," said Mr. Kearney. At the moment consumers can look up the Food Safety Authority of Ireland website on and view closures orders and prosecutions. However, if a premises closes voluntarily they are not ‘named and shamed’ on the website. Last year which was a typical year for Mayo there were two voluntary closures.

Eating out ain’t what it used to be you know. Not half as exciting as it once was. There was a time when it was a gamble going into a fast food joint. There was a time when you had to have a really good immune system in order to eat out. Now it’s quite safe thanks to them spoilsports the environmental health officers who go around inspecting kitchens on our behalf. Is this just more Nanny Stateism I ask myself? Do you know I haven’t suffered from food poisoning in ages? It’s so long now that I am getting quite nostalgic for the bit of Delhi belly, Montazuma’s revenge, the runs, projectile vomiting whatever you want to call it.

Today I think nothing of buying a sandwich in a petrol station – food from a petrol station! I have had some very fine meals in petrol stations across the country of late. The breakfast roll – two sausages, fried egg, three rashers, tomato, mushroom and if there’s room a bit d’ould black and white sausage. They make it up there on the spot right in front of you and wrap it up in tinfoil. Put a paper cup under the coffee dispenser and what more could you want while you are driving from Castlebar to Galway or Letterkenny? A strange concept the Petrol Station Deli which would have been impossible a few years ago before environmental health inspectors. Now we could have the 3*** or the 5*** petrol deli!

And do you know it has spread abroad too? It makes travel for holidays very unexciting. Nanny States over there too all round Europe. Way back when I remember getting off the backpackers train in Athens and tucking into souvlaki as if there was no tomorrow – bought from a vendor on the side of the street – the smell of cooking meat on a footpath spit – the waft of spices - was irresistible. Then I queued up for some bread in a bread shop and watched the little mouse playing in the breadbaskets behind the man serving bread to the customers. Every time the American backpackers in the queue in front of me screamed and pointed at the breadbaskets on the shelves behind the breadman he turned around to look - but the mouse was nowhere to be seen. Then of course I remember spending the rest of the holiday ready to run at any moment. I had to speed-read my way through a rapidly diminishing pile of paperback novels that I had with me as fast as I could. This was because the Greek toilets back then didn’t have toilet paper and it was necessary to supply your own – so read and rip was the motto – ‘bee ullov’ as the scouts say. On other trips out foreign I think it was the very air itself that got me because the minute I stepped off a plane in a hot country my stomach would start acting up. Every intake of breath had its own unique aerial microflora! Nowadays though I think nothing of going foreign without a medicine chest full of anti-diarrhoea tablets. Maybe you acquire immunity as you get older but I suspect it’s people like Cathal Kearney that are responsible for the reduced microbial diversity in our air, water and food all over Europe!


One eel of a marathon journey

INISHTURK Island housewife Mary Catherine Heanue could not understand why the water supply to her home suddenly reduced to a black dribble. Her neighbour’s taps flowed freely so something had to be wrong with her connection. And it took her brother Martin O’Halloran to get to the bottom of the crux. When he checked at the stopcock what popped out but a live eel. The slippery intruder had made its way through the three-quarter inch pipe all the way from the small lake serving the households --- 1½ miles away.

"It was the last thing I expected to find", confessed a bemused Martin. "I thought it may have been an air-lock but never an eel which had clogged up the pipe." Fisherman Martin continued: "We don’t know how long the eel, which was several inches long, was in the pipe but it appeared none the worse for its ordeal and I released it into a nearby stream." Mary Catherine added: "I noticed for some days that the water was not flowing as it should be. Finally when it reduced to a black trickle I had Martin check it out. "We were all surprised that an eel had made its way all the way from the lake. It is something that never happened before."

This reminds me of the complaint to the local authority by the woman who had worms and insects swimming out from her tap whenever she turned it on. The expert from the local authority examines them under a microscope: ‘It’s alright missus – they’re still alive’ he consoles her. ‘If they were dead that would mean the water was poisonous to them and probably to you too!’

But my favourite eel story is from Burrishoole not a million miles across Clew Bay from Inishturk. The traps at the Salmon Research Agency in Furnace caught a huge eel as it was going back to sea to breed – this was maybe 20 years ago back in the 1980s. The biologists there figured out the age of this eel as being about 40 years old – a bit of a Methuselah. This meant that the eel had come from the Sargasso Sea some time during the Second World War and reaching the Irish coast as a mere transparent little slip of a thing just as Hitler was pulling on his jackboots. Then as an elver it would have made its way up through Furnace Lake and into Lough Feeagh and perhaps up into the smaller streams of the Nephin Beg Mountains. There it lived for 40 years through the great depression of the 1950s into the swinging 60s the unemployment black spot of the 1970s before finally throwing his hat at it and he headed back to the sea. Perhaps the depression of the 1980s tipped the scales in favour of emigration for the eel just as for people? Realistically though it was more likely to be the urge to procreate that made him swim back down through the fish trap at Furnace – which of course hadn’t been there when he arrived in Ireland in the 1940s. Once released from the trap, having of course been measured and inspected by the kind folk at Furnace, he would then he would have swum the 3000 miles back to the Sargasso Sea in order to spawn and die. The reason that eels travel such enormous distances back to the spawning ground is believed to be continental drift. Originally they would have spawned just immediately offshore; but as America drifted away from Europe over the millennia stretching the Atlantic Ocean inch by inch, the Sargasso Sea region also drifted further and further away from Europe. The poor eels of course just needed to get to their place of birth regardless of how far away it was. So Mary Catherine out there on Inishturk be kind to the eels that comes out of your tap – they have a hard life!

God bless you Monsignor Horan
MONSIGNOR Horan was a clever man. He was a realist and a dreamer. Not many could visualise an airport on a boggy hilltop. Not many could be realistic enough to drive forward with such an insurmountable task. But he knew how to go about things. He knew those who could move mountains, or at least flatten them and he could discover untapped sources of money. "Now" he said to a friend who had invited him to London for a emigrant dinner "You can introduce me to the millionaires so that I can shake some money from their pockets." With these virtues he built an airport on a rough hill in the Black Triangle. They said it could not be done and that it was fool hardy. But he went ahead and the great machines took off the top of the hill like you would remove a top off an egg. Then the great trucks carried rocks and rubble to form a foundation and then the cement was spread and the airport buildings took shape. Instead of a round tower dominating the Connaught Landscape now you had a modern control tower. As the old pilgrims had round towers to guide them and I believe that they were set with beacons to guide the wanderers, now there is a new kind of tower leading pilgrims in from Birmingham and London and many other places. They followed electronic paths through the sky. Knock Airport is a comfortable place. It has a delightful informality that you will not get in Dublin. It has a Connaught pace to it and the accents are soft like the mist that sometimes sit like caps on the hills.

Michael Mullen goes on to extol the virtues of travelling out of Knock versus Dublin. I’m inclined to agree with him that the Monsignor did Connaught a favour. Nobody ever asks if the Dart makes money in Dublin. I suspect it loses a small fortune and that every journey on it is subsidised just as surely as  the commuter flights from Knock are.

© Copyright 2004 by Castlebar - County Mayo -