HAS the curse of a 19th century disgruntled scullery maid again struck Fota, that so-called jewel in the crown of Cork Harbour?
Having been unfairly sacked (according to herself), the scullery maid put the evil eye on the then owners, the Barrymores, and damned their inheritance through the male line for generations to come. She wanted misfortune to befall her former employers –which even in those dark and dismal days was an appalling display of wicked intentions. Not surprisingly, the legend has survived to the present day.
It even tickles the fancy of the Great Island greybeards who gather in Cobh’s ‘Roaring Donkey’ to nurse their pints on stormy winter nights. There, while sitting around an open fire, they discuss the downward spiral in the fortunes of the Fota Estate and argue whether the voodoo of that discontented scullery maid really played a part!
And then a vibrating tremor of icy fear races up their backs. ‘There’s a hex or an evil spell on that place, out there on Fota Island, and it brings bad luck,’ they whisper so as not to be overheard by strangers passing through the bar.
Of course, those who base their opinions on reason rather than emotional response know for sure that the Supernatural had nothing to do with Fota’s misfortunes and to think otherwise, argue the sceptics, is best left to local loonies who delve in the paranormal.
Losses at hotel
Yet, the fact of the matter is that Fota, eventually was sold for a song to University College Cork, which – after an acrimonious and very controversial debate about its future – went on to flog much of the island’s assets to diverse groups, including a motley bunch of property speculators and hoteliers.
And it’s also a fact that the latest attempt at developing a profitable hotel-resort on Fota has hit a rough patch.
The Hong Kong firm, Xiu Lan Hotels, that operates the Fota luxury complex (it was purchased by the Kang family for twenty million) had losses last year of €386,827. The company explains that taken into account were the non-cash depreciation costs of 1.08 million and interest payments of €365,466. (In 2017, the outfit had a loss of just €4,478).
The Chinese owners are showing a stiff upper lip, emphasising that the hotel has completed ‘a full room refurbishing programme’ and is currently enjoying a bump in the growth of the Northern European market.
But, and here’s the serious bit: the resort-hotel and golf club employs over 300 people and it is to be hoped the jobs of those people will not be endangered, in spite of the ghosts, the curses and the predictions of a long dead scullery maid!
More bad news
But there’s more doom and gloom: Fota Wildlife Park also has been experiencing hardship. According to returns from the Zoological Society of Ireland (it runs Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park), total profits for both places decreased by a whopping 71% from €2.6m to €765,000!
Ominously, visitor numbers at Fota Wildlife Park decreased from 455,559 to 424,889.
Dublin Zoo bosses put on a brave face, asserting that the profit-decline was due to increased staff costs, bad weather and Pope Francis’s visit to Phoenix Park, which led to the closure of Dublin Zoo for three days during the last week of August, usually the most profitable time in the entire year.
Ethics in Dáil?
Yonks ago, Fr Peter Dempsey, the psychology chap in UCC, explained that ethics are moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour. They influence the way decisions are made and how people lead their lives. He argued that they also define what is good for individuals and society and for distinguishing between good and evil, between right and wrong.
For most of the students at that time, his moral assessments ran like water off a duck’s back. But, whereas students mature with time, to judge by the recent antics of the prestigious Dáil Ethics Committee, our politicos never cease to have scant regard, or none at all, for that branch of philosophy which deals with political morality.
Because, to our astonishment, and in a way that Peter Dempsey never imagined, the political tricks and sleight of hand of our politicos would give magicians like Harry Houdini and David Blaine a run for their money.
New life forms
Here’s what happens right before the nation’s eyes, when prominent members of the Dáil Ethics Committee vote: they change into another life form! We’re not codding. It’s true.
To be precise, the substance and physical presence of one politician becomes the substance and physical presence of a totally different politician at the very moment a vote is taken in the Dáil. Politicians amazingly can morph into other people and, then, hey presto, vote cast, they revert to themselves. It’s what Peter Dempsey might have described as ‘political transmutation’!
Thanks to magical skills, our legislators thus are able to vote early and often on the one motion – both for themselves and for chums who are nowhere to be seen at the time of the vote.
For instance, Timmy Dooley’s vote was recorded six times in the Dáil despite his absence from the chamber. Yes, six times! This happened as a result of another fella, Niall Collins, pressing Dooley’s voting button in the belief Dooley was actually sitting in front of him – when he wasn’t! A simple mistake, really.
Minister of State Damien English and Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen also were accused of ‘phantom voting,’ which they very properly denied. Both insisted they never asked anyone to vote for them when not present in the Dáil. And, how dare anyone suggest otherwise!
Also under scrutiny was Fine Gael’s Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty –which was outrageously unfair because that gentle soul always has been above reproach.
In the case of Lisa Chambers, well, she kinda double voted, but it wasn’t her fault. She pressed the button and suddenly realised she was in the wrong seat. She then hopped over to the correct seat and voted for herself. It could happen to a bishop!
In scientific terms, metamorphosis is when a politician changes into a different politician for the purpose of voting in the Dáil. Leopold Bloom would describe it as ‘metempsychosis’ – the transmigration into a new body of a similar species. When Bloom explained the process to his wife, Molly, she commented disinterestedly: ‘Oh rocks!’
In fact, the ‘Oh rocks!’ reaction excellently encapsulates the response of Fine Gael’s Hildergarde Naughton who, while chairing a Dáil probe into the phantom voting scandal, admitted that she too voted on behalf of another TD.
Which might have prompted Peter Dempsey (if he were he still with us) to redefine his notion of ethics. Lesson is: when it comes to Dáil Éireann, you’re dealing with Yob Ethics!