St. Patrick’s Day 2022

The Irish Government put out the below video for St. Patrick’s Day 2022, with this message:

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”
“We live in each other’s shelter”

On this #StPatricksDay #Ireland stands in solidarity with the people of #Ukraine.

We are thinking of you today

PSD2 in Simple Language

PSD stands for Payment Services Directive. Unlike most regulations that people in the card payment industry are familiar with, these are not scheme rules (rules created by Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, etc.), but European legislation. This is why merchants cannot negotiate their way out of compliance, as sometimes is possible with scheme rules. This is a law.

PSD1

The ‘2’ means this is the second such law. The first one was implemented in 2007. It provided the legal foundation for an EU single market for payments, to establish safer and more innovative payment services across the EU. The objective was to make cross-border payments as easy, efficient, and secure as ‘national’ payments within a Member State.

One stipulation was that any payment method would have to be available across the union. The end of purely national payment schemes, such as Laser in Ireland, was a result of this. Other ‘national’ payment schemes survived by going co-branded. Essentially this meant that they would keep their brand, but use the infrastructure of Visa or MasterCard to process payments.

Also part of the legislation was a cap on pricing. This was done by limiting the ‘interchange’ fees for consumer cards to 0.3% for credit cards and 0.2% for debit cards. You can read more about the costs of card payments elsewhere on this site.

PSD2 is about more than making payments safer

As mentioned PSD2 is the second European law dealing with payments. Like the first one, it is a very comprehensive set of laws, and the main aim is the loosen the stranglehold that Visa and MasterCard have on the card payments market. It introduces concepts such as Payment Initiation Services and Account Information Services. In both cases, banks are compelled to open their systems and share their data with third parties, who, it is hoped, will start offering competing services to card payments, especially bank-to-bank transfers.

There is also increased consumer protection in the legislation. One component of this, but by no means the only one, is SCA. Strong Customer Authentication means that any payment needs to be accompanied by proof it is the owner of the card who is making the payment and not someone who just happened to get hold of the card number.

This burden of proof is quite strict; it requires two separate pieces of information to be submitted. And the card number itself is not one of them!

The information allowed as proof falls into three categories:

  • Something only the cardholder knows, such as a PIN or password.
  • Something only the cardholder has, such as a phone or token.
  • Something the cardholder is, such as a thumb print.

So, what does this mean in practice?

There are quite a few scenarios, which I will go through one by one.

The customer is physically present.


To keep things simple, you should only accept two types of payment:

  • Contactless payments
  • Payments confirmed by Chip and Pin

Any other process, such as swiping a card or entering the card number manually, could lead to the payment being declined. I am saying ‘could’ because, in the end, the bank that issued the card to the cardholder has the final say. But to be safe, you should limit yourself to contactless and Chip and Pin.

The Issuer has final say

Within the bounds of the law, it is the issuers who decide to accept or decline any payment. They are completely free to make their own decision, and neither the cardholder, the merchant, the merchant’s bank, or even the scheme has any say in this. And they don’t even have to tell you why. As a matter of fact, the algorithms they use would be considered commercially sensitive. Hence the fact that most transactions that are declined get the “05” decline code: a generic decline.

 
Contactless payments are for low values only. In most countries, this means up to €50. You should be aware though that if someone has used their card for 5 subsequent contactless payments, or for subsequent payments for a total value exceeding €150 the law mandates that the payment is secured by Chip and Pin. If your terminal is set up for it, it will ask for the card the be inserted and a PIN entered. If it isn’t, it will decline the transaction. You should in this case advise the customer to retry with Chip and Pin. Once a card has been used for a payment using Chip and Pin it will ‘reset’ and it can again be used for up to 5 contactless payments/a cumulative number of contactless payments not exceeding €150.

A Chip and Pin payment is for all other payments, only limited by the amount allowed or available on the card. This is the safest form of payment, as any claim by the cardholder that it was not them who made the payment will be rejected.

The myth of a guaranteed payment

A Chip and Pin transaction will protect a merchant against a claim of a cardholder that it was not them who made the payment. But a cardholder might still contest a payment (chargeback) on the basis that the service was not provided/did not meet expectations, etc.

 
This is a simplified overview, and there are exceptions, but in principle, you should not take a payment by swiping a card or manually entering the card number if the customer is physically present. Only use the two accepted methods described above.

The customer is on the phone.

In this case it acceptable to enter the card number in your terminal or booking system to take a payment. What you have to ensure though is that the transaction is correctly processed as a MOTO transaction. MOTO stands for Mail Order/Telephone Order. The former hardly exists anymore, but the second one is still very popular.

The following differs from terminal to terminal, but when manually entering a transaction in your terminal, the first option is almost always to select the type of transaction. This is where you have to choose MOTO. When staff is rushed, they often choose the first option, typically a standard sale. This will lead to this transaction being flagged as a PKE, or Pan Key Entry. On average a quarter of these get declined, and this rate is rising. And you might be liable to fines from your processor. You should therefore choose the MOTO option.

If you are using a booking system instead of a physical terminal, you should contact the provider of this system to ensure they flag transactions correctly.

Choose the correct transaction type for telephone orders

You should contact your terminal provider to get instructions on how to choose the MOTO transaction type and train your staff on how to do this.

And talk to your booking system provider.

 

The customer is making a payment on your website.

As with payments where the customer is physically present, there is a separate process for low-value and high-value transactions. However, to keep things simple, I advise you to always use 3D Secure. This is basically the equivalent of the PIN for transactions when the customer is present.

3D Secure and losing sales

Initially 3D Secure meant the customer had to know their password. Often they did not and would abandon your shopping cart. Nowadays, however, in most cases, the cardholder gets sent a code to their mobile. This had led to much-improved acceptance levels.

 
It is important to make a distinction between authentication and authorisation. The former means the customer successfully proves it is them who is giving approval to the payment. The latter is the decision of the cardholder’s bank to approve the transaction.

If you process a transaction using 3D Secure the following might happen (this is again a simplified overview):

  • The 3D Secure process (authentication) fails. Although in some small number of cases this might be caused by a technical issue, in the majority of cases it is because the cardholder did not put in the correct password/PIN. You should never proceed with such a transaction.
  • The authentication is successful, but the transaction is declined. As per above, this is because the issuer decides not to accept it. This might be because there are not sufficient funds on the card, but it could be any other reason.
  • The transaction is accepted. And because of 3D Secure, the merchant is protected against disputes if the stated reason is that the cardholder claims it was not them who agreed to the transaction. As per above though, there might be other reasons though that 3D Secure does not protect against.

Some notes on 3D Secure:

Sometimes the issuer might decide to accept the transaction without invoking 3D Secure, especially when the transaction value is low. In industry jargon, this is described as “Attempt Acknowledged”. The merchant is protected against disputes if the stated reason is that the cardholder claims it was not them who agreed to the transaction. As per above though, there might be other reasons.

There are different versions of 3D Secure. The original system is now called version 1. To complicate things, there is no version 2. Instead, there is a version 2.1 and a version 2.2. Version 1 is still the most popular and is still being accepted. But it is being phased out, with both Visa and MasterCard announcing that support for the system will end in October 2022. If you have not yet moved, start planning to do so. Your Gateway will be able to advise but be aware that some development work will be required.

 
Merchent Initiated Transactions (MIT)

All of the transactions mentioned above have one thing in common: the cardholder is there (physically, on the phone, or in front of their computer) to give his or her consent to the payment. Therefore these are called Cardholder Initiated Transactions. The other main category is Merchant Initiated Transactions (MIT). As the term indicates, these are transactions where the merchant is processing a transaction, without the cardholder being around in any shape or form. An example of this is a hotel processing an additional bar charge after the customer has already departed. They can also be system generated, for example for a utility bill or subscription.

Often it is thought that every transaction using a saved card (mostly referred to as a ‘token’, but officially a ‘Credit on File’) is a Merchant Initiated Transaction. This is however not the case for so-called “one-click” transactions.

Credit on File (COF) transactions

Credit On File (COF) is just a fancy way of saying you have saved the card details of your customer in your system.

Transactions, where a customer places an order on a website and decides to use a previously processed card (the COF), are Customer Initiated Transactions, as the customer is at their computer, assenting to the transaction. This means they will have to be processed using 3D Secure.

 
How to deal with real Merchant Initiated Transactions is quite complex if you want to do it correctly. I will explain below what I believe the best approach is.

In the vast majority of cases, this process is online, so this is what I will focus on. You will have to speak to your e-commerce gateway and booking system/accounting system provider to implement this.

Getting Customer Agreement

You MUST have an agreement from your customer to save their card details, for what type of charges you can use them for, and for how long you are going to keep their details. You must specify these in your Terms & Conditions, and get confirmation from the cardholder that he or she has accepted these (ticking the box).
 
 

T&C’s and Chargebacks

Schemes will look for proof of agreement by the cardholder for the payment according to their rules. These take precedence over your Terms & Conditions and as such referring to these will not automatically win you chargebacks. But they are taken into consideration, for example for no-show transactions. You will have to prove the customer’s acceptance of YOUR Terms & Conditions though. Acceptance of those of an intermediary such as booking.com is not acceptable.

 
Customer Authentication

If you are taking a payment, and as part of that process (offer to) save the customer’s card details, you should already be doing this, as per the web order process above.

If you are not taking a payment, for example if you are taking only a booking, you will still need to do a customer authentication. You can do this by processing a “zero value” transaction. This process works exactly the same for a normal transaction, and the cardholder will have to go through the 3D Secure process. Because the value is zero, there will obviously no reservation on the customer’s card and no funds will move.

The Reference Number

In both the above scenarios, the authorisation needs to be slightly different, in that it needs to tell the acquirer, card scheme, and issuer that you are saving card details for future use for a MIT. The issuer will respond by providing you with a reference number, which you will need to save (which is where your booking or accounting system provider comes in).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

You are now set up.

Raising a MIT payment

You can only raise a payment for the reasons outlined and for the period agreed in the Terms & Conditions. The payment needs to be raised via your booking or accounting system. Terminals do not support raising MITs. The transaction again is slightly different in that it needs to contain the reference number and tell the acquirer, card scheme, and issuer that this is a MIT. Your ecommerce gateway should support this.

Examples of MIT are: subscription payments, no show payments in hospitality, payments following express checkouts, delayed delivery payments, payment for damage/fines/tolls in car rental, etc.

Summary of Transactions

Chip and PIN transaction

Chip and PIN (EMV in industry-speak) will give you liability shift for claims of fraud and are seen as the most secure.

Swiped transaction

Payment is made via “swiping” the card through the card reader of the terminal.  This transfers the card number and other data from the magnetic stripe on the card to the terminal.

This type of transaction is not compliant with SCA, has no liability shift, and will be more and more declined. 

GooglePay, AndroidPay or ApplePay transaction

These are wallets in which the card of the customer is saved. As such these are ‘normal’ card transactions. Instead of a PIN, the customer authenticates themselves via a biometric: a fingerprint or the face.  Most issuers limit the amount you can pay via these wallets, but it is expected that these will be increased over time. 

Contactless transaction

But with limitations. These are*:  a maximum of €30 per transaction, €150 for total subsequent transactions, and a maximum of 5 subsequent transactions regardless of value. 

*Due to COVID-19, the limits have been temporarily increased. 

If these are exceeded, your terminal should not decline the transaction, but ask for a Chip and PIN. There are however still many older terminals around which do not support this, and they will decline the transaction.

Contactless PIN transaction

Although not yet widespread,  it is expected that more and more cards and terminals will support contactless PIN. In this case, the cardholder taps their card and enters their PIN without having to insert the card. These transactions will allow much higher transactions to be processed. 

Ecommerce  transactions, including Card-on-File/One-click transactions

As per above, 3D Secure is now mandatory, and as such these transactions are compliant. This is also why increasingly transactions without 3D Secure (‘Unsecure’ transactions) will be declined. 

Note: transactions using 3D Secure version 1 will be supported until October 2022. After this date, they will no longer be accepted. You will have to prepare for moving to version 2.1 or 2.2 before this time.  

PKE transaction

A Pan Key Entry transaction is a transaction where the merchant records the card details and processed the payment at a later stage by entering the card manually.  

This is no longer compliant and these transactions will be increasingly declined. Instead, Merchant Initiated Transactions should be used. 

MOTO transaction

A Mail Order/Telephone Order transaction is a transactions where the customer gives their card details over the phone. As per above, provided correctly flagged, these are compliant.

As many merchants are not ready yet for Merchant Initiated Transactions, many have switched to using MOTO for these transactions. Whilst not correct, this is currently tolerated by the schemes. 

Merchant Initiated Transactions

This has been extensively discussed above. Properly implemented these transactions are compliant. 

Final Notes

These rules and regulations sound and perhaps are cumbersome. But there is a good reason for them. The fastest-growing part of the payments market is e-commerce. These payments are however also the most fraud-sensitive. A customer who becomes a victim of fraud, will probably not buy online (or via a app) again. If that becomes widespread, merchants will suffer. It is therefore in everyone’s interest to make transactions as safe as possible. Because we all know that prevention is better.

3DS Explained

When you are paying in a shop with a credit or debit card, you will be asked to insert your card into the terminal and enter your PIN. This PIN is stored on the chip on your card and the terminal will compare the PIN entered with the PIN stored. This way it proves that it is the cardholder who is making the payment and not someone who has ‘found’ the card. This is why it is so important that you NEVER share your PIN with anyone.

If you are buying online, you obviously cannot insert your card into a terminal. Instead, a system called 3D Secure was developed. It was started by Visa as ‘Verified by Visa’ but was adopted by most other schemes: Mastercard (‘SecureCode’), Discover (‘ProtectBuy’), JCB International (‘J/Secure’), and American Express (‘SafeKey’).

How it works

When you enter your card number, in the background a message is sent by the gateway* to a server hosted by the relevant scheme. This server keeps a database of all issuers who participate in 3D Secure and the website they host to support it. If the issuer is not participating, the server will respond with an ‘Authentication Attempted’ message (see below). If the issuer is participating, the server will return the website address.

The gateway* will now redirect the cardholder from the merchant website to the website address provided. This is the website that the issuer has nominated for the 3DS process. In many cases, the issuer has outsourced this to a third party. This is why you often see a name you don’t recognise, for example, Arcot.

When the cardholder is redirected, information is also posted to the website in the background, which allows the website to recognise the cardholder, and to know how much and to whom the payment is for. Because the issuer knows the cardholder’s phone number (it is their customer after all) it will send a PIN to this number. The cardholder enters this number on the website. This allows the issuer to compare the two and know that it is their cardholder who is looking to make a payment.

The result of this comparison is sent back to the requesting gateway*.

The merchant can now decide if they want to proceed to authorisation or not.
 
 
 
 
*Depending on the integration method chosen by the merchant, this can be a message sent by the merchant via the gateway, or the process can be fully handled by the gateway. Merchants cannot send a message directly.

To Proceed or Not to Proceed.

Depending on the outcome, the merchant is liable for a fraudulent chargeback or not.

It is important to note that 3D Secure only protects against fraud. It does not protect against chargeback for other reasons, e.g. customer claiming not to have received goods, etc. Also, some card types are excluded from even fraud protection – even if they have gone through the process. This is the case for most commercial cards.

 
The below table gives an overview of possible outcomes, what it means for you, and recommended action.

Vaccines Work

I would like to start to say that I am not a specialist in this area. Or any medical area for that matter. The below is based on what I have read in, and been told by what I would consider reliable – scientific, medical – sources.

I was very happy this last week to get my first dose vaccination against Covid-19. I got the Pfizer Biontech one in Dublin’s CityWest based vaccination centre. It was done very efficiently, in and out in just over an hour. Thankfully no side effects, as I understand is the case for the vast, vast majority of people.

I won’t be able to change my behaviour yet though. It will take approximately 2 weeks for this first dose to be effective. After that, I can still get the virus – and transmit it – but the likelihood of getting seriously ill or worse should be very small. It is only after the second dose has taken effect (1-2 weeks after getting the dose, which is planned in about 4 weeks from now) that the likelihood of getting the virus at all becomes much less.

Which would bring me to somewhere in July. But after having been in lockdown or semi-lockdown for 14 months, a few more months does not sound too bad.

I am, however, very much looking forward to a holiday I booked for later in the year. I booked it a few months ago in the hope that we would be where we are expected to be now – personally AND as a country: fully vaccinated myself and 70-80% first dose vaccination in the country. We expect to reach the latter in July/August.

I am still careful. I have booked a holiday in Ireland, thus avoiding the crowds of airports. And I intend to do plenty of outdoor activities. So here is hoping for good summer weather!

It could still go wrong. We might see another spike, another variant. But I am hopeful for the future. And there is something that we all can do to prevent another setback: keep wearing masks, keep social distancing, etc. And when you are offered the vaccine, take it! Because vaccines work, as you can see from the below graph taken from the hse.ie website:

Happy Christmas 2020

2020 has been an awful year. Most of us would like to forget it and move on. Unfortunately, we will all need more patience. It will take time before the vaccines will become readily available and it will need 60-80% of people inoculated before it is truly effective. This means we will spend most of 2021 socially distancing, wearing masks, etc.  That idea might be disturbing for some. But think of this.

My heart goes out to those that have lost dear ones. And it is exactly because of that we need to keep strong. Otherwise, we will cause just more grief.

This means that Christmas 2020 has to be different. No big family gatherings in Ireland, no visits to my family in The Netherlands.

But my family is still healthy. I am still in a job. I will still take the Christmas week off for some relaxation and enjoy the company of my wife, and for Christmas, my mother in law, with whom we are in a “bubble”.  I will still enjoy this Christmas. Just the way I enjoyed my holidays, even though it wasn’t in Italy as planned, but just a few day-trips in Ireland. 

 So, rather than complain about the things we cannot do, let’s appreciate the things we can. And with that, I wish you:

Hill Walk and Garden in Dalkey

Dalkey is a former village and now a suburb of Dublin.  It is located in the South-East of the city. It traces its origins to Viking times and was a busy port town in the Middle Ages.

I have visited the attractive town itself many times. This time I went for a walk in Killiney Hill Park and a visit to Mornington Garden. 

Killiney Hill Park

This park takes in both Killiney Hill and Dalkey Hill. It was opened to the public as far back as 1887, by Prince Albert, and was then called Victoria Hill, in memory of her Jubilee. 

The park offers spectacular views over the surrounding areas: Dublin to the northwest, the Irish Sea to the east and southeast, and Bray Head and the Wicklow Mountains to the south. Here are some pictures I took:

View over Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, and Dublin Bay from Dalkey Hill
View over Killiney Bay from Dalkey Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

View over the Irish Sea and the Wicklow Mountains from Killiney Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mornington Garden

Afterwards, I visited Mornington garden, which is a private garden just outside the entrance to the park.  It is by appointment only and costs €6 per person, minimum group of 4.  Our very knowledgeable host was Annmarie Bowring who gave a very enthusiastic tour of her beautiful garden. And gave me lots of tips and ideas for my own (she also runs a garden school). These are just a very small sample of the many flowers in her garden. If you are into gardening, I would recommend a visit! For more information, click here.

 

 

14 Henrietta Street

Luke Gardiner was a property developer in Dublin in the 18th Century. He developed large parts of Dublin City north of the river Liffey and became very wealthy in the process.

Probably his most upmarket development was Henrietta Street, laid out during the 1720s. This is a very short street, now known for The Honorable Society of King’s Inns building at the top. This is however of a later date, its foundation stone was laid “only” in 1800.

Henrietta Street was aimed at the very top of Irish society: nobility, senior clergy, top judges, and Luke Gardiner himself. Many of them would have seats in the Irish Parliament, either elected or through hereditary rights. For several of them this was their city house, as they also owned substantial mansions down the country.

The houses on Henrietta are very large Georgian buildings. Number 14, of which more below, measures 9,000 square feet over 4 floors and a basement. The basement would contain the kitchens and storage space, it is where the staff would toil. The ground floor would be the main living space for the family. The Piano Mobile or first floor would have several reception spaces for entertaining guests. The top two floors were bedrooms and nurseries.

The first family to live in the house was the family of Robert Molesworth, who was a powerful politician who was created a Viscount in 1715. He was followed by several other rich and powerful occupants, such as The Right Honorable John Bowes, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Lucius O’Brien, John Hotham Bishop of Clogher, and Charles 12th Viscount Dillon.

That all changed in 1801. In that year, England’s leaders decided to centralise power. They had become worried because of the French Revolution, which has led to unrest in Ireland as well. By convincing and bribing members of Parliament, they succeeded in getting the parliament to vote for its own abolition. Powers were transferred to the parliament in London.

Soon the rich and powerful left Henrietta Street. They were at first replaced by legal people, lawyers, solicitors, barristers, etc. This included Number 14. In 1850, it became a temporary courthouse at the end of the Great Famine, dealing with the affairs of the many bankrupt country estates: the Encumbered Estates’ Court.

When this was no longer needed it was for a while used by the English army as a barracks until 1876. Thomas Vance bought the property and turned it into a tenement, by stripping out all valuable decoration – such as marble fireplaces – and subdividing many of the rooms. Since the famine, many Irish had descended on Dublin and there was a desperate shortage of housing. Just after the turn of the nineteenth century, there were over 100 people living in 14 Henrietta Street. It was an “open door” building, which means the front door was never locked. During the night vagrants would come in and sleep in the corridors.

It had no running water; and only two toilets. It was heated by open fires, which were also used for cooking. Lighting was by means of candles and oil lamps. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that gas and electricity was introduced.

Bugs and vermin would also be a continuous problem. It was said that residents arriving in the dark, would kick the stairs to scare away the rats. Floorboards were in a bad state; in many places you could see through them to the floor above or below. In many rooms there were holes in the floor.

Still, 14 Henriette Street was an “A” class tenement. “B” class were worse and “C” class were often sheds or stables.

The famous strike known as the “Lock Out” early in the century was a failure. But it did bring the appalling living conditions of many Dubliners out in the open. Action was delayed because of World War I, the War of Independence, the Civil War, and the creation of the Irish State. Plans were finally made in the 1920s and construction of suburbs started in the thirties. These provided much improved and healthier living conditions, although not the same sense of community. When several tenements collapsed in the sixties, it gave a renewed impetus to the building of modern housing. Apart from more suburban developments, this was also the time that Ballymun was developed. As per above, it was not until the seventies though that the last tenements were closed.

Number 14 was allowed to decay. As part of the Henrietta Street Conservation Plan, the local council bought the house after 2000. It started a long renovation process and it opened to the public in 2018, telling the story we have related above. For more information click here.

Tenement living around 1900

An impression of a tenement room around 1900. No blankets. Instead, coats were used to keep warm during the night.

Tenement living in the fifties

Living room – with beds for the children,  master bedroom, and kitchen. 

 

National Famine Museum | Strokestown Park

In the nineteenth century, most land in Ireland was owned by a small elite of – mostly – Protestant landlords. They would rent out their land to tenants or would have large estates cultivating land directly (the “Demesne”). Often it was a combination of the two. Some landlords would live on their estate, but others would not, leaving the management to middlemen. It was also not uncommon for landlords to own multiple estates. The Irish estates were an investment, run to provide a return for their owners. However, many estates had ceased to be profitable even before the famine of 1845 – 1849. The famine threatened their viability even further, as many tenants could no longer afford to pay rent. The famine afforded however also an economic opportunity, of which more later.

Poverty

But let’s step back in time a bit further. Even before the famine, poverty was widespread in Ireland. It had 8 million inhabitants (today, 170 years later, the number is 6 million) and many Irish had to compete for work as landless labourers. Others would be tenants, but the growing population meant that many of their holdings had been subdivided into smaller and smaller plots of lands with each generation. For a lot of Irish people, the potato was their only source of food, as it was nutritious and cheap. Some would be able to afford bread and only a few meat. The “Board of Works” had been established in 1831 to deal with this poverty, by offering work to the unemployed on public works.

Famine

The famine was not caused because there was no food. As a matter of fact, Ireland still exported grain throughout the famine years of 1845-1849. The cause was a potato disease, called “blight”, making them inedible. The potato shortage also pushed the prices of other foods up. As a consequence, most simply could not afford any food anymore. Unfortunately, the “Board of Works” was completely overwhelmed, and by 1846 its failure was widely accepted.

Relief efforts

An attempt at relief for the Irish poor was the purchase and sale of cheap grain. The budget was £100,000, or about £12 million in today’s money. To maximise the amount of grain, so-called “pigs-grain” (it was deemed only suitable as animal feed in India, where it came from) was bought. It required three times the amount of labour to turn it into usable flour, using heavy-duty utensils, as shown in the pictures below.

But Trevelyan, who was in charge of emergency food supplies in Ireland during the famine, advocated a policy of effectively withholding relief and allowing market forces to take their course. As the importing and selling of cheap grain by the government was deemed to be distorting the proper working of the free market, it was discontinued in 1847.

Private relief efforts did not fare much better. Best known of these efforts are the “Soup Kitchens”, where cheap soup was sold. However:

“Nicholas Soyer was a French Chef at the Reform Club during the famine. The soup he devised for the victims of the famine was pronounced excellent by members of high society who visited his Model Soup Kitchen in Dublin. However, it was widely attacked for its lack of real nutritional value. One meal of Soyer’s soup only provided one-tenth of the necessary daily intake of calories.”

National Famine Museum

 
The Quakers – who were heavily involved the running of soup kitchens – concluded in the end that without fundamental reform, their attempts were futile.

Which left the local Unions running Workhouses. They were also completely swamped by the famine. The authorities responded by increasing their number and expanding the existing ones. The problem was that they were financed by contributions made by landlords, based on the number of poor tenants they had.

This led to the next phase in the development of the famine. Landlords now had an incentive to get rid of their poor tenants, as well as an excuse (as the Unions were supposed to look after the evicted tenants).

Evictions

“.. the change from an idle barbarous isolated potato cultivation, to a corn cultivation, which enforces industry, binds together employer and employed in mutually beneficial relations, and, requiring capital and skill for its successful prosecution, suppose the existence of a class of yeomanry who have an interest in preserving the good order of society, is proceeding as fast as can reasonably be expected.”

Charles Trevelyan, Secretary of the Treasury, The Times, 12 October 1847

 
As per the statement above, not only would the eviction of tenants reduce the taxes estates had to pay, but it also offered estates a much more profitably future: many estates were inefficient and badly managed before the famine, with many small sub-holdings. Switching to the growing of grain and the rearing of cattle on large farms was a much better economic proposition. And this required getting rid of the small plots and a lot fewer tenants.

Strokestown

Strokestown was an estate of about 11,000 acres and had its own village attached to it. It was owned by the Mahon family. Major Denis Mahon had inherited it in 1845, just when the famine started. The estate was not in a good position: a previous member of the family had run up debts by significantly enlarging the mansion. He was followed by his bother who was mad; and after that, there were 10 years of legal cases to determine who would inherit. For all of this time, it had been badly managed.

To rescue his estate, Major Denis needed to reform, which meant getting rid of his tenants. Like other estates, Strokestown did offer incentives to tenants to emigrate, including forgiveness of debt and payment of passage. About a thousand Strokestown residents would take up the offer. But the ships the estate chartered did justice to the name “coffin ships”, with over a third of their human cargo not surviving the trip.

And it was nowhere enough for the heavily indebted estate: by late 1847 Strokesdown had become a byword for mass evictions. Strictly speaking, the estate could only evict tenants from their land, not their house. But the landlord also controlled who would be registered for relief with the Unions. And the condition invariable was that the tenants would leave their house as well. Which would subsequently be demolished to prevent them from being re-occupied.

This obviously created tensions. Priests in the Catholic Church were often accused of inciting violence and disobedience, and the local priest in Strokestown was accused of having a role in what was to follow. Most priests would preach obedience to law though, so it is more than likely that a “secret society” of disgruntled locals was responsible for the shooting dead of the landlord of Strokestown: on 2 November 1847 the patriarch of the family, Major Dennis Mahon was assassinated. It is this event that made him famous, as he was the first landlord to be killed. Other assassinations would follow and soon almost every landlord would fear for their lives. Quite a few decided to leave Ireland.

Modern Times

The estate did survive, however. The last member of the Mahon family to live on the estate, Mrs. Olive Hales Pakenham Mahon, moved to a nursing home in England only in 1981, at the age of eighty-seven.

She had already sold the estate in 1979 to a group of local businessmen. They started a much-needed restoration; it was in a very bad state of repair as Olive Mahon had run out of money. A consequence of the latter is that a lot of the features and fabrics are original, as there never had been money for replacements. This did not include the paintings, as they had been sold off a long time ago to generate some income. But it does include a beautiful kitchen that is 200 years old. The gallery below gives you an impression.

The new owners did find a large collection of estate and family papers which formed the basis of the development of the National Famine Museum on the premises of the house. You can visit the museum, as well as the house and its walled garden. For more information, click here.

Gallery

Click the picture to read the accompanying note.

Staycation 2020: Italy

2020 will forever be known as the year of COVID-19. The impact on my life has so far been one of inconveniences rather than anything more depressing:

  • I have been working from home since early March. I used to travel a lot to meet clients. I was in a plane most weeks,  often heading for London and occasionally Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, or Berlin. That has obviously ceased, and I now conduct “meetings” via video conferences.
  • I have not been able to visit my widowed mother since January – which I normally do every few months.
  • I had to cancel a family trip to Lanzarote, a visit to friends in Iceland, and my planned holiday to Italy.

But let’s look at this another way:

  • Thankfully no close relatives or friends have succumbed to the virus.
  • I still have my job.
  • Thanks to Facetime I am in regular contact with my mother.
  • Lanzarote, Iceland, and Italy will still be there next year or the year after.

I don’t want to belittle the stress this crisis brings to people with young families and/or living in small apartments. But I have no sympathy for people who “must” go abroad. 

Instead of visiting the Amalfi Coast and Umbria as planned we – my wife and I – are staying put. We are taking a two-week break to recharge our batteries, however. We will be doing a number of day trips, such as:

We also came up with the idea of “theme days”.  The first theme day was “Italy”: as we could not go to Italy, we decided to bring Italy do us.

We decorated our house with Italian flags, table cloths, etc. We went shopping in the Specialty Grocery Store “The Best of Italy“. Here we got a lovely “home-made” lasagna for lunch and plenty of fresh ingredients for dinner.

Dinner recipe

  • Roast a small quantity of pine nuts. This can be simply done by spreading pine nuts in a  single layer in a small frying pan. Don’t use oil, but do stir constantly until the nuts start to go brown. Then move them into a bowl. Don’t leave them in the pan, as they might burn.
  • Pasta: cook in lightly salted water. Once done, drain and add a dollop of green pesto and mix thoroughly.
  • While cooking the pasta, heat a mixture of vegetables in a frying pan. I chose a red pepper, a large onion, a mixture of mushrooms, and green asparagus.  I also added some small cherry tomatoes. Don’t forget the herbs: Italian herbs, Oregano, and fresh Basil (I grow a Basil plant in my kitchen)
  • Use pasta bowls to serve; first put in the pasta, cover with the vegetables, and sprinkle with the pine nuts. 
  • Then there is the cheese. I like to offer both Parmigiano. which I buy ready grated and mature cheddar, which I serve in a grater. 
  • I chose a white Pinot Grigio to accompany the dinner. 

For dessert, we had a home-made Tiramisu. You will be surprised how easy it is to make, but it will take a few hours in the fridge to set, so you will need to do some planning. 

And while enjoying the dinner, we watched a classic Italian movie: Cinema Paradiso, in which a filmmaker recalls his childhood when falling in love with the pictures at the cinema in his home village and forms a deep friendship with the cinema’s projectionist.

 

 

 

Buy Irish

I am supporting the “Champion Green Campaign”. This is aiming to get people and businesses to pledge to commit to supporting local to help our communities recover. You can find more information by clicking on their logo below, the green butterfly.

With that in mind, below you will find short descriptions of and links to a number of Irish marketplace websites where you can order Irish made gifts, jewelry, crafts, foods, and lots more for delivery to your home.

The Doorstep Market is a one-stop shop for small, independent Irish businesses, and consumers who want to support them.
We draw ideas from around us – from the landscape, the weather, the people. This is how our craft comes to life. This is Design Ireland. Find your own inspiration here.
Individually crafted gifts, made to inspire and charm. Handmade with love by over 100 passionate and creative Irish makers and designers.
Cuando.ie is a Premium Irish Online Gift Marketplace that brings together in one place fabulous gifts by Makers & Designers all over Ireland.
Website directory providing free listings of SMEs in Ireland who sell online.
A directory of 384 independent Irish producers who deliver to your door. Help support your local community and economy.

Note: I hold no interest in these stores, nor have I received any payment – money or otherwise – to display them here. The listings also do not constitute a recommendation of any kind and I am not responsible for any of the services and/or products.