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‘Most Irish people say yes to everything you ask them’

Since moving to Ireland nearly four years ago, there is one question Jill Cousins is regularly asked but which she struggles to answer. She speaks with an English accent but has not lived in the United Kingdom for more than two decades. And even when she did live in Britain, she moved around a lot.

“It’s the question you get asked most here in Ireland and I still don’t know what to say. I was born north of London, I moved around a lot in my teenager years. I lived in Wales, then Manchester, then London and Oxford.”

‘I’m a Dutch citizen but I don’t think I feel Dutch either. But I do have a huge empathy for that country and the way it runs itself’

Cousins also spent nearly 20 years in Amsterdam before moving to Limerick in 2018. Like many people in Ireland who either do not speak with an Irish accent, or who do but have black or brown skin, Cousins is often asked where does she “really” come from. “When I say I spent 20 years in the Netherlands and I’m a Dutch citizen it just prompts that next question. That’s fine for me, I’m white, middle class and nobody is going to keep pushing back on my answer. But it’s very tough if you’re born here and your skin is a different colour but you’re still asked this question. You’re asking someone to be something other than the place they were born in.”

Cousins, who also spent time in Istanbul, Cairo, Rome and Paris during her studies, has spent a lot of her career interrogating what it means to belong to a certain place. A geography student who went on to specialise in Arabic and Turkish sea charts of the 16th century, she took part in the Greenham Common women’s peace camp in the 1980s and was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

She started her career in the mapping and charting division of the British ministry of defence before moving into management consultancy and then working for a scientific, technical and medical publishing house. In 2000, she moved to Amsterdam and went on to establish the Europeana Foundation which has worked for nearly 18 years to digitally transform the European Union’s cultural heritage sector, making it accessible to millions of people for education, research and creation.

“It sounds corny but I’m European and I’ve always strongly felt that. When I was 14, we moved to Wales so I know what it’s liked to be labelled as English and I didn’t like it. I’m a Dutch citizen but I don’t think I feel Dutch either. But I do have a huge empathy for that country and the way it runs itself. It’s got a better social record than both the UK and here. It’s very much based on the fact that everybody is equal and it doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you pay your taxes, you’re welcome.

“There are some downsides, it’s not a very warm place and oddly it’s not a very tolerant society. I think it’s a rule-based society. That’s just my view which shows you that I’m not really Dutch.”

Cousins’s sense of belonging to, and connection with, the country of her birth has become increasingly fraught during the Brexit era. “I was terribly shocked by it all. But there was always that division in the country, they were always very ambiguous about being part of Europe, particularly because it was a Franco-German stronghold. I knew there had always been this underlying xenophobia and huge arrogance within the UK, and I’m always ashamed of it. They still feel they rule the world and I hated that. But I don’t feel at all comfortable with the route the UK has gone down, most particularly the type of speech and actions that has come out of all this.

“My father was a Quaker and had been a conscientious objector to the war, so I come from a long line of pacifists. I was taught to be a tolerant human being who listened to other people and came to decent consensual situations, not pitting people against one another. But having said that, all countries have those divisions.”

As director of Limerick’s Hunt Museum, a position she has held since moving to Ireland, Cousins is currently leading an exhibition that seeks to promote a broader appreciation for European inclusivity and tolerance. The Belonging exhibition, which is linked to the European Expo, hopes to encourage the person on the street to “understand the relevance of Europe to them”, says Cousins.

“It’s a contemporary art collection and it’s almost the ultimate expression of the diversity of Europe. It’s people’s views on various parts of the world and we’re asking, what does that mean in terms of our expression of Limerick and Ireland as part of Europe.”

‘It’s important for us to recognise that we’re part of something bigger, hopefully art is a way for allowing us to see that’

The exhibition featuring work by 82 European artists was scheduled to begin in 2020 but was put on hold because of the pandemic. However, Cousins believes the conversations and debates it prompts around belonging and division have only become more enhanced during that time. “It’s about not burying these divisions and pretending they’re not happening. If people are talking there’s a chance they’ll come out the other side of this. If you’re talking about what it feels like to belong to a place, or if you feel you don’t belong, at least someone is listening.”

Asked whether she feels a sense of belonging to Ireland after going through a pandemic on these shores, Cousins says she’s loved witnessing the changes happening in Irish society. “I’ve been amazed at how quickly Irish society has evolved. I was coming here in the 1960s and 70s as a kid for family holidays and the last time I came to Limerick was 1989. I was in the University of Limerick then which had three buildings and everybody on the streets was white. It’s changed so much in terms of how it deals with all sorts of issues from abortion through to single parents through to colour. And that is very positive.”

Cousins also believes most Irish people are interested in “being part of a bigger world”. “There’s something in the Irish character that it was almost waiting for this change to happen. And most people say yes to everything you ask them, that’s why this Belonging exhibition has the whole of Limerick behind it. It’s important for us to recognise that we’re part of something bigger, hopefully art is a way for allowing us to see that.”

The Hunt Museum’s Belonging Exhibition runs until April 24th with artwork on display at eight locations across Limerick city. For more, visit huntmuseum.com/whats-on/belonging

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish



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Time for a tiki hut? As shops discount summer stock, there’s a garden bar for every budget

Despite the washout weather, garden bars have been this summer’s hot home trend and it’s not too late to join the party.

Online searches for outdoor bars rose by a whopping 358 per cent in June, compared to January, according to Toolstation, while budget homeware shop The Range saw a massive 60 per cent rise in online shoppers checking out its al fresco drinking options this summer.

What’s more, being late to the garden bar party isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Retailers are discounting their summer stock. So before you buy directly from the manufacturer, shop around multiple stockists to find the best discount available.

So, if you fancy pulling a pint from your own backyard pub or shaking a cocktail in the shade of a tiki hut, there’s a garden bar to suit every space and budget.

Join the party: A tiki hut-style garden bar is perfect for friends-round-Friday or a family do

Join the party: A tiki hut-style garden bar is perfect for friends-round-Friday or a family do

Jenny Davis from Forest Garden, suppliers of garden timber goods, says before heading to the garden centre, consider the space you have available first.

‘Smaller areas might seem overwhelmed with the addition of a standalone bar, which is where a fold-down wall-bar comes in handy,’ she said. 

‘A wall-mounted fold-down bar means the smallest of gardens, even balconies, can become a party haven.’ Forest Garden’s fold-down bar costs £189.99 and comes with a fold-away serving table and shelves to store bottles and glasses. 

Online retailer A Place For Everything stocks a more compact wall‑mounted bar at £67.50.

For free-standing bars to fit a modest back garden for less than £400, specialists Dunster offers the Utopia Gable Gazebo Bar at £384.99, which is 2.22m wide and 1.20m deep. 

The Range sells a tiki-style bar in its Marbella collection for £239.99, complete with straw roof and two bar stools, which is half the size.

To build your bar atmosphere, it could be placed in front of a high wall or sturdy fence, giving you the option to put shelves up for your spirits and accessories.

 When the winter months draw in, replace the fridge with a lined box for blankets and cushions to keep you cosy, and install a fire pit or outdoor heater to stay warm while you entertain outdoors

Interior designer Siobhan Murphy recommends creating an eye-catching rainbow effect and to group together the colours of your spirits, mixers and glassware. 

She says: ‘Invite nature to your garden bar by installing hanging planters, or create a vertical garden backdrop using wooden pallets for an organic feel. 

Oversized potted plants can add a touch of luxury, and unique planters like repurposed teapots will amp up the quirkiness.’

If you’re looking for an enclosed bartending space, you’ll have to spend a bit more. But it does mean you can use your bar for storage in the winter by shutting up the serving hatches. 

Forest Garden’s Shiplap Pent Garden Bar at £729.99, or £1,039.99 with installation, is weatherproof and lockable so you can keep a fridge to store spirits in overnight.

When the winter months draw in, replace the fridge with a lined box for blankets and cushions to keep you cosy, and install a fire pit or outdoor heater, at a safe distance, to stay warm while you entertain outdoors.

Garden bars are designed with DIY-ers in mind. But if you’re not handy with a hammer, many companies offer an installation service costing £200 to £300 extra.

Cheers! Garden bars don't necessarily have to be put away for the winter, as some are covered and can be warmed up with a heater (at a safe distance) or blankets

Cheers! Garden bars don’t necessarily have to be put away for the winter, as some are covered and can be warmed up with a heater (at a safe distance) or blankets

When your bar arrives, it will be unpainted and without any of the accessories, lights or additional wall fittings shown in the adverts. You will, however, have a blank canvas on which to create your own unique bar vibe.

Siobhan suggests creating a backdrop feature with nature-inspired outdoor wallpaper, and creating an eclectic counter-top using patterned tile mosaics or faux marble vinyl.

If you’re looking for a pub experience in your back garden and you have a budget of close to £4,000, Dunster’s Severn Pub Shed Log Cabin could be right up your street, if you have the space that is. At 5m wide and 3m deep, it’s no small addition to your outside space.

Only the structure and bar are included in the £3,959.98 price — you’d have to buy your own pub sign, seating and beer pump. But there’s space to hang a TV, room for a heater and doors to shut out the chill.

Those who want to entertain their friends in the garden all-year-round could push the boat out with Cuckoo-land’s Ornate Garden Off Set Oval House Garden Pod for £18,995. 

It seats ten, has a built-in heater, Bluetooth soundbar and a sideboard, which can be used as a bar. Installation is included, but you’ll need a level, hard-standing base measuring at least 3.25m by 1.7m for it to be built on.

Although most garden bars are designed so that you don’t need planning permission, it’s always wise to check the height of the bar at its highest point against current regulations. Buildings over 2.5m high, at the tip of the eaves, may require planning permission.

Check with your local council if you are unsure.

Savings of the week… quirky lamps 

Light side: Graham and Green's Hetty Hare table lamp - reduced from £165 to £89.10 (grahamandgreen.co.uk)

Light side: Graham and Green’s Hetty Hare table lamp – reduced from £165 to £89.10 (grahamandgreen.co.uk)

The nights are drawing in. If this makes you feel a little melancholic, a quirky lamp that brings joy when you switch it on could be the answer.

Homeware companies seem to have recognised the allure of this type of lighting, and you can you find designs in every shape and hue at reduced prices.

If zingy colour raises your mood, Not On The High Street has an Anglepoise-style desk lamp in acid yellow, reduced from £75 to £52.50.

The retailer offers lamps in the shape of birds and bears. But the range also includes a white triceratops lamp which was £19.95 and is now £13.97 — for those who find dinosaurs cute rather than fearsome.

Graham and Green has a fun silver Hetty Hare table lamp with large floppy ears that has been reduced from £165 to £89.10.

Or enjoy a warm glow from the edgy Wayfair lustrous copper base and black shade Trystan lamp with 30 per cent off at £62.99.

ANNE ASHWORTH

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Assessing The Potential of The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) Against China’s Belt And Road Initiative (BRI)

(THE VOICE OF EU) – In a recent address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the newly unveiled India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) as a transformative force poised to shape global trade for centuries. While the IMEC undoubtedly presents a significant development, it’s vital to scrutinize its potential impact compared to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The IMEC was jointly announced by US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit in Delhi. Designed to fortify transportation and communication networks between Europe and Asia via rail and shipping routes, the project not only holds regional promise but also reflects a strategic move by the US in its geopolitical interests, particularly concerning China.

However, the IMEC faces a formidable contender in the form of China’s BRI, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.

Despite facing some headwinds, including a slowdown in lending due to China’s economic deceleration and concerns raised by nations like Italy, Sri Lanka, and Zambia regarding debt sustainability, the BRI remains a monumental global undertaking.

With investments surpassing a staggering $1 trillion and over 150 partner countries, the BRI has transformed from a regional initiative to a near-global endeavor.

Comparatively, the IMEC may not immediately match the scale or ambition of the BRI. While the US, Japan, and the G7 nations have introduced similar initiatives like the Global Gateway and Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, none have achieved the expansive reach or influence of the BRI.

The emergence of these projects over the past five years, however, demonstrates the BRI’s pivotal role as a catalyst for global economic growth.

Viewing the IMEC solely through the lens of opposition to the BRI may not provide a comprehensive understanding of its potential.

Instead, the IMEC contributes to a broader trend of transactional partnerships, where countries engage with multiple collaborators simultaneously, underscoring the complex and interconnected nature of global trade relations.

Yet, realizing the IMEC’s aspirations demands meticulous planning and execution. A comprehensive action plan is expected within the next 60 days, outlining key governmental agencies responsible for investments, allocated capital, and implementation timelines.

Establishing a streamlined customs and trade infrastructure is equally critical to facilitate seamless transit, a challenge highlighted by the Trans-Eurasian railway’s 30-country passage through Kazakhstan.

Navigating geopolitical complexities between partner countries, particularly the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, poses another potential hurdle.

Ensuring these nations maintain a unified strategic vision amid differing priorities and interests requires careful diplomatic coordination.

Furthermore, the IMEC will compete directly with the Suez Canal, a well-established and cost-effective maritime route.

While the IMEC may enhance relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, it could potentially strain ties with Egypt, prompting critical assessments of the project’s economic viability.

Beyond trade and economics, the IMEC ambitiously aims to incorporate diverse sectors, from electricity grids to cybersecurity.

This multi-dimensional approach aligns with discussions held in security forums like the Quad and, if realized, could significantly contribute to a safer, more sustainable global landscape.

As we contemplate the potential of the IMEC, it is with hope that the lofty ambitions outlined in New Delhi will culminate in a tangible and positive transformation for the world.


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Copyright Dispute: DC Comics And ‘Fables’ Author Clash over Ownership, Author Aims for Public Domain

A detail from a 'Fables' cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image courtesy of the publisher ECC.
A detail from a ‘Fables’ cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image courtesy of the publisher ECC.

This is a story full of fairy tales. In some ways, it even resembles one. And yet it also proves that, in the real world, things rarely end happily ever after. A few days ago, Bill Willingham, the father of the celebrated Fables comic book series, announced that he was sending his most cherished work to the public domain, that is, to everyone. That’s only fair, since that is also where he got the main characters of his stories, from Snow White to the Wolf, from Pinocchio to Prince Charming, who were then relocated to modern New York. In this tale, the hero has long-faced mistreatment at the hands of the villains, DC Comics, the owner of Vertigo, which publishes the work in the United States, and its executives.

“If I couldn’t prevent Fables from falling into bad hands, at least this is a way I can arrange that it also falls into many good hands,” Willingham wrote in an online post in which he decried the label’s repeated attempts to take over his creations and opposed them with this final extreme remedy. But the company responded that it considers itself to be the true owner of the series.

In a statement published by the specialized media IGN, the company threatened to take “necessary action” to defend its rights. Thus, the end of the dispute is uncertain. But it is unlikely that everyone will end up happily ever after.

In the meantime, in a new post, Willingham celebrated the massive support he received. In fact, for the moment, he has declined all interview requests — he did not respond to this newspaper’s request, nor did the publisher — arguing that he preferred to spend the next few days working on new artistic projects. Meanwhile, the dispute continues.

Fables is one of the most celebrated graphic novels of the last 20 years, and it has spawned spin-offs and a video game adaptation (The Wolf Among Us).

This situation also touches on a key issue, namely, the intellectual property rights of characters and works, especially in a sector where, for decades, dozens of cartoonists and screenwriters have accused comic book giants Marvel and DC of pressuring them to cede their ideas and accept commissioned contracts.

Willingham sums it up as a policy aimed to make creators sign “work for hire” agreements and crush them. All of this makes a gesture that was already intended to make a splash even more resonant.

A detail from a ‘Fables’ cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image provided by ECC
A detail from a ‘Fables’ cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image provided by ECC.

Indeed, the battle over intellectual property is as old as contemporary comics: the copyrights for Superman, Batman and The Fantastic Four all have unresolved disputes and complaints from Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger and Jack Kirby over the contemptuous treatment they suffered. And heavyweight Alan Moore has been lamenting for years that DC took away his ownership of famous works like Watchmen.

Along with prestige and principles, tens of millions of dollars are at stake, especially now that the film industry has become interested in comics.

“When you sign a contract with DC, your responsibilities to them are carved in stone, where their responsibilities to you are treated as “helpful suggestions that we’ll try to accommodate when we can, but we’re serious adults, doing serious business and we can’t always take the time to indulge the needs of these children who work for us” the Fables author wrote on his blog. Following the impact of his original message, Willingham posted two other texts. He maintains that he had thought about sending his work into the public domain when he passed away, but that “certain events” have changed his plans: among them, he lists the changes in management and attitude at the top of the publishing company; the multiple breaches of obligations such as consultations about covers, artists for new plots and adaptations; DC’s forgetfulness when it came to pay, which forced him to demand invoices of up to $30,000; the suspicious frequency with which the publisher attributed it to “slipping through the cracks” (to such an extent that the author insisted that they stop using that expression); and the time and chances he gave them to respect the pact, renegotiate it or even break it and consensually separate.

A detail from the cover of the first volume of Bill Willingham's comprehensive collection of 'Fables.'
A detail from the cover of the first volume of Bill Willingham’s comprehensive collection of ‘Fables’.

“Shortly after creating Fables, I entered into a publishing agreement with DC Comics. In that agreement, while I continued to own the property, DC would have exclusive rights to publish Fables comics, and then later that agreement was expanded to give DC exclusive rights to exploit the property in other ways, including movies and TV.

DC paid me a fair price for these rights (fair at the time), and as long as they behaved ethically and above-board, and conducted themselves as if this were a partnership, all was more or less well. But DC doesn’t seem to be capable of acting fairly and above-board.

In fact, they treated this agreement (as I suppose I should have known they would) as if they were the boss and I, their servant. In time that got worse, as they later reinterpreted our contracts to assume they owned Fables outright,” Willingham laments. Hence, he concluded that “you can’t reason with the unreasonable.”

Having ruled out a lawsuit as too expensive and time-consuming at 67 years of age, he found a more creative solution: if they prevented him from owning his works and benefiting from them as he was entitled to do, he would not let the publisher do so either. Or, at least, everyone could use the comics as they wished. But the label was quick to clarify in its statement to IGN: “The Fables comic books and graphic novels [are] published by DC, and are not in the public domain”.

For his part, Willingham promises to continue fighting for all the conditions of his still-in-force contract that he considers DC to have violated, as well as for the last installments of the series, the final script of which he delivered two years ago.

There will be additional chapters in this dispute, as well as in many other ones like it: in 2024, the historic first image of Mickey Mouse, the one that starred in the 1928 short Steamboat Willie, enters the public domain in the U.S. and other countries. Copyright in the U.S. lasts for 95 years, and math is an exact science.

Therefore, in a few years, King Kong, Superman and Popeye will meet the same fate. But The New York Times has wondered how the “notoriously litigious” Disney will react and how far it will go to fight in court. And who would dare to freely use all these works for fear of a million-dollar lawsuit? The same question surrounds DC and similar companies. Because in the real world, fairy tales are rare. Or they end up in court.


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