A Journey Through the ‘Old Country’

Nothing worthy of comment happened in the markets yesterday. So we continue our travelog.

We left the winter gales of Scotland for the warm breezes washing over West Cork in Ireland. The only trouble was the breezes carried more water than warmth.

After a day of sightseeing along the coast, we found ourselves in a small store in Kinsale. Another American couple was loading up on foul weather gear, as were we.

We bought two windbreakers. Elizabeth wanted a pair of ‘wellies’ (rubber boots) too. But she couldn’t find ones that fit. When we set out again our feet were soaked, but at least we were warm and dry from the waist up.

Ireland is in its fifth year of financial crisis. Oddly, the pinch doesn’t seem to have reached consumer prices. Our windbreakers cost about twice what we would have expected in the US (at least where we shop)!

Hotels and restaurants were not excessive. But there is no sign of crisis. Prices have not come down. The restaurants had plenty of diners on Saturday and Sunday.

Ireland is no bargain. And the weather can be atrocious. But it is still a delight. You can find a little inn or public house…put yourself near the open fire…and enjoy a warm cup of tea. Or a glass of whiskey.

Alas, Elizabeth is a historian and an indefatigable striver. She will go through a museum and read every inscription. She will want to climb to the top of every monument, hill or public building to get the best view.

She studies the guidebooks and explains in great detail the historical significance of whatever it is we are looking at. This doesn’t leave much time for sitting in front of warm fires.

Yesterday, she insisted that we find a stone pillar — particularly significant, apparently, to the early Christian period.

It should be in this field on the right,’ she said, reading her guidebook as we drove through the pouring rain.

Maybe we should wait for the rain to ease up,’ we suggested.

No need to do that. We have our windbreakers. Besides, this is important. Because this pillar shows the triumph of the Roman influence on the Celtic church of the 9th century.

We didn’t want to miss that!

So, we pulled off the road, opened a gate, and climbed a hill. We were in a cow pasture. There was no sign of any standing stone. And the rain was coming down as if a monsoon had just begun.

‘It must be up there somewhere. Yes. There it is.’

The ‘it’ was indeed a pillar of stone, about the size of a tall, thin man. It was enclosed by a simple, tubular metal fence, which Elizabeth climbed over to get a better look. On it were simple pictures of a bird, a cross, and a boat…thought to be Christ and the disciples in Galilee.

Elizabeth studied the stone pillar for several minutes, the rain beating down on her. Then, when she was ready, we picked our way through the soggy grass and cow-pies back down to the car.

We drove from Kinsale over to Kerry and then along the famous Ring of Kerry.

It is an area of remarkable beauty. One place we visited was a grand old house — Bantry House — that still belongs to the White family, the owners since the 18th century.

Pity the poor heirs. They’ve been saddled with the old pile all their lives. They’ve been fixing it up since the mid-1990s, after half a century of neglect. But our inspection suggests they may be losing more ground than they are gaining. The house still needs extensive renovations.

You don’t have to invest in the stock market to lose money. Grand houses can have such a voracious appetite for cash that the family is eventually unable to appease it. That’s the trouble with improved real estate.

The improvements grow weary. Then they need to be improved again. It can cost so much to maintain a property that several generations of a family are impoverished by a single house.

Like the poor Whites of Bantry House, they may have to resort to tourism…and put up with soggy Americans squishing through their living room…in an effort to raise enough revenue to fix the roof.

Your editor has a weakness for improved property.

In particular, he likes the very sort of real estate that weighs so heavily on the White family — old houses in desperate straits. But he has had his share of impoverished property already.

Now in his seventh decade, he is able to look at an old, crumbling house…appreciate it fully…and be glad that it is someone else’s problem.


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

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Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and Money.

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