‘Science Spin’ is a monthly magazine concentrating on Ireland’s science, nature and discovery matters and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a fascinating read and one of the stories in the July edition, by one of its editors Tom Kennedy, tells how evidence gathered from Irish mines has thrown further light on how life evolved and survived in the hostile environment that existed on early earth.

We often think of life as emerging from some warm, slimy pool and that is a fairly accurate impression of how it all began, according to many scientists. However, the slimy pool in question might not have matched our expectations for it was probably a mineral-rich hollow at the bottom of an acidic ocean. And to the surprise of many, some of the best evidence to support this view came originally from lead and zinc mines in Ireland.

Geologists have often speculated about the origins of the rich mineral deposits at Tynagh and Navan and now Professor Michael Russell, a Senior Research Fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has confirmed the view that these amazingly rich deposits were the product of chemical reactions around warm, mineral-rich springs. The deposits had accumulated about 360 million years ago on the Lower Carboniferous ocean floor.

Looking at the Irish mines made Professor Russell realise that, not only are many minerals a by-product of life, but those hot springs may well have fed the original pools of creation. Like the much later Carboniferous examples, they would have provided the mineral feedstock for life. In fact, argues Professor Russell, go back far enough in time and these pools would have provided the only safe haven for any living thing in what was an extremely violent environment.

The early Earth spun rapidly and a day only lasted four or five hours. The Moon, being closer, caused massive 100-metre high tides. A constant rain of meteorites pelted the planet and the dense, dust-filled atmosphere was acidic. The energy being produced by radiation and gravitation within the early Earth would have been five times greater than it is now. There would have been a great abundance of hot springs and, with little sunlight getting through, the Earth’s surface would have been close to freezing.

Professor Russell believes the template for life was there and the transition into life occurred through attachment of organic chains which became the building blocks for RNA.

According to the Professor, the essential steps that brought chemicals to life may have come about much faster than previously thought. Geological time, he adds, is vast but it is characterised by long periods when little or nothing happens. The transformation, he suggests, could have been quite abrupt and, while it probably involved an extremely rare combination of events, there is no reason to think that emergence of life on earth is unique. The rusty redness of Mars, he points out, could well be taken as evidence that life is not confined to Earth.

Remembering Robert Shaw

I was more than surprised to learn last week that the famous Hollywood actor Robert Shaw will be 30 years dead this month. Where have all the years gone? The Oscar-nominated actor is probably best known for his role as the shark-hunter, Quint, in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster film ‘Jaws’ (pictured, with Rob Schneider). He spent the last ten years of his life living in Drimbawn House in the Mayo Gaeltacht on the shores of Lough Mask.

He was much liked and respected by the local people who will join his wife, Virginia, and several of his ten children, on the pier at Tourmakeady this Saturday, August 9th, when a plaque commemorating his life and work will be unveiled.

A poor old County Councillor

A local County Councillor in Sligo declared recently that, despite claims to the contrary, he and most of his local authority colleagues around the country were working for less than the minimum wage. The local representative in question is Councillor Seamus Kilgannon who was the second highest political earner on Sligo County Council last year on just over €53,000.

However, he pointed out that, for a start, his income was inflated because he had served as Council Chairman for six months of the year in question. He added that all but €10,000 of the €35,000 Chairman’s allowance was taxed at the appropriate rate, which in his case was 41 per cent. Councillor Kilgannon insisted that when everything was taken into consideration, including the hours worked by councilors, they were, in fact, poorly paid.

“The national minimum wage is almost €10 an hour and if you added up all the hours we work there would be nobody on that hourly rate. On paper, it might appear that we are making a fortune but we are not and I don’t know of any councilor that is in this business for the money”, declared the Councillor. God, you’d shed tears for the poor man.

As Gaeilge in Brussels

A new Irish language newspaper has been launched in Brussels. ‘Anam Beo’ is aimed at some 15,000 Irish people living in Belgium and will give an overview of activities of the Irish community there. The paper was launched by Fine Gael MEPs Colm Burke and Jim Higgins during a lively evening of song and dance at the European Parliament recently.

MEP Burke said the paper was evidence of the growing importance of the Irish language abroad ever since it was given official recognition as a working language of the EU in 2007.

The name ‘Anam Beo’ is derived from a quotation by the Mallow-born Irish patriot Thomas Davis, ‘A country without its language is a country without its soul.’ The newspaper will be published seven times a year to coincide with the Irish and Celtic feast-days. It will be 70 per cent in Irish, 20 per cent in English and the remaining 10 per cent in Belgium’s official languages of French, Dutch and German.

The first edition includes articles by young people and Irish politicians living in Brussels, a piece on how Esperanto improves one’s ability to learn Irish, and details of the strong GAA presence in Belgium and the world’s first Irish-speaking toastmasters’ club. Another article celebrates the recent establishment of Pobal Gaeilge, a network to promote Irish as a living language in Brussels through the three pillars of language, music and dance.

Multi tasking lady

A Garda patrol car was on duty on the Waterford to Dungarvan road one day last week when the officers observed a car driving at speed in the direction of the city.

They put on their siren and gave chase but the car kept going so, when it was safe to do so, they pulled out and came up alongside the speeding car on the outside lane. To their amazement, they saw an attractive woman with her hands resting on the driving wheel while knitting at the same time. Turning on their loudspeaker, the garda in the passenger seat shouted at the woman: “Pull over, pull over.”

Noticing their presence for the first time, the woman got a bit of a fright but she then smiled sweetly, turned down her window and shouted back: “Thanks for asking, but it’s not a pullover, it’s a scarf!”