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Letters Blog Barrie Mahoney's Blog

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

El Hierro, Sailors and the Virgin


One of my favourite Canary Islands is the Island of El Hierro. Despite being the smallest of the islands in physical size, it is an island crammed with natural wonders, such as sea cliffs, lush forests and volcanic features to admire. Each of the Canary Islands is different, and El Hierro has become particularly special, and famous in environmental circles, due to its imaginative efforts in making the island self-sufficient from oil, relying upon water and wind power, of which it has plenty, to generate the electricity that the island needs.

Electric cars, complete with charging points, and free Wi-Fi across the island are both modern technological factors that add to the special appeal of this island, which is in sharp contrast to the ruggedness and remoteness of an island that appears almost untouched by tourism. Occasional volcanic eruptions can be a slight disincentive for some tourists, although I suspect that this will change rapidly following the introduction of a 75 per cent travel discount for all residents of the Canary Islands. Inter-island travel is usually quite expensive, and discounted travel is a wise initiative from the Canary Islands Government, which should assist both communication and tourism.

The Descent of the Virgin of the Kings (Bajada de la Virgen de Los Reyes) is celebrated on the first Saturday of July every four years. The procession carries the statue of the Virgin from its hermitage to the island’s capital, Valverde, a journey of around 29 kilometres. La Bajada is an extraordinary procession, accompanied by dancers dressed in traditional white and red dresses, wearing multi coloured hats, and accompanied by the sounds of many castanets and drums. The whole island joins in the celebrations, which begins at the Hermitage of the Kings, at the west of the island, followed by lunch at ‘The Cross of the Kings’, arriving in Valverde during the evening.

Celebrations take place during the entire month of July, with the statue of the Virgin visiting the most important towns and centres on the island, until the first Saturday of August, when it is returned to the hermitage. La Bajada is based upon a fascinating story that has become the focal point of the fiesta.

In 1546, a ship passed along the coast of El Hierro destined for the Americas. However, the ship could not leave the Sea of ​​Calm due to a lack of wind, so the ship was forced to sail in a circle for several days. Finally, on January 6 the food on board had run out and the sailors were forced to ask the islanders of El Hierro for food. Shepherds willingly gave the sailors the supplies for the harsh journey ahead, and without accepting payment.

In return and in thanksgiving, the sailors gave the shepherds the only item of value that they kept on the ship, which was an image of the Virgin Mary. From this moment onwards, a gentle breeze began to blow in the Sea of ​​Calm and the ship could recommence its journey. The shepherds carefully guarded the Virgin in honour of the day that the sailors arrived on the island. The carving was placed in a cave where she was venerated and offered gifts. The Virgin became the protector and patroness of the whole island.

It has occurred to me that having a celebration of this kind every four years is a rather good idea, and wonder if a similar pattern should be implemented for many other fiestas that seem to come around rather too quickly for me to catch up? Imagine Christmas, Easter, Halloween and the entire collection of fiestas taking place every four years; it would give us all much more time to catch our breath, as well as to save up for the big event. However, I guess that the Church and commercial interests, such as shops and manufacturers and children, would not be too keen. Maybe it is not such a good idea after all.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to: http://barriemahoney.com/

Getting Tough on Builders


Since the World economic recession in 2008, and many would say long before that, builders and developers have been accused of holding onto land that has been agreed for development purposes in the hope that eventually it will increase in value. At that time, and only when the price of land and property shows a significant mark up, will building work be completed.

As we have seen in the Canary Islands, Spain, as well as in the United Kingdom, the result of this approach has been a shortage of affordable housing due to building projects being put on hold or abandoned. Many young families in the Canary Islands still live with their parents with little hope of ever being able to afford to rent or buy a home of their own. Despite promises from governments, it is likely that it will be many years before promises can be fulfilled, if ever.

As far as repairs to infrastructure is concerned, one Spanish municipality has had enough and is going to take drastic action against such lethargy in the name of profit, which many would say is long overdue. The plan is to clamp down on developers that have not completed work that had been agreed. The Department of Planning will seize around 500,000 euros worth of bonds, which builders and promoters are obliged to lodge with the municipality at the planning stage, for agreed road repairs, pavements and public areas. These bonds are required at the initial stage of granting all building licences for the main purpose of ensuring that work is completed.

This sum is linked to around 60 permits that date back to the building boom of the pre-2008 period. The Municipality has examined each case in detail, and itemised the cost of agreed works that still need to be fulfilled. If the companies concerned are still trading they will have the option to immediately fulfil the agreement, or the bond funds will be seized so that the municipality can complete the outstanding work. This seems to be an obvious response and is the main purpose of the bond.

In the Canary Islands and Spain, there are many construction projects that remain incomplete. There are shopping centres, housing developments, roads and public buildings that have either been left abandoned at an early stage of work, or where the work has never started at all. In all cases, a bond should have been lodged with the municipality to ensure that work is completed in time. However, in some cases, close fraternal links between developers and council officials ensure that drastic action, including confiscation of the bond to ensure that work is completed, is never taken, and many projects remain deep frozen in a kind of building ‘limbo’.

We often hear of the need for rapid economic growth and the creation of employment opportunities, as well as building new homes. Maybe ensuring the completion of outstanding building projects, including building on land already earmarked for residential development, would be a welcome contribution to both the housing shortage, as well as providing employment opportunities in the United Kingdom as well as in the Canary Islands.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to: http://barriemahoney.com/

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