Monday, April 11, 2016

I'm in love..............

It’s a miserable day in Swords today. The rain is unrelenting, sky a brooding grey and it’s cold enough to warrant putting the heat on. The type of weather that normally sends me to the edge of the abyss.

Not today though.


I am ensconced in my beautiful blue she shed, my me shed, tigin Eibhlin, and am head over heels in love with it. The only sounds I can hear are the rain pattering on the roof, sporadic louder splashes of rainwater spilling out of my house’s clogged gutters, and the soft hiss of gas from the Superser. My shed is what has been missing all my life. My own space. Solitude. 

When I started dabbling in writing twelve years ago I thought I had found the thing that had been missing in my life, my thing, my passion; the medium through which I could communicate coherently with others, express my world view. It seemed to fulfil that ‘what’s it all about?’’ hole for me at that stage in my life.

However, I recently realised that writing is, for me, is also an excuse to be on my own. To return to those times in childhood and adolescence where I could lose myself in a book for hours on end, only emerging from the dreamlike trance books put me in when someone physically touched me, bringing me back from the world the author had created for me. With the shed I have regained that solitude, and can use it how I like; to read, to write, to think. I’m privileged to have been able to indulge myself and buy this space, and for the first time ever I don’t feel guilty about spending money on myself. It’s an investment in my mental health as much as anything.

I’m raved here in the past about the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monaghan. I love that place; the first time I arrived there I felt like I had landed home. If I arrive there for a visit in an  energized mood I can usually achieve really good work, if I go there blocked it can help unblock me (unless I hit the Red Biddy too hard! Alcohol blocks creativity for me). It is the deep stillness of the place. A space to think. To be.

I’m getting exactly that same sense of energy and home in the silence of my shed. The quietness is nourishing my little fire of creativity, stopping me rushing things and submitting too early; I feel the work I’m producing now is a lot better than my pre she-shed work, my output is certainly up. There are no banging doors in it, no ringing doorbells, flushing loos, thunderous poundings up and down stairs;  no blaring radios, no babbling tvs, no strummin’ guitars pluckin’ banjos plinkin’ mandolins or ripplin’ pianos. There are no hummin’ whistlin’, singin’ mutterin’ bargin’ males.  There is only my breath, the rain on the roof, my fingers on the keyboard or pencil scratching across the page as I write letters to make words that form sentences, slowly building something, all this underscored by the sibilant hiss of the SuperSer and the occasional rustle of paper when I need to consult a book.

In one word. Bliss.

I may well become a hermit. I suppose l’ll still come out the odd day to play with yiz! If yiz will have me, that is. M’wah.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Brussels 22/03

The horrendous events that occurred in Brussels on Monday 22/3/2016 horrified me; they didn’t surprise me - just made me sad. Sad for those who lost their lives  - including the suicide bombers who were deluded into giving their lives for a cause that, to many, is incomprehensible.

Why am I not surprised? I’m female, Irish and European; I know my gender’s, my country’s, my continent’s history, I  know the extremes misogyny/religion/nationalism, and/or the perceived lack of a heard voice, humanity can commit. In both Ireland and Europe we are familiar with the appalling cruelty humans are capable of - particularly when we dehumanize others. There is no justification for depriving A.N. Other of the one thing that we have in common. In the words of the great Alan Bleasedale ' we all - 'live and breathe and fart after four lagers and lime'. 

 All those who died have family – mothers, fathers, children or siblings perhaps, extended family certainly, friends who love them; people who are hurting now because the other human they cared for is gone, leaving that  person sized hole in their lives. 

An intolerance of the ‘other’, a lack of  any attempt to ‘walk in my shoes’ can very quickly get out of hand – as History has shown us. It is time we grew up as a species – we should aim to follow the lead of Antoine Leiris and stop hating; together ‘we are more powerful than all the World’s armies’

With those who lost loved ones yesterday, indeed on any day, I empathise; as for the rest of us, let us not hate – it will lead us again into the abyss.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Get on with it..............

I met an old friend yesterday and we rambled for a while together. He is in his seventies and hadn’t been well so we chatted about his health for a while. He’s feeling ok but has to take meds now all the time. I could see his vulnerability.
’I didn’t think I’d ever feel like this again’, he said. I knew what he meant. He had some mental ill-health about ten years ago and I had helped him through it.
‘You’re frightened?’ I asked. He nodded.
             ’It’s alright to be frightened. Acknowledge it, then get on with the normal things you do.’
 ‘But I could be dying!’ he exclaimed.
 ’We’re all dying. It’s how we handle the fact makes the difference.’ He nodded and I saw some of the trouble leave his face.
Not for long though. We started to discuss the election result, or rather non result.
’I can’t believe it,’ he said. ‘Are people that stupid and short-sighted?’ Do they not remember what Fianna Fail did? Do they not realise that our children and grandchildren now have to live abroad, away from us, because of their short sightedness? Their greed!’ He continued venting and I teased him to calm down or he’d have a ‘banger’. He laughed – a big shouty hearty laugh.
‘D’you know’ he said. ‘I meet two fellas I used to work with regularly for a drink. Both of them ended up at the top of the pile in their respective industries. One has a pension of about 60k , the other about 80k. And they voted for Fianna Fail. Because they felt too much had been taken from them by the FG/Labour coalition.’
 ‘Greed,’ I said, ‘pure greed. Still trying to keep up with the Jones’ I suspect’
‘That’s exactly it.’ He replied, ‘Bloody fools. Selfish bloody fools. I thought the government were doing a fairly decent job of cleaning up the mess. Well, I wash my hands of the whole damn lot of them.’
We parted then and I walked on thinking about how he felt. This man worked hard, paid all taxes and bills as they fell due. With his partner he reared a family, educated them, helped them out when they had to go abroad for work. One child is gay and chose to leave because Ireland of that time was so stifling for anyone different. The second child settled in Australia, has a good life, a partner and children. They don’t come home much.

I saw a great tee shirt logo some years back. It was the face of the iconic Peig Sayers (much hated by my generation of Dubliners) and underneath it was the legend ‘Recession, Mo Thoin’. It was the first time I ever got a laugh out of Peig! We have a great little country, lots of resources and resourceful people. Whatever the outcome of discussions over the next number of weeks for pity’s sake let there be no more Civil War and grandstanding politics, no more egos and squabbling. We’re all tired lads. Just get on with your bloody jobs and stop trying to keep up with the Jones’.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday and Heavy Breathers.......

My she shed is still a WIP so I removed myself to the library in a nearby village today. It was a gorgeous morning here in North Co. Dublin; very cold, but the quickly thawing ground frost left behind that nice crisp air and a blindingly low winter sun hung in a hard blue sky.

I had a good bit of reading to do, so found myself a quiet corner and began. There were a couple of students in the study area, and some very young children on the lower ground floor chatting and laughing. I have, of necessity, always been able to shut out the noise of the very young. A skill learned as the oldest of seven kids growing up in your average suburban semi-d.

After an hour or so I was deeply engrossed in my book but became aware of somebody settling into the desk behind me. That was fine, concentration briefly disrupted I checked emails and had a quick look on social media. Then, when I deemed my fellow reader should be organised I tried to get back to my book.


The noises emanating from the person were ridiculously irritating. Snuffling, throat clearing, sighing, tutting and (worst of all) very heavy breathing. I had to resist the urge to turn sharply and say ‘STOP BREATHING!’

 I gave up my hope of concentrating after ten minutes, when it became apparent that my fellow library user was simply a noisy person, completely unaware of same. Some people need to hear themselves breathing to make sure they’re still, well, breathing.

As I gathered together (quietly) my belongings I cast a glance at my intruder. Elderly, male, bald and a little overweight; he had the angriest looking cross marked in black ash on his forehead. It‘s Ash Wednesday and, despite making pancakes yesterday, it hadn’t registered with me. As I passed I stole a glance at the documents this man was working on. They appeared to be applications for attendance at a local Catholic primary school. I wondered about them. There has been a lot of chat in Ireland recently about parents trying to get their children into the local school and failing to find a place because preference is going to those baptised in the Catholic faith. A lot of parents are choosing not to baptise their children now, and finding it difficult later, as the Church is still the main patron of most schools in Ireland.

I know this particular Catholic school. It has a great reputation, and there are alternative schools in the area. But I’m a great believer in kids going to the local school, the one their pals from crèche or their estate go to. I have no idea if my heavy breather was judging parents as he read their forms – but the memory of his blackened brow staring sternly at these forms is a little unsettling – and of course the product of an over active imagination. But still…..

Anyway, I came out onto the Main St as the local church was emptying itself of its devotees. If an alien had landed this morning I think it might have been bewildered as to why most of the humans it encountered appeared elderly and marked with an angry thumb. Despite the warming sun I shivered. I know ashes on ones forehead are supposed to be symbolise humility – but it just doesn’t feel like that.

It feels like – ‘we are different’. 

And that’s my main problem with all organised religions, that - ‘we are different’ Not we are better (although many espouse that) but look at us, we are different – and we want to be the same in our difference. Am I making sense? Probably not. But I’ll never, ever understand slavishly following any particular group of teachings – when some of them are blatantly unfair and even at times downright cruel.

'Nuff said. Roll on me she shed! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chapter Two - 'The Letters'...........(title credit to Barbara Hegarty!)

Right. So. 

I left here yesterday and posted a link on Facebook to the blog on Grandad’s letter to Mam for her 21st. My lovely cousin, Lisa Connolly, daughter of Mam’s sister – Norah, read the blog and my comment on FB that I had nothing with my mother’s writing on it.

 Lisa informed me she had a letter Mammy wrote her when Lisa was living in San Francisco. The letter is dated March 14th 1991. Six days before Mammy died.  When Lisa read the letter in San Francisco Mammy was dead, and Lisa read it in the company of Phyllis Glynn, a great friend of Mam’s, who had travelled to SF to spend time with her son.

Lisa couldn’t rest easy after she told me about the letter. My excitement was palpable on FB. And an excited Evelyn is an unstoppable force of Nature!  Up into the attic with my lovely, lovely Lisa and she retrieved the letter. Read it. Bawled for all that was lost. She told me to P.M. her my address. I told her not to post it, I was terrified anything would happen to it. I had to have it, to hold Mammy between my fingers again.

I couldn’t sleep, so pottered around the house – a little writing, a little reading, a lot of thinking. 

When the clock reached 7.30 a.m. I hopped into the car and drove the twenty odd miles to Lisa’s house, much of it down a winding country road (where bloody truckers don’t think the ‘dip your headlights’ rule applies to them). When I got near the house I realised it was probably a bit too early to have mad relatives dropping in for breakfast so I pulled into a service station and checked Facebook to see if there was anyone stirring in Lida’s house. Yes! She ‘liked’ a post of mine so she was up. I drove the last few miles and rang the doorbell. Lisa has three gorgeous children all early to mid teens and three magnificent LARGE dogs. I had them all as wound up as meself!

Lisa produced ‘the letter’ and let me hold it. She forbid me to open and read it until we both had a cup of tea in front of us.

Mammy’s sloping left-handed writing  on the envelope. I sniffed it. I could SMELL her! The unmistakeable smell of  talc. Of love. Of caring. Oh Sweet Jesus Tonight!

I could feel her energy between my fingers. Lisa’s daughters were going mad. The school bus was due and they weren’t going to get to see my reaction when I read 'the letter'. Just as I opened the envelope and unfolded  three A4 ruled, feint and margin, foolscap pages pages the bus arrived and the girls had to leg it. They wer raging – they didn’t get to take snaps. So I promised a detailed account. Here yiz are.

I started to read it aloud and my voice caught. 
   ‘Don’t read it aloud if you can’t’ said Lee.
    ‘No, I have to. I have to hear her in the room.’ I read on.

Here is the transcribed text of the letter plus the original document 

                                                                                                                   Bons Secours Hosp.
                                                                                                               (S.W.)Ballymun Glasnevin Hill
(Dad’s writing for Ballymun and Hill)
14th March ‘91
Dear Lisa,
How are you chicks? I believe you are away on holidays but by the time Phyllis gets to you - you’ll be back.
            Well here I am back in hospital – but you’re not to worry ‘cause I’m fine and coming on – it has nothing to do with the tumours. My head is marvellous – not an ache or pain. But my breathing is desperate. My lungs and chest are all congested and I sound like a train with all the wheezing and whistling. Judy was sitting beside me the other night and she says (sic) “Jesus – name that tune in 3.” You know Judy’s sense of humour.
            Lisa wants to know if I’m in for an oiling.
            But all joking aside, I’m in great form and that’s the main thing and Lisa – I’m not depressed and I don’t care about anything physical, as long as I’m not suffering from depression. As long as I live I’ll never forget the ten weeks of hell at Christmas and before and after it. It was like being in a deep black pit, that I couldn't get out of. I know it was terrible for everyone – it was the worst Christmas we all ever must have had (sic) – however its all behind us now – T.G. and pray it will never come back.
            I discovered a lovely saint, his name is St. Peregrine – he’s the patron saint of cancer sufferers and he’s working miracles in my life. Say a little prayer each day  to him Lisa, and spread his devotion for me. Nobody here heard of him. I’m trying to get you his leaflet and believe me he was no saint in the beginning, he did terrible things – but in the latter part of his life became a cancer victim himself and there are wonderful miracles attributed to him.
            Phyllis will fill you in on all the family news. Judy and Bill hae bough a house out in Killbarrack(sic) – and the final signing is 30th april. She’s delighted. It’s a grand house – I think it was £42,000, so another one for the high jump.
            Evelyn has moved in with Jim and they have rented a house out in Lucan.
            Aisling is home during the week and stays with Owen (sic) at weekends, so little by little they are finally making lives for themselves. T. G.
Me sons, well I just can’t get rid of them. They don’t know haow to boil any eggs. However they’ll learn bloody fast – can you ever see any of them starving.
Seamus is still ‘my hero’ the auld ‘boll---‘ is doing everything for me as I’ve got a lot weaker.
I’d say our Phyllis will have a ball. Her little new house is gorgeous. Ideal for herself and John. She ha had a few ding-dongs in it but unfortunately I haven’t been able to go as the night time I’m too shagged to go anywhere.
My bedtime is 9.30.
I’m not going to close this letter as I’ll jot down other little bits od info. As the days go on. I’m going to give Phyllis this note on Thursday.

By the way I saw ‘Beaches’ on Sunday, Louise myself and Lisa watched it on video, well the 3 of us laughed and cried our way through it. I thought it was one of the best films I’d ever seen. I just love Bette Midler.
(switches to Dad’s writing)
            Just came in to see ‘Big Mama.’ She asked me to add a P.S. So this is it +P.S.
Lisa, have to close as Phyllis is collecting this. Love to Mary and baby abnd she is gorgeous and of course Noel. I’m mad about my chopping boards. Judy has her eye on one but she can F off.

Love Liz
I love you

So there you are. I got Mammy back today. That is the power of the written word. I could hear her, see her in my mind's eye arguing with Dad over whether the hospital was Glasnevin or Ballymun. yanking the letter back from him and saying 'Now, see what you made me do,' at the little tear on page three. I could smell her.

Write something tonight for someone you love. shove it in a drawer. In years to come they will unearth it and you will be back with them. It is said we die twice. Once when our physical body ceases breathing, and again when our name is uttered for the last time.

 Elizabeth Kennedy Walsh 1937 -1991 will live here until d'Internet explodes. And some night, somewher in our little planet an idlly surfing finger will click in and Liz will leap off the page - fully formed again - her laughing living lovely self.

We love you Mam. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

'That's my girl!'

Finally got around to deciphering a letter my maternal grandfather sent my mother for her 21st birthday in 1958. The cheque for 21 dollars he sent would have been worth roughly £7 ten shillings. A pint of plain cost 1 shilling 6d back then, she could have bought almost a hundred pints, (the sums working that out nearly killed me, and yes, I know it's easy...). Except she didn't drink back then, women rarely frequentd pubs, many of them were men only, and women earned on average 48% less than their male couterparts.

Grandad was a typesetter with the Irish Independent, he went to Detroit in the 50s to gain experience on a new litho machine operating in The Freeman's Journal. He lived there for a number of years and, times being what they were, didn't get home often. UncleTommy was 15 at  the time of the letter and he and my mother clashed constantly. I'm quite sure it was her fault - she had a ferociously quick temper, like her own mother. Tommy was more like Grandad; a funny, gentle, peace keeping man.

Mam and Dad (Seamus) married in October the following year. Thankfully Grandad came home for the wedding. The letter kickstarted a novel I've been working on - on and off, for a number of years, it's based on the time Grandad was in Detroit, 'cept I'm giving him an affair with a younger American female journalist! G'wan the Grandad!.

All of the Kennedys of Glandore Road are dead now, and all barring Grandma died young. Mammy only got another 33 years, not the 79 Grandad wished for her. Tommy was the last to go, he died a few years ago. I discussed the novel with him before he died and, while none of us have the faintest idea what Grandad's life was like in Detroit, Tommy approved of my granting Grandad a tempestuous love affair. If I ever finish it it will e dedicated to The Kennedys of Glandore Road.

 See text of letter and original below. Any errors mine.


My darling Elizabeth,

     I am sending this a wee bit early just so that if there is something special you wish to buy for your ‘21st’ you will have it in good time.

     The  cheque for twenty one dollars is to represent a dollar for each year. You have made me so proud to be able to say ‘that’s my girl!’. And proud of you, I really am - and always shall be, because I know you will never do anything to make me feel otherwise about you.

     It seems such a short time since you were just a wee baby. The years are flying and my earnest wish is that yourself and Seamus will have as happy a life as your Mam and I have had, and that you may be blessed with as lovely a family as God has given to us. My one regret is that I am not with you in person to wish you a Happy Birthday.

     Now, I know I should not, particularly in this letter, strike what may seem a discordant note, I am going to ask you to do one little thing for me.

      I know that Tommy and yourself do have little differences of opinion, and upset each other from time to time. Don’t forget, that in doing so you can upset your Mammy even more so than yourselves. Now I am laying blame nowhere, it’s just one of those things, and I know that Tommy and you will get together for my sake and be real good pals. I know the difference in your ages makes that difficult but you will both do it. 

     You know honey, when you are separated from your family – it is then, and only then, that you really appreciate each and every member of the family.  I know you both love each other deeply, all you have to do is to show it.

So now ‘left arm’ – for that’s as useful to me as my ‘right arm’, loads of love and I hope you have a wonderful birthday- at least another 79 to follow. 

Dad xxxxx

 PS I should also say thanks to Mam for giving you to me.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Psychoanalysing meself - it's all our Judy's fault........

I've been feeling well lately, contented. I'm working on something I'm enjoying and feeling hopeful for it.

I know these November days are short, can be grey and depressing. Cold days and nights, or worse - that constant drizzly rain, can confine one indoors. But as I sit by my fire, house quiet for once, knowing where all my loved ones are - I cannot help but feel content. I'm trying not to brood on a past I cannot change nor worry about a future I have no control over. Then I started to think.............

I have long wondered why Spring is my worst time of the year. From late March I often feel a huge sadness building in me. Why, when the natural world is gearing up to its brief magnificent season do I feel at my lowest? All of the worst bouts of long lasting depression I suffered occurred between late April and July.

But I love gardening, love sitting in the sun like a big fat lazy cat. So why, when I should be anticipating great pleasure, do I often feel incredibly tense, anxious and low?

I was born in May 1961, first surviving child to my parents. Their first child, my stillborn brother, was delivered at eight months gestation in April 1960, a huge shock for the young couple who had eagerly awaited his birth. Mam had been taking the anti-morning sickness medication that was later shown to have caused Thalidomide. The baby was ten days dead before he was delivered, sadly he was also malformed. My mother never saw her baby's body. Dad did, but he never talked about it.

So when I came along thirteen months later their anxiety levels must have been very high. They poured every bit of love they had into me, and I blossomed. Mam quickly became pregnant again and my first beloved sister, Judy, was born in April 1962. 

At that time women were ‘confined’ in hospital for up to five days after the birth of a child. I was eleven months old, my father had to work so I was sent over to my beautiful Aunt Norah, Mam’s sister, to be cared for. There is a picture of me standing in a playpen at the gate of Norah’s house. Apparently it was the only thing that quietened me. I would stay there for hours looking up the road, waiting for my world to come back to me. 

AND SHE CAME!!!!!!! 

When I read Owl Babies by Martin Waddell to children I tell them ‘Mammys ALWAYS come back’. Of course, in reality, sometimes they can’t. Serious illness or death can pull a mother from a child. Mam didn’t die until I was twenty nine, but the wrench was as bad as if I were five. And she died on March 20th. Which would explain my feelings of grief around that time since then. But what about before 1991? I reckon that when I sense the days warming and lengthening, and see things growing, it reminds me of my anxious vigil at the gate in April 1962. And I must have been miffed that someone smaller and cuter than me usurped my position as ‘baby’ in the house.

Judy once said she didn’t always feel loved at home. Perhaps Mam and Dad overcompensated with me – afraid I’d be jealous of the new arrival. Apparently I did once balance a large 1d coin on her lips and stood, waiting to see what would happen when she opened her mouth! I don’t remember being jealous of her. Envious yet – she was (is) incredibly beautiful, with a stillness and serenity about her I longed to emulate. I wrote this for her some Christmases ago. It’s not great poetry. But it’s heartfelt.

Childhood Memories#2
Winter 1965
                          You were the most beautiful creature -
Flawless skin,
huge trusting eyes
watching from
the bolster on the double bed
Its creaky iron frame
bathed in the light of
the glowing Sacred Heart
that pinked
candy striped brushed cotton sheets,
a maroon eiderdown
topped by a Gardá great coat;
its buttons left an imprint on your face
insignia of peace on chubby cheek.
You whispered -
‘Let’s play the drawing-on-the back game,
Me first.’
I loosened your pyjama top
and sketched a scene,
plump childish fingers intent on detail
hoping you wouldn’t guess it right
and I could crow
‘Now me’, I whispered.
But you were sleeping.
I spooned in behind you
And lying still inhaled
Pears soap and Cusson’s talc.
Now, if I close my eyes and deeply breathe
I can almost feel that moment
That safety in our kingdom -
our hot water bottle warmed
double bed

Evelyn Walsh, Christmas 09

So our Juders, it’s all your fault I am a moanin’ Minnie. But I am very glad you are my sister – let’s blame the parents!!