Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Remembered, not Forgotten.............

In this, the centenary year of The Battle of the Somme in Northern France, I travelled with extended family to lay a plaque at the Thiepval Memorial in honour of our great-uncle Peter Whelan, who died in September 1916 halfway through that bloodiest of battles.

Billions of words have been written about The Somme and its name has become synonymous with pain and suffering. I’ve read a few thousand of those words, I’ve seen the pictures, watched the documentaries – but nothing prepared me for the emotion I felt as I walked the ground where my twenty two year old ancestor died an awful, unnecessary death.

The area where The Battle took place over 141 days is incredibly flat, of course it was pummeled into submission. Trees have been re-introduced since the Second World War and the land looks good, there are large fields of corn, kale and cabbage; other fields are fallow and lie neatly tilled. The earth is reddish brown and crumbly – good soil; perhaps fertilised by the blood and bones of the over one million men who gave their lives for us – or so they believed. Were they misled? Who can say they were wrong? The reasons for the first World War are complex, I have difficulty remembering them all, and I wonder how many of those under-educated boys could comprehend how they ended up in churned up fields in France, up to their oxters in mud, driven mad by lice and rats; all five senses being constantly battered by the horrific carnage all round them.

The ceremony at Thiepval was extraordinarily moving. I tried to do my best in reading aloud a Tom Kettle poem but my emotions nearly got the better of me. My cousins had a similar problem when they read out a short piece about Peter Whelan in both English and Irish and to wrap up another cousin read a Francis Ledwidge poem.  After a two minutes silence we all trooped up the steps of the monument to lay a ceramic plaque (made by an incredibly talented cousin) inscribed  as follows


After trying and failing to find someplace in very rural France to purchase a cup of coffee we decided instead to visit as many of the sites as we could in our limited time. We visited the South African Memorial in Delville Wood where over ten thousand men died. Only one tree remained intact at the end of the battle. The area has been re wooded and oak, sycamore, ash and birch provide a lofty peaceful canopy over the shallow trenches where men once crawled to get back to bigger trenches named after streets at home. I thought Delville Wood a very peaceful place - until an Englishman (old soldier by his garb) found a WWI hand grenade at the side of the road. He explained that there are still grenades, shrapnel and bits of human bone working their way up through the soil. As the farmer tills his field he places anything he finds on the side of the road and the police pick them up.

Last stop before gin o'clock was to see the Lochnagar Crater, the largest man-made mine crater in WWI on the Western Front. It looks like a small meteorite fell. Bits of bones that still surface from time to time are sent for DNA testing in an effort to identify what nationality the owner of said bone might have been. Then it is buried with its countrymen.

Aerial photograph of Lochnagar Crater taken in the 1980s.

We drove to our hotel in Amiens a tad subdued. We were emotionally drained and, given that the mean age of the party was about 55, various body parts were complaining (statistician cousin can correct me on this!). However - fortified by alcohol and showers we ventured out into the mildness of a French September evening to eat good food, drink GREAT wine, laugh, talk and reminisce. It was lovely. I felt like a child on Carne Beach in Wexford again, where the families would try to get together every August. Salad Days.

Sunday was given over to sight seeing around Amiens. The Gothic Cathedral is well worth a visit. Amiens suffered badly during both World Wars, being occupied several times by both sides but it has been rebuilt into a pleasant wide boulevarded city; it has a very relaxed atmosphere and we had a very pleasant day there, we all particularly enjoyed a boat ride on a man made canal in the city's central park. We ate outdoors in a little restaurant and it was delicious, particularly the cafe gourmand - although I was reliably informed the the creme brulee was to die for.

Then we flew home. I haven't seen much of my cousins in the last thirty years, but I think we felt comfortable around each other. I suppose the things that made you happy as a child can do so again as an adult; we always had great fun when we were together as kids and the time apart seemed to count for little, we just picked up where we left off.

I hope it won't be another thirty years before I see the Walshie cousins again.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Pretending to Fly......

I had a gorgeous day today; actually I had a great week, month, summer - but that's another blog.

Stepgranddaughter#1andonly is here for her weekly vist. I only arrived home yesterday from Inishboffin - where I spent a few days writing, so I didn't feel guilty about taking time off to spend with her. I know from experience how short is the timeframe of childhood - and the world isn't waiting with bated breath for my writing. I am determined to drag every bit of enjoyment from this little one's early years.

We went to the lovely where we fed the swans and ducks and laughed as the sea gulls tried to rob the bread. We chatted with a man and his son - the man was very knowledgeable about the wildlife in the area and I learned a few new things - every day is a schoolday. We had a cup of coffee, a juice and chokkie bikkies, made friends with a lovely woman and her three small children. It was fun.

Then we drove up to the playground in Skerries - it has to be one of the most beautifully located playgrounds in Ireland. It is right by the seashore and is really well equipped and totally safe. We fell to chatting with another grandmother, mother and little girl. The little one was a few months older than Carlicious and they were shy at first but soon made friends. The grandmother told me how her husband died a year ago, about how quiet and lonely the house can seem now, and how lucky she is to be near her daughters and their children. She sees everyone at least once a week and the grandkids often have sleepovers in Granny's; she said the company of the children has comforted her most. The woman was a total stranger, I only learned the child's name - but we hugged when we left and she thanked me.

I dropped Caralicious home to The Jemser and drove over to see my poor battered beautiful sister Lousy LuLu LongLegs. Louise had an accident last week, went over the handlebars of her bike, smashed up her jaw and face and broke a bone in her hand. She's on the mend - it'll be a long slow recovery - but she's alive. When you think of how quickly a life can be snuffed out! A simple wobble over a cat's eye and pulling the wrong brake. Where would we the Wobbly Walshies without our supportive compassionate empathetic Lou? Her husband thought he was going to lose her at the side of the road, he held her hand as she told him she loved him, she loved the girls and to mind each other. When the ambulance arrived she was giving the paramedics advice (she's a nurse - a damn fine nurse) despite the horrendous pain she was in. She had nothing but praise for the HSE - from the Killybegs ambulance that took her to Letterkenny General where the staff put her into an induced coma (although she was horrified as she slipped into merciful unconsciousness to see a scissors approaching to cut off the brand new outfit she was wearing!), to the ambulance men who drove her to Dublin the following day  and then the wonderful staff in the Mater Hospital who looked after her with such care and compassion. Praise where it's due - when the system works it works well.

 Louise bought the family home years ago and her bedroom now is the one I shared with my three sisters for years. As I lay on the bed beside her, chatting and trying not to make her laugh I couldn't help visualizing the room as it had been back then. The double bed shared by Aisling and Lousie lay under the Sacred Heart lamp. Judy and I slept in pale pink narrow iron bunk beds.The laughs we had in that room! Plenty of squabbling and meanness too of course! So, between remembering stuff from over forty years ago and feeling so for Lou and the pain she is in, I was in a state of heightened emotion on leaving the house.

When I got home I took Caralicious out onto the green where we played with a neighbour and her little girl - who is five months younger than Cara. This little girl -Maisie Belle - is like a little fairy, dark haired and sallow skinned with fabulous eyes. We played hittingtheballwithspades and pretendingtobebirds - flying around and around the tree before settling to make a nest with twigs and leaves and feathers. When everyone got tired we came home and Cara and I watched Elmo in GrouchLand. Christ I LOVE Elmo! Son#1 took Elmo as his confirmation name - much to the amusement of his classmates and the chagrin of his teacher; who knew he was doing it for subversive reasons, not because he had any devotion to St. Elmo.

It was watering the plants time then - and Cara, in only her knickies and crocs, jumped about with son#1'sgirlfriend (fully clothed!) in a puddle created by the hose. After all that we were exhausted, so we came up to bed and I read her the first three chapters of Winnie-The-Pooh; she loved Pooh, loved that I substituted Cara Teresa for Christopher Robin and Nanny for the adult narrator. I can't wait to continue the story tomorrow because then she'll get to hear about Tigger, I just know she's gonna love Tigger! There'll be a battle in this house when she gets to about six as to who is going to read the Haprry Potter series to her.

She is lying beside me now, fast asleep. And I think of the love that surrounds her, the love that surrounded me as a child from my parents, my siblings, the love of my own family and extended family today. Louise is fond of saying #lafamiliaestodo , and she's right. When families function coherently they are everything - Freud apparently said all we need in life is work and love, and although a lot of his stuff has been discredited I think this tenet holds true.

And  we need the breathing of course - don't forget d'aul breathing!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Diary #2 of Cara Cunnyham aged 2 and 3/4..................

Hello everybody! Nanny told Cara that EVERYBODY loved my last chat. So here's another one. Nanny says it'll be more of the same and maybe people won't read it. But Cara likes chatting - people don't have to listen. Nanny says Cara is very wise and people should listen - but they don't have to.

When we left Granny Teresa's house we went to the mountain. Nanny is always  talking and talking about this mountain called Sliabh Liag. When Seamai was only a little baby Nanny brought him up to the place called Bun Glas and lifted him up in the air to show him where he belonged. Nanny was funny and said 'Kunta Kinte' when she lifted him up and Grandad laughed and called her a 'daft thing' - but she meant it. Nanny says we all belong to the air and the sea and the mountains - lots of people think its the land that's important, the land and the land and the land. Nanny says all the wars in the world were caused by silly people fighting over a bit of muck.

Cara and Nanny stood on the viewing platform and looked down at the Giant's table and chair. Cara wanted to go down to it but Nanny said it was too far. One day Cara and Nanny and Grandad and Mamai are going to go out in a boat to see the table and chair properly. Then Grandad and Cara walked a little way up the mountain. Cara saw the Giant's cloak of purple heather lying over the mountain. Nanny and Cara tried to hear the Giant snoring but there were too many people and cars at Bunglas. And the midges were out and Nanny was scratching and cursing. So we all got back in the car and drove and drove and drove to Swords.

Cara and Liamy and Seamai and Katie all got excited to be back together and jumped and clapped and hugged. Then Cara and Nanny went to the Pavilions to get Cara new shoes - Cara got nice silver sparkly shoes with lights on. Cara's feet twinkle and sparkle and light up like coloured stars when she  runs and skips and jumps. Nanny says Cara is like a fairy. Cara not a fairy. Cara just Cara. Then Nanny say Cara a grumpy boots. Cara not a grumpy boots or tired or a fairy. Cara just Cara. So Nanny got ice creams and we sat on a seat and had a rest and ate our lovely cones. Then we went to the playgound but Cara too tired so we came home and cuddled up nice and cosy and read stories until we went to sleep.

On Monday Cara put on her Peppa togs and Nanny took Cara to Skerries beach. It was a beautiful day and we made sand castles then broke them. We drew pictures in the sand and a big heart with our names and kisses in the middle. We paddle in the little pool and mashed the sand worm casings with our feet. They are squidgey! Then we sat at the edge of the sea and let the waves chase us. Cara is going to be a real wave chaser when she is big. But then Nanny said there were lots of jelliers about so we had to go away from the water. We went to the car and got dressed and then we bought cones and Cara sat in Nanny's seat and ate hers. Then we had to clean the car. Grandad gets mad at sticky messes in his car. Silly Grandad! Then we came home and had lunch and Nanny went off to her shed to 'work'. Cara thinks Nanny just drinks tea and reads books in her blue shed. Maybe she does. But that's ok. Cara went to the playground with Grandad. It was fun. And then it was time for stories and bed.

And then it was ANOTHER big day! And Cara went for her first ever time to the swimming pool. Cara had to wear a swimming hat and armbands. Nanny says swimming hats are great levellers. Everyone looks silly and can't be grumpy when they wear swimming hats. Cara held Nanny's hand and we walked to the edge of the water. 'It's beautiful. Nanny it's beautiful' Cara said. And Nanny cried. Silly Nanny! And Cara went in the little pool first and then the big pool where Nanny held Cara and didn't let go and bounced Cara up and down and we sang 'Nellie the Elephant'. Then we went in the Jacuzzi and Cara laughed and laughed at the bubbles tickling. Then we went in the Lazy River and Cara loved the way the water pulled Cara and Nanny around. Then the Wave Machine came on and Cara sat at the edge and let the waves catch her. It was SO fun. Then a bad thing happened. Nanny and Cara went to the showers and Nanny tried washing Cara's hair. And Cara cried and roared and cried and roared and all the people looked at Nanny as if she was trying to murder Cara. Nanny is no good with Cara's hair. Cara called out 'Mamai Mamai Mamai' and Nanny said 'I know I know I know' but she still kept washing. It was TERRIBLE. But then we got dressed and got a chocolate bar, so Cara felt happy again.

Nanny scratched a card and shouted 'Hooray!'. She won €25. So we went to a shop called Vinnies and Nanny bought a lump of books and Cara bought a pirate ship and a train and a tee shirt. Cara played for ages and ages with the toys in Vinnies and had nice chats with some people. Then we came home and Grandad took Cara to the Pavilions where Cara saw Katie in her work. 'Katie!' said Cara and ran and hugged her. Katie was delighted. Katie is Cara's friend. When Cara and Grandad came home Nanny was in bed. She said she was knackered. So Cara go to bed too. And we had stories. And Cara read 'The Gruffalo' to Nanny because Nanny was tired and Nanny said it was perfick. And Cara and Nanny talked about Mamai coming home and got excited. And now we have to go to sleep so we will have energy for Mamai.

See you tomorrow! Love youXXXXX

Monday, August 15, 2016

Diary of Cara Cunnyham aged 2 and 3/4....................

My lovely Mamai Rachel is away out foreign in a mad hot place on  holliers,  Cara is on holliers in Swords - staying with Nanny and Grandad and Seamai and Liamy and Molly.

Cara meant to write a diary every night; that way Cara will remember all the things I did and can tell Mamai all about it. But Cara is SO-O_O_O TIRED every night from running and racing and laughing and talking and skipping and swimming and painting and swan feeding and digging on the beach and going to the playground and dancing with Nanny and blowing bubbles with Seamai and watching Dora The Explorer with Liamy and calling to neighbours and going to the library and JCs and watering Nanny’s garden and taking Molly for walks that take AGES. Nanny says she’s tired too! And she’s only looking at me ! 
Last Friday Nanny and Grandad and me drove and drove and drove until we got to Granny’s lane and then up to her house called Donegal. On the way Cara seed a lump of windmills. Nanny and Cara think windmills are beautiful, like big giants guarding our country,  twirling and swirling in the wind making electricity so we can watch Netflix and have light in the dark and cook nice things to eat. Electricity is good. Cara not like some electric things. The Hoover. The lawnmower. Hand-driers in toilets. They too noisy. Cara HATE Granny Teresa’s blender. It is the noisiest yoke in the twenty six counties. We stayed in Drimreagh on Friday night and Cara and Nanny saw Stephen’s chickens and Connie’s cows and sheep and dogs.  Cara wanted to take one of Stephen’s chickens to bed. But Nanny said the chicken called a hen might lay an egg on Blankie – so Cara left them in their own beds. Cara thought the Gruffalo might be hiding in Connie’s shed cause Cara heard a big loud noise. Nanny said it was just a cow. It didn’t sound like a cow. It sounded like a Gruffalo.

On Saturday we drove and drove and drove to the place where the boat was to take us over to the island. Burtonport. Arranmore. It was Cara first time on the boat. It was BRILLIANT. Cara was a bit scared of the loud noises but Nanny and Grandad cuddled Cara so Cara didn't have to be scared. The wind blew and blew and blew and Cara hair was flying around like Cara was on a high swing. Cara laughed and laughed and laughed. Cara liked the white bits the boat made in the sea as it moved, Cara wanted to jump in and swim. Nanny said it might be too cold. Anyway Cara's Peppa togs were in Granny’s house.

Great Uncle Peter met us on Arranmore and took us to his house. It is a very beautiful house in a very beautiful place. Nanny said it it was so beautiful it made her want to cry. Silly Nanny! There was a lump of people inside the house and outside the house. Great Aunts CronaandAnneandAgnesandBridandTeresa second cousins (or first cousins once removed?) SineadandNiamhandCillianandStephenandMichaelandEilishandSeannaghandAisling and some non Cunnyham people too FrankandMaureenandClaireUrquhartandMichealandAnneFerry. Nicola Doogan wasn’t there. Poor Nicola. They were all very nice to Cara, but Cara was a bit shy. So Cara sat on Grandad’s knee and ate choccy biccies. They were all talkingandtalkingandtalking and Brid was making everyone laugh. Brid is the funniest person Cara knows. Even funnier than Nanny.

Then we all started our big walk around the island. Nanny kept saying ‘OhMyGod Cara! Look at that! Isn’t that so beautiful.’ And Nanny was right. She usually is. It was a good bright clear day and all the colours and smells were sharp and clean. Except for the sheep poo and the bunny balls. Nanny and Cara and Seannagh and Brid  strolled along behind everyone else 'cause we like to take our time and chat and admire the world. But then the wind got up – too cold and blowy for Cara so Cara cried and wanted to go back to the house. Nanny put Cara in the buggy and pushed Cara back; Nanny said she didn’t mind not doing the walk ‘cause some of those paths looked fairly steep. Nanny is a bit of a couch potato. But couch potatoes are cuddly. So that’s OK.

Cara and Nanny pottered about,  chatting and playing boules and Guess Who? and Connect 4 (Cara’s  rules – none of your silly proper ones). Then everyone came back from the big walk – they were all a bit red and shiny and thirsty and happy. So they all had wine or beer or water. Cara had a Caprisun. Then there was a  big feast, beetroot falafel (Nanny said ‘Totes delish’) curry and rice and Naan bread that Cara called pizza. And rhubarb crumble and ice cream that made Nanny make a funny moany sound because it was so good. And there was more chats and laughs and Claire Urquhart and Cara played  a brilliant jumping game with the boules. Claire is a lovely lady, very pretty and fun to be with. Claire used to play with Cara’s Aunty Eithne when they were little. Grandad told Cara that Claire and Eithne would run away and hide on Mamai Rachel and Nicola Doogan ‘cause they were the big girls and wanted to do big girl stuff on their own. Poor Mamai Rachel! Cara will never do that to her. Then Nicola Doogan came on the late ferry. Everyone was happy to see her. It made the day perfick, just perfick.

Nobody sang. That was strange. The Cunnyhams love to sing and Nanny says when Cara Cunnyham grows up she’ll be the finest singer in all Ireland. Maybe Cara will sing a song with Mamai, just for ourselves then later maybe for other people. Thinking of singing made me miss Mamai’s little voice right this minute, and her pixie hair and her lovely smile and the smell of her and her fingers fixing my hair. But Cara's not going to cry. Cara will have Mamai just for herself for a long long time. Mamai promised. Just like 'Owl Babies' Mamais always come back. That’s the rule. And Nanny told me too. And Nanny always tells the truth.

When all was cleaned up we walked down to the pier to catch the last ferry (that’s another word for boat – amn’t I a clever Cara!) There was a lump of Cunnyhams on the boat,  Cara felt sad for the people who weren’t Cunnyhams. Crona and Peter stood at the wall watching the boat sail away. CaraI waved and  waved and waved. Cara hoped they weren’t too lonely after everybody. Nanny said they prob’ly went straight to bed.

Cara was worried all day ‘cause Blankie was in the car on his own and maybe a sly old fox or A Swiper or a Gruffalo would take him. (Yes, Blankie is male – he told Cara he is). But it was OKAY! HE WAS THERE! So Cara cuddled him and fell fast asleep. When we got back to Drimreagh Grandad lifted Cara gentle out of the car and put on Cara nappy. Cara was so tired Cara fell asleep when Nanny was still reading The Gruffalo.I GOT TO SLEEP IN NANNY’S BED ALL WEEKEND! YAY!
Nanny is a bit of a lazybones in the mornings so Granda gets up with me and makes my Ready Brek or sometimes my Weetabix and puts on my Peppa Pig.  Great Granny Teresa has no Netflix for my Dora though, poor Great Granny, isn’t that very sad? Nanny says if Great Granny Teresa was a little bit better she would watch Dora with me and we could both learn to count in Spanish. She surely would said Nanny. Great Granny Teresa could do her knitting and Cara’d watch Dora and have wee chats. Great Granny Teresa loved chats. And crosswords. And hugs. And laughing. Nanny says Great Granny Teresa was a brilliant hugger. Even better than her. Cara feels a bit sad she never had a proper chat with that long ago Teresa. Sometimes Great Granny Teresa gets very sad and shakes her head and cries. Cara wants to cry too. But  instead Nanny showed Cara how to pat Granny’s hand or maybe blow her a kiss to try to make her not sad. Sometimes Great Granny Teresa gives a big laugh and her eyes are all twinkly. Only for a little while; then her eyes look they have clouds in them and Cara know Great Granny’s gone away, way way inside of her head. Nobody can go with Granny Teresa to that place. She has to go on her own.

Cara only told you about two days of her holliers but Cara has to stop talking and talking now because Cara is sleepy and Nanny wants to read her book. See you tomorrow xx

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!