Tuesday, September 28, 2010

WE NEED A HERO


Regular readers of my blog will know that one of my all time heroes is Michael Collins. I have written about him before here. For my overseas readers, Michael Collins was the man who gained Ireland her freedom after 800 years of occupation by Britain.

Many of you will also be aware of the competition currently running on RTE to find Irelands Greatest. The contenders are Michael Collins, Bono (yep, I kid you not), Mary Robinson, John Hume and James Connolly. Each of these great Irish people is being featured in an hour long documentary outlining why they should be voted Ireland’s Greatest. I watched the Michael Collins one (a repeat of the original broadcast) on Sunday night.

I have read widely on Collins and so although I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know, the old news reel footage was wonderful and confirmed most of my opinions about him. Here was a man, a farmer’s son from West Cork, who went to London at 16 to work in the Post Office Bank. He returned to Dublin in time for the Easter Rising and went on over the next 6 years to achieve Ireland’s freedom from the most powerful empire on Earth.

He strode around my city and this country with confidence, vision and a seemingly huge amount of charm and charisma. He managed (in the days before mass media) to sell The Treaty he negotiated with Britain to the Irish people whom he addressed at mass rallies all over Ireland. He was a gifted communicator, a visionary, a soldier, an intelligence expert, a politician, a statesman and a celebrity. His work rate was huge. He was passionate, committed and determined. For me, there is no competition. He is Ireland’s Greatest.

On the same night as I watched the documentary on Collins, millions of people across the US were watching Jay Leno, who began his show by displaying a very unflattering photo of our Taoiseach asking his audience to guess who this man was. Was he a bar-tender, a politician or a night club comic? To huge roars of laughter, he announced that this man was in fact Ireland’s Prime Minister. He finished up by saying “at least we aren’t the only ones with drunken morons”. It was cringe making watching the clip back on YouTube the following day. And who can blame Jay Leno? Our leader, Brian Cowen has left himself wide open to such ridicule by his recent behaviour. But even before the hungover interview on Morning Ireland, Brian Cowen has managed to give the impression that he is weary of having to lead this country. He often comes across tetchy and irritated during interviews, as if it is a real nuisance to have to answer questions about the economy etc. He may have said it is an honour to lead this country, but you would never deduce that from his usual demeanour.

One wonders how Ireland could have gone from having a leader such as Collins to having a Taoiseach such as Cowen. I am angry that he has reduced our country to a laughing stock and a financial wreck. But trying to stay positive I am holding to the old adage that the darkest time is just before the dawn. Perhaps somewhere on this island, a new Collins is about to come into focus; someone who will lead Ireland forward to a new day. I really hope so!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

WHEN LOVES COMES TO TOWN

A shorter version of this short story was published recently by Woman's Way magazine.

Enjoy!

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The short term car park was a cauldron of bad tempered chaos. Negotiating slowly around pillars, cars double parked waiting for a family to load up and move out, and hordes of giddy, scantily clad young women who appeared to have returned to Dublin directly from the Spanish nightclub, did nothing to ease my already frazzled nerves. I sent a plea to the car parking angels to please find me a space and continued my search, as I tried to swallow my rising sense of panic. I was already late. Finally I found a space, albeit it on the roof and in the corner furthest away from the walkway into the terminal building. “Memo to self” I muttered “be more specific when lodging requests with the Angels of Parking Spaces.” It was blowing a biting, easterly gale which was whipping rain in horizontal spears across the car park roof. “Bloody hell, I will be like the drowned rat after she was pulled through the bush backways.” Bloody hell.

In the Arrivals Hall a quick glance at the TV Monitor told me that the flight from Amsterdam had just landed. Putting my faith in the laissez-faire Dublin baggage handlers and perhaps, if luck was on my side, a shift change about now, I made a bee line for the bathroom to attempt to salvage something of my appearance which had been so carefully put together before I left home. I tried valiantly to retrieve my hair from the dark side, dabbed powder to subdue my shiny face and re applied some girliness with more pink lippy and surveyed the result. “It will do” I thought. Although I wished I wasn’t so pale. Last time Pier had seen me I was wearing a honeyed Mediterranean tan. Gathering as much confidence as I could fake, I strode back to the Meeting Point.

I took up a position among the throng of expectant relatives and professional meeters and greeters, trying to look casual and control my jelly like legs. I wasn’t sure if I was suffering from nerves or excitement or both. I squinted at new arrivals luggage trying to spot an AMS sticker. None yet. My mouth was dry. I opened my bag and popped in strong mint into my mouth and sucked hard. Be calm, be cool, I told myself.

In attempt to control my nerves I concentrated my mind on the carved wooden box at home which contained all Pier’s letters. Pier’s funny, beautiful, and loving letters which I had been receiving for almost a year. He wrote English better than he spoke it and his words were full of colour, humour and sunshine. He described his life working for an Advertising Agency in the centre of Amsterdam, his flat which, naturally had a view of a canal, and his beloved bike which took him everywhere he needed to go. He made me laugh with his tales of smoking pot legally in one of the many hash houses he frequented. He wrote about his hippy parents who had retired to live on a houseboat with lots of cats and of the latest concert he had been to. In turn I wrote to him about Dublin, making it seem far more cosmopolitan than it was. My letters were sprinkled with references to Bono and to Phil Lynott, as though they were at least neighbours and possibly friends of mine. I made passing reference to my modest flat which had a view of a car park but from where I could smell the sea, which was not always a good thing. I told him about my job working for a holiday company and my great social life wandering around the pubs of the city which carried echoes of our literary heritage. He kept promising that he would visit Dublin and me soon. And now he would be here any minute.

Also in the wooden box were the photos of that great holiday in Ibiza. We met in an Irish pub in San Antonio and I couldn’t believe that I was having the clich├ęd holiday romance with a gorgeous blonde Dutchman. I pictured Pier’s long legs and strong arms. When we danced I felt so small, gathered into his tanned chest. He loved music and his funny English and mispronounced words meant we laughed lots during those two weeks. I smiled at the memories. This was going to be a great weekend.

I had a full itinerary planned with every intention of making Pier fall in love with my city. That could be the deal breaker. He must love Dublin. Because I did and I couldn’t really have imagined my future anywhere else. I had planned breakfast in Bewleys, a walk in Stephens Green, a trip on the new electric rail train, the Dart around Dublin Bay, a walk down Dun Laoghaire Pier. We would visit Davy Byrnes Pub and O Donoghues for a live trad session. And I had planned a big night on Saturday night in the Pink Elephant with some friends, and maybe a bag of chips from Leo Burdocks on the way home. He would get the very best of Dublin over 3 days and nights. On Sunday we would wander around the Guinness Brewery and he could buy some souvenirs to take back to Holland.

My two best friends, Niamh and Jackie and their men were joining us in the Pink. They were all almost as excited as me about this weekend and couldn’t wait to meet this Pier they had heard so much about. They had seen some of his letters and his photo and were, so far, very impressed. Although I was aware of a slight whiff of desperation in their enthusiasm. For too long I had been the spare wheel in our circle. Niamh had married her childhood sweetheart the previous year and it looked like an announcement from Jackie who has been dating Alan for a year by then was imminent. The 5 of us went out regularly and whereas it didn’t bother me much, I know that Niamh, in particular, felt that we are unbalanced. We should have been 6. And both of them felt that maybe Pier could just be the man for the job. I knew he was fairly keen on me, now I just needed my country to do its bit. Signs were good – he shared my devotion to Thin Lizzy and had just purchased U2’s War album and could belt out ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ with great gusto after a few pints. He had also been to a Rory Gallagher concert. He was tall, blonde and very handsome and was a graphic designer. And just a little bit alternative which I really loved. He ticked all the boxes. I just hoped he wouldn’t catch them calling me Louise Van der Beere which had been their latest big joke!

“Louise – hello” the suddenly familiar guttural accented English and my heart skipped a beat. Beaming with happiness I turned around and there he was. I opened my arms in speechless embrace. “Oh bloody hell, this could be a long weekend”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Leading the way to Gratitude


Just as I was savouring the last minutes of peace and quiet, my phone rang. It was Mia, our youngest, suggesting that I collect them from school as she needed to go to the Orthodontist.

“We don’t have an appointment today Mia”, I said.

“No but I need to go. I broke my brace eating my apple at lunchtime and now there is a sharp bit sticking out”.

Great, I thought, there goes the afternoon. I was already in a Monday mood which had been added to by the continuing gloom and doom in the news about Bond Markets and other things I do not understand. But I picked up the phone and without any difficulty got an emergency appointment for Mia.

At this point let me say that I cannot compliment the Orthodontic Unit at Loughlinstown enough. Run by the HSE (state health service) they have provided Mia was a superb, efficient and caring service in the search for her elusive front tooth which is still residing somewhere up near her nose. However it has been located and a gold chain attached which is in turn attached to a brace. It is tightened at regular intervals and is slowly pulling the tooth down into its position in the front of her mouth.

So we are regular visitors to the unit which is located behind St Colmcille’s Hospital. Like other hospitals in Ireland, Loughlinstown was originally a Workhouse, opened in 1841 for the poor and destitute of the area. The famine arrived a few years later and so the building was flooded with the starving and the dying. Both my younger girls are fascinated by the story of The Famine and each time we attend the hospital we talk about all those who must have suffered so terribly during the 1840’s and wonder what it must have been like for the unfortunates who arrived to this place.

The Orthodontic unit, being at the back of the hospital complex is surrounded by what looks like waste ground, overgrown and uncared for. Yesterday as we left, we noticed a worn pathway through the long grass and Mia suggested we check it out and see where it went. So we stolled away from the buildings and towards some trees.

Beyond the line of trees we stepped into a clearing. The foliage shaded the light and dappled shadows played on the ground which was covered in a carpet of beechnut shells. As we softly crunched our way into this church like space, we noticed, in one sunlit corner of the site, a large gravestone. It was marking the ‘Holy Angels’ plot* – where tiny babies were buried. As we stood and read the stone, our eyes were drawn to a small white cross a couple of feet away. It marked the grave of baby Natasha Sherwood who died in 1978 and poignantly ‘missed by her mum and dad and brothers’. Mia and I stood for a few minutes in silence. Sherwood is my husband’s name and so is also Mia’s and Roisin’s surname. My husband is English and it is a rare enough name in Ireland. This baby Sherwood seemed very real to us both. The fact that she was clearly a longed for daughter and sister, struck us as hugely sad. “She would be 32 now mom,” Mia said. As her words floated around this place I thought back to her own birth exactly ten years ago. Mia was premature and very sick for the first few weeks of her life. In her first 48 hours of life, we feared we would lose her. I have a small insight into how traumatic this other baby Sherwood’s death must have been.

The energy of this sacred place was beautiful. The only sound was the breeze rustling the tops of the ancient trees that stood guard all around us. As we continued to explore we came across another large stone memorial under the shade of overhanging trees. The inscription says it all. It read:

“The noble ones of other times sleep here,
Quiet be their voice.
They would not be disturbed.
Pain and hunger gone,
They feel not winter’s cold.
The Shepard has them now
Safe within his fold.”

St Colmcille’s Hospital. 1841 – 1991. 150 Anniversary

We had indeed found our famine graveyard. Here is this peaceful copse of trees on high ground behind the hospital. Sheltered by trees and in mother nature’s embrace, lie many hundreds of Irish people, who just over 150 years ago, died from hunger and disease.

As we left this beautiful place, we felt not sad, but very grateful that history has placed us here in Ireland at this time. Recession? We are wealthy beyond the dreams of our forefathers. Sometimes we forget to be grateful. And sometimes our children show us how or where to find such gratitude.


*Many hospitals in Ireland have a Holy Angels plot were in the past stillborn and new babies who were not baptised were buried routinely in an unmarked plot.

Monday, September 13, 2010

VERSATILE BLOGGER AWARD


Thanks to Ann over at Inkpots and Quills for this award. I am most grateful Ann - especially at the moment when I am finding that inspiration has deserted me. So this award gives me a post which will hopefully kickstart my creative juices!

You probably know the drill here. I have to list 7 things (you may not know) about myself. Here goes:

  • I currently don't know if I am still a Catholic! A rather odd experience for someone who always automatically wrote RC after religion when asked (mainly only hospital forms now, I think).

  • I am spending too much time on Twitter and this is possibly partly to blame for my lack of creativity with writing. Too much squashing my thoughts into 140 characters - a definite skill in itself but hardly creative.

  • I have an addiction to Extra Strong Mints and Ice Cream wafers - developed during pregnancies, the last of which was ten years ago!!!

  • I would love to have a nice garden... but as the sole gardener in this house, its not likely to happen any time soon.

  • I am in love with my iPhone - which is not really a good thing!

  • I love autumn. Especially the feeling of battening down the hatches against the winter.

  • I would love to love Christmas again! But currently to me it equals too much nonsense and hard work!
Riveting isn't it?

I would like to pass this award for Versatile Blogging on to the following great bloggers:


Mia at Mia's Room - who is truly a versatile blogger and who is 10 this week!


Nicola at Nic's Notebook

Susannah at Joy Frequencies


I know that's only 5 but whats a bit of rule breaking between bloggers!

Monday, September 6, 2010

OUR RESIDENTS GARDEN





As I write it is a grey day with the rain bucketing down. And there is a chill in the air. Altogether not a bright Monday. But I came across these few photos by Paul which I thought I would share with you.

They are of our estate's garden which up to this year was a lawn with some trees. This spring we decided to use the skills of a newly qualified landscape architect who suggested planting a native wildflower garden. This was the result in summer. Isn't it just beautiful and most unusual at the entrance to a residential estate. I thought it was particularly wonderful on a breezy day when the flowers all nodded their heads at us and the air was full of hovering bees and butterflies.

Luke Byrne was the designer and planter - beautiful job.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

SLOW DOWN... Take Time For Yourself, Mammy

It is really only in autumn and spring time that I can almost physically feel the Earth turning and the seasons changing. Having spent some more time in deepest Kilkenny last weekend, the countryside looked quite different than when we were there in July. We passed so many fields of hay bales, rolled and looking like giant breakfast cereals. On the farm the orchard was heavy with ripe red apples and the air smelt different. Fingers of damp touched my skin in the evening and early morning. Heavy dew fell at night, making for soggy pre breakfast walks.

I love autumn. It is probably my favourite season. I love summer too with all its outdoor activity and loose routines. But once we arrive in September, I can feel the change of tempo in my bones. As the earth draws energy inwards to itself, preparing Mother Nature for her long winter sleep, I too change my focus back onto myself. With the children gone back to school, routines have become re-established. The house is once more quiet in the mornings and has been returned to me. I love the peace and stillness and the opportunity to do what I love – to write. Over the last 9 years I have used this free time in the morning to investigate and experiment with all kinds of things that interest me. It has also taken me most of those years to get over the slight guilt I sometimes feel, by devoting some hours every morning to my own stuff!

As women who are ‘housewives’ or ‘stay at home moms’, it can sometimes be very difficult to protect time for ourselves. Due to lack of job description or contract for the post of Mammy, you can easily become the target of various others, from family members to your own kids who think you are just sitting at home, drinking coffee and waiting for something to do. Therefore you get can too easily get sucked into all kinds of errands for others. It is vital to establish boundaries and a healthy self respect for yourself and your job of running a home and children.

The time in the morning is often the only opportunity in the day for some ‘me’ time. Once the kids arrive home, there is homework and dinner and housework. In my experience most mothers will ‘work’ till at least 9pm on week nights. So take that time in the morning. It is yours, grab it with both hands, hold onto it tight as others may gently try to wrestle it away. You do not need to justify to anyone the fact that you are choosing to go to the gym, read a book, write a book, bake cakes or learn a new skill in the morning. Remember that your job, albeit looking after your family, is a job and the old adage is true – all work and no play makes Jackie a dull girl!

Photo from by Noukorama on Flickr.