Thursday, June 21, 2012


What is this nonsense about Ryanair possibly going to buy Aer Lingus?  Ryanair – that cheeky upstart of an airline, which I accept was almost entirely responsible for making flying affordable for us Irish, stranded as we are on this rocky, green, damp island on the western edge of Europe.  But take over Aer Lingus... that august and proud airline, that erstwhile symbol of national pride, I bloody well hope not!

I am resisting the temptation to rant on about why I really hate flying Ryanair.  I will not describe the nervous heap they reduce me to while I stand for hours in a queue at a gate which manages to be on the far side of the airfield from the terminal, wearing too many clothes so that my hand luggage weighs less that my handbag normally does.  I will refrain from pouring scorn on the sweaty leather seats and the garish blue and yellow interior of their aircraft.  But the blaring of a fanfare when we arrive on time is a step too far and really is an appalling way to treat customers.

Oh no, give me Aer Lingus any day.  I think Aer Lingus like me and are happy to have me onboard.  Ryanair seem to be out to get me and they definitely don’t like me much, a fact that could be due to the perspiration on my forehead I guess.

Aer Lingus and I have a long shared history.  In the 1960’s my father worked in Customs and Excise (as it was called then) and occasionally on weekends I accompanied him to Dublin Airport at Collinstown.  The original terminal building with its feminine curving lines was as beautiful inside as out.  I can still see its large, airy and bright main hall dominated, if my memory serves me correctly, by a huge wall clock.  The airport was a portal to exotic and wondrous foreign shores and adventure.  The tingle of anticipation was heightened by the whiff of jet fuel from the nearby apron.  To a little girl Dublin Airport was somewhere very special indeed.

In 1971, I was nine years old when Aer Lingus took delivery of its first 747 Jumbo Jet.  I remember standing in our back garden in Blackrock watching as this huge aircraft passed overhead.  This kind of flypast became a bit of a habit for Aer Lingus 747s; they did it again in 1979, a low pass over the city of the Papal flight, although this time the Jumbo Jet was  flanked on each wing by two Air Corps aircraft.  Being a cool teenager I took great delight in having no interest whatsoever in the Pope’s visit.  However I did feel a certain pride when I realised that his arrival on our national carrier was the first time a Pope had ever travelled on an airline other than Alitalia.

As a child of the 70s, Aer Lingus was one of the very first things that made me proud to be Irish.  This little country, which was seriously lacking in pizzazz or excitement, had an airline which was deemed to be as good as any on the planet, at a time when air travel was the ultimate in glamorous living.  Sure hadn’t it got an office on 5th Ave in New York to prove it?  Aer Lingus symbolised an Ireland that was beginning to believe in itself.  

Perhaps it was in part my early exposure to the charms of both the Airport and the airline that led me to a job in the travel business.  I joined the JWT set and in the early 80s spent one winter working as a Holiday Rep in Gran Canaria.  At that time the bulk of the Irish holidaymakers arrived on the island on a chartered Aer Lingus 747, which delivered to us a staggering 470 passengers.  This caused some logistical problems on the ground as it meant that all Irish holiday companies had arrivals and departures on the same day and at the same time.  As Reps we had to book our coaches well in advance or our clients would be left making the transfer in some old bone shaker of a rickety vehicle which normally functioned as a school bus.

During the ‘90s my love life was complicated.  My boyfriend lived in London and so we spent every second weekend commuting back and forwards across the Irish Sea – always with Aer Lingus.  There were more than a few occasions when I arrived a bit ahead of schedule at Gatwick and used to ask at check-in if I might change to the earlier flight.  Invariably the nice Aer Lingus people would tell me to go ahead to the gate with my bag and if they could, they certainly would put me on the first flight available.  It usually worked and no one ever had the audacity to ask me for payment.

My experiences with Aer Lingus have always been positive.  My travel memories are interspersed with those hours of waiting at various airports for my flight back to Dublin.  Tired, tanned and tetchy at the end of a holiday, that first sight of the familiar green and blue livery descending from the sky was always a surprising source of national pride.  I am not ashamed to admit that I still feel that way today.  And does anyone else fondly remember the aroma of Irish Breakfast that used to waft through the cabin on an early morning flight home....  sure we were home before we ever left the ground!

I admit I seem to have a slightly irrational and very emotional attachment to our national carrier... but I doubt that I am alone.  Aer Lingus is our airline.  And it is still one of the safest and best airlines in the world.  So who’s going to tell the Troika we ain’t selling it?

Friday, June 15, 2012


So, Euro2012 wasn’t quite an Italia90!

Back in 1990 things just kept getting better as our national soccer team led the entire country on a magical journey all the way to the semi finals where if I am not mistaken we were finally beaten by Italy.  It was a special time when you could almost feel ‘Ireland Inc’ (sorry – I hate that expression too) beginning to develop a self confidence and a realisation that we were as good as any other nation on earth.

Bear in mind that this football odyssey came just two short two years after Houghton put the ball in the England net in Stuttgart and five years after Live Aid.  I know we didn’t play football at Live Aid, but it was another iconic event which led many of us who watched it, to realise that U2 were well on their way to becoming the biggest rock band in the world and that  Bob Geldof was a force of nature to be reckoned with.  I remember noticing Irish flags near the stage and the slow dawning realisation that perhaps we not only could breed great leaders and musicians but maybe Ireland was also cool. Italia90 confirmed all of these possibilities.

But added to this burgeoning confidence were the army of fans (Jack’s Army in 1990) who travelled to Italy to support the team.  Sky News was a new 24hour news station in 1990 and I remember their reporters in Rome for the semi finals interviewing Irish fans who were there for ‘the craic’ and who couldn’t believe our good fortune in getting all the way to the quarter finals.  Their delight and pure joy in the experience was palpable and catching and a revelation to the British reporters who were more used to football fans being hooligans.  Back in 1990 we were proud of the team, of honourary Irishman Jack Charlton and of the brilliant supporters.  It was all damn near perfect!

So here we are 22 years later (can you believe it is that long ago?) and the Irish soccer team are back at a big international tournament and again we are being managed by a foreigner... this time Italian Giovanni Trapattoni.  The fans mobilised by air and by land and headed east to Poland, a country with whom we now have strong links after our Celtic Tiger economy attracted so many of their countrymen and women to our shores to work.  Expectations were high.  Alas, as we all know, things have not panned out the way we might have hoped.  In football terms the whole thing has been a disaster.

In 1990 Ireland was on the brink of conceiving her Celtic Tiger and we were all feeling good about ourselves.  Now, in 2012 we are very much a broken country, traumatised by the collapse of our economy and giving away of our sovereignty and many of us trying to come to terms with crippling personal debt.  There is a horrible feeling that we have lost control of our lives and indeed to a large extent we have.

To a lesser country the dismal football performances would have added to this feeling of depression and self loathing.  Our having the ignominious glory of being the first team out of the tournament could serve to reaffirm our belief that we are as capable of playing football as we are in managing our economy.  To a lesser country at the very least this would have led to an army of supporters coming home down and depressed and thoroughly fed up.  Like those of us who feel we have no control over our lives as we struggle through this quagmire of financial disaster, our supporters might rightly have felt that no matter how much they sang they couldn’t seem to influence things on the field.

But the one thing we always have control over (listen up now - this is important) is our attitude to disaster.  We are the only ones who can decide how we face each day.  We can do so depressed and fed up or we can make a concerted and deliberate effort to greet the day with a smile and a spirit of optimism.  It’s not easy in the face of all the huge financial problems we have... but it can be done.  And if there is one thing we should take from Euro 2012 it is just that.  We Irish have been gifted a great sense of humour.  We love a party.  We invented the craic.  Don’t underestimate how a precious these gifts are.

How many countries with far superior soccer teams to ours would love to have our supporters?  Our army of madly dressed men and women, who had the longest journey to make to Poland, but arrived in their thousands – many in converted ice cream vans and ambulances and clapped out vehicles.  They knew they were backing one of the weakest teams in the tournament but they were determined to bring good humour which they showcased beautifully with their witty banners and signs – one of which even make the cover of German newspaper Bild.

Before and after matches our supporters partied with those of the very teams who crashed any dreams we might have had of winning an odd game.  And last night in the face of a humbling defeat they gave a ten minute rousing rendition of The Fields of Athenry.  Put simply if Carlsberg did football supporters they would do Irish ones...

As that saying goes ‘life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but rather it is about learning to dance in the rain’.  Our soccer supporters showed all of Europe how to dance in the rain.   And they did so with grace and humour.  I am so proud of them.  They reminded me of just how bloody great it is to be Irish!

Thursday, June 7, 2012


A client of my husband’s arrived at our house recently to collect some photographs.  It was a Saturday morning and she was accompanied by her gorgeous daughter who was about 2 years old.

Arriving at our door can be a bit hectic as not only will you be greeted by one of us 2 leggeds,  but you will also be met by Dylan Da Dog who gets ridiculously excited at the appearance of any visitors – known or unknown.

As I opened the door that Saturday morning I did my best to restrain Dylan while trying to retain some semblance to normal human behaviour so as not to completely overwhelm this little person on my doorstep.  I need not have worried.  “Doggie” she exclaimed and immediately opened her arms to hug a delighted Dylan.  The honest and genuine warmth of this little girl who had no fear whatsoever of our madly dancing, manically tailwagging dog was a joy to watch.  “She likes dogs,” I offered.  “Yep,” her mother confirmed, “she loves them.”

Gay Byrne used to famously say every year on the Late Late Toy Show that the greatest gift you can give a child is the gift of reading.  I agree.  But the second greatest gift you can hand your child is the love of a family pet.  My heart breaks every time I meet a child who has a fear of dogs or cats.

I have always lived with animals.  In fact the only time I was without a cat in my life were the two winter seasons I spent in the Canary Islands and it was a loss I felt keenly and which led me to talk to every stray, scrawny Spanish moggie I met.

My kids obviously have always shared their lives with animals too.  For me, there are few life lessons as important for children than learning how to respect and care for a pet.  We have all learned about love, life and grief from sharing our life with our 4 leggeds.

Yesterday my mother handed me a book, entitled ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’.  Very simply this book tells the story of former homeless man and recovering heroin addict James Bowen who became adopted by an amazing cat called Bob.  Bob the cat was in a bad way when he first showed up and James had to nurse him back to full health with the help of the RSPCA.  In turn James credits the love he got from Bob with helping him turn in his life around.  It is a beautiful story that illustrates perfectly how I think God intended us to share this beautiful planet with our animal brothers and sisters.  Mutual respect along with love freely given is key.

Naturally I am a huge supporter of the work here in Dublin of the DSPCA.  All of my four cats are rescues and we are regular fosterers of kittens also.  Getting a pet is not something anyone should do lightly.  Along with all the love and fun and good stuff there is hard work too.  And when it comes to cats and dogs, there’s the matter of a commitment that could run to near on 20 years.

But if adopting an animal is something that you are curious about or if you would like to support the work of this amazing charity, why not pop along to their PetFest at their HQ on Mount Venus Road, Rathfarnham on Saturday June 16th from 12noon till 4pm. Panto Queen June Rogers will be there as will 98FM’s Teena Gates who will be judging the ‘Scruffts’ dog show.  There will be food stalls and information about the work of Ireland’s oldest animal charity.  The kids can enjoy the face painting and bouncing castle. But most of all you can learn about adopting an animal, from the people who know best how to advise you.

But even if pet ownership is not for you, why not go along so that your children can get up close and personal with some 4 leggeds.  I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a Saturday!  And sure you never know, you might make some new friends!!!