Tuesday, March 20, 2012


There was a great item on the radio this morning. In the middle of a stressful couple of hours dealing with blocked drains (as in sewage pipes) I retreated to my office and turned on the radio, just in time to hear Ella McSweeney talking about excited cows. Yes – that’s right, excited cows. Ella had recorded a piece yesterday on a farm in Wicklow where she accompanied a farmer to his sheds as he prepared to ‘turn out’ the cows. After four long months spent indoors eating cow food and silage, the cows were about to be released back into the fields and boy were they excited? The mooooed long mooos and they kicked and skipped in a cow fashion as he opened the barn doors. Through the radio I could sense their exhilaration as they gained their freedom and their senses were bombarded by the smell and sight of fresh grass and wide open fields. Apparently it’s called Macnas – the joyful abandon of a cow let loose in a field. It was the kind of radio that made me smile and helped restore my internal equilibrium after a shitty morning (pardon the intended pun).

Internal equilibrium or balance is vital to good mental health. So it is entirely appropriate that today is the Vernal or Spring Equinox when the hours of light and darkness are exactly equal. Balance is something we all need in our lives. It is so easy for things to go out of synch and become polarised. One of my favourite affirmations is “bring all things to balance, harmony will follow.”

Like the cows in Wicklow the Spring Equinox is also about moving forward, preferably with joyful abandon. Equinox reminds us to be fully awake and engaged in our world. Spring is here, sap is rising and in the natural world it’s all about fertility, hence the association of Easter with rabbits (ultimate symbol of rampant fertility) and eggs!

It is time to be like the cows and their macnas..... get outdoors, feel the wind in your hair, the gentle rays of the sun on your face and the pulse of new life bursting forth in nature. It is also about creativity, whether that means baking a cake or being a co-creator, with Mother Nature, of abundance in your garden by making ready the soil and planting seeds.

Perhaps it’s my Celtic pagan heritage but I love reflecting on these old ‘wheel of the year’ markers. Awareness of these agricultural and astrological marker days provides us with a pause in our busy lives, even if only to be aware of the turning of the year. I like that.

Photo by Cheeseslave on Flickr

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I have a love hate relationship with Paddy’s Day for many reasons, not least of which is that I hanker after the simpler way in which we celebrated our national day when I was a child... but that could be just my age. I may be incubating my inner ‘grumpy old woman’.

Given that we are approaching the day of national celebration and the fact that some of my unease stems from disconnect or gap that exists between what is really is to be Irish and how the Irish are portrayed, last night as we sat having dinner we decided to explore this huge question. What does it mean to be Irish?

Taking part in the conversation was husband, who is English and the two youngest daughters aged 13 and 11. We came up with a list of what it really means to be Irish.... This is our family view and I present it for your consideration and entertainment.

Being Irish means you talk a lot... This is something that particularly affects our family but as we regularly compare Irish families we know with British families we know, we think that this is definitely an Irish trait. The gift of the gab is apparently more than just a tired cliché. We see this as a positive.

Being Irish means we are sweary... Yeah, this is fair enough. We are great at swearing and even break up words to stick a swear word in the middle – abso-bleedin-lutely. This is probably neither positive nor negative. But we are kind of proud of this dubious aspect of our Irishness too.

Being Irish means we do a lot of slagging.... This is probably one of the most useful Irish traits and one that often other nationalities don’t get. And the secret of good slagging is that nothing is sacred. Irreverent slagging – brilliant.

Being Irish means we need to know everything about everyone... Again we think it’s the height of bad manners not to be interested in other people. Some nationalities might see this as being nosey but we think it should be taken as a compliment if, when we meet you, we interview you too.

Being Irish means we are loud... Well, we feel there is no point in talking if no one can hear you.. So yeah, loud and proud of it too.

Being Irish means the tricolour... Now this was interesting. I asked my girls if they knew the significance of the Green, White and Orange in our national flag. Oh, they sure did. It is not quite the meaning I was taught but in this era of peace and tolerance perhaps it’s very appropriate. Here is the new meaning of the tricolour.

Green – is for the fields of Ireland

Orange – is for the red heads

White – is the colour of our skin.

Being Irish means drinking... We had a long debate about this one and in the end conceded that yep, Ireland has probably earned her reputation as drinkers although we do feel that the reputation is actually larger than our drinking. But we are proud of Irish pubs which are now found in almost every corner of the world.

Being Irish means ‘the craic’..... We think that only Irish people truly understand what having the craic is about. It’s fun, it’s slagging, it uproarious, and it’s the ultimate feel good. We think it’s one of the best things about being Irish.

Being Irish means we are very connected to our spirituality.. Not all of us of course but these are all generalisations. We think that (in general) Irish people are very spiritual. From the good Catholics and CofI’s to the pagans we think there is a high degree of believing we are part of a bigger picture in Ireland. We also have some wonderful ancient pagan monuments and of course we own Halloween. This is almost as good as the craic. We like this very much.

Being Irish means we are cool... I was so thrilled to hear my children (13 and 11) announce that being Irish meant we are cool. In these days of depression and recession, our children are still proud to be Irish... that’s just bloody great!

Being Irish means (like it or hate it) we have Paddy’s Day... For us the most interesting thing about Paddy’s Day is that it is so widely celebrated all over the world.

Being Irish is all about being a small country with a long reach.... we are all over the world once again.

So wherever you are, whether you are Irish or not can we wish you Happy St Patrick’s Day... curse away, have a jar, plenty of craic and then interview someone you don’t know very well!

With thanks to Roisin, Mia and Paul

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Some of my best friends are books.

Some of the best trips I have ever taken have been within the pages of a good book.

Books have a gentle power to raise your spirit, open your mind, and touch your heart.

There are few pleasures more sublime that starting a new book which holds the promise of a great escape into another world.

Being an enthusiastic reader, with ambitions to one day write a book, I love going to hear established favourite authors doing readings and being interviewed. I love to hear how they write, where they write, what inspires them and how they started. Not surprisingly good writers often are great talkers. I have been enthralled by Alexander McCall Smith (wonderful raconteur), Melvyn Bragg (oh the intellect), Patrick Gale (who lives what seems like an idyllic life) and our own Maeve Binchey (master storyteller). These evenings have all been interesting, amusing and inspiring, not to mention a cheap night out.

Dun Laoghaire is probably one of the best places in the country to live if you like books and writing. Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Library Service runs the wonderful Library Voices series of talks by writers, along with the annual ‘Mountains to Sea Dun Laoghaire Book Festival’. And down the road is Dalkey which now also holds an annual Book Festival.

Of my three daughters, two have been reading since they were first able to make sense of words on a page – which is just as well as I was an awful reader of bedtime stories. Tucking my babies into bed and settling myself beside them to read, usually resulted in my snoring gently long before they did. My dear eldest, who is now living in Perth, never read despite my regular encouragements. But (and listen up all you parents who fret about your children reading) when she began to commute into town, as the ripe old age of 23 she discovered the joy of books. Once again, the sight of any of my girls with their head in a book never fails to make me smile. It’s as joyous as watching a line of washing blowing around in the spring breeze. And I love hearing the regular cries of “mom, I’ve nothing to read.”

When I think of children and books I always think of Gaybo on the Late Late Toy Show who always began the book segment by saying that giving the gift of a book to a child is to give for life... how right he was. Santa always brings books to this house.

Like most readers I also love a good bookshop. To wander around shelves crammed with wonderful characters, tales from all around the globe and from all periods of history including the future is truly magical. The air is heavy with possibilities. Libraries offer similar promise coupled with wonderfully eclectic noticeboards offering local courses and services. When my girls were younger the local library was a great way to pass the afternoon and again cost nothing.

The only thing, associated with reading and books that I don’t really like is book clubs, which surprised me. I did join one for a while but it brought out the worst in me (she says honestly). I realised how much I don’t like being told what to do – as in ‘this is the book we are all reading this month.’ I cheated when it was my turn by suggesting books that I had already read so I could have a month off to read my own books. Whatever personality fault I have, meant that I couldn’t take the talking and debating the book seriously. I reverted to my teenage schoolgirl self, messing, making facetious remarks and disagreeing just for the sake of it. I decided to leave the club (although some of my best pals are in it), before I was asked to behave which would have been the ultimate humiliation. I suppose my ideal book club would be where each person would bring a good book they had read on the basis of ‘bring a book, take a book.’ But then again I do this with my bookish friends informally anyway.

I have a rule which says that life is too short and too full of good books to spend time reading a book you are not enjoying. You know that feeling when you go to bed and remember the book you are reading is not doing it for you. That’s a sign to abandon book and pick up another. It’s the reverse response to a good book – which you dread finishing, because you don’t want it to end.

Finally – books are meant to be shared. Don’t clutter your home by hanging onto every book you have ever read. Swop them, donate them to your local charity shop or take them to a second hand bookshop where you will get credit you can use to get more!

I am about to start the latest book by one of my favourite authors (Dun Laoghaire Library Service take note) – The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall by Paul Torday. Paul’s first novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen remains one of my all time favourites and it has recently been made into a movie which will be released here just after Easter. I have seen it and it’s a gem. I will post a review in due course!

So if you have time today pop by your local bookstore and pick up a book – it’s World Book Day and you’re worth it!

Happy Reading....

Photo of my 'To Be Read' book shelf where my books are minded by my owls!