It’s been so long since I posted on my blog, I have almost forgotten how to do it.
But I wanted to let you know that I have written a book. Covid lockdowns swept away all my excuses and I finally managed to write more than 10,000 words – something I could never do before.
Wise Up is a combination of memoir and opinion with a dollop of social history and looks at how older women are not valued or celebrated in our society. It is also a long essay on how life AFTER Menopause can be so delicious.
‘Wise Up’ will be published by UK publisher, ZsaZsa Publishing on the 24th of May but is now available for pre-order through their website.
It’s in November I hear them first. It begins as an echo so faint I wonder if I’m wishing it into reality or if it is, in fact, real. I rush into the garden and scan the skies. Where are they? The sound grows a little stronger. My eye catches movement, to the north. And then I see them, descending slowly in their usual raggy formation. Tears prick my eyes, and I’m glad I’m alone, so I don’t have to try to explain why this sight and sound makes me emotional. But this is a homecoming and homecomings are the most delicious reunions.
Flying low, they establish that all is in order in their field behind my house, before dipping their wings as they execute a slow motion, soft landing on the grass. As they do, they disappear from my view. But they are back. They are safely home.
I want to rush onto the field to which I have no access, to welcome them. My Brent Geese are back. I’d been worrying, as I do, every year, that they wouldn’t get here. Every year, thankfully I am wrong.
My geese have flown from the high Arctic in Canada where they breed during the summer months. They are the most northerly breeding geese in the world. As the tundra descends into an icy winter, the Brent Geese begin their epic journey south to milder weather which the vast majority of them find in Ireland. They travel via Greenland and Iceland before arriving in Strangford Lough, County Down where they rest before most make their way on to their chosen locations around Ireland, a great many in around Dublin.
November melts into December. Deep winter. Darkness falls in the middle of the afternoon and the city and its suburbs become bright with twinkly lights. Trees are bare skeletons, and the ground is hard with frost. The earth sleeps. And still more geese arrive. Above the suburban noise of traffic and sirens, the familiar guttural honking heralds their daily commute to their field.
Once they’re on the ground I can get a view of them from an upstairs bedroom. I watch as they move slowly, heads down enjoying the grass on which they graze all day. I wish I could talk to them. I have so many questions. What was the summer like in Canada? Have they ever seen a polar bear? How was their incredible journey over the Atlantic Ocean? But all I can do is watch them from a distance, and wonder at their grace and elegance.
In January, the year will turn. It will be cold and bitter. Nature will sleep on and still more geese will arrive, creating an airborne spectacle twice a day. If undisturbed, they will spend the day on the field, until the sun’s milky light begins to fade and they depart in a mighty flock, heading north out over Dublin Bay to the Bull Island where they will spend the night on the calm waters of the lagoon. It is in January that I will make a pilgrimage northside, arriving ahead of sunset to witness the incredible spectacle as thousands of Brent Geese, spill in from all over the city, their grey dipped wings silhouetted against a burnt orange sky.
February will bringthe first real signs of the long-awaited springtime. Snowdrops will be joined by crocus, wood anemone and dandelions, splashing colour on our gardens and roadsides. By spring, my Brent Geese may number well over six hundred.
All winter, my days will be punctuated by their comings and goings and each time they take my breath away. As I work in my cabin in the garden, my geese are just beyond the hedge chomping on the grass. Their presence is soothing. Despite all the chaos of life in the city, they return every year, the same geese to the same field. A playing field that’s now been sold, with plans for hundreds of apartments in the new year. Although there’s a campaign underway to save the sports ground, this winter could be the geese’s last on the school pitches where they share their habitatwith urban foxes, bats, curlew and egrets.
As Covid swept the world, grounding us and causing us to miss family abroad, my geese continued to make their perilous crossing of the Atlantic to come home. I cling to the hope and to the promise of better days they bring with them.
Once springtime takes a firm hold of our world, my geese will begin to leave again. By late April they will all be gone. And I will be left pondering on these wonderous, magnificent birds with their silent stories. As I do, I wonder if somewhere deep in the Canadian tundra, there is another woman who is waiting expectantly for the return of her geese now that her Arctic winter has softened. And I wonder if her eyes tear up when she first hears that special honking sound in the distance.
Mia my youngest daughter is a music obsessed, art mad, 18-year-old hippie. Her bedroom looks like something that the 1970s left behind, with the dark purple walls adorned with batik hangings, photos of her favourite bands and her own swirling, groovy artwork. Somewhat lost among all this cool décor hangs a pastel hued, childlike, framed birthday card.
This card, carefully crafted by me seventeen years ago, looks like something a six-year-old might have made. Its integrity is saved only by the fact that the main visual element is a gorgeous, cute photo of my smiling youngest baby. Around it I added hand drawn flowers and hearts and cats and sunshine and butterflies in the softest colours.
Mia turned one in 2001. It was a cause for extra special celebration, given that she had arrived into the world in a huge hurry, six weeks ahead of schedule and with some serious health issues which scared us all. In those first days, her future was, well, somewhat uncertain.
In 2001, along with my almost one year old, I had a three-year-old and a teenage daughter of fourteen. I had reduced my working hours from full time to about two thirds time and I think it would be fair to say that I was finding it all stressful and ridiculously busy.
So, a month before Mia’s first birthday I handed in my notice, pausing a paid working life that had spanned 22 years. I was finally indulging in my dream of an idyllic domestic future. Days in the kitchen in a haze of flour wrapped in a fug of baking as we made buns and chocolate cakes. Autumn walks, even in the rain, afternoons collecting shells on the beach, or in park feeding the ducks; coming home to light the fire and while away another hour colouring in and drawing. We would be poorer but content. Safe and happy in our domestic bliss.
One of my last big tasks before retiring was to take part in an offsite company presentation. Afterwards I made my way back to the office feeling relieved and happy that I could now begin the real process of winding down towards my new gentler life. Oh yes, God was in her heaven and all was right with the world.
Dear listener this was before the days of smartphones and social media, so in my bubble of contentment I casually wandered back into the office and was surprised to find my colleagues gathered around a TV in the board room in utter silence. I stared at the screen trying to make sense of what I was seeing. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre. It was a beautifully clear, blue sky morning in the New York. “It can’t have been an airliner, it must have been a small private jet,” I offered, because an airliner couldn’t just crash into the World Trade Centre. And then as we watched live on Sky News, at just after 2pm, a second plane hit the other tower.
A knot of fear and dread formed in my stomach as the realisation dawned that this was no tragic accident. I stood petrified by the terror that was happening, live on air, in a city that is so familiar. And it just kept getting more horrific. People jumping to their deaths and then the towers collapsing taking with them the lives of so many more including firefighters and police. The world seemed to be tipping slightly off its axis as these images burned themselves deep into my brain where they live still.
On the 14th of September, Ireland held a national day of mourning. All shops and business were closed. The following day was my baby’s first birthday and I had no card.
The world was still engulfed in the news from New York. I tried to shield my youngest two from the replaying horror as it seeped from the radio, TV and newspapers. My dream of an idyllic, gentle, domestic life that I had for so long held in my head and my heart suddenly seemed to be built on very shaky foundations. Then my three-year-old drew a picture of the towers on fire and I cried at the contamination of innocence.
That great man of peace Ghandi said “be the change you want to see in the world”. And so, in a move reminiscent of the Brits in World War Two and their make and do attitude, I raided the three-year old’s crayons and colouring pencils, grabbed a sheet of paper and sat down to illustrate beauty and love in a card for my baby. I am not sure I achieved that. But my amateur effort still serves as a counterpoint to terror and a testament to love and the preservation of innocence.
Greenways are on the increase in Ireland. They are combined walking and cycling routes which often follow a former railway line or sometimes canal or even a river. What all these have in common is that they are reasonably flat. Not completely flat all the time… but reasonably. They are a magnificent way to get under the skin of a location and really see the beauty of the scenery, especially if you are lucky enough to get good clear weather.
Last week, myself and Sherwood along with two friends took ourselves west to give the Great Western Greenway a try. Now, if you follow me on social media, you will know the following about me:
I am 59, a bit overweight, and only moderately fit.
I have taken up cycling in the last 18 months and use my bike as much as I can in Dublin.
But although I have been on two wheels for well over a year I still get, how can I phrase this delicately – I can’t – so a sore arse at about 23kms.
This information is important because, believe me, if I can cycle – anyone can cycle.
The Great Western Greenway follows the old Westport to Achill railway line and is 42km long in total. So with my poor arse in mind we decided to spend one night in Westport and cycle to Newport and back (11km each way) and two nights in Mulranny so we could head to Achill one day (13km each way) and perhaps head back to Newport on the third day (18km each way).
DAY ONE: Westport to Newport 22 kms out and back.
Finding the ‘trail head’ (I think that is the right term) in Westport involved a big old hill – so we pushed the bikes up the worst of it, found the beginning of the Greenway where one can ring a bell to signify the beginning of your adventure and off we peddled. It was mid afternoon and a glorious day. We began in a green corridor of overhanging trees, under old railway bridges, out into open country side which felt like we were cycling through fields of curious cows. We passed a repurposed old fashioned phone box which served as an honesty shop for fresh eggs and onwards running alongside the road into Newport where we found a great pub in which to replenish ourselves with a cold beer, before heading back to Westport.
A word here – you might feel it’s a waste going out and back along the same route but believe me doing so provides you with a 360 degree overview of the countryside. You would be surprised at how different the views are depending on the direction in which you are cycling.
DAY TWO – Mulranny to Achill – 26km out and back.
Without a doubt this is the most scenic part of the Great Western Greenway. If you stay in The Park Hotel Mulranny, the greenway conveniently runs right at the back of the hotel where the old railway station has been converted into a convenience stop – with a small shop, tap for refilling water bottles and toilets.
Heading out of Mulranny you pass through another tunnel of green before the view opens out onto the water leading out to Bellacragher Bay. The beauty of the landscape is just stunning. At times, especially on the return leg when the Nephin Mountains are on the horizon, it felt like I was cycling into a painting.
Reaching Achill we made our way to the nearest café, where we had lunch at a picnic table in the sun.
The cycle back to Mulranny was hot but beautiful and a wonderful, magical day was completed with a swim at the beach across the causeway from the hotel.
DAY THREE – Towards Newport and to Rockfleet Castle. About 25km out and back.
As we had already been to Newport, we decided to only cycle about 7km of the Greenway from Mulranny and cut off at the very well signposted Nevin’s Newfield Inn. A few hills to walk before you reach the Inn where we had a welcome coffee and got great directions from the man himself on the best route to Rockfleet Castle.
Rockfleet Castle was Granuaile’s stronghold in Mayo and is reputedly where she died. She also had a castle on Clare Island. I wanted to pay homage to this fierce Irish woman of the middle ages.
Our route took us off down a boreen full of twists and turns. The silence was so complete it was almost loud. The sun was hot and the air heavy with the vanilla scent of meadowsweet and the sweetness of wild honeysuckle. We reached the shore by an old graveyard and well.
Cycling on, Rockfleet finally came into view and much to my disappointment it was shrouded completely in scaffolding. Grainne was having work done!! But hopefully that work will help preserve this magnificent castle which holds the memory of a powerful pirate queen in its thick walls.
We then decided (well, we didn’t – he did) to cycle back along the main road thinking it might be quicker. I don’t know if it was or not but it was a bit hilly and scarey with no hard shoulder should you decide to walk a bit. We arrived back in Nevin’s sweaty messes but recovered over a lovely lunch and then made our way back to the Greenway and back to Mulranny.
Another swim was in order to restore our bodies equilibrium.
The surface of the greenway varies from tarmac (easiest to cycle) to gravel which can be a bit more nerve wracking. There are crossings over roads clearly marked and you will also encounter lots of cattle grids which are safe to cycle over. And there are sheep. Lots of sheep wearing multicoloured stripes of ownership.
Cycling the Western Greenway in summer – make sure you have lots of water. There are no stops between the towns/villages.
Steve Cummins is a comedian, host of the Laughter Lounge and one half of the very successful Zoom Party. This episode has no recommendations… it’s all about having a laugh. From nipples to donkeys to the slow set….. you will enjoy this.
Thank you to all my 19 guests over this series… it has been really a great privilege to get to chat with you. And thank you for watching and sharing.
Have a great summer, get your vaccination, wash your hands, stay well and enjoy the reunions that are just over the horizon.
Joanna Fortune is a highly experienced child psychotherapist with her own practice. She is a familiar voice on radio, as the parenting expert on the Moncrieff Show on Newstalk FM. She is the author of the 15 Minute Parenting guides and also has her own podcast series, also called 15 Minute Parenting which you can listen to here https://joannafortune.podbean.com/
We talk about children and young adults and how the pandemic has effected them and how we can address these losses as we begin the slow journey back to normal living.
As our conversation was so interesting and important we didn’t get time to go through Joanna’s great choices for reading and watching. So here they are:
Joanna’s book recommendations are:
What Happened to You, by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey
Michael Rosen’s Book of Play
Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan
Joanna’s Netflix recommendation is Shtisel
Joanna recommends BBC4 true crime podcasts including Girl Taken and I’m not a Monster.
Katherine Lynch is probably best known for her hilarious and outrageous shows on RTE – Wagons Den, Wonder Women and Single ladies and the legion of mad characters she brought to life. But Katherine is also a singer, a poet, a documentary maker and most recently, a life coach.
Katherine’s reading recommends are The Narrowland by Christine Dwyer Hickey and The Twin Paradox by Charles Watcher.
Her favourite podcasts at the moment are, Doireann Garrihy’s ‘The Laughs of Your Life’ and Stella O Malley’s ‘Gender, A Wider Lens’
She listens to the music of Sean Keane.
And her Netflix recommends are ‘Call My Agent’ and Shtisel. And when she need some brain fudge she watches The Housewives of Beverly Hills.
And do check out some of Katherine’s new music. Here is Blue Beach which is gorgeous.
With Pat Dawson, CEO Irish Travel Agents Association
Pat Dawson is a well known voice on radio in his position as CEO of the ITAA (Irish Travel Agents Association) and this timely chat includes his insight into how the Irish travel business has been decimated by the pandemic and the work going on behind the scenes to make travel possible once restrictions are eased.
Pat’s viewing recommendation is Dad’s Army – the series which is available on Amazon Prime and BBC player (if you are in the juristication).
He also recommends Barack Obama, Dreams from my Father as a good read.
June Shannon is a medical / health journalist who has helped many of us stay sane over the last year with her live tweets of the briefings by NPHET and Government. She has distilled down figures and words into easily understandable tweets and has regularly burned her dinner in the process.
June’s book recommendations are:
A Light That Never Goes Out by Keelin Shanley
Psychiatrist in the Chair – Biography of Anthony Clare by Brendan Kelly & Muiris Houston
Seamus Heaney 100 Poems
Barbara’s recommendation is Sinead Moriarty’s new novel which will be published in summer, called About Us.
June’s TV/Netflix Recommendations are the soaps – which seem to have been largely forgotten today. June is an avid viewer of both Corrie and EastEnders
June also recommends The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society movie which is on Netflix and Barbara recommends the book too.
Rory O’Neill is an entertainer, a drag queen, a publican and an activist and I was delighted to welcome him to the webcast. Our conversation meandered around the decimation of the arts and live entertainment, living in a very quiet city to how Rory will be very safe in the aftermath of the apocalypse. You will enjoy this one.
Rory’s book suggestions were:
Healing Back Pain, The Mind Body Connection by John Sarno
Dr Tom Clonan is a columnist, broadcaster, security analyst, feminist and advocate for disabilty and a retired Army Captain. A calm and reasoned commentator, his take on where we are in this pandemic might just cheer you up.
He also has some cracking book, podcast and viewing recommendations which are listed below. Enjoy. And if you do, please share.
Tom’s recommended read : The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
Tom’s podcast recommendation : The Nobody Zone by RTE and Louis Theroux podcast, Grounded especially the episode with Ruby Wax
Tom’s viewing recommendations : Deuthscland ’86 available on All Four.