Girl of my girl

I had 32 days.  32 days in Perth, Western Australia; days of living Australian while fruitlessly searching for some good, sharp blackberry jam to go with my homemade scones (yep, I see what I did there.)  I did manage to source Kerrygold butter, which my daughter told me was extortionately priced but I didn’t care.  I needed to feel like Perth was a bit of home.

newbornI had 30 days with my precious brand new granddaughter.  30 days in which to gaze into her eyes, always hoping that she would remember me when I am no longer with her.  30 days in which I enjoyed the pure bliss of morning cuddles as I let her mum have a bit of lie in to catch up on lost night-time sleep.  30 precious days in during which I snuggled with her, listening to classical music or sometimes Fleetwood Mac or Carole King; music always seemed to calm her.  And I had 30 days in which to try to see if I could coax a smile, a deliberate smile, from her lips to take home with me to Ireland.

When I arrived there, last August, having travelled for 24 hours, I was unsure if my daughter would be greeting me with her bump or a baby.  I was delighted to see her waddle majestically towards me at arrivals, baby still tucked tightly within, a sight which until then I had only seen on my computer screen.  Just over 48 hours later, my granddaughter, Emilee Rose, arrived somewhat reluctantly into the Australian late winter evening, over 9,000 miles from where the rest of her family live.

And so began the 30 days of time out of life.  30 days which flew by in a haze of tiny nappies, bouquets of flowers, and some of the cutest babygros you could imagine; too many of which have cats on them – we many need to watch that!

I was there for her birth, well more or less.  I kind of hid around a corner at the very end, unable to watch my girl struggle through the last birth pangs.  But I was there for that moment when Emilee was placed on her mother’s chest and we all held our breath, waiting for her to let us know she was taking her first.  And she did, with a gutsy roar, she announced that all was well and she was here.  And through a haze of tears I tried to focus on my first sight of her and simultaneously hug my firstborn of whom I was totally in awe.

Before I left Australia, we registered her birth and began the process of applying for her Irish passport.  This seemed very important.  A tangible anchor to her homeland.  Or maybe it’s just me, fooling myself into thinking it might tie her to us, her family so far away.  She may grow up speaking with an Aussie accent and she will be an Australian citizen but she is also the girl of my girl; the next generation.

snuggles
Morning Snuggles

During the long flights to get there, I wondered how much help I would actually be with a tiny new-born.  I mean, I knew I could cook and wash and generally help about the house, but it’s been 17 years since my last child was born and tiny babies with their floppy heads can be terrifying.  But magically I found myself reverting to the mother I once was, talking the nonsense I used to talk to my babies, all those years ago.  I found myself saying the same things, things I had forgotten.  No vest went over her tiny delicate head without my saying, in that stupid high pitched baby voice “oh where’s Emi gone?”, followed by “oh there she is.”  Just like I did 17, 19 and 30 years ago when only the names were different.

I know I am lucky, very lucky to have been there.  To have shared this precious time in Emilee’s life.  There must be thousands of mothers like me in Ireland who have had grandchildren born abroad following the mass exodus of our young people in the aftermath of the economic meltdown.  But unlike me, many of them are unable to travel half way around the world to visit their new family members.

Like the ripples in a pond these tiny new citizens of Ireland are the latest wave of our diaspora.  A new generation not only for our families but for Ireland; part of a generation displaced by circumstances but lucky to be growing up countries with superb education and health services.  And, in the case of Perth, a wonderful outdoor lifestyle.

oct
Emilee October 22nd 2017

I hate the distance that separates us but this weekend we wave off daughter number two, who is making her first solo trip abroad.  All the way to springtime in Perth where she will have a week to catch her breath and some rays of sunshine before heading back northwards, bringing her big sister and her new niece with her.  And so in two weeks’ time I will be at standing, once again at the barrier at Dublin Airport, fizzing with excitement, surrounded by the rest of the family and clutching a tiny padded suit to welcome our Emilee home. Home to this damp, cold, funny island in the north Atlantic; this place that, some day, I hope, she may make her own.

 

 

A very expensive jaunt on the LUAS

I have a salutary tale to tell you and one which should be of interest to anyone who uses public transport, especially Dublin’s Luas.

I am not a regular user of public transport, as I work mainly from home and my forays into the city are usually at off peak hours and so I often take the car, mainly because it’s usually quicker.

But occasionally I have cause to be in the city for a longer period which makes car parking charges prohibitive and so I opt to hop on the bus.

On the Friday 15th of September last, I was attending a conference in the Dean Hotel on Harcourt Street and was meeting some friends for lunch afterwards so I opted to take the Luas from my local stop at Carrickmines which has a park & ride facility.  I arrived at the carpark at about ten past eight in the morning and taking note of my bay number in order to pay for my parking made my way to the platform.  However, the system had changed and one now pays for parking and Luas ticket at the same time via the one ticket machine.

Anyway, I completed the transaction which cost me in total €7.70 – €5.70 for the return Luas ticket and €2 for all day parking.  I paid in cash and got change and my ticket which I put in my purse and off I went about my day.

On the return journey later that afternoon, an inspector arrived on the Luas and I duly produced my ticket from my purse.  He looked at it and declared it to be out of date. It couldn’t be” I said “I got it this morning”.  But sure enough, when I looked at the ticket it was for the 12th of September and was only a car parking one.

The inspector then delivered a speech which I am sure entertained the full carriage about the penalty of not being able to produce a correct ticket and how this was going to cost me €45 if I paid my fine immediately but how it would go up to €100 and then go to court where I could “tell the judge the story about the machine giving you a wrong ticket.”

I was mortified and furious.  I took the penalty notice and continued my journey.  The fine notice advised me that I could go online and appeal which I did the following Monday.  I explained I don’t use the Luas regularly and that I paid my fare and parking and I have no idea how I was issued a ticket for just parking and from three days earlier.  I was sure if they checked their machine they would see that I did indeed pay.

A few days later I received a letter completely rejecting my appeal and stating that if I didn’t pay my fine I may be summonsed to Dublin District Court where I could be fined up to €1,000.  The nice Mr Paddy Devereux (Security and Compliance Manager) then adds this stinger “our success rate for prosecutions similar to your case in the district courts for 2015 was 72%”.  Cases such as mine.  In other words, I was guilty.  There was no point in appealing.

I was gobsmacked.  I got back in touch and asked to see the CCTV footage from the platform which should show clearly me at the ticket machine.  Some days later I was invited in to view the footage which clearly shows me paying into the machine and taking a ticket.

But you see, dear reader, that’s not the point.  Luas aren’t as interested in stopping fare evasion as they are catching you out if by some weird reason you managed to pick up a three day old ticket from one of their machines.  Because the bye law is that you must be in possession of a correct ticket and if you are not, well the nice people at Luas couldn’t care less.  They have you.

I paid my fine – €45 because I couldn’t take the risk of losing €1,000 by taking the case the court.  But I feel angry that I have been bullied by a company that seems to have no regard for customer relations at all.

So, I am writing this as a warning to others.  Check your ticket.  Because the fact that you paid your fare and have video that seems to back that up makes no difference.  No wonder we prefer using our cars than public transport.

Budget Day and Da

Budget Day always makes me a bit scratchy.  A bit uneasy.  I feel like the world is shifting slightly on its axis and I worry that something important may get dislodged in the process.  Something that may cause a domino effect of tumblings, scattering vital bits of my life around and leaving me a puzzle that I cannot easily put back together again.

And then there is the theatre of the Dail Budget proceedings, as a succession of men in suits stand up to bluster and bay at each other from each side of the house.  I avoid watching it live but as an adult with a domestic budget to manage I will try to make sense of the main bits later in the day when clever journalists have worked out the impact of the moving of bands and reductions and increases that will follow.

But there is rarely a Budget Day that goes by, that I don’t think of my dear old dad, Michael Scully.  Budget Days were among his favourite days of the year.  I think he may have enjoyed them way more than his birthday.

I can picture him still ensconced in his chair in the living room, the back of an envelope in his hand, along with a pen, making rapid calculations as the Minister announced the various changes that would affect not only his pension but each one his adult children’s pay packets too.

He would mutter away as he digested all the tasty financial manipulations and machinatiomichael scullyns of the Minister for Finance,  scribbling long columns of calculations.  My dad would have been a huge asset to modern online newsrooms such was the speed and accuracy of his mathematical acrobatics.

As we all arrived home from work, we would be summoned into him individually so that he could earnestly try to explain to us the personal impact of the budget on our individual fiscal space.

None of us had inherited his gift for numbers which I suspect was one of the disappointments of his life.  Each year I tried though.  I would plaster a smile on my face as I sat next to him and he would begin.  His mouth would be moving but all I could hear was white noise.  My mind would shut down as I watched him through his meticulous rows and columns of numbers.  He might as well have been trying to explain the basics of ancient Greek to me.  When he got to the end, which he usually did with a flourish announcing my new monthly net (or was it gross) salary he would look at me and say “do you follow?”  I would nod and mutter an unconvincing “eh, yeah” while still smiling.  He’d look at me and say “you don’t, do you?” and then he would begin again.

By the time he had gone through it two or three more times I would be developing a migraine and he would be getting increasingly frustrated, wondering why his otherwise reasonably intelligent daughter couldn’t follow what, to him were simple calculations.  He thought it very important that we understood the calculations because my father, a retired civil servant, never trusted that the private sector would interpret the changes correctly.  And he was a stickler for accuracy.  He wanted me to understand so that I could make sure my wages would be correctly calculated by my employer.

Tonight, myself and my husband will have a cursory conversation about Budget 17, mainly repeating nuggets we will each have picked up from radio or online reports in the afternoon.  We will infect each other with a vague fear if we think we will be worse off but there is some comfort in knowing that we are never too sure.  We will finally settle on a vague notion as to whether this is a good budget or a bad one for our family.  As we do I will hear my father’s voice in my ear, saying “you don’t follow, do you?  Let me go through it again” with a slight edge to his voice.

I am sorry Da.  Really, I am. And I wish you were still here to work it all out for us.

Oh, what a night(ie).

carla barbara baby

My father stood at the top of the stairs and viewed all the kerfuffle in the hall below.  My mother was in a bit of a spin but not as much as one of my brothers who had clearly decided he was the ‘man in charge’ of this unfolding new situation.   My younger brother was just in from the pub and a bit pissed, so he was enjoying all the activity immensely.  Me? Well I was just standing there.  Shell-shocked I guess, at the realisation that I was probably about to become a mother in the coming hours.  I was 25 years old and giddy with a heady mix of blind fear and excitement.

It was after 1am, on the morning of the 28th of July.  I had had a shower, washed my hair, shaved my legs and had gotten my mother to paint my toenails.  As I picked up my hospital bag which was by the front door, my ‘man in charge’ brother yelled orders at us, “Barbara you go in the front.  Ma and Jim ye are in the back”.  My father rather nervously asked “em, should I come too?”  “No room for you Da, go back to bed” said he in charge ushering us all out into the night and towards the yellow Renault 4 on the drive.  As we all piled in, I suddenly remembered something my friend, already a mother, had said to me just a few days beforehand.  “You will have lovely new nighties for your confinement”, she said, “but make sure to bring an old one for the birth.”  Now this pronouncement had prompted immediate visions of an abattoir and so I buried it in the back of mind.  But up it surfaced, like a cork in the ocean, as I faced into the prospect of actually giving birth.

“Wait” I cried.  “I need an old nightie.  I haven’t got one in my bag”.

“No worries” said mother.  “I’ll run in and grab one.  I have one I haven’t even worn yet but you can have it.”

A few minutes we took off, my brother driving as fast as the old banger of a Renault would go (at this point if you are not familiar with a Renault 4 – go Google it).  We rattled and shook our way towards Churchtown and Mount Carmel Hospital – God bless my old Dad for keeping me on the VHI cover.  We raced amber traffic lights squeaking through junctions and I hung on to the passenger door which had been known to fly open when the speedometer reached over 30mph

Then I realised that my ‘contractions’ had stopped.  “Right” I announced.  “I feel fine now.  Let’s go home.  I am not in labour.  False alarm.  Home please, I want to go back to bed.”

“Oh no” said brother in charge. “I am not going to have you delivering this baby at home or on the side of the road.  No, no, no.  We will take you to the hospital and see what they say.”

“But, but… I want to go home.”

We roared into Mount Carmel and rumbled to a halt at the front door where the car was abandoned and we all tumbled into the reception area which was manned by a night porter. I was still protesting loudly.

“Are you in a hurry, Mrs?  ‘Cos if so, you go on and your husband here can give me the details” he said looking at the brother in charge.

“He’s not my husband, he’s my brother and NO, I am not in a hurry.  Take as long as you want.”  The night porter made no more assumptions after that, poor man.

Form filling completed, we took the lift to the third floor where we were met by a very bemused night nurse, who chided us to keep the noise down.  I explained that I was here against my will.  That my contractions had stopped and that I wanted to go home.

But the nurse was from the same school as my bossy brother.

“Well let’s see about that.  In you go, put on your nightie and I will give you an examination.  We will probably keep you in overnight anyway.  The posse you brought with you can go home.”

I was very glad to bid them all farewell, as I pulled the curtain around the cubicle and furkled into my bag for the nightdress my mother had loaned me.

My heart sank.  I pulled out what I knew was one of her infamous ‘remnant’ creations.  My mother loved rummaging in remnant baskets in Hickey’s fabric shop.  Once she found a piece she liked for half nothing, (and she liked lots of clashing colours and big designs) she bore it proudly home, like a cat who had unexpectedly caught a fabulous exotic bird in the garden.  Then she dug out the old singer and without a pattern and, I’m convinced, often without even cutting, she would fashion (and I use the term lightly) a garment for herself.  This nightie was one of her creations.

It was a simple design – two arm holes and an empire line which was outlined in that Ziggy Zaggy stuff which was de rigour in the 1970’s.  Bear in mind however,  that this was in 1987.  I put my head in neck and tried to get my arms through the armholes and got completely stuck.  Afraid that the nurse, or worse still the doctor, (this is before women doctors were really invented) would barge in at any moment I forced my arms through, causing a rip down both sides.  Then I went to pull it down over my bump.  I pulled and I pulled.  It covered the bump but it didn’t really cover my bum.  To this day – 30 years later – I don’t know why I didn’t just get one of my fabulous new nighties from the bag and abandon mother’s creation.

But I guess it did make it easy for the nurse to give me ‘an internal’ and establish that I wasn’t in labour yet.  Apparently, I had experienced some ‘Braxton Hicks’ – a term I hadn’t heard of, because I decided not to any prenatal classes as I thought that all would be easier, if I didn’t really know what to expect.  But, true to her word, the nurse put me to bed where I lay awake most of the night listening to the snoring of the woman in the next bed who had given birth that night.  Another nugget I had gleaned from my friend, was that you will never get a sleep as good as the one you will have after giving birth.  This woman was certainly proof positive of that.

At the first sign of activity on the ward the next morning, I requested permission to leave.  I needed to get out before mother had phoned all and sundry, telling them I had ‘gone in’.  This would mean facing the very public humiliation of a false alarm.  However, I was under Doctors orders and he hadn’t surfaced yet to make the call on whether I qualified for early release.

In the end I got so agitated, they phoned him and the decision was made, that since I was there, he might as well induce me; save me the bother of going home and having to come back in a week or so – which was when my baby was actually due.

I had no idea what induction involved.  But it began with an enema and having my waters broken, neither of which I would relish experiencing again.  Then I was attached to a drip and told get walking.

It didn’t take long before I realised what contractions really felt like… and I was moved into the delivery room.  Being partner-less and husband-less, I was on my own and as I was dealing with the epidural and bracing myself for what was ahead, the midwife announced that my mother had arrived. “Will I bring her in?” she asked.

“No.  Do not.  Ask her to go home.  We will call her when there’s news.”

Now this might seem a bit heartless but I knew that if my lovely, slightly mad, mammy arrived into the delivery room I would give up all involvement in this birth and start to cry.  Just like one of those young ones on ‘One Born Every Minute’.

In the end, my baby arrived at 3:30pm.  This baby girl I had known forever.  And the one that changed my life utterly.  As she was placed back in my arms, after being checked and measured, and before the nurse had a chance to phone home for me, she said “oh and your mother left a huge bouquet of pink flowers.”

I don’t know how she knew, but she did.

As I finish writing this, it is coming up to midnight on the 27th of July.  Tomorrow my baby girl turns 30. And she is two weeks (or so) away from giving birth herself in Perth in Western Australia.

Another baby to change the lives of all who already love her or him.  Just like my girl did.  Just like each of my girls did.

Happy Birthday Carla Sofia Scully.  This night 30 years ago is etched forever on my memory in glorious detail and it still makes me laugh at the comedy of it all.  And listen love, you have a decent nightie, don’t you?

 

Smart Alecks and Ninjas

So, we were having issues with our broadband recently so we put in a call to our supplier, Virgin Media with a request for help.  We were logged for a call out and waited for the text with date and time.  The text that arrived went as follows:

“Hi, your Red House Ninja today will be Fred (not his real name).  He’ll contact you before his arrival time.”

Fred turned out to be a very efficient and pleasant engineer who fixed our issue.  But I have to tell you I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t cartwheel up my drive and execute some kind of high jump as I opened the door.

I was regaling this story to my mother and much to my surprise she also recently had a Virgin Media Ninja experience.  She had been in contact with the company over a problem which necessitated a new modem which was quickly dispatched to her. When it arrived, she phoned them to enquire what exactly she was meant to do with it.  They tried to instruct her to connect the cables to it, but she informed them that at 82 years old she was well beyond crawling about attaching cables to pieces of mysterious equipment.  So the nice people in Virgin said they would send someone out the following day.  A few hours later she got this text:

“Woohoo! Your Virgin Media Red House Experience is booked for Friday 30 June.  Your Red House Ninja will arrive between 12:00 and 16:00 hours.  If you wish to cancel this please reply Yes.”

My mother, who is no eejit let me tell you, stared at this mumbo jumbo and decided she must have inadvertently signed up for some kind of kids programme and so, erring on the side of caution she replied Yes.  She then wondered why her engineer never arrived.

I am sharing this tale because, sometimes in an effort to be cool and different and trendy, companies get it more than a little bit wrong.  I am not sure what kind of a meeting came up with the idea of calling their engineers ninja’s but it didn’t make me laugh and confused and annoyed me mammy.

More seriously though, I think our new Taoiseach may be being led down a similar path by his advisors.  Only a wet day in the job and with a fairly modest track record of achievement in the ministries he held, he or someone close to him, has completely misunderstood the power of PR.

You see the electorate (you and me, in other words) will tolerate a bit of messing if they have confidence in the person but it’s too early for the level of nonsense currently being indulged in by the Taoiseach.  Leo is untested in his role and his efforts to stamp his ‘quirky character’ on our consciousness are premature, contrived and may very well end in disaster.

We get it – he’s young and trendy and fit; we know that he’s the polar opposite to Enda’s country bumpkin, fist bumping act but so what?  He is paid to led the country.  And dancing about in comedy socks, and grinning madly at the wonder of his own physical prowess and cleverality is a bit nauseating.

No one likes a smart aleck.  And Leo is definitely the smartest aleck around at the moment. He is Irish – the nation that invented the craic. That we appreciate a bit of messing is beyond dispute.  But only it only works in the right context and it definitely doesn’t work when he is representing Ireland on a world stage.  So whether he is welcoming a foreign leader to Dublin or on the steps of 10 Downing Street we would appreciate him parking his self-proclaimed ‘quirky personality’ stuff, certainly until he has proved that he is indeed ‘deserving’ (his word, not mine) of the high office he holds.

As for Virgin Media – great service guys but please give your engineers the respect they are entitled to.  They might be ninjas in your heads but to your customers they are technicians.

Actually, I wasn’t entirely sure what a ninja was until I looked it up.  It’s a person skilled in the Japanese art of ninjutsu.  Wikipedia actually describes a ninja as “a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan” whose functions included “espionage, sabotage, assassination and guerrilla warfare.”  Jeez, let’s hope no one tells Leo.  Smart Aleck is bad enough.  But a ninja smart aleck – God forbid.

Imagine if it was like this all summer!

As I write it is ten am and the temperature in Dublin is 23 degrees.  Now we all know that in Ireland temperatures of 23 degrees are unusual at the best of times, but this is about the fourth day in a row that we have reached such scorching heat.  And in Ireland when the sun shines it changes everything.

Dublin sparkles and dazzles and looks like shiny, happy place.  In the countryside, our beautiful scenery which is so often clouded in, well cloud, reveals itself in all its stunning glory.  We have a blue roof to our world and it is much higher than the more usual grey one that smothers our spirit and strips away the colour from our lives.

But the good weather doesn’t only change the landscape it also changes the Irish psyche.  We may be northern Europeans but our souls are all Mediterranean.  I actually think at some stage Ireland floated north and got anchored beside Britain as opposed to once being joined to our (very definitely Northern European) neighbours.  This explains why we go a bit mad in the good weather.  In fact, could this be the reason why our Taoiseach got a bit too giddy on the steps of 10 Downing Street yesterday?  It was all that sunshine!  But I digress.

Anyway, it’s not surprising that many things are just so much better when the mercury rises and the sun shines.  I have made a list:

Ice Creams.  And I am referring specifically the old fashioned whipped stuff, dripping over a cone and topped with a 99.  We are experts at eating these particularly fabulous treats in the rain and the wind, but when the sun shines and the ice cream runs in rivulets over your fingers.  Oh man.  Nothing like it.

Bird song.  With doors and windows thrown open and clear blue skies our native birdies sing their very best songs.  And suddenly we become aware of how beautiful it is, especially in the evening as the light fades.

White wine.  Sunshine is so rare that its appearance along with some heat gives us all a huge urge to celebrate.  And that usually means alcohol, often before midday.  So that’s a given.  But white wine, served chilled to the max, really comes into its own in the heat.

Bare feet.  When I visited Australia, I was somewhat amazed at how acceptable it is to rock along to your local supermarket in your bare feet.  But now I know why.  The freedom of not wearing shoes in the heat is so delicious.  I can almost hear my feet sigh in deep contentment.

Long evenings.  Being able to sit in the garden as the sun slowly sinks but when there is still light in the sky at midnight is one of the few advantages of Ireland’s mistaken northerly location.  In this we score higher than our Southern neighbours when the sun shines.

Reading.  You can’t watch telly in the sun, but you can read and read and read.

Dining al fresco.  And I am not talking necessarily about BBQs but just being able to take your dinner outdoors really does make it taste better.

Getting out of dodge.  Much as I love Dublin, when we get a spell of good weather (dare I say heatwave?) I am consumed by an urge to throw a few things in a bag, the dog in the boot and hit the road for Connemara or West Cork.

Watching aircraft.  Ok, so bear with me here.  This is a bit niche.  But clear blue skies reveal just how busy the skies over Ireland are.  As I lie in the garden I am mesmerised by the streaks of vapour, ripping the blue, as aircraft sail 33,000 above me.  I may or may not have an app on my phone which allows me to identify each aircraft, the airline, its origin and destination to further enhance my wonder.  I know, I know.  I am a bit mortified.  But just a bit.

Anyway, imagine if the weather was like this all the time in summer?  Would we get used to it?   Would we lose the run of ourselves altogether?  A chance to find out would be indeed a fine thing.

Religious Orders are selling out on our children; why we should all be concerned.

We are currently riding another wave of self-congratulation on how modern and inclusive we are in Ireland, in the wake of the election of Leo Varadkar as Leader of Fine Gael and presumptive Taoiseach.  We now have a leader to match Canada and France in terms of boyish handsomeness, although not quite so much in terms of policy and ideology methinks.  However, there is little doubt that we in Ireland, have been through a period of transition and change as the country moves from a highly conservative country dominated by the Catholic Church to a more secular, inclusive and open society.

But there are still issues that we still grapple with; the 8th amendment being one and the hold the Catholic church still has on our educational and health systems and infrastructure being another.  We saw these two particular issues coalesce recently over the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital until the Sisters of Charity relinquished their involvement in same.

But while we were exercised on that issue another equally troubling problem with the religious orders was surfacing and that is, the current trend of selling off land belonging to schools; playing pitches and outdoor space particularly in areas where land values are sky rocketing once again.

Historian Diarmuid Ferriter published an interesting column in the Irish Times on June 3rd under the headline ‘How Did Irish Religious Orders Get So Rich?’.  He outlined the familiar fact that, the new Irish state, with limited resources and very high levels of poverty, passed much of the responsibility for welfare to the Catholic Church, which already had an extensive network of charitable and health endeavours.  Ferriter says ”this generated enormous power for the church and great dependence on it.”   The source of the huge wealth generated by these orders, according to Ferriter came from “donations, State aid and the fund-raising of many communities”.

We now have a Catholic church in decline in Ireland, along with ageing religious orders and yet most of our schools are still on land owned by various congregations.  And these congregations, possibly seeing the writing on the wall in terms of public support, along with the prospect of big bucks from rising land values are selling up.  Selling up land which is a vital part of OUR school’s infrastructure.

The Sisters of Jesus and Mary have recently sold 5 acres of land formerly used by Our Lady’s Grove school in Goatstown for a reported €13million.  In recent weeks, we have learned that the Christian Brothers have done a deal with a developer to sell off most of the playing pitches belonging to Clonkeen School in Deansgrange for a reported €18 million.

In both cases, these non fee paying schools will be left without a vital amenity. Outdoor space and playing fields should not be a luxury item for any school, (although of course not every school has access to same) particularly today with rising obesity and mental health issues in our young people.

In 2009 in the wake of the Ryan Report, an offer was

made by the Christian Brothers to put the playing fields associated with their schools into a joint trust to be set up comprising of the Dept. of Education and the Edmund Rice Trust (a body the brothers set up in 2008).  The then Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn countered with an offer that all playing fields be signed over to the state with guaranteed access by the schools for as long as required.  This was rejected by the brothers.

The following is from a report by Colm Keena in the Irish Times on March 10th this year.

In 2013 the Government agreed to a revised proposal under which the congregation would transfer the land to the ERST for the continued use of the schools “subject to a legal requirement that prior approval of the minister be obtained for a disposal of any part of them” and that in the event of a disposal, half the proceeds would go to the State.

The revised proposal was put to the congregation in 2013. Two years later, after a comprehensive review by the congregation of its capacity to meet all its obligations, including its redress contributions, the Government’s proposal was rejected.

The congregation stated that as the initial proposal of joint ownership was not accepted by the minister, and as his counterproposal was not acceptable to either it or to ERST, it was proceeding with the formal transfer of the sports fields to the ERST.

Keena goes on to quote Ruairi Quinn who said that these bodies can decide to change their focus and this could result in decisions to liquidate school assets.  “This is not just an issue for the department, it is an issue for the whole of society.” The present ownership structure could see the “unpredictable and random closure of schools.”

The collateral damage in these actions by the religious orders is our children, once again, whose general wellbeing, mental and physical health are being sacrificed at the altar of greed by congregations of the Catholic Church.

The sale of the playing fields at Clonkeen College as far as we understand, has been agreed but contracts are not expected to be signed until later this year.  As far we can establish Minister Bruton was aware of the secret deal that was hammered out between the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the developer.  Bruton has already stated in the Dail (in answer to a question by Richard Boyd Barrett) that this is a matter for the Christian Brothers.

But is it?  I don’t think so.  This issue affects us all and not just the community in the immediate Dun Laoghaire area from where the school draws its pupils. The sale of the playing pitches at Clonkeen has to be stopped and legislation has to be passed to prevent the wholesale destruction of vital part of our schools infrastructure by these religious orders.

Diarmuid Ferriter finished his column with this.  Almost a century later, the wealth and power of the Catholic Church are still apparent, as is the abject failure of the State to confront the resultant inequality and the irony of the religious orders profiting spectacularly at the expense of community welfare.

It is time that we, the people, demand that our Minister for Education puts a stop to this fire sale of our schools valuable, precious assets.  Ruairi Quinn was right, back in 2009 when he said that this is not just an issue for the Department of Education but one for all of society.

This is an issue that demands a national conversation.  We owe it not only to our children but to our grandchildren and great grandchildren to protect this vital part of our schools’ infrastructure.  As long as schools exist, their playing fields should be protected, from developers, from greedy religious orders and from spineless ministers.  A good start would be to stop the sale of Clonkeen’s grounds before passing legislation that would protect all schools from this asset stripping.

For more information on the campaign to ‘Save Clonkeen Pitches’ see the Facebook page set up by the students here.  They also have a twitter account @clonkeenpitches.  And there is a petition which you could sign here.

 

Wars are now fought right where we live.

Another regular day bleeds into an uneventful evening which ends on the sofa in front of the TV.  As I begin to think about heading to bed, I check Twitter and my heart sinks.  That now almost familiar, feeling of dread, seeps through my bones as I try and piece together what is happening in Manchester.  I have been here before.  I was also watching TV at home in November 2015 when the news started to break online about the attack on the Bataclan in Paris.  I was also at home in July 2016 when we got the first tweets about a truck, mowing down people watching Bastille day fireworks, on the seafront in Nice, France.

Each time my first reaction was a refusal to accept that this is terrorism.  Each time I hoped for a logical explanation to the horror that was unfolding in real time and I was witnessing virtually from my suburban home in Dublin.  And each time I was wrong.

On last Monday night as I went to bed, I prayed that only one or two people may have died.  I hoped it was a gas explosion.  Not that that would make any difference to the outcome for the victims but I didn’t want to believe that such callous evil could exist in the world.

Less than twenty-four hours later, the names and photos start to appear of the first victims.  Georgina Callander was 18 years old and described as a super fan of Ariana Grande.  Little Saffie Rose Roussos was only 8 years old.  There will be at least twenty more photos and names to be revealed in the coming days in a roll call of heart-breaking devastation.

It is just over one hundred years since the end of the Great War when the world lost a generation of young men, young soldiers who died on battlefields, fighting for their country.  Today’s wars have no battlefields.  Wars are now fought where we live, in our cities, among communities.  Approximately 25,000 children have been killed in Syria since 2011, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.  We have moved from a world where men signed up for war, to one where children have somehow become legitimate targets.  Children, for whom death can come straight out of a blue sky over Syria, or when walking with their families on the seafront in Nice or while in the foyer of an arena in the UK where they were attending a concert.

I don’t understand for one moment how any man (and it is usually men) can justify their actions when their intended targets are children.  Innocent children.  Of course, they would say that the children are just collateral damage.  The intention is to instill fear and terror into the hearts of the population.  And they do.

As the news from Manchester began to break on last Monday night, my first thought was of the parents.  Waiting outside the venue to pick up their precious children.  I can only imagine their terror and fear.  And then I thought of the children, most of them young girls, who must have been feeling so happy and grown up to have been at a concert with their friends and suddenly thrown into unspeakable horror. Alone, with only each other to try to work out what they should do.

Taking your child to a big concert is almost a rite of passage.  Most of us have memories of producing the magic ticket for a birthday or Christmas present and the intense excitement as you prepare to share, what is one of the best experiences in life, going to see your favourite artist with thousands of other fans.  I took my eldest to the Spice Girls in The Point Depot.  For the younger two, it was One Direction in the same, renamed venue.  There is something very special about being able to introduce your child to the joy of live performance and the excitement of a big concert.

As your children get older, you have probably, slightly anxiously dropped them off at a big venue with strict instructions to leave immediately it’s over and proceed to your agreed rendezvous point for their lift home.

And if you are parents of very young children, all of this is in your future.  And it most likely will be a deliciously bonding, joyous experience.

But right now, when the world feels like a dangerous place for our children, it is important that we hold on to hope and to love.  As parents, we must shine a light on the goodness that is all around us and was much in evidence in the aftermath of the horror in Manchester.  To do anything else is to let the bastards win.

In Many Ways Nuns Are Great Feminists But They Shouldn’t Be Given Our National Maternity Hospital

I was educated by nuns in Secondary School in Dublin.  My experience was almost entirely positive.  After five years (no TY then) I left my Catholic ethos, convent school with a clear idea of how to be a strong independent woman, able to speak up for herself and stand her ground; because I watched one such strong woman every day – our principal, the Head Nun.  She was accomplished, compassionate, tough and mainly fair.  She ran the school efficiently and with steely discipline.

I left school in 1979, the same year that contraceptives were finally on sale in Ireland although only on production of a prescription.  Women’s liberation was a feature of Ireland in the 1970s as second wave feminism took hold.  As school-girls we were very aware of the national conversations and one day a heated debate took place after school on the subject of abortion.  We were so exercised by the topic that in our innocence we decided to ask if we could have a proper debate in school on the issue.

There was war.  Ructions.  Shock and horror that the word abortion had been uttered within the hallowed walls, never mind that we had the audacity to ask if we could debate it.  Our request was turned down immediately with no explanation.  However, the following day, during Morning Assembly the girls who been involved in “the devils work” were called out and one by one we had to approach the top of the hall and remove from a collection bucket whatever donation we had made to the “black baby appeal” (a kind of non-PC forerunner of the Trocaire Lenten Campaign).

Looking back now it’s clear how naive we were in thinking that the head nun would have allowed such a debate.  But it was she who infused us in a belief that we could achieve whatever we put our minds to.  Every day she provided us with a real time female role model of a strong, independent woman.  But first and foremost, she was a Catholic nun and she never forgot that, not for a second. We had crossed the line.  Abortion was wrong on all levels, in all circumstances and it was not a topic for debate.  The churches stance on the matter remains absolute.

Ireland has changed hugely from the country that it was when I left school in 1979.  From freely available contraception to divorce, from same sex marriage to multi culturalism, our country has embraced so much change in the last three decades.  The Catholic Church, not so much.  Sure, it’s been damaged.  But it hasn’t fundamentally changed.

Back in the 1970s, nuns were among the only group of women who were running businesses.  They ran hospitals and schools and by all accounts did so very well.  But they did it without compromise and with a high degree of discipline.  Many of the nurses who trained under ‘the nuns’ will tell you that.  It wasn’t always a happy experience.

I still have huge respect for nuns.  In a lot of ways, they are great feminists.  But they belong to a highly patriarchal and chauvinistic church and they generally display an unwavering loyalty to that church.  They are strong women and many are great business women but they are women of the church first and foremost.  And that is why they should NOT be given ownership of our new National Maternity Hospital.

I listened to Rhona Mahoney this morning on RTE Radio One and she was persuasive.  Her passion for this project was palpable.  I could sense her frustration at the possibility that this vital project for women and their babies could be stalled by the people’s anger at the church in general and nuns in particular.  It would be a wonderful legacy if she were to retire from a state of the art, top class maternity hospital.

But we are at a watershed moment in my view.  And as the mother of daughters and a prospective grandmother I understand the urgency of providing a proper facility for mothers and babies in Ireland.  But we cannot gallop into a situation that will cause us problems down the road.  Now is the time for Ireland to begin the long process of taking back our health care and indeed our education infrastructure from religious orders.

These orders have largely ignored their responsibility for redress to those they wronged in Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries.  We need our government to show leadership and to put in place whatever is needed in terms of legislation to begin to restore these vital elements of our social care to ownership and responsibility of the state.

The nuns taught us well.  Perhaps if more of our ministers had been convent educated we might see more leadership on this issue.

I’M WITH THE IRISH STAND AGAINST TRUMP

If the last couple of months have taught me anything, it is that I am an eternal optimist.  To the point of possible stupidity.

I wasn’t surprised when Trump won the Presidency and even though I wasn’t at all happy, I comforted myself by thinking that he will be surrounded by the machine that is the office of President of the United States of America, and this will prevent him from dragging that office into disrepute and the country into chaos.  How naive was I?

I watched the horror show that was his inauguration.  His complete lack of basic manners and any sign of affection for his wife, Melania was unnerving.  His speech was bombastic and lacked any of Presidential vision.  I wondered if he knew that he had won, that he was President.  But I still hoped, that now that he had proved he could win the highest job in the world, he would just put his head down and be, at worse, an ineffective president who ultimately achieves very little.  Such fairy stories helped me sleep at night.

Immediately after he was installed in Washington, the debate on whether the Taoiseach should go ahead with the annual visit to the White House to present a bowl of shamrock, began.  As someone who is allergic to sulking, I have always believed that communication is the way to resolve contentious issues.  I agreed with Leo Varadkar and Enda Kenny that we should keep this standing date on March 17th and not throw away this annual privilege of having the ear of the so called ‘leader of the free’ world (and never has a title been so inappropriate).   When has ‘not speaking’ ever solved anything?  Dialogue is key.

But I have changed my mind, for a number of reasons.  Talking to Donald Trump will not make any difference at all.  He doesn’t care that millions of his own people are protesting on the streets, he isn’t going to give a hot damn what the people of Ireland think.  Trump is not just some odious, semi-literate, bad mannered, orange man.  He is a hateful, dangerous, racist, misogynist who pedals fear and suspicion and mis-information.  If we turn up at the White House delivering a bowl of shamrock, even with a mild chiding from Enda, it is the photos that will be remembered.  Ireland celebrating our national day with Trump.

But the main reason that I now believe that we should not attend the White House this year is not about America, it is about us.  It is about who we are in Ireland.

We are a country whose actions often speak far louder than our words, which is ironic considering our literary reputation.  We have dispatched our Defence Forces to the Mediterranean to assist in the rescue of refugees and as a nation take great pride in their sterling work.  We still donate more than most countries to those less fortunate.  We have a great well of empathy and compassion in Ireland but too often we still speak out of both sides of our mouths.  We still cannot seem to overcome, our seemingly instinctive urge, to stay on the right side of the man in the big house.  This tendency, which makes us appear mealy mouthed and cowardly, is no doubt due, in large part, to our history but it is this very history that should propel us to be braver.  To be better than that.

Ireland is a first world country, that has experienced colonisation, that has never invaded anywhere but that has been a breeding ground for terrorism in the very recent past.  Anyone who travelled to the UK during ‘the troubles’ will know how unnerving it was to be viewed with some suspicion purely because of your nationality.  But this unique history gives us a moral authority that belies our small size and it is this which should compel us to make a principled stand against a racism and injustice.

New York, that confident, multi ethnic, exuberant city, knows more than any other in the US about terrorism.  Yet New Yorkers led the protests in the immediate aftermath of Trumps Executive Order restricting travel from certain countries.  Sometimes we can over think things.  Sometimes we just need to do what is right.

So, I am firmly with Aodhan O Riordain in taking a stand against all that Trump stands for.  I am mortified that all the signs are that our Taoiseach will fudge it by making gentle noises of disapproval while smiling and joking with the President of the USA over a bowl of shamrock.  Why can we not overcome our mortifying instinct to show that we are still pals with the biggest boy in the class?

The decision by our government to keep the annual St Patrick’s date in Washington with President Trump will have little effect on him or on America.  But their decision reflects very poorly on who we are as a people.  It should not be allowed to define us and our values.

 

values.

Living With Our Ben

Yesterday while clearing our some old files I found this.  A cutting of the first piece I ever had published in a National Newspaper.  It was from the Sunday Independent in 2002 and is the story of growing up with our Ben. I remember how thrilled I was to have something published.  I shared the cutting on Social Media yesterday and a few people said they would like to read it.

So I found the original copy – some of which now makes me cringe – it’s not great in places, however I am reproducing it here as I sent it in.

 

living-with-our-ben

Ben came to live in our house in 1971.  I was nine years old and my grandmother (Ben’s mother) had just died.  I am the eldest of four children and had three younger brothers.  Ben is my mother’s older brother.  Our family lived in a modest four bedroom house in Blackrock on the south side of Dublin.  My father was a civil servant and at this time my mother was a full time home-maker.

Ben was born ‘mentally handicapped’ or, as we should say today, with a learning disability.  He had lived all his life at home, which for the most part, was in Dun Laoghaire.  When he was born, my grandmother was told that he would never be in any way independent and would need constant full time care.  His life expectancy was short.  My grandparents were advised to place him in an institution and begin work on getting pregnant again!  My grandmother, although a slight, bird of a woman was a teacher and not used to being told what to do.  She also managed to see through this rather crude evaluation of her firstborn son to the spirit that makes Ben special.  She took her baby home and set about loving, caring and teaching him.

No one knows what has caused Ben’s brain to function at less that ‘normal’ capacity.  It could have been due an injury at birth or could be a congenital defect.  Ben does not look any different but his mental capacity could be compared to a child of about five or six.  Ben’s speech is also difficult to understand as he speaks with a very deep voice.

When I was very young, my maternal grandparents lived in a large house on Lower Mounttown in Dun Laoghaire.  The house, which was built in the 1920’s was full of little nooks and crannies and features from a bygone era.  For me and my brothers, it was a magical place.  Through the front door, one entered a rather grand hall which featured the ultimate in posh – a stairs with a turn in it!   But the best feature of the hall was the separate cloakroom – a little room, not unlike a large phone booth just inside the front door.  The kitchen, which was dominated by an old fashioned range (on which my grandmother heated her daily pint of Guinness), featured a separate pantry and scullery.  Off the kitchen was another room – the maid’s room.  By the time her grandchildren were visiting, my grandmother had no longer any need for a maid and so this room was a truly wonderful place housing as it did a huge collection of model aircraft.  In the centre of the room was a large table covered with aircraft.  More were displayed on numerous shelves around the walls and hanging from the ceilings.  There were World War One Messerschmitts, World War Two Lancaster Bombers and Spitfires and Commercial Airliners (as they were called then).  This precious collection belonged to my other uncle, Ben’s younger brother.  The house also contained a piano and a forerunner to the modern conservatory – a greenhouse attached to the kitchen.  It was a house to run through and play great hide and seek.  The house was called Hebron, named before this Israeli town found fame through that region’s conflict.

The garden in Hebron was enormous and divided in two by an imposing trellis which crossed the middle of the garden with an archway at its centre.  One side of this trellis was fashioned like a spider’s web and was complete with a detachable wooden spider.  In my mother’s youth the garden also featured an Air Raid shelter which, when the emergency passed, was filled in, as it was considered dangerous for the children and it regularly flooded in winter.  My grandfather, George, died when I was very young and so my memories of the house in Mounttown are peopled by my grandmother – Kathleen, her cats – big furry balls called Dove and Mighty and Ben.  To a child Ben was like a gentle giant.  An imposing man of over 6 feet who spoke with a deep booming voice that none of us children could understand.

We probably visited my grandmother’s house once a fortnight in those days.

As a mother myself now, I can hardly imagine the energy, patience and determination that Kathleen must have had to teach Ben to speak at all.  At the end of her life he could feed himself, dress himself and in fact was a great help in the house.  He also loved music and could bash out notes that seemed to blend together on the piano.

Then Kathleen died.  One day she collapsed with a brain haemorrhage in the kitchen.  Ben called to the neighbours for help.  Kathleen was pronounced dead when she arrived at the hospital by ambulance.  My mother was very shocked and upset.  She dealt with the arrangements and Ben was sent to some relations in Clontarf until all the immediate aftermath of a sudden death had died down.

Kathleen had left instructions that her house was to be sold and the proceeds used to find Ben a suitable residential place in which he could spend the rest of his days.  It fell to my mother, as next oldest to organise this.  Selling the house was easy.  Finding a place for the gentle giant was not.

So my parents took the decision that Ben should move in with us until his future was settled.  And very suddenly (children do not see things coming), Ben, all six foot of boom was coming to stay.  If I said anything at being told this news I am sure it was a rather nonplussed ‘Oh’.

As a nine year old, Ben was fine living over there in Mounttown.  It was not at all fine to find Ben living in my house.  None of my friends had anyone living with them other than parents and siblings.  Certainly no-one had anyone who came close to a Ben.  How did I explain Ben?  I couldn’t and so I didn’t.  Friends came to my house and I pretended that Ben was invisible.  I ignored him and his presence and so did they.  This went on for many years, until I was well into my time at Secondary School.  It was all working out OK I thought, until one of our well meaning teachers decided to have a discussion on mental health.  I kept my head down and said nothing although I was obviously the only expert on this subject in the class – going on the ‘one-eyed man being king in the land of the blind’ principle.  Then one of my friends piped up “sure Barbara don’t you have one of those mad fellas living in your house”.  I took my street cred very seriously at this point in my life.  Having three younger brothers was bad enough – this was a nightmare.  “He’s not mad, he is mentally handicapped” I replied frostily.  But something clicked in my head.

Ben was now part of the family.  My parents had never come even close to finding somewhere suitable for his gentle spirit.  He was with us for keeps and it was time to educate my friends about him.  I then realised that most of them was somewhat scared of this huge man – who said little but when he did, it could be heard in Howth.

Funny, I don’t remember my brothers having this problem at all!  They paraded their friends through the house roaring “that’s Ben.  Howareya Ben?”  Their friends took the lead from them and roared “Howareya Ben” too.  “Hellllooo” Ben boomed back.

In most ways Ben melted into the fabric of our chaotic family with relative ease.  Ben is very even tempered and mild.  He is never aggressive and has no behavioural problems at all.  His needs are very simple.  Along with regular meals and a warm bed, Ben’s other requirements are a supply of colouring pencils, colouring books, jelly sweets and the occasional jigsaw.  He loves to help out in the house and from day one there were certain domestic chores that became Bens (great for a house full of teenagers).  Ben made beds (before the advent of duvets) and washed up.  Ben was also a great fetch and carry man.  Our house echoed with shouts of “Ben, can you bring me in this, or that, or the other”.  Along with playing a huge domestic role, Ben was a great DIY assistant who specialised in holding things while nails were hammered into walls etc.  Occasionally Ben got it wrong or got bored holding up the shelf and would start to let it slip.  This would tax my father in particular – “Ah Ben, what kind of a clown are you” he’d roar at an indifferent Ben, who seemed to know exactly what type of clown he was.  The kind of one who had a free pass straight to heaven!

There is a cog in his brain which misfires and causes Ben to follow instructions to the letter.  He is not equipped with initiative at all.  A classic example of this relates to another of Ben’s jobs – bringing out the bins.  In the days before the Wheelie Bin, Ben always helped my father dragging the tons of rubbish our family accumulated each week for the bin collection.  At this time my father went through a period of ill health and so this job became Ben’s responsibility.  He never forgot.  Each Wednesday at 8am, millions of black sacks would be dragged around the side passage to the front gate.  Then one day Ben had a bad back.  My mother issued instructions to Ben on Tuesday night – “You are not to bring out the rubbish tomorrow Ben as your back is sore, OK?”  “OK” said Ben.  But Ben is the type of machine that once programmed it is very difficult to modify or cancel commands.  At 8:15 the next morning my mother noticed that all the rubbish was in place by the front gate.  “Ben – did you bring out the rubbish”  “Yes, Ben did it” he proudly announced.  “You big eejit” says the mother “you could have damaged your back further.  You should have left it like I said”.  10 minutes later she is gazing out the back window to witness Ben dragging all the bags back to their original location in the back garden.  Great craic!

Ben was also very handy when we forgot our keys to get back into the house – at any time of day or night.  During the day it was simple.  Ringing the bell two or three times in succession was his signal to answer the door.  This worked fine until some unfortunate door-to-door collector or salesperson accidentally hit the bell twice.  The door would be answered by our Ben who on seeing that it was not one of the family seeking to gain entrance, would immediately slam it shut again.  Coming home late at night keyless was also easy with Ben.  His room was in front of the house and a couple of pebbles at the window would normally do the trick.  Failing that (it can be difficult to have an accurate aim in the dark after a couple of hours in the pub) a single loud shout of BEN would normally rise him!

And so life in our house chugged along just fine with Ben on board.  He was very useful to useless teenagers!  Then one day we nearly lost him!

One of the first things my mother discovered when Ben came to stay was St Michael’s House.  Ben began to attend one of their sheltered workshops back in the early seventies.  He is now one of their longest attending and their oldest client.  Ben loves ‘going to work’ and is collected by minibus every morning and arrives back mid afternoon.  The red bus from St Michael’s House is a common sight on the road.

When we were all still at home and both my parents were working, morning times got very hectic in our house.  Bathroom time was strictly rota-ed and one overstayed their allocated time at their great peril.  I don’t know how but we managed.  Perhaps the secret was co-operation.  It was no doubt with this in mind that I particularly felt a degree of responsibility that Ben should be ready for his bus and aware of when it had arrived on the road.  It’s normal routine was to drive slowly past our house and go down to turn.  By the time it was back outside our door Ben was at the gate.  The bus normally arrived just before 8:30am.

This fateful morning I glanced out the window to see the familiar red bus driving slowly past our house.  “Ben hurry up” I roared, “the bus is early.”  Ben whose greatest nightmare was to miss work, quickly gathered up his lunchbox and jacket and headed out the door to the shouts of Bye Ben from the house.  We continued our strictly choreographed morning routine when at just after 8:30 there was a knock at the door.  The bus driver from St Michael’s house was not pleased that Ben was not at the gate!

“But Ben’s gone” we said, baffled.

“He couldn’t be” said the driver “we have only just arrived”.

“But the bus came at about ten past eight and Ben is gone.  Could there be another bus doing the run this morning also?”

“I don’t think so but I’ll ring the office and check”

While we waited we double-checked the house and garden to make sure that Ben had not returned.  No Ben and no other bus.

Where was Ben?  My mother decided to phone the Gardai and duly reported our Ben as missing.  We began to get worried.  Could Ben have been kidnapped?  Who would kidnap our Ben?  My father decided to get up on his bike and tour the neighbourhood for clues.  The rest of us were told to go to work or school.  I felt awful.  I was the one who told Ben his bus was early.  But I definitely saw red minibus.  We had no idea what had happened.

Finally at about 11am the phone rang.  It was our local Garda Station.  A person answering Ben’s description and clutching a lunchbox had been ‘handed in’ to Bray Garda Station.  Could someone go and identify him and collect him.  It had to be Ben – but how had he gotten to Bray?  My brother was dispatched to collect him.

While he was gone the phone rang again.  Our neighbour and good friend across the road was laughing so much that it took a while to establish the facts of Ben’s disappearance.

This neighbour had recently started to take in students;  mostly adults coming to Ireland for short intensive language courses.  Many of them worked for Siemens Nixdorf in Bray.  On this particular morning she had two gentlemen who were to be collected by minibus for their day at Nixdorf.  One however was sick and stayed in bed.  At about the same time as her lone student was boarding the bus, our Ben shot out of our door and onto the minibus.  The driver, expecting two passengers  was happy enough and off they went.  I am not sure if anyone tried to make conversation on the way south but the bus duly arrived at the Nixdorf facility in Bray whereupon all the passengers disembarked but our Ben who was cute enough to know that this was not St Michael’s House.

The driver invited him to leave but Ben stayed put.  The driver went looking for help assuming that this fella had no English at all.  A tutor arrived out and again tried to converse with Ben to no avail.  “Where – are – you – from” he asked in fractured English.  Ben could never manage to remember a full address but did know that we lived near Stradbrook Road and so he boomed triumphantly “Stradbrook”.  “Ah Strasbourg” says Mr Nixdorf and immediately switched to French.  Still no joy.  This interrogation must have gone on for some more time and Ben would not leave the bus.  Finally someone arrived who realised that Ben was perhaps a sandwich or two short of a picnic.  And so the Gardai were called in.

Ben was taken back to the Station in the tender care of a female officer who was still entertaining him and drinking tea when my brother arrived.  To this day Ben still recounts this story with great excitement and we have all dined out on the same story for years as, no doubt, have the people at Siemens Nixdorf.

So Ben is now approaching his 71st birthday and is seemingly still going strong.  In all the years I have shared with Ben I have never known him to lose his temper or even say a bad word about anyone.  He is truly a good person and a pure spirit.  Remembering now how I felt when Ben came to live with us when I was 9, I marvel at my kids who all accept Ben as he is but who know that he is different, special.  They talk to him, bring him sweets and engage him in their games regularly.  And Ben, like many of his years, loves the kids and particularly loves it when they go back to their own homes!

Scully’s Christmas Book suggestions

wind-in-willowsJust before Christmas I did my usual Christmas Irish Non-fiction book suggestion on Ireland AM on TV3.  In case you are using up book token presents or just want to treat yourself to a nice book here are this year’s suggestions:

 

WHAT IF…. A Chronicle of What Might Have Been

By Annie West.  Published by New Island (on special of 11.96 on website)

If you are on Twitter at all you will probably have come across the legend that is Annie West – illustrator and cartoonist, wit and Yeats specialist.  Her new book ‘What If… A Chronicle of What Might Have Been is a brilliant dip in and out of book of essays by various well known contributors speculating on ‘what if’s’.

Myles Dungan writes about “what if Irish historians told the full story about women’s’ contribution to Irish History.”  David McCullagh explores “what if London has listened to the unrest over taxation that was demonstrated at the Boston Tea Party” meant for example a union jack had been planted on the moon!  Colm Tobin wonders about  “what if the Big Fella had been short?”

All great fun and all ponderings accompanied by one of Annie Wests wonderful illustrations.

 

Dublin in the 1960s

Edited by Michael Hinch, photos from Independent Archives.

Published by Mercier. 19.99

And

Looking Back – The Changing Face of Ireland

By Eric Luke.  Published by O Brien Press 24.99

 Two wonderfully nostalgic and endlessly fascinating photography books that would make great presents especially perhaps for your parents or older relatives.  Although everyone can get lost in the pages of the most evocative photos of an Ireland that is now gone.

‘Dublin in the 1960’ will strike a chord with anyone who remembers Dublin at that time with gorgeous photos from the Independent Archives.

Eric Luke is a photographer with the Irish Times and his book spans more recent decades and includes colour photos.  Eric’s book is divided into sections such as The Country, The Capital, Personalities and best of all Music.  Eric’s photos of Irish musical icons such as Rory Gallagher, U2, The Chieftains and the glorious Thin Lizzy are just stunning.

Both books great way to pass a rainy day

 

Healing Creations – Discover your mindful self through mandala colouring and journaling

By Patricia Fitzgerald.  Published by The Collins Press.  19.99

Even if the ‘trend’ of adult colouring passed you by – many of us know how tempting it is to join a small kid as they colour in.  It is hugely relaxing and grounding.  In other words, it calms your mind from the rubbish many of us have spinning around in our heads regularly.

This book is designed to get the maximum psychological benefit from colouring as has been designed by Patricia Fitzgerald who is a mindfulness expert.  Mandalas – are circular intricate art forms which have long been associated with calmness.  This book has 40 mandalas and 10 which also have guided meditations.  And the book is sprinkled with inspirational quotes from people such as Maya Angelou, Henry Ford and Confucius.  There are also blank pages to you to record your experience – journal!   A new year’s treat for yourself perhaps?

 

This year I also looked at some children’s books.  I selected three for inclusion:

First up is my favourite kids story ever, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Graham – a classic story and this edition by Walker Books, retails at 22.00euro and is simply beautiful.  I found it in a treasure of a book shop called TALES FOR TADPOLES on Drury Street in Dublin (they also have a small shop on Nassau St I believe).  They stock the most gorgeous editions of children’s classics along with prints of the illustrations.  Peter Rabbit series, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl – the common denominator is the books are beautifully illustrated.  They also sell prints of some of the illustrations.  The shop is well worth a visit and a must if you want to gift a book that will become a family heirloom.

Next is an Irish book – the second in a trilogy called The Nine Lives Trilogy – this one is The Book of Shadows (the first being The Book of Learning) and features the adventures of Ebony Smart and her pet rat Winston.  (Her grandpa dies and she uncovers her secret past) It’s by ER Murray, published by Mercier and retails at 7.49 on their website (special price).  Great Irish book for young adults..age 9+

Finally,… one for all the family to get involved with over the Christmas.  The Whiz Quiz Book – third edition of this brilliant book which was compiled by the National Parents Council.  A general knowledge quiz book for all the family., Questions on sport, music, history etc…  laid out in ten rounds of ten questions.  Great way of teaching without teaching.  Collins Press 5.99

SPECIAL MENTIONS

A gorgeous book of short stories – THE GLASS SHORE, edited by Sinead Gleeson published by New Island 14.96 euro on special on the website.  These stories are all by women writers from the North of Ireland. A follow up to the very successful LONG GAZE BACK which Sinead edited last year.  A lovely book for anyone who loves short stories…

Finally, for the feminist or the historian in your life – A CENTURY OF PROGRESS – IRISH WOMEN RELFECT.   A book of essays by various contributors on the role of women in Ireland over the last 100 years.  Book comes from the Markieviez School thro Arlen Press and available in various bookshops including Books Upstairs, Connolly Book Shop in Temple Bar, An Siopa Leabhar Harcourt Street and also kennys.ie with free post

THE PERFECT PACKAGE…apparently

Raising kids is not a job for the faint-hearted.  Babies and toddlers are a lot of physical work but parenting teenagers would melt the most robust brain. They say girls are harder to raise than boys.  I wouldn’t know.  I only have girls.  Two of them teenagers.

But I do know that parenting girls is a lot like being a salmon.  Fighting your way upstream, swimming against the tide and struggling to leap up waterfalls.  Like most parents, I want my girls to reach their full potential and to be happy.  This would be a lot easier to achieve if they weren’t bombarded with images of impossibly sexy women at every turn.  Yes, you know what I am talking about… the music videos, the movies where women are all girlfriends and accessories to the guys, the advertising with the token gorgeous scantily clad woman.  Not to mention endless targeting of us with beauty products so that we can be better version of ourselves.

I have no tools to use against this onslaught except to keep repeating the mantra ‘be yourself, you are good enough.’  Coupled with ‘those images aren’t real, don’t even try to compete, you’ll only wreck your head.’

But then sometimes something comes straight out of left field providing a surprising affront to my attempts at raising confident, assertive, strong women.  Last week’s Life Magazine in the Sunday Independent was one such affront.  When I saw it first I thought it was a jokey mock up of a Top of The Pops LP from the mid ’70s.  Smiling sexily on the cover of the magazine was a model dressed as a sexy Santa.  A sexy Santa – like what even is that? To that image was added the  perfect 70s’ double entendre – “The Perfect Package”.  Yes this was Life Magazine’s Christmas Gift Guide 2016.

I took some deep breaths to calm my rising blood pressure and ventured inside to what is generally a good read.  The gift guide stretched to about 9 pages and each page had another sexy model.  We had sexy green Santa, sexy Elf and a sexy Fairy.  These sexy minxes were not doing anything you understand.  They merely existed on the page to be sexy eye candy while one perused the gifts.  And the gifts may have been great.  I don’t know.  Because I was only able to see red…. All those Santa outfits had blurred my vision.

As I closed the magazine I had that Benny Hill theme tune going around and around in my head accompanied by visions of Brendan O’Connor chasing Sexy Santa’s around the Sindo’s offices.  It was most unnerving.

The cover can be viewed here 

#wherearethewomen

ianodpiece

As some of you might know I have been very exercised by the lack of women guests on Ireland’s premier entertainment and chat show, The Late Late Show, since it began this seasons run in September.  I have been tweeting about it most Fridays using the hashtag #wherearethewomen.  Since this campaign started there have been two supportive pieces written by women – one in the Irish Times by Anthea McTeirnan and one in the Irish Independent by Lorraine Courtney.  And there was a piece by Ian O Doherty in last Friday’s Irish  Independent which is not online but you can read it from the photo above.

This is my response to Mr O Doherty.

I have many issues with the piece Ian O’Doherty,  wrote under the heading “Save us from panel envy” in last Friday’s Irish Independent.  He was referring to the building head of steam that feminists (male and female) are creating at the distinct lack of women on this country’s premier entertainment programme, namely The Late Late Show.  I have been one of the loudest critics of this phenomenon, mainly voicing my increasing frustration and anger on Twitter using the hashtag #wherearethewomen.

But back to Mr O’Doherty and aside from the fact that he didn’t have the manners to credit me with stirring this particular pot he also said that “the complainers don’t do laughter.”  That stung.  I love a good laugh and have even been known to provide a good laugh reasonably regularly.  Unfortunately, by mentioning this slight on my character (and indeed that of my feminist co-complainers) kind of leads me into feeling I have to make this piece funny in order to prove my point.  And I hate that.

But back to Mr O’Doherty who also thinks that we whiny feminists (paragraph one) sit down every Friday with pen and notebook in order to tabulate the gender of the guests, when in fact a pen and notebook isn’t necessary at all.  The lack of women is glaringly obvious, especially to us whiny feminists.  But apparently according to O’Doherty our complaining misses the point that “there just aren’t as many decent guests as there used to be.”  Seriously Ian?

Although in fairness I guess that depends on your definition of ‘decent guests’.  The Late Late Show has always been aware that it cannot compete with the big British chat shows who attract a good smattering of Hollywood mega-stars, week after week.  So, for home grown programmes often the best guests have been so called ‘ordinary’ people who have extraordinary stories to tell.   Panel discussions have equally always been a part of the Late Late landscape and often provide the talking points for the following day.  So, do women have not stories to tell?  Or maybe we just aren’t articulate enough to tell the story?

The second thing that stung in O’Doherty’s piece is when he mentions “some of those who have been complaining loudest don’t seem to have any problem appearing on TV3’s execrable Midday programme, which only features women.”  Yes. I am a regular panellist on Midday and I had to double check the meaning of the word execrable.  According to the Oxford dictionary execrable means “extremely bad or unpleasant”.  Unpleasant Ian? Why unpleasant?  Is it just because it’s an all-female panel (except on Fridays)?  Ahhh well, in fairness, I could understand how that might upset you. The Late Late Show has had two shows this season where there have been no women at all interviewed.  So I know that that can feel very, well weird.  You know, when you hold up half the sky, as men do.

Actually, it feels worse than weird.  It feels like you don’t exist at all.  It silences your soul.  Therefore Ian, I can see how watching Midday (do you watch it regularly I wonder) would make you feel bad about life and yourself. Viewing the world through an all-female lens would be just as disconcerting as viewing it through a predominantly male lens when you are a woman.

But imagine if every programme was the same Ian?  Imagine if you switched on the Late Late Show and it looked like Midday?  If you listened to the Marian Finnucane Programme on RTE Radio One and it sounded very like Midday?  Lots of men chatting away about the big stories of the week.

The lack of women’ voices, stories and opinions is a fundamental flaw in our media and one which needs to be addressed with a degree of energy and urgency, particularly by our national broadcaster who should be leading the way in gender balanced programming.

Demanding quotas you say will drive down quality.  How?  Because women are inherently less able, less interesting, less intelligent than the men we hear all the time?  Unconscious bias exists in all of us.  I acknowledge that it will make it a little more difficult for TV and radio producers to abandon their usual ‘go to’ contributors in order to ensure that women’s voices are heard, that our opinions are as much a part of the public conversation as mens are.  But I think our media professionals are quite capable in doing that without sacrificing creativity which Ian points out will be a natural consequence of such action.

Back to that word execrable.  The Oxford dictionary goes on to give its origins, which are late Middle English in the sense of “expressing or involving a curse”.  So I am thinking it was probably used back then about witches.  Plus ca change?  And this isn’t that funny either, is it?

 

 

AHAKISTA DREAMING

ahakista mary

The opportunity to hear feminist legend Gloria Steinem was the magnet that drew me to West Cork.  As soon as news broke about her coming to Bantry as part of the West Cork Literary Festival I was online booking my ticket.  It was going to be a long drive for a quick overnight stay in a local B&B, but how often does one get the chance to listen to GLORIA STEINEM?

Then I thought about West Cork and maybe taking my mother with me to make a weekend of it.  I began to research hiring a holiday house.  But in high season most only offer Saturday to Saturday rentals.  The universe seemed to want me to come and spend a week and sure who was I to argue.  Mother was delighted.

In the end it was me, said mother, my youngest daughter, who is 15 and our daft deaf dog, Dylan who piled into my car loaded with bags, dog stuff, rain jackets, daughter’s guitar and art supplies and mother’s walking frame and off we headed like the Beverly Hillbillies on Tour.

The journey from Dublin to Cork no longer requires a stop and so after a mid-morning start, we were in the suburb of Douglas in time for a late lunch.  Our journey west was on the N71  which took us through Bandon and onto Dunmanway before turning off onto the Sheep’s Head peninsula and into dense fog.

Driving slowly and carefully we eventually found our rental house and hoped that the view was as nice as it looked in the photos.  That night as I settled into the comfiest bed I have ever slept in (besides my own) I was thrilled to find it was located directly under a roof window.  Although all I could see was cotton wool I looked forward to nights falling asleep while looking deep into the Milky Way.

The next morning, we woke up to find the blanket of fog had turned into a fog duvet.  It felt as if we had become trapped inside the packaging of a gorgeous present.  The woman who owned the house texted and suggested that we head inland to Gouganne Barra in order to escape.  So once again I carefully steered us back along the Sheepshead Peninsula and out of the murky miasma.

Gouganne Barra is Cork’s Glendalough – only smaller, less crowded and with a charming working oratory. We had a lovely lunch in the hotel which is like stepping back into the 1950s but with wonderful 21st century food.

ahakista fog

On Monday morning Dunmamus Bay was right there, sparkling in the middle distance just beyond the field below the house.  To the right the little harbour at Ahakista was marked by the boats moored in the bay just beyond the pier.  The present had been unwrapped and it lived up to our expectations.

As I was attending a workshop in Bantry, every morning I was up early to commute along one of the most wonderful drive that had remained hidden to us on arrival.  The road along the peninsula hugs the coast, along it’s inlets and coves between the villages of Durrus and Kilcrohane.  Each turn and twist reveals new beauty and it was a twenty minutes I savoured each time I drove it.

Ahakista is not really a village.  But it is a magical place with three wonderful hostelries.

ahakista arundels
The view from our table at Arundel’s By The Pier, Ahakista

 

Arundel’s by the Pier is an intimate bar and restaurant, with friendly informal service and great food.  It is a popular spot, so a reservation for dinner is advised.

The Tin Pub is like something you might expect to find in the Australian Outback – a genuinely tin roofed shack, with a dark and very modest interior and a great beer garden which has the best view of the bay.  Myself and my daughter found ourselves drawn to this laid back mecca most days for a cold drink as we sat, often in silence watching the comings and goings in the bay.ahakista heron

Finally, there is The Heron Gallery and Café.  Hidden away behind the harbour this is a magical place.  You can sit indoors and be surrounded by the gorgeous art of the owner, artist Annabel Langrish whose work captures the natural world and particularly the beauty of owls, foxes, hares etc.  But visit on a fine  day (and we were lucky enough to be in West Cork for the hottest week of the summer) and sit in the magnificent garden with its quirky artworks, lush flowers and trees.  In the dappled shadows you can listen to the pigs snorting in the distance while you sample as I did, the divine Moroccan Almond and Orange cake and Mint Tea brewed with freshly picked mint.  Your troubles will melt away and you will wish that you could stop time so that you could remain in this bubble of gorgeousness indefinitely.

Our holiday house had no Wi-Fi, very ropey phone signal and only terrestrial TV channels.  With no distractions we walked in the evening along the narrow roads between splashes of fuchsia and crocosmia, waving at the odd passing car and remarking on how West Cork keep their gardens in great shape. We cooked and we ate and we talked and we read.  It was time out of life.  A welcome break from the horror of daily news.

On Saturday we reloaded all the stuff back in the car as the clouds rolled in from the Atlantic and as Ahakista became shrouded in rain we hit the road back towards reality, stopping in Bantry to bathe in the wisdom of the feminist icon who led me to magic of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula.  Thank you Ms Steinem, for everything

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