Kidnap on the Blackwater

26th June 1920

One hundred years ago, on the 26th of June 1920, one of the most extraordinary events of the War of Independence began to unfold on the banks of the beautiful River Blackwater just outside the north Cork town of Fermoy.

Fermoy was a major garrison town and the local IRA had intelligence that the most senior officer, General Lucas, had planned a day fishing on the river with two other officers.  It was decided to mount a kidnap operation to take Lucas hostage in exchange for IRA prisoners held in Cork jail including Michael Fitzgerald, who was on hunger strike..

General Lucas

The first part of the operation was a success and Lucas along with Colonel Dunford of the Royal Artillery and Colonel Tyrrell of the Royal Engineers were successfully captured by the IRA men who told then they would be held pending further instructions from IRA HQ.  In order to make a swift getaway from the scene, the IRA,who had their own car, also took the British touring car and split into the groups and headed away in convoy.  One of the IRA volunteers, George Power’s witness statement provides us with a detailed account of what happened next:

“Lucas and Dunford held a brief conversation in a strange language, subsequently discovered to be Arabic and, at a pre-arranged signal between them, they sprang simultaneously on Lynch and Clancy. The attack was so sudden that the I.R.A. officers were at first taken at a disadvantage and almost disarmed before they realised what had happened. In the melee the driver lost control of the car, crashed into the ditch and rendered himself unconscious. It was, therefore, an even fight between the two British and the two I.R.A. officers.

The struggle between Lynch and Lucas was particularly severe, as both were strong-built, well-trained men, about six foot in height. In the first onslaught Lucas had got on top of Lynch, making frantic efforts to wrench the gun from him and had all but succeeded when the door of the touring car gave way. They both rolled on to the roadway, still struggling, until finally Lynch wore down his opponent and the General shouted: “I surrender”.

Meanwhile, Colonel Dunford and Paddy Clancy were fighting desperately, with Colonel Dunford on top; he had almost succeeded in throttling the I.R.A. officer when Lynch turning round, took in the situation at a glance, shouted to the British officer: “Surrender or I shoot.” but Dunford ignored the command and maintained his grip on Clancy’s throat, whereupon Lynch fired at and hit Dunford in the face, making him collapse over his opponent.

Once those in the leading car realised that something was up, they turned back.  It was decided to release Tyrrell in order to attend to his comrade Dunford and one of the IRA volunteers was dispatched to fetch a local doctor.  George Power also left the group to make his way immediately to Dublin to report to Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha.

In the end Lucas was held for about four weeks before he escaped or was released by the IRA.

George Power

As the granddaughter of George Power, I have been forever familiar with this story as it was one I heard many times growing up and it fascinated me.  Not only did it seem to have a relative happy ending, unlike most of the stories from that period but I was also told that when free, Lucas had stated that the had been “treated like a gentleman by gentlemen.”  Apparently, the IRA had sourced his favourite whiskey and made arrangements for him to correspond with his wife in England. But I always wondered if the story had become imbued with a fairy-tale element over the years: something added perhaps to protect my childish ears from the harsh reality of the situation.

But a new website, launched by the Lucas family is testament to the fact that I hadn’t been told a lie.

This website was introduced by Ruth Wheeler who is General Lucas’s granddaughter, in a letter last week to the Irish Times. will feature letters written by Lucan in captivity to his beloved wife who gave birth shortly after his kidnap.  These letters are being released daily from 18th of June until the beginning of August.  The website describes this story of the kidnapping of General Lucas as one that “unites both Irish and British sides in a shared celebration of humanity, humour, respect and basic human kindness. It is an extraordinary, true story.”

General Lucas in captivity

I am really delighted that the Lucas family are sharing these personal letters with a wider public because this story something special and provides us with a reassuring example of man’s humanity to his fellow man at a time of such horror and violence.

I am sure that George Power or General Lucas couldnot have ever imagined that one hundred years on from that fateful day on the banks of the beautiful river Blackwater, their respective granddaughters on either side of the Irish sea would take such heart and pride in the story.


If you have any interest in this period of Irish history I highly recommend visiting the website.  Along with the personal letters of General Lucas quite a deal of background information is provided.  All in all a wonderful treat to read every day.  

We need to support our journalists by buying newspapers again.

Whatever else you can say about where we are as a country at the moment we are certainly living in interesting times. Nowhere is the tsunami of social change reflected more clearly in the result of the referendum to lower the waiting period for divorce from 4 years to 2 years. As I write exit polls suggest that in the region of 87% voted for yes for this change.  In 1986 we voted against divorce and in 1996 the vote was passed by the slimmest of margins.  Oh yes, times they are still a changin’.

But what is more interesting is the ‘Green Surge’ that has been delivered in both the European and Local elections.  I am no expert and no political scientist and I still am not fully sure of how PR works, but I tweeted a week before polling day that from people I was talking to there seemed to be a ‘greening’ happening.  And today listening to the radio as we wait for the first results to come there seems to be a fair amount of surprise among the commentators and journalists at this turn of events.

This is worrying.  And it should also be something we are concerned about.  We have great journalists, great commentators and I think we are still a nation capable of critical thinking. However our media, is an industry in big trouble.  We saw stark evidence of this this week with the news that the Times Ireland will no longer publish an actual paper here.  A lot of great journalists lost their jobs.  The problem of course is funding and it is affecting our news media – both print and broadcast as they rely more and more on advertising for revenue as we insist that we should get our news for free.

The bottom line I think is that we need to go back to buying newspapers.  I honestly believe that chasing subscriptions is problematic for all kinds of reasons. But mainly because our attention span when reading on devices is less than when we are engaged in reading the printed word. Studies have also shown that we read faster on screens and so not as carefully as we read the printed word.

Living in an urban area means that I can avail of the luxury of having a newspaper delivered to my door every day.  Therefore, I can have my breakfast while reading the news the old-fashioned way.  This means that I am presented with the full newspaper – all opinions and stories, not just those that have been curated for me based on my likes and interests by Big Brother – be he Facebook or some other medium.

When the e-reader came on the scene, we all were told that books were dead.  Libraries and bookstores would vanish.  They didn’t.  E-readers have their place and are very useful for travelling but people still like to read books. Because reading is a much more than just words on a screen or a page.  It is about time and space, the touch of paper and the smell of print.

Online reading becomes very cluttered very quickly. You either read when you find or you bookmark for later and the article or column becomes part of a huge online slush pile which will probably never get to.  There is only so much you can read online.  However a newspaper, particularly a chunky weekend one will lie around for a couple of days as you delve into its various parts every time you sit down with a cuppa.

Some great journalist lost their jobs this week because we think that our news should be freely available.  In order to keep their finger on the pulses of a nation, journalists need to be out in the world.  They need time and resources to do their jobs. And we need far more journalists than are currently employed in Ireland at the moment.

But journalists don’t just bring news.  They hold the government and the powerful to account. They investigate stories that need time and energy to uncover.  They are essential for a functioning democracy.

So, if you care, really care about politics, about our democracy and how we live; if you want to make this country a better place, we need a free, independent media funded by OUR money.  So please, buy a newspaper.  Not just today, but every day.

Halloween Reminder To Claim Your Power as an Older Woman

Tomorrow is Halloween; the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.  Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the beginning of winter and (most importantly) the celebration of woman as Crone. In ancient mythology woman was represented by the Triple Goddess of The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone.  The triple spiral found in ancient Ireland is said to be a representation of this triumvirate view of woman.  The maiden was of course revered for her physical youth and beauty, the mother respected as the nurturer and carer.  And the Crone was esteemed for her wisdom.

Of course, we know that by the middle ages this idea of the wise older woman had been hijacked to become the evil witch and although we don’t burn witches at the stake any longer, the power of the older woman is now eroded by the constant message that we should be fighting ageing and that, for a woman, growing older is somehow a failure.  When in fact, once a woman passes through the fires of menopause she emerges into her most powerful phase of life.

By the age of 50 most women are on the verge of menopause if not fully engaged with all the joys of hot flushes, and periods that come straight out of nowhere and aching joints etc.  But hey, at least we are very unlikely to become pregnant.  And in this decade, most of us will have finally arrived in a place where our biology, for the first time since we were girls will have receded completely.

For at least four decades we have coped with school, exams, college, more exams, work, travel, relationships while also coping with the monthly mess that causes logistical problems that men never have to deal with.  We become just brilliant at not only powering through cramps, heavy flow, leaky tampons, headaches but all the while pretending that we are fine.  Because to admit you feel like shit would be to display a girly weakness that might come back to haunt you.  This is especially true in the workplace.  You become so brilliant at it that you don’t realise just how heroic you are.  Could you imagine if men had periods?  There would be red tents full of soft cushions, gentle music and hot water bottles in every workplace and tampons and towels would all be issued free and delivered to your doorstep once a month.

With apologies to Dr King but we ‘50 plus’ women have arrived at an age where we are “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.”  So, why the hell aren’t we throwing parties?  Freedom from bleeding and all that accompanying side effects means that we are also (more or less – be careful) also free of our fertility.  Fertility is a precious gift and one that most women experience with joy but being the ones who get pregnant means that forever we will be the ones who worry most about getting pregnant.  So, no more worries.  No more pills, diaphragms, coils, other medieval sounding devices to ensure those sneaky sperm don’t get to our baby eggs. Sure, that right there is enough of a reason to be delighted you are now in your fifties. But there’s more.  And you might take a bit more convincing on the next but bear with me.

The Heat is ON…..Kundalini rising

There is a theory is Eastern Esoteric thinking that the menopause signals the rising of a woman’s kundalini energy up through her body, which would explain hot flushes I guess.  But seriously, the menopause can be a huge hassle between hot sweats, aching joints, thinning hair and a variety of other inconveniences.  This ‘change’ can make life very difficult and I plan more blog posts on the subject.  But for now, hang on in there…  I am not ignoring or making light of it.  And remember that this kundalini energy is a very creative force and so menopause was considered to be a great time for personal growth.  What makes me mad as hell is that modern Western Culture tells us precisely the opposite.


Ok so once you become a mother you will always be a mother….and your kids, big adults though they might be, will still be in occasional need of your wisdom, cups of tea, your fabulous lasagne or stew or soup and a hug that only a mammy can give.  I know that.  But by the time you hit the mid-fifties your kids are most likely fairly independent.  They may have moved out.  You may be a grandmother.  But your days of active parenting are over.

If you are a mother, then for decades you have had quite a large part of your brain dedicated to ‘kids’ stuff’.  You held all their individual preferences there, what food they liked and what they didn’t.  What books they had read, what their favourite movies were, what cartoons they liked, who their friends are, what those friend’s mom’s names are and where they lived.  You also remembered vaccinations, dentist check-up and doctors’ appointments.  You knew their teachers’ names, kept track of homework and supervised it when they were little.  You knew what extra-curricular activities whey had on what day and arranged complicated rotas with other parents to get them there and back.  You always kept spare birthday cards and possible presents for last minute birthday party invitations – in other words the invites you find when they are a week old and smeared with peanut butter at the end of their school bag.

As they got older you helped with subject choices, and keeping them as calm as possible before exams.  You picked up the pieces when their hearts got broken for the first time.  You saw then through the nonsense of the rites of modern passage such as 6th Year holidays and the Debs.  Whether you worked outside the home or not, you can now retrieve the bit of yourself that belonged to your kids.  Because its now OVER.  Well it’s more or less over!  Your home might still be full but at least most of your head is finally your own.  Well except for the bit they still inhabit and causes you worry.  But in general, you have not got extra brain space; space for you to do what you want with.

Other people’s opinions, so what?

Most of us begin to notice a subtle change in our attitude to what people think of us at around 40.  But by 50 there is a very definite sense of way less fucks to give as to what others really think of you or how you choose to live your life.  And if you haven’t found this particular freedom yet – listen up and then make an effort.  It’s the greatest gift.

Now I am not suggesting for one minute that we get to the point where we become completely selfish, pursuing our own agenda regardless of how it may affect others, especially those we love.  But most women have been brought up to be people pleasers, to be nice, to be polite, to be gentle and these lessons learned very early get further cemented into place very often as we get older.

At home we learn to put our own needs last.  We care for our children, our ageing parents, our partners and we run our homes.  Every so often we may have a blow out when the pressure mounts but in general women grin and bear the fact that we are still doing the lion’s share of the housework and caring.

In the workplace if we become assertive we are often labelled ‘shrill’ or ‘cranky’ or ‘bossy’ or ‘irrational’ – oh there is no shortage to terms that are reserved purely to describe women who are a bit ‘strident’ (yep, another one).  Some of us relish being troublesome and couldn’t care less what names we are called.  But for most women, trying to juggle it all, being perceived as ‘nice’ makes life easier.

But then you reach 50ish and suddenly you realise you aren’t as bothered anymore about what people think about you.  You realise that what other people think about you is their business, not yours.  I am not sure why this change in our attitudes happens.  Perhaps it’s just that we get too tired to bother.  Perhaps we realise just how precious our mental health is and worrying about what others think about you is a sure way to wreck your head.  Whatever the reason it’s something I began to realise when I turned 40 and with every decade since that I have less and less fucks to give.  And it’s liberating, I tell you.

So this on the eve of Samhain it’s time to reclaim our true power as older women and the freedom to now, finally become our true selves.  To fully step into our power as women.  It is any wonder that society wants to dent that power be reducing us to wrinkles and lines.  Because the truth is that a woman who can look back and see how far she has come and who now realises that she doesn’t give a flying fig what the world thinks of her is the most powerful of all.

We are all witches.  This is our time.

Urgent action by government needed after Pope’s visit.

The summer of 1979 will forever live in my memory as that special gap summer that occurs after you leave school and before you embark on the next phase – be it college or work.  It was a summer of delicious discovery, of excitement and of freedom.  I was 17 and by that September I was settling into a new routine, as I began a commercial course (ask your Ma) while waiting for my dream job in the travel business to come along.

Summer was just about over, when in the early hours of Saturday morning, the 29th of September I was walking home with friends through Glenageary and Sallynoggin after watching the Late Night Movie at the Forum Cinema in Glasthule, where I think the only late movie ever showing was ‘Pink Floyd, Live In Pompeii’.  As we trudged through the normally sleepy suburbs in the darkness, we were stunned to see front doors opening and families pouring out, into their cars, armed with fold up chairs, blankets and picnics.  We had no interest in the visit of the new Pope John Paul II but we were most certainly in the minority.

39 summers later and I had even less interest in the visit of Pope Francis but I was interested to see how our country reacted this time and if Francis was going to take the opportunity to do or say something of real consequence, given the current place the Catholic Church finds itself in, especially in Ireland.  So, I watched the speeches in Dublin Castle as they happened. The symbolism was fascinating.  The head of one of the largest religions on the planet, that believes gay people are “intrinsically disordered” being addressed by our Taoiseach, a gay man.  And in the front row sat a former President and canon lawyer, Dr Mary McAleese who has referred to the Catholic Church as ‘an empire of misogyny’ and has labelled their teaching on homosexuality as ‘evil’.  Leo Varadkar delivered a well-crafted, pointed speech and as we know Pope Francis reply was… well nothing new.

In his speech Varadkar referred to the Irish people remaining a spiritual people, a people with faith, something I absolutely agree with.  But by their non-attendance on the streets and in the Phoenix Park, the people gave a clear indication that they make a huge distinction between their personal faith and the architecture of the church – the hierarchy.   The Catholic Church, for its own best interests, should heed this message but more importantly, the Irish Government should take great cognisance of what happened last weekend.  If Varadkar’s words are not to be lost on the wind to become meaningless noise then a series of government actions should flow from what we learned.

Firstly, ownership and control of our national schools should be put into the hands of the Dept of Education.  Currently somewhere in the region of 90% of our primary schools are under ownership and control of the Catholic Church.  This is not appropriate in a modern republic.  Our publicly funded hospitals should also come under the control of the Dept of Health and religious orders be removed from their running completely.

The second action that should be taken is for the women and babies who suffered in Magdalene Laundries and other institutions should be honoured and commemorated.  And the most appropriate way to do this is by the setting up of a museum in their memory.  The obvious location for this is in the last remaining laundry in state ownership, in Sean McDermott Street which is at the moment earmarked by Dublin City Council to be sold to a Japanese Hotel chain.  You can sign a petition to stop this sale here.

Lastly the government should immediately pass legislation if necessary to force religious orders to open their books and files to allow people find their families.  To finally obtain their identity.  To continue to allow the orders to thwart people is particularly cruel.

These actions are important because the horrors in our past can’t just be left at the door of the Catholic Church as we turn our backs from the hierarchy.  The state and the people of this country were complicit, particularly in the treatment of women who became pregnant outside of marriage and their children.  This new republic that Varadkar refereed to cannot exist if we don’t’ take ownership of our role in these dark episodes and make sure that these stories are not forgotten.  I think the people know this. The question is, do our politicians?


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.

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.

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.



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.


Census, Religion & Magdalenes

Every year, on the Sunday before International Women’s Day, the public are encouraged to place flowers on the graves of ‘Magdalene’s’ – so called fallen women, ‘unmarried mothers’ who were placed in laundries run by the church.  I recently discovered that there had been a laundry local to me in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin and the Justice for Magdalene’s Research group are aware that some of their ‘residents’ are buried in my local cemetery at Deansgrange.  So far only one grave has been identified because of the difficulty in assessing the records of these women.  The religious orders who ran these laundries refuse to open records from post 1900.  So one of the very few sources of information as to who was incarcerated in the laundries is the census data from 1901 and 1911 which in the case of the Dun Laoghaire laundry lists 45 women laundresses in 1901 and 48 in 1911.   The painstaking cross referencing the census records with the burial records of Deansgrange which has been undertaken by volunteers of the Justice for Magdalene’s Research Group, is naturally very slow.  But it is vital work as it enables this generation to in some way acknowledge the wrongs inflicted on these women and ensure that they are not forgotten

In the case of the Dun Laoghaire laundry this exercise is only made possible by the existence of the census records.  Currently my family’s Census 2016 form is tucked away safely in a drawer until the night of Sunday 24th of April when it has to be filled in.  It’s a substantial form and reasonably straightforward.  But there is one question that once again is causing me angst over how I should answer it.  The ‘What Is Your Religion?’ question might seem simple enough but for many of us, it is far from easy.   The options are Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Islam, Presbyterian, Orthodox or Other with space to fill in what your religion is.  The last box is the ‘no religion’ option.

I could tick ‘other’ and insert Christian as I would generally be a follower of Jesus’s teachings but I don’t believe he was God or the son of God and as far as I can ascertain most Christians believe he was both human and divine.

When one has grown up with a spiritual practice and belonging to a religious community like the Catholic Church, it’s not always straight forward to walk away.  Well the walking away is relatively easy, particularly if you were a second class member of that church as I was, being that I am a woman.  I am also mother to three daughters and so I felt I owed it not only to myself but also to them to leave the patriarchal church of my birth, the one which boasted an all-male deity system and an all-male management team here on earth.  The rape of children by some of this team, the continuing attitude of the Catholic Church to gay love all made leaving much easier, especially as a parent.   But once the novelty of liberation fades I was left with a gap in my life. I need a belief system.  I do believe in a higher something – call it God or Allah or whatever you like.

And therein lies my problem.  I consider myself a spiritual person.  I pray almost every day.  Hey, I even love visiting churches in order to experience that sublime peace and sacredness of the spaces with the flickering candle light, the silence, the glinting beauty of magnificent stained glass windows and perhaps the faint, lingering aroma of incense.

There is currently an online campaign to tick the ‘no religion’ box presumably in a bid to take religion out of politics and planning.   Among the reasons listed as to why you should do so (if you do not have a regular religious practice) is to encourage Government and state services to support equal services such as non-religious chaplains in hospitals. But the most pressing reason to tick ‘no religion’ is to help to end religions discrimination in our national schools.  All of which I fully endorse.  My problem is that I do have a regular ‘religious’ or spiritual practice.  But my God does not belong to any church, to any religion.  And nor do I.

I am not sure how this fact might be important to researchers in the future.  Much in the way I am sure that the unfortunate women who were incarcerated to the Magdalene Laundry in Dun Laoghaire one hundred years ago never imagined that a century later the Justice for Magdalene’s Research group were using the information on the census returns to identify their graves.  And that as a result, this writer visited the unmarked grave of the one woman whose identity we do know and left flowers.

When Home Is A Dangerous Place

Waking up on a spring morning to the news of a bomb in Brussels airport was a deeply unnerving experience.  As I scanned up and down Twitter for more information I experienced that now familiar feeling of dread, sensing that this would not be the only attack on Brussels that day.  Ever since 9/11, terror attacks seem to be multiple events and sure enough another bomb on the metro sent the toll on human life upwards. Belgium’s bloody and dark day had arrived.

All day the news media was full of eye witness reports and the opinions of security experts.  The message is always the same; it’s almost impossible to prevent these kind of terror attacks on civilian populations.  I wonder if I should hold off on booking a foreign holiday for the family.  I know that my reaction is somewhat irrational and of course plays right into the hands of these bloody-minded monsters but I, like most other people I think, am deeply disturbed by how frightening and dangerous a place our world can become in the blink of an eye.  And when we feel threatened our first reaction is to retreat to where we feel safest, our homes.

As I contemplated not travelling for a while, the Belgian government was issuing that very same advice to the citizens of Brussels.  The message was to stay home, stay indoors, stay safe.

Then Caitlin Moran tweeted “always good, on days like this, to remind everyone that the guys blowing up Brussels are THE PEOPLE THE REFUGEES ARE RUNNING AWAY FROM”.  Sometimes a simple 140 characters can be very profound.  In suburban Dublin my instinct is to hug my children, postpone travel plans and stay safely at home.  In Belgium the population are being urged to do precisely the same.  Yet on the other side of Europe there are families who have done exactly the opposite and who are now stuck in appalling conditions on the border between Greece and Macedonia.

These families have walked away from all that was familiar and all that should have been safe.  They have left their homes to make perilous journeys into the unknown in search of shelter.  These are families that up until a few years ago were just like mine; their kid going to school, the parents making dinners, doing chores, feeding the dog, watching TV, living their lives just like we do in Belgium and in Ireland.  Suddenly in the cold light of the callous terror in Brussels I have some insight into just how terrifying it must have been in Syria to have forced families to take the action and the risks they did and still do.

If any country in Europe should be able to identify with their plight, then surely it is the Irish.  The neutral Irish, the peacekeeping Irish, the Irish who still donate more to charity than any of our European neighbours, the Irish who for centuries were refugees arriving on foreign shores.  How can we not understand how horrific Syria must be that these families choose to leave all that is precious to them?  And yet there seems to be an empathy gap between us here in Ireland and our Syrian brothers and sisters who are currently camped in the mud and squalor by a fence in Greece.

As I sit and wonder about all this I am acutely aware that we currently have no Government in this country.  We have 157 elected representatives (and one on a free pass) but we have yet to see any leadership come forward with the political will and the sense of responsibility to get to work on forming a government to begin to tackle some of the urgent problems facing us in Ireland.

In the meantime, I thank God that so far Ireland has been spared this kind of terrorist attack because just like in Paris, Madrid, London and New York we cannot prevent such horror but unlike all those cities we would be even less able to deal with the consequences of such wide scale death and injury with a health service that can’t even cope with day to day emergencies.

The world needs a voice of reason and compassion to counter the evil of organisations like ISIS.  Ireland in my view is perfectly positioned to be just that voice.  To be the voice of the poor, the dispossessed and those in desperate need of aid.  But most of all to be the voice of peace.  However, our current homeless crisis (which includes providing homes for the travelling community) are proof that we cannot practice such humanity at home.  So how would be possibly be a beacon of light to counter the dark evil of organisations who are intent on killing and maiming wherever they so choose.