fly me to the moon…

“Business is Business! Everyday, all around the country, deals are made behind closed doors. Names signed on dotted lines followed by congratulatory handshakes or maybe a good ol’ pat on the back, and possibly a martini afterwards. These deals used to be orchestrated by ‘business’ men. You know those men in suits that somehow seem disconnected from the real world. Most of the time these deals are mundane, business type arrangements, but ultimately the outcome is to make one party wealthier than the other. Power.
I worked in Baggot Street in Dublin for a number of years, so I was very central to the high flying business and government district. I saw these business men in suits EVERYWHERE! And I saw ministers and leaders of our country hobnobbing too. They would often emerge from those big glistening office blocks that lined that area at coffee time, and in a wave would disappear back into them as quickly, only to again return to the light of day for their lunches, big guffawing, drink buying, back slapping lunches. I wondered what they actually did all day, these business men in suits and law makers with their briefcases, making their deals behind closed doors. But now I do know what they did, as we all do. They made bad decisions. They made bad deals. Deals that have this country in the current situation we are in, and decisions that have all been made with blatant disregard for anyone outside of those rooms. And sometimes that doesn’t become more apparent than when you live on a small island off the west coast of Ireland.

For the last couple of years, this island has been in defence mode. Fighting off the tide that was hurtling our way. It seemed it was relatively untouched by the banking collapse, but experienced the fall out with the drop in tourism and the reduction in our visitors’ buying power. But locals carried on and did what they did best, worked as hard as they could when they could. That, the island could handle. However it was the underhanded behind closed door deals that seemed to have side swiped us. Have a little Google search for ‘galway bay fish farm’ for example and you’ll be quick to find a plethora of information regarding the colossal ‘organic’ fish farm they are trying to locate just off our island. Of course this is a million dollar deal for them, them being BIM, and of course it has almost complete government backing, but it highlights how little regard they have for consequences, caring little for the absolute detremental effect it would have on Galway Bay and in particular Inis Oirr, the environment or the people. This deal was all in hand, ready to go ahead, just awaiting the dotted line signing. And it took the islanders, maybe a few to begin with, but an army of them now to say ‘hold on a minute’ this is our home, and then the movement started, and the fight began.

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As it stands Islanders and Galwegians have been fighting tooth and nail for three years to stop this from going ahead. Losing seaweed rights was another stressor for the islanders, who had been harvesting their own plots of seaweeds for years and now faced the news that these were to be sold off to a Canadian company. And lets not forget Iour neighbouring island Inis Meain, who has been in the news of late, with the fear of losing their school because the government wouldn’t provide funding for a second teacher, only to be given a lifeline by a private insurance company, Zurich, who stepped in to sponsor that second teacher. But the latest shock, and the hardest it seems, to hit us as a community, was the news that Aer Arann, the islands plane service for over 40 years, had not been successful in their tender and will cease to operate from next month, with the 4 year contract going to Executive Helicopters! The shock of this has rippled through the island for days, and not just Inis Oirr. Inis Meain and Inis Mor are also reeling from this decision. To the deal makers, this is probably a savvy high five move. I’m sure ministers were delighted to think that a helicopter would be quite fitting for them in any future trips to the island. And judging by some genuine comments I’ve read on social media about this, some people don’t seem to understand why the locals are so upset by it all, thinking plane, helicopter, whats the problem. Here’s the problem. There are people outside these rooms that deals are made in. And people matter.

Yesterday the island fell silent. People left en masse, on boats and planes, to attend a protest in Galway at the Connemara Coast hotel, and then over to the ministerial offices. Young little faces behind home made placards, old weathered faces, needing no placards at all because you know they’ve been fighting for the islands since they themselves were young. Island business’ closed, and business’ in Connemara and Galway also turned out to show their support in fighting for a reversal of what seems to be the most absurd decision. And the message was simple.

Credit: Gerry Foley UTV

Credit: Gerry Foley UTV

“Nil aon Arainn gan Aer Arann” – Theres no Aran, without Aer Arann.

Unless you live on an island, remote or otherwise, then you’ve really no idea how important it is to have a direct connection to the mainland. We have a boat service, and it’s a great one. Leaving the island twice daily, and some extra sailings during the summer. But to travel into Galway for an errand that may only take one hour for example, you’re talking a round trip of twelve hours. There are older islanders that are unable to travel by boat, but with the plane they can make it into important hospital appointments that they would without a doubt not attend. New mothers, I’ve been one three times, on leaving hospital can be home on the island with their newborns within ten minutes. Emergency situations that occur, that are unable to be dealt with by the rescue service, will be handled by Aer Arann if at all possible. Blood tests can be sent out on the plane by the local doctor within the required time limit on them, the vet can travel to the other islands, and teachers can travel within the day to posts that otherwise would be left unfilled, another worrying concern for the future of the islands. But this is nothing. The amount of stories of people making it home for Christmas when Aer Arann went above and beyond to ensure they were home with their families when the weather was so bad the boat was completely cancelled, or when flights laden with boxes of food arrived again due to the weather affecting the cargo boat service from Galway, or the plane flying as soon as it was bright enough to bring a pregnant mother of twins to the mainland, which she maintains saved their lives. Sure even on my own wedding, Aer Arann managed to get all my flowers AND my harp for my musician here on time. And lets not forget the people. These are the heart of the service, the ones that know you by name, will monitor the cancellation list for you, will ring you when they think there may not be a flight later, to ensure you get off the island, or home as often the case is, that will make sure you’re driven to the boat when they’ve waited as long as they could to see if there was a fly window, the ones that make you feel at ease when they get on board to pilot the plane for the short, but spectacular trip. Ultimately lets not forget the people. Because a service is only as good as the people that provide it, and for our island, it doesn’t get much better than Aer Arann. A service worthy enough to make a neighbour of mine choose it as her dissertation for her degree in 2005.

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There is a petition here, that you can sign to add your voice. And you can also contact the ministers in charge of this fiasco. There is so much information out there, but also not out there, more to the point, which is becoming more obvious by the reluctance of Paschal Donohoe or Joe McHugh to come out and really say why this is happening, what was the exact deal that went on behind the doors. But we’re slowly getting there, which can be seen by this opinion piece by David McWilliams .They’re fluffing around it all, hardly even paying lip service, but ultimately they are just slowly hitting nails into the coffin of disconnection that will be carried by all the islands and rural communities across the country by these decisions. I shudder to think of what is ahead of us if this is how the government is treating us now, in a run up to an election.

This is our transport service and its vital.

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But if this deal goes ahead, then you may fly me to the moon, and most certainly not in a bloody helicopter!

 

the plight of Sandine…

It was April a year ago when the dolphin arrived in the pier of Inis Oirr. Now I’m sure she’d probably been there before, Doolin isn’t that far away, but it was the first time I’d seen her. As the boat rounded the corner, TQM shouted up to me from the front of the boat as he was throwing the ropes to the lads , “did you see the dolphin?” It was more for the benefit of the kids, but I was just as giddy. We watched over the edge, waiting, and then up she came with a big blow of sea spray and with one fluid movement her curvy body went back under. It was thrilling. I immediately loved her. The kids were jumping and squealing at the sight of her. And she seemed to revel in it, coming up more frequently to her audience. We stayed there a little while longer and the talk was all about her when the kids went to bed that night. That evening I walked back down alone – there was nobody else about, and I stood at the rails just watching and waiting to see if i could catch a glimpse again. And sure enough after a few minutes, there she was. I wondered how long she would stay. It was a perfect scene.

The talk amongst the islanders was that this was Dusty, a notoriously aggressive dolphin from Doolin. Then there were some people who remembered a dolphin from a few years ago that used to frequent the island, and that dolphin had been named Sandy. So some thought that maybe it was her. So with all the talk about whether it could be Dusty or in fact Sandy, one day at the slip on the beach, my little girl saw her and shouted ‘mammy – its Sandine’ – and since then that’s who she has been to us.

She had stayed around a few weeks at this stage, and it became a habit of mine to walk around the block by the pier most nights just to see her slowly rise and fall into the sea. Something about the size of her, or her presence or her energy, for want of a better word, made me feel safe. She was stunning. The talk was all about the dolphin, but it seemed there was something more worrying in the distance. Unfortunately Sandine came with baggage, and not all of it good.

It turned out that Sandine was and is in fact Dusty. As I enquired about the ‘horror’ stories from Doolin where she had seemingly caused some serious damage to swimmers in the area by hurtling at them at breakneck speeds and hitting them with her beak, the stories that had people talking to Joe,  I was also told the other stories of people trying to grab her and ride her and most disgustingly pouring alcohol down her blowhole. These were stories that didn’t seem to hit the headlines. Local people obviously and rightly had their concerns. But I really think everyone thought that she’d head back off to Doolin eventually. But it didn’t happen. She liked it here. And so she decided to stay.

Living so close to the pier, I’d pass by it, and the beach daily. I used to love the early morning beach visits I’d have with my little lady after picking up a coffee in the shop. And we’d watch her come right in to the slip as the tractors lowered the fishing boat trailers into the water for a days work. She loved this part of the day, you could tell, as no matter where she was, as soon as she heard the distinct clattering of metal on concrete she’d be over in a flash. She was big and strong and wicked fast and an absolute sight to behold.  I spoke to some of our local fishermen, asking about whether the dolphin was eating their fish – worried too in case it would be another reason for people not wanting her around. They said that she’d be out beside them the whole day but wouldn’t eat a single thing they’d throw to her. I laughed that she was getting her sushi elsewhere, and I sighed a little relief that she wasn’t depleting the islands fish quota! And I’d often return in the evening to watch her again, this time neglecting whatever she was doing to entertain herself and coming to escort the fishing boats or little currachs back into the slip – it was like she was finishing up her job for the night, just like the fishermen!

Even though the tourist season hadn’t kicked off fully, I was beginning to notice the presence of a number of people around the area. People who would spend endless hours in deep waters swimming with Sandine, some that would just stand there like herons waiting to take pictures, and one in particular who went into the water with homemade devices strapped onto himself in order to swim and appear more dolphinlike I imagine! These were Sandine’s fans, and some would say friends, and they brought spectators. Then the tourists started arriving. They would get off the boats and line up along the pier. They wanted to see the dolphin, to touch her and they wanted to swim with her. More and more crowds gathered around the steps of the pier, where there was a permanent show of dolphin interaction. Television crews, deep sea diving photography, interviews – it was all go on and around where she was. It was a circus. I didn’t go near the beach last summer and only went to the pier if I really had to. I had a fear. I had a fear that people would push things to far, as often they do in extreme situations, and that something bad was going to happen. I didn’t want to be on duty the whole time while I was supposed to be enjoying sunny days with my babies, telling people of the dolphins warning signs, or the safest depth to go in as far as, or not to try and grab her, or telling drunk stags not to be jumping off the pier. I had stories filter back to me of someone having to go to hospital or getting bumped in the leg or back. I dreaded to hear that. I just wished she was left alone. I heard the other stories too, of people deliberately trying to grab her fin or not heeding her splashing tail or her open beak and ending up getting shunted out of the water. People were complaining that they couldn’t swim, that the dolphin was becoming a nuisance. People believed it was their right to swim in that water, overlooking the fact that the dolphin lives there. I understood both sides of the argument. Last year was drama. Then the visitors left.

I’ve learned a lot about dolphins over the past winter, and in particular Sandine. I’ve learned her warning signs. I can tell if she is stressed, spending long periods of time scouring the sea floor especially if there are other pods of dolphins around or basking sharks in the area. Did you know that other pods are not particularly open to solitary dolphins? That’s why she is alone. Sometimes another solitary dolphin comes along and for a couple of days there is some fantastic displays of synchronised swimming and breeching, and I often hope that she find’s a true love and swims off into the sunset, but it never happens, I just find her a day or two later, back swimming alone out around the buoys. I’ve learned she likes playing games. I’ve learned she brings you gifts of seaweed and bottles and dead things. I’ve seen her hurl herself out of the water in an explosion of seaweed on stormy days – you know, just having the craic with herself.  I’ve learned that she blows bubbles when she is happy. And farts from her blowhole too  – indeed! But I’ve also learned in the past year that ultimately she is in trouble. And I know the reason why.

People.

The plight of Sandine is due to people. Now I’m not talking about the jerks that torment her,(that’s a different story) or even the people that are genuinely too scared to go swimming off the beach in case they encounter her – not at all – she’s massive – I certainly wouldn’t go in as far. And I’m not talking about innocent bystanders that have been injured by her for what seems no apparent reason. I’m in fact talking about the people that have befriended her. The people that are her biggest allies and supporters. The ones that have been with her for many many years. In their attempt to try and help her ‘remain’ a dolphin, they have in fact almost domesticated her to a point where she see’s them as her ‘pod’ so tends to be overly aggressive whilst they’re swimming in the water with her. She is expecting the company of humans. But only ‘some’ humans! She is expecting to be entertained and played with. She’s almost narcissistic in her behaviour, which is mirrored in some of the people that hang around with her. It’s ironically by the actions of well intentioned people, who found her and made such soulful connections with her, that we are in a situation that she is now a considerable cause for concern. This concern has now been catapulted into the media due to a recent article written by a well know columnist after he’d been frightened by the dolphins behaviour whilst over here on a break. It was all over my own social media pages, and it was on the radio and had even made the main news on RTE. I hate this kind of publicity. Even though its correct in its content it lacks the benefit of the full story.

So where do we go from here? We have a dolphin, a beautiful, intelligent animal, but a creature who is as unpredicatable as she is wild to the core, who if had been left to her own devices may have in fact gone off to live happily in the deep ocean, who knows?, but has now become dependant on her ‘human dolphins’ for companionship, but she is not human so does not understand the social rules that some people seem to expect of her such as tolerance, self control and keeping her distance. We need to stop blaming her too. The sea is her home, whether people like it or not. This island is such a haven for the people that live here and for the visitors that come every year, and maybe that’s exactly what it is for her too. But it needs to be a safe haven for everyone, and at the minute it’s not. And I think we all know where the solution needs to begin!

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Dear Heart

Síle Looks Up

What is life?

Oh, Maggie May. It’s question after everlasting question.

It is a tumble of words and a throb of sounds; music to lift you and gift you and steal you and fill you. It is the quiet of empty roads, the silence of choice, the smell of night and the pull of the sea.

It is love. It is Mama’s hand on your head all the times you’ll want her, and all the times you won’t. It is Deaide singing through every day of your life; tales of you and yours and all you might do and how you make their hearts stop. It is all of us, here and gone, all of us who are part of you and somewhere with you in the silent flutter of a butterfly’s wings.

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twee, with a touch of cheese…

This year we managed to get away for a whole 3 nights together for a little holiday. And what exotic location do you think we ended up in? Why Co. Clare of course. Our nearest neighbour. Just over there. I can see if from my house. But before you mistake my tone as complaining, I’m going to jump in to say that I absolutely LOVE Clare. Always have. And anytime I’ve gone there (this may have only been the third time in my whole life, for shame) I wonder why I don’t go there more often. And it would be very easy to view a summer break,almost in your own backyard, as not a break at all. But in life, and on holidays it would seem, you get back what you put in. And we threw ourselves completely into being tourists for those three days. Now on the first full day there, my little lady wasn’t well, so the boys went off to the Ailiwee Caves while us girls hung about the hotel and walked around its grounds,followed by a lovely lunch, some time in the indoor play zone and finishing up with a 2 hour nap. This was worth the trip alone – girl time is very precious. But after that, we hit the road and sunk ourselves into the beauty of the Burren. Limestone and Moss, what a combination for the senses…..

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The hotel was The Inn at Dromoland, and the places we went to were : Craggaunowen, The Burren Perfumery, The Aillwee Caves, Caherconnell Stone Fort (and sheep dog trials) and The Burren Nature Sanctuary.

I think the photobombing above pretty much sums it all up but I’ve just a little story to finish – At Caherconnell, they have a lovely cafe with a delicious menu, but they also sell their own cheese (beautiful smoked cheese,and a black pepper one, and a garlic and nettle variety) from the sheep that we’d just spent time with outside. I love cheese, so I was stocking up, whilst also getting cappuchino’s, bananas, Ribena and oaty biscuits for the hungry mouths that were waiting for me in the car. In my to-ing and fro-ing, I managed to somehow jump ahead of a man (who had to’d and fro’d back himself to get some cake), so that when the cashier turned to me, she gave a little start, obviously expecting the man she was just serving. I too got a bit of a start, and apologised for skipping ahead. He gave a smile, and said to us ” no worries at all, go ahead, sure you’re much prettier that I am ” I gushed ‘Oh why thank you very much, I think you may have made my day”, and then stopped to check with him “now before I get too delighted with myself” I said laughing, “Are you talking about me or are you talking about her ?” looking in the direction of the the blonde waitress. She started to laugh, and the man was laughing. I told him to go first, as I was feeding the masses and would be there an age and his tea would be cold, so he did, and as he was paying, he commented to me what a nice place it was. And as he was walking off to take a seat, he said “It was lovely to meet you”. “And you” I replied. This whole exchange took all of I’d say two minutes. But in that time a connection was made. Between three strangers. In those two minutes you could see what being kind, being gracious and having a good old laugh could achieve. And I didn’t want to leave it there. I wanted to seal this encounter somehow. So I ran back to the shelf and picked up a little block of cheese. I said to the girl, “you know what, I really feel the need to buy that man some cheese”. She thought it was a lovely thing to do. She also may have thought it was a bit weird, but never said. I walked over to the man’s table as I was leaving and handed him the little brown package – ” Here you go, I got you some of the cheese. It was lovely meeting you, Take care”. He looked at me and was a little surprised (quite possibly thinking I was weird also) but seemed so genuinely happy. And that made me happy. And I left.

Back in the car, as we were setting off, I said to TQM, “I just bought a man some cheese”. He shrugged and said, ‘Of course you did”, as he started to pull away from the verge, as if  I always buy random strangers random shit. But seriously folks, if our little holiday to Clare has thought me anything, it’s never ever shy away from an opportunity to enjoy a bit of Irish twee and to buy somebody a bit of cheese!

 

 

the brave face…

At this moment in time, I’m sure that there are not many people left out there that have not heard about the very sad passing of Robin Williams. I would not like to assume anything about his death, or his life for that matter, or the reasons or explanations that could be offered with regards to the why and how, only to say that it has bittersweetly highlighted two very real things in todays society. And that is Depression and Suicide.

I was prompted to write this post after I read Ricky Gervais’ post on Facebook, quoted –
“I am shocked and deeply saddened by the news of Robin’s death. He was a lovely man. Even when he wasn’t feeling good he would still be doing his thing and keeping everyone laughing. There will never be another quite like him. RIP”
And there is was. Staring right out at me. Can’t you see it? Its the Brave Face.
“even when he wasn’t feeling good he would still be doing his thing and keeping everyone laughing” – that’s it right there. The Brave Face.
This Brave Face is worn by thousands of people every day. I might even venture to say millions of people, although I’m not statistically informed. It’s the face that says, ‘sure I’m grand’, or ‘ I’m not worried about money’, ‘I don’t care what people think of me, I know I’m a good person’, ‘nobody wants to hear my problems anyway’, ‘ if I say anything they’ll think I’m mad’, ‘ I don’t want everyone knowing I’m on happy tablets’, ‘this mothering thing is easy’. It’s the face that says ‘I’m not depressed”. And it’s time to remove the mask.
In 2005 I went through an extraordinarily stressful time in my job. In hindsight, a lot could have been avoided by just facing up to some issues instead of trying to be everything to everyone. But hindsight is twenty twenty as they say. I’d come home from work and go into my bedroom and collapse onto my bed. I was staying in my mam and dads at that stage. I’d fall asleep. Then I’d get woken by my sister, telling me to get up and have something to eat because it was 8 o’clock in the evening. I’d get up, annoyed usually, because I was so tired, eat something then sit and watch television until it seemed a reasonable time to go to bed.I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and would rudely answer any attempt at polite chit chat. And then I would lie awake in bed, the pit of my stomach raw with worry and pain, my brain feeling like it was going to explode, churning over sequences of events, mostly work related and money related, until eventually my body would overcome my brain and fall into a deep sleep at around 4am, only to be woken abruptly by the alarm a few hours later to get me up for work. I’d go back into work and act like everything was fine, I was going to be grand, I’d work it all out before anyone could notice. The fear of getting into trouble, or of people thinking I couldn’t cope or that I was incompetent was enough to get me through the day until I came home and repeated the cycle all over again.
I went to the doctor. I told her I wasn’t sleeping, I was getting anxiety attacks, crying a lot, couldn’t catch my breath, tired and moody all the time and that I was getting rapid blackouts across my eyes and spells of brain ‘jumping’ that made me suspect and almost fully convince myself that I had a brain tumour. She was lovely. She said that It seemed I was suffering with anxiety related depression. ‘I’m sure I absolutely am not’ – I thought to myself at the time. She explained it all. Serotonin inhibitors and the like. She gave me different options, but maintained that the best was a combination of tablets and counselling.
All of a sudden, I was a person with depression, and on tablets. Did that make me broken? Was I less of a person because of it? Would people think I was mental, and never trust my judgement again? Well I thought I was all of the above, so explained to people close to me that I was taking tablets to alleviate stress and anxiety – it just sounded better to me. But I did what the doctor ordered. I spoke to a counsellor through work, I took my tablets and over a short space of time I was able to look at my work situation for what it was – a situation….at work… not a life or death scenario, just a shit time, and I dealt with the fallout of that, hard as it was, I stuck it out, I stood my ground, I took responsibility and I slept at night. I have to add that it was in this period that I met TQM, so the weekends we spent together on Inis Oirr were incredibly healing – nothing like stepping away from something to see what it truly is. Inis Oirr has my heart.  After about nine months (I hasten to add that I was reviewed by my doctor every three months) I started to actually forget to take my tablets. I took that as my body not needing to remind me to take them, that I’d actually come out the other side. The doctor concurred and I came off them slowly over a couple of weeks. It was done I was no longer ‘depressed”.
Roll on four years ago, and six months after I had my second little man, I went to my doctor in Dublin, (same one as before thankfully – I have to note at this point, it will always be in your best interests to find yourself a good doctor and a good dentist!) I told her that I my brain was working overtime, I was snapping all the time, I was roaring at my toddler out of frustration, then falling into a heap crying afterwards because I was bursting with so much love for my boys, and so much guilt for not being perfect.I was breastfeeding and I was sleep deprived. She said that I was being too hard on myself, that I had an almost 3 year old and a breastfeeding 6 month old, and I was living on an island away from family and friends – without any support, if you would. She said I was superwoman. I laughed. She said I had post natal depression. I gasped slightly, because I was sure whatever it was I was feeling had nothing to do with my boys. I adored them. She said my stores of my happy hormone were depleted. It was tablet time again. I stopped breastfeeding, started taking my tablets, and started writing EVERYTHING down along the lines of ‘The Morning Pages’ from Julia Camerons book, The Artists Way. It was my alternative to counselling when you live on an island. After six months, I started forgetting the tablets again, and slowly and surelyI was off them and I was not depressed anymore.
Last year, I was not pleasant to live with. I was on tablets for 4 months.
A few special people know all this. But I wonder did anyone else guess that I was going through something, or was my Brave Face really that good.
So here is the point to all of this. I’m not ashamed of who I am. I know who I am. People I love, and who love me know who I am. I am not broken. I cannot be fixed. I adore my children, and my family and friends. I need help sometimes. I yell quite a lot, but don’t need tablets. I know my body and I know my mind. I’m lucky. I can read my own signals, even when putting on my brave face. I am the same as anyone else out there that suffers with mental health – whether it’s mild, chronic, post-natal, bi-polar. I will never not be free of depression, it’s in my make-up, but I’m blessed to be supported in my life that I never have to deal with things alone, even if sometimes I bring out the mask.
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You are never alone. Reach out and you will find your light.
Hope you all have a bright tomorrow!
 Depression
Suicide
Talk to someone

 

to ponder & light a candle…

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Last week I went into Galway. I had an appointment, which in the end only took twenty minutes, so it left me with a bit of time on my hands to wander. What’s rare is wonderful as they say. I got a few little random things done, and with only one other place left that I ‘needed’ to go to, I stopped to have a lovely leisurely brunch with a friend at Providence Market Kitchen.

Afterwards I headed off to run my last errand. It made a nice change to walk, as usually I would be time restricted so would zoom about in the car in the belief that I’d get more done having wheels under me. And I pondered, as I came across little cafes and restaurants, and book shops, art galleries and vintage shops that I’d often heard of or read about, but would never have had an idea where they were located, that a lot is often missed when zooming in a car! I walked down a few little backstreets, old streets that were a welcome break from the bustle of Shop Street. And I arrived at the place I needed to go.

I’d wager that you would pass by this building if you weren’t intentionally looking for it. It’s name in big white letters painted on black tells you clearly what it is. But it’s unremarkable. The sign looks old fashioned in a bygone era way, and the shop front would make you think that no trade has passed through its doors in years. But you would be mistaken.

I went in. And stepped back in time sixty years. Vastness, combined with rows of wooden shelves covered in old wallpaper, boxes piled high, trolleys down the back, the little account office up in the front corner. It was the air. I pondered as I breathed it in deep. It was old air. Not musty air or air filled with damp. It was the smell of ‘old’ air, as if the air that entered when the business opened sixty years ago, was captured in that moment of time, and has been circulating ever since. It was comforting. The man was there.

We started up a conversation, the man and I. He was on his own that day, as his accounts lady was at a wedding, although she had popped in earlier that morning to do a few little bits, he told me. “She looked absolutely beautiful I have to say” he said of his only staff member, as if he’d only noticed for the first time. “We’ve been in business sixty years” he said proudly. He looks tired. I praised him for managing to stay afloat in light of the last number of hard and difficult years. “We had lots of staff when we first opened” he said pulling a plastic covered black and white photograph from a noticeboard. The browning of the sellotape on its corners would suggest that this picture has been taken down and shown around on many occasions. The back of the picture said ‘staff party 1954‘. He hands me a second picture, this one dated 2003. There are noticibly less people in this one. “There’s just myself and one other person now, the accounts lady, but she’s off at a wedding” he tells me, as if for the first time. I acknowledge him again, as if for the first time. I commented on how wonderful his premises were and how it felt like a gateway to the past just walking in. He told me he’s had a lot of interest from people, looking to lease/buy/make movies in the place. But he’s not on the market. “I nearly sold up once” he stated, “I was offered a lot of money for the place, I mean a lot of money. It was before the bust. We were very close to selling it. And in the end, my brother who has a part share backed out and that was that. We were lucky. Because if we had sold it, I was going to put all the money in Bank of Ireland shares for my children. And we all know what happened then. I would have lost everything. This place, and the money for my family. I’d have had nothing.” I shook my head. “I still have nothing” he quickly added,”I’ve no money. But I’ve no debt”.Is that all that people can ever hope for in these times. To be penniless, but to carry no debt? I pondered about the greed of the government and of the people in positions of power in the banking industry, and of the greed of estate agents, builders and even the normal working person on the street that brought about this current life we are all enduring. And I wondered have we learned enough from our mistakes and the mishandling of finances to ensure that we never end up like this again, in our own personal life, in our financial sector, in our governance?! I’m not yet convinced as I reflected on recent news stories about property bubbles and gazumping!

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He nods up at a picture of the Sacred Heart, hung high up on the wall and said “He’s looked after me all my life”. “Me and my wife, but she’s dying now”. He says it so simply that I wasn’t able to digest his words. “She was diagnosed with cancer March last year, and was only given three months. But she’s still with me”. “I’m so very sorry to hear that” I replied, “What is her name?”.”Geraldine. We’ve been married fifty seven years, and there’s not one day that she hasn’t said she loves me. I love her to pieces.” He shows me two other pictures, this time of him and his wife, and one of both of them with their grandchildren. His eyes welled red. As did mine. “I’m closing up once you leave, I’m heading to see her, she went into the hospice the other day.” I told him I wouldn’t hold him up any longer. Putting my arm around his shoulder, I offered to give him some sort of comfort, and as I was leaving I turned to say ” I’ll light a candle for you and for your lovely wife, and I’ll be thinking of you”. As I walked over the road, I heard the bolts go on the old doors.

Heading back towards the heat and the bustle, I thought about the power we place in the words ‘I’ll light a candle”. And I pondered it. And what I came up with it that ultimately it has nothing to do with any religion.  It has however everything to do with hope. When I say those words, I want the person to know that I am placing their intentions in the light of a candle, in the light of hope. That when I’m lighting a candle I’m thinking of them, and their worries, and their troubles. Hope is what will get us all through these hard times, and we can only benefit from more light, don’t you think?. And when I lit the candle, I pondered no more.

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moocow…

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo” ― James JoyceA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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cowslip

Up until the very first time TQM ever took me ‘out to the cows’ back in 2005, I had never really had any experience of them. I’d often see them from car/bus/train windows, as I hurtled my way out of the city at any opportunity, and there they would be – standing or sitting, eating or sleeping and more often than not, having..ahem…relations. I always liked cows, I just never knew any!

That all changed when I met Blondie. TQM had two cows. And instantly Blondie ‘became’ my baby. She was a beautiful cow, a honey blonde colour – hence her rather uninspired name. I couldn’t wait to get over to the island on a Saturday morning, just in time to feed and water her. She always came over when she heard the van – I used to say ‘oooh look she knows it’s me ‘ to which I received the retort – ‘she knows it’s food’! Whatever! And she loved getting rubbed on her nose and scratched behind her ears. She also drank straight from the hose. I maintained she was very intelligent. And back in work, I had pictures of her hung on my noticeboard much to the amusement of my office. To them, I was morphing into Peig Sayers. Then one day, while TQM and I were away for a couple of days, he received a phonecall and was told that Blondie had slipped down some rocks in one of the fields and hurt her leg. I didn’t know what that meant. I was told that she had some tendon and nerve damage and if she wasn’t able to get up, she wouldn’t make it. I remember arriving in the dark on that Friday evening, going straight from the pier to the field and calling her. She answered me and tried to get up, but she fell back down. It was devastating to watch. I remember driving to a fancy equestrian shop in Loughrea and spending €200 on a special horse blanket, so that she wouldn’t get cold whilst she couldn’t move. I remember rubbing her face and scratching behind her ears before I had to leave her to head back to Dublin. And I vividly remember the call telling me that she had died.

Vowing to myself never to get so attached again to a cow, I tried to learn and understand a little about how they are farmed over here. And I also had to learn to accept the process and outcomes of owning cattle. (In my world, I’d have retirement fields for old farming animals that have passed their use by date ).  So on the island, none of the cows are currently used for dairy, although there is nothing stopping you milking a new mammy cow to get some for your breakfast.  Most of them are used for breeding, with their calves, once old enough, sold on either to farms in Galway or the like, or to other islanders -( I have to admit I like it when our calves stay on the island, even if it’s not with us).  We ourselves  have always kept two cows, and for the longest time now we’ve had Roisin Dubh and Bertha, who both calf every year, and we’ve a new heifer which we’ve called Domino. We then sell on their calves when the time comes around. And all of our calves also had names. We’ve had Blackie, Dora, Mike, Izzy, Easter, Brambles, Alfie, Michael Ryan, and George to name a few.

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Micheal Ryan and George

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dude and george

Domino

Domino

And as much as I tried not to become attached, it’s very much a case of easier said than done.

It’s been almost a month since our big red cow Bertha had her calf, Toby. And it is almost a month since Toby died, and it’s almost a month since Bertha has been able to stand.

We’ve had Bertha since the year we got married, which was back in 2007. Toby, her calf was three weeks overdue. Bertha is huge at the best of times (hence her name – ‘berth’a) so you can just imagine the size she was. TQM got up 3 times a night to go and check on her in the month leading up to it. He does this every year at calving time. I knew it was only a matter of time before we had a ‘new baby’ when he called me in to do her checkups whilst he was working. Donning the muck boots I visited with my cow and rubbed her nose and scratched behind her ears. I wasn’t there when she calved the following morning, but my husband, the vet and some of our neighbours were there to help out. And she needed help. Her calf was huge. As soon as she had him she collapsed in the field. The calf was named Toby. And he was beautiful. He had to be fed with a bottle as Bertha wasn’t standing, but he did make it over to her and she smelled him and cleaned him. But something had gone wrong, and Toby died two nights later. We were devastated, still are. But our attentions are remaining focused on Bertha, and almost daily, without fail, a group of our wonderful neighbours go out to the field and help to lift Bertha with a hoist in order to get her circulation going. She’s chewing the cud, seems content. She wants to get up, I can tell. And she’s moving around a bit using her front knees, dragging her back legs. But she’s still not up. And as the horse blanket was once again dusted off in order to keep her warm and dry, a dread has hung itself over me. I’m hoping any morning now to find her standing at the gate with her big horns in the way of everything. But we have to be prepared for whatever the outcome may be. Such is a cows life. Such is island life. Such is life.

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muck boots are go

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big bertha

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bertha and toby

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