Category Archives: Dublin

Endings……………..

 

Reaching an end signifies a beginning, and I have witnessed and been present at many wonderful beginnings with people that I have loved.

I reached an ending recently that was more than my words can ever fully express. I went to Ballyheigue in Kerry to lay the ashes of my Dad, my Mam and my sister Annie in a place that is beautiful, and was visited and loved by them when they were alive. I began there as a child where I enjoyed the freedom of explored fields and ditches without parental supervision. We began there as a family on our annual summer holidays. My little sister Annie began to walk there as she enjoyed playing on a sandy clean beach as a toddler. Ballyheigue is real, but it is like a mystical place where I can close my eyes and revisit at any time. It is a place where happy memories flourish.

 
I have no idea why my Dad choose this sleepy sea side village in Kerry to take our annual summer holidays in, but I am so glad that he did. I have nothing but happy recollections of times spent there.

 
We first went there in 1966 or 1967. We roomed in a house on the main street that was owned by the Hartnett family. We brought my grandparents and my grand uncle Leo that first year and we all squashed happily inside the house next door to Willy O Leary’s Butcher shop.
I remember the freedom.

 
In Dublin I had to be home at a particular time and I was closely supervised while outside playing, but in Ballyheigue there were no time constraints and no obvious regulation. This was freedom like I had never known before, but it was also during a time when places were safer and parents didn’t worry as much. I remember introducing myself precociously to local people, and being accepted in a sweet way that was completely different to the city ways that I was more familiar with.

 
I remember the Roche family. Elderly brothers, Timmy, Tommy, Mike and Sonny, and their sister Mary. They lived nearby, and my older sister Bernice and I were always welcome in the house from that very first year. Sonny rambled with us along the beach and climbed the ramparts of the old castle on Kerry Head. He laughed with us, watched over us and spent time us. We felt safe with him, and our parents allowed us to spend time with this family without the fear that is so prevalent today. We wandered in and out of his house and watched Mary baking bread daily. We fed the chickens and the pigs during the day, and we sat up against the range as we piled turf into it during those long summer evenings. The range had to stay hot to keep the kettle boiling for the endless pots of tea that were constantly being brewed and drunk. This simple country family accepted us city children, chatted away with us and never took advantage in any way. I remember the embroidered cushions on the soft chairs in the parlour, and the hard chairs that we sat on in the other small room as we watched TV while the brothers smoked their pipes silently after a long day in the fields. They regularly took us to the local creamery on their donkey and cart with a milk churn of unpasteurised milk. We were witness to the old fashioned traditions of an Ireland that is reminiscent of post cards and storytelling. But I know it and remember it well.

 
Summertime seemed to have a glow about it back then, and Ballyheigue was a place that was always sunny and happy. I am sure that there were rainy days and times of boredom, but I cannot recall them. I remember the annual fancy dress parade that took place, when everyone gathered outside Casey’s Ballroom on the main street. I remember dressing Annie up when she was a toddler and being so thrilled when she won the ‘Bonny Baby’ competition. We led the parade down the main street and I was so proud of her. She was the prettiest baby ever.

 
The Carnival was always present when we arrived on our annual holidays, so as a child I believed that it was permanently there, outside the ‘Castle Gates’. I remember the smell of the dodgems as the cars connected to the electrified grid overhead, and how the sparks spilled out into the darkness on summer evenings. This was a truly magical place where pennies were pushed into slot machines in the hope of winning, and where the dexterity of throwing bamboo hoops over empty jam jars showcased your skills in the rubbishy gee-gaws that were won and proudly brought home night after night. Revisiting again as an adult in later years, I was dismayed to see a vacant space with litter blowing around in the place that had held such a dreamlike quality for me as a child.

 
Looking back on those lovely innocent days and nights I feel so fortunate to have grown up in a time where I was cherished by the lovely people of Kerry who only saw our family for two weeks out of fifty two. I remember feeling jealous when thinking about ‘other’ kids that were holidaying when we were not there, and that the locals might like them more than they did us!

 
Summer days spent on the beach, running into the waves and playing endless games in the sand dunes with my siblings were picture perfect, and nothing can spoil the memories. Aunties and Uncles, cousins and pals came to Kerry with us over the years that we visited to share the magic that we knew was unique.

 
Revisiting Ballyheigue recently was an ending as my family finally let the ashes of our loved ones go. We could think of no better, happier and a more beautiful place to remember them, and the moment that we let them go on the slipway curling into the waves will be etched on my heart and in my mind forever. The ebb and flow of life was momentarily captured in the movement of the ocean as their ashes were gently eased into the water of the outgoing tide….

 
Endings can be heart-breaking, but the beautiful, wonderful, memorable moments between the beginning and the end are what makes life so precious.

 

Destiny can be realising that to love, and to remember that love is simply all that there is…

Taking things for granted…..

As people, I believe that we can all take things for granted without thinking too much about them. Things just ‘are’ in our lives, and we accept them and rarely give them too much thought. So many actions/interactions that we encounter daily can have an emotional impact on us, and I know that I have been guilty of not really thinking about the implications and consequences that they have on me personally.
Life can sometimes be so busy that we can get hopelessly lost in the myriad of tasks that we think have to be completed in order to provide structure and meaning to the day. I realise that with time on my hands I have become much more reflective than I have been in the past. I have a lot more time to ponder as I am not so caught up with a rigid time schedule. The studying and reading that was so focused and time consuming during the past few years no longer dominates my time. Now I find myself deliberately taking time out to consider what pleases me and what doesn’t.

After a year of mourning the death of my mother together with all the ancillary tasks that managing her estate entailed, I began to look for employment as soon as the New Year began. I scrutinised websites and agencies and updated my CV with the intention of going back to work full time after my five years in College. I applied for a couple of positions that I believed would suit me and my particular skill set, and I was so enthusiastic about my prospects that I even purchased new interview clothes. I never even made it to that stage.

While facing into my disappointment I took some time to think deeply about what it was that I was so upset about. Not being given a chance to put myself forward was the biggest difficulty that I had to deal with, but on reflection I wondered if this was about my ego and nothing else. I believe that I have great qualities, but the fact that I never even got to showcase them? How very dare they!

Imagine a scenario where I had been interviewed and given one of the positions that I applied so enthusiastically for. It was a 38 hour week in an area a fair distance away from my home. There would be morning and evening traffic to consider and selective early starts and late finishes.
Sometimes not getting what you want provides a clarity and certainty that you hadn’t considered beforehand.
Not being granted an interview made me take stock of my situation and my current life. While I moaned in the short term, I took time to examine the long term and I realised that I don’t actually want to work long hours and be away from home 40 hours a week and possibly more with travel.

My husband is retired, and while we live a small life we manage comfortably on his pension.

We don’t spend money unnecessarily, drive two modest cars, and we have never been the type that has to have the latest trend or fad.

We take several mini breaks during the year and generally enjoy a life without timetables and rigidity.

We come and go as we please (with kids grown up and flown the nest) and enjoy spontaneous lunches out at the coast and picnics in forests when the humour takes us.

We have our own rhythm and we enjoy it, and although I would like to work I don’t want it to cut into this lovely way of life that we have. I also don’t want to leave him alone for eight hours every day as there are only the two of us at home now. Being rejected for these jobs has made me recognise how precious and special this shared life is, and I am so glad that I have had the time and space to realise what it is that I want, and what it is that I don’t want.

I have taken for granted the absolute pleasure that a day without time constraints can bring.

I have taken for granted the fact that I do not need to work outside my home in a paid capacity to be happy and content.

I have taken for granted the fact that I actually like spending time with my husband even when we have nothing to say to each other.

I have taken for granted the fact that we are financially secure enough that I don’t need to provide another income to our household.

I have taken for granted how extremely lucky I am that I have choices about how I live my life with my dear husband and partner of over 35 years.

I have taken for granted the simple pleasure of simple pleasures.

The past five years have provided me with a top class education and qualifications, but it has also been the toughest time in my life as I have lost my much loved sister and mother. Deciding not to take things for granted is the best way forward for me at this moment in time, and appreciating the simple everyday pleasures that shape my days is the greatest realisation that all this reflective thinking has achieved.

Destiny can be many things and can wear coats of jewelled enticing colours, but it can also be there sitting plainly, quietly under our noses if we could only just recognise it.

Happy Fathers Day Dad.

Dear Dad,

The sun is shining and Dublin looks lovely today. I drove down to the Pigeon House at the South Wall, and walked to the lighthouse as we always used to do. Nothing changes here; it is as it always was, breath-taking and beautiful. The day was young so I headed out to our regular swimming spot in Seapoint. I remember striping off my clothes as a child shivering in the cold whilst dashing down the concrete steps with you and plunging into the sea. We would emerge blue and freezing but in your words, “invigorated”. By the time we were dressed, we were already warm and ready to cool down with a Teddy’s Ice cream.

The drive to Dún Laoghaire is minutes away and the ice-cream is still like no other. The regular swimmers were out in Sandycove. I watched them recline in their towels with their backs against the granite wall, sharing together the contents of their flasks and hot toddies. I licked my ice cream as I watched them, staying warm in the car. This community of swimmers is unchanged Dad, people of all ages come and go and the 40 foot swimming area is now populated by women as well as men. I remember as a child when you would not let me advance beyond the entrance to the 40 foot. You were so afraid that I might see a man swimming naked.

Driving along the coast, Dalkey Island Hotel has gone now and apartments face onto the island. Do you remember the hire boats on Sunday afternoons? Happy days. To be able to leave an island and row to another island was a big thing back then wasn’t it? Or it was to you. The road to Killiney is still as beautiful. Having been to Italy I think that our Sorrento drive is equally as stunning. The beach still shelves away steeply and we would be out of our depth in five steps when we swam there.

Skimming stones here reminds me how you thought me how to bend, and lean in close to the water’s edge to make the stones jump’. Five jumps is my record, although yours is seven.

Bray is still heavenly. Dawson’s amusements, although now closed were always open on Sundays. If it was raining and I didn’t want to swim, pushing penny’s in cheap slot machines kept me smiling. The hurdy gurdys and ghost trains were an exotic alternative to sea swimming off the beautiful prom and stony beach.

Greystones was one of our favourite places to swim. It’s still lovely. There were lots of people out there today for a charity swim. I remember that Christmas morning when we went searching for water all along the Dublin coast as the tide was out. We had to go as far as Greystones to get some depth and that newspaper photographer guy caught us on camera. We were in the paper long before it became fashionable to swim on Christmas day. We were the trend setters in my mind, never the trend followers.

The city and coastline were showcased through your eyes as I grew up Dad, and I still celebrate and enjoy its splendour. I am so thankful for the time that you spent showing me how truly beautiful Dublin is, and I wish that you were here again to see the places that make this city so great. If I could only have you again for an hour. We could retrace our steps and take that coastal drive again. You would see places and people that largely remain unchanged despite the passing of 25 years.

I miss getting up early on Sunday mornings not knowing where we would go, or what we would see. I miss our swims. I miss the little journeys that we used to take together. You were the best tour guide ever and you filled a small girl’s world with adventure and fun. I miss you all the time Dad, yet every time I visit these places you are always with me. Dublin city is my home and you are everywhere in it.

Love Valerie

Belonging to a family…

As people we are all born into families. We belong to them and they in turn belong to us. We don’t have a choice about the differences and diversity that marks the particular tribe that we are born into; we just know that they are ours and that we are expected to simply fit.

Growing up in the 70’s I was a female child in a family with four other siblings. I had two brothers and two sisters. I was the 2nd child, the eldest being another female.

My early life was largely defined by the stereotypical behavior of the time. My sister and I did housework chores every Saturday despite our whinging protests, as my brothers did nothing.

On weekdays I whinged as myself and my older sister helped to prepare meals with our mother, setting the table, clearing afterwards, washing dishes and putting them away while my brothers still did nothing. We learned to iron their clothes, dust and vacuum their room, make their beds as they continued to do NOTHING!

Resentment breeds easily when the balance and status quo is unequal, and it was very lopsided in my view when growing up. Acting out and whinging got me absolutely nowhere. My parents were very traditional and were bringing up their children in the same manner that they had been raised. But times were changing in the 1970’s and I had a (whinging) voice. It was unwelcome to my parents and my brothers as I constantly challenged, asking why I should complete household tasks while my brothers got to play, laze around and basically be waited on hand and foot by my older sister and I.

There were constant rows over this issue, yet my brothers were still not expected to participate in the running of the house. This was regarded as women’s work and men basically did not do it. I hugely resented this and muttered under my breath a lot.

I remember disliking them when I was a teenager because of this inequality. I didn’t think that life was fair. I could see that my older sister and I were saddled with the household chores simply because we were girls, while my brothers got away with it simply because they were boys. I didn’t like it. We fought a lot as teenagers my brothers and me.

My opinion never shifted the balance. My mother believed that her sons were not reared to do household chores. These tasks were for the females in the family. My brothers basked while their sisters slaved.

This is a back drop as to how hostility can quietly breed, grow legs, and walk. I am guilty for largely ignoring my brothers growing up as I really resented the way I believed we were treated so unequally.

I left the family home without a backward glance when I married and left them to their own devices, running far far away with my new husband to our first home in County Meath. I visited the homestead regularly but never really got to know my brothers until many years later.

Time changes so many things including perspective. I never really thought about the indifference that I felt towards them when they were younger, until growing older and wiser I realised that the inequality that was rampant in our home wasn’t their fault. We were all products of my parents and their values and ideals of a particular time.

Acknowledging now that the two lovely men who are my brothers and that actually belong to me through kin, is simply great, and I speak of them always with pride, affection and love.

They are two extraordinary sensitive men who have inherited many individual creative talents as part of our family gene pool and I really admire them as people.

My brother Phil is a full time musician who is largely self-taught, but who has an artistic and creative ear for music that has been inherited from my mother’s side. He lives in Tenerife where he earns his living performing. This is central to his life.

My mam’s four brothers were all accomplished musicians. Paul plays classical piano, Leo played drums in a band in London for years, Paddy still plays organ – church & choral music, while Philip plays a haunting yet versatile harmonica. There were so many parties in our house when I was growing up where piano music and singing took center stage. Musical flair and ability runs through my mother’s family and this wonderful creativity lives on in my brothers. My dad was a carpenter and was gifted with his hands, and this has also been passed on to his sons.

While Phil perpetuates the tradition that comes from our mothers side, with his intuition and talent related to music and performance, John has explored creativity in a different fashion. Phil expresses himself musically while John does it with imagery. By John’s own admission he was a late developer. He holds down a full time job and a full time life. He loves music too but its ‘techno’ that does it for him. He likes to mix it up and add ‘stuff’ to the original mix. He is really creative with music, and loves it as a part time DJ, but his enduring passion is photography.

He started out as an amateur, but two years ago he enrolled in college to learn about technique and style. This has changed the way he sees things. His skill is emerging in the way that he views places and spaces, and he is a natural landscape photographer with an impassioned eye that captures the natural and hidden beauty that lies in the everyday. I absolutely love his work and really admire his distinctive style.

As people we are all individual in our own unique way, yet as members of a kin/family we have talents and skills that we have inherited from our descendants that were not obvious when we were children. I think it’s simply wonderful that our ancestors have bestowed these creative gifts to be explored and embraced by our current generation.

While I might jeer my brothers about the easy ride they had growing up, they have developed into independent, creative, sensitive men, who have huge talents and skills that sustain them and bring added joy to our lives. I am so very fortunate in calling them ‘mine’ and my life is all the better for having them in it.

It’s just a pity that they never learned how to wash out a toilet or clean the windows when we were growing up as children, but I blame my parents for that.

Destiny can be bit like a lucky dip……And I am so glad that we all came out in the same handful.

The route home…..

Like a pigeon, despite distance and location I have always found my way back home to where I grew up. I never left the island, indeed I never lived further than thirty five miles away from my family home at any given time.

Growing up and living in Drimnagh on the south side of Dublin, the actual location of a job was a primary factor on whether to accept it or not. Bus routes and distance from home was a major consideration when searching for particular employment opportunities. My first job was in a music shop in North Great Fredrick Street on the North side of the city. I was fifteen years of age when I started.

As a city dweller I was used to public transport and I very quickly worked out several bus routes that would take me to and from my place of work. There was always walking involved, so depending on the weather, I had choices about how long I wanted to spend sitting on a bus, or how long I wanted to spend walking. This varied with the seasons.

On winter nights after work I dashed the short distance to O’Connell Street and hopped on the 22 bus which brought me to the bottom of the long road that led to my home. Facing into the rain without the shelter of an umbrella could be the longest journey and one that I remember well. On summer evenings, I would stroll the length of O’Connell Street and wander across the river Liffey to Fleet Street, where I could pick up one of the 50 A, B or C buses that traveled across the south side of the city. Walking even further before boarding and after disembarking was a pleasure on balmy summer nights and distance wasn’t an issue. Getting home quickly during the summer months never seemed to have the same urgency as it did in the winter.

By the time I was getting married at twenty years of age and ready to leave home I was working in Ringsend. I had worked out several bus routes and times to get me to and from my job in the mornings in all weathers. The number 18 brought me all the way from Drimnagh Road to Ballsbridge, with only a brisk fifteen minute walk to Barrow Street. Or the number 22 would bring me into the city centre where I could then catch a number 3 to ‘Boland’s Bridge’ with a two minute walk to the office. Hangovers and late nights were often deciders on which bus to catch.

My first home when I married was in County Meath, 32.1 miles from my parents’ home in Drimnagh. I worked out every route on how to get there by car in the minimum of time, and became an expert at directing my husband (I didn’t drive) on how to traverse country roads and city dual carriageways enabling us to arrive within an hour of departing our home. This was a major feat initially as neither of us were familiar with the ‘northern’ county that we had moved to, so far removed from the ‘south’ city roads that we were comfortable with. When I learned to drive, I became even more adept at shaving off time to make the journey quicker by traveling more country roads and fewer dual carriageways!

Moving back to Dublin in the 90’s with our children, one of the criteria for our new abode was about the distance between our new house and ‘home’. My husband’s place of work in Blanchardstown Fire Station was a major factor in our decision, but the location of Lucan was also an easy fifteen minutes journey across the new M50 motorway to Drimnagh. Again I worked out the quickest way to make that trip, in rush hour traffic and in quiet times too. I could drive to Killmainham and up through the old brickfields of Galtimore, I could cross the M50 and make my way down the industrial Long Mile Road, or I could continue down the Naas Road to the canal at Blackhorse and continue on up through Kilworth.

The homing instinct has always been there like that of a pigeon who returns to its roost no matter where it has been released from, but life never remains the same and it constantly changes whether we like it or not. Sadly this roost is no longer my home. My mother was the last inhabitant there and now she has gone.

Her house is being sold, along with all the memories of my journeys home. Remembering my youthful bus rides in all weathers, the eventual family car trips from Meath with kids and buggies, communion and confirmation excursions, and Sunday dinners with scowling teenagers who eventually evolved into happy young adults who wanted to be there as much as I did, all remind me that this era is over and that this house is no longer ‘home’.

When meeting the auctioneer recently to sell the property I tried to be detached about the ‘desirable city residence – a short distance from town, with access to bus and tram routes’ but I simply couldn’t be. There is too much history stored in this address.

As I drove down the Naas Road to Blackhorse and up through Kilworth two weeks ago to meet the auctioneer at the house, I wondered if I would continue to feel that homing instinct after it is sold. I don’t think that I will. It wasn’t the house that guided me instinctively to take all those routes back; it was simply because my mother was there and she made it ‘home’.

Destiny can be about acknowledging that with the passing of time and people, home is not necessarily a fixed place, but something that you can carry inside yourself.

Dismantling a life…..

Since the recent passing of my mother I have been living in a kind of limbo, a half-way house, a place somehow in between life and death.

When she was dying there were lots of people around providing loving emotional support, and they were also present for a week or two afterwards. However when the funeral was over and ‘the circus pulled out of town’ I was left in a place of sadness and loneliness. I have no order to focus on, as all the routines that were associated with my mother’s care have ended with her death. I feel adrift without direction. There is a vacuum that is unfamiliar.

Her home is going to be sold, and as part of the preparations for sale it has to be cleared out. Over the past week my siblings and I have undertaken this task. My mother lived in this house for over fifty years. It is modest and small and she loved it. She had wonderful neighbours and friends and always felt safe here.

I believe that going through the personal belongings of someone else is similar to reading their diary. Every life is a story, and while we may not all write about it, our lives are reflected in the things that we surround ourselves with. We all accumulate ‘stuff’ throughout our lifetimes, and in her fifty plus years in that house my mother accumulated a lot. Every room had cupboards and drawers that were full, and everything that she had tucked away out of sight was dragged into the open in the past few days. Decisions were made about keeping it, discarding it, or donating it to a local charity shop.

Unearthing her old clothes from the back of wardrobes were physical reminders of the life that she lived. Finding old photographs with captured smiling faces gave us a sense of history that stretched back to a time before I was born. Some of the photographs were previously unseen, and they were pored over and studied, as names were considered, matched to faces, and dates and places were agreed upon.

Reading through old letters and cards from many years ago added an unknown dimension to the woman who was my mother. We also found receipts written in Spanish from a Bullfight in Barcelona where she went on honeymoon almost sixty years previously. Imagining her as a carefree young woman experiencing all the drama of life and death in a ring, in a country that was so foreign and exotic back in the 1950’s brings added colour to her life. Sorting through a selection of clothes that she wore in ‘Stage Shows’ in the local parish also reminded me that she loved dressing up and singing when I was a child, and that she sang in the house to records that she played on her old fashioned radiogram all the time.

Discarding items like these was like throwing away her life. I was unprepared for the sadness that would engulf me like waves during this clearout.

Room by room, drawer by drawer her life is being dismantled.

The precious things that she gathered over her lifetime and that held meaning for her are all going to different places. Some will be treasured and kept, while others are unwanted and will be placed out for collection. It was tough making decisions, and I believe that secretly we all felt that if we held on to her ‘stuff’ we could somehow keep her and her life intact. Impossible I know.

As we sorted through her (mostly) costume jewellery, I picked out items that I remembered her wearing when I was a child. They are valueless in monetary terms but are completely priceless to me. As I put them in boxes to bring home with me, I realised that I will probably never wear them, but that I will take them out from time to time to see them sparkle just like she did when she was wearing them.

When this task is finally over and my mother’s house is cleared, the memorabilia of her lifetime will be gone. Some of it will live on in other people’s lives and houses, and the rest of it will simply disappear. In sifting through her belongings I have been privileged to see into some of the private pages of her life, and having been allowed a glimpse into her past I believe that I have also gotten to know her a little better.

‘Goodbye Mam’……I feel like I am letting her go again and it’s not getting any easier.

Surviving loss….

What makes a person get up and face into repetitive everyday tasks? I ask myself that question a lot. Life can be a struggle at times and there are days when I do not want to get out of bed and face the day ahead.

There are days when a deep sadness and melancholy can sweep out of nowhere and paralyse me in my efforts to greet each new day and accept my responsibilities. I usually push through it. What other option do I have?

This melancholy has been ever present since the death of my darling sister Annie four years ago this week. Now it is coupled with the added loss of my mother who died four weeks ago. It is always present but usually below the surface where not everyone can see it.

I realise that mourning is part of life and we all lose people that we love. However I expected the feelings of loss after my sister’s death to have passed at this stage but they have not. They have changed, and I can now carry on a conversation about her without crying openly, but there can still be a physical lump in my throat when I speak her name and recount stories about her. I can laugh about funny things that she said and did some days, but other days I don’t want to laugh because the feelings of loss are still so raw.

This loss is acute, yet I never felt that I wanted to die after her. My life is completely different now and the sections of our lives that overlapped with joy and happiness have gone and I miss that.

I miss the things that we shared and the trust that lay between us. I realise that we were lucky in our relationship and I am a better person because of her. Her honesty and diplomacy were the things that I valued the most, and yet her carefree happiness is something that I can picture in an instant. I can still hear her laughter.

Losing my mother has added another layer to this sadness and I recently found myself looking at pictures of us as a family together. There were seven of us then and now there are only four. It can be difficult to see us smiling and laughing in a captured moment and realise that we will never be together again.

At times I want to cover up all the pictures and not be reminded of how things used to be because it just makes me unbearably sad to look at them. Other times I pore endlessly over images remembering happier days and family events. It’s hard to find a balance.

People have their own ways of coping with grief, and well-meaning friends have given me countless books to help me along my journey. I think that we all find our own way through loss and I believe that it will come organically for me rather than by a particular formula taken from a book. I just didn’t think that it would take this long. Was I being naive?

Sometimes I am comforted by poetry, and as I read I realise that I am not unique. I am not the only person in the world who has experienced the loss of a loved one, and I am not so narcissistic as to believe that my feelings are more deeply felt than others. People in different places and times have survived greater grief than mine.

Yet loss is my constant companion for now and never leaves my side. Although I have many special people in my life who love me and are loved in return, these two women, my sister and my mother will be missed and mourned for as long as I am alive.

I will laugh and enjoy life and go out and socialise, yet these two wonderful women will be in the shadows beside me all the time. How can it not be so when I am such a part of them and they are such a part of me.

Annmarie O’Neill Miller 7/11/1970 – 13/2/2009
Monica Furlong O’Neill 27/4/1930 – 11/1/2013

Memories of a Dublin childhood…..

Growing older brings its own rewards. I tell myself this all the time and I truly believe it. It brings wisdom, confidence, and a settling in to one’s self that was largely missing for me in my younger days. Being middle aged doesn’t mean that I am on the scrap heap of life though, I am anchored in life with friends and family and I am fortunate to call Dublin my home.

Home is different to everyone and we all carry our own traditions and histories, but I believe that I am privileged to have grown up at a time in Dublin when communities felt real, and where people mattered to each other.

My childhood neighbourhood in Drimnagh was full of houses that were small and where families were large. My own house had two parents and five children. We were similar to other families that surrounded us, some having more kids, others having less. One house around the corner had seventeen children in a three bedroomed terraced home, plus two parents and a grandmother. They were lovely people, and I often wondered how they happily fitted inside the small rooms that were characteristic of the houses that we all lived in at the time.

My house in my opinion was squashed full of people, and the only places that I could comfortably exist in were my bedroom (shared with two sisters) and the living room (shared with the whole family). The ‘good room/parlour’ was out of bounds and I was only let in there with special permission.

This parlour had an opulent chesterfield suite in it that I was not allowed to sit upon on a daily basis. The room and all its contents were for guests and visitors, and I grew up peeking inside it, wishing that I could relax on the softness of the couch instead of sitting on the floor in the family room, or sharing a fireside chair with one of my siblings watching the TV which was the center point of the room.

My father was a skilled craftsman who could have knocked the wall down to make a bigger family room for us all, but my mother didn’t want that. She liked having a special room for very rare visitors and guests. That was her family tradition.

We had a little fancy telephone table in the hall, and although the telephone was cut off several times during my childhood through non-payment of bills, the ‘dead’ phone was always polished as was the table…. Keeping up appearances was an integral part of living in those days. Lots of our neighbors had ‘dead phones’ too.

As children we were always in and out of each other’s houses. The mammies made jam sandwiches for us when we were hungry, and the daddy’s played with us and taught us how to kick balls and make stuff like bows and arrows out of branches from trees.

They swung us around and praised us and kissed us when we did well. There was a simplicity to living that was innocent and precious, and I have wonderful memories of the kind and loving neighborhood dads that I grew up with.

There was a trust between us as neighbors that was never tarnished, hurt or broken.

The Daddy’s of my pals were all working class men, who loved their children and who made time for them and me after a long hard day’s work. I remember so many of them with extreme fondness and these memories will never fade.

Sadly I now only get to meet my childhood pals at the funerals of our parents and old neighbors, where we hug each other and ask about our own children and how they are doing. We recount our shared memories that we have about the people that we grew up with, and we tell ourselves how lucky we were to live in a time when lives were simpler and people trusted more.

We were lucky. We lived lives where most of us were cherished and beloved.

I realise now that there must have been many difficult domestic issues happening behind closed doors when I was growing up, and most of us were more poor than rich, but I am thankful and forever grateful that my childhood was not scarred by any type of abuse or inappropriate behavior by any of the wonderful men who were the fathers of my childhood pals. We have spoken about this when we meet at funerals and we have recounted how fortunate we were. Everyone that I knew had lovely men as fathers.

Looking back, there is always the possibility that rose tinted glasses are in place to gloss over the grimness of Dublin in the 60’s and 70’s, but as I embrace middle age I can honestly say that those glasses add a shine and luster to my childhood that will forever be pink and pretty, and nothing will ever dull the memories that I share with my childhood friends growing up in Drimnagh. I truly loved most of the fathers of my pals and I remember them with great affection. I realise how lucky I was to have a childhood that was simply about being a child with nothing else to tarnish it.

Destiny can be about looking back and wishing that you were looking forward again…..

Unforgettable moments…..

Dublin is a place that I am lucky to call my home. It is a city that is steeped in literary history and is beloved of many of its inhabitants. Writers have captured Dublin in many forms, but none greater in my opinion than James Joyce in his short story collection “Dubliners”.

This collection is evocative of my city during a particular time, and his stories capture life and society in such a way that I can imagine, smell and feel. Loving a particular author and the way that they write is always subjective, but the way that Joyce captures Dublin is the definitive account of that period for me.

‘The Dead’ is the last story in the collection and recounts the events of an annual party that takes place during the first week in January 1904 in the Morkan sisters house on Ushers Quay in Dublin.

The story provides insights into the guests who come to the house that night to join the annual party, and the central characters are Gabriel Conroy, his wife, and his Aunt’s (the Morkan sisters).

While the story is beautiful, the setting is equally so, as Joyce describes in detail the house and its environs in relation to the city centre.

I have a cousin who lives in a Gothic type Georgian house in County Wicklow. I am fortunate to be a confident and friend of this cousin who is a composer and musician and who, like the Morkan sisters hosts an annual party every Christmas.

Similarities to Joyce’s literary accounts are accidental, but the setting for this yearly party is resonant of the Morkan sister’s in a grand Georgian house with sash windows, high ceilings and candle lit rooms.

Last year I was again at his Christmas party along with the other annual visitors. I feel like a very special guest at this gathering, and I always clear my diary to make myself available. We only ever meet the other guests at this annual bash, but we have all become familiar with each other over the years, and conversations can vary from the easy, to the radical political, and the shouting each other down kind. We know each other well enough now not to take offence.

There are lots of different personalities at that annual table, but music is the common factor that binds us all.

When the cigars were lit after dinner last year, another cousin’s husband (who is a world class concert pianist) took to the piano while we were all still sitting around the candle lit table and began to play……

In a moment that will be forever etched in my memory, he played Clair De Lune by Debussy.

Listening to that beautiful music, whilst sitting in a Georgian room lit by candlelight, surrounded by friends and loved ones, I was transported to Joyce’s Dubliners. I was moved to tears in that moment by the beauty of the music and company that I was in. I pictured myself in the Morkan sister’s house, and realised that while 107 years had passed since Joyce had written about that particular incident, I was having my own pivotal literary experience right there in that moment.

I have revisited this night so often in my mind in the past year, and find solace, peace and tranquillity in the memory, and in the beautiful music that was played and shared amongst the other attending guests.

Life is made up of so many moments, minutes, hours and days. Some are memorable for a variety of reasons, and some are best forgotten. When things happen that bring me pleasure I usually remember them with clarity in the short term, and resolve to record and write about them so that I can reread the details of the event and somehow try to recapture that feeling, that joy that made the particular moment special. I rarely do what I set out to do in this regard, and many moments of pleasure have been lost in the murky clouds of my past. I wish that I could dredge them up like treasure from an ocean bed, to view them once again, but sadly most are lost having never been recorded.

Lessons learned late in life:

1) Record as many events that have occurred in your own lifetime that have made you happy in a diary that is written in your own handwriting.

2) Start a blog in an attempt to recapture those special moments so that they are not lost forever.

Option 2 is the only one available to me at this stage.

The memory of that beautiful night is etched in my mind, and I hope that I will never forget it. I have now faithfully recorded it here so that I can reread it again in the future in case the memory of this wonderful night fades.

Destiny can be about thoughts, feelings and experiences, that without a deliberate attempt to record them can become lost in the moments that slip away….

My sister’s birthday is approaching…..

I was born in 1960, the 2nd child in a family of five children. I don’t remember the  births of my two younger brothers but I do remember with absolute clarity the night that my baby sister Annie was born when I was ten years of age. She was born on November 7th 1970.

That particular summer, my mam didn’t want to go to Kerry in August on holidays as we had done previously. I remember being disgusted that I wasn’t going to see my friends in Ballyheigue that year because my Uncle Paddy, my mams brother, had offered us his caravan in nearby Clogherhead instead.

Looking back I realise that my mam didn’t want to be too far away from her doctor when she was in her advanced stage of pregnancy, but as a ten year old child I had no idea that a baby was on the way and that this was the rationale for the location of the family holiday that year.

That summer was very hot, and we had a great holiday in Clogherhead but it just wasn’t Kerry. Although I enjoyed the caravan holiday, I remember the time as being strange and disruptive. Mum was just different and I didn’t quite know why. Pregnancy was not talked about as openly as it is now, and as a child I had no idea that my mother was shortly to give birth although I had asked her about why she was ‘getting fat’ without getting a satisfactory answer. She brushed those questions aside that summer and I never suspected anything until I was back in school in September. I vaguely remember asking her if she was going to have a baby with no real idea of why I was asking the question, and mam telling me that her ‘bump’ was wind!

By the time October rolled around, she did tell me that she was going to have a baby but that I wasn’t to tell anybody! News like that was too much for a curious ten year old and I constantly bombarded her with questions about the new baby although I hadn’t a clue that this event was linked to her growing tummy! (I was a very innocent child at the time).

Anyway….. She had an elective delivery and was well prepared in advance.

Her gynaecologist had booked a room for her in a private nursing home on a particular day in November assuring her that he would ‘induce’ her and that her baby would be born that day. A-la-carte delivery days were all the fashion back then…

I remember being packed off to my grandparents’ house with my older sister and my two younger brothers…. It was a weekend, but we had never all stayed away from home together without one of my parents being present. I didn’t settle well in the double bed that I was sharing with my older sister that night.

My dad’s car at the time had a broken exhaust and it was very loud. You could hear the car coming before you saw it.

That night on November 7th 1970 I lay awake beside my sister Bernice in a strange bed in the darkness, listening to the different street sounds outside my grandparents’ house on the canal in Dublin city. At some stage during that long night I heard a noise in the distance and listened carefully as it grew louder and louder. I knew the sound of dad’s car (and the broken exhaust) and as it got closer I got out of bed knowing absolutely that it was my dad approaching and I crept down the stairs while the rest of the house slept.

I clearly remember the moment I opened the front door in my pyjamas, and saw my smiling dad as he walked up the garden path in the darkness towards the steps of the house. He leaned his arm against the door frame, grinning at me and said “you have a new little sister”.

This story is part of the landscape of my life.

When my darling sister Annie was old enough to listen, she loved to hear me recounting each special moment that I remembered of that particular night as she grew up. It was called ‘her story”. As she became an adult and a friend in my life, it was a ‘thing’ a ‘routine’ between us that would happen on her birthday. She would wait in anticipation that day for a phone call from me recounting faithfully my memories of the ‘day of her birth’, and she would suspend whatever it was she was doing at the time in order to hear the story. If lunchtime arrived and I hadn’t called, she would be on the phone indignantly demanding to hear it. It was and still is like a script in my head that contains colour, sound and texture of one of the most memorable nights of my life. This was one of the most precious things that we shared.

That first birthday – November 7th 2009 after her death was dreadfully sad for me as I couldn’t phone her and do the thing that we had done for so many years … No one will ever know or understand the simplicity and joy contained in that story and what it meant to us as sisters every year it was retold.

Her birthday approaches yet again…. I miss her constantly and my life is bereft without her.

November 7th 1970 is the day my darling sister Annmarie Patricia O’Neill was born. I am so thankful to have had such a wonderful and beautiful relationship with this lovely girl, and I will gladly recount the story of the night of her birth to anyone who cares to listen because sadly she is not here to hear it anymore…..

My destiny lies in our past and my future without her……