Category Archives: Irish

Life in a goldfish bowl

 

Living life in a goldfish bowl you are contained in a very small space. This can be a good thing as you can feel protected from influences outside the bowl. As a metaphor for life though, it’s a wakeup call (for me), as life in the goldfish bowl also inures you against the wonders and challenges that occur in the world outside the bowl.

If you were accustomed to living in the ocean for years, you developed strategies that protected you against predators and danger. Your survival skills were at the ready and you were always prepared to protect, react, and survive. Life outside the bowl also taught you how to communicate and help others who assisted you in being a member of the community of swimmers who were part of the greater ocean and who faced the daily challenge together and collectively.

By my own admission I retreated into a goldfish bowl. Loss and inertia overtook me and I retreated into a small and lovely goldfish bowl. I have inhabited it for five years now.

It’s easy to delude yourself into believing that you are living a life inside your gilded goldfish bowl, because there are no challenges. Life just goes on with the same beautiful plants and landscapes that are always lovely and unchanging, but I am slowly dying of boredom and stupor.

Terrifyingly I am attempting to crawl up the sides of my bowl and cast myself back into the ocean. I am older, slower, and not as vigorous as I once was, but I believe that with a bit of support from the greater swimmers out there, I will make it.

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The Presidents Daffodils.

My Mother was a ‘townie’ (inner city child) in her day. She spent her early years in Manor Street just off Aaron Quay in Dublin, and she had a pal from school whose mother worked as part of the domestic kitchen staff in Arás an Uachtaráin (house/home of the President of Ireland) which was located, and still is in the Phoenix Park which is one of the largest enclosed parks in Europe.

Kids had wonderful freedom back in those days, and as a youngster my mam cycled everywhere. She told a great story about a day when she cycled up during the holidays to play with her friend in the Arás. These two small girls were in the garden when the President came out to walk. He asked my mother if she liked flowers, and when she replied that she did, he plucked several daffodils which were in bloom and told her to bring them home to her mother and to say that they were a gift from him. My mam popped them into the basket on her bike and headed home. At the gates of the Park, one of the gate keepers stopped her and asked her where she had gotten the flowers. She truthfully answered that the President had given them to her. He didn’t believe her and threatened her with the police for stealing flowers from the park. After lots of tears he finally let her off to cycle home the short distance to Manor Street and to give her mam the flowers. Every Spring when I see daffodils growing in the lands throughout the Phoenix Park I am reminded of my mam and her lovely story. How sweet of the then President, Douglas Hyde to send flowers from his garden to my grandmother.  

The stolen violin

I started to play the violin at seven or eight years of age. My maternal grandmother’s family were all musically talented, and as my older sister Bernice was already playing the piano, my grandmother decided that I should play the violin. I remember my father buying me my first instrument and bringing it home. I unenthusiastically removed it from the case and made an attempt to play it. It sounded dreadful. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight, but like so many unpromising beginnings, my love for it grew.

Mother Cecily was the resident music teacher in Loreto College Crumlin where I attended school, and I remember happily gathering up my school bag during lessons and escaping the classroom twice weekly for music tutorials of 45 minutes duration. It was many years before music as a subject became an extra-curricular activity which took place after school hours. But while I was I with Mother Cecily I didn’t spend too much time wondering what I missing back in the classroom.

Cecily was an ancient tiny nun, who wore glasses that magnified her eyes so much, that she resembled an owl. She was passionate about music, and most of her pupils adored her. As time went by, I also learned how to read music, as each lesson included musical theory, sight reading and information on great composers and musical artists. I spent many happy hours in her little music room and as I progressed I entered and won several competitions and Feis Ceoil’s.

By the time I was twelve years of age, I was old enough to join the school orchestra. We performed at various events throughout the school year and competed with other schools in orchestral competitions. A couple of years later when we teamed up with the  Castleknock College Boys School orchestra, there was a sudden flurry of teen aged Loreto girls who begged to join the orchestra never having played an instrument before, pleading with Mother Cecily that they could quickly learn to play the triangle or other percussion instruments. Cecily gently insisted that they would have to know how to read music in order to become part of the orchestra, and many hopes were dashed, as being part of this musical ensemble suddenly became very cool amongst my peers.

Travelling out to the boarding school in Castleknock by hired bus every other Saturday was always an adventure, and after practice when Mother Cecily and Father Fehily went to take tea, we had an hour or two to gallivant and hang out with the lovely boys of Castleknock in the grounds of the college. I remember this period in my life as being great fun and I kept in contact with a few of those boys throughout my teen and early adult years.

My father had only one sibling, his brother Tommy who had never married. He was a skilled carpenter like my dad, but he enjoyed making musical instruments as a hobby. One Christmas he presented me with a beautiful handmade violin. It was remarkable. Each peg had mother of pearl and nine carat gold embedded in the wood, and the fingerboard featured an unusual treble clef motif in Ivory. The back of the violin was exquisitely inlaid with a mother of pearl rose whose petals held various hues and colours. It was absolutely unique. Tommy had spent almost a year, sourcing materials and crafting this precious gift for me and I had never owned anything so beautiful.

It didn’t come with a case, and when my father and I went to the music shop Mc Cullagh Piggott’s to buy one, we realised that the instrument was slightly larger than a standard violin so we couldn’t get a case to fit.

When I returned to school after the holidays, I carried the instrument in a makeshift soft bag that I had cobbled out of old jumpers. When Mother Cecily saw it, she rooted out an old ungainly wooden handmade case that looked like a coffin but the new instrument fitted inside perfectly.

As my violin was slightly bigger than a standard one Mother Cecily used me as a viola player when the need arose. We simply switched strings and I became the ‘viola section’ of the orchestra. The viola is the second instrument in the string family, graduating on to the cello, and finally to the double base. Being part of the violin section of the orchestra, I performed with several other players, but when my violin became a viola, I was always playing solo. I enjoyed the deeper tones that the alternative strings produced, and I also enjoyed the magical status that my violin held. It was a two in one and very special.

Because the wooden case was cumbersome and very heavy, I left it on a rack in a school corridor with other instruments and practised at home on my old violin. Leaving instruments on the rack in school was a common practice, and although they stood in a busy corridor, these instruments were out of bounds to pupils and were never touched or moved. On our trips out to Castleknock, it was simply lifted and placed on the bus, along with all the other violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, oboes and various percussion instruments that were also often left on the rack.

Uncle Tommy only visited our house about twice a year, but the violin was always brought out and I performed for him. He enjoyed classical music and it was a shared subject that we could talk about. I was an awkward teenager, and he was a bachelor with limited experience of kids, so the instrument and the music gave us opportunities to chat and to enjoy each other’s company.

One Saturday in early summer I went into the school to collect my violin as I had a competition later that day. I went to the rack and opened the case, but the violin was not inside. It had been stolen sometime between the previous day when I had had a lesson and that morning when I called to collect it.

Despite a thorough search of the entire school the violin never turned up. Fliers were sent around, and every teacher asked every class if anyone knew what had happened to my violin. No one came forward and the instrument was never found. Sadly the nuns refused to take responsibility for its loss. I felt so bad. My mother believed that I was at fault and had somehow ‘lost it’ or left it on the bus (as I had done a few years previously with the older violin, which was recovered from the C.I.E  lost property office a day later).

When Uncle Tommy came to visit that Christmas, my father and mother lied to him and told him that the violin was in school in the “big case” over the holidays, as they believed that it would break his heart to find out that it had been stolen. I still remember playing my dishonest musical renditions for him on the old violin that Christmas. I felt guilty with every note that I produced and cut short the performance that I usually basked in.

He died the following spring never knowing that it was gone. The heart of playing the violin left me after that, and despite still having my older instrument I subsequently left the orchestra. The old violin was eventually passed onto a younger cousin, along with the sheet music, books, music stand, and other paraphernalia associated with it.

After I left school I took my musical knowledge and got a job in Walton’s music store in Dublin where I worked very happily for over four years. Over the course of those years, many second hand violins were brought in to the shop to trade up to newer instruments. I kept my eyes out, and all the sales staff knew the story of the stolen violin. But I’ve never seen it again.

I sometimes trawl through the Internet in the hope that I might stumble across it. I don’t know what I would do if I found it, I just know that I would recognise it in an instant as there could never be another one like it.

Destiny can often be about still appreciating things that are given with love long after they have gone.

Being gay in May in Ireland 2015

Reflecting on the momentous ‘yes’ vote on same-sex marriage by a popular vote in Ireland that took place yesterday,  I remember the time that my son told me that he was gay. It took place in my sitting room one night when he was seventeen years of age. The year was 2002.

Ireland was a different place thirteen years ago. It seems like such a short space in time, but looking back from the inside out, society has radically changed since then.

Over the intervening days after he ‘came out’, as parents I hope we provided lashings of emotional support. I remember it being a bit ‘hit and miss’ at times and his dad struggled more than I did. He thought it might be ‘just a phase’. This was a path that we never thought we would have to walk, and we were completely unprepared for it.

While I was supporting him, I was also trying to cope with my own personal feelings of grief, as I silently and secretly mourned the daughter in law that I would never have, and the loss of his children that would never be born that I would never hold. How selfish of me.

A few nights later overhearing him crying alone in his bedroom believing that we might not accept his orientation was heart-breaking but pivotal in our relationship and how we viewed him as a person. We immediately surrounded him with acceptance and love and assured him of our support. How could we not. (His dad and I  quickly got over ourselves and our own feelings.)

Over the next few weeks we eventually had conversations about his own troubles and about his sadness on realising that he might never be a parent as he has always loved children, but all the while we talked about a future where many things, including being a father were possible.

I believe that we all have unconscious trajectories of how we hope life will work itself out for our children. We have dreams and hopes, and we want the best for them. We don’t want their lives to be marked by discrimination, prejudice or hatred, and naively we expect that somehow the universe will deliver.

My son’s ‘coming out’ marked a transitional period in our lives. As an Irish Mammy, I was consumed by imaginary future hardships, rejection, acceptance, and how living/working in Ireland as a gay man would be. He on the other hand was coping with the day to day struggles of being ‘different’ and coming out to his peers and how they viewed him.

Throughout this time he was still my boy, beloved and unchanged, and my extended family, but especially my mother Monnie and sister Annie were the most wonderfully supportive people when I told them. They reassured him of their acceptance and love, and I never loved my mam more than I did during that time. She never made a smart comment, lewd or otherwise as she would never hurt him. She embraced his orientation, and throughout the remainder of her life would always ask him about boyfriends, his love life etc. in the exact same way that she asked my daughter about her boyfriends and her love life. I absolutely know how she would have voted this week.

Ireland and the world has changed so much in the past thirteen years, and being gay in 2015 is not the same as it was back then. Society has changed, protocol about being gay has changed, school policy on bullying has changed, workplace discrimination has changed, and homophobia and how it impacts on people has been highlighted and changed.

I am not suggesting that it has changed for everyone, and I realise that there are still people who are gay, afraid to be themselves, afraid to be honest and afraid to ‘come out’ to their families and friends. I hope it shifts for them.

The momentous changes that I have seen taking place in Ireland over the past few years in relation to people are staggering. From a Catholic country that was bound by religious oppression and from what Rome unilaterally decreed, we have emerged egalitarian, free thinking and accepting. Perhaps being an oppressed race historically for so long, we have finally learned who we are as a people. We have survived the tyranny of oppression as a colonised country, and we have also survived the tyranny of a religion/church that is outdated, misogynistic and unforgiving.

We have turned our backs on the sovereignty and allegiance that we had to an ideology, to a church, that cast Irish women as second class citizens, who abused these women and their children, and within the protection and confines of their church denied any wrongdoing. We have at last abandoned the discrimination that forced so many gay people to live secretive furtive lives, living in fear of being exposed as being ‘different’, and this week we voted on equality to enshrine in our constitution the legality of same sex marriage.

It is not ‘Ireland’ that has created this incredible societal change; it is the people of Ireland. The ordinary, simple, wonderful Irish citizens who are united in their belief that gay people are equal in their demand for legal marriage status in their own country. I stand proud and tall with every Irish person who voted ‘yes’ on May 22nd 2015.

A ‘yes’ vote has changed the Irish landscape forever, and as the proud mother of a gay man I am so glad and thankful that my fellow country men and women voted with me at the polls, ensuring that if my gorgeous son ever wants to marry a man that he loves, he can. Little did I ever know that night back in 2002 that this was ever going to be possible.

Destiny is an ever changing road, filled with hopes and dreams that sometimes become a reality.

Riding on the shirt tails of my sister…..  

As people I believe that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, including the gifts that we bring to the table of life. Some we are born with, and others we cultivate as we grow and mature as adults. I have often wondered is humour and wit inherent or do we learn it? I know that I practiced being funny as a child in order to be liked and included.

Growing up in a large extended family there were always lots of social occasions with siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. As children we were expected to get along with our many cousins and I think that we did most of the time. We gathered in packs at particular family events throughout the year, and while the adults partied, the cousins did so too in different ways. Looking back I believe that it was actually a training ground for me in how to move comfortably within my extended family and how to perform in a particular way.

I was an overweight child/teenager and I learned to hide my true self or to make funny rejoinders about ‘fat’ people in order to deflect any hurt that I might have felt if a disparaging joke was made. Humour was harsh and critical back then with none of the political correctness that is so prevalent today. I was the family clown.

I had a very well developed personality that people commented on. I was considered outgoing and full of life and laughter. I didn’t appear shy, and I functioned really well at all these family gatherings.

As I became an adult I had good friends and enjoyed socialising, conversation, and the general banter that carried me through job interviews, friendships, relationships and eventually meeting my husband, marriage and children.

My sister Annie was ten years younger than I was. I doted on her as a child and there are hundreds of stories as to how we were as sisters growing up. She was also part of that extended family training ground, although times had changed subtly by the time she became a part of it socially.  We became close friends as adults when I moved back to Dublin in my 30’s (married with kids) and Annie was in her 20’s.

We began to socialise and to mesh our pals. We went out. We hung around with each other and spent a lot of time together. She was still living at home with our mam, but spent a lot of time with me and my family in Lucan. She liked hanging out with us.

She was so witty and very very funny. She simply sparkled. We laughed a lot, yet we had serious in depth conversations about countless things, and I trusted her completely with all of my secrets. There was a beautiful lightness and frivolity to our relationship that I recognised and loved. It was always present. She was inherently humorous and had a sharp wit just like my mother’s.

My children adored her. She was the ‘Cool Aunty’ when they were teenagers, and I clearly remember my daughter Jayne, sitting on the bathroom floor gazing up at her as she swept her blusher brush across her cheekbones before we went out one night. I didn’t use makeup, so my daughter learned this skill from her.

I also remember the time my son Andy ‘came out’ and told us that he was gay. Annie was so supportive and cracked on about how the two of them would ‘go on the pull together’ chasing men all over Dublin. And they did.

She spent a lot of time with us, and was here at the end of nights, at the beginning of mornings, mid afternoons and evenings. She sat and joked, giggled and provided fun, humour, merriment and a general lightness of being that we all basked in.

When she married Mark, had Alex and moved to Lucan, she was even more present in our daily lives.

Of course she had bad days as we all do. She could be as grumpy as hell, but when she smiled and chuckled, we all joined in with her. Her laughter brightened our days.

When she died a light went out of my life. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true.

In the short term all laughter disappeared. All joy disappeared. All lightness and frivolity disappeared. All joking disappeared.

As time moved on, I learned how to be without her, live without her, function without her, and eventually laugh without her. I am only realising now that for so many years I rode on her shirt tails. I relied on her humour and her vivacious nature to disguise my own shyness and my inability to be myself. When I was in her company we were a double act. She was the funny, witty, fabulous girl that I never really was, but could somehow be when I was with her.

Since her death so many people tell me I have changed. They tell me I am quieter, less funny, and less witty, but I realise now that I actually never was. She instinctively possessed those qualities, and unknowingly I assumed that I was the same as she was but I wasn’t.

At the ripe old age of 54 I believe I am ok. Annie and I worked as a twosome throughout many happy years together, and without her I am continuing to live and manage life just being myself. I have my own talents, yet like so many of us I am a bundle of insecurities. I also know that without her, I am actually quite a shy person who doesn’t really like the limelight although it may sometimes appear otherwise. I also realise now that I am not that funny or witty, but am ok knowing this and I am not trying too hard to be otherwise. My kids (now adults) can be the most critical of all when I attempt to be droll or humorous… They simply tell me that I’m not – although they are not being unkind. They simply know the difference having known my sister.

Destiny can be the longest road travelled between wit and wisdom, but with laughter and joy to sustain us, that journey can be made a lot easier with the people we travel with.

Dublin- Smithfield.

Growing up in Dublin, I remember Smithfield Square in the North City area of Dublin as a market. It was a place of traders, fruit and vegetable merchants, and horse fairs. It had a particular character and feel, cobbled and weather-beaten, but it was beloved by many hard working people who were there earning their living . It was regarded as a major trading  marketplace for Dubliners.

It was a run-down sort of place in the 70’s and 80’s, dilapidated and neglected. Small lock up premises bordered the square on three sides where trade was plied, and vans and horse drawn carts were in and out delivering and collecting. Business was conducted daily and the square was a hive of activity filled with many colourful characters selling merchandise.But at night time the place was deserted and empty. Irish Distillers were located on one side of this square, but the traders were the life force of this inner city square during the day.

Old Smithfield

There was also a horse fair on the first Sunday of every month. This fair was as old as my grandfather could remember and I regularly took trips in with my Dad to watch the trading of horses, donkeys, and other animals during the 60’s and 70’s. It was a bustling fair where horses, ponies, goats and chickens were kept in makeshift pens with other domestic animals. Walking around the square on those Sundays was an experience filled with sights and smells that I will remember forever. I had to hold on tightly to my father’s hand in case we became separated because it was crowded by hundreds of people.

Dublin changed, and during the late 1980’s a new city plan was created to redevelop the area. There was a sustained outcry from the people who traded there, but the lockups started to disappear and become boarded up as leases were not renewed. Trade shifted to the more expensive  ‘Official Fruit and Vegetable covered market’ off Capel Street and the square became more forlorn and neglected.

The horse fair continued on the first Sunday of each month though, despite repeated efforts to close it down.

Developers began to buy up properties on the square in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I clearly remember reading a proposed plan for the area, where it was imagined that it would become a grand piazza or square, modelled on an Italian vision where new urban dwellers could ‘cast their gaze over the space as they sipped their cappuccinos from their apartment balconies during their leisure time’. Coffee culture was unknown in Dublin at that time, and most of us didn’t even know what a cappuccino was or what it tasted like.

The developers created wonderful artistic impressions in their sales brochures of this new fabulous lifestyle that they were attempting to sell to Dubliners. It all looked amazing. People talked it up, and there was such a buzz about this new European style apartment living.

All looked and sounded great except for the fly in the ointment.

The one thing that ruined the sales palaver about ‘coffee on balconies’ and ‘gazing across the rooftops of Dublin’ was the obvious smell of horse manure that would pervade this idyllic space every four weeks without fail.  (In my opinion there was a greater whiff from the sales patter than there ever was from the horses.)

In the intervening years when the apartments were eventually built with their balconies and their new urban dwellers, and the whole square was redeveloped, the monthly horse fair continued. There were calls from the health and safety police about animal welfare, rogue trading, and counterfeit selling. You name it; it was all happening in Smithfield on the first Sunday of every month. There were proposals to move the fair to another venue outside the city limits, but the horse traders cited old city by-laws which allowed the trading on site to continue.Smithfield horse market 2008

The market attracted all kinds. And inevitably there were people who ignored standards, and animals were traded and sold to people who didn’t have the animal’s welfare at heart. Reports of cruelty began to surface, and coupled with an influx of young lads who just wanted to buy horses as pets and urban racers, grazing them on common ground in Dublin estates, the authorities were becoming increasingly bureaucratic and wanted the whole fair disbanded. There was a gun attack in the market in 2011 and this signalled the end of the fair.

It was simply over and I have no idea where horses are traded in Dublin any more.

Smithfield has continued to be redeveloped and now bears all the hallmarks of that once envisioned grand Italian Piazza. It is a place that is on the map of all visitors who come to Dublin, and the Distillery on the corner reaps the rewards from people who pay for the tour to see how Irish whiskey is produced.Smithfield 5

I went in there tonight to see the Christmas tree that lights the square and reflects on the wonderful ancient cobblestones that hold a million memories, but for me, despite the beauty of the revamped area and the wonderful buzz of contemporary living, it has become a heartless anonymous place.Smithfield

I gazed about, and remembered the sounds that used to reverberate around it, the calls of the merchants, and the banter of the Dubliners who traded there. It is a beautiful space for sure, but it possesses no history or footprint, as that has been obliterated by the urban redevelopment practice  that has forgotten that cities need people living and working in them to survive and not just be places for tourists to visit. Walking around Smithfield tonight, admiring the Christmas tree, listening to the other visiting people who were doing the same as I was, I could have been in Berlin, Prague, or any other European city. There is sadly nothing left to distinguish it as a place that is recognisably Dublin.

Destiny can be about realising that we all need a history to know who we truly are.

My darling girl – “Annie” – 7/11/1970 – 13/2/2009

As long as I am alive her touch will be remembered.

Her smell, her voice, her kiss,  all locked inside me.

Treasure that comforts.

When I am gone so she will be too, though her image will remain in photographs.

Yet who will remember her soft skin, her luminescence.

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