Tag Archives: Irish

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.

Christmas……

Is it wrong to look forward to this time of year when I am constantly reminded of all those who I have lost and who will not be present with me during this season of gift giving and family oriented activities.

As the old cliché goes ‘misery loves company’ and too often I find myself spiralling downwards in a maelstrom of sadness thinking about the people who I have loved and who are no longer with me. I remember them all the time and reflect on how different my life is without them.

Some may think that I am melancholic and miserable, and although I can be, it’s not the hat that I wear 24/7.

Planning Christmas for my family, wandering through gift shops and buying presents for loved ones online has created a stark reminder of all who are no longer here with me on this planet.

I hate not buying for my sister Annie any more. Almost every time I shopped, online or in real time, I thought of her. If I dared to come home with something that appealed to me, she would ask why I hadn’t bought a replica for her.  Silly and inexpensive things mostly, but stuff that we liked and that represented our shared taste. I bought on the double a lot when she was alive.

Since her death, shopping has been a major challenge. I cannot view ‘stuff’ without thinking and wondering if she would like it. Is this feeling unique to me, or do others experience this phenomenon.

My mam who died two years ago had similar tastes, but didn’t like ‘household’ stuff like Annie and I did. She was always thrilled by a gift that sparkled and that she could wear.  My mother in law Bernie who died earlier this year had no time for “gee gaws” as she called ornaments or household embellishments, and preferred to receive the gift of a practical cardigan or something similar. She liked things that were useful to her. Unlike my mam, she never wore jewellery.

I never really thought about how shopping for gifts for people that I love was such a minefield of emotion, but I really feel it this year. Everywhere I go I am reminded of what not to buy.

Notwithstanding  these feelings I am at last looking forward to Christmas.

I am looking forward to Christmas despite not having three wonderful women that I have loved collectively for over 50 years being present with me.

I am looking forward to Christmas, sharing the day with my very dear and patient husband of over 30 years.

I am looking forward to Christmas with my adult children who will come to visit and share dinner with me, and who I have really enjoyed buying gifts for.

I am looking forward to Christmas, although it will be a quieter and less crowded affair.

I am simply for the first time in five years quietly and smilingly looking forward to Christmas…….

Destiny can silently and unknowingly creep up on you and remind you to keep on living.

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…

A shrinking life…

Quietly and almost without my noticing it, my life has shrunk and become smaller.

Measured tasks that filled and shaped my days, that ate up the hours and minutes were all unconsciously part and parcel of my life until last January. These moments have become fewer over the past year.

It’s difficult to reconcile the constant bustle that was my life last year with the quietness and inactivity that defines it now. It is a hallmark of how things are for me at this moment in time.

My life at the time was a balancing act.

I juggled classes, studying, assignments and learning, along with family commitments and the on-going care of my then terminally ill mother. Sometimes there were not enough hours in the day to complete particular tasks, so a friend of mine very kindly gave me a “do it tomorrow” book. It really helped me to make lists of all the things that had to be done, and if I didn’t manage to finish them I would just carry them forward to the next day or until they were eventually crossed off the list. There was a crazy kind of order to my days.

Reading back over the entries from that time I can see that life was also sometimes chaotic, and some tasks were carried on for far too long before they were eventually scratched off the list but it was all somehow manageable.

Christmas 2012 was frantic. There was so much studying and research to be completed. I stayed up many nights reading, writing, referencing and cross referencing. I remember the tiredness. I also remember minding my mam Monnie, who had moved into Hospice care by that time. Prior to her move, there were hospital appointments, liaisons with nurses and home care staff, and all the million and one things that had to be done to ensure her well-being. I wasn’t alone in this, and my brother and my mother’s sisters and brothers were on hand providing help and support during this time.

Christmas was both joyous and sad, because although my mam was with me over the holidays I could see that her life was drawing to a close. She died in early January 2013 and suddenly the tasks associated with her care that were such a feature of my life for such a long time ended abruptly. After her funeral there was an emptiness that was not just about her being gone.

The days stretched ahead empty without meaning or purpose.

I recognised this landscape as I had been there previously when my sister died in 2009 but it looked different this time, bleaker and more desolate. I remember speaking to a very kind and wise Chaplain in NUIM after my sister Annie died, and he helped me through that terrible time with his gentle words of comfort and enlightenment of how the world works with the cycle of life and death. I tried unsuccessfully to resurrect his words and tender instructions and to apply them again, but it didn’t work this time. I found myself in a place of utter loneliness that I could hardly understand myself never mind trying to explain it to others.

Throughout my life I have been emotionally strong and it has stood to me during times of trouble. However I can honestly say that this past year has shaken me more than I ever thought I could be.

Losing my dear sister Annie stopped my world five years ago and at times I didn’t want it to start again I missed her so much. Losing my mam last year has made me feel fragile and small in the face of the universe and in the arbitrary way that life/death happens.

In all the sadness and adjustment to my life without mam, I could not bury myself in my studies as I had done when Annie died. It simply didn’t work. I tried hard to keep up, but eventually made the decision to defer my studies until such a time that I could be clearheaded and focused on the subject as it deserves to be.

When this decision was made I found myself in another vacuum, another empty place where routine was gone and tasks no longer had to be carried forward to the next page of my “do it tomorrow” book.

Emotionally, I realise that I needed that space to mourn my mother’s death and to sort out her affairs, which took up so much time in the weeks and months that followed.

I took on a major house renovation which was much needed and very welcome. I became a ‘project manager’ in my own home and this activity took me through the sad spring and summer months. Conversations about colours and textures, wood versus carpet with painters, carpenters, restorers, and electricians coupled with builders and plumbers coming in and out of the house kept me occupied and focused on the job at hand.

Once that was complete I was in a vacuum again.

The ending of so many things has left me in a peculiar place. I am stagnant, still, and unable to move forward. I am bereft of people that I loved and habits that had become an intrinsic part of me and I am unsure of how to move forward. The pages of my “do it tomorrow” book lie empty and I find that days drag on with no purpose or direction.

I believe that I will bounce back eventually, but it’s a tougher road than I could ever have imagined.

I believe that inertia is a thief of time, and that if I don’t move forward, I will become stuck in this place and I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to be.

I believe that life for me will not be the one that I casually mapped out before I lost the two greatest women that I have ever known and loved.

I believe that living is only as good as I make it, and that it’s up to me to create the opportunities that will make it better for me.

I believe that I am more equipped than I realise, facing into my future having had the love and friendship from these two beloved women.

Life has shrunk, yet I find myself filled with hope on a road watching out for the signpost that will point me in the right direction.

 

Destiny is somehow trusting that what has passed will provide strength and hope for my future.

 

 

The Irish Gaeltacht – Triple Bunk Beds and Fridge Freezers…..

“Going to the Gaeltacht” is a great Irish tradition. It is the first rite of passage for many teenagers in Ireland and it has been happily in existence since the early 1970’s. Leaving your parents for a month to go away as a boarding student to “Irish College” in the West of Ireland in the middle of the summer holidays in order to encourage a fluency of the Irish language is how the deal is sold….How it is perceived by the students who go there is entirely another matter. I was that teenager back in 1970 something, and the idea of getting away to a remote rural location, far away from my parents for a whole month was better than winning the modern day lottery. I think that I would have willingly taken on Japanese lessons if it meant that I could get away, unshackled from home for a four week period.

My older sister Bernice and I were willingly dispatched to County Cork during the summer of 1972. She was 14 years of age and I was 12. Already an experienced veteran, (as she had been there the summer before and loved it) the pair of us were packed off to Ballingeary, County Cork for the month of June. Although we were staying with a host family, and we attended Irish language classes during the day, there was a huge amount of independence and autonomy where adults were not looking over and monitoring us and our time. We were allowed to make our own choices about what to do and where to go.

This was rural Ireland back in a particular time, and to be honest there really was very little to do. We were in a village with a couple of shops, a river, and lots of fields. But freedom from parental shackles, and making decisions about how to spend ones time was a heady combination that made this experience very special. I remember the Céilís (Irish dances) with great affection. These gatherings took place every night in the local school and every student was obliged to go. Being an urban city child, this was my first ‘live’ interactive experience with traditional Irish music, where local people came to play their instruments and enjoy communal dancing with no fee expected. I absolutely loved it.

Part of the nightly experience was losing the teenaged self-consciousness that hung around me like a boulder, and (eventually) learning to abandon myself to the joy of the music and dance every night. There were set Irish dances, for two people, for four, and for more. We learned them and practiced during the days, so that we would be better again the following evening. There was an element of competition about it all, so it wasn’t unusual to see gangs of teenagers ‘dancing’ inanely together during the days on the local tennis courts and on the small roads of the village.

There were no mobile phones back in those days, and the house that my sister and I were staying in had no land line telephone either. We used to queue to phone home every Friday night from the local phone box on the street and assure our parents that we were well and happy (as we undeniably were). Our spending money was restricted, so we received “tuck boxes” and letters from home during our time there. The excitement of receiving a registered parcel from the postman, filled with goodies to be shared, ensured that you were the most popular person in your house that day…

Our “houses” were gendered back in those days. There were “girl” houses and “boy” houses and they were separated by geographical distance. The organisers obviously knew a thing or two about raging teenage hormones and kept a strict segregation rule. This may also have had something to do with the Catholic religious ethos that was a predominant feature in Ireland at the time.

I happily look back on that halcyon summer remembering it with vividness and colour. Nothing bad happened to me, although I experimented with cigarette smoking, seances and ouija boards in my naïve attempts to raise the spirits of the dead. I survived (with the subsequent occasional nightmare about dead people crawling all over me in the dark) and the end of the month came all too soon.

Returning home to Dublin via train I remember looking forward to seeing my family as I had missed them more than I thought I would. My dad had written to tell me of the changes that had occurred at home while I was away. There were a couple of new additions. A new fridge freezer had been installed as had new bunk beds for myself and my two sisters.

We were collected from the train station by a neighbour whose daughter was also with us in Cork and we all fell out of their car excitedly and into our respective houses. My mam opened the door to greet us, and my older sisters first words out of her mouth were to ‘snitch’ on me for smoking while we were away… Never mind that she had also smoked, I got a slap before I had time to defend myself. When I replied that “She had been smoking too” I got another slap and was told “not to tell lies about your sister” as she smugly stood by knowing that as the oldest and most precious child she would be believed regardless of what I said about her. Grrrrrrrr…….I never won that that war, and many years later my Mam still didn’t believe me when I told her that Bernice stitched me up as she was smoking too.

We eventually got into the kitchen and admired the brand new Fridge Freezer…. This was such a rare commodity that it still had a wonderful “exotic” feel to it. We opened and closed the door watching the internal light go on and off and felt the wonderfully cold milk bottles, and wondered at the frozen ice cubes in the freezer section. Our milk bottles had previously been stored on the “cold shelf” over the stone sink in the kitchen and frequently went sour in the summer heat.

My dad then excitedly carried our cases up the stairs to our bedroom so that we could view his newly built wooden bunk beds for his three daughters. Unlike traditional bunks, instead of two beds, this set had three. One box unit was at floor level for my two year old sister Annie, who up to then had been sleeping in a cot in my parent’s room. Another was in the middle about chest high for me, and the highest was at forehead height for my older sister Bernice.

I had never had a “WOW” moment like it before in my life. They were the most ‘avant-garde’ beds that I had ever seen, and I was so proud that my Dad had made them. (They were the talking point in our neighbourhood for years). I tumbled into my new bed that night and thought about how lucky I was to have been away having had the holiday of a lifetime, coming back to all these wonderful new changes. A new bed AND a new Fridge Freezer. Crikey – but I was easily pleased.

I remember many nights whispering to both Annie and Bernice as we lay in those triple bunks. We had great fun sharing as sisters although the room was cramped. I left that bunk bed eight short years later as I married and moved out, and Annie who was 10 at the time, moved into my bed. Bernice also left her top bunk to marry shortly afterwards.

Dad later carved them up and left the middle one (my one) as a single bed that Annie slept in until she too left number 33 to move to Mullingar with her husband Mark….

I was reminded of the bunks tonight by Joanne, Annie’s childhood pal as she posted on Facebook her memories of times past remembering the triple beds as being ‘soooo cool’. They were crafted by my dad in order to give his girl’s individual space to sleep and grow. As an experiment it worked, yet I have never seen triple bunks since. They may be gone, but they are certainly not forgotten. Memories of that particular summer include- Irish language, dancing, and music, being away from home, the wonder of refrigeration and three new beds for three sisters.

Destiny is shaped by experience, but it can also be complimented by outside influences and talents that make our lives better. Thanks Dad.

Intimate conversations between strangers.

My husband and I decided to go away for a few days holidays this week to briefly escape the dirt and mess in our home as we are currently undertaking some renovation work. We chose a hotel from the Internet completely randomly and with no real knowledge of what it offered, left for our destination in County Mayo. We holiday in Ireland quite a lot but usually stick to coastal villages and towns. This hotel was situated inland on a lakeshore, and in a region that we hadn’t explored with great depth in the past.

 
On checking in we were told our room wasn’t quite ready, so while we waited we went into the hotel bar and had lunch overlooking the beautiful lake. After an hour, we made our way up to the bedroom to find a middle aged housekeeper bustling around apologetically as the room wasn’t quite ready. My husband left the room to get something from the car and I sat on the bed chatting to her as she vacuumed around the room. We started chatting about the weather, the hotel, and life in general.

 
I mentioned that I would have liked to book a particular suite but on checking in found that it had already been reserved. She told me with a smile that she had just let two women into it and said that she had “opened her big mouth too quickly” when she told them that it only had one bed. I asked her what she meant and she replied “sure you never know these days what people are about”. Realising that she was possibly making reference to the women’s sexual orientation, I smilingly suggested that in modern Irish society people could get on with their lives in their own way, and that no one need make any remarks about what they choose to do or how they choose to live.

 
She agreed wholeheartedly and told me about the guest that they regularly had, who ‘came up the stairs dressed as a man, but who came down the stairs dressed as a woman’. She believed in ‘letting live and minding her own business and letting people get on with their own lives without prejudice’. She continued cleaning the room as all this chat was going on and was starting to dust the surfaces on the window sills when she stopped and looked me in the eye as she told me that her husband had attempted suicide a year before.

 
I looked straight back at her and asked how he was now both physically and mentally. She told me of how he had held a shotgun to his heart and pulled the trigger, but that somehow he had missed that vital organ, and the bullet had passed it without damage and emerged under his shoulder. The physical healing had only taken a few weeks, but the mental healing was still on going. She spoke about the lack of local services for people who are suffering with mental health issues and how the monthly appointments that her husband had were not doing him as much good as she had hoped. I asked her how she was coping and she was in the middle of telling me about the support that she had, when my husband walked back into the room.With a swish of her duster and a smile for me, she was off as she wished us a pleasant stay and a restful holiday.

 
When she left I looked at my watch. The conversation had lasted only about four or five minutes, yet she managed to convey so much of herself to me, a total stranger during that time. I learnt about her acceptance of same sex relationships, of possible transgendered men or of cross dressers, and I also learned that her life had been profoundly affected by her husband’s attempt to take his own life. These revelations took place in a hotel room between two people from two different generations, from two different places yet who shared five minutes of incredible intimacy together.

 
I will never know what made her disclose these details of her life, but I am glad that she felt that she could share them with me. I believe that honest encounters between people can be a part of what is lacking in this fast paced world that we live in, and in that intimate exchange in an anonymous hotel room in the West of Ireland we were two women who briefly and cosmically connected with each other.

 
Destiny can be about short encounters that remind us of the fragile nature of human life and how we respond to it.

Closing the door gently behind me…..

Smells are so evocative… They can help us tap into memories in an instant and transport us back to particular times and places. This can be good, but maybe not all of the time. My mother’s house is sold and the contracts are being exchanged this weekend. After that I will no longer be able to let myself into number 33 as there will be new owners living there. I will never again catch that particular smell of hers that I used to get when I walked in through her front door. My brother has been clearing out her things and recently he brought me her furs because he didn’t quite know how to dispose of them.

 
Fur in 2013 is just not fashionable or ethical. It’s all about fake fur these days, but I remember my Mam wearing her furs proudly. They were always kept for special occasions and the one that has survived best is a fur stole that she had made for my wedding a million years ago. I have several photos of her wearing it, and she looked lovely in them. Holding this fur on my knees while traveling from her house to mine this week, I could get her own particular smell from it. Holding it to my face for hours afterwards crying into it and feeling the ache of loss so badly knowing that I will never see her again was particularly emotional and sad.

 
Having had to go back and forward over the past couple of months to sort out the removal of her furniture, the clearing out of her possessions, and the finalisation of her utility bills has allowed me to gradually let go the house that I grew up in. As the fixtures were given away and the cupboards were cleared out, the memories went into skips, other people’s homes, and to charity shops to be recycled into other people’s lives.

 
I went back for the last time on Tuesday night along with my adult children, my husband, my brother and his wife. We were all saying goodbye to a house that contained many personal memories built up over many years. We sat on stools that we had brought with us and told stories of different times there. There were tears and laughter all around as we swapped tales. An old neighbour saw my car and popped in because she wanted to say good bye to us. We recounted hair raising stories of times when we were young kids alongside her children and we chatted about how times had changed but how lovely life in Drimnagh had been and how much she had loved having my mam as a neighbour.

 
Over the fireplace in the now empty room there was a picture hanging. It was an artist’s charcoal impression taken from a photo of my Father that that my brother Phil (who lived in Ibiza at the time) had given as a gift to my mother some years before. I remember him proudly presenting this beautiful framed gift to her and her looking blankly at it asking “who is this”. My brother Phil indignantly responded “it’s Dad of course” to which my mother replied “That’s not your father, it looks like a Spanish man to me”. I think that because it was created in Ibiza, and that the artist had focused on my Dads dark hazel eyes, there was an exotic slant to it. According to my mam at the time, it wasn’t a version of her husband. Her children all disagreed.

 
Time moved on, and she grew to love it and the image of him. This beloved picture has always been subsequently referred to as “The Spanish Man” and there was a poignancy and sadness in the air as we recounted the time when it was originally hung. I was completely heartbroken as it was lifted off her wall, as this was the last of her possessions to be removed. It will be hung in John’s house and will be loved forever by him and his wife, but it was dreadful watching it being taken down. I just couldn’t stop my tears.

 
As we departed the house and walked through the empty rooms, I was so profoundly sad I found it hard to catch my breath. Clichés about houses being all bricks and mortar are easily spoken, but the bricks and mortar contain so many stories and memories like snap shots of lives lived within the walls. They were mostly happy ones, and I will treasure them forever.

 
It’s really difficult to articulate the feelings that I had as I walked out through the hallway. I looked back and gazed up the stairs, and heard so many ghostly echoes of the voices that used to resonate within those walls. I set the alarm code and stepped out for the very last time and gently closed the door behind me as I locked up a lifetime of O’Neill memories in number 33 Mourne Road. We have some ‘things’ like Dad’s picture, but memories, sounds and images are stored in my mind’s eye ready to be taken out and looked it again and again…

 
This is my absolute destiny…

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.

Making Military Triangles out of Crisp Bags….

Have you ever watched state ceremonies on TV where people of importance have died and were accorded huge funerals with flags draped over their coffins? I have. I like the way that the flag is removed from the coffin and folded tightly into a small triangle and handed to the chief mourner afterwards.

Learning to fold the flag in a certain way, and reducing it to a small triangle is a skill not known to many. My sister Annie learned how to do this with large scale flags (from her time in the Scouts) and somehow managed to transfer this skill into reducing “crisp/chip bags” into mini triangles with similar military precision.

We loved crisps Annie and I. Potato chips/crisps are a part and parcel of the staple Irish food chain. A whole generation were reared on ‘Tayto’ crisp sandwiches, and believe that the essential part of a picnic/day out is missing if there are no crisps in the basket to mash in between two slices of buttered white bread.

It’s an Irish thing…. Crisps are eaten by the bucket load in Ireland by all and sundry. ‘Tayto’ cheese n’ onion flavour is the biggest seller with ‘King’ following closely behind. ‘Walkers’ (the blow in from the UK) are gaining in popularity, while ‘Pringles’ are attempting world domination with a million flavours to tempt the pallet. Dubliners who were reared on crisps know what they like and are very traditional in their choices. There was a time when youngsters went into a shop and asked for a bag o’ ‘Tayto’ before branding was even heard of. (They were just asking for crisps!) Nowadays in a shop one can’t ask for a bag of crisps, but an assistant asks, “What brand, what flavor, and what size”!

Anyway I digress….

My sister Annie had many talents but this was a thing that marked her out because it was so unique. Back in the day when pubs allowed smoking, there were always ashtrays on the bar where people deposited their cigarette butts along with any other litter – like drink receipts, and empty crisp and peanut bags.

One would munch on a packet of crisps after a few drinks and then dump the empty bag into the ashtray. As it was big and unwieldy it usually ‘sat’ on top. This meant that ciggies could not be tapped or squashed out easily, because the ashtrays were always full of crisp bags.

This is where Annie’s talent came into the fore. As the empty crisp/peanut bags were dumped by everyone all around her, she would take them up and without breaking the conversation, twist and fold them until all that was visible was a tiny triangle of cellophane neatly squashed into a manageable piece of litter that could comfortably fit into the ashtray along with the cigarette butts.

I used to watch her do this and wonder at her dexterity, until I eventually asked her to teach me too. She painstakingly took me through the many folds and tucks that eventually resulted in the neat tiny triangle. It was a process that was repeated again and again over many nights out until I eventually perfected it.

It became a ‘marker’ of things that we did when we were out together. In local pubs, friends who arrived at the bar when we were outside having a smoke knew that we were present because they saw the little triangles in the ashtrays even if they didn’t see us.

One night when my fireman hubby was working a night shift, Annie and I were in our local bar from early until late. We eventually rolled home to my house, sneaked into our beds and snored our heads off delighting in the knowledge that we had had a night out with my hubby being none the wiser as to our exploits. Unfortunately our escapade was rumbled as my hubby finished his shift early, called into the bar for a pint on his way home and caught sight of two or three tiny triangles sitting on the bar, testimony to our ‘sneaky’ girlie night out. Imagine being betrayed by folded up crisp bags!

My children who are now adults make these ‘triangles’ automatically when they eat crisps no matter where they eat them. They learned from the master/mistress who was my sister. I smile every time I see them do it and remember Annie’s talent. She is constantly missed and we speak about her all the time, but it’s lovely and very amusing to see her being remembered unconsciously in the neat disposal of an empty crisp bag.

I can hear her (in my head) asking me sarcastically if that’s ALL we remember about her!

As if……

Destiny can be about mirroring tasks that are taught by others as a way of keeping their memory alive.