Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Sister Rosario, my impresario.

©  07/11/2010

Scoil Chríost Rí 
(Christ King Boys' School)

Being the youngest of three boys is a great start in life. When I arrived, mother and father had already been house-trained as parents. If toys or ornaments were broken, I rarely get the blame. I quickly learned that a frown, a sob and then a few tears yielded a dividend of hugs for you and a scolding for your brothers. All around my little frame was a melodramatic cast of bigger people talking, singing, shouting, smoking, sulking, bossing and posing. In this drama, mother played the lead role. Her lines ran like this. "Pull up your socks, wipe your nose, take your elbows off the table, go to the toilet. What are you doing so long on the toilet? Don't say dis an dat, it's this and that. Where did you hear that awful word? Sit on my lap, give your mam a kiss."

These commands were punctuated by mother's songs, recollected from her time in the chorus of Cork Operatic Company. By the age of four I could give a fair rendering of Lehar's Girls were made to love and kiss, and who am I to interfere with this? This was often followed by Thomas Moore's pledge of love in Believe me if all those endearing young charms.

Father too was an unwitting voice coach, loudly leading the chorus of We stand for God and To Jesus' heart all burning at Sunday Mass. He had been a member of Herr Fleischmann's choir in The North Chapel, and he showed it. Our parish priest, Fr. Coveney, also had dramatic flair. He would have made the final auditions for The National Theatre, given the rhetorical flourish of his sermons. "Think well on the four last things: Death, Judgement, Hell and Heaven" he warned. Home might have been music-hall, but church was high drama.

I soon developed a habit of mimicking these words and melodies, often to the amusement of the adults round about. I made up love songs, jumbled up the words of hymns to comic effect, and preached hellfire and damnation to puzzled aunts. Mockery and mimicry were my cheeky response to authority. Mostly, I got a laugh, and occasionally a clip around the ear. "Just wait until you go to school. That will soon knock the corners off you". I was warned. But they had not reckoned with Sister Rosario.

It was official policy that boys to the age of seven be taught by female teachers. That explains why I started in the girls' school of The Presentation Sisters in 1947. They were a jolly lot, including Sister Patrick who liked to hitch up her skirts to play football with the boys, and Sister Rosario whose teaching tool was not the bata (cane) but the tuning fork. Much of the Sister's body was covered by a veil, a linen hood, and a starchy breastplate over a black shapeless frock, held at the waist by a rosary bead girdle. This ensemble left only face and hands on view. With these she could control and conduct fifty four- year- old boys. She loved music so much that she used it to teach virtually anything. We sang the alphabet, our prayers, our arithmetic tables and our geography.

Her big production was First Communion Day 1950 for senior infants, aged seven.

There we are. All forty nine of us are beautifully dressed and groomed. I now know that Sister Rosario had a discreet store of outfits on standby for lads whose families could not afford the cost of the clothes and shoes. We practised first confession with her, and even rehearsed receiving the host, using cream crackers for the Eucharist. Come the day, and we sang like angels: Tantum ergo sacramentum, veneremur cernui.

Next Autumn we moved next door to Scoil Chríost Rí (Christ King Boys' School), a tougher regime in every way. Class sizes were now in the low 70s, controlled by Presentation Brothers and some male lay teachers. My giddy humour was quickly curbed, as any tendency to show off would be hammered into place in the school yard.

Sister Rosario made a comeback into my life in 1954, designated a Marian Year. She and Brother Bonaventure organised a show involving her Communion Class of 1950. It was actually three Acts, to ensure that every boy took part. Act 1 was a choral verse account of the life of St. Bernadette of Lourdes. I landed the part of narrator. This was enhanced by a coloured slide show, drawing gasps of amazement and fervour from the capacity audience. In a bold contrast, Act 2 featured a lively medley of cowboy songs, to cover the time taken to set up the Big Production Number of Act 3. This one put Walt Disney to shame with our (all-boy) version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in which I was cast as the wicked stepmother. I spat out my lines with venom: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" I relished the hisses and boos from the packed audience.

The first night was a triumph. Brother Bonaventure and Sister Rosario came round to the dressing room as we wiped off the stage makeup with Ponds Cold Cream. I sat back and waited for the compliments. "Very good, Aidan. But could we make you a little more um.. ladylike?" he said. Sister Rosario nodded discreetly, and next evening I was give two fine Jaffa oranges to stuff in my bosom. I was transformed! Venus de Milo would have been jealous of me. Next evening, Act 1, the humble life of St. Bernadette Soubirous, tugged their heartstrings again. But disaster struck when I returned the dressing room. My bosoms had been peeled and eaten by the cowboy chorus! If I could get my hands on that Old cowhand from the Rio Grande, I would have lynched him. But I rallied, stuck out my bony chest and went right on stage again, an even more villanous wicked stepmother. There's no business like show business, like no business I know! Thanks, Sister Rosario. You gave me my first big break.

Aidan O'Shea

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dishwasher Predators by Victor Sullivan

 ©  2010
Small game hunting in a dishwasher

Eight-year-old Carol went to put a plate in the dishwasher, its door was slammed rapidly and she returned looking somewhat bemused, still carrying the plate and announced:
'There's a mouse in the dishwasher, Daddy.'
We live in an old house where mice are an occasional problem, usually solved with a trap or two.
'We seem to be faced with three options,' I declared, keen to display my strategic wisdom in such a situation, 'One, we could open the door and chase it out of the machine. Two, slip in a baited trap, close the door again and wait. Three, switch on the machine and give the mouse a good hot wash.

'Aaaaaaaah! NO!  Daddy. How would you like to be shut in a machine and sprayed with very hot water?'
'I certainly don't want any mice running about inside the house.' declared her mother vehemently.
'What's his name?' contributed Carol's younger brother.
'Don't be daft. It's only a mouse.' snapped Carol.
'He must have a name, how would other mice know what to call him if he had no name? I think his name is Monty. Monty Mouse sounds respectable.'
 I gently opened the dishwasher door  a fraction. Then a bit further, and then another bit but there was no trace of Monty or any other rodent.
'Carol! You made it up. There's no mouse in there,' I accused, triggering an instant chilliness.

One bright, sunny morning I went to empty the dishwasher that had performed its duties overnight and saw, with my own two eyes, a mouse leap from inside the filter basket in the floor of the machine onto the lower rack and vanish.

I was obliged to dine on humble pie and apologise profusely to my smug daughter. Yes, there was a real mouse. OK, it probably was Monty, but how did Monty get into the machine and how did he vanish so quickly?
Both trays out, meticulous inspection of dishwasher; discovered an air vent at one side I had never noticed before. I had to hand it to Monty for sheer mastery of his environment. The little fellow had worked out that once the machine fell silent all he had to do was wait until it cooled sufficiently before entering via the vent pipe and eating his fill from the food scraps caught in the filter basket before returning to safety via his secret vent-pipe. What a mouse!

We ran the machine empty and ensured that no food remained in the filter basket. Two baited traps were introduced. A plug of nylon pot-scourer was prepared and placed near the dishwasher, ready to be inserted quickly into the vent as soon as Monty was observed inside the machine. As there had been no sightings for a day or two the top tray became loaded with glasses and a few plates. The lower tray had been removed. 
'Monty's back!' Carol announced next evening.
Cautiously I opened the door of the machine a fraction. A thin tail was just visible projecting from beneath the bottom rotor. A skillful movement got the nylon pot-scourer into the vent and the door was closed. Monty was now incarcerated with no hope of escape and no food supply other than the bait on the two mouse-traps. All we had to do was wait... and wait... and wait... Nothing happened.
We needed the dishwasher. The family demanded that I should 'DO something!'
A peep inside confirmed that Monty was still there. Direct and brutal terminal violence would have to be resorted to. I decided to apply the Snooker Cue technique. Not having a cue, a broom-handle, equally long and straight, was selected as weapon of choice.

The Sheffield Crucible has never seen such a tense scene. Even Sam, our very large German Shepherd dog joined the semicircle of excited onlookers that gathered behind me as I approached the dishwasher, broom-handle at the ready, intent on rodent murder.
The door opened out and downwards and I caught a glimpse of that tail protruding from under the rotor. Now to remove Monty's cover by turning the rotor 90 degrees with the broom-handle. Success! But Monty then scuttled to the back of the machine seeking an alternative refuge. My angle of attack was too high for my weapon of choice to fit under the heating element. Crouch low... lower still, feet astride the open dishwasher door... take careful aim... steady... deep breath... ready... 
Suddenly I was heaved off my feet as something very powerful charged through between my legs from behind and the kitchen ceiling light passed rapidly forwards over my head as I landed on my back on the floor, feet still astride the dishwasher door. I howled in pain as furiously clambouring canine claws sought a firm footing, digging into my thighs and other important places while my disorientated brain deduced that the large hairy monstrosity lunging agonizingly again and again on top of me was the tail end end of our big dog. Sam's dormant hunting instincts had been reawakened on seeing me stalking the mouse and he had decided to demonstrate his expertise in such matters. His repeated lunges into the dishwasher were accompanied by the sound of teeth snapping against teeth, snapping on the rotor, snapping on the heating element and snapping on .... CLICK! With a mighty yowl of pain the dog's head violently struck the underside of the top tray, lifting it off its rails, smashing the glasses on it and showering him with the splinters as he recoiled from the shock of the mousetrap tripping in his great jaws. Sam then shot backwards, sat on my face for a moment, dug several more claws into me and retreated to a remote, less hazardous corner of the kitchen, shaking off shards of glass as he went. 

All the other members of my audience were convulsed in unsympathetic hysterical laughter with tears of mirth streaming down grinning faces. My anatomy bore the claw-bruises for months. 

No trace of Monty, living or dead, was ever found. 
He really deserved to get away. What a mouse!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

YESTERDAY THE WHALES by Madelaine Nerson Mac Namara

  ©  25.06.2011
Festival Without Tickets

Yesterday, the whales! And all the people happy, after work, in the long, calm, bright, warm summer evening, all walking or driving, following the rumour of the whales and then, looking at them with small cries of joy when they saw them.

Everyone talks to strangers, asks the one question: "Have you seen them?" and everyone answers kindly. Either they have just arrived themselves, like us only having heard the news of the whales being somewhere around the harbour; or they have heard that they have been seen elsewhere, not so far away, and there is a ferry to get there. Some others have seen them and point to where we too might see them, spouting perhaps, maybe even breaching.
Dapper and shabby, young and old, travellers and country people mingle contentedly. People come and go, leave the places from which the whales are seen, with a wonderful, peaceful smile, animated, refreshed by this event, this adventure, the searching and finding, the marvelling, and then the letting go of the whales, storing their memory, linked to that of the sky, clouds, sun, sea, waves, gulls, cormorants, boats, oarsmen, fields, trees, cattle, island, and of the crowd itself.
Because this gathering, both dynamic and tranquil, has turned festival, one without ticket or invitation. It has no purpose but to contemplate these visiting creatures, totally other, totally wild, as we would be if only we could, and total mystery. We cannot communicate with them. We would so much love to be able to tell them how to find their way out to the safety, for them, of the open sea.

It is a situation neither of work nor of play, but of pure, sheer, cliff-like being. There is only desire, desire to see glory, mystery, form, otherness, life different, and joy at welcoming their astonishing gift of vulnerable, unselfconscious presence.          
Is not this what many call Heaven? It happens many times in June 2001 in Cork Harbour. In the town park at Passage West, on the the verge of the motorway between Mahon and the tunnel, hundreds of cars merrily stopped; even further upriver by Jury’s in Cork city, throngs pressing onto the parapets of  quays and bridge. I cannot return this gracious visit, only sharpen my resolve for more strength, attention, passion, more care, vigilance, tenderness, more wonder at the ever present blessing!

Monday, July 11, 2011

ANDY GAW by Máirtin Ó Connallan,

Andy Gaw
© 2011

I used meet Andy Gaw
In Pana
I was ten
He'd slip me thruppence
Into my tiny hand
Even tinier
White as alabaster
And just as smooth as
Ogre like to a child's mind.
Always in a cap and coat
Winter or summer
Talking barely audible,
A book
Or two
Under his oxter.
I found out later
They never charged him
In the Library
A quintessential borrower
He robbed the rich
To pay the poor
They said
I wasn't poor
He was poor.
Oh childish mind, little did I know
Here was Cork's own
Mother Theresa
An eon before.
He stood up for me
The day the “Echo” boys
Attacked me
Down Bowling Green Street
They froze
Not knowing how to handle
This little man
Silently, fiercely
Shielding my small frame
From their taunts and kicks;
Never mind son
He whispered
They know no better
They'd know better
If my three strong brothers were with me.