Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Diary of a Carer

by Cecily Lynch    © 2014

Old age is so touching, so gentle, so dependent, so sweet, so irritating, so pathetic in its failing powers. 
I entered the gates of a large and beautiful house.  I could see the patient at the window, waving at me.  My heart sank.  I faced eight hours of forced smiling, of choking back resentment at his criticism of my clothes, my accent and appearance. ‘In you go, girl.’ I addressed myself sternly, Get on with it!’
The odour of urine met me full on.  The elderly gentleman was in his underwear, his shrunken limbs blue with the cold.  He looked very cross.  
‘About time you came’, he spat the words at me viciously, ‘It’s five past ten already!’
‘Well Thomas’,  I gushed, although my temper was rising, ‘Aren’t you the early bird this morning.’
‘Bah!’ was his only answer.
We’ll soon have you nice and warm, won’t we?  My professional patter sounded false even to myself.
I got on with my work.  

He was particularly difficult, limp and uncooperative.
I paused, looked carefully at him.  His lips were blue, his breath fluttering.
I spoke into the emergency button quietly.  Then I took his hands in mine.  He trembled and whispered very faintly, 
‘Forgive me, you have always been so good.’  His voice trailed away and his eyes closed in the long, long sleep of death. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

On the Rim of the Known World

On the Rim of the Known World    by Cecily Lynch
© 2011

Sublime Isolation

The peninsula of Beara in West Cork is wild romantic and beautiful. On a recent visit I wondered at wildness, the loneliness, the incredible emptiness of the rugged, timeless spaces. On the very edge of the western world is situated Dzogen Beara, the Buddhist Retreat Centre on the edge of sheer cliff where the wild Atlantic bashes and crashes drowning the monks' reverent chanting. 

I walked along the little winding roads admiring the pretty bungalows built impossibly on bare rock. Each a  separate little world but so far away. The hedgerows were fertile with cowslips, foxgloves and ferns, the distant mountains run along the skyline peaking to the huge heights of Mangerton and Carrantuohill. I felt the impact of being the only person for miles and miles around. Between the sea and the sky I hung suspended, my past slipped away and I was just a little drop in the universe.

It was with a start that I realized that it was the 21st century and the bus was coming.

Christy WHO?

My Midnight Rescuer

by Victor Sullivan © 2012

The Lambretta scooter had come with me from London when I returned to Ireland in the latter half of the1950s, devoid of any knowledge of what had been going on in my native country during my absence. My hobbies and interests were entirely focussed on things of a technical nature, mainly ham radio, industrial electronics and keeping the Lambretta fit for purpose. I took little or no interest in the notable personalities in the public eye and no sport of any kind ever encroached in my fields of curiosity or enthusiasm.

While employed on a process control project in the most northerly end of the country I received an invitation to a cousin's wedding in West Cork at the opposite end of the country, necessitating a 200 mile trip on my ageing scooter.  I could not escape from the job until 6:00pm on that Friday afternoon in August. Having filled the Lambretta's tank to the brim I set out on my expedition. In Ireland in the 1950s roads were poor, traffic was almost non-existent, apart from local farm tractors and horse-drawn vehicles. Signposts, wherever they existed, could not be trusted. Driving at around 40 miles per hour I estimated five hours should get me to my destination. Allowing a stop for a meal I'd be there by midnight.

It was pleasant driving along the rural roads for the first two hours. The sun shone. The Lambretta purred along confidently. I was making excellent progress but hunger-pangs prompted a break having reached the main Dublin to Cork road so I stopped for a meal at the first eating-house I encountered. I also topped up the fuel tank, (late-night service stations were as yet unheard of) and set off once again. Things were never quite the same after that. It was growing dark and the Lambretta intermittently emitted a dog-like growl that became progressively more threatening as the next hour wore worryingly on. The dog seemed to grow bigger and nastier and I noticed that even though the hand-grip throttle was turned fully against the stop my speed was dropping to below 30 MPH. The scooter was unwell, very unwell. Everyone seemed to have gone to bed as I growled through the town of Cahir in County Tipperary and headed anxiously onto the long, lonely stretch of bleak road heading towards Mitchelstown and the distant city of Cork. 

It was around midnight when the dog was shot. A sharp bang underneath me and the growling stopped. So did the Lambretta's engine and its lights went out. I stood beside it, cursing. It was very dark on that lonely roadside in County Tipperary with only a dead scooter for company. I had no torch, no light and any hope of getting to the wedding in the morning was  rapidly fading. My only remedy would be to thumb a lift from a passing vehicle, any passing vehicle... if there ever would be one. Some local farmer might trundle by but I needed a long distance traveller. Begin to walk? No. Better stay with the scooter. I took its side panels off, laid them on the road and hoped the action might earn a sympathy vote. I grew cold. Then colder. Nothing moved on that empty wilderness of lifeless road. Was it an hour? Perhaps two?
A faint noise in the far distance... a slight brightening of the sky... a whatever-it-might-be was approaching. The thing coming towards me along that long stretch of road across the moorland was no fast mover. Then I saw its headlights. I stood in the middle of the road waving a side-panel of the Lambretta. The noise grew louder, the vehicle began to slow down and stopped. It was a huge truck, a fuel  tanker. 

The driver lowered his window.
"You're in trouble, my good man?"
"Thanks for stopping. My scooter's died and I have to get to West Cork for a wedding in the morning."
"Well, I can take you as far as Cork city and no further. I can't take your scooter though, so throw it in the ditch and climb in." 

I obeyed gladly and a powerful hand reached down, grabbed my right hand and hauled me effortlessly up into the comfortable passenger seat of the warm cab. I presume we exchanged names and I undoubtedly expressed my gratitude for the very welcome lift.

"Where have you come from?" was my rescuer's first question.
"They haven't much of a team this year. Tell me, what did you think of the match last Sunday?"
"What match?" I asked innocently. 
"Ah now! You're having me on! What did you think of our team, eh?"

By the time we reached slumbering Mitchelstown it had begun to dawn on the tanker driver that there was at least one person on the planet who knew nothing and cared nothing about the outcome of last Sunday's match and it had been his misfortune to have picked up that one freak of nature, me. There had been no topic of conversation other than that match and it must have been with profound relief that my rescuer dropped his weird passenger off in the empty streets of Cork city in the small hours of the morning.

Somehow, via thumb, bus and luck, I got to the wedding venue just in time, sleep-starved and food-starved but glad to have made it.
Later, at the reception, I recounted my adventure to a man I didn't know seated beside me.
"A big road tanker you say? Are you sure?"
"Yes." I confirmed. He looked at me as if I had announced that I had some unpleasant, infectious disease and quickly left his seat. 
Moments later an anxious looking woman approached me, holding the hand of a young boy.
"Are you the fella who got the lift to Cork in the petrol tanker last night? she asked.
"I am."
"And you shook the driver's hand?"
"I did. He pulled me up into his cab by this same hand." I replied, holding out the limb. She seemed reassured.
"Would you please shake hands with my Michael." she requested.
Somewhat amused I said, "Of course." and stretched out my hand towards the shy seven-year-old who stared at my paw in awe before nervously grasping it, then grinning from ear to ear.

An overweight lawyer came up to me a little later; "What kind of tanker was it?" he asked.
"A big Esso tanker." I answered.
"Then let me shake that hand of yours!" he demanded aloud. That seemed to initiate a general drift towards me of would-be hand-shakers. Some muttered something about it being a privilege to shake my hand. Soon I had shaken hands with half of the guests, young and old, at their request and my utter bemusement. I was not a well-known celebrity, merely an obscure second cousin of the groom. 

I sought out a much respected uncle and demanded an explanation. 
"Well you must be the nation's prize eegit! There isn't a man, woman or child in the county who wouldn't give their all to have been where you were last night. Your hand was held by the mightiest hand that ever held a hurley. That tanker driver was the hero of the Hurling match last Sunday and many other matches before it. You, of all people, with not the slightest knowledge of, or even the remotest interest in the game of Hurling, were rescued from the roadside by the finest hurler that ever lived, the great Christy Ring!"

Whenever my children, and now my grandchildren accompany me on visits to Cork Airport, they find it embarrassing when I make a point of addressing a life-size bronze statue of a man wielding a hurley. I salute the statue and say aloud: 
"Thanks for picking me up, Christy." 

A Search for Roots

by Marie Guillot  © 2015

Seeking in the rain…

The pouring rain does not deter the two senior women who have travelled the Seven Seas to reach the place. Wearing wax jackets and wellies, armed only with pruning shears and cameras, they are scouting an old graveyard by the sea, in a remote area of Ireland. They try to read an ancient map that currently looks like a wet rag. At any rate, it’s more of a rough sketch, found in their family papers in Australia.

Alone at the beginning, they can now hear voices; next thing, three young men appear from nowhere, walking in-line along the only narrow path crossing the cemetery, in the direction of the sea. They are speaking loudly, in a language that is closer to Russian than to Gaelic or English. The open skies do not seem to affect them either.

Each party nods politely to the other and the trio disappears, but not far, as the duo can still hear their discussion, getting livelier with time. The women make their own noises, with exclamations and laughs, as they find, or not, the clues they are seeking.

The job at hand is hard: most of the tombs are covered in ivy and bushes have sprung up everywhere; in truth, machetes would have been more efficient. In addition, rain and winds have eroded many inscriptions. It takes patience: cutting off enough vegetation to reach the text and trying to interpret the remaining letters and dates. They may never succeed, as some characters are totally illegible. 

When, at last, one of the two sisters shrieks with delight (the other one joining-in immediately), it brings back the lads who think that there is murder going on there and rush “at the ready” to save the “damselles” (so-to-speak).

The five are soaked and dripping all over but, even if tentative explanations are not fully understood on both sides, all will remember their parting: a warm exchange of wet farewells, loaded with goodwill, among a cluster of placid tombstones, in a forgotten corner of Ireland.

Monday, September 19, 2016


by Madelaine Nerson Mac Namara,    ©  2015                       

Mirror you lie
flat on your back
the window sill
your gloss hard bed.

Gulls and magpies
wander the sky
clutter and clear
your unlocked house.

Clouds visit you
sunlight tickles
the dusk riddles
and tells stories.

Patient lover
you wake and dream 
my tomorrow's
face and weather.

Ireland’s Freedom Centenary


Look carefully at this photograph. Here is a young man in his mid-thirties who was executed by firing squad at dawn on May 3rd, 1916. Patrick Pearse was condemned by court martial as commander of rebels in The Easter Rising, a rising which lasted less than  a week, a rising that could never withstand the power of British military force in Ireland. His is a soulful, doleful appearance; his life was both heroic and ultimately tragic. 

In this centenary year, we should review his life and his work. Patrick Pearse was born in November 1879 at 27 Great Brunswick Street Dublin to James Pearse (1839-1900), a widower and monumental sculptor from Birmingham, and Margaret Brady (1857-1932) of County Meath. James converted to the Catholic faith before this marriage in 1877. The second family comprised Margaret (b.1878), Patrick (b.1879), Willie (b.1881), and Mary Brigid (b.1884).  
The family business  thrived and they moved to the suburb of Sandymount when Patrick was five years old. He spent five years at a private school before entering the Christian Brothers School at Westland Row. By this time Irish national and cultural spirit was being actively promoted by teaching orders of brothers and nuns. He proved to be a diligent student, sensitive to being teased about having a Birmingham accent and having a slight squint. He excelled at the Irish language, which was taught outside the main curriculum. He was awarded a book prize entitled  The Tongue of the Gael by Tomás Ó Flannghaile. This book inspired him to explore the half-forgotten treasures of the Irish language, poetry and heroic folklore. In his final school year, Patrick achieved second place in the island of Ireland in the Senior Certificate examinations. 

Conradh na Gaeilge.
He was then employed at his school as an instructor in Irish and actively took part in Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League), a voluntary organisation dedicated to promoting the native language, campaigning for its recognition in schools and publishing new writing. His evident spirit and fluency impressed older Conradh members, and he was elected to the Ardchoiste (executive committee) within a year. He had found his métier. 
It is widely acknowledged that the Conradh became a broad cultural movement which acted as a seedbed for political change. 
James Pearse died in 1900. Thus Patrick and Willie (who had trained as an artist) took over the management of the family firm. However, the firm went into decline because of poor financial management and  outstanding debts. Patrick managed to pay his way through an Arts degree in Irish, English and French at University College, Dublin. He also qualified as a barrister.   In 1903 he was appointed editor of An Claidheamh Soluis (Sword of Light), the weekly bilingual paper of the Conradh. It soon became evident that he wrote very finely in Irish and English. His work included editorials, orations, short stories, short plays and poetry.  In the following decade, he became the principal voice of resurgent nationalist thought.

Scoil Éanna.
Pearse worked tirelessly for the Conradh, travelling the country to promote new branches, visiting the Connemara Gaeltacht, not only  to learn from native speakers of the language, but to train many of them to teach the language to others. In addition to this pioneering work, he founded Scoil Éanna in 1908, a bilingual high school for boys. Two years later, the school moved to Rathfarnham, and Pearse opened a high school for girls, Scoil Íde. His ambitions exceeded his financial skills, however, and both schools struggled with debts. Nevertheless, he offered a wide creative curriculum which emphasised patriotism and the Irish language. The schools became the family business, involving his mother, Willie and his sisters. 

Patrick Pearse was a key speaker at the inaugural meeting in November 2013 of Óglaigh na h-Éireann (Irish Volunteers), a civilian militia. Many of this militia volunteered to serve in the British forces in World War I (1914-18). They did so in the hope of Home Rule for Ireland as a reward. A minority of the Óglaigh planned an armed uprising in the cause of Irish freedom. Arms and help were sought from German military sources, on the basis that England’s preoccupation with the War was Ireland’s opportunity. The rebels’ plans were mired in confusion, a German arms shipment was intercepted, yet the Dublin insurgents decided to attack on Easter Monday, 1916. Thus Patrick Pearse was chosen as Chairman of  The Provisional Government of The Irish Republic (Poblacht na h-Éireann).   
 Turbulent years would follow in Ireland, involving the execution of the leaders of the rising, the imprisonment of hundreds of captives, the establishment of Dáil Éireann as provisional Irish Parliament in 1919, a violent war of Independence, a Truce, The Anglo-Irish Treaty and political independence in the form of an Irish Free State (December 6th 1922).

In remembering Patrick Pearse, the real and symbolic leader of an Irish Republic, we honour him in the name of all men and women who set the nation, or most of it, on the path to the freedom we enjoy today.

Our European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)

  © 2016    by Victor Sullivan.

If this Ash Tree could talk! 

A fine old tree stands proudly at the east end of our garden, just as it did when my wife and I bought the property in 1970. The large, overgrown garden had been neglected for decades and it was some months before we succeeded in clearing an access path to the farthest end and finally touch the massive trunk of our Ash tree. We had been advised that the tree was the subject of a Preservation Order, a matter of little interest to us as we had no intention of felling it for firewood. 

During summer, the view towards the East from my bedroom window is partly obscured by our Ash tree's dense foliage but in winter, through its bleak, barren, lower branches, the impressive main entrance to Cork City Gaol can be seen. No longer operating as a prison, it is now a popular Tourist attraction, nevertheless it has a gloomy history. The very spot that I can see from my bed is the precise location of numerous public executions in the mid- 1800s. Such  events were a popular source of free entertainment and attracted large crowds of enthusiastic onlookers. Some mothers brought their children to witness the formalities and thus be memorably warned that a similar fate would await them if they were disobedient or misbehaved. Placing bets on how many kicks the hanged victim would make before expiring was a common practice at public executions. 

The date and time of each execution was advertised locally and consequently it was advisable to arrive early in order to be assured of a good position for a clear view of the performance. Not everyone wished to be 'too close' to the Hangman, some preferring a more distant over-view of all the onlookers and the focus of their attention outside the prison's main door.

Such an enthusiast was a small man of considerable athletic dexterity and grim determination, Doney. Doney loved the public Executions. He boasted that he had never missed one. He claimed to have established viewing rights from what he considered to be the best viewing position, high in his Ash tree to the south-west of the Cork City Gaol. It was then the only substantial tree in the area that was close to the front of the prison. 
Doney's tree was the much younger embodiment of what is now our respected Ash tree. 

The 'Respectable residents' who lived in the area near the Prison raised an official objection to the City Authorities complaining, not about the executions in public, but about the low class of people attracted by such spectacles. Their complaint was eventually taken seriously and in 1865 the last public execution took place outside the main door of the Cork City Gaol, presumably keenly observed by Doney from 'our' ash tree. Thereafter, executions were carried out inside the high walls of the prison, hidden from view. The 'Respectable residents' of Sunday's Well were no longer bothered by unsavory crowds of gapers and our Ash tree was never again required by Doney. 

© 2016    Victor Sullivan.