2014 Grateful 50

I did something last night that I rarely do. In fact, I could add up all the times I did it last year on one finger. But for some strange reason (perhaps I’m still feeling the effects of the recent full moon) I decided to put my face on before I went out.

My relationship with make-up is quite cosmetic. I usually only wear it when I’m not in a good place; when my confidence is at a low ebb and I need to put a wall, however thin, between me and the world. Or when I’m venturing out of my comfort zone and need to play a role. Trying to make it look as if I’m not wearing any at all is key. I hate looking ‘made up’ and, being innately lazy, I am fascinated by other people’s dedication to it all. [According to Helena Rubenstein: There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.]

I had a good look at my fellow tram travellers and every woman, without exception, had a face on. Some were bolder than others, more stylish, more out there, but every woman I saw, regardless of age, was masked up. Collectively, I was looking at eight hours of effort – one working day.

The US FDA defines cosmetics as something ‘intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or functions’ and of those, promoting attractiveness is probably the main reason people would give. We’ve been using make-up for years – it’s been traced back as far as Ancient Greece and Egypt and it’s been in and of fashion ever since. In the 19th century, Queen Victoria declared it vulgar and improper and the only people who should wear it, according to her good self, were actors. But it came into its own in the early twentieth century and has been enjoying huge popularity ever since. And its much more convenient. No more using burnt matches to darken eyebrows, or berries to stain lips, or urine to get rid of  freckles or arsenic to get that sought-after pale look. Now it all comes in tube, safe and tested. [Wasn’t it Yves Saint-Laurent who said: The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy…]

But back to last night…me with my face on. A number of people commented on how well I was looking, asking what I’d done to my hair. No one noticed the make-up. Mission accomplished. But then earlier in the week when I was at GOTG sans face, I received similar compliments and inquiries about my hair. This would suggest that the make-up did little for me and that extra effort was wasted… if indeed I was wearing in the first place in an attempt to look better and garner more compliments (which wasn’t the case…).

Objectively I can say that yes, I did look better than usual. But in actuality, could I be bothered doing it every day? I don’t think so. As I spent a precious five minutes cleaning off the residue, I had a flashback to Mulranny beach in the west of Ireland. In my mind’s eye, I could see its stones, in their various shapes, sizes, colours, and textures – each one lovely in its own right. And I got to thinking about nature and naturalness and how beautiful it can be. And I realised that I’m fortunate enough to have inherited my mother’s good skin and that really, there’s no need to mess with it. And for that, I’m truly grateful.

IMG_9786 (800x592)IMG_9791 (800x594)


Value added

It used to be cash or cheque. Then it moved to cash or card. Now the payment lingo has moved up a notch to with invoice or without. I doubt there’s a country in the world (except maybe Switzerland) where the invoice question doesn’t rear its head when it comes to making a purchase. Okay, I’m not talking supermarket stuff; I’m talking services.

You get someone in to paint your house and you pay cash. You get someone to fix your car. Ditto. You go to a flea market or an antique fair and buy some furniture. Same applies. You don’t worry about whether or not they’re paying taxes. That’s their business, not yours. And if you’re one of those strange beings who actually prefer to do things above board, asking for an invoice in some situations can make you look a little deranged. I know. I’ve had the look…the look that is usually accompanied by raised eyebrows and a snort of derision. Well, of course you can have an invoice… if you really want one.

And the cogwheels turn. Why would anyone want to willingly pay the tax due (in Hungary, the valued added tax, familiar to all as áfa, is a whopping 27%), if it’s possible to get can get away with not paying it? The world is rife with tax evaders. Take out the bad boys (and girls), the ones for whom greed is the bottom line and lining their pockets at the expense of the nation is their end goal, and then ask why people choose to evade their taxes.

Because they’re ridiculously high? Because the money paid in taxes doesn’t go where it should go? Because people simply can’t afford to pay the full whack? Because it’s difficult, if impossible, to turn any sort of meaningful profit if you do it all by the book?

I’m not a taxation specialist. I lay no claim to understanding the economics of it all. But it would seem to me that if VAT and the accompanying taxes are so high, then a country should have a great infrastructure, a grade A healthcare system, and an education system that is world class. But sadly this is rarely the case. Is it a mission impossible? Winston Churchill might have been right in his contention that ‘for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle’.

And if high taxes are putting people off paying them, why not lower the taxes so that everyone who should be paying pays. And if someone wants to do it all by the book, then why penalise them for their efforts?

Yes…you’ve guessed. I’ve noticed the new BKV charges.

The price of a monthly travel pass has been reduced to 9500 huf (~€31 / $42). Great news, I thought. What’s to complain about? But if you want an invoice…then you get to pay 10,500 huf (€35/$47).  The mind boggles.

valueaddedFirst published in the Budapest Times 17 January 2014

A woman to be reckoned with

You don’t know Granuaile? You can’t be serious. You have to know Granuaile. Everyone knows Granuaile. She was one of the fiercest women Ireland’s ever known.

I don’t often feel stupid but this was one of those times I wish I’d paid more attention in school. Just who, exactly, was Granuaile?

I was in Mayo. On the coast. So odds were that she had something to do with the sea. If she was fierce, she was hardly a housewife, a nanny, or a governess. Adding sea to fierce, I got pirate! And the penny dropped. Granuaile aka Gráinne Mhaol aka Grace O’Malley.

IMG_9598 (598x800)Granuaile had inherited her father’s shipping business, her mother’s land, and everything her first husband, Dónal an Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh, had had to his name when he died. A rich woman, indeed, and one who knew her own mind. She married a second time, this time choosing Risdeárd an Iariann Bourke, owner of an ironworks and castle at Burrishoole (which, with its sheltered harbours, was ideal for someone with a piracy bent). ‘Twas the castle and the land (and not the man) that the bould Granuaile was said to have had her eye on. And it would take a strong man to derail her once she’d set her mind to something.

They married under Brehon Law – which conveniently allowed you to marry ‘for one year certain’. And, when the year the was up, she took the castle and ditched yer man. While she was in the castle, she apparently called out the window to him: Richard Bourke, I dismiss you. In Irish, of course. Brings a whole new meaning to the term quickie divorce, doesn’t it…and this was back in the sixteenth century.

Her biographer, Anne Chambers, says that accusations of promiscuity were typically levelled at any woman who stepped outside the social norms … and Granuaile was no exception. She’s said to have had at least one son out of wedlock but then rumours are rumours. (Mind you, it seems that half of Mayo claims her as an ancestor, so perhaps there is something to it.)

Like any woman out of the ordinary, she attracted her own set of legends. Who knows if any are true, but they certainly make for good reading. My favourite is one that supposedly happened in 1576, when Granuaile paid a visit to Howth Castle, where she found the castle gates closed. She was told that the family were at dinner and couldn’t see her. A little put out, when she accidentally happened upon the Earl’s grandson, she abducted him (as you would back in the day if you were a tad upset!) and only released him when the Earl himself promised to keep the castle gates open to all unexpected visitors and to always set an extra place at the dinner table. The Earl gave her a ring as a sign of this agreement and the ring is still in the family – and they still set that extra place at every meal. Even today.  Not a woman to be dismissed lightly apparently.

Amongst her many exploits, perhaps the most notable (from a societal point of view) was her visit with Queen Elizabeth I. Granuaile’s two sons and her half-brother had been captured by the English so she decided to go straight to the top to secure their release. Legend has it that the Queen sent her something akin to a questionnaire to fill out before the audience (these 18 Articles of Interrogatory, along with her answers, are preserved in the English State Papers today and are now on my list of things to be read). Word has it that Granuaile decked herself out in all her finery for the big meet at Greenwich Palace. But fine cloth never maketh the man (or woman). She refused to bow before the Queen as she didn’t recognise her as the Queen of Ireland.  Oh to have been a speck of dust on the curtains when these two strong women met.  As Granuaile spoke no English and the Queen no Irish, the pair had their conversation in Latin.  They each made promises that they then promptly broke (a woman’s prerogative and all that…), but by all accounts the lads were released – the Queen went back to ruling Ireland and Granuaile went back to supporting the rebels.

Another tale I heard while I was in the west (why am I pronouncing that as ‘wesht’ in my head?) was of a fire aboard one of Granuaile’s ships. Apparently she stripped to her waist and used her clothes to kill the fire and when the crew stopped to stare at the mighty bare-breasted spectacle before them, well… enough said. I can just imagine the stream of abuse she gave them. Granuaile must have made many a grown man tremble.

In fairness, I did know the name Grace O’Malley… it was the Granuaile (prounounced Granawale) that threw me. But now that we’re on closer acquaintance, Granuaile is on my list of dead people I’d invite to dinner. And for some odd reason, I have it in my head that I’d like to sit her next to Johnny Cash.

A statue of her stands in the grounds of Westport House. It’s a lovely spot to pop into, if you’re in the neighbourhood and have a few hours to spare to wander into the past. The house itself was built by Maud Bourke, who was Granuaile’s great-granddaughter, and her husband  Colonel John Browne. Open to the public since 1960, more than 4 million visitors have crossed its threshhold, and next time, I’ll be amongst them…

IMG_9600 (800x600)IMG_9603 (800x599)IMG_9611 (800x598)IMG_9613 (800x588)IMG_9609 (800x600)

2014 Grateful 51

Were we ever to take the time to think about how interconnected our lives are, we could well be picking jaws up off the floor for weeks. There’s the whole six degrees of separation thing, but even if we were to remove the people and look at connectivity through places, it would be just as remarkable.

IMG_9563 (800x600)While walking Silver Strand in Mayo recently, we came across a dead baby seal. It was lying on the road by the car park; quite a distance from the sea. The displacement force of high tides coupled with stormy conditions were evidenced by the seaweed and rubbish trapped in the fences. Unbelievable. The seal had obviously been washed up and then never made it back to the water. Its death didn’t put in on me one way or another; it was simply another casualty of life. I didn’t even wonder at how inured I’ve become to such things – I’m sure there was once a time when I’d have felt something other than the passing ‘what a shame’ the carcass invoked in me. When did I stop feeling?IMG_9558 (800x600)

Some days later, we stopped by Old Head, yet another of Mayo’s gorgeous beaches. It was late afternoon and the sun was playing with the light. Everything was bathed in the pastel pinks and blues that belong in a baby’s nursery. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. Standing at the end of the water, looking out across the sea, we spotted a seal. It would pop its head out of the water and scour the beach before swimming on a short distance and popping up again. It seemed to be searching for something. We walked with it as it made its away around the pier and over to the other side, never changing its routine.

IMG_9806 (800x599) (800x599)And then the penny dropped – it must have been looking for its missing baby. When that thought was voiced, everything changed. Imaginations let loose. Empathy levels surged. Three days searching for a baby lost at sea. Three days of recriminations for losing them in the first place. Three days of angst and desperation as she combed the west coast looking for a sign of life. Now that I could feel.

We could connect the dots (however fancifully) because we’d been in both places. And we had the time to do so, too.

IMG_9829 (800x600)Nearly two weeks later and that mother seal still pops into my head. It might seem like a ridiculous fight of fancy to some, but for me, it taught me, once again, the value of being aware, of being present, of living the moment, of taking the time to see…. really see…. what’s going on around me. And for that lesson, I’m truly grateful.



Another chance to get it right

As the people on the west coast of Ireland try to pick themselves up after record high winds mated with exceedingly high tides to wreak havoc on the coastline and their homes, residents of the Lower 48 in America tell Alaska to take back its weather; they don’t want it. 2014 has certainly arrived kicking and screaming, begging to be noticed.

alaskaAs the months ahead unfold like a ream of blank paper just waiting to be written on, I wonder what’s in store for the world. Will the unthinkable happen in Budapest? Will the renovation of Kossuth Lajos tér finish this year? Will the long-awaited Metro 4 finally open? [photo of completed station at Szent Gellert tér below] Will the elections in Hungary cough up some viable opposition? Will the anti-Semitism that is raging through the region stick its ugly head back in the sand as we finally learn the true meaning of tolerance? Will Pope Francis allow priests to marry? Will the religious of this world remember what’s at the heart of their God’s teachings?

Another chance

Or will it be business as usual?

Will each of us look after our own few square metres of the world, disregarding what’s going on around us? Will we continue to spend millions on stuff we don’t need, can’t consume, and really only buy to satisfy a latent greed? Will we distance ourselves from politics and decline to advocate for good causes? Will we fail to love our neighbour (or at least be civil to them)? Will we give up on relationships before they’ve run out of road just because it’s not worth the hassle to do otherwise? Will we continue to rack up virtual friends, spending more and more time with them at the expense of face time we could have with real ones?  Will our kids immerse themselves in video games instead of books? Will we continue to ignore the paradox of rampant obesity and pervasive hunger?

Who knows.

No matter how resolute we are in not making resolutions, I think we’re hardwired to see January as a fresh start, a new beginning. We might never verbalise the hopes and dreams that languish in our hearts lest they come to nothing, but they’re there, despite our misgivings. So why not embrace them for all they’re worth. As Oprah Winfrey might say: Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.

First published in the Budapest Times Friday, 10th January, 2o14

Nobody’s home

I’ve done just about every personality test going and one of the constants is that I’m an introvert. Yep. An introvert. Me. I don’t have a problem with what many see as an anomaly. On stage. Out there front and centre. Love to party. Would talk to prince or pauper. And an introvert? Doesn’t figure.

But I’m reliably informed (if you think the Urban Dictionary reliable) that an introvert  is a person who is energized by spending time alone. Often found in their homes, libraries, quiet parks that not many people know about, or other secluded places, introverts like to think and be alone.

I’m often found at home (yes… it could well be that I’m just not answering the door), and until I began raiding the Book Swap Shelf at Jack Doyle’s, was a regular visitor to the library. I know a few quiet parks in Budapest and have frequented my fair share of secluded places. I like to think (and might even be guilty of thinking too much on occasion) and I have no problem being alone. So all good there.

Contrary to popular belief, not all introverts are shy. Some may have great social lives and love talking to their friends but just need some time to be alone to ‘recharge’ afterwards.

This is me, in a nutshell. I can be social for a whole day or even two consecutive days (at a push) but then need a day off to recover. My nightmare situation involves a three-day conference crammed full of talks and workshops, social chats and networking…and other people. Or worse still, a seven-day cruise, sharing a cabin with a compulsive talker, with no land in sight. Ye gods…it doesn’t bear thinking about.

The word ‘Introvert’ has negative connotations that need to be destroyed. Introverts are simply misunderstood because the majority of the population consists of extroverts.

Now, isn’t that telling…

I’ve a fondness for open spaces. I grew up near the Curragh in Kildare  (a flat open plain of almost 5000 acres (20 km²) of common land) and spent a chapter or three of my life in Alaska – a state reputedly two and half times the size of Texas with a population of just over half a million (no counting the animals). One of my best ever holidays was spent in Kruger Park in South Africa and one of the most heavenly experiences I’ve had has been to witness vastness of the great African sky. I’ve gone days, and sometimes more than a week, without talking to anyone other than myself; it’s good for my soul.

IMG_9529 (800x589)Where better to recuperate from the excesses of holiday revelry and the associated socialising than on a winter’s beach, miles from anywhere. Could you hire Silver Strand in Co. Mayo for a few hours and keep it to yourself? I doubt it. But toddle out there on a brisk winter’s day and you might well have the place to yourself, apart from a few sheep lunching on a nearby island.

IMG_9534 (800x595)IMG_9552 (800x598)IMG_9535 (800x597) (2)Go there in the late afternoon sun and watch how the light changes wherever you turn.  The absence of human sound is deafening. You can walk for miles and not see another soul. And it’s all free. No charge.What a treasure.

Even if others come and invade your space, there’s so much of it that you’d hardly notice. And when they, too, are quiet, the place takes on the semblance of a huge, open-air church; somewhere for quiet reflection, to make amends to that inner self that has been subjected to all sorts of abuse in terms of over indulgence in recent weeks. What better antidote to the stresses of everyday living could you possibly find? Heavenly. Simply heavenly.

IMG_9547 (800x600)


The best of intentions

They say the road to heaven is paved with good intentions, those good things we plan to do but never quite get around to doing. Any resolutions we make to change, to be more proactive, ebb and flow like the tide with its ensuing highs and lows.

IMG_9628 (800x600)IMG_9776 (800x599)I was reminded of this recently while walking the beach at Bertra on the west coast of Ireland. Recent storms had shifted stones from the beach up on to the car park, the power of the waves undeniable. Once you could have walked the length of the dunes, but the dunes are being breached as the raging torrents of the sea attempt to slice through the sand into the calmer inlet on the other side. Stand on top and look left and you see a force to be reckoned with. Look right and you see calm, peaceful water. And in between, separating the two, are walls of sand.

IMG_9666 (800x600)IMG_9675 (800x587)A fellow walker stopped to chat. He pointed out that had nature been left to run her course, this wouldn’t have happened. But in trying to prevent breaches, by caging rocks and stones and making walls, the natural direction of the current had been redirected and thus the damage. I don’t pretend to know what he was talking about or whether what he was saying was true. But it did get me thinking about interventions and good intentions.

IMG_9682 (800x572)Perhaps some well-meaning team of souls, armed with degrees in marine architecture or some such did get together and decide to take on Mother Nature by building these barriers. And perhaps that was all for the good. And perhaps things would have been a lot worse had they not intervened. But there’s a little part of me that worries about man’s interference with nature – and the price that sort of progress might entail.

In Ireland in 2013, over 470 people received a letter from the President to make their hundredth birthday along with a cheque for €2540 – the centenarian bounty. We’re living longer than ever and yet we don’t have the infrastructure to support our aging population. I think of projects in developing countries that were the brainchild of development study graduates who may or may not have taken the time to ask the locals what it was they wanted before imposing on them what they thought they needed. I’m not doubting their intentions for a minute; I’m just wondering at their effectiveness. I think of the damage done by well-meaning conservationists who simply don’t understand the ways of the elephant. I wonder how often our good intentions do more harm than good. I wonder what Bertra would look like now, had no one intervened.

IMG_9668 (800x598)IMG_2173IMG_2175

2014 Grateful 52

Two years into my weekly grateful blogs, I’ve decided it’s worth doing for yet another 52 weeks. We have so much in life to be grateful for and we don’t take nearly enough time to express that gratitude, be it to ourselves, to our families, to our friends, to our colleagues, or to our God. Even perfect strangers could do with a little thanks.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and have come to the conclusion that this apparently lack of gratefulness stems not from any innate sense of ingratitude but is more to do with what we perceive as a lack of time. We’re simply too busy doing, thinking, and planning to pause for the few seconds it takes to verbalise that gratitude, or write that email, or send that text, or make that phone call. Who amongst us wouldn’t appreciate a Thank You card  every now and then for something we’ve done. Okay, so many of us would probably pooh pooh it, with an ‘ah schucks, it was nothing’ but the recognition would stick regardless and might even prompt us to do something nice again, sooner than we might otherwise have done.

There is nothing worse that being thanked with cards and presents for every little thing we do… to me, that’s the same as a constant ‘I love you’… when we hear it so often, it tends to lose its meaning. And yes, there’s a fine line between too often and not often enough but I’m sure that more scientific minds than mine could come up with an equation that would quickly sort that out. Good manners though would dictate that a courteous ‘thank you’ be a habit, right alongside its sister ‘please’.

Gratitude should be mindful. And the magic of being grateful for the little things in life is that it does work – it makes the world a better place – it’s made my world a better place these past couple of years. Think pebble, pond, ripple effect.

Our actions speak volumes for who we are. People notice. And if they like what they see, they imitate. Likewise, the thoughts we express also reflect who we are. We can never know when a throwaway comment can ruin us or make us or worse still, ruin or make an innocent third party. I know I’ve lost a few friends and acquaintances over comments I’ve made that have been repeated out of context and indeed misunderstood in context – and that’s all part and parcel of living. But if the string we use to wrap our lives is one coated in sincerity and honesty and good intentions, then how much better the world might be.

If we start with being grateful for the little things, then better things start to happen and pretty soon we find we’re being grateful for big things, too. We begin to reshape our world by actively engaging with it. Life is a choice. We can choose how we react to gossip, to bad news, to the opinions of others. We can choose to get even or to let go. We can choose to forgive and try to forget or to bear a grudge and let it eat away inside us. We can choose to be grateful or to take for granted all that life can offer.

Each night, I try to think of ten things that I’m grateful for that happened today. It’s better than counting sheep. Often I don’t make it to No. 5. Or get sidetracked on No. 2. It’s usually silly stuff like the tram coming just as I arrived at the stop, or the first shop I went to having the one ingredient I needed, or noticing that the bath was about to run over before the first drop of water spilled on to the floor. This has developed into a conscious habit that has made me a lot more aware of what’s happening in the world around me and a lot more engaged with my life and how I choose to live it.

My challenge to you for 2014 is to express that gratitude. If someone has made a difference or is making a difference in your life, tell them. If you get good service, acknowledge it. If someone holds open the door for you, say thanks before walking through it. Being grateful costs nothing, but to put a value on gratitude is nigh on impossible.

As the first week of the New Year draws to a close, I’m grateful that I got to spend so much of it walking beaches, in the freezing cold, getting soaked by waves. I’m grateful for feeling so alive.

IMG_9764 (800x600)


Something lost…

It’s hard to believe that 2013 is gone and 2014 is lining up, all guns blazing, ready to see what we’re made of. It seems like only last week that I was sitting on a beach in Hawaii ringing in 2013 with my good friends D&S. Apart from a few other adventurous souls who had braved the dark to check out the fireworks at the neighboring resorts, we had the beach to ourselves. The year that followed this relatively modest celebration was one that derailed on occasion and gave me more than a few moments of angst. Yet looking back on it, everything was as it should be and had I to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing… at least not anything that I can think of right now. What happened, happened, and all for just cause and reason.

In contrast, this week I rang in 2014 in the company of 461 others at a black-tie event in the west of Ireland. My fellow revelers, aged 18 to 80, looked to be having just as a good a time as I was. And apart from a few young ones mistaking me for their mate’s mother, and passing comments on how lovely it was to see ‘ould wans’ like us having a good time, I felt like Cinderella, with my very own Prince Charming but without the midnight curfew or pumpkin issue.

proprietyThere’s something rather lovely about dressing formally  – I love the whole black tie, long dress, evening gloves, and cufflinks scene. I must have lived a past life where this sort of thing was as normal as breathing. While I feel completely at home in a long dress, and know my way around the cutlery, I was a little taken aback about how uncomfortable a few of the younger people looked and behaved. Teetering on impossibly high heels, openly pulling and tugging at corsets and bras as they walked across the room, and slamming back jager bombs, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad at what I see as a marked decline in something that I’m struggling to name.

decorumIt’s not quite propriety; neither is it social grace. It’s not etiquette or manners… it’s something more intangible, like … style? Yet some of them looked drop-dead gorgeous standing still and silent. But when they moved or opened their mouths, the illusion of dignity was shattered. Perhaps it’s decorum? Or plain old-fashioned self-awareness? The age spread in the room definitely heightened the contrast in behaviour and while I’m well aware that two swallows don’t make a spring, I’m still left with that feeling of loss that there’s a generation of  young people out there who simply don’t know how to behave in a given situation. Does this make me old or even old-fashioned? Am I preaching? Self-righteous? Perhaps.

Anyone have a time machine handy?





Wee’ing with the best of them

I have a tendency to pick up accents. Let me chat on the phone with someone from Cork and it’ll take hours for the lilt to leave me. I’ve been mistaken for American, South African, and English, depending on whom I’ve been keeping company with. That may suggest that I have a musical ear, but my dismal efforts to master Hungarian tell otherwise.

For the first time in years, I found myself ‘up North’ recently. My geography, even of Ireland, is appallingly bad so it took a while to get my head around where exactly we were driving. Our target was a christening in Saul, a little place about two miles outside Downpatrick in Co. Down. And our route was anything but direct.

I’d managed to hold off and avoid the fla’ tones of Dundalk and waited instead until we hit Carlingford Lough and up into Co Down where everything is wee. The wee church was at the end of a wee road that was signposted by a wee sign after a wee bridge. The hotel had a wee room, with a wee breakfast served from 8am and a lovely wee view. Had I stayed another 24 hours I’d have been wee’ing with the best of them.

IMG_9478 (800x598)Driving along the coast was magical. I’d never given much thought to Co. Louth and to my shame, hadn’t realised it had such water frontage. The beach at Annagassan was wintry and bleak and all the lovelier for it. The town of Carlingford looked like it would be a nice place to live, what we could see of it though the rain. Warrenpoint, on the opposite side of the lough, struck a chord because I’ve been hearing about it for years in weather forecasts. And when the sun did actually show its face, the Mountains of Mourne looked like a painter’s palette. The song of the same name is an old favourite of mine and yet this was the first time I’ve registered seeing them. Am sure I’ve been up this way before – I just can’t recall.

IMG_9486 (800x600)Driving the coast road from Ballynahinch to Newcastle, the views were amazing. I was surprised though to see that some of the kerbstones are still painted with their signature colours – red, while and blue, if a Protestant town or housing estate, and green, white and orange, if Catholic. I know it’s been a while since I’ve lived in Ireland but I had thought that such outward displays of fealty had  long since disappeared. I was even more surprised when a conversation with a couple of northern boys wandered down the road of sizing up Ballynahinch as to whether we’d be ‘alright’ or not… In their opinion, it was much better these days. Still enough angst there for us to be careful about which pub we visited, but overall, safe enough. It was as if the clocks had turned back for me and it was the 1980s all over again. Not for the first time I found myself wondering at how some things never seem to change.

US diplomat Richard Haass has been in Ireland over the holidays trying to sort out  differences over parades, flags and the legacy of the Troubles and failed to get the five main parties to agree, with flags and symbols being one of the toughest areas to negotiate. The mind boggles. It’s something I don’t think I will ever understand.

IMG_9489 (800x600)