A few years back, when I first came across Roddy Doyle’s Two Pints, I gave a copy to two Irish lads in Budapest thinking that it was worth staging. We never did, but the thought was there.
I went Up The North today, to catch up with an old mate in Co. Down. I had my directions memorised. But it didn’t stop me getting lost. That’s not the story though.
I crossed the border without evening knowing it. I’d the radio on and was listening to how the Gardaí had raided a halting site in Finglas, finding guns, drugs, and a very expensive live caged monkey. Photographs of the monkey showed it looking very bored indeed. Subsequent reporting talked of how the value of the monkey (€2000) is indicative of how much money there is in the drugs business. The story then moved to other examples of exotic animals owned by drug kingpins. And the old story of a captured mobile phone showing a prisoner in Portlaoise Prison sharing his cell with a budgie named Shrek. It’s no wonder I was distracted.
When I finally focused on where I was going, I noticed that the white registration plates in front of me had morphed to yellow, the green post boxes had turned to red, and the speed limit had gone from kilometres to miles (I hope I noticed this in time). The price of petrol had dropped dramatically, too, but it would, as I was now in sterling country.
It was only then that the full force of Brexit hit me. Yes, I’ve been keeping up with what’s going on (or not going on) and yes, I’d been concerned about thoughts of a hard border, but it had all be quite superficial. I’d not really stopped to think what it would mean if we went back to the days when you couldn’t move from Ireland to Northern Ireland without noticing.
Granted, back then, the border was political in the extreme. A Brexit border would be more about customs checks than dodgy customers. But that said, anything that impinges free movement between the two countries can’t be good.
Next up on the radio was a report from Killybegs, Ireland’s fishing capital, where a whole slew of boats has been docked till next January. Why? Most of them fish for mackerel. They fish in Scottish waters, off the coast of Orkney because that’s where the mackerel are when they’re at their oiliest. And oily fish is what the Japanese want. Usually, they keep some of their quota till the autumn so that they can spread out the profit and keep more locals in jobs in the processing plants. But this year, uncertain as to what Brexit would bring, and unclear whether they’d be allowed to fish in UK waters post-April, they caught their full quota and now have nothing left to fish for.
If Brexit happens, the UK will no longer be bound by the Russian embargo on EU agricultural and fish products. And next to or above the Japanese, the Russians are big consumers of mackerel. So UK fishers will be able to sell all that lovely early oily mackerel to Russia, upping the prices, and thus killing off the Irish mackerel market and the livelihoods of lord knows how many as collateral damage. The Japanese will hardly want the less oily mackerel that make it into Irish waters.
As a complete aside, the growing mackerel population is apparently responsible for the high salmon mortality rate at sea… the number of salmon returning to their Irish rivers to spawn is down 70%. Anyway, those interviewed were rightly upset. Fishing is the scaly-headed stepchild that no one really cares about. That said, the lads interviewed seemed impressed with Michel Barnier, who has been pushing to include fishing under the general trade banner.
Until today, Brexit has been a pretty abstract phenomenon for me. I’ve been watching from the sidelines at the idiocy of it all. I’ve read the news. Listened to the debates. Watch the reporting. But I’ve been one step removed. I woke up on Friday, 24th June 2016, as shocked as the rest of the world at the result of the referendum but until today, I’d never really felt anything about it. It was all in my head, not in my heart. This evening, I’ve a newfound empathy with my remainer British friends. And am certain that no one has fully come to terms with the magnitude of it all, of the changes it undoubtedly will bring. The old adage of not appreciating what you have until you no longer have it comes to mind.
I’m secretly in love with Martin McDonagh. I’ve never met the man but I did live in his neck of the woods in London for a while and I like to think that we might have reached for the same carton of milk in a corner shop at some stage. Or perhaps we sat sipping coffee at our respective tables, scribbling away. I like the way his mind works – the quirkiness of his plots and pieces. He got me playwise at the Beauty Queen of Leenane and won me over heart and soul with his movie In Bruges. I saw his play, The Lonesome West in Hungarian (Vaknyugat), with English surtitles, and was blown away at how well it translated and how much the Hungarian actors got him. They could have been Irish. I only recently saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, a movie that set me on the trail of the talented Sam Rockwell – but I digress. Read more
I have fond memories of learning how to make St Brigid’s crosses when I was in primary school. The best part was finding the swampy grounds where the reeds grew. Growing up in Co. Kildare, St Brigid (aka Mary of the Gael) was a household name – our very own saint. Patron saint of the county and patroness of Ireland, she had quite the life. Read more
I nearly crashed the car. Driving a road I’ve driven hundreds of times, I had to do a double-take. Were all the trees in the park wearing sweaters? Had the park benches been kitted out in knitted flags? Mad.
On the way back, I pulled in to have a look. And yes, Liffey Park in Newbridge has been yarn bombed in celebration of the creativity in the county. Love it.
Yarn bombing is also known as yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting, or graffiti knitting. Wikipedia says:
[…] yarn bombing has become synonymous with the current feminist movement due in part to the reclamation of a traditionally feminine act (i.e. knitting and/or crocheting) to partake in the traditionally masculine and male-dominated graffiti scene. The women and girls who make up the yarn bombing subculture are diverse in race, age, sexuality, class, etc. and create space for themselves and their art everywhere from college campuses to public parks. This creation and preservation of space is what motivates some of the participants, some of whom have never been able to access a political art space before.
It’s a relatively new phenomenon, apparently originating in Texas back in 2005 when boutique owner Magda Sayeg covered the doorhandle of her shop in Houston with a knitted cozy. And from such small beginnings, a global movement has sprung. International Yarnbombing Day was first celebrated on 11 June 2011. Who knew.
In a 2005 article published in the Royal Geographical Society journal Area, author Joanna Mann argues that yarn bombing
[…]does more than feminise the city, for the whimsy with which it is imbued has the capacity to increase our attentiveness to habitual worlds in a series of micro‐political gestures.
It’s quite something. When I first came across it (can’t remember where) I remember thinking that it brightened up what was otherwise quite a dreary place. And admittedly, it is all rather frivolous – but it certainly attracts attention, is temporary in nature, can be easily removed, and makes for a happy place. Kudos to the Kildare Yarn Bombers. Job well done.
American essayist Hamilton Wright Mabie said, ‘The question for each man to settle is not what he would do if he had the means, time, influence, and educational advantages, but what he will do with the things he has.’ My biggest challenge is what to do with my time. My influence (albeit limited) I use to good effect, likewise my education. But I’m very conscious of the fact that my time is limited and how I choose to spend what time I have is something that keeps me awake at night.
I was at the races this week with my dad. All my horses are still running; he didn’t bet at all. He went to see the regulars, those he would bump into every year at this annual meeting. He didn’t see anyone he knew. Me neither. But at least he didn’t lose any money. It was a good day, nonetheless. Yesterday he decided we’d go again today. And his reason – because we might not be around this time next year. And at 92, perhaps he has more reason than I do to suspect that this might be the case. But thankfully, he’s showing no signs of shrugging off his mortal coil just yet. Then the sun came out and mowing the grass took priority. I was just as happy.
Yesterday, we went to visit his brother over in Greystones. Coming back, we were in danger of hitting rush hour on a Friday evening. I checked and saw a couple of accidents on the M50 that added 40 minutes to our 50-minute journey. So the choice was there: go sit in traffic or take the two hours needed to go the road less travelled. I’ve had my fill of crowds and traffic and have vague memories of driving through the Sally Gap and the Wicklow Gap at various stages in my childhood as we went to visit cousins in Wicklow town, so we took that option. In another month or so, this road will be choked with tour buses. It’s a popular route with St Kevin’s Way and the Sugarloaf in the vicinity offering hikes and climbs for the fitter, more adventurous walker. We passed a handful of cars. I resisted the temptation to put the foot down and let my inner Rosemary Smith run loose. It was the first time, Boss said, that he’d been in the passenger seat driving this road, a road he’s driven hundreds of times, and he was taking the time to see it all.
There’s a lesson there for me, too. I’m a poor passenger, preferring to have control rather than to be at the mercy of another. But how much do I miss? I wonder.
I made my First Communion in Waterford back in 1972. I have only vague recollections of the day, and those that I have, have been aided and abetted by photographic reminders. I do remember my white drawstring bag, though, and a Communion Prayer Book with a mother of pearl cover that I probably got from an aunt. Of the day itself, I draw a blank. No matter how hard I try, I can’t recall any specifics. But the sense of the occasion is still strong.
If I’m in Dublin for any length of time, I make sure to check what production Viking Theatre has going on in Connolly’s – The Sheds, in Clontarf. It was there I caught the sublime one-man-show by Philip Doherty – The Pilgrim, in which Rex Ryan gave us his all. Last night, having been housebound by the snow for three days, we walked down to check out Aoife Spillane-Hinks’s interpretation of Eoin Colfer’s Holy Mary. Colfer’s pre-writer experience of being a primary school teacher shows through as he nails the conversation and the wonderings of the two seven-year-old stars, Mary and Majella.
Played by Mary Murray (Love Hate, Adam & Paul, Magdalene Sisters) and multi-award-winning actor Maeve Fitzgerald, we meet the two girls on the day of their First Confession in the run-up to their First Communion. It says something about their acting skills when I had no trouble in believing that these girls were just 7. Murray and Fitzgerald between them also cover the rest of the roles: Mrs Leary (Mary’s mother), Mrs Barnes (Majella’s mother), Miss Murphy (the teacher) and Fr Ibar (the priest).
The play is laugh-out-loud funny. The girls’ take on religion is reminiscent of the kids in Give up yer aul sins and the teacher Miss Murphy, capable of going ‘full-on Provo’ when she’s in a bad mood, is also from the North. I’m still laughing at Majella’s explanation of Moses needing some ‘me time’ away from the Israelites.
The kindly priest, Fr Ibar, is from the Wesht of Ireland, the place where all the ‘unfortunates’ live. Conjuring up notions of Frank O’Connor’s First Confession, through his relationship with the girls, the good Father embodies a church I miss – one that is empathetic, patient, understanding, and in tune with the needs of its parishioners. In an attempt to broker peace between the two enemies, Fr Ibar (played by both Murray and Fitzgerald) encourages the pair to consider that they might be more alike than might appear.
For all its comedic lines and clever turns of phrase, the play offers a serious exploration of bullying and how cruel kids can be. It shows us that while our perception is very much our reality, other people have their perceptions of our reality, too. And rarely will these match.
Set in 1986 Dublin, the expressions took me back to my own childhood. I knew a few ‘right rips’ and had an aunt who was always ‘on her last nerve’. I was transported back to a time when coming from the country, I was slagged for being a culchie. I split my sides laughing at the three reasons Mary gives for culchies being allowed to come to Dublin – if they’re priests, if they’re nurses looking for husbands, or if they’re going to the All Ireland. Classic.
Billed as a ‘hilarious and heartbreaking tale of Communion, confusion, and consternation’ the original production back in 2011 lasted 55 minutes. We had a play in two parts, each lasting about 45 minutes. It played to a full house on Saturday, and I’m sure that when word gets out, tickets will be thin on the ground. If you’re in Dublin between now and 17 March, treat yourself. You’d be hard pushed to find a better way to spend 15 quid.
4pm yesterday I was glued to the front window waiting for the storm to hit. Those in the know seemed quite certain that it would. Our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) was on national TV telling us all to be indoors by 4pm Thursday and to stay indoors until 3 pm on Friday. And then it was 12 noon and then it was back to 6pm. I stopped briefly to wonder why Leo V, leader of the country, was on camera. Surely Eoghan Murphy,Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government would have been better served as spokesperson. But hey – face time is face time.
I knew the situation was serious. But it still felt a little like the head teacher warning us to be back in class when the break-over bell had rung. A sliver of stubbornness leaked out and I thought about going for a walk at 4pm in a childish act of defiance. But at that stage, I’d discovered the Comedy Gold TV Channel and I was busy watching reruns of the Good Life. Watching Barbara trying to count chickens seemed a warmer use of my time.
So we stayed in. We watched the telly. And we ate dinner. We watched reruns of University Challenge and got all excited when we got an answer right. Late into the night, we watched an episode of Shetland, a TV series based on the brilliant Perez books by Ann Cleeves (Note to self to check Netflix with a view to investing time in watching the rest of the series). We occasionally looked outside to see what was happening. At times the wind was howling and blowing around the snow that was already there. That seemed to be the blizzard. The one metre of snow forecast never materialised – at least not in this part of Dublin.
This morning, I was like a kid at Christmas, peaking through the curtains to see what havoc had been wreaked.. But there’s little difference. The wind is still howling, and there might be a little more snow. But that’s it. I checked the airport. It’s closed until Saturday. Some 260 people were stranded there last night. Not the most comfortable of places to spend any length of time as I’m sure the vending machines haven’t been refuelled and the cafés and restaurants might not have been restocked.
I checked this morning’s papers. Some people, driving in defiance of the public order, had been stuck in their cars overnight. That must have been bloody cold. Dublin Fire Brigade had to assist 200 ambulances who couldn’t make their way through the snow. And about 25000 houses are without electricity. Public transport is still not running and a lot of the shops aren’t opening until this afternoon.
Pictures from around the country show that other places definitely had it worse than we did. There are murmurs this morning of a national over-reaction but then those in charge are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Better safe than sorry, I say. And to the world that’s wondering how such a relatively small snow event could bring the country to its knees when it wouldn’t cause a second blink in Minnesota or Toronto or Anchorage – remember that this is the norm there – it’s a rarity here. We’re beginners, novices, newbies to the whole snow thing.
Yes, I’m still put out that I missed the inaugural St David’s Day celebrations in Budapest. I’m more than a tad peeved that I’m missing the Brain Dogs gig tonight. And I’m a tad disgruntled that my pre-workshop prep time has been derailed. But at least I have somewhere to stay, good company to share, and great TV to watch.
The funny side keeps popping up on the radio. My favourite so far is a lad who wrote the words SEND BREAD in massive letters in the snow, and then climbed on his roof to take a photo of it. And one Spanish couple went ahead and got married and then braved the elements along the Grand Canal, photographer in tow, to get the sacred wedding pics. One of the 52 babies born in the last 48 hours in Holles Street hospital has been named Emma. A happy coincidence or just stuck for inspiration – you gotta wonder.
The status red is still in operation for Leinster and Munster and Galway, but orange reigns elsewhere. The curfew has been lifted though, so we can venture outside, if we really need to. Just another couple of days to go before I can fly. If I had to get weathered in, Dublin was the place to be.
I was baptised into the Catholic Church. And for the large part of my adult life (when I got to choose whether or not to go to mass) I’ve been a regular Sunday mass-goer with the occasional mid-week celebration thrown in for good measure. I had a couple of years where I didn’t go. I was living in Alaska at the time, so perhaps it was a combination of simply not bothering and not having a regular priest that put paid to my religious attendance – I can’t remember.
I like going. But I prefer going to mass in a language other than English, as that way I can’t understand the sermon and I don’t get upset at a priest wasting 10 minutes of golden speaking time on a captive audience by not making his sermon relevant to twenty-first-century living. A few years back, for one liturgical year, I posted and recorded my own 3-minute sermons – sermons I’d have given on the day, had I been a priest, something that’s not likely to happen in my lifetime.
On being Catholic
I’ve taken schtick over the years for being Catholic, for being party to a religion that has been damned over and over for turning a blind eye to abuse, for aiding and abetting Nazis in the aftermath of WWII, for atrocities in Franco’s Spain (CJ Sansom’s Winter in Madrid, albeit a novel, was eye-opening). The list seems endless at times. Let us not forget that the Roman Catholic Church, like most religions, is a man-made institution and subject to human faults and failings – not an excuse just something to bear in mind. My relationship is with my God, rather than with my church. My church and I differ on a number of issues, as do my friends and I, too. My religion is my faith. That it bears the Catholic brand is something that doesn’t put in on me one way or another.
Without weighting the various atrocities and scandals associated with the Catholic Church in order of perceived atrociousness or level of scandal, one that has bothered me consistently over the years is the part the Vatican played in the Ratlines and Pope Pius XII’s associations with Hitler. John Cornwell’s article in Vanity Fair back in 2013 left me reeling. Perhaps this is why I’m always inordinately pleased to discover someone of church ranking back then who did some good, who stood up and lived their faith.
God has no country
In Killarney recently, I happened across a man I’d never heard of. Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a Kerry man, aka The Vatican Pimpernel or The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, a man immortalised by Gregory Peck in the movie, The Scarlet and the Black. His was a fascinating life. His life is also immortalised by actor/director/playwright Donal Courtney (uncle of the talented actor/musician/songwriter Jess Leen – one to watch) in his play God has no country. [This is on my must-watch list for Irish theatre – has anyone seen it?]
Stationed in Rome, back in the early 1940s, the Monsignor toured POW camps in Italy tracking down those reported as missing in action. Using Radio Vatican, he’d then try to let their families know that they were still alive. He became a familiar figure. When those who had been released in 1943 post-Mussolini were in danger of being recaptured now that the Germans were at the helm, they reached out to him. [Did you know that the Irish Embassy to the Holy See was the only English-speaking embassy to stay open in Rome during WWII? I didn’t. ] His band of merry men (and women) included other priests, agents of Free France, communists, and some nobility. Together, they hid thousands of Allied soldiers and Jews in hideouts around the country. The Monsignor would travel outside the Vatican in disguise but when the Germans finally figured out who he was, he had to stay within the Vatican to avoid arrest.
The local head of the Gestapo and the SS in Rome apparently drew a white line on the ground marking the point where the Vatican ended and Italy began, a line the Monsignor should not cross. When he was caught and imprisoned after the War, Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler had one regular visitor – O’Flaherty. The visits had an effect, as in1959, he converted to Catholicism, baptised by the Monsignor.
When Rome was liberated, the Monsignor and his helpers had soldiers and Jews from some 25 countries under their protection, evidence of his belief that God has no country.
The Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial
A memorial to the great man was unveiled on 30 October 2013 in Killarney in the hope that
[…]this and future generations will be inspired by Hugh O’Flaherty’s incredible deeds and example and will in turn play their own part in making our world a better place.
Slowly but surely word of his daring is leaking out as hordes of visitors stop and read and take photos to tweet and blog and share at with a greater audience. Just like I’m doing. Not for the first time, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be a tourist in my home country and grateful, too, that I’m still discovering the joy that is Ireland.
I tell myself that I only need a bed. A clean bed. And hot water. And a decent breakfast. I tell myself that I don’t need to spend a huge amount of money on a room that I will only be showering and sleeping in. That’s how I usually justify my hotel choice. But I have gotten tired of the sameness of hotel rooms, the miles and miles of carpeted corridors, the galleries of cheap prints on bland walls. Still, if the bed is clean and the water is hot and the breakfast is included, price usually wins out.
I don’t make the sort of money that allows me to rack up three-digit-euro-a-night hotel rooms. If I did, perhaps the stars would matter. But they don’t. Not really. Anyway, I found out this week that the word luxury as used in the hotel world applies to 6* and 7* hotels and resorts, and not, as I’ve always thought, to the 5* ones like the Four Seasons. So my usual 3* stays have now paled to paler than pale.
When we were planning our trip to Killarney, I reserved two hotels online. Himself reserved one. He seemed quite attached to his choice and I wasn’t much bothered about mine, so his was the one we went with. There was little if any difference in the price of all three. All promised clean beds, hot water, and a decent breakfast. Decision made, I left it at that. I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t check the website. I didn’t check the reviews. I simply trusted that it would work out.
We turfed up to the Earls Court House Hotel just off Muckross Road on a Monday night. We were late arriving but had rung ahead. ‘Just ring the doorbell,’ the nice lady said. ‘Someone will open up.’ So we did. And they did. And it wasn’t at all what I expected, not that I’d expected anything other than a clean bed, hot water, and a decent breakfast.
Hotel history of Killarney
Tourists have been visiting Killarney since the mid-eighteenth century, thanks to the then Lord of Kenmare, Thomas, 4th Viscount Kenmare, who began by inviting visitors and residents to the town. When Queen Victoria dropped by in 1861, Killarney went international, and it’s been on the global tourist map ever since. Before the railway came in 1853, it had three hotels. A year later, it had seven. And they’ve multiplied over the last 150 years to epic numbers. It seems like every other house in Killarney is a B&B, a guesthouse, or a small hotel. Roomex.com lists 93 hotels. Alphrooms lists 53. Kerry Hotels lists 247. And out of all these, himself chose the Earls Court House Hotel.
Ray, one half of Moynihan team that owns and runs the place, answered the bell. He was all chat. We signed the forms and got our keys, only too delighted when he mentioned that he’d put us in a four-poster bed and hoped we’d enjoy our stay. I knew that wasn’t what we’d booked but hey, I’d never slept in a hand-built 6ft x 6ft four-poster bed so I kept quiet. For a change. Anyway, all I was after was a clean bed, hot water, and a decent breakfast. Breakfast started at 8 but we were due to start the conference at 8. ‘No problem’. he said. ‘We can open the kitchen for ye at half seven. And if there’s anything else you’d like, let us know.’ It was all very relaxed. I offered to pay but he said we could do that when we checked out. No rush.
The voice in the lift announces each floor in a broad Kerry accent. The carpeted corridors don’t match. The paintings and prints on the walls are a hodgepodge of styles. The Period armchairs sprinkled around the place are upholstered in all sorts of materials and patterns. And the overall effect is absolutely fabulous. It’s like stepping into a period house, complete with drawing rooms, drapes, and duck-down duvets. Okay, so maybe the duvets are a bit on the modern side but they’re covered with heavy brocade bedspreads that turn a sleep into an experience you want to drag out forever. Tucked out of sight at the back of the hotel is a service room where guests can do laundry. A pragmatic nod to twenty-first-century living.
This is a photo taken from their website. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t do the room justice with my limited photographic skills. We didn’t get the flowers or the wine, but that’s not a complaint – it’s me being honest. I wouldn’t want ye to get too envious. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to leave my hotel room. I cut short a night out on the town and passed up on another to come back to the room and work. It was so quiet, so spacious, so real that I caught myself reaching for a bell-pull that existed only in my mind’s eye. I wanted to summon the maid to turn down the bed and draw me a bath (or in this case, a Jacuzzi).
The Earls Court is more than a 4* boutique hotel furnished with some lovely antiques and an extensive breakfast menu covering everything from award-winning porridge (I didn’t ) to a full Irish (I did); from kippers (I didn’t) to a bacon, cheese and guacamole wrap (I did). The home-cured ham, the homemade brown bread, the lemon drizzle cake … delicious. Yep the Earls Court is much more than a hotel; it’s an experience.
What makes the Earls Court different
And for all that it has, the one thing the Earls Court doesn’t have is sameness. It’s an original. What started out in in 1990s with 10 rooms has been extended to 40 over the years. Ray and Emer are still very visible, very much in charge. But they’re more than ably assisted by a very personable staff who have a nod for everyone. From the witty Margaret Mary on the front desk to the inimitable Agnes, a veteran of the hospitality business, who adds a breath of fresh air to breakfast, everyone we met had time for us. They were never too harried to stop for a chat, to ask how our day had gone, to answer a question or seven. And they have what everyone in Killarney seems to have been blessed with – the ability to banter.
The Lord of Kenmare knew what he was doing when he recognised in Killarney an innate hospitality that would make it a memorable place to stay for centuries to come. And had the Earls Court been around back in the 1700s, he might even have had our room.