#100HappyDays Day 5 – a new venture

The piece below with a Mayo theme was first published in the newly redesigned Mayo News on 5th August 2014 as an introduction for my new column, titled An Cailín Rua, which will be appearing every two weeks from now on in that fine publication. I’m really delighted to be working alongside such a great team for a paper of which I’ve been a big fan for a long time. 

My name is Anne-Marie, and I am an exile!

It’s been a while since I lived in Mayo. That’s purely by design; sixteen years ago, as soon as I finished school, I packed my bags and hit the road out of Mayo as fast as my legs could carry me. Brighter lights beckoned, the world was waiting and I didn’t look back. Back then, being from a small village in North Mayo felt stifling and restrictive, with nothing to do and nothing to see. Being elsewhere meant freedom and discovery.

It’s been an interesting few years. They’ve brought me around the world, through a couple of colleges, across a spectrum of employment, with a wonderful variety of people. They brought me up the walls and around the bend more than once too. I wouldn’t change much.

For many of those years, Mayo felt distant. Other places started to feel like home. And while I never minded going back, I didn’t mind leaving either. It’s funny, though, as time passes how your perspective changes. (I think it’s called getting old.) After a few years living in the capital, more and more, I find myself craving the slower pace of life of the West. Now, feeling stifled and restricted means traffic jams and long hours at a desk. Freedom and discovery, on the other hand means the mountains and rivers and wide open spaces of home.

Living in the capital isn’t all bad, of course. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have friends here and a decent standard of living and I’m not exactly far from home. The three-hour drive from Dublin to Mayo pales in comparison to the trips home friends working abroad must endure. Friends who, out of necessity, have left their families and are working on the other side of the world to earn a living and build a future for their children. I have a decent job I enjoy with patient, understanding colleagues who tolerate my need to talk relentlessly about GAA for the first hour of every Monday. And I’m a hop, skip and a jump away from Croke Park, which comes in very handy in this glorious era of Mayo football. B&B is in demand, so book early!

Technology, too, makes it so easy now to stay in touch. The internet ensures we can read the local papers, listen to the local radio, and hear the local news. It struck me the other day that I probably now know more about Mayo now than I ever did when I actually lived there. Social media makes it so much easier to be a GAA fan away from home, too – the news, chatter and gossip you’d only have heard on the street or in the pub at home fifteen years ago are now at your fingertips online, and all Mayo exiles scattered around the world, from Sligo to Saudi Arabia can join the conversation. So while you might not be at home to savour the build-up to a big game like last week’s, it’s the next best thing.

Speaking of which, we really are everywhere, we Mayo people. We get around. My work in research takes me all around the country, and last week I found myself driving through Co. Kilkenny. As I rounded the corner into a tiny village called Crettyard, there high outside a house, flying proudly beside the obligatory Kilkenny flag was our very own green and red. I nearly drove into a wall in excitement. I love the comfort of seeing traces of home in unexpected places around the country and further afield, and during the summer I don’t think there’s another county that shows off its colours quite so proudly. And GAA plays such a strong role in Mayo – It’s a part of our identity, our DNA, and it goes far beyond sport, connecting us no matter where we are. (Incidentally, that day I met a Kilkenny person that day that didn’t like hurling. Who knew such a person existed?)

So while one day I know I’ll be back for good, for now I like knowing that no matter where you go, you’re never too far away. Maybe it’s my advancing years; maybe I’m just getting sentimental. Or maybe there’s some truth in the notion that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Either way, I’ve learned over the years that there’s just no place like home.

Cliffs at Ballycastle, Co. Mayo

#100HappyDays Day 5 – Ulster Final Pretender

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a Mayowoman through and through, and that everywhere I go, I dream of green and red. But I have a fondness for Donegal, and have spent many a happy day and night in that little piece of heaven with the best people you will ever meet.

(I also like Donegal people because they were sound when they won the All-Ireland in 2012 and were happy to party the night away with us losers without actually making us feel like losers. I think it’s called being gracious in victory. Or being drunk.)

Anyway, when the opportunity presented itself to hit Clones for last weekend’s Ulster Final, the bandwagon jumper in me was only raring to go. Day 5 of 100 Happy Days was one of those sunny summer Sundays we GAA fans live for.It was a bit of a last-minute decision, but the day started out like they always do.

Up early, get in the good solid breakfast (Superquinn sausages come into their own on match days), pack the bag with gear for all eventualities (sunscreen, poncho, snow shoes), get on the phone to sort out the tickets, get the colours ready, proceed to the meeting point. Sean and Gerry pick us up at 12.30 and away we go. we arrive in Clones through a sea of blue and white flags, after a very thorough analysis of the impending football fare all the way from the M50. Some of us are feeling a bit ropey after last night’s late night. It’s good to get out of the car.

We pay a fiver and park in a field.

“Pull in there in front of that car. Yeah, yeah, there.”

“But there’s a line of cars behind us, we’ll be blocking them in.”

“No, no yer grand there”.


We walk a mile, chatting away. and another bit. When we arrive in the town, Clones is heaving. I’ve never seen anything like it.  The streets are thick with people – thousands spilling onto the streets in a sea of green and gold and white and blue, pints in hand, sunglasses on head. Everyone in Ulster must surely be here.

“It’s like the Fleadh Ceoil”, Gerry says.

We don’t hang around, and we fly on through the town towards the ground, because the minors are playing. I run into a Donegal friend, briefly pause for a hug and a quick hello, but I can’t stop, I have to keep moving. I tell him I’ll see him later.

Arrive in St. Tiernagh’s Park. Of course, all four of us are sitting different sides of the ground. That’s what you get when you only sort out your tickets on the morning of the game. I don’t mind, though. I quite like paddling my own canoe at GAA games; invariably, it works out well. And you’re always going to be in good hands with Monaghan and Donegal people.

The minors have just finished when I take my seat – a wooden bench on the half-way line. Nice spot. A handsome win for Donegal. Mayo are playing the losers, Armagh in two weeks, so I’m sorry I didn’t catch some of it. But I hear enough from those around me to make me feel quietly confident.

There’s a teenager with flowing blonde hair and the shortest of denim cut-offs selling Maxi-Twists out of a cardboard box.

“Anyone for ice-cream?” she calls, half-heartedly. “Free spoon!”

It’d be rude not to.

The teams emerge to a crescendo of noise. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Compared to MacHale Park last week, this is a pressure cooker of noise. These supporters know how to make themselves seen and heard and they’re far from shy and retiring. The way it should be. It’s loud. Me, I’m sitting back. I just enjoy being in this special place, watching as an outsider. It’s the most relaxed I’ve been at a football game in months. Today, I can’t lose. I’ve my green and gold headband on for the day, but despite my affinity for the North Westerners, I feel a bit more neutral than I look.

It’s s a scrappy, frustrating, low-scoring first half. Ugly football, but it’s intense and hard fought. There is colour and there is noise and there are hard knocks and tempers fray on the grass and in the stands. The referee, one Maurice Deegan, is not a popular man. The air turns blue more than once.

“Put on the jersey, Deegan why don’t ya? Sure you might just kick a point yerself for them while you’re at it!”

Half time, we stand to stretch the legs, and watch the Tyrone team of ’89 take to the field receive presentations (we beat them in the semi-final that year, I recall). The lady beside me asks where I’m from. I tell her, and she smiles. That smile of pity we’ve come to see and recognise a mile off.

“Ye’ll do it this year, surely. We’re all praying ye’ll do it this year.”

This, from a woman, supporting a Donegal team, who, midway through the second half, are asserting themselves as serious contenders for a second All-Ireland in three years, depending on which pundit you listen to. And she’s praying for us to win. Sometimes I wish we’d win it to hell, just to put every other county out of their misery too.

We’re back. Donegal are pulling away, stamping their authority. Ryan McHugh is sublime. He’s not missing his brother, on the field at least. Big Neil Gallagher is running himself into the ground. Frank McGlynn looks like he’s spent the past month on Copacobana Beach, he’s that brown and energised. But they don’t have it all their own way. Vinnie Corey is keeping manners on Michael Murphy, who unusually hasn’t scored once from play. And Dick Clerkin is not giving up without a fight. Literally.

49 minutes in, and Monaghan get a goal. The stand around me erupts in blue and white and cheers.

But the Donegal fans respond. They shout,  they admonish, they bellow, and St. Tiernach’s reverberates to the sound of “Don-e-gal .. (clap clap clap) Don-e-gal!” They’re the 16th man, without a doubt. The men in green and gold quickly regain composure, and start to turn the screw. Monaghan can’t get close enough to score, and they shoot wide after futile wide. The stewards are called into place, and patrons are implored through the speakers not to enter the field of play once the whistle has gone. You’ll see the presentation from where you’re sitting, we’re told. Grim-faced blue and white clad men stride up the steps, head down, heading for the exits. They’ve seen enough.

It’s all over, and around me, and the roof lifts. (There’s no roof, but I couldn’t think of a better way of putting it.) There are scenes of sheer, unadulterated ecstasy. They’re jumping in the aisles, they’re hugging each other. It’s like they’ve never won a game in their lives and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s super. They swarm down the steps, towards the field. They’re not taking no for an answer It’s not long before the tannoy man is instructing the stewards to open the gate. There’s a roar of approval.

On they flood, onto the field, where they belong. This army of football fanatics. They hang off Michael Murphy’s every word, as he thanks the supporters for playing their part.  And the Anglo-Celt trophy is held aloft to the familiar strains of the “Hills of Donegal”, and Donegal is partying in Monaghan’s back yard. Tír Chonaill abú!  I feel envious that I can only look on from the outside.

We swarm back up towards town. Hordes and hordes of happy and not so happy people stream down the hill towards Creightons. The sun is still shining, and the beer is still flowing. It’ll be a good afternoon regardless. Donegal have won their third Ulster in four years, and Monaghan are not out yet. So it’s not over.

Though my phone is dead, we manage to regroup with ease at the meeting pint. Sarah, Gerry and Sean are smiling. The form is good. We hang around for a pint and to savour the moment, and as we make our way up town and bump into a bigger crew. Everyone’s smiling. We’re in no rush. We’ll let the traffic go.

We make our way back to the field. It’s almost empty. There’s just two cars left. Ours, and the car behind us. Oops.

It’s an easy trip back when you’ve won, and the passengers sit back contentedly. Eyes are closing and heads are dropping in the back as we hit the motorway. (Mine.) We arrive back as the sun is starting to fade, grab some food and it’s home to take it easy, and relive it all on the small screen.

It’s been a great day. And a happy one.

Ulster Final 2014

Until next time …


#100HappyDays Day Four – Tea’s still better

The thunder and rain woke me this morning at 5.50am, but I didn’t mind too much, because there are few things I enjoy as much as a good cleansing thunderstorm and a tropical shower. And today was Friday, a fact which in itself usually suffices to make it a happy day. Despite being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at stupid o’clock, though, I still managed to be late for work. Go figure.

Because it was lashing so hard, at lunchtime I wrote off the prospect of any outdoor activity, booked cinema tickets and was secretly happy. Naturally, that ensured that the rain stopped instantly, the sun re-emerged and it became one of the nicest, sunniest evenings of the year. (You’re welcome. Anyway, I stuck to my plans. We went to see Boyhood, which is a really lovely piece of work and well worth seeing.

On my way to the IFI, this made me smile.


Tea’s still better, though. 🙂

Until next time …

#100HappyDays Day 3 – Pavement Pounding

Today was a normal, run of the mill day, if there is such a thing. Nothing remarkable happened in my world, and I didn’t leave my desk until 8pm.

But the day wasn’t over.  These days I find myself craving the countryside more and more, but you can’t go out for a four-mile walk by the river at 10pm in the country, even on a gorgeous summer’s night like this, and feel safe. So I guess you win this one, Dublin.

walk by dusk


#100HappyDays – Day Two

Day 2 of 100. A bit daunting looking 98 days ahead, but I have just proved that I have two days’ staying power which for me, is not bad.

So, full of enthusiasm for this new undertaking I spent today looking for things that might make me feel happy. By 2pm I was starting to get a bit worried that I might be dead inside.

I’m not sure that this is how it’s meant to work but by 4pm, I figured if happiness wasn’t going to me, I would have to go to it. So I picked up the phone and booked a yoga class.

When I first moved to Dublin and was finding my feet in a new city, with a new job, new housemates (three lovely, handsome but hopelessly and worryingly undomesticated guys), a new social life, a rather unstable relationship, an equally unstable car complete with two L-plates, yoga was what kept me between the hedges. (Metaphorically speaking, that is. Behind the wheel was another story.) Two hours, two nights a week to shut out everything and simply concentrate on not dislocating something, not falling on my face, not falling asleep during Shavasana and not farting during child’s pose  (it has happened to someone, in nearly every class I have ever attended, but never me) was enough to distract me from all the pressures of the outside world. Total bliss.

In a world that’s getting increasingly frantic, where it’s hard to “disconnect” or get time away from computer and phone screens, there is something very healing about shutting out the noise, concentrating only on your own breathing, using your body, and appreciating how remarkable it is. And for ten minutes at the end, you lie flat on your back with your eyes closed, slow your breathing and relax all of your muscles and take some time out to spend inside your own mind. It’s precious downtime for your brain and for your body, something we don’t always make time to give ourselves. When done, you thank yourself for that time. Which is nice.

I’d fallen out of the yoga habit over the past couple of years. Last week I tried to touch my toes, only to discover that my hamstrings have apparently shrunk by about a foot and I could barely reach my knees.

So tonight I took myself off , right back to the start to a beginner’s class. To my delight I managed conduct myself with relative dignity throughout and emerged relatively unscathed, having only injured myself mildly by dropping a cork block on my toe.

I think that’s a success, and therefore qualifies as today’s moment of happiness.

To illustrated this momentous milestone, here’s a photo of my feet on my yoga mat.

Yoga feet

I told you I was a rubbish photographer.

And I apologise for making you look at my feet.

Tomorrow’s photo will be nicer, I promise. Until then …


Happiness is a funny thing, isn’t it? Sometimes it feels like you have to work so much harder for it than other feelings. Like being worried, upset, sad or hungover. They all seem to happen pretty effortlessly. But happiness requires a whole lot of hard work sometimes.

When I think about happiness, I often think about Oscar Wilde and the story of the Nightingale and the Rose:

“Ah, on what little things does happiness depend! I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine, yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.”

Poor old Oscar – and the poor old nightingale. It’s a great story. And there’s a certain truth in it about never being quite satisfied with what you have (or where you are), and always seeking something else in the name of happiness.

I’ve been feeling a bit on the blue side lately. Nothing serious, but a sustained run of feeling a bit less happy and infinitely less enthusiastic than I’d like. And I’m bored of it. When I go through a grey patch I find that I get to a stage where frankly, I get a bit sick of myself , and it’s at that stage I decide I have to make changes, in order to avoid actually breaking up with myself.  (That’s a whole other post that I won’t bore you with, but suffice to say, there are lists being written and plans being hatched in the background. Which is good.)

Anyway, in an effort to remind myself that Things Are Not All That Bad, and that I have  lots of things to be happy about, I figured that keeping a note of the good things would be a good start.  I’ve seen people all over social media taking part in 100 Happy Days and while my first reaction, if I’m honest was to roll my eyes a bit, I did find that reading them made me smile. So maybe there’s something to it.

It’s been said that taking a few minutes every day to just appreciate what you have is a good habit to get into, and I know that there is evidence that doing so, in turn, makes you happier. The problem is, I’m extremely good at lamenting what I don’t have. However,  looking at the 100 Happy Days website I am extremely excited to see that partaking in this challenge can pretty much produce miracles. From the site:

“People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:

 – Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
 – Be in a better mood every day;
 – Start receiving more compliments from other people;
 – Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
 – Become more optimistic;
 – Fall in love during the challenge.”
Well, I never. Why isn’t everyone doing this?!
But, wait. The website also warns against using the challenge to piss other people off:

“It is not a happiness competition or a showing off contest. If you try to please / make others jealous via your pictures – you lose without even starting. Same goes for cheating.”

Well, that’s a bit of a pain, isn’t it? I’d already planned on making you all sick with jealousy with photos of myself standing in the lashing rain at GAA games or covered in muck half way up a mountain in Mayo, but I guess I’ll just have to rein that in, won’t I? And incidentally, if it’s not a competition, how can you cheat in it?  Hmm.

Anyway, skepticism and semantics aside, I’m going to give it a shot. If nothing else, it will be a good exercise in discipline. I’m a crap photographer though, so if you’re expecting anything visually spectacular, you’re in for a disappointment.


Here’s my first shot. (Not one of my own, but it doesn’t say you have to take a picture, just that you have to submit it. So thanks to Mick for this one!)
From last Sunday, inMacHale Park,Castlebar, after the Mayo senior football team had just won their fourth Connacht title in a row.There’s a lovely sense of togetherness that comes with being a GAA supporter. While I adore the sport itself, it’s the joy of the shared experience that gets me every time, even when the result doesn’t go your way. But Sunday was one of those days when it did – the sun was shining, the flags were flying and everyone was smiling. In Mayo, we so desperately want to win the big one, that it’s easy to take lovely days like this for granted. And there’s another lesson right there.
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We’ll all be hoping for a few of these days over the coming months, but this one will keep us smiling for a week at least.
Til next time!