A Mayowoman’s Lament

Another piece I wrote for Balls.ie in the aftermath of Mayo’s heartbreaking defeat to Dublin last weekend – you can read the original here.

It’s Tuesday, and the dust has finally settled after another All-Ireland final weekend.

It’s funny. You spend so long in the weeks leading up to the big day fervently wishing the hours away, only for the day itself to pass you by in a whirlwind of colour, noise and crowds. Before you know it, the final whistle has gone, and – if you’re from Mayo – you’re left reeling once again with the bitter, stinging slap of loss.

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Mayo team ready to do battle. Photo by Michael Maye

It’s hard to write this. It’s not what I anticipated writing in the aftermath of Sunday’s game, and it’s difficult not to resort to tired old clichés in an effort to describe once again the pain of losing. After all, it’s not the first time we’ve been here. There’s nothing really new to say. Apart, of course, to heartily congratulate our Dublin friends on their deserved win. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t as stylish as it could have been (despite valiant efforts by Aidan’s Fringe), but once you have Sam in your possession, none of that really matters. Winning is everything, and our opposition proved that, once again, they had just a little more in the tank than we had to finish the job. While there is plenty of controversy to debate in the aftermath, no right-minded sports fan would begrudge this excellent Dublin team their victory.

I was right about one thing, though. This year was different. In terms of the belief Mayo brought with us to the final, our approach and our defiance, throughout the year, Mayo held their heads high and fought to the end. From Friday evening, the colours started appearing around the city. Saturday, we grew in stature and early on Sunday morning, the city was ours. This was a build up like nothing I have ever experienced, full of promise and anticipation. The welcoming home of friends and family from across the miles. The meeting and greeting old friends and new. That belief carried us into Croke Park from 12.30pm on Sunday, through the ecstasy of a superb victory for the Mayo minor team, who brought the Tommy Markham cup home for the first time in 28 years, right through to the end of the senior final, where we just failed to cross the line. So near, and yet so far. While the hurt and frustration of knowing that this was a final we could have won but left behind us, will linger for a long time,  the sense of pride and belief we feel in that panel of players and management will not waver. They’re our own, and they are hurting far more.

So yet again, in Mayo we turn our thoughts to Next Year. We’re getting closer, all the time.

It’s suggested that there are five stages of grief after a terrible event. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  From what I’m reading and hearing, it’s probably fair to suggest many Mayo fans have incredibly, already raced through these stages and are dusting themselves down and steeling themselves for next year’s battle. The pace of recovery is rapid, but then, we’ve had plenty of practice.

After the game, a few of us took ourselves away from the madness of Drumcondra to seek some solace and escapism on the south side of the city. As we sat in a burger joint trying to come to terms with the loss, black humour won out. We debated storming the pubs and clubs in a conga line of celebration. Pretend we’d won the damn thing anyway, ignore the dissenters and party like it was 1951. If we were going to lose our minds following Mayo GAA, we may as well do it properly and get a decent night out of it. (We didn’t.) Sam Maguire, we also concluded after an in-depth analysis, is like that certain someone you’re really into, but who’s blind to your existence. Instead, he’s blinded by the glamour of the more … forward counties. The Kerrys and Corks and Tyrones and Donegals and Dublins with their flashy tans and flashy forwards. Oblivious to the charm of the quieter, more reticent but infinitely classier Mayo. Sam’s loss, we concluded. Anyway, if we finally got him, would we really want him in the end, after all that, we wondered? He strikes me as a bit high-maintenance, if I’m honest. All that polishing, and stuff.

Anything to raise a smile.  As with a real-life tragedy, humour is a healing balm.

I said before that football is more than just football in Mayo. It’s about far more than sport. For many in the West, these days form part of our very identity and when we lose, our own self-belief is rattled. While the sneering of some of the victors’ supporters on Sunday – a very small minority of what was an overall very decent, warm and generous bunch, I hasten to clarify – was hard to take, the patronising platitudes are far harder to swallow. We don’t want words of sympathy or pity. We just want a bloody win, so we never have to hear them again. But we have had two glorious years of celebration and hope and dreams, and we have had September football that many would kill for. And so the words of Samuel Beckett come to mind. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” So do those of Elbert Hubbard. “A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success. There is no failure except in no longer trying.”

We’ll keep trying. And one glorious day, we won’t fail.

#DatesWithDublin #6 – St. Audoen’s Church

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Religion and Rowan Trees

In a rather alarming development, I’ve noticed a bit of a religious theme emerging in the Dates with Dublin adventure. While I’ve always been a bit of a nerd when it comes to history and old things, religion and the church tend to make my hackles rise. I’ve found of late, however that I’m being oddly drawn to cathedrals, chapels and cemeteries, even when going about my regular business. Despite the variety of stuff to see on my list, my head now turns when I pass a particularly interesting-looking church, and I sometimes have to forcibly stop myself from sneaking off into graveyards while nipping out to fetch a litre of milk. To date, I’ve managed to refrain from spontaneously breaking into hymns (bar a very devout and heartfelt rendition of ‘The Green and Red of Mayo’ in Another sacred ground at 5pm last Sunday – more about that later), but this unexpected religious draw certainly got me wondering.

Last Thursday afternoon I cracked it, as I parked up the bike and tiptoed into John’s Lane Church on Thomas Street for a quick nosey. (Incidentally, The nerd in me was fascinated to learn on my way in that Padraig Pearse’s dad James was responsible for the sculpting of the statues on the bell tower.) As I sat gazing around at the ornate altars, the stunning stained glass windows and the marvellous mosaics, with only one other for company, the noise of the traffic chaos outside melted into the background and I started to relax and feel a welcome sense of quiet and calm. It struck me that in our everyday lives, we rarely take time out to do nothing; to have a quiet moment of peace and reflection – to just be with ourselves for a few minutes. An old friend of mine, though not particularly religious or indeed at all saintly, is a regular mass attendee. I asked him why. “It’s like this,” he said. “I don’t give a monkeys about the prayers or the preaching, but it’s the one hour in a week where I’m forced to sit down away from the phone and the laptop and the TV and all the distractions I have around me. If nothing else, it gives me time to think and have a good daydream.” Food for thought indeed and maybe it’s something worth making a bit of time for.

Anyway, enough of the deep stuff. Before I got sidetracked by John’s Lane (which, incidentally is the proud owner of the tallest non-stainless steel spire in Dublin), I set my sights on St. Audoen’s Church on High Street. St. Audoen’s is a curious place. It’s actually two churches – there’s the original building, which is the oldest Anglican parish church in Dublin, dating from 1190, and the new Roman Catholic church of the same name, built a mere 10 inches away in the 1840s after the Catholic Emancipation. (The latter is now home to the Polish Chaplaincy in Ireland.) I visited the newer church first, and while it’s very nice as churches go and has its own story to tell, the real star is the old church. (Please excuse the particularly rubbish photography – this time I only had the iPhone for pics and while not even a decent camera can save me, it usually at least makes the usual shooting shambles look half presentable.)

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Wonderfully weedy

I wandered down the path, which is beautifully surrounded by weeds (I’m not being sarcastic here, honestly) to the door, and arrived just as the guided tour was beginning. Nice one. Entry to the church is free. Even nicer. I was welcomed by a cheery chap dressed in full Norman-style chain mail regalia who was clearly getting into the spirit of Heritage Week. I hope he has no metal allergies.

St. Audoen’s is the only remaining medieval parish church in the entire city, and is named after St. Ouen (or Audoen) of Rouen in Normandy, a bishop the Anglo-Normans must have been fond of, I suppose. The church, remarkably is still in use for parish services today. Though built in 1190, it was reportedly built on the site of an older church dedicted to St. Colmcille, dating from the seventh century, which really is a rather long time ago. And when I walked into the building it felt, unsurprisingly … old. Very old indeed.

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A view of St Audoen’s from the altar. In reality, it’s not leaning to the right

The building is home to a few items of note. Firstly, when you enter beside the simple altar, you’re faced with the large, ornate 17th century monument to the Sparke and Duff families, two wealthy Dublin merchant families, who lost their fortunes in the Dublin Gunpowder disaster of 1597. Unusually for its time, it is made from plaster, not stone, and features symbols of the families’ wealth (like pineapples) and images of death (skulls).

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Surprisingly, this is not my photo, but that of a very good photographer named Andreas F. Borchert.

Continuing down the church towards the main entrance, on the left sits an impressive church organ, which is also used to this day. It’s unusual you see one up so close and personal and as always when I spot an organ, I had to drag myself away lest I be tempted to sit down and bang out a tune – Chopsticks probably wouldn’t have been quite appropriate. The hard wooden pews are lined with soft coverings which I’m sure are infinitely more comfortable than the stone floors the medieval pilgrims had to endure. I’m told they got straw mats for special occasions, but unlike today, the religious ceremonies of the time were cold and draughty experiences with no hot air at all. Ahem.

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Tempting … and oddly orange-tinted. Not the organ. My photo.

Near the back of the church sits a 12th century baptismal font, which, hidden from Cromwell and his mates in the 1600s and forgotten, was unearthed during restoration work in the 19th century. The font dates from the 12th century and bears the shell or scallop symbol of the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James, a journey undertaken by many medieval pilgrims ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Having walked a 250km section of the Camino a couple of years back, I was intrigued to learn that poorer pilgrims received their initial blessing at the start of the journey at St. Audoen’s (which is based near James’ Gate, a traditional Camino starting point) before travelling via Bristol by Sea to France, where they walked the full 800+km. Meanwhile the rich folks just paid other people to do the pilgrimage for them. Lazy sods. The font was locked in the olden days, as it contained two items of great value at the time – a lead lining and holy water. Tragically, the two treasures mixed a little too well and it’s said that contamination of the holy water with the lead resulted in the untimely deaths of more than one unfortunate child after baptism.

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Lead-lined and lethal. One of the day’s better photos. (Yeah, I know.)

Out in the porch, there’s a “lucky stone”; probably a gravestone that may have originated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral nearby – there are similar stones there. Merchants and traders used to rub it for luck, after it was erected in the 1300s beside a marble water cistern in Cornmarket, so that all who drank of the waters may have luck. It is said that the reverend who placed the stone in St. Audoen’s centuries ago still pops back now and again, probably to give it the odd rub. You can never have too much luck, even when you’ve been dead for a few centuries. The stone has been stolen on a number of occasions, but mysteriously, has always found its way back. Spooky!

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Lucky stone.
Whaddya mean, he’s behind me?

The bell tower in the main entrance area houses three of the oldest bells in Dublin city, dating from 1423, and they are still rung every Sunday. The bell tower stone staircase is gated off but is tantalisingly tempting – I really wanted to sneak back in when everyone had and make a break for the bells. As part of Heritage week St. Audoen’s opened the bell tower to the public, a rare event indeed and I was sorry to have missed it, being as I was on a pilgrimage elsewhere – again, more about that later.

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More temptation … the gated bell tower

The main entrance area also hosts a 15th century effigial tomb to Lord Portlester and his wife Marguerite. Lord Portlester had an impressive CV, firstly holding the position of Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, then Lord Chancellor of Ireland and finally Lord High Treasurer of Ireland. Overachiever. The effigy shows Lord Portlester lying with his feet resting on a dog. The dog’s mouth is closed, meaning in the symbolism of the time that its owner died a peaceful death. Lord Portlester was clearly an optimist and possibly a psychic, given that he built the tomb 14 years before his death. Of course, “effigial” means that they’re not buried there at all, so technically it’s not a tomb. But I suppose it’s the next best thing. Anyway, there are lots of dead folk lying around underfoot which, as regular readers will know, always makes me happy.

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Pretendy tomb. I went for a close-up view to capture the detail… oh.

There’s a wealth of medieval history associated with the building, and the mix of Gothic and Romanesque architecture tells stories of its own, particularly when you go outside to the private chapel, which was built to accommodate swelling congregation numbers in the 1400s. What I really liked about St Audoen’s is that the story of the church and the guilds that frequented it is told really well, both by the guides and the visuals in the exhibition area. For me, it was clear, interesting and engaging, and in this, it stood in contrast with other museums. For instance last week I also visited the Story of the Capital in City Hall, and for a museum in such a stunning location, and with such a fascinating story to tell, the visuals left me confused, cold and if I’m honest, a bit bored. St. Audoen’s on the other hand, managed to draw me in and transport me to a world of medieval merchantry and religious ruaille buaille, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. If you haven’t been, I’d recommend popping in if you’re wandering past – it’s like a little trip into the Dublin of old and I doubt you’ll regret it. You might even take better photos than I did, though it’s probably unlikely.

Speaking of religion, the next post on Dates with Dublin will be an entirely self-indulgent and emotional account of my most recent glorious pilgrimage to the ultimate temple of worship – Croke Park, where the highlight of my summer to date saw the Green and Red of Mayo overcome the Farney Boys of Monaghan and the Red Hand of Tyrone to see us into not one, but two All-Ireland finals on September 22nd. To keep it on topic, I’ll also tell you a bit about the other stuff you can do in Croker, even if you never looked sideways at a sliotar or football in your life. Stay tuned!

#DatesWithDublin #5 – Casino Marino

Last Tuesday, while out on de Nortsoide on a little excursion, I decided to swing by Marino to visit the Casino, a place on my Dates with Dublin list that no fewer than 43 people have recommended I visit. 43! With enthusiastic endorsement like that, who am I to argue? So on my way back to town I pulled off to the right down the Malahide Road before Fairview, and there, practically in the middle of a housing estate, lies the entrance to Casino Marino.

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Casino

On my way in the gate, I met an elderly but very sprightly gentleman who’d just been in for a tour of the building. “Isn’t this something else?” he beamed, his eyes shining with delight. “50 years I’ve been in Marino, and I only discovered this place five years ago. Can you believe that?” Dublin’s best-kept secret? Could well be. Or perhaps he was just rather unobservant in his younger days.

Still, though, the Casino doesn’t exactly stand out – until you go through the gates and get your first glimpse. First impressions of the building? It’s tiny, but imposing. Or imposing, but tiny. If that makes sense. It’s small, but perfectly formed. And it’s probably the most unusual building of its time in Dublin.

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Little Big House ….

Some history: The Casino (from the Italian ‘casa’ meaning house, so “little house”, not house of gambling) was built in the late 1700’s, by Scottish architect Sir William Chambers in the grounds of the now-disappeared Marino House. The building, apparently one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture in Europe, was commissioned by the filthy rich first Earl of Charlemont, James Caulfield after he returned from a nine-year jaunt around the world with his pals. (Nine years of partying. The Celtic Tiger had nothing on these guys.)  It was basically designed as a “pleasure house” – a garden temple of sorts – with no practical purpose, apart from giving Jimmy and his moneyed mates somewhere to play. Designed  to remind the Earl of the good times he enjoyed while hanging out in Italy, it takes its inspiration from Greek and Roman architecture. Quite the souvenir! As playhouses go, this is pretty impressive, and once I learned about the clever design concealed within, I was even more impressed.

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Hear me roar … or just watch me smile

Guarded by some of the friendliest lions you’ll ever see, from the exterior the house looks like one large room, with four very large windows, and one very large door, with two giant urns on the roof. Inside, however, the pint-sized building cleverly conceals no fewer than sixteen smaller chambers, spread over three floors. In keeping with the style of the day, everything is balanced and symmetrical, and if false walls were needed to maintain the symmetry, they were added in.

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All about the symmetry

Despite the scarcity of space such measures, as well as the clever use of light combined with curved walls and vaulted ceilings manage to make the rooms look bigger than they are. To streamline the building, Chambers cleverly concealed such tiresome practicalities as drainpipes inside the building, within hollow columns with water chains inside.

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Fancy drainage

The two giant urns on the roof are actually chimneys. See that large window on the outside? The subtly curved panes of glass conceal the fact that inside, it traverses a number of walls to provide light to more than one room. There are many other clever design quirks in the Casino, but you’ll have to go and seem them for yourself. Unlike Chambers, who remarkably never got to travel to Ireland to see the beautiful building he had designed.

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Clever windowing

Intriguingly, there are eight tunnels leading off in four directions from the Casino. None have been excavated to date. One, now filled in, is said to have led to the main house on the estate. Another leads to an underground spring, probably used to supply the house with fresh water. The others are a bit of a mystery, but were in all likelihood used for storage. That’s not the most exciting explanation however, and everyone knows rumours are far more fun. There are suggestions of secret Masonic meetings taking place underground (indeed the pointed star laid into the ornate wooden floor in the main hall would lend some credence to this theory; however there is no documented evidence of Freemasonry in the house, so they are probably just that – rumours).

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A ceiling of symbols

Indeed, symbolism is evident everywhere you look in the Casino, particularly in the walls and ceilings and anyone with a fertile imagination could come up with a few far-fetched tales. It’s even been suggested that Michael Collins took shelter from the British in one of the tunnels, but again, this has never been verified.

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Authentic 18th century Apple TV

What is known is that the poet Lord Byron was a regular visitor the Casino – in the years after James Caulfield’s death when his son Francis had inherited the house, Bryon befriended his wife, Anne Bermingham, a lady rumoured to be one of the most beautiful in the land (with the added bonus of wealth – she brought a large dowry to the family). On one of Byron’s visits, Anne’s beloved pet hound Neptune passed away. Byron, perhaps in an effort to console the lady of the house, wrote a touching poem, devoted not to Anne, but to the deceased dog. The ode is visible on what’s said to be Nep’s gravestone, seen outside the Casino to this day.

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Alas poor Nep

The view from the Marino and the big house originally gave Lord Caulfield an unfettered and undoubtedly stunning view across Dublin Bay, however in the late 18th century, he became engaged in a war of words with a man called Ffolliot from Aungier Street.  We don’t know the particulars, but Ffolliot must have been pretty peeved (and pretty loaded), as he promptly proceeded to acquire all the land in front of Marino House and build a huge crescent-shaped row of houses to block Jimmy’s view of the Bay. (They didn’t do revenge by halves in those days). No. 15 Marino Crescent went on to become the birthplace of one Bram Stoker, so the outcome wasn’t all bad.

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Fireplace in the master bedroom

Caulfield spent a small fortune on the house while he was alive, and unfortunately, many of the baubles and treasures he collected during his lifetime had to be sold after his death. The building gradually fell into disrepair over the 19th century, and was on the verge of collapse until the passing of the National Monuments Act of 1930, lobbied for by architect Dr. Harold Leask, and the casino was taken into state care and painstakingly restored by the Office of Public Works.

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Our tour guide Michael in the big oak doorway

It’s a gorgeous little building, well worth a visit and there always appears to be something happening there – check out their Facebook page for details. This week, being Heritage Week, the Casino is hosting a number of events for adults and children alike including talks, workshops and costume tours. You can follow Casino Marino on twitter too (they’re super-friendly, helpful and engaging) and visit it from 10.00-18.00 daily (access by guided tour only).  A lovely little gem to lose yourself in for an hour – go see.

Dates with Dublin #1- Churchtown Bottle Tower

So today, to kick off my Dates With Dublin project,  I went on my first “date”. Not unlike other dates I have previously embarked on, it proved to be shorter than expected and not very interesting, with minimal conversation and a bit of head-scratching. I think this one might have been a record, though, clocking in at about three minutes. But it’s a start, right?

On the way to do the grocery shop (oh, the glamour of a bank holiday weekend!) I swung by the Bottle Tower near Churchtown. It’s a place that’s caught my eye before, but thanks to a suggestion from Julia over on Facebook, today I decided to pull up outside and go in for a nose.

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The Bottle Tower (also known as Hall’s Barn) appears to be located on the grounds of a private residence, but nobody came running out with a pitchfork when I stepped through the gate, so I took that as an open invitation. I had a good nose around, as I’m wont to do, but there’s really not a lot more to see than what you can see above, as you can’t access the back of the structure. But it’s kinda cool, isn’t it? There’s no information at all visible around it, so I came home and turned to my trusty friend, Google. There’s not much information online either, but from what I can glean, the structure was built in the 1740s, when Ireland was in the grip of a famine, under the direction of the wife of William Conolly of Castletown House, Leixlip as a means of giving local people a way to earn a living.

The barn was built on the grounds of the now-disappeared Whitehall House, after which the road it stands on is named. Apparently its purpose was to act as a granary, though there is evidence of a living area inside too, with a couple of fireplaces. The staircase you can see around the side isn’t safe to climb anymore, but leads to a small platform where you could look out over the surrounding areas – this was potentially used for shooting game, back in the day. More than likely, the building is based on the design of the Wonderful Barn in Castletown House, which is in much better nick – these are the only two buildings of their type in Ireland. They’re pretty distinctive. And that’s about as much information as I can lay my hands on for now – if anyone local is reading this, I’d love to know more.

So there you have it – today’s Date was short, but was a nice little sweetener for the adventures ahead. It’s also made me think about just how much we rely on the internet for information, and how, if information about an interesting place is not documented already, is it too late? It also reminds me of my own locality at home where there is an absolute myriad of ruins – castles, abbeys, wells, kilns, cemeteries – with very little information online any of them. A project for another time? Who knows.  Anyway, there are lots more adventures to come, with a little more excitement in store, I hope :_)

Til next time …

Dates with Dublin – Places to See

When I came up with the idea of Dates with Dublin, my plan to get to really know the treasures of the city I live in, a couple of folk asked me to make a list of the suggestions I received, so they could check them out too.

Your wish is my command *takes deep breath*

I’ve received so many suggestions since I started this blog, thanks to everyone who left a comment or sent me a tweet with a suggestion. I’ve tried to add as many in as I can, with the result that the list is now out of control and needs to be categorised – a job for another day!  If you have any suggestions, remember I’m looking for more places that are a little off the beaten tourist track. Foodie recommendations welcome too! 

  • The Chester Beatty Library – this was suggested numerous times, and hadn’t really been on my radar. Described as “a nice contemplative space” and as a relaxing venue to pass a couple of hours, it sounds right up my street. And it has books. Well, at least I think it has. And a pretty decent café, if the rumours are to be believed.
  • Phoenix Park – it might sound obvious, but I’ve spent relatively little time in the Phoenix Park in my time here, and haven’t visited the Áras since I was 12. There are free tours of the Aras on Saturdays, incidentally, so I might stick my name down and re-aquaint myself with my old college buddy, Sabine. The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre is meant to be worth a nose too. And an afternoon on the bike hunting deer sounds like fun. (What do you mean, you’re not allowed to do that? )
  • The Blessington Basin – I had no idea this ever existed. At first glance, it looks like a reservoir. I can do reservoirs. On the list. And it has ducks. I like ducks. Can you hunt ducks? No…? Oh.
  • The Douglas Hyde Gallery – again, somewhere that hadn’t been on my radar. (I’m beginning to think that I’m vastly uncultured.)  It has paintings. I like paintings.
  • Tour of Leinster House. This had been on my radar. Ohh yes. In fact, I think I may just leave this one until I can be sure there are some TDs knocking around. You can definitely hunt TDs. Right?
  • The Pearse Museum, Rathfarnham – I live near this, but naturally, I didn’t know it existed either. It’s like I walk around all day with a blindfold on. Anyway, it sounds interesting – it’s the school Padraig Pearse used to run,  and it has lovely grounds so I’ll be paying it a visit too.
  • The Cake Café – this is a secret, magical, oasis-like place in the city centre that sells cake. Except it’s not so secret now that I’ve told you lot. Still, nobody reads this blog, so I don’t expect it’ll be overrun with new secret cake-oasis-seekers any time soon.
  • St Michan’s Church. Now this sounds DEADLY. It has over 1,000 years of history, it had stocks (which I am all for bringing back into use, preferably outside Leinster House during tour times) and there are crypts. With dead people. I like dead people. They don’t answer back or make false economic promises.
  • Glasnevin Cemetery. I’m aware that this list has taken a rather macabre turn, but I’m okay with that. Lots of really, really cool dead people hang out in Glasnevin Cemetery. It’s Ireland’s largest non-denominational cemetery with 1.5 million burials, and is officially known as Prospect Cemetery. You can touch Daniel O’Connell’s coffin while you’re there, and if that’s not the coolest thing to do in Dublin on a Thursday afternoon, I don’t know what is. Kavanagh’s Gravediggers pub nearby (if you can find it) apparently serves a top-notch pint. And good food. Anderson’s off Griffith Avenue is also apparently a good spot for nosh, I’m told by someone In The Know.
  • The National Botanic Gardens – a gorgeous free attraction which, incidentally, backs onto Glasnevin Cemetery, and as luck would have it, they’re after many years of debate, installing a path between the two. Immaculately kept all year, the beauty of the Gardens is that you can visit in every season and be assured of a different view. Be sure to check out the huge glasshouses – you’ll feel like you’re in the rainforest. And the cafe is lovely too.
  • Malahide Castle and Gardens – I’ve been here before, but never in the castle itself. The grounds are great though, with lots of woods and walks. Sadly, the Fry model railway museum has closed (if anyone has any update on this, that would be great. I like trains too). On the list to revisit.
  • The Hugh Lane Gallery. It houses works by  Louis le Brocquy, Jack B Yeats, Francis Bacon and Harry Clarke, among others. There’s nothing I love more than losing myself in an art gallery for an afternoon, so this is one I’m really looking forward to.
  • The National Archaeology Museum. The only thing more interesting than hanging out with dead people is hanging out with stuff dead people used to use. And there’s some super old-looking stuff here. A nice way to pass an afternoon. And it’s FREE, as are all the National Museums of Ireland – Collins Barracks in particular being worth a trip.
  • The National Library of Ireland. I want to visit here purely because I follow these guys on twitter and they sound like the nicest people in the universe. And as well as having lots of interesting stuff they have a cafe with food and talks and wine. I love it already.
  • The Science Gallery – “a venue where today’s white-hot scientific issues are thrashed out and you can have your say. A place where ideas meet and opinions collide” – don’t neutrons also collide, and stuff? (Or perhaps I’m in urgent need of a visit to educate myself.) This place sounds very exciting altogether and it’s also FREE to visit. Exhibitions change quite often though, so checking in advance is a must before travelling.
  • IMMA, or the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Having worked pretty much beside this for the last three months, the building and the gardens have been tantalisingly tempting me from the window.  I went to see Blur in the garden this week, and figure it’d be rude not the pay the amazing building a visit. This will be one of the first places on my list.
  • Somewhere I never knew existed, but somewhere I now can’t wait to see, is Casino Marino. I’m told it’s an architectural delight, and they’re another crew who seem to know how to work the social media thing, which always endears me, so this is somewhere I’ll be visiting sooner rather than later.
  • Since we’ve been lucky enough to live in relatively peaceful times, I’m not sure I know or appreciate nearly enough about the Irish people who fought in wars down the years, so I figure the Irish National War Memorial Gardens  is a good spot to learn a bit. Edywn Lutyens who designed it considered it a “glorious site”, so I’m sure I shall too.
  • The Gallery of Photography. While I’m pretty useless at taking photos myself, other people’s mesmerise me. I love seeing real life moments captured in one fleeting flash of immortality. Plus there’s an intriguing exhibition on called Uncertain State, which looks at how photographic artists are representing this austere, uncertain time in Ireland’s history. Nearby are the National Photographic Archives, also worth a look.
  • Speaking of Archives, the National Archives on Bishop Street, off Kevin Street sound intriguing – they hold the records of the modern Irish State “which document its historical evolution and the creation of our national identity”. History there on paper in front of your eyes. There’s also a genealogy service.
  • If print is your thing, you might enjoy the National Print Museum. Particularly if you’re a heavy user of digital, like myself. I love the look of the building too. And I like fonts.
  • For a rainy afternoon, there are two great cinema experiences in the city centre. The Irish Film Institute (IFI) provides audiences with access to the finest independent, Irish and international cinema. And – bonus – they serve food, and it’s great. And they serve beer. The Lighthouse Cinema  is a specialist, art house cinema committed to programming the best Irish and international films, and it too is a great space, with its own bar.
  • Living the Lockout – the Dublin Tenement Experience was recommended by a friend. An event to commemorate the centenary of the 1913 Lockout, it  aims to give you “a rare opportunity to see inside an undisturbed tenement property and get a taste of life 100 years ago in Dublin”. It’s not suitable for children, which suggests it could pack a punch or two. It’s also very reasonably priced, and is finishing its run on 31st August.
  • Outdoorsy stuff – I’ve been told I need to head out to Howth for a day and climb to Howth Head, and afterwards stuff my face in one (or more) of the great seafood restaurants out there. Fortunately I’ve already done this numerous times, but if you haven’t, you should. The Bloody Stream is a great spot for pub grub and I believe if you’re on a budget, the Doghouse Café opposite is BYO.
  • More outdoorsy stuff – the Irish Canoe Union do lessons during the summer months, in the Strawberry Beds, Lucan and on the Liffey. If you like to paddle your own canoe and discover you have an aptitude, The Liffey Descent may even lie in your future.
  • One place I do intend to take a trip out to Howth for is the Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio (what a great name!). Based in Howth’s Martello Tower (North #2!), they museum exhibits radios and gramophones from the early 1900’s to present day, They’re also on twitter where they form a great double act with the James Joyce Tower in Sandycove, another place on my list. Tower rivalry FTW!
  • I didn’t include Kilmainham Gaol on my list originally, purely because I’ve been there twice myself, but if you haven’t been it’s a truly memorable experience that won’t leave you in a hurry. Access by guided tour only – get there early; it’s worth it and it will leave its mark.
  •  For over 1,000 years of history, go visit Christ Church Cathedral and environs. Say hello to Strongbow, and learn about the Vikings in nearby Dublinia. Christ Church is really awesome – and if you can get in there for one of the recitals, do.
  • Rathfarnham Castle, the Dublin Mountains, especially the Hellfire Club and Massey’s Forest, and the bottle tower near Nutgrove.
  • St. Anne’s Park over in Raheny has been mentioned to me, by virtue of its award-winning rose garden.
  • The Sunday Market in the People’s Park in Dun Laoghaire is a gem, and having tried the falafel, I can vouch for this.

Tours and guides

  • I’m told that Ingenious Ireland go great guides – I haven’t checked them out but they claim on their website to celebrate Irish inventions & discoveries, with really interesting Dublin guided tours, talks, downloads & e-book.

This is just a short list of things that have been suggested to me to see, but of course there are many more and I’m trying to update this weekly.  Again, if you have suggestions, please pop them in the comments below and I’ll add them in – this is a work in progress!

Dates with Dublin

So, as I wrote in my last post, life is pretty good these days.

But it’s still a life in transition career-wise as both of my short-term contracts come to an end – one this week and one in a month’s time, and I face a potential return to the dole queue which worries me more than I care to admit.  Anyway, I’m hoping it won’t come to that (anyone, if you’re reading, please employ me. I can count, add, make excellent tea and I write good and stuff) but in the meantime, I have one month of part-time employment ahead which means one month of work-less afternoons. I don’t like having too much free time on my hands, so I’ve come up with a project to make use of that time.

I’ve lived in Dublin for six years now, and while it’s been reasonably good to me, it’s just somewhere I live, not somewhere I love.  I’m a west of Ireland girl, and I’m passionate about that part of the country – it’s where my heart and soul lie, but lately I’ve wondered whether I’ve been a bit unfair on Dublin. Like a nice lad you go on a date with but aren’t really too bothered about, I can’t help feeling that maybe I haven’t scratched the surface, and given Dublin enough of a chance to grow on me. I might just be missing out.

So for the month of August I’m going to explore the city, spend a bit of time with it and get to know it a little better. It’ll be on a budget, but they say money can’t buy happiness. We won’t be going to the best restaurants, nor drinking the finest wine, but perhaps a clear head will mean clearer vision. Nor will we be transported in style – it’ll be a two-wheel system mostly, but fresh air is good for the soul and the waistline.

Starting from next Tuesday, I’ll be visiting places that have either been on my own list of things to do for a while, or places I didn’t know existed, that have been recommended to me by friends or by the wonderfully helpful folk over on twitter. I’m looking for the places that help me learn about Dublin’s past, and tell me about the people who live and have lived here. I’m also quite enthusiastic about eating lovely food on a budget, so hoping to unearth a couple of thrifty treasure troves. I’m going to be a tourist in my own city. I don’t count photography as one of my skills, but I’ll take the odd photo, and may even write a line or three if somewhere really tickles my fancy.

If you have any suggestions for places I could go that you think I’ll like, please leave them in the comments below.

Dublin, I look forward to our first date.

Here’s a list of suggestions I’ve come up with and received. It’s been no means comprehensive, but it’s a great start and enough to keep me busy for a while. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to add them in! 

My 10k adventure – and a thank you

Two months ago, I took a mad notion and decided I’d run 10km for charity.

Okay, I lie. I did no such thing. I decided I’d repeat the efforts of previous years, and sign up for the Women’s Mini-Marathon, do some token training – consisting of running 500m down the road and back while feeling faintly ridiculous – for the week preceding the big event. Then I’d turn up on the day, togged out like a pro. I’d jog a little and feel smugly fit and healthy before starting to wheeze, and would happily succumb to a(n albeit brisk) walking pace around the 2k mark. Then I’d finish triumphantly by jogging across the line at a respectable 1 hour 40 minutes and head to the pub to smugly celebrate my achievement.

This year was different, though.

I work for a large multinational corporation. I’ll openly admit that this is not necessarily the career path I’d have chosen as a young idealist, but it’s worked out well for me. While I work hard, and sometimes excessively long hours, I consider myself pretty lucky that I can work with some great clients who do fantastic work in the social arena. I’m glad that as part of my day job that I get to meet people who inspire me, and I’m grateful that I’m able to play a very small part in helping them achieve their aims more effectively and successfully.

One of the single biggest positives of my job is that as part of our corporate social responsibility programme, I with a small team of others have been able to work closely with the wonderful people at LauraLynn House, Ireland’s first – and only – Hospice for terminally ill children. Social responsibility programmes within big multinationals sometimes get a bad rap among cynics, who suggest they smell a little of tokenism and are simply part of an effort to generate positive PR, but I say, if I can contribute to a cause like LauraLynn House, even to a tiny extent, as part of my day job, then that’s good enough for me.

I’m sure by now that most of you have heard Jane and Brendan McKenna’s tragic story, but if not, you can read it here where you can also find out a little more about the work that the Children’s Sunshine Home and LauraLynn House do.

Three weeks ago, I was confronted with an image on the front of the Irish Independent that stopped me in my tracks. Tiny baby Leo McWade, aged 6 months old, gazing up at his dad with his beautiful big eyes, had been born with an inoperable heart defect. Told he would have very little time, his parents, Catherine and John had brought him home to care for him side by side with his twin sister Molly. I won’t deny that I cried when I read of his dad John’s feeling of panic when, on a particularly awful night, he phoned the hospital desperately looking for help and was told not to bring him in, that there was nothing they could do. I don’t have children, but I can only imagine the how horrifying that feeling of helplessness must have been.

John and Catherine subsequently moved into LauraLynn House with Leo and Molly, where Leo has received specialist care. The twins are now six months old. John, during his interview with the Irish Independent marvels at Leo’s resilience. “Now we have gotten to know this little boy. We can hold him and he looks up at me and he smiles”, he says. They can now tell Leo’s little sister that they did everything they could for him.

I hope John and Catherine don’t mind me telling their story here. But I don’t mind saying that nothing I have ever read has affected me so much. I hope Catherine and John get some more time with their little boy, and when the time comes, I hope sincerely that they’ll get the support they need at such a terrible time.

LauraLynn House is a wonderful facility. In their recently-opened new hospice building, they’ve thought of everything. It’s full of natural light. The bedrooms are decorated so as to make them feel as homely as possible. While every room houses essential medical equipment such as hoists, they are discreetly housed behind doors so as not to serve as a reminder that this is a medical environment. Large recliners beside beds enable tired parents to rest in comfort. Computer screens where staff can access medical records double as interactive screens for children to play games. There are guest rooms, with small kitchens where families can avail of privacy and retain some dignity at that most terrible of times. And in the most poignant of additions, there is a beautiful room called the Butterfly Suite, where children close to death are brought to die with their families around them. Importantly, LauraLynn House is not a sad place, nor is its sister organisation, the Children’s Sunshine Home. Though the facilities between provide care and respite for hundreds of children and parents, they are places of light and laughter.

LauraLynn House receives NO direct government funding. Not a cent. Apart from some funds diverted from the state contributions towards the Children’s Sunshine home, on whose grounds LauraLynn House sits, the hospice relies solely on the goodwill of fundraisers to pay its staff, and maintain its buildings and equipment. Running costs for the Hospice amount to over €2m annually. That’s a lot of money to raise.

When I read baby Leo’s story, I’d already started fundraising. I’d already raised quite a bit, having beaten my original target of €250, which I’d thought ambitious when I set it. But reading this made me more determined than ever. So I started to make a nuisance of myself, and it paid off. I’ve known from years of getting soaked outside churches while shaking buckets and selling raffle tickets at table quizzes, that we as a nation are an incredibly and unerringly generous people. I’ll always remember the old gentleman with no coat and a jumper that had seen better days who, outside a north Dublin church on a freezing cold, rainy night with a shy nod pressed a €50 note into my collection bucket. Once people are asked, they almost always respond with genuine enthusiasm for a good cause. But when times are that bit harder, and money is tight, I’d have understood if people were more reticent. I was prepared for that. But the opposite proved to be the case. In the end, I’ve managed to raise over €1,200 for LauraLynn House, and to say I’m delighted is an understatement.

One of the most amazing elements of my fundraising effort was the response I got from my efforts to promote the cause using social media. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m  an avid fan of twitter. I’ve been using it for about three years, and during that time (once the initial rite-of-passage novelty of celeb-following wore off), I’ve gathered over 1500 followers, and enjoyed thousands of fascinating, bite-size conversations with people from all walks of life on lots of interesting topics. (And politics.) I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting some people who I can now safely say will be friends for life. But despite my already strong conviction that the people you meet on twitter are among the best you’ll ever find, nothing could have prepared me for the response I got there to my fundraising efforts. In total, nearly half amount came from people who follow me on twitter. Astoundingly, a third came from people I’ve never even met. Some even passed my fundraising page on to friends and colleagues who in turn, also contributed.

Just… wow.

So when I togged out last Monday, I felt I owed it to those who donated to put in a bit of effort, over and above my usual laid-back ambling through the route. Work commitments meant training time was minimal, so I approached the day with some apprehension. (By minimal, I mean non-existent.) An old injury didn’t help, but along with a good (and annoyingly, infinitely fitter) friend of mine, I vowed I’d give it socks. (I even bought special socks for the occasion.) The first kilometre was a breeze. I was starting to wonder what the big deal about running was. By 2k, I was getting a wee bit sweaty. At 3k, I was starting to wheeze and feel a bit dizzy. By 5k, parts of me I didn’t know existed were starting to hurt, and I had to slow down for a bit. (By slow down, I mean stagger to the nearest water station and consider catching a bus.) Around the 7k mark I was definitely starting to hallucinate and reminiscent of the Lenten episode of Father Ted where everything appears to Ted to be a giant cigarette, I was having visions of tantalisingly cold pints of liquid. (Swithwicks.) The firemen cheering us on at Donnybrook at the 8km mark bolstered the spirits somewhat, despite being somewhat of a distraction. By 9k, every single part of me, including my eyeballs hurt (and didn’t stop hurting for four days). But I crossed the 10k mark having managed to run a good 90% of the route, and clocked a time of 1hr 18 minutes. Not exactly impressive, but bearing in mind that I absolutely detest running and avoid it at every opportunity, I was pretty damn chuffed with myself. I was so chuffed that I even contemplated running a victory lap around the Green.

So, this post is a thank you. To anyone who made a donation to the cause, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. I’m humbled by your generosity towards what is a wonderful cause. LauraLynn House value every cent of the money you donated. But in addition to that, the past few weeks served to remind me that despite all the negativity and cynicism that pervades the news, the papers and our everyday discourse, there is still an intrinsic goodness in us, and a desire within us to help out others less fortunate than ourselves. And it’s for that reminder that I’m even more grateful.

You can read John McWade’s interview with the Irish Independent here.