Castles, courtyards and dreamy, meandering rivers featured in my few days in the Irish county of Tipperary this August. There was sunshine, morning mists, fairies in forests and exhibitions about the work of Irish women in politics as well as their roles back in the day. I was impressed. I also had a shopping expedition in Clonmel, buying some round colourful Kilkenny glasses, a bright yellow oil cloth and a lamp full of bubbling water and plastic fish which I bought as a memorial to our Cat and Angel fish whose heads were chopped off at Easter in a mercy killing event. We had cared for them for nearly ten years…and the kitchen corner where the fish tank used to live looked a little bare. This tube of bubbling water which changes colour (blue, red, purple and white) and has swimming plastic fish, is perfect.
So, I am back in Cavan, with my purchases, school has returned, the leaves are turning, and it seems poetry is beginning to lift its head above the parapet. I am reading ‘live’ in Bailieborough in September at a Poetry Town event (thanks to Poetry Ireland) with Northern neighbours, John D Kelly and Teresa Godfrey, both of whom published into the Pandemic. I am also thinking of running a poetry workshop in the autumn which will focus on Poets Living in Ireland Today, and I am having my third poetry collection, Elsewhere, published by an English publisher, Windle and Dempsey (isn’t it a great name?) under the imprint of Vole in November 21. So, the news is good! I am so grateful to Salmon Poetry who have agreed to publish my fourth collection in Spring 23 instead of my third and the experience so far with Vole has been very positive.
I am ‘sort of’ looking forward to the Elsewhere launch (more details later) but, I still feel hesitant, as if I’m walking through the shallows of a salty sea filled with lion mane jellyfish (they descended on our west coast this summer). I am not scared of getting Covid, but I feel anxious about re-engaging with the world. After all this time ranting and railing about being locked down, my little corner in Cavan, suddenly, seems attractive – no jellyfish, floods, soaring temperatures, forest fires, riots, revolutions here, though I did bring back a freshly picked Lion’s Mane mushroom rather than jellyfish from the Limerick Milk Market. I will fry and eat it tonight. Apparently, if I weigh it down with a cast iron pan while frying it lightly in oil, it turns into a steak! The magic qualities of the mushroom! Here’s a mushroom poem!
of green twigs and leaves, a fractured maze of beech and ash,
a scurry of leaping squirrels. Green ivy and lichen
floor the forest as I scrabble, bent through the crumble
of leaf and soil. A wriggle of skin wings crawl
from the myriad of rhizomes and roots.
My fingers penetrate earth. I scrabble deep
beyond the mycelial barrier,
to the intergalactic ecosystem below
and above that blows my mind.
While talking of food, would you believe I have been cooking a lot of Ottolenghi dishes this summer from his cook book SIMPLE. When my daughter gave it to me for my birthday, my heart sank, but it really is fab, different, and the ingredients easily available. Highly recommended. While I’m recommending books, my copy of the Happy Pear – Recipes for Happiness is completely food splashed and stained. Maybe in the next blog, I’ll let you know about books I enjoyed during the pandemic. I read over 85 books (not including cookbooks) and did little reviews of each. Looking back at it, it’s quite eclectic!
It is brighter outside in Cavan today, but still raining. Yesterday, I got drenched while out walking my dog, Poppins. My red dress dripped a trail of pink splashes around the stony path of the golf course at the Farnham Estate. But before that, last week, in the sunshine, it was as if I had jumped into a chalked up pavement picture, and was riding a carrousel of dreams, to borrow an image from Mary Poppins.
It is hard to believe that I was ever strolling along the tow path of the river Barrow between Graiguenamanagh and Borris, sniffing in the creamy scent of the willow blossom, bathing in its green waters, and sipping pints of bitter shandy on its banks. The gardens of the occasional lock houses along the way were filled with reds, blues, purples and yellows of roses, camellias, summer lilac, hydrangeas, fuscia, buddlia, forest flames.
Or that just two days ago, I was at Ballyjamesduff Museum, lying out on the lawn, eating salmon salad with beetroot wraps, drinking lovely leitrim cocktails, listening to live blue grass jazz at the launch of our new project, Drominn Creative.
(By the way, Drominn Creative is going to make Cavan the most sought after holiday destination in Ireland soon. We are bringing together local artists and businesses, local eateries and hotels to make sure that our visitors and guests are given the opportunity to sample the best of Cavan. Who wouldn’t like to traverse Loch Outer on a canoe, one evening, with a delicious picnic made of local produce, while listening to local musicians playing on the shore or spend an afternoon rambling around the Cavan Burren listening to old legends and poems while local cocktails are shaken up – but this blog isn’t an advert, so I shall stop meandering.)
Yes, the last two weeks have been the stuff of dreams that for nearly two years have been non-existent. And it seems dreamlike because, to me, the world still seems a dangerous place, despite my being double vaccinated and having a digital Covid pass. Somehow, that seems irrelevant when I hear about the Israeli Pegasus phone hacking device which enable governments who purchase it, to target their ‘terrorists’, (our ‘journalists’); when I hear about the massive increase in the profits of the tech companies; when I see fires and floods rage across the world because of climate change; when the delta variant is still on the rampage.
Maybe it will take time for me to summon the energy to wholly re-surface, but bit by bit, I am sure I will. Baby steps along the river Borris and at Cavan Museum will get me there. And Brad Blanks. He contacted me yesterday after reading my blog. It seems he is an Aussie Ennals, now living in New York, working in radio, and he loves my blog. This is why I’m writing this, now, after a such a long dry period. His enthusiasm spurred me on. It seems both our great grandfathers originated in Birmingham…or Walsall, to be more precise. I wonder if he has seen Peaky Blinders. Anyway, thank God for family. Family is always good to give you a kick up the arse and start you moving…whomever they are and wherever they come from.
We crept away, not telling a soul. We left at dawn, phoned my son, told him to meet us there. Doonbeg, Clare.
Late Afternoon Yoga on the White Strand with my Daughter
Under the cliff, near the lapping shore,
my daughter, turned downward dog into cat cow
Her taut, lithe body framed itself into warrior three
contorted back into crab and stretched into tree.
Her hands reached into the kippered clouds
rippling in pink across the late afternoon sea.
Meantime, above, a flow of black and white cattle,
with shuddering udders, meandered, full of shape
and sway, from the field at the top of the beach
to a milking shed, flicking tails, leaking shit.
The waft and vision sent our dogs into a paroxysm
of heaven, terror and joy, barking and yapping.
At the sound of the mayhem, we leapt with alacrity
to leash our mutts, chasing and shouting ‘stop that’,
‘come here’. Order restored, we apologised, admonished our pets
who flopped down, tongues lolling, unrepentant;
We resumed our positions, Roisin in child’s pose, me
smoking a cigarette, but the zen moment was ruined.
The Pollock Hole in Kilkee
It was early morning
A man’s bare pale skin puckered,
red with goosebumps.
He chatted to his young son
in no rush to leave or clothe himself.
Behind, in the sunlight,
the pollock glistened in the flat granite rock
both alluring and frightful at the same time
It’s balmy, he joked.
My daughter undressed and crouched, preparing.
The man and boy left.
I stepped away, traversing the plateau of black and grey
dotted with light. I sniffed the bright blue and yellow
cold wind snipped at my ankles
the town quiet at the prom.
I circled back to the pollock.
She was still on the rock
I waited. She plunged. I saw her legs kick
Her mouth gasp, her arms flail.
It’s so cold, she wailed, but wonderful
I wanted to go in
But my heart failed.
O’Brien’s Cottage, Doonbeg
The kitchen table dominated the room
Long, bleached, four two inch wooden panels of pine
detracting even from the ancient range
we set it with two vases of flowers
Salad, sausages, fried potatoes
Cheese and wine
a family on the cusp of turning
Through the thick cottage walls
and small windows, fingers of sun reached in
Spreading sea, salt, and scrubby grass
My tummy gurgled in glee
at the pitch of conversation
forming familiar patterns
around a kitchen table
after so long in silence
staring alone at the TV
Cavan is a gorgeous county, the constant change of light is fabulous, the fiery pinks, the opaque greens, the cut glass blues. The autumnal woods and forests weave magnificent spells of red, orange, yellow in jewelled mists, and the lakes loom mysterious or rain down from clouds, watching, like glinting eyes.
Yes, I live in a handy place (close to town and to country) so my walks around can lead me past shop keepers standing in their doorways, trying to sell stock from behind a desk, town parks with huddled ominous looking teenagers in the distance, smoking and drinking cans or I can amble out into the above mentioned wilderness. indeed, this year Cavan has been the centre, not only of my Ireland but my universe; Sadly, the problem was it was only peopled by me and however hard I try, I cannot provide myself with everything I need. I am not witty enough to come up with the sparkling repartee and banter I enjoy, and even if I do cast the odd comment, the radio doesn’t respond.
During these days, there was always something to do: read, write a poem, walk the dog, paint a picture, play piano, bake a cake, prepare the dinner, watch TV, do a puzzle, zoom, do Duo Lingo (I’m in the top 1% in French) though I quickly gave up on the crosswords. But, however much I did or do, in lockdown, I feel like I’m doing it while moving through treacle.
I came to realise how much time I spend of my life planning – planning outings, arranging journeys, scheming appointments – and how much time I spend enjoying looking forward to such events. It seems my sense of self is formed by these excursions. I am someone. I am going somewhere. I have an objective, a meaning. When I am not able to do them, my sense of self esteem collapses, and I am not woman enough to pick up the pieces. Treacle takes over. And I wade. When one wades one loses clarity, the sharper definition of one’s life disappears. When I become a ‘one’, I lose individuality. I feel as if I have moved into Beckett territory and I don’t like it there. I think Beckett is best kept on the page.
So, as we headed towards the end of lockdown at the end of November, I started scheming. I was heading to Dublin. I was going to see my daughter’s new home, I was going to spend a weekend in Limerick with my son. But I was nervous. Driving, I was alert, planning my reasons, rationalising my justifications in case I was stopped by the Garda. There were masks in the glove compartment, in my bag, in the doors, behind the sun visor. Having arrived, I breathed a sigh of relief. When I first saw my daughter, I burst into tears. I held her tight, surprised by the sobs racking my body, and then I realised she was sobbing too. Our stomachs were heaving into each other as I clung to her. It was then I became aware that however much I was isolated, I wasn’t alone. While hugging and sobbing, I could feel the colour seeping back into my veins, and I couldn’t let her go until I was full of her purples, blues, whites and pinks.
This is my first blog for a while. I think it is the first time I have missed writing a monthly blog since I started writing them in 2013. The Corona Virus has attacked my central nervous system. It feels as if my veins have got twisted, and acid is leaking lethargic-like from my battery, but I am aware that I am lucky to have escaped so lightly.
During the lock down I tried to keep focus – keep the hours in order, the day ship shape but, presumably like everyone else, the long road seemed to be full of mountainous S bends and dazzling drops. Over the months, I think I must have taken a wrong turn, slipped under a barrier without knowing, and slid down a snake! But the good news is I appear to be back at GO, for I have just had a few lovely weekends, so I have something to blog about. I am sorry for the terrible mixed metaphors… Obviously, I’m not at my peak of literary writing!
The Corona Virus did make me realise how flimsy and translucent are the protective coverings that I had created for myself over my sixty years of living, forty years of work and thirty years of parenting. It showed me how quickly everything can dissemble. Over the years, I thought I’d been garnering experience, maturity, wisdom even, but it turns out I was only preening and the real fact of the matter is that on some days I felt as raw as I did when a teenager or else, more worrying, I felt nothing. What also surprised me is that, aside from a sense of agitation, which I think everyone felt being locked in, I was unable to prevent my slide into this weary state of being.
Feeling nothing is alarming. During Corona, I filled my days, as I think I said in my last blog with books, puzzles, piano learning, some online workshops, volunteering, walking, learning French, cooking; I even wrote the odd poem but, somehow despite this enforced activity, my heart slipped away. I felt like an old turtle on her back, still plodding but now unable to move, stuck.
With the relaxing of the lockdown, it has got easier. Today, I was going to blog about the wonderful weekend in Limerick with Joe where we spent our time making a garden of his tiny outdoor space and last Saturday and Sunday when Roisin, Joe and I went the beach in Brittas Bay, walked, swam and camped in Roisin’s new old VW camper. I was going to blog about hope and new beginnings. But the thing is, I’m more aware of those damned snakes and I feel too old to enjoy the thrill of the S bends even with spectacular views. I did have a lovely time in Limerick and Brittas Bay, but back in Cavan, I still feel at a slight loss as to what to do. Had to go and buy another puzzle today. My progress across the snakes and ladders board is slow. But, look, I’m writing this blog, and throwing the dice…so… let’s remember, along with the snakes are rabbits and tortoises and all that….
The pleasures of books, chocolate, pies, piano playing and puzzles are the fancy curlicues of my life since Covid 19 sauntered in, alongside the grim gargoyles of death, disease, social distancing, not to mention the endemic usage of phrases like ‘strange times’ and ‘stay safe’. Life is so strangely balanced between light and dark, don’t you think?
Colum McCann’s latest book, Apeirogon, A Novel, is a story of balance. It must have been a labour of love to write. It is observant, astute, intelligent, detailed yet freewheeling, tight but unwieldy at the same time. As I say, a labour of love, certainly to read, but I am glad I did. I am currently reading Isobel Allende’s A Long Petal of Sea about the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the life of a Spanish émigré, a medic, who travelled on the Winnipeg, organised by Chilean poet, Neruda, to carry the Spanish refugees to Chile. Again, the book depicts the horrors of disease and death caused and encountered by human kind. I must say, as I get older, death and illness seem have a more tenacious hold on my life
During our own war on Covid 19, I have found the clamour of Facebook too much to bear, so have had to keep away from social media. I also lack the impetus to write, but I force myself to pen the odd charming poem about walking in the woods, Spring time and loneliness. However, in the main, I have retreated, cocooned myself, you could say, in the back rooms of the bungalow to re-piece together our globe by doing a puzzle of the world as depicted by all the continents and their habitats. I also practice my piano scales. Somehow, playing piano scales, the scale of C in particular, gives me a stronger sense of control over days which pass in mindless contemplation. I imagine myself as the piano player in Sarajove, except I’m in Cavan and, sadly for my neighbours, the scale of C is not as melodic as the Adagio in G Minor.
Funnily, enough music chimes strong in another book I have read during this time, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It too is strangely redolent of our current experience of isolation and confusion. It tells of a large group of industrialists and foreign dignitaries listening to a recital by a world renowned opera singer. They are kidnapped and kept prisoner in the vice presidential palace over a period of two months. It is beautifully written and shows how people adapt to their circumstances, and if given time, silence, and a different environment, people will carve their own particular significance and being into the dynamic.
Family quizzes feature on a weekly basis. I organise zoom poetry sessions between old friends and so while I might not be writing much, poetry does feature. I listen to The Verb, a wonderful arts programme on Radio Three and am currently reading a book where Helen Mort writes poems in response to philosophical papers, again a rather odd coincidence given the philosophical bent of physical isolation. It is a rather fine volume called Poems, Philosophy and Coffee. Family and old friends feature more in my daily life –if at a distance – that is people who have experienced the times I consider to be my real, actual life and not just the days that have passed with me in them, as the current days do.
So, I almost didn’t write this month’s blog: the week in Portugal didn’t happen, nor the Cork Poetry Festival, nor the Trim Weekend. There have been no visits to Dublin, Limerick or anywhere. There was no Easter Egg hunt. However, as it turns out, and it always does when I put pen to paper, that I have been engaged, absorbed, and as Ann Patchett illustrates in Bel Canto, I have carved out a new life…and I haven’t even got to the pastry making or the delicious liver and bacon casseroles I’ve been making nor the endless games of solo boggle!
It has been 21 days since Leo Vradkar first appeared on TV and announced school closures and other cautionary measures around tackling the Corona Virus. I had been watching Boris earlier, so when Leo came on, I was very proud and relieved to be an Irish citizen. He brought tears to my eyes. The only other person who has been able to do that was Stephen Spielberg with ET back in the 1980s when I found myself weeping uncontrollably in the cinema, while laughing manically at this manipulation of my tear ducts. It was a similar experience on my living room sofa on the 27 March. Fortunately, because I already lived in social isolation, no one saw.
Social isolation has its benefits…as maybe people are beginning to recognise. There are more people exercising, smiling and waving while also keeping their distance. There is a great feeling of camaraderie. The community is sharing food, making deliveries to those who need it. No longer is it shameful to feel lonely, for everyone is feeling lonely or frightened. There are new forms of engagement. I am doing quizzes on-line with family. I am in contact with friends who before I would speak to only occasionally. Social distancing in supermarkets means a much more enjoyable shopping experience where one has time and space to ponder and choose.
My days haven’t changed dramatically due to Covid 19 because as a writer/poet, and retired person living in Cavan, they don’t really involve other people. I wake up, write or edit what I’m working on, get up, take the dog for a walk, listen to podcasts, have lunch while listening to the radio, read a book, listen to more radio, clean, shop, cook, watch TV and back to bed. After a few weeks of this routine, I do get what I term ‘Cavan Fever’. However, I am usually able to offset that with a visit to Limerick or Dublin, or a book launch or some poetry festival somewhere. Obviously, the Corona Virus has stopped that travel. So, after twenty one days of ever increasing restrictions and walking around in ever decreasing circles, it feels as if my eyes are beginning to dart side to side, my hair is standing up on end, and my skin is feeling prickly. These are the physical symptoms I feel.
But, I wonder at this physical reaction because the quality of my day to day life is good. Since Leo made his first announcement, I have given myself ‘permissions’ which for some reason I didn’t before. I decided to learn piano, to improve my mind by studying The Guardian Crosswork (Simple and Cryptic), to do puzzles, to paint, to allow myself cake and chocolate. I feel guilty saying it while all around me the world collapses, but my life is good. The restrictions on movement make me feel twitchy, but when hundreds of thousands of people are dying across the world, twitchy is grand. Okay, when I watch the news, I feel sick. The emergency hospitals going up in Central Park in New York, in London exhibition centres, in grand Piazzas in Italy and Spain are horrifying to see, but by the same token, it is wonderful to see people come together, work and respond as one – as a society. Why does it take such calamity for us to improve our lives, both as a society and as individuals?
There is so much discussion about Covid 19 – is it earth’s natural solution to the tyranny of mankind. I don’t want to add to that, but for me there is an uncomfortable question inherent in the unfolding Corona virus scenario that we need to consider. In the future, how do we make our society reflect the values around human rights that Covid 19 has shown us all to hold?
I am lucky. I don’t know anyone who is ill. The Irish lock down has presumably stemmed the spread of infection and the subsequent number of deaths. What I’d like to know is how we hold on to the benefits that the virus has shown us are possible without requiring the threat of death? Hopefully, the future Irish Government will reflect on this!
It seems that I haven’t stopped crying recently. I spent the weekend in London, and then the last few days in County Kerry and throughout this time I have required a constant stream of tissues which, unfortunately, I never had! The tears have been big, round rolling ones which spill involuntarily out of the eye. I usually tried to wipe them away before anyone saw. When I didn’t succeed, these tears led to big, embarrassed, foolish grins plastered on my face over which I had no control.
It all began when I returned to London to see The Boyfriend at the Chocolate Factory Theatre in Southwark. I flew into Gatwick and travelled into town. My brother, and his partner, my oldest childhood friends, various university friends, some with family, and my own daughter had already arrived at our pre show dinner, so when I sat down, I felt a little emotional at having my nearest and dearest so close at hand. I managed to keep my composure but of course the show itself triggered the lachrymose gland that would continue to leak for the next five days!
The Boyfriend provoked a variety of emotions – joyous nostalgia, horror at the unremitting sexism, and amusement at how successfully the production undermined its own sentiments through exageration. It was almost grotesque. The costumes were rich in jewels, glitter and shimmer. The ‘girls’ were pitch perfect in giggle and chatter, and Mme Dubonnet was a treat to behold. Her outfits were perfect and her acting was superb. The dancing was fabulous. I do recommend it, particularly for people of my generation though I have to say, at 60, we were the youngest in the audience.
When I was at Primary School, my class put on The Boyfriend. We were nine years old. Watching the performance, I quivered with retrospective embarrassment at how our porky, pre-pubescent bodies must have looked, kicking and twirling in our flapper costumes. Aged ten, I had little concept of irony so I think all those songs yearning for Pierrots and love, and boyfriends in Bloomsbury, probably have a lot to answer for!
The next day, Maria, Malcolm and I set off to Colchester to visit Martin and Kobi, who had turned down the invitation to The Boyfriend. Martin is one of my first loves and has recently returned from New Zealand (where he is now a citizen) and he and his Kiwi partner, Kobi, are buying a place in Colchester…don’t ask. Anyway, after driving around endless Colchester roundabouts and suburban posh streets in Storm Enrique, looking at the hundreds of houses they didn’t buy, we drove out to Mersea Island to a popular sea shack to eat gorgeous seafood. To get to Mersea Island, we had to cross a toll bridge over miles of brown, roiling, schlucking, glorious mud. Admittedly, there was actual water at the coastline with colourful, pretty boats jangling in the marina, but it was definitely offset by the grey sleeting curtain of wind and rain. The shack, however, was a shanty of delight: live, crawling lobsters in tanks, mussels, crabs, shrimps, tuna, herrings, salmon. We feasted well! Me, a little too well and while I managed to contain my tears, my stomach rued the over-indulgence as Malcolm, Maria and I drove on to stay their country pad in Suffolk.
I awoke on Saturday to storm Jorge (I don’t know what happened to the storms beginning with F, G and H) and at the crack of dawn, we left Suffolk (I was fully recovered) and returned to Sunny London where I was meeting another old friend, Lesley. At about six o’clock, after visiting a rather fine textile and costume exhibition at 2 Temple Place, a very bizarre mushroom exhibition in Somerset House, and rather fine David Bomberg and Nicholas Maes paintings at the National Gallery, we were crossing Shaftesbury Avenue on our way to an Indian Restaurant on Carnaby Street.
“Look, Mary Poppins is on at the theatre!” I said, suddenly very excited. Some of you may know that Mary Poppins is my heroine and role model. ‘Practically perfect in every way’ is my daily mantra. “Let’s just see,” I said, disappearing into the foyer. In a click of the fingers I had bought two top priced tickets for just half their value – Seat 13, Row D, in the stalls – and in one hour, we were gazing up with expectant faces and gappy grins.
It was a magnificent and spectacular performance. I have never seen a show like it. The sets were wonderfully detailed and very sophisticated. Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane was like a huge dolls house. Bert and the Chimney Sweeps tapped and swept across the roof tops, even up the sides and over the ceiling of the theatre, and Mary Poppins flew with her parrot umbrella across the auditorium. It was true magic. She sailed up the bannisters, pulled standard lamps from her glorious carpet bag, and with a click of her fingers righted the wrecked kitchen destroyed when Jane and Michael baked a cake. The dancing statues were magnificent, and I loved Mrs Correy’s Talking Shop. I couldn’t control the tears. They streamed down my cheeks in utter joy! The songs were fabulous and performances superb. Zizi Strallen was a wonderful Mary Poppins and Petula Clark was the bird lady. It was indeed, to my view, practically perfect.
The British Library, which is where I met Jayne on a lovely, sunny Sunday, was a less exuberant joy but still a pleasure. I loved the maps from the 16th century, the manuscripts you can browse through, written by the Brontes and other beloved English writers. From there, Jayne and I ambled our way through Bloomsbury, calling in at the lovely Persephone bookshop, past our old Alma Mater, Kingsway- Princeton FE college, through the ancient grave yard where my first real boyfriend used to meet me for kisses and joints, to the new Boulevard Theatre in Soho to go to a poetry reading. The poets were a mixed bunch, but the event is a weekly one run by a crew called Live Cannon which I will check out. I enjoyed it. It is a venue to look out for.
Then back to Maria and Malcolm’s and a Sunday dinner (no longer a tradition in our house at home) where I enjoyed heated discussions with Mary, their fervent and committedly vegan seventeen year old, about her school’s appalling policy on toilets for trans people and its undemocratic attitudes. I had forgotten how teenagers keep you on your toes.
Over the weekend, there had been much discussion about the Covid 19 virus in London. Mary’s school discovered one of the pupils was a possible threat and kept him in the stock cupboard until he could be collected, so I was relieved to be back on home territory in Ireland on Monday and driving down to Kerry to take part in my beautiful Citizenship Ceremony at 9.30am on Tuesday morning. Arriving in from London, it was as if I had spent the weekend saying my goodbyes to my British heritage.
Would you believe, I welled up during the Minister of State’s speech at 10am in the morning! Due to my previous work, I have heard many Minister of States speak; but I have never found myself so poignantly moved. After taking my oath of fidelity to the state, I openly wept when judge Mcmahon pronounced that I was now Irish. Tears coursed down my cheeks. I couldn’t fling my arms around my closest Irish compatriot because of the Corona virus, but I nodded with shining eyes and we decided to elbow nudge instead. I have lived here for twenty-five years, and have many friends and acquaintances. I have worked for State agencies and across the country in a community development capacity. I have been very active in my own local community in Cavan, but I have always felt as if I didn’t truly belong because I wasn’t Irish. Now I am!
So, my weekend was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. Being in London, spending time with my oldest friends in the place I was reared, visiting the landmarks of my youth, going to exhibitions and theatres reminds me of the girl I once was, and makes me feel safe. However, coming home to Ireland, receiving acknowledgement and acceptance of my life here as a mother, worker and woman and becoming a citizen of the land of saints and scholars was tremendous. You won’t believe this, but after the ceremony we took a drive through the Dunloe Gap of the stunning scenery of Macgillycuddy Reeks through blue skies, glorious sunshine and amazing black, formidable clouds. At the pass, I got out danced at the end of triple edged, watery rainbow!
I was at the Doolin Writers festival last weekend. Its my fourth year going to Doolin and the faces are becoming more familiar. I might even remember people’s names when I turn up next year. It’s strange how friendships evolve. I meet someone once a year in a workshop, share a few readings, become firm friends over a few drinks and then don’t see them again for a year or even two, and some people I don’t ever talk to, yet every year I feel a part of something at Doolin! I feel like a fish swimming in a shoal or a starling flying in a murmuration.
Usually, going to festivals, at first, I feel cautious, nervous like a rough sketch of a charcoal character, or a figure in one of Lowry’s paintings. Probably, it is what most people feel, but if the workshop facilitator is good, s/he is able to turn us all into fine art (not saying that Lowry is not fine art). This year the workshop facilitators were excellent and I was turned into a Yeats figure (particularly after a few in Fitz’s bar).
I loved Jessica Traynor’s Poetry Workshop. She is a very adept painter, to continue the metaphor. Her brush strokes were deft, detailed and loving. We discussed and wrote poems about winter – the cold, bleak rawness of winter. I had brought a poem of mine called the Grand Scheme of Things (after Arthur Rimbaud) to workshop. It is a poem about a slow realisation of how little our lives are in the grand scheme of things. It turned out to be the start of an interesting journey.
Pauline Clooney’s workshop on Memoir was fascinating and pointed me in a direction I wasn’t really expecting to take. When I was writing about the previous day, (as per one of Pauline’s exercises) I realised that I had not prepared for this writing weekend, it had merely been a date in my diary. In the morning, I had just got up, got the dog to the kennels, got in the car and driven . I couldn’t even remember which workshops I had signed up for. Describing my day, I suddenly realised that I had lost faith. It was also in the memoir workshop that I met my dad. From his bag he gave me a French baguette, a camembert and a bottle of wine so we sat down and shared it. It was an unexpected pleasure and made me realise how much I have missed him in the last thirty years. Kathy D’Arcy pushed me further down this self-reflective path on our Ginko walk on Sunday.
However, before that I went to Christodoulos Makris’ poetry workshop on experimental sampling which was brilliant. He was measured, gentle, quiet, a most unusual kind of rule breaker. I was still unaware at this stage but his workshop about breaking rules and patterns was to encourage me and gave me confidence to strike out on a slightly path. That path came with our Sunday morning walk with Kathy D’Arcy as a guide.
I had thought I was going for a wind swept guided walk over the cliffs of Moher – presumably Kathy would stop me taking selfies too near the edge. I was wrong – about Kathy and the Cliffs of Moher. The cliff path was closed due to the weather (it was wet and freezing) and Kathy pushed me over an edge I was not expecting.
Apparently, this was a walk involving exploration of self (remember, I had not prepared for this weekend). There were three parts to the walk and each section was to be walked in silence. The first section we had to think about our past. The second section we considered out present and in the final section we thought about the future, the goals we had, the challenges we were going to face. After each section we sat on a rock or a bench in the freezing chill winds and did some free writing – writing anything, without stopping.
I should mention at this point my feelings about the Doolin landscape. I think it is a startling one, but I find it unsettles me and this morning, it was particularly bleak, and cold. The harsh, sweeping winds, the vast grey sky was reflected in both the ocean and rocks of lime strewn around the land. The small white buildings scattered across stumpy fields, to me, look lost and forlorn. There are no distractions, little loveliness.
On my walk in the past I recalled being nervous as a child, unsure, always watching, and then forcing myself to plunge into life. Then, it occurred to me, life took over and somehow, I disappeared. Walking along, single file, in silence with the wind pumping at my eyes, I wondered what happened to that child. I couldn’t remember much about her. The only image I could recall from my past was giving birth to my children (and I think that was provoked by the white sea spray smashing against the black rocks). Thinking about my present, I felt the cold stone beneath the soles of my feet, and the freezing wind scorch my cheeks. I watched a sea gull balancing on the soaring wind, squawking. The manicured green flow and bump of the pitch and putt course reminded me of curvaceous shape of a woman lying down, oiled and massaged. I couldn’t think of anything else. Not only do I not recall my past, I don’t know what my present is, I thought to myself.
Thinking of the future, and my goals, my first thought was to wonder if I had one. Maybe I should focus more on me, I thought. I don’t seem to know very much. I can’t remember anything about my childhood. My present is just full of stones, wind, gulls and pitch and putt courses. Maybe, I need to discover more about myself.
I have enough self awareness to know that my way of dealing with challenges is to move on. I have always shied away from self-reflection, been sceptical about meditation, felt there were more important things to do, like tackling poverty, inequality, politics. I could try, I thought. Nah, I thought. Yes, I thought, I’m just scared. It would be good to know if there is more to you. Nah, I thought, its too self-indulgent. Anyway, I don’t know how to. I remembered Kathy said to think about the challenges. Possibly, I am my greatest challenge.
The last section of the walk we were able to talk and I asked Kathy how to even begin to try being more self aware. Write, she said. Try the Artist’s Way. Yeah, yeah, I said, instantly dismissive. Everyone says that, she said. I ordered it when I got home.
So, I will try this path of self reflection. I still feel sceptical, but, when I thought about the weekend, it was strange – everything pointed me in this direction. My lack of preparation, my realisation that I had lost faith (in everything), my choice of poem to workshop, my meeting my father at the memoir workshop, taking a workshop in experimentation and doing a Ginko walk – without checking what it was.
Susan Tomaselli, June Caldwell, and Donal Minihan were the key organisers of the festival. While, I will hold them responsible for whatever happens, I also want to thank them for a fantastic writing weekend.