Monthly Archives: February 2016

Lenten Traditions in Ireland: Black Fast days and Salted Women!

In the late 1930s in Ireland the Irish Folklore Commission set about enlisting National Schools (Ireland’s Primary level schools) to help gather folklore. The idea was that the schoolchildren would get stories from parents, grandparents and neighbours about traditions, legends, superstitions, pastimes, trades, cures and any aspect of life in the local area. The children recorded these stories on exercise books. Schools all over the island (all 26 counties) took part in the project that lasted several years. Over 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools took part,resulting in over half a million pages of manuscript, known as The Schools Collection, or in Irish,‘Bailiúchán na Scol’. This wonderful collection is online at http://www.duchas,ie/en. Although not yet fully transcribed, and with much of it in the Irish language,there is a wealth of information here, including some stories highlighted today by Duchas on Twitter. (@duchas_ie).

Since Lent began yesterday, Duchas has highlighted some references to the penitential Lenten season. The day before Lent is Shrove Tuesday, known as Pancake Tuesday or Mardi Gras in other cultures, then we have Ash Wednesday, Chalk Sunday and Salting Monday. Ash Wednesday, Spy Wednesday (the Wednesday before Easter) and  Good Friday were known as’ black fast days’. In other words only a small amount of food was permitted.  I had not heard of the Chalking Sunday mentioned below,  and love the idea of being salted to be preserved! After all we preserve  fish by salting, so why not women too! Here is an extract from The Schools collection on Lent, beautifully written in the hand of a pupil in Tubbercurry, County Sligo.

Lent School collection

Lent Schools2The actual entry can be seen here.

More about The Schools Collection

The Schools Collection has an extensive amount of information on traditions and social history. Looking at my own County Donegal village, I found three schools that had submitted material to the collection. Manor Vaughan school right in the  village has contributions describing the number of houses in a townland, how many houses were thatched or slated and common names as well as nuggets of information long since forgotten. This record is one such and is an invaluable snapshot of the townland of Aughalatty in the late 1930s.

Not all were in English however. Mulroy School, where my grandfather was the teacher, also participated. The Mulroy transcripts are in Irish. My grandfather seems to have written the stories collected himself, so we don’t know if he merely transcribed them or if he actually collected them from the contributors. He has several contributions from a Mary Vaughan then aged 67 and I wonder if she might be the old woman I  remember in a black shawl when I  was growing up in Carrigart in the 1950s.

Schools collection 3

My grandfather James Gallagher (Séamus O Gallchobhair) recorded this story about Landlords as recounted by Máire Ní? Bhaughan, Mary Vaughan , aged 67.

The Schools Collection can be searched here and some patience is required. It can be explored by county and by name and by topic. It is a work in progress, but even at this stage it is a rich treasure trove of social history and may even be of help to people trying to trace family history. It is a site that this blog will return to as often as possible, as I continue to explore my own social history through these fascinating pages. In the meanwhile, as I am single and the first Monday in Lent approaches, I am hoping that someone might consider throwing salt on me to preserve me a while longer!

Further information:

Visit the Duchas website at




Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland, Social History Ireland

Getting Started with Age Action


One-on -one informal learning at Age Action Getting Started programme.

One of the smartest moves I ever made in my life was to engage with modern technology. Computers, iPads, laptops, smartphones are far removed from my childhood experience of growing up in a rural area of north Donegal where we did not even have electricity. Our ‘wireless’ as our radio was then called, crackled away on the windowsill, running off big glass wet batteries!

The Internet is an amazing and beneficial global communication tool and one which often, regrettably, is not used by many of  my generation.  It used to be available only at fixed locations, such as in an office or a home. Now the word ‘wireless’  has a whole new meaning as it allows people on the move to have access to this great means of communication.  It is vital that older people get into in this ‘new fangled stuff’ as it has the potential to change their lives in so many ways. In my case, it allowed me, living in relative rural isolation and with most of my family in Australia, to keep in contact with them for little or no cost, to make life simpler by doing such things as booking flights and hotels online, listening back to radio programmes I may have missed, and doing business such as paying bills and ordering goods online . It is a total life changer for older people.


Age Action, aware that older people often face ‘digital exclusion’ have devised training for older people on a one to one basis across a range of devices. Since 2006 Age Action has trained almost 30,000 people to get engaged with this life changing form of communication.  I am particularly delighted to be involved in that activity as a volunteer  trainer. Today in Midleton, Co. Cork we began our four-week training sessions  in the local community centre.  A great time was had, and I  look forward to the next number of weeks encouraging others to share in the benefits of being online.


Students and trainers get down to business

Age Action runs classes in Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow, Louth, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, Cork, Kilkenny and Waterford and classes are also available in Meath, Westmeath, Clare, Kildare, Wexford, Galway, Kerry. – See more at:




Filed under Ireland

Taking a breath


The clear fresh air of Ireland’s Atlantic Coast

Taking a breath is the first thing and the last thing we do in life. It is something we do automatically without thinking, even while we sleep, even if we are unconscious. The statistics are ‘breathtaking’. On average, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 times an hour, 23,040 times a day, and 8,409,600 times a year. These numbers increase for children and for those who exercise. Most of the time we do not even notice that we are breathing – it just ‘happens’.

200px-Shramore_SetSome years ago I signed up for Irish set dancing classes, but after a few lessons found that I was so out of breath that I could barely continue. I put this down to being unfit, even though I was a regular walker, and often took to hill walking that I enjoyed. A few weeks later I contracted a chest infection that was so challenging that I thought I had reached the end of my days. Eventually after many doctor’s visits, a chest consultant diagnosed the condition, and I was put on a medicine regime that got me out of the woods. But my life had changed forever.

I was now a COPD patient and have become aware of every single breath I take. I had heard of COPD  before from a friend who had a family member who suffered with it. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is the long name for a condition that covers a range of chest complaints. COPD is an incurable and progressive disease of the lungs. In about 80% of cases it is a consequence of smoking cigarettes,which I had done,although I had quit about 16 years before the diagnosis.

I was so so blessed to have a great GP and an excellent Respiratory Consultant at the Mid West Regional Hospital. Between them they set me on a course to manage this awful disease, and I am very thankful that for the most part it does not interfere with my normal life. Of course there are times when even taking a step can be a challenge, when simple things like  bending down to pick something off the floor results in awful coughing and gasping for air, when someone’s strong perfume leaves me breathless! When first diagnosed I tried everything to find out about the disease in Ireland, but the only hits Google returned were American sites and so I joined one of them to develop strategies to deal with exacerbations and to keep well. In 2013 COPD Support Ireland was formed to act as an advocacy body and to support those living or caring for someone with COPD.

COPD IrelandJust before Christmas 2015, I was invited to take part in filming in Dublin as part of an initiative to raise awareness of women who suffer from COPD. COPD Support Ireland and Novartis International AG,(a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company), who manufacture COPD medications, had come together to produce informational films on COPD. I cannot adequately describe the feelings on that day, meeting fellow COPD sufferers for the very first time. Three other truly inspirational women with COPD were there for the filming. They have reached stages that are so much more severe than mine yet they are positive, funny, determined and truly inspirational!

Gerardine – beautiful, elegant, courageous. She had never smoked in her life, yet has been afflicted with COPD. Such quiet dignity – a truly impressive woman.

Paula – funny, laughing woman who dispensed an aura of kindness and compassion such that I had not experienced before. She exuded positiveness in a most inspirational way and it was a total joy to be in her company.

Pauline-   a wonderful woman who, on the day we met, was struggling with her COPD, yet is always ready to help others. Pauline has done trojan work to raise awareness of COPD in Louth and is the chairperson of the Louth COPD Support Group.  You can see and hear Pauline here. 

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 3 million people died of COPD in 2012. Untold millions suffer from it  across the world. There is an annual World COPD day that takes place each November to raise awareness of the condition.


It is possible to lead a normal life with COPD, especially in the early stages.

Top priorities for me are to avoid anyone who has a cold or flu symptoms, have fastidious hand hygiene and encourage others to do likewise, and avoid  irritants like tobacco smoke, strong perfumes, hairspray, dusty atmospheres, and never ever miss medications. I have lugged my trusty nebulizer across the world on several occasions  – it has been on three trips to Australia and caused consternation at several airport security points

My trusty Nebulizer, my constant companion, 'just in case' .

My trusty Nebulizer, my constant companion, ‘just in case’ .

I have never spoken of the fact that I have COPD. Very few of my friends are aware that I am a sufferer, although they would know that I sometimes get a really bad cough. Today I am proud to stand up and be counted with these wonderful courageous women,Pauline, Paula and Gerardine.

Many thanks to COPD Support Ireland, Damien Peelo their CEO, Novartis and most especially, Gerardine, Pauleen and Paula for inspiring me to go public about an awful disease, possibly self-inflicted in my case, but nonetheless a disease that deserves the attention and investment of governments in support of the legions of sufferers worldwide.

So the next time you stand at the coast and breathe in the clear air, or stand on top of a challenging mountain breathing in the crisp clean air, or bend over to smell a beautiful rose, think of those of us who have to work hard to take that breath that comes naturally to you  and love what you are experiencing for it is not guaranteed to all of us.






Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland