Today I read a comment by a recently retired and highly respected broadcaster and journalist. He referred to receiving a compliment for wearing a face covering, and this caused him to shed ‘the first tear of the day’.
The ‘first tear of the day’. This stopped me in my tracks, because I have developed a habit of noting when it comes – sometimes on waking, but more usually about noon or early evening. I wonder how many others can identify with it?
This pandemic has chipped away at our resilience and confidence. It is hard to avoid the emotion of it, the sorrow for the overwhelming loss it has brought to so many people in so many ways.
In spite of the easing back and lifting of restrictions, many have become more fragile. Feeling low, unable to sleep, being overcome by stories of personal loss or simply bursting into tears for no apparent reason- these are the milestones of the day.
But tears do bring comfort. Whether in a short overspill, a quiet eye-stinging cry, a heartbreaking weep or a convulsive sob, they do ease the emotional pain.They soothe our raw edges, so we can keep going for another while.
The Government has now launched the In this together initiative in recognition of the impact this pandemic is having on the mental health of the entire nation. As part of that wellbeing campaign, the RTE Concert Orchestra and Sibéal Ní Chasaide have come together virtually to record ‘Mise Éire’ which you can hear here.
We will grow out of this hard place.
Here in Ireland, everyone who is compromised by health issues and those aged over 70 must stay at home during the Covid-19 Pandemic with food and medication being delivered by family members or teams of volunteers. This is called ‘Cocooning’ and this is a series posts from inside the cocoon.
I have just had a long conversation with a friend. This is a friend of many decades, of similar age, who is also inside the ‘cocoon’ in a different part of the country. We had a long chat for over an hour, at the end of which, and out of the blue, came the revelation:
”I burst into tears without any warning and weep uncontrollably for 10 or 15 minutes – every – single -day.
For all that has been,
For a lifetime of loss – of family, of friends.
For all that we may never know’‘
I answered truthfully –
”So ….Do ….I ”
I wonder how many silent tearful ‘cocoons ‘ are there up and down the country?
I am reminded of lines by W.B Yeats in ‘The Stolen Child’
”Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
Younger generations in particular and many more, will not understand.
Here in Ireland, everyone who is compromised by health issues and those aged over 70 must stay at home during the Covid-19 Pandemic with food and medication being delivered by family members or teams of volunteers. This is called ‘Cocooning’ and this is a series posts from inside the cocoon.
I can well recall the total astonishment and indignation when the new Catholic Chapel was being built in Creeslough, County Donegal almost 50 years ago. For years after it opened whenever we drove past, my father would say – ”Just look at that! How can that be a chapel?” (We never actually referred to a Catholic ‘Church’ in this part of Donegal. The word ‘Church’ implied a different denomination, so we had ‘Chapels’) We knew what a real Chapel looked like and this new building was not remotely like anything we had seen before.
Many churches constructed in Ireland after Catholic Emancipation in 1829 were imposing, cut stone buildings with high ceilings and sometimes even with soaring elegant steeples reaching heavenward. Frequently visible from a great distance, they were instantly recognizable – you just knew what you were looking at. The more modest church buildings without lofty steeples, at the very least ‘looked holy’. And so, when Doe Chapel was to be demolished and a new Chapel built in Creeslough there was some bemusement at the design of the new building.
The village of Creeslough is nestled under Muckish Mountain, a mountain that dominates this area and villages for miles around. This new building was to be in the image and likeness of the mountain. To add to the dismay, the name Muckish, or in Irish, ‘An Mhucais’, had the meaning of ‘pig like’ or ‘the back of a pig’. To say that there was a level of consternation in the local discourse would have indeed been an understatement.
Church architecture has changed dramatically in the last half century and what looked strange to our eyes then, is quite acceptable nowadays. I have since learned that the Creeslough Chapel was designed by Liam McCormick, (1916 – 1986), who has been described by the Irish Heritage Council as “one of the most important church architects of his generation”. So while back in the area on holiday this year, I decided to take a closer look at this strange looking chapel, this ‘hulk of a building’.
The Presbetery or ‘The Parochial House’ as we in Donegal would call it, was designed by the same architect, Liam McCormick. He was born in neighbouring Derry but had strong Donegal family connections. He had his early education in Greencastle and has many iconic buildings and churches to his credit, including several in Donegal and the headquarters of the Met Office in Glasnevin, Dublin.
In the adjoining grounds, there is a very nice metal Cross, incorporating a Crown of Thorns – One of the few clues as to the purpose of the building! From this viewpoint too, approaching from the car park, there is a water feature to the side of the building with what resembles a primitive cross as a backdrop.
Near the door stands a chapel bell– I like to think that this is originally from the old chapel in Doe, although I could not make out either the date or the foundry on the bell. This bell may have been heard by generations of worshippers in the parish, ringing the Angelus, celebrating marriages or pealing in mourning .
A very interesting feature of the building is this group of 6 very small windows. Apparently McCormick drew inspiration for his design, not only from Muckish, but also from the many vernacular cottages in this part of Donegal, mostly whitewashed buildings with small windows.
The true joy in this building is inside! The doors lead into a semi circular auditorium with large windows at one side framing a view of Muckish and filling it with natural light.
The colourful medal-shaped Stations of the Cross are unusual and sit well with the most spectacular stained glass windows I have seen in a long while. These are set into the 6 small windows and funnel vibrant light through the thick walls. They are the work of Helen Moloney (1926 – 2011) who worked with McCormick on a number of his churches. They have to be seen to be really appreciated.
Passing through the heavy doors on the way out, you just know you will be back to see this wonderful creation again, with its many exciting parts – a truly spiritual work of art! If you are passing, why not drop in?
*** It would be very nice to see the architects and artists credited in church sites such as this. This is a tourist attraction in itself, in the same way as the great cathedrals across the world, so what would be amiss about adding information about the design, the architect and artists whose work is here and having a donations receptacle for the upkeep of these great works of art on site?
Note: ‘Dander’ is an Ulster word meaning ‘wandering’ !
In 2014, on the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War 1 I went to see the fantastic poppy installation at the Tower of London. The imagery was very powerful and has remained with me ever since. It took a considerable length of time to see all 888,246 of these poppies, each one representing a life lost. The sheer scale of it, the blood-redness of it made a huge impression on me and anyone who saw it.
One of the poppies from that installation has been framed and hangs in my home.
In memory of those who never came home from that awful conflict, especially those from my own parish of Mevagh in County Donegal and the countless others who suffered horrendous injuries from which they never recovered.
I am delighted to say that The Silver Voice has been shortlisted in two of the Personal categories for the Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards 2016. It is truly a great honour for me to be in such excellent company as many of the blogs I follow and admire so very much are also shortlisted in the same categories! A huge ‘thank you’ to those who nominated me in the first instance and to the judges who selected me to go to the next stage. Voting will begin tomorrow, with 20% being from readers and 80% from peers.
As a blogger of the ‘third age’ it is particularly gratifying to be shoulder to shoulder with the more typical younger bloggers and to show that age is not a barrier to being online.This is a very significant ‘first’ for me and I am deeply grateful to all who visit my blog and have contributed to it by reading and engaging with comments.
Carrigart Hotel, County Donegal.(Image courtesy of Donegal Cottage Holidays.com)
The Hotel in Carrigart, County Donegal is an iconic building that dominates the village where I grew up. It was an integral part of our young lives as we originally lived in what was an extension of the building and we later moved across the street. The red-roofed structure in this picture was our barn, to the rear of our ‘new’ house.
There have been many reincarnations of postcards of the village in the heart of a tourist area, but very few feature this beautiful building, the probable reason being that the bend in the main and only street, means it is not possible to capture the entire village in one shot.
This beautiful building is listed on the Donegal County Council Protected Structure Inventory as ”Detached four-bay three-storey Victorian Hotel with dormer windows with elaborate carved detailing to their surrounds. Later extensions to east and west.”
This photograph was among my late father’s most treasured possessions. I believe it was taken in the early 1950s when the premises was owned by Dermot Walsh. It shows distinctive round steps leading to the main door, a petrol pump and behind it, Walsh’s Bar with Walsh’s shop attached. The bar and shop had separate entrances as can be seen in the photo. I think that the cars are Ford Prefects (any correction most welcome) and would have been crank started. (My Dad owned one of these cars – ours had the registration number of ZL 108.) I particularly like the bicycle in this picture, cleverly and securely parked by placing one of the pedals on the footpath! At that time this petrol pump was the only petrol pump in the village, although Griffins added one in later years. It was situated in an enclosed gravel area and sometimes for a dare we would run through here. Obviously it was an area that was for some reason out-of-bounds for small people, otherwise we would not have bothered! The petrol pump was operated by a big lever so that the person ‘dispensing’ the petrol had to work hard cranking away until the proper volume of petrol was delivered. My father often told the story of the day an important visitor to the nearby and very posh Rosapenna Hotel stopped by for petrol. He had one of the biggest cars ever seen in the locality. The visitor left the engine running and went into the hotel while the car was being filled up. A small crowd gathered while James Boyce cranked away furiously. After some time, the visitor returned to find that James, in spite of cranking away like mad, had not yet managed to fill the tank. He turned to the visitor and said: ‘She’s bating (beating) us so she is, she’s bating us’, meaning that because the engine was running, petrol was being used as fast as it was being pumped in! In reality it was because the tank was so big, it took ages to fill it!
I have great memories of happy times spent around the hotel…hours spent with Maggie Greer who single-handed did all the laundry. I loved standing with her in the wash-house that smelled of suds as the sheets swirled round in the big washing machines. I went with her to the clothes line where she hung them out on the long lines with her poor gnarled hands. I loved to see all those sheets billowing and flapping in the breeze! I spent more hours with her as she did the ironing, expertly smoothing and folding each sheet into rectangles as though they had just come new from the shop.
To my mother’s annoyance, I also spent time with Tommy Gavigan who bottled the Guinness for the hotel. The huge wooden Guinness barrels lay on their side and he pushed a tap into them from where he filled each bottle. It was then placed on a machine to be capped and I helped him wet and stick on the labels. In return he would cut a sliver off his block of Plug tobacco for me to chew. It is easy to understand why my mother was not too happy to have a 7-year-old chewing tobacco! Tommy also took care of the cows and did the milking in the byre on his little three-legged stool with a metal bucket to catch the warm milk. Afterwards, he might throw me up on top of a cow to sit on her back as she went back out to the field.
The Carrigart Hotel has stood on this site for over 100 years. It was built by Michael Friel in about 1910, although he had a smaller hotel prior to this. According to the 1911 Census the hotel boasted 64 rooms with 28 windows to the front and 18 outhouses that included piggeries,stables and a harness room. On Census night, in addition to Michael Friel’s wife and family there were 8 boarders on the premises, including a Dr MacCloskey the local doctor, cooks, servants and a lace instructress!
Friel’s Family and Commercial Hotel
The rather grainy photograph above was taken sometime before the 1930s. The name ‘Friel’s Family & Commercial Hotel’ is attached to the railings that run along the roof. I do not recall these railings or the rooftop ornamentation. In 1934 ownership of the hotel passed to Miss Mary Anne McGuire, who was the sister-in-law of Dr Mac Closkey, recorded as a boarder in 1911 census. Subsequently the hotel passed into the hands of the Walsh Family who operated it until it was sold on again in recent years.
Carrigart Hotel as it is today
The photo in my Dad’s possession evoked lots of pleasant memories for him, just as indeed it does for me. It is a pity that the hotel is no longer in use, but it is still a place for gatherings in the village, still a place where good memories are made, memories that hopefully will last as long as the pleasant memories I have, and that my father before me had, of this lovely building.
Petie McGee who sent me the picture of the Friel’s Hotel
Mulroy Drive website posted this picture below taken in 1951 on the hotel steps.
Agnes Duffy McCahill recalls the occasion and listed the names, with thanks to Eileen McDevitt.
”That photo was taken the Sunday evening (1951)that Frank Sweeney who worked in the Carrigart Hotel left to get married to Bridie O Donoghue who worked in Griffins shop. He was waiting for the bus that left Carrigart to go to Letterkenny at 4.50 pm.”
This is the third and final post on this trilogy on Retirement. My last two posts (here and here ) were concerned with the very serious matters of mandatory retirement and the financial and social deprivation that were for me, the immediate fallout. March 2016 will see the 3rd anniversary of my compulsory retirement. The road was indeed a rocky one, and full of potholes, but now that I have travelled along it for a while, I have slipped into a ‘Third Age’ mentality and somehow seamlessly adapted to a life without the early morning alarm clock!
Some years ago my friend moved to live in London and I was amused by this little ditty that hung in her bathroom. Nicely framed, it was strategically placed so that any visiting females could not miss it.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter. I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells And run my stick along the public railings And make up for the sobriety of my youth. I shall go out in my slippers in the rain And pick flowers in other people’s gardens And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat And eat three pounds of sausages at a go Or only bread and pickle for a week And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry And pay our rent and not swear in the street And set a good example for the children. We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now? So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
During the early weeks of retirement I read this poem again several times. Cares and woes can certainly knock the stuffing out of anyone. Should I let them do just that and should I then go about running a stick along the railings, driving everyone mad? Clack, clack, clackclackclackclack clack, clack clackclackclack? A possible option, for sure!
BUT, this was NOT for me! I needed to re-evaluate, to re energize, to REINVENT myself if need be. And so I took every single opportunity to be away from home or in the company of others. During my first summer of ‘retirement’ I plied the length and breath of Ireland attending conferences and talks, popping into Museums and Galleries, going to beautiful places near home that deserved investigation, discovering things I did not know, rediscovering things I did know. If there were free events, so much the better. The budget was stretched as tight as a bodhran skin, but one or two fewer visits to the hairdressers was ok, and I never really minded beans on toast as a meal, and miracle of miracles—you do need fewer clothes when you don’t have to go to work! So on went the jeans and the comfy jacket…. and away I went!
A trip to Australia to spend time with my daughter and her family worked its magic…maybe this retirement isn’t so bad after all, with no worries about using up precious leave! The following year, having reached my 66th birthday I became eligible for free travel travel in Ireland and this opened up a whole new world…a day away in Dublin to go to the theatre, a day strolling around Galway, a day shopping in Cork or a day enjoying the festival in Tralee…all for free!
It took about a year to adjust to not having to rise at 6.30 each morning. During that transition year I discovered the gift of TIME that I now have in abundance. I use it as far as I can to improve my changed life. There is time to seek out and select bargains, time for long slow cooking and tasty recipes, time to walk, time to read, time to spend hours in the swimming pool, time to exercise, time to catch up with friends, time to do some volunteering work, time to study and learn new things, and time to smell the roses!
I have not yet spent my pension on brandy, but I do have time to enjoy the occasional glass and as for ‘learning to spit’ – I am working on that – figuratively speaking of course!
This is the second of a trilogy of posts about my personal experience of mandatory retirement.
In my earlier post I mentioned that in Ireland Irish Labour T.D.(Member of Parliament) Anne Ferris, has tabled a Bill to abolish the mandatory retirement age. This Bill would prohibit employers imposing compulsory retirement ages on their employees. As a member of Age Action, I was asked to make a submission at the Public Hearings of the Committee stage of the Bill at Leinster House, the seat of our Parliament, the Oireachtas. This post can be seen here. Telling my story of compulsory retirement in Leinster House in November last, stirred painful memories of that difficult time, yet it was a bittersweet occasion. For the very first time, here I was, in a roomful of people who did not necessarily see retirement always as a happy huggy joyful state, but rather one that can create problems for many. It certainly was empowering to be there with people who shared my view or, at least wished to hear about the impact of compulsory retirement on someone forced to leave a job simply because of a birthday.
Almost all discourse around retirement is that it’s ‘A Wonderful Thing’, a much yearned-for blissful state, that fills dreams for years leading up to the happy day. A quick Google search yields happy, light-hearted images of the joys and preoccupations of retirement, as can be seen in these illustrations. It’s all about having fun and doing fabulous things,or perhaps doing nothing at all, if that is more meaningful!
Only a few months ago I met a former colleague on the street in Limerick. ‘Oh’, she gushed, ‘Are you loving being retired? Are you having a fabulous time? Oh, how lucky you are not to have to go in to ‘that place’ every day!’ She meant very well and was being kind, but was rather taken aback and puzzled at my response. I am tired of the pretence and ‘going along’ with the happy chirpy notion of retirement that is NOT my experience, I responded: ‘None of the above’. I loved working there, I miss my friends and I miss the money’. The poor woman did not know what to say – ‘Ah, you don’t mean that at all’, she said. But I did mean every word of it for that is the reality of MY retirement.
There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that many people, possibly the most, cannot wait for retirement. With children reared and gone and the mortgage paid off,the prospect of many years of hard work coming to an end is very appealing. This was and is particularly true in my workplace,where colleagues who had been in service for decades,often since leaving school or college,are eager for retirement after 40 years service,or very close to it. Dreams of travelling, doing voluntary work, spending more time with friends and family,long weeks soaking up summer sunshine, all on the list of new adventures just waiting to be enjoyed.
But not by all. In the early days of the then New Year of 2013, I had feelings of fear and dread that pervaded my every waking moment. The realization that my working life would grind to a halt in just three months filled me with panic. Anyone facing compulsory retirement and who lacks the means to continue in a comfortable lifestyle will await the dreaded date and the official dismissal letter with a heavy heart. Rather than being an occasion for celebration, it is in reality a very dark time. How would I pay the mortgage and Health Insurance? How could I manage Doctors bills and carry out repairs to the house? How would I keep warm all day-long at home when I was used to being in a comfortable centrally heated office? How would I meet other financial commitments? Would I have enough money for food, and the right type of food, to keep me well? Could I afford to run a car? All these things milled about in my head for weeks and months, gnawing away at me, keeping me awake at night. The bank was unsympathetic about mortgage repayments, which would run for some years after my reduction in pay. They would, they said, deal with any arrears issues as they arose but sent me out a letter with heavy black print stating that I could lose my home if mortgage payments were not made as they fell due. Not only that, they also advised that I was already in arrears and every few weeks for a period of 15 months the threatening letters arrived, in spite of phone calls and hours of discussion. As it turned out they had made a mistake and there were no arrears, but that did not even warrant an apology.
But it was not only about loss of income.The loss of a way of life, the daily interaction with friends and colleagues was of equal importance to me. Living alone in a rural location I had all the peace and quiet I needed after work or at weekends. Working in an office with over 500 people was rather like living in a small village for part of my day and I enjoyed the camaraderie of it all. Not only that, I also enjoyed the daily drive of 45 minutes or so each way, to and from the office.
In March 2013, in the days following compulsory retirement from my job of almost 20 years, I wrote the post below. There are many aspects to forced retirement, similar I daresay to compulsory redundancy. The difference is that my job still existed, but I was no longer eligible to do what I had done well for a long number of years simply because it was my birthday. the prospects of finding work in Ireland once you have passed the age of 55 are practically non-existent. The terrible reality is that this ageist stance by employers is accepted as being ‘ok’. And the state is the worst offender. In 2008 Ireland’s most experienced detective, Assistant Commissioner Martin Donnellan mounted a High Court challenge to the law that made him retire at age 60. He lost.
The loss to me was at many levels, financial for sure, and at a social and personal level that bewildered me for a long time afterwards. These were my thoughts at that time. The original post can be seen here.
The rising sun was turning the sky the deepest reddish pink as it edged towards the horizon to the east. I watched it for almost the entire journey and wondered how long it might be before I travel this road again and witness the dawn.There was no other traffic at this early hour, so I was able to drive reasonably slowly to savour the journey in the quiet of this cold, clear spring morning.
Crossing the bridge on the River Maigue has been a highlight of my life on each morning that I have commuted across here for the past 20 years. Sometimes it is mysteriously misty, sometimes it is golden and lit by the rising sun, sometimes it is moonlit, most times it is just ordinarily beautiful.
River Maigue and Desmond Castle in August
I arrived very early to the office as there were things I needed to do before the buzz of new arrivals – drawers to be emptied, confidential papers to be shredded, files to be organized and a day’s work to be done. I (exceptionally!) walked up the 8 flights of stairs to take a look again at the streetscape below. I continued on to the top floor to get a cup of coffee and to look east wards again at the rose coloured sky forming a beautiful canvas for the tall spire of St John’s Cathedral and the tops of the city buildings.
The River Shannon on a beautiful misty morning
I have had an extraordinary bonus of enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland every time I looked up from my desk to see the River Shannon coursing below.
The moody and ever-changing River Shannon flows by my office
I had developed a habit in recent times of taking photographs, as the River looks different almost every time you look at it.
The Shannon is a very fast flowing river. The Abbey River flows into it on the lower right.
Being tidal, the river is constantly changing, rising and falling some 18 feet twice a day. In winter when there is heavy rain we may not see the stony river bed for months on end.
Morning light on the Shannon
Colleagues arrived. There was debate about the news items of the day that impinge on everyone, including the new property tax – the pincers tightening yet again! Morale was not high on that particular day, but after some light-hearted banter we ‘got on with it’. I was surprisingly busy with phone calls to make, notes to write up.
View from my desk.
So this was it! One of my lunch group reminded me that it was time for lunch and I said that I had to pop out and that I might be a while. (I was doing some research on Antarctic Explorers then , and ‘borrowed’ the quote!).
At about 1.45 pm I logged out of my computer, gathered up my security passes, placed them in an envelope, put on my coat and walked away from my good friends, and hundreds of colleagues (most great, many very good and a small forgettable few). I was walking away from a job that I loved, with tons of mental stimulation, camaraderie and social interaction as well as wonderful scenery and the daily joyrides that were my commute to and from work. I had already hinted to close friends that they would not be given advance notice of my exact day of departure, and I was grateful that my managers respected my need for privacy. So I was able to ‘exit’ quietly.
Mandatory retirement is no longer allowed in many countries. Most people can now work for as long as they want, without fear of discrimination but here in Ireland it is ‘statutory’ for some employees who commenced employment prior to 2004 to retire at age 65. It seems extraordinary that a person can go to bed at age 64 as an asset to the workforce, doing a good job efficiently and well for many years, yet wake up on their 65th birthday as unemployable. This is of particular significance in a country that is in the throes of an economic depression with huge numbersof people seeking non-existent jobs. Of course my ‘mandatory’ departure date did not come as any surprise. Long term contingencies were very quickly rendered useless however by the rapidly changing social and economic conditions in Ireland in recent years – not least of which has been that my once geographically closest family members have relocated to a place 10,000 miles away.
Officially ‘on holiday’ for another week, I plan on spending that time lamenting the loss of the social interaction of a large office and delighting in the friendships I made there. It is too early to reinvent – time enough for that in the weeks and months ahead. For now, I will relish the light-hearted moments and laughter that were bound to come along every day, as well as the quippy and often black humour that abounded in the place.
I will recall the always cheerful early morning greeting of the delightful woman in the canteen, for whom nothing was too much trouble! I will delight in the memory of companionship at early coffee, when you would not know who might happen along on an early break, and I will still ‘hear’ the very familiar footsteps of a special friend coming along the corridor, always looking beautiful and armed with her designer shopping bag and with her lively daily greeting of ‘Bonj’ before she rushed away to her ‘career’.
At lunch, we had time to bond – shepherded along by our ever precise and delightful clock-watcher, always in good humour and who managed to organize us all in the most charming way. Bringing up the rear was our ‘Drama Queen’ who regaled us with stories ranging from her amateur drama society escapades to a too-close ‘encounter’ with shampoo on a shop floor, to the hazards of Roman toe ( or was it Greek?). These two, together with the above mentioned career girl and myself made up the hardcore lunch table. If we arrived slightly early we might join our ever thoughtful, ever smiling, quietly spoken elegant and wise friend, who always has time for whoever is in her presence. From time to time we would be joined by the ever-cheerful woman of the West with the hearty laugh and oodles ofcommon sense, or the witty ‘cuttie’ (girl) from further north who always had a sideways but pleasant view on life to make us smile. Sometimes another quiet but stalwart friend might join us – IF she remembered it was lunchtime – but invariably 20 minutes late! There are several others who fall into the ‘very special’ category and whose company was always well worth seeking out and one or two ‘long distance’ colleagues who had left our particular place. These too are a huge loss to me, and I am forever grateful for all of them.
I will miss all of this. I will miss these very special friends who were part of my days, part of my weeks, part of my joys, part of my tribulations, part of my highs, part of my lows, part of my hoots of laughter! We have lived through births, marriages, deaths, personal trials and challenges both IN and BECAUSE of friendship. I will not ever be able to replace any of this. It is of its time and of its place. Now is a time to remember. Now is a time to be glad for all of it. Now is a time to shed a tear or two. Now is a time to smile at these memories. Now, and always, I will lament their passing.
The terrible reality is that this ageist stance by employers in Ireland is accepted as being ‘ok’ at a state level, at national level, as well as by ordinary people who seem to accept that to be a certain age is ‘too old’. Life and society have changed.People enjoy better health and longer lives; societal relationships break up and break down; people have children later in life. There are a myriad of reasons why people should not be compelled to retire at age 60 or 65 so long as they are fit to do the job.
Those of us who had to retire have had no choice but to get on with our lives as best we can. There is no doubt but that there is something to be said for having leisure time in abundance, but what we ask for is a choice, to stay part of the workforce for as long as we must, and for as long as we can do a good job and continue to contribute to society and avoid being a drain on it.
A Troupe of Wren Boys in Ireland (Image Creative Commons)
When I first came to live in Limerick some 30 years ago, I was totally astonished to have dozens of musicians and dancers arriving into my house throughout St Stephen’s Day, 26 December. From about 10 am onwards, they arrived. The earliest were small groups of local children with their musical instruments, often as young as 5 or 6 years of age. The great cultural network of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, active across much of Ireland, ensures that there are musicians in abundance of all ages to take part in events. In parts of Ireland, St Stephen’s Day,or Lá Fhéile Stiofán in Irish, is known as ‘Lá an Dreoilín’, meaning the Day of the Wren or Wren’s Day. Announcing their arrival by loudly playing the bodhran (an Irish drum) as they make their way towards the door, and with barely enough time to shut the startled dogs away, the door is opened wide and the musicians stream in. Dressed in old clothing, mostly in white, with assorted bits of tinsel, straw and holly attached to hats of all descriptions, they file in and proceed to entertain us with a few songs, some traditional airs expertly played on fiddles, bodhrans, accordions, tin whistles and flutes, and of course,Irish dancing. The entire performance lasts less than 10 minutes, and they play themselves out again, back into the(often very wet or sometimes snowing!) night! The last person to leave carries a bough of holly to which is attached some red and white streamers and an effigy of a dead bird, plus a bag or box for donations, singing as he goes
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give him a treat (pronounced ‘trait’)
Up with the kettle and down with the pan, And give us a penny to bury the wren (pronounced ‘wran’)
The Wren, (An Dreoilín) King of All Birds, depicted on Irish postage stamp.
The tiny wren has been prominent in legend and folklore for centuries. The story of the election of the wren as of King of the Birds is to be found all over Europe, first mentioned by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C as being one of Aesop’s Fables from the 6th Century B.C. The story goes that the title King was earned in a contest between all birds to see who could fly the highest. The eagle managed to soar highest of all, but then the wren, having concealed itself in the Eagle’s feathers and ‘hitched a ride’ flew out and soared even higher. And so the wren became king. Irish versions of the tale go on to say that because of the deceitful manner in which the title was earned, the wren was placed under a ‘geis’ or taboo and this is why it is hunted.
In the 1940s the Irish Folklore Commission carried out a survey of the rituals of St Stephen’s Day across Ireland from which it is shown that the wren was usually hunted on Christmas Day. The dead bird was tied to a bush, usually holly, and on the following day was paraded by the Wren Boys (usually bachelors) from house to house as they sang the wren song. Money and food collected was then used to put on a wren dance some days later at which it was hoped that young unmarried people might meet and find a spouse.
Other stories of the killing of the wren are to do with its role in betrayal – whether betraying the Christian martyr, Stephen, or betraying Irish soldiers by alerting the enemy in the Viking invasions of the 8th century or by warning the Cromwellian army of the approaching Irish in the 17th century. Whatever the origins, the Wren Boy tradition has changed down the ages – the wren is no longer killed, and the custom of visiting each home has died out in many areas, musicians now go from pub to pub to entertain larger crowds, and money is often collected for charity.
The St Stephen’s Day procession is alive and well in parts of Ireland, most notably in Counties Kerry, Clare and Limerick as well as in some other areas.
Dingle Wren Boys. Dingle in County Kerry hosts a world famous Lá an Dreoilín’
Men, women and children of all ages now go on ‘The Wran’. In recent years the tradition was revived in the city of Dublin where troupes of musicians singers and dancers take to the streets to give traditional entertainment for the feast of Stephen. While it is no longer a ritual to ensure fertility and prosperity in the community for the year ahead, it adds a colourful and enjoyable diversion in the Christmas season.
A few weeks ago I was able to go back to Bere Island on a day trip. Bere Island is in Bantry Bay just a short distance offshore from the County Cork town of Castletownbere, and overlooks the deep water harbour of Berehaven.
A Pontoon seagull gazes across to Bere Island with its Martello Tower.
We caught Murphy’s Ferry at Pontoon that crosses to the village of Rerrin. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and is very pleasant on a calm day such as this.
The Bere Islanders, who number about 200, are very friendly and welcome visitors to enjoy the beautiful scenery, to cycle, to walk, to fish, to watch birds and whales, to enjoy the beautiful wildflowers. The wildflowers were pas their best as we headed into autumn, but I can assure you that you will never see anything like the fabulous linear wildflower meadows that line the roads here throughout the summer.
There is a very rich archaeological heritage on the island, which is well signed.
Around the harbour at Rerrin there is safe anchorage here for some very attractive yachts.
On arrival, the tide was out. How about this as an example of excellence in recycling!
The purpose of the visit was to attend a talk in the Lecture Theatre on the very important role of Bere Island in various times of conflict from the Napoleonic Wars to World War 2 .
These delightful women had travelled over to the island from Durrus to hear the talk and took time to have a picnic lunch in the lovely sunshine.
While inside, the World War 1 building and former chapel, the speaker was having a chat with the early birds.
Afterwards there was time for a whistle-stop tour of the island, but only after some delicious chowder in the Lookout restaurant. I loved the very unusual barometer that was hanging on the wall.
An amazing old barometer!
At the end of the high season the roads are particularly quiet and attractive for walkers.
It’s not all plain sailing though as we discovered when we met some stubborn locals!
NO! You are not passing here!
The island scenery is good for the soul!
And so back to Rerrin to catch the ferry back to the mainland
The tide had filled while we were away and the harbour looked totally different.
The pier when we arrived in the morning
The pier in the evening as the tide rose
Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, Fish are jumpin’ …..
Such a beautiful evening, with water lapping softly
No roll-on, roll-off ferries here – it’s a question of trusting in the guy directing as you reverse on….
Reversing on to the Ferry at Rerrin.
It had been a couple of years since my last visit and I have been blessed with great weather on each occasion. It makes you want to go back for sure, to this island sitting in the splendour of Bantry Bay.