Friday, December 30, 2011

Breast Cancer Only Happens To Other Women? - Not So!

There is never a good time for a cancer diagnosis but if you're going to get one at least let it be a time when life is at its most hectic. For me, it was Christmas week 2011, still really only days ago when I got the results of my biopsy which was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), a type of Breast Cancer.

Unlike some women who find the lump when either showering or during self-examination my discovery came when I experienced intense sharp wave-like pain in my right breast. After it eased I decided, reluctantly, to feel around (I stopped checking years ago because I foolishly thought if you look for something chances are you'll find it, how stupid can you be!!). Almost immediately my finger hit on the bump which actually felt like a very large peanut. I still remember the terror I felt, within seconds I had myself dead and buried.

When sanity returned I decided to say nothing to anyone just yet because I thought all it might be is just a cyst which could disappear within a few days, I would explain all later. This all happened on Sunday, 27th November 2011.

With no sign of my lump dissolving and my nerves completely shattered, on Tuesday, 6th December I rang BreastCheck, The National Screening Programme in Ireland where I've been having my two-yearly mammograms since I was 50. As soon as I explained my situation a mammogram appointment was made for the next day at 2.15pm. Relief doesn't come anywhere near what I felt.

Wednesday, 7th December 2011:
We have recently bought a beautiful apartment in one of our favourite locations in Dublin and as hubby was continuing to get it ready for Christmas I insisted he not accompany me for my mammogram. Always curious to know the truth I begged the radiographer to put me out of my misery. She did so by confirming my worst fears, yes there was a lump but the images still needed to be checked to decide if a call-back was necessary. I would hear either way by the following Wednesday.

Monday, 12th December 2011:
Received the letter from BreastCheck requesting a call-back for Wednesday, 14th December. Expected to hear it was just a cyst and nothing more sinister.

Next blog post..... ultra sound and biopsy to determine size of breast lump and remove cells for examination.

Above image:


Friday, December 23, 2011

Season's Greetings!

Just stopping by to wish all my blog Followers a very Happy, Healthy Christmas and may 2012 be your best year ever!

Thank you all for your lovely comments and encouragement to keep posting, I promise my old keyboard will be hopping once again in the New Year.

Bottoms Up! Cheers!!!

Above Image: Our front garden last December.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When The Beara Peninsula Calls, I Come Running!

Having spent the best part of a year between 2010/2011 in Allihies, Beara Peninsula, West Cork, travelling back to Dublin for a few weeks here and there I'm now very aware of a strong urge to once again up sticks and return for, well, a few days anyway, to this idyllic place. Her beauty is beyond compare, to quote a much-loved poetic description. I'm yet again under her magic spell that is calling me to once more walk the long winding by-lanes with their vivid decorations on either side of fuchsia and foxglove, while listening to the distant roar of the Atlantic ocean, lowing cows, buzzing busy bees and enchanting bird song. These sounds are indeed very pleasing to the ear.

Well I suppose to experience again the awesomeness of the wild flowers and buzzing bees I'll have to wait until early summer but if I head down around February, which is when I returned this year, I'll be greeted by a very different but nonetheless amazing landscape: the waters down at Ballydonegan Bay will be a little rougher, the evening light over Allihies will have stretched that little bit farther from the long dark nights of November and December but what will delight me most of all will be watching the sheep tending, so lovingly, to their new-born lambs, what a joy to behold! Just remembering all of that makes me now want to head straight to Heuston Station and hop on the first available train!

Just to give you an idea of what my wonderful time in Allihies was like towards the end of last year and early this year these post links will give you a little flavour:- "Journeying Onwards - Beara Holiday" (August 2010), "West Cork Beckons One More Time" (October 2010), "There's A Grand Stretch In The Evenings" (February 2011) and "To The Waters And The Wild" (March 2011).

Top Image: View over Allihies by-lane, February 2011.
Bottom Image: Ballydonegan Bay, June 2011.


Friday, October 28, 2011

"Laundry" Performing The Story Of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries (Part 3)

My third and final account of experiencing the "Laundry" performance:

This is surely in total contrast to any confession box I've ever entered. The area is small and the light from the corner lamp guides my eyes to the smiling girl who begins to describe a dress which she seems very fond of. She explains in great detail, for example, the intricate stitching on the sleeve, that goes from the wrist all the way up to the shoulder and around and how soft the material is. I'm not sure what she's trying to tell me, perhaps she is a little disturbed. Unsure, I go along with her, telling her how beautiful it sounds.

She begins to whistle, saying how whistling makes Baby Jesus cry but that she doesn't mind. Again, I nod in agreement. Moving towards me and still smiling she begins to dance. She opens her arms as if inviting me to join her, I accept her invitation. Slowly we move around, she whistling a tune I know from way back, me humming along. For a brief few moments I forget the awful horror I witnessed earlier. As we finish our dance and the girl is once again describing her lovely dress the door opens and I'm shown out to a girl who leads me towards a room at the back of the church. While walking up the couple of alter steps leading to the door this young "Maggie" instructs me under her breath to "act natural".

Inside, bundles of crumpled sheets lie on the floor, a stark reminder of the building's line of business. The young "Maggie" tells me that the hardest thing for her to bear is the silence. I stare at the images of the actual laundry building imprinted on the red stain glass window, it sends a chill down my spine. This poor child wants out of here and begs me help her to escape. I whisper to her "OK, my life's nearing its end, yours is only beginning, let's go". I was by now so immersed in the story that I actually felt I would get into trouble if I was caught but I was willing to chance it. She suggests I pretend I'm helping her to bring out laundry and again whispers to me to "act natural".

Together we gather an armful of sheets each and head out the door, down the alter steps. Walking off the alter she whispers "genuflect" which we do together. As we turn to walk down the aisle "Matron" is coming towards us and asks where we're going. The girl tells her I'm just helping. We keep walking in silence. Again when we reach the front door she tells one of the girls standing nearby that she'll be back soon. The door closes behind us with a loud slam. Right outside a taxi is waiting, the girl bangs on the back door, it opens, I jump in, she hurriedly thanks me. I whisper "go" and she races across the road and disappears. I utter a silent "God be with you, child". The taximan asks where she's gone, I tell him she'll be back in a minute. He introduces himself as Den-den. We drive off, I've no idea where we're going.

Den-den takes me through unfamiliar streets. I'm in a state of shock from everything I've just experienced and this car ride is part of my nightmare. He points out the Foley Street area that was once Dublin's red light district known as, Monto. When the Government of the day closed this down, the women were taken into the Magdalene Laundries supposedly to be given shelter and to "repent" for their sins, hence they became known as "penitents". We arrive at the nearby Scrub-A-Dub Launderette where Den-den drops me off. Still carrying my bundle of sheets I enter this building.

Here I'm reunited with the other two "audience members", one is ironing, the other folding laundry. I'm told I can help with the folding. As we work, the couple in charge, Babs and Tony tell us how pregnant women who entered these laundries had their babies taken from them for adoption and never again heard a thing about them. Also they inform us about the non-profit, all-volunteer advocacy group, Justice For Magdalenes, who consistantly compaign for justice for survivors of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries. When our time is up we head back out across the road to where Den-den is waiting to return us to Sean McDermott Street. Just before we get out of the taxi, Den-den gives us each a souvenir of carbolic soap. The bar is wrapped in brown paper, tied with twine and has the Magdalene Laundry label on it complete with our hand-written names. While I normally love to receive a souvenir, this particular one leaves me feeling very uneasy indeed.

I sensed the three of us were in a very strange state of mind. We discussed our experiences for a little while then went our separate ways. Walking down a busy O'Connell Street I felt disorientated, like I almost needed to talk with somebody, anyone who would listen to my story of what it was like to move through the rooms and sense the horror of a Magdalene Laundry. Yet on the other hand I don't think I would have wanted to meet somebody I knew because I felt I just needed to be on my own. I headed up to the Irish Film Institute for a coffee and sat there for ages just thinking and writing.

My profound gratitude goes to Anu Productions and Director, Louise Lowe for opening up the Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin and inviting us in to witness in part, through the art of performance, what life was like for the thousands of innocent women and children who suffered in these hellholes where evil truly resided.

My greatest wish is that those responsible are severely punished. I'll repeat again what I wrote in a post days following the publication of the Ryan Report in May 2009 relating to child abuse in industrial schools: Ireland's Shame - Someone Should Have Spoken Out "Justice is what these people need in the form of acknowledgement of and apology for the wrong doings directly, where possible, by those personally responsible followed up by appropriate financial assistance from the religious orders concerned. The men and women who carried out these atrocious acts should be named, shamed and brought to justice regardless of their seniority". I remain resolute in that belief.

Girl Carrying Sheets Image: Anu Productions and © Pat Redmond.
Laundry Image taken by me prior to attending the performance.
Carbolic Soap Souvenir Image taken by me next day.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Laundry" Performing The Story Of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries (Part 2)

Continuing my chronicling of the "Laundry" vignettes:

Still holding the bucket of "breast-milk" I'm now ushered from the main hall-way into a bathroom.

I'm told to place the bucket on the floor a little ways inside the door then the lady in charge leaves. A "heavily pregnant" girl moves across the room and seats herself on a stool, her face totally without expression. My eyes move to the milky-white liquid in the bath which I take to be either disinfectant or carbolic soap, whichever it is the smell is almost overpowering. A movement to my left startles me.

She appears to be in a catatonic state, her movements slow yet deliberate. Turning, the girl then presses her slim white body against the wall, arms outstretched as if trying to move through the very brickwork itself in search of something. At this point my tears return, I desperately want to help her find whatever it is she's looking for. Once again I'm drawn into the nightmare. It's real, it's not real. It was once real, very real.

Facing me now she slowly walks towards me her enormous dark eyes fixed steadily on mine. I realise for the first time she is completely naked except for the bandage-like binding around her breasts. She begins to unwind this, holding out the end of it towards me. I automatically take it and she begins to twirl around until she is completely free. I struggle to control my sobs, for her sake. I then take the delicate white hand she holds out to help her step into the bath. Even in the water her body conveys a terrible sadness by its tormented movements. At one point she curls into the foetal position. What happens next explains everything in this room.

At the distant sound of a new-born infant's cries the girl in the bath stretches out her arm as if trying to comfort her child. I have never seen such pain in anyone's eyes. As a mother my heart broke for her and all the girls for whom this was a reality, so much so that now I cry without reservation. I am past self-consciousness. Still holding the bandage I help this unfortunate young girl step out of the sanitised water and as she twirls back into the binding I realise with absolute horror that this is possibly being used to surpress her milk. What God in Heaven put these nuns on this earth?

I'm so upset at believing this beautiful girl must now be perished with the cold I pick up one of the towels surrounding the bottom of the bath and place it around her shoulders. Continuing my attempts to comfort her I gently take some of her lovely long black wavy hair from beneath the towel, imagining this will make her feel less cold. Just then the door opens and I'm once again asked to leave. Walking out the doorway I give one final glance back at the poor soul grieving beyond belief the loss of her baby.

Emotionally drained I walk with the lady in charge to the next room praying for some respite here. There are many chairs in this room, most occupied, some at the back sit empty. "Matron", as I shall refer to her from hereon in, instructs me to be seated. Immediately I feel I've just arrived in a classroom where its occupants, hunched over on their knees on chairs, are seemingly reciting some sort of legal text about the protection of children and rights of citizens in a most monotonous tone. At the end of each line they appear to self-flagellate by slapping themselves on their backs. Very unsettling.

If that seems strange their next piece makes me feel even more uneasy. Rising from their scrunched up positions they then form a straight line where this time they begin to sing in yet again monotone fashion. Every so often they first turn in one direction then the other, each time leaning on each others' shoulders as if resting or taking comfort. I'm not at all sure what's happening here. This room is full of lighting, mainly red in colour giving an almost warm, cosy ambience. I'm sure that's not what it's meant to portray and it's just me not picking up on the theme. The beautiful high vaulted ceiling, the highly polished parquet flooring all convey a feeling that nothing bad could have happened in here. Somehow I sense I'm so wrong.

Once again my thoughts are interrupted and I'm moved out now to face a two-way mirror behind which a young girl, a "Maggie" as the inmates were also known as, beckons to me, again in that slow motion movement. I remain motionless. She disappears and my reflection stares back at me. When she reappears she is several steps closer to me than before, I continue watching in bewilderment. After this is repeated several times, each time she's moving closer, I have such a strong feeling of wanting to help her in some way but I don't know how. All I can do is place my hand on the glass in the hope that she takes comfort from it. I not prepared for the final time when she now stands right up against the mirror which almost causes me to jump back. She uses sign language to me, I struggle to understand the urgency in her request but gather she wants me to tell the outside world she's in here. Still with my hand on the glass, I nod, "yes".

I'm aware of a girl slowly leading me into the church. We stop at a magnificant stain glass window dipicting an image of the Virgin Mary with child in her arms. The young girl gazes up lovingly at the scene and several times says to me "Isn't he beautiful?" I respond "yes, he is". At this point I suspect she must have had a baby who was taken from her. I feel sad. She then leads me across to a wall which has a couple of holes in it. Her question startles me, "Did you hear him?" I respond, "no". My head is all over the place so I don't connect this question with the observation I'd just made a minute before. "They took him away". Still no connection. (Hours later it dawns on me, I feel so stupid!). We remain together a few moments longer then an older woman leads me right into the small church.

For the first time during these performances I feel a tremendous sense of peace. The brightness of this little building in contrast to the dark, austere outer rooms is a welcome pleasure to behold. My respite is brief because as I sit with this lovely lady I completely break down , constantly apologising through my tears. She reassures me it's OK, holds my hand then puts her arm around me. I feel guilty because I should be the one comforting her, not the other way around.

After handing me a tissue she proceeds to tell the the story of why she is still here. She did leave many years earlier and married but later in life when her husband died she could not cope with being on her own so chose to return to this place. It is beyond me why someone would choose this wretched life over lonliness. She seems very much at peace. We look at one of the stain glass windows portraying a beautiful image of the Virgin Mary, my comforting lady seems to like this one in particular. I finally stop crying. She gives me a lemon sweet which she says helps when you're distressed. I want to stay with this lady but it's time to move on.

We walk over to a confession box which she assures me is unlike any that I know. There I'm introduced to another young "Maggie" who's waiting for me in the warm glow of an amber lamp-light......

This vignette along with the remaining pieces will appear in the next and final part of this blog post.

Girl In Bath Image: Anu Productions and © Pat Redmond.
Other Images taken by me prior to attending the performance.


Monday, October 17, 2011

"Laundry" Performing The Story Of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries (Part 1)

I held off writing this post for over a week simply because, as it was still performing to audiences, I feared I might give away too much detail about Anu Productions' amazing piece of site-specific theatre, namely "Laundry". Directed by Louise Lowe it tells the story of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries where young girls and women were incarcerated, some for the remainder of their lives for sometimes nothing more than giving birth outside of marriage. It ran for over two weeks as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. On Tuesday, 4th October, ticket in handbag, I headed off for the 12.30pm performance with no idea of what to expect.

Not having the usual security of knowing what theatre I'd be attending I was a bit apprehensive to say the least because this time I would be walking through an area in north inner city Dublin that sadly hasn't got the best of reputations. I did feel safe though as I strolled along in the mid-day sunshine. Turning off Lower Gardiner Street I now faced the long stretch of Sean McDermott Street, the Magdalene Laundry standing far down on the right-hand side. Approaching the building I saw what looked like a security man slowly pacing up and down, a white camper-van parked outside.

As I wasn't sure how or when I should enter the building I checked with the two women inside the van who very kindly allowed me to sit with them until it was time for the next performance. Just before 12.30pm one of the ladies then took myself and the other two audience members, both women (only three audience members permitted to each performance ) to the main hall door where she banged loudly on its peeling red paint.

For a moment nothing happens. The three of us exchange relaxed quizzical glances, the last time we would make eye contact for the duration of the performance. Suddenly the small grid in the hall door is pulled open from where a pair of angry eyes peer out, flitting backwards and forwards across our faces. Then comes the sound of bolts being roughly dragged open. Once inside, the three of us are immediately separated.

The first woman is ushered into the tiny annex to the left of the first small hallway (see top image). The other lady to the opposite annex. A steel bucket half full of disinfectant is thrust into my hands and I'm told to remain where I am. From this moment onwards I'm completely drawn into the nightmarish scenario, reality and performance periodically blurring into one. I am genuinely scared, I had not expected this. Screams from the left annex make me jump sky high and through the door's top plate glass pane I can see the outlines of two people struggling with each other. One voice male, the other female. Surely the woman who has just entered isn't been attacked? I'm frozen to the spot but then reality checks in and tells me this is part of the storyline....for a while anyway.

All this time a young girl, a "penitent" stands in the corner next to the hall door, our eyes meeting every so often. I notice her red raw hands. I hardly notice the young man arriving next to me who by now is becoming extremely agitated. He keeps shouting things like, "What are they doing in there?", "This is ridiculous!" while all the time moving very angrily. Referring to my bucket, he asks me what's in it, I tell him I think it is Dettol. Suddenly he loses it, bangs on the glass panel of the inner door then storms out. During all of this loud shouts in a male voice are coming from the right annex. Now I am alone with the girl in the corner still eyeing me every so often. Once or twice a young woman carrying a bundle of white sheets charges out of the building and back in again, slamming the doors as she goes.

The lady in charge arrives back out, moves the lady in the left annex over into the right then me into the left. I am ordered to sit on the chair in the corner of the tiny space. In front of me sits a man, beside me within a hair's breath is seated a young girl. She slowly holds out her hand to me, I'm not sure what to do. I take it. The beseeching look on her face, her large sad eyes penetrating mine makes me respond to her plight. Through facial expressions and hand stroking I convey to her my understanding of her situation. Suddenly she jumps up, shouting at the man who then tries to restrain her. An angry exchange of shouts continues until the two of them are on the floor. The man gathers the girl, moves himself into a seated position against the wall then infolds the distressed girl's head in his arms. She quietens. She returns to her seat, holds out her hand to me, I take it in both my hands. The door opens and I'm moved out.

The annex on the right is equally small. This time my only companion is an extremely angry young man. He moves with the agitation of a caged animal, at intervals thumping the wall and banging on the door. With each thump I nearly jump out of my skin. Trying to conceal my terror I use the odd calming word to try and subdue him, fearful that at any moment he could strike out. Then a split second of reality comes through, this is just a performance...but I am very much part of it.

For some reason during a moment in his quietness I run my finger along the paper rail to get a feel of the place. I'm searching for the negative energy in the wallpaper and deeper still in the bricks themselves. To my right on the ledge of the long thin window sits a framed notice with the address of the laundry. It reads: Gloucester St. Magdalene Asylum. To me the word Asylum congures up images of the old Lunatic Asylums. The state of mind I am in just then might well lead me to believe I'm in one such place. I am once again removed, leaving the agitated man to continue his ranting.

After the lady in charge moves the other two ladies to other rooms she then leads me into the large hallway. Immediately another young girl rushes towards me and hands me yet another steel bucket of white liquid. Her whisper is chilling - "Breast-milk". I'm almost certain that's what she said. Suddenly I'm aware of a voice reciting a litany of female names. This girl slowly paces up and down, sometimes looking at me but mostly moving in an almost hypnotic state while she continues with her narration. When it dawns on me that these are the names of the young girls and women who were imprisioned in this hellhole I begin to cry. Quiet sobs. She then says "Remember these four names". I repeat each one back to her. As the list becomes longer and longer the real sense of the terrible horror that took place in here hits me with the force of a wrecking ball. Tears roll down my cheeks as I am completely overcome with sadness.

Continuing her roll-call the girl walks over to a filing cabinet which I hadn't noticed just behind me. She pulls open the two top drawers then continues her pacing. While she is slightly out of sight I look into the top drawer. Horror grips me as I see the locks of hair pinned to pieces of cardboard. The lower drawer contains huge amounts of carbolic soap bars. I cry even more.

The next room that I'm shown into is the one that still haunts me two weeks later.......

Details of that vignette along with the remaining pieces will appear as continuous posts in order to prevent each post being too long.

Above images of the Magdalene Laundry taken by me prior to attending the performance.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Suffer The Little Children - Irish Church Adoption Scandals

Ever since the time I was told I was adopted I've always longed to know my birth mother. (I will write about this in more detail at a later stage). I clearly remember that dark winter evening, the warm glow from the living-room fire grate softening the crushing words that were penetrating my small ears. I was not my Mammy and Daddy's little girl. They chose me from a small group of children being looked after in a home of some sort they said. My real Mammy had to give me up because I was "born out of wedlock" as it was always described, God's punishment to her for having me. That's what my little six year old brain had to try and take in that awful winter evening.

That story was repeated many times over in my lifetime while living with my adoptive parents, as if to firmly instil in me the sense of mortal sin associated with giving birth outside of marriage. Indeed, many's the time my father reminded me that if I ever came home pregnant I would be out the door with my suitcase before I could say Jack Robinson, whoever he is! When I asked where would I go he'd tell me, into one of the institutions they have for "people like that". I don't think my parents were much different from any others as that was the general thinking back in the 1950s, 60s and even 70s. Such sad times.

I was one of the lucky kiddies. Had I not been adopted at two and a half years of age I might well have ended up in one of the residential schools that were dotted all over the country. As it was, I spent some time in a north inner Dublin hostel for unmarried mothers in the Mother and Baby Unit with my birth mother before doing the rounds of foster families and spending five months with pancreatitis in St. Kevins, now St. James's Hospital. But as they say, it could have been so much worse.

So, this could just as well have been my own birth mother's heartbreaking story: "The Catholic Church Stole My Child" - see how lucky I am!

My next post will detail my reaction to attending Anu Productions' "Laundry" - a site-specific performance in the Magdalene Laundry at Lower Sean McDermott Street, Dublin.

Above image: Me, at around three years of age, shortly after my adoption.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Along The Sands Of Time

Now that summer has all but become a distant memory might I say at this point that I don't think it was the total disaster most people are making it out to be. We did have glorious sunshine, sometimes for days on end, but unfortunately part of that good weather happened in April which seems to be becoming a feature of recent years. Perhaps the Department of Education may have to re-think their summer school holiday schedule and aim for April/May instead. Just a thought!

Meanwhile, I was strolling along Sandymount Strand the other day where strong winds drove the gathering grey clouds at a fierce pace across the skyline. Approaching the old stone stairways dotted along the beach wall I noticed how time and the ravages of sea spray had corroded sections of the rusty iron handrails making them appear almost threadbare in parts. The sight of those stone steps took me back to the sweltering summers of my childhood at the beach. Sunday mornings in particular Mam, Dad and I would head off walking the fifteen minute or thereabouts journey to Sandymount Strand which meant we didn't need to get the No. 3 bus that took you all the way to the Martello tower.

Walking alongside the sea wall on Beach Road was always a joy to the senses. Women wheeling their babies in the magnificant high prams of the day, the excited laughter of their older children as they ran giddily ahead, the reassuring low hum of the car engines as they practically glided past, most cars back then being black in colour. The one memory though that has remained most vivid is that of the wonderfull smell of seaweed. I savoured it then and I still do now.

On most occasions when I visit the wind is coming from a favourable direction thus once again delighting my nostrils with the air of sand and seaweed.

Above images of Beach Road, Sandymount and Stone Steps taken by me in April 2011.


Friday, September 9, 2011

First Journey

This is a poem I wrote back in the late 1990s. It appears to be me pleading with my birth mother to ease my entry into the world.

First Journey

Decending ever deeper into the abyss my arduous journey has commenced.
Please mother, let there be a little less urgency in your desire to expel me,
You are taking my life's breath from me, mother
And I must breathe if I am to complete this voyage.
This is not a safe passage.
I am aware that I am not the author of this action,
The decision to remain or leave is not mine.
I have no choice.
I had no choice.
Fiery needles burn my flesh, I cry out but there's no cool hand to ease the pain.
So it is I arrive from the blackness of my pit into the blinding light.

© Ann Brien 2011

Above image via:


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Give A Little Happiness - Be A Childrens Hospital Volunteer!

Several times a week I travel into the city centre and depending on which bus I get I will often pass the Childrens Hospital in Crumlin. To us Dubliners it's also affectionately known as "Crumlin Hospital" or "Our Lady's". Opened in 1956 it's Ireland's largest paediatric hospital and because of its excellent specialist facilities many patient transfers from around the country take place every year.

Despite the wonderful nursing and medical care given to its youngsters the hospital still suffers greatly from a severe lack of funding. One incident that still angers me took place back in 2003 when a two year old girl died in the hospital because her heart surgery had to be postponed owing to a shortage of intensive care nurses. Several weeks previously twenty five beds were closed in order to remain within hospital budget, yet, around that time, close on five million Euros was available to build the Dublin Spire on O'Connell Street. That money would have been better spent on improving the conditions in that hospital which would ultimately have attracted the required vital nursing staff. Mmmm.

Back in 1998 I began my training as a Children In Hospital Ireland (CHI) volunteer. I chose to work on the infant ward, St. Peter's, firstly, because from the time I was eight years old until seventeen I babysat every infant in our avenue, I was sort of equivalent to a horse whisperer, always managing to subdue the fussiest of nippers. Secondly, as the nursing staff are not always immediately able to come to the aid of a crying baby, I dreaded the long term effect on those children whose cries were left unanswered. To them it would seem a form of abandonment, of not being worthy of love. If I could give just a few hours a week to cuddling as many babies as possible within that time span then I would feel I'd helped in some small way towards providing the emotional support these little ones needed.

So, over the course of six happy years I spent two, sometimes three hours, twice weekly, up on the infant ward, not only looking after the babies but also allowing parents head down to the canteen for a much needed coffee and time with their other children when necessary. Some of the less sick children I took for walks in their buggies down onto the other floors just for a change of scenery for them, what adventures we had!

During the last couple of years of my time there I was very privileged to have worked on a voluntary basis (again for a few hours a week as my children were home to lunch from college at 1.00pm) as a nurse's aid on St. John's ward, the Oncology Unit. People often asked me how could I work in such a sad environment but never at any time was there ever a sense of gloom, only one of hope along with lots of laughs. My duties included: making sure the trays of varying size syringes were stocked up as well as having a stock of assorted IV bags to hand; helping with the preparation of the High Dependency ward when a bone marrow transplant patient was due to arrive; taking kiddies in their wheelchairs to X-Ray, some of them right cheeky little devils which was always great to see; helping with serving dinners which was usually good fun.

Although life on St. John's was for the most part a joyous experience for me there was one young ten year old girl whose courage and determination to struggle on even in the final days of her short life brought me face to face with not only the sad fact that this child's life was slowly ebbing away but as a parent myself I tried to imagine the indescribable pain her parents must have been enduring. I knew in my heart I wasn't anywhere near to understanding it. On the day this lovely little girl passed away I was allowed visit her in the ICU that morning where she was, would you believe, watching a cartoon Video! When I was leaving her Mum came out with me into the corridor and we talked for a short while about her beautiful daughter. I went home that day all the more aware of how blessed I was as a mother than I had been when coming in.

After I had my own little stint in hospital with my coronary artery blockage and spent the time recuperating as indicated by my cardiologist I returned to my volunteer work in Crumlin hospital. Shortly afterwards I began my acting career which I'd longed for since I was twelve years old. I was very lucky and soon the work began to come my way but the down side was I could not do my hospital work as often as I'd have loved. Reluctantly, about six months later, after an awful lot of soul searching, I gave up my volunteer work, vowing I would return as soon as was possible. I did drop in from time to time but maybe some day I will actually go back there, if even for a few months.

Above image: Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin via
Bottom image: Spire of Dublin via Wiki


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dark Thoughts

The year: either 1973 or 1974. The time: between 1.00am/2.00am. The place: my bed-sit in Rathmines, Dublin. I was sitting on the side of my bed totally frustrated at not being able to get the words out of my head onto my notepad (the old journalist style spiral variety!). I wanted to scream out my fragmented thoughts to anyone who would listen but in that dark hour which is neither night nor day my anguish would have fallen upon sleeping ears. So it was I wrote these words:-

Dark Thoughts

Everything seems so strange.
I am trying to write exactly what I feel but seem only able to describe it in my mind.
When I try to write it down it all becomes meaningless.
It's no longer a feeling, just letters forming words in a sentence.
It's like living in a fantasy or dream world,
Everything is just what I want it to be because I make it that way.
I create my thoughts and live them within myself.
This to me IS my real world.
I see things only as they are through the sleeping eyes of fantasy,
Then abruptly the hand of reality shakes me awake.
I'm frightened.
I am forced to emerge screaming from the warm womb-like sanctuary I've created deep within my imagination.
Outside, a violent world is waiting.

© Ann Brien 2011

Above writer's block image via:


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Day In The Life of an A & E Department

On an all too regular basis we hear the news of yet another death in our hospitals' A&E Departments. Most recently a patient dying while waiting many hours to be assessed by staff. We cannot use the excuse of our country's recession for the deaths of these people. Our Government must invest the money needed to provide the staff and beds required to end this atrocity once and for all. I still think funds from the National Lottery could play a huge part in this. It just doesn't seem right that one person can win anything upwards of five million Euros while people are dying on hospital trolleys because of cutbacks in our healthcare - there's something terribly wrong somewhere!

Eight years ago, several days after having a positive Stress ECG, I was admitted through the A&E Department of my local hospital but lucky for me I only had a ten hour trolley wait. Because I'd been suffering from chest pain I was seen by the triage nurse almost immediately then brought in for assessment ten minutes later. The following sections are from a diary I wrote up on my discharge six days later.

"ECG then bloods taken. Sent for chest X-Ray. On my return discover a new occupant in my cubicle. Apologies offered and accepted I'm then shown to one of the vacant trolleys in the corridor. After a short while a nurse squirts a GTN (glyceryl trinitrate) spray under my tongue assuring me that this will help the pain in my chest. Some five minutes later, instead of feeling better, it seems like I am getting worse. Begin to feel dreadful again. A short while later (whether or not as a result of the spray) the pain leaves with just some discomfort remaining.

Sometime around 11.00am I seek permission to use my mobile phone to ask hubby, who is reading in the car, to come in. By this time most of the other trolleys in the corridor are now occupied by patients with varying degrees of illnesses and injuries, nothing too dramatic. No stabbings or gunshot wounds - yet. In fact for a brief while, it's only the sound of intermittent retching from a distant cubicle that disturbs the almost uncharacteristic silence of the unit...."

"It is after mid-day when I'm offered tea and sandwiches. As I don't drink "normal" tea I ask for hot water instead. Just then one of the cardiology team arrives to assess me. Says they will be admitting me and I will probably be having a test called an angiogram.

To facilitate a staff training exercise - coping with a major road traffic accident, all visitors have to temporarily leave the area and as my trolley is close to the entrance I'm moved into a cubicle alongside another lady. Quickly realise the need us human beings have for contact with fellow humans especially in times of distress. We introduce ourselves and I listen intently as this nice lady explains how she has successfully coped over the years with her heart complaint. Her words are very encouraging. It is now sometime after 3.00pm and hubby is allowed back in.

Shortly afterwards I'm taken down a short corridor from the main A&E thoroughfare to a large cubicle occupied by two elderly women and my trolley positioned between the two. Hubby remains with me for a while but as our son is soon due back from school, I tell poor hubby to go on home. He tells me he will return later in the evening. Exhausted, I resign myself to a lengthy wait, perhaps many hours, but am alarmed when the woman on my left explains she's been here waiting for a bed since 5.00pm yesterday evening! A couple of hours later her uncomfortable wait is over and she is moved upstairs to her ward.

It's never easy trying to catch a few winks in hospital but as I feel absolutely drained I close my eyes in the hopes of drifting off even for just a few moments. That's about all I manage as I wake to the sound of my name being called. A female doctor whose face I recognise as one of the haematology team calls by to discuss my situation.

She explains the problems posed by my bleeding disorder in the event of me having an angiogram. Basically I could haemorrhage from the site where the wire is inserted through my femoral artery. Also, the test itself is not without its risks - at best, an angina attack, at worst, a stroke! All that, coupled with the chance of bleeding afterwards, makes for very scary nightmares indeed. Soon after the doctor leaves, the woman on my right is told her bed is now ready.

For the first time today I'm alone and scared, separated from the world by a corridor while life in A&E continues unabated.

Thankfully, my isolation is short-lived when another woman is wheeled in beside me. She is very funny and makes me laugh from the word go with her hilarious goings-on about her broken arm which she is due to have set tomorrow but reckons she will be spending the night in A&E. Also admits to being on a high from her painkilling injections!"

"....At last, it's now my turn to be given the great news that there's a bed ready for me and immediately I phone hubby to give him the ward name.

It isn't until 7.15pm that I begin the long journey to the ward. I'm lucky to get the corner bed, in fact the room is identical to the one I was in five years ago when I had the D&C prior to my hysterectomy. My corner bed is on the same side and the same corner. It is almost eerie.

I share the ward with five other women...." (The two ladies who stand out from that night are Nora, an absolute comedian. She was in her sixties, twenty odd stone and seemed to have been inflicted with every disorder under the sun. Opposite me was Amanda, a young woman who'd had her appendix removed the previous day but had to return to A&E after her operation because there was no bed available. If this had happend in some far off war-torn country I would be aghast but this was an Irish hospital, that through lack of funding, could not provide this woman with a post-op bed thus putting her life in almost certain danger).

"....Hubby arrives bringing with him the old reliables (nightdress, dressing gown, slippers and most importantly, knickers) plus my beloved fennel and camomile teas. For some reason I always feel like a child on my first night in hospital so I'm feeling a bit lonely when he leaves at 9.00pm.

The remainder of my night is spent taking a couple of strolls up and down the corridor (even though I've been told to remain in bed), writing up my diary and generally getting to know my room mates. All the while Nora continues to entertain with her unique brand of fun. Her ability to describe all her tales of woe with such energy and humour prompts me to suggest a new career in stand-up comedy! Due to exhaustion I have to pull out of the conversations but still enjoy listening in on all the banter".

"Wake up around 7.00am...."

"Sometime around 10.00am a lovely technician arrives to take my bloods. She reminds me of Shakira, the blonde, shaggy-haired Columbian singer/belly dancer. As always, my veins refuse to give up their blood without the usual struggle but in the end the blonde lady wins them over and they pump copiously!"

"....I arrive on the CCU at 12.15pm where I'm taken to Ward 1 and as I'm being wheeled into the room the first thing I notice is that I'm definitely the youngest patient here. In a strange way I find this very reassuring". " I begin putting away my things into the locker I realise everyone is having their dinner and I'm instantly reminded of how hungry I am. I've been fasting since last night because of the angiogram planned for this afternoon". "...Later, another nurse comes in to start up my platelet infusion, set to go in over an hour.

As the curtain is still around my bed, I don't see the patient being admitted to the bed next to mine but on listening to the voices, both male and female, I'm shocked to discover that it's the man who will be beside me. I've never been on a mixed ward before and my first though is how old is this guy! I pray he is in his nineties. It turns out he is a very quiet, gentle soul probably early seventies".

"....Not too long afterwards another gentleman is admitted, this time to the middle opposite bed. Even though both men appear to be very gentlemanly, I feel somewhat uneasy in their presence. For me, getting in and out of bed would now have to be executed with the greatest of dignity, no more bare thighs!

Shortly before my drip finishes, the cardiologist tells me that the angiogram has had to be cancelled. The word devastated doesn't come close to how I feel. Having been so nervous since yesterday I was now going to have to go through it all over again. Seemingly the person who was to carry it out was called off but the message never got through to the haematologists, hence my platelet infusion. Communication breakdown, big time! The platelets I'd just received would be no good as their effect lasts only around six hours. I'd have to start all over again on Monday morning".

"....After dinner, my chest is still hurting a lot and also the sharp pain in the left side of my chest returns.

As I'm due my angiogram tomorrow I feel the need of some spiritual comfort so on seeing the young priest attending an elderly lady a couple of beds down from me I decide to ask him if he could bless me also. After he leaves the ward I head down to where he's talking with the nurses at their station. He introduces himself and is so kind when I tell him how nervous I am about my procedure.

Little did I realise how anxious I was because as soon as he draws the curtain around my bed and sits down I burst into tears. He just holds me and tells me it's OK to cry. I've never met a priest with such feeling. I tell him about all my fears for tomorrow, how I'm scared that if I die I will leave behind two children. I'm not afraid of the pain, just of dying and leaving my husband and children. He holds my hands and reassures me that everything will be alright. He then anoints my hands with holy oil, saying the most beautiful prayers which give me a tremendous feeling of great inner peace.

It is nap time (1.00pm - 2.00pm everyday) and the nurse draws all the blinds, once again transforming the ward ambience to that of a warm, secure nursery. I slip into a peaceful sleep from which I awake much more rested".

To make a long story fairly short, my angiogram was yet again cancelled and they started me on the anti-inflammatory drug, Aulin. I never like these drugs as I think they interfere with my clotting process.

"....At 5.50am the nurse arrives to start my platelet infusion which would go in over two hours. Don't really sleep after that, just lightly doze as I have to have my BP checked regularly. At around 8.15am I head off into the bathroom for a quick wash but while I'm in there an attendant arrives with a wheelchair to take me down for my angiogram. I race back into the ward and get into my paper gown and knickers quicker than a fireman dons his work clothes. How I didn't have a heart attack there and then is beyond me! Finally, we're on our way.

I walk into the test room with my blanket wrapped around me and climb onto the table where one of the girls settles me into position. The pretty girl with curly hair places a little pill under my tongue then the doctor tells me he will explain everything as he goes along but I'm not sure I want to know!

Looking at all the monitors I notice the middle one only has my name in huge lettering on it. I joke with the staff telling them I've always wanted my name in lights but not exactly under these circumstances then the doctor laughs and says "now for the film". Even his comical remark does nothing to quell my anxiety.

Standing at my right side he presses the top of my leg in the groin area, looking for a pulse, I think, during which I repeat how terrified I am. After the incision, the tube containing the wire goes in and after that all I can hear is the doctor explaining to the other doctor exactly what's happening on the screen. At one stage I quickly glance at the monitor to see the wire moving up my artery which very quickly makes me look away again.

Every so often I'm asked to take a deep breath but I can't hold it for long. At one point I hear something about a narrowing on the left which I assume is in the artery. Towards the end the doctor tells me he is going to flood my heart with a warm eye which sounds very scary indeed! The sensation is really strange because I can feel the warm liquid whooshing up all through my chest. He then flushes it through and it's all over. I'm so cold.

Decide to ask him what he found and he explains that 40% of my left artery has narrowed and that most likely I will be put on medication which doesn't sound too life threatening. While moving over onto the trolley, with tube still in situ, I have to keep my right leg straight which I think is to prevent bleeding but I can't stop shivering and shaking. I'm then moved into recovery.

There, the other doctor removes the tube and presses very hard on the incision for 10-12 minutes which is absolute agony. Still shaking with the cold so a nurse puts extra blankets over me and also checks my BP. I remain there for about 20 minutes before going back to the ward.

While being transferred from the trolley to the bed I again have to keep my leg straight. Blood pressure sounds like it's a bit low so the bed is lowered. I continue to get colder by the minute so the nurse covers me up with another couple of blankets which probably now number five in total. I'm anxious to let hubby know how things are so my very kind nurse gives me my mobile phone so as I can phone him. He's thrilled I'm back safe and sound.

After about an hour I begin to warm up a little. I'm allowed dinner at around 12.30pm but I remain in bed with all my blankets wrapped around me. Since returning to the ward I've been having my BP and wound checked regularly but now there is a small amount of bruising.

At around 3.30pm I take my first tentative steps, praying I don't bleed and after having a pee I slowly walk up and down the corridor once to see how I'm doing. Wound is a bit sore but chest is still tight so I rest for a while. I always find the time between tea time and visiting to be an eternity and today is no exception so when hubby arrives in at 7.00pm I eagerly tell him all about the day's events. He is almost as happy as I am that it's all over and everything went well. I can't wait to see the boys tomorrow".

"When I get up to pee at 7.30am I notice the bruising has spread down my leg a little. There is talk of some of us going home today so I ring hubby to tell him the good news.

One of the nurses tells me I'm starting on my new medication today which makes me feel a bit anxious as I have a bad history when it comes to drug reactions and the fact that this is heart medicine it makes going home on the first day of starting it somewhat scary. Nevertheless, I'm given my first beta-blocker, Atenolol, 25mg, this I'm told, is to slow down my heart rate so it doesn't need to pump as much blood as normal. Just as dinner arrives, the Prof. and all his doctors come in to see me. He tells me I'm going home. Says if medications (beta blocker) works he'll leave me on it for around six months, if not, he'd re-admit me and would have to consider surgery. I'm also prescribed a cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipostat, 20mg. (even though my level is way within normal level) plus a GTN spray. Anti-inflammatory drug, Aulin, has been stopped thank Heavens as I was never very happy on it...."

"After they leave I have my dinner. Unfortunately, I don't have time to finish my coffee as an attendant arrives with a wheelchair to take our luggage (two of the other ladies and mine) to the discharge room and we too have to go with her. Dreadful rush.

This is the first time I've ever been discharged this way and I can honestly say I feel it is not the best preparation for my re-entry into the outside world. From the comfort and security of the ward we're taken to a room that can only be described as resembling a bus or train station luggage area. Here we are formerly discharged. Our bags are labelled and put on a rack where I quickly discover another lady's name on mine and vice versa so I promptly get the nurse to reverse them. There are also several other people going home today.

Eventually, our doctor comes down to release us. The nurse tells me to contact hubby and tell him I'd be ready at about 2.15pm for collection at the main door. Out of our group, Teresa is the first to leave. With a big hug I wish her well and thank her for everything. She's a wonderful woman who lost her husband five years ago, has ten living children and twenty six grandchildren. She tragically lost seven children, three sets of twins and one triplet. I pray life will now be a little kinder to her, God knows, she deserves it.

The lady doctor then writes my GP's letter and hubby's letter which enables him to one month off work. Shortly afterwards the attendant arrives with my wheelchair. I kiss and hug Marie, wishing her all the best and telling her we might meet again one day in our local pub!

On my long journey through the hospital to the main entrance I meet the lovely male nurse from the first ward I was in and tell him I managed to survive it all and I'm now homeward bound.

I only have a few minutes to wait before hubby arrives. Can't believe I'm actually on my way home. Really looking forward to seeing the boys and our dog, Sandy.

Home just before 3.00pm".

Within a week of returning home the bruising moved all around my leg right down to my knee. Rang the hospital to let them know, they asked me to come in immediately and proceeded to get a medical photographer to photograph the bruise as they'd never seen anything like it before!.

After three months I had to stop taking the beta-blocker, Atenolol (Prof's instructions) because I'd developed a dreadful cough from about a month on it. As I was never really able to master using the GTN spray, I gave that up too, so, by a couple of weeks later, I was feeling much better. Now at least I could walk again without developing a massive coughing fit! I did remain on, and still take, the Lipostat which I've discovered over the years is not without its side-effects.

Three years ago I developed severe pain in my right shoulder and upper arm to the point where I needed help taking a shower (I couldn't dry myself), combing my hair was a nightmare, what was left of it! Each washing and brushing resulted in losing handfulls, it was everywhere around the house. In order to maintain some degree of a normal life I had to resort to having physio on my shoulder for many weeks. Just before it completely improved the pain went over into my left shoulder and arm. I couldn't afford any more physio.

After many months of suffering I Googled cholesterol-lowering drugs and found to my astonishment that others also were severely disabled by arm pain. At this point I halved the amount to 10mg per night. It took another couple of months to notice a slight improvement so I then reduced it to 5mg per night. Only since the beginning of this year am I almost pain-free. There is still stiffness but I'm careful how I move. Last December my GP had my cholesterol checked and it's still well within normal levels, under 4.

In June of this year I had a heart CT scan which showed my heart still to be in great working order but most amazingly, the 40% blockage which showed up eight years ago on the angiogram is now totally disappeared! It has to be the Lipostat. The Consultant in the hospital suggested I should be taking 10mg but because of my normal cholesterol level and above all, the fear of getting the shoulder and arm pain back, I've decided to continue with the 5mg dose.

Not a day goes by that I don't realise how lucky I am and thank God that I'm still here, healthy and happy with my family around me.

Above image via:
Bottom angiogram image via:


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Untold Story #2 - Working Title

This little piece is from a dream I had back in May 1994 (I used to keep a dream diary) which I thought might make a storyline for a short animated film. Again, the text begins a little into the story. To get an idea of what I'm doing just refer to Untold Stories #1 - Working Title.

...."On the wall facing him hangs an enormous oil painting depicting an horrendous scene from Hell - a dark-red fiery pit from which tormented souls, with arms stretched upwards, cry out for forgiveness.

Directly behind him on the opposite wall an equally vast painting, in total contrast to its opposite companion, portrays a vision of true beauty and tranquility. It is Heaven. Cherubs with long golden curls hover above fluffy clouds of blue and pink. There is a feeling of total peace for this is not a place of suffering.

The small man, still seated on the bench is apparently deep in concentration. What is he thinking? Only I as the dreamer has the privilege of knowing the dark and disturbing thoughts travelling through his troubled mind.

He lifts his eyes towards the picture hanging before him. He is thinking: "Yesterday I was a bad man therefore I must be punished". Slowly, as if aided by some supernatural force, his body begins to enter the vision of Hell. He is immediately deafened by the pitiful cries for help all around him. There he will remain, condemned to agonizing torment, until he is fully satisfied that he has completely cleansed his soul from all its sins. Only then is he free to emerge from his infernal suffering...."

© Ann Brien 2011

Above image via


Friday, July 29, 2011

Untold Story #1 - Working Title

This is the first of my Untold Stories which I wrote back in the early 1990s and which I mentioned in an earlier post I would publish here. As yet none of them are complete so all are untitled. I shall refer to each as "Untold Story 1, 2, 3 etc - Working Title". All sections are taken from a little way into the stories. Just thought I'd put them out to you and see what happens!

"......It was a sweltering afternoon when the black Ford pulled up at the top of the long driveway leading to the house. A middle-aged woman, early sixties, stepped out onto the gravel path and slowly walked the remaining distance towards the grand entrance. Dressed entirely in black, the fine silk blouse and ankle-length skirt seemed almost in total contrast to the brightness of the warm July evening. Her thick yellowing hair was neatly brought together in braids across the top of her head.

Catching her breath from the exertion of climbing the several stone steps she lifted the heavy brass knocker and gave three loud resounding knocks. She waited. A sudden wind began to stir the leaves of a nearby oak. Following a short wait the wooden door opened to reveal a frail grey-haired gentleman.

"Good evening Sir" said the woman. "I believe this property is still for sale?"

"Yes, indeed it is Mam" replied the gentleman. "If you would care to step inside perhaps we could discuss the matter in more comfortable surroundings". His friendly tone almost suggested he was expecting her.

"Thank you" replied the woman. She stepped past the man and politely waited until he had indicated one of the rooms to the right of the hallway. It was a bright airy room with a large bay window which looked out onto the magnificant landscaped garden.

"My name is Isobella......."

© Ann Brien 2011

The above photograph is not the exact image of the story house, I just love sepia.

Above image via:


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Travels With My Aunt - Part Two - Illegal Aliens!

Having now missed the return ferry home (refer to previous post) there was nothing for us five weary travellers to do but find something to occupy the long twelve hour wait until 3.00am the following morning! For some reason the song "The Day We Went To Bangor" sprang to mind and I immediately suggested it should be our next port of call.

There was a great hullabaloo at the train station with dear Aunty E insisting she buy all our train tickets. Always a woman to be easily parted from her money, under the influence, she became a philanthropist. In the end, common sense prevailed and Aunty E's hard earned cash remained untouched, safe within its leather pouch. Now, with tickets secured, we waited for our train to Bangor, of course not having a clue what we were going to do there once we'd arrived!

A couple of railway staff enquired if they could be of help and when we told them what had happened they laughed, telling us that we were now illegal aliens! With that, my friend's mother produced the bottle of brandy which she'd purchased on the ferry solely for home consumption and I, wishing to bring a sense of decorum to the proceedings, headed out to procure some polystyrene cups. Needless to say I did not partake of the liquid refreshment because by then the little man with his hammer had begun to pound quite loudly against my skull.

Our train arrived and off we set to our unknown destination. I can't recall the journey time but I know we were much relieved to find a cinema where we could rest our weary bones and allow the two senior members of our group to hopefully sleep off their excesses. The film showing was "Grease" and although most of us had already seen it, it nonetheless provided an excellent excuse to while away a couple of hours watching John and Olivia strutt their stuff. After a while the two ladies fell fast asleep as we thought they might.

Of the whole day's adventure this is the part I remember and treasure the most. During a very quiet moment in the film Aunty E woke up and enquired loudly in a very drunken tone "do you have the cabbage in for tomorrow's dinner?". I thought I'd die. Everyone turned around, I was mortified! I hastily answered "yes" and told her to go back to sleep which she promptly did. I don't think we stopped laughing for the remainder of the film!

Later in the afternoon we ate in a cafe, did some window shopping then headed back to the ferry terminal to wait and even dozed for a few hours until our ship arrived in at 3.00am. As I'd always wanted to see sunrise at sea, at around 5.00am while most people were asleep, I went up on deck. What a sight met my eyes - in the centre of the stillness shone a pale yellow sun streaked with sleepy dark cloud, its light reflected on the vast stretch of water which lay out all around me. It was worth missing our earlier ferry for.

We docked at around 6.30am, exhausted but very glad we got to extend our adventure. Our hubbies waited on the quayside to transport us to our respective abodes and yes, they laughed but we were beyond retaliating. I survived the car journey home only through the constant image in my mind's eye of my cosy bed and the several hours of blissful sleep which lay before me. All in all, a grand day (and night) out!

"Grease" film poster image via Wiki.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Travels With My Aunt - Aunty E

Aunty E and I shared a wonderful thirty six years in each other's company. Well, the first ten were wonderful, the remainder, a little less joyful. You see, during the early years, as I've mentioned in the previous post, we experienced life through, how shall I say, an alcoholic haze, mainly at weekends, or on the odd occasion mid-week if our meeting together was required.

Back in the summer of 1981 you could buy a very cheap ticket, I think it was around eleven pounds Irish money at the time, no Euros back then, to travel by boat to Hollyhead for the day. I rounded up two of my friends plus one of their mothers to keep Aunty E company and off we set sail. Think "women behaving badly" as opposed to the TV series "Men Behaving Badly"!

I must immediately point out that my two friends played absolutely no part in our missing the return boat journey.

To make a very long story fairly short: Aunty E and I were first to the bar as soon as it opened - it was a three hour sailing and no one was counting the scoops. My friend's mother proceeded to buy a bottle of brandy with the intention of bringing it home. On docking in Hollyhead, Aunty E and I each bought a pair of shoes, same colour, same brand. Along the main street there seemed to be some sort of awards ceremony in preparation where tables were laden with trophies of varying shapes and sizes. I of course, having never won an award, seized upon the occasion to hold high one of the cups while hastily instructing Aunty E to take a photograph.

We had dinner somewhere I believe. With not much time left we stumbled upon a wedding group having their photos taken outside a church. So beautiful was the bride and the bridemaids' hats that I just had to get a picture. My God, what was I like? Aunty E decided to tag along despite pleas from the others that if we didn't hurry we'd miss the boat. They slowly headed back to the ferry terminal while Aunty E and I managed to get ourselves lost.

With not one ounce of navigational skills between us we arrived back just in time to watch our ferry slowly pull out from the quayside. Oh dear! With the next ferry not leaving for another twelve hours - 3.00am in the morning, there was nothing for it but to while away the hours, preferably somewhere with seating facilities. As I'd never been to Bangor I thought why not avail of this opportune moment! Eventually it was agreed by all, well most, that that's where we'd head for.

This next escapade will require a further blog post.......

Hollyhead Road image via:
Stena Line image via:


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Birthday Wishes Aunty E

Today would have been dear Aunty E's ninety-fifth birthday. It is with a deep sense of guilt that I have to admit to not missing her company these days. Thirty years ago the story would have been so much different. For a start we would certainly have celebrated her birthday with most definitely one too many whiskies, her preference always given to the Irish alcohol industry whereas I tended to (and still do) favour a fine Scotch malt.

The first ten years of our thirty six year relationship (she was my huband's aunt) was to say the least, passionate, at times, almost juvenile. There was nothing we wouldn't do for each other, we would never allow anyone to say anything hurtful towards the other. We got very drunk together, in fact, looking back now, I question if our deep friendship was not solely based on our mutual love of the old devil's brew, maybe not. We were kindred spirits.

During the early years we shared many adventures including a day trip to Hollyhead in Wales during which we literally missed the boat back to Dun Laoghaire, Dublin so got the train to Bangor....oh it gets better! Perhaps some future blog posts concentrating mainly on our happy, fun times? It seemed nothing could ever tear us apart.....or so I thought.

I have only just realized that we had known each other for as many years as was our age difference. That in itself is a little unsettling.

If Aunty E were alive today, of course I would be celebrating her great age with her with a glass or two of the golden brew while yet still struggling to rekindle the flame of our love that once bound us inseparable.

Above image taken by me in Allihies, Beara, Co. Cork. (The fuchsia was one of Aunty E's favourite flowers).


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Workshop

The workshop (window, far left) as it was affectionately known was a small room in my adoptive mother's family bungalow in Rathmolyon, County Meath where her father repaired the household footwear for himself, his wife and seven children. Indeed, his shoe repair service would have extended far beyond that of his family, most likely he was responsible for the upkeep of the surrounding neighbourhoods' shoe leather!

One abiding memory I have of visiting my aunt and uncle (my mother's sister and brother) in their cosy home was of going into that room and being met by the full-bodied aroma of real leather. Even though it had been many years since the room was used as a workshop, large squares of the skin still lay redundant on their shelves and of course the mighty cast iron anvil was centre stage on its bench next to the fireplace. That magnificant feat of engineering, the sewing machine, stood sturdy in the corner, its handle shined from decades of constant turning.

I loved that room, it had an air of tranquility about it, perhaps an energy from the time when my grandad worked in peace with the tools of his trade away from his seven noisy children! Beneath the window stood a large brown travel trunk, the kind you'd see in the old "pirates of the high seas" films of the 1950s.

One day while I was browsing through its contents I came across a large leather-bound army medical book and for the remainder of my two week summer holiday I sat out in the farm yard with my nose stuck in it at every given opportunity. The tropical diseases were fascinating and although some of the images of surgical procedures were truly gruesome they nonetheless intrigued me. I should have taken it home with me because when I looked for it a year later the trunk was missing. It was in that same treasure chest that I found a Penguin book of plays which I did ask to keep, I still have it!

Sadly, both my maternal grandparents had died by the time I came along. Lucky enough I have photos of them and judging by my grandmother's bright smiling face, having seven children served only to add to her beauty. My grandfather I'd say was the stern one, you can tell by his smile that he was probably thinking "Come on, hurry up and take the bloody picture", or words to that effect.

That is just another lovely memory I have of my childhood holidays spent down the country where life flowed at a slower pace.

Cast Iron Anvil image:
Travel Trunk image:


Monday, May 30, 2011

Welcome Your Majesty, Mr President - A Week In Irish History

I vividly remember that showery afternoon in June 1963 when President John F. Kennedy's cavalcade slowly drove past me as I stood waving with my mother at the front of the crowd in Westmoreland Street, Dublin. With me soon to become a twelve year old, politics certainly did not enter into the equation. No, the sole purpose of accompanying my mother was to view at close quarters the President of America no less. My newly acquired female hormones were by then sufficiently developed to recognise that this man was one truly gorgeous hunk. Also, he was the first person I'd ever seen with a tan! For weeks afterwards I probably bored the socks off all and sundry with my recounting of the day's events.

Fast forward now to May 2011 when the events that took place over the course of one week will enter into the history books for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to learn how Ireland was so proud to welcome its first British Monarch in one hundred years and the 44th President of the United States.

First we had the visit of Queen Elizabeth II who genuinely seemed to enjoy her stay. (I too joined the throngs to see her emerge from Trinity College). We have yet to fully absorb the positive outcome for our two nations of her visit. The image of the Queen of England laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, our memorial garden dedicated to the memory of the Irish men who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom then standing, head bowed, during the one minute silence will forever be etched in the Irish psyche.

Her visit to Croke Park, headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association and the site where on Sunday 21st. November 1920 innocent civilians attending a Dublin-Tipperary gaelic football match were massacred by British troops, was hugely symbolic. That barbaric event became known as "Bloody Sunday".

Later that evening during the state dinner in Dublin Castle which UK Prime Minister, David Cameron also attended Her Majesty delivered the speech that no one of my generation thought we would ever hear in our lifetime. Her opening line "A Uachtarain, agus a chairde" ("President and friends") both shocked and delighted dinner guests and television viewers alike, never in our wildest dreams did we expect to hear a greeting in our native tongue from the Head of the British Monarchy.

Half way through the speech came the words we'd been waiting to hear for so long " all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy...". The Queen doesn't do "sorry" but this came bloody close and as my heart embraced those words I sensed a huge collective letting go of the painful history between our nations. My immediate words were "that's it" just like the jubilant football fan whose team has just scored the winning goal. I resisted the urge to stand and cheer. Perhaps now it is our turn to also apologise. One sentence has become the balm with which to begin the healing process.

Still high on the eurphoric wave from the Queen's speech it was with an almighty bang that we were brought back down to earth the following morning with the very sad news that our much loved statesman, philosopher, journalist and politician, serving twice as Taoiseach between 1981-1987, Garret FitzGerald had died. I was so happy to hear that in the twenty four hours before his passing he was very much aware of the Queen's historic visit to Ireland.

No sooner had the Queen's plane taken off when President Barack Obama's Air Force One landed!

We pretty much knew this would not be a State visit but rather a day of sheer entertainment and we were not disappointed. The President and his beautiful wife, Michelle began their day with a visit to Aras an Uachtarain where they met our own wonderful President Mary McAleese then planted a tree with her in the grounds. (The previous week a tree planting ceremony took place with the Queen, her eighty five years in no way impeding her ability to shovel the little mound of clay).

Early afternoon saw the Obamas head off to Moneygall, the small village in County Offaly where the President visited his ancestral home which his great-great-great grandfather left one hundred and fifty years ago to seek prosperity in the United States. There in Ollie Hayes's pub in Main Street, Moneygall, Barack and Michelle knocked back the Guinness, a pint for him, a half glass for herself. They were certainly in good spirits when they arrived back in College Green, Dublin.

I was there, one of forty thousand I believe. Like the song says, half a million strong, well... not quite, just felt like it! After our great actors, Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Rea and Brendan Gleeson, introduced by our newest brilliant young actress, Saoirse Ronan, whipped us into a patriotic frenzy with their powerful speeches we were then well on our way to all-out celebrity adoration.

Music from Imelda May, Jedward and Westlife to name but a few boomed throughout the length and breath of College Green and Dame Street, causing the odd rooftop pigeon to peer down and pace in an agitated state at the goings on of us humans. Then the moment Ireland and the remaining world had been waiting for, arrived. With his usual upbeat humour our good friend, TV presenter and radio broadcaster, Ryan Tubridy introduced our Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, the President and First Lady onto the stage and as they say, the rest is history, Irish history.

The speeches will be remembered and I personally don't mind that Enda used the first forty words of President Obama's victory speech, I believe him when he said it was a "tribute" to the President. The remainder of his speech was equally fiery and had the crowds cheering their socks off! Good man Enda!

During this very difficult economic period when there are moments when we feel where is this all going to end or during times when there is a sense that we've maybe gone down one time too many, will we ever rise from the ashes? Draw strength from a President's parting words, "Is feider linn" - "Yes we can". They've worked well for him so far.

President J.F. Kennedy Dublin visit image:
The Queen with President Mary McAleese image:
Dr. Garret FitzGerald image:
President Obama & Michelle in Moneygall image:
President Obama speech, College Green, Dublin image: