The last voyage.

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This is my favourite photo of my cousin Orla with her two boys Eoin and Aidan, but you know how I love all things nautical.  Yesterday Orla departed on her last voyage from this plane and now it is up to us to send her off with all the pomp and drama of a Pharoah boarding a solar barge or a viking on a funeral ship.

What can I say about Orla?  Nothing better can be said than these words from another of my cousins, Mark C. O’Flaherty  and if you follow the link on his name you will see he is a genius with a camera.  Not content with his visual genius he puts me to shame with the quality of his writing too.  I have read this quite a few times and it makes me tear up every one.

-o0o-

I hate today

One of the best things about being part of a huge and amazing Irish family is that you are gifted, as a birthright, a lot of ready-made best mates. I spent a lot of time in Dublin growing up, and all my friends there were also my cousins. Every summer was full of the most brilliant adventures. My first memory of Orla was as a brattish little girl, five years younger than me, absolutely petrified of the Devil mask I had persuaded my uncle to buy me to go trick or treating with. I took delight in chasing her around the house while she screamed her head off and wept … if she was a brat, I was a horrible little shit. But, you know … *kids*. As we grew up, she became really special to me. A five year difference doesn’t mean much when you are in your 30s and 40s. I remember being SO happy when she finally had the family she had wanted for so long – with monstrous pain and disappointment along the way. I sat in her house in Clonakilty and felt a tinge of jealousy at how great her life was – her first little boy, Eoin, was being the most adorable little weirdo, playing with Neil and two giant cuddly Bert and Ernies, and muttering incoherent hilarious nonsense, and for one afternoon I totally “got” why people have kids. Orla was SO HAPPY. But then she always seemed so happy. Which was one of the reasons why she was always my favourite cousin and why I loved her so much. Her joy and wit was infectious. When she walked in the room for her surprise 40th birthday party in Roganstown and everyone cheered the loudest cheer possible, I realised all of us felt the same way about her … She, meanwhile, found it utterly hilarious that I was hemmed in by so many riotous obnoxious children that I was in some way related to. “Ha, Mark! You must be loving this!” And actually I was.

Orla was always the person I wanted to spend time with the most when we were all together in Dublin as a family. I thought I’d always feel like that. But today she is gone. At 42. Leaving two young boys and all of us heartbroken, with half a lifetime or more taken away from her, and us. I feel heavy and numb and weird and a unique mixture of loss and frustration. I am far from home and I can’t comprehend how awful our family feels in Ireland right now, after spending the last few days with her. It is unjust and unfathomable. I am trying to find some solace in the fact that Orla absolutely knew how loved she was, but I can’t really, and I just want her back, waiting for me, with her madly bright smile, beside the bar with her boys Eoin and Aidan, my Auntie Phyllis and Uncle Frank, her brothers Conor and Garrett and her husband Ian at the next family party in Dublin.

We are all heartbroken today and I hate it

-o0o-

In memory of my mother; by Patrick Kavanagh

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
you walking down a lane among the poplars
on your way to the station, or happily

going to second Mass on a summer Sunday –
you meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘
among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
of green oats in June,
so full of repose, so rich with life –
and I see us meeting at the end of a town

on a fair day by accident, after
the bargains are all made and we can walk
together through the shops and stalls and markets
free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
for it is a harvest evening now and we
are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
and you smile up at us – eternally.

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Happy Birthday Eileen Shanahan

West-Gate-Clonmel

Clonmel West Gate

 

Eileen Shanahan was born in Dublin on Oct 28th 1901. She worked as a secretary at the League of Nations in Geneva from 1929 until the invasion of France in 1940. Published widely in magazines and anthologies, she never published a collection of her poems and her work remains uncollected. The Three Children is her best-known poem.

I too have three children, and live not too far from Clonmel.  I too am a king of all that I survey, a road, a mile of kingdom, of banks and stones and every blooming thing.

 

The Three Children (Near Clonmel); by Eileen Shanahan

I met three children on the road,
the hawthorn trees were sweet with rain,
the hills had drawn their white blinds down,
three children on the road from town.

Their wealthy eyes in splendour mocked
their faded rags and bare wet feet,
the King had sent his daughters out
to play at peasants in the street.

I could not see the palace walls;
the avenues were dumb with mist;
perhaps a queen would watch and weep
for lips that she had borne and kissed —

and lost about the lonely world,
with treasury of hair and eye
the tigers of the world would spring,
the merchants of the world would buy.

And one will sell her eyes for gold,
and one will barter them for bread,
and one will watch their glory fade
beside the looking-glass unwed.

How does your garden grow?

Titchmarch

Today,  May 2nd, is the birthday of Alan Titchmarch who is one of the UK’s most celebrated TV gardeners and gardening authors.  As an avid gardener myself I have great time for people who can turn an introspective pursuit into mainstream entertainment.  This is a classic example of what I call #tainment as in #Edutainment, the blend of education and entertainment that makes education accessible.  So Titchmarch is a proponent of #Gardentainment

There is a Chinese proverb which says : If you want to be occupied for a year get a job, for a decade get a wife, for a lifetime get a garden.

Paradise is derived from the old Iranian word for a walled enclosure, paridayda which described a royal palace enclosure or park.  These might be hunting parks, or simply royal gardens.  In any case just remember when you are ripping out your weeds by hand, it’s another day in paradise.

Titchmarch has been decorated many times with things pinned onto him by the Queen of England.  So what does a celebrated gardener, TV presenter and author do to top off his life?  He writes a book of poetry of course!  His book is called “The Glorious Garden” which is a beautiful name for a book of poems.

 

Winter Garden; by Patrick Kavanagh

No flowers are here
no middle-class vanities - 
only the decapitated shanks
of cabbages
and prostrate
on a miserable ridge
bean-stalks.

De Ma

Skerries

A short few lines about de Ma, because yesterday was the first Mother’s day in my life without a mother.  The photograph above says it all really.  She was always hovering in the background of my life even when she was not in a leading role.  A constant presence. Mothers are a bit like the Fates.  They weave the threads of your destiny, for good or ill, and they are as subtle about it as an anvil in a sight gag from an old slapstick comedy.

In the modern business world you will hear a lot of guff spoken about “Corporate Values” which reflect the “DNA of the Company”.  Values are things that people have.  Not corporations.  If there are values in a corporation they are the values of the senior managers in that corporation.  If those managers recruit staff with similar values this can make it seem like the company has a set of coherent values.

The truth is values are fed to you by your mother with every bite of bread, every spoonful of oatmeal and every sip of juice.  She spreads values on you with sunscreen and antiseptic.  She dabs them on with drops of iodine on scratched knees.  She interviews you about your friends, then she interviews your friends, and their parents too.  She ingrains you with attitudes to the most basic things in life, such as hard work, sick leave, ownership, permission, self-respect, equality, charity, religion, education, racism, xenophobia, curiosity, danger etc etc.

If you are in a company and they decide to “introduce a set of corporate values” ask them how long they plan to take over this exercise.  1 Year?  5 Years?  How many of your personal values were nailed down by the age of 5?  And that was with 100% devotion from your mother.  How can a company even hope to put a scratch on the values embedded in staff by their mothers for over 20 years?  Or 30 years?  Or 40 years?  Because let me tell you, Mother does not stop just because you got married and bought your own house.

De Ma can be a right interfering oul’ witch, sticking her nose into everything, still trying to run your life long after she has any right to do so.  Until she passes away and leaves a great big gaping hole where all that interference used to be, and you realize how much you miss it.

 

In Memory of My Mother; by Patrick Kavanagh

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday –
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life –
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us – eternally.

Never forget

Reichstag

Reichstag building wrapped by the artist Christo

On this day in 1933 Adolf Hitler managed to push “The Enabling Act” through the Reichstag in Germany.

This gave him the position of Dictator, and gave the minority Nazi party effective control of Germany.  Democracy was sacrificed to expedience.  The confusion of coalition government was replaced by the clarity, direction and strength of single minded purpose.  See where that ended up?

Democracy is hard.  Government is a messy process.  It is dirty, political, flawed, frustrating, time-consuming and downright annoying.  The Germans swept all that away in favour of simple solutions.

Beware politicians who seem to offer simple solutions to complex problems.  Remember the Enabling Act.  If you don’t know what it is, inform yourself.  This stuff is important to know!

Epic: by Patrick Kavanagh

I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.

I heard the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul!”
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
“Here is the march along these iron stones.”

That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.

He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.

 

Two Memories of my Mother

It was around 1980 or 1981 that my mother changed her life.  Having raised seven children she was seeing light at the end of the tunnel from the constant routines of motherhood.  I was studying for my leaving certificate and the youngest in our family, Cormac, was studying for his inter cert.

Maura had worked all her life.  Up to this point mostly teaching dressmaking in evening classes.  From time to time pitching for sewing contracts.  I recall one memorable commission to repair state flags.  For weeks we had these enormous official banners occupying every inch of floor space in the house as my mother and a coterie of recruits gave them a makeover.

The 1980’s saw her embark on an entirely new career.  She always had an  interest in drama from her teen years and at one time entertained ambitions to tread the boards herself, unrealized due to marriage and the wonders of Catholic family planning.  She studied for her ALCM and LLCM, earning herself a diploma in Speech and Drama.  She went on to become a teacher of both children and adults.

My particular memory is of my mother practicing her recited poetry pieces.  Cormac and I would come home from school at lunchtime, expecting dinner on the table, to find Maura immersed in recitation.  Panic would ensue and her specialty was the ability to create a hot meal out of thin air in an instant.  We never starved for food, and certainly not for culture.  These two poems in particular are engrained on my soul.

-o0o-

Sonnet XVIII ; by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

-o0o-

Stony grey soil:  by Patrick Kavanagh

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick tongued mumble.

You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life conquering plough!
The mandril stained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.

You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of cowards’ brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food

You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!

Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I stilll stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisoned pen.

His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.

Mullahinsa, Drummeril, Black Shanco-
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me.

 

The Mummy’s Curse

Tutankhamun

November 26th, 1922 Lord Carnarvon asked Howard Carter “Can you see anything?” and Carter replied with those famous words; “Yes, Wonderful Things.”

The discovery of an almost intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings generated an explosion of interest through the media.  The press arrived in their droves to Luxor to visit the site.

“Almost Intact” refers to the fact that the tomb was burgled twice, shortly after it was sealed.  It is a small tomb, hurriedly constructed due to the early death of Tutankhamun.  The boy pharaoh ruled from the age of 9 to 19 and his short reign did not allow enough time for the construction of a magnificent tomb.

After being burgled the tomb was resealed by priests.  The entrance was then covered by stone chips either from a flood or the spill from the excavation of another tomb.  Later some workers houses were built on the site, completely sealing off the entrance.

As the other tombs in the valley were systematically plundered in antiquity the tomb of the boy king lay unspoiled, forgotten and pristine.

Egyptology became the must have fashion accessory of the 1920’s.  It made its way into art, furniture, design, clothing and entertainment.

Rumor abounded that Carter found a dreadful curse in the seals on the tomb entrance.  The first victim of the curse was Carters pet canary.  A messenger running to his home found a cobra in the cage of the deceased songbird.  This happened on the day the tomb was opened, and the Cobra is a well known symbol of divine authority in ancient Egypt.

When Lord Carnarvon died six weeks after the opening of the tomb, from an infected mosquito bite the media went into a frenzy.

Carter gave a gift of a mummified hand set in a paperweight to his friend Sir Bruce Ingram.  On the wrist was a bracelet inscribed with the text;  “Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence.”

Ingram’s house burned down and he rebuilt it.  Then it was destroyed by a flood.

Although skeptical of curses himself Howard Carter reported
that he saw jackals in the desert for the first time in his 35 years working there, of the same type as Anubis, Egyptian guardian of the dead.

 

The concept of the mummy’s curse rapidly became the stuff of book and film.  To this day the “Monster Mummy” remains firmly in the top rank of horror movie subjects along with the Werewolf, the Vampire and the Zombie.

In Memory of my Mother; by Patrick Kavanagh

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday –
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life –
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us – eternally.