Glorious Food Moments 2: Dublin, a city of comfort food hidden behind Georgian doors.

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Saints and Scholars. The gates to Trinity College.

The promised second part in my foodie blogging! Cities that my little girls will visit with us in the future. Hopefully! See here for part one, Glorious Food Memories: Bruges, A city of Biscuits.

Dublin, like any city, has its tourist trail and as a visitor it is very difficult to discover beyond this. This isn’t a bad thing I feel. I have never been afraid to admit that I enjoy the clichéd. I believe it is clichéd for a reason-it must be damn good. So I like eating crèpes in the shadow of Notre Dame, pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa for a snap or even having a Guinness in an Irish pub in a different land (my favourite was Cusco! ). As tourist to other cities, I myself am comforted by the ‘must see’ list available and can understand the swarms visiting the Guinness Store House, eating Irish Stew in Temple Bar and listening to bodhráns and fiddles at the Oliver St John Gogarty. Lucky person that I am, I have gotten to visit a Dublin on numerous occasions and now have my own self designed trail that I love. So for those of you who want to see or taste something else, this might be for you!

Warning:Don’t expect all the hidey holes to be secret local spots, that is for a different blog. This is just my Dublin day.

Breakfast without restriction. Grease is a MUST.

Easy to find anywhere in Dublin. If you are looking for a typical Irish fry up that is. During the Celtic Tiger, breakfast rolls became popular in particular with the heavily worked builders who made a fast buck at the time before all went pear shaped. Irish funnyman Pat Shortt wrote a song about it. Listen here and you will learn the fry up ingredients.  The Jumbo Breakfast Roll Song. A soundtrack to heart disease. I just listened to it and realise many of you might find it hard to make out what Pat is singing so here you have the lyrics.

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Looks a bit threatening really.

So where in Dublin? Every bistro pub provides this traditional meal, the full Irish, proudly. Most restaurants. All hotels. However I like two spots. I can trust both of them to get it right.

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The cafe Kylemore on O’Connell Street.

I always imagine here to be the locals’ choice. It isn’t fancy. It is a slightly more advanced canteen cafè. Standard white cups and crockery etc. You know where you stand. This is where my Mam had her lunch when working  in the GPO opposite. When I was very young, I once asked her was she there when the Rising (history of the Easter Rising 1916) began. Couldn’t understand her laughter. Bit insensitive, I thought! Surely she had been knocking around in 1916?!

This is always where I imagine Maeve Binchy characters meet for coffee and a plate of chips (french fries). If in O’Connell Street,  this is where I have my breakfast.

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The Kylemore full Irish fry up.

I always associate The Kylemore with cups of tea and cream slices. I know this is breakfast, but if you’re on a day out…

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Memories of having days out with my Mother when I was little. I think she showed me the most realistic  Dublin day. It isn’t gourmet. It is true comfort however after a journey from the country!
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Maeve Binchy with some of her cast and crew from movie, ‘Circle of Friends’.

If you are on Grafton Street and fancy something with more variety, beautiful decor and a true Dublin stalwart,  then Bewley’s Oriental Tearooms it must be.

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A bakery also, you can’t go wrong.

 

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They even provide their own brand tea leaves and coffee beans.

This is a beautiful place. Stained glassed windows, floor after highly decorated floor and haughty high ceilings, you definitely feel you are sitting in a piece of history. Aesthetically pleasing as well as having delicious food.

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Grandeur and class.

You can eat any meal here, but we choose breakfast. Yes, the full Irish is available, but there are other options too. If you are a pancake, bagel or French toast person say.  Maybe you like smoked salmon. Possibly you want some posh porridge. It is all here and quite yum! Naturally the beverage options are lovely due to it being their speciality. Pastries are to die for here too.

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A cornucopia of bread and cake.

Elevenses/ tea time

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Time for sweet stuff.

If you didn’t indulge in the pastries or cake slice already, then you need to go to my next venue double quick. The Queen of Tarts has two sit down cafés in close proximity. This place is filled with chintz, quirk, antique and pretty style. The food is also marvellously homemade and delicious.

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Opposite Dublin Castle.

 

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Trump card!

Mr Paper introduced me to this little pocket of heaven too. His sister lived in Dublin once and this was a food favourite for their Sunday morning. Cakes, buns and breads. Can you see how he wooed me? 

It is all mismatched china teacups, plates and saucers here. I am a coffee drinker but would order tea just so I am served from the pretty teapot. Proper sugar lumps in sweet little bowls on the table, dinky milk jugs all make dining here an experience that is too cute.

My own collection is inspired by Queen of Tarts.

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I have had beautiful lunches here but it is the cakes I bring my friends for, thereby we have elevenses or afternoon tea. I am particularly fond of the New York Baked Raspberry Cheesecake here. Treat, big time!

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Rocking fruit Tarts. I see why the knave would want to steal them!

A big old hearty lunch or evening meal.

In Dublin, I will always want either lunch or dinner in Elephant and Castle, Temple Bar. This is mainly because of what they do with chicken wings.

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A happy place! Not for chickens maybe. ..

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One of my first dates with Mr Paper was to a rugby game, Ireland and Australia in Dublin. Afterwards, he had sworn to take me for the best wings in the city. Traffic was heavy and we were starving by the time we got there. Naturally, there was a wait for the table. We found ourselves wandering Temple Bar avoiding food. We also didn’t want to drink anything and this is mainly what Temple Bar offers!

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Temple Bar has a bar called The Temple Bar. Most expensive drinks in Dublin or at least it is competing to be. You are right to get confused.

Just past Bono’s Clarence hotel however, we found a tiny, bohemien style tea shop. Snuggled in by a fire at a wobbly,  wooden table, we chose flavoured teas from an extensive menu and had the pleasure of tea leaves and strainers with our choices. I had something like strawberry and vanilla but I will never forget Mr Paper’s Gunpowder tea. Each tea boasted benefits of all kinds. Interesting powers in this beverage!

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A tea for every occasion.

This tea shop is special to us, not because we love teas especially, but as part of a very romantic date. Elephant and Castle with their renowned wings came next. This is where I learned a lot about the man who would become my husband! I always think a new couple should test their relationship over a bowl of excellent chicken wings. You will quickly discover compatibility levels!

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Can love survive the Hot Wing  challenge?

Mr Paper had orated extensively  on the portion size of the wings in this venue, claiming they were easily big enough for two. They are only a starter after all! As the day got difficult however, city traffic jaded us and the hotdogs before the game became a fading memory, I could see that look in his eyes that I would soon get to know very well. It is the look that tells me that he is genuinely worried that he may never eat again and starvation is nigh. I learned that day that Mr Paper has a short window within which to eat from when hunger kicks in and a mood bordering on depression arrives. Easily missed, it is usually prefaced with, ‘Ah I’m grand for another while’. Start countdown from there!  As a mannerly man on a first date, I could see he was witholding and unwittingly I made the right decision to ask for wings as a main. A happy Mr Paper didn’t need to share and as we over ordered, we had lovely leftovers for lunch the next day. Watching the speed and accuracy with how he ate those wings however was not for the faint hearted. I believe we passed the test that day, but I think many wouldn’t!

Elephant and Castle in Temple Bar are famous for their wings with celebrities such as Pink being spotted indulging. They have many other fantastic food offerings but this bowl of joy is by far the best. Choose a jug of limeade to have with it and you have the most amazing meal. The bowl itself is an indecent portion, almost uncountable in number. I guess thirty or so. The hot sauce is of course a secret recipe with your celery and blue cheese on the side and I can state that no make up company has designed the lipstick to survive this meal! Great idea for an advertisement campaign…

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A beautifully oversized portion of classic wings in hot sauce with celery and blue cheese dip.

 

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A tasty alternative to lemonade.

If you didn’t stay in Temple Bar but headed over to Grafton street, then I recommend our other restaurant go to. This is the wonderfully named Gotham Cafè.

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Can you resist such a name?
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Remember where Kavanagh spotted the woman he was wooing running away from him ‘so hurriedly’? Cupid shoots Poetry. Gotham Cafè is on a side street. She could have popped in for pizza.

This is a modern and fun, vibrant and family friendly spot. Pizzas are top notch with a wide variety, even offering a duck option. As you wait to eat, you will find yourself staring at the walls-all sides, as row after row of framed Rolling Stone magazine covers assault you with nostalgia.

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A groovy kind of spot.

If you fancy a drink or two in Dublin, you are spoiled for choice. I am not reviewing bars however and you will find Guinness, whiskey and beer all over the city. I just advise you move around for the best prices. If you only want one or two beautiful drinks however and are prepared to spend a little extra for luxury, then you must go to Peruke and Periwig . This blog is about places I might bring my girls and I obviously won’t bring them for cocktails but it would be a crime not to mention them right here if you do happen to read!

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A hidden gem.

From the exterior, it looks like a grimly attractive, darkly fronted, Dickensian style bar. Inside however it is a dream of overly ornate decor and elegance.

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Dining in the past.

You can eat here and we did. It is the drinks I remember though. The menu is a work of art itself in the writing and presentation of wares on offer. Each drink has a highly creative name and set of ingredients, fresh and delicious and crafted instead of thrown together.  They are pricey.  You are buying temporary, liquid art, remember.

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My cocktail had a meringue, freshly made and flamed on top. Divine.

The evening finished off with an aperitif,  Dublin has been kind to me.

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Dublin and music are synonymous. Think Ronnie Drew. You should stay out! I am too tired with my world of babies so I would probably hit the hay these days.

So we have visited Dublin. We have eaten and eaten well! I will blog again on another food adventure in the near future. For now, I will have homemade Azera coffee brew, a bit of Milka Noisette and dream of afternoon tea in Dublin!

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Just a nibble.

 

The Pramshed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Easter of my Youth

Easter was always about Lent ending to me. As as child,  Lent was an insufferable length of time that stretched to infinity. I didn’t enjoy going to school. I didn’t eat sweets at school anyway. I just loved some timeout over the weekend with a book and a bar of chocolate.

I still do.

Suddenly Lent came along and stopped you in your tracks. Sacrifice?  I may as well have given up happiness!

Easter started with Pancake Tuesday. It was fine.It just had that aura of the ‘beginning of the end’ about it as I attempted flipping pancakes.We were ten miles away from adventurous at all times in my house so the pancakes were basic with honey, lemon and sugar. I only add the good stuff now. Nutella. Strawberries. The pancakes seemed to cause arguments. We never had a decent frying pan for them, just the one pan from all year (a pan for all seasons) and inevitably they stuck.

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Golden syrup would have been given a wide berth and a ticket home in my house in 1985.

I once called it Pancake Tuesday in front of my Granny. She wasn’t impressed. It was Shrove Tuesday. The Lord didn’t eat pancakes.

We then had Ash Wednesday. I counted the days on the calendar miserably. I also couldn’t eat meat that day. I didn’t like fish then either. Recently, my mother said she knew why I was adverse to fish then but fine with it now. We only cooked strong smelling cod. What a turn off. These days I make prawns. Lemon sole. Salmon. Pasta and pizza were not even given a thought of in our house back in the day. Where would you even get it?! Fancy foreign food, my Dad called it. So I ate Birds Eye potato waffles with peas in the holes and pretended they were windows in a tower block, like in the film ‘Rear Window’. As I said to another blogger recently, it isn’t very sacrificial when Captain Birds Eye is beaming at you!

Oh yes. Don’t forget the blob of ashes on the head. You must have it or people would think you weren’t at mass. When my Gran was very elderly, we would bring it to her.

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Depending on the priest, it could be a small dot or a forehead covering.

Lent was all about ‘a giving things up competition’ in my class, like it was parodied in Fr Ted, see Fr Ted and nineties Ireland… A nod to Frank Kelly. Sweets, chocolate and crisis HAD to go. Anything else was scorned.

One year I tried giving up bread. Everyone in school was appalled. That wasn’t sacrifice. This was when the mention of an Atkins diet would have everyone in tears laughing. Ham sandwiches were my go to. Big sacrifice for me! I definitely justified it as I munched on a Kit Kat.

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I subverted the sacrifice.

When you did give up sweets, every bit of a treat you were given was put into an old tin and in my case, put under the bed. This was the big reward. Easter Sunday would dawn and I would be in that tin like a cat on cream.

There was one occasion when you could break Lent. St Patrick’s Day. I had no idea how that was allowed but I asked no questions and had a good old feast from the tin that day.

The Sunday before Easter would creep up on you like a spider in the night. You wouldn’t see it coming, then boom. You were at mass in your Sunday best, cramped into a pew with all the latecomers pushing into space that didn’t exist and you suddenly realised. Palm Sunday. Extra long mass. Sweat breaks out on your brow. I always felt nauseated by the end of this one due to crowds and heat. The blessed palm would sit on your fireplace for the remainder of the year reminding you of that mass.

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It was kept for luck.

Holy Thursday meant holidays and time off. It also marked the start of a lot of masses. The Sunday dress would be earning its money that week.

Good Friday was tough but it was so near the goal. We secretly called it Fishy Friday. It had the air of waiting about it as a heavy silence slumped over the streets. Nothing opened. No shops. No pubs. No alcohol on this day. It didn’t matter to me but now I see pubs fighting to resist this. I think they are desperately greedy to even try. Give the beer a break!  More waffles and peas for me. Why didn’t I ever think of a grilled cheese?!

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My Granny didn’t know. Our Lord wouldn’t have had waffles either methinks.

Light began to dawn Easter Saturday. We often ate chicken that day. That day was good. No mass either.

Easter Sunday would be a trip to my other Granny. I loved going to her home. My uncle lived there too, next door with his family . His family kept sheep.

Can you guess the next part?

Yes, I would have spent the last visits playing with lambs. Once I named one Taz after the cartoon Tasmanian devil. We turned up. He was gone from his field. Like the others before, I was told his mother had knocked him into a ditch and he drowned.

Was that better than the truth?

I eventually copped that the sacrificial lamb on our table was indeed my old friend.

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Nightmare more than celebration.

I had refused lamb before due to what it was. There was no way I would succomb now. I had no such reservations with pigs. Chickens. Cows. My mother even told me that it was beef once. Another lie! To trick me. I made a speech about lies, ten commandments etc. She stuck to the fib. Lamb was a luxury. I wasn’t going to be allowed cock my nose up to it.

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Ours was never this fancy. Rosemary was a girl in school. Herb was an American nickname.

I objected strongly to the mint sauce also. It had a very strong, unpleasant smell. To this day if I enter a restaurant and there is mint sauce on the menu, I can smell it from the door and am repulsed. I was a pain in the ass really.

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Mint leaves as tea? Yummy. Ice-cream?  Fab. Sauce? Wrong!

So the chocolate egg was the best bit. Scratchy Sunday dress, another mass, lies about dinner, forced to eat a pet, being nauseated by mint sauce; it all ended. The egg came then. Cadbury’s. Chocolatey deliciousness! What has it to do with Easter ? My more severe Granny questioned it. I didn’t care. This was a good way to celebrate!

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My mother still buys me one.

The Easter Bunny never came near us until the Celtic Tiger and media introduced him. We welcome you bunny with open arms!

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What a great guy!

So now Easter has a whole new element of fun for children. Egg hunts and preparations. Arts and crafts of all kinds. Mine was religious and lamby but also full of sweet pleasures. I hope I don’t seem blasphemous. We all felt the same as children. Easter was interesting. Difficult. Definitely a marker for Spring. A paradoxical celebration. As it should be perhaps.

I look forward to being a Mum at Easter. The girls don’t get it yet. Gigi made some crafts but next year she will know why we made them!

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I did know the full story of the sacrifice.  We learned it every year. My girls will know it too.
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They will also have an Easter Bunny. They won’t be forced to eat a pet.   Hope you all had a fun filled holiday!

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Easter 1916

Today I want to discuss history. Patriotism. Terror. Poetry. Reality. Destruction. Rebellion.

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Sackville Street (O’Connell street) Dublin, 1916.

100 years has passed since the Easter Rising in Dublin. It started April 24th so officially we aren’t at the  100 year marker yet, but it was Easter so it feels correct to remember it on this bank holiday. At the time, many of the Irish population were condemning of the action, distancing themselves from what had happened. Some had family gone to WW1 to fight with the British. Families rightly worried about the effects this uprising at home might have had on their loved ones away under British authority. People at home may have felt the fighters were foolish.  Over zealous. Fighting a losing battle. Money was so tight that many just thought of bread on table and thought fighting in their own backyard a pointless waste of time. So what happened to make this battle legend? Was it the fight 300 style like the Spartans portrayed through the film?

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Underdogs surprise?

The feeling of being able to finally shout about what made people angry? The moment of feeling a somewhat type of control over the British as they panicked?  The ‘rebels’ held on longer than anticipated by the public. This made people sit up and listen. When it ended, many were imprisoned, 90 sentenced to execution but this full 90 did not die. When executions began, the reaction was one of such horror and condemnation the British government put a stop to it. Not before 16 leaders were shot however, one of whom was dying anyway. The bald execution of the leaders is largely believed to be a turning point in emotions towards the rising. They were shot to teach a lesson. It seemed cruel and unnatural. Instead, they were seen as martyrs.Their stories spread fast and far. They were to beome heroes of the rising who died for beliefs and passion.

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Many leaders were indeed teachers and writers. Their soldiers however came from all walks of life. Yeats did not fight in battle. He wrote about his feelings.

Ireland and Irish TV are remembering in style. I must credit all the shows that have been on and made for this anniversary. I have learned about the horrors anew and from many different angles. So many children died in crossfire. So many civilians. Barbarism. Had the Rising the effect it required?

It brought us to our next 100 year anniversaries.  1919-1921 War of Independence ( Anglo/Irish War). Will we celebrate the fears and tragedies of this bloodbattle? 1921-The signing of the Treaty. The jury is still out on this one. The eternal division of Ireland into North and South, Michael Collins (professional guerilla fighter) sent as delegate and envoy to London by Eamonn De Valera, to lose the battle of words. Was the choice deliberate? The beginning of Dáil Eireann. The start of our political parties who ironically can never agree and today stand undecided as to who is Taoiseach even during this commemoration as government has not formed through normal election. Events after the treaty were to become more violent and splintering for Irish people and this would continue into the future.

There is no doubt but the Rising is now immortalised as a battle of legends. A small amount of brave men and women standing for Irish independence. The bystories that we know of with it can be heard in any visit  to Kilmainham jail (where many films such as ‘The Italian Job’ and ‘Michael Collins’ were shot afterwards) and in many of the excellent books on the topic. I watch the dramatised versions, but always cautiously and choose not to fully believe all as fact.Watch this beautiful version of ‘Grace’ performed in Kilmainham Jail.

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Collins was an inspired and moved teenager during this battle.

I love imagining the personality of a poet! Reading their works.  Their books quotes from them. Quotes about them. I then like to try and get inside the reality of the person. Poets were or are living and breathing humans. Just because their word is in print, highly respected and oft quoted doesn’t mean it is law.  It is there for discussion. To provoke thought. Naturally you can only do this with an easy conscience if you have been exposed to the poet for a long time otherwise you can be accused of deliberately jumping to opinions. As an Irish person, I have read Kavanagh intensely which is why I talked about him in Cupid shoots Poetry. Obviously Yeats has been in my world since, well birth really. My home was one of books, reading and writing. So Yeats has been about a long time in my life. I don’t holiday in Sligo without going to his grave! I know. Sounds depressing. You need to see this location however!

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Under Ben Bulben’s careful watch. Drumcliffe, Co.Sligo.

Yeats is synonymous with Easter 1916 to me and many others, I assume as he attempted to document his complex, pained reactions so powerfully in poem Easter 1916 and afterwards in many poems. Every student of Yeats will read this poem. I doubt there is a primary school in Ireland who won’t read it this year especially.

It is very interesting to teach as you can start by talking about Yeats’ respect for Irish heroes gone by.  You can study September 1913 first as the perfect precursor chronologically and thematically. If you clicked the link, you will have seen a typically austere and sternfaced Yeats recite his poem aloud. A worn, embittered and disillusioned Yeats condemns the Irish people for a lack of passion, of bravery and devotion to the cause. He believes their mercenary ways have become priority,  preferring to ‘fumble in a greasy till’ after pennies and profits.  The language he uses likens the people to grubbiness and dirt. He shows his disapproval of their blind faith as they add ‘prayer to shivering prayer’ and implies hypocrisy is at work. Shop owners are showing meanness and no charity. The mantra in this poem, ‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave’ sets and maintains a sombre tone consistently. He remembers patriots such as Edward Fitzgerald (click here), Robert Emmet (click here) and Wolfe Tone (click here), men he personally sees as true Irish heroes, and flings their names at readers as examples of what Irish people should be like. There is no doubting his anger and frustration.

How was he to feel therefore when news arrived to him in London of events in Dublin? It is clear that he has a mixed reaction. I think he does not feel as much pride as pity. I think he is shocked. Fearful even. Overwhelmed. It may be that it is easier to imagine a hero from legends written, as we can now of Pearse or Plunkett.  To Yeats, who knew some of these men socially and had made the odd ‘gibe’ at their meetings and planning, their sudden proactivity stopped him in his tracks.

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He had doubted them. He admits to laughing at them. He suddenly must sit up and listen. Time for laughing had stopped.

A new mantra replaces the one from ‘September 1913’. ‘All is changed,changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born’. The oxymoron in the phrase of a ‘terrible beauty’ is perfect when attempting to summon Yeats’ true feelings on the event.  He should be elated by this show of heroism or passion. Yet he is horrified.  The reality in the cold light of day and in the present is too raw, too difficult to applaud.

By stanza two he tries to speak of each patriot. He uses the third person such as ‘that woman’s’ (Countess  Markievez). He even tributes Major John McBride who married his deepest and most infamous (albeit unrequited) love, Maud Gonne .

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Yeats begrudgingly magnanimous admittal that  he must ‘number’ McBride in his ‘song’ is interesting. He also calls him a ‘drunken vainglorious lout’. We realise the extent of Yeats’ altered state of mind by even mentioning the hated rival.

Yeats’ shock and awe continue.

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He comes more complex in his attempts to explain his feelings. Nature becomes a theme as he sees how everything in life keeps moving but their dream was like a ‘stone’ they had become ‘enchanted’ by. They were dogged in their passion.

Fear of the unknown caused many issues for these insurrection fighters as their support waned. What would happen next? Would Westminster waver? Yeats reflects this too.

It is right to remember these events. It is difficult to know how to feel about them. Transience makes the rising feel powerful, brave and fearless, a wonderful moment of Irish uprising for beliefs, just as Yeats feels for the United Irishmen. His bewilderment however I think must reflect the true feelings of the time when an on the ground rising was occuring. Gritty. Destructive. Horrifying.

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So today I will think of that. I will remember all those who died in innocence as well as battle. I will recall the reason the patriots fought and give them salute. Have we had those we could call hero in Ireland since? Many would say only the tragic hunger strikers.

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Events in Belgium, France, Turkey and far too many more places make us see we have not left fear in 1916. A different fear now lives.

A uprising can be inevitable in a place where wrong is done. It is as Yeats says, ‘A terrible beauty is born’ when violence is enforced to stand by passion.

 

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For all who died in all battles of 1916.

Bicycle Thief

Toys that move. Little cars. Bikes. Trikes. Wheels. Gigi is beginning to discover their delights.

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And you all laughed at me, chipping away!

Since her sister was born, she has become very interested in buggies. As a buggy driver that is.  As a passenger, not so much. Although she is great to use a buggy, this is not her latest joy. Another element has taken her fancy. Pushing them herself. It’s sweet to watch her push her sister around the house and Betsy is gleeful. She knows.

It is also a gentle vision of the future. My little girl’s first taste of independence and freedom. How lovely that is. Scary for me. Wonderful too.

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All by myself.

In my parents’ house recently, my mother brought out an old toy of mine for Gigi to try. A yellow and blue trike, in super condition. Almost like new except for a few remnants of Tony the Tiger stickers on the seat left by me one morning after a nutritious breakfast of, umm, Frosties Frosted Flakes!

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Can you see why I am a sugar addict?! Never stood a chance!

Made of sturdy stuff, I raced it around happily for years and my more boisterous sister really put it through its paces, rally style, ten years later. It has hibernated like a gentle old storybook bear in a corner of the airing cupboard and now back it it comes, creakily smiling at the future. Gigi was ecstatic. Immediately on, she couldn’t quite ‘do’ the pedals so moved it about a bit with kicks. After a bit of help getting off the trike, she went for her coat and hat. ‘Mammy, bye bye Nana, home’. Outdoor clothes on, she took my hand and with the other dragged along the bike to the door. She looked at me. Her expression said, ‘let’s go now with this thing before anyone catches on’. Bicycle Thief.

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Ma, no one is looking so I might just take this chicken…

Within minutes she was in the car with her sister, tricycle sitting happily between them. Beams all around.

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My mother tells me when they bought me that bike I was three. I insisted on holding it in the back of the car too, all the way home. Thrilled. (No car seats then. The eighties.) In the middle of the night my mother awoke to the sounds of bumps and thumps. Peeping into my room, she saw I was out of bed and cycling around the room. Delighted with myself.

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Happy face.

I picked up Gigi from crèche the other day. All the children were outside playing. I looked for her. Sitting in a toy push car, she waved furiously at me from the gap ‘window’. She showed off her Flintstone style moves. Backwards is mastered.  Forwards is a work in progress.

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I praised her. Then we tried to leave. No. She whimpered as I helped her out. Am I accidentally hurting her I worried? Is she ok? She then pointed at the car. I knew we were about to have our first problem leaving crèche. Realising she wanted to go home, she also didn’t want to leave this car. This was not Nana’s house however where Mammy picked up the trike and aided and abetted in the crime. So Gigi pushed the car all the way to the gate as if it had broken down.  She tried taking my hand so we would be taking the car together. I kneeled down and explained. We parked up the car. A very sad Gigi blew it kisses from half way down the road.

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Getaway cars

We learned the lesson about ‘leaving things behind us that aren’t ours’. Now, I know I participated in teaching the wrong lesson the day we ‘stole’ a bicycle. We did learn it correctly this time however and she knows!

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We could have been huge!

Birthdays are coming. Sometimes you don’t need to be sweet sixteen for a certain type of car. In the meantime, it’s nice to see the old Raleigh trike fight another day!

 

 

The Joys of Two Under Two!

It is time to extol the pleasures of being a Mam of two under two. They won’t be this small and sweet for ever. I will look back and long for these days. They may be long, tiring and at times very stressful but they are always, always worth it. I started this blog with a mission. To start exercising. No, there is still dirt and dust aplenty on the spanking new treadmill bought in flawed optimism two babies ago in the spare room (how on earth will we move that so Betsy will have her own space when she moves into that room? Another question for another day!). No, not physical excerise. Jumping Jacks can go away for another day. No. Emotional exercise.  It was An exercise in happiness. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. Motherhood. Responsibility. Bad weather.  Starting to blog, I hoped, would help me deal with this unwanted feeling of pressure. Something I could do in spare minutes, in the middle of a wakeful night or even after lights out. You might get a rewarding feeling, I thought, that will help you be a successful mother. I hoped it would be beneficial. Has it been? I truly believe so. Cathartic even.

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The sun is peeping through. Metaphorically mainly. Evelyn the weather lady might disagree.

Being able to write, chat and rant without judgement, to others who I may feel are daily visitors to my life, but I have never actually met, has really been tremendously therapeutic. So thank you one and all. You guys are helping me live the bigger picture. I always could see it. It was a bit too elusive though, carefully framed and a little out of reach, but now I think I can say I am there. Inside frame.

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Friends of ours are expecting twins. Excellent news. At times however, the Dad to be is spitting feathers.  Every work colleague or jocular buddy has told him that his life is ruined. Once or twice is bearable. Repeatedly is insufferable. Sure, he is known as someone who lives a healthy social life and also gets to go to lots of sporting events. Maybe they will be paused awhile.  It is unfair however to throw such negativity his way, I feel. Their life will change . Their life will be amazing.

The Joys? Let us dwell a little.

Today Gigi was standing on furniture when she’s not allowed. I warned her gently. Waggly finger, eye contact, shaking head, no-no, the usual.  She would lose her cartoon if she did it again. She did it again.  I turned off the TV. She ran to me ‘I sowwy Mammy, I sowwy’, she said very coaxingly. Grinning at me. Winningly. I turned away for a second to smile.  It was her first true apology. I don’t even know how she learned to do it so well. I hadn’t even realised she knew my warnings were warnings. So many firsts as she learns to talk.  We were hugging and playing baby dolls seconds later, TV and furniture standing forgotten as usual in zip time. It was TV caused the issue in the first place. Bored. She needed interaction. I had been busy with Betsy. We played babies therefore, all three. I live and learn with two babies.

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Inclusion. We all want it, so why not babies too?

Betsy is so new in our world yet so central to it already.  How can a four month old have such a laughing presence, such a vivacious personality, such a command of an audience? Gigi loves her. They are too little to fight. The joys of their age. Betsy cried yesterday as I was changing Gigi. I popped Gigi down and said, ‘Quick, run see if Betsy’s OK!”. Engaged straight away, her curly little head popped up, ‘Oh! OK Mammy!’and she tore away in urgency,  I watching her closely as I dealt with nappy clean up. Behind her in moments, I held back to watch the scene. Betsy in her swinger beaming. Gigi on her knees jabbering. ‘OK Baby Beh (she can’t say the full name yet) OK baby?’. She laid her head on her lap and kept changing the music buttons. It was beautiful. Naturally the incident itself is amazing. Also, I don’t know if it seeing yourself reflected in such a loving manner being such a compliment and relief or is it that your 23 month old can’t say her sister’s name yet but is able to show love and comfort so deftly, but there is definitely the feeling of a magic spell or higher being at work in those times. Joys. Wonders.

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It is a joy to look at your children’s faces in the morning when you peep into the cots and they beam at you. Sure, some mornings they are grumpy. Rare though. Very rare. Small children love morning time. It is a pleasure to see when they are wanting, that you and Daddy can satisfy their need with hugs, snacks you provide or games. Betsy and I have a moment every evening at bedtime.  She is sleeping twelve hours now. I know, this is probably the main  reason I feel happier and the writing is only an aside!! It is not just the sleep. It is her complete look of happiness and satisfaction when I play with her. Sing. Rhyme. Speak Irish. She thinks my attempts at Gaeilge are hysterical so I keep doing it. Now Mrs Healey (old teacher), who said my Irish needed focus!?! This is our time together. Giggles and laughs. She is clutched to me. We are so close physically that I have been unable to grab the phone and tape it so far. I can’t break the clench.

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The Joys are many and far reaching. Yes my hair is unwashed half the time. I spend days dealing with nappies, (an extreme amount of poo. There, I said it) laundry, food and handling an inhuman amount of baby wipes. Throw up related extra work occurs at least once a fortnight. Toys are everywhere. I sing songs all day. My recycling bin, once full of wine bottles now only holds empty baby medicine jars and diet mineral tins. If I don’t eat right, I cannot get away with it and have full scale meltdowns and mood crashes.  My sleep is an aside to being a night watchman for my children’s safety.

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Yet I am away from them right now. In a Starbucks. Sneaky hour away. I have bought them clothes.  I am thinking of them. I have looked at pictures of them. I am writing about them. I am in love with my family. Everything else falls in behind. The Joys of my two under two. My blessings. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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Their future as sisters is so exciting to imagine.

I am a teacher and often have to work with poets such as Plath and Dickinson, renowned for depression (Plath) and reclusivity (Dickinson). I find that I try to sell other sides of these women to my students. Their intelligence. Beauty. Skills. I don’t think they should be overshadowed by horror. So now I plan to quote a Plath poem that means so much to me. I almost tear up when teaching it now whereas pre motherhood I was indifferent. I wish that I could forget Plath’s tragedy when reading her works so every poem is not affected. I omit the first three stanzas of this poem because they are part of another story in another location. The three stanzas I place in are so beautiful and simple. A woman listening for her child. Ready to nurture. Tired. Emotional. Joyful. A paradox of feelings which culminates in love. Their words ring so true. I also never fully felt their power until I had children. So how can I expect my students to? I once had a class of 18 year olds which included a few more mature students. One of the mature students was older than me, a married  soldier who had served peacekeeping time in Afghanistan and Chad and had two children. He spoke at length about Plath’s ‘Child’ and ‘Morning Song’ in class. He could relate.  I could not. Who taught who that day? I hope I am not egotistical enough to think that I didn’t learn from him. We all did.

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That last line. So beautiful.
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The joys of being Mammy.

So I feel joys again.  I can enjoy this experience. I am blessed. Fancy Paper is helping all the way and all of you out there too!

Bespectacled

I must preface this by saying that the worry I talk about here had probably nothing to do with glasses. I am probably still unable to verbalise where it came from. I have tried.

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Trying is all I can do.

A recent visit to the public health nurse alerted us to the fact that Gigi’s eyes would need checking by a specialist. I know it is not a big deal. I just didn’t want to believe it. We seem to have so many hospital visits and appointments for every little thing that one more seemed almost unfair. I also didn’t know how this would work. How does a 23 month old deal with glasses if they need them? Or even an eye patch? I just felt a bit deflated.

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Will she even keep them on??!!

We got the referral letter and sent it off to the hospital. A quick response was just a tease as the information inside told us we had an at least 58 week wait. I kid you not! We couldn’t do that! Our doctor recommended a lady in a local town as a private option. 100 euro for the appointment. She would see us on the Saturday coming. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.  Get it over with I thought.  Those clothes for the dreaded ‘back to work’ event can wait another while. Let the moths fly from your wallet!

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Great start! Just 99 more please.

I was stressed beyond belief that morning.  You know those days when you wake up edgy? You are overheated, uncomfortable, need the loo but can’t get there,  too dehydrated to get immediate relief from water and are just irritable beyond reality and definitely not a joy to behold? Yes. That morning I had the Prom Queen Sash for Irritability. The pre planning to go out. The overpacking. The organisation of someone to watch Betsy while we went. Realising the appointment was at ten not half ten. Aghhhhhh!! Normally I could deal with this better but I believe I was stressed. You know when you think you’re fine and don’t realise until later that you were under a great deal of pressure? I was there. With big old bells on. It wasn’t just the eyetest. Mr Paper was with the vet that morning awaiting a very important herd test result and he was very stressed too. We had been told the eyedrops Gigi needed would sting and she would be blurry. I would need to take her away for over an hour and then back again for the test. I was worried about how she would deal with it all. Mr Paper felt bad as he wanted to be with us. He wasn’t even able to watch Betsy. My Mam was coming over. A lot depended on our morning going well.

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Shoulder pains.

I have worn glasses since the age of seven. A standard school ear and eye check confirmed the need and a visit to an optician meant I had to wear them for six months. I still have them. I am 35.

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I remember the grey haired old man who knew all about eyes, therefore was always right on the subject, asking me about ‘excessive reading’ and I feeling guilty telling him that yes, I read at night in bed. Almost like yes, I smoke Carrolls cigarettes at night sir. I am evil.  He said my eye was weakened as I read with my head laying left side on the pillow and I overworked my right eye. I now think this part is poppycock but he was correct about one thing. I did need the glasses for whatever reason. Hereditary short-sightedness probably . I didn’t tell the optician about the flashlight I kept for after lights out sneaky reading time . Am sure this would be a no-no.

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Glasses and I are old friends. I choose the frames over lenses mainly. Occasionally I pop in the contacts for vanity mainly. Over the years I have lost glasses, broken them, had them driven over or accidentally  bent them out of recognition. My life is less social now. The frames I have now are like Trigger’s broom from the  famous Only Fools and Horses scene . Only four new legs. Several new lenses. A couple of replacement nose pieces. So I am not against glasses. Just medically related visitations.

Well, myself and Gigi got to the clinic after a long search. A well hidden optician this one.  We walked a busy road and I had Gigi’s little hand clenched in mine. The constant terror of traffic and cars speeding by brought my edginess to the pinnacle of an edgier edge. I was tense. I had Gigi prepped. We would meet a lady and she we would look at her eye. Now Gigi just kept declaring ‘EYE’ very seriously and I worried had I over prepped. Worry, worry always worry.

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EYE!!

The optician was lovely. She was young and wore colourful clothes, all silky and pleasantly textured. I knew Gigi wanted to touch them but didn’t.

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Very similar to Dr Farrah actually! Only she didn’t have glasses. Irony.

Her techniques were smart. Teddies and stickers etc. She tried to see how Gigi would take to a potential eyepatch. Not very well. I wore a patch. Teddy wore a patch. Dr Farrah wore a patch. Gigi put one on her cheek.  The drops were put in and it wasn’t nice but Gigi  took it well. At this point glasses were discussed and the prescription she would get. I was despondent but cheery for Gigi’s sake. Glasses. More appointments. More upset.

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Rose tint my spectacles please!

We had to leave for a bit. I brought Gigi and her massive pupils to a Tesco cafe. Changing rooms, easy seats to work, get some shopping in and an ATM available. Gigi loves sausages.  They are a bit of a treat so that’s what we had. I didn’t use a baby seat but cornered her into an armchair which she loved. I drank black coffee speedily with my free arm (one always on Gigi). I used a fork to butter toast. There was no way I could get up and fetch a knife . I wondered about all my years working as a server and hoped I was thoughtful to parents with young children when I realised I was lacking milk and had no way of getting any. I sat quietly letting a fascinated Gigi imitate me by trying to butter toast with a fork and then just lick the fork. I quickly tricked the adopted fork away from her and we left. All the while I was panicking and uncomfortable. It wasn’t until we got to the car, all strapped in and happy that I realised I had forgotten to use the ATM and nearly burst into frustrated tears. Another stop at a busy garage. Another fretful handholding  walk with buttery fingers, a blurry visioned, tired child and the threat of a distracted driver coming out of nowhere. I carried her for safety, which can cause me a lot of problems later see Atlas, did you develop a dodgy heel too?. It was my best option. I am beginning to feel like a whinge!!

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Thank God for you guys.

Gigi was bewildered by this day’s events but happily accepting. She only became upset in the office once. Stinging drops. She only tried to run away from me in Tesco at the checkout as a game and tried to steal someone else’s packet of raw sausages once. ( You must think we are all obsessed with sausages! ). She only cried on the walk by the treacherous road when she wanted to stay going and not turn back. She only cried at the garage when I picked her up as she wanted to be independent and walk. Each time she was fine within seconds. It was me. I was the one in turmoil.

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Such fun!

Back at the ranch, (eye doc) two ladies were in the waiting room. They were going to another clinic for wig fittings. It looked like a mother/daughter. Really sweet people, they gave Gigi a chair and she was thrilled. Gigi copied them by pretending to read like them. I chatted to them and realised that one day myself Gigi and Betsy would sit quietly together reading perhaps and be supports to each other. I don’t who needed the wig or why.  I just said a little prayer that they were both OK.

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Once your baby, always your baby.

Meanwhile there was a little boy giving it large with Dr Farrah. To us outsiders who could only hear, it was like he was being tortured. He screamed. Bellowed. I could imagine his twists and wriggles as he yelled, ‘Get away from me!’. His Granny came out of the room to us leaving his Mum to it. She was angry at the boy, saying he was bold.  He wouldn’t get his toy. I saw a truck in plastic wrap awaiting him and his potential ‘good’ behaviour, in his buggy and felt guilty as I brought no treat for Gigi. OK, she had had sausages,  every Irish person’s happy food! It sounded like the truck was staying in plastic. The little boy was having the check Gigi was due in for. I sweated.

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She casually sat on her seat, blissfully ignoring the wild cries from ‘Behind the Door’ and then sweetly tapped me on the shoulder as I was mid conversation with the ladies. I had just been saying how I wasn’t sure if Gigi would keep glasses on. ‘Mammy.  I want glasses’, she announced smiling. Her full sentences only properly began in the last few months so when she takes part in conversation I still find it amazing.  I took out the purple blingtastic sunglasses I had gotten for her for practice and she happily let me put them on her. Meanwhile out came the little boy and his angry, harassed Mam. ‘He is not good, he is very bold’ she announced and I knew he had not done the test. My little fairy plopped in to Dr Farrah.  Took up the Thomas the Tank Engine toy the Dr had used to coax the little boy. Played choochoo. Was tested. Smiled. Then that magical lady told me she wouldn’t need glasses.  Indeed she didn’t need another appointment for at least a year. I nearly kissed her.

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Choochoo!

On the way out, Gigi hugged the doc in full view of the poor little lad sitting passively dejected on a seat with his fuming Mam and Nan waiting to go though the whole process again.

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I reckon they thought I was smug. It wasn’t that. I was relieved.owl-151554_640

A text message came through.  The cows were fine. Buoyancy became the mood. Myself and a chipper Gigi sang Old McDonald until there was a silence in the car. She was fast asleep.

So really it takes massive relief to make you realise how heavily your worries are loading you down . We needed the cattle to be good. I think I needed a reprieve from my children needing appointments. I just want then to be well and healthy like any Mam would. I am sure that little boy was fine when he went in. I also really hope the two ladies going to the wig fitting are doing good.

Myself and Mr Paper went to a fabulous Indian restaurant that night. Mr Paper’s Mam came to watch the girls as she thought we deserved a rare night out. Two hours was all we needed. Amazing food and a Cobra beer each. Too tired for dessert,  we went home to bed. We didn’t need the sweet stuff. Relief was dessert enough.

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Happy spectacle bears. Relieved.

Eyeballs

Warning: sad tale afoot!

Cats were always my pets as a child. I wanted a dog. In fact I wanted a specific dog. I wanted the Enid Blyton creation ‘Shadow the Sheepdog’ from the novel I had read and read until the pages came away.

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Anyone else love this book? I imagined that he was real and mine!

I imagined I had a dog. Teddies etc. Sad old me!! Then again,  I pretended my bike was a horse too and called it Toffee.

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The dream.

Myself and my neighbour (not allowed any pet, strict Mammy, kinda hated our cats ) would play ‘Grand National’ and make a list of horse names. We would then ‘race’ on our horse bikes around the meadow. Yes, we had a meadow. No horses or dogs though! Mainly because we ‘live on the main road to Cork you know!’. The horse was always a pipedream. Expensive and hard work. When I was young however, I really thought my parents didn’t think dogs were worth the effort with an animal murdering highway outside the front lawn. Cats were more replaceable. Sorry to offend! It was the truth though! I thought this was their reasoning. Now I know. They were protecting me from the potential heartbreak of a beloved dog dying before its time.

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Never underestimate the power of a  bicycle in childhood play.

This is not to say I didn’t love my cats. I absolutely did. Until 1995 approximately all my pet cats were tame and loveable. Scamper the black cat. Daphne the black and white. Tom the ginger (My first word was Dom as a result of Tom the ginger!). Smartie who only lived six months. Toby the tabby. Many more. I got older however and at seventeen was away at college. All the nice, clean, pleasant cats had met their maker over the years and gone to the great cattery in the sky. In the eighties, our road was dangerous (double bend)  but was nothing compared to what it became in the late nineties. Faster, more powerful cars made pet raising hell for my parents. After several tragedies, they had stopped taking in little kittens to rear. My little sister’s relationship with pets had become quite a bit more traumatic than my own. They swore never again would they have one. Too upsetting. Nonetheless, they were soft hearted and fed occasional strays at the back door. These guys were wayyy more street wise.

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A bit less of this…

Not like my little Beatrix Potter kittens, running after spools and cheekily climbing into airing cupboards to hide. No. They had an air of ‘been there, done that’ about them.

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I could tell you tales that would make your skin crawl and your teeth rattle!

Moggies. Flea bags.  Hobos. Drop in, drop outs. Rarely killed by cars. Looked two ways. They knew the way around a bin. They knew before recycling really happened and they had to negotiate the tincans, toilet rolls and  tough potato skins to get to the beef rinds or whatever. Occasionally a few of these strays made my parents their number one care givers (cats make their own decisions) and occasionally would become tame enough to rub against a human leg. That’s about it. Once wild, always wild really in catworld. My parents’ house began to take on the air of Boys Town for cats.

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Spencer Tracey playing Fr Flanagan in this true story.

On one occasion a cat adopted my parents by staying around. It didn’t take long to see why. As her belly grew, we realised she had probably been abandoned as female cats tend not to stray like males. Too late to neuter, she had her kittens in our shed. Feral as she was, I know that if you can handle a kitten early you have a great chance of keeping it tame. So we tried. These kittens however never fully prospered. Sad part coming. ..turn away if you wish. I called them Eyeballs. All of them. My reason was, when you peeped into the basket,  all you saw were their big eyes staring up at you. Their mother was bewildered. A young cat. We tried to help her, using droppers to feed them. We tried warmth by the fire. They were too weak. They had been lucky to make a few weeks. The mother cat disappeared before we could get her to a vet. My sister was about six at the time. She has never forgotten it. Our desperation to save them. Inevitably, we lost them as life cycles dictate, like many of my wonderful pets before, just earlier and without experiencing the joy they can bring. My sister swears she will never own a cat of her own as an adult. I have had two. Both met sad ends. I still always encourage her not to dismiss the idea totally.

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It makes me wonder.

Cats are homely. Independent. Vain. Intelligent.  Beautiful.  Divisive. Unforgettable if you ever felt one became a friend. I watched cats keep my grandmother happy in her old age.

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My cats often went to my  Granny next door for treats. Some stayed altogether. Chilled out environment.

I owe them a lot for childhood memories. I will probably never own one again.  I don’t think where I live suits them. I have digressed however. More than you know!

You see, there was a reason I wrote this post today. It wasn’t supposed to be about tragic kittens and childhood challenges. It was supposed to be about my relationship with eyes and bringing that into parenting. My lifetime wearing glasses and passing on my short-sightedness to my children.  Bringing my little girl to the optician for the first time. I started by talking about the cats and these kittens especially.  Now they are the story.  It took over! I will blog again about the optician visit. Now I am led to wondering, are pets always a good idea for children?  Their first introduction to grief?  Is it worth it? We have two dogs now. Not like Shadow! Two little white Bichon Frise. Friendly. Naughty! Loveable.

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We love them. Were my parents right? Will the heart-rending story of what may happen to them be worth it? I reckon so. It has to be. I can remember the tears of losing a pet. I can also remember the playtime, the cuddles, the love. The camraderie of a pet. My little girl squeals in delight when the dogs run around her legs. She is not afraid of any animal. I reckon her little sister will be the same. I am also sure we will always have pets. We love animals too much not to.  So we take the risk! Not all stories are stories about Eyeballs.  Some are about Shadows. Friendship and warmth. Learning about life. An interesting and nostalgic digression, don’t you think?!

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