Ulster American Folkpark

With the hard/ soft border controversy being such a big issue at the forefront of Irish politics, I think blogging about a daytrip in this historical park is timely.

I live in the Irish Midlands – south of the border, as they say. I have grown up watching the troubles on the news as one of the Irish who didn’t experience it first hand. I am a history teacher and have some knowledge on the history of our border. I have been ‘over it’ countless times (the border that is) and despite the crossing in the eighties and the now, being a world of a difference, my experiences of the counties have always been the same. I have loved visiting those six counties. I am very, very aware however of the struggles Irish people had in Ulster however and can understand when they feel like we southerners can never fully understand.

My friends and I decided to travel up north for a few days without  a second thought. Our main drive was to visit the tourist attraction that is in the post title- The Ulster American Folk park.

I find that I am often painfully aware of the tragedies of Irish history when site seeing and the ironies that it brings. The Famine Memorial statue in Dublin is the most poignant tribute and it never fails to move me. the-famine-memorial-statues-in-dublin-docklands-ireland-drykhpAs a country girl, I only ever see it when in the Big Smoke. I am usually only in the capital for entertainment. Therefore I always think of the horrors of the Famine as I have just been wined and dined or about to see David Grey in The Convention Centre or watch Wicked at the Bord Gais. It is like Christmas time. My first memories of Christmas parties in pubs includes large groups of inebriated and happy folk, arms around each other, chanting the sad lyrics of Feed the World (Let them know it’s Christmas Time) as they sweat out the evening’s indulgences in beer, wine and the four course meal that proceeded it. In museums and parks such as this, I always look for the coffee shop and a potentially wonderful array of cake as only an Irish bakery can provide. This time however, I think of me eating chocolate cake and drinking Americanos as more than a bit rich as we are about to learn the stories of people whose have had extremely little to live on. We particularly feel for those on the ships and the dry biscuity goods they lived on- potentially weevil studded. I start feeling like Marie Antoinette- richly oblivious of my life’s good luck.

Therefore I will not blog about this park as just a review, I will refer to how child friendly it is or isn’t out of respect to my parenting blogger friends but will also focus on what I saw in the park and how I feel that stands now.

It is such a terrific idea. The Ulster people are honoring and remembering the folk from their province who emigrated over the years to America in a most innovative fashion, an outdoor museum. It brings us through the journey in a kinaesthetic way following the Mellon family who would become wealthy bankers in the US later on their lives. Firstly there is a centre of pictorial and textual information which brings you through 300 years of emigrants’ stories, looking at the Titanic time also. You then enter the park into an Ireland of old. Firstly rural life of the poor and contrastingly more affluent Irish is portrayed.

Thick with turf smoke, I couldn’t properly photograph the interior of a poverty stricken tenant cottage as my senses could barely stand the smoke impregnated air. It was also hard to see. I feel great sympathy for the lady in the corner who sits there as part of her job! One family of a large number would dwell in a one room home using curtains to divide sleeping space. We marvelled at how people made do in terribly tough circumstances. You pass the cottages on the outskirts and understand how poverty made people survive in cramped, smoky environs. I think of us in our large comfortable houses and cannot help but compare the times. Are we not fortunate? We see the home of a wealthier family, the Mellon family. Again, what is noticeable is the fog of the peat burning.

There is much more space. Whitewashed walls and bread making, potatoes to peel and boil are on show. We see the art of candle and bread making in process. From here, we walk through a local ‘town’, fully recreated and stunning in detail. There are people in full costume at each area, answering questions and teaching us about what we see.

We then walked in through the large doors to a mock shipyard itself and board the typical vessel that emigrants travelled upon.

We hear the stories of illness and tragedies, the hopes, solitudes and fears of the times. I think of when I moved to England for two years. I could travel home easily. I had comfort on those flights, yet the homesickness still ate me alive. I think of these people having to contain both physical and mental emotions and stay strong in the knowledge they may never return. When you leave the ship, you step out on ‘American soil’ : a port laid out as if it were years ago.

We see the pickled foods lined up in the general store and the array of canned goods that a newbie must marvel at. Lima beans? A far cry from home.

The journey continues with you walking the city streets in Pennsylvania and finally out to the homeland that was created by the emigrants lucky to do so. Many examples of homesteads are there to inspect and you really feel as if you are standing on the American soil of the past. The differences in sights and sounds were subtle yet very effective. We noticed more wood use over stone.

There were brighter rooms- lighter colours inside. There was more use of patchwork over wool in counterpanes. Of course, there was no peat. Instead, the scent of log fires replaced it.

We no longer see baskets of turf, but wood piles. My favourite -a large pumpkin patch- accompanied one dwelling. The methods of gatemaking and cabin building with interlocking logs were ingenius.

There are basements to cellars with outdoor entrances and water is carefully channelled to make a cooling room for milk etc. Exploring here is great fun and so different to what we usually see in Ireland. You can’t help but learn about it as you are immersed in it.

So as a historical empathiser, I didn’t have to work too hard. The tour was doing it for me as we were interactively part of this journey.

Would I bring kids? Absolutely. Smaller ones will enjoy the walks, the domestic pets and the occasional hiding robin.

There are toilet facilities all the way around. Older ones may have a chance to open their minds to the historical past and the challenges that existed in Ulster previous to The Troubles and the current political debates. They will see, as I did, the strength in humanity and will see celebrated the tapestry of emigrant life as people because everything from millionaires to swindlers in this new world.20170808_115253

It puts me in mind of the poetry of Eavan Boland and her constant theme of figures ‘outside history’. They may not be named in history books, but they are very much part of our make up. This poem, Outside History has a darkness that I don’t fully feel in this museum of hope, however the first two stanzas stay with me as I travel about the Ulster American Folk Park.

Eavan Boland.89f1813181abed6e52dfb3948f11d151.jpg

Here are two advertisements that I found intriguing  in the park. I will leave you with those.

Picture Credits:



My own attempts at photography😊



A World of Pure Imagination

Start of the school year usually requires that I am immersed, headfirst, plunging and free falling, swimming frantically for survival into a sibilant Shakespearean sea. Romeo and Juliet for third year, King Lear for fifth year, Hamlet for sixth and repeat year. This term is no different. Head down, eyes blindly open, I am competently, happily and often indulgently devouring the imagery only visible in the works of the Bard. Frantically tape changing, rewinding and clip downloading. Tapes are so such better than CD for this type of work! Themes of kingship control my thoughts. Imagery of  disease and decay clog my breathing space. Corruption and chaos reign. This will be the course until good forces can possibly tip the balance and win in the end. Around October midterm tends to be the time a restoration of calm and order arrives to a renewed Denmark, a devastated Verona and a damaged Britain. We have lived to see a new day.william-shakespeare-67765_640

We haven’t abandoned the worlds of Othello, The Merchant of Venice or the evils existent in The Scottish play.

They are just not on our course this year. We know these turbulent tragedies boil and fizz away ominously, a pit of emotion veiled beneath a dustily ragged jacket, awaiting their time to retell their tales.

An occasional comic interlude intercepts the tragedy for fear we fall foul to an oblivion of disaster. .. this may be when my student calls Cordelia from Lear ‘Cinderella’ without a trace of irony. Ironic in itself as the play is awash with dramatic irony. Giggles are allowed in my classroom.  Often encouraged. Would you believe!lotus-563456_640

I have been verbose and verbal all week. Lecturing. Explaining. Defining. Repeating. Occasionally ‘doing voices’ at the risk of my reputation.

Not complaining.  I love it.

You couldn’t do it if you didn’t love it.

It is Saturday however and there is a lump in my throat. A pain in my ear. This is the teacher’s version of tennis elbow.  It will pass. I am used to it. It is the chaos I must experience until order can be restored.

Until my voice box becomes used to the excessive taking aloud after the considerable amount of talking to myself or small children all summer. Gentler tones not booming commands. Wheedling promises as opposed to a strict ‘no takebacks’ oral discopline. A ‘no touch’ policy replaces the abundance of cuddles that accompany parenting. Compliments, constructive criticism create a cacophonous classroom.

It had to happen. It is a yearly event.

My speech has been obstructed by the growls of onomatopoeia. I look out the window at the teeming rain but can see the glimmer of a hopeful sun away on the horizon start a slow crawl towards our home as I painfully swallow my tea. Machiavellian treachery stalking my classroom and in turn my mind has manifested into physical personal  pain. Assonance has put a cut to my gut and my mouth is shut. Speaking aloud is like slicing and severing sections of blistering, sun sorched skin. Personified. A cacophonos chaotic classroom has killed my fondness for  phonics.

Ouch. Assaulted by the alphabet.

Being back in the classroom after summer has many benefits.


I love the subject.  So much.

It is nice to have official breaks-where I can drink entire cups of coffee! It is good to feel clean. Mostly. Marker dust aside. I like my other role. I just know why Batman felt the need for two personas in life. bitmoji-20160928113450The students make me smile. They challenge me. I am ready.

One price is the voice box.  Temporary. A few choking in front of my class episodes will occur.  I will get through.

This is no tragedy.

We will march on. Life’s a stage. We are merely players. With the occasional frog in our throat. theatre-91882_640.jpg


Castle Leslie

Going away without the kids. It makes me jittery to even think of it! It is nerve wracking and guilt inducing (all Mammies live with perennial guilt I feel) but sends a tentative shiver of excitement, a thrill down the spine too. Forbidden fruit and all that.

The potential. Eating dinner whilst staying in one spot. No jumping up and down to various needs. No food bolting. Just indulgent enjoyment. No nappies.

No worries about rude, sudden steps appearing to block stroller access or changing facility availability.

Looking after one set of clothes.

No missing dodo freak out. 

No strict naptime to adhere to…Unless it is for you.

Which brings me to the magic words…lie in. bitmoji-20160624011618

My husband has been trying desperately for weeks to plan a weekend away and in the end organised a VERY fancy pants weekend to Castle Leslie . It is where Paul McCartney married Heather Mills, sir-paul-mccartney-1429499_640don’t you know, thereby reinvigorating interest and popularity in the old pile and now tourists flock through the doors.

Including Mr Paper and myself!

He is spoiling me.

Betsy has had a hard time but a diagnosis of reflux (again!) and the introduction of Gaviscon (Groundhog Day) are actually appearing to have made a difference so I was not so panicked about leaving the little ladies. Mr Paper’s extremely efficient sister and her husband, alongside a (much loved by Gigi) daughter (aged eight) were coming en force to mind the Paper ladies.

We packed. I overcooked. I labelled anything not moving (much to sister in law’s amusement) and maybe even stuck lables on the children’s heads as precautions. I explained all to Gigi calling it a holiday so she would have the idea. Thankfully Peppa goes on holiday (to Italy!) So this was an acceptable, logical and rational amount of information for our eldest.

If Peppa does it, then it is ok!

We left.

We were OK. No one cried. No one screamed.  Everyone was happy.

The children were content too…!

We had coffees halfway there. Just us two. Outside a cafe on benches. Mr Paper relaxed. I furiously looked through my phone images showing pictures to him of our kids as if they were little people he had never seen before.

We got there. Two and half hours driving. Wrecked and hungry. I must say it was nice not to unpack a million bags. Just this once.

This beautiful getaway in Co.Monaghan is a luxurious, fairytalesque and a restorative place for a couple to reconnect. We did just that this weekend and right here in this glorious estate, surrounded by nature and simplicity.

Walking into history.

It is attached to the quaint village of Glaslough.

We left the estate for one drive-in a type of poetry pilgrimage- to Inniskeen, the birthplace and burial site of poet Patrick Kavanagh. 20160618_113059I have mentioned him before when I blogged Cupid shoots Poetry, focusing on a ballad I love called On Raglan Road, but arguing the fact that it is not a typical ‘love’ poem in topic. My favourite poem of all time is A Christmas Childhood Click here to read it by Kavanagh but I found myself thinking more of  Inniskeen Road: July Evening whilst there. We visited his grave-a modest affair. I looked eagerly for the entrance to the Patrick Kavanagh Resource Centre. It is closed on Saturday and Sunday. The cafe that looked geared towards tourists conflictingly announced it was open …but it was actually closed. I can now see why Kavanagh got so wound up with Inniskeen! Kavanagh felt a paradoxical love/hate relationship with his home and I still have some belief it was partly a self imposed isolation he felt at times. As a teenager studying Kavanagh and reading Inniskeen Road: July Eveninginniskeen-road-july-evening I casually judged his inability to socialise and wondered why he didn’t hop on his bicycle and join the gangs on the way to Billy Brennan’s dance! He was just uncomfortable. He is now buried in Inniskeen and as prettily rural and calm as it is, the tourist trail hasn’t enlivened it from what I can see! I wonder if he would liked better in modern times? Or headed for the bright lights of Dublin once again?

I’m off guys.

We stayed just twenty minutes. Lasting a lot less longer!

I am still very pleased to have visited the homeland of a much studied poet.

We went back to our oasis.

Food was key. We dined like kings.

Or former Beatles.

There was a six course extravaganza Saturday night consisting of much foam, steam, curlicues of this and that, gravalax guest appeared and truffle oil starred. Natch! Amuse bouche anyone? Dessert was amazing. A very Masterchef style focusing on the theme of lemon. I keep getting flashbacks. Mr Paper had a cheese board and what an impressive affair that was! I have no pictures. I abandoned the phone. Just this one time!

We had  MUCH indigestion.  I confess to having enjoyed that meal but preferring the food the night previous in the castle bar-Conor’s bar. A pork and chorizo burger on pretzel bread. Glass of Pinot bitmoji-20160624012649Grigio. Fabulous!

A little wander around the stables was relaxing and fun. We watched some lessons and lived a different life for an hour.

Spa treatments occurred. Facials. One thing as a a Mam I have realised is that I have foregone proper skin care at night in favour of a quick wash and moisturiser rub. I know this will ultimately mean aging early (yikes) so the facial was great. The spa insight is called The Victorian Rooms and is designed using all the typical duck egg blues, off whites and sage greens of the period. So pretty! Lying on a chaise longue, peppermint tea and a small glass of fruit smoothie afterwards, I almost felt like myself again.

Going green.

It was wonderful to relax. A few drinks. A few treats. Sleep.

It was good to get home to our babies too.

Getting away is essential if you can do it. This time was an especially wonderful treat.

I have brought home a little piece of Glaslough with me though…a reminder.

Who doesn’t love a village that makes its own chocolate?


A Moment

In this moment…

Everyone is asleep.

Except me.

It is midday. Saturday. Chaos is not reigning.

Outside rain pounds the pavement.

Hailstones appear.

The dogs are indoors. Asleep.

Both babies dream.

A poorly husband, rarely ill,  gone upstairs to nap, is fast asleep.

He will be cross I didn’t wake him. It is rare he sleeps.  He needs this.

I am awake.

I am awake and living vicariously through Guy Martin,  watching him attempt take the World Record on the Wall of Death.

I watch him risk his life. I am safe behind a red LLBean quilt. Eating sausage casserole. Planning tea and a scone.

All in a moment.

Guy Martin Record Attempt

(Inspired by Eavan Boland poem ‘This Moment’. What I have splattered out is not meant to be a poem!)

I set a little challenge now. Why don’t you read the poem and describe your own moment in time? Please tag me!

If you like!


Easter 1916

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

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?

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 .

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.

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.


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.


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.


For all who died in all battles of 1916.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

That last line. So beautiful.
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!

Cupid shoots Poetry

Poetry and I are friends. In fact, poetry is a central part of my job. My passion for verse is bottomless. Thankfully!  I don’t believe myself actor enough to fake it. I teach teenage boys poetry. A LOT of poetry. Outsiders often comment. Not for all the money in the world, they say, could I do that. I have found however that if you love looking at mouseholes enough and have some oratory skill then you can definitely convince someone else to have a peek too!

My poor students are prisoners of poetry!

Poems are too depressing. I often hear this. I agree. The poetry we force our children to study often is. So today, as a Valentine’s gift to poetry, I handpicked a few poets and their works that my classes engaged with and are linked by a central theme of love. My interest in these particular poems is how their subjects appear versus their topics in reality. Famous for, renowned for, or presumably about love are how they outwardly seem. In reality,  however, other themes pervade that make me question how much these poems deserve to be filed in the ‘Romance’ section. Really, these poems made excellent classroom discussion making my day feel worthwhile.


‘On Raglan Road’ by Patrick Kavanagh.5ef2328e89bbf2551714809a0aa8600b.jpg

‘On Raglan Road’ is one of Ireland’s great poems. Set to music,as ‘The Dawning of the Day’ it can often be heard as a plaintive ballad, sung without accompaniments and to a crowd where a pin could drop with a mighty crash. Easy to teach as most pupils will have heard  the tune and I find that boys like to hum along to Irish ballads learning the words as they go. A truly great love song from Kavanagh to his beloved? So it seems. On closer inspection however,  my class and I thought not!

On first impressions, the poem appears a devotion to love. Beautiful autumnal day, her wonderful dark hair and the alliterative and real Raglan Road itself all magically combine to the romance. He personifies the dark locks as ‘a snare’ that he might ‘one day rue’. We probably should see the threat peeping out here to true love. Kavanagh tells us himself! Yet the ‘danger’ is cancelled out through the imagery of the ‘enchanted way’, a metaphorical love road that he travels. He ignores the grief he believes that may befall him. At this point, Kavanagh appears very much the lovestruck young man, a puppy dog at her feet. She is all powerful. I feel I  wrongly imagine a magnificent, yet somewhat icy woman. Then I must remind myself. We only have Kavanagh’s image and words, one sided to say the least. I think I must give the lady a chance before she is mischarged, another Boleyn girl associated with witchcraft by an egotistical dominater! Harsh words? Read on the poem!!

‘A snare that I might one day rue’ Kavanagh

Kavanagh imagines himself dating her as such and how it is like walking a cliff edge. It is a ‘ravine’ where he may plummet at any minute. He is making no headway with her, ‘I not making hay’ mourns . I wonder if this girl is not wishing Kavanagh might just leave her alone? Is it possible he is being blinded to her indifference? It does not seem that they are dating at all. We think that she has the made the mistake of being nice to him and he is now imagining more than is real. Can this happen? Both male and female students have thought yes, it most certainly can!

Is Kavanagh arrogant to push his chances with a girl that may have no interest in him romantically? Look at the third quatrain. A distinctly self- pitying Kavanagh tells us of the ‘gifts of the mind’ and ‘poems to say with her own name’ he lavished upon her. This is fine and nice of him! He feels his written work is a wonderful gift of talent that she may not be appreciating. However,we see bitterness appear in the final stanza as he appears to refer to himself as as ‘angel’ wooing a creature of the earth, a mere mortal, ungifted perhaps as he might be, and who may have put him in danger of losing his ‘wings’ as realisation dawns that she doesn’t love him. Arrogant Kavanagh! My students have asked me was Kavanagh in fact gone so far to as to stalk this girl? A modern teenager’s outlook on love. If he had Facebook would he have hounded her? As it stands, he only seemed to meet her by chance on the streets of Dublin, as life was before social media, and as she was ‘walking now away from me so hurriedly’ this surely was a sign that she was disinterested. She may as well have pressed ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow’!

She’s just not that into me

Is it a love poem? We aren’t sure if love is here.Obsession maybe. My class don’t feel it deserves to be seen as a true love poem as it gives creedance to obsessional behaviour! I cannot help but love this poem however. Kavanagh most certainly writes beautifully. I will always stop talking and fall into the silence of a hushed crowd when someone chooses to gift us with singing this beautiful piece. It is just a niggle that I have actually listened to the words and know all is not well with love in this case!


‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Duffy isn’t wasting any money

It is the title that made my students confused here. They expected flowers and chocolates, promises and favours. What was the onion all about? The boys really didn’t see what Duffy was getting at. Was she serious? Would she really give her lover a symbolic vegetable? Or was it only words? They reckoned their girlfriends would not be impressed by such a pungent gift. They definitely decided they wouldn’t like to receive it. This excludes one well meaning chap who thought it would be fine if you were starving hungry! Interestingly,   I found that teenage girls loved this poem. The ongoing metaphor worked so simply for them. One girl raved about this being her favourite poem. It made me wonder. Would these girls have appreciated this gift or indeed given it themselves?

Strange looking flower…

Why I chose this poem is because of the underlying sinister element that I often find with Duffy. Her poems fascinate me and I return to them for class discussions as practice work even if they are off exams that year. From the outset, we are tricked by Duffy. The title plays a mind games with us as we imagine the connotations associated with Valentine’s day. However she then uses adjectives and verbs such as ‘fierce’, ‘possessive’, ‘lethal’ and ‘cling’, assaulting us with a love that is vicious or violent in imagery. We are left with an image that should be the antithesis of a Valentine: a knife. Yes, she is just chopping the onion. Do we feel safe? No. Is this the stereotype of love we expected? No. Love as a strong scented, cloying nasty stench  that will not leave you hardly inspires you to desire a relationship. Has Duffy written a love poem? We argued that she had. Do we want irony for Valentine’s day? Overwhelmingly, the answer was no.

Next time try roses!

Sonnet 130  by William Shakespeare

Thanks William. ..I think

Shakespeare and love are almost synonymous.  The original rom-com writer, I believe the Jennifer Anistons and Hugh Grants of this world should be on their knees in gratitude to this writer as they make their millions with his perfected formula: single people, meet cute, terrible mix up, resolution, kisses and weddings. Can you think of a single successful rom -com that doesn’t match this formulaic style, from ‘Much AdoAbout Nothing’ to ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’? We love it.

I speak the truth good Sir!

How is it then that my favourite love poem and the one my students cannot get enough of is ‘Sonnet 130’? It is here that Shakespeare falls away from expectations. It should be a love poem. Yet it does not match criteria! Where are the comparisons to a summer’s day? In fact, her eyes are ‘nothing like the sun’. He directly attacks age old and clichéd similes by giving a more ‘real’ impression of his mistress. My boys are horrified. Does she smell Miss? What’s wrong with her hair?  How come she walks heavily? They all have a chuckle when breasts are mentioned, as boys do, and I go on to explain how a suntan symbolised your lack of wealth and necessity to work in Elizabethan  and Jacobean times. They laugh and talk about the ‘orange effect’ that tanning has now and how obsessed girls and guys are with it. Slowly our  Taylor Swifts and Kristen Stewarts revert this style once again as their breasts are not ‘dun’ and then it is time to move on from the breast talk!

young-girl-531252__340.jpgIs it a love poem? Most definitely so. Unlike Duffy, Shakespeare saves it in the end by calling his love ‘rare’. We cannot help but feel though he is saying despite your normalities,  your flaws, your imperfections I cannot help but love you. Do lovers want you be told this? Probably not. Do they therefore want fibs and exaggerations? My class reckoned yes. So, my ass probably does look big in this…at least I hope the mistress didn’t  ask baldly candid William Shakespeare the day he wrote this sonnet as he had definitely drank truth serum. She would probably clip him across the ear to hear the answer.

A most impractical cup. Duffy would surely agree!

A triad of love poems that are in fact not that loving! I still love each one as a work of art.