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Honour her memory

“Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion. It is poisonous.” Those are the words at the end of the statement issued this evening by Brendan Cox, husband of Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spenborough in Yorkshire, England, who was brutally murdered today. Like so many people here in Ireland and in the UK, I am shocked – and that word doesn’t even sum it up – by this terrible murder.

I had heard of Jo Cox a bit before today. I no longer live in England, and when I did, I never lived in Yorkshire, so her constituency is not one I had any links with. But I did see mentions of her since she became an MP in British reporting on social justice issues. When I heard via Twitter that she had been shot I switched on the BBC rolling news channel, hoping she would be ok. When the news of her death was announced this evening I cried. I cried for a woman I didn’t know, I cried at the thought of her two little children, I cried in sheer pain at how awful and hateful this world seems sometimes.

It is less than a week since we woke to the news of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. That atrocity was fuelled by hate. Next week the UK will be voting on whether or not to remain in the EU. I lived in England until I was 31 and have been following the debate – if you can call it that – closely. During the last two months I have been increasingly horrified at the level of xenophobia, of hate, of lazy thinking, and that immigration has for so many people become the sole issue on which they will decide how to vote. I am not going to speculate here on the man who has been arrested for Jo Cox’s murder, nor on his motives or what he may or may not have said at the time.

I’ve been passionate about politics, current affairs and social justice for over 30 years now. There have been times over those 30 years when truly awful things have happened which I have found distressing and demoralising, but never before have I felt like I have been increasingly feeling over the last few months – a feeling that I want to walk away and leave the rest of the world to it, a feeling that its all hopeless, a feeling that I can’t really have any impact. I’ve been feeling like that (about politics and hatred and intolerance) for a while now but it coalesced today in the tears I shed over the murder of Jo Cox who seems to have been the kind of person the world needs more of.

When I calmed down after hearing the news I commented to my husband that if we did ‘leave the rest of the world to it’, we would be letting the haters win. An editorial about Jo Cox published by the Guardian finished with words I needed to hear tonight: “Honour her memory. Because the values and commitment that she embodied are all we have to keep barbarism at bay.” In Jo Cox’s memory I will not give in to the hate that is so prevalent. In Jo Cox’s memory I will speak out on issues that are important. And in the memory of both Jo Cox and another strong woman who I was privileged to know I will speak truth to power.

Honour her memory.

#GE2016 part four: Election Day – shaping the new Government?

Over the course of the election campaign, I’ve been watching politicians from various parties and some from no party on the media. Some of what they have to say I’ve liked, some not so much, and some made me plain angry. No surprises there really. But this time round (and I’ve voted in every election I have been eligible to vote in since I turned 18) I have struggled to decide who to vote for. I have now decided and I will be voting later on today but one thing has really struck me as I’ve deliberated over who to vote for. I will be using my vote today but I will not be playing any positive part in shaping our next Government. And that makes me wonder if our electoral system needs some tweaking.

I live and vote in the Dáil constituency of Meath West. There are 9 candidates seeking election here. Some constituencies have 20 candidates, our neighbours in Meath East have 12 to choose from. I could, if I wished, vote for all 9 in order of preference. On this occasion I choose not to do that. Of our 9 candidates 2 are from Fine Gael, the majority party in the outgoing coalition. I will not be voting for either of them, I don’t agree with them on many issues and one of them I have found to be an utterly ineffectual TD so no vote from me there. We have one candidate from Fianna Fáil and I cannot forget what that party has done in the past. Again, I also disagree with many of their policies. So no vote going there. For those of you unfamiliar with Irish politics, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are (currently) the two major parties, so you might see where I’m going. We have one candidate from Sinn Féin. I have voted Sinn Féin in the past and while I do not agree with all of their policies, there is some common ground there. Depending on how things go today (and there are MANY uncertainties in this election) Sinn Féin could well end up as the leaders of the opposition in the next Dáil. But I cannot vote for their candidate here as he and I differ on the repeal of the 8th Amendment which is a red line issue for me.

So 4 down and no vote cast yet. There’s an independent candidate who has not even produced any election literature that I can see (and I’ve looked) so that’s a no. 5 down, 4 to go. The Labour party candidate – and indeed the only woman standing here – hmm, she had a chance of a lower preference from me until I spoke to her at a hustings event and again we differ on the repeal of the 8th. Nope, move along please. 6 down, 3 to go. I’m now left with the Green Party candidate, the Direct Democracy candidate and a candidate from the Christian Jobs and Action Party. I do not believe any political party should espouse any religious belief so that’s a no. (Unsurprisingly, we differ on the 8th too) So I’m left with 2 out of 9. One of these will get my first preference, the other my second. Neither party has – in my opinion – any hope of forming part of the next government. But at least I will have voted.

So, back to my earlier point about maybe our system needing tweaking. There are some parties who DO interest me (actually the Greens come into that category too), such as the recently formed Social Democrats, the People Before Profit movement and the Anti-Austerity Alliance. None of them are contesting this constituency so I can’t vote for them, yet they are the parties with whom I would have the most common ground (in different ways). Should we have some kind of national list system alongside the constituency votes? That way more people might feel like they are actually getting a positive say in who shapes our next government? I don’t have any ideas as to what form that might take or how it might work, but this election has really gotten me thinking.

There are some independent candidates in other constituencies who I really hope get elected (and in some cases re-elected), Katherine Zappone, Carol Hunt, Averil Power, Joan Collins…. to name just a few. Let’s wait and see – I will be glued to the results for the next few days.

A space of one’s own – soon to be a room

Like many other women I know, I have a place in our house where a lot of my work gets done. I’m not talking about housework or cooking, no rather the researching, reading, campaigning, blogging, organising, writing, tiny bit of crafting and big pinch of staring out of the window daydreaming that makes up my average working day.

My workplace – unsurprisingly – is my kitchen table. That will largely change at some point in the next few months when the office that my lovely husband is building for me is finished. He has done all of it by himself and is now at the point of roofing. I am getting rather excited by it now. But back to my kitchen table. Its nothing unusual or special, a maple (I think) table, 4ft by 2ft. Not terribly big but then neither is our kitchen.

This table is where we eat breakfast – which apart from weekends is a staggered affair, DH and DD have theirs at 6.45 and 7.20 respectively, and then I sit down to mine in perfect peace at 8.15 when they’ve gone. Its where DH and I generally sit with a cuppa when he gets in from work and chew over our day. Its where DD likes to play her toy piano – loudly. Its where we generally eat dinner, not always, And for me its where I spend a sizeable chunk of my weekdays.

I’m the first to admit I’m not the tidiest person in the world and while by and large I keep the house clean, it often resembles an explosion in a paper mill with wool, needles and pens thrown in for good measure. Most mornings my beloved husband has to move newspapers, books and notepads of mine before he can sit down with his breakfast. Is it any wonder he suggested I might like a dedicated office space?? Once everyone else has left for the day I generally give the kitchen a quick tidy up and going over and that includes ‘sorting’ out everything that has ‘somehow’ ended up on the table over the last 24 hours.

Our little girl has been off school the last couple of days with a bit of a dose so I’ve been largely confined to barracks and have spent a lot of that time curled up with her on a sofa. Today thankfully she seems to be on the mend and so I’m back at the table a bit. It occurred to me earlier that a glance at our kitchen table on any given day would give a good indication of what I’ve been up to or where my mind is. So here’s how it looks right now:
Kitchen table

What do we have? The laptop I’m writing this blog post on, the last two days newspapers, the ever present cuppa, my sewing box, my knitting bag, Roy Foster’s Vivid Faces, a notebook and my hairbrush. I think the presence of the latter is thanks to my daughter who likes to play with hairbrushes.  So, what do you deduce from that?  I finished knitting a wee hat earlier, I am a news junkie, some days I practically mainline tea, and I love history (and I’ve cooked up an interesting research project too but more about that another day).  Just an average day for me.  Other days there might be piles of posters to be distributed, or forms to be filled in but the basics would be much the same.

I am rather attached to my little workspace, even if I do have to clear it all off so we can have dinner.  But I’m REALLY looking forward to my new office where I can finally use the big desk (about 6ft by 3ft) that came out of a solicitor’s office in Liverpool many moons ago and has languished in our storage space for 12 years.  I can organise everything how I want it and I will know exactly what is in each pile and what I will do with.  I can finally get the two filing cabinets, two small desks, two printers and three bookshelves out of our daughter’s room and set up my work space to suit myself.  And you know the best bit of all?  I won’t have to clear it away at the end of the day!!!

Ranting and loving for Valentine’s Day

So tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I hated it in my teens when all the popular pretty girls in our secondary school got inundated with cards and flowers (the sixth form used to sell single roses which they would deliver to the classroom of your Valentine – I think the proceeds went to charity) and it very quickly escalated into a contest to see who could get the most. I never got – or for that matter sent – any, and in our school that singled you out for sneering and ridicule.

In my 20’s although I had some relationships I never actually managed to be in one on Valentine’s Day and by the time I was in my mid 20’s I was heartily (ha!) sick of the whole overblown marketing fiasco that I considered it to be.

Then I fell in love. Big time. And the man I fell in love with is very romantic. Not just in the hearts and flowers way but in the little gestures and moments that mean so much. I still have the roses (now dried) that he gave me on the Valentine’s Day he asked me to marry him. The first Valentine’s Day after we were married I sent a bouquet to him at work. Over the intervening years our lives have changed, and we agree that for us spending a load of money on flowers and gifts each Feb 14th is not what we want to do – we have other things we’d sooner do with our money and we mark the day each year in a way that means something to us. A couple of years ago we bought the box set of one of our favourite TV shows and had a lovely evening cuddled up watching it.

One thing that drives us both mad about the marketing of Valentine’s Day is the way so much of it seems to be saying that it is a day when men should buy things for the woman in their life. A lot of the ads I’ve seen and heard over the last few weeks have been “what should I get her? will she like this card? Is that a big enough bunch of roses?” etc etc. If Valentine’s Day is about (so the card companies tell us) celebrating love and romance and being with the one you love the most, then doesn’t that work both ways? I cannot think of an ad on mainstream TV or radio that I have seen or heard which portrays a woman choosing a Valentine’s gift for a man. Don’t even get me started on the dominance of heterosexual relationships in these ads!

You might say that’s just marketing and advertising, well maybe so, but I have seen on social media over the last few years a tendency amongst some women to expect gifts on Valentine’s Day from their husband/boyfriend yet not even consider that maybe it should be reciprocal. I know women personally who would be upset if they did not get a card/bunch of roses/chocolates tomorrow but have not bought their lover anything. They seem to see it as a day for women to be spoiled by men. Since when did this come about? And I know that not all women think that way so please don’t jump down my throat, but in my experience and observations there are a sizeable number that do. Rant over.

So how, you might wonder, am I going to spend Valentine’s Day this year? Well, firstly and most importantly, with the two people I love the most. The three of us (that’s me, husband and daughter just in case you were wondering) are going to Termonfeckin in Co. Louth to take part in Erin’s Run, a 5km run (in my case a walk) in memory of my friend’s beautiful daughter Erin who died last year. It’s also to raise money for BUMBLEance who do such an amazing job and get no state funding at all. Other very dear friends of mine will also be there – with assorted husbands and children – so I will get to spend some time with some of the other people in my life who I love and who mean so much to me.

In the evening we are treating ourselves to a great meal from a local restaurant that does take out, a good movie or two and each other’s company. Comfort, love and contentment. That’s all I want or need. However and with whomever you spend it, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Honour Malalai Kakar

This morning I read in Sunday’s Observer (it often takes days for me to catch up with the papers) about Malalai Kakar and how a photograph of her is being misused – even abused – by a far right group in Britain. As I read the article I got steadily angrier. Malalai was a policewoman in Afghanistan. Just think about that for a minute. For most of us when we think of Afghanistan we probably think of repression, of women being denied any kind of equality, and I am not for one minute suggesting that Afghanistan is some kind of egalitarian paradise. But this woman – and others – working as a police officer was something to celebrate.

Malalai was killed by the Taliban in 2008. She had been warned by them to stop her police work and had received death threats. In an interview with a documentary film-maker she said “I am not forced to wear the burqa, my husband or the police force does not require it. I want to wear it because it gives me advantages.” You can see the picture that has been misused of her in the Observer article linked above. She is wearing a burqa and pointing a pistol. I can see how some might find that image disturbing or unsettling. The background to the photograph is that she threw the burqa over her police uniform at the last minute as she headed out as part of a police mission to free a kidnapped teenage girl. (Interesting piece about Feminism and the burqa here)

Malalai commanded a unit fighting crimes against women. She died for her work and her beliefs. She was not a terrorist. Yet now this image of her is being abused by a far-right group who describe themselves as both a patriotic political party (hmm, ok) and a street defence organisation. Now what exactly is that? It sounds like something scary and dangerous to me. People are entitled to different beliefs we say, but no way should such a group be allowed to tarnish the memory of Malalai Kakar and other courageous women like her. I am only one person, but today I remember Malalai Kakar’s bravery and honour her. Please do the same.

Lancing Ireland’s boil

A boil can not only be extremely painful, it can get you down. The infection can make you weak and give you a fever. There are other things that can be tried, but sometimes a boil just has to be lanced.

That’s advice I found online earlier when I was thinking about writing this post. I have been thinking for days now about whether or not to blog about the mother and baby homes, the Tuam babies, the Magdalene laundries, the illegal forced adoptions, the vaccination trials that were carried out apparently without the consent of the mothers of children in these institutions, the secrecy and heartbreak that accompanies all of this. What stopped me from blogging until now was the sheer enormity of it all. Every day another new and awful story. Every day more accounts on the radio from mothers who had their babies taken from them. Every day inexorably building up to the point where I nearly stopped listening, nearly stopped reading, nearly stopped thinking. And then I realised. THAT is what Ireland did for years, for decades, for generations. We as a country, as a society, stopped thinking and stopped listening. We pretended that these women and girls and their babies were not our responsibility. We convinced ourselves that by putting them away in these institutions we were dealing with this issue. These fallen women, these offenders, it was best for the wider society if we did not have to see them, to think about them, to deal with them. And their babies? Well sure weren’t we giving them the best possible life by allowing them to be adopted? And if some of them died because of poor conditions or insufficient nourishment or the rapid spread of a disease then maybe that was God’s will.

Well now these stories – none of which are actually new – are coming to light. For years now Irish society has been repeatedly shocked by stories of child abuse in institutions run by various religious orders and often supported by State money, horrified by accounts of priests being moved from parish to parish where they remained free to sexually abuse children, appalled by the suffering of the women incarcerated in the Magdalene laundries. And now the country is sickened all over again by the stories of what went on in the mother and baby homes around the country. You probably know a family who have been directly affected by this, most of us do. And therein is another part of the problem. We all know this, we all know or have heard of people who were born in a mother and baby home, or of a woman who spent time in one of those homes. But it seems to be something an awful lot of us know about but no one talks about it. Now it seems Ireland is ready to talk, to hear, to think. It is time to lance that boil, it will hurt, it won’t be pretty, but it needs to be done if any kind of healing can ever happen.

Written in stone? Who decides what’s tradition?

As someone who is passionately interested in history, myth, folklore and ritual, I sometimes find myself musing on tradition. (I’m referring to what the OED calls its mass noun usage) Its a much used and abused word, it can be used to justify a certain behaviour or practice “well its traditional” or in an attempt to prevent sometimes much-needed change. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it thus: “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way”

So in the way that I’m thinking about it here, a tradition is a custom or belief. Some customs/beliefs/behaviours do not survive terribly long in the whole of human history. Others persist and some that are generally perceived as being old and traditional are often a lot more recent than is widely thought. For example, roast turkey is widely considered to be the traditional Christmas dinner in England and Ireland (they are the only countries I’ve spent Christmas in so I don’t feel qualified to comment on others) but my readings tell me that it didn’t become commonplace until the eighteenth century, with goose or beef being the previously traditional dish.

The reasons why some traditions survive while others don’t are as varied as the traditions themselves but I feel that each generation should feel able to pick and choose from the assortment of traditions they have grown up with. Traditions can change and develop too and some elements of any given custom or practice may alter from how it was originally carried out. I’m thinking particularly this evening of an Irish tradition of Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas. Debates pop up each year around this time on various social media as to whether or not it was practiced throughout Ireland, and as to what form it took. Needless to say there is never agreement! My understanding of Nollaig na mBan is that it was a day when the men took over all the household chores to give women a rest after all they had done to make the Christmas festivities happen. Nollaig na mBan, for those who don’t know, is celebrated on January 6th – the feast of the Epiphany, Twelfth Night. In more recent times, the celebration has consisted of groups of women coming together to have a meal – usually in a restaurant from what I can make out – and have some of what we would now call downtime. I’ve read reminiscences of women talking about their mothers greatly looking forward to this one night in the year when they got to dress up and go out with other women. (These mostly date from the 1960’s and 1970’s).

In my community, a group of us are keeping this tradition alive. A very dear friend of mine throws her house open for Nollaig na mBan, invites loads of women friends with the proviso that we all bring something from our Christmas leftovers to eat and drink. Often things are made especially too. Its always a great night, good food, lots of music and plenty of laughs. Yes we have altered that tradition somewhat but it works for us and we’ll pass it on to the next generation. And they can make of it what they will, if its not for them, so be it. Traditions should be living things, not something preserved in aspic. If a tradition isn’t right for any given person or group of people then they shouldn’t feel compelled to maintain it. I like traditions, learning about them and in some instances trying to live them, but I like even more that they reflect the community who developed them. If they can’t be adapted or even discarded if need be, then what does that say about society? That we never want anything to change? Perish the thought.

I’m off now to get ready for tonight’s Nollaig na mBan party. Yes its Jan 4th not the 6th, but hey, traditions can change, right? Nollaig na mBan faoi mhaise dhaoibh!

€4,000 per week!!!!

Just read a review in Sat’s Irish Times of a new book by Dearbhail McDonald on another aspect of how Ireland is/has been screwed over financially Whiter than White? and one thing really leapt out at me:  Fiona Nagle claimed in a court case that she needed €4,000 per week for her day-to-day expenses.  I can’t think how I missed this one before, but honestly, what planet is she living on???

And it appears that she’s still living  – to quote a former Taoiseach – way beyond her means in the big house in Glenageary – lots of work still going on apparently! O”Brien sued by kitchen business.

Ok I am really NOT jealous of this woman’s life I would not want that kind of stress – I have plenty of my own thank you kindly – but how have we as a country, as a people, as a planet come to this situation where a proportion of our fellow human beings genuinely seem to think there is nothing wrong with having  – or pretending to have – that kind of money?  I do think it is obscene that Fiona Nagle feels she needs €4,000 per week to meet her day to day expenses when many other women in this country are struggling to make ends meet.  And I don’t mean that they can’t afford ot get hair or nails etc etc done or buy yet another bloody handbag that costs hundreds of euro (and if anyone can explain THAT to me I’d like to hear it!).  I mean that women all over Ireland are struggling to pay 3 months car tax to keep their cars legally on the road so that they can take children to school, they are struggling to provide all the various bits and pieces children need for school, and some are struggling to heat their homes adequately and are dreading this coming winter.

Ok, rant over.

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