Hot Cross Buns In January – Not Such A Good Idea

Just when you think you’ve successfully navigated the worst time of year for homesickness that bitch ups and hijacks you! And it was something so small, so insignificant that I didn’t see it coming…
One of my Dad’s favourite things to eat is a hot cross bun. He positively delights in putting those little beauties in the toaster until they’re lightly browned, then spreading some butter on them and sitting down and enjoying them with a cup of piping hot tea.
One of my son’s favourite things to eat is a hot cross bun… He needs it lightly toasted with plenty of butter on top and he will enjoy it with a glass of chocolate milk. Yesterday he lit up with excitement in the local supermarket when he spotted a packet of hot cross buns. Of course I bought them for him and smiled smugly to myself thinking – “breakfast is going to be easy tomorrow.” I had no idea what was going to be served along with it.

A Simple Hot Cross Bun – Seems There’s More To These Delicacies Than Meets The Eye!

This morning I watched as my boy smiled in delight as I presented him with his perfectly prepared hot cross bun. I listened as he “yummed” his way through it.  I grinned at him finding such happiness in something so simple and then I clutched my tummy as a bolt of homesickness shot through me so intense that it took my breath away.
I turned and fled to the kitchen before my son could see the change in my demeanour and dragged in a deep breath as a longing and yearning for home washed over me like a wave and, in that instant, threatened to drown me.
I held onto the counter top for strength as I wondered where the hell this had all come from.  I waited for it to pass but it didn’t.  Images of home assailed my senses instead.  The soft sand between my toes on Keel Beach, the smell of a turf fire, laughing with old friends and my Dad’s smile.  And that was it – I realised what had set me off – the inextricable link between generations epitomised by a simple smile.
My boy has his grandfather’s smile and this morning I’m sad that he hasn’t seen enough of that smile in his short life.
Don’t get me wrong  – I’m not belly-aching (even though I literally was!) I’m not complaining about my life – I’m incredibly blessed to have these opportunities to live in other countries and I’d be a miserable old bitch if I couldn’t explore this incredible world of ours.  However, there are times when you need home.  I need to go home.  I need my kids to spend time with their grandparents.  I need to see my father’s smile.
Now all I need to do is figure out how to make that happen

Inniskeen

I meant to write this post in the actual month of July but the month ran away with me! This is one of my favourite poems by Patrick Kavanagh.  It’s of a time in Ireland that has since long past but the vestiges of which could still be found in the west as I was growing up.

Enjoy.

Inniskeen Road: July Evening


The bicycles go by in twos and threes -
There's a dance in Billy Brennan's barn tonight,
And there's the half-talk code of mysteries
And the wink-and-elbow language of delight.
Half-past eight and there is not a spot
Upon a mile of road, no shadow thrown
That might turn out a man or woman, not
A footfall tapping secrecies of stone. 

I have what every poet hates in spite
Of all the solemn talk of contemplation.
Oh, Alexander Selkirk knew the plight
Of being king and government and nation.
A road, a mile of kingdom. I am king
Of banks and stones and every blooming thing.

-Patrick Kavanagh

Connemara Road

A Classic Stretch Of Irish Country Road

The High Nelly

The High Nelly – The Transport Of A Generation

 

Happy Halloween

It’s that time of year again where children of the western world dress up in an array of costumes and go out, under cover of darkness, to knock on doors, whereupon they trot out the words, “trick or treat” to whoever answers the aforementioned door before sticking a bag under their nose into which they expect to receive all manner of sweets and treats.  Ah yes, Halloween, the great American festival of carved pumpkins and children hopped up on sugar and additives.  Except it isn’t.

Photo of a pumpkin with a smiley face for halloween

A Classic Halloween Pumpkin

I was shocked to see a number of posts across social media in the last few days where people clearly believed Halloween started in America.  Okay, perhaps its current incarnation of pumpkins and candies has more to do with popular American culture than anything else but the tradition of Halloween is thousands of years old and has its origins in Celtic culture and many of the activities associated with this night of chaos and mischief come from Ireland.

The ancient Celts celebrated Samhain, which signified the end of summer and the beginning of winter. It was believed on this night the barriers between the worlds of the living and the dead became unstable and the souls of the dead could come back to earth.  Candles were lit to guide the paths of loved ones and a place would be set for them at the table, where food would be left for them (treats). Of course not all the returning souls were good ones and just as the barriers between the living and the dead of the human world were less stable on this night so were the barriers between the human world and the “other” world, the world of supernatural creatures such as fairies, puca and banshees. All manner of magical creatures were believed to roam the earth on the night of Samhain, so precautions were taken such as leaving food outside the house in the hope the hungry creatures from the otherworld would take it and pass by your door.  People also dressed themselves in costumes and disguises in order to trick the souls of the dead and the creatures who may wish to take them back to their worlds.

Photo of old cloth mask in display cabinet

Old Halloween Mask From Ireland

Due to the increased presence of mystical creatures on the night of Samhain it was believed the human world was richer in magic than at any other point in the year and that this aided the druids in making their predictions for the year ahead.  Therefore, Samhain also became associated with divination.  One of my favourite childhood memories is of the barnbreac, a traditional Irish fruitbread. On Oiche Shamhna (Halloween) the breac would be baked with a tiny piece of cloth, a ring, a pea and a coin.  If you found the piece of cloth in your slice then this would signify hard financial times for the year ahead.  The pea signified ill health if it was black, the coin meant prosperity and the ring meant your were going to meet the love of your life or become betrothed.  It was always great fun to see who got the ring!

Photo of a fruit cake

Barnbreac – Traditional Cake Eaten On Halloween In Ireland

All sorts of divination formed part of the traditional celebrations but sadly very few of them have survived to this day, even in Ireland.  As the centuries passed the Celtic festival of Samhain became intertwined with the Roman feast of Pomona – celebration of the harvest and then of course the Catholics came along and hijacked the event altogether with Pope Boniface in the seventh century declaring November first, All Souls Day.  The night before became known as All Hallow’s Eve from which we get Halloween.

It’s still a big night in Ireland even though we no longer have bonfires or fireworks. Barnbreacs still get eaten with big mugs of tea around blazing fires but only the ring has survived as part of the Samhain fun.  Nowadays, the celebration is more likely to resemble the American version of carved pumpkins and children going from house to house looking for treats but I like to think that underneath it all our ancient Celtic heart still beats.

Black and white representation of the banshee

Cover Your Ears If You Hear the Call Of The Banshee Or Your Death Will Surely Follow!

A Perfect Moment

There are times in life when everything comes together in one perfect moment.  These moments are rare and sometimes we can be so distracted, we only realise they happened after they have passed. To be aware of one of these moments whilst it is happening and to have a camera on you at the same time, to capture the magic and preserve it for all eternity is an incredible stroke of luck.  Thankfully I had one of these such incidences of luck last year when on holidays in Ireland and took the photo below.

Photo of girl running in the water at the beach

A Perfect Moment

The photo is of my daughter as she runs along the beach, the water splashing at her heels and the sun warming her bones.  Now, the west of Ireland is a beautiful place to be on any day of the week but on a day when the sun shines it is sensational.  We were blessed with weeks of uninterrupted sunshine, long lazy days of summer with ice cream afternoons, beach days and breath-taking sunsets. To get a summer like this in Ireland is too rare for words, to get a summer like this the only time you have been home for two years is incredibly special.

This photo was taken at about 4:30 pm in the afternoon on a day when the heat from the sun enveloped us like an invisible blanket that never seemed to end.  The kids were pottering around the beach, building sandcastles, making stone sculptures and just being.  I was relaxed in a way I can only be when I am in the west of Ireland – at one with body and soul.

My daughter decided to go in for a dip and I watched and listened as she lit up the beach with her smile and squeals of delight.  As the cold water connected with her little body, she ran unfettered and free, a perfect study of joy in flight and I knew….. I knew I was witnessing one of those childhood moments that precious memories are made from.  I reached for my phone, activated the camera and clicked and clicked.

A year later I’m sitting at my desk in Australia, yearning for an Irish summer in the west of Ireland and not knowing when I’ll be there again but I have a precious memory, a moment of pure joy captured on canvas, hanging on my wall.  For the minute that will have to do but I feel so lucky to have grabbed that moment and preserved it.  Looking at the photo brings me back to that day and an indescribable moment of happiness shared by me and my girl.

Love Wins!

Well it’s been a week since Ireland rocked the world and voted yes for gay marriage.  I knew the wonderful people of my country would do it and they did it in spectacular fashion.  So many people have expressed surprise to me stating the fact that the Republic of Ireland is pre-dominantly a Catholic country.  Yes it is but to focus on Catholicism is to miss the point, first and foremost the people of Ireland are Irish and a passion for freedom and equality beats at the very heart of every person in Ireland.  Each scandal involving the Catholic Church over the last twenty years has loosened the shackles that institution used to hold the country in, to the point where many who might have made their decisions before, based on doctrine and liturgical rhetoric, now look into their own hearts. And what they have found there is compassion and love, two precious commodities many religions spout about but so few practice.  Well done Ireland, you displayed your beautiful heart and soul to the world and I couldn’t be prouder to say I’m Irish than I am today.  Below is a beautiful video collage of some of the special moments of an incredible day in our history.  Enjoy.

A Vote For Love

Today, the people of the Republic Of Ireland go to the polls to vote yes or no for marriage equality. That is, they are voting for the right for gay people to enjoy the same marital status as heterosexual couples.

Wedding rings on rainbow coloured cloth

Today Is The Day Ireland Decides On Marriage Equality

Whereas, civil partnerships and gay marriage exist in other countries, Ireland is the first country to hold a national referendum on whether or not to enshrine the legal protection of marriage equality into the nation’s constitution.  Basically, the Irish people are getting to say how they feel about gay marriage.

Art work of two men embracing each other

An Art Installation In Dublin In Favour Of A Yes Vote

The debate in Ireland has been a lively and impassioned one for the last few weeks and has diverted off into areas such as “the fall of the family”, children’s rights, adoption, surrogacy and human rights.

If I was in Ireland today (and I dearly wish I was) I’d be voting YES and my vote would be driven by one simple principle: My vote would be a vote for love.  As far as I am concerned love is sacred and it’s sacred whether it’s between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and a man. With so much hatred in the world, I feel we all have to do as much as we can for love and to provide a counterpoint to those with hate in their hearts.  Marriage is a celebration of love and I look forward to all people being able to celebrate their love through the medium of marriage, if they so choose, regardless of whether it’s same sex marriage or heterosexual marriage.  I thoroughly believe Ireland will lead the way today.

Poster in favour of yes vote in marriage referendum in ireland

Vote For Love

Remember Me – Inspirations Part Two

The west of Ireland is a place that has inspired writers and artists for hundreds of years.  If you have any sort of creative inkling in you at all then you can’t spend any amount of time there without drawing an abundance of inspiration from its stunning natural beauty and cultural heritage.  I was lucky enough to grow up and attend university here and after a few years working in Dublin, I returned and spent the first ten years of married life in a small, renovated cottage on the shores of Lough Mask.

It was during this time I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with a number of the historical houses of counties Mayo and Galway.  Many of these properties became the ultimate status symbol during the Celtic Tiger and others became the targets of developers, as featured in  the storyline of Remember Me. Practically all of these houses were designed by the most talented architects of the day and all of them are built in stunning locations.  They are beautiful testaments to a bygone era and as the general architecture of Ireland continues to evolve they stand as eternal links to the past.

Two of these houses in particular served as the main inspiration for Carra House, in Remember Me. Carra House is a fictional amalgam of these two houses, which I’d like to share with you.

The first one is Partry House.   It was built in 1667 by Arthur Lynch as a dowager house for his widowed mother.  It’s a stunning property with a wonderful feeling of warmth in it which is missing in so many historical houses.  It also has a beautiful gate lodge, which is the inspiration for the gate lodge in Remember Me.

Historical House

Partry House, Co. Mayo.

The second one is Cloonee House, built in 1775 as a hunting lodge for the Brown family of Westport House and nestled on the shores of Lough Carra, one of Ireland’s best fishing lakes.

Old house on shores of a lake

Cloonee House

During my time living nearby, it was owned by the local vet, who very kindly looked after my dog whenever I was away.  I always loved dropping him off and collecting him from this amazing property.  The private road up to it is hairy, as described in Remember Me but the drive is well worth it when you round the last bend and arrive at this stunning location.  The scene where Flynn arrives at Carra House and makes a dash up the front steps and opens the ancient door, is a scene straight from my own memories.

I arrived one very dark evening to collect Rock and there didn’t seem to be anyone home even though lights glowed all over the house.  The rain was monsoon-like and I didn’t fancy getting out of the car as I usually did and wandering around the property till I found someone.  So, I decided to use modern technology to solve my dilemma and phoned.  George answered and told me they were in the kitchen at the back of the house, just finishing their dinner and that I should come in the front door and go into the drawing room and wait for them there.  So, just as Flynn does in Remember Me, I dashed up the front steps, opened the huge front door and let myself in.  A beautiful, antique brass umbrella holder stood just inside the door and the entrance hall was decidedly chilly.  However, I’ve never forgotten the warmth and intoxicating smell of the log fire that enveloped me as I opened the door to the drawing room.  The fire spit and crackled, an old leather armchair stood empty in front of its flames and the room was full of antiques and history.  I stood there and breathed it all in as I imagined a man sitting in that chair, a man with a past, brooding and plotting as he stared at the flames and fuelled his plans for revenge with a glass of one of Ireland’s finest whiskey’s.

Photo of a bottle of Jameson Whiskey

Jameson – One Of Flynn’s Favourite Tipples

It’s taken me a while to bring that man from the dark depths of my imagination into the bright light of reality but I’m so glad for those few minutes in the drawing room of Cloonee House where the idea of him was born.

As an interesting footnote, I’m not the only writer to have found inspiration at Cloonee House.  D.H. Lawrence availed of its peace and tranquillity to write part of his novel “Women In Love” there.

As I said – the west of Ireland, a magical place that never fails to inspire.

Lakeshore

The Sparkling Waters of Lough Carra