Friday, 31 October 2014

The Darkening Sky.

It is 3.30pm and already the light is leaving us. Do you like Halloween? I love this atmospheric time of year, lighting candles, brief chilly afternoons, the low golden light. Plum cake, wood-smoke and ghost stories. I'm not really sure about some of the Halloween traditions though, it's has all gone a bit too bling I think. Every year I trawl pinterest for some good pumpkin ideas, but mine the kids ones ALWAYS look like this.

The kids really want to go trick or treating-do you do this? This year I am crying off with the excuse of the beginnings of a seasonal virus and Mr S is talking about having a wee drink with some work friends so for us I think some cake, sparklers and a good film.

After the kids go to bed I think I will curl up with some hot damson vodka and a good book. Do you like my 'scary' picture above? It is an Victorian or Edwardian oleograph that I had had since I was a teenager. My friend M and I were two incorrigible Goths and we used to spend all our wages on getting the train to Bangor to buy Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus bootlegs from this brilliant record shop that used to be there. One day I spotted this in an antique  junk shop and dragged it home. Mr S hates it and since it hangs over the bedroom fireplace I do have some sympathy with him but I still have affection for it. The colours are not as dull as this photos suggests but it is a tad gloomy. Do you and your partner ever pour scorn on the others taste?

While I am tucked up in my bed I am going to call over to Plain Jane's blog, she is having a spooky storytelling session today/tonight and I have retold one of our family ghost stories. Why don't you pop over and tell one of your own? Also one of my favourite Irish authors has also been story-telling for Halloween, you can find the link to Nuala Ni Chonchuir's evocatively creepy story on her blog, Women Rule Writer. Don't forget to put a candle in a dark corner and set an extra plate for All Hallows Eve, you don't know just who may visit.

Here is the beautiful Peter Murphy and the deliciously dramatic Bauhaus to keep you company while you wait...

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


A Soldiers Grave
Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms
Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death
Lest he should hear again the mad alarms
Of battle, dying moans and painful breath.

And where the earth was soft for flowers we made
A grave for him that he might better rest.
So, Spring shall come and leave it sweet arrayed,
And there the lark shall turn her dewy nest.
Francis Ledwidge. 1887-1917


Given that it is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and given that I am studying 20th century history for my Open Uni module this year it was inevitable that I have been pre-occupied with thoughts of what was originally known as The Great War. The poem above is by a poet and political activist who may have walked the same fields and river banks as I; who loved the Boyne valley as I do now nearly one hundred years later. You can find out a little more about this remarkable man and Slane native over here.

Ireland, both North and South has had a problematic relationship with the memory and the re-memorial of the First World War. I did not study the poetry of Francis Ledwidge in my Northern Irish Catholic school, rather the famous English war poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon was studied in all it's heart-breaking majesty. My maternal Grandfather who came from a staunchly Unionist tradition retorted to a bemused sixteen year old me one day, that 'my lot' did not willingly participate in the blood sacrifice that was the Battle of the Somme. This stuck in my head for a long while for some reason.

While around 200 000 men and women from what was to become the Irish Republic went off to fight on the side of the Allies, back at home events were to occur that ensured that while approximately 35 000 of those individuals never made it back, those that did return faced a uncertain and dramatic future. Revolution, Civil War, Partition and the formation of a new post-colonial national identity would ensure that The Un-returned Army was for a very long time, airbrushed from our history.

Now, we are turning again to a re-consideration of these events and so I was delighted to attend the 20th John Boyle O'Rielly Autumn School which this year was devoted to the possibilities of how to re-examination the controversial legacy of this conflict. This historiographical conference is held every year by the Old Drogheda Society in our very own *'cup and saucer' Millmount and I would urge anyone in the locality who is interested in history (especially local history in the context of international events) to try and attend. Six fabulous speakers and a great lunch in The Tower restaurant proved a great day out. I really came away with a more nuanced understanding of how Ireland was shaped and is still being shaped by her position within this conflict.

One historian who really stood out for me was Phillip Orr, who has written extensively on Unionism and the Great War and his evocative sentence describing the departure of the 36th Ulster Division filing past the Victorian pomposity that is Belfast City Hall as being the moment that can be seen to symbolise the beginnings of a new Ulster Loyalist identity really brought me to a profound overview on the formation of the 'state' that I would call home and simultaneously feel culturally unwelcome for most of my formative years. You can see a version of his lecture on YouTube here.


Finally, I have been losing myself in the beautiful novel 'Fallen' by Lia Mills, which follows the story of  Dubliner Kate Crilly who finds herself torn asunder by both the First World War and The Easter Rising. This is a love story, of familial love, of sexual love and of the possibilities inherent in times of great change, the life affirming possibilities of meeting the challenges of fate. Mills manages to evoke the grief sodden atmosphere of 1916 Dublin society, the blunt eruption of violence that was the  Rising and develop the fledgling relationship between the two main characters with an economy of language that is enviable.

Sigh, I love it when life conspires to build layers onto a story, I think studying history and reading is the nearest I will get to a time machine. xxxx

*The 'cup and saucer' is the local nickname for our local landmark Millmount, the Martello Tower on the great mound that has looked over Drogheda for centuries and has many of its own tales to tell.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Rules for Autumnal Blackberry picking.

  1.  Go now and find a hedge.

2.Wear suitable clothes. Flared jeans suck up the damp mud like an oil wick in a lamp.
3. Do not take the greedy Labrador. She will always find the fattest, most juiciest berries before you and eat them all.

3. Do not wear your favorite scarf, it will get caught fast in the brambles and leave you tangled and stuck like some nineteenth century damsel except this time there will be no dashing hero riding by to rescue you.

4. Gather your berries, leaving enough for the birds.

5. Turn on rain.

6. Squelch home. (See No. 2.)

7. Throw into an oven-proof bowl with some stewed apple.

8. Top with some leftover frozen crumble.

9. Serve with assembled family and some M&S custard. (I can't make custard, 'blushes')

10. Light candles and eat in front of the Great British Bake Off Final.
Who is going to win and if you are reading this afterwards -was he/she a worthy winner?

Monday, 6 October 2014

There is a season.

Oh my, September has slipped by so quickly this year, in a swoon of golden light and a myriad of small tasks. It was hard getting back into the busy routine that marks the start of the school year but adjust to it we did and are all the better for it. Slowly, the house is being put back to normal after all the renovation activity and slowly all the plaster dust is being eliminated.

I have been preserving and gardening, simple life affirming tasks that I love doing when all is peaceful in the house I finally got around to making my marrow and ginger jam which has been a taste revelation! Spread on hot buttery scones the taste is of delicate sunshine with a little hot lick of the ginger, so so good. I posted the recipe last Autumn here. I have been planting in my poor neglected garden, 60 tulip and narcissus bulbs all waiting for the spring and a couple of bare root roses which I hope will inject some much needed summer colour and scent.

My tottering pile of granny squares is making me feel quite smug and is keeping me from getting back down to concentrating on practicing my sewing but I can feel the weather turning and cannot wait until all the squares are joined up into a lovely cosy blanket. In between all that, my Open University course has started again and I am loving it so much this my penultimate year. This module is a history module, my first love and we are studying Europe from 1914 to 1989 which gave me quite a start when I realized that the scope of this course ends the year I began to study history the first time around!

We have celebrated Life, E turned eight that the end of the month and is getting so tall sometimes I glimpse the teenager that will appear in my life one day, yet sometimes when she cries for me I sense that my wee cuddly girl will be around for a little while yet. The tooth fairy arrived and she was allowed to ride in the front seat of the car for the first time, big steps for a little person. O found it a little harder to settle back to school this year, he was upset at leaving his teacher from last year and while his current teacher seems fine, he had a special connection with his first year teacher that was always going to be impossible to replicate. Sometimes I do contemplate going back to work but it is such a privilege being here for them when they come home and to have the time to listen to all their little worries and triumphs.

We have also brought in a tiny harvest from our poor neglected allotment, we say this every year but next year we are going to be top growers. I was just delighted with the sunflowers this year and we had a good many cucumbers, courgettes, and the pumpkins are looking good for Halloween. Unfortunately O has adopted that wee pumpkin that you can see on the plate there, 'Pumpkiny' has been going to school with O for the past couple of days and I am wondering how to break the news that I want to roast and eat him...

We have saluted Death, my Grandfather's brother J, was laid to rest in the Co. Tyrone soil that sustained all eight of his brothers and sisters, his Father and Grandfathers. He was almost 95 and jokingly referred to himself as 'The Last Man Standing,' With his passing ends a generation of men and women that connected our familial memory to a past that is retreating all too quickly into our folk history. A history of collecting well water, gas lamps, drying clothes on the blackthorn hedge, thatched roofs and baking soda bread on the griddle. The Child of Prague on the wall and a best suit for Sunday. His family placed his cap, walking stick and wedding photograph on the altar, J and M smiled out from the frame, the joy of youth captured in a shutter click, filmic in their simple 1940's suits and sharp good-looking features, hair swept back. A blink of an eye is a life yet isn't there something so comforting, so right about a life lived well.

Thank-you so much for reading. have a fantastic week! xxx