WRITERS NEED EXERCISE TOO!

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Writing is therapy to me but it doesn’t exactly keep me physically fit. Mowghi doesn’t do a bad job—all that running after him has kept me reasonable fit for a long time—but family caring is exhausting. Caring of any kind can hardly be called a workout that sustains and creates energy so I decided to sign up for a health programme hosted by Maria McMenamin at The Natural Health Centre, Buncrana that hopefully will kick-start my exercise routine again.

At registration, Maria mentioned the word ‘intense’ more times than I care to remember so I know this is going to be no walk in the park. That’s what I have done for a long time now, walking in the park, and I shall continue to do so because we have gorgeous parks and walkways in Inishowen and Donegal, but I think the walk in the park is more to shower my head and ‘shower my head’ it does! After all, this is Ireland! But back to this exercise regimen thingy! Gentle yoga in the morning and meandering in nature might soak me to the skin but it doesn’t make me sweat or cause my heart to beat faster. What I need is a good workout and someone to take me into hand from the inside out which is what the Beach Body Burn programme sets out to do. It isn’t only about physical exercise. It is about realising a clean, ultra healthy lifestyle through healthy diet and exercise while having fun to boot!

We all know that regular exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle should be one of our top priorities in life. Only by taking care of ourselves will we be able to show up and be all we can be in our families, at our job and in the community. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Life can get in the way of working out. For some people, like me, the hardest part of exercising isn’t the vigorous physical activity, but finding a way to schedule it in and stay motivated enough to work out regularly. One of the reasons I have signed up for Beach Body Burn is because it is flexible and offers morning classes. Evenings can be busy round here. Usually I turn into a taxi service, so it is difficult to commit to an evening programme. Flexible mornings mean I will stick to the plan but it doesn’t necessarily mean I will be any more motivated so I have picked this programme as it has a time frame and something to work towards. Beach Body Burn (I have consciously decided to ignore the word burn) is a 5 week plan. 5 weeks. 5 workouts per week. 5 meal a day with 24/7 support. What’s not to like?

Well, I spotted some weights and kettle bells at registration, and that word ‘intense’ keeps coming to mind! Furthermore, if you love your chips, crisps and cookies, like me, there are loads of things not to like but at registration Maria told us we have to draw a line under our negative thinking and commit to investing in our health. A new fit body will help keep my brain active and hopefully by the end of the five weeks I will be feeling the benefits so much so that I will keep going…that is if it doesn’t kill me first! Wish me luck!

 

 

REMEMBERING THE POET AND THE POETRY OF SEAMUS HEANEY.

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Seamus Heaney has died. The news reader made his announcement across the airwaves causing me to stall the car at a junction in Derry. The driver to the left of me looked like he was flapping a wasp away. Gripping the key I started the car again. Chugging off to the right I gestured an apology to the agitated driver who obviously wasn’t listening to the news. If he had of been, and even if he never read a poem in his life, he would have at least recognised the name and learnt of the untimely death of one of Ireland’s finest poets. My stalling was an overreaction surly, but the sheer familiarity of Heaney’s name left me feeling as though a close friend of mine had died.

I have the school curriculum to thank for introducing me to Heaney’s work and his simple rural upbringing that resonated so vibrantly with my own as I dilly dallied home from school through quiet country lanes picking blackberries and peering over hedgerows separating me from cows and freshly ploughed fields. For long enough Digging gave me a deep appreciation of my own father’s passion for working the land and farm routines.  Somehow I took his words to heart. 

Is that why I started reciting Mid-Term Break at the kitchen sink while preparing for dinner around the time the Nobel Laureate poet was being buried in his beloved Derry soil? The last line stuck in my throat as it had done before, over and over, when I was sixteen.

Little Missy wanted to know why I was sad so I told her about the poet, Seamus Heaney, who had a brother called Christopher. “Just like me?” she said. “Just like you,” I smiled back. “But why are your eyes wet Mummy?” she said as she leaned in to help me pick out a few potatoes for peeling. “Because he wrote a poem once about losing his brother and today they are together again.” “But that’s a happy story.” she said. “So it is,” I said, “…and did you know he also wrote a poem about peeling spuds with his mother?” Missy lifted an eyebrow, her eyes full of suspicion. “He did! I’ll find it for you later,” I said turning on the tap and reaching for a knife. She laughed then and ran out to the garden as tears ran down my face remembering Clearances, the poem Heaney wrote in memory of his mother and the gaping emptiness that it had conveyed.

I stood for a moment watching Missy join her other brother on the trampoline and marvelled all over again at Heaney’s ability to pluck a moment of time out of his world or the world of northern politics, or the underworld and record it in such an organic state that it would be relived and felt and understood again and again, time after time.

Those thoughts and reflections he dug with his pen will never die and a name like Seamus Heaney will never die either. Perhaps it was a natural reaction for me to be taken by surprise at the moment I learnt of his death because, as Paul Muldoon said at Heaney’s funeral, “he had the ability to sweep us all up in his arms,” and so a friend in kind did die but the poet Seamus Heaney and all his works will forever live on in the hearts and minds of men and women all over the world but for now the world is feeling his lost aptly described in Heaney’s own words…

The door was open and the house was dark

Wherefore I called his name, although I knew

The answer this time would be silence.

Seamus Heaney 1939-2013 RIP

Dalai Lama in Derry-Cultivating Compassion

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Be kind where possible and it’s always possible. Dalai Lama

The rain was spitting and the wind was messing with the umbrellas while tight security sifted through handbags and confiscated water bottles from old and young yesterday as 2500 people filed into the Embrington Plaza, Derry-Londonderry to hear Richard Moore and His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak on “The Culture of Compassion.”

The event was organised by the Children in Crossfire charity that helps children in war zones across the world. As serendipity would have it, I was one of the 2500. The mood inside the blackened arena was upbeat, celebrity and moving as we watched, via video link, 300 local primary school children form a guard of honour on the Peace Bridge for His Holiness, Richard Moore, Bishop Ken Good and Monsignor Eamon Martin leading the Peace Walk as a splash of sunshine escaped from the rain-filled threatening sky. The Dalai Lama hugged the children and urged them to go in front, spoiling the photographer’s view of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. “We need a sense of concern for others,” he was to say later. “That IS compassion.”

When everyone was safe inside, the heavens did open but as the rained drummed on the roof, his Holiness smiled and his gentle way filled the arena with warmth and humour.

“I am very happy to be here with my hero Richard Moore. Those of us who believe in peace and non-violence have a responsibility to show support and solidarity. It’s a great honour for me to come here. Today has turned out to be a special day for me. I’ve known Richard for some time, and he’s has come to see me in Dharamsala with Charles the soldier who shot the plastic bullet that blinded him. Despite that tragedy, he showed how as human beings we have a capacity to forgive and be reconciled. But today, I met my hero’s 93 year old mother, which has made it a great, great day.”

His Holiness stressed that developing a culture of peace is ultimately related to developing compassion for others. “We need to analyse whether anger and hatred have any value,” he said and gave three reasons for developing compassion. “First, it is based on our common experience; everyone responds positively to kindness. Secondly, it is common sense, because it’s obvious that people who are open-hearted are happier. And thirdly, scientific findings show that negative emotions like anger, hatred and fear eat into our immune system, whereas there is evidence that open-heartedness and compassion are good for our overall health.”

He made reference to the love he received from his own mother and the role of education to develop compassion in our communities to ultimately create peace and peace of mind.

“Peace must be part of our lives and part of our culture. Non-violence doesn’t mean we should be passive, because, for example, it takes will-power to restrain yourself from violence. When we have a problem, we need to look at it from many angles with a calm mind in order to understand the reality of the situation.”

He concluded, “Please think. It’s not enough to pray and to hope, we have to work hard to create and maintain compassion and peace.

He then presented the Youth Compassion award to a young medical student, Oisin Duddy, who spends his free time volunteering in Altnagalvin hospital. Oisin also gave a short but moving speech and when he finished he said, “If I ever come across your path may I be of service to you.” Let’s hope his compassion, like the Dalai Lama’s and Richard Moore’s is contagious with no known cure.

Donegal–rubberstamped and proud!

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It was one of those days when my bones didn’t warm up so I stopped by the Harbour Inn knowing the fire would be burning bright. As I turned my back on the hot embers a couple sitting close by made a comment about the dip in temperature. Their thick Yorkshire accent prompted me to ask if they were on holidays. “Oh, Yes but I’m from Donegal myself.” His partner laughed and interjected, “He left when he was two but he never fails to rubber stamp his identity.” “Well you couldn’t rubberstamp it at a better time,” I laughed and then we were off, reliving that magic moment all over again… the moment when the final whistle shrilled out across Croke Park sending out a red alert message to the world. Donegal are the Champions.

I doubt if anyone actually heard the whistle but the message was clear from the thunderous roar that erupted in every corner of the globe. ‘Donegal IS DNA. Donegal doesn’t belong to us. We belong to Donegal.’ A game of football had rubberstamped our identity once again! What an incredible message to rush through the veins of our children, our young people, our emigrants and expatriates! Be proud of your identity!

When I first came to live in Inishowen I realized for the first time that I had learned to suppress my identity. Growing up in the North in the seventies and eighties and coming from rural Tyrone with an address and a surname that questioned my beliefs, my values, my neighbours and what foot I kicked with didn’t really help to nurture my identity. It only seemed to bring attention to me wherever I went. The wrong kind of attention. It was difficult at school. The uniform and the bus I travelled on give me away. You just got used to the name calling. At university I rarely offered my sir name and was vague about where exactly I came from. While travelling I was the one that would be pulled in at the side of the road or at security in every airport I ever travelled through to be searched and searched again. I learned to keep my identity low key. …until I wanted to tell everyone I was from Tyrone.  Football played a big part in that and the county team’s achievements in Clones and Croke Park give me permission to celebrate and be proud of where I came from.

We should always have a sense of place and be proud of where we come from regardless of the times that we live in or the difficulties we face. In a year when we have had to swallow the news that there will be no new roads or new schools and very few new jobs in the foreseeable future, isn’t it magically that we are all going round on a high? A leather ball has put Donegal on the map again and I am so proud to identify with my adopted county, a place I call home.

When the Donegal man with the Yorkshire accent got up to leave he said, “I can live in other places. I can even love other places. But something in me says ‘home’ when I am in Donegal.”

I smiled knowingly and turned my face to the fire to warm my hands, feeling snug and warm, but something is niggling me. Due to the luck of the draw my identity is being tested again!  What unearth am I going to wear next year when Tyrone meets Donegal in the first round! Whatever I wear I guess it is going to be a win-win for moi!

To treat or not to treat…Ireland’s million ‘euro’ question.

First published in the Inishowen Independent’s Bright Side Column 

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Sometimes we have to make difficult choices and today, according to our lamp posts, we have the choice of two possible answers Yes or No. Straight forward, right? So, what is the question again?

Basically the question is, do you agree with a financial treaty that is already agreed by 25 EU states in January this year, (of whom were able to ratify it by a vote in their parliaments—all except Ireland, where our Constitution requires us to have a referendum) to prevent EU countries from blowing their budget and bogging themselves in debt, pretty much what you would teach your children. Of course, children being children rarely stick to the rules. They need discipline just like our governments, apparently. Now big Daddy European Commission is going to supervise and any country that doesn’t adhere to the rules will be banished to their room or in this case to European Court of Justice.

The reality is aspirational. My kids are never in the room more than five minutes until I start feeling sorry for them. So other programmes have to be implemented to bring them steadily into compliance to enable them to grow into responsible law abiding adults because at the end of the day they could end up running the country and we don’t want our children running the country into the ground just like our government has over the past few decades.

But back to the question that our politicians have managed to boil down to two words Stability or Austerity. The Stability or Yes camp is an optimistic lot. They claim a Yes vote will create conditions for economic growth and recovery to our country and stability to the euro zone. It will also allow Ireland to access euro zone’s future permanent bailout fund, the ESM, in case it is ever needed again.

The Austerity Treaty or No camp is much less the bright side. They postulate fire and brimstone for Ireland if we agreed to this treaty including long dole queues and severe budget policies for years to come. The No camp claims that government belt-tightening is not going to go away any time soon. The Yes camp believe voting no is not going to make that situation any better.

The thing is, the rotten deal we got that transferred billions in private bank debt into sovereign debt, weighing heavily on the Irish taxpayer’s shoulder, has nothing to do with this Fiscal Compact. We are tethered to the terms of the EU-IMF bailout which are more demanding than this Stability or Austerity treaty so any amount of ratifying and implementing will not make a blind bit of difference to us in the short term. In the long term, we have a European Daddy now so we have to be good children and follow their rules. Furthermore, unlike other treaty referendum times, Ireland has no veto – the fiscal pact needs only 12 member states to sign up to it to become operational.

The lamp posts of Ireland may very well give you a choice of answers, a Hobson’s choice by the look of it, but the problem is the lamp posts fails to clarify the loaded question.

“Pick one,” my mum used to say when she was holding out a brown bag full of delicious, fruity smelling, mouth watering treats. Oh, it was such a hard choice but when you are peering into a can of worms under a dodgy lamp post it’s even harder.

But we have to make a choice nonetheless, and today there doesn’t appear to be an easy choice or a bright side for Ireland unless the lamp post you are standing under is switched on and used for the purpose intended.

Mr Sun has reconnected us and disconnected us…almost!

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Oh…So that is what the Swilly is for.

Thank you Mr Sun. We are so grateful that you are hanging out with us in Inishowen. Our pristine beaches are such a joy and it's great to see the children paddle in Lough Swilly without a scarf, coat and wellie boots.

Everyone is happy and wearing vests and cropped trousers, and summer dresses. I haven't cooked inside all week but I have had some gorgeous meals out of my picnic basket. Only for you, this would not be possible nor would I have been able to remind the clothes line of its use. There is something really fresh and magical about a line of washing dried by you in a sultry breeze.

Mr Sun, please stay around this summer. We really do need to feel your warmth and see everyone smiling. We are all funny colours now, pink, blotched, red, brown, golden but most of all we look healthy and glowing and the only rush on is the rush to the beach to spend time with you. Mr Sun we're loving it!

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No time to pose. No time for snaps. No orchestrated photographs. (I did try. They totally ignored me!) Don't you love how children are just too busy to stop enjoying the moment.

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Now, what are you two doing under there? Screening the sun? Sharing secrets? Swapping notes? What's that noise I here? Sounds like buttons being pressed. Giggles. Music? Electronic type music. You's aren't playing…? Couldn't be…on the beach? Surely not. Could they? Don't ask!

Picnic at Porthaw

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The sun is back! Time to celebrate and enjoy the glorious weather we are experiencing in Ireland at the moment. We get so few hazy lazy sunny days here so when they arrive most folk down their tools if they can and head to the nearest beach. Some folk up their tools and head to the garden. Whichever way it is, when the sun shines our burdens become lighter, we chat to anything that moves and doom and gloom seems to evaporate. On days like these, I believe a public holiday should be granted immediately! But while the powers that be work on the exceptional weather policy (no harm in wishing) we can always take a mini vacation in the back garden, on a seat by the river or dine alfresco wherever you are for an hour or so at least.

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There is something magically about eating in the open air. As a child, growing up in a rural area of Co.Tyrone, I spent most of my summers—pretty much as I spend them now when the sun shines—resting in the long grass with a picnic basket and a good book. Now the whole experience is enriched with my children and Lough Swilly at my feet.

Of course, when the sun is not shining it is rain coats and wellie boots and a brisk walk round the Lough, which has its own magic, but for today I am thankful for a little sunshine. It stops me dreaming about far flung sunny places and a longing for a casa in Italy or a cottage in France. You can read more about that here. The first two sentences were inspired by a poem by Brigitte from Brigitte Banter. You can read it here. It turns out we have a similar dream! Have a sunny day everyone (that’s inside and out) wherever you are!

Home in the Inishowen Peninsula

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This road is twenty minutes from my home. When you turn the corner [in the photograph] the road leads to a car park overlooking the rugged beauty of Inishowen in all its splendour.  I love this road because when I am heading down this path I am on my way to yoga, perhaps a picnic, maybe a refreshing walk or hike in the fresh air of Inishowen. Sometimes I am going to an art exhibition or taking visitors to the Fort Dunree Millitary Museum and to the fascinating wildlife displays.

Fort Dunree is proudly perched high above the edge of Lough Swilly commanding a majestic view across shimmering Lough Swilly towards Knockalla Mountain on Fanad Peninsula in North Donegal. Fort Dunree, Dun Fhraoigh in Irish means, “Fort of the Heather” and indicates that this site has been an important defensive site down through history. Today however, its stunning natural beauty and abundant wildlife, some of which is unique to the area, attract many visitors from all over the world.

This treasured beauty spot in the Inishowen Peninsula is my gym, my leisure centre, my spiritual centre, my time out centre, my family fun day out destination. It’s a place of peace and serenity, of beauty and blessing, a place I have spent many enjoyable hours and I haven’t even mentioned the beautiful and secluded Crummies Bay that lies at its feet. The sheer natural beauty surrounding me throughout the Inishowen Peninsula makes Inishowen a very special place to live, a place I am proud to call home.

Home and Away on St Patrick’s Day

First published in the Inishowen Independent Thursday 15th March 2012.

Sydney Australia. Darling Harbour. St. Patrick’s Day Parade.1989. Everyone green including me and my protestant friend from Kilrea. We met one night in a bar. It was our Irish accents that drew us together. Over the marching bands she yelled at me, “If the ones at home could see me now, they’d shoot me.”  “That would be a pity, you suit green.” I roared back. There has been many a celebration since but I don’t think either of us have dressed up in as much green since our Australian St. Patrick’s days.

My father, who will be ninety this year, would be ashamed of me if he saw the way I scrum for something green on St Patrick’s morning. He always has something green, a bunch of shamrocks from the fields. I have fond memories of Mum lining us up with her mouth full of pins to attach the three-leaf clover to our clothing—a symbol of Irish pride.

Word on the street has it that the wearing of the shamrock is a dying tradition on home ground while it’s promoted and exported to other parts of the world where new traditions are taking shape due to the efforts of Tourism Ireland. The London Eye, Table Mountain, the Empire State Building, the fountains at the White House and the TV Tower in Berlin, places I have had the pleasure to travel too, are all turning green. As, of course, is Buncrana.  I haven’t been to Burj Al Arab in Dubai or the Niagara Falls yet but they too are “turning green” in honour of St Patrick’s this year—a salute to our country. Perhaps we could respond by wearing a bushy sprig on March 17th and remember those who will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in faraway places, not out of pleasure but out of necessity, whose hearts are here but whose jobs are not. They may or may not have the shamrock attached to their lapel but I do know they will wear their Irishness with pride. The banksters may have left us broke but we are not broken. We are hard working. We are liked and respected. The lovers of the green beyond our soil only have to get a waft of the accent before there is instant recognition comparable to meeting a long lost friend. “You’re Irish aren’t you?” Anyone who has ever been anywhere outside of the island of Ireland will know this is how the story goes. Our roots are everywhere and no matter where we go our roots are supported.

We also have the ability to look on the bright side and make the most of a bad situation. For those in Perth and other warm climates the sunshine seems to be ‘the bright side.’ They know it’s as scarce as the jobs here and sure if it wasn’t for the banksters and the blessed weather no one would ever leave the place we call home. So if you’re missing family and friends it might be a small consolation to know that the sun is shining on them this St. Patrick’s Day and I hope they spare a thought for us too—while the rest of the world is turning green we will probably be turning blue watching the creative and artistic talents of our community parade up and down our streets. It’s a pity Tourism Ireland can’t turn our grey sky yellow.

Anyway, I’m a little more prepared this year. I have planted a little pride and I’m going to find some pins and line my we’ens up and we’ll stand together as I carry out the little ritual that taught me to be proud of my Irishness. This St. Patrick’s Day my Dad will be proud of me and all. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone wherever you are!