The Bus Strike, The All-Ireland Gaelic Football Final And The Mayo Curse

Here, in no particular order, is a list of things I love about Ireland:

Marks & Spencers foodhall.  Happy place of happy places.

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Call centres.  Can you imagine living in a world where, when you have to phone customer support, your call is answered by a real person?  A real, local person in the same country as you so they know what you’re talking about and you can understand what they’re saying?  Unless they’re from Limerick, in which case it’s hopeless, but that’s not really their fault.    A person who listens to your problem, is friendly and helpful and – here’s the real kicker – fixes it? A person who has a conversation with you instead of reading from a script?  Every. Single. Time.

Living the dream, amigos.  Living the dream.

Anyhoozle.  Back to the list:

Affordable food.

Unlimited broadband.

New uses for words like ‘notions’.

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In case you can’t read that due to my mad photo skillz, along the top of the cheese packet it says ‘Fierce fancy reseal pack. It’s got notions’.

Living by the sea, so close that there’s a lovely big view of the harbour from the bus stop by our house.  And the harbour is busy and beautiful and always interesting.  One time Josh and some of the kids were down in the village looking for haircuts and a Viking boat pulled up and a whole lot of Vikings got out and started doing Viking stuff among all the people taking their afternoon strolls at the waterfront.  Vikings. How cool is that?

 

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Everybody growing flowers everywhere, all year round.  Yes, I mean everywhere:

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Cafes

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Wheelbarrows

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Police stations

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Street signs

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Pubs

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Lamp posts

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Street corners

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The neighbourhood funeral home

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Road markers

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Castles

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More pubs

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Jeans

Schools in castles.

Hotels in castles.

Old folks’ homes in castles.

Seeing castles for sale in the real estate agent’s window alongside the semi-detached three-bedrooms in Ballybrack.

The names:  Ballybrack.  Sallynoggin.  The Casino at Marino.  Stepaside.  Galloping Green.  Youghal.  Dolphin’s Barn (why?  Why would a dolphin need a barn?  Why would you need a barn for your dolphin?).  Strawberry Beds (that’s a suburb, not a part of my garden). Bog of the Ring.  Puddenhill.  Yellow Furze. Newtown Monasterboice.  You get the picture.

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Summer days not going over 29°C.

Free school lunches.

School uniforms that cost under €5.

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Double decker buses.

Squirrels.

The Full Irish.  This is technically a breakfast but is served all day and, I’m here to tell you, there is no hour that it’s not just the ticket.  I wish I hadn’t thought of that because now I’m hungry.

Central heating.

My younger children talking in Irish slang without realising it.

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Me talking in Irish slang and Josh not knowing what the rest of us are on about.

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The tram.

Wandering past shops, houses, pubs and the like that have been there since the middle ages.

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Having a fox in our garden.  His name is Kevin.

Cheap flights to other countries.

Soda bread, toasted with butter.  Yes ma’am.

Finding Saint medals in the bottom of the washing machine.

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They just…accumulate. I think it’s the 7-year-old with magpie tendencies.

Hallowe’en.

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The Universal Child Benefit.  Brilliant idea.

Christmas jumpers.

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Grafton Street, pedestrianised centre of Dublin’s CBD and never a dull moment.

Hearing the bells from our local parish church, Our Lady of Victories, from anywhere in the house or neighbourhood.  The call to Mass every weekday morning at 8:45, the Angelus every day at noon and 6 p.m., the dead bells any old time.

The River Liffey and all its ornate bridges.  And the way the statue of Anna Livia, spirit of the River Liffey (or, as she’s known colloquially, the Floozy in the Jacuzzi) had to be moved further out of the town centre because people kept bubbling her up with dishwashing liquid and it got a bit OTT.

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I could go on all day but you’re probably wondering if there’s a point to all this.

Of all the things I love about Ireland, and there are a lot, one of the very best is the way there’s always a story.  There’s always a thousand stories; a thousand years’ worth in fact.

In the local bookshop I flicked through a book called something like ‘Dun Laoghaire: the last 200 years’.  Dun Laoghaire is the local town, where the harbour is.  The book went through dozens – probably hundreds – of local street names and told the stories of how they came about.  Then the histories of all the parks and a whole lot of old buildings: shops, churches, homes.  And they are fascinating stories.  It’s not just, well, the new street needed a name so they picked Mary after the mayor’s wife.  No. These are stories of shipwrecks and battles and scandals and rebels and famines and priests and kings.  You could make a hundred thrilling movies from this one little book about this one little suburb.  And there’s a whole country steeped in this rich, thick soup of history.

You could stroll around the central city every day for a year reading plaques on walls and information in kiosks and not have made a dent in the story it has to tell.  If you visit Dublin Castle in the middle of town you can see, among other things, part of the town wall made by the Vikings a thousand years ago just sitting there in between the working government offices, the room in which Bram Stoker wrote for twelve years, and the state apartments where John F. Kennedy, Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Nelson Mandela and Princess Grace, among others, were entertained and fed their soda bread and colcannon soup.  The kids and I went on a guided tour a while back and the stories, the little quirky tidbits, the human interest would fill a library.

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Speaking of libraries, during Heritage Week last summer (otherwise known by the kids as ‘The week everything was free so we were forced to do Every Single Thing and we wished Mum would get run over so it would stop’) we went to Marsh’s Library.  It’s only a tiny space but it contains, and this isn’t an exhaustive list: books with bullets in them from stray shots that came in the windows during the Easter Rising, a book with a 500-year-old squashed spider in it, the skull of Jonathon Swift’s girlfriend, metal cages in which readers were locked to avoid book theft, and the ghost of the founder, the wonderfully-named Narcissus Marsh, who spends his nights searching for a letter left by his niece the night she eloped with a sea captain.  Here’s a story for you: this one time in 1888 someone opened a cupboard and discovered not the spare teabags or whatever they were looking for but a coffin containing a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy. Nobody had the least idea where it had come from or how it got there, and nobody does yet, and presumably nobody ever will.  It was given to Trinity College but they lost its head so perhaps they should have left it in the teabag cupboard.

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Anyway, you get the picture.  You spend half an hour in a small building and come away with an imagination filled with 300 years’ worth of all sorts of shenanigans.

The story I had in mind when I started all this isn’t from the medieval town or the glorious rebellion.  It concerns something much more important: Gaelic football.

A year ago at about this time the bus drivers were striking.  Last year we had bus strikes, train strikes, teacher strikes, nurse strikes and Garda (Police) strikes.  The country’s a mess.  The strikes had gone on for months without resolution and things were getting desperate here because Noah was invited to a birthday party at the local pool and it’s a very long walk.

Luckily for Noah the party was on the same day as the All-Ireland Gaelic Football final at Croke Park in Dublin.  Now, twice a week or so for months the strikes had inconvenienced 500,000 commuters a day.  Businesses in the central city, reliant on tourist trade, were struggling and complaining.  People in commuter suburbs were missing work, school, college.  The bus company was losing millions of euro but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, resolve their issues.  The struggle was real.

Then everyone realised that the All-Ireland final was only a few days away, on a scheduled strike day, and a new level of desperation was reached.  The involved parties set up camp, negotiated for something like 36 hours straight, came to terms and, just hours before kick-off, the strikes were called off.  You can upset half a million students and office workers, you can push small businesses into the red, you can drive your own company to the edge of bankruptcy but you can’t, you can’t mess with the holy grail of the All-Ireland Gaelic Football final.  That would be going beyond the beyonds entirely.

So Noah went to his party, 82,000 happy fans took buses to the football and, a week later when we held Cassia’s birthday party here, I heard the story behind the depth of feeling around the final. Because this is Ireland and there’s always a story.

But first some party photos.  Why not.

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When Dave from next door came to collect his children at the end of the party he sat down for a cuppa and to help us polish off the cake, and we got talking about the match.  Dublin played Mayo in the final and Dave’s family supports Mayo because his wife’s from there, not that that’s relevant here.

The match that was important enough to call off the bus strikes for was the replay of the final.  The original final was a draw: Mayo 0-15, Dublin 2-9.  Yes, in Irish counting, that is a draw.  The replay was tense with the teams neck-and-neck all the way.  Dublin pulled ahead in injury time.  Mayo had a free kick and the chance to level the score and go into extra time but the poor man missed and Dublin won by a single point.  Mayo fans everywhere were devastated.

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Because, said Dave, this has happened before in recent years.  Mayo get to the final, they play hard, they keep the score level, sometimes even ahead.  They are drawn at the final whistle, they’re drawn after injury time, and they lose by a single point in extra time.  Again and again.  They last played Dublin in the final in 2013 and they scored the first points, they were ahead at half time, Dublin were playing dirty but Mayo held on until the final whistle when they lost by one goal.  They’ve beaten the eventual winners in previous matches so they’re good enough but they always lose at the last, tantalising minute. They have made it to the final 8 times since 1951 and have never won.

Well, says I, it almost sounds like they’re cursed, doesn’t it?

Funny you should say that, he says.  Back in 1951 Mayo won the All-Ireland final.  Apparently as the team bus was driving home with the trophy, the Sam Macguire, they went past a widder woman (good curse stories always have a widder woman in them) and didn’t stop to give her a ride, and she cursed them and said that Mayo would never again win the All-Ireland until every member of the 1951 team was dead.  Make of it what you will but there are two members still alive and they’ve never won since.

Wow, I said.  I bet those two don’t subscribe to any new magazines in the lead-up to the final.  I bet they keep their doors locked and don’t eat anything without feeding some to the dog first.  Imagine being the only thing standing between an entire county and their first victory in 60 years!  Then we joked a bit about hospitality to widder women and how they’re probably all harassed by football fans trying to give them rides and take them out to dinner and put them up in fancy hotels whether they want to or not.

Later on I Googled the Mayo curse, and the official story is slightly different.  It has the bus with the team all drunk and rowdy passing a funeral procession without showing due respect and being cursed by the priest (and probably any widder women hanging around as well).  I suspect there are as many versions as there are football fans.

This year there was no bus strike (it’s the turn of the train drivers and pilots at the moment) but once again Mayo faced Dublin in the All-Ireland Gaelic Football final at Croke Park.  Tension was running high.  They were so close last year, so close.  Everyone in the country apart from Dublin was cheering Mayo on.  The two veterans of the disrespectful ’51 team are still alive (and have probably hired security).

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Even the sheep are Mayo supporters.

Once again Mayo led at half-time and often had points over Dublin.  As the 70 minutes of match time ended the teams were drawn.  In the 7-minute injury time Mayo were awarded a free kick which hit the post and rebounded, leaving Dublin to score one last time and win by, again, a single point.

Now, along with most of the rest of Ireland, I would have liked to see Mayo win.  They try so hard.  They want it so much.  Every time they lose it’s in such a frustrating manner, poor lads.  But another part of me doesn’t want to see it happen until after Paddy and Padraig, the last two 1951’ers, have gone.  Because everybody loves a good story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Updates

In The Myth of the Loving Killer I wrote about Clodagh Hawe and her three boys who were killed in their own home by someone who was then farewelled and buried together with them.  As it turns out I wasn’t the only one who thought that this was less than acceptable.  After almost a year of campaigning by Clodagh’s family, and with the agreement of his, the murderer has been exhumed and taken for cremation far away.  It’s a small posthumous victory for Clodagh, Ryan, Liam and Niall, God love them, and may they now rest in peace.

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Then there was the public outcry over the idea of building a new maternity hospital on a site belonging to an order of nuns guilty of various historical abuses, and giving them ownership of it.  This really plumbed the depths of a communal sense of hurt and betrayal around the suffering of so many at the hands of the Catholic church in the past, and the fact that so little of the promised restoration and compensation has been made.

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After a few careers ended, the Sisters of Charity announced that an agreement had been reached whereby they would have no part in the ownership or running of the hospital and the land would be put into a separate trust to be managed independently.  And everyone was able to cool their jets.  Until the next time which, I’m predicting, will be about schools.

Way back in the early days here I described my trials and tribulations at the hands of the older-than-dirt plumbing system.  Oh, how I wish there was an update on that.  But no.  Not having hot water when I want it continues to be the bane of my life.  People keep leaving The Dreaded Immersion on all over the show.  Boiling about twenty kettles’ worth is now a routine part of doing the dishes.  Every few months the ridiculous sewage system, involving a narrow pipe going round a sharp corner, just isn’t able for the job and let’s just not go into that.  The downstairs shower currently does the 1966 vee-dub starting-up noise every time (instead of, not as well as, producing water) and I’m just ignoring it because we don’t use it much anyway.  Why? Why?? This is a civilised country, for Pete’s sake.  It has Marks & Spencers.  So why haven’t they discovered modern plumbing?  The Romans had piped hot water, for the love of God.  But not me.  Nooooottttt meeeeee.

Then I was talking about the kids’ schools.  I’ve mentioned elsewhere that Amy transferred at Christmas to a more jolly-hockey-sticks crowd and is much happier.  Everyone else is still where they started and I’m still happy with that.  Daniel had one little suspension, but the other boy really needed a thumping and they got on much better afterwards.  Before I get trolled for condoning violence I’d like to point out that the kids involved are both built to get knocked over in the first gust of wind and there was no possibility of any actual damage being inflicted.  In my experience you can tell 13-year-old boys to use their words until you’re blue in the face or you can let them have a bit of a tussle and the second option works much better.  If you look hard enough you’ll find Daniel in all these photos (I know you’ve seen them before but it’s very hard to find photos of Daniel.  He’s like a rare wild animal):

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The primary school, St Kevin’s, is so great.  So, so great.  Those of you who’ve been on the local school journey with me during the Pirongia years will understand when I say it’s like a breath of fresh air.  It’s being able to relax after a long hard marathon.  It’s feeling like, after all this time, this is how it should be.  I always thought, surely it’s not supposed to be this difficult, and guess what?  It’s not.  I truly, sincerely wish that Daniel could have started at St Kevin’s as a five-year-old.  Maybe it wouldn’t have helped, I can’t be sure of course, but I very strongly suspect that things would have gone better for all of us.

Noah and Cassia have been there for a full year each plus a term; Daniel had a term.  Would you believe me if I said that there has not been a single occasion – not one single time – when someone has come home saying that someone was mean to them?  I can hardly believe it my own self.  But it’s true.  Noah’s class especially is a lovely little unit and he considers himself friends with almost all.  His birthday party invitees were boys and girls in equal numbers (it was Rainforest Mini-Golf and we ended up with a boys’ team and a girls’ team and the girls won.  I would just like to say that) and they were one big happy group.

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I don’t really know how to account for the kind, gentle, happy environment that St Kevin’s is.  All schools aspire to it, not so many get there.  Maybe it’s something about the Irish culture; maybe it’s just that school.  I think it helps that it’s a small school with a tight catchment area.  Not that they enforce (or possibly even have) a zone, I don’t mean that.  We live outside the estate it serves (‘outside the parish’) and were welcomed with open arms.  In NZ we’re used to sprawling suburbs with relatively low-density housing, traditionally, and one large primary school per suburb.  Most children would have one school within manageable walking or biking distance but they’d be lucky to have two.  Here, it’s much higher-density housing, which means that there are little schools all over the place.  Within a 15-minute walk from our house I can think of six primaries and two colleges just off the top of my head.  There are bound to be a few more primaries that I don’t know about; they’re tucked away everywhere.  Down by Dun Laoghaire there’s a primary school in a castle.  A real, castle-looking castle.  How cool is that?

Vay vay posh. I wonder if the uniform includes a suit of armour?

Vay vay posh. I wonder if the uniform includes a suit of armour?

 

Street entrance, Castle Park School, Dalkey

Street entrance, Castle Park School, Dalkey.  You’d feel right at home pulling up on your horse.

But I digress.  St Kevin’s, then, draws almost all of its pupils from the Sallynoggin Estate, which comprises about four blocks of terraced housing bounded clearly by Sallyglen Road, Rochestown Avenue and Sallynoggin Road.  And saying that it’s a tight-knit community in which everybody knows everybody would be a huge understatement.  Everyone’s mum knows everyone’s mum.  Everyone’s grandma knows everyone’s grandma.  Quite a few school families are related.  It seems like a place where people grow up, settle, and bring up their children with their own parents three houses away down the road.  Plenty of the mams I chat to at the school gate went to school together, also at St Kevin’s, and have family within the estate.  When we were having a cup of tea at the end of one of the bus tours organised by the school for parents to go on, there was a group of four or five grannies chatting away next to me.  I asked them how long they’d known each other and they all looked at each other and said, well, we were at primary together, but our mams were friends before that…

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On the far right you can see Coliemore Harbour, jumping-off point from last week.

To be fair, they don’t all live strictly within Sallynoggin these days.  One has moved away as far as Ballybrack, one suburb over.  They grew up, married and had families together, and now their grand-children are all at St Kevin’s together too.  So I suspect the fact that most of the St Kevin’s kids have community roots and connections that go that deep goes some way to producing the sort of tolerant environment that I see.  There’s no point trying to be a snob or act like you’re better than anyone else when everyone’s known you since the day you were born.  Or the day your great-grandma was born. There’s no point trying to be cliquey or exclusive when everyone’s mams went to ante-natal group together and will get to hear about it and nobody will be putting up with that nonsense.  And there’s only one class at each year level so by the time you’ve spent all day every day with the same people for three or four years you’ve rubbed all the edges off and arrived at a working relationship, I imagine.

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Noah is front row, second left, next to red-haired Patrick

 

As we all know, though, a school – or any organisation – is only as good as its leader.  Dr O’Leary, the principal, gives the appearance of cruising around in a laid-back fashion painting walls and getting balls down from the roof but he knows what he’s about, so he does.  You constantly see him with the kids.  He’s a very visible presence in the mornings before school and in the afternoon when it’s home time he’s usually at the gate shaking hands and exchanging a few words with every single pupil as they leave.  There’s only one narrow gate, nobody gets missed.  He’s young, he wears colourful clothes, dresses up for Spookathons and things, and the kids think he’s great.  So there’s that.

Mr O'Leary's the one on the right. I think he was Mr Bump

Mr O’Leary’s the one on the right. I think he was Mr Bump

Then a few weeks ago I decided I had to go and see him about Noah.  From September until February Noah’s teacher was Ms Hayes, while the permanent teacher was on maternity leave.  Noah adored Ms Hayes.  I adored her myself.  Then the other teacher returned and things took a turn for the worse.  She was mean and shouty, Noah said.  And she took away the different maths books that Ms Hayes had given Noah’s group and now maths was boring again.  It was almost the end of the year but it got so that Noah was sad every evening and morning and I though ah sure, we can’t be doing with this.  So along I went and explained the problem and Mr O’Leary listened and said no, we can’t be doing with this at all.  This is not at all the way we want things done here.  He said that I was not the first parent to have made this particular complaint and he took it very seriously.

Then he talked to the teacher, and talked to Noah, and the teacher talked to Noah and stopped being so mean and shouty (although to be fair if I had a full-time teaching job and a new baby I’d probably be mean and shouty too) and then here’s the kicker, because actions speak louder:  he arranged things so that the teacher will not have a class next year.  She’ll be doing Resource, which means working with individual children and small groups and which will not tax her classroom management abilities and cause her to end up upsetting people.  And that is good management, people.  That is not just assuming that the problem is fixed because you’ve told someone to make it fixed.  That is making good and sure that it’s not going to happen again.  And that is why everyone loves Mr O’Leary.  (Actually that’s not true.  According to the grandmas drinking their tea it’s because he’s young and friendly and easy on the eye.  When he arrived at St Kevin’s there was a big surge of grandmas insisting on being the ones to drop the grand-kids at school every morning just to get a look at him.  It was a wide-ranging conversation).

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Cassia is back row, second right, between Oisin and her husband, Brody. Yes, that’s right, she’s gone and got married. She dropped it into the conversation the other day. ‘By the way, mummy, I might not have mentioned…’ They kissed and she has a yellow plastic ring. I know exactly why she picked him, too – he has some of the Pokemon cards that she needs.

So there you have it.  You’re fully informed.  Up-to-the minute.  Cutting edge, unlike our plumbing.  Go and have a hot shower and count your blessings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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