Summertime, And The Living Is Easy

Well, if you’re a high school student it is.  Do you know how long Amy and Daniel are on holiday for?  Three whole months.  Twelve weeks.  That is just excessive, amigos.  Right now we’re at the mid-point.  They have already had the equivalent of a full NZ-length summer school holiday and they have another whole one to go.  Ridiculous.  It should not be allowed until they’re old enough to be made to go down to the SuperValu and get a job.  Are you picking up what I’m laying down? By the time school starts they’ll be so used to living the teenage dream of doing absolutely nothing that it’ll take until Christmas to get with the programme again.  For the love of God.

One good thing about these overly generous school holidays is that the place is awash with holiday programmes and they all look awesome (although a fair few also look awesomely expensive).  There was a Summer Camp Expo at the local fancy-pants hotel a couple of months ago and we all went along and picked up pamphlets (and I got a free massage and little chocolately ball thing from the hippie stall).  They call them summer camps although apart from one or two they don’t involve staying overnight, much to Noah’s disappointment.  They’re day programmes that run for a week or two, or sometimes you just pick and choose individual days.


The fancy-pants (some call it Royal Marine) hotel.

The one that Amy was all excited over was the Connemara Maths Academy and it does look like something almost out of this world.  There are several variations depending on which outdoor activities appeal most and they’re all in spectacular venues like the stunning Kylemore Abbey.


Amy saw the list of activities:


and the photos on the website:



and read snippets from previous camps:

‘Day 4 CMA Summer Camp July 16-22

Cian kept everyone in track to finish their sound tracks in Music Technology workshops while James ran Challenges and puzzles including the Pythagoras Squares.
Tunnels and Team Tasks followed by Graham’s workshops on electricity and Sine Waves.
Surfing was a big hit! Kevin and his team gave everyone the basics in 5 minutes and then it was off into the Wild Connemara Surf!’

and she wanted to do ALL THE THINGS.

Her preference was the one offering aeronautics and a flight simulator, which would have all been excellent, except that it cost €800.  And it was less than a month away.  And we would have wanted to send Daniel too because based on all his testing over the years he should be a lot better at maths than he is and we’ve always believed that it’s a matter of finding someone who knows how to teach it in the way that his brain can hear it.  If anyone can do it it seems as though the very brainy types that run these camps could.  If you spend the morning surfing then the afternoon looking at the mathematics behind waves it seems to me you’ve got a better chance of capturing the interest and imagination of someone like Daniel than your average maths teacher.

But, €1600.  Hell no.  I see there are kids who go to two or three in a row at the different venues.  That is serious disposable income.  I am in awe.

After looking through a few more pamphlets Amy settled on a murder-mystery film-making course at the Gaiety School of Acting in the venerable Smock Alley Theatre.  She could also have chosen a Vikings themed one (she was tempted; they offered special tuition in stage combat which would obviously come in handy often in her day-to-day life in a house full of siblings) or Wicked, Grease or Hairspray themed musical theatre workshops.

smockalley smockalley2 smockalley3 smockalley4

Noah could have done Roald Dahl, Star Wars, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Witchcraft and Wizardry or Whodunnit themed camps and Cassia could have done Under the Sea, Disney, Adventurers or Storytime Stars workshops, and I did think about putting all three of them in, but then something better came along.

I had been suffering from too many choices for Noah and Cassia.  I wanted them to do them all, because they looked so good, but it would have become expensive pretty quickly.  Within walking distance there was art camp, Lego camp, drama camp, music camp and a variety of sports camps, as well as a couple of general bit-of-everything camps.  Most of them run throughout the holidays so if you had enough cash you could book your children into them all.  Josh was worried that I was about to do just that when I went along to their school one morning to find it covered in posters for a two-week summer camp at the Sallynoggin Youth and Community Centre just across the road. It was only open to children from their school and the neighbouring estate, so they would all know each other, and it was very very cheap.  Sallynoggin is considered a disadvantaged area and I imagine there was subsidising going on because I can’t see how they could have provided the programme they did otherwise.

So I signed them up, chose Tuesdays for my compulsory once-a-week mother help day because the other days involved bus trips (I have done my time on school buses full of over-excited wee ones, people.  Done. My. Time) and counted down the days.

Well, it was great.  Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were away days where they packed them on a coach and took them to Marlay Park, a great big park full of interesting stuff that we’ve never been to because it’s a long way by public transport; Clonfert Pet Farm in Maynooth (pronounced ‘Minoot’); Airfield EstateWells House and Gardens down Wexford way which had a Fairy Forest and a Gruffalo; and on the only wet day in the whole fortnight, the beach.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays they did painting and clay, scavenger hunts and ball games, a trip to the pool and a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, a barbeque and general playing.  It was run by three ladies who took no nonsense and called everybody ‘lads’ and were generally amazing.  I enjoyed my Tuesdays too.  Noah and Cassia ran off happily each morning and it didn’t start until ten so we didn’t even need to spoil our holidays by getting up early.  Win all around.


Although Amy also loved her theatre camp, it’s imprinted on my memory for entirely different reasons.  On the Thursday afternoon of that week the phone rang and the lady said Amy’s hurt herself and can you come please and I swear, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve had that phone call.  I had four children with me and was more than an hour away so Josh went.  They had been playing bullrush and she tripped and hit a wall hard enough with her face to snap off a front tooth and, although we didn’t realise until later when all the swelling had gone down, break her nose.  It was quite a mess although she, used as she is to breaking things, was far more concerned about the possibility of not being able to go to the last day of her workshop.  She had scenes still to act in and her group had already re-written them to accommodate her new look (something about a lunatic asylum – details escape me) and she wasn’t bothered at all by looking like she’d been run over by a combine harvester.

As it turned out, after a trip to the dentist she was able to finish her camp.  She did spend the weekend lying on the couch though.  The tooth couldn’t be capped immediately because of the mess her face was in and she spent a week looking like a pirate, but is back to normal now and we just have to wait and see if the root endures.  The nose may need surgery but we’ll cross that bridge when and if.

To be fair, she was due.  She broke a bone a year for three years up until last year.  As December approached we told her she’d better hurry up or she’d lose her streak.  When she said she was going ice-skating with her gym class, I cleared my schedule.  Seriously.  But she came home intact.  Now that she’s done a twofer it covers last year and this year so I can relax because it feels like everything’s as it should be.

Daniel hasn’t done a camp yet, and probably won’t.  There is an awesome-looking multi-sport one at Trinity College and I know he’d love it but he’s not one to go on his own.  He’d go with a friend but, despite my motherly prodding, hasn’t done anything about trying to organise one to join him.  The other kids would all enjoy it too but it’s not cheap and they’ve had their turn.  So he’s mostly spending his time lurking around home moaning about whatever I suggest.

Today, though, he wasn’t moaning.  At my book club on Wednesday the ladies told me about Coliemore Harbour in Dalkey, only three kilometres from our house.  There’s a pier that kids jump off, they said, and I thought, that sounds like us.  So when I woke to find the sun splitting the stones I made us all go.  Daniel and Josh rode there and the rest of us took a 5-minute bus ride and a 10-minute walk (we don’t have as many bikes as people, you see).

And wasn’t it fabulous.  Dublin is a beautiful city, the southern coastal edge where we live is particularly so, and Dalkey is the jewel in the crown.  Here is our morning:


The view from the top deck of the bus outside our house.


Fancy houses they have along Coliemore Road. You can’t see it well in the picture but this one has a gorgeous archy thing there.

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This is Dalkey Island.  In the Stone Age there was a spear-head making factory there; later it was where they kept their slaves.  Now it houses sea birds, a few feral goats and the Martello Tower you can see there.



You can’t see too well but the water was brilliantly clear.  Just like the Mediterranean.



No filters.  The sky was that colour.




Then we got down to business.


Then we went to a café in Dalkey for crépes and eggs Benedict.  Despite the eternalness of the summer holidays, occasionally the living is easy.


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The Kick-Ass Women of Irish History (Part 1)

Most women, between the poverty and the relentless child-bearing, didn’t have much of a chance to make their mark on Irish history in any way apart from the family tree.  Not that Ireland was unique in that regard.  There were some, though, generally from the upper classes, who had the time and sometimes the education – or just the sheer bloody-mindedness – to make their way into the history books, the museums, the exhibits at interpretative centres and the school curriculum.  Over the last year a few names have popped up on my radar from time to time and I think they’re all worth a mention here.

The one you really can’t miss, especially around the centenary of the Easter Rising, is the Countess Markievicz.

She was born Constance Gore-Booth in 1868 and acquired the fancy foreign name when she married a Polish guy who may or may not have been a legitimate Count.  She was a suffragist and a patron of the arts and, after hanging around with revolutionaries, she launched herself into nationalist politics.  She joined Sinn Féin and the revolutionary women’s movement Inghinidhe na hÉireann and, in 1909, co-founded a paramilitary version of the Boy Scouts to teach teenage boys to use firearms.  Just, you know, in case.  Nothing to see here.


The Countess was jailed for the first time in 1911 during a protest against a visit by the English king, George V, to Ireland.  She had been throwing stones at pictures of the king and queen, burning the British flag and generally engaging in non-loyal-British-subject activities.  During the 1913 Dublin lock-out when 20,000 workers who went on strike for better pay and conditions, and the right to form unions, were denied work for seven months she supported them publicly and ran soup kitchens for their families.  To keep providing food she took out loans and sold her jewellery.

Then came the 1916 Rising and she kicked it up a notch by shooting a policeman and a British Army sniper within, like, the first ten minutes. Well, the first day, anyway.  She was based in St Stephen’s Green in the centre of Dublin and was in the midst of all the action.  When surrender came she was the only one of 70 women arrested to be kept in solitary confinement, presumably because she was considered the most dangerous.  Along with the other leaders she was sentenced to death, but was given a reprieve solely on the basis of being a woman, a decision she responded to by telling her British captors, ‘I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.’


A totally legit action shot.

In 1917 she was released from prison as part of an amnesty and in 1918 she was elected as a TD (MP) for Dublin with Sinn Féin, making her the first woman ever elected to the British House of Commons, not that she went.  Apart from anything else (like Sinn Féin’s policy of saying ‘thanks but no thanks’ to seats in British parliament) she was in prison again at the time, for seditious speech.  From 1919 to 1922 the Countess was Minister for Labour and she remained the only female cabinet minister in Ireland until 1979.  She fought again for the Republican cause in the Civil War in 1922 and was imprisoned again, eventually being released after joining 92 other women in a hunger strike.

Having given away the last of her wealth, Countess Markievicz died of appendicitis in 1927 in a public hospital ward among the poor.  She was refused a state funeral – probably on the grounds of having been too much of a handful – but was given a funeral oration by the head of the government of the new Free State, Éamon de Valera.


With her daughter Maeve and step-son Stanislaus.

There were plenty of women fighting for the Republican cause, plenty involved in the labour and suffrage movements, plenty of female philanthropists, and they all deserve recognition.  The Countess stands out for her absolute dedication, her toughness, her general take-no-prisoners attitude.  She was described by friends as ‘wildly flamboyant’. Her fashion advice to young women of the time?  ‘Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.’  See what I mean?  Hard-core.

Unlike many women at the time, the Countess had choices.  She was born into the aristocracy and the Church of Ireland – the ruling Protestant class – which meant that she could have lived in comfort and luxury, enjoying her place in high society in London or Paris or anywhere, if she’d wanted.  But she didn’t.  She got down and dirty with the oppressed and the disenfranchised.  She peeled potatoes in the soup kitchens for impoverished children, she got blood on her hands in the Rebellion, she went to jail for her beliefs again and again.  It appears that she wasn’t afraid of anything.



In Ireland there’s a Markievicz Park, House, Road, Leisure Centre and probably more. There’s a statue of her in the Leisure Centre and a bust in St Stephen’s Green.  And now – greatest honour of all – she’s immortalised here on my blog.

While the Countess was dying in hospital she was tended by, among others, Dr Kathleen Lynn.  Dr Lynn was not only a suffragist, nationalist, activist and politician, like her friend the Countess, but a medical doctor as well.  I need a lie down just thinking about all that.

Kathleen left school at 16 determined to become a doctor because she’d seen so much suffering resulting from the famines.  She was one of the first female medical graduates from the University College, Dublin and was the very first female doctor to work at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital.  Eyes and ears weren’t her passion, though.  Poor people were.


In 1919 Dr Lynn, with a group of like-minded female activists, founded St Ultan’s Children’s Hospital.  Mothers and babies in the inner city were dying in huge numbers and St Ultan’s was her effort to help.  There women and children were provided with food, medical care, tuberculosis vaccinations and education. Because Dr Lynn had experienced plenty of gender discrimination in her career St Ultan’s was the only hospital in Ireland managed entirely by women.  It was in operation until 1987.

So far, so relatively respectable.  Probably at cocktail parties she didn’t go into too much detail about the fact that quite a few of the health needs of the women and children she dealt with were caused by the estimated 15,000 soldiers who had returned from World War One with syphilis. While her buddy the Countess was shooting snipers during the Rising, what was Dr Lynn doing?

She was running guns, that’s what.  Who’s going to stop a respectable lady doctor and search her car?  She kept the arms in her house.  When the shooting started, as the chief medical officer for the revolutionaries she was right there at City Hall up to the elbows in gore and dying men.  She was arrested and sent to Kilmainham Gaol where she kept a detailed diary on tiny scraps of paper.  She writes of lice, rats, typhus, of hearing the executions of her colleagues, of the despair of other women as their brothers and fiancées were shot, and of being disowned by her own family.


After her release from prison Dr Lynn became vice-president of the Sinn Féin executive, and she became a TD for Dublin in 1923.  She carried on writing diaries until her death in 1955 and these give a valuable insight into the early decades of the Free State from the perspective of a woman whose dream was an Ireland free of British rule and of all forms of oppression.  The diaries are now on display at the Royal College of Physicians.  She was buried with full military honours.

She is described as one of the great humanitarians of 20th century Irish history and also, by the minister at her funeral no less, as an unpleasant and mean woman.  Make of that what you will.  For 30 years she lived with her BFF and fellow activist Madeleine ffrench-Mullen – make of that what you will too.  Like the Countess Markievicz, Kathleen Lynn was born into a well-off Protestant family and could have had a nice comfortable life, but she didn’t choose to.  She chose to risk her life for the Republican cause, to spend her time with the poorest of the poor, and to stand well outside the lines of conventional, appropriate behaviour for women of the time.  I’ve seen a documentary about her life and none of it was easy.  Being taken seriously as a medical professional in a man’s world, having her concerns about the health of people who were, after all, only poor women and children heard and acted on, continuing on her path even though her family were so ashamed that they would have nothing to do with her – it was a big deal.  She probably had to be mean and unpleasant to achieve a quarter of what she wanted to.  You don’t get this stuff done by being the simpering, swooning type.

Which brings me to Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Ní Mháille), the pirate queen of Connacht.  She wasn’t simpering or swooning.  She was swashbuckling.


Wearing her best and most practical pirating outfit.

Even in a list of hard-core women this one stands out.  She was high-born and inherited a large chunk of the west of Ireland from her mother along with a fleet of ships from her father.  Her first marriage was a strategic match of powerful families and when her husband died she added to her wealth and was said to own 1,000 head of cattle and horses – real rich-list stuff in the 1500’s.  Inheriting the land and money was one thing; it was the power she gained and held on to that sets her apart.

The O’Malleys controlled the coastal area around Galway in the west.  Her father called himself a businessman but it was piracy that paid the bills.  He, and later Grace, used the fleet to intercept trading ships and relieve them of money and cargo before letting them on their way.  They also visited the outlying islands of Scotland on the way home from trading missions and raided them.  Grace started learning the ropes of the international shipping trade very young and, according to legend, cut all her hair off as a girl because her father had refused to let her join him on a voyage to Spain on the grounds that the long hair would get caught up in the ropes.  This embarrassed him into letting her go, and earned her the nickname Granuaile, pronounced Gronya-whale (‘Bald Grace’).

Grace’s first husband, Dónal an Chogaidh Ó Flaithbheartaigh, heir to the O’Flaherty title, was expected to one day rule the area now known as Connemara.  When he died, Grace took his place and did it instead.  She now controlled a large area with many castles and was constantly under attack by the English as well as other Irish clans.  Dónal was killed in an ambush by an enemy clan and Grace took a shipwrecked sailor as her new lover.  He was also killed and by now she’d had enough of that sort of carry-on and attacked the castle of the MacMahons (the baddies in this episode) and killed her lover’s murderers.

Very soon afterwards Grace married again.  The new husband came with more land and within a year she’d kicked him to the curb while holding onto his castle by the simple means of occupying it and refusing to leave.  The castle, Rockfleet, is still in the ownership of the O’Malley family today.

By this point Grace, head of both the O’Malley and the O’Flaherty clans, commanded a large number of fighting men and used them to attack ships and castles all over the place, as well as defending her own territory.  She also offered 200 soldiers to serve English interests in Ireland and Scotland, in an attempt to gain some brownie points.  The Irish lords had previously been more or less left to self-govern but towards the end of the 16th century the English were steadily taking over.  In 1593 Grace’s half-brother and two sons were taken captive by the English Governor of Connacht and Grace went to England to ask the Queen for their release.  Grace, pirate queen of the west, could speak Latin – of course she could – and as she didn’t speak English and Queen Elizabeth didn’t speak Irish the meeting was conducted in Latin.  Grace refused to bow before the Queen because she didn’t recognise her as the queen of Ireland and she turned up with a dagger concealed about her person.  Despite this they seem to have got along quite well, and the Queen agreed to have the captives released and to remove the governor who had taken them, on the condition that Grace stopped supporting the Irish lords’ rebellions.  Although they parted as BFFs, the governor was soon returned to his post and carried on as before, so Grace realised that nothing had really been accomplished and went back to supporting the Irish insurgents.  Grace was by now in her sixties, and probably died at Rockfleet Castle in 1703.

By all accounts Grace was as tough as they come.  She held the loyalty of hundreds of men in her service, and was feared by many more.  In those lawless times I imagine it was hard enough for anyone to keep a good grip on their land and power, let alone a woman and mother of four legitimate children and possibly one slightly less so.  You had to be ruthless, and Grace was all over that.  On one occasion in 1576 she was in the neighbourhood of Howth Castle in Dublin and decided to pop in for a catch-up with the Earl.  She was told that the family were at dinner and unavailable, which is why you should always ring first.  So she did what any reasonable person would do and kidnapped the Earl’s grandson.  The Earl came around to her way of thinking and promised that the castle gates would always be open to unexpected visitors and a spare place would be set at every meal, and she gave the grandson back.  To back up his pledge the Earl gave her a ring, which is still owned by one of her descendants, and the custom of setting an extra place is still honoured at Howth Castle.  Which might come in handy next time I forget to make tea.

Granuaile has been the subject of many songs, plays, poems and books.  She’s the sort of figure that captures the imagination.  Like the Countess Markievicz she was a hell-raiser in a man’s world.  She’d be an interesting dinner party guest.

You know how every now and then you get these weird coincidences?  Like, you’ve never heard of a particular thing then suddenly it turns up three times in a row in different contexts? This one time a couple of years ago, for example, Daniel wanted a pogo stick for his birthday and none of the local shops stocked them (what are Farmlands and RD1 thinking?) so I looked online.  There were a few options and I ordered one from a toy shop that I’d never heard of, but that came well reviewed and offered free delivery.  Then the very next day I was looking on the Herald website and as I scrolled past the Business section, which I never read, the name of that same toyshop popped out at me in a story about how just that morning they’d gone into liquidation and called the receivers in.  I mean, what are the chances?

Anyway, last weekend Josh and I were driving through Co. Longford (or it might have been Roscommon or Westmeath – they’re fairly similar) and to fill in the time I was telling him about my new hero, Grace O’Malley, who he’d never heard of.  Then it was time for lunch (well, 3:30 – we’d had all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast only seven hours earlier) and he Googled for somewhere to eat, seeing as we were in completely unfamiliar territory.  And what came up? This place:


the Granuaile Café in Kinnegad, Co. Westmeath.  So we stopped and went in and the walls were decorated with pictures and stories of Grace O’Malley, pirate queen of Connacht.  The owner’s name is Gráinne – Grace – and I guess Granuaile is her hero too.  The food was excellent and I’m sure the pirate queen would be very proud.




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