Ireland’s Ancient East

Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare

‘This I believe the only house in Ireland to which the term palace can be applied.’

Richard Twiss, 1775

Jumping on the #67 bus on the quays early on Sunday morning, I make a little wish for clear skies. We trudge along passed Heuston Station, Chapelizod, Liffey Valley, Dublin’s northside filing passed from the uncomfortable seat. Trying to remember the sequence of bus stops, I stop counting after Chapelizod. We pass bridges and rivers, churches and community centres. The city is just waking up. Still we slouch on.

Forty-five minutes later, I jump out of the stuffy bus to take in Celbridge. I’ve never been here before. Looking for those familiar brown tourist signs, I follow the groups of ramblers and early morning risers towards gates of stone and steel. Castletown House estate.

It’s an eye-opening ten minutes to get to the house itself. I try to spot birds and flowers and watch as locals and their local dogs romp through the fields ignoring every sign posted along the way. This is nature. No traffic, no noise, just green.

I pass by a pond with warring ducks. I spot a happy golden retriever with a joyful trot returning to his master. Children kick stones and parents shout to ‘watch out’.

Up at the house, my coffee is delivered hot and sweet. I find an empty bench outside to sit and watch people come and go. This must be Sunday life in Celbridge.

I wander around the 18th century Palladian house, inspired by Italy. It has orange wings on either side that would make a nobleman proud. Inside, the wallpaper speaks of centuries of parties, audiences and respectability. Impressive portraits adorn each wall. Ticking clocks announce the passing of time. The Ikea-inspired pathway winds its way through the house ushering visitors to the Print Room, the glorious first floor sitting room with three stunning chandeliers. Threadbare chairs and dressed tables, this was wealthy Ireland two hundred years ago.

These manor houses stand as a reminder of Ireland’s complicated past. English-influenced and continental in aspiration, they remind us that we haven’t quite yet thrown off the shackles of empire. Wealth is once again concentrated in certain areas. Obedience is demanded and dissent is not welcome.

 

 

 

 

Bath Life

Independent, creative, unique and stylish indeed

 

Beautiful and historic Bath is indeed full of character and on a warm, sunny weekend in March, it moves with an energy that few places have.

Set in picturesque Somerset with a population of nearly 90,000, it is most famous for its Roman baths and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. A fact the local council takes very seriously as care and attention is taken with the upkeep of the city. In fact, on some streets, it’s like being on a movie set as Georgian-era architecture utilizes Bath stone to remind the wandering visitor of the city’s grandeur.

Jane Austen resided here for a while. Something the city celebrates at the end of May each year with the Bath Festival.

While in Bath, a trip to Stonehenge is a must. It’s about an hour from Bath by car. The lead up to the ancient site is paved with military training grounds, with the expectation of seeing tanks turn the corner tumbling towards future conflict.

Visit Bath. You won’t be disappointed.

Disrupt & Repeal

Change is slow, especially for women

It didn’t rain! It usually rains. It’s International Women’s Day again and I wondered had anything changed since last year. Change is always slow. Changing an oppressive cruel law affecting Irish women, the eighth amendment, is going to be achieved inch by inch.

For anyone who isn’t aware of the eighth amendment, it was passed in 1983 and enshrined in our constitution, not that a constitution is the place for that kind of thing. It has resulted in almost 3,500 women each year travelling from Irish shores to get an abortion, usually to the UK. How Brexit is going to affect this terrible arrangement is a cause for concern.  Tighter borders will make the journey more difficult and expensive. The need to repeal, not replace, the eighth amendment is urgently required, lest we continue to torture women for being women.

We gathered at the Garden of Remembrance. It’s the usual meeting point for these now familiar marches. Wednesday night’s march was one of several organised around the country for International Women’s Day. Having taken part in two marches I thought I knew what to expect: the atmosphere, the crowds, the crowds. However, walking from O’Connell Street up Frederick Street for one of these protests was so exhilarating. I passed so many different strands of Irish society. Students, expectant mothers, mothers pushing prams, middle aged women, men. Some brought their bicycle along, some brought the family pet. Little kids were carried, pushed, cajoled to stay peaceful. Purple hair, green hair, no hair. Every definition of womanhood was represented. Well, almost everyone.

It had been a long day at work. Tales of women’s achievements reverberated around me and the campus turned purple in celebration. As much as International Women’s Day is about celebrating female achievement, gender equality and how far we’ve come, it is also a reminder of the steps yet to be taken. We’ve progressed but some have been left behind. It’s difficult to reconcile this.

This year;s events included two protests in Dublin, a strike4repeal afternoon demonstration and a later evening gathering. I was gutted not to be able to attend the lunchtime event. Sometimes it’s about numbers, and showing up is an important part of making your voice heard. No amount of complaining to family and friends can make up for simply showing up. At 12.30pm women across Dublin downed tools and set off for O’Connell Bridge to strike for a repeal of the eighth amendment. I honestly thought it would be a small affair, not about to bother anyone. However, given the global climate of anger, 4,500 women and men showed up and took the bridge. They held it too. For hours. People were naturally irked. Traffic came to a standstill. Disruptions everywhere. Laura Graham, writing in The Conversation has highlighted this point in a recent article, namely that civil disobedience is required, and yesterday’s stand was an excellent example of how to be civilly disobedient. Yes, some were put out, complaints abounded about blocking up the streets. But isn’t that what protesting is all about. You are not there to be nice; you are there to disrupt.

Back at the beginnings of the march we heard inspired and inspiring speakers rally the crowds. And then we set off. Over 10,000 people set forth to shout for change. We weaved our way across the city, first bracing the road works and bemused pedestrians on O’Connell Street. On the intersection of Earl Street North and O’Connell Street, where that great phallic symbol, the Spire, sits stood a feverishly worked up member of the Christian community. Complete with microphone to carry his loud message to as many distracted shoppers as possible, he reminded us of this passage and that passage. But it was all joyously drowned out by cheers, whistles, calls from the pink hat brigade. People lining the protest route cheered. Cheers went up for this encouragement. Cameras of all kinds were switched on. I’m sure I’m in a highlights video somewhere.

We carried on across O’Connell Bridge, the site of that famous afternoon struggle, up Westmoreland Street where business owners came out to cheer, passed in front of Trinity College Dublin, where I suspect many of the participants had rallied and ended on Kildare Street. All of Kildare Street. And maybe a little of Molesworth Street.

By then it was 7pm, so our politic officials had probably departed for the day. The site of that condemning amendment was also the site of progressive legislation. Perhaps a repeal could be next. Many spoke. Many more chanted, sang, cheered. People eventually wandered off, to the Sugar Club or home to pack away their placards and maracas and drums until the next gathering. Meanwhile, the Abortion Rights Campaign, the X-ile Project and many other local and national groups are continuing their efforts.

At the 2014 march for choice 5,000 attended. In 2015 that number went up to 10,000. In 2016 there was 20,000 demanding a change to this repressive law. We will march again in 2017, for this battle is not over. We are gaining ground and public support. We are noisy. We are angry and ultimately we will succeed. Three and a half thousand women a year need us to succeed.

I Think I’m Going Insane

It’s been 75 days since I finished in my last job. My LAST job. These words seem entirely accurate for how I am feeling at the moment. I will never work again. Not because I have won the lotto and will indeed be taking everyone to the Bahamas for two weeks. But because after the countless applications I have sent out, it seems that there is no job for me. Anywhere. I will never have another job again; I am unemployable it seems. Of course, I am at risk of becoming histrionic, but I am unemployed. Grant me this one indulgence.

I have never experienced this degree of unemployment before. In my less burdened days, I wandered from one country to another, picking up jobs as I went along. I was never really concerned with career building or preparing for my pension or 2.4 children. It was the Celtic Tiger. Those things could wait. There was a world to see, people to meet, experiences to be had. So, off I wandered, to Asia and the Americas, across Eastern and Western Europe. Sometimes alone, sometimes finding the courage to talk to strangers in the hostel in whatever language worked. I made friends, Facebook and real, and managed to capture fleeting moments of pure joy and amazement in art and photography. I trekked to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City alone. It was quite the achievement, especially when you consider that someone I met on the bus on the way there encouraged me to put my credit cards in my socks to avoid surrendering them to muggers in D.F. I wandered and it was marvellous. And now, the wanderlust has evaporated and I am left standing. In Dublin. In the rain. In unemployment. In desperation.

I should have studied business or IT or accounting. Everyone needs an accountant. I should have studied engineering in one of its many forms. I would be working in Germany as a highly successful engineer for some multi-billion dollar company, doing engineer-y stuff. I could be diligently applying all my tech knowledge at Microsoft or IBM, doing something very important with interfaces or apps. Instead, I studied the thing I absolutely love. And as we have all learned in recent years, that attitude is not going to get you very far. I studied History. I studied dead people, in all their finery, neurosis and blood-thirstiness. I studied revolutions, emancipation, acts of mad men and acts of sane men. Sometimes those were hard to distinguish. World War I is my favourite war. Now, how many people can say that? Certainly not the people who fought in it, but I digress. I studied the thing I love. And this does not lend itself to success in this era of practicality, brand marketing and search engine optimization. Perhaps now is the time to teach the next generation that it’s not about what you love; it’s about what will get you a job. It’s about being practical and admitting that Orwell’s 1984 is a good book, but literature, in all its beauty, is not a profession. However, you can, from time to time, visit some exhibition to view the hat that Orwell wore when he stayed for tea at his great-aunt’s house one summer. That will sustain you through your career in manufacturing or insurance. Over the years, your curiosity for the language shrivels and shrinks and eventually gets collected up in your hands, examined and briefly remembered as that thing you loved but couldn’t ever sustain you. Its withered petals barely recognizable because its essence died away a long time ago, and what is left is a brittle case of what was a passion. A penniless passion, so never mind.  

So, I think I’m going insane. Because I should have been an engineer. I’d be happy now, right?