Category Archives: Life


All Ireland Hurling Final 2014
All Hurling Final 2014: Kilkenny versus Tipperary – two counties used to success


Last Saturday evening I was lucky enough to have been in Croke Park at the All Ireland hurling final – a spectacular occasion to decide the winner of what is probably Ireland’s national sport.

The Washington Post, a New Zealand journalist and British Sky Sports viewers have all lauded the game in recent weeks – the best quote describing it as ‘a cross between hockey and murder’! [A line borrowed from a Jason Statham film, unlikely as that might seem – Blitz (2011)]

The two teams going head to head for victory were both seasoned winners; Kilkenny eventually became champions for the 35th time on Saturday, while Tipperary have won 26 times previously – both counties together nearly accounting for half of the 126 finals ever played.

For fans from both counties anything less than ultimate triumph is a major disappointment. They win: if not this year, then next, or at the very worst in the next decade. With such traditions and legacies of success on both sides merely reaching the final and being there is really nothing special – taken for granted almost.

I’m from Carlow, one of the smallest counties in Ireland, which has a very different outlook on the world. In 126 attempts we have never won an All Ireland in hurling (or Gaelic football). To make matter worse we’re right beside Kilkenny; we can see what the promised land looks like, but as that renowned sports pundit Tina Turner might put it victory is a second-hand emotion.

To be honest it’s unlikely Carlow will ever win anything; barring events more unprecedented than the Vatican City winning the World Cup I’ll never be in Croke Park to see a Carlow team compete or witness our ridiculously colourful jerseys causing eye strain on Dublin’s streets. It was a little poignant to mull over that for a moment on Saturday while watching the noise and hullabaloo of both sets of supporters.

Carlow's colourful jersey
Carlow’s colours

Then again does it really matter? Maybe perennial defeat brings its own lessons? (I very nearly wrote ‘lesions’, Freudian slip anyone?!)

Perseverance, tenacity and resilience? Being fairly non-partisan? Perspective? An appreciation of the little things and the small victories?

That the world needs ants and elephants?

Colourful, irrepressible ants.









Infusions of wisdom: ‘The Zen approach to sheep control in 1970s Ireland’

Picture of sheep in Ireland
Sheep – philosophers of the field?

I always enjoy Michael Harding’s ruminations on rural Ireland – he doesn’t miss much of what goes on around him and all that he sees comes on many levels.

This piece is an insightful and rueful reflection on the lesser-spotted-Irish-life – how much of what goes on all around us do we never realise everyday?

Dawn of Planet of the Apes

Ape not kill ape
Ape not kill ape

It might seem strange or facetious, or even downright perverse, to connect this movie – ostensibly  a science fiction film about talking monkeys – to the dark events of the last few weeks on the world stage, war, death, destruction, suffering, but it is particularly resonant on all these scores, perhaps precisely because so much blood has been spilled to no good end and no conceivably justifiable purpose in real life.

The core theme and message of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is how similarities transcend and unite, even across apparently wide gulfs of difference.  Basic emotions are shared despite class, colour, and creed. Like our simian cousins humans are social animals, most often choosing to live in groups. How we organise those groups though can to lead to problems.

How do we make decisions? Who gets to make decisions? What outcomes do we want? Which outcomes are best? How do we judge? How do we achieve them? By consensus? By domination? Peacefully? Violently? Are some things important enough to die for? To kill for? What’s life for anyway? Love? Power? Plenty? Happiness? Dignity? Control? Duty? Responsibility? Belief? Me? Mine? Ours? Us?

All of these questions in one form or another have arisen in the last few weeks – and are at the centre of events in Gaza/Israel, Ukraine, Syria,  and Ferguson, USA. As well as each of lives and all of our homes.

Power and Control, Pain and Death, Conflict and Sorrow.

Or another way?

An unlikely place to seek ruminations on all these questions concerning the foundations of the human condition perhaps, but nevertheless this is what this film does, and does it very well and even somewhat poignantly.

Thought provoking and well worth a watch.


Arthur and Mike: running away from yourself so fast it hurts

Arthur Newman, Golf Pro
Arthur and Mike: Life’s no picnic


Do you ever think about dropping everything and disappearing into the wild blue yonder?

A new name, a new backstory, a new personality even – a new life! Just like that…..

That’s what Wallace Avery (Colin Firth) does in ‘Arthur and Mike’. Fakes his death and disappears. Not randomly or haphazardly; he has a plan – maybe more of a quest – and a place to be. As Arthur Newman – old pent-up, buttoned-down staid Wallace doesn’t do imaginative, even with his reinvention as a new man – he’s on his way to be a golf pro in Terre Haute Indiana. Goodbye past, hello possibility. Simple.

Except he’s not the only one fleeing his demons. Staggering or collapsing into Arthur’s path comes a mysterious woman (Emily Blunt), sprawled on a sun lounger seemingly on the way out of not just her old life but out of  life entirely. An unlikely hero but an honourable man, Arthur gets her to a hospitable and saves her life. The two – the stray and the waif – forge a bond, brittle at first but gradually deepening.

Over time and a series of adventures – what road movie doesn’t have adventures and escapades – the role of saviour and consoler switches back and forth, as both Arthur and Mike acknowledge and confront their demons.

There are some uncomfortable scenes along the way, some genuinely funny, a few very sad, and not a small number of rather sweet vignettes.

It’s not a prefect film by any means, and it doesn’t set out to be a blockbuster; the tale of two imperfect people probably never could be. It is intriguing enough to stay in the memory and provoke some reflective thoughts on what’s just played before our eyes.

One question that kept distracting me from the film was why were the two lead roles in the story of two Americans in America both filled by British actors. I’m not suggesting that roles be allocated on any kind of strict passport criteria – the key skill of acting after all being able to portray someone else who is not you – but casting of this kind can cause difficulties with believability. Relatively unknown actors can sail under the radar, and both film goers and critics may see and hear what they expect to see and hear from an American character.

But Colin Firth is too big a name and far too well-known as the quintessential Englishman not to invite, even demand, closer scrutiny, and unfortunately in this film at least his accent is not always up to scratch so as to pass muster. In fact it might be the case that his usual intonation and diction are so well-known and so familiar that no matter what he tries to do, what comes to mind will always be the distinctive voice of King George, Mr Darcy or Bridget Jones’ caddish boss.

Emily Blunt on the other hand – with a burgeoning career but not one defined, yet, by a single role, much less a specifically English/British one – carries off American tones with aplomb. Her performance is the best thing about this film by a country mile. Looking like a cross between the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Chloe from 24, she makes the screen her own as the kooky, impulsive, perhaps irredeemable Mike.

While it is flawed, there’s enough here to satisfy film goers who like a film a little off centre, neither sickly saccharine nor gratuitously bitter, depicting lives stained with darkness and constrained by dread, that ultimately perhaps asks as many questions of the audience as it does of the characters. As to where the answers lie, well that’s question for all of us, isn’t it?

Time flies: 20 Years since Ireland beat Italy in Boston

Ireland Giants Stadium 1994
Irish team that faced and beat Italy in Boston during World Cup in 1994
Ray Houghton celebrates after scoring against Italy
Ray Houghton celebrates after scoring against Italy

20 years ago on this very day a foot lashed out and curled a football deftly into the top corner of a net in Giants stadium, New Jersey.

An unlikely setting for an unlikely goal. Ray Houghton’s brilliant effort saw Ireland – unexpectedly, unbelievably, unfathomably – beat Italy by that single score.

1994 Ireland was far from the (over)confident place it became slightly later during the Celtic Tiger days. Just on the cusp of finding its feet, but far too close to dark days of unemployment and emigration to be anything but tentatively hopeful.

Knocking the stuffing out of one of the prime football nations on the planet – and the eventual runners-up to Brazil that year – added a little extra pep to the developing sense that things might just be changing for the better, that Ireland and Irish people weren’t always doomed to broken dreams and cruel fates. Maybe we could take on the world and win. Maybe we could have aspirations, even expectations rather than frail hopes hanging limply on crossed fingers and toes. Maybe we could take charge of our own fate.

The rest as they say is history. We did all that and more. And far too much. We aimed to take off and didn’t know when to stop. A nation of Icarus’s crashed back to earth in 2008. Noses in the dirt, shattered again. Maybe we’ve learned. Maybe we can rise again. Maybe this time we can find a happy medium, a humble appreciation of real achievements rather a soaring arrogance.

It remains to be seen.

But for a few hours on 18 June 1994 we were the most unlikely victors.

And the strangest thing is, calendar contradictions aside, it seems like only yesterday……..

‘Not all men, but too many men’

Yesterday brought news of another terrible mass killing tragedy in the US. Another incident in an all too frequent series of mass murders, this was different and especially appalling in being a targeted and premeditated slaughter of women for being women.

Much could and should be written about what this means and what it says about society, but Chuck Wendig has posted a particularly insightful piece on his blog. It’s well worth a read for the sharpness of the perspective and the depth of empathy:

Terrible Minds blog image

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. This is his blog. He talks a lot about writing. And food. And the madness of toddlers. He uses lots of naughty language. NSFW. Probably NSFL. Be advised.

‘Not All Men, But Still Too Many Men

A young man felt spurned by women and shot people because of it. He drove up and fired a weapon out of a BMW and committed murder, leaving behind a video and a manifesto about his rage against women. He felt rejected by them. He was reportedly a follower of MRA (Men’s Rights Activism), which is a group of men who are upset because they feel they have an unequal set of rights in a few key areas, which is a lot like a rich guy who is mad at a homeless guy because the homeless guy is standing in his favorite patch of sunlight. (The term “men’s rights” is roughly analogous to the phrase “white power,” and equally creepy.) Yes, we can talk about gun rights and mental health issues because neither are properly addressed in this country. But we also need to talk about the entitlement of men and the objectification of women.

Most of the men who read this blog are, I hope and assume, not entitled piss-bags who think that they are owed affection by women, as if that’s the role of women in this life, to be willing and charitable receptacles for our urges. To be punching bags and accessories. To reiterate and sound the horn just the same: women don’t owe you anything. Whether you’re an alpha male or a wanna-be alpha, some faux bro-dude bad-ass or some repressed alley-dwelling CHUD, it matters little. I don’t care who you are; your maleness does not entitle you to anything.

You may have been told otherwise.

Culture wants us to think that. That being a guy comes with a rider like we’re Van Halen demanding a fucking bowl full of green M&Ms or some shit, but I’m here to tell you, that isn’t true. It’s a myth. You’re entitled to nothing, and yet, ironically, you’re born with this pesky thing called privilege. And sure, someone out there is already mad I’ve invoked that word, that being a dude is hard on its own and privilege is an illusion and blah blah blah something about divorced men and prostate cancer, but just remember that the men go on dates thinking they won’t get laid, and women go on dates thinking they might get raped, punched, maybe killed. Remember that as a man you can say all kinds of shit and add “lol” at the end of it and nobody gives a shit, but as a woman anything you say might be interpreted as antagonistic and end up with rape threats or death threats. Remember that any seemingly safe space — train station, bookstore, social media, city park — is an opportunity for a man to catch a train or read a book, but is also an opportunity for a woman to be the subject of threat or sexual violence.

Remember that men get paid more, get to do more, get to be more.

I understand that as a man your initial response to women talking about misogyny, sexism, rape culture and sexual violence is to wave your hands in the air like a drowning man and cry, “Not all men! Not all men!” as if to signal yourself as someone who is not an entitled, presumptive fuck-whistle, but please believe me that interjecting yourself in that way confirms that you are. Because forcing yourself into safe spaces and unwelcome conversations makes you exactly that.

Instead of telling women that it’s not all men, show them.

Show them by listening and supporting.

Show them by cleaning the dogshit out of your ears and listening to their stories — and recognize that while no, it’s not “all men,” it’s still “way too many men.” Consider actually reading the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter not to look for places to interject and defend your fellow men, but as a place to gain insight and understanding into the experiences women have. That hashtag should serve as confirmation that women very often experience the spectrum of sexism and rape culture from an all-too-early age. Recognize that just because “not all men” are gun-toting, women-hating assholes fails to diminish the fact that sexism and rape culture remain firmly entrenched and institutional within our culture.

Because if your response to the shooting is to defend men (or worse, condemn women) instead of speaking out against this type of violence and attitude, then you best check yourself.

This isn’t the time to talk about nice guys. Or friend zoning. Or men’s rights. Or rejection.

This isn’t the time to ride up as standard-bearers for the realm of menfolk.

You have privilege, so use it. You’re not a white knight, but if other men try to objectify women or talk down to them — step up or walk away. If you have a son, teach him about consent and drive home the point that the 100% of the fault in a rape case is on the rapist, not the victim. Help other men — you, your children, your friends — reach a place of empathy.

This isn’t about you. Don’t derail. Don’t pull that mansplaining bullshit.

Shut your mouth and don’t speak over them.

Open your ears and listen.

Open your eyes and see.

Thus endeth the lesson, gents.’

Pigeon perils

The first few renditions of nearby tree dwelling pigeon coos come as a nice bucolic grace note; the next 15 mins of repetition bring a test of toleration; until eventually you find yourself googling ‘pigeon pie’ recipes and crossbow blueprints……#SundaySerenade Pigeon pie visual

The paralysing perils of cleaning the floor

Not so long a go in a place not so far away, my kitchen to be precise I spotted a few drops of orange juice on the floor. Just on the way out, I grabbed a tea towel, leaned over quickly and wiped it up.

On the train about an hour later, the seat started to become oddly uncomfortable. However I shifted, I couldn’t find a way to sit at ease.

An hour on further still, and I was skittering across pedestrian crossings more and more slowly, a twinge in my just above my right hip.

By evening time, I was glad to hobble in the door. I desperately wanted to collapse into or unto something but whatever way I sat or lay seemed worse than the last. Breathing deeply or heaven forbid sneezing or coughing was an eye-watering experience.

Balance and standing up, usually the most normal automatically reliable thing in the world, became precarious – dependent on how I moved my right leg and if the muscles around my hip went into near spasm. Teeter, Totter. This is not how things are supposed to be.

Moving around I was reduced to the slowest of  slow motion and very deliberate movements – robots moved more fluidly and gracefully. Trying to find a posture to crawl into for a few winks of sleep took hours, turn on one side, the other, front, back – eventually I nodded off. Wake, grimace, repeat the zombie shuffle.

Saturday, I had a mercifully restful bath, and lo and behold not long after rapid return to normal. The pulled muscle was vanquished as quickly as it appeared – huzzah!!

It was never agony but it was a reminder to those of us fortunate to enjoy good health (and a healthy back, something I appreciate much more now) how much we take for granted everyday. Something quite tiny and relatively minor was almost completely immobilising and disruptive of every daily activity. Truly, we often never value fully what we have until we’re bereft of it.

The next floor spill will be dealt much more carefully with a very long handled mop!!