A Fond Farewell

It was the middle of August and I was excited about heading away on holidays to Galway with some of my friends. A week away at a tennis tournament with the promise of parties and the chance to meet girls was all that we had talked about for weeks. It was going to be great, of course, and we couldn’t wait for it to start. For each of us it would be our first time away without parents, and we talked endlessly about what might happen. It was an exciting time.
A few nights before our departure my dad said ‘Make sure you go and see your granny; you know she’s not well.’ He had just been to visit her and he looked concerned.
‘Sure thing, I’ll go and see her tomorrow.’
‘Good, she’ll be delighted to see you, son. She’s always had a lot of time for you, you know.’
I blushed; then my mother smiled and poured tea.

The next day I took the bus across town and wondered just what was wrong with my granny. The look on my father’s face last night was something new, and dark. I had never seen anything like it before and it made me nervous. And now I could feel the butterflies buzzing about in my stomach, and it wasn’t good.
‘Hello,’ I said to Aunt Sarah when she opened the door.
She smiled quickly, trying to hide the same look of concern that I had seen on my father’s face. I kissed her, awkwardly, and we went into the kitchen, following the sweet aroma of coffee. My Uncle Leo was sitting, reading a newspaper and I noted his surprise when he saw me. We shook hands and he pulled out a chair for me. ‘Great to see you; how are you doing?’ he asked.
‘I’m fine, thank you. I’ve come to see granny. How is she?’
My aunt and uncle exchanged a look that wasn’t a happy one. ‘She’s not been well lately,’ my aunt said. ‘She hasn’t spoken to anyone for almost three weeks now…’
‘Oh,’ I said nervously ‘I didn’t know. Maybe I should leave.’
My aunt turned. ‘No, no. I’ll tell her you’re here. You have a cup of coffee while I go upstairs.’ She squeezed my shoulder and left the kitchen.
I sipped my coffee and told Uncle Leo about my upcoming holiday. He told me of his memories of Galway, and assured me that I would have a great time. ‘I always enjoyed myself there, it’s a great town.’
When my aunt came back she had a broad smile on her face. ‘She’s fine,’ she said ‘and she’s looking forward to seeing you!’ The look she sent to my uncle was one of bemusement, as I went past her.
I skipped up the familiar stairs to my granny’s bedroom where she was lying in bed, propped up on two large white pillows. Her silvery hair was tied up in a net and her eyes were as bright as the sunlight streaming in through the lace-curtained window. The room had a faint smell of the fresh roses in a vase beside her bed. I leaned down and kissed her on the cheek, something I had done many times, and she gently touched mine.
‘How are you?’ she asked.
‘Fine, thank you. And you, granny?’
Her chest heaved. ‘I’m ok, but I’ve been better.’ She managed a grin, but I knew it was false.
For all the years that I knew her she was always an old person to me. There were more than sixty years between us, but I had always been able to talk to her, and she to me. She was the only grandparent that I knew and that was very special to me. I sat on the edge of the bed, her hand in mine, and we chatted about my coming holiday and what I was going to do when I left school the following summer. She listened carefully, gave me some words of advice but she was tired, and her head began falling to the side.
‘I must be going, granny’, I said and she opened her eyes.
She put her hand under a pillow and slid a £20 note into my hand. ‘Take it, and have a good holiday,’ she said with a mischievous wink. She squeezed my hand and I kissed her once more.
‘Take care granny,’ I said and quietly left the room.
Back in the kitchen I told my aunt and uncle that granny was fine and that I had to be on my way. My aunt insisted that I drink some lemonade before I left, and I was sure that £20 note was burning a hole in my pocket.
Less than three weeks later my granny died on a bright morning, drifting away peacefully in her sleep, my aunt, uncle and others with her in the small, sunlit room.

Many years later at a family gathering, my aunt recalled my visit. ‘You remember that time you came to see your granny, just before she died?’

‘Of course I do. You and Leo were there,’ I said.
‘Well what you don’t know is that before and after you came she didn’t speak with anyone.’
I was confused. ‘But…but she chatty with me that day.’
She nodded. ‘Well, all I can tell you is that she never spoke with anyone after you left. Not a single word.’ She put a hand on my shoulder. ‘It’s strange, don’t you think?’
I was speechless. Me, the last person she spoke to. I had never realised that, and my head was in a swirl. ‘Wow, I don’t know what to make of it,’ I said, thinking back to that day so many years before.
‘See it as a gift,’ she said leaning close. ‘You were the lucky one, remember that.’ She smiled and I nodded, slowly taking in the importance of her words. I had indeed been the lucky one and it is something that I am forever grateful, as ours had most certainly been a fond farewell.


Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin, Ireland

Down to Dublin – an original link

On a recent visit to London my cousin and I spent a pleasant afternoon in Down House, Kent where Charles Darwin lived. His house is now a museum, and the wonderful exhibition that is set in almost all the rooms of the house, tells of his travels and experimentation that helped him formulate his historic and ground-breaking ideas that were eventually brought to the world in his book ‘On the Origin of Species’.

A timeline of Darwin’s life led us from room to room with mementos of his journey on The Beagle to illustrate his thought process towards the theory of evolution. Of particular interest was his small, intimate library. Standing in the quiet space it was easy to imagine the great man sitting at the desk, contemplating the words he was writing and wondering about their importance and impact. As we found out, he postponed the publication of the book for twenty years because of the potential damage from its contentious findings.

Darwin was saying nothing less than that humans had evolved from a series of biological adaptations and not created by God. He knew it was revolutionary stuff, but he was finally impelled to publish before another scientist beat him to it. Alfred Russell Wallace, who had spent many years observing similar evolutionary changes in Borneo and various islands in the Far East, had published a paper suggesting what Darwin had discovered but was too afraid to go public with it. In the autumn of 1858 Darwin began a feverish year of research and editing, and finally, on 24th November 1859, his ground-breaking work was published by John Murray of Mayfair. The initial print run of 1,250 copies sold out in a few days and led, inevitably, to a mixture of high praise and equally loud condemnation. As a result of his work the scientific world was changed forever. His theories were proved many years later, and they now form a fundamental part of our knowledge.

Towards the end of the exhibition there was an original copy of the book on display set behind heavy, security glass. It was interesting to think that such a small piece of work had set fire to our imagination, explaining evolution and creating a firestorm of argument. It was one of the most profound books ever published and a thrill to be within touching distance. We left Down House feeling a little closer to the great man and in awe of his magnificent achievements.

Some days later on my return to Dublin, I met a friend who is one of Ireland’s leading manuscript conservators. I described my visit to Down House and my proximity to the famous book. Jay laughed, stopping my story in mid-sentence.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘I have a copy in my office at the moment. I’m doing some conservation on it,’ he said casually.

‘Wow; is there any chance of having a look at it?’

‘Sure, come in next week.’

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse and I duly showed up at Jay’s office, excited to see an original ‘Origin’ without any restriction.
Jay opened a drawer and took out a small white envelope. ‘Put these on,’ he said handing me a pair of soft, white gloves. Then he pushed back the flap and, seconds later, revealed a familiar sight. For there on the desk was a first edition of the famous book, its cover showing the signs of studied use and a corner slightly the worse for wear. ‘Open it,’ he said, grinning.

I smiled and ran my fingers gently over the cover and eased it open. I could smell its aged mustiness and noted that the pages were a little loose.

‘That happens with years of use,’ Jay said ‘but otherwise it’s in very good condition.’

‘And whose signature is that?’ I asked pointing to the well-written letters at the top of the contents page.

‘That’s the signature of its first owner, Rev. Samuel Haughton.’

I thought about the name for a few moments. ‘Do you mean the man who invented Haughton’s Drop?’

‘The very man,’ said Jay. ‘Strange, eh.’

It was strange indeed. Haughton, originally from Carlow, was a brilliant natural scientist and Professor of Geology at Trinity College, Dublin. Ever restless to learn more he studied medicine and graduated in 1862. In 1866 he submitted a paper on the most efficient and humane form of hanging. It had been noted that the hanging process was delivering different results depending on the prisoner’s height and weight. In some cases the convicted man was left dangling for minutes before death released him, while others had been decapitated. The inconsistency was addressed when Haughton’s submission won and was subsequently adopted. And with typical black (gallows) humour it soon became known as Haughton’s Drop. In later years he was elected President of the Royal Irish Academy and Secretary of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland.

Thinking about him I shook my head at the odd idea that came to mind.

‘What is it?’ asked Jay.

‘It’s ironic to think that Darwin’s book was about life evolving and this is a copy signed by a man who invented a way of ending it.’ I closed the book and felt, in an odd sort of way, that my story had come full circle, from Down to Dublin.

Leave a comment

Filed under charles darwin, Dublin, Science


It was while walking by the sea that the idea came. I have often found that having water rippling beside me helps in the formation of ideas, or maybe it’s just coincidental. However, a friend suggested that it has to do with our being made of over 97% water – and he might just have something there! A stroll along the beach, with the bubbling water a constant companion, has always been a place of reflection and solitude. And, of course, a place for the mind to wander and let the creative juices flow

Some time ago I was walking on Sandymount Strand when an idea floated into my mind, like a wave coming to the shore. It is one of my favourite places in Dublin to go and ‘be alone’ with my thoughts, such is the calm and quiet of the wide beach, especially in the early morning. As I walked slowly along the sandy beach towards Ringsend, I gazed over the mirror-still water to Howth, and beyond to the horizon. How often had other people looked out at this same scene, I thought, and let the idea roll and tumble like the spray from a breaking wave?

And then it came.

People had been coming here for thousands of years and they, too, had gazed out over the very scene that was now mine to behold. For just in front of me was a line of footsteps in the sand, an image that had not changed since the first person who walked here left similar marks, so very long ago. The French have a saying ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’, which translates as ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ That seemed about right to me as I watched the waves rush in and cover the footsteps in their gurgling embrace, removing them so completely as to leave no sign of their short existence.
As the water receded, smoothing the sand to leave a blank canvas awaiting its next mark, I remembered that James Joyce had a fondness for this place and included it in his most famous book, Ulysses. In episode three, the young hero, Stephen Dedalus, walks along the strand and ponders the difficult topics of imagination, sensation and thought itself. The feel of the words is meant, in Joyce’s hand, to be fluid, hence the setting by the sea, portraying the move from birth to death, and finally, renewal. Transience leads to something permanent and new, and it is this cycle of renewal that held me as I stepped tentatively into the cold waters, making my own mark that was just as quickly erased.

The thought that there are things that cannot be changed had a strange but comforting feeling. Joyce understood this better than most and through Stephen asks the question, ‘Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?’ This is not something that I can answer, but I like the idea that he and all of us who walk on the strand have ‘our moment.’ We left a mark – and as to whether it will last until eternity – that will be for others to say. In the meantime, I continue to walk on the strand, not so much in the hope of seeing Stephen Dedalus, but in anticipation and comfort of its soothing power and timeless, dreamy rhythm.







Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, Ireland, James Joyce

Dublin – A Poem (on Bloomsday)

Why do I love Dublin?   
It’s very hard to say
Is it the people or the places
Or is it the Dublin way?

It’s hard to put the words on here
The thoughts are in my head
But when I come to say the words
Something else comes out instead

I love the wit, the humour
The odd sarcastic rhyme
The way they give a word to things
And nicknames all the time

The people are the soul of it
There’s one in every crowd
Their voices maybe lilting
But basically so proud

Why do I love Dublin?
Go on, ask me if ya dare
I’ll tell you friend, I’ll tell you clear
Cause I was born right there

Acknowledgement to PJ Doyle. (Paddy Doyle)

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, Ireland, poetry

WB Yeats – Happy Birthday

WB Yeats was born on 13th June 1865 on Sandymount Avenue, Dublin and there is a bust in the small, triangular green at the centre of the village. He is Ireland’s most famous poet, and his The Lake Isle of Inisfree is a particular favourite. 

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.



Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin

Bloomsday – James Joyce’s Great Gift

From its humble beginning in June 1954, the annual celebration of James Joyce’s greatest work has grown exponentially, and the day will be celebrated in cities across the world.  Joyce, who strived for so long with his financial position always a worry, would no doubt love to see such acclaim, something that he could never really have expected. And now it’s that time of the year again and I hope wherever you are that you enjoy the atmosphere, music, conversation and craic that are so much part of the day. Cheers, Jimmy

Bloomsday – The Beginning  









Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, Ireland, James Joyce

Flann’s Your Only Man!

The craic house

The craic house

Well, it’s that time again, thankfully, and fans of the great wordsmith will be gathering once more to celebrate his wit and wisdom in The Palace Bar. It’s the perfect place for such an occasion and this year the day has pushed back to Easter Monday – April 2nd – but that will not in any way dampen the fun. It’s a great day where fans read, recite and sing from his extensive canon of words and a lively time is had by all. I have been to a few such days and I can only say that it’s one of the best and most friendly ways to spend an afternoon, or later as I vaguely remember. You know what I mean. So, if you are in town, why not drop in and enjoy the craic – see you there. Slainte.

I think The Third Policeman should see this....

I think The Third Policeman should see this….


Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, flann o'brien, Humour