Book Launch at the Writers’ Centre

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

As book launches go that for Mary Kenny’s latest book A Day at a Time was a most enjoyable affair. It was in the Irish Writers’ Centre in Parnell Square, a perfect place for a book launch, and the festive decorations and brightly-lit Christmas tree added to the cosy atmosphere.

The book is a collection of stories and anecdotes, both inspirational and poignant, set over the four seasons by a writer with much to say from a lifetime of writing. Mary Kenny is a broadcaster, playwright and journalist who has worked for many newspapers and writes with verve and much humour. It’s a treat and, no doubt, it will make its way into plenty of Christmas stockings!

Storyteller at work

Storyteller at work

 

 

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On Your Bike – a short story

As traffic gets heavier with each passing day more and more people of all ages have taken to riding a bicycle. ‘On your bike’ is no longer a phrase of dismissal but says that the cyclist is keen on improving his health and happy to be away from the stress of another traffic jam. Cycling offers a sense of freedom and fun that are associated with younger years, and for that alone I am thankful.

I had not owned a bicycle since I was a teenager and buying one many years later was like taking a step back in time. Getting the right one took a while as the shop owner wanted to know what I wanted it for – casual cycling or something sportier. I tested a few and finally chose my steel horse and happily, if somewhat awkwardly, took it home. After a few days in the saddle, and more sore muscles that I care to mention, I headed off into town. It was the first time that I had done that journey since my schooldays and it was fun, and brought back memories that had lain dormant for years.

Thoughts of summer days cycling with friends to swim in Blackrock Baths were bright and vivid. As were our races when we made believe that we were competing in the Tour de France or pushing for an Olympic gold medal. Bikes were our pride and joy, and a vehicle for adventure and freedom that remains.

Moving along at a steady pace I was surprised to find myself taking in places that, up until then, I would usually drive past. Shops, lanes and houses with plaques commemorating a famous writer or politician, were now places of interest that I stopped and visited.

Ernest Shackleton's home

Ernest Shackleton’s home

I discovered that the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who almost became the first man to reach the South Pole, had lived for a time in a house in Ranelagh. Did he cycle these roads with a growing sense of freedom, I wondered, and hoped he had? And that the Donnybrook Fare, a festival that gives its name to riotous and unbridled behaviour, dated back to the reign of King John, in the twelfth century.

Being able to stop and park easily means that I am now able to pop into the second-hand bookshops that I had not previously visited. This has been a real treat and getting to know the staff adds to the whole experience. As such, I have been lucky enough to find good books that I would otherwise never have known existed. Cycling is not only good for the body but the mind, too and that can’t be bad.

I have found that cyclists often recognise one another with a nod of the head or a friendly grin, and they are quick to share news of a road closure or a handy shortcut.  And on a very windy autumn day, with dead leaves fluttering about, a fellow cyclist stopped and gave me a hand when I was fixing a puncture. It was a kind and much appreciated gesture that I have since done for other cyclists. ‘Hey, it happens to everyone sometime,’ he said as I shook his hand. ‘No problem,’ he added, before setting off without any fuss, like heroic rescuers are meant to.

In recent years with the introduction of cycle lanes, a more environmentally aware mind-set and people’s desire to improve their health, cycling is enjoying a golden period. Doctors recommend it and the concept of ‘Pedal Power’ has more to do with taking control of your body than just getting somewhere quickly. Up-down-up-down-up-down is now a mantra that many are familiar with and happy to keep saying.

And as a friend said to me a while ago cycling is now one of the few places that are digitally-free. With keeping an eye on surrounding traffic, pedestrians, road and weather conditions it is impossible, and downright dangerous, to pay attention to anything else. Hence, cycling has become, as my friend said, a GDF.

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘It’s a Gadget Free Zone.’

We laughed at that before he threw his leg over the crossbar and put the pedal down. ‘Right, I’m off,’ he added, cycling away.

‘Yeah, on your bike,’ I said, fixing my helmet and grinning at his witty and perceptive observation.

On your bike!

On your bike!

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Top of Dublin

I just found this video and thought it had to be shared. It’s taken by a guy who climbs, in daylight, to the top of one of the twin towers at the Poolbeg Power Station, Ringsend. Thankfully for him it was a good day to climb, and it’s the first time that I’ve seen such footage. Scary stuff, but magnificent panorama of the city! (Not for the faint-hearted.)

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Going Conkers

chestnuts

One more time,’ Eddie shouted, as I leaned back and threw the long stick at the tall chestnut tree. A shower of spiky chestnuts fell to the ground and we watched, hawk-like, to see where the biggest were. ‘That’s mine,’ I screamed greedily, snatching up a big conker. Yes, conker season was great fun, and with my new prize I looked forward to a successful conker fight at school.

The next day I jealously guarded my conker, checking my pocket to make sure that nobody had pinched it, as such thefts were not uncommon.

At break-time we headed for the school yard where a number of games began.

Over the excited talk Dave Flynn shouted ‘Hold it steady, Ryan,’ taking aim. He eyed Ryan’s still conker, and in a flash made a swing. There was an explosion as Ryan’s conker disappeared into a hundred pieces that were immediately trampled underfoot.  Flynn’s supporters chanted ‘Champ-ion, champ-ion.’

‘What number is that?’ someone asked.

‘Number forty-two’, Flynn sang smugly, as I produced my conker, offering a challenge.

‘Stampies out,’ I said, as the crowd around us grew.

‘OK, let’s go,’ Flynn said, as he stepped back and took aim again.

There was silence, as Flynn swung and completely destroyed my budding champion. He jumped about, swinging his winning conker flamboyantly above his head. I was devastated and looked down at the scattered, broken remains of the contender.

Later, when I told my big brother about the contest he burst out laughing. ‘Those big shiny ones are useless,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Follow me; I’ll get you a winner.’

In the shed he rummaged about before finding what he wanted. ‘Ah, here they are,’ he said wickedly, emptying a small leather bag onto the floor where a dozen or so wizened conkers rolled about. ‘This is what you need’, he said firmly ‘and you’ll teach Flynner a real lesson.’

‘You cannot be serious,’ I cried, when he handed me an ancient conker that God might have used. ‘This is useless,’ I added, turning the small object over in my hand. It was hard, no doubt, but it could never beat Flynn’s brute.

‘It will,’ my brother added, as he drilled a hole in the contender. He threaded it with string and then tied a large knot.

The prune-like conker swung easily but I was far from convinced. ‘Now, tomorrow I expect you to bring the champ home. And remember to take a deep before swinging. Ok?’

Steady now...

Steady now…

‘Ok,’ I said, taking a few practise swings.

The next day there was the usual mayhem in the yard as games of conkers were in full flow. I showed my new conker to Ed who laughed out loud. I couldn’t really blame him as it looked so small and not much bigger than the knot it sat on.  If it was support I wanted then I wasn’t getting any from him. ‘It has no chance,’ he said, ‘and you should keep it well hidden. It might be embarrassing Danny,’ he added warily.

I watched a lively contest that was quick and furious before another Flynn’s voice rent the air.

‘Number forty-nine,’ he shouted, as his admiring fans slapped him on the back and chanted Champ-ion, champ-ion’.

After a few nervous moments, and with my brother’s words ringing in my ears, I pushed through the heaving crowd and slowly took my new conker from my pocket. ‘Right, Flynner, fancy another go?’ I said.

For a couple of seconds he said nothing before a big smile spread across his face. ‘You must be joking Danny, that’s not a conker – it’s a pea’.

The crowd howled, and moved back to give him room for another easy victory.

I held my conker steady and watched Flynner closely as he grinned and swung aggressively. His aim was not perfect and it only managed to hit my conker a glancing blow sending it spinning around my finger. Everyone tensed up, as I took a deep breath and remembered what my brother had said. I exhaled slowly and took my time before delivering a shattering blow that smashed Flynner’s conker into what seemed like a thousand pieces.

There was a stunned silence before Ed grabbed my arm and pushed it into the air chanting ‘Champ-ion, champ-ion’. His cry was quickly taken up by my new supporters who let it be known that fifty was now the magic number.

Champ-ion!

Champ-ion!

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IMMA – A Modern View

IMMA - a delight

IMMA – a delight

I don’t know how I had not managed to visit IMMA before, but I’m sure glad that I did. The place, although it concentrates on the Modern there is much history to learn. It’s a terrific place to visit, and I expect you’ll need a second one to ‘get it all in.’

The Irish Museum of Modern Art was established by the Government in 1990 as the first national institution for the collection and presentation of modern and contemporary art. It was opened officially by An Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, on 25th May 1991 and since then it has become an influential presence in both Irish and international art. It is recognised for its extensive and informative exhibitions that attract half-a-million visitors each year.

The site where the building stands has an interesting history. James Butler, Earl of Ormonde and Viceroy to King Charles II was granted permission to build a place for ‘old soldiers’. He was impressed with the building Les Invalides erected by France’s Louis XIV and selected William Robinson (he also designed Marsh’s Library) as the architect. The old hospital on the site that dated back to the days of Strongbow was removed, and the foundation stone was laid in 1680. The work was completed in four years and what you now see is Ireland’s best preserved 17th century building. Much work by the Office of Public Works (OPW) in the 1980s has really made the place ‘easy on the eye’, and it is no surprise they received a Europa Nostra in 1986.

Art in the open air

Art in the open air

 Apart from the building you must visit the 18th century formal gardens. It was a treat walking past the neatly trimmed hedges, fountains and many, lovely statues. There are art works at different points around the grounds and you can always consider your next move the friendly restaurant. The mixture of ‘old and new’ works very well – it’s a delight.

Formal Gardens

Formal Gardens


The road to....

The road to….

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Pigeon House – Refuge from the storm

Pigeon House

Pigeon House

By the mid-1750s entry to and from Dublin Bay was a hazardous operation and the city governors decided something drastic needed to be done to improve the situation. So a plan was drawn up to construct a wall into the bay that would stop the silting up of channels and provide a safe place for passengers to board.

Great South Wall

Great South Wall

This work to build the Great South Wall took over thirty years and was complete in 1795 with safer passage for travellers and an improvement in trade. During the lengthy construction John Pidgeon was the caretaker of the storehouse for the equipment used during the building, and he began selling refreshments to travellers who often waited for days until the weather improved to travel. As a smart businessman he also offered trips around the long wall which was one of the longest in the world when completed.

Twin Towers

Twin Towers

Business improved and Pidgeon (the ‘d’ in his name was dropped a long time ago) built a small hotel to cater for the needs of the growing number of travellers. In 1793, years after John Pidgeon had died, a new building was erected and operated for many years. This building still stands and lies in the shadow of the twin towers of the Poolbeg Station. Not long afterwards with the whiff of revolution in the air and the 1798 Rebellion a recent memory a fort was constructed near the hotel and it became known as the Pigeon House Fort. Today, the canon guns outside the entrance to the ESB power station were originally facing out to sea anticipating a possible French invasion that never came.

The place also made its literary mark on a young James Joyce. In his first great work Dubliners he tells of two boys playing truant (no doubt he was one of them!) as they went to the exotic building and the long wall that stretched seemingly forever into the bay in his short story An Encounter:

We arranged to go along the Wharf Road until we came to the ships, then to cross in the ferryboat and walk out to see the Pigeon House.

The guns stayed silent

The guns stayed silent

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Sir John Gray – The water bringer

On O'Connell Street

On O’Connell Street

Once described as a Renaissance Man and by being a doctor, surgeon, journalist, newspaper proprietor and politician the commentator was ‘spot on’. It is rare that a person should excel in so many different disciplines but then John Gray was the exception to all the rules. He was born on 13th July 1815 in Claremorris, Mayo and entered Trinity College, Dublin where he studied medicine. In 1839 he graduated as a Master in Surgery from Glasgow University, returned to Dublin, married Mary Dwyer and worked in a hospital on North Cumberland Street.

Although from the Protestant ruling class Gray became the political editor of the nationalist newspaper The Freeman’s Journal and was co-owner from 1841. He used the newspaper to discuss important issues and in 1843 backed Daniel O’Connell’s call for the Repeal of the Act of Union and both men were sentenced to prison. However, due to the impetuousness of the prosecutor who challenged Gray’s defence to a duel, neither he nor O’Connell went to gaol.

At Vartry Reservoir

At Vartry Reservoir

In 1850 he became sole proprietor of The Freeman’s Journal and reduced the price and considerably increased its readership. With his interest in local politics he was elected an alderman of Dublin Corporation in 1852. He put the issue of clean water for the city at the top of his agenda and did everything to promote the Vartry Scheme. This was a massive project and necessitated building a series of water pumping and filtering stations from the Vartry River to Dublin. Due to chronic overcrowding and bad housing conditions in the city the introduction of clean water was vital in defeating the regular outbreaks of typhus and cholera that claimed so many young lives. On the day the project came into operation, 30th June 1863, Gray was knighted by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Reservoir and Tower

Reservoir and Tower

In 1865 he stood as a Liberal Party candidate in the general election and was elected as MP for Kilkenny City. During his time at Westminster he was a busy and successful campaigner for the reforms espoused in The Freeman’s Journal, such as the disestablishment of the Anglican Church of Ireland, improving the educational opportunities for Catholics and reform of the land laws. His fight for the provision in the new Landlord & Tenant (Ireland) Act 1870 of fixity of tenure gathered great support and was eventually conceded by Prime Minister Gladstone.

Vartry Reservoir

Vartry Reservoir

He died in Bath, Somerset on the 9th April, 1875 and his remains were returned to Ireland. As a man held in the highest esteem he was honoured with a public funeral and burial in Glasnevin Cemetery. And, shortly afterwards, a public subscription raised the necessary funds for a statue on O’Connell Street. It was unveiled in 1879 and is dedicated to the ‘appreciation of his many services to his country, and of the splendid supply of pure water which he secured for Dublin’.

Through the gate

Through the gate

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