Sunday, 31 December 2017

Natality – a good theme for 2018

One of the best things about being human is to get to participate in good conversation or debate. Next best surely is to eavesdrop. 

A new word kept cropping up for me in conversation in the last quarter of 2017. 


Imagine my surprise when I heard this word, so unusual to me, come up on RTE Claire Byrne’s last radio show of the year. 

The ham was boiling and so was I. I decided it was a ‘sign’ so I dropped tools, made a cuppa and retreated from the kitchen to listen. If you want to put on the kettle listen directly here – Claire Byrne talking to Simon Sleeman (a monk from Glenstal Abbey). 

Or if you prefer here is my potted eavesdropped version.

Sleeman on Natality

Sleeman is saying we should seize this season to think about change and rebirth. He first heard about the concept of natality from Hannah Arendt a German Jewish philosopher.  According to Sleeman we have over emphasised death in philosophy and religion and not put enough emphasis on birth. He seems to be describing us as natals born to live rather than mortals born to die. Arendt, he says, is asking us to celebrate life - this life.  This invitation gives Sleeman energy and vitality. He spoke about his mother who is in her 80s. She has told him that when she dies she wants to be described as somebody who lived until… not died at … 

Sleeman describes all these things as metaphors about how we live. If we live out of a concept of natality, he says, several things happen. 

For one thing we realise that this moment is not an audition, this is a moment to celebrate to get the most out of.  We become focused on a beautiful landscape rather than facing a gloomy cloud in the foreground.

For another it gets us to reconnect with nature.  If we don't value nature we don’t recognise this is our common home with other creatures.

Natality emphasises the importance of the feminine - the balance of the feminine. We develop the capacity to begin again – he says - new politics even!

He recognises that we all speak out of a story – but a story into which we can implant this natality position - rather than inevitable death mortality one. Claire Byrne pointed out the church focus on death and afterlife.  That’s one version, he said, but he believes there is another version.

Sleeman gives a fascinating description of Gregorian chant.

‘When advent comes around the chant all changes and somehow it leads me over the lintel of ordinary time into this advent experience. It changes how I feel. That is what liturgy is meant to do to us – we are meant to go in there and come out feeling different. Ritual is transformational - helping our vitality and natality. Life will bring you to the ground at some stage and you will inevitably ask - what is this all about. People are hungry for what is real and sustaining’.

Meister Eckhart

Sleeman says God comes to birth in us at Christmas. He quotes Meister Eckhart.

'What does it avail me that the birth is always happening, if it does not happen to me?

Sleeman says it's not just locked into a single being Jesus - we are meant to become it. And we don't even have to project manage it. There is a divine artist who will work on us if we if we agree. It's an invitation. It's not mandatory.

Claire Byrne talked about the pressures of the season that they might perhaps be inured to in Glenstal Abbey and wonders what his take is on shopping and present buying.  He talks about fun, that presents are ways of connecting with people so long as we don't mistake it for something that is going to sustain us at a deeper level. Consumerism pretends that it can fill us up and is dependent on us remaining empty. It doesn't work and we know it doesn't work.

Byrne went on to discuss with him the British army career that he almost had in the footsteps of his father.  He described time spent in Belize.  He described coming back to visit Glenstal and in his legs he felt something happening - through the ground he felt an invitation.

She asked him did he ever feel like leaving and he says of course he has many times but something always brings him back.  He doesn’t make Glenstal Abbey sound remotely inured from the stresses of life. He tells her that living with 30 men in a fake mediaeval castle trying to keep the whole thing going is not easy.

In the rush to the finish of the interview this engaging man seems to be describing that his overall objective is to get himself out of the way so that God can operate.

an itch to hear more….

It’s funny how much more interesting all this becomes when it is not mandatory. For the rest of the day, despite the Christmas mayhem, I had an itch to google and hear more.  Late that night I went on a trail that led to another RTE presenter Marian Finucane interviewing another eminent Glenstal monk Mark Patrick Hederman early in 2017 about his latest book ‘The Opal and the Pearl’. 

In the book he analyses the creative process in James Joyce, Iris Murdoch W B Yeats and Seamus Heaney.  If you want to take a break and listen - here is Hederman’s chat with Marian.

Or if you prefer, go to my next post in for my potted eavesdropped version.

Nollaig Shona daoibh go léir

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Why is bogland so hypnotic?

I've been searching for the perfect bogland picture all November, the month of souls, the month that particularly calls us to cherish the memory of our dead. 

I have become hypnotised. 

Why is bogland so hypnotic?

'The ground itself is kind, black butter'

pic courtesy m flynn    . 

'The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.'

As with everything, the great poets know the answer.....


by Seamus Heaney

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening--
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encrouching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They've taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They'll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.

pic courtesy l deery

Saturday, 7 October 2017

I have digital indigestion.

If you have graduated into the workforce since 2009 academics refer to you as a digital native.  From your earliest memories you have been online.  You move effortlessly between your real world and your on-line world.  You have been liberated from the didacticism that the rest of us suffer. You are democratic. You are not constrained by geography or budget.  You listen, engage and share.  Your approach is open.

digital immigrant at Castletown House, Celbridge

Academics refer to the rest of us as digital immigrants. We make traditional presentations.  We tell, explain, elaborate or instruct.  We retain the power and the influence.   We demand up front commitment from you.   We are inflexible. 

We want to get attention.  You want to give attention. We want to broadcast.  You want to interact.  We monologue.  You dialogue.

Of course there are many more that two types of me’s and you’s – and I like to make stuff up - so let’s create another category of person that lies between the digital immigrant and the digital native. 
digital inbetweenie at Castletown House, Celbridge

Let’s call this person the excitable digital inbetweenie.

If the traditionalist, the digital immigrant, wants to share stories with you, they create a magazine. They spend time writing and editing and coaxing contributors.  They follow a format that has grown over time and it familiar to you. They use graphic design and illustration to make it beautiful.  They print it.  They post it to your home or deliver it to your workplace in an envelope.  They want you to touch it, to own it, to show it to your family and friends, even to write on it.  This process is time consuming and expensive.  They can’t prove that you’ve read it. Is seems that they are using a format that is doomed.

If the excitable digital inbetweenie wants to share stories with you they will create an e-zine.  They will bomb their e-zine out to everyone in their database.  Gadgets excite them.  They want to broadcast. They don’t care about the writing.  They don’t notice if their CEOs face is stretched or elongated or if their logo is positioned correctly.  They don’t care if it’s full of unexplained acronyms or boring. They want to GET IT OUT.  They haven’t really figured out how to use analytics.  If the reader has opened it – that’ll do – that’s the same as having read it.
fully fledged at Castletown House, Celbridge

The fully-fledged digital native, however, is different.  These guys combine traditional methods with digital aproaches.  And - they won’t send their e-zine to everyone in their database.  They will give the reader an opportunity to opt in or out.  They would prefer to talk to 1,000 people who are listening than to bomb it out to 10,000.  They can afford to do this because they know where each and every one of us is in their sales cycle.  Their plan is to get their readers/customers to become advocates and they know how to do it. They know that if we give them permission to communicate with us - and if they do it well and give us value – they can communicate with us for life – for FREE.


I am a naïve digital geriatric. 

Recently I asked Pinterest to show me minimalist dresses – shift style. Up they came and for ages I was absorbed.  The nicest were on Victoria Beckham and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.  It was an enjoyable exercise.

Over the coming days I noticed that Ms Beckham and Middleton and other women wearing shift dresses were everywhere I turned. When I searched YouTube they appeared on video. When I read the news online there they were in the margins, on the banners, in the middle of articles. 

‘Funny how the shift dresses I like are suddenly all the rage’, I thought as I sat on the bus scanning the news channels on Twitter before settling into the Irish Times. And then the penny dropped.  The man beside me was also reading the Irish Times on his mobile device - but was he getting adverts about shift dresses?  No.  His were for Haemorrhoid cream. 

‘Be careful what you wish for’ the elders in my tribe used to say. ‘Be careful what you look up’ they would say now.

In a very interesting article in the Huffington Post Jeff DeGall tells us that we will come full circle.  He tells us that in time children of digital natives will come to act like digital immigrants because ‘generations are simply oppositional in nature’.  Read it HERE.

This all can be confusing, even head wrecking – and there is no doubt, even for natives, that it’s important to take breaks from the digital landscape.

So – for now, maybe the very best remedy for digital indigestion is to curl up, as often as we can, for as long as we have them, with our favourite book or magazine?
Offline at Castletown House, Celbridge

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Dear Mick

I wrote to you in July and promised to post my third and more complex film project for your patient attention.

I also wish to appeal to you, as a good Galway man and neighbour, with a special request. 
Is there any chance you could put in a good word for Mayo? 
I’m writing this before the match and I’m not sure I’ll be able to bear to watch it. 

As you are well aware Mayo has not won an All-Ireland title since 1951.

I know you don’t believe in curses, so if you would consider gathering with all the other formidable wise men and crones from Connaught that have gone before us -to 'cuir bua ar ár mbealach'- we need a bit of waxing down here after all that waning.

Sincerely yours C

PS - and if you care to watch ‘Croneship’  - which is of a duration of 1.34 minutes, you will find it by clicking the link right HERE.

Thursday, 31 August 2017


 ‘It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society’.

So says Ivor Browne, gleefully quoting Krishnamurti in the film ‘Meetings with Ivor’, which was directed by Alan Gilsenan and has now been broadcast on RTE.

This man makes an awful lot of sense.  I watched this film three times for three reasons – well for lots of reasons - but primarily there are three.

This film is about the ground-breaking Irish psychiatrist Ivor Browne. 

I saw it first in the IFI in March when Professor  Browne was himself present for a Q&A session after the screening.  I don’t know how much getting to hear him bear witness in person to his lifetime of learnings drew me to view it a second and third time. 

The film itself is a quirky portrait of the man as guru, creative and sage - often bathing him in white mystical light. But neither the film nor the people whom he ‘meets’ shy away either from his vulnerabilites, flaws or more controversial views.

For someone highly creative, and such an alternative often playful thinker, Ivor Browne has held down some seriously heavyweight mainstream jobs - like chief psychiatrist with the Eastern Health Board and professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin. …

In the film Browne has ‘meetings’ with a variety of people including Mary Coughlan, Tommy Tiernan, Sebastian Barry, Tom Murphy, Nell McCafferty and others.  Brendan Kelly, professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin has a particularly memorable 'meeting with Ivor' which illustrates Browne’s uncanny ability to be part of the establishment and still be its critic.  Philosopher Richard Kearney, who appears briefly, describes him as a ’master of attention’.

Anyway, here, in reverse order, are my three reasons for going back.

Number THREE

Browne spoke throughout the film about ‘Some quare thing in me searching for meaning.’ This man, now in his late-eighties, and full of compassion and energy, is an extraordinary human being.  His overall thesis, after a journey through psychiatry in Ireland that started with treatments like ECT and heavy medication and now includes treatments like talk therapy and meditation, seems to be that most illnesses can be traced back to a trauma that can be unearthed and healed rather than supressed and medicated.  Much of what he describes is moving.  I wanted to watch his search again.

Number TWO

He spoke very movingly too about the importance of finding one’s channel.  He was, he said, entirely lost until he found his first channel – which was the trumpet – and a passion for jazz – and began his lifetime love affair with music.  I wanted to watch again his searching out of channels.

 Number ONE

His mastery of attention. 

My number one reason for watching this film three times was to observe again the way the man LISTENED. (Who was it that said that writing is 90% about listening?).

In the film playwright Tom Murphy’s ‘meeting with Ivor' involved both men being closely filmed listening to Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli. The background to this is that Tom Murphy dedicated his 1983 masterpiece, The Gigli Concert, to his friend Ivor Browne. The play ends with JPW King, a sort of ‘quack’ therapist, being able to sing like the Gigli.  So this what these two men do in their meeting.  They listen to Gigli.

I went back three times to watch that – two blokes listening. 
You should try it. 
It’s on the RTE Player HERE.

Monday, 31 July 2017

A legend from the West

The late Mick Melvin, founder of Kairos Communications, taught me probably everything I know about the comma, the apostrophe, syntax, crediting, definition, synonym, antonym, homonym, copyright, plagiarism, lots of other isms – how to spell –the difference between truth and opinion – a distaste for exaggeration, an abhorrence of the exclamation mark - And – the importance of consulting both the Oxford and Chambers dictionary.

I fear, in the many years since I worked with Mick, I have indulged in much exaggeration, exclaimed a lot, been unfaithful to the comma and have come to rely heavily on spellcheck rather than consult the great dusty dictionaries.  Mick taught me how to edit, and to re-edit my edits.  He taught me how to cut out the crap before the copy was typeset.  This was vitally important back then - because cutting and pasting was scalpel and glue, deadlines were met by staying up all night over a lightbox, and last-minute corrections had to be invisibly glued-over by corrections of identical length.

Mick also taught me how to make videos. Back in the day when the equipment necessary to film filled a Highace van and an editing suite looked like it could put a man on the moon. Mick LOVED equipment. No sooner would one get the hang of one unwieldy piece of kit than another more complex gizmo would appear.  I have tried to stay true to everything he taught me about publishing – but I didn’t keep up the filming and video making. It would have been a costly hobby and I wasn’t technically adept! (this exclamation is warranted).

I wonder what Mick would have made of the smart phone. ‘Huh,’ I can hear him say.  And after some consideration ‘Huh’ again.  Maybe that’s why I’m so hesitant to embrace all its functions.  But – even if it doesn’t take ‘proper’ photographs, and allows any ‘eejit’ to start broadcasting – ‘it has to be said’ (to quote another broadcasting legend), that it’s great fun.  So…..

Dear Mick,

I am writing to tell you that I have recently made two videos.  The first is of a duration of 14 seconds and deals, rather dramatically I admit, with the undulations of my clothesline. (I have linked it to my previous post). The second (linked below) is of a duration of one minute, and deals with a visit to North Mayo - most specifically to the Céide Fields.  I am working on a third more complex project (which I will post shortly) of a duration of 1.34 minutes.

I hope you are well and that you approve of blogging.  I think you would have enjoyed it.  Indeed it is a great pity this medium was not available to you and we do not have your wisdoms on record.

If you would like to view North Mayo Magic – click HERE. 

Sincerely yours C

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Are those clothes yours?

There’s good drying out there today folks if you can hold on to ‘em.

Question? What could be more satisfying than sipping coffee while watching the undulations of one’s laundry?

Answer: The creative avoidance of housework by reading clothesline poems – or listening to laundry songs

Like this gorgeous cover, by Suzzy and Maggie Roche, of Bob Dylan’s Clothes Line Saga.

After a while we took in the clothes
Nobody said very much
Just some old wild shirts and a couple pairs of pants
Which nobody wanted to touch

Mama come in and picked up a book
An' papa asked her what it was
Someone else asked, what do you care
Papa said well, just because

Then they started to take back their clothes
Hang 'em on the line
It was January the thirtieth
And everybody was feelin' fine

The next day, everybody got up
Seein' if the clothes were dry
The dogs were barking, a neighbor passed
Mama, of course, she said, hi

Have you heard the news he said with a grin
The vice president's gone mad
downtown when last night
Hmm, say, that's too bad

Well, there's nothing we can do about it, said the neighbor
It's just something we're gonna have to forget
Yes, I guess so said ma
Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet

I reached up, touched my shirt
And the neighbor said, are those clothes yours
I said, some of them, not all of them
He said, ya always help out around here with the chores
I said, sometimes, not all of the time
Then my neighbor blew his nose
Just as papa yelled outside
Mama wants you to come back in the house and bring them clothes
Well, I just do what I'm told so I did it, of course
I went back in the house and mama met me
And then I shut all the doors

 Sing along HERE

If you liked that here are the Roches again with Loudon Wainright III

When I’m at your house

When I'm At Your House everything's strange
When I'm At Your House I go through the change
I feel out of touch, way out of reach
Like a fish out of the water or a whale on the beach
When I'm At Your House, When I'm At Your House

When I'm At Your House everything's weird
There are so many things there to be feared
The telephone rings and I get scared
The machine takes the message,
I wouldn't have dared
When I'm At Your House, When I'm At Your House

Somebody's at the front door and I wanted to hide
They want in I'm locked inside
Today's Thursday, and it's your cleaning lady
She wants to get paid today, she's got a key
When I'm At Your House, When I'm At Your House

When I'm At Your House I go out of my head
I lie on your couch, I sit on your bed
I eat and I drink I don't know what for
I spill wine on the carpet, and food on the floor

When I'm At Your House God only knows
Why I go through your drawers, and try on your clothes
I shower and I shave, use your tortoise shell comb
When I'm At Your House and you're coming home

Listen HERE.

For the NEW video version of clothesline click HERE

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Eight reasons to make a trip to Bray

My favourite singer Clara Rose hangs out with the coolest of people. 

This weekend Clara was in the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray with Flo Mc Sweeney, Emma Nicolai and Jhil Quinn.  The four Ladies in the Blues were accompanied by blues band veterans Ed Deane on guitar, Garvan Gallagher on bass, James Delaney on keyboards and Kevin Malone on drums.

These eight maestros put on a live music theatre show honouring pioneer women in the blues - like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Big Mamma Thornton, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Memphis Winnie, Vera Hall - and boy did they do them proud.

Alan Monahan Photography

It was really hard to choose a favourite - every number was stunning - but Emma Nicoli's 'Trouble so Hard' and Clara Rose's 'Ball and Chain' made my heart stop.

For a big treat check out these recordings of our modern day Ladies in the Blues side-by-side with the original Divas....

This is VERA HALL (1902 – 1964) singing Trouble so Hard HERE
Now listen to EMMA NICOLI sing Trouble so Hard HERE

Check out BIG MAMA THORNTON (1926-1984) singing Ball and Chain HERE
Now listen to CLARA ROSE sing Ball and Chain HERE

Can't wait for next year to hear it all again - thank you Mermaid Arts Centre - well done!

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Want to know how to keep rats away from your shoes and survive algorithms?

Question: Where would you go to hear in one conversation about the Hindu Festival Diwali; how Thomas McDonagh kept the rats away from DeValeras shoes; Internet memes; post truth society; algorithms: coptic monks; echo chambers and clickbait?

Answer: Into any Irish pub - or maybe onto the Late Late Show!

This conversation featuring writers Stephanie Preissner (Can't cope, won't cope), Michael Harding (Talking to Strangers) and Artist and Rubber Bandit Blind-Boy Boatclub is so 2017 Ireland. 

Well worth watching HERE.