Wednesday, 29 August 2007


Mother in reflective mood
in front porch with her splendid Begonia !


My mother, Kathleen (Kitty) O’Shea died on this day in 1997, just ten years ago.Of course that Friday is forever etched in my memory. I was working on the day and had been out most of the morning on a social outing with one of the men,when I returned to Bawnmore I was given the message to ring home urgently.Bridie told me over the phone that mother was very sick. I drove home at break neck speed to find mam stretched out on the living room floor. By this time a doctor had arrived and was trying to revive her but to no avail.She had taken a heart attack. It was a surreal moment when one feels that the awful reality unfolding is part of a play or a film, I felt numbed and detached. The reality of what happened only hit me as I sat beside mothers lifeless body on the ambulance run to the Regional hospital.
Looking back, mam's sudden departure was for her a merciful release. At 76 my mother had serious problems with her eyes, being virtually blind at the end ,through the ravages of macular degeneration and glaucoma. She spent many dark days trying to cope with this worsening condition,as she noted in her brief diary entries for 1994...

Feb 19 - Eyes very sore…Feb 24 - Eyes very sore still…Feb 26 - No improvement,eyes still sore…Feb 27 - Eyes very sore,I am very depressed.

Throughout her life she had learned to cope with many debilitating ailments,and always came out smiling, her wonderful sunny disposition intact. I remember as a child listening to her coughing through the night and gasping for breath in an ashtmatic attack. She had several surgeries for suspicious lumps and also suffered with arthritis but it was the gradual deterioration of her sight that finally got her down.
Mam was widowed in her 30’s and left with two small children,Tony aged 10 and me ,the baby only a few months old. She had to cope with the heartbreak of losing Patrick her soul mate, and the task of providing for two children at a time when money was hard to come by in pre Celtic- tiger Ireland. She shed her tears and then stoically got on with the business of living,taking work wherever it was available to keep the food on the table. My mother cleaned other peoples houses,cleaned offices and looked after other peoples children often racing from one job to another,all the time keeping the home fires burning for her young family.She moved at the speed of light in a frantic bid to keep it all together,and mostly she succeeded.Donnovans, Kennedys, Roches, Cuddihys and others all felt the expert touch of her hand in cooking,polishing,child-minding and all aspects of housekeeping.
Despite this hectic schedule mam always found time for her own domestic responsibilities as this entry indicates…

Feb 15 - Made some pancake mix,did not cook them - nobody interested. However by the following day we had succumbed…
Feb 16 - Ash Wednesday - Ate the pancakes today,may God forgive us !

Mother loved her garden and in later years spent a lot of time out there either working or lounging in the sun. Everything she touched seemed to blossom having the proverbial green finger. We have some lovely photos of her in the front porch surrounded by her beloved plants. Like the rest of us her enthusiasm sometimes faltered between the garden centre and the flower bed…

Bought flowers at nursery,wish they were planted now! - Jan 16,1993

The other love of her life was animals and in particular dogs and in particular the dogs who were her companions right up to the end of her life,both called Judy. She was never happier than when with her ‘pet’ Judy,and daren't anyone say a cross word to her in mothers hearing! There's a photo of mam in her seventies lying on the hearth rug playing with Judy,and scores of other pictures with her and various other pets over the years going back to when she was a young girl in Ballycannon with her lovely black’pom’ Darkie…Her excursion with Judy was the highlight of her day,as she notes in 1994...

Judy and self went for long walk down bank. Lovely summer day.
In another place she marks Judys arrival,1985...
Puppy arrived,Judy - 8 lbs. Weight

Of course the great loss of mothers life was the premature departure of Patrick,and while she seldom talked about him to us , I believe he was an ever-present memory,perhaps too painful to articulate. In her diary his anniversary is noted thus for 1994...

Patricks Anniversary 28 - 5 - ‘57. 37 years.

In a poignant entry for 1994 she muses…
Feb 14 - St. Valentines Day. Means nothing to me. I will say a little prayer to him to-night.

Amongst mams diaries I found this poem carefully transcribed in her beautiful handwriting,obviously a piece that she felt described her own feelings about Patricks death. Below the poem she wrote - Dedicated to a dear one. On this the tenth anniversary of mothers own passing I would like to make this verse my own and dedicate it to my departed parents both dear to me and Tony…

Gerard O'Shea

The Traveler

He has put on invisibility.
Dear Lord, I cannot see---
But this I know, although the road ascends
And passes from my sight,
That there will be no night;
That you have taken him by the hand
And led him on along the road of life that never ends,
And he will find it is not death but dawn.
I do not doubt that you are there as here,
And You will hold him dear.
Our life did not begin with birth,
It is not of the earth;
And this that we call death,
It is no more than the opening and closing of a door –
And in Your house how many rooms must be
Beyond the one where we rest momently.
Dear Lord, I thank you for the faith that frees,
The love that knows it cannot lose its own;
The love that, looking through the shadows, sees
That You and he and I are ever one!

James Dillet Freeman

Friday, 24 August 2007



his blue suit is made from the blue sea
it uncreases itself at low tide
fills up at night with dark velvet folds
shines during the day
keeps secrets in its deep pockets

his poems are published on the moon
written with the footsteps of astronauts
translated into many languages
all of which are silent
and communicable only through mime

jackdaws flying in tandem
with their own shadows
and stones at the bottom of a river
gazing up at their own reflections
are examples of his work

John W Sexton

Thursday, 23 August 2007


Pyramids at Chichen Itza, Mexico (before 800 AD)

100 million people recently voted for the New Seven Wonders of the World. The old Seven Wonders were compiled between 480 and240 BC by herodotus and Callimachus,and included - the Great Pyramid of Giza - Hanging Gardens at Babylon - Statue of Zeus at Olympia - Temple of Artemis at Ephesus - Mausoleum of Maussolos at Halicarnassus - Colossus of Rhodes - Lighthouse of Alexandria. Only the Pyramid at giza remains standing , the others having been destroyed by earthquakes and fire and the ravages of time. Here are the all New Seven Wonders of the World...

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India (1630 AD)

Roman Colosseum,Rome (70-82 AD)

Petra, Jordan (9 BC-40 AD)

Machu Picchu, Peru (1460-1470 AD)

Great Wall of China (220 BC and 1368-1644 AD)

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro (1931)
- Click on any image to enlarge -

Al of this has got me to thinking ....what about a list of the seven Wonders of the jaded current age....
1 > I wonder do I look big in this....
2 > I wonder does he/she really love me...
3> I wonder will we get a Summer next year...
4> i wonder should we get an au pair...
5> I wonder where we'll go on our second holiday this year...
6> I wonder should we invest in that foreign property...
7>I wonder what's on the telly


Sunday, 19 August 2007



She has found this isolated pier
To unveil her aged skin,
And gingerly dips into the sea.
Immersing her dependency
Beneath the gentle briny swell.
Free - at last-
Released by elemental power
From all the well-intentioned,
Who help and coddle -
Those who have the time
After all their busy lives
For this aged woman…

Consigned to family photo snaps
And a place of honour
At family occasions…
At the pier the shackles fall away,
Moving like a dolphin
Against the counsel of loving daughter
Against advice of lecturing doctor
Against this tirade tide
She lives
To fight another day.

Gerard O'Shea

Saturday, 18 August 2007



A very successful lawyer parked his brand-new Lexus in front of his office, ready to show it off to his colleagues. As he got out, a truck drove into the back of it ramming it into a lamp post. The lawyer immediately grabbed his cell phone, dialed 112, and within minutes a Guard pulled up. Before the officer had a chance to ask any questions, the lawyer started screaming hysterically. His Lexus, which he had just picked up the day before, was now completely ruined and would never be the same, no matter what the body shop did to it. When the lawyer finally wound down from his ranting and raving, the officer shook his head in disgust and disbelief. "I can't believe how materialistic you lawyers are," he said. "You are so focused on your possessions that you don't notice anything else." "How can you say such a thing?" asked the lawyer. The Guard replied, "Don't you know that your left arm is missing from the elbow down? It must have been torn off when the truck hit you." "My God!" screamed the lawyer. "Where's my Rolex?"

Friday, 17 August 2007


The infamous Bogadeers
Once again this year the little town of Ballylongford drew Tony (my brother) and myself into its Kerry bosom for the Brendan Kennelly Summer Festival. The ‘Summer’ in the title may be misleading however , we entered Bally via Saleen Pier and Lislaughtin Abbey as the heavens opened !

On every side the thunder threatens
All-good men, artists, knaves and cretins.
Where shall we go when it pours?
- Mid-Summer Blues-Kennelly

We stayed at the Castleview B&B out beyond Carrickafoyle castle on Carrig island, run by Patricia and Garrett Dee who extended their usual warm and friendly welcome .They told us despite the unseasonal weather they have never been busier, all credit to their establishment, which retains a homely and personal atmosphere.
Having deposited our bags at Castleview we got a hackney back to Bally for the festivities. The disappointment this time is that for the second year in a row the man himself failed to show. Brendan’s absence from the festival was the elephant in the room over the four days,and numbers were greatly down on previous years. The question must be asked can this event continue without some input from its local literary hero,I think it doubtful. We shared the B&B with a young Italian couple who had sought out Bally on the basis of reading Kennelly’s poems at college, their disappointment that Brendan did not show face throughout the festival was huge.

You come to me with such avid eyes
I wonder what you expect to find.
When you turn my pages

On Saturday night we followed the Bogadeers from the National School through almost every pub in Ballylongford (there are seven in all). This intrepid band of singers ,musicians and poets performed lively and humorous pieces at every stop. It would be hard to single out one performance from the evening but the re-enactment of a John B story by Paddy McEligot,basically about a ghostly hurling match played between the headstones of a cemetery was one of the funniest pieces I have seen. Paddy lashed out the drama in high octane mode, using a large snooker table to great effect as he ran around the four corners of the grave-yard !
Later Tony took the microphone in Kennellys and gave a fine rendition of Neidin and after some coaxing I sang Raglan Road. Needless to say we brought the house down! At the end of the night our hackney had evidently called it a night and we were left stranded. Allen Kennelly the proprietor and brother to Brendan very kindly came to our rescue and drove us back to Castleview.
Earlier we had listened to two very engaging lectures. Dr. John McDonough ,lecturer in English at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick,spoke on the theme of heroes in Kennellys poetry, while Bill Cullen regaled us with anecdotes and life-lessons from his own humble beginnings growing up in the inner city tenements of Dublin in the 1940‘s.Cullen went on to become a very wealthy man heading up Renault in Ireland and penning a best selling memoir of his life , It‘s A Long Way From Penny Apples.

The learning goes on forever,
A pigeon dozing in the ivy
Is sending out bulletins
I am trying to decipher.
The Learning-Kennelly
Of course our trip was only partially fuelled by an interest in the the B.K. factor,our roots run deep in Ballylongford with our father, Patrick hailing from Sallowglen just outside the town. We both remember Summer holidays spent there, with Auntie Cathy and Uncle Dennis, and Grandad Shea whom I remember at the end of his days confined to bed. Mother would bring us down on the bus in the early years and later by car as our fortunes improved. Tony’s memories of Sallowglen are a lot more vivid than my own, and he would have been more of an age with our cousins Patsy and Margaret. We also had an Auntie Margaret who had a houseful of cousins, none of whom I’d remember. Dennis was the Lord of Sallowglen and Cathy his devoted wife organised everything around him. When we arrived ,her familiar greeting delivered in her sing-song Bandon accent was “Ye’re as welcome as the flowers in May”. She kept an immaculately clean house and kept the floors sparkling with copious amounts of Dettol, the smell of which I will forever associate with that place. She ,like many other women of that time ,
lived her days around the comings and goings of the men in the house…from the nocturnal pub ramblings of Dennis to the care of Grandad in the bed. The old man was a source of fascination to this city child, as he wore his cap in bed and also smoked a pipe with a hinged silver lid ! He kept a large enamel chamber pot under the bed and rapped on the floor with his stick when he needed attention!
The most vivid memory of those childhood excursions to the country was the donkey and cart drive to the creamery with Uncle Dennis. This was high adventure to a child brought up in the urban confines of the North Circular Road ! Often the donkey would stop en route for no apparent reason and would have to be cajoled back into movement by my uncle. A lough of water on the passage would be enough to scatter the asses brain and bring proceedings to a halt. Another vivid memory was the long wait at night for the return of the Warrior King from the pub. As he had to cross fields and negotiate ditches it was Cathys nightly worry that the staggering Dennis might come to some harm! She needn’t have worried, he went on to outlive her by several years, ironically quitting the booze after her own demise.

Nothing remains,my dear,and nothing alters.
The end of the eagle’s flight leads back to the same
Dull,intrepid journey through the known wind passages
Although he flies to different places…
Nothing Remains,Nothing Alters-Kennelly

On the Sunday morning we went out to Sallowglen and visited Auntie Margaret. Our cousin Rose was also there and insisted on making us tea. Margaret celebrated her 81st birthday last Sunday and looks well and is mentally bright as a button, she spoke to Tony about his childhood visits to Sallowglen and how mother would take him down to the Strand. Cousin Patsy lives across the road with his wife Cathy-May, but as we were caught for time(the bus outing was pending),we didn’t visit on this occasion.
The highlight of last years visit to Bally was the mystery bus tour which brought us to exotic locations such as Knocknogoshel and magical Lyreacrompane,not forgetting a musical interlude at John B’s in Listowel.This year true to the weekends theme of heroes and legends our first stop was at the monument commemorating the killings at the valley of Knocanure,where Gabriel Fitzmaurice gave a short backround to the events of 12 May 1921 when three young men were shot dead by a group of Black and Tans travelling out from Listowel to Athea. The event was remembered in true Irish style in a ballad…

Oh, Walsh and Lyons and Dalton brave, although your hearts are clay,
Yet in your stead we have true men yet to guard the gap today,
While grass is found on Ireland's ground your memory will endure,
So God guard and keep the place you sleep and the Valley of Knockanure

The Valley of Kockanure-Unknown

Our next stop was at the local church which had some interesting works of art, although the building itself was uninspiring and most definitely did not impress Tony !The Stations of the Cross were tapestries which reminded me of the simple line drawings from the Good News New Testament, there was also a wooden Madonna sculpture by Oisin Kelly.
By this time tummies were a rumble on the Bally bus so just in the nick of time we turned in to Kearney’s bakery just outside the village of Ballyhahill, at Tenekilla.The bakery was started 15 years ago by two sisters who were there to meet us at the door and give us a guided tour of the facility. Before entering the bakery we had to wear hats for hygiene purposes which made not a pretty sight !The girls took us through the whole baking process from start to finish, showing us the impressive technology that goes into modern bread and pastry making. After the tour it was hell for leather to the tea rooms overhead the factory where we were royally treated to their delicious produce and tea and coffee. The icing on the cake was a performance by Mrs. Kearney who threw a black shawl over her shoulders and told yarn after yarn in the seanchai tradition. Our delightful interlude at Kearneys refreshed us for the road and on to our next stop Boyces Gardens at Mountrenchard near Foynes. The Gardens were developed from a barren site over the last 20 years by Phyl and Dick Boyce, and even though it was raining heavily ,the one acre site couldn’t fail but impress with a wide variety of shrubs and flowers. Co-incidentally Tony had been given a copy of Phyl Boyces gardening book by a mutual friend just a few weeks ago !
Our bus tour ended in Shannahans pub at Foynes with more music,song and drama.Despite awful weather this was another hugely enjoyable outing with the people of Bally and beyond.

We drove across the mountains and the bog,
Magenta hypnotic in the fields.
To our left,a glacial lake black with cold
Dropped like a cracked abandoned shield
You said,seeing a river,it was old:
The oldest river twists and turns at ease,
A proven legend casually re-told.

This has turned into an epic blog so I had better rest it here. Our visit to Ballylongford stirs all kinds of memories and reflections, thoughts of family origins, thoughts on mortality, the importance of blood ties and the power and beauty of local traditions. Its easy to see where Brendan Kennelly nurtured his rich poetic vision even though it took the stimulus of the big city to give it enduring voice and impetus. We too leave the rural heartland and return to an urban lifestyle enriched and given new meaning by all the ties that still in so many ways bind us to the land and its legacy.

On this quiet afternoon
When the shadows of branches
Make trembling sculpture
On a cracked wall
And a gull’s cries
Recall the eyes
Of dying children,
I know enough to know
Most things worth knowing
Are beyond knowledge.
Beyond Knowledge-Kennelly

Gerard O'Shea

Friday, 10 August 2007


The Flight of the Ballyboggin Boys

Well its that time of year again when bro and I head off on our annual pilgrimage to the Brendan Kennelly Arts Festival at Ballylongford in County Kerry. Last year Tony and I went there for the first time together (since childhood holidays),and as well as enjoying the festival reconnected with some of Fathers remaining relations, his sister Margaret and nephew Patsy. The O'Sheas hailed from the tucked away rural idyll of Sallowglen, remembered by me from Summer holidays spent there and the regular jaunt on the donkey and cart with the irascible Uncle Dennis to the creamery.While he slipped in to the local for 'one or two', I was left slurping on my Supersplit bribe with Uncle Dennis solemn refrain etched into my head "not a word to your Auntie Cathy,mind!" Ever the obedient child I never spilled the beans on him and besides the prospect of a lolly ice-cream was a rare enough one in those days! So to mark our excursion,this beautiful childhood memory by Brendan Kennelly of his own father...GOsh.

I See You Dancing, Father

No sooner downstairs after the night’s rest

And in the door

Than you started to dance a step

in the middle of the kitchen floor

And as you danced you whistled.

You made your own music

Always in tune with yourself.

Well nearly always, anyway.

You’re buried now

In Lislaughtin Abbey

And whenever I think of you

I go back beyond the old man

Mind and body broken

To find the unbroken man.

It is the moment before the dance begins,

Your lips are enjoying themselves

Whistling an air.

Whatever happens or cannot happen

In the time I have to spare

I see you dancing, father.

Brendan Kennelly

Monday, 6 August 2007


Resumes of Apostles

Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop Nazareth 25922
Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.
The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.
As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.
It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.
One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.
We wish you every success in your new venture.

Jordan Management Consultants

Friday, 3 August 2007


One subject that has occupied the collective Irish psyche lately has been the weather. Now , true to say ‘weather’ is an enduring topic here,often plugging awkward silences in conversation, but this year the talk has been rather more serious and concentrated due to the onslaught of almost two months of heavy rain during our official summer !Day after day dawned to the pit-patter sound of unseasonal precipitation, setting the nation into a downward mood spin and seeing large numbers fleeing to the nearest airports to leave our sodden isle for warmer climes ! However compared to our neighbour Britain we have suffered little,they have endured widespread flooding with thousands of lives severely disrupted - a months rain falling in less than an hour on one occasion. Elsewhere in the world weather patterns have been no less dramatic with heat waves claiming dozens of lives in central Europe.
The environmental experts tell us all these meteorological convulsions are down to ‘climate change’ accelerated by our wanton disregard of ecology in our ever-burgeoning consumer driven lifestyle. I wouldn’t take issue with the ‘experts’,and I think that view is compatible with my own ideas based on my reading of that ancient repository of wisdom, the Bible. A few years ago I was amazed to learn that several large electrical manufacturing companies employed engineers to build into their products an end date for usage,usually just beyond the guarantee period ! And scientists are increasingly convinced that our DNA has within it a programmed number of years for our allotted span ! So why not the Earth itself,perhaps it too has a specified end-date (in fact the Bible argues that it definitely does). In recent years the planet has been rocked as never before by floods…tsunamis…heat waves…earthquakes etc,. Is this the Earth groaning in its declining years,as we inevitably do ourselves with the onset of old age ? The Apostle Paul writing to the Christians at Rome seems to be making this point when he wrote -
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time“.(Romans 8:18-21)
Now admittedly Paul is using the analogy of childbirth ‘groaning’here as he anticipates not only the summation of this planet but also the creation of a new Earth,but that’s another story !
In life we go from the growing pains of childhood to the groaning pains of old age,could our home planet be going through the same aging process, and these severe weather patterns are a kind of globalised arthritic spasm ? One thing the Bible promises for sure is the creation of a new heaven and a new earth,in fact an entirely new world order for those who respond to Jesus invitation to new life -
”Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Maybe we should be watching the erratic weather forecasts with an eye to the future, and an eye to our place in Gods scheme of things, ensuring that we have understood His eternal purposes for our lives both here and beyond this life.Jesus one time,when discussing spiritual truths with a sceptical crowd finally said -
… “When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, ‘Here comes a shower.’ And you are right. When the south wind blows, you say, ‘Today will be a scorcher.’ And it is. You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times“.(Luke 12:54-56)
We need to be fully awake to all that God may be doing,and be sure of our relationship with Him…at the end of the day nothing else really matters !
Gerard O'Shea