Saturday, 30 May 2009


Ted and Sylvia
Lately courtesy of BBC 4 t.v. I have been following the career of Amercan poet Sylvia Plath and the traumatic culmination of her life at 30 by suicide. She was of course famously married to English poet laureate, Ted Hughes and their stormy relationship has been the subject of much speculation over the years. After her tragic death Hughes became the scapegoat of blame especially by feminists but for a long time he maintained a stoney silence only breaking it a few years before his own death in a volume of poetry called ‘Birthday Letters’. The book is a collection of letters written by Hughes to Sylvia each year on her birthday clearly showing the intensity of their connection and for many readers the tender tone of this volume forever puts to bed questions about his culpability in her death.
It is worth noting that Hughes had an obsession with the occult ,an interest which he introduced to the young Plath, this can only be viewed as a negative influence on her sensitive poetic temperament. Their first meeting at a party in Cambridge in the Spring of 1956 is dealt with by Hughes in this piece… “Ten years after your death, I meet in a page of your journal as never before the shock of your joy, then the shock of your prayers, and under those prayers your panic that prayers might not create a miracle, then under the panic, the nightmare that came rolling to crush you. Suddenly, I read all of this, your actual words as they floated out through your throat and tongue and onto your page, just as when your daughter, years ago now, drifting in, gazing up into my face, mystified where I worked alone in the silent house asked suddenly, 'Daddy, where's mummy?' The freezing soil of the garden as I clawed it all around me--that midnight's giant clock of frost and somewhere inside it, wanting to feel nothing, a pulse of fever--somewhere inside the numbness of the earth our future trying to happen. I look up, as if to meet your voice with all its urgent future that has burst in on me, then look back at the book, the printed words, you are 10 years dead. It is only a story, your story, my story."
In the last year of her life Plath produced her finest collection of poetry ‘Ariel’ which today is considered a classic of literature, many of these later works suggest the melancholy and despair which would eventually overcome her. On February 11 th. 1963 she set out a tray of milk and cookies for her sleeping children, opened their bedroom window and sealed off the kitchen where after overdosing on sleeping pills she gassed herself to death. In a tragic footnote one of those children, Nicholas whom she so carefully protected on that night went on to take his life earlier this year.

Gerard O'Shea


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.

What ever you see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful--

-The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long

I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,

Searching my reaches for what she really is.

Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

I am important to her. She comes and goes.

Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
Sylvia Plath

Friday, 29 May 2009


Before...the potatoes are lined up !

With a few glorious days of sunshine last week I was able to make further progress in the garden. By now the potatoes are safely set and regimented in six neat drills while the broccoli, and brussel sprouts have all at last been uprooted from their Garden Centre trays and planted in the great outdoors. The brassicas of course will have to withstand the nocturnal slug assaults and since planting out we’ve had copious amounts of rainfall facilitating idyllic conditions for these silent killers. In case it might be thought that I am neglecting the flower garden, fear not as I also recently set some Sweet Pea along the wooden fence I share with my neighbour, interspersed with scented Stock and colourful Violets.

After...the drills await the miracle of growth !
Going on the premise that man cannot live on bread ( in this case vege !) alone I hope now to sow and plant to my colourful artistic side with multi-coloured blooms and tantalisingly scented floral displays. A real problem with this frenetic activity is the amount of waste accrued which has to be brought to the local recycling plant in Mungret. Already my garden shed is full of bags ready for delivery and most of them are filled with the virtually indestructible leaves of the Cordyline tree. These leaves are long and palm like which are as tough as leather and even the recycling plant will not accept them as they snag up the mulching machines. As the lighting of fires are forbidden in urban areas the disposal of these leaves is a real headache. Anyway that’s my solitary gardening whine for today a small price to pay I suppose for the hours of pleasure I’ve already derived from getting back to nature. As the Apostle Paul says (admittedly in a different context) ‘It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.’ (1 Corinthians 3). And that’s the glory of the whole gardening enterprise, you dig and hoe and plant and sow and then stand back and watch the miracle of growth. As the lettuce thickens , the onions sprout and the trees are covered with their thick green mantle, the life-force in the very soil is evident all around, and the glory of the invisible Creator is plain for all to see. As Emerson said one time, “ All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”

Gerard O'Shea

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


I shall know why - when Time is over -
And I have ceased to wonder why -
Christ will explain each separate anguish
In the fair schoolroom of the sky -

He will tell me what "Peter" promised -
And I - for wonder at his woe -
I shall forget the drop of Anguish
That scalds me now - that scalds me now !
Emily Dickinson

Saturday, 23 May 2009


The entrance to the cemetery at Letterfrack
About eight years ago I had the chilling experience of visiting the Cemetery Memorial adjacent to the old School at Letterfrack. The cemetery is located in the beautiful setting of a small woodland but the epitaphs on the headstones quickly disperse any pleasant aesthetic associated with the place. Headstone after headstone record the sparse facts about those interred there, most children and all former residents at Letterfrack Industrial School for Boys run by the Christian Brothers from 1887 to 1974. The ages of the boys buried here are from 8 to 16, at rest at last from the savage beatings and brutality of the ‘religious’ regime at the school. Belatedly the little cemetery has been tidied up and little heart shaped black marble stones erected to bear witness to the terrible deeds represented by this forest resting place.
As I stood there reading name after name and registering the young ages etched on the stones ,it mutely testified not just to this local terror but to a national shame of sexual and physical abuse perpetrated against children by the religious orders of Ireland. Over 70 boys are buried here, suspected victims of the Brothers vile and barbaric discipline regime, in some sense these are the lucky ones, as the ‘survivors’ still live with the memories and scars each single day of their lives.
A Brother administers a beating
in film 'Song for a Raggy Boy'
The memory of the Cemetery at Letterfrack came back to me this week as I read the Report of the Ryan Commission on Child Sexual Abuse in Ireland published after 10 years of interviews with the victims and judicial deliberation. The sordid truth contained in the 3,000 page report for once and for all firmly establishes how widespread and endemic the practise of abuse was amongst the Sisters , Brothers and Priests of religious orders entrusted with the care of children. It also shows how departments of government as well as ‘respected’ figures in the medical and the judiciary colluded with the mass internment of children behind the closed doors of facilities run by orders like the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.
I myself attended a Secondary School (Ard Scoil Ris in Limerick) run by the Christian Brothers and I recall in particular one Principal there named Harry Cotter a violent and disturbed individual who took delight in administering punishment and doling out psychological abuse on the students. Because of my long hair at the time, ( ‘long’ by his definition!) he took particular delight in picking on me and ordering the classmate behind me to administer punishment by thumping me on the back. When requested to hit another student Brother Cotter accompanied the instruction by the command to “down the cripple”. This abuse was at the mild end of the scale and of course our involvement with the Brothers was confined to the hours of the classroom, to those in residential settings the violence and the sexual abuse was unremitting. The Ryan Report clearly says that these predatory religious men and women were not just a few bad apples in the barrel, in fact taking the Report in its entirety the whole barrel seems to have been falling apart. The litany of physical abuse is staggering, boys and girls raped, beaten, flogged , kicked, scalded, burned , held under water , forced to eat human excrement, as well as psychological torture inflicted through humiliation, expressions of contempt and the practise of incorrectly telling children that their parents were dead.

The Catholic Hierarchy have
turned a blind eye to abuse
Someone has said that this is our Holocaust, the torture and maiming of young innocents by the collusion of an autocratic religious institution and a careless government regime. In one telling testimony a survivor said that they (the children) were abused every day except Christmas Day and that was because the Brothers were too drunk ! Inspectors from the Department of Education were plied on arrival and departure with ‘sherry’ and favourable reports ensued. When religion (any religion) enjoys such a cosy relationship with the State, corruption and abuse of power always ensue. Christianity was never intended to go down the Constantine road and become a hand in glove partner with the ruling authority. In fact the principles of governance and kingdom are entirely opposite, the one is based on power and subjugation while the other was intended to operate on the ‘servant to all’ principle and freedom in Christ. When the Christian church becomes entangled with the trappings of secular power, the gospel heart is suffocated and replaced with autocratic dogma.
This country’s once rich legacy for Gospel truth and scholastic brilliance became subsumed to Roman authority and in the process lost it true and dynamic spiritual heritage. For the victims in torturous thrall to the atrocities they have endured, only that Gospel comfort will provide the lasting remedy for their hurt and alienation. Understandably though many have assumed that the representatives of the Church who caused them such pain have also made ‘Christianity’ part of the problem rather than part of a solution. It is up to each and every person who has experienced the forgiveness of Jesus Christ in a real and personal way to stand up at this time and share our hope with our fellow countrymen and women who need that forgiveness and ‘new life’ The promise of Jesus is there for the believing, it requires no guru, no priest, no method merely a bowed heart and a desire to start again. The Master calls to the wounded and broken at this time…“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Gerard O'Shea
mMannix Flynn survived Letterfrack and shared this memory of his time there...

" I was eleven when I was sent to Letterfrack industrial school. Letterfrack in beautiful Connemara was this State's idea of a Special School for Special Needs. The only thing special about it was its exalted position as the monster terror hole of sub-human abuse of children. For me, it was a completely traumatic experience...
"It was like something out of Schlinder's List. You weren't just clipped on the ear, you were beaten until you were turned into whimpering simpletons," he says, "and to think that this was all enabled by the Gardai. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The whole point for people to realise now is that hundreds of children were locked away in Letterfrack, hundreds of children were raped and murdered. It's a holocaust we're dealing with."

Read also

Thursday, 21 May 2009


God our heavenly Father,
when the thought of you
wakes in our hearts,
let its awakening
not be like a startled bird
that flies about in fear.
Instead, let it be like a child
waking from sleep
with a heavenly smile.

Søren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
Dorothy Frances Gurney

Working in the garden under the darkening canopy of the traditional Irish summer requires some peculiar athletic skills, as in ducking in and out between the showers ! I am now on one one of several rain breaks as I fitfully attempt to bag leaves and weeds from the ‘small’ front garden, the pungent smell of crushed bay leaves still lingering in my nostrils.
My lettuce update !
After a winter of neglect ( my shame, I know), I am now trying to whip the flower garden into some fit state for blooming during the summer months. According to the experts, gardening is an all year enterprise a fact that has never sunk in sufficiently for me to actually heed it and turn it into a twelve monthly programme of horticultural endeavour. So here I stand at the end of May rake in hand, frantically trying to cheat my way into a presentable garden space to luxuriate in over June, July and August


.Seed Potatoes awaiting their burial !


My bountiful lettuce crop at the other side of the house is a daily encouragement to persist in the ongoing struggle with the soil. More than once I have reflected on those ominous words from Genesis where God pronounces the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience : “ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3 17-19)
Ah the sun breaks through and I must fly…hi ho…hi ho…

Gerard O'Shea

Sunday, 17 May 2009


A detail from a Famine Memorial

The Great Famine of 1847 caused national devastation in this country as the potato crop (then the national staple diet) repeatedly failed and disease and starvation claimed anything from 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 lives. It was a pivotal event in our history as in addition to the dead a further 1,000,000 emigrated thus depleting this country’s population to levels that have never been restored to pre-famine numbers. The real tragedy of the whole thing was that while people were dying in huge numbers, large quantities of grain and livestock were being exported to Britain as the poor had no money to buy them and the government (the occupying British regime) had no mind to ban exports and allow the Irish to be fed. The experiences of that time further alienated the Irish from their British rulers and the famine experience has long been recited as yet another woe inflicted on this island by our nearest neighbour. The enduring effects of 1847 can be seen in that this National Famine Commemoration Day is the first in our history , 162 years after the event. ~GOSh.~



I thirst beside the heather-laden bogs –

no samaritan for me;

no one here to see

that I shall die amidst the

plenty, in the field –

and that its yield

will sail to shores beyond the sea.

How can it be

that flocks of sheep can find their fill

while I lie empty and in pain?

or is it vain

to beg attention to my plight?

How can I fight

when I am listless, drained alone,

shrunken to the bone

while others eat what I have

grown in toil?

Woman of the soil –

I fade against a wall of human greed

and - sower of the seed –

I languish as it grows...

Anne Therese Dillen

Friday, 15 May 2009


As seen in Limerick this afternoon
A sure sign that everything is changed, changed utterly in the Irish economy. This tempting offer is displayed outside a shoe shop in Bedford Row, previously the only thing we Irish 'scrapped' were our old banger motor vehicles in exchange for gleaming new models. Now that the motor business is going into meltdown are shoes the new 'status' symbols ?. Truly it indicates to me that we are no longer footloose and carefree, and that our national 'sole' has been well and truly auctioned off to the highest bidder ! Or maybe this is the first stage in our tentative walk back to the real world, as we head for the nearest shoe shop , our old trade-ins tucked under our arms and the prospect of a new pair of walkers putting a pep in our recessionary step !

Gerard O'Shea

Thursday, 14 May 2009


SPEAK low to me, my Saviour, low and sweet
From out the hallelujahs, sweet and low
Lest I should fear and fall, and miss Thee so
Who art not missed by any that entreat.
Speak to me as to Mary at thy feet !
And if no precious gems my hands bestow,
Let my tears drop like amber while I go
In reach of thy divinest voice complete
In humanest affection -- thus, in sooth,
To lose the sense of losing. As a child,
Whose song-bird seeks the wood for evermore
Is sung to in its stead by mother's mouth
Till, sinking on her breast, love-reconciled,
He sleeps the faster that he wept before.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Tolstoy in later life still spinning stories
All violence consists in some people forcing others, under threat of suffering or death, to do what they do not want to do.
In all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments, the governments alone, independent of the interests of the people, to whom war is always pernicious even when successful.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.

Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


It's a sunny morning in the big forest and the Bear family is just waking up.
Baby Bear goes downstairs and sits in his small chair at the table. He looks into his small bowl. It is empty. "Who's been eating my porridge?" he squeaks.
Daddy Bear arrives at the table and sits in his big chair. He looks into his big bowl. It is also empty. "Who's been eating my porridge?" he roars.
Mommy Bear puts her head through the serving hatch from the kitchen and screams, "For Heaven's sake, how many times do we have to go through this? I haven't made the porridge yet!"

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


Another frantic day of gardening activity at Ardhu recently and here are the pictures to prove it. The preparation of the ‘big’ garden at the front of the house is well under way, aided and abetted by my friend Tony we dug a sizable plot for planting and tidied up overgrown shrubs and trimmed the grass and hedge. Two reflections on the day in the garden, how good it is to work on the land and how unfit and unused I am to such physically strenuous activity !


While we were at work a neighbour popped her head in and brought us on a tour of her garden where she has a wide variety of fruits and vegetables growing. She has been cultivating for the past three years and her well laid out garden is a testimony to her painstaking work over that time. However like my lettuce patch many of her plants and flowers have succumbed to the dreadful appetites of slugs. Despite these ravages she showed us raspberry and gooseberry trees, fig plants, potatoes, and even (optimistically perhaps) vines. This glimpse of garden Eden inspired us to further endeavour, and helped by the glorious sunny weather we ploughed on ,whipping the front into a semblance of garden glory ! So the work goes on and soon it will be time for planting.
As a matter of fact on the morning of the day’s activity a large box arrived in the post with LIVING PLANTS INSIDE emblazoned in red across the outside. Inside were the seed potatoes I had ordered, this strain is reportedly blight resistant and slug resistant ! This arrival was another timely and inspiring incentive to get out and dig. By the way for all you slug watchers, the lettuce though scarred on the outer leaves by the slimy interlopers is beginning to ‘heart’ and I am still hopeful of the makings of several summer salads in the coming weeks.
Gerard O'Shea

Sunday, 10 May 2009


A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkn'd ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.
John Keats (from Endymion)

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Doctor Johnson
Samuel Johnson famously compiled a Dictionary of the English Language, described as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship". Johnson was a robust and earthy man who enjoyed his wine and food as vigorously as he did his academic pursuits. A devout Anglican his life was immortalised in James Boswell’s biography, and this story of his prodigious childhood genius is recorded in his account - “ When he was a child in petticoats, and had learned to read, Mrs Johnson one morning put the common prayer-book into his hands, pointed to the collect for the day, and said, 'Sam, you must get this by heart.' She went up stairs, leaving him to study it: But by the time she had reached the second floor, she heard him following her. 'What's the matter?' said she. 'I can say it,' he replied; and repeated it distinctly, though he could not have read it over more than twice. - All his life he battled with the ‘black dog’ the name he gave to his depression, near the end he wrote, “After dinner, what remains but to count the clock, and hope for that sleep which I can scarce expect. Night comes at last, and some hours of restlessness and confusion bring me again to a day of solitude. What shall exclude the black dog from an habitation like this? “ Despite his inner struggles Johnson was a man who bent his knee before his Lord as evidenced by this prayer… ~ GOSh.~
Almighty God, the Giver of Wisdom,
without whose help resolutions are vain,
without whose blessing study is ineffectual,
enable me, if it be Thy will,
to attain such knowledge as may qualify me
to direct the doubtful and instruct the ignorant,
to prevent wrongs, and terminate contentions;
and grant that I may use that knowledge which I shall attain,
to Thy glory and my own salvation.
Samuel Johnson

Saturday, 2 May 2009


It was him...


As the world braces itself against the potential pandemic of Swine Flu, here in Ireland another epidemic is running through the disgruntled population , the now national preoccupation of the Blame Game ! The BG has been gaining momentum since the nose-dive of our once Tiger economy, and with each succeeding punitive Budget the BG stats are mounting.
Lets try and analyse the complex components of the Blame Game. It starts at the top with our panicked politicians who blame all our economic woes on global trends and the bankers. Never a word is uttered by government on their inept handling of our finances during the boom, or their fawning acquiescence to the property surge that everyone else knew was unsustainable. No, according to those who should (and probably do) know better all of Ireland’s economic woes can be attributed to market forces and bad banking management.

Next on the BG scale are small businesses who thrived during the good times and now ,like everyone else are feeling the pinch. Their mantra for these troubled times is that the cost base here is too high and it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. In other words …wage cuts and new terms of employment or to put it even more succinctly, more work for less money! This sector also seems very much engaged (or enraged might be a better word) with the Public Sector and what they perceive as the Rolls Royce pensions given to government employees for a token contribution. While a recent Budget has increased the Pension levy for public workers, not enough say the business community, we want more!
The Public Servants (of which I’m one, so I’ll try and be objective here) of course suffer from the BG disease as much as the others and their spleen is vented in the direction of government and in particular to the Minister of Finance, who to their mind is on a witch hunt against them. They feel hardest hit by his two Budgets as they were left with a pension levy which in effect is a pay cut. They also feel hard done by as their work load has increased and because their jobs are secure, public sympathy for them is non existent.

The Unemployed who depend on State welfare are aggrieved as their Christmas bonus week has been cut. This group have several targets in their BG sights, the government of course as well s the bankers and the more reflective see their plight as being the consequence of a system that is corrupt and biased against the poor.
On any night in any pub in the country you can find pundits with their fingers pointing at some section of society whom they believe have gotten us to the sad and sorry state we find ourselves in. The verdict is delivered with a gravitas more worthy of a hanging judge as the throat is cleared and the damning indictment is delivered, “In my opinion, the _________ (bankers, politicians, public sector, global forces, the whole system) are to blame…”
It seems to me that this little island is just too small to be pointing fingers at each other. If Ireland Inc. goes down we all go down with her and the world of recriminations and accusations will not change one single thing. It’s natural to want someone to blame when things go wrong but more urgently we all need to work together to ensure a future for this nation. Before the advent of the Celtic Tiger we were often seen as a country of begrudgers it would be a pity now as the Tiger has left the building ,if we were to earn the title of a nation of blamers. The BG can be as destructive as any virus unless we nip it in the bAlign Centerud and deal with it now, at present it is spreading faster than the Swine Flu and left unchecked will kill any hope of recovery. Maybe Catherine 11 of Russia got it right when she said, “I praise loudly, I blame softly.” Now is the time to build up loudly and leave the BG to one side as we struggle to restore some sense of confidence and instill that winning spirit back into the Irish psyche.

Gerard O'Shea