The decade of centenaries

This coming Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the ending of the Great War.  It was supposed to be the war to end all wars and it was expected to last approximately four months.  Instead, it went on for over four years, ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  Of the 210,000 Irish men who went off to fight, over 36,000 never came home.  Thousands returned injured in mind and body to a country whose political landscape had changed completely.  As a nation, it has taken us most of that 100 years to acknowledge those men and to commemorate their sacrifices.  It is now fitting that we remember them.

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St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin has a unique commemoration, aptly named Fallen.  Messages in the shape of leaves have been suspended from the ceiling, 36,000 messages in all, each leaf commemorating an Irish fatality during the Great War.  The installation is temporary and can be viewed during the month of November.  There are commemorations being held the length and breadth of the country.  To find out if there is something happening near you, look up the website: https://www.decadeofcentenaries.com/category/forthcoming/

McMullen, James, Rifleman, Royal Irish Rifles, 23 Sherwood Street Belfast, WoundedIn Kildare next Sunday a civic commemoration will take place in Aras Chill Dara where a memorial to the Kildare war dead will be unveiled.  I hope to attend the Kildare event and remember not just the Kildare dead but my great uncle, an 18-year-old Belfast man, who signed up in August 1914 with the Royal Irish Rifles and was one of only 42 Catholic men in the 36th Ulster Division.  He lost a limb in battle in 1916, returned to Belfast and never spoke of his time in the trenches, like so many others of his generation.  He married and settled near Clonard Monastery off the Falls Road and died in the 1960’s.  It was only during the research for our family tree that I found out about James’s service in the British army.  My novel ‘Charlie Mac’ covers this period of our history.  (available on Amazon for Kindle and paperback)

We are living in the decade of centenaries.  Two years ago we commemorated the Easter Rising.  Next Sunday we commemorate the ending of the Great War.  Over the next few years, we will commemorate 100 years of women in politics and the election of the first woman member of parliament to Westminster.  We will commemorate 100 years of Dáil Éireann, the War of Independence, the Civil War and the partition of our country.

It is important that we commemorate each of these anniversaries and respect the memory of all those who lived and died in those turbulent times.

 

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Halloween

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On October 31st we celebrate Halloween.  Our children dress up as witches and superheroes’ and go from door to door singing, ‘Trick or Treat’.  We eat barmbrack and apple tart and we bob for apples and eat our body weight in chocolate, ‘candy’ and monkey nuts.

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When I was a child we used to sing ‘Penny for the Púca’ although I didn’t know what a púca was or even how to spell the word.  I’ve since found out that the ‘púca’ was a mythical creature in Celtic Folklore, a shapeshifter, who could assume a variety of forms including human, although usually with a tail.  As an animal, it most commonly took on the shape of a black horse with a flowing mane and golden eyes.  Black Beauty, eat your heart out!  Legend tells us that Brian Boru, High King of Ireland was the only man ever to ride the púca.  The púca can be mischievous and enjoys frightening humans whenever it can but it also has been known to lead humans away from danger.  I still don’t know why we wanted pennies for him, or when we dropped our Irish customs in favour of the American ‘Trick or treat.’

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Halloween is an ancient celebration which stems back to the ancient Celts and was adopted by Christianity.  Our ancestors called it Samhain, and it marked the end of the harvest and the start of the dark days of winter.  The ancient Celts believed that on this night, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth   These ghosts caused all sorts of trouble so the Druids (Celtic priests) built sacred fires where the people gathered to sacrifice crops and animals.  Hence: the word bonfire, meaning ‘fire of bones’.  People dressed in costumes made from animal skins and heads as disguises to frighten away spirits.  They carved out turnips with scary faces to ward off evil spirits and used them as holders to carry home an ember from the bonfire to re-light their hearth fires.  The following day the ashes from the sacred bonfire would be spread over the fields to ward off the spirits from interfering with the following year’s crops.

We no longer sacrifice animals on our bonfires and the turnip has been replaced by the pumpkin.  We no longer fear the spirits of our ancestors but pray for them the following day on All Souls Day, clever move on behalf of the Christian Church.  We no longer believe in ghouls and ghosts.  Or do we?

 

Make it a good one.

I started the year telling myself that one of my new year resolutions was to find a saying that lifted the spirits, print it out and read it every morning before I got out of bed.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well!  I did try.  I decided that what I needed to tell myself every morning was:

‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  Make it a good one.”

And I did keep to it for months.  And then I fell by the wayside.  Big mistake.

today is the first day

It was good to have my first thoughts of the day life-affirming and uplifting.  Starting your day on a positive note is good for the soul.  I would recommend it.  Just repeating that positive affirmation makes you stand up straighter, lifts your heart and clears your head.  But then you face into your day and the rollercoaster that is life.  It is easy to maintain your positivity when your day is good.  When you don’t get held up in traffic; when the best parking spot is there waiting for you; when your offspring ring with good news or just for a chat or when your loved one brings you flowers for no reason other than to show you they love you.  Those are the good days.

But then you get the days when nothing goes right.  When you get caught in a traffic jam and your ten-minute journey turns into thirty.  When the tickets you wanted were sold out two minutes before you got to the top of the queue; when it lashed rain as you ran for the school gates without your coat and stopped the second you sat back into the driver’s seat, squelching and cold; when you got sidetracked trying to write something and forgot about the stew until the burnt smell permeated the house.  You get the idea.  A series of little irritations.  Not bad news.  Not life-threatening.  Just irritating.  It’s those days that threaten your positivity.

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I hold my hands up here and admit defeat.  I fall under pressure.  On those bad days, my positivity takes a battering and I can hear that saying ringing in my ears ‘if it wasn’t for bad luck I would have no luck at all.”

It can be so easy to roll over and allow those distractions to dictate your mood.  To bring you into a downward spiral that can be so difficult to shake off.  If you look around you to those who are always upbeat, they are the people who roll with the punches, so to speak; who take whatever life throws at them and deal with it.  They are in control of their own destiny.

I suppose what I am trying to say is, that life happens, it happens to you and your loves ones, but it’s not what life throws at you and yours that should dictate, it is how you deal with what life throws at you that dictates your frame of mind, and you can control that.  You have complete control over that.

Like I said, my life would be so much easier if I took my own advice!

 

 

Your own front door

This time of year is a favourite of mine.  I love the colours of the leaves as they gradually fade from green to gold and russet.  I love the sound as they crinkle underfoot and the way they flutter in the breeze until they find their resting place in mounds that grow in the nooks and crannies.  My other half loves the splendour of the autumn leaves as they change colour.  He would just prefer if they stayed on the trees and not into our gutters and pathways and walked into the house.  Every year he wages battle with them, brushing them off the driveway and sweeping them away from the front door, where, in fairness, they tend to gather in huge numbers overnight.  Then eventually he gives in and bows to Mother Nature.  He points out that the blanket of leaves on the lawn will die back into the ground and offer nutrients to the grass, ensuring a vibrant green come next Spring.  It’s all part of the cycle of life, he says.  And we soak up the autumn colours and the last of summer sun and prepare ourselves for winter.  The chimney is cleaned and ready for the cold weather and the curtains are drawn each evening once darkness falls.

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And my thoughts turn to those in our country who do not have their own front door to close.  Last week in our town we witnessed the allocation of newly built social housing to those that needed it.  It was a momentous occasion, a great day for the key holders and for the officials who oversaw the project.  Problem is, it just wasn’t enough.  The provision of these new units hardly made a dent in the numbers of people who are on the housing lists.

Last December the number of households on Kildare County Council’s housing list was 7,319.

Yet according to the Census 2016 figures, there are 4,650 vacant properties in Kildare.

Not all of these properties may be habitable and they may be a mix of private and public ownership but surely some of these vacant properties could be brought into use to alleviate the housing list.  What is wrong with us as a nation that we have allowed our politicians to continue to pursue a housing policy which has failed nearly 10,000 people with many more due to join their ranks in the coming months?  What is wrong with our politicians that they can stand over these policies and defend them when it has been pointed out to them time and time again that their housing policy has failed totally?  Why don’t they just build houses?  People need a home to call their own.  The workers of this country need homes.  Build social and affordable housing.

Simple.

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Winterfylleth

Did you know that according to the Anglo-Saxons, (back in the 5th century) October was known as Winterfylleth because, at that particular full moon, winter was supposed to begin?  As I write that line I can hear the theme tune to Game of Thrones in my head.

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Anyway, October is the month we take stock.  We leave summer behind and we anticipate winter.  Winds are shaking our trees bare of leaves and the glorious autumnal colours are receding leaving only winter nudity.  The days are getting shorter and the nights stretch out in front of the fire, cosy, with curtains pulled and plans for the fun of Halloween.

Internationally, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  All of us know someone who has been affected by breast cancer.  Think of them, offer support and remind the women you love that early detection saves lives.  BreastCheck is a government-funded programme that provides free mammograms for women aged between 50 and 69.  It is a fantastic service, free of charge and extremely efficient.  It is the one part of our health service that actually does what it sets out to do.  Can other sectors take note?

In the Catholic Church, October is the Month of the Holy Rosary.  October 7th is the feast day of the Our Lady of the Rosary.  The word Rosary comes from Latin and means ‘crown of roses.’  The rose is symbolic of the Virgin Mary.  If you have been raised in Ireland you will be familiar with the Rosary.  Love it or hate it, it is ingrained into our psyche.  We have recited it in school; we have recited it at home.  We have recited it at wakes and first communions and sometimes in our bed at night as we wrestle with life’s challenges.

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And if beer is one of your life challenges you may already know that around the world October signals Oktoberfest.  An important part of Bavarian culture the Oktoberfest is an 18-day folk festival celebrated since 1810.  It runs from late September to the first weekend in October with an annual attendance of more than 6 million people from around the world.  Migrants have brought that culture to their chosen countries and Oktoberfest is now celebrated worldwide.  Outside of Germany the largest Oktoberfest is in Ontario attracting over 700,000 visitors annually.  Brazil comes a close second with the United States cities of Cincinnati, Ohio with 500,000 visitors and Denver, Colorado at 450,000 chasing their tail.  Oktoberfest is celebrated by Bavarian migrants in Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Australia, China, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Russia, and South Africa.  And not to be outdone, Dublin hosts it’s Oktoberfest at George’s Dock until the 6th October.  Did I leave anyone out?

Saint days in October include St Francis of Assisi, Patron of Animals, Merchants and Ecology.  It also includes St. Odhran of Iona, an abbot from Meath, who journeyed to Scotland and was the first Irish monk to die at Iona.  The patron saint of Waterford, he was of the era when we earned our reputation for being the land of saints and scholars.  Those days are long gone.

To sum up, October is a great month.  A month to utilise the last of the heat of the sun to tidy the garden, to remove what summer has discarded and plant your bulbs for next spring.  A month to batten down the hatches, so to speak, and get your home ready for the cold and damp of the winter months.  It is a month when the routine of back to school is well established and mid-term is already rearing its head with plans for dressing up and bonfires and barmbrack and fun.  Get out there and kick up some Autumn leaves.

Balance

Autumn officially begins in a couple of hours, well in our part of the world anyway.  The autumn equinox heralds the beginning of Autumn or Fall as our American and Canadian friends like to call it.  The word equinox comes from the Latin words aequi, meaning equal and nox meaning night.  At the autumn equinox, on September 23rd, instead of the Earth being slightly tilted towards the sun, the Earth’s tilt is perpendicular to the Sun, making day and night of equal length.  In a nutshell, from tomorrow our nights will be longer and our days shorter.

autumn equinox

We knew it was coming.  The leaves on the trees are starting to change colour, the green giving way to russet and gold.  Autumnal colours are glorious.  What could be nicer than a walk through a park in the autumn, hearing the crinkle of leaves underfoot and the cosy feeling of a warm scarf when there is a nip in the air, a promise of the winter ahead.  The autumn equinox is celebrated by modern pagans as a time of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth.  Known as Mabon, they give thanks, they meditate and they pray for peace and stability in a world out of balance.  Mabon is the second of three pagan harvest festivals, preceded by Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain.

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In West Asia, the equinox marks the start of the Persian Festival of Autumn, the festival of sharing or love.  In Korea, they celebrate their harvest festival, Chuseok, with a three day holiday.  In Japan, Autumnal Equinox Day is a public holiday.  Higan is a Buddhist holiday exclusively celebrated by Japanese sects.  The Jewish holiday of Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest and lasts for seven days.  It begins at sundown on Sept 23rd and ends at nightfall on September 30th.

All over the world, there are people who poise, at this equinox, when day and night are perfectly balanced and they consider what has gone before and what is yet to come.  Maybe we should all consider taking some time out tomorrow and just meditate.  Just imagine the earth on an even keel, balanced, at peace and try to follow that into our own lives.  Take time to remember our past and to contemplate our future.  Take time to find balance in our lives.

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Horoscopes

Do you read your horoscope?  Do you believe that the stars dictate your personality traits?

virgo.pngDating back to the Babylonians and adapted by the Greeks, embraced by Plato and Aristotle and later by the Romans whose names for the signs of the zodiac are still used today, astrology is no longer regarded as a science while astronomy is.  The Oxford dictionary defines astrology as ‘the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies interpreted as having an influence on human affairs and the natural world.’  Astronomy is defined as ‘the branch of science which deals with celestial objects, space and the physical universe as a whole.’  Both involve the study of the stars and the universe and our understanding of the world we inhabit.  Our ancient forefathers believed that the moon and the stars influenced our personalities and our moods.  Were they correct?  Are even partially correct?  Does the full moon have any effect on you or the people you know?    When you open your newspaper or magazine do you check your daily horoscope to see what the stars have in store for you?  Do you read it and forget it?  Especially if it’s bad.  Does your personality match the personality traits of your star sign?  Do you even know your star sign?  Ok, let’s be honest, is there anyone who doesn’t know their star sign?

My star sign in Virgo.  I have a birthday this weekend, not a significant one, just another one thankfully.  At over 55 every birthday is a reason for celebration.  This year I will be celebrating at a party for the significant birthday of my son’s partner, Aislinn.  We also share a birthday with Our Lady of course.  The church has always celebrated the birthday of The Blessed Virgin, Mary on the 8th September, hence my moniker Maria.  As far as I can tell, the name Aislinn is Irish and means dream or vision, but I am open to correction from the Irish language purists (including Aislinn) although I fancy the name suits this particular person.  We also share a birthday with Pink, who will be 38 on Saturday and Bernie Sanders who will be 77 and I send fondest birthday wishes to them both.  Other notables, no longer with us, include Patsy Cline, Peter Sellers and Richard the Lionheart.

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Virgo is an earth sign.  Supposedly Virgo’s are loyal, kind and patient.  We are quick-thinking, observant, analytical and very hard working.

Useful traits, but not traits that I would have attributed to Richard the Lionheart!

But who am I to judge.

 

Anyway, to all those celebrating a birthday around this time, I hope you have a very happy birthday.  A quick sneaky peak into our horoscope for the year ahead is looking good!  But isn’t it always!