Young Farmer spends his Communion Money on a Belted Galloway

This article first ran in Farm Ireland on May 1, 2017

Ewan Hannay is ten years of age. A bright talkative child he meets your eyes confidently and answers questions in a direct manner. Last April his parents held a party for his First Communion and he collected rather a lot of money in presents. When asked just how much, he answers ‘loads’ while his mother Linda tells me it was almost €900.

Most children faced with such loot might consider buying the latest X Box or games console. Indeed Ewan tells me his friend Cormac used his money to buy a Samsung tablet. However, Ewan had different plans. His tells me his father is Scottish and that he is named after Ewan McGregor but Ewan had his eye on another Scottish celebrity – this time a Belted Galloway

Ewan lives next to his uncle’s farm in Moneyteigue, near Aughrim in county Wicklow. Ever since he could talk he has said he wants to be a farmer – as well as a construction worker, a driver of a lorry and a horse rider. Basically all the careers followed by his uncle Tom. As soon as Ewan could walk he has joined his Grandfather TJ and Tom every Saturday to help out on the farm. His jobs, when asked he says, are to feed the sheep, calves and lambs. He is also responsible for putting clean straw into the pens.

Ewan is the middle child of Richie and Linda Hannay. He has an older sister Evie, 12, and a younger Esme, 3. He is autistic but carries his condition in a bright outward inquisitive fashion. Since arriving he has quizzed me on other interview subjects and seems disappointed I have not really interviewed anyone famous.  He proceeds to question me about the animals resident in my home, what musical instruments I might have and if I could show him pictures of everything. Within a short while I am no longer sure who is the journalist in our conversation.

Originally Ewan had thought of buying hens with his communion money but Linda pooh-poohed the plan as ‘they will only encourage rats,’ says Ewan. He then looked at Jacob sheep as a possibility before turning to the Scottish breed. ‘Dad had me hounded to buy a Scottish animal,’ chuckles Ewan.

Finding a Belted Galloway is not straightforward as numbers are low and owners reluctant to sell the colourful animals. Pedigree belted Galloways are black rough haired animals with a distinctive white belt. A hill grazing animal their numbers are growing with almost a thousand across the island north and south. They are docile animals with high meat yields. They enjoy easy calving and many dairy farmers will use a Belted Galloway bull for their heifers which has produced mixed offspring. However, while the pedigree herds only have the white belt, mixed cattle may have white socks or tails and are not to be confused.

Originally Tom scoured Done Deal for a suitable animal, placing an alert to ensure whenever one came up for sale they would be the first to know. However, a chance encounter with a neighbour introduced them to Ronan Delaney, journalist with the Farmers Journal and secretary of the Belted Galloway Breeders association. A phone call ascertained that he had a number of heifers for sale and arrangement made for a road-trip to Dunshaughlin in County Meath in November of last year.

Ewan recounts the journey for me. He did not sleep a wink the night before. They travelled in the two seater Land Cruiser so his grandfather had to stay home. Along the way Tom tried to distract Ewan by suggesting a detour to Tayto Park or even to go on the beer but ten year old Ewan was not to be swayed. They reached Ronan’s farm and were invited to go and look at heifers in the field. A bull was there too but Ronan assured Ewan that he was safe too.

‘I had a choice of two heifers and I chose Abigail,’ he tells me. After the selection was made they went indoors to enjoy a cup of tea and do the paperwork.

Ronan was very happy to sell the heifer to Ewan. He explains: ‘I am building my own herd, I have twelve currently, but when I heard Ewan’s story I was delighted to sell him a heifer. Ewan is deadly. He asks a thousand questions a minute. He absolutely loves his heifer and when we got into the house for the cup of tea he had another thousand questions to ask my mother.’

Ronan gave Ewan luck money and he spent that on sweets on the way home. He could not wait to show Abigail to his grandfather.

Ewan then arranged for Abigail to go in calf with a handsome Scottish bull called Park Perseus. The calf is due at the end of the year. ‘She looks a little fat already,’ says Ewan. He let her out onto grass this weekend and now she won’t come to the gate when he calls. ‘I am not sure what to call the calf as yet,’ he says. ‘If it is a girl maybe Oreo because they look the Oreo biscuits. I love Oreos.’

 

DSC03072

Wear your Pants at all times!

First published in the Irish Independent on March 31

Earlier this month I attended a theatrical performance in the Courthouse Art Centre in Tinahely in County Wicklow. There were two short monologues, both performed by Cora Fenton, co founder of Call Back Theatre. The second piece was called Bonfire Night. It was narrated by a middle aged woman with a history of disappointments and left to care for her elderly father. It was bonfire night and she was heading out. Oh, and she had a gun. The monologue riffed backwards and forwards through her life but always seemed to come back to the gun.

It was very much Chekhov’s gun and we all knew it was going to be used. However, when the moment came it was totally unexpected and the audience reacted with a collective intake of breath.

The Courthouse is a tiny centre and sadly, due to clash with another drama festival in Wicklow, there were only ten people in the entire audience. So as to show solidarity with the actor I insisted to my friend and fellow writer that we sit in the front row. We were two feet from the actor.

That level of intimacy is very powerful. It is hard to know where the actor finished and I began. I noticed she directed a lot of her dialogue to my male friend. And every so often she would make eye contact with me – but it was still as though we were separated by Perspex with her on stage and me on my front row chair.

Last week we were all given a glimpse into theatrical nature of reality on BBC World News when Korean expert Robert E Kelly was live broadcasting a segment. Just as he began his report first one child opened the door behind him to gatecrash his broadcast, swiftly followed by another, amusingly twirling around in a baby walker like a lost car from a carnival waltzer. The two children were then quickly followed by a woman who scooped both up, but from a crouching position apparently to avoid the camera, but in fact making the spectacle look even weirder. Kelly glanced back once but continued talking, putting out his hand to push his toddler out of view.

The internet, that other arbitrator of what is real, went a bit mad. Who was the woman?  A nanny or wife? It turned out to be his wife. A number of copycat memes appeared next, the funniest being that of a woman in Kelly’s place but when interrupted by her children she manages to bounce them on her lap, check the Sunday roast, find odd socks and even detonate a bomb without missing a beat. The interest ended up with Kelly giving a press conference with his family. He acknowledged sadly that this video will probably be the opening line in his obituary and yes, he was wearing pants (the most asked question after if the woman was his wife or nanny).

This is not new of course, except in the way the internet pounces on its soft prey. Back in 1977 Angela Rippon, one of the first female BBC newscasters, caused a sensation when she joined Morecambe and Wise in a show. The scene began harmlessly enough, with Angela reading the news, before she pushed aside the desk, flashing her dancer legs and embarking on a routine that gave her enough credit to present Strictly Come Dancing.

Even the American Eagle from The Muppets knows news is an illusion. He gave a serious news broadcast in which he bemoaned that animals, and even birds, were shockingly naked under their fur and feathers. The scene closes with the Eagle realising it applied to him also and he slinks out of camera clutching his wings on the bits that might be exposed.

We all know the broadcasting is a form of entertainment, even when news is the diet, but we suspend belief when it is presenting in a formal setting. Kelly is a dad and husband working abroad and using Skype to present his reports. We don’t want to know he has a young family and we all hope he is wearing pants.

Maybe that is why Trump’s tweets are so disconcerting. It is not just the juxtaposition of serious policy with pure Hollywood entertainment, it is the timing. Trump often posts some of his more outrageous claims and taunts at silly o’clock in the morning. It is hard to see him at a desk making those tweets. It is much more likely he is standing in the kitchen, perhaps at the open fridge, perhaps in his non-existent dressing gown. But if Spicer is right then at 5am he may only be wearing a teeshirt or just his underwear. Or perhaps nothing at all. We don’t like to get our information from naked people, especially not the President of the United States of America. Put some clothes on for goodness sake, Sir.

The lines blur all the time but should we cross them? Prior to attending the theatre on March 10th I prepared a dish of what mostly consisted of garlic. To my ruination the fact was forcibly making itself clear during the performance. During the delivery of Bonfire Night and leading, had I but known it, to the black humorous denouement of the play, I reached forward and picked up my handbag. I slowly and quietly opened the zip and searched blindly for some chewing gum. Successfully I found my prize, extracted a pellet and stopped fouling the air with my garlic. I was still two foot from my actor and my gaze never left her face.

Afterwards in the pub the actor stopped to speak with us. She looked at me and remarked that I was in the front row. I confirmed that I was. Then she looked at me harshly.

She had been convinced, by my lifting my bag onto my lap, that I was about to leave the theatre. Operating as we were on a ten man audience my supposed departure would have been tragic. Even as she acted her role in front of me, inside she was screaming at me not leave, to wait for the killer line.

When reality punctures the mask of self-projection, the best we can ask for is to be wearing pants. I just hope the President is. Or at least he has read Tweet Naked by Scott Levy https://www.amazon.com/Tweet-Naked-Bare-All-Strategy-Boosting/dp/1599185156/

 

 

 

 

 

I

I call it ‘couchsurfing’, but really I’m homeless

In the Irish Times Weekend Magazine August 6, 2016 

Facing homelessness for the second time, Jillian Godsil explores how this social issue has become a middle-class problem

 

irish times

 

 

 

 

 

I’m trying to think of a word to sum up how I feel. I think there must be one out there but I can’t put my finger on it. I know what it feels like, a funny ache that lives mostly in the pit of my belly but sometimes it crawls up to lodge in the back of my throat.

I am homeless, for the second time in my adult life, and – though each person’s situation is unique and many are worse than mine – I am part of the great sickening statistic that haunts this land.

The first time I became homeless, the banks repossessed my fine home and sold it for a pittance. There were so many wrongs I hardly know where to start.

But I was stoic then. Gracious almost. Leavetaking suited me, liberated me or so I told myself. I embraced the continental way of living. Let us rent instead. I threw the words out carelessly as if they cost me nothing. I was a new woman to whom possessions were as naught. It is easy to be flippant about possessions when none are left.

I swaggered around as if being divested of things was easy. But this was a façade, and I was dreadfully hurt by the absence of things – notably my security. And more notably still, my children’s security.

Here you may want to stop me, to rail against me and deliver a lecture. Like a pregnant woman who gathers advice thick and fast from well-meaning, if censorious, others, a woman re-entering the state of homelessness tends to get lectured.

The first time I lost my home it happened in a flurry of newspaper clippings. I was among the first to have a home repossessed by the banks. Not the first but a public first (I was in the already in the public eye after I had tried to sell the house on YouTube). As the eviction unfolded, I felt the weight of injustice push down on me from all sides, and I welcomed the media spotlight upon my situation.

Now I am facing into the maelstrom of homelessness again. I am not alone. There are hundreds of families being evicted every month and moving into emergency accommodation. Tens of thousands more sit on the social housing list. For every vocal Erica Fleming, who told her story of homelessness and single motherhood through RTÉ and other media, there are hundreds of silent witnesses.

This time I am lacking any of the securities I felt before. There’s no sense of karma. I smile in all the right places, laugh as loud as the next person and perform daily tasks with astonishing ease. There, look, I am dressed and functioning. Offering words and busily attending to matters.

Last August we were told we must leave. Plenty of time to find a little cottage and a few acres you’d think. But then perhaps you have not been listening to the news or reading the papers.

The freight train of our own personal eviction notice has paid no attention to months, weeks and days in its relentless pursuit of its deadline. It has slammed through all time, steel wheels slicing through our emotive pleas for clemency.

God’s grace descended on us at the final hour but it separated us too. I managed to find my children, now young adults, lodgings in a pretty cottage with just three rooms. There they have sequestered themselves with their belongings and dog and cat. They are creating a new home and I am proud of their independence while all the time there is a tearing in my belly at our forced, untimely separation.

I am residing in a friend’s house. I call it “couch surfing” to sound modern. I am surrounded on all sides by boxes and rails and the sad paraphernalia of a rented life; nothing more sturdy than a chair or lamp. This is temporary: even friendship has an expiry date when accompanied by suitcases.

I wake up this morning, my first morning in my current lodging and look around at my life. To cheer myself up, I am calling it an adventure. This morning I have a new, if temporary, view outside my bedroom window. I am surrounded by fields in turn populated by horses, cows and sheep. It is very peaceful and pastoral.

I’m sure homeless people all over Ireland are trying to convince themselves or their chlidren that their situation is not as awful as it feels. But I do it anyway.

A field for … Toby

Toby is a beautiful chestnut Bavarian warmblood gelding.  He came into our lives four years ago. His previous owner thought he had kissing spine, a terminal condition, and he was going to the factory. My daughter Georgina fell in love with him and refused to let him go. We paid the factory (ie meat) money for him and brought him home.

IMG_0420

It turns out Toby does not have kissing spine. We had chiropractors and vets examine him. However, what he does have is – well lots of things, most of them mental. He box walked, weaved, has herd separation anxiety and lots of other things hard to fathom. Georgina, who as you can guess is animal and horse mad, is also a T Touch student. Her friend and top T Touch healer Sarah Fisher was in Ireland and she came and worked with Toby. Georgina used the same techniques and soon Toby calmed down, relaxed and began to enjoy himself.

Of course, there is only one thing better than a rescue horse, and that is two rescue horses. So along came Deano. Deano is a top class racehorse. His sire is Flemensfirth, an American stallion and sire of many racing heroes. However, poor Deano was not very fast, at all. Paddy Last – truth be told and he was on the way to the great field in the sky when we offered him a home. He was ridden by my youngest daughter and while willing and sweet his show jumping is a bit hit and miss.

Time passed. My girls were busy doing their thing and the two boys had a great time in our rented fields. Best buddies, a true bromance, Toby and Deano are happy lads. They enjoy the freedom of the paddocks and wander in and out of the stables if the rain is too hard or the sun too bright.

A happy ending you’d think. Except while we rescued the horses, we were sadly not doing so well with the humans.

My home was repossessed by the banks in 2011. Prior to that we moved into our beautiful rented cottage in County Wicklow. The boys were joined by our rescue dog and cat. We were all set to live happily ever after – or at least until I managed to exit bankruptcy and get a job.

Read Here for the Human Story

Then disaster fell. Our lease was terminated. It officially ends on June 20, 2016. Right now, we are overhanging our lease. We are still paying the rent but we have to find another place for us and our horses.

That’s where you come in. We are trying to buy a field nearby. A field that will be ours. A field that we cannot be evicted from. A field that the banks cannot seize. We have found a beautiful spot. But we need help securing the cost.

We have been told over and over that horses are not as important as human beings. We know that but having rescued our beautiful horses we would not see them abandoned or worse. Possessions are not important but security is. We want the security of having a field to keep Toby and Deano safe.

We have found the field. It is beautiful. And we need help securing it.

A field. The Field. Our field – with your help.

Go on buy a cup of tea for Toby – Go on Go on Go on!  Just €3 will make a big difference to us.

Desperately seeking …Me!

First published in the Irish Independent on May 18, 2016

We are a nation of lost souls. We have swapped the security blanket of religion for the cold harsh light of truth. We wander like bewildered two-year-olds lost in a grocery store. What began like a moment of freedom has swiftly translated into a terrifying ordeal. We have three choices: stay out in the cold, embrace it even; return to our mother’s arms and the refuge that lies within. Or we can seek new truths, new comforts.

 jordan belfort

The latter choice, the era of self-enlightenment is truly upon us. It is the new drug of the thinking classes, the opiate we choose in the search for fulfilment. We had become a nation of fast food snackers and now we need substance.

The route to enlightenment has many paths. Last year, I attended a Jordan Belfort seminar – he of the Wolf of Wall Street fame. The seminar was aimed at making money but he caught the mood of the audience at an early stage.

Jordan scanned the crowd and sympathetically called us out. We were there to learn how to make money but he ringed our wings by calling on our pain. No one with a successful business attends a motivational sales seminar by Jordan Belfort, pictured below. Instead, injured souls seeking assurance gather to hear the magic patter. If the lottery is a poor man’s tax, then motivational sales seminars are an aspiring (or is that failing?) entrepreneur’s levy.

Jordan’s heart-spring moment was when he explained why some people were ducks and some were eagles. No one wants to be a duck, not even the ducks. Belfort told some funny stories about the duck mentality and in a move splendidly focused for the Irish audience, spoke movingly and compassionately about how a lot of the eagles in the audience had taken a beating in the recession.

How we had been flattened and lacked certainty. How we had begun thinking like ducks but that was okay because it didn’t mean we were ducks. The very fact that we were here today meant we were so, not ducks, oh no, but eagles about to get a new lease of life. And everyone clapped and everyone believed they had a chance to win the lottery.

Last month, I attended the Landmark Forum, a pathway to personal development and sometimes dismissively termed a cult, a case which it energetically rebuts. It may have some of the appearances of a sect; it focuses on obedience, it demands commitment and it extracts promises from its participants. It practises secrecy in some parts and full-on proselytising in others. It does not advertise its wares, but uses the Forum members to bring in new members.

Personal development is a different kettle of fish to financial development. For one, the end goal is a lot more significant and for another, it is possible without the intervention of external and random forces. It is possible. And this is the foundation of the Forum – the possible.

The course unfolds under three non-stop days of intense training. Then there is the sharing – the even more intense bonds formed through people sharing at the deepest level of their lives. It felt like being in the trenches; there was nothing too base to be shared and nothing too insignificant to be celebrated.

It may sound as though this is a transitional, gradual process but in fact it happens very fast. At 10.30 on day one, I shed my first tear. However, I had already laughed – big guffaws of laughter – at least an hour before. It had become a family event very quickly, only we moved from the trauma to the resolution at the speed of light.

Does that sound a little mad? It is a little mad.

Taking part in the Forum was a rollercoaster of a ride. Aside from the tears, the laughter and the sharing, there was plenty of anger. It is not easy to tear people apart without breaking a few long-held beliefs and opinions. But when the silence surged softly backward when the plunging hooves were gone, we looked at each other and we were all good. We were our word. We were made man, re-made man.

Just recently, I attended the funeral of my father’s best friend.

They are both now in the Summerlands, as they say in these parts, hotly discussing the politics of the day no doubt, going to the bookies or sharing a laugh. To my surprise, I found a resurgence of traditional comfort; maybe my seeking had re-opened a door backwards as well as forwards.

His son, a fine musician and lecturer in music, invited a Trinity choir to sing in the stalls. Being a Protestant service, we had many fine hymns. Being a Protestant service, the congregation all sang the hymns lustily, myself more so than anyone.

It has been some time since I was in a church and longer still with the benefit of a powerful choir at my right elbow. I reached back into the childhood of my beliefs and the comforts of hymns settled around me like a blanket.

Lame ducks, shared emotions, the endless possibility of humans, and hymns – all are beautiful and empowering and good – but the greatest of these are hymns.

Homes for the Dead – 1916 – Holden Stodart

Art houses invoke the forgotten civilian victims of the Easter Rising
Public contribute installations to remember each of the 262 civilians killed in the Rising

First published in the Irish Times April 10,2016 

And also in a wonderful short video by Ronan McGreevy at the exhibition. Watch it here or below.

irish times pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A unique free exhibition celebrating 1916 is open in the National Botanical Gardens from this week until April 24th. The exhibition, called the 1916Sackville Street project, was developed to celebrate the largely forgotten and ignored civilian deaths in 1916.

Until this year, little was known about the civilian dead – indeed few people realised that the number of civilian dead exceeded that of the total military casualties on both sides. In all, 262 innocent men, women and children were slaughtered on the streets of the capital during the first week of fighting.

The 1916Sackville Street Art Project invited students, individuals and organisations to build art homes for the dead – to provide a final resting place. Indeed since many of the civilian dead were amongst the very poorest of the city some bodies were never claimed and to this day they lie in unmarked graves.

Former High School Dublin student Jillian Godsil was invited to assist in the project and with Laois public relations consultant Dave Delaney they voluntarily provided the PR and marketing expertise. This weekend project has featured on RTE news and Nationwide as well as the national press.

However, as both Jillian and Dave worked on spreading the word and finding people to build homes they became increasing interested in the personal stories of the project. Dave decided to focus on a young man called Paul Reynolds and during this research discovered that he had been twenty years of age and a journalist.

‘What really upset me was the fact that his body lay unclaimed in the hospital morgue until August when a Rev Reynolds claimed and buried him,’ says Dave. A journalist and artist himself, Dave built a house covered in newspaper. His house is now part of the exhibition in the Botanic Gardens – a permanent memorial to the young journalist.

Jillian too became more involved. As the names were claimed she saw one persistent name not taken. It was an unusual name – Holden Stodart.

Holden

‘I looked at the name and tried to imagine the man. I too have a strange name and I was drawn to him,’ says Jillian. ‘I decided to claim Holden and make a house, indeed a home for him. Imagine my surprise then when it turned out Holden had attended my old school in Dublin, the High School. I felt an immediate connection.’

Further investigation turned up that Holden had been a St John Ambulance volunteer. Holden was in his 30s, and was married with a small child. As the Rising began, rumours of the fighting spread across the capital. In response more than 600 men and women of St John Ambulance turned up to volunteer for service. Holden was a senior officer in St John Ambulance service and he was responding to the terrible battle in Mount Street on Wednesday when he was shot dead trying to rescue the injured. He was the only St John Ambulance member to lose his life in the violence.

IMG_0327

Padraig Allen, St John Ambulance volunteer and archivist, dressed in the same uniform as Holden Stodart would have worn with Jillian Godsil

‘I found it very sad that his sacrifice in saving the injured has largely been overlooked in the last 100 years,’ says Jillian. ‘I approached my old school, where I was a President of the Alumni, and a super bunch of young people in Transition Year agreed to make the actual house. It was finally modelled on the old school building in Harcourt Street and now lives in the exhibition as well.’

In total there are 262 art houses on display in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. Entrance to the exhibition is free and in time a book of the houses will be available for sale. The exhibition runs until April 24, 2016.

 

 

1916 Sackville Project: Holden Stodart – the Team behind the Project

Research

We decided to base our project on Holden Stodart, who was born in 1883 and was a post pupil of The High School at no. 40 Harcourt Street. He worked as a clerk at Guinness before he volunteered with the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Holden became St. John Ambulance’s superintendent and was put in charge of Baggot Street Hospital to look after the wounded after the Easter week. Holden Stodart was shot near Northumberland road where he went with a stretcher party and other members of the brigade treated the soldier. Holden was killed instantly. Holden Stodart lost his life on April 26th 1916, aged 33.

We decided to base the house on no. 40 Harcourt Street as this was where Holden Stodart went to school. It also became a temporary hospital, used by St. Johns Ambulance to care for wounded soldiers during the 1916 rising.

The Manufacture of the Project

The class were split into four groups with four pupils and each group were given a different task.

Group 1

First we spray painted the walls a red brick colour. We then cut out the windows using a Scroll saw after marking them out on a piece of paper. We then got a scalpel and carved lines to imitate the brick patterns. For the top of the gable wall, we cut and sanded it so that the roof would fit on top. We then cut the window sills from plywood, painted them white and glued them in. We also added a handle and a letter box to the door.

Group 2

We decided to base the ground floor on the High School to represent the start of Holden’s life. We made desks to represent the school classroom. We were going to put carpet on the floor but then decided against it because we thought the school might not have carpet and only have floor boards during this time. We put posters and other pictures around the room to make it look like a school classroom.

Group 3

We decided to base the first floor on St. Johns Ambulance to represent the next stage in Holden’s life. To decorate our floor we made stretchers and some miniature figures out of plywood and stuck them down with superglue. We also made a miniature ambulance and stuck that down. For the walls of our floor we got some pictures related to St. Johns Ambulance off the internet and stuck them on the walls.

Group 4

We decided to base the second floor on the 1916 Rising where Holden Stodart lost his life on April 26th 1926 aged 33. We cut out different figures and guns from plywood and painted them appropriate colours. We stuck a picture of Holden on the back wall as a memory of his life. The mirror on the top represents the fact that it could have been anybody, including you, that lost a life during the Rising.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The students, led by Leslie Middleton, are William Anderson,
Sittha Bailey, Ben Chaloner, Alexander Chambers, Andrew Cloughley, Gerard Colman, Luke Diggins, Daniel Fagan, Oscar Higgins, Adam Lalor, Nikolai Leake, Alex Lin, Jude Lysaght, Sarah Morley, Jason Mullen, Loris Nikolov, Peter O’Leary, Alex O’Regan and Adam O’Rourke

On being an Intersex

In February I was invited to speak at my alma mater in a competition debate.  This was a bolt from the blue.

Thirty years ago I was an undergraduate in Trinity College Dublin. I read History and English, joint honours, and majored in the former. I joined various societies and clubs, but the one that possessed me the most was the College Historical Society, or the oldest college debating society in the world.

Prizes if you can spot me... 30 years ago

Prizes if you can spot me… 30 years ago

I joined the HIST as it is called and sat through many nights of debates, where the cut and thrust of speakers was thrilling. Parliamentary procedure was followed, with rules and bells and points of information from the floor. Imagine my subsequent disappointment when I first watched televised debates in the real parliamentary chamber in Dail Eireann – the speeches were nothing like the wonderful robust displays I remembered from my college days.  Politicians can disappoint is so many ways.

I became a committee member and from there an officer. I debated a little but preferred to witness rather than contribute directly, so I was very surprised to be invited back to speak in a competition last week.

It was the occasion of the honorary members’ debate. I was indeed an honorary member, or hon mems as we are termed, but I had not set foot back in the chamber since I graduated. Even as an HIST officer I had never debated in an actual competition and now I could barely remember the correct way to open my paper.  A quick run through the names speaking did nothing to allay my fears. Everyone else held a medal for debating, most of them were now professors or barristers and there was even a Supreme Court judge part of the adjudicators.

To make matters worse I was a TBC on the speaking order until the week of the debate.

I was allotted a debating partner, a former auditor, medallist and winner of several debating championships. I wondered what he had done to vex the committee to be paired with me. He did not know the answer to this either but was gracious enough to advise me on what to expect.

I had three days to figure out my speech. As part of my preparation, I had my hair cut and took extra care with my makeup. It was a black tie affair and I thought at least if I looked the part…such are the desperate stratagems of a middle-aged  hon mem.

hist

I was up second, presenting the opposition motion. I rose, I spoke and I died. I sadly did not debate. I finished too soon. I quietly gave up my arguments with all the vigour of a retired Sunday school teacher.  When I finished there was polite applause. Then I had to sit through the next ten debaters, blushing as I compared my offering to the subsequent polished contributions.

 

Afterwards I considered my attempt. I knew I could do better. While not a debater, I was also not such a wall flower. I put my request to the Record Secretary, the person responsible for inviting me in the first place. There was a another debate planned before term was over, this time on women’s role in fiction, and as I had written erotica, he felt I might something worthwhile to say.

I wrote to the Auditor and expressed my interest in returning to the scene of the crime. Her reply was classic – She thought my contribution would be most interesting as I was an INTERSEX.

This stumped me. This threw me. I puzzled over her email for hours.

My first thought was my desperate stratagem of looking good had been too good and somehow I had managed to slip into drag queen territory.

My second thought was that I had a good friend who is indeed Intersex (and probably unique in Europe)and maybe they had confused us.

My third thought was that I really only going to be invited back if I was very different and I had struck out again.

I wrote sadly to the Auditor saying I was boringly female, mother to two children and not even lesbian. I waited for her reply.

When it came I laughed out loud for a long time. Predictive text was responsible and far from thinking I was an Intersex, she thought I was interesting.  So now my only question is should I go for the drag queen look or au natural.

 

The jury is still out!

 

 

You can decide if I improved or not…

Inaugural debate (I’m on at 45 minutes)

or Hon Mem debate (I’m on second)

 

B(u)y the book!

Last week I made it into a book, a legal book, a proper non-fiction book about Electoral Law in Ireland. The author Jennifer Kavanagh is a lecturer in Law in Waterford IT and has just completed a PhD in law in Trinity College Dublin. Her book, Electoral Law in Ireland, is available from Bloomsbury Professional

It is quite an expensive book as paperbacks go, costing €150, but it is possible to write the cost against tax. I was advised that by the young barrister Ruadhán Mac Aodháin who was also purchasing the book just as I arrived at the book launch. Ruadhán was part of the legal team that made it possible for me to be mentioned in the book.

In 2014 when I became the first female bankrupt under the new Insolvency laws in Ireland, I was unable to run for public office. Those of you who know my story will remember that my own personal descent into financial ruin (divorce + home repossession + business failure + bailiffs) had created an accidental activist.

I became well known for ranting and raving on the airways domestically and abroad about the injustices facing ordinary people.

I was – and remain – very anti the stranglehold the banks have on the people.

I was – and remain – very anti the spin developed by the banks to say that people who fail financially have the moral integrity of Artful Dodger and then some.

I had had enough. I was tired of the system where being a good, law abiding, hard-working, honest citizen had resulted in one crushing defeat after another. I won’t bore you with my story here – there is plenty of that on my blog – but I wanted to stop being a victim.

So the law case, handled by the incorrigible Colm McGeehan and ably barristered by Dr Michael Forde, Richard Humphries and the aforementioned Ruadhán, led me to the High Court so that I could argue my constitutional rights were being infringed.

I blushed when I met Ruadhán again for I was a most awkward client. The sharing of reciprocal affidavits where nothing was ‘admitted’ by the Irish Government except that I might be the Artful Dodger in question reminded me too powerfully of my recent experience in the divorce courts.

However, the legal team sallied on undeterred by their emotional client. And as the government too decided that I was not for turning, the law was rushed through in time for me to run for the European Parliament in Ireland South in May 2014.

I am proud to say I left the electoral count centre in Cork with 11,500 votes under my belt build on nothing more than my character.

I had no money, no party behind me and only four weeks to run my campaign. So much for the Government ‘admitting’ that I was the Artful Dodger.

However, while my character may have passed the moral test, my financial status has not as yet recovered sufficiently for me to be in a position to purchase that rather nice book. So instead the kind lady at Bloomsbury scanned in page 71 and here I attach it proudly.

IMG_2837

I am proud to be Page 71

 

 

 

 

And I thank Ruadhán for his encouraging words to me as I entered the 2014 European race with all the experience of a church mouse. Ruadhán said that everybody should run in a political election at least once in their life. While at the time, that emotional, denying Artful Dodger cursed him for his enthusiasm, the post election, triumphant candidate is deeply grateful for his words.

Victories are more than votes.

I got to put my victimhood under the sword in the process. That, as the ad says, was priceless.

But you can buy the book here

jennys book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twitter = The Modern Machine Gun

The speed at which moral outrage can circle the world can be measured in mouse clicks. Six degrees of separation is all that divides us from Cecil the Lion; that and a few million tweets. For a story that barely grazed the pages of the Zimbabwean newspapers, it had generated an angry online mob complete with death threats within hours. It had swiftly mutated out of social media and mobilised into an on-the-ground band of protestors complete with placards and news cameras. It had even become the source of Jimmy Kimmel’s normally comic opening to his show.

The dentist is in hiding with US police checking out the death threats. There are calls for him to be extradited to Zimbabwe to face criminal charges. He won’t be looking at too many dental cavities for the next little while. His five seconds of fame with Cecil might have put him out of a job permanently.

This is not the first time Man versus the Twitter machine loses. In fact, the solitary human being is no match for the thousands, nay millions, of bullets from self-righteous online activists.   I am reminded of world war one when the machine gun emerged as the deadly killing machine. Even the terrifying cavalry was rendered vulnerable as a single machine gun could take the place of 80 rifles.  Like Twitter the early machine guns often overheated, requiring water or air cooling to stop them from jamming. It was not unheard of for machine gun operators to resort to urinating on an overheating gun in the midst of battle to keep the gun running smoothly. Yet another similarity with mass social media mobs.

It is also interesting to note that the most modern machine gun available at the start of world war one was the Maxim. The inventor, Hiram Maxim, offered his design to the British Army but the British High Command rejected it; officers even felt it to be an inappropriate form of warfare. Sadly for the British Army, the German government had no such qualms and inflicted severe carnage on the British troops as a result.

Twitter can certainly be called an inappropriate form of social discourse.  Like the early machine guns that grouped together for maximum results in impregnable points on high ground, the Twitter crowd gathers together on its high moral ground before launching its deadly attack.

At the end of the day, Twitter relies on its moral superiority for it power. It dispenses with legal rights, principals of fair trial and even the basic rights of an individual caught in the cross hairs. It is akin to a bearded Old Testament warrior claiming an eye for an eye. There is no due process, only moral outrage, and carnage, plenty of carnage.

It can be argued that Twitter is a power for democratising society; it can take down monoliths, behemoths and corporates. Yet, increasingly it seems to reserve its ultimate anger for individuals who break the code. Individuals who are hunted for days without letup, punctured and wounded and if the more extreme edge of the crowd had their way, killed in an even more barbaric manner than Cecil died.

I am against Cecil’s death but I would not see Twitter do the same to the dentist. One is a lion and one is a human being and two wrongs do not make a right.

For where does the outrage stop? First for a lion, then for a giraffe, then for a fox, then for a salmon, then for a fly?  And why not for a human being – can we not reserve some emotion for the thousands of human beings dying in terrible conditions as the world witnesses more displaced people on the move than at any other time in our history.

Twitter as a machine gun is deadly. Twitter as an advocate of change can be even more powerful. It is all about the target.

machine2

 

Travel writer, South Africa: Swimming with hippos and other adventures from the veld

In a series of reader submissions to the Irish Times Amateur Travel Writer competition, we meet Jillian Godsil, who finds herself in the midst of adventure on an equestrian safari

south africa

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, oftentimes, the things you really should do never feature on the average bucket list. For example, it would take a random ideas generator to put hippos and swimming together. The category of ‘swimming with’ usually includes non-violent animals such as dolphins or whales, and maybe sharks but that typically includes a cage or two.

I was on an equestrian safari in South Africa in the Waterberg region when I met my hippos. We had done all sorts of activities on horseback; witnessed giraffes up close, viewed any number of gazelle take fancy and flight, watched pronking sprinkbok with our mouths open (and our mounts firmly on all four legs) and had even ridden in a cloud of wildebeest as they whirled in formation across a dusty plain. We once rode softly past a white rhino and her calf, the quieter of the African rhinos, and she barely looked at the horses and riders as we tiptoed past, trying to balance cameras and click pictures without attracting her attention.

On our last day, we went deep in the countryside on horses that were as dependable as the Bank of England, back in the day when banks could be depended upon. We stopped at a waterhole. My ride decided he needed a little swim himself and began pawing the ground. I jumped off just in time before he rolled in the water. One of my companions said that many horseriders died when they failed to dismount and were drowned under the horse. I’m not sure it was true especially when she continued to tell me about a couple crushed when a male elephant decided to mate with their tiny rental car. Safari myths when told at home are easily scotched; when told in the veld it quite another matter. I gulped my fear, remounted and we carried on.

When we reached the end of the game fence our guide turned back and informed us the unseasonal rains had resulted in higher than normal water levels. We needed to part-walk, part-swim to gain high ground and continue our trek. I looked around at the other members of the group expecting resistance but everyone was simply tying perishable items around their necks. I followed suit, fastening my camera under my chin strap. I must have gone white in fear for an octogenarian lady in our group patted my arm. ‘You’ll be fine.’ She said. ‘Follow me.’

One by one the front runners plunged into the waters and struck out for the far bank. The water was first still and green, then rushed and rippled as rider after rider pushed forward. In all too short a time my friend set off, but not before giving me a kindly glance. I didn’t wait around and kicked on my horse. Together we entered the water and for a period I could not tell if he was swimming or walking through the depths. I leaned forward, trying to take my weight out of the saddle as we moved slowly through the water. It seemed like an eternity but soon I could sense his hooves getting traction on the ground and we were clambering up the muddy bank the far side. I did not have time to reflect on our achievement as the front riders were now cantering along in hock-high water. My mount bucked and took off too. I clung for dear life to the saddle as water and green watery ferns slapped my face while all the time the basking hippos barked gently, only a few feet to our left. I had been swimming with hippos.