We Irish have a great knack of exporting our problems.

Be we short on spuds, or stuck for spondulicks, we herd our own onto coffin ships and Stenna Lines, in the hopes that they can make a better life for themselves… so we don’t have to. Some of those emigrants started lineages that reached all the way to the White House. Others wrapped themselves in cardboard boxes and sleeping bags, ending up in care homes, or in the grave, from varying addictions and mental maladies.

There was a drop off, during the boom, in the number of people seeking assistance from organisations like the London Irish Centre, who helped get indigent Irish back on their feet. Provisions were even made to bring older emigrants home via The Safe Home Program, set up in 2000, to assist those who had left the country to return to live out the end of their days near the homes they were reared.

But there are over 400 Irish living rough on the streets of London in 2014. And, as our government continues to fluff the figures of those signing off the live register, we can expect to see that number rise.

The boat, like the needle and the bottle, has long been a cause of death among us Irish. Prolonged, state sponsored, with no warning.

Full Article Irish Independent

What A Crock!

June 27, 2014

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Oh the green hued irony of it all. As cities around the world dye hair, faces and food products to emit a shamrock sheen, it’s not just the rivers of booze-propelled vomit that have taken on artificial colouring. Having corrupted the spiritual celebration of Samhain into that candy and carnage bacchanal (Halloween), the Yanks have tarted up St ‘Patty’s’ Day as well. Now it’s less to do with our national identity and more a commercial enterprise, where people celebrate their ‘Oirishness’ by dressing up like Disney-fied versions of our fable folk.
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Music City!

November 5, 2013

Something is seriously remiss. It’s 4am and I’m trembling like the ‘scraggy wee shits’ in Seamus Heaney’s The Early Purges before Dan Taggart pitched them into a bucket. It could be the cold, the coffee or the time that has me this way, but I’m leaning towards fury, the music from a wedding in my supposed 4 star hotel keeping me conscious as the clock ticked down to my early rise. Instead of counting sheep, I’m pumping rounds of imaginary bullets into the DJ as Gangham Style morphs into The Harlem Shake, The Girls of Belfast City stomp relentlessly into the Fields of Athenry, and as Single Ladies become Baby Boys -my temper and a Beyoncé mega mix reaching their crescendo, my alarm chimes in. It’s time to rise.

It’s the Summer Solstice and I’m in Derry to review Music City! a celebration of music that takes place from dawn on Friday till dawn on Saturday as part of the cities year-long role as the UK’s City of Culture.

But as I drive through the back roads of Inis Owen I’d be happy never to hear another note again. Ditching the car at the bottom of a hill we climb in darkness to Grianán of Aileach, a ring fort in County Donegal. It used to be the seat for the High King’s O’Neill from the 5th century. This morning it’s the launch site for the day’s festivities, the Inisowen Gospel Choir providing a Dawn Chorus.
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Many’s the person who’s made the pilgrimage to the Hill of Uisneach in Co Westmeath, the geographical and sacred centre of Ireland and final resting place of the god who bequeath us our name. Brian Boru staked his claim to the midlands there in the year 999 while in 1111 the bishops carved up all the diocese of Ireland at that very spot. Saints Patrick and Bridget have been; Padraig Pearse and O’Connell too. Recently unearthed evidence even suggests ancient Egyptians and Lebanese traders sailed up the Shannon to do business there.

This weekend it’s Bressie’s turn when he plays his biggest solo gig to date at the fourth Festival of Fires. Revived in 2009, it’s part music festival, part historical celebration, based on the ancient Celtic festival Bealtaine, where “Burning Man meets Braveheart”. Arts, culture, history and heritage mingle at this druidic spot, culminating in the burning of a massive bonfire.

Full Article, Irish Examiner May 4th, 2012

Thirty one years after the first AIDS case in Ireland, HIV is still headline news.With 166 new infections reported last year amongst men who have sex with men, there has been a particular spike amongst guys aged 25-34. This could be because more men are getting tested than ever before. Yet some are concerned that this generation have been inoculated from the harsh lessons learned during the 1980s.

“I remember a moment, 20 years ago, when I realised all the people I had hung out with in college or on the scene were dead or HIV positive,” says Ciaran McKinney, who was a prominent gay activist at a time when sex between men was illegal.

The murder of Charles Self and Declan Flynn radicalised a generation of young gays who gathered in collectives around the country raising visibility, successfully picketing Pearse Street Garda Station until the cops stopped gathering information on gay men through intimidation.

As word filtered back through the diaspora and imported publications of a ‘gay cancer’, a small group of activists figured that, while there hadn’t been any indigenous cases in the country yet, it was only a matter of time. Something needed to be done. They formed Gay Health Action (GHA) in January 1985.

Full Article, Irish Examiner July 14th 2013

Mommie Queerest!

October 23, 2013

This week Priscilla Queen of the Desert sashays onto the stage of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. A musical based on the movie that humanised the female impersonator, it’s the latest work to commodify the drag queen for the masses. With YouTube tutorials showing us how to craft the perfectly-painted face and TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race exposing the tricks of the trade, what do the old hands think about the drag scene in Ireland today?

Full Article, Irish Examiner October 17, 2013

THE year was 1987, the final week of the broadcasting season, and a sexed-up book review was about to rock the nation.

Full Article, Irish Examiner September 12th

Saving Lives is In My Blood

October 23, 2013

When the pager sounds, you move your ass.All other concerns are secondary. That’s why Redmond and Blathnaid Walsh left a restaurant in Ballycotton on Redmond’s 50th birthday, leaving their teenage daughters with the bill.

It’s why a volunteer ran out of a burlesque night in full costume, and why Ronan Mac Giola Phádraig left school one day in his Leaving Cert year.

Others have left funerals, christenings, beds and Christmas dinners.

This is the commitment for Ireland’s 1,500 lifeboat crew members, who risk their lives to save others at sea.

Five hundred shore crew launch the boats and 2,000 fundraising volunteers raise €4m annually.

More than 1,000 calls were made for assistance in 2011, with 905 people rescued by lifeboat. A third of those rescues were in darkness.

Full Article from Irish Examiner September 25, 2012

Irish Language Theatre

January 12, 2012

No one could accuse the Irish of passing up on a little flagellation when their mother tongue is involved. And it’s easy to tut and nod along with the naysayers when looking specifically at theatre ‘tri ghaeilge’. In 2007 An Taibhearc, the countries national Irish language theatre was shut due to fire and since the present government reneged on an agreement made by the previous one (to split the refurbishment costs three ways) it remains closed. The Abbey Theatre has mounted just one full-length production in the past 15 years (Aodh O Domhnail’s Idir an Da Shuil, in December) while you’d have to go back to the 1960s to find the last in-house production on its main stage. And although The Arts Council says that it is in no way unwelcoming of Irish speaking applications, Foras Na Gaeilge’s 2007 calculations revealed that they gave a pitiful 0.001% of their total budget (€216.56 million) to theatre practioners working through the language.

Facts like these would make you think that, just like poor Peig Sayers at the start of her much maligned tome, theatre through Irish ‘has one foot in the grave and the other on its edge’.

Yet ask the artists themselves and they’ll tell you it’s never been healthier. The person with the most important theatrical post in the country, Fiach Mac Conghail, is a vehement and passionate Irish speaker; there are more companies operating through the language than there has been in years and, most importantly, there are people working within the industry, regardless of language, who are looking at new ways of presenting plays through Irish.

So what do they believe the problems facing them to be?
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Currach Racing

January 12, 2012

The currach is as identifiable with the green, green shores of Ireland as the harp, the shamrock and the IMF bail out. And while no longer needed as a means of survival Danny O Flaherty has committed the last 20 years of his life to reviving the popularity of the boat. First by forming Coiste Lar Na gCurrachai (Central Currach Committee), with the objective of promoting currach racing in Ireland and then by forming the Celtic Nations Heritage Foundation, who host the annual World Cup Currach Regatta in his adopted home of Louisiana.

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Anyone wandering around Bath Street on January 7th would be forgiven for thinking they were in the twilight zone. As pretty, young things tottered around in 19th century garb, posters had appeared, overnight, warning about the danger of cholera. While the street lamps, long an electronic eye sore had returned to traditional, pretty- if hazardous, gas variety. A closer look betrayed the Hollywood origins of this tale as large white vans belched wires out onto the street, elephantine lights merged with the rising sun to emit a blinding glare while an unseemly amount of workers in high vis and parka jackets ran about barking orders into walkie talkies, setting up the days shoot.

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Forty Years of Aer Arann

August 4, 2010

IT STARTS as a buzzing noise in the distance. The heads of paddling children shoot skyward to search for a little black dot in the sky. At the nearby airfield, a fire truck taxis up and down the runway, sending rabbits and donkeys scattering, and an orange windsock flaps in the wind. The buzz becomes a growl, the growl becomes a roar, and a propeller-driven aircraft makes a perfect landing on Inis Oírr.

Air travel to the Aran Islands is 40 years old this month, as is Aer Arann, the company formed to make it possible. Electricity, post-primary education and industry all came to the islands as a result of the flights, along with hundreds of thousands of tourists. One hundred in 1969 became 14,000 in 1976. Now 25,000 tourists fly to the islands each year.

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The Rose of Tralee

June 13, 2010

Photographs by Jeff Harvey

Beneath the overcast sky the streets of Portlaoise are filled with farmers’ tans. Babies cry in buggies while teenagers with camera phones leer from the crowd.

Old men hang about outside the pub, feigning indifference as we cruise past at a leisurely 10mph, while mammies jog along side us, camera in hand, breaking through the docile hoi polloi observing the passing commotion.

I’m in the front seat of a Triumph Herald 1964 with the Manchester and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Roses Dee O’Reilly, 25, and Roisin Norton, 22, sitting behind. We’re doing a loop of the town as part of a Vintage Car Parade, the highlight of the Gordon Bennett Classic Road Festival, which this year has teamed up with the Rose of Tralee regional finals to showcase Co Laois.

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STRIKE!

May 20, 2010

Twenty-five years ago, a group of retail workers began industrial action in support of a colleague and ended up as heroes in the fight against Apartheid. Caomhan Keane speaks to the Dunnes Stores Strikers. Photographs by Rose Comiskey and An Phoblacht

As they came in to work on July 19th, 1984, the staff of Dunnes Stores on Henry Street couldn’t have known that this day would begin one of the longest industrial disputes in Irish history. For months, they had been trying to pin down management about what they saw as unfair working conditions; so when instructions came down from their union, IDATU, telling them not to handle South African produce, they were only too willing to enforce it.

“We weren’t making a stand against Apartheid,” says Mary Manning, now 48, the first person to boycott. “It was more of an ‘up yours’ to Dunnes.”

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The impression many Irish people have of the Burning Man Festival is of dreadlocked hippies causing chaos in the desert. I almost tripped over a threesome conducted outdoors – in broad daylight, my first hour there, so I can’t say the image is wholly off the mark…

But, like our emigrants in Oz, it only takes a shower of ingrates to tar the good name of thousands. Anyone who has gone to ‘the Man’ – as it’s known – with an open mind, will most likely have had it blown, thanks to the sheer force of artistic innovation, goodwill and the positive ethos fostered by the festival.

Full Article Irish Independent

Palliative Play

June 28, 2014

According to the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’, those who receive palliative care live longer than those who do not. Yet, for many, the thought of going near a hospice is akin to waving the white flag, a surrender to one’s illness and an invitation for death to come claim its prize.

This week WillFredd Theatre stages CARE at the Project Arts Centre, following a fictitious patient’s journey from entry to exit at the real life St Francis Hospice in Raheny, with whom they collaborated with on this show.

Full Article in the Irish Independent

CHRISTMAS can be tough at the best of times, but it is particularly difficult for parents who have lost a baby. As other families prepare for Santa Claus, they are reminded of their loss and can struggle to see the joy and wonder of the season.

December 1 marks the fifth anniversary of a carol service for bereaved parents. Held in St Joseph’s Church, Cork, at 4pm, the candle-lighting ceremony allows those who have lost a child – through stillbirth or neonatal death – a chance to mourn and honour their child with others who have suffered similarly.

It was the opening salvo of what was to become Feileacain – the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Association of Ireland, which provides support to anyone affected by the death of a baby during pregnancy or shortly after.

Full Article Irish Independent

The average human being has up to 70,000 thoughts a day. Clinging to slights, peeved at politicians and fearing for the future, it’s a wonder we get anything done as the currents of continual thought pull us under, distracting us from focusing on the now. We go into an auto-pilot, as destructive as HAL in ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ and work ourselves up, up and away from what should be getting our full attention in the present moment.

Habitual beings, we plough this pattern into our brain. But we can change it over time. Mindfulness is about creating a new pathway so that the traits of calm become our natural state.

Studies have shown it decreases stress in those who suffer from anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and agitation. It has also been shown to aid recovery in serious illnesses, while it also yields results for the able-bodied.

But in the sacred words of Helen Lovejoy, ‘what about the children?’ As adults rebuild already damaged neurons, what’s the benefit to those who have yet to destructively soil their consciousness?

Full Article, Irish Independent February 3rd 2014

Scotch on the Rocks

June 27, 2014

The islanders of Inis Oirr relive the dramatic rescue of the crewmen on board the MV Plassey… and the salvage of her precious cargo of whiskey.

Originally Published in the Irish Independent

Come Into The Light

June 27, 2014

Before Christmas became a commercial festival, it had a spiritual purpose. Houses across the country would light candles in every window to welcome strangers in from the cold, a metaphor for the birth of Christ.

This has evolved into flickering fairy lights and festive displays that can be seen from space. While some deride these light spectaculars as garish, those behind them often have the most Christian of motives.

Here we meet five of them.

Originally Published in the Irish Independent

Peaches and Queens!

June 27, 2014

Unlike most women, Mimi Rouge couldn’t leave her peculiar craving behind her after giving birth. “I went to see the movie Party Monster when I was three months gone and I was overwhelmed by this desire to attend a club like the one portrayed in the movie.” She obviously wasn’t going out much at the time so watching club kids like Michael Alig and James St James pushing sexual and social norms through costume and make-up excited her. “I wanted to get dressed up and push boundaries on the dance floor in the same way they did. Such a place didn’t exist in Dublin. So I made it.” –

Full Article from Irish Examiner, Monday December 16th 2013

From Camp to Lamp

June 27, 2014

It’s an hour before curtain in the Cork Opera House and everyone’s stirring in preparation for their first sell-out show of the season.

Interns peg it out of the venue, returning with supplies for the props that are still being built in the Half Moon Theatre — now a half-way house for the overflow from the theatre’s biggest money spinner.

Full Article from Irish Examiner, Monday December 16th