November 7, 2015

They say the fire that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. Senna filmmaker Asif Kapadia rakes over the ashes left by jazz and soul icon Amy Winehouse after her prodigal talent and her internal demons immolated her in 2011 in this distressing, unrelenting and essential film.

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Give Us (Back) The Night

October 11, 2015

Last month in a UK newspaper, Dave Haslam wrote about how club culture had been decimated over the past decade, with half of nightclubs having closed due to harsher regulations, due to dating apps like Tindr and generational swings.

His article coincided with the news that the Twisted Pepper, one of the few larger venues that housed dance music in Dublin, was to close, with plans to reopen next year with a new focus on the bar and food.

So is nightlife in need of palliative care? Don’t we dance until the morning anymore?

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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

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

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

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

What A Crock!

June 27, 2014


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

Brief Encounter

October 23, 2013

A YOUNG cub, in any professional sloth, is expected to jump through hoops before becoming selective about how they earn their honey. At 21, I was asked by an editor to get Botox for a cover story the magazine was doing on “The Youth Corridor”.

A few years later they asked me to review brassieres for the well-endowed lady even though I didn’t possess breasts of my own — and the only ones that tickled my fancy were deep fried and Halal. Saying no to editors is akin to pinning a DNR notice on your by-line — especially for freelancers. So when asked by this paper if I was free to speak to Made in Chelsea’s Rosie Fortescue, about the knicker collection she was promoting with her twin sister Lily, I chose to jump.

Full Article, Irish Examiner August 4th

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

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

October 11, 2015

A family portrait is not complete without all members of the clan being snapped. Tragically, for some families, this can require photographing a baby that is ‘not compatible with life’. Entering a hospital with the expectation of leaving with a new addition to their family tree, sometimes all they’re left with are memories when the baby passes on. Since memories fade, yet bonds do not, a global foundation, called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS), was set up to provide a helping hand to healing hearts.

Offering gentle and beautiful photography in a compassionate and sensitive manner, over 1,600 volunteer photographers operate worldwide, 22 of whom work within the Republic of Ireland. Many of these photographers have had no experience of child loss themselves; yet travel the length and breath of the country, all on their own dime, to help families on the worst days of their lives.

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Doggy Christmas

October 11, 2015

It was all about the seasonal fashion yesterday at Christ Church Cathedral. True, Twiggy may have rocked up sporting a Burberry coat, while a cohort was on trend in Aran knitwear, but elsewhere there were Santa suits, elf hats, lots of tinsel, and fairy lights strewn across fur, as the Peata Therapy Dogs assembled for their annual Christmas Carol Service.

Presided over by the Reverend Dermot Dunne, the roof of the Cathedral was lifted by the hails of the choir – and the howls of the bitches in the pews, as prayers were said both in thanks for the joy they bring, and in hope that the movement will continue.

“It can be quite difficult for care homes to have a residential pet,” says John Bainbridge, who set up Peata in 1996. “They tend to get overweight and over fed. So we found it better to have people bring their dogs in for an hour or so a week.”

The dogs visit people with mental and physical disabilities, students stressed out by exams, the homeless and old age pensioners, many of whom turned up yesterday so they could pay their respects to those who bring them so much joy, six ambulances carting them to the church.
“Initially you are visiting people you don’t know,” says Adrienne O Keefe, who visits four care homes around Dublin with her rescue dog Twiggy. “But then, eventually, they become your friends, your family. Many have so little contact to the outside world and the light that comes into their eyes when they see the dogs, they totally change.”

She recalls one gentleman whom she had struck up a friendship with, who took a turn for the worse earlier this year. “I specifically asked to visit him one evening, and I got to put his hand on Twiggy’s head. Later that night, he passed away. But I know how much comfort he got from seeing her one last time.”

“A lot of people in nursing homes had animals in the past,” says Charlotte Walker. Her boxer, Bruce, was rocking a tartan shawl and reindeer antlers that off set his salt and pepper smig. “They reminisce about them with us. It becomes a talking point. Nurses would say, “that patient doesn’t speak from one end of the week to the next. He doesn’t get involved. But as soon as he sees your dog, he opens up.”

“When you bring your dog to them, the patient might have Alzheimers or dementia,” adds Adrienne O’Keefe. “They can be quite confused. But they will always remember the dog’s name.”
The mass is not just a spiritual occasion, but a social one. Many Peata volunteers travel from around the country specifically for it. Ann Gahan came from Naas with her dogs Gypsy, Rusty and Bobby, who donned sparkly dresses for the occasion, while the Reverend Janet White Spunner travelled up on the train from Birr, with four identical miniature poodles, one of whom she adopted from another Peata volunteer who’d passed on, giving you some idea as to how close a community it can be.

“My border collie, Tessa, gives me so much pleasure,” concludes Margaret Dickson. “And I wanted to share it with other people. It’s not a tough job for her, to be loved and lavished with attention.”

Judy Garland may have urged us to “make our yuletides gay” in the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, but for those of us born that way it’s a year-long thing.

With the presents tucked under the tree and the turkey defrosting in the kitchen, the bells of the cathedral will soon draw lapsed Catholics to their once-a-year spiritual engagement, Midnight Mass, where they will be welcomed with open arms.

One small, silent minority will be praying that 2015 will be the year when their own presence will be as welcome.
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Debs season is upon us once again and, while images of stretch Hummers, ball gowns and black-tied boozehounds abound, there also remains a quiet sort of symbolism around the event.

“It’s about transitioning into the next stage of your life,” says Catherine Cross, a seamstress from Rathangan, Co Kildare. Catherine has just finished making her son’s suit for his debs. “You are moving from your school years into young adulthood, and it was important to us that Lucas experience that,” she says.

Her eldest son, Matthew, has been to three debs balls so far. But for Catherine, Lucas’s night, which will be held next week, is even more symbolic.
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The Wans Who Would Be King

October 11, 2015

The Queen is far from dead. Where once the troika of drag artists — Panti, Shirley and Veda — had the stage all to themselves, now if you look up in any gay bar in the country you’ll see spray-tanned legs, River Island frocks and perfectly applied make-up adorning a multitude of ‘baby’ drags, who’ve learned how to doll up via tutorials on YouTube and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

But girls who ‘man up’ haven’t cracked the mainstream market. Sure, the popstars Lady Gaga, Ciara, and Mariah Carey have all tried — and actresses Anne Hathaway and Kirsten Stewart ‘dragged down’ for Jenny Lewis’s video, ‘Just One of the Boys’. But female drag artists are not afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

There have been seven seasons of Drag Race in the US, and TruTv have started broadcasting season four in the UK and Ireland. And while there are 50 drag queens in Dublin, the number of ‘kings’ is limited to perhaps four who work regularly.

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Durrow Scarecrow Festival

October 11, 2015

Once upon a time young children raced wildly through fields waving wooden clappers so as to protect the seeds of the crop from rabid avian beaks. But when the Plague wiped out a generation of child labourers in the 17th century, farmers had to get wily when engaging their winged foe. And so the scarecrow came to be.

These days, the Durrow Development Fund(DDF) use scarecrows to attract, not repel, thousands of visitors to the quaint rural village for their annual Scarecrow Festival, so they’re no longer constructed from rotting animal flesh, pelts or skulls. But for the volunteers who make most of the 180 scarecrows that pop up along their byways and waterways, it starts a scavenger hunt to find material to provide the inspiration
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Man Gets Slap On The Face

October 11, 2015

Yves St Laurent once said, “The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But

cosmetics are easier to buy.” Buy, maybe. But applying makeup by ones-self is most

certainly a fool’s errand. Especially for a 30-something male who’s grown tired of

‘being born with it’ and is now ready for what Maybelline has to offer.
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Alternative Funerals

October 11, 2015

There’s an old saying, that when it comes to death, you don’t pull the chord until your ready to get off. But in a world where people are counted- or driven, out of the Catholic Church in increasing numbers, if you don’t pre-plan your own funeral you could end up being put in the ground showered- not only in soil, but in the words of an institution you didn’t agree with. Once on the highway to hell, or the stairway to heaven, what happens your corpse will most likely be against your wishes, if you don’t directly express them.

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