I used to scoff at the saying ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. Because NOTHING tastes as good as fried fowl, sweating in grease, gently twirled in a tub of chicken gravy. But, as my Teflon 20s turned into my tubby 30s, I knew the price paid for nuking veg in cheese and drinking two liters of coke a day was going to be far more costly if I didn’t get off my deluxe derriere to combat it.

Looking at me you wouldn’t think I’d weight to lose. Baggy clothes and my previous skinny frame cast my new robust physique in a more appealing light. But a topless session in the doctors exposed the rolls of flab that were usually saved for my beloved. “Your metabolism is slowing down and you’re doing nothing to combat it.”
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Pan of Aran

January 25, 2016

As first jobs go, mine’s a bit of a doozy.

Six times a day, with the help of my adopted pup Streak, I took to the airfield at Inis Mor Airport to clear it of rabbits and donkeys that may have wandered onto the runway, allowing for the safe landing of the daily flights from the mainland that brought with them- not only passengers, but the post, the papers and perishables.

Another donkey has wandered into the path of Aer Arann of late, and alas, Streak is no longer with us to chase him off.

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In spite of what the metal band on my third finger, left hand says, I’ve never had any desire to get married. Engaged yes. There’s something romantic and hopeful about the promise of a lifetime together. But I always imagined the day after the white dress was tucked away, and the rice had killed off a few pigeons, I would feel like Kate Winslet in the movie Titanic, the post-ceremony comedown dragging me back to reality in chains. A wedding is (supposed to be) for life, not just the party, gifts and salmon-sparked indigestion.

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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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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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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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