Sunday, November 29, 2009


This piece, entitled Glowing Embers was written when my children were little and it was shortlisted in a Lyric FM competition in 2002. I hope you enjoy it!

The morning did not start like any other. I felt the bitter cold as soon as I put my nose outside the duvet. Our house was never cold in the morning. Like most, our heating system swung into action while we were still dreaming, thus ensuring we always greeted a new day in the comfort of temperatures worthy of springtime in the Mediterranean. Not today. Today I knew it was a raw February morning. My breath formed little clouds as I hurried through the Siberian temperatures to investigate what had happened to the heating. As I became more awake I realised it was not just the heating but all the electrical appliances that were inactive at 8am on this Sunday morning. We had a power failure.

My two small children had followed me downstairs and were standing in their bare feet and light nightwear, shivering and wondering why there was no breakfast on the way. The house was oddly quiet.

My first priority was to combat the cold and so I set about lighting a fire, something we usually only did on special occasions, such as Christmas or when we are having guests over on a winter evening. There was great excitement as we set the fire and the children ran back upstairs to get their dressing gowns and slippers and a blanket to wrap themselves in on the sofa.

“Can we watch Barney mom” they asked and I gave a quick and simple explanation of electricity, which like air, only seems important when there’s none.

“Well can we have our toast now?.” I was about to explain about the toaster also needing electricity when I remembered that we could make toast at the fire. Bread, butter, jam and a long handled fork were assembled on the coffee table and I positioned myself on a low stool at the hearth and began to hold the bread towards the flames.

The children giggled excitedly under their blanket mesmerised by the flames and intoxicated by the smell of the slowly grilling toast. Our world had condensed into this small area of delicious heat and light around the fire. The only sound was of their little voices, marvelling at this unexpected adventure at breakfast time and the crackling of the fire. We were joined by the cat, freshly returned from her nocturnal wanderings. Cold and tired, relishing this unusual luxury, she laid her weary bones on the hearthrug at my feet.

It was a precious moment of pure contentment. One of those moments when God seems to make a simple but very direct attempt to strip away the distractions of life, distilling it down to the core. He then says very clearly, remember this moment. This is what is precious.

Held in this moment of time, suspended in the firelight, I am transported back to the days of my own childhood. I remember it was my father who taught me how to set a fire and my mother who had first held my bread to the fire to toast it. I have a moment of supreme clarity when the threads linking me with the past, with my parents and grandparents are as tangible as the flames which dance in the grate. I look into my children’s eyes and strain to see the threads stretch into their future, to their fireside and my own grandchildren.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


This following essay is dedicated to and about 'Our Ben'. Its part of a longer article which appeared in the Sunday Independent some years ago. Ben is my mother's brother who has a learning disability. On the death of my grandmother, when I was about 9 years old, Ben came to live with my family - not something I was too happy with at 9! However Ben proved to be a great asset to our family for lots of reasons. He also provided great anecdotes and stories. But this one - about Ben's Big Adventure - is by far the best! Enjoy

One of the first things my mother discovered when Ben came to stay was St Michael’s House. Ben began to attend one of their sheltered workshops back in the early seventies. He is now one of their longest attending and their oldest client. Ben loves ‘going to work’ and is collected by minibus every morning and arrives back mid afternoon. The red bus from St Michael’s House is a common sight on the road.

When we were all still at home and both my parents were working, morning times got very hectic in our house. Bathroom time was strictly rota-ed and one overstayed their allocated time at their great peril. I don’t know how but we managed. Perhaps the secret was co-operation. It was no doubt with this in mind that I particularly felt a degree of responsibility that Ben should be ready for his bus and aware of when it had arrived on the road. It’s normal routine was to drive slowly past our house and go down to turn. By the time it was back outside our door Ben was at the gate. The bus normally arrived just before 8:30am.

This fateful morning I glanced out the window to see the familiar red bus driving slowly past our house. “Ben hurry up” I roared, “the bus is early.” Ben whose greatest nightmare was to miss work, quickly gathered up his lunchbox and jacket and headed out the door to the shouts of Bye Ben from the house. We continued our strictly choreographed morning routine when at just after 8:30 there was a knock at the door. The bus driver from St Michael’s house was not pleased that Ben was not at the gate!
“But Ben’s gone” we said, baffled.
“He couldn’t be” said the driver “we have only just arrived”.
“But the bus came at about ten past eight and Ben is gone. Could there be another bus doing the run this morning also?”
“I don’t think so but I’ll ring the office and check”

While we waited we double-checked the house and garden to make sure that Ben had not returned. No Ben and no other bus.

Where was Ben? My mother decided to phone the Gardai and duly reported our Ben as missing. We began to get worried. Could Ben have been kidnapped? Who would kidnap our Ben? My father decided to get up on his bike and tour the neighbourhood for clues. The rest of us were told to go to work or school. I felt awful. I was the one who told Ben his bus was early. But I definitely saw red minibus. We had no idea what had happened.

Finally at about 11am the phone rang. It was our local Garda Station. A person answering Ben’s description and clutching a lunchbox had been ‘handed in’ to Bray Garda Station. Could someone go and identify him and collect him. It had to be Ben – but how had he gotten to Bray? My brother was dispatched to collect him.

While he was gone the phone rang again. Our neighbour and good friend across the road was laughing so much that it took a while to establish the facts of Ben’s disappearance.

This neighbour had recently started to take in students; mostly adults coming to Ireland for short intensive language courses. Many of them worked for Siemens Nixdorf in Bray. On this particular morning she had two gentlemen who were to be collected by minibus for their day at Nixdorf. One however was sick and stayed in bed. At about the same time as her lone student was boarding the bus, our Ben shot out of our door and onto the minibus. The driver, expecting two passengers was happy enough and off they went. I am not sure if anyone tried to make conversation on the way south but the bus duly arrived at the Nixdorf facility in Bray whereupon all the passengers disembarked but our Ben who was cute enough to know that this was not St Michael’s House.

The driver invited him to leave but Ben stayed put. The driver went looking for help assuming that this fella had no English at all. A tutor arrived out and again tried to converse with Ben to no avail. “Where - are - you - from” he asked in fractured English. Ben could never manage to remember a full address but did know that we lived near Stradbrook Road and so he boomed triumphantly “Stradbrook”. “Ah Strasbourg” says Mr Nixdorf and immediately switched to French. Still no joy. This interrogation must have gone on for some more time and Ben would not leave the bus. Finally someone arrived who realised that Ben was perhaps a sandwich or two short of a picnic. And so the Gardai were called in.

Ben was taken back to the Station in the tender care of a female officer who was still entertaining him and drinking tea when my brother arrived. To this day Ben still recounts this story with great excitement and we have all dined out on the same story for years as, no doubt, have the people at Siemens Nixdorf.