Category Archives: Ireland

How to sell your parents’ house, part 3 of 3, maybe

The estate agent rang me this morning to let me know that the For Sale sign will go up next week, probably Wednesday. So that’s a strange feeling, putting your family home on the market. Especially since my two parents are still living. It feels wrong to sell it out from under them, even though I’m not doing that at all: my father is selling his own house, I’m just doing the donkey work. He signs the cheques. I sign for my mother, because she can’t do that any more, when we get to the actual legal documents part, assuming that’ll happen in due course.

It all seems very sudden, even though it’s been on the cards since last May, when Dad looked at me and said “I suppose we’d better sell the house.”

I loved the estate agent. He looked around the house in wonder and awe and probably some internal consternation, and said “It’s really hard to value” but also appreciated all the work that had gone into it, from the very beginning, all by my dad himself.

He saw an old photo upstairs – actually, a photocopy of a photo, that my dad had framed – and audibly goggled at how cool it was – my father’s uncle in 1913 posing with his swim team. Like something from another world, really; one we can’t begin to imagine in spite of all the pictures and films and books we’ve seen. These were real people; a little bit of their DNA runs through my veins. I pulled the photocopy out of the frame and kept it with all the other old photos.

When I got back from Ireland I was very productive for a few days, writing thank-you cards and feverishly sorting through the loose photos, writing on the back, trying to put them in chronological order, despairing when a random wedding picture had no names, no faces I knew, not even an indication of which side of the family it had come from. I went to Ikea, made a lovely photo collage for the wall, hung it up, even. Such industry, in a house otherwise crumbling around me (crumbling at least in terms of undone housework and un-put-away toys, constantly on the brink of running out of milk and bread).

Here’s a list, in two parts.

Things that were easy to put in the skip: (That’s a dumpster, Americans.)

  • Garden waste.
  • Very old pillows.
  • My bank statements from 20 years ago.
  • A nasty rolled-up rug.
  • Used makeup, old hairspray, battered shoes without mates.

Things that were hard to put in the skip:

  • My mother’s cushions. (You can’t donate cushions. They’re like pillows, nobody will take them.)
  • The last bits and pieces from each room, the things I couldn’t decide about, the things I left for my friends to remove because I kept wanting to leave a little something, for character, to make it look at least a tiny bit personal.
  • The photo albums that weren’t old enough to be interesting – the ones of my parents’ trips or travels over the last twenty years or so, visiting people I don’t know, or people who have their own pictures of that day.
  • The Hummel figurine that someone knocked over on the way out to the garden; probably one of the very helpful people who were giving up their Saturday afternoon to help me out; they didn’t even notice. I shouldn’t have left it there, so close to the door. But it had survived so long, and now it was in three pieces. Poor little boy in the apple tree.

It’s weird being entrusted to get rid of other people’s stuff, even two people as uncaring about material goods as my parents. I kept the things I wanted. I kept a few things I thought other people would want. I gave away as much as I could to friends and family members who wanted them, who would take them and keep with them the memory of the place they came from – or even who would say “A lady gave it to me one day when my parents went to her house. I don’t know who she was, really. A friend of Mum and Dad’s who they hardly ever see, I think.”

My best friend told me I had no sentimentality, as I shot down her suggestions of things I might want to keep. I had two suitcases, mostly already full of photo albums, and a house full of junk over here already. I have no space for sentimentality. She left with a shelf that we unscrewed from the wall along with its curly brackets, and some of my mother’s jewellery, and the Dyson. Sentiment and practicality right there. I was happy about that.

A house story

And now I am here again, at my kitchen table, thinking about back-to-school nights and bringing in the washing, instead of there, thinking about the ends of things. It was an intense weekend-and-a-bit, but with a lot of help from a lot of great people I accomplished almost all I had hoped to.

It was very … elemental, maybe, is the word I want. Very much about life, the hard parts of it that are the most real. I met a friend who was coming from her father’s funeral, buying balloons for her son’s fifth birthday party. I gave small children things from my aged parents’ house, sent them back to their homes with the last of my childhood books, dominoes, pretty boxes, and my spare recorder (sorry).

But there was a story I wanted to tell. On Saturday afternoon, someone helping me put things in boxes pulled a string in the kitchen and it broke. It was fine, it didn’t matter. They noticed the string was attached to a little bell that rang when you pulled it. They wondered why. I explained.

My father’s office was downstairs in the basement, ever since the recession in 1987 or so caused him and his partner to downsize and move to working out of their respective homes. There was a phone down there, and a phone upstairs in the hall beside the kitchen, so if the phone rang during business hours my dad would answer it down there, professional-like. If it happened that the call was actually for my mother, rather than have to open his office door and shout loud enough to be heard through the door to the basement, or come all the way upstairs, he rigged up a little bell with a string that went straight down through the floor, so that he could ring the bell from right where he was to let her know it was for her. (Or for me, maybe, even.) No undignified yelling required.

It is a perfect example of how our house worked, and how the things in the house were exactly tailored to suit its inhabitants. A little thing, that nobody seeing that bell would know, once I’m not there to tell the story any more: not the person who shows the house to prospective buyers, not the one who looks at the house wondering how they will mould it to their needs, not the one who rips it off the kitchen wall after the house has been sold.

So now I’ve told the story, and the reason for the bell will always be here, not lost after all.

Table covered in vases and jugs

Right at the beginning of the ending

Casting off

This evening I sat on the floor for twenty minutes casting off.

There was this knitting thing, you see. Back in May I had opened the bottom drawer of the bureau in the hall and found a bag with knitting in it. In May I was busy looking at nursing homes. My brain can only cope with one thing at a time. I’d closed the drawer and gone back to whatever else I was doing at the time, just like I had closed cupboard doors on moulding jam and half-used lipsticks and left them for another day, another trip.

Now I can do it. I can open those drawers and I’m ready to consign much of their contents to the skip that’s handily outside the house (yes, I arranged for it to be there). In May I threw out the tissue paper that was everywhere, consolidated items, put all the lone gloves into one drawer and socks into another, found the jewellery that had been secreted away in odd shoes and cubbyholes and hinged tchotchkes. Now it’s September and I’m ready to put them in boxes and send them away: to donate them, to bag them up, to remove them from the spaces they were placed into and set them free.

So when I saw the knitting this evening, that I had pulled out of the drawer yesterday, I said to myself, I need to just do away with that so that I can put the needles and the wool with all the other knitting needles and donate them to the charity shop.

And then, because I had twenty minutes to spare before I had to be somewhere, I thought, No, wait. I don’t need to unravel it. I can just cast this off. And I sat on the floor where the kitchen meets the hall, and in the dimming light I put my basic knitting ability to use and I cast it off.

It was going to be something in baby blue. I don’t know what, though I think there was a pattern in the bag. I suspect it was for Dash, when he was a baby, that it was found too frustrating and stuffed away. My mother was never a great knitter. The biggest thing she ever knitted, to my knowledge, was a moss green waistcoat for my father some time in the 80s. I found it on his shelf yesterday when I went through his wardrobe, but I put it in the donation pile because I don’t think he needs it in the well-heated nursing home. I have no sentimentality, no soul, apparently. Also, I don’t think he ever wore it much, he just couldn’t throw it away.

So I cast it off, the blue knitting that was going to be a cardigan for my baby boy, or whatever, sitting there on the floor in the evening light. I’ll take it with me for the girlchild to use as a doll blanket. Knit one, pick it up, push it over the one before. Off she goes. My baby boy is eleven now, he’d never fit it. I saw my mother today and she was delighted to see me, disbelieving that I was really me, asking me how my exams had gone, moving on to generic questions about mum and dad or the boys, things she could ask anyone, because she wasn’t sure any more who it was but she couldn’t let on.

And then I cut the yarn, pulled the knot through, put the rest of the ball of wool in the bag with all the knitting needles and the patterns, ready to go to the charity shop tomorrow.

And as I sat there I thought how poignant it should be, and how metaphorical it was, and how I could write a great blog post about casting off the past and all that jazz. But really, I was just knitting, waiting, in a messy house, full of memories; it’s reached its time, it’s moving on, as all things have to. Finished off, undone, sent on, sent away. An end and a beginning. There’s always a beginning too.

Seafront at dawn

Ending/beginning

Important places

“I have lived in important places, times / When great events were decided”

Those are the opening lines of Patrick Kavanagh’s “Epic“, a poem that was used mostly to illustrate the form of a sonnet to my English class, early in second year (that’s 8th grade for Americans). No mention was made of the contrast of the title to the brevity of the poem, now I think about it, but our teacher had enough to do just trying to get the basics across to us, since this was our first encounter with such a high-falutin’ thing as a poetic form other than nursery rhyme or limerick.

Anyway. The reason those opening lines are running through my mind is that I’m trying to figure out what to do with my dad’s photo albums. In about two weeks’ time I have to go to Dublin (yes, again) and try to tidy up and get rid of as much as possible of the contents of my parents’ house as I can in roughly four days. They don’t live there any more.

(Mabel says I can’t go. She won’t let me. It’s too hard to go to sleep at night with only Daddy. I’m sorry, and all, but I’d love to not go, except I have to. There’s nobody else to do it. This is what happens. It’s what everything comes to in the end, someone clearing away your belongings, assigning importance to some and tossing others out. She doesn’t get that yet. Maybe I don’t get it yet myself, really.)

In anticipation, I’m mentally going through the house, listing items of furniture and categories of things, deciding what could be kept, what should be given away, what’s just irredeemable rubbish. My father has been trying to empty the house for years; my parents weren’t hoarders (though in her later years my mother had taken to squirreling away tiny bits of tissue paper and scraps of cellophane, but those are very easy to throw away, after making sure there’s no tiny treasure balled up in the middle).

I’m trying to simultaneously think of everything there so that I can plan what to do with it, so I can spend more time doing and less wondering, and also so that I can be mentally bolstered against the whole thing, the whole dismantling of my past, my parents’ pasts, my home, my history. I’m very practical, but I’m also practical enough to know that it’ll be hard. It’ll hit me in the guts, so I need to be prepared.

Anyway, as I think I already said. I was thinking about my dad’s photo albums. He has about 15 of them hidden away in a piece of antique office furniture in the spare room. As befits him, they are meticulous records of days past and travels in interesting places. He has lived in England and Ireland, spent two years in the US, and a year in Guatemala, and these albums record those places, and others he travelled to, probably mostly in the 50s and 60s. When I’d asked him about them he’d shrugged and supposed that they’d have to be thrown out. Who would be interested in such things, he asked rhetorically, assuming the answer was nobody.

I wasn’t so sure. The idea of just throwing out his carefully recorded memories didn’t sit right with me, even if I didn’t think I could mail them to myself in the States to go through at my leisure, even if I wasn’t sure I would be all that interested in unknown people and places. But it occurred to me that he was in a couple of clubs that are still active, that might have people interested in their history and their founding members. And then I asked a lot of random strangers in an Irish Facebook group what they thought and the response was overwhelming: don’t throw them out! Find an archivist! Find a library! Someone wants these!

I emailed the two clubs in question and at least one is definitely interested. I had a correspondence with someone from the National Library, who said they might be interested depending on how much of Ireland is in it. I am pretty sure, based on all that, that there would be someone out there – or maybe out here – who would love to see the American and Guatemalan parts of his travels and records. I won’t toss anything. I’ll ask someone to keep them for me, or see if I can find someone to scan them for me, or maybe I will just post them to myself, but I will not trash them.

I think my dad will be happy about it. Bemused that his old snaps might now be considered archivable, important bits of history, even if the times he lived in were not important-seeming, if no great events were apparently being decided there and then. Sometimes ordinary lives are the most important. Patrick Kavanagh taught me that.

Man posing on skis in late 60s

Just call him Bond

 

Zoom zoom

Big screen at the concert with Paul Simon playing the guitar on itI got back from Ireland on the Tuesday evening of that week. On the Friday, B and I did something we haven’t done for years and years – we went to a concert. A real proper concert, not just a gig. We saw Paul Simon, and it was amazing.

There were moments during the evening when the long relationship I’ve had with Paul Simon’s music, and how it’s been intertwined with that other long relationship in my life – the one with my husband – made my brain do that expand-and-contract thing (imagine, if you will, a slidy trombone noise) as it tried to take in the expanse of time from my first experience of Paul Simon to where I am now. Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly indeed.

Sometimes all the points in my life seem to be laid out on a flat surface rather than along a timeline. The distance from any one to another might be near or far but bears no connection to such two-dimensional things as years and decades. I can vividly remember a moment when I was 20, but not necessarily last week.

The older I get, the more this will happen, I bet. It’s unnerving, this living in the world business, if you look at it from a height.

Though maybe it was the jetlag too. It was a very whiplashy week, going from filial responsibilities and reminders of inescapable mortality to pure selfish entertainment with a side of romantic nostalgia with little but a transatlantic flight and the graduation from elementary school of my elder child to buffer the two extremes.

That sort of enforced perspective can really mess with your mind. Maybe just as well we don’t manage to do it very often.View of the stage (from way back) with teeny tiny Paul Simon and his band

The annual curmudge

I’m a big old St Patrick’s Day curmudgeon. This is not news to anyone who was here last year or any other year. I don’t want to wear green today or get drunk today (well, sure, but children) or set up leprechaun traps today or listen to traditional Irish music today and I’m only just getting over the mortification of having to see Enda Kenny visit Donald Trump today.

When the word went out that this year’s international dinner at Dash’s school this Sunday would have live Irish music and dancing, I went from vaguely wondering if we could get out of it to deciding that I really didn’t have to show up to everything they put on.

Old map of Ireland, framed, from unusual perspective.

No, it’s not sideways. That’s the way they drew the map.

Then I wondered if I was really a terrible person, denying my children access to their heritage like that. Am I like one of those immigrants who refuses to speak the language of the old country to their children so that they’ll assimilate better, thus taking the wonderful benefits of bilingualism out of their family’s grasp?

Actually, no. I don’t like traditional Irish music or step dancing. It’s part of my national heritage, but it’s not something I feel any personal connection to. Same goes for GAA (that’s hurling and Gaelic football). And we’re not even Catholic any more. But you know what my kids will grow up with?

  • A Hiberno-English vocabulary that they can turn on and off at will.
  • A bookshelf full of books by British and Irish authors many of whom are less well known here, from Oliver Jeffers’ picture books to Joyce’s Ulysses and a lot in between.
  • Knowledge of the canon of Father Ted, Monty Python, The Two Ronnies, and various other bits and pieces of nerdy 80s trivia befitting children of Irish people our age.
  • A better grasp of Irish and European geography and history than many Americans.
  • An understanding that other countries are just as valid and real as the USA and that normal is an ever-shifting concept.
  • Familiarity with the Dublin Monopoly board.
  • Access to plenty of excellent Irish hits of the 80s and 90s, should they choose to indulge.
  • Their grandfather’s watercolours of Irish scenes and historical maps of Ireland on the walls.
A pile of books by authors including Marian Keyes, Kate O'Brien, James Joyce, Julia Donaldson, Liz Nugent, Flann O'Brien.

Not all Irish authors, but all from that side of the pond

And then there’s that book I wrote, too. It’s set in Ireland.

I think they’ll be secure enough in their cultural heritage even if it doesn’t extend to a spot of the old diddly-aye.

Framed watercolour painting of a Galway hooker with brown sails on the water

An Irish painting of an Irish boat

Live Where You Live

I can rarely resist a writing prompt, and when Sadhbh at Where Wishes Come From turned her lovely recent post about her hometown of Bray into a blog link-up, I was in like Flynn.

I grew up in Dalkey, a suburb on Dublin’s south coast. It’s fairly famously posh these days, with lots of fancy foodie places and having had residents the like of Van Morrison and Maeve Binchy, and Bono just up the road in Killiney. In those days – well, in the 80s it was different. Less shiny, more grubby. The main street was always full of restaurants, though, some of which were fixtures and some of which revolved. It had a modest six pubs, four newsagents, two butchers, two greengrocers, three chemists; also the post office, Quinnsworth, Harry Latham’s gift shop, the Chinese takeaway, the chipper, and the Exchange bookshop. Let’s stop there for a moment…

The Exchange was a new and second-hand bookshop. I spent a lot of time combing through the cheapest, most tattered, children’s books, sitting on the wooden floor, finding a gem I’d been waiting for or something new that sounded intriguing. The price stickers were plain white with rounded edges and I still own books proudly sporting the price I paid for them in nineteen-eighty-something – usually around 25p. When I got older they moved up the road to a larger premises and the cheapest books were on the 50p shelf. I would bring my less-loved books down and be awarded credit for them, records kept in a rolodex on the counter by the tall man with an English accent who was always there, and then I’d happily spend the credit on more Enid Blytons, Noel Streatfields, or LM Montgomerys.

The Painted Garden for 30p and The Sea of Adventure for 10p

Original price stickers from The Exchange. Bargain or wha’?

Dalkey is built on hills. It has a microclimate. You can look out of your kitchen window in blazing sunlight at squalls over Dublin Bay, or Dun Laoghaire pier shrouded in dark clouds. More often, on the way home, you look up to where Dalkey should be and find it all hidden under a swathe of white fog. My school was right beside the sea; we ran up and down the laughably “all-weather” hockey pitch while a sea mist rolled in and hid the ball from those on the other side of the centre line.

I was something of a blow-in to Dalkey, only having been born and reared there. That is, my parents both hailed from elsewhere, though my father had visited on summer holidays since he was a child. His mother’s best friend was from an old Dalkey family, so really my Dalkey connections did go back generations, if I’d ever thought to bring that up.

Street, walls, houses, Dublin Bay and Howth in the distance

The view from the top of my Dalkey hill

I lived in other places, in Ireland and America, before I lived here, where I live now, in a suburb of the Washington DC metro area called Greenbelt, Maryland. This is home now, but I can’t see it with the clarity of a child, low to the ground. I can only see it with practical eyes, ones swayed by thoughts of property prices and amenities and public transport and proximity to the city and decent schools and green spaces and things to do and places to go. I can’t see the granite walls and the corrugated cement underfoot and the graffiti on the lampposts, the way I do when I close my eyes and think of Dalkey.

For one thing, Americans don’t really do walls. There are chain-link fences and some picket fences, but very often people’s yards aren’t divided from the next yard at all, or from the sidewalk in front of their house. For another, the lampposts are all wooden, tall dark-stained tree trunks, so they don’t show up graffiti nearly as well as the pale grey painted metal of Dublin ones. And the sidewalks… well, I just don’t notice what’s underfoot the way I did as a child. I don’t retain the crunch of splayed beech-nut casings or the squish and stickiness of bright-red unshiny berries off the yew tree, the way I did when I walked over them day after day, autumn after autumn, pushing my bike back up the hills home.

But I’ll do my best to tell you what it’s like, all the same. It’s green and leafy. If it’s always autumn in my memories of Dalkey, it’s always spring in my thoughts of Greenbelt. In spring the blossoms here are astounding: pink and white and puce and lilac, bursting off the trees like popcorn. Every now and then you happen upon a magnolia tree: dark shiny leaves and the most enormous, decadent, creamy flowers you could imagine.

There’s a park with a lake at the bottom of our hill – I’m fated to always live in a cul-de-sac at the top of a hill, it seems; but there are worse fates – that you can walk or run or bike around, and admire the scenery and the wildlife. There’s more wildlife here than I’m used to from suburban Ireland – squirrels are everywhere, bluejays and cardinals are slightly exciting, chipmunks and rabbits still raise a squee from me, and now and then you run into a deer (not literally, one hopes) that left its wooded shelter and ventured too far. There are a few beavers in the lake, the source of an ongoing local disagreement between those who would protect the trees from the marauding beavers and those who would protect the beavers from the marauding humans. It makes for entertaining reading on the local listserv.

On the other side of the park is the town’s epicentre: the community centre, the library, the pool, the cinema, the shops. The shops are a little run down, a little tatty and old-style, because we’re tucked away and only Greenbelters come to shop in Greenbelt. But our cinema is a wonderful single-screen Art-Deco movie theatre that is lately becoming a centre for so much more than blockbusters, as my friend who runs it now shows free kids’ movies on snow days and for summer camps, cult classics after closing time, art-house and indy movies twice a day all week. There’s a farmers’ market every Sunday morning. There’s a parade on Labor Day and a festival all that weekend with rides and bumper cars and a huge second-hand book sale, and there are fireworks at the lake on the fourth of July. There’s a cafe that has terrible coffee – but it has great hummus and amazing baklava, with live music and beer on tap around the back.

And I find I have come to the heart of it right there: my friend runs the cinema. I know the staff at the pool, the cashiers at the supermarket, teachers at the schools. Some of them I know just because they work there, and some I met through school or friends or neighbours. If we go to a movie and across the way for a beer afterwards, chances are there’ll be a couple of friends in the bar. I personally am the chump who’s organizing the massive second-hand book sale for the Labor Day festival this year.

Where I live now lacks the connection with childhood memories that are deep in my soul: instead it gives me a connection with people, it makes me part of the pattern. And that’s why it’s home, too.

Footpath, grass, trees, two bikes in the distance

The view from the top of this hill

Click over to Where Wishes Come From to check out the other entries in this link-up.

 

Hurtling

Quiet airport sceneOn Wednesday afternoon, I went to the airport. On Sunday afternoon I was back there. In between, I hurtled through the skies in a metal tube, kept aloft by nothing but will power and loud noises, as far as I can tell, to a small country 3000 miles away; and then did it again in the other direction.

It’s a strange life we lead, in this twenty-first century, where people can do things like that.

The first time my dad visited the US, he came on a boat. It took five days. He’s not so old that they didn’t have flights back then, but it was probably much cheaper by sea. But I can imagine that doing it that way at least gives you a sense of distance. You use the time in between to come to terms with leaving one place and going to another: you’re not so surprised when you finally get there that you’re a long way away now.

But when I walk onto a plane, time stops. (This does not apply when travelling with children. Then time becomes infinite.) Then I walk off, and – inexplicably – my surroundings are more familiar than anything I left behind me. The air is damp, the streetlights are orange, daylight creeps into being, voices sound like home. I can navigate to the other side of the city without thinking too hard, just heading in the right direction. I know which way that is.

I spent three days seeing a very few family members and friends. I did some useful things. I threw away a lot of ancient pieces of paper. I brought away a small amount of memorabilia and another tranche of my teenaged bookshelf. I decided I will live the rest of my life quite happily without being in possession of my piano exam certificates, my secondary school homework notebooks, or even my terrible teenage poetry.

Back in the airport before I left I couldn’t shake the feeling that, even though I was returning to nothing but a delightful life with the people I love, Ireland was the right place. Ireland’s just better, in spite of no concrete evidence to support that fact in almost any direction beyond scones and jam, cheese and sausages, people in the service industry who are genuinely happy to help, not finding your presence at their counter a tedious imposition.

The feeling persisted on the other side, at least for a while: I felt displaced, even after all this time, not at home.

Home. Other home. Wrong home, right home, different. It doesn’t matter, really, does it? Here I am.

Harbour scene

 

 

Paddy O’Rant

I was quite peeved with the whole St Patrick’s Day palaver this year, possibly even more than usual.

I’m a terrible Irish person, actually. I don’t like traditional music, I buy sweet potatoes more often than regular ones, and I find the colours of the flag garish and tacky. Every other day of the year I’ll loudly proclaim my nationality, but on March 17th in America if everyone’s jumping on that bandwagon I think I’d rather just jump off.

I’ve put a lot of thought into trying to figure out why this is, and how to explain it to Americans who feel I’m dissing their country’s tradition of celebrating the day, as it has been handed down by generations of emigrants a long time before I showed up with my snobby ideas about how it should be done properly.

The truth is, I don’t like it over there either. I don’t really like to make a big fuss of it. It seems jingoistic, and that’s a word that always went scathingly with “American” in my mind. Little flags and drum majorettes are not something I enjoy no matter what colours they sport, really.

But it is what it is, to coin an Irishism: those who are celebrating their national day, the day of their nation, are sometimes a bit put out when those who are celebrating the day of their heritage start to make it their own.

Irish people are pretty sure that, whatever the concrete shortcomings of our country – and there are many, and we will recount them at length for you – Ireland is in fact the best place in the world to be from, and it’s better to be from it, you yourself right now, than to have forebears who were from it.

As a small country with a big history of emigration, we have family all over the globe, and a reputation, deserved or not, for being friendly and welcoming. Everyone loves Irish people. We lap it up, the worldwide loving of us.

Saints and scholars, pints and poets, the green and the gold and the rain and the mists.

Americans (the nice ones, like all my friends) try very hard not to feel superior to anyone else, because they come from a huge and powerful country and wouldn’t want to look pushy. Germans have the terrible history of World War Two drilled into them lest they ever again decide to put themselves above any other nation. But Ireland, presumably like any other small, formerly colonial, country, has no such qualms. We’re jumping up and down at the back of the classroom with our hand up trying to get your attention, and when we do, we feel very entitled to hang on to it by making all sorts of eejits of ourselves so you don’t forget us.

We’re not a threat to anyone, that’s for sure, so all we can do is delight you with our entertaining ways, whether that’s in music or words or acting or donating to charity or being hilarious or drunk or a hilarious drunk or going out of our way to do a favour for a total stranger.

———

Anyway, I booked a ticket the other day so in a few weeks I’ll be over to inject myself with a quick shot of sea air and rain, Ireland style. Maybe it’ll make me less ranty.

Green hillside, grazing sheep, sea, clouds

Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry; last July

 

I’m probably not going to publish this, I said, and kept it in Drafts for a month

… But then yesterday happened, showing that Planned Parenthood’s patrons now have to run the gauntlet not just of grumpy entitled protesters but also madmen with guns. So I pulled this out of my Drafts folder after all.

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There’s a business I drive by quite often locally, opposite the mall where our local Target is. I would never have noticed it, or its small sign that says Family Planning Clinic, if it weren’t for the people who loiter outside it. They loiter with intent, carrying placards and judgement. They saunter up and down outside, chatting to each other, pleased with their overt expression of what good people they are. They hang around, doing the right thing. I don’t know if they have a roster or a volunteerspot to make sure someone’s always there, or if they only show up on certain days, but lately whenever I go by I’ve noticed their presence.

I’m never there for long, just stopped at a traffic light now and then, so I’ve never seen anyone go in or come out of the medical establishment. But I can imagine how it goes. I can imagine a young woman – very young, or maybe not so young – with a friend for support or alone, unhappy and facing up to a difficult decision. It was hard enough to get to this point, to get time off work, to sneak away, to find out where and how and when and how much. To worry and wonder and buy the test and take the test and look at the two little pink lines and know what they mean for her life. To decide, or to have the decision made by circumstances beyond her control. Now she has to run the gauntlet of all these good people ostentatiously doing their right thing. Seven or eight of them, barring her way, or maybe just standing watching as she walks to the door: disapproving, feeling superior, shrouded in their smugness, proffering pamphlets and pointedly placarding.

I never saw myself as a crusader for abortion rights. But I long wondered how anyone who had never experienced a pregnancy could make a decision about it. Last week I posted about abortion rights on my personal Facebook page, because the longer I spend being a woman – that’s my whole life so far, if you weren’t paying attention – the angrier I get to see governments that are mostly made up of men thinking they get to make decisions about other people’s bodies.

In Ireland, abortion is still illegal. There’s a very tiny clause that talks about how “if the life of the mother is at stake” it may take place, but in practice, even when a woman is bleeding out on the operation table with a pregnancy that’s clearly not viable, doctors hesitate to do what needs to be done. Never mind trying to prove to a jury that you’re suicidal because you were raped and you’re a teenager in a foreign country and you just want to get this horrible nightmare over with.

Irish women go to the UK for abortions. This, obviously, adds to the time it takes to arrange and the mental and economic strain to sort it out, leading to more dangerous later-term abortions for Irish women. The UN Human Rights Committee has called Ireland out on this and said the law must be amended, but nothing has changed yet.

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I stopped there, because I’d run out of indignant steam, and because I was talking in generalities and couldn’t find the news articles to back up my assertions. Then again, there are probably news articles to back up any assertions you want to make, in Ireland or America, about whatever your topic is. I’m sure Fox News has plenty of stories about how evil Planned Parenthood is, and the Iona Institute will tell you how much better off Irish women are because abortion isn’t an option in their country.

 

If you’d like to read more about the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland, or get involved, you can go to the Abortion Rights Campaign‘s website.

If you are experiencing a crisis pregnancy in Ireland, the Well Woman Centre is somewhere you can go for impartial advice covering all your options.