Not so much looking down as across..

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

With affection Kate Harte, 1920-2013

Kate from Kells

 A will of steel and iron

 Of soft and generous heart

 Appropriate then perhaps

 To marry Desmond Harte


 Many decades to remember

 As we mourned her last December

 Kate the golfer, Kate the mother

 Sister, friend, and life lover.


 A gift for friendship

 Not spread wide

 But true and close

 Right by our side.


 Ever ready, ever true

 To lend a hand

 To me and you


 Knitting, sewing, cooking, cleaning

 Nothing ever too demeaning

 Coming, going and supporting

 Driving deftly as in a Porsche

Baby sitting, reading, teaching

 Around her kitchen table

 Tea in china cups

 To the chime of carriage clocks.


 In Marie's bungalow o'er the bay

 A modest drink at close  of day

 A  lively G and T at five

 Helps the sisters to revive.


 Ever ready, ever able

 Just ring the phone

 She'll never waver. .


 Simple homely pleasures

 Span the rolling years

 Time sits still for decades

 In sleepy Dalkey streets.


 At last the call of time

 Catches Kate in clutches

 And so the days now shorten

 As eventide drew nearer.


 Never dim, but always bright

 Her smile lights up our day

 We knock, she turns

 "Hello darling" I hear her say

 Just as she peers 'mid family faces

 Her voice will echo through the ages.

Don't the French speak French well?

I love language. I love language that is spoken or written well. But above all I love language that is spoken well.

I love the way the French speak French. They speak it well with pride and attention.

You would think the English would be the best at speaking English - but that is not always the case. I love regional accents - but only when the diction is clear. I find Coronation St and Eastenders depressing. I hate hearing the English being mangled and the grammar being strangled.

I am trying to become more mellow in my old age. When I first heard the Australian accent courtesy of 'Neighbours' many years ago I could not understand it. When I got to understand it, I decided I did not like it. Why would people murder an innocent language and strangle the blameless vowels?

I love the Welsh and Scots accents - I think they speak English much better than many English people. I love Dublin humour but find the Dublin accent lazy. Bob Geldof may have made the Dublin accent sexy, but clearly difinitions of 'sexy' differ.

I adore the Irish language, Gaelic. I had the happy experience of spending four summers in the ealry sxities living in Connemara with a family whose first language was Irish - indeed in the case of some members of the household, their only language. Irish spoken well is a thing of beauty. People who love Irish mistakenly think that people should be encouraged to speak bad Irish - 'better bad Irish than no Irish' seems to be motto. Insanity. It is like suggesting that Mozart and Beethoven played badly is better than silence.

In the same vein, I hate it when Irish politicians inisist on speaking a few words in terrible Irish - the 'cupla focail'. It is like leering at a girl and saying you are at least paying her the compiment of showing her attention. Better left alone to die a linguistic spinster than this suffer this cruel attack.

Languages are intersting for their different conepts. To take the simplest concept - 'I am hungry' is translated in French and Spanish - 'j'ai faim' and' tengo hambre' - I have hunger. In Irish it is 'ta ocras orm' - there is hunger on me. My point being if something as simple as hunger is expressed in such different ways - how many and varied are the more subtle ways of looking at issues pracitcal and philosophical? That is one of the fasinating things about learing languages - finding out about the different approaches to life and embracing as we learn to speak a new language.

There is an Irish 'me' and an French 'me' and a Spanish 'me. Speaking fluently in different languages allows different elements of ourselves to escape the prison of the language we were born into.

Traveling broadens the mind, they say, but nothing compared to speaking another language with confidence and without self consciousness.

Original Win - an apology from God.

 Original Win  - An apology from God

Dear people of God, I'm very sorry

 That a typo of mine has caused you to worry

 The s and the w are sadly stored

 Closely together on the querty keyboard.

 I'll blame it on Genesis,

 The book, not the band

 The next bible I write

 Will be slowly, by hand.


 I thought you were clever

 And you would soon spot my error.

 To me it's abundantly clear

 Unlike a Guinness but a Weiss beer


 What I created was good and was true

 That includes people and certainly you

 The glass is more than half full

 The world is normally good, not evil.


 Just ask yourself, silly head

 Your intentions as you get out of bed

 Is it to kill and maim?

 Or break your fast and take the train?


 The milkman had now left his load

 Of milk and cream on your road.

 The bus driver has washed and driven

 So you can travel to make a living.


 The young mother holds her baby

 To her breast. It seems to me

 The world I made is mostly good

 I presumed that would be understood.


 All this talk of sin and death

 Is simply bad logic and worse math

 Open your eyes and smell the tea

 What a typo, silly me.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Home, sweet home!



Today we did the final clear out of the family home. I turned on the alarm and closed the door behind me for the last time. I said good bye to our neighbors in Landscape Park and thanked them for being such a support to my mother in her later years.


Such was the innocence of the fifties; my mother recalls they drove across town to Churchtown on a Sunday afternoon looking to buy a house. They turned a corner and saw a new house with a ‘for sale’ sign, so they looked at it and put down a deposit that very afternoon.

So much for a forensic examination of the schools and bus routes.


The young couples who bought in Churchtown in the early fifties are now slowly dying off and being replaced by newer families who will probably get a refurbishment of the house done before moving in. We of the middle generation bought our second hand houses and made changes over a period of four decades, living with dust and builders as we did.


I did not expect the morning to be so emotionally charged. I looked at the simple bedroom and kitchen fittings which were hand made by my father. I admired the garden so still and private and tranquil.

In the fifties the left hand side of the garden was dedicated to fruit and vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, cabbages, apple trees (eaters and cookers), raspberries and strawberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries, rhubarb and lettuce, in no particular order.


I was but 18 months old when the Murray family arrived from Portumna, Co Galway. My earliest memory was of getting my foot stuck in a builder’s pipe in the garden. I cannot have been much more than two.


Fridays were my favorite days when I would approach the kitchen door (in those days we never entered the house through the front door) at lunchtime and thank God we were Catholics because Fridays meant chips and fried eggs to meet the requirements of abstinence.


I have vivid memories of my father sitting in the back garden in his deck chair while my mother scurried round the garden with a trowel. In those days mum could not abide being still for a single moment. Now in her 94th year she spends much time dozing and feeling no guilt.


My sister Margaret discovered copybooks in the attic. I found my geography notes from 1969, my father’s notes from UCD where he studied Social Science at night in 1957, Margaret’s nursing notes, and notes from my time in the Legion of Christ in Salamanca and Rome in 1974/5/6 and a spiritual diary I had not read since I finished the last entry in September 1976. Such was the emotional and spiritual carnage of leaving the Legion of Christ it took me 37 years to have the courage to read what I wrote then.


The sun shone brightly as I locked up the house. I smiled to myself, I was right! The estate agent had not believed me when I said the garden was south facing and now the midday sun was blazing through the window of the empty kitchen.


My neighbors were genuine in their affection for my mother who had spent 60 years in the house, firstly as a young mother and wife, then as a young active widow, then as an aging bridge player and finally as proud defiant independent old lady who stayed until health called time on her Churchtown adventure.


I reflected on the coincidences that life throws up. Today, the 8th of July, is the birthday of my sister Catherine/Kate who died six years ago and who would have been 55 today. She arrived home with mum and dad to Landscape Park in late 1958 from the orphanage to a house that became her happy home. Happy Birthday Kate. xxx

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An 'Oatie' at last

Tonight I received a call I had been half hoping for, half dreading, to tell me I had been accepted into the Quakers, or to give 'us' (notice the 'us 'now!) our correct title The Religious Society of Friends. My initial feeling is one of delight and peace, happiness and contentment.

I am proud to be numbered in a Group that has a reputation for honesty and integrity, humility and welcome, simple living and pacifism, sobriety and good  naturedness, hard work and concern for nature. I may even pick up some of these virtues myself en route.

It is true that many people of other religions and none share these virtues. My admiration for the work of Catholic Orders grows by the day. Some of the most admirable people I have met are agnostics or atheists. But I feel at home in the Quaker world.

There is no real need to become a Quaker or indeed any pressure either. The only two immediate advantages I can immediately think of, are that I can now sit on certain committees (please God, if there is a God), I won't be invited and I can be buried in a Quaker Graveyard and my current plan is for my ashes to end up in a jar in a Catholic cemetry overlooking the sea in Santiago del Teide in Tenerife.

I suppose the real reason is to show commitment to a Group of wonderful people. 'Is ar scath a cheile a mhaireann na daoine' - if my Irish does not fail me, 'we get through life with the help of others'.

I am now going to descend from my freezing office in the attic where my knees have seized up and celebrate with a glass of tea and a cup of wine.

The better half refers to Quakers as 'Oaties' and I guess she will be happy she now has an Oatie in the family.

I am not sure what the dogs will make of it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Scribani Conference on Re-imgining imprisonment in Europe

And the old triangle
Went jingle jangle
All along the banks
Of the Royal Canal

Memories of the recent (September 5th to 7th) conference on Prisons in Trinity College Dublin

1.       The Conference was excellently conceived, organised and financed by the Jesuits through their local Faith and Justice centre in Dublin and through their international arm, The Escribani Movement (named after a seventeenth century Flemish Jesuit who was first head of the University of Antwerp). The Escribani Conferences are held every two years in different parts of Europe on issues of Faith and Justice. Trinity was a perfect location for the conference which ran smoothly. The National Gallery of Ireland hosted a reception on the first night with a private showing of the painting ‘The Betrayal of Jesus’ by Caravaggio, which had been donated by the Jesuits (having hung anonymously on their refectory wall for over fifty years).

2.       There were approx. 250 people attending the conference drawn mainly from academic and social services backgrounds, as well as prison staff and Governors. Quaker Friends were well represented. I met H H who seemed to know everyone and who proceeded to introduce me to everyone. It was she who suggested I make a report to Monkstown Meeting even though I attended the Conference in purely a personal capacity albeit encouraged by the interest Friends have traditionally shown for prisoners down the ages. I was impressed by the opening address given by Juliet Lyon CBE, Director Prison Reform Trust UK and who is of Quaker background.

3.       Fr. Peter McVerry SJ (well known in Dublin for his excellent work spanning forty years with homeless youths) spoke on the opening night with characteristic compassion, passion and wisdom. He spoke of the sad side of prison. Nearly all of the young male prison population have been victims of crime long before they became criminals. He painted a dismal picture of young men entering often clean and coming out drug addicts. Entering alone yet exiting members of gangs and condemned t o a life of continuing crime. It did not make for easy listening to but set one of the tones of the conference.

4.       Over the course of the following two days I attended as much as I could, subject to some family and Quaker commitments, and took notes when not suffering from too little or in most cases too much caffeine from the numerous coffee breaks. Here are some of my recollections:

5.       Some statistics: The Irish prison population has increased from 65 prisoners per 100,000 population in 1997 to currently 100 per 100,000, roughly the EU average, compared with UK 150 (bronze medal), Russia 400 (Silver Medal) and US 550 (Gold Medal). Even in three years 2009-2012, the Irish prison population has increased from 3,500 to 4,500. Finland over the same period has seen its number drop from over 100 to currently 63 per 100,000.

6.       Lies, damned lies... Crime has been rising in all developed countries irrespective of increased prison population. The conclusion is that for most criminals prison is not a realistic deterrent nor is it rehabilitative. Prison has become a way of dealing with the underclass particularly in USA and UK rather than the underlying issues.

7.       Prison involves an underlying paradox. How to avoid crime? Stable employment, stable family ties and relationship, sense of worth. Prison uniquely deprives prisoners of all three.

8.       Prison was imagined by well-wishing Christian 150 years ago as an improvement over what was there or not there. Christians now have to reimagine new solutions.

9.       Once a criminal. Always a criminal. Need it be so? The criminal is taught in no uncertain manner he is a criminal (mostly ‘he’ as 85% of prisoners are males and mostly 18 – 30) – from the trial to sentencing, to prison, to return to society. There should be an effort to rehabilitate people. In France the prisoner is given a certificate. It could be imagined as a rebaptism – a washing clean, a ceremony in public acknowledging the person has served their time and repaid their debt to society. Do Friends have a role here?

10.   Big is bad. We know that generally holds for almost every everything. It certainly applies to prisons. Big prisons are more impersonal and give rise to bigger security risks.

11.   Local is good. Nearly all the experts agree that having prisoners near home and family is a good thing for prisoners and improves their chances of not reoffending.

12.   Private or public? There are arguments for both. However the real problem is that prisons have become an industry and ‘market speak’ has become commonplace. It suits the market that there are more people in prison serving longer sentences. Think of the prisons as hotels and you get the idea – higher occupancy and longer stay give rise to higher profits. The good of society or the prisoners does not fit into the equation.

13.   In a refreshing improvement in the UK they encouraged police to be judged not on the many young people they managed to get into prison but on the many they kept out. Clearly politics has a lot to do with it.

14.   Society is to  blame. In a sense, as readers we get the papers we buy and as voters the politicians we elect – and so in a sense we get the prisons we deserve. Society needs to change if prisons are to change.

15.   Do people want protection or punishment? Glib media coverage might suggest punishment while more in depth studies show that the public want protection. Be careful of what surveys tell you. Who is funding and directing studies and what financial interest do they have in the outcomes?

16.   The Judiciary. On one hand they have a hard job. They can only implement the laws that exist. That said they do have a fair amount of discretion. They are not helped by a sensationalist press that is right wing and plays on public fears. On the other hand the judiciary are often seen as living in their own little world.

17.   Nearly all of the experts world-wide agree that prisons in general are not working and the problem is getting worse. Solution? We need to reimagine prisons. It is not a matter of tinkering at the edges but reforming from the centre. Have we the social and political courage?

18.   Restorative justice. This theme close to Quaker hearts got mention on the third day. We met some excellent volunteers from U Casadh ( as in U-turn) and Treo based down the country. They help with prisoners especially on release which is a time of huge challenges for the prisoner. Many prisoners leave prison with the clothes uncleaned since they  entered,  with only  the price of a bus fare into the centre of a city which may not be theirs, often homeless, often suffering from mental health issues and often exposed to the only life available – a life of continued crime.

19.   A memorable quote ‘ the only social service in Ireland for which there is no waiting list is the Irish prison system’….

Where next? I met a charismatic retired couple – I and D who run activities in prisons including a book club and  I gave them my details. Let’s see what develops. I will keep an eye on the excellent charities of U Casadh and Treo also.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dear Mother Earth, Dear me.

What right have we
To screw the world?
And leave it waste
For other beings
Those yet to come
And those aborted
By our blind and senseless

Come nurture, harbor
And restore
Create, enhance, enrapture,
And safeguard.

Living less that others
Get the chance
To live at all.
Wasting less and leaving more
Why not toil to keep this world ?

One of millions
Yet the only one
That's home and core
To man and God
As best we know.

It's worth the candle
Let's trim the wick
Light up the world
For slow and quick.

We do not own
We simply borrow
A day, a breath
A house, a home.
Children come
And parents go.

The grave or cask
Our resting place
No rent or rates
Water charges or council tax
No views to sea
No noisy neighbors
Just the quiet chill
Of serenity
In the cypress bound
Local cemetery.

We work and toil.
We bake and boil
No word with love
Ever lost or stolen