It has been a long time since I posted on this blog. Ironically, a blog about Ireland and about my journey of buying a house on Loop Head in County Clare, pretty much ended once I moved here! (It’s been so long in fact, that I don’t know the new WordPress format well enough to even figure out how to insert a photo!) But there is a logic in my absence. Partly, I’ve not felt as free to write about my experiences here because I now know many of the local people and to write about my day to day experiences and observations seems almost like an invasion of their privacy. Also, I would be afraid that my circular musings, which might seem interesting or funny to me, would insult someone I know. Another aspect of my lack of blogging is that writing blogs takes a certain amount of creativity and focus. Since I moved to Clare my lifeline to the people back home — my family and my friends and acquaintances there, has been Facebook. I post a lot of my photos there, often accompanied by pithy comments, in order to share a bit of my life and stay connected. This has been great for maintaining bonds, but it has also worked as a valve that allows just enough creative energy to escape to take the edge off and keep me from doing more. However, it is appropriate that I get back here and write a post, very likely the last one, inspired by Joni Mitchell’s return to the Newport Folk Festival after 53 years, because Joni Mitchell has been a inspiration and a kindred spirit companion to me for much of my life.

Like so many of Joni’s long-time fans, I cried through the videos of her performing the songs that have meant so much to me through the years. At first I thought the tears were about seeing Joni back on stage after the huge setback of a debilitating brain aneurysm in 2015. There was a sense of relief that she was ‘still on her feet’ combined with the poignancy of seeing someone you care about dealing with the effects of aging and illness. However, I’ve come to realize it was more than that.

Joni Mitchell has been a part of my life since my teenage years. She carried me through a lot of angst, joy, insecurities, fear and love. Her songs put words and melodies to what I was going through. They lifted me up when I was in the mood or in need of being lifted, and commiserated with me when I needed another soul on my side. The first year I was away at college I played “Blue” “Clouds” and “Court and Spark” everyday. Those albums gave me comfort and even boosted the creativity of an overwhelmed art major looking for inspiration. ‘Blue’ got me through — I just hope it didn’t ruin Joni for my roommate! 

Throughout my life Joni Mitchell has been a constant. There have been many other artists and genres grabbing my attention along the way, but whenever I had the need to reconnect with myself, I reached for Joni. And randomly, Joni would also reach out to me, through the car radio or a sound system in a store or restaurant, and pull me back to myself, giving me that burst of energy you get when you reconnect with your heart.

So this is why, when I saw a video of her singing “Both Sides Now” onstage at the Newport Folk Festival this past week, it felt like I was listening through my heart. And that’s where the tears came from. Joni Mitchell has accompanied us on our lives’ journeys with that song: from the wistful melody of a young girl who already felt she’d seen a lot of life, to the middle aged woman of substance and experience with a lower, slower singing voice backed up by an orchestra in 2000. And now, here is the elderly Joni, in her beret — who still doesn’t really know life at all, but is still on her feet and showing us the way to keep going, keep glowing, keep creating and keep rolling with the punches. And she did so with a powerful voice that transcended her physical challenges, and touched our hearts. It felt to me like Joni was telling us, yet again, ‘you don’t have to know life at all, just keep living it.’

In the spring of 1999 I made my first trip to Ireland. I was a young widow of six months making a pilgrimage to Doolin just to hear the music I loved so much — Irish Traditional. Traveling all alone, this was my first journey abroad, my first use of a passport, my first time renting a car on my own and even the first time I had ever stayed alone in a hotel and B&B. I spent two nights in Dublin where I made sure to visit the couple of sites that were important to me to see in person, and to go to a pub to drink my first Guinness in Ireland. The Guinness was great but I have to admit to feeling a bit awkward sitting alone in that pub. I remember there was a very nice woman bartender and she asked me what my plans were. When I told her I was driving to Doolin the next day to spend 8 days in West Clare she said, “You’ll like it better there, it’s beautiful and the people are so nice!”

The next day I picked up my rental car, a little Nissan Micra, and proceeded to drive on the wrong side of the road, sitting in the wrong side of the car, across the country with only a map and some basic directions given to me at the car rental. I had been somehow savvy enough to rent a car with an automatic transmission, something that is not a given here, and to wait to pick it up until I was heading straight out of Dublin into the countryside. This was in the days before the big motorways so driving across the country I had the opportunity to see the beauty of the countryside and to meander through every little town along the way. Driving on the wrong side of the road, in the wrong side of the car was scary in itself, but approaching my first ever roundabout was a challenge I had not anticipated. I had no clue what that sign with the circle and the little lines shooting out of it meant and I drove around in a circle at least twice before figuring out how to exit pointed in the right direction! In those days of no motorway, no GPS and very few cell phones, driving alone across a foreign land was a brave thing to do. At least for me, it took courage. It also took all day, but I finally made it. After getting my last set of directions from the tiny petrol station outside Doolin, I drove down a little road that headed straight into the mid point of town. When I came to a stop sign I sat a moment, trying to figure out whether to turn or go straight, surely looking confused, as I always do when I’m confused. I can’t hide it. Just then, an elderly man drove up next to me and said, “Janet?” It was Peter, one of the owners of the B&B I had booked! Being greeted by name as I entered Doolin made me feel very welcome and was taken to be a good omen. It turned out to be a great omen. 

I had come to Doolin for the traditional music, which was everything I had hoped it would be. But the surprise for me was the beauty of County Clare, which I discovered each day as I drove all over North Clare with its magnificent Burren, breathtaking Coast Road drive, ruins, artifacts and caves. I just followed my nose and a few recommendations I’d get along the way and had days of discovery and, being alone, a kind of traveling meditation. Then I’d go back to the B&B to get ready for the music each night in the three pubs that were there at the time — Gus O’Connor’s, McGann’s and McDermott’s. Every night there was magic in at least one of the pubs, my favorite two being O’Connor’s and McGann’s. I sat alone, but during those music sessions, it never felt awkward. 

My first visit to Ireland was like a dream I could never have planned. It was a pilgrimage, not a vacation, and I was mindful in every moment. I enjoyed the surprises each day and along the way, did some healing from the previous six months. West Clare energized me and gave me the confidence I needed to go forward in my life at that time. But I also have to admit to an undercurrent of loneliness and shyness throughout, when I had to push myself to just go out there each day and do it all on my own.  

On my last night in Doolin, an American woman stood up in O’Connor’s Pub and sang the John Prine classic, “Angel From Montgomery,” and in that moment all felt familiar and safe – as though a tiny part of America, one of its best parts, had come to sit with me awhile. Just as hearing my name spoken when I first arrived in Doolin felt like a welcome to Clare, the place that would eventually become my new home — hearing that song at the end of my first visit, felt like a call back home to America.

RIP John Prine, one of the best parts of America. Victim of Covid-19.

Here’s a link to that great John Prine ballad, “Angel From Montgomery”:

I’m a grandmother!

Will she call me Granny, or Grandma, or Nanna, or Gran — or Janet? I joked about that last one, Janet, when my kids asked me what I wanted her to call me and I pretended to not want to be labeled a grandma! But to be honest, as thrilled as I am to be a grandmother — the title itself does feel a little bit strange to me and I can’t seem to zero in on the one that fits. But whatever I decide, or she decides, I think the first time I hear her say it to me will be wonderful.

Charlotte River, or “Charlie” as her parents call her, was born to my daughter-in-law and eldest son on October 2nd. In a family brimming with September and October birthdays, she managed to land on a day that is all her own. This little girl is a miracle baby who, along with her parents, had to jump over many serious hurdles to arrive into the world, and we were all on pins and needles the whole journey. But arrive she did, all 9 pounds 1 ounce of her! And the joy she brings to our family is equalled by the gratitude we are all feeling right now.

However, this Granny/Grandma/Nanna/Gran lives in Ireland, a half a world away from Portland, Oregon where Charlotte resides. And although I was able to speak to her on a video phone call within a couple hours of her birth and got a thrill when she stopped crying for a moment to listen, I’ve had to satisfy my longing to meet and hold my granddaughter, by watching videos of her — over and over and over again! And while I look forward to being able to meet her in person when I travel there at the end of this month, waiting is very hard. But Charlotte River is worth the wait.

Love was a sandy riverbed

where The River Charlotte laid her head.

Through hostile terrain she made her way,

with odds not so good, she continued to stay.


Charlotte River knew her mind,

and her very own day was determined to find.

Though the dates of her people littered her path

She found her own, in the aftermath.


The River Charlotte arrived in the fall

to a beautiful hippy and a hipster so tall —

to teach them that miracles rarely are planned

and with her very own spirit she flooded their land.


Kilkee 8:19.jpg

I taught my children that there is an invisible, silver cord connecting our hearts to one another and that it stretches as far as it needs to stretch in order to keep us always connected, no matter how far apart we find ourselves. Back when I told them this, the furthest it was stretched was from home to wherever they happened to be going on a school field trip that day or to Grandma’s house for an overnight. They believed it then and I think it gave them comfort on those short journeys, which at that time seemed so long. They’re all grown up now, even my youngest will be 18 next Spring, and I’m pretty sure they think of that ‘silver cord’ as a nice metaphor for being in each other’s thoughts and hearts no matter where we are. What they probably don’t realize is that I was telling them something I truly believed at that time, and still believe. Literally.

We’re so far apart at the moment that the cord is proving to be as flexible and elastic as I imagined. Its elasticity was tested first, when they moved from Chicago to their new homes in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, and then stretched about double that when we moved here to West Clare. I know the cords are still intact because I often feel them tugging at me and I’m sure my children feel the tug too, at times when they’re not distracted by the concerns and excitement of their daily, youthful lives. What I didn’t know before that I am finding out now, is that those cords are also installed from our hearts to those of our grandchildren — even in the weeks and months before their birth. My first grandchild, a granddaughter, is due any day now and when I think of her I feel that familiar tugging and know that we are already connected as she floats above her parents’ heads, checking them out in all their angst and joy as they await her entrance into their world.

This move to West Clare on the Loop Head Peninsula has been a good one in most ways. But I’ve learned that nothing good is perfect. You just have to get on with it and have faith in your journey, trying to be as flexible as possible and remember to appreciate the gifts along the way. Hardest of all is the distance between me and my oldest two children and the challenges of keeping in touch on a daily, or at least weekly, basis to remain a part of each others’ lives, and arranging to be together as often as possible. Other difficulties have been my distance from very much missed friends and family and, less profoundly, adjusting to the many little differences in my day to day life that were not even on my radar — like a new way of cooking on my induction stove, the metric system and jumping through the ridiculous hoops of Irish drivers’ license regulations, to name a few. There have also been the disappointments — such as the modest retirement nest egg that we were hoping to build upon, being banjaxed as my husband spent 2 1/2 years struggling to find adequate, full-time work in a pretty remote setting.


However, the immeasurable benefits from living in this beautiful place cannot be taken lightly. Not least of which is watching my teenage son become adjusted to his new world, carry on in school, go to discos and even hold a summer job at the Diamond Rocks Cafe, where we spent so many pre-move summers enjoying the food, the cliff walk and the Pollock Holes when he was little! It has taken a couple of years, but our little cottage in the bog is feeling like the home it was not when we arrived. Although there’s a lot left to do, comforts and repairs have been adding up to make this into a home that lifts my spirit when I walk through the front door and as I sit in my favorite chair beside the wood stove on cold, wet days. I’ve taken to calling it “Bogview” lately, in a nod to all the Seaviews and Oceanviews around Clare – giving the bog its rightful credit for the subtle but breathtaking views it offers from both my front door and in the back. I watch the light change everything and run from minding dinner on the stove in order to capture its magic on my phone camera so I can share it on facebook with the people back in my old home, while at the same time sharing it with those people nearby who can never get enough of this beauty we are surrounded by. And from the bog I have only a short drive to be in the midst of the beautiful terrain of Loop Head with its stunning cliffs, crashing waves, dramatic open fields, castle ruin, lighthouses, cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys — and sandy beach where I can walk in peace during the “off” season!

But the greatest benefit I have received from the move to this place has been the opportunity to meet the interesting, warm, creative and intelligent people who live here. Daily interactions with strangers and acquaintances can be a unique and very mindful experience when it is with people from a culture that is different than the one a person has lived within their whole life and for me it often sparks a tingle of joy and appreciation similar to the reaction I would have after hearing good news. These daily interactions leave me feeling grateful and so lucky to be here. And they can come out of nowhere — from short chats with the postman who calls me by name, the man who brings our turf, and “neighbors” walking on our roads, to the strangers I am daily surrounded by who make an effort to catch my eye and say “how-ya” as we pass each other, in a manner from a time long gone in most places! And even more enriching has been the opportunity to get to know some wonderful people who I now consider friends and hope feel the same about me. I can’t imagine going through life having not known these people or having not experienced every conversation and laugh I could only have had with them.

All these warm interactions and all this beauty that surrounds me has a quiet undertone of longing for my children so far away, and now the additional longing for a granddaughter I won’t be able to see as much as I would like to. But life is full of surprises — and even blessings that are overcast by loneliness for those you wish were near, are still blessings to be acknowledged, savored and appreciated.


** Please forgive any spelling and grammar errors. It has been so long since my last post that I could not find Spell Check in the new format. But it’s a blog, not a novel so I decided to go ahead and post it anyway!

“Whee-BOOM!” was the magic onomatopoeia that helped my 2-year-old son cope with the sound of 4th of July fireworks that startled and scared him. Once I put a name to the sound, the fun of imitating the “whee-booms” replaced panic and crying. Thirty-four years later I still catch myself making that sound when I hear the whistle and explosion of fireworks and it makes me smile to recall the days of being a young mother experiencing this American holiday with my first-born.

For a large part of my life, celebrating Independence Day meant attending my Uncle Bud’s yearly picnic at his rural home about 40 miles outside of Chicago. Uncle Bud was my mother’s beloved twin brother and we always attended his picnics, whether we wanted to or not. For the most part I was happy to attend, especially in the early years. It was great to see family and friends, many of whom I probably wouldn’t see again until the next year. We would arrive to the aroma of ribs slathered with barbecue sauce sizzling on the huge grill that my uncle had, created from a steel drum cut in half and hinged to make a lid. It was a grill large enough to easily feed a crowd with little waiting time. Tables would be set up outside jam-packed with serving bowls of side dishes that all the moms brought to supplement the barbecued ribs, burgers and hot dogs. Many years of Uncle Bud’s 4th of July picnics have left me with a jumble of memories that cover a time span from my early teens to the era when I would arrive with my own side dish and young children in tow. Memories of my WWII veteran uncles arriving with American flags adhered to massive Buicks and Caddy’s, delicious food, volley ball games, the clink of horseshoes hitting steel stakes, music blaring, bottle rockets and bonfires. There is even a memory of a fight that included teenage boys, my mother and another adult woman who came as a guest. I still experience a twinge of anxiety recalling my fear as I watched people who had spent their day drinking alcohol, lighting bottle rockets in the field at nightfall. More enjoyable memories involve the yearly nighttime bonfires, when the Cocktail Generation would move their party into my uncle’s large country kitchen and the hippies and us younger teens would sit talking and laughing around the fire, remaining there as long as the mosquitos would allow.

My youngest son, Eoin, came along well past the years of “Uncle Bud’s picnic”. By then my older children had their own 4th of July plans and then eventually left for new homes in LA and Portland, Oregon. So our celebrations became small family barbecues followed by a drive to the nearest fireworks display. The only constant through the years being “whee-booms” and mosquitos.

Today I am living in a West Clare bog where the 4th of July is just another day. The only US flag around is on my teenage son’s bedroom wall and my adult son and daughter are celebrating the day on another West Coast, half a world away. There will be no fireworks here today but we’ll mark the US holiday with burgers grilled on a disposable barbecue grill purchased at SuperValu. This 4th of July is one of nostalgia. Nostalgia for celebrations of the past, for people far away and for those no longer with us. And there is also nostalgia for an America that feels very distant these days, both geographically and philosophically. Always my country, if no longer my home.


My son’s Irish bedroom decor.

PatrickThis is my version of an actual event that occurred during the short time since we moved to West Clare from the US. The narrative is presented through the eyes of my son, because it was his experience – but it is all my words and my perspective.


When I was a boy of 14, I carried my uncle up the stairs to his deathbed. My father and I had spent the morning traveling by train from Ennis to Dublin, followed by a bus ride to the north side neighborhood of Ballymun, to visit his brother who was recently home from the hospital. We didn’t know it then, but this was the last time my dad would see his baby brother. When we arrived my uncle was lying on the living room sofa. We learned that Patrick had been confined to the downstairs sofa since collapsing there a day or two earlier. Either there had been no one strong enough to carry him back to his bed upstairs, or else he had refused to be moved, I’m not sure which. But my uncle’s stubborn nature being legend, I think he would have been upstairs if that was where he wanted to be.

I barely knew my Uncle Patrick. Since I was 3 months old I had lived my life in a suburb of Chicago until only recently returning to live in Ireland, the place where I was born. Getting to know an uncle who lived across the Atlantic Ocean wouldn’t be easy for anyone, but was an impossibility for an introverted child of an introverted father.  However, we had managed through the years to visit him on enough occasions that I had a memory of him as the standing man he once was, before he became this bent and frail man on a sofa. I remembered him as a slightly smaller and thinner version of my father, who was his older brother by one year. A chain smoker with sharp, intelligent eyes, his head and shoulders slightly bent down, a foreshadow of what was to come. I could barely understand a word of his thick, north Dublin accent, which he acquired from living his entire adult life in Ballymun. In fact, he and his family could have been speaking French for all I understood when they were speaking fast and laughing in conversation. I was used to Irish accents alright, but my father’s different life from the time he had been my age, had left him with a softer, south Dublin accent mixed with some Mitchelstown he picked up from summers spent in Cork with his Uncle Declan’s family. What I did notice from listening to conversations, was that Patrick said a lot of funny things. He would talk and end sentences with words I rarely understood, but with a sly, humorous look that was usually followed by laughter from the people in the room. I didn’t get the impression of any silliness about the man though. I think it was more of a biting wit.

However, this day my uncle was obviously very uncomfortable and I don’t remember much, if any, banter and laughter. My dad and he were talking quietly. I was shocked to see him in such condition lying crumpled up on the sofa and I distracted myself by pushing a fork around a huge plate of stew that had been set before me as soon as we arrived, by Patrick’s long time partner Mabel, whose accent I understood even less than that of my uncle.

In the middle of their conversation, I heard Patrick say, “So Eoin, how are you getting on at school? Your dad tells me you play basketball, does your school have a basketball team?”

“It’s OK. Yeah, they started a new basketball team when I came.” At the time I just looked up from my stew and shyly answered my uncle’s questions without thinking much about it. But knowing what I know now, I realize that his questions showed me a bit of the measure of the man.  In all his pain and discomfort, and only hours from his death, he took the time to ask me about my life. He even remembered details I didn’t think he knew, or certainly didn’t think he would care about. In this small exchange I got to know him in a way that I hadn’t in all the years previous.

It was a long train ride to Dublin from our West Clare home, but the visit in the house in Ballymun lasted little more than an hour. Sensing how tired his brother was getting, my dad finally took a deep breath and said, “Well we should get going and let you have a rest, but we’ll be back soon. I hope you start feeling better Patrick.”

Next, to my surprise and not sure if I had understood him properly, Patrick asked my dad if he would mind carrying him up to his bed before we left. The idea of an adult being so sick that they needed to be carried to bed was a shock to me. But even more than this, I thought, “How is Dad going to manage it?” This I found out quick enough. As my father awkwardly maneuvered himself behind his brother’s back, hooking his arms under Patrick’s and lifting his upper body to a sitting position he said, “Eoin, take Patrick’s legs and follow as I go up the stairs.” My instinct was to freeze and say no, but the afternoon being full of surprises, I just did as I was asked without complaint or hesitation. Together, my father and I carried his brother, my uncle, up the stairs and laid him as gently as possible into his bed. The lightness of his frail body surprised me and I worried the whole way up that we were hurting him.

The next morning I awoke in my own bed. The train ride from Dublin back to Clare the night before was much longer than the visit in Ballymun had been — although the stew I had to force myself to eat (I don’t like stew), had made the time there seem longer. Sometime around mid morning that day my dad made a phone call to see how Patrick was doing. I wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation until I noticed that he was crying. He had just been told that his brother died that morning, only shortly before his call. This was the first time I ever saw my father cry. It was also the first time I had heard about someone dying, that I felt like crying too.


Keating’s Bar & Restaurant at the Kilbaha pier.

Our first Easter as residents of Lisheen, Kilkee, County Clare, Ireland – on the Loop Head Peninsula, began with a Sunrise Easter Mass at the pier in Kilbaha, the remote, last stop village before reaching Loop Head and the light house. Mass began in the dark, at 5:40 a.m. to be exact, and ended in the light. The between time had the waves of the Shannon Estuary lapping against the shore, song birds waking up, prayers and poetry. And as we walked back to our car in the morning light, a herd of cows was gathered along a wall at the roadside observing the strange morning event, as though they were wondering what all the fuss was about!


Bishop’s Island

Any of the three main routes home from this enchanted spot on the Peninsula is a pleasure to drive, each with its own personality. But on Easter morning we chose the most dramatic route, the western coastal road with its magnificent cliffs that rise up from the Atlantic Ocean and thrill at every turn with stunning scenery that still takes my breath away, though I’ve driven it many times now. I may no longer be surprised by the view, but the raw, wild energy is always present and the ever-changing weather and light of West Clare creates a new beauty that still amazes me every time I journey along this road. This particular morning it was cloudy and grey with a slight mist hanging in the air. A ‘soft day’. Soft where we were anyway, but down below it was anything but soft, with white waves crashing, thunder against sharp rock and who knows what wild creatures hidden from view. Quite a contrast to the softer waves of the Shannon Estuary that played in the background of the sunrise mass we had just attended. Our peace was shaken but we were now awake and energized to face the day ahead and even pushed along to face our future, as life in West Clare moves forward for us with its many delights, and not to be ignored challenges.

In September of 2016 our cottage retreat became our full-time home.


Our first Easter in our cottage home.

All is quiet today and the sky is bright above my Chicago suburb. No more sounds of plows in the streets as they try to keep up with a blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow on us. No more scraping of shovels or drone of snowblowers going up and down driveways every couple of hours.

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

The snow has stopped and the streets and driveways are as clear as they’re going to get. But with this storm’s one-two punch a brutal cold has settled in that explains the silence. As I type this it is -16 degrees Fahrenheit outside (negative 26.6 ºC)! And this does not tell the story of our windchill, which is much colder and describes how the air actually feels as these brutal temperatures, in the form of wind, hit your body. I haven’t heard a car pass by on the street for hours because those who can, are staying inside their homes. The local schools are closed and even my husband’s employer told him to stay home today, a phenomenon in itself! The birds are silent as though trying to go unnoticed by this biting cold and the squirrels that live in the two trees on my parkway are nowhere in sight. Hopefully, they’re snuggled up close together keeping as warm as possible. We only venture outside to walk our dog, who we dress in a coat with a turtleneck sweater underneath. Even wearing this get-up, he comes back inside shivering, feet frozen and  tiny snowballs clinging to his fuzzy fur. Seán is a Bichon Frise and not made for this weather.

Meanwhile, it is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Ireland. But, a milder temperature does not mean that Mother Nature is taking it easy on them. Lashing rain and 120 km/h winds have wreaked havoc with damaging waves and floods along the coast and across the country from storms that have come repeatedly since before Christmas.

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Tides rise and huge waves explode against the shores of the Loop Head Peninsula and all along the coastline taking down sections of stone walls, washing over roads and flooding promenades. The howl of gale-force wind and the thunder of 40 – 60 foot waves would be invigorating and exciting to witness if it were not so destructive. I imagine the local people snug inside their homes having battened down the hatches, hoping for the best and afraid to venture out to see the damage each time it quiets down between storms.

Storm damage in Kilbaha, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Storm damage in Carrigaholt on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

My house on the Loop Head Peninsula just outside Kilkee is inland enough that the waves themselves can’t reach it, but with wind like that and the lashing rain, I am preoccupied with concern for its wellbeing. A huge weight lifted  from my shoulders when we received an email from the local man who checks on the house for us. Reading the words, “You’ll be glad to know that Teach de Búrca stands proud with no damage done to it or any of the outbuildings,” was such a great relief that I felt a surge of optimism and a special warmth for my little Irish house as it continued to brave the storms.

So here I am surrounded by snow and cold so dangerous that I won’t be leaving the house today – not even for my mocha! The cabinet doors under the kitchen sink are open to allow heat to surround and protect the pipes from freezing as are the doors around water pipes in the basement. Curtains drawn and blinds closed through the night in an attempt to keep out drafts, are now open to allow the sun to magnify some heat through the windows. The furnace is on overtime doing its best to keep us warm, so far so good. I am here and I know what is happening and what I need to do. But since I’m not in my County Clare cottage, I can’t see for myself if all is well after each storm so I am haunted by phantom sounds of crashing waves, howling wind and the rattling of my red half-door.

Lahinch, Co. Clare Promenade photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy

Atlantic waves appear to swallow the promenade in Lahinch, Co. Clare, photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy

I’ve played a Damien Dempsey CD repeatedly throughout the holidays. In fact, it has been more the theme of my holiday season than the usual collection of Christmas CDs I unpack with the ornaments every year. My favorite track is, “School Days Over”. This version of the song is sung in a gritty, workingman’s voice that makes it easy to imagine a boy, barely a man, being called to work and facing the hard reality of his life. Although the song was written by Ewan MacColl and depicts the mines in England, Scotland and Wales, Dempsey sings it in a style that is unquestionably Irish. The lilt at the end of several lines throughout the song, tells us that the hard life of the laborer was as much a part of Irish culture as the more romantic and cozy things that resonate when we think of Ireland, like music in the pubs and strong, milky tea with brown bread.

Far from the streets of Dublin and the boreens of Loop Head, I woke up this morning to piles of snow on the ground and more falling from the sky. The Chicago area has been hammered by snow that seems to have been incessantly falling in varying degrees for nearly 48 hours. Declan was up early this morning with the snow blower and I with a shovel, trying to get a head start on the snow in the driveway, on the steps and in the dog’s pen in the backyard. After the shoveling and in spite of blizzard conditions, I still managed to drive to Elijah’s, my favorite coffee shop, for my morning mocha. It would take more than treacherous roads to keep me from my morning ritual of mocha, book reading and the occasional enjoyable interruptions of friendly banter with a couple of my favorite baristas and a few of the other regular customers who, like me, come in every morning.

It could have been the fiddle music playing on the speakers at Elijah’s this morning, or maybe just my obsessive Damien Dempsey exposure recently, but I spent the slow, white-knuckled drive home singing “School Days Over”. My weak imitation of Dempsey’s version of the song passed the time happily for me but didn’t bode well for Eoin when I arrived home. Seeing him still in his pajamas and playing on his iPad with all that snow piling up outside, I began singing my own, off the cuff, version of “School Days Over” urging him out the door to shovel the snow accumulating once again in the driveway. Lucky for Eoin it’s 2014, and aside from family chores, child labor laws are in place. His bit of shoveling didn’t take too long and was followed up by an hour or so of sledding with his friends on the little hill at the end of our street!

Come on then Eoin, it’s time to go.

Time to be shoveling all that snow…

Slug, Snail and Hurley

Slug, Snail and Hurley

A slug and a snail went riding on a hurley
one was rather pretty, the other fat and burly.

“Slug” asked Snail, “d’ ye loik hangin’ out wit me,
while dis lad has nuttin’ else to do, and no TV?”

Slug said nothing, just sighed and felt sublime
as he gazed around proudly at his trails of slime.

I tore Eoin away from his dazzling new Christmas iPad Mini with Retina Display so that he could reacquaint himself with his little buddies from County Clare and to see what he thought of the poem I wrote to go with the photo. He laughed after I explained what ‘sublime’ meant and read Snail’s comment with the Dublin accent I was trying to convey. (Although this was a West Clare snail, I settled for an approximation of a Dub accent I’m more familiar with.)

Eoin looked a bit wistful for a moment, remembering how he had amused himself at our cozy cottage in Clare by putting the snail and the slug on his hurley to see if they would race, or fight, or even react to each other.  This is the sort of thing a boy does when he is planted in the middle of the bog for two summer months with no TV and no iPad. After a moment Eoin trotted off, returning to the iPad and whatever game he most recently downloaded with his iTunes gift card… as I sat wistfully longing for a cottage in the bog with no television nor iPad in sight.




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January 2023