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Recently, I discovered a young Irish singer-songwriter, named Lisa Hannigan. She was born the year before Anton, so I would guess I am a bit late in finding her and that she is pretty well known to a younger audience, at least in Ireland if not in the States yet. Her music falls under the label “folk, indie”, which is right up my alley – ‘old’ Joni Mitchell fan that I am! Lisa spent several years performing with Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice, but then struck out on her own in 2008 with her solo debut CD, Sea Saw. Her voice is ethereal and floats like a cloud, but somehow her sound is strong and not overly ‘sweet’. Anyway, here for your enjoyment is a very cool video, which was filmed in a pub in Dingle!


I drove home last night while the skies were in the process of dumping 4-5 inches of snow on the Chicago area in a matter of about 2 hours. My trip home from Irish language class on Chicago’s north side, which should have taken roughly 30 minutes, instead was nearly an hour and a half! White knuckled, I crawled home at a speed hovering around 20 mph on expressways jammed with an unusually large number of cars for the 9:30-11 p.m. time span. Because the snow was coming down all at once, plows had not yet had the chance to even begin to clear streets. Between the huge snow flakes falling, blowing sideways and looking like thick fog – making visibility beyond two car lengths nearly impossible – and the snow piling up in huge amounts on the pavement, cars just crawled along, some unable to grip the road and swimming along like fish traveling up a stream. A few vehicles sat in ditches at the side of the road as reminders that it is paramount to adjust one’s speed to the conditions.

Like I’ve said in earlier posts, the snow is beautiful, and even last night its beauty wasn’t lost on me. However, driving in it was a challenge at best, dangerous at worst, and I am now officially quite ready for winter to end! I’m sure Declan feels the same, considering he shoveled the driveway twice last night and again this morning. And just to add insult to injury, along with the brutal weather in Chicago comes an excellent system of snow removal, so yet again, Eoin trudged off to school disappointed that he did not have a snow day off!

daffodils courtesy Google

Meanwhile, I hear the daffodils have already popped up in Ireland. Soon their bright yellow faces will be lining the motorways. Longingly, I think of our trip in March to County Clare… only 30 days to go, but who’s counting?!

Sr. Bernardine- photo by John Kelly courtesy of "The Clare Champion"

I just love seeing nuns… sort of like I love touring old churches – even though I’m not particularly fond of actually attending church! There is something ‘Old World’ about the sight of these entities and something enticing about ancient tradition, either religious or not. Being around devout people and spiritual places can transport a person out of the routine of modern life.

There are a group of nuns who make part of their living in my town running espresso stands in our local library and train depot. This particular order of nuns dress from head to toe, in a habit that makes these very young women seem like apparitions from Medieval Europe. When my son was between apartments and back home with us for a month last summer, I think buying his morning coffee from the nuns at the train station was a highlight of his day because it took him outside of the morning rush hour and gave him the feeling, for a brief time each morning, that he was coming into contact with a different world. And I must admit to purchasing a few mochas at the library just for the opportunity to interact with these “strange” creatures. My curiosity and slight fascination with nuns, probably springs from the fact that I am not a Roman Catholic, therefore I have minimal experience with them or knowledge about them, and carry no nun-related baggage. In any case, this photograph of Sister Bernardine Meskell, mother abbess of the Poor Clare Monastery in Ennis, grabbed my attention while I was glancing through The Clare Champion newspaper online yesterday. Happily, the article attached to the photo gave me an excuse to include the photo here!

The Clare Champion is a County Clare newspaper, which I have linked to my desktop, so that I may browse through it now and then to see what is going on in the Rose Cottage neck of the woods. Most of the articles in the paper are not very interesting to me at the moment, since I am not attuned to the local issues. However, now and then a photo or article will entice me to read past the title, which is what happened when I beheld Sister Bernardine standing there with her umbrella and jolly smile! The purpose of the article was to announce the launching of an interesting new book entitled, Salty Faces and Ferocious Appetites – A tapestry of stories from a Seaside School, written to mark the founding, 80 years ago, of St. Joseph’s Secondary School in County Clare’s Spanish Point. The reason for the Sister’s prominence in the article is that she not only was a student of the school from 1958 to 1963, but the book’s title comes from a story she relates within the book about her years as a boarder at St. Joseph’s. The article, for the most part, quotes her story. Sister Bernardine begins,

“The sea was magic… I particularly loved the rough winter waves and those walks by the White Strand or down the Racecourse Road coming back with salty faces and ferocious appetites. A winding trail of maroon with a hint of blue regularly moved with the coast road. I still cherish the memory of those school walks. Water always held something special for me, even the rain. During the school term in Spanish Point there was plenty of both sea and rain.”

Following this enchanting beginning to Sister Bernardine’s story, the article goes on to give her recollections, described in vivid detail and with the same joyful tone as her smiling photograph portrays, about her experiences at the school, the friends she made there, the nuns who taught her and the story of what put her on the path of becoming a Poor Clare nun. Along with the reminiscences of Sister Bernardine, another 38 former pupils and teachers are featured in this book, which celebrates the many years of St. Joseph’s Secondary School. Salty Faces and Ferocious Appetites promises to not only paint a detailed picture of this one-time boarding school, but should also give interesting historical insight into a time past in County Clare, and in Irish education in general. Needless to say, this is a book I will be on a quest for, during my next trip to County Clare!

Nicholas Mosse "Assorted Landscape" butter dish - photo courtesy

For the most part I am a pretty reasonable, logical thinker – that is, unless emotion gets in the way! This can happen with big things, but most often it comes into play over smaller issues, like when I bought a third pair of boots last October, which I simply had to have because they made me feel 10 years younger when I put them on – or maybe it was two inches taller. I really can’t remember now. Another example of emotion trumping logic, would be my drive this morning to Andersonville in Chicago to enjoy the much-anticipated, weekly morning tea time with my daughter at Kopi – even though she had to be at the Theatre School extra early on this particular Thursday morning, leaving us a bit stressed for time. Logic would have told me to skip it this week and wait for a less hectic day, but emotion ruled the day and I gladly refused to miss out on the fun with Kate.

Recently, I made one of these seemingly logic-free and purely emotional decisions with the purchase of an over-priced, yet charming, “Assorted Landscape” butter dish from the Nicholas Mosse Pottery Studio based in Kilkenny, Ireland. On the surface this was a completely illogical thing to do, considering I had it shipped to my home in the U.S. …  only to have to pack it up again so that I can carry it back to Ireland when I make the trip to Kilkee in late March! And, if for some reason you don’t think this decision lacks logic, just ask Declan and he will set you straight. After hearing my explanation for why I would do such a thing he was incredulous to say the least. He simply could not get his mind around it! But at the end of the day, Declan will realize how much better his morning tea and toast will taste in Rose Cottage, with the butter coming from this particular butter dish – as it sits upon our kitchen table next to the Nicholas Mosse “Landscape Cow” milk pitcher and “Landscape Sheep” sugar bowl, which I already owned and will also be bringing with us to Ireland in March.

The emotional aspect of this purchase comes from our current absence from the cottage and my strong need to make it mine, and make it cozy, comfortable and welcoming – yet being unable to do much of anything from this distance. These emotions convinced me that Rose Cottage can only be ours, when the kitchen holds a Brown Betty teapot and this little assortment of country-inspired, Irish-made pottery!

So, logical or not, silly or not, an expensive – yet charmingly quaint – butter dish has made its way across the pond to the States, only to be immediately prepared for its trip back home again in a few weeks. Sometimes a person just has to go with what feels right. Besides, without deferring to emotion every once in a while – life would be a very dull affair!

Pancakes - courtesy Google

The day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, is known as Pancake Tuesday in Ireland. So, while those in New Orleans were reveling at Mardi Gras today, folks in Ireland were ‘feasting’ on pancakes.

With strict religious traditions followed in the past, abstaining from eggs, fat and butter during Lent was required, so these products were used up on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in a feast, which in Ireland included pancakes. On Pancake Tuesday in the old days, families would sit around a fire, often fueled with the addition of holly from Christmas, where they baked the pancakes. The honor of making the first pancake was usually awarded to the eldest, unmarried daughter. It was said that if she was able to flip the pancake and it landed neatly back in the pan, she would be married within the year! If the toss were unsuccessful, she would remain single. I’m sure there were a few ‘first pancakes’ purposefully flipped over the side of the pan into a bit of a mess… as well as, a few lovingly flipped with practiced expertise!

These days Pancake Tuesday is a nod to tradition and fun way to have something a bit different for dinner, and in Ireland, pancakes are rarely seen except for on this day. With the exception of a few tourist places, breakfast in Ireland does not include pancakes. Apparently, the Irish find the American taste for pancakes at breakfast and throughout the year… along with our restaurants almost entirely dedicated to pancakes, a bit of a curiosity and uniquely American. In fact, when we have had Irish visitors over on holiday, bringing them to a local pancake restaurant, or pancake house, has become a part of their sight-seeing and the American experience!

The year I lived in Ireland was the first I had ever heard of Pancake Tuesday. To me it was a great excuse for an easy dinner, as well as, a fun opportunity to take part in the local culture. So, on Pancake Tuesday of 2002 in County Kildare I made a huge, American sized stack of pancakes for dinner. Kate was thrilled to be having pancakes! Declan looked a bit confused. Why had I made so many pancakes? I just shrugged and told him pancakes always come in stacks, besides it’s our dinner. When he then told me that usually dinner on Pancake Tuesday included pancakes – but also consisted of other food items, such as meat and vegetables and that the pancakes were more of a dessert… I felt a bit like the befuddled foreigner again. However, we ate the stack of pancakes, with maple syrup, and they were delicious! And what’s more, they reminded Kate and me of home.

Tonight I served pancakes of a sort for dinner. Potato pancakes – with applesauce on the side. I’m not sure if they count as Pancake Tuesday pancakes, but somehow being in the U.S., having a stack of traditional pancakes with dinner felt a bit odd and too much like breakfast. However, had I found the following recipe before today, I may have made it instead – though vegetarian that I am, the bacon would have either been omitted or cooked separately on the side. Here is a recipe for Guinness Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and Cheese, courtesy of the Irish Culture and Customs website:


5 oz. plain flour

1 tsp. baking powder

2 eggs

9 fl. oz. Guinness (approx.)

1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

1 T. vegetable oil

For the topping:

4-6 rashers of dry-cured bacon

knob/pat of butter*

1 T. vegetable oil*

4 heaping T. grated sharp mature cheddar

2 T. chopped fresh herbs (i.e. chives, parsley, basil)


1. Mix the flour, baking powder, eggs and thyme with enough Guinness to create a thick-ish batter.

2. Heat a little oil in a large, flat non-stick frying pan. When the oil is almost smoking pour in 2-3 ladles full of the batter.

3. Cook over a medium heat until bubbles appear on the surface and the underside is brown (3-5 mins). Turn over and brown the other side. Continue until you have 8-10 pancakes. Keep warm.

4. Fry the bacon with a little butter and oil until crisp. (* My note: I don’t think American bacon needs the addition of oil and butter!) Mix together the cheese and chopped herbs.

5. Arrange the pancakes on a warm plate, scatter with the cheese mixture and top with the hot bacon. Serve at once.

Perhaps next year a few of us will observe Pancake Tuesday with Guinness Pancakes!

Just for a bit of fun I’m dropping in a link to the song by Bagatelle that I mentioned in my last post. Along with the song, the video has some great photos of Dublin. Enjoy!

The Liffey in Dublin - photo courtesy Wikipedia

Last Thursday a flamingo “flew the coop” in an escape from Dublin Zoo and ended up swimming in the grey-green waters of the Liffey!

The River Liffey in Dublin may bring to mind author Brendan Behan’s description of its smell in Confessions of an Irish Rebel, when he wrote, “Somebody once said that ‘Joyce has made of this river the Ganges of the literary world,’ but sometimes the smell of the Ganges of the literary world is not all that literary.” Or, more likely, the river brings to mind words from the well-known Dublin song by Bagatelle, “Summer in Dublin”:

I remember that summer in Dublin,

And the Liffey as it stank like hell,

And the young people walking on Grafton Street,

Everyone looking so well.

I’ve heard all manner of insult directed at this river, which flows through Dublin dividing the city into its North and South neighborhoods. I’ve heard it described as a ‘sewer’, as in the nickname given the monument to the personification of the Liffey, Anna Livia, which once graced O’Connell Street. Rarely referred to by its proper name, this sculpture depicting a woman with long flowing hair lounging on a rock with water flowing past her, was most commonly called “The Whore in the Sewer” – with ‘whore’ pronounced ‘hoo-er’ to rhyme with ‘sewer’. When a millennium countdown clock was placed in the river, it provided Dubliners with yet another opportunity to mock the Liffey, with their immediate label of, “The Time in the Slime”. Living up to its name, the clock actually did have to be prematurely removed from the river due to slime making it unreadable and its continual need for cleaning rendering it economically impractical!

However, since I have been visiting Dublin, the Liffey has never seemed particularly dirty to me nor have I noticed a bad odor emanating from it. I surely would have noticed slime and smell the day Eoin, a toddler at the time, and I walked across and along the Liffey a half dozen times… repeating a trek first north across the Ha’Penny Bridge, then back south across O’Connell Bridge, in an attempt to keep Eoin happy with a bit of distraction during a long day of shopping in Dublin’s City Centre! Had there been a smell the likes of the Bagatelle song, we could not have repeated that path as many times as we did that day! So, in recent years, Dublin has done a good job of cleaning and improving its portion of the river.

In any event, last week an 11-year-old flamingo male thought the river nice enough to risk leaving its flock at the zoo in order to taste freedom and a bit of Liffey water, until it was finally captured early Friday – and returned safely to the zoo to tell the tale to its less adventurous flamingo friends. What a sight that must have been to look down at the river and see an exotic pink Chilean flamingo mingling with the lovely white Liffey swans!

The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims from

Several years ago I read a delightful memoir that took 25 years to write. Last of the Donkey Pilgrims, by Kevin O’Hara, tells the story of the author’s mad decision, as a young man, to trek around the entire coastline of Ireland, traveling on foot with his donkey named Missy, pulling a cart. Poor Kevin was on foot, in part, because he is a softhearted man who couldn’t bring himself to force this very stubborn, temperamental creature to carry him along with all his gear but also, because he wanted to make the trip in the span of a year and Missy would have none of it unless he walked beside her!

In 1979, Kevin O’Hara was a restless man, dealing with the emotional impact of the horrors he had witnessed during his time spent serving in Vietnam and looking for a way to move forward in his life.  An Irish-American who had a life-long loving relationship with the West of Ireland, his Irish granny and other relatives and friends there, he had a yearning to connect with the land of his roots in a way he felt he could only accomplish by traveling slowly, in the old style of donkey and cart, which by that time was a rarely seen spectacle. He knew the old ways of Ireland would soon be a thing of the past and wanted to experience the country and its people fully before the changes already taking place, were complete. Through Mr. O’Hara’s recollections of his adventure, we get a glimpse of a time now past in a land where doors would still open for a stranger with a story to tell.

The first few chapters describe the decision making process, preparation for the long, demanding trip – which included purchasing and learning how to care for Missy – and the bemused reaction of the locals to the idea of this American traveling with a donkey and cart around their country! However, for me the book really took off after Kevin bid Granny farewell and began the yearlong excursion with Missy along the highways and winding boreens, bóithríní, of Ireland. Once the trek begins, we are treated to the characters and scenery of an adventure, which was physically challenging, sometimes quite dangerous, very often hilarious and contained moments of spiritual insight. For the author, it became a life changing, character-building journey that brought joy back into his life. Readers are provided soulful and vivid descriptions of the passing countryside and its inhabitants from the viewpoint of a person enthralled with the land of his ancestry. A master storyteller, Mr. O’Hara’s often self-deprecating sense of humor, dry wit and vast appreciation of detail, provides wonderful anecdotes about the landscape, characters and the sometimes-awkward incidents, which occur along the way.

A favorite anecdote for me came from Kevin’s unusual opportunity to spend some time along the route with a group of Travelers, or Tinkers. This experience, along with the author’s interpretation, gives readers a rare glimpse into an often misunderstood and disparaged culture. Another gem in the book occurred during a late night hike ‘home’ from a pub through a rural field, were he stumbled (almost literally) upon an elderly woman laying in the grass, gazing up at the night sky and praying the rosary by using the stars as rosary beads, the way she was taught by her parents as a small child many years past. That chance meeting, followed by her send off of, “Slán abhaile agus oíche mhaith”, safe home and good night, was haunting and magical. Along with these incidents and many others, an important and poignant thread throughout Kevin’s journey was his evolving relationship with Missy, his donkey, which begins a bit shaky, but grows much deeper as they develop a mutual bond of coexistence and reliance upon each other. All in all, Kevin O’Hara comes across, as a very sensitive, spiritual man who brings these events, and characters to life in a way that stayed with me long after the book was finished.

A Lucky Irish Lad

I am very happy to learn that Kevin O’Hara’s second book, A Lucky Irish Lad, is due to be released this month and can now be ordered through Amazon. To experience a bit of Mr. O’Hara’s wonderful storytelling talents go to his website at, If you click on “Events” you will be provided with audio of the author telling four wonderful stories from his childhood.

If you read my last post you know I was up drinking tea and writing in my blog early this morning… from about 3:15 a.m. until after 4 a.m. While sitting at the computer I suddenly felt the house shake and heard a ‘boom’ sound. This was not just the usual wind clattering the windows, I actually moved in my chair and felt my feet moving on the floor. At the time the only explanation I could come up with was that our snow storm had turned into a blizzard and the wind had kicked up a notch, after all, this is Chicago not LA! However, much to my surprise, my son just informed me that at 4 a.m. this morning we had a 3.8 earthquake, with the epicenter 50 miles northwest of Chicago. It’s the first one I’ve ever felt, and hopefully it’s the last!

Chicago's "Bean" covered with snow - photo by Sharon Hicks Bartlett

There is about a foot of snow piled in a neat stack on the railing around the deck in my back yard… or as my husband refers to it, the back garden, which sounds much nicer than it actually looks most of the time. Poor Declan was out there a good portion of last night fueling up the snow blower and trying to keep up with the incessant snow, which didn’t really look like much coming down, but quietly kept coming and piling up throughout Monday night and all of Tuesday. Usually, I get out there and do a bit of shoveling during the day, but I have a nasty cold and could not bring myself to venture outside any more than absolutely necessary yesterday. My cold is also why I am up drinking Sleepytime Tea with honey and lemon and blogging at 3am! I rarely get sick, knock on wood, so when I do, it comes as a bit of a surprise and I don’t cope very well.

The first thing Declan did when he moved to the States… well no, actually he did it when he first applied for his U.S. VISA… was purchase a snow blower! Irishman that he is, Chicago snow and cold were a bit of a shock to him. He quit smoking, for awhile, after spending just one week here with us in February of 2001 when my daughter was in the hospital for a surgery. Being forced to stand outside the hospital doors for a week with the other smokers in the frigid cold of that particular February worked as well as any nicotine gum! When he was finally allowed his VISA and moved here to join us, it was another extremely bitter, cold winter. He arrived just after Christmas and was a bit surprised at my gift to him. Holding up the big, white, hooded Eddie Bauer parka he exclaimed, “Where did I move to, the North Pole?!” Later, he would tell his friends “back home” who wonder at our extreme temperatures, how his parka keeps him warm enough, but his legs are always freezing! (In the summer he likes to tell the folks back in Ireland that he comes into the house to cool off in air conditioning set to the same temperature they’re complaining of as “hot” over there!) Also, that first winter he eventually had to give in and switch from scraping the ice from his car windshield every morning with a credit card, to conforming and using an ice scraper like the rest of us!

My time spent living in Ireland was a weather adjustment for me as well, but quite different. I remember that I pretty much wore the same jacket, either layered or not, throughout the entire year! That year in Ireland I hardly remember an actual season. I do remember one particularly lovely day in October though. It was a bank holiday (a wonderful European invention the US could use a bit of) so Declan, Kate and I drove out to the West for the weekend. I have photos of us at the Cliffs of Moher with sweaters tied around our waists and wearing sunglasses. But I also remember that following summer, suddenly realizing one day while visiting my mother-in-law in Dublin that… hey, it’s the middle of July and I’m still wrapped in a sweater, shivering in front of the fireplace… I guess this is summer! I learned that year that while Chicago experiences the seasons with extreme changes in temperature, Ireland experiences the seasons with much more extreme changes in light. The days become very short in the winter and grow to a lovely length in the summer, when the night never goes completely black. But sometimes it’s not so easy to tell the season by the temperature.

I don’t know that either place is better or worse when it comes to weather; they’re just very different. However, my husband’s alarm clock is set to wake him up early this morning so he can bundle up and tackle that driveway before work, so, I would say his adjustment to Chicago weather has taken a bit more resolve and strength of character than I had to muster for Ireland! So, cheers Declan, maybe you can think of this when you’re back in Ireland complaining of the rain!



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