The Blue Panther

So many great memories of summers of fun and excitement – our heroes in blue. and now the poignancy of remembering one of the Dub’s greatest players and one of their most stalwart fans – both gone.

It was really sad to read this week about the passing of Anton O’Toole at the age of 68. This marks the first death among one of the most famous teams in GAA history.
Anton, or the Blue Panther as he was affectionately known by many supporters, won eight Leinster SFC medals – six in-a-row from 1974 to ‘79 as well as in 1983 and ‘84.

Jim was one of his greatest fans and one of the songs of the period – Fourteen on fourteen was off – was among Jim’s repertoire of party pieces.

Derek Warfield of Wolfe Tones fame penned the song following Dublin’s victory over Offaly in the 1979 Leinster football final. Despite Dublin player Jimmy Keaveny getting his marching orders, ‘the Dubs’ famously went on to claim victory with only Fourteen Men.

Am) And there was fourteen on fourteen was off,
(G) Jimmy on the sideline havin a gawk,
(Am) Heffo and the boys were working out a plan,
How to beat the Offaly lads (G) without the extra (Am) man.

On hill 16 they never gave up hope,
Without Jimmy Keavney the man they call the pope,
The last six minutes the hill was going mad,
While Offaly in the Hogan, they were looking very sad.

In the second half, Dublin should be proud,
They put it in the net twice to get the goal allowed,
The dubs may come, and dubs may go,
while history was made six lenister’s in a row.

And then came the goal, it came from centre-field,
Briany fists a tall ball down to Pat O’Neill,
Anton O’Toole’s pass I never will forget,
Bernard Brogan kicked a bomber, it landed in the net.

Heffo’s Army/The Jacks are Back written by Mick Swan and Daire Doyle (who also wrote Gallipoli for the Fureys) is another Dubs’ fan song of the time. It was a massive hit when released in the 1970’s, especially around Dublin. Interesting to listen to commentator Michael O’Hare through the song on You Tube.

The Jacks are back the Jacks are back, ok
Oh the Dubs are back the Dubs are back
Like the railway in ko-barmey ? I KNOW we used to sing “Let the Railway end go Barmy”
‘Cause hill 16 has never seen the likes
of Heffo’s Army.

We’ll be marching down from Ringsend,
And from Ballyfermot too.
From Eastwall and Marino,
To support the boys in Blue.
For 11 years we’ve waited
and there’s nothing left to prove
So lets here it now from Dublin
Heffo’s army’s on the loose.

The Jacks are back the Jacks are back, ok

The Jacks are back the Jacks are back, ok
Oh the Dubs are back the Dubs are back
“Let the Railway end go Barmy”
‘Cause hill 16 has never seen the likes
of Heffo’s Army.

We came marching out of Leinster,
But no one thought we would.
Then we smashed the mighty champions
When they said we never could.
For 11 years we’ve waited,
Now there’s nothing left to prove,
So let’s hear it now for Dublin
Heffo’s army’s on the loose.

The Jacks are back the Jacks are back, ok

Oh the Dubs are back the Dubs are back
“Let the Railway end go Barmy”
‘Cause hill 16 has never seen the likes
of Heffo’s Army.

So here’s to Heffo’s army
And to all the boys in Blue
When the odds were stacked against them
They knew just what to do
So let’s stay right behind them
Keep them on the winning track
With a mighty roar from Croker
Let them know the Jacks are back

Oh! the Dubs are back the Dubs are back
“Let the Railway end go Barmy”
‘Cause hill 16 has never seen the likes
of Heffo’s Army.

Notre Dame de Paris

1n 1976, Shay and I decided to take a longer than usual holiday in Europe. It proved to be a balancing act deciding about how and where to spend time and the amount of spending money we had at our disposal. (We were only a year married with a new mortgage!!!)


We left Dublin to travel by ferry to Liverpool with the promise of a truck ride to Portsmouth, boat again to San Sebastian (I can still remember the sea sickness!!!), sharing a car with an English couple through Zaragoza to Benidorm and then hitch-hiking with many stops back along the coast to Barcelona,. With money running out, our trip through France was fast and furious: a night in Lyon, a night in Paris before finding last lift to Cherbourg. There, thanks to me still having a student card, we were able to afford the ferry back to Rosslare.


With limited funds in Paris, we had to decide on ONE tourist attraction to visit, the others we could walk by and experience from outside. And Notre Dame Cathedral was the chosen venue!

I had seen Charles Laughton as Quasimodo swinging from the cathedral tower to rescue Esmerelda (Maureen O’Hara) from the gallows to take her back to “sanctuary” within the holy walls. The film was based on Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

In the novel, the heroine was eventually hanged, but Hugo’s real heroine, the cathedral had a far happier ending. The renewal of interest brought about by the famous book prompted a major restoration project of the crumbling Cathedral.

As I watched its destruction yesterday I realized how lucky I was: I chose Notre Dame in 1975 in preference to the many other iconic Parisian buildings.

Monday 15th April 2019: Notre Dame burns


I read today that the building of Notre Dame began in 1180 and was largely completed in the next 80 years. However work continued long after that: the tower was replaced in 1786. Over the centuries, the cathedral survived riots, revolutions, invaders, and occupations. Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned and later married there. When Paris was liberated after the Nazi occupation in 1944, the city celebrated a mass at Notre Dame.
Among the precious artworks, jewels, and relics stored inside were a (purported) piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified and the actual crown of thorns he wore. The crown was brought out for veneration on the first Friday of the month, and every Friday during Lent.


I’m not sure I knew any of this as we queued for hours in 1975 to visit the Cathedral. But I do remember it was worth it: the beautiful stained glass windows, the hundreds of steps to the top of the tower, the Pieta statue, the bells ringing. And after its destruction yesterday, I realize that nothing is here forever – take every chance you get to “do your bucket list”.


An article appeared today in the Los Angelus Tribune perhaps as a tribute to the Irish for St Patrick’s weekend, recommending five Irish poems.  While only a few lines of each poem are quoted, the article encouraged me to root out the poems in their entirety.

  1. Becoming Anne Bradstreet,” Eavan Boland

Irish poet and Stanford University professor Boland has won a prestigious Lannan Foundation Award in Poetry, and is one of her home country’s most recognized poets. In this poem, she describes reading the work of Anne Bradsteet, a 17th century English poet who lived in North America:

“At the source, at the end and whenever

The book lies open and I am again

An Irish poet watching an English woman

Become an American poet.”

Heaney, one of Ireland’s most loved poets, died in 2013; two years later, a poll conducted by Irish broadcaster RTÉ found this to be the country’s favorite poem.

Part of a sonnet cycle called “Clearances,” the poem is a reminiscence of a boy helping his mother in the kitchen:

“I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives—

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.”

The Northern Irish poet and playwright MacNeice grew up in Ireland and England, but the Irish capital city always held a special place in his heart. His poem “Dublin” is a nod to the city that “never was my town”:

“I was not born or bred

Nor schooled here and she will not

Have me alive or dead

But yet she holds my mind

With her seedy elegance,

With her gentle veils of rain…”

The Belfast-born, Dublin-educated Mahon is known for his structured, sometimes witty poems about life in Ireland. “Dawn at St. Patrick’s” deals with serious subject matter — the narrator is describing the week between Christmas and New Year’s in the mental hospital where he’s a patient:

“Light and sane

I shall walk down to the train,

into that world whose sanity we know,

like Swift to be a fiction and a show.

The clouds part, the rain ceases, the sun

casts now upon everyone

its ancient shadow.”

One of Ireland’s most enduring and beloved verses, Yeats’ poem was inspired by a small lake island in County Sligo that he visited as a child. The poem showcases Yeats’ desire for a simpler life, far from the cities where he spent much of his adulthood:

“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.”

“The Exiles Return, or Morning on the Irish coast”

Mam recited this poem at a number of talent competitons that were held between countymen’s associations – Uncle Pat was on the Wexfordmen’s Association Committee and he suggested mam for the recitation section. She always loved this poem as she said it reminded her of Granny and her joy returning to Ireland… I think that’s why I nearly always had to hold in the tears when she said it; as well as being very nervous that she would forget the words – I was chief prompter in first row – words up my sleeve!!!!

“The Exiles Return, or Morning on the Irish coast”[7]

D’anam chun De! but there it is—
The dawn on the hills of Ireland !
God’s angels lifting the night’s black veil
From the fair, sweet face of my sireland !
O, Ireland! isn’t grand you look—
Like a bride in her rich adornin !
With all the pent-up love of my heart
I bid you the top of the morning !

This one short hour pays lavishly back
For many a year of mourning;
I’d almost venture another flight,
There’s so much joy in returning—
Watching out for the hallowed shore,
All other attractions scornin;
O, Ireland! don’t you hear me shout?
I bid you the top o’ the morning!

O, kindly, generous Irish land,
So leal and fair and loving!
No wonder the wandering Celt should think
And dream of you in his roving.
The alien home may have gems and gold,
Shadows may never have gloomed it;
But the heart will sigh for the absent land
Where the love-light first illumed it

Ho, ho ! upon Cliodhna’s shelving strand
The surges are grandly beating,
And Kerry is pushing her headlands out
To give us the kindly greeting!
Into the shore the sea- birds fly
On pinions that know no drooping,
And out from the cliffs, with welcomes charged,
A million of waves come trooping.

For thirty Summers, a stoir mo chroidhe,
Those hills I now feast my eyes on
Ne’er met my vision save when they rose
Over memory’s dim horizon.
E’en so, ’twas grand and fair they seemed
In the landscape spread before me;
But dreams are dreams, and my eyes would open
To see a Texas’ sky still o’er me.

And doesn’t old Cobh look charming there
Watching the wild waves’ motion,
Leaning her back up against the hills,
And the tip of her toes in the ocean.
I wonder I don’t hear Shandon‘s bells—
Ah! maybe their chiming’s over,
For it’s many a year since I began
The life of a western rover.

Oh! often upon the Texas plains,
When the day and the chase were over,
My thoughts would fly o’er the weary wave,
And around this coastline hover;
And the prayer would rise that some future day-
All danger and doubting scorning—
I’d help to win for my native land
The light of young Liberty’s morning!

Now fuller and truer the shoreline shows—
Was ever a scene so splendid?
I feel the breath of the Munster breeze,
Thank God that my exile’s ended!
Old scenes, old songs, old friends again,
The vale and the cot I was born in—
O, Ireland, up from my heart of hearts
I bid you the top o’ the mornin!

Mam’s poetry

Mam loved poetry and yet it wasn’t until her later years that we realised her great talent as a reciter. The release of a film about Oscar Wilde reminded me of this particular poem. It was written by the Wexford lady, Jane Wilde, mother of Oscar Wilde who wrote many poems about Irish history always under the name, Esperenza.

Mam recited the poem on the steps of St Michans during the 1798 centenary celebrations. The brothers in the title were two Cork lads, Henry and John Shears who fought for the United Irishmen, were betryed, arrested, tried, and hanged drawn and quarterd before burial in St Michan’s. The lord Mayor of Cork heard mam’s recitiation and invited her recite it on the steps of the Shears home in Cork as part of their celebrations.

The Brothers – John and Henry Shear

(A scene from 1798)

Tis midnight, falls the lamp-light dull and sickly

On a pale and anxious crowd

Through the court, and round the judges, thronging thickly

With prayers none dare to speak aloud.

Two youth, two noble youths, stand prisoners at the bar-

You can see them through the gloom-

In pride of life and manhood’s beauty, there they are

Awaiting their death doom.

Before them shrinking, cowering, scarcely human

The base informer bends

Who, Judas-like, could sell the blood of true men

While he clasped their hands as friends.

Aye, could fondle the young children of his victim

Break bread with his young wife

At the moment that for gold his perjured dictum

Sold the husband’s and the father’s life.

There is silence in the midnight – eyes are keeping

Troubled watch till forth the jury come;

Ther is silence in the midnight – eyes are weeping-

“Guilty” is the fateful uttered doom.

For a moment o’er the brothers’ noble faces

Came a shadow sad to see;

Then silently they rose up in their places,

And embraced each other fervently.

But the youngest – oh, he spake out bold and clearly:

“I have no ties of children or of wife;

Let me die – but spare the brother who more dearly

Is loved by me than life”.

Pale martyrs, ye may cease, your days are numbered;

Next noon your sun of life goes down;

One day between the sentence and the scaffold-

One day between the torture and the crown.

Yet none spring forth their bonds to sever

Ah! Methinks had I been there,

I’d have dared a thousand deaths ere ever

The sword should touch their hair.

It falls! – there is a shriek of lamentation

From the weeping crowd around;

They’re stilled – the noblest hearts within the nation-

The noblest heads lie bleeding on the ground.

Years have [passed since that fatal scene of dying,

Yet, lifelike to this day.

In their coffins still those severed heads are lying,

Kept by angels from decay.

Oh! They preach to us, those still and pallid features-

Those pale lips yet implore us, from their graves,

To strive for birthright as God’s creatures,

Or die, if we can but live as slaves.

 Enjoy reading them with Pat – he gave mam many years of happiness involving her in the talent project! Tell him that I said that!!!

Some thoughts on travelling alone!

 “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” — Henry David Thoreau, author and poet

Image result for travelling alone

As I scour travel pages in the media recently, I notice an increase in the number of solo holiday advertisements. However, judging by the reaction I get to a planned solo trip, for many it is still seen as an intimidating, venture. Top concerns, I suppose, are language, getting lost, falling ill (especially as one gets older!) and safety. And yet the benefits of solo travel are extensive.

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” — Danny Kaye, actor

“Independence” (which I value so much) is enhanced by solo travelling and, without the support of a fellow traveler, I find I’m more likely to push myself and further my resilience. Although I live alone (most of the time), travelling alone forces me to step outside my comfort zone. Tailoring trips to cater entirely to my own level of mobility allows me to be less of conscious of what I can’t do and pushes me to greater levels of independence. Naturally I miss the support of friends and family and often suffer some panic before departure, However, the boost to confidence is immense. 

“Travel brings power and love back into your life.” — Rumi, poet and scholar

Image result for travelling alone

Traveling solo also requires me to challenge my need for others and experience and value just how helpful others can be. It’s amazing how far out of their way people will go when you request help — from simply “turning the map the right way round” to recommending places to visit and eat: looking for help makes it far more likely to develop friendships with locals or other tourists.

“As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.” — Robin S. Sharma, author and inspirational speaker

To Snowdrops by William Wordsworth

How amazing! Today’s the last day of 2018 and there’s already a little clump of snowdrops in bloom at the end of my garden. I feel I have to honour the ocassion by including a Wordsworth poem about this tiny flower.

Lone flower, hemmed in with snows, and white as they

But hardier far, once more I see thee bend

Thy forehead as if fearful to offend,

Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day

Storms sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay

The rising sun, and on the plains descend;

Yet art though welcome, welcome as a friend

Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May

Shall soon behold this border thickly set

With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing

On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;

Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,

Chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of spring,

And pensive monitor of fleeting years.

And now a look to the future as gifs and messages start pinging on my phone;

Transylvania – Myth and History

Classic Christmas Presie of the 60s

Reading “the classics” was almost a rite of passage into adult literacy when I was young – almost like Dick King Smith or Roald Dahl for kids of today. Little Women, David Copperfield, Great Expectations were among my favourites. And when I heard that Dracula was written by Bram Stoker from Marino, it held a particular fascination along with his fictional residence in Transylvania. When I discovered that Transylvania actually existed, it was in a place “behind the Iron Curtain” and so as far away as any fictional land. I did not however forget it – just put it on a bucket list.

Transylvania - fact or fiction
One of the many tempting advertisements to visit Romania!

When I saw “ Five-day trip to Transylvania” advertised, I jumped at the chance. As is usual, the first and last days are spent travelling to and from the destination. With the wonderful airport assistance staff that help those of us who have limited mobility, it is no longer an arduous experience! We arrived in Sinaia, a ski resort in the Bucegi Muntains just before midnight.

DAY 2 Peles and Pelisor Castles

Peles Castle- Summer residence of Royal Family until 1947

With temperatures below zero, we wrapped up in layers for our short trip into the mountains to visit Peles Castle, considered to be the most stunning Castles in Europe. Our tour guide, Adrian, was so proud of his country that almost everything we saw was “the most or the best or the first”. Built in the 1800s, Peles was one of the first castles in Europe to have central heating. In 1948 the castle was confiscated by the state but thanks to a “white lie” about fungus in the wood that would be harmful to humans, Peles was saved and remained unchanged.

Pelisor Castle

Pelisor (little Peles, maybe we would call it Pelesín!), a smaller castle in the same grounds is also very impressive. The climb down the valley to see the castles was steep and icy and prompted use of a taxi for return to the bus!

Little church in Sinaia Monastery 

With the afternoon free to explore, a few of us decided to make a quick visit Sinaia Monastery on the way home. Sinaia takes its name as one would guess from Mount Sinai and was inspired by the founder’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The visit was short as we all wanted to make the cable car ride into the mountains before dark. It was a spectacular ride and a delicious Roamanian stew accompanied by “vin fiert” warmed us as we took in the views of the town far below us.

Drinking mulled wine as I look down on Sinaia from Ski Station

DAY 3 Brasov

We headed into the Carpathian Mountains today for a visit to Adrian’s home town. Seemingly this town is one of the most visited in Romania and the architecture is certainly beautiful.

Council Square in Brasov

The Christmas Market was a particular draw, but it was also great to see the old town gates, the main square, the Black Church (so called after a fire) and Rope Street (the narrowest street in Europe).

Rope Street – used by firemen as access; now an art gallery

I was particularly interested to find some lovely felt decorations and the crafter who loved sharing tips and tricks about needle felting. Really fruity vin fiert to wash down the local sausage was a speciality. Also recommended was “tuica fiert” or hot schnaps but this was vile!!!!

DAY 4 Bran Castle

Preparing for the climb!

Today we journeyed into the center of Romania to the village of Bran in Transylvania. The infamous Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler ( you don’t need much imagination to guess his preferred method of torture) was immortalized as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula and thanks to this loose link to the famous vampire, Bran Castle is popularly known in the region and beyond as “Dracula’s Castle.” Adrian was at pains to tell us that Bram Stoker never visited central Europe and that there are castles all over Europe that would have greater connections to vampires.
Bran Castle was built between 1377 and 1388 atop a strategic site overlooking a heavily trafficked mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia, the land over which Vlad III of the Order of the Dragon or Dracul ruled in the 15th century.
The castle was given to Queen Marie and her descendents in 1920 as a token of appreciation for her efforts to unify Romania. After her death, Bran Castle was inherited by her daughter, Princess Ileana, who ran it as a hospital during World War II. In 1948 the castle was seized by the Communist regime, but it was returned to Dominic von Habsburg, Princess Ileana’s son, in 2006.

Interior courtyard Bran Castle

The climb to the rocky outcrop between the counties of Wallachia and Transylvania was steep and slippy – temperatures had dropped in the mountain area and the ground was icy. Once you reached the castle, you then had to maneuvering the many stairs and secret passages inside. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Our castle guide was excellent and mixed stories of fact and fiction, terror and romance. Luckily, the last queen suffered with arthritis and so had a lift installed that she could have afternoon tea with her friends in the tea rooms at the bottom of the rock. So I certainly welcomed the easy descent.

Site of Movie, Cold Mountain, starring Nicole Kidman

By this time hands and feet were beginning to freeze, so a hostelry was found for soup and mulled wine under the castle and the mountain range which was setting for Nicole Kidman’s film Cold Mountain.

Bran to Sinaia

We had a lovely trip back to Sinaia along the snowy country roads and were back just in time for some shopping and the turning on of the Christmas lights.
A fitting end to a great trip!

I went to see the Pope!

In 1979, Shay and I took David to see the Pope in the Phoenix Park – a great community expedition. I’m not sure how much religious fervor was involved but as it was probably going to be a once off event, I wanted my one-year-old to be able to say he was there! (I must root out the one or two photos of the Pope-mobile taken from a distance). Walking posed no problem then and we joined the throngs marching from Lucan with our picnics, rugs and rain gear. I still remember the excitement of seeing the 15 acres sectioned by barriers and overlooked by the massive Papal Cross, the buzz as Pope John Paul II landed and toured between the corals, waving and blessing, and the high as we walked home through the Strawberry Beds.

This time I was going for me. However the task was gargantuan as there were going to me massive traffic restrictions and lots of walking, prohibitive to my level of mobility. Luckily ‘the sister’ had ordered tickets and was as interested as me in attending. The fact she lived ‘just over the wall’ from the site meant that she could provide accommodation and ‘push-power’ if I could access a mode of transport. Limited mobility is not how I had envisaged my retirement years – you should have seen my bucket list for traveling – but I’ve learned to put a brave face on it and if I had to swallow pride and take to a wheelchair to get there – so be it.

I think all the church bashing that went on during the weeks before the visit cemented my resolve. Joe’s, Ray’s and other’s dismissal of my faith and their encouragement to jeer and make little of my beliefs really irked me. Certainly there have been awful crimes perpetrated by the church, but other agencies played a role too –state, state agencies and families are not blameless.

There was little discussion on the amazing work also done by the church – Pope Francis’ visit to the Capuchin Day Centre on Saturday was an acknowledgement of that. For all the years I worked in Catholic schools I saw the kindness and assistance that was given by nuns and priests to many hardship cases. I also knew the personnel comfort my faith and people of faith gave me in time of loss, fear and illness. I think the Knock visit on Sunday morning was the most stunning example of faith – people standing for hours in the rain, filled with joy to see this leader.

Pope Francis is certainly charismatic. He is renowned for his work among the poor of Argentina and has a lot to say about human rights and compassion. He has a huge job ahead of him addressing the crimes and the cover-ups. Of course, I would like to see women with a more influential role in the church – but I think it will happen if enough strong women campaign and certainly their presence at the governing table will bring massive change to attitudes.

So what was it like – amazing, moving, inspirational? Yes – all of that! It was wonderful to be part of the experience with hundreds of others, some just there for the spectacle but all there to see a great man and share a celebration. The weather was dreadful and certainly dissuades many. But our Croke Park ponchos kept us dry. There were miles to walk but as a seated traveler, I certainly couldn’t complain. We joined in with the prayers and hymns – would have loved if there had been more that I knew. We thought the Pope would pass closer to us but we did see him in the distance.


I’ll probably never get a chance like this again – so I was thrilled that I made it.