Christmas in Russborough

Took a trip to Russburough today to take in the christmassy atmosphere of a Palladian house.

A wonderful tour guide brought us through the unique Russborough – designed and built to an unrivalled standard, and surviving almost unaltered since the 18th century to today because of the extraordinary love of 3 families who owned it.

The Leeson family who organised the building and started the acquisition of an impressive collection of paintings, sculpture and furnishings.

In 1931, the house was bought by Captain Denis Daly and his wife Maeb, for €9000.  Their two daughters Anne and Avia were the last children to call Russborough home.

In 1952, the house and estate were sold to the Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit, owners of a world-class European fine and decorative arts collection. They installed the Beit Collection (world-renowned works by leading Dutch, British and Spanish artists including Jan Vermeer, Henry Raeburn, and Francisco de Goya) into their new home.

The house opened to the public in 1976.

I hope my photos give you a feeling for being in Russborough today.

Finn McCool and Punchestown

Finn McCool The Winner at Punchestown, (Author unknown)

This poem was a great favourite of one of my colleagues in Scoil Choca Naofa, Kilcock. There were many rousing deliveries for school concerts, fleadhs, etc. Interestingly when I found it on the web, it turns out it was also the party piece of Kevin Burke, Captain of the successful 1953 Ballymore Eustace Senior GAA Football Team

‘Twas Martin McDonagh who bought him, from a man at the Fair in Naas
And never an uglier object, was seen in a farmer’s place.

He was long and lanky and bony, with a head like a tinker’s mule
Yet he had such a style of stepping, that we called him Finn McCool.

But never a word said Martin, for he was the knowing one,
He foddered his colt all winter, and he cantered him here and yon.
A feather would knocked me over, when I heard one day in the town
That Finn McCool had been entered, for the Races at Punchestown.

Taking a drop to brace me up, I started into Maynooth,
There was twenty there before me, all anxious to know the truth.
And there sat deluded Martin, joking and playing the fool,
Telling stories about this and that, but nothing of Finn McCool.

Tipping a wink for myself to stay, he soon got rid of the lot,
And the missus came calling him to “come while the tay is hot.”
A cup was there for myself of course, and a plate of pancakes brown,
But what cared I for pancakes, when my thoughts were on Punchestown.

Martin went on to tell me, the pedigree of both grand sires of Finn
He was a bay descendant of all his famous kin
“The horse has his point” says Martin, “though his runs like a circus clown
But he stands to make me or break me at the Races of Punchestown.”

O Lord, it’s a terrible feeling, when every shilling you own,
Is bet on an ordinary animal that’s skin where he isn’t bone.
I couldn’t sleep a wink at night and the wife says “Felim O’Toole,
It’s below in the Carlow Asylum, you’ll finish with Finn McCool.

The day of the Races came, and Martin, meself and the horse
And Davy Lacy to ride him, were early upon the course.
“How much against Finn McCool” says I, and the bookie says with a grin
“Arrah 50 to 1 and the fun you’ll have, watching another one win.”

The horses came from the paddock, went down and got into a line
And burst like shots from a rifle, when the starter gave the sign
And lagging along behind them, came Finn McCool at a pace
That would shame any dacent donkey, for sale at the Fair in Naas.

“Go on ye devil ” I yelled at him, “go on and lift your feet
For all the horses that ever were born, I’ll shoot you this day if you’re beat.”
And Martin himself was yelling, and cursing him dead and blind
And the crowd were roaring and shouting “look at the one behind”

He heard us, by all the Gods above, for he shot like a frightened deer
When Davy Lacy the jockey digged him, from tail to ear.
Rearing and snorting and kicking, he clattered past horse by horse
You’d think the end of the world had come, with the roaring on the course.

With his big feet trashing like paddle wheels and his tail like a dory mast
He leapt over the wall and the double ditch till first in the field was past.
“He’s winning” I heard someone saying, the crowd all going wild
And Martin McDermott beside me, was crying like a child.

“Winning, of course he’s winning” says I and “there take that from O’Toole”
As I threw my hat in the bookies face that had laughed at Finn McCool.
“Faith Finn doesn’t know when to stop” says Kelly the vet from Clane
For having near jumped the judges box, Finn made for the hill again.

We followed him into the paddock, where the horses were weighing in
The devil the hair was turned, on the hide of the warrior Finn
As cool as his mighty name sake, who had never known defeat
He seemed to be winking “that Fenian lad is a mighty hard thing to beat”

The bookies paid us our money and the crowning joy of the race
Was counting my bag of money from the lad I hit in the face.
“Be careful” says I “me bucko, whenever your money is down
A lesson from Finn McCool you have, the winner at Punchestown”

Tokyo Olympics 2021

The Olympic Games are held every four years – you know it’s an Olympic year if the year is divisible by 4. So how come it’s 2021? Covid-19 meant that the games in Tokyo last year had to be postponed.

So tonight is the eve of the Olympic Games and although there will be hugely scaled-down attendance – participants, officials and some journalists only- it’s still a really exciting event. The whole country will start discussing minority sports with some expertise. 

The opening ceremonies will involve only a very small delegation of athletes. We will watch our Olympians, Boxers Kellie Harrington, competing for the first time and Brendan Irvine, who fought at the Rio Games who have been chosen as the Team Ireland flag bearers. For the first time each country is being asked to have two flag bearers in the parade of nations, one male and one female.

In my storytelling household, I had heard of Jesse Owens’ great success in the 1936 Berlin Games. His 4 gold medals caused consternation to the Nazi party who presided over the games. Irishman Ronnie Delaney’s gold medal win in the Men’s 1500 metres in the 1956 Melbourne games was also a sporting highlight to be celebrated. It was many years later before I realised that we had won many medals.

I got hooked on the Olympics of 1984, ‘running’ the streets of Los Angeles with John Treacy in the Men’s Marathon and watching him being presented with his silver medal.

Barcelona, 1992 coincided sadly with a family death and my memory is returning to Wexford from the funeral, getting a double puncture and being unable to find an open garage – everyone was watching the boxers (either Michael Carruth winning gold or Wayne McCullough winning silver).    

The excitement of the 1996 Atlanta games was unbelievable – night after night I watched Michelle Smith progress through heats and eventually win three gold and one bronze.

Two years after Atlanta, Smith was charged with adulterating an out of competition sample and received a four year ban. Despite continuing to plead her innocence through the process, she never swam again. She never tested positive for a banned substance.

Sidney 2000 was Sonia O’Sullivan games; three boxers medalled in Beijing 2008; London 2012 saw boxing victories with Katie Taylor the star; Rob Heffernan took bronze in the 50Km walk; unfortunately Cian O’Connor’s bronze in the Showjumping again brought us into ill-repute with a doping accusation.

The O’Donovan brothers “pulling like dogs” charmed us with their humorous interviews  having won silver in the lightweight sculls in Rio in 2016 and Annalise Murphy also won silver in the water, sailing. 

And now another Games begins, with Ireland’s largest delegation ever – what stories will we have from them?

The Warren

I haven’t been to the beach for years so what a surprise when visiting Ballincollig that they had a trip to The Warren planned.

The Warren is a small, sheltered beach backed by sand dunes located in Rosscarbery, County Cork. It is a designated Natural Heritage Area and has great facilities including a car park and toilet facilities.

Naturally the car park was packed- it was one of the hottest days of the year. But the walk down to the sea was enjoyable …. David was our sherpa, carrying all the gear, Dean and I strolling along.

We set up camp down near the water, easy access for swimming and castle building. Great to get a sea swim …. clear and pretty warm water.

Dean and I strolled back over the head to meet David at Rosscarbury beach and feast on fish and chips before the trip home.

Painting my world

I’m past sixty, my next roundy birthday is 70 and my lessons for living are: 
1 After loving my parents, my siblings, my spouse, my children and my friends, I have now started loving myself.
2 I have realized that I am not “Atlas”. The world does not rest on my shoulders.
3 I have stopped bargaining with vegetable & fruit vendors. A few pennies more is not going to break me, but it might help the poor fellow save for his daughter’s school fees.
4 I leave my waitress a big tip. The extra money might bring a smile to her face. She is toiling much harder for a living than I am.
5 I stopped telling the elderly that they’ve already narrated that story many times. The story makes them walk down memory lane & relive their past.
6 I have learned not to correct people even when I know they are wrong. The onus of making everyone perfect is not on me. Peace is more precious than perfection.
7 I give compliments freely & generously. Compliments are a mood enhancer not only for the recipient, but also for me. And a small tip for the recipient of a compliment, never, NEVER turn it down, just say “Thank You.”
8 I have learned not to bother about a crease or a spot on my shirt. Personality speaks louder than appearances.
9 I walk away from people who don’t value me. They might not know my worth, but I do.
10 I remain cool when someone plays dirty to outrun me in the rat race. I am not a rat & neither am I in any race.
11 I am learning not to be embarrassed by my emotions. It’s my emotions that make me human.
12 I have learned that it’s better to drop the ego than to break a relationship. My ego will keep me aloof, whereas with relationships, I will never be alone.
13 I have learned to live each day as if it’s the last. After all, it might be the last.
14 I am doing what makes me happy. I am responsible for my happiness, and I owe it to myself. Happiness is a choice. I can be happy at any time, just choose to be!

Delta Sensory Gardens

I decided on Carlow as the destination for my tour of gardens today. I was actually googling a Helen Reddy song “Delta Dawn” and results included Delta Gardens. When I was sign post directed into an industrial estate, I had doubts about the wisdom of my choice. What a surprise!!!!

Having spent some time in a wheelchair a few years back, I have a great appreciation of accessibility. And that’s just what you get in this 2 acre site. A walkway through the centre branching into fifteen different gardens, a pavilion, sculptures, water courses, seats dotted around so that you can relax and engage through your senses with colour, scents and texture. My favourites were The Stolen Child Garden with Yeat’s words on paving stones as you enter. Iris O’Brien’s designed Health and Wellness Garden was idyllic. Gordon Ledbetter’s series of waterfalls flowed into ponds with a variety of fish, water lilies and meadow grasses, trees and shrubs.

What more could you ask than a Coffee shop with a selection of savouries and sweets to finish off your visit.

Garden Tour

June Blake’s Garden

It’s a gem of a garden extending over three acres of exciting herbaceous borders, shade areas with beautiful ferns, woodland plants and bamboos, a shallow linear reflection pool, formal beds and a small nursery with many of these plants for sale. June’s beautiful restored Victorian Steward’s house forms the perfect backdrop to this amazing garden.

Naturally, I had to make some purchase….. the marigold annuals that were around the gables and also in 32, self seeding June told me, but to be sure, I’ll collect seed heads and plant in pots