Father’s Day ~ Important Lessons my Father Taught Me

June 17th is Father’s Day here in Ireland and I have been thinking about the important  lessons my father taught me over his long life of ninety-one years.  He died in September 2010 but those lessons are well ingrained.

Me Smiling at Dad

# 1.  Laughter is the the best medicine.  Dad certainly knew how to laugh and surrounded himself with books of humour and wit.

# 2. The dictionary is one of the most useful books ever written, use it!

# 3. If you get one good photograph on a photographic expedition, you’re doing well

# 4. Regrets are often the hardest things to live with.

# 5. Never sit on wet grass unless you want to get pneumonia.

# 6. Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile. (Irish saying : One beetle recognises another beetle). In other words: ‘ It takes one to know one.’

# 7. If you watch the ball,  you won’t go too far wrong in any ball game.

# 8. Trusting each other within the family will get you through more than you could ever imagine.

# 9. Never forget the importance of a smile.

# 10. You’ll find it hard to discover a more beautiful place in the world  than  West Clare.

Co. Clare Coast

Sunflowers ~ For Dad

June 10th is a date which has always been special for me as it marks the day my late father was born  and, as I wrote last year, I associate his birthday very much with sunflowers. He had a great love of nature, colour, art and the sun.

Dad (1919-2010)

I think, too, that he would have liked this poem by Mary Oliver:

The Sunflowers

Come with me

into the field of sunflowers.

Their faces are burnished disks,

their dry spines


creak like ship masts,

their green leaves,

so heavy and many,

fill all day with the sticky


sugars of the sun.

Come with me

to visit the sunflowers,

they are shy


but want to be friends;

they have wonderful stories

of when they were young –

the important weather,


the wandering crows.

Don’t be afraid

to ask them questions!

their bright faces,


which follow the sun,

will listen, and all

these rows of seeds

each one a new life! –


hope for a deeper acquaintance;

each of them, though it stands

in a crowd of many,

like a separate universe,


is lonely, the long work

of turning their lives

into a celebration

is not easy. Come


and let us talk with those modest faces,

the simple garments of leaves,

the coarse roots of the earth

so uprightly burning.


Wild Flowers in Ireland ~ An Appreciation

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One of my most vivid memories from childhood is gathering wild flowers with my mother to enter a competition at Castlebayney Agricultural Show back in the 1960s.  It was a happy, happy time and, even though I was very young, I knew that Mother was enjoying  the adventure just as much as I was.

Mother died almost three years ago, aged 88,  and today I unearthed an article which she wrote around the time that we were collecting the wild flowers.  Reading it,  I became acutely aware of just how deeply she appreciated nature and how it is no coincidence that the re-emergence of wild flowers, especially in spring,  is so fundamentally important to me.  Here is what she wrote:

 Flowers, especially wild flowers, played a large part in my childhood in Co. Meath. In the woods at home grew masses of snowdrops, under the trees, making the winter woodlands beautiful with their dainty white flowers among dark green ivy leaves. Oh, the thrill of the first snowdrop. To know that spring was on its way, and soon my beloved woods would be awakening from their winter slumbers. My birthday is in late January, and perhaps that is why I loved the snowdrops so much. They were my special flower. I would search the woods diligently, and always succeeded in finding enough to decorate the table for my birthday tea. After I left home, my mother never failed to include a tiny bunch of snowdrops in my birthday parcel. Snowdrops have always been synonomous with home to me, and although I have moved home umpteen times, I always plant a few snowdrop bulbs in each new garden.

Then there were the lesser celandines. There was a wood at home which was completely carpeted with them. Surprisingly early in the year, not long after the snowdrops were in bloom, that particular wood was filled with birdsong, sunshine, the tender green leaves of the celandines, and the little golden flowers.

And then came the primroses; primroses and baby chicks are always associated in my mind. They both arrive around Easter time and are the same delicious pale yellow. There was a stream at home which ran between very steep, sloping banks on which great clumps of primroses grew. Primroses abounded in the woods as well, but I loved to pick them on the banks of the stream. There was always a distinct danger of falling in, and of course this added to the fun. There were periwinkles in the woods too. They made a lovely posy, their tender blue toning beautifully with the pale yellow primroses.

In a dark corner of a laurel grove grew a few shy wood anenomes. Never enough to pick, but I had to visit them each year and admire the few precious blossoms.

Bluebells and beech trees go together, and the bluebells are in blossom just as those beautiful fresh young beech leaves unfold. To me, there are few lovelier sights than a carpet of bluebells dappled by the sunshine in a beech wood.

Cowslips were not very plentiful in our part of the country, but there was one field where they flourished. I used to make a pilgrimage to see the cowslips every year. I remember a grown-up explaining to me how to make a cowslip ball. I was horrified.  How anyone could do that to my lovely cowslips!

I always prefer to see flowers growing, and when I do pick them  I like to pick them here and there so that they will not be missed. Lilac grew in the woods, too. There was one big lilac bush in the wood by the river.  Oh, the scent of that lilac with the dew on it, on a warm May morning.

We always went to stay with my grandmother in the early summer. She lived in Co. Kildare, and when I think of going there I think of dog-roses. The road from the station was always bathed in sunshine, with blue mountains in the distance, and the hedges simply covered with dog-roses and honeysuckle. And in the tillage fields on either side of the road, there were wild red poppies. I know farmers don’t like wild poppies much, but I loved them. Oh, let me have dog-roses and honeysuckle and poppies for my holidays. Nothing in all the travel brochures can give me such a thrill.

End-of-Life Care: Ethics and Law

End-of-life care is a subject which is of  huge interest to me at both a personal level and as a professional sociologist and I have been keenly aware for many years of the need for well-researched Irish-oriented books on this topic.

End-of-Life Care: Ethics and Law  by Joan McCarthy, Mary Donnelly, Dolores Dooley, David Smith and Louise Campbell, which was published in November 2011 by Cork University Press,  is of immense value in moving towards filling this gap.

The book offers an Ethical Framework for end-of-life decision making in healthcare settings and crucially it aims to foster and support ethically and legally sound clinical practice in end-of-life treatment and care in Ireland.

The Framework, which is the outcome of a unique collaboration between the Irish Hospice Foundation, University College Cork and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland,  consists of  the following 8 Modules of Learning:

What is particularly appealing about this publication is the fact that, although it deals with complex issues and draws on a vast amount of research from different disciplines and countries, it is written in very accessible language which means that it is not just a book for healthcare and legal professionals but also for patients, families and the general public.

This educational aim of this book is not to tell people what to do but to offer tools for thinking about difficult ethical and legal issues that arise in relation to death and dying.  Among the tools that I find particularly useful is having the current laws in Ireland that relate to a whole spectrum of end-of-life issues set out in a coherent way.

The use of case studies throughout the book is a very effective method of enabling the reader to reflect on ethical and legal complexities and to highlight the range of different perspectives from which the same situation can be viewed.  End -of-Life Care: Ethics and Law is a publication which fully recognises the mulitcultural and socially diverse world that health professionals, healthcare staff, patients and families belong to.

The dominant message which stands out for me from this excellent book is the importance of  sensitive and informed communication, at very many levels, about end-of-life issues. The material that lies within the covers of  End-of-Life Care: Ethics and Law provides us all with a wonderful resource to develop this communication and I concur fully with this extract from Murray and Jennings (2005) which is cited on page 33:

The next decades should be, we believe, a time of  education and soul-searching discussions in communities and at kitchen tables, as well as in health care settings. […] We must talk about what we dare not name, and look at what we dare not see. We shall never get end-of -care ‘right’ because death is not a puzzle to be solved. Death is an inevitable aspect of the human condition. But let us not forget: while death is inevitable, dying badly is not.

Irish Hospice Foundation: Workshops on Loss and Bereavement

Last week, I attended two of the Irish Hospice Foundation’s Workshops on Loss and Bereavement. I write about this stimulating experience in Section Sixteen of Losing Elderly Parents.


Snowdrops of Hope

Snowdrops mean more to me than any other flower. They represent hope; light in darkness; continuity; and most of all connection to my late mother. 

Mother was a true lover of nature and was also a diarist from when she was able to write. Looking through her diaries from the 1920s to the early 200os, the common denominator for January was her entry for her first sighting of a snowdrop ‘showing white,’ as she always put it. 

Her birthday was on January 29th and from the time I had my own garden, I would bring her a little ‘bouquet’ of snowdrops to mark the day.  No matter what the weather, the snowdrops never failed to bloom for her birthday, though there were some very close calls. 

Amazingly, it wasn’t until after she died that I discovered that  William Wordsworth had written a poem about snowdrops:


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 thou 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!

Yesterday evening I was out in the garden planting up a pot with bright yellow primulas in memory of  my first love, who died on January 5th, 1981, when I was in my early twenties.  I was thinking about the degree to which my mother had supported me through that major loss and encouraged me to both write and find solace in the wonders of nature.  She adored perennials and passed this love on to me  ~ a year punctuated by snowdrops, primroses, daffodils, bluebells, honeysuckle, agapanthus, nerines and holly.

Just as I was thinking about all this and her love of the moon, the changing tides, rainbows ….. I stood up to admire my pot of golden primulas which I could now barely see as night had closed in.  Then out of  the very corner of my eye, I saw a tiny white glow under the Monkey Puzzle tree.  Surely too early for snowdrops!  But no, two tiny buds were ‘showing white,’  and showing me that Mother’s presence will never die and will no doubt sparkle at the times when I miss her most.

Reflections on Father’s Anniversary

The first anniversary of my father’s death was on September 10th, 2011. In Section 15 of  Losing Elderly Parents, I write about  the various thoughts and memories that came to me on that day, which I spent in one of our old haunts -Ballycotton, Co. Cork.

Questioning Identity: Personal Connections with Alzheimer’s Disease

I presented a paper on the topic: ‘Questioning Identity: Personal Connections with Alzheimer’s Disease,’ at the  Annual Conference of the Sociological Association of Ireland held at University College, Cork (May 6th-8th, 2011). The abstract of this paper is in Section 12 of ‘Losing Elderly Parents.’