My Birthday Weekend ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 277

Birthday Card from Big Bro!

Given that my birthday is falling on a Friday this year, I’ve decided to make a weekend of it. Yes, today, is the big day and one that I’m delighted to share with two of my all time idols ~ Chuck Berry and Martina Navratilova.

Birthdays were hugely significant events in our house when we were kids, undoubtedly because Mother placed great emphasis on them. It was only when I had my own son in 1995 that I realised the extent to which a child’s birthday is a day that a mother is unlikely ever to forget and hopefully likely always to celebrate.

Mother has been very much on my mind this week and I can only smile when I think of the last birthday we shared on this day in 2008. I always hated birthday parties but in 2008 Mother decided it was time to put an end to this and organised a surprise party for me. I really felt I could read her every thought at that stage but she caught me out totally and I landed into a party in full swing which I have to admit I enjoyed immensely.

There is a helluva storm blowing here in Tramore today but I just couldn’t resist the temptation to go for an early walk around the beach. The rain and wind were blowing furiously into my face on the outward journey and if ever there was ‘living in the moment,’ this was it. I almost flew home and couldn’t but think of these lines from a traditional Irish Blessing:

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields …..

Thus far, it’s been the walk on the beach, a long steamy bath, lunch of mackerel with spinach and grated nutmeg, and cosy dessert of hot juiced apples with cinnamon; a quick trip into Waterford to my mecca of Irish produce ~ Ardkeen Stores ~ and a visit to Amazon to download recent books of two of my favourite bloggers for weekend reading ~ Roy McCarthy’s ( of Portelet Manor and David Millington Croft’s ( is Blood. 

Birthdays, for me,  are all about remembering, sharing, enjoying, plotting, planting, smiling, creating memories ….. What do they mean to you?

Celebrating 200 Posts ~ Gatherings from Ireland #200

Way back in December, I launched this series of Gatherings from Ireland and today I’m celebrating the 200th of 365 posts. See the full set of 20o posts here

This is the year of  The Gathering in Ireland ~ an initiative in which people and communities are encouraged to invite friends, relatives and ‘strangers’ from abroad both to boost the economy through tourism and to encourage community activity.

The Backstrand, Tramore, Co. Waterford
The Backstrand, Tramore, Co. Waterford

I never really saw myself organising some kind of event, such as the highly successful Power Gathering here in Co, Waterford. However, I felt that I could reach people from right across the world with this Gathering from Ireland series and I’m glad to say that my dream is being realised.

The undisputed readers’ favourite is a post on Bravery in which shared a composition which my late mother wrote on this topic when she was just 13 ~ back in 1934. I’m thrilled that this has become the most liked post as Mother was always a huge inspiration in my writing and I think that her words, written at such a tender age, are quite amazing and insightful. Here is the link to the post:

The other post that really captivated people was the piece I wrote about Ardkeen Stores in Waterford, a quality food store which focuses hugely on Irish produce and can only be described as a ‘sensual experience.’

This morning I went for a long walk around my beloved Tramore beach and everywhere I looked I saw inspirational lines encouraging me to write more.

Shells on the Backstrand, Tramore, Co. Waterford.
Shells on the Backstrand, Tramore, Co. Waterford.

I’d love to know what you would like to see included in this series as we move into the last 165 posts and what  grabs your attention in the 200 that have already been written. I have personal favourites but they are for another day!

Thank you all so much for your comments and encouragement with this series. It would have been very difficult to persevere without your feedback.

Stone on Tramore Beach, Co. Waterford
Stone on Tramore Beach, Co. Waterford

Sunflowers for Father’s Day ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 167

I was going to give Father’s Day a skip this year ~ after all, this is my third Father’s Day since Dad died and there’s always that sense that one should ‘move on,’ whatever that means!

I was doing a spot of shopping yesterday at Ardkeen Stores in Waterford and as I made for the groceries, two huge sunflowers sat in a vase on the counter of the florist’s section. I carried on, though made sure I didn’t spend all my money on groceries!

Sunflowers are synonymous with Dad, given his love of Van Gogh, colour, nature and basking in the sun.

The sunflowers seemed to be looking at me with the most appealing eyes when I was passing them on the way out with a trolley full of locally grown fruit and vegetables. I edged over towards them and it suddenly hit me that father and I had shared over 50 Father’s Days. Surely this stands for a lot more than three without him?

At first I was going to buy just one of the great big yellow blooms ~ to symbolise Dad. But the woman in the shop said: The one that’s left is going to be lonely, you know. Why not take the pair? I’ll give you a good deal.

When I ventured down to the kitchen this morning, all I could do was smile when I saw the sun glinting through the yellow petals.


Co. Waterford ABC ~ E is for Essence

Co. Waterford ABC is a feature here on Social Bridge where I am identifying my highlights of  this diverse county in Ireland where I was born and which has been ‘home’ for the last 26 years. There will be just 26 posts ~ one for each letter of the alphabet and I hope you will join me in discussing your views about the places, people,  events, things that I select. Would you have chosen differently? In a county with such natural beauty and diversity in terms of history and heritage, one could quite easily identify 26+  highlights for each letter!  (  See All Posts in this Series:

Map of Co. Waterford(Click on Map to Zoom)
Map of Co. Waterford
(Click on Map to Zoom)

I have been wondering for  a while if I dare write about the ‘Essence’ of  Co. Waterford; what are the fundamental features of this ‘home’ county of  mine?  Yes, I do dare and I truly hope that others will add to this bubbling pot of words that have danced off all my senses. 

On February 1, I took off before sunrise to walk around Tramore Beach and Backstrand to celebrate the move into spring. So much of the essence of my Co. Waterford engulfed me in those three delicious hours. Huge waves crashed onto the shore spraying me with the salty invigorating air that I have so long associated with Co. Waterford. The grasses on the dunes glinted as the breeze combed the flowing locks of  the waking beauty.

As the sun rose, my mind was drawn around Brownstown Head, passed Dunmore East and up the Estuary to Waterford City. I had sat in the Tower Hotel , late the night before, just across from historic Reginald’s Tower.  I had been transfixed with thoughts of the history associated with Waterford City, the oldest city in Ireland, as I watched the traffic coming along the Quay and rounding the corner at Reginald’s Tower.  Thoughts of the centrality of Reginald’s Tower to the defence of Waterford; a fleeting glimpse of my late father running towards his ‘digs’ on the Mall in the  1940s; eyes caught by the imposing statue of Thomas Francis Meagher and fascination with his connections to such places as France, Fredericksburg and Montana which have come to have meaning for me too through life’s weavings.

Reginald's Tower, Waterford
Reginald’s Tower, Waterford

A glance back along Tramore Beach before rounding the bend at the channel and the whole coast presented itself ~ the magic of the Copper Coast, Dungarvan, the Ring Penninsula, Ardmore ~ a wondrous stretch of coastline, each place with its uniqueness, history and colour. I wondered if  Pride and Joy was safely moored at Boatstrand. Its name has long captured my imagination in a beautiful harbour that exudes Co. Waterford for me.

Walking along the Backstrand, the mountains of Co. Waterford come into view. Thoughts of Mahon Falls; the stunning scenery of the Nire Valley; West Waterford and the Blackwater Valley. Anticipation  of this years Immrama Travel Writers’ Festival in Lismore; stolen visits to Lismore Castle, Mount Melleray, the old world beauty of Cappoquin.

As I near Tramore, the town that is ‘home’ is lit by the morning sun. I meet Mark Roper and Paddy Dwan, who have such passion for the Backstrand and Co. Waterford generally.  Tramore continues to look down; the Racecourse stands out with its long history and at the other side of the town, above the Doneraile walk, is Tramore Tennis Club, which has such personal meaning for me and which is now the proud club of so many of Ireland’s young tennis stars.

Back on the Prom, I watch the surfers enjoying the waves and totally immersed in the very essence of this sporting county. Only the day before, I had a chance meeting with Ken McGrath, undoubtedly one of the greatest hurlers Waterford will ever see.  Here’s a man who knows the full meaning of Rudyard Kipling’s words in his great poem  If:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch…

Ken McGrath has no airs and graces and is an essential part of the passion that Waterford hurling engenders.

To those who know me, it will probably come as no surprise that I was drawn out to the lay-by between Boatstrand and Kilmurrin to write this piece. Sea beneath me; mountains behind; gulls overhead; Ardkeen Stores in Waterford, which is my treasure trove for sourcing Co. Waterford produce, calling; and happy thoughts of my beloved Mount Congreve Gardens after recently seeing  Tony Gunning’s Exhibition of colourful paintings at Greyfriar’s Church in Waterford.

As I write, I am surrounded  by immense natural beauty and a silvery sheen on the horizon symbolises the hope, colour and buoyancy that I associate with Co. Waterford ~ past, present and future.

Heartland ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 47

I was browsing in the wine section of Ardkeen Stores in Waterford recently and Heartland Wines from Australia caught my eye and have been playing around in my head since.

I got to thinking about the ‘heartland’ of Ireland ~ and after a mad rush around the map ~  I found myself sitting at a warm fire in a whole amalgam of places, including  Tramore, Co. Waterford,  The Burren, Co. Clare,  beside a small boat way out in the wilds of the Shannon-region,  the beach at  Baltray, Co. Louth,    on Cape Clear Island,  within sight of the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary,  Bewley’s of Grafton Street , Annalong, Co. Down, Hope Castle in  Castleblayney, Co Monaghan ….. and that’s just a sip of the places.

But, then the question arose: who would be in ‘Heartland?’  I’ve thought and thought about this and the population would be sizeable, including close family whom I love and have loved,  true friends from across my life, ‘heart throbs’ who shall definitely remain nameless; and then I came to  one person who made a lasting impact on me  when I was fourteen.

I was playing in the Leinster Under 15 Tennis Championships and was seeded to win it. I did a Rory McIlroy and got the time of my second round match muddled up and arrived into the tennis club to hear that I’d just been eliminated.  It was like the end of the world, or worse!  I ran to the organiser’s caravan to be greeted by the kindly John Horn who made it quite clear that arriving in at 12.30 for a 9am match was clearly beyond the realm of redemption.

My opponent, whom I’d never met before,  had seen me racing to the caravan and calmly said that she didn’t want a walkover and pleaded with John Horn to let us play. Her argument was that she knew that I had made a genuine mistake; that I would have won and that she wanted to give me the chance to go as far in the tournament as I could.

John Horn relented and I went on to win that match and the title.  As I collected the cup, I saw my ‘saviour’ clapping with a big smile.  I never met her again, don’t  remember her name, but know that she taught me more than anyone in my young life about what ‘true heart’ means in  terms of actions rather than words.

How I would like to include her at my ‘Heartland’ get-together. I’ve no doubt that she went on to great things in the way ‘great things’ should be defined.

And the Sun Pours Down Like Honey ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 33

I’m a great fan of Leonard Cohen and especially love his song Suzanne which has that great line ‘and the sun pours down like honey …’   This has been playing away in my head ever since I ‘discovered’ the most beautiful beeswax candles imaginable the other day in Ardkeen Stores in Waterford ~ a shop that provides ‘retail therapy’ in every sense.


Well, on closer investigation, I found that the beeswax candles are made in Dromahair,  Co. Leitrim.  They are perfect works of nature and their light shines out like honey.

Strange, isn’t it, how just one glance at that pure beeswax candle brings Waterford, Leonard Cohen and Leitrim together with glowing intensity?