Whirlwind few days

There’s so much happening these days it is all a bit mad.  But that’s life in West Cork.  The first session of the Fiddle Fair was on Thursday in the Castle with the two Dermots – Dermot Mclaughlin and Dermot Byrne.  Great music and great venue, Dun na Séad Castle.  Many of their pieces of music reminded me of the tunes I listened to in my youth and they were originally from Scotland, or maybe they were originally Irish, went to Scotland and came back again – whatever there was a touch of nostalgia for me.  I didn’t know any of the names of the tunes but knew the tunes.

It was a gentle introduction of what was to come.

But Saturday dawned and suddenly my day was pulled apart.  There was a little girl who was receiving her First Holy Communion wearing her grandmother’s communion dress, worn by the grandmother 48 years ago.  A lovely story so notebook and camera gathered up, I headed to Ballydehob.

But firstly there were sheep to be seen to.  They were grazing in my friend’s garden but grass shorn so job completed, the farmer and another friend had been rounded up to move said sheep to new pastures.  A few circuits of the garden enabled the sheep to be directed into the waiting trailer and off they went bleating a sorry farewell.

Next to the Church where a mass of excited children, newly booted and suited, washed and scrubbed and gleaming were exiting the church into the sunshine, happily posing for photographs.  Images of this day will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  Mums and dads, grandmas, granddads, aunts, uncles, siblings all in the finery smiling into the lens.  Ellen posed happily for me with her mum and dad and grandma.   Darling little girl with the brightest smile and so like her grandma in the photograph of 48 years ago.

Then we headed to Schull to track down another friend, whose birthday it was.  Armed with a very special ice cream, flowering plant and a bag full of treats and gifts we eventually found her.  Spent a wonderful afternoon, sharing the ice cream eating shortbread biscuits, drinking tea and coffee and chatting and laughing in the sunshine overlooking the islands and the sea.   Decadent days, but birthday wishes exchanged and very happy we had shared the couple of hours with her.

Back to the Fiddle Fair for the Saturday night session.  The Foghorn Stringband with Nadine’s smile the warmest greeting you could wish for.  She is so lovely and she and Sammy, Caleb and Reeb are so welcome back to the Fiddle Fair.  Their Old Time music, is familiar to us all and really no one wanted them to leave the stage.

Next up were Daimh with special guest Eilidh Shaw.  This was a Scottish group, but one guy was from  Canada another from California although living in Scotland.  The voice of the girl Gaelic singer was as sweet and gentle as an angel and although I don’t have any Gaelic here too I knew the songs she sang from my childhood.   They played their hearts out and for some it was their first visit to Ireland and I do hope they come back again.

Jeremy Irons was in the audience on the Saturday night and it was standing room only as the marquee held a capacity crowd and lots of people were just too late to get tickets.

I got in around 1 am and spent Sunday doing the write up for Jessie Kennedy’s new cd, the story of Ellen and the communion dress and generally catching up.

Today was the icing on the cake with a session in the Riverside Cafe in Skibbereen.  The Foghorn Stringband played a couple of sessions and they are a joy to listen to and to watch.   The lads from Cape Breton, Troy MacGillivray, Shane Cook and Jake Charron played too – making sweet magic with their fiddles and guitar.  Others joined in but what a wonderful way to spend a Monday afternoon or indeed any afternoon.   I met a friend for lunch at the Riverside and to join in the Fiddle Fair post mortem session so we ended up spending the whole afternoon there.  Had to move my car in case the traffic warden was about.  In fact I should have moved the car twice, but Brendan McCarthy senior was dancing with Nadine and we were all singing again when The Foghorn Stringband set up for the second time.  So it was 6 pm before the lunchtime session finished.

I said to Sammy and Reeb and Nadine that we do this all the time in West Cork – and we mostly do.   A mad mad world and here’s to the next time.

A man’s world where women are invisible.

I want to write about how I was ignored today at the counter in the hardware store. Most of the men being served were farmers. I was next in the queue but the queue is landscape shaped as the counter is spread almost the whole width of the shop with several tills. I was next but an elderly farmer leaning intently over the counter was the next one to be served by the young salesman who came out of the back office. I am of course female, old and pretty nondescript and definitely not a farmer.

I did say,’I was next.’ but I was similarly ignored as the ‘men’ went about their business.

I walked to the front of the shop and called to the girl who usually mans the till nearest the exit but was busy sweeping the floor, ‘Can you see me?’ She looked up enquiringly and said, ‘Yes!’ And I replied, ‘Well apparently I am invisible to everyone at the back of the shop as you have to be male to be served there! And it’s not the first time I have been ignored!!’

She did her best to placate me, got another sales guy to serve me, but I left with nothing and will go back tomorrow in a better frame of mind. And I will observe the unwritten rule in this store anyway, ‘it is indeed a man’s world and women should know their place, three places behind and subservient to any man who is in the queue or non queue as it is!’

The Fork Lift and the Moon Car

RNLI Union Hall 1






Yesterday I declined a lift in a fork lift so I could be hoisted fifty or more feet in the air in order I could take an aerial photograph of some pretty fabulous cars, even if it was for the RNLI. Thankfully there was someone on hand who was much younger and braver and who could handle my camera.

Union Hall West Cork is a pretty special place, full of pretty special people. I always try to believe there is good in everyone.  Mostly everyone has good in them somewhere but some people make it very hard to find!

But yesterday was a spectacularly good day with people being at their best and doing their best for others.   It was one of those brilliantly sunny days when West Cork glows at its best. All eyes were on the fleet of pretty special cars which had arrived in the village to support Union Hall RNLI.   As I go by colours usually to identify any vehicle, please forgive me if I mention only three which were easily identifiable even to me.

(To be truthful I had the details given to me.)

Of most significance was The Moon Car which many vintage car enthusiasts were seeing for the first time. This vehicle has a pretty interesting history and I googled it to get the information which follows. It is a bright oh so shiny yellow and was gleaming at its best yesterday

Pat McSweeney of Ballineen owns the gleaming yellow immaculate 1919 Moon Car, a beautifully restored Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. The car is said to have disappeared on the evening of 21st March in 1922 when it was used in an attack on Crown forces disembarking in Queenstown, Co Cork from their base in Spike Island. The Moon Car was hidden and rediscovered in the 1980s and eventually acquired by Rolls Royce restorer James Black in Co Antrim.   You will read much more of the history of this vehicle on line.

RNLI Union Hall 3RNLI Union Hall 2







Main organisers of the event in support of Union Hall RNLI fundraising branch on Sunday, April 26, were Crosshaven Veteran, Vintage and Classic Motor Club with members of a number of other vintage car clubs coming along in support.

RNLI Union Hall 2







Winners of the Buckley’s Bar Best Car trophy were Phillip Tiby and Sal Tiby Perks of Youghal, with their 1936 Wolseley, at 25 horsepower, the biggest one made. The vintage group were travelling on to attend another car event in Bandon,

Also on show in magnificent condition was the1938 2530 red Rolls Royce, owned by Patrick Burns of Blackrock, Cork city.

In great West Cork fashion refreshments were served in Myross Rowing club house to all who attended the event. The cars were then lined up on the causeway against a backdrop of a memorial to all those lost at sea either in the adjacent waters or from the surrounding villages who had perished at sea in other parts of the world.

Another brilliant West Cork day to add to the many.

Weekday lunches

It’s wonderful weather in West Cork these days. Warm and sunny although it is supposed to change for the weekend.

What is it about weekday lunches that start around 1 pm and you scurry to get home in time for the six o’clock news, although the news today is distressing and painful. On driving home I hear of a settlement to a little boy of €3.5 million for his care for the next five years. The HSE finally admitted responsibility for his paralysis and apologised. His poor parents had to take on the system. Then there are the unknown numbers who have died in the Med on boats which were no more than the coffin ships of the past.

But we have whiled a few hours away in good company, enjoying sunshine in the garden, gathering round a coal fire in the cool of the airy house. The food was pretty incredible too, and each of us were given a doggy bag to take home so supper is supplied.

The UK is in the throes of election fever, Ireland bubbles on with news that Prince Charles and his wife are to visit both North and South next month, and the next scandal will probably be about the properties which were taken over and sold on too cheaply with the Irish taxpayer picking up the bill, but we were in another world.

Back to the lunch – it is so decadent to sit around enjoying good company, great food, pretty magnificent wines and general conversation, catching up with those who have seemed to hibernate this long winter. We are all just that little bit greyer, personally a bit plumper, memories fading, and some with hearing aids sheltering in shell-like crevices.

A charming long lazy lunch on a Tuesday? What kind of people have time to do that? How mad is that, but then how mad is West Cork living. As one companion declared today, ‘You must agree, you have to be slightly mad to live here or you wouldn’t survive!’

And I do agree with her. Here’s to the next time. Anyone for a haggis Sunday lunch? That’s next on my agenda.

Sierra stands for Stagger

It’s like another language – stagger, crawler and runner.

Which one are you? Or are you none of them?

you Last year I was introduced to the terms used by airport staff to categorise people who had called for assistance either on arrival at airports or between departure points.

Sierra stands for stagger. Romeo for runner and I think Charlie is the code word they used for crawler.

Even though my late husband had required wheelchair assistance in the final years when he was still able to travel, I had never come across these terms before.

It was whilst I was on the first of five trips away last year that I smashed my foot, even before we got to Cork airport.

A minibus with broken side doors, no step to help access the back door of the vehicle, necessitated the assistance of the six foot plus driver to help five foot and a bit me climb on. My right left boarded upright and my left leg, even with me being pulled aboard by this giant of a man, just couldn’t make it and buckled in a heap under me.

I couldn’t speak as the tearing of ligaments, tendons and every other piece of me inside my foot broke free and fought for space as they ripped and began to swell and contort.

I limped throughout my journey and two flights to Marrakech and spent the first few days on a roof top sun lounger elevating my foot. We travelled to Rabat and back and I gamely carried on wincing as I went.

Things and my foot did not improve and eventually medical advice was to request assistance when travelling.

It was in Gatwick airport where I first heard the phrase, ‘I have two Sierras’ used.

A Romeo can walk, maybe not very far which is why they would need help in one of the golf cart type vehicles to cover the distance, often a couple of miles, between departure gates. A Sierra, a stagger, can walk a bit and can climb the stairs to enter the plane. But a crawler will need wheelchair assistance and probably need to be hoisted on to a platform within a vehicle which raises to allow level access into the plane.

I was grateful for the service throughout the time my foot took to heal – some ten months.

I met lots of interesting people during the time I waited in the assisted passenger area, people with all levels of abilities.

I experienced a whirlwind wheelchair journey at breakneck speed through the huge and magnificent Dubai airport. A medical emergency on arrival was dealt with by paramedics before anyone was allowed to leave the flight to carry on to the next stage of the journey.

And I was in danger of missing my connection but my wheelchair driver got me there in plenty time.

People are generally very polite and agreeable when they see someone in a wheelchair and will step back and out of the way. What they don’t do is look at you. It’s as if you are from another planet or perhaps they are worried that your lack of mobility might be infectious?

I met a gorgeous jolly black lady who was quite elderly. We were sitting patiently waiting for wheelchairs to take us through to the departure gates and she listed all the trips she had made even within the first three months of the year. She was a seasoned traveller.

She had sold her house and was spending the proceeds travelling between all her extended family. ‘I travel light and I am keeping going until the money runs out,’ she confided. ‘There will be nothing left for my family to fight over,’ she giggled. ‘And I am enjoying life!’

There’s a moral in there somewhere for all of us.


We are on a large cruise ship in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska, west of Juneau. Mostly everyone is out on deck at some point scanning the seas surrounding us. The ship’s outside speakers are switched off as their noise could encourage calving of the icebergs which stand like huge monoliths.

There are orcas in the distance, flipping in and out of the water. There are rules here about how close one can get to the wildlife.

We have whales in the waters surrounding Ireland too and I have been fortunate enough to be on deck in a 40ft boat when a 60 foot fin whale surfaced within 20 feet. The thrill of seeing this huge creature, the crenellations of its mouth, and its sheer scale, will stay with me for ever.

And then suddenly it happens. Naturally the icebergs begin to calve and with a sound like a rocket, huge pieces explode in a flurry of what looks like smoke. The ice shatters and islets form and float on the water. They are not white, but a deep turquoise blue colour, and almost immediately, a scattering of tiny birds appear, from I know not where, to land on the floating ice and as the surface of the ice melts they begin to feed.

The blue colour fascinates me. I ask one of the national park rangers who have come aboard the liner where the colour blue has come from. He tells me the ice in the iceberg has been compressed so tightly that the blue is the only colour in the spectrum that cannot pass through the ice.

It’s all a bit beyond me, but I am enjoying the experience, one that I wish everyone could share.


Enough is a funny word, but probably one of the most empowering words to recognise and take on board.

The spelling of ‘Enough’ looks peculiar to me at least, and its meaning is often at opposite poles. Synonyms include – abundant, adequate, ample, full, sufficient, suitable, bellyful, acceptable, all right, already, bounteous, bountiful, comfortable, competent, complete, copious, decent.

Its antonyms include – inadequate, insufficient, lacking and unsuitable.

We also use it when we wish something to stop; for instance too much noise, squabbling children or teenagers at full tilt.

But when do we know we have enough.

I’ve wondered about this word since just before Christmas, when I was at a cash point in town, queuing with others to draw even more money out. It is that time of year when no matter what you budget for and plan to spend, there is always something else you think you will need.

The postman was cycling around town making his mid-morning delivery to the businesses and homes in Bridge Street, Skibbereen. He called his usual pleasant greeting to me of, ‘Good morning. How are you?’ as he swung over the bar on the bike and parked it by the entrance to the bank. ‘Get some for me while you are there,’ he added smiling.

I jokingly replied, ‘I will if I have any left.’ And then I thought about it – what I was actually doing. I was drawing out more money, just in case I needed anything else, when in fact I had enough of everything

‘I have enough.’ I called to him as I stepped away from the cash point.

And I did and I do.

Do you?

Steve Coogan and Philomena

The following lengthy beautiful true story was first published last year (2014) in the free West Cork newspaper, The West Cork Times, which is also read extensively on line.  The original version, with the Coogan family photographs, may still be read on line if one logs on to coogan and philomena – a family story.

It was my great pleasure to write this, and if I were a ‘real journalist’, I could have made dramatic headlines in the tabloids, but that’s not my way or the way the Coogan family wished this told.  This is a family story about real people we would all be privileged to know.  They have great ethics, good standards and I hope you find this as heartwarming as I did and still do.

“Steve Coogan and Philomena – a Family Story

“During an interview in West Cork a few years ago, Steve Coogan stated, ‘I like to do things I am passionate about.’   That passion was to the fore when he quite rightly took on the media during the UK’s Leveson Inquiry.

However when I saw a screening of the film ‘Philomena’ earlier this year I wondered why Coogan would have any connection or passion for the story of Philomena Lee.

Why would this highly successful man co-write, star and produce a story of a woman’s 50 year search for her illegitimate son – a story that could never have the ending we all hope for?    It would have been so easy for this story and film to fail and become a media target.  So why would he put himself out on a limb, exposing the frailties and cruelty of the Catholic Church?

I believed I had the answer in my notes of an interview Steve did with Greg Dyke during the Schull Film Festival, a few years ago, but I only had part of the story.  Thanks to his aunt, Patricia Coogan O’Dell, here’s the real story of the Coogan family and the background to what I think made Steve Coogan the man he is today.

Stephen Coogan grew up in north Manchester, one of seven children, five boys and two girls, one of whom was adopted.  But the story really starts with Stephen’s great grandfather, Thomas Coogan, a tailor from Kilkenny and his great grandmother, Margaret Coogan, who was from Cork.  They left Ireland as economic migrants to survive in Manchester before World War I.

Pierce Coogan, Steve’s grandfather was born in Manchester.  Pierce always maintained he had the good fortune to be educated by the Christian Brothers.  He left school well-educated, able to play musical instruments, a qualified electrician and with the manners of a gentleman.

He believed education was the key to success so three of his five children went to good grammar schools, including Tony, Steve’s father, as did Steve himself and most of his siblings.

Patricia Coogan O’Dell explains, ‘Even though there wasn’t tons of money, education was always very important.  Most of us had very little interest in sport of any kind.  We read The Guardian – red tops didn’t come into the house – and we went to the local library each week.   Steve’s family lived in a rambling Edwardian house they owned, although the family had socialist leanings.’

Steve’s grandparents, Pierce and Florence Coogan, had the Astoria Irish dance hall and then the Assembly rooms in Manchester.  These dance halls proved to be a Mecca for Irish people at the time.   Pierce brought Joseph Locke over and then the show bands so there was an established line of entertaining in the Coogan family.

Pierce Coogan was an incredibly kind person, lending people money knowing they’d never be able to pay it back.  He felt a huge sense of responsibility to people who hadn’t had the same opportunities, particularly the young Irish boys who arrived off the boat train with nothing more than what they stood up in.

Very often they would stay with the Coogan family until Pierce had sorted them out with lodgings and a job.  Many found their wives amongst the Irish nurses who flocked to the ballroom as Pierce laid on free transport and free entry for them.  There are people in West Cork and all over Ireland who met there.

Pierce held many charity dances to raise money for orphanages and the convents which looked after the aged and unwanted – the list was endless.  Pierce together with his wife Florence, always worked incredibly hard, their ethos being to treat people as they would have liked to be treated themselves.

Tony, Steve’s father, played saxophone in Pierce Coogan’s orchestra, with Steve’s uncle Thomas on the drums.  One evening Tony spotted an extremely beautiful girl, Kathleen Coonan from Mayo, in the crowd and the rest as they say is history.

Even with their seven children, Tony and Kathleen fostered children too. Steve Coogan recalls, ‘My father was a computer engineer for IBM and my mum raised the family.  They did short term fostering, but on top of those children, there would be abused kids, or kids who would be made wards of court.  They often fostered a brother and sister to keep them together.’

Some of the children came from horrific situations and were unbelievably traumatised.   It was often hard for Steve and his siblings to tolerate the effect they had on the household.  Steve’s parents have always “lived their Christian principles” rather than just given lip service to their Religion and this ethos has been followed by most of the Coogan family.    Even today, although he is almost 80 Tony, together with Kathleen, spend a great deal of their time on charity work.

In 1968 at a time when there was still a stigma attached to unmarried mothers, Steve’s aunt Mollie, aged 27, became pregnant.  She felt she couldn’t put her parents through the humiliation so against her parents’ wishes and of her own volition, Mollie went to the Good Shepherd Convent.  She experienced a dreadful time at the Magdalene Laundry.  Mollie intended to give her baby up to Tony and Kathleen for adoption.  Fortunately she couldn’t bear to be parted from her child and they returned home to Pierce and Florence so there was a happy ending to her story.

Patricia Coogan O’Dell who lives in Ballydehob with her husband Chris O’Dell, BSC (British Society of Cinematographers) explains.  ‘When Steve read the book Philomena he was particularly horrified by the iniquitous cruelty which had been inflicted on Philomena Lee by those nuns.  He is very close to his own daughter so would have felt very deeply the pain that Philomena went through at each stage as her tragedy unfolded.

‘Philomena has been a very rewarding project for Steve as he believed in it from day one.  Together with Geoff Pope, he wrote a splendid screenplay which persuaded Judy Dench to be part of it all.  He is a very clever chap, very much like his clever father and grandfather.  I am so glad that people can now see beyond the Alan Partridge character and see Steve Coogan as he is, a man with a very creative mind, capable of much more.  To be awarded the BAFTA for best screenplay has meant a great deal to him.  He is now inundated with all sorts of challenging projects.  I believe that we will continue to be surprised at the range of his considerable talent for many years yet.’

Steve Coogan became a patron of the Fastnet Short Film Festival at the invitation of Chris O’Dell.  Coogan and his company Baby Cow Productions Ltd, the UK television comedy production company, have contributed greatly to the festival by their involvement.

Coogan’s brother Kevin, who is the community leader for L’Arche, Manchester, and Steve recently joined forces to run the  Manchester Marathon.  L’Arche is an international movement which builds faith-based communities for people with learning disabilities in over 30 different countries across the world.

Steve Coogan divided the money he raised between L’Arche and the Rainbow Trust, an organisation which provides support to the families of children with life threatening or life shortening conditions.

Righting wrongs, looking after the less able, and continuing the giving is a trait most Irish people share.  It seems to me that the Coogans are continuing the good works their forebears began and this explains, at least to me, why Steve Coogan had to right the wrong done to Philomena Lee.

You can catch the man, the film and more at this year’s Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival on Sunday 25th.  One may visit for further information and bookings.

Thanks to Patricia Coogan O’Dell and Chris O’Dell for their help contribution to this article and for the Coogan family photographs.”

(c) Carol Gilbert


Spring days

It’s a wonderful West Cork day. Blue skies and next to no breeze. Spring has sprung hopefully. Dads on bikes, guarding little boys and girls as they cycle down the country roads. Saw a couple of people in short sleeves at the garage on the Cork Road! My castaway wallflowers are in full bloom, but then they never stop and the crocuses are peeping through the tub full of grass and weeds. It will freeze tonight but with a day like today there’s the optimism of what is to come with longer days and warmer climes.FullSizeRender (1)
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Old dog learns new tricks.

FullSizeRenderThey say you are never too old to learn. I probably won’t ever want to copy the new trick my 6 year old grandson taught me on Friday last. Even the procession of sons and grandsons who have been part of my life and who have been up to all sorts over the years, have never done this. I am not sure what it teaches you. The small grandson demonstrated a new way of eating marsh mallows, those tiny pink and white ones which topped his cup of hot chocolate. You need a straw too. His hot chocolate was too hot so he used the straw to sup tiny mouthfuls of the milky liquid and in the process accidentally attached a tiny marshmallow to the end of his straw. He quickly whipped the straw around and ate the marshmallow from the straw. Further lessons were learned as the marshmallows began to melt in the hot liquid. Suck up a dissolving marsh mallow and if it has melted enough you can suck it straight into your mouth via the straw.