The Mummers, Samhain, and an old pair of tights.

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Happy Halloween 2014

Originally posted on Breise! Breise! Extra! Extra!:

The Mummers (Image Source: Pinterest)

The Mummers (Image Source: Pinterest )

It seems that globalization has reduced the world to McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts, and in the transition we may have lost traditions that made each country unique in its customs. One such custom is The Mummers, a very Celtic custom and ancient one too.

Although we associated it with Halloween, other parts of the country went on the mummers on New Years Day. It is a day that has become mixed with older traditions such as Wren Day and Straw Boys, both of which I will write about in a future post. For us in south east Galway, Halloween was the night we went on the mummers.

The first time I heard the phrase “trick or treat” was while watching Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis. We did not “trick-or-treat” on Halloween in Ireland, not back in the 70’s or early…

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Suicide Prevention Walk in Westport

DSC_1728Yesterday, Saturday October 11th, myself and a friend took part in the AFSP 5K walk to aid in raising money to train the people who answer crisis phone calls. It is a difficult job, and I admire those who manage the crisis hotline. It was a raw and bleak day, hence the AFSP t-shirt over the raincoat!

The crisis hotline, managed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,  takes calls from those who are contemplating suicide. It’s a tough word, suicide, especially when you know someone who was successful in completing the act. It costs $500 to train a new survivor of suicide support group facilitator.

DSC_1729The word “committed” is slowly being abandoned when used with suicides, because it refers back to a time when the act was deemed as criminal. It isn’t of course, it is a cry for help.

And for those of us who have lost family members to the act of suicide, it is a difficult death to grieve. We ask questions of ourselves, like, did I miss a sign, could I have prevented it, why couldn’t he/she talk to me about their feelings?

DSC_1769The “Out of the Darkness” walk in Westport, Connecticut yesterday was on the 24th anniversary of my own brother’s death by suicide. The pictures I took do not do justice to show you how large the crowd of sponsored walkers was.

It was heart wrenching to see people walk for “Team Abbey,” a 16 year old who ended her own life, and to see “RIP Tyler” on people’s t-shirts or “Karen” because it is a reminder that suicide has touched so many people’s lives.

Triangle Community Center's table at the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention in Westport, CT on October 11, 2014.

Triangle Community Center’s table at the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention in Westport, CT on October 11, 2014.

The most shocking revelation was that nearly 50% of transgender people will attempt suicide. For the young gay and lesbian population, that is a shocking statistic.

The Triangle Community Center had a table at the start of the walk and handed out flags, t-shirts and leaflets to make people aware of the crisis the transgender population faces.

DSC_1759

Meaghan Farrel sings at the Out of the Darkness Walk to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Westport, Connecticut.

Another shocking statistic came from Meaghan Farrel, the entertainment/singer who set us off to a good start for our walk. Her brother-in-law, who was a heroine addict, took his own life after leaving rehab. She mentioned that there needs to be a follow-up support system for those leaving rehab. Maybe there is? Honestly, I am shocked if there isn’t.

To all those who donated money and sponsored my participation in the walk, a BIG THANK YOU! If you still wish to contribute and you haven’t already you can do so until November the 11th by clicking here.

The following is a slideshow of pictures I took yesterday. Thanks again for your donations. Here is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention link.

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The Shorelines Arts Festival 2014

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The Shorelines Arts Festival, now in its seventh year, runs in the third week of September in Portumna, County Galway from a Thursday to a Monday.

The town is well known throughout Ireland for its championship sports teams, but the organizers want you to know that there is far more to this town than sport teams. Although team spirit and good sportsmanship are all admirable qualities, it is the arts that reveal truths, yours and mine, and allow people to express themselves in a myriad of ways. So festivals like the Shorelines are valuable and rewarding for those who present and those who attend.

Once again the organizers outdid themselves with a program of local artists, award winning writers and poets, plays, workshops and concerts, as well as children’s workshops and street entertainment. The weather, as it has been for the last three years, was greatly in the festival’s favor. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday saw not a drop of rain, and the gods shone down on Portumna!

There is something for everyone at the festival. My biggest problem again this year, was choosing which event to attend.

The opening, held in the Irish Workhouse Center, is well worth attending. An assortment of light refreshments were served as the large crowd was serenaded by No More Mossies, who played traditional Irish music and songs to get us all in the mood for a mighty festival. And mighty it was!

The speakers at the official opening were Noelle Lynskey and Des Kenny. Lynskey, one of the festival’s organizers, encouraged the crowd to attend as many events as possible. “This is after all your festival,” she said.

Des Kenny, owner of Kenny’s Bookshop and Art Gallery in Galway, mentioned that when he was asked to speak at the official opening of the seventh Shorelines Arts Festival he realized he could do anything, except say no to a group of seven women! Kenny’s speech was inspirational. He praised the town of Portumna, the history of the town and the women who had put so much effort into creating the festival.

From art exhibitions in the Irish Workhouse Center, to a production of J. M. Synge’s Shadow of the Glen performed by the Half Day Thursday Drama Group and directed by Jim Hines at Portumna Castle, to writing workshops for poets and fiction writers by Julian Gough, from painting  and millinery workshops, literary brunches, music by We Banjo Three and Eleanor McEvoy, classical music performances, piano masterclasses, recitation competitions, upcycling demonstrations, knitting workshops, a discussion of religious symbols on gravestones, there was something for everyone at the seventh Shorelines Arts Festival in Portumna, County Galway.

Portumna is a unique town. In a walk that will take no more than 20 minutes you will be transported along a time line which will reflect important events in Irish history. From the Cistercian Abbey, to the Jacobean Castle, to Christ Church (Protestant) to Saint Bridget’s Church (Catholic) and the Irish Workhouse Centre, the town is steeped in history, and now, thanks to the Shorelines Arts Festival, we know that it is also steeped in local artistic talent as well.

If the packed agenda of the 2014 festival is anything to go by, 2015 will be an outstanding festival. Thanks to the hard work of the organizers, this festival is growing every year. Well done to all involved.

 

Will Scotland go the Way of the Republic of Ireland?

I really have no idea how the September 18th vote for Scottish Independence will go, but my guess is that it will be a 1-5% difference between the yes or no votes.

Twitter feed for Scottish Independence here.

Which way would you vote if you lived in Scotland?

Scottish and UK flag

Safe Harbor

Safe Harbor is part of a collection of short stories coming in October 2014.  © Loretto Horrigan Leary 2014

Safe Harbor is part of a collection of short stories coming in October 2014.
© Loretto Horrigan Leary 2014

I didn’t love her in the same way I loved my mother, my sisters, or my girlfriend for that matter. This was a different type of love. I suppose you’d call it a mature love. It had been thirteen years since we hugged and kissed and said our goodbyes. We had spoken about three times a year and exchanged cards at Christmas, that’s about it.  Nothing claustrophobic, just the occasional phone call. When the call came I knew I had to see her.

Back then I was just a kid of twenty-one, selfish, self-centered. The world was my oyster. Me, with a degree from Yale University, I could do anything I wanted.

The world of my twenty first year revolved around me, my needs and my wants. That is until the captain of my return flight from Ireland to New York announced we had a small problem with a light on the left wing and we had to make a brief stop at Gander Airport in Newfoundland. He lied about the light on the wing. He lied about the brief stop.

We sat for nineteen hours on the plane, parked tip to tip with others lining the vast runway, casually, like a packed parking lot at a mall. Nineteen hours of waiting, wishing the passenger next to me would stop crying. I thought I was hallucinating the whole thing, a bad trip, in more ways than one. After we deplaned, we were processed by customs and immigration, and I stood in the international lounge of Gander Airport, the décor was a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s. But this was Wednesday, September 12th, 2001.

Before cell phones, before Skype, before Twitter and Facebook, I spent my last few dollars, now Canadian quarters, calling my parents. The towers were down, the Pentagon had been hit, and a fourth plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

Through tears and bursts of screams my mother thanked God that I was safe, far from home, but safe. I knew things were bad when my father told me to stay put. I had no choice anyway. All I could muster in that telephone conversation was one word questions and answers.

–“Are you alright, son?”

–“Yeah.”

–“Where are you?”

–“Gander.”

–“Have you been told what’s happened?”

–“Yeah.”

–“Don’t be afraid now. You’re safe where you are.”

–“Right.”

–“Your mother is in a panic, but now that we know you are safe,” and here he gulped and swallowed a feeling, the sensation of tears coming. And then he started again, “Now that we know you are safe, we can breathe easy. Do you have money left?”

–“No.”

–“We’ll wire you some.”

Then it hit me. I might be here for a long time.

–‘What if war broke out? Is this going to be world war three? Would I ever see my family again?’

–“Dad, how long do you think I’ll be here?”

–“I don’t know son. But that’s the safest place for you now. Stay put.”

My money ran out, the phone call ended.

It was at the legion hall in Gander that she took me by the elbow and turned me to face her. That was when I realized I was crying. I just wanted to be home with my parents and my sisters. Life was not supposed to stop like this, a full stop, with people wondering what was going to happen next. I wasn’t supposed to be here, broke and stranded in a strange place.

I looked at her, but I looked through her. I didn’t see her, but I saw her. Her eyes followed me, I could feel her watching me.

“You’ll be fine, darling,” she said, and she stood still as a tree, holding my elbow. This tiny woman, trying to draw me back to reality with reassurances.

“I want to go home,” I said, still not looking at her, but seeing her.

I looked around. Flickers of panic made my thoughts skittish and jumpy. Did I know anyone? Surely there was someone? That man who sat beside me on the plane!

“You can’t go home, not yet. But you will, and until then you’ll come stay with me,” she said, and I looked down into her face. She nodded at me. “You’ll be alright,” she said.

She brought me to a table covered in trays of sandwiches and pots of hot tea and coffee.

“Eat something. You’ll feel better. Then we’ll head back to my house and you can call your family and let them know you are alright.”

My skin felt cold and itched like hell. My baggage was still on the plane. We were only permitted to take our carry-on luggage. I had none. I had been wearing these same clothes now for over twenty four hours. Feeling scruffy, cold and dirty, I wanted to rip at the flesh on my face. The stubble was driving me mad.

“You’re over-tired,” she said, and filled a Styrofoam cup with coffee.

The hall was crammed with people. Mother’s hugging their children close. Men wearing confused looks suggesting they shouldn’t be here, they should be at work. I searched the crowd. Hundreds of people, like me, stunned that we couldn’t go home because home wasn’t safe anymore, and with that was the realization that our family and friends were not safe anymore. Again I scanned the crowd.

She stood before me, about two feet shorter, and held the sandwich wrapped in a napkin and the cup of coffee aloft. I looked at her again, and looked at the crowd around us, not heaving, not pushing, not struggling, but a zombie-like herd, quietly shifting in one direction or another, needing to be told what to do next.

On the outside I appeared passive, indifferent almost. Beneath the surface I capped my emotions and wondered which one I should set free first: Anger at the loss of humanity? Or sadness at the loss of lives? Fear at the loss of security? Or depression at the loss of hope. I was cataloguing my emotions, sorting through each one methodically and triaging them. Which should I liberate first?

It happened involuntarily; I felt my body hunch over and my face dropped into my hands, muting the scream. Hunkered down, amidst a crowd of stranded strangers, I screamed into my palms and then cried. I bawled, uncontrollably. She pulled me up by the shoulders and guided me through the hall, into the parking lot and into her car. I cried all the way to her house, and when the anger gathered in my throat like acid, I yelled at the blue sky beyond the car window and at the green and grey rocky fields.

“I’ll kill the fucking bastards! I’ll fucking kill them!”

Thirteen years and three tours of Afghanistan later I had kept my promise. But on Wednesday, September the 12th 2001, the day that I almost lost all hope in humanity, this small grey haired old woman showed me that humanity still existed in quiet secluded places like Gander, Newfoundland.

When I woke up, I was in a room, on a double bed, covered by a patchwork quilt. The radio was playing what sounded like Irish music, and it drifted in from the kitchen into my bedroom, creating the illusion that I was still on the farm in Portumna, County Galway with my Uncle and Aunt.

I pulled my hands down my face and dragged the sleep out of my eyes. For a second I wondered if I had dreamt the whole thing. Just for a second I was at ease. As I absorbed the strangeness of the room, the smells, and the hill outside my window, the rocky terrain– I knew that it wasn’t a dream.

I headed into the music lilting from the kitchen. She sat at the table reading the newspaper.

“There are fresh towels in the bathroom,” she said, pushing herself up to standing with the help of the table. “And the phone is in the hallway. You’ll have to dial 001 and then the area code in the US. I’ve written it down beside the phone for you anyway.”

The accent was a blend of Irish and Canadian, it was nice to hear.

“My son’s clothes are in that wardrobe there, in your room. He’s away at university right now, but ye’d be the same size I’d say, or close enough anyway. Did ya sleep alright? Ya must be starving?”

She rounded the table and then stood before me. As if reading my mind she said, “Yes, it really happened, and no you didn’t dream it all up. I am so sorry.”

Then she hugged me.

“You probably feel raw inside,” she said, and stood back to look at me. “Sure yer only a lad. God help us! Call your parents first, like a good man. Stay on with them as long as you want. Let them know that you have a place to stay, food to eat. Your mother must be worried out of her mind about ya! The poor soul. Then you can shower, change into fresh clothes, and eat a bit. I’ll start a fry up now.”

The world stopped that Tuesday, September the eleventh. It stopped, for me, for her, and for millions of other people. The one thing that failed to stop was kindness. That day ended my self-absorption. The days that followed restored my faith in humanity.

In bunkers, surrounded by soldiers in fatigue, in dark nights with skies alight with bursts of gunfire, in deserts of sand and stone with death hovering around me, I recalled her kitchen, quiet and still and calm– a safe harbor.

So I had to see her one last time. I had not been back to Gander since September 2001. The airport was still the same. It was strange to think that this place would evoke fond memories despite the reason for being here in 2001.

When I met her son I realized that we were close in age. He was her only child. She’d lost her husband to cancer when her son was young. She’s raised the boy on her own. I’d wondered why she and so many other Newfoundlanders acted so compassionately towards stranded strangers on that dark day.

“As far as she was concerned you were another mother’s son,” he said.

“If we all thought like that,” I replied, “This world would be a safe harbor for everyone.”

© Loretto Horrigan Leary 2014

Celtic Pin

 

Scottish Independence Vote: Tartan Panic?

Scottish Guard's National Dress (Picture by Loretto Leary)

Scottish Guard’s National Dress (Picture by Loretto Leary)

In 10 days time Scotland will vote yes or no for independence from England. It is an interesting time, historic even, because what the need for a vote for independence demonstrates is that geographical proximity is not enough to create a sense of unity, and neither is a shared history.

From the days of William Wallace onward, there have been mixed feelings about shared government between Scotland and England. If Scotland does vote yes, what does it mean for other areas tied geographically to England, but culturally different? Areas like Wales, Cornwall and even though not part of the same land mass, Northern Ireland, all culturally different, but part of the family known as the United Kingdom.

Map of the United Kingdom (Picture Via BBC News)

Map of the United Kingdom (Picture Via BBC News)

Scotland and England are, after all, part of the same land mass. You’d think that they’d have so much in common. That’s what you’d think. But I was shocked that there was such a strong sense of cultural identity and difference between the two.

It will be interesting to see how things go. I think myself that if Scotland votes Yes to independence from the UK it could put a huge tax burden on the citizens of Scotland. Being reduced from 60 million taxpayers to 6 million is a big decrease in tax income for government operations. Or maybe, as a Scottish taxi driver told me, “that’s just scare tactics,” from London.

On my July trip to Scotland, I discovered in passing conversations with retailers and taxi drivers and hotel staff that the majority of older citizens want independence from the UK. Their argument being that tax money went straight to London and not enough of a return was visible in Scotland. The younger people however seemed indifferent to independence.

If Scottish Independence does happen, I think London Government might  pull industry to their side of the border, lack of government subsidies could be enough to sway votes. Investors as of today have turned on Scotland, causing a loss in the value of shares for Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, according to UK’s paper The Independent.

Prominent names like Annie Lennox, Sean Connery and Alan Cumming, Billy Bragg, all Scottish by birth, have publicly announced a yes vote for Scottish Independence.

Lennox said that Scottish Independence is, “an opportunity for something innovative and visionary. Scotland could have some kind of new, ethical, visionary stance and it could take on some fresh ideas.”

Connery has said, “the opportunity of independence is too good to miss.”

Alan Cumming says, “”The evidence is clear – in the past 15 years we have become stronger economically, socially, culturally and globally. The world is waiting for us and I know Scotland is ready.”

Edinburgh born actor Iain Glen said when he was young and living in Scotland he didn’t feel Scottish, and added that now he feels, “entirely Scottish.” Glen said, “I’m not for independence. It feels a bit churlish to live in London and say we should be independent.”

Two other well known Scots, Craig Ferguson and Gerard Butler, kept their feelings to themselves in a recent interview, but they will be voting in the referendum they said.

Will Scotland vote yes? If the recent figures of a 51% yes to a 49% no can cause £750 million slashed from share prices of Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, and “Market Mayhem,” and that’s just a  small lead of 2%, well maybe that’s the “scare tactic” needed to get a majority no vote.

Why is it important to the rest of the world? Because in a globally shrinking world the need for borders and cultural identity seems to be on the rise. A border is as good as a wall. It keeps foreign people out and keeps native people in. And depending on who you talk to, this can be a good or a bad thing.

On September the 18th, or shortly thereafter, we’ll know how the majority of Scottish citizens feel about the matter. Others may follow their example.

Meet and Greet Packages. Are they $worth$ it?

There’s a new way to make more money beyond acting, singing or dancing. Nowadays fans can pay a hefty price to meet and greet performers. But buyer beware. These costly meet and greet packages are not always worth the price. Organizers are charging $200-$300 above ticket prices for VIP Meet and Greet Packages that do not deliver.

VIP Meet and Greet Packages are relatively new and costly, and sometimes a great disappointment to fans. It is important to do your research before parting with a large sum of money. Even the biggest fans will feel cheated if the Meet and Greet is a fail.

Here are a few things to consider:

1. Will you actually meet, as in physically shake hands with the performer?

Eve    @evelienh   How not to do a Meet & Greet. £500 for a Q&A is not worth it, sorry.  5:59 AM - 5 Jul 2014

Eve @evelienh
How not to do a Meet & Greet. £500 for a Q&A is not worth it, sorry.
5:59 AM – 5 Jul 2014

Some fans don’t get within twenty feet of the performer at these Meet and Greets. It sounds like a stupid question, after all, it is a Meet and Greet. But the organizer’s definition might be very different from yours.

2. How long will the meet and greet last?

Fans have complained of 3 second meet and greet experiences. Is it really worth the extra money?

3. How many other fans will be in attendance?

In some cases over 200 other people are there and the performers/performer is just plain tired by the end. It isn’t their fault, and remember they might be tired after performing on stage, they aren’t super human. Is that going to be your fond memory of the pricey meet and greet?

4. What are the precise details of the Meet and Greet? What will happen from start to finish?

Perhaps you were you promised a photo with the performer, some signed memorabilia and did not receive it?

5. What happens if the Meet and Greet is cancelled?

If a performer becomes ill, or simply decides not to do the meet and greet, what happens? Will you get refunded?

6. If photos are permitted will you be able to get your picture taken with the performer?

Selfies? Group photos? Sometimes cameras are not permitted. Sometimes flash photography is not permitted. Sometimes it is just a $400 awkward moment.

7. What do you do if you feel ripped off by a meet and greet package that fails to deliver?

It is one thing to pay $900 for a Miley Cyrus Meet and Greet package that delivers all that was promised, groping included, but what if you paid a hefty sum and not all meet and greet promises were met?

  • Find out who the organizer or promoter of the Meet and Greet was and send an email complaint to them regarding your issues with the meet and greet.
  • Start up a Facebook group page and invite others to come and share their experiences.
  • Get on social media and connect with people on twitter or instagram who have taken pictures to illustrate their disappointing meet and greet experiences.
  • Contact local consumer advocacy groups and ask what can be done to correct the issue.
  • Be courteous to the performers. Remember, they are not responsible for the organization of these meet and greet packages, the promoters and organizers are.

Important things to do before the Meet and Greet

1. Save every email communication from the organizers.

2. Ask precise questions about the details of the Meet and Greet and save responses.

3. View social media prior to purchasing Meet and Greet packages for reviews if possible. #MeetandGreetRipOff   on Twitter can be useful.

Hashtag Wars on Twitter #Ruinamagazine

Every now and again Twitter lights up with hashtag wars. It means when someone starts a challenge and others take it up. Like today for instance. The hashtag war started by a user @midnight, Chris Hardwick of Talking Dead’s account, was #ruinamagazine. And twitter users did their very best to do that, making for some very funny titles and magazine covers.

From, “The New Yorker But Written By People Who Play Hashtag Wars,” to “Reader’s Indigestion,” and then there is “Irrational Geographic.” Or how about “Thyme Magazine?” Instead of Food and Wine you could read “Fool and Whine.” Or how about the good old fashioned “Prayboy?” For the more dignified among us there is “Better Gnomes in Gardens.”

If you need visuals, well go no further.

Men's Fitness?

Men’s Fitness?

Sports Illustrated?

Sports Illustrated?

Vanity Fair?

Vanity Fair?

Here’s a few more unfortunate mistakes that actually made it onto the shelves….

Layout is EVERYTHING. Parents?

Layout is EVERYTHING. Parents?

When the water reflections don't do the title any justice...Sh!t Yourself?

When the water reflections don’t do the title any justice…Sh!t Yourself?

Tails Magazine informs us, somewhat casually, that master chef, Rachel Ray, not only eats regular food, but her family and dog also.

Tails Magazine informs us, somewhat casually, that master chef, Rachel Ray, not only eats regular food, but her family and dog also.

Or my own personal favorite from Wallace and Gromit’s The Curse of The Ware Rabbit,

The Yorkshire version of Hello magazine. Ay-Up!

The Yorkshire version of Hello magazine. Ay-Up!

Scotland

In July we paid a quick visit to Scotland, my first visit, but hopefully not my last.

The Caledonian sleeper train took us overnight from London to a small town in western Scotland called Fort William. I found that the stopping, uncoupling of carriages and slant of the tracks during the overnight journey contributed to a very disruptive sleep. I slept about two hours on the train. The entire train we travelled on will be defunct as of 2015 as new carriages will be added to the Caledonian fleet.

We stayed overnight at  Inverlochy Castle Hotel.The castle was a little too isolated for me, but if you like quiet and remote, this place is for you. It boasts hunting and fishing as part of it’s experience.

From there we took a steam train across Spean Bridge, the bridge made famous by the Harry Potter films, to a town called Mallaig on the western coast of Scotland. The highlands were spectacular and made me think of the western coast of Ireland, Connemara, but on a larger scale.

We returned to Edinburgh and explored the beautiful, and lofty, Edinburgh castle, built on a volcanic plug and rising high above the city. Edinburgh was once known as the Athens of the north, but it was said that the city’s stench was so bad you could smell it from miles away. Hence the sewer system that spawned the wearing of platform shoes, no I am not kidding.

The underground tours, locally known as the sewer tour, explains the architecture of the city, the “closes” and the illegal retailers that set up shop beneath the bridge. It was here that we learned of the Burke and Hare murders. The tour was interesting and worth the time and money.

We stayed at the Caledonian Hotel, which was once a railway station.

From walking the Royal Mile to strolling the coast at Mallaig I would definitely return to Scotland.

The citizens will vote yea or nay for Scottish Independence on September 18th. From my talks with the older generation of Scottish people, tax money from Scotland is being funneled into London and tax payers up north don’t see much of a return on their taxes. The younger generation seems indifferent to independence.

I was shocked to learn that Scotland has its own separate currency from the UK. The value is the same as the UK but the look of the notes is different. Remember to use as much of the Scottish currency in Scotland, because it will not be accepted in the UK.