Talk of Tribunals

Transparency is a fundamental principle in combating corruption which is a disease that flourishes in the shade”.

That was Justice Mahon in the Mahon Tribunal final report published in 2012.  The Tribunal into “Certain Planning Matters and Payments” as it was called, began in 1997.  The final report came out 15 years later. I followed the tribunal religiously from the days when Justice Flood was chairman, all the way through to its conclusion. I remember listening to the RTE Radio enactments at night cycling on an exercise bike in the sunroom of our home in the Skerries Rock estate. I had two young babies at the time. Michael had sold his internet company and we had just bought our land. We were hoping to build a home on the Rush Road, not far from where I grew up.

Home

The Tribunal was compulsive listening. On one occasion and when James Gogarty was giving evidence, we went into Dublin Castle to see the proceedings in action. Mr Gogarty was a brave man. When he died in 2005 Justice Flood attended his funeral which I thought said a lot. I hoped, as most did at the time, that despite the huge amount of public money spent on the tribunal, that Ireland would be the better for it and that the end result would result in a more transparent and equitable planning system.

Unfortunately, corruption is still thriving in the shadows. If there is another tribunal I am offering our story as proof that the planning system is as opaque as it ever was. When he wrote his recommendations, Justice Mahon knew well that it is not possible to completely eliminate corruption. He spoke of emerging gaps in transparency and the need for constant review. He stressed that the example should come from the top.

“the corrupt and the corruptible will inevitably gravitate to the weakest link in the chain of anti-corruption measures”….“corruption at the top tends to repeat itself throughout the whole governance system”.

I have seen it first-hand, how corruption coming from the top creates a tribe of ‘enablers’. Within that tribe, in my opinion, there are three main types of enablers: the Complicit, the Willfully Blind and the Indifferent.

The Complicit are actively involved in corruption but in a bubble, cut-off from reality and with little accountability – some of them are just following orders, some are happy with the rewards and some are afraid of retribution if they were to speak out. When there is a group of people who are aware of what is going on, leaks start to emerge. Comments make their way back to us. To quote a few; “it wasn’t me. I didn’t do it!”, “I’m not the one that was the bad bastard”, “they’ll never get planning because my ..…  is very high up in planning and knows their every move”, “it wasn’t as simple as that”,it was one of the ones that wasn’t going through”.

The Willfully Blind are aware but turning a blind eye in the belief that protecting the institution is more important than the truth. From experience the Willfully Blind tend to take one of two approaches in the hope that the issue gets buried: they either just ignore your correspondence completely or if presented with facts that cannot be refuted, they ignore them and proclaim that “the file is now closed”, “we have nothing further to add on the matter”.

The Indifferent are just that; indifferent. They just don’t want to know and would prefer to remain ignorant of the situation. Anything for an easy life.  Barack Obama said recently that the “biggest threat to democracy is indifference”.

This is what we have experienced in our dealings with the planning system, particularly since the latest refusal by An Bord Pleanala in 2017. There is a lot more that could be said about the system of course, but that’s for another time. I will say that the majority of people in the system are good people who carry out their duties in the public interest. It is unfortunate for us and for the town that personal interests came into play in our case.

Justice Mahon also spoke about conflicts of interest.  

“Conflicts of Interest are a root cause of corruption”.

 We can see clearly how a conflict has stopped our planning, not just for Holmpatrick Cove but since we bought the land 20 years ago. The land is and always was appropriate for development. The evidence-based studies confirm this as does the support from the community- all the sports clubs, the Skerries Community Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Tidy Town’s Committee, were amongst many others who wrote in support of its development. There was a small handful of neighbouring objectors who provided the white noise required. Some of them close to the source of the conflict.  As I have said before, there are too many incidents, co-incidences and circumstantial connections pointing to one conclusion- that our planning was interfered with. We are far from alone in this assertion.

I wrote to Justice Mahon recently (a fan letter!) and he gave me some good advice. I am thinking about how best to use it. His and Justice Flood’s planning tribunal began the year my eldest daughter was born, in 1997. She’s 23 now. She has four younger siblings. We are living in her fourth home since then. When I was following the Tribunal hearings all those years ago never did I think that we would be impacted by planning corruption to the extent that we would lose our home and livelihood in the process. We will move on of course. On to our next home. If there is one thing our experience has taught us, it is resilience.

Last Christmas we showed a public representative our information. He is very sympathetic, and we believe will make a difference.  We showed him the timelines, the links between parties, the decisions taken. We told our story. We all joked about the fact that there was a tribunal in it. On seeing what we put in front of him his response was “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it is a duck!”. Well, all I can say is – that duck is still quacking……!  

T(h)reading Water

A few days ago we went for a drive. An escape. We are limited to Dublin of course with the lockdown so we decided to drive south along the coast.  It was a beautiful sunny day and when we hit Malahide Michael suggested that we go for a swim in the Forty Foot in Sandycove. It was unplanned so we stopped off at Dunnes stores in Cornelscourt and picked up some togs and towels. My grandfather Barney, used to swim at the Forty Foot every day in the Summer after he retired to Dalkey. That was back in the days when it was a male only swimming place. No togs needed in those times! Apart from a look at the Forty Foot on a cold Winter’s day, I had never swum there. I was very taken by the place. It was magical with the sun shining on the water and heads bobbing in the sea.  It was like an outdoor Lido. It was lunchtime and it was obvious that office workers, amongst others, were having a lunchtime swim. Everyone was cheerfully soaking up the last of the late summer sunshine. We had a lovely swim.

Skerries Frosties- Holmpatrick Cove Swim

Skerries is a swimming town, which is no surprise really given that it has water on three sides. I come from a swimming family. My father taught generations of Skerries children to swim. First in the sea some time around 1960. They used a long pole with a hoop at the end at the Springboards.  Later on in 1968 Skerries Swimming Club moved to Gormanston College swimming pool, which is about 15k away from Skerries. When we were very young we used to go there in Charlie Fanning’s minibus. That was before we got the old Renault 12. My father brought myself and my siblings down every Saturday morning for our swimming lessons.

Gormanston was a great tradition. My father taught the littlest, who would swim a width and have to get out of the pool to run around again. You worked your way up the widths as you got better.  From Mr Ryan to Mr McGloughlin to Mr Maloney, Mr Sexton and then you would hit Mr Carmichael. Now, Mr Carmichael was a man dedicated to teaching swimming, but his children skills were lacking to say the least! He was terrifying- God rest him. He used to shout at the kids and blow his whistle. My siblings and I were lucky because we had our father as a bit of a cushion. There was a great motivation to get through this width quickly as you would be moved up to the sanctuary of the next session, where you got to swim lengths.

When my eldest children were young we had the same routine. We went to Gormanston every Saturday morning to swimming. My father had moved on from teaching the young kids.  After 37 years and a couple of operations he figured that if he didn’t give it up when my youngest brother finished, he might have to see his grandchildren out. So he wisely quit while he was ahead. When we brought our children my niece Ciara (on the Branagan side) was shepherding the little ones through the first width. It went from Ciara to Conor, to Barry, to David to Peter. Same process but a new generation of children who, as a sign of the times, now called their teachers by their first names! 

Gormanston was great. Lovely Art Deco architecture. We all have great memories going there. The Galas. The echos and smell of chlorine as we ran through the entrance. The conker (chestnut) trees in the grounds. The day Mr Carmichael fell in the pool. (There was a rumour going around that he couldn’t actually swim!) The struggle to get there on time and the disappearing goggles that drove me insane. (I always thought a good title for a parenting book would be Gumshields and Goggles!).  But the roof fell in on the swimming pool and it was closed down about seven years ago. My youngest didn’t get beyond widths to lengths, which was such a pity; the difference between an able swimmer and a great swimmer.

Skerries Swimming Club also has a series of sea races during the Summer. They date back as far as the 1920s. They had petered out but were revived by Leonard McGloughlin and friends in 1941. They have wonderful old trophies and names such as The Island Swim, The Round the Head Swim, The South Strand Swim. We had many a trophy on our mantlepiece growing up, gathering spools of thread, keys and general trinkets.  We even borrowed the Rose Bowl trophy for our youngest’s Christening! The sea races are still going strong today. Mr Carmichael used to run the races with Leonard in the early days. (nowadays it’s Barry Sexton and David McGloughlin). To Mr Carmichael’s credit he gave up endless hours voluntarily to Skerries Swimming Club and ran a tight ship. Nobody dared question the handicap he gave them. And if you didn’t go around the last buoy at the end of the race there was hell to pay! I remember, way back when I was heavily pregnant with my first child, myself and my friend Carol (who was heavily pregnant with her last child!) decided to do the swim from The Captains to the back of the harbour. Poor Mr Carmichael didn’t know where to look at the sight of the two quite heavily pregnant women.  A bad jellyfish sting put a hold on my sea racing career (not when I was pregnant thankfully) but I reckon after twenty years it might be time to make a come -back.

Over the years the town has tried to lobby for a swimming pool.  There was the Ballast Pit proposal that lots of us contributed to, but it got pulled from Skerries to Balbriggan. (we got our money back). But unfortunately a pool didn’t even get built in Balbriggan. And there was the pool we were going to build at Holmpatrick Cove. It would have been similar in size to the pool in Gormanston which had served us all well over the years before it was closed down. One of the few objectors said the pool wasn’t big enough, that it should be an Olympic sized pool. I love your thinking mate- but get real! He also said we didn’t need a hotel in Skerries or a “dead-end walkway”. I think that was more to do with the airstrip and hangar he uses which was built on the coast without planning permission. An airstrip that cuts across the coastal walkway. Anyway, I’m sure he is happy now as he gets to fly his little airplane totally uninterrupted. These days he has taken to giving a little victory flight over the bungalow we live in. I must let him know when we leave so he can return to his old route over Shenick Island, (the island with the Special Protection Area (SPA)- the European Directive to not disturb the birds!).

Speaking of swimming and Skerries, every Summer (except for this one of course due to Covid) we have Water Safety Week. It is a national initiative and like Skerries Swimming Club, it is all done on a voluntary basis. Watersafety week in Skerries has the biggest turnout nationally and there are waiting lists to get in. In 2019 I think about 400 kids took part. (I’m open to correction as it was probably even more than that). If you look at the South Strand on Watersafety week (or sometimes the North strand depending on which way the wind is blowing) there is a tented village set up for the week as the various classes go on.  Parents often down tools to spend a week on the beach and the picnics are legendary. I never quite got my act together on the baking front, but I was lucky that my friend Debbie is a great baker and she took pity on my kids over the years. The pay-off was the barbeque we had at the end of the week in our front garden. That was always a good night!

Watersafety week makes for hardy kids. They get put through the mill come rain or shine, staying in the water for up to half an hour. For the more senior swimmers at the Springboards, that can be twice a day as well as the Lifesaving theory classes on the grass. The supermarkets run out of hot chocolate that week! All the kids come away with great life skills and a lot of respect for the sea. This knowledge has helped two of my children and my niece and nephew, out of sticky situations in the past.

From hardy kids to hardy adults. We have a cold-water swimming group in Skerries called the Frosties. As you can probably guess, they swim all year round. Only the odd hurricane would deter them from their daily swim. I couldn’t contemplate doing that and you will never see me in the water for the annual Christmas swim. I’ll leave that to Michael and the kids who, along with the Branagan family, go in for their swim outside the old family home on the South Strand, before the customary Christmas drinks.

When Holmpatrick Cove was refused by An Bord Pleanala two walks to the site took place as a show of support for the development. The planning board had said that Holmpatrick Cove was rural and distant from the town. To show what a load of rubbish that was the Frosties decided to swim from the Springboards to Holmpatrick. Only in Skerries….God, I love this town!

When we came home from our trip to the Forty Foot the tide was in that evening and we felt we should round the day off with a swim in the Springboards. It was probably motivated by loyalty to Skerries, having “crossed over to the south side” earlier that day. So, with the sun lower in the sky and still glistening across the water, we had another swim. A great way to finish off a Summer season of sea swimming- two swims in the one day. The problem is that the sun is still shining- not a problem of course- but it’s making me feel guilty. Maybe there’s a few more dips in it before the Winter closes in….


 

The Dog Fight

This Country Has Gone To The Dogs

There was a dog fight in the field some years ago. It was a turf war. Who was allowed to walk on the land?  Two big dogs told a little border collie that he didn’t have permission to walk on the land and he shouldn’t be there. But the little collie knew he was perfectly entitled to walk in the field as he had been given permission and sure wasn’t he looking forward to having a drink in the bar of the new hotel when it was built. 

Now the two big dogs had also been given permission to walk in the field. They had been doing this for a few years, sure didn’t they as good as own it. Don’t be ridiculous you stupid little dog. We know better than you. There will never be a hotel here. We have a very big dog relative in big dog high office who knows all about fields and is in charge of all of the fields and will never allow it. Where did I hear before about a dog being obeyed in office? Hmm, sounds familiar…..

One Autumn evening when there were haystacks in the field, I thought I would take the younger children up for a run around to wear them out.  They loved climbing up on top of the haystacks.  Now going up to the field was a rare thing for me to do because I didn’t like going up there. It gave me a sick feeling in my stomach.  But occasionally I would make a point of going up on principle. I parked my car at the entrance of the field and let the kids loose on the haystacks. They were happy out. 

I was buttonholed by a dog walker. I was told my car was in the way and that he was walking his two big dogs. I was taken aback. I thought to myself, but don’t I own the field? Wasn’t I entitled to park my car wherever I wanted?  I looked him in the eye and told him I was “walking my children”.  It took a good while for the penny to drop- he backed off “Oh, oh, yes, right” and he skulked away. Honestly, you’d swear some people think they own the place. 

The dogs in the street know what happened to Holmpatrick Cove in planning and development circles. It was a good development. Over the last three years we have met up with practically everyone in the industry in an effort to move forward.  The planning history is too much for them to stomach. Reactions to the refusal include (and I quote) “are you sure there wasn’t an ulterior motive,” “somebody has been shadowing your planning from the get-go,” “they were of a mind to refuse,” “someone’s fingerprints are all over this” etc. etc.

We have joined the dots, but that’s another blog. Back to the dog fight. It was an uneven match. Two big dogs against one little one. There was no let up or calling off of the dogs. The poor little collie lost an eye in the fight. He died not long afterwards. 

The dogs in the street know what happened. And so do the dogs in the field. 

Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

I grew up on the Rush Road in Skerries. I remember our first address was 113 Rush Road until the council changed the address to Holmpatrick, some time in the seventies. Michael still refers to our estate as the ‘new estate’ because that’s what the Holmpatrick estate was called when it was being built in the early 70s. Before it became the ‘new estate’ it was known as the ‘Twelve Acre Field’ and originally ‘Dick Derham’s Field’.  I have a very old photograph, taken from the late 1920s or early 30s of my grandfather, Barney Duignan (on my mother’s side) standing beside a pilot in an old light aircraft in the ‘Twelve  Acre Field’. My grandfather was a young police officer in the early days of the Free State and he spent some years as sergeant in Skerries. He married my grandmother, Rita Larkin from Balbriggan in 1935. My mother told me how her mother remembered her and her family hiding in a ditch when Balbriggan was burned by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence in 1920. Little did my grandfather know, that some day into the future, a daughter of his would rear her family around the very spot where he was standing.   

White Wall beach at Holmpatrick

I have great childhood memories growing up on the Rush Road (or the ‘Twelve Acre Field’). Particularly of the Summers where we spent endless hours on the beach across the road. The beach and the cliffs were our playground. We made boats out of sand and sat in them until the tide came in and undid our all our hard work. But that was the fun bit. Or castles decorated with shells and feathers.  The moment just before their demise was always great because the moats we had dug were filled with water and the castles looked amazing. There were mud ball fights and even jellyfish fights (the little purple non stingers). And then there was the pursuit of the perfect mud ball. If you got the darker wetter sand further up the beach at the ‘sinky sand’, for the center of the mud ball and then layered it gradually, topping if off with the light golden sand, you could create the perfect spherical mud ball. As well as aesthetics, the mud ball had to undergo some tests such as surviving being rolled down the sloped bit of the sea wall. It was important that it performed as well as it looked.   My older brother Alan seemed to have the art perfected. (the artist in him I suspect).  

Our father was an expert whistler.  When we heard his whistle it meant it was time for lunch/dinner or just time to come home as it was probably getting late. We would often bury our prize mud balls for safe keeping. We would dig them up later or even the next day and with a bit of touching up they were as good as new.

One time we discovered that the sea had eroded under the concrete sloped part of the White Wall and you could squeeze in underneath.  According to my brother and his friend it was like a giant cave inside. I was too afraid to go in and much to my older brothers’ annoyance I blurted out about it over the dinner table. I could see the look of alarm on my parents’ faces at the thoughts of the wall collapsing on the little boys. The Council were brought in and they duly arrived with their cement to fill it in. It was a bit of a patch job because some years later a large hole appeared in the road in front of the house and you could see the sea water when you looked in. We were even on the 9 o’clock news! A much bigger job was required and the large boulders from the quarry were brought in at that stage along with the new footpath and the steps. I preferred the muddy bank but I was a realist. I didn’t fancy our house falling into the sea.

I also remember the foghorn from the Rockabill lighthouse. The fog could arrive on a very hot day and clear up as swiftly as it arrived. One day I went swimming with my friend and the fog came down suddenly. The tide was half -way out and much to our shock a large seal came up out of the water right beside us, looked at us and gave a loud snort out of his nose. I remember us screaming and running frantically only to find that the water was getting deeper, not shallower.  It took us a while get our bearings and make our way back to the beach in the fog. I still remember the seal and the feeling of panic to this day.  But I really miss the sound of the foghorn.

The cliffs also provided hours of entertainment. One Summer my older brothers and their friends had a gang which they called ‘The Wallys’. (don’t ask- it must have meant something else in the 70s!). At first it wasn’t open to female members but obviously the boys were forward thinking and they allowed a few of us in once we passed certain tests. Myself and two of the girls managed to pass these pretty grueling tests, which was no mean feat. Tests included climbing up a steep part of the cliff and also jumping off and sliding down. There was also the test where you were tied up with ropes that were staked into the ground. You had to escape in a certain time. I think it was a minute. Not everyone passed but once you were in there were benefits to being a Wally! The kudos for one. Also we had influence. Cyril and Clare McGloughlin, our neighbours, owned the delicitessan in Skerries and their kids were proud Wally members too. They kindly provided French baguettes one day when we were having a picnic in our front garden. We had set up a couple of tents for the occasion. It was the first time I had ever eaten or even  seen a French baguette. It was the real deal. It even had poppy seeds on it.

When we got a bit older my siblings along with our friends would venture further afield. We would go to the island and climb the Martello tower. Or we would walk along the beach as far as the waterfall (it wasn’t much of a waterfall really) or to the Devil’s Chair.  Do you know that if you go around the Devil’s Chair three times at midnight the Devil will appear to you? We weren’t brave enough to try that one out. But it’s true. We went to the Smuggler’s Cave of course and I remember squeezing myself through the loop you could do inside. That was scary enough but when I think about the time (on one of our rare trips inland), we walked along the top wall of the tower of Baldungan Castle, I still feel weak at the thought. One wrong move and we were gone. I knew better not to tell my parents about that one at the time. I often wonder how we all survived. Thankfully Baldungan tower is blocked off nowadays.

Often my father would take us out to Shenick Island to catch crabs. He has some gaff hooks and he knows all the crab holes both on Shenick and at Red Island.  I remember him leaping from rock to rock with us following him. He would sometimes put his arm in up to his shoulder to catch a particularly stubborn crab.  The younger kids would be left propped on a rock if the going got tough only to be collected once the bucket was full.  It was very precarious. He only stopped catching crabs a few years ago but my youngest brother and my middle son have inherited ‘the knowledge’ from him!  

His dressed crab is delicious and gives his great friend and neighbour, Cyril, a run for his money with regards his dressed crab recipe.  Sadly Cyril passed not long ago. Cyril was a great supporter of our plans for the Rush Road. Luckily for the people of Skerries Cyril’s son Conor has kept his recipe going.  If you go to the Farmer’s Market at Skerries Mills on a Saturday morning you can buy the best dressed crab in Ireland. (well maybe the second best!!).

There’s no doubt that Rush Road in Skerries was a great place to grow up. We were very lucky and I think we knew it even back then.  My Grandfather Barney went on to become a Chief Superintendent in the Guards. He was an utterly decent and honest man. I miss him very much and I often wish he was here today. I’ve no doubt he would have some good advice to give us……

Sergeant Barney Duignan at the Twelve Acre Field c.1930

Show Ponies and Circling the Wagons

The RDS (Royal Dublin Society) in Ballsbridge plays host to the big shows and events in the country. Trade fairs, the Young Scientist Competition, the Spring Show, the Horse Show, music concerts and much more. It is of course the home of Leinster Rugby too.  I have gone to a few of the Leinster matches but I am happy to leave the tickets to the real Leinster fans in the house. A ticket would be wasted on me as I am a confessed fair-weather supporter, especially if Leinster are playing abroad. Now then I’m interested.

Jessica Springsteen Dublin Horse Show 2016 – Image Erin Gillmore/Noelle Floyd

I have quite a few memories of trips to the RDS. When I was very young I went to the Spring Show with my friend Millie and her Mum. Her Mum allowed us to go around a bit on our own and we were feeling very grown up until we innocently wandered out the main entrance. It was only after we started to cry that they let us back in again! I also have the memories of sitting final college exams in the RDS, another lifetime ago (with Millie again!). And of course there’s the annual Féis Ceoil which I have been to on occasion. It’s quite a serious event. It is a national classical music competition. I will never forget the time I went to wake up my younger daughter to bring her to the Féis. When I pulled back the bed covers to coax her out of bed I let out a scream when I saw a bright orange vision in the bed. Oh my God! Of all days, the Féis Ceoil was not the day to be bright orange. She had decided to apply a liberal amount of fake tan the night before. It was St Patrick’s day as it happens. All she needed was the green and white and she had full Irish flag – green, white and orange! We found a dress with long sleeves in her big sister’s wardrobe and a pair of tights, so we managed to cover up most of it. Even Cif Cream didn’t budge it so I have a great memory of watching her play her violin and all I could see were two bright orange hands. The things you remember!

I particularly remember another time we were in the RDS in the Summer of 2016. Myself and Michael were invited to the Horse Show by our friends as their guests. We had a lovely lunch whiling away the afternoon watching the show jumping. I remember the silliest details such as the fact that Bruce Springsteen’s daughter was one of the jockeys, but beyond that I wasn’t very clued-in to the horses.

But speaking of show ponies one thing I do remember about that afternoon is that a certain individual made a point of approaching us at the table. We knew him well. He had advised us in the past and there never had been any animosity. On this occasion he was advising us again, but this time unsolicited. You see, it had been about five months since we had lodged planning for our development and we were still waiting for news from the local council. He was very familiar with Holmpatrick Cove.  Of course he was, he’d only worked with us on the original submission to the Development Plan. He was our expert advisor at the time. He was hell bent on telling us that he’d been approached by one of the neighbours to put in an objection and he of course didn’t do it. He agreed with Michael who said he couldn’t have anyway because he would have been conflicted. In all it was an odd exchange.

Weird thing was, fast forward six months to February and it was a different story.  We had got the planning from the council and he was now working for ‘the neighbour’. (One of the ones that had lost the court case, had to pay costs, remember “wholly incredible” and all that). He put in an appeal to An Bord Pleanála. So, what had happened in the meantime that made him change his mind? Must have been worthwhile. I noticed he was appointed to a new role giving advice on a national level and that he was speaking on platforms with the big fish/big dogs or whatever you want to call them. He was even more important than he was back at the Horse Show. We were utterly shocked by the about-turn. Here he was (well there was an attempt at a Chinese wall) attacking his own planning advice. Quite the betrayal. We were appalled by the breach of trust.

He is a member of a club, not the Pony Club but an Institute that has rules and a very serious Professional Code of Conduct. From its Golden Years, around the turn of this century, to today, it is a very professional body. It’s motto is “One for all and all for one” no, only joking. It’s something like proud of … not sure…can’t quite remember. It’s obviously a very nice club to be a member of because they have your back, especially if you are very important.

I reported the conflict to the club.  It was very simple. How can you advise us and then attack your own advice a few years later? You can’t of course. It’s in their Code.  He wasn’t happy about the complaint. He was agitated. He turned to someone who he thought might have been able to persuade us to withdraw the complaint.  He told that contact that he wasn’t the one “that was the bad bastard”. I wonder who was…The contact warned us you see. Be very careful, “the system always protects itself”. No truer word. It does. He had told the club he didn’t advise us on our development but then I sent them the old submission. His own handwriting was all over it. An inconvenient truth. Anyway, they circled the wagons. Nothing to see here. Move along and don’t be bothering us. There must have been another code that I missed. A code of silence…for the life of me I still can’t find the section called Omertá Code on their Website. 

Of course, the RDS is a lot quieter these days with the pandemic still going strong. The Féis was cancelled this year. I don’t think my daughter was too upset, to put it mildly!  However, I am happy to report that Leinster were back in form last Saturday. They beat Munster but unfortunately had to play to an empty stadium. If you looked very closely at the TV screen, the real fans from this household were flying the flag, as they are known to do. A welcome bit of normality returned to this uneven world.

Saving the Community from Itself

Saved by the Board- View from the White Wall
Imagine a planning appeals board refusing a planning because of the noise from children playing. Honestly, it’s way up there with Monty Python’s Ministry for Silly Walks. The noise from children exercising on land (zoned for recreational uses) would be “injurious to the neighbouring amenity” which, by the way, is well over 100 meters away. God love those families living in the houses overlooking the rugby and Gaelic pitches in Skerries I say.

This was An Bord Pleanala. They had run out of noise you see. All the other noises had been taken by the noise studies.

The appeals board knows best. They’re the experts. They know all about this planning stuff. Didn’t they put one of their most experienced inspectors in charge??! Hmm…let’s see….No! All of the local clubs and societies supported Holmpatrick Cove. They said it was ideal. A great plan for Skerries. But what would they know? They only have to live with it. Phew. Close one!

This is the same appeals board that said that that Holmpatrick Cove wasn’t the right place for a hotel. No, it wouldn’t do to have a hotel on the coast overlooking the islands at the edge of town. I mean it’s not as if Skerries, that tourist town, needed one. There’s one in Balbriggan isn’t there? And Malahide and plenty around the airport. Oh yes and there was that letter from Failte Ireland saying it in fact was the right place for a hotel. But what would they know? They’re only the tourist board. Or maybe that letter got lost somewhere….there was a lot of trouble with the filing system over those seven months. Files were going missing.

Another big problem, that the planning appeals board sorted out, was that if the development was built, you just might be able to see it. That would not do at all. So, if you are standing at the outer point of Red Island and you look south you would see it in the distance below the other houses up on the Rush road. You think that’s bad. Wait till you get to the White Wall at the rugby club (bear with me it’s a bit of a walk along the South Strand path where you wouldn’t be able to see it). Or you can drive (although they don’t like cars) and pull in to look at the islands. Now listen carefully, this is important; when you get there do not look out to sea at the view. I repeat do not look at the view. Turn around and face south and look along the coast and you would, heaven forbid, see bits of Holmpatrick Cove sticking out. (If it was built that is).

We were spared that “visual intrusion” by our public body. It’s all highly sensitive you see, being on the sea side of the road. These views are protected. That’s why they have these rules; so you can see the view. Only problem is that there are houses in the way on the Rush road. Lots of them and a hill. Imagine if you could have driven in and had a coffee in the hotel and actually seen the view. But rules are rules. Public bodies like rules. When they suit that is.

They like Objectives and Guidelines too. Throw in a few objectives for good measure. Your average punter won’t look them up. Like the one about being “set below the ridgeline”. Did you not read the application? Or about keeping the hedges. I could go on….The Guidelines are great though. Now that’s serious stuff. Quite scary really. But hang on. Why put in Guidelines that don’t match what your saying?  Surely you mean the 2007 ones not the 2009 ones? The ones that are actually about “sequential zoning”. The ones for the councillors who vote on zoning. Which they did. Four times. Maybe it was a mistake? Honestly, you’d swear it was a democracy or something.

If you had an hour or so to spare and as an average punter (a reasonable man/woman) you could get a copy of the Development Plan and have a gander. It could be a bit confusing though to the ‘reasonable man’. There’s a Masterplan in it called the Holmpatrick Cove Masterplan. It’s on the map too. Hatched out in black and yellow. There was supposed to be a hotel and pool and houses and a park and a walkway and oh yes, don’t forget the “training spaces” for those noisy kids. But no! The planning appeals board knew better than those meddling councillors. They knew better than the planners that wrote their Development Plan. They knew better than the community. They found a loophole. A technicality…….Gotcha!

Coffee Culture

I saw him once. The big fish. It was evening time, just coming up to Christmas 2017. I got off the LUAS tram and I went into Arnotts to get a coffee in the Abbey Street coffee shop. He was sitting in the corner, deep in conversation with another man. I got a shock when I saw him in the flesh.

I was coming from the Criminal Courts where I was on jury duty. The trial I was on lasted over two weeks and concluded just before Christmas. It was a trial about child abuse. There’s something very uncomfortable about looking into the minute details of other peoples’ lives. But it’s necessary for justice to prevail.

It was three months after our planning for Holmpatrick Cove had been refused by An Bord Pleanála. We were still reeling at the injustice of a decision that defied logic.  Eight years and our vision wiped away at the eleventh hour by faceless civil servants. The council had given a very strong grant in the January of that year, so we had every good reason to expect a positive outcome. When I walked into the coffee shop that evening it was all very raw. 

There was a free table beside the two men and I sat down whilst waiting for my coffee. He would not have known me, the big fish. I looked like your average mother doing her Christmas shopping. I took out my shopping list and feigned studying it studiously. But I wasn’t thinking about my list. I was catching snippets of the conversation going on beside me. It was about building heights and apartment standards. He was doing most of the talking and the other man was listening intently and nodding in agreement. As a casual observer (maybe not that casual) it was clear to me who was in command. I got up to collect the coffee and they went to leave. I had caught the tail end of their meeting. I mean coffee. He passed by me on my way back to my table and he caught my eye. Was there some flicker of recognition from home perhaps? I’m not sure. But I sure knew who he was and how his world had impacted mine. 

Apropos of coffee. Michael and I make a point of escaping for our coffee every day. It’s a time out. I think in modern parlance they call it ‘self-care’. In Skerries we are very lucky because we have so many great coffee shops and it is safe to say that you would struggle to get a bad coffee anywhere in the town. Before Covid hit we would sit in Goat in The Boat on the harbour or Olive Café. During the lockdown we found Gerry at the station where he does great coffee too. When the regulations eased you could buy your coffee and sit in the station platform at a social distance. It was a great way to catch up with friends. Nowadays we often take Gerry’s coffees to Red Island where we sit in the car and look at the view of the islands and the town. Sometimes we drive down the pier and watch the boats and the action in the harbour. It’s good for the soul. We sold our boat last year. It was great fun for the kids, extended family and friends. It was especially great when Michael took the kids out on the boat and I could enjoy a quiet house. A win-win for all parties!

In this country we have certainly embraced coffee culture. Ireland is a small pond where big fish could lose the run of themselves.  A lot is discussed over cups of coffee between friends:  current or ex colleagues, current or ex committee members, current or ex fellow presidents and members of institutes. Plans are made, deals done and promises made. It could be very advantageous, especially if there’s promotions or board appointments to be filled….Join the dots. We have. 

I wonder if there’s any chance we could get minutes of these coffee meetings under Freedom of Information? Somehow, I suspect there’s as much chance as James Gogarty had when he famously asked if he would get a receipt from Ray Burke during the last planning tribunal. The reply he got was “Will we f**k” If you ask me, it’s all very fishy!

Propaganda

Every five years the local council votes on a new plan for their area. It is called the County Development Plan.  There is approximately a two year lead up to this process which is known as the Draft Development Plan. At the end of the two year period the local councillors get to vote in the plan that will shape their area over the next 5 years. The public participate in this process by making proposals to their local council and commenting on submissions made by third parties. The executive planners in the council are the administrators of this democratic process.

Skerries Harbour

In 2010 we made our submission to the Draft Development Plan process for Holmpatrick Cove. In truth we had made a submission in 2009 but it was returned because it was sent in at the wrong stage of the Development Plan process. (It was site-specific and at that stage they were dealing with strategic plans). The 2009 initial proposal was ambitious. A bit too ambitious as we were talking about Heritage Centres and Bird-Watching platforms and I think even an Aquarium!).  We had been to Lahinch, you see, earlier that year. That’s where the idea for Holmpatrick Cove evolved. They had it all there: hotel, swimming pool, aquarium, Heritage Centre down the road. So, we thought well, why not use our site in Skerries? We knew we had a great site. Strange decisions had been made in the Planning Board around our entrance. We knew they were based on vexatious claims so we could deal with that in the future.

The council had supported our plans for Holmpatrick Cove. By this I mean the executive planners who we went to in the first instance. They were going to propose it themselves in their January 2010 Manager’s Report. But that never happened; there was the famous unexplained U-turn. The local councillors did support our plans so, encouraged by them, we put our submission into the Draft Development Plan in May, 2010. At this point the plan was for a hotel, swimming pool, 24 contemporary houses on the residential lands, a park, training spaces and a coastal walkway- Holmpatrick Cove.

The first commentary on our proposal (Manager’s Report) that came out of the council was in September 2010. Another “Screening Report” followed which went on public display.  The executive had changed their tune, to put it mildly.  Holmpatrick Cove was now “highly undesirable” It was rural, distant, it had no public transport, highly sensitive, highly visible, it would damage the birds on island, it would damage air quality and climate. The report implied that the developers couldn’t be trusted, the entrance was sub-standard, there were plenty of hotels in the area, there was already public paths on the land. If what was said was true, Holmpatrick Cove would have been scandalous. But it wasn’t true. Our proposal was unrecognizable. Only possibly a municipal dump could have elicited such strong objection from the executive planners. The report was aimed at the 24 councillors who were to vote on the proposal in March 2011.

In January of 2011 we had our opportunity to respond to these reports. It was a stage in the Draft Plan that also allowed the public to make their views known. We made our submission dealing with the ‘mis-information’ in the Manager’s and Screening Reports. We included our Court Judgment and Order regarding the entrance and past refusals.  All of the submissions made during that stage were accessible on the Council’s public web-site. Except ours. Our submission was redacted/obliterated. They mustn’t have liked it.

The council executives got to reply to the January submissions in their February Manager’s Report.  “There were a large number of submissions received both in support and opposing Amendments 5.11 and 5.12 (collectively addressed as Holmpatrick).” That’s what they said, the Executive in Fingal Co Co. They were referring to Holmpatrick Cove. The truth is there were 19 against Holmpatrick Cove (including a round robin) and 125 in support (including all of the main sports clubs and societies in the town). The bias shown in the opening statement continued throughout the report.  Previous errors we had drawn their attention to were repeated. Holmpatrick Cove was stilll “highly undesirable” for the same five reasons. (they mustn’t have read the Court Judgment because they still mentioned the substandard access and previous refusals). They must have hidden our reply very well because it was completely ignored. It was now February 2011 and a month before the elected councillors would get to vote on the new County Development Plan

The final Development Plan meeting took place on March 23rd 2011. The councillors came armed with the February 2011 Manager’s Report (they were saving on printing).  All 24 councillors were at the meeting and twenty of them spoke. Many of the councillors had bought into it the Manager’s Reports.  Why wouldn’t they? The socialists put in a motion to take Holmpatrick Cove out of the County Development Plan. The socialist councillor remarked at the meeting in March that she “was struck by the Manager’s lengthy and detailed reply. I haven’t seen such an emphatic reply to an objective”. So, she urged her fellow councillors to support her motion to remove Holmpatrick Cove from the Development Plan.

The executive did their best to defend their reports. Some points were obviously troublesome so there was a bit of clarification done only after the councillors’ debate had concluded. Apparently there were some facts in the Manager’s Reports that they couldn’t defend any more…there is a 33 bus that runs past the site….we haven’t I think anywhere in the report indicated numbers of submissions for or against….In relation to the access onto the road …there were a number of Board Pleanala refusals….we gave the factual panning history…the proposer has won a high court case…and that’s quite correct…and it should be said on the record. There seems to be a suggestion that the proposer has reneged on these lands, in ceding these lands….we were just simply answering the obvious question -were the lands in our control? No.…..In relation to hotels …there is a permission for a hotel at Milverton……you have existing hotels in the area, the Bracken Court Hotel…there are hotels in the area. We did make mention that there were local paths across the site….our information is probably incorrect….In relation to the reduction of Open Space lands where we did say 50%……that was a rough estimation on our part…….You can’t say that it’s visible from all areas of Skerries but it is visible. The senior planners tried their best to undermine Holmpatrick Cove- even at one stage displaying an incorrect site plan, the one that had been returned in 2009 with the Heritage Centre and Bird Watching building.  This was done to illustrate to the councillors how much land would be taken up by the development.  It was misleading to say the least. Perhaps an innocent mistake?

But local democracy won on that occasion. The local councillors defended the proposal and managed to persuade enough councillors to trust that they had their community’s best interest at heart.  The vote went in favour of Holmpatrick Cove. Holmpatrick Cove was on a Statutory footing in the 2011-17 Development Plan.

If anyone was to search the public record to read the official minutes of that meeting they would think the councillors who voted for Holmpatrick Cove must have been on some pretty strong substances to have voted the way they did. The public record consists of a Manager’s Report and a record of the way the vote went. But here’s the shocking bit.  When the minutes were published a month later the heading on the minutes said “The following report by the Manager, which had been considered, was CONSIDERED” (to you and I that means that the following report is the one that was debated).  But it wasn’t the report that had been ‘considered’. The report that was debated was substituted by a new, altered even more negative report. For example there were now 11 numbered reasons why Holmpatrick Cove was “highly undesirable.”  The public record is false.   

At the time we asked them why they altered the minutes and got a non-response. Earlier this year we contacted the council again. We provided detail and wanted the public record amended. The official response was “ The Planning History is on the Public Record”. No it’s not.

It is now 2020 and we are mid-way through the 2017-23 Development Plan. Holmpatrick Cove fell between two Development Plans. The council did grant planning permission for Holmpatrick Cove but it was refused by the planning board in 2017. That decision is a re-play of 2010/11.(For example they ignored the Court Judgment and preferred to mention the past refusals due to the substandard entrance etc. etc.). Also, the Statutory Objectives were taken away and exchanged by a ‘Non-Statutory’ Masterplan by the Fingal executive just before the refusal. Oh dear! That didn’t help. But fear not they did leave in one of the three Statutory Objectives- the one about ceding lands to Fingal. Anyway that’s another story and I’m sure there were at least 19 happy people (including the round robin!). Well maybe at least 21. (Must not forget those in the long grass).

The truth is the 2010/11 reports were biased, there were false and exaggerated statements made to further an agenda.  One-sided information was disseminated in a deliberate manner to influence public opinion.  Facts were manipulated and half-truths were presented as fact. The flow of information was controlled and information was withheld from the public. Loaded language was used to produce an emotional rather than a rational response. This is what the senior executives in the council presided over in 2011. Oh! and by the way, I have just outlined the definition of Propaganda.

Two nights ago we went to the Lighthouse Cinema to see The Sound of Music. Our eldest son had bought us all tickets. (He studies film and this was special because it was a 4k restoration of the original film). What a movie! Our youngest had never seen it before which I found hard to believe. Our eldest joked afterwards about the parallels in the end scene when the Von Trapp family are walking over the mountains into Switzerland, leaving everything behind them. They all agreed that they were looking forward to the day that we do the same with the field!


Credit: The Sound of Music- Von Trapp family flee to Switzerland

“Sounds Like a Lot of Crap to Me”

It was December 2010 and we were sitting in the Circuit Court at the Four Courts listening to the opposite side’s expert witness give evidence about the boundary. This surveyor was giving a lengthy description about how boundaries can be marked up. He said that often in the past he could use a scrap of paper to mark out a boundary. He recalled being in a pub and going into the toilet to get some of the old- style toilet paper (the one like tracing paper) and using it to agree a boundary. I will never forget it. Justice Joseph Matthews’ removed his glasses and addressed the court. “Sounds like a lot of crap to me”.  It was the one occasion, over the three-day trial, that the tension was broken in the courtroom and there was loud outburst of nervous laughter. I suspect it was only our side and a few independent observers that saw the funny side, but it was funny. Justice Matthews was a wise, soft spoken judge and his remark stood out in such a sombre setting. There was a lot at stake.

Image: https://archiseek.com/2010/1802-the-four-courts-inns-quay-dublin/

We were in court because of a good old-fashioned boundary dispute. Six of the neighbours to the north had suddenly decided that they owned half our entrance after almost twenty years living there.  They were relying on an old Land Registry map that had “a bit of a dip in it”. This was around the time the Holmpatrick Cove proposal had been submitted into the council when they were doing up their new County Development Plan. If it turned out that they did own half the entrance, well then we would have been goosed. Our surveyor had given evidence before hand. He explained very carefully how boundary lines on the map are “not conclusive” evidence of ownership. He explained how much of these boundary lines were drawn up in India using satellite imagery and using the features on the ground as a reference. He had carried out a “Ground Truth Survey” on our behalf and he went into great detail about how this is the most accurate and equitable method of determining boundaries. He said if we all relied only on the lines on the maps we would have people hopping over walls, hedges, over ditches claiming land the far side of well-established boundaries. (Believe me he’s was right. When you own a field they come at you from all angles).

So, Justice Matthews didn’t appear to be buying the less compelling evidence about the toilet paper. When I think about that toilet paper it brings me right back to my days in the Holy Faith Convent in Skerries. That was the standard toilet paper in the early days of the old convent. It even had ceramic dispensers on the wall where the box was inserted for ease of access. It was not very practical to say the least but sometimes we used it in art class to trace with (not surveys granted) but it was more use there than in the school toilets,

If I close my eyes I can bring myself back to that old convent building. I can walk around and I remember every room. It was an imposing building. I remember the old gym hall with the parquet flooring and the large sash windows. We would sit on the old green mats and deconstruct the old rubber beneath the mats. (They got very shabby in the end). I remember the green terrazzo floors in the bathrooms and the locker rooms. I remember the beautifully carved stair-cases. The high ceilings. I remember the corridor with the statue of the Virgin Mary at the end. Sr Imelda’s shop was on the right-hand side going down and the junior and senior infants classes were on the left. At break time Sr Imelda would drag open the concertina shutter. We would all be pressed up against it to get our hands on a Big Time Bar or maybe even a Caffrey’s Snowball. She was a force to be reckoned with, Sr Imelda. She would shout at us all to stand back and God forbid if she caught you running up and down the corridor.

One of my favourite memories was when we were brought up in single file to go to the little chapel. I loved it as much for the journey as the destination. We were now entering ‘Nun Only’ territory as we had to go through the Nun’s area to get upstairs. I loved the view from the corridor upstairs. You could see the two windmills and right up to the back of Dr Healy’s house and the house beside it with the sun-room on an upper floor. It was magical.

The chapel itself was an awesome space. Not that I gave much time to prayer, but I did love the architecture: the beautiful stained-glass window, the high ceilings and the wood carvings. Outside the building I also remember the orchard with the apple trees. There was a little farm and I remember Mr Coleman showing us the hedgehog. There was an ornamental fishpond and a large concrete yard where we played skipping with a big rope. As we got older we moved out to the prefabs in the field. It wasn’t quite the same as being in the main building.

My grandfather had been brought up by the Nuns in this convent. His father died putting decorations on a Christmas tree in 1903. He fell off the ladder. His mother died of ‘a broken heart’ a year later, leaving three orphans: my grandfather aged three and his two older sisters. His father and his two brothers had come up from Tipperary some years before and the three brothers bought a pub each between Drumcondra and Dorset Street. My grandfather’s one is the one with the man and the clock at the top of Dorset Street. It was once called Ryan and Son (my grandfather). The three orphans were left in the care of the Holy Faith Nuns in Skerries where we believe they were well cared for. However, as in most good Irish stories, by the time my grandfather reached 18, his inheritance had been spent by the executors- probably at the bar in the three pubs! In any case at that time he was in the Dublin Fusileers and fighting in the battle of the Somme. He was lucky. He survived his gun-shot wound. By the time the Second World War came along he moved back out to Skerries with my Grandmother and their young children because he was afraid Dublin would be bombed.

My grandmother, Mrs Ryan, taught French and Irish (and even Spanish after school) for many years in the convent. She retired just before I started school. My grandfather’s first cousin, Sr Alophonsus, lived there. She didn’t teach and I’m not quite sure what her role was but I suspect it was in the kitchen due to her large girth. She had a very sweet tooth and I often benefited to the tune of a packet of Toffo or a Caramel bar that she would root out of the pockets in her robes. I was always happy to run into her.

Back to our run-in in the courts. Michael told our story in court. It was easy to tell. It was the truth. The opposite side’s evidence (delivered by the objector in chief to our planning) was described in the written Court Judgment as “wholly incredible”. It was fantasy: “always knew I owned the land the far side of the hedge but it never occurred to me to mention it” in my voluminous objections, “the hole cut in the hedge for us to enter was always there” (you just couldn’t see it) etc. etc.  We won our case. In fact, we made a bit of national history when Justice Matthews ordered that the boundary between us and the six neighbours was to be registered by GPS co-ordinates in the Property Registration Authority. This was a first in Ireland. We now had conclusive evidence that our entrance was not “substandard in width”. We knew this of course. It had been accurately reflected in our planning documents. It was 11.5 meters and the Court Order ruled that our sightlines could not be blocked. The neighbours had to remove the fence they erected in our laneway and put it all back to the way it was.

In the months leading up to the court case there had been a tirade of legal letters and much wasting of police time.  The neighbours would plant the laurels and we would remove them and give them to the police. They would complain to the police of theft only to find that the police had the laurels in the back yard. It was nonsense. I witnessed them planting them one day. They were being advised by the friend across the road and there was great laughter.  They were checking to make sure they blocked the view of the road from our entrance – our sightlines. They didn’t notice me approaching and observing what was going on.

After the court case I got a phone from a dog walker intervening on behalf of one of the families in the court case.  Costs had been awarded against the six parties and the dog walker was wondering if I would do something for them. “Isn’t it unfortunate when families fall out”. Ironically, I found their planning records (the opposite side’s) a few months later. There it was in black and white (or in fact magenta and black as it was on an old microfiche). Our entrance was clearly marked out on their own architectural drawings measuring 12-meters. They should have brought these documents along to court and we all could have avoided costs let alone stress and falling out. Justice Matthews was right. It was all “a lot of crap”.

We sent the Court Judgment and the Court Order to the Planning Appeals Board in 2017 when Holmpatrick Cove was under appeal. We were half expecting an apology because the three previous refusals were all based on the so called “substandard entrance in terms of width” and the resulting traffic hazard. It was the first time we were at the Planning Board since our court case. Funny thing was they didn’t pay any attention. In fact the inspector, in his assessment of the entrance, made no reference to the Court case and preferred to refer to the previous refusals where planning was refused because the entrance was “substandard in width”. The Court Case was an inconvenient truth.

As regards the Holy Faith Convent building. It was knocked down in the 1980s. I lived in one of the homes built where the old convent was. It was a lovely home. But it’s an awful shame that the old convent building was lost.

Holy Faith Convent Skerries – Hugh FitzGerald Ryan

The Human Cost

We have another viewing of our house tomorrow. My first thoughts are “Oh God the boys rooms are a mess” (the girls rooms aren’t much better to be honest).  So I tell them they have to tidy their rooms. Occasionally I’ll get the comment “but why would we bother? It’s not like we want to sell the house” Fair point and part of me would like to agree but we are low on options and we have our pride to consider! 

You see we are in receivership. Being in receivership makes you totally powerless. (Don’t know why but I can’t help thinking of tumbleweed as an analogy!). I could go on about the fact the lender appointed a receiver in the middle of a global pandemic. That the lender appointed a receiver when there was both market and political instability. I could go on about the fact that they sold our land at a bargain basement price. I could go on about the fact that because they sold the land so cheap the house (our home) has to be sold. (It’s a simple equation: cheap land + house = loan + 15% interest =Happy days for lender). I could go on about the fact that we opened the national newspaper and found our house listed as “bargain of the week.” I could go on about the extra security that was given over to avoid eviction seven days before Christmas. I could go on about the fact that we are left completely in the dark. And there’s more. A lot more. But what’s the point? The lender and the receiver are legally within their rights to do what they are doing whatever about the human side of it all. Before the lender appointed the receiver in March, the land was for sale. The selling agent was shocked that the land didn’t sell for a strong price. He told us the feedback from developers was that it was the planning history. So all of this (the receivership, the loss of the home…)  is just collateral damage. As one of our local councilors said to us This is the human cost of corruption”.

The House on the Hill

In 2018 we sold our old family home on the beach to keep the show on the road.  (We had roll-up interest to pay). It was a great home and we have wonderful memories there: christenings, communions, birthday parties, etc. We had great neighbours too. Originally we had bought the bungalow we are living in for the land that connected Holmpatrick Cove to the town. It made sense to complete the Coastal Walkway. When we told the children we were moving to the bungalow our younger daughter wasn’t too keen on the idea. I remember laughing when she said “I’m not moving to that hideous house on the hill”. Granted it was in need of updating and even she would agree now that it wasn’t at all hideous. It’s a great house. We did it up and made a lovely home. On balance we will have great memories from the couple of years we spent here too. What’s more our nephew and his wife bought our old home on the beach. It’s in good hands.

Lately we have been living a bit of a nomadic life. Our stuff is spread between three different locations: here, storage and my parent’s house. Not ideal. At the beginning of March and under pressure from our lender we had to move to my parent’s house down the road. Apart from the obvious upset and disruption we had a lovely ten days there. We had evenings sitting around the dinner table and chatting. My parents enjoyed the company and so did we. There was lots of music again. (it had been a while). The girls played their violins. My mother loved it. They even played the piano with her. It was not an unhappy time. It ended abruptly however when Taoiseach Varadkar made the big announcement about the Covid19 crisis. We were all gathered in the living room watching the speech. About five police cars had pulled in across the road with their headlights and flashing red lights beaming in the window. (Obviously they too were listening to the announcement). It added a touch of drama to the scene. The perfect backdrop. We went back to the bungalow the next day. We made a call given the national emergency. We didn’t want to put my parents at risk.  

My middle son stayed with my parents to keep them company. He was happy to cocoon with them as he was studying for his first year college exams. (He did great) Also I think my mother’s cooking was an added incentive.

Apropos of cooking and much to the amusement of the kids, I have been experimenting a bit of late. A new diet. I like to call it a new lifestyle. It’s a distraction from other things…….My eldest son came in late, not so long ago, after a very good night out with his friends. (A few beers were had). When he opened the door this foul, putrid smell hit him like a brick wall. I’m not sure how to take this but he said that I had been cooking such weird things of late that he just presumed it was another of my experiments. (sadly he was right). He went to bed but he told me later he spent half the night (what was left of it anyway) with his head stuck out the Velux window because the smell was so bad. I still can’t believe he didn’t try and at least find the source. And Oh God that smell! We will never forget it. Let’s just say it was supposed to be a bone broth. When our youngest son woke us up the next day saying there was a disgusting smell in the house Michael went to investigate. The chicken carcass was black. (It reminded me of my trip to the National Museum when we saw the poor mummified bog men). It took at least two weeks to get the smell out of the house. Bone broths have now been officially added to my banned list.

My father used to say about my grandmother (his own mother) that he and his siblings learned to cook in self-defence. Nana Ryan, as we called her, was always buried in a book on topics such as Medieval history or maybe learning a new language. Housekeeping and cooking got in the way.  In our case the kids do the baking for the same reason (self defence). In fairness it might have something to do with the time I managed to hoover a perfect round hole in a cake that  two of the children had baked. They were arguing because the younger one had put too many sprinkles on top. I don’t know why, but it seemed perfectly logical to hold the nozzle of the hoover over the cake to remove the excess sprinkles. I don’t need to tell you that that didn’t turn out well.

I spoke to all five of our children the other evening. I said if you had a choice what would you choose. Choices were: keep the house and put everything that has happened to us behind us and move on OR let the house go and continue to shine a light on what went on. You would think this was a tough choice but all five, from the 13 year old to my 23 year old, unhesitatingly chose the second option. With the risk of sounding proud. I think Michael and I have done a pretty good job. We are proud of them.

Back to the house viewing tomorrow. Now, do I light some scented candles and brew some coffee? (Baking fresh bread is not an available option for reasons outlined above) Or do I whip up a lovely fresh batch of bone broth………?