Dear Dundalk*, why do you hate children?

I am still shaken as I write this. I still see the nose of that car stopping no more than a metre from impact. I still hear my own angry voice shouting, swearing, gesturing to the green pedestrian signal, through which one car had already breezed, before this one, too, ignored traffic rules, and almost smashed into Adam.

As we walked on into the park, trying to process the shock, I knew probably those who witnessed the incident would be far more concerned that I dared shout and gesture like I did, it was just my dog that was almost run over, after all. Nobody would listen to my argument that the driver no doubt didn’t sit in her car, see me and my dog waiting to cross, and decide sure it was okay to run us over. No, she simply ignored the red light because she was careless, because she didn’t think. Nobody would think it could just as easily have been my child. Nobody would likely know how frighteningly often this kind of thing happens, because everybody who saw this happen was a driver, very unlikely to walk and cycle as much as I do, and see first hand how dangerous Dundalk’s cavalier approach to driving is.

I knew complaining would most likely garner nothing more than a shake of a head, tsk-tsk, it’s a disgrace, so it is, and then anyone who might have listened would carry on with their lives as before. Dundalkers would continue to claim to love their children, claim to put their children first, while driving with little regard for traffic rules, making cycling and walking dangerous. Parking their fat, lazy butts in cycle lanes. Smashing bottles in those same cycle lanes. Making parents fear for their children’s safety too much to let them walk or cycle, instead dropping them at school in their cars, poisoning the air those same children will breathe all day, depriving them of the most obvious chance to exercise and reap the near endless list of benefits that exercise will bring: move from home to school under your own steam.

Ah, we love our children, until we are asked to love them enough to sacrifice our convenience so they will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, a planet remaining when they are our age which is still fit for human life. Until we are asked to suffer some inconvenience, show some patience, so infrastructure can be provided to make cycling a more attractive option. Until we are asked to sacrifice ten more minutes to walk or cycle with them to school instead of driving them as they sit passively in the back seat, getting fat, sick, and stupid.

When you strip away the bluff, we love our children, all right. But we love our cars much more.

*If you read this and go: “Hang on a minute, how dare you, I walk everywhere/cycle everywhere/walk my child to school/drive like a saint but am too scared to walk or cycle because of what you describe here,” you are obviously not the part of Dundalk I’m referring to. And you should join me in my outrage at the status quo.

Hooking in Strange Places: Slieve Foy (in a near gale)

Slieve Foy, or Carlingford Mountain, is not that impressive, as mountains go. It would be dwarfed by many peaks in mainland Europe, and sports no sheer cliffs to provide a nerve-twanging ascent by super-people hanging from one fingernail at a time. Instead, the slopes of the Cooley range Slieve Foy is part of tend to have relatively gentle gradients, the peaks rounded. You need no more than a few hours, walking boots and a bit of determination to scale it. Even so, it is not known as a popular destination for hookers, which made it the perfect destination for me.

I’d never walked up Slieve Foy before, and because I can get lost in my own bedroom, I thought it prudent to go with a guide. Husband Micky is not only a lifelong rock climbing enthusiast, he also does a lot of hillwalking. On an unusually pleasant winter day, we decided it would be fun to tackle the peak. I tucked a ball of red wool and the 3.5mm hook I always used into an outside pocket of his rucsack. Continue reading

Hooking in Strange Places: Roche Castle

I really like a can-do spirit in a girl. When I say ‘girl’, I of course mean any human of the female gender. It’s a fantastic attribute in all people, but with the historic ‘you can’t’ attitude there’s been to girls and women, for us to say: “But I can!” is sometimes even today an achievement. Mind, I distance myself from the ‘If you believe in yourself, you can do anything!’ camp. That is a ridiculous thing to say. You can believe in yourself until you’re blue in the face, but you’re never going to fly without some kind of mechanical aid. You’re not going to become a commercial pilot, either, if you have to wear glasses as thick as bottle bottoms. Nor are you going to become a professional footballer if you can’t kick a ball straight.

You can get close to that, closer than anyone would have guessed you can. You can get a limited licence to fly with someone else, or practice your kicing until you can make the local team. Yet I think it’s in fact stupid to pour huge amounts of energy into learning to kick a ball so you can get into the team even though you have zero natural talent, in the process neglecting piano lessons and thus never developing your natural musical skills.

‘Can-do’ means, to me, knowing what you’re capable of and making a plan where your own skills fall short. Thus female pirates were likely not strong enough to do the most strenuous work involved in sailing and maintaining a ship, but they were good at leading people, so they did just that. I like a spot of ruthlessness as well, though those who use this quality to get what they want regardless of the cost to others will never have my unconditional admiration.

Thus it is that Roesha de Verdon is a woman I really shouldn’t like, but do. My feelings of course don’t interest her at all, because she has been dead for about eight hundred years. She lived in a time when Roman influence had, through Christianity and conquest, inflitrated and weakened the Brehon laws that had governed life in Ireland up to then. Therefore the progressive attitude to women was broken down, and the oppressive, alien, patriarchal system we still struggle to overcome today had long taken its place. I wonder, though, how much of that spirit remained. At least some of it found a home in Roesha’s heart. Continue reading

Hooking in Strange Places: Proleek Dolmen… in the dark

The athletics track beside my high school didn’t look like a mecca of natural life. Yet when I knelt down one dewy morning and inspected a small square of dull green grass up close, I discovered it was like an insect city, or at least a big town. Six-legged creatures bustled here and there, a whole civilisation hidden at our feet. Climbing the rugby posts and sitting on the crossbar showed me that a mundane place can look new if you observe it from a different angle.

The self-conscious ‘look at me’ aspect of my actions washed away over time, and left me with a precious memory. I have done something few others have done. I have seen something few others have seen. And I didn’t go to France, Antarctica or the wilderness of North America to accomplish this. I didn’t even leave the school grounds. I just looked at the same old place in a new way.

The big adventures are to be pursued, embraced where they’re possible. It’s a pity, though, if the small ones are neglected in the process.

A visit to the Proleek Dolmen isn’t in itself much to write home about. This is not because the dolmen is uninteresting. The capstone, estimated to weigh between thirty and forty tonnes, rests on the pointed tips of three stones each over two metres tall. Yet in the end, it comes down to parking at a hotel, walking through a golf course, then looking at some stones before going for a cup of tea. Even sitting underneath the capstone and crafting a granny square would hardly make for interesting reading. I felt in my heart this should be my next target, though, and needed to somehow make the experience new. Continue reading

Hooking in Strange Places: Church

My visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dundalk, Ireland, was frightening. I’d been there before, to show visitors around, once or twice when the kids and I were about just before noon. We’d tiptoe inside, go and stand at the bottom of the belltower and listen to the awesome duff! duff! accompanying every peal when the bells sang their tune and rang the midday hour. There’s something about knowing the small room you stand in is not small by any stretch of the imagination – if you count the space above the ceiling – and hearing the strikes against the bells far above your head.

Today my purpose was different. No foreign accent and discreet camera clicks would announce my goal of admiring the beauty of the building. No hushed children’s whispers would leave a door open that we’d come to pray, disguising our true aim of enjoying the thrill of the bell tower. Today I was, in a way, abusing the church. It wasn’t built for people like me, or for my purpose. In fact, a few hundred years ago the organisation it represents actively hunted down and killed my kind. A good few long-dead faithful no doubt did some revolutions in their graves as I stepped over the threshhold.

I’m not only not Catholic, I’m not Christian. Or Muslim. Or Buddhist, Sihk, Jain, Hindu, nor a follower of Quetzlcoatl. I don’t believe any gods exist. I couldn’t help but feel I walked into the church with a huge sign over my head, in neon lights, that proclaimed my disbelief. A kind of anti-halo. Even if whoever waited inside missed this, me walking in and getting busy with a hook and wool would be a rather large clue that I didn’t belong here. Continue reading