"All my love to you, Poppet. You’re going to be alright. Bye bye."

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Just a short post to join the rest of the world in saying I’m deeply saddened by the news of Robin Williams’ death. He was my favourite actor and comedian, and I remember thinking to myself several times when celebrities passed away that his would be the passing that would affect me, more than any other. I don’t normally get too emotional when a celebrity dies, but this time it’s different.

No other entertainer has made me laugh or cry as much as Robin Williams did. There was just something about him that got to me.

In a lot of ways he reminds me of my father (he even looks a little like him), which might have something to do with it.

My parents are divorced, and like so many other people Mrs Doubtfire was a therapeutic film (as well as a hilarious one) for me, which is why the quote in the title of this post came back to me today. I’ve never gotten through that scene without crying. Have a look at it here:

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Naturally I’ve found myself thinking back over his films today, and I keep coming back to: 

1. Patch Adams (I cried like a baby)

2. The Birdcage (I laughed uncontrollably)

3. Aladdin (I wanted to be friends with the Genie)

4. Mrs Doubtfire (reminded me of my Dad and comforted me when my parents divorced)

5. Dead Poet’s Society (I wanted him to be my teacher)

While he was an incredible actor, stand up comedy seemed to be where he truly belonged. When I’m feeling really down, I turn to his stand up clips on Youtube or Spotify, and they never fail to make me laugh and forget whatever is bothering me. However, today when I listened to some of his best clips the laughter was tinged with sadness. It’s heartbreaking to think that such a funny man suffered from so much sadness in his own life. 

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I feel so terrible for his family, particularly his children. His daughter Zelda is only my age, which is far too young to lose your father. 

I’m sure the death of this legendary but tragic man has already been the subject of many other self-centred, long-winded blog posts so I’ll stop now.

I’ll end this post by taking my hat off to the Academy who tweeted this photo along with a very poignant reference from Aladdin: “Genie, you’re free.”

Looking for your Dad’s blessing to get married: an outdated tradition that needs to STOP

WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This is probably going to be a little ranty. If you don’t enjoy ranty articles about gender roles, navigate away from this page now.

I’m in my mid twenties (shading late twenties, I’m in denial) and recently, I’ve noticed a pattern amongst my friends. A dangerous pattern that’s going to wind up costing me (and them) a lot of money.

They’re getting engaged.

At the moment I’m mostly just excited for them and anticipating a few good nights when their weddings eventually come around, but the whole trend has brought up a tradition that quite simply boils my blood. I am of course talking about the tradition of the groom to be asking the bride to be’s father for permission. Since this is the internet, and in order to keep this rant as short as possible, I’m going to present my objections in listicle form:

1. You are your own woman. You pay your own bills, and you make your own decisions. You’re the one who will pay for this wedding if and when it happens. Unless you’re underage, you do not need your father’s permission to get married.

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2. Why is it only the bride who needs parental permission to get hitched? I’m assuming this tradition dates back to the days of dowries and women having no financial independence. You know, the good old days when women were traded like livestock. If I’m right then it’s an outdated tradition and its significance has been lost entirely. If it’s a sentimental “blessing”, why don’t men want us to ask their mammies as well? Surely in modern Ireland that’s a far more appropriate situation, given Irish mammies’ famous relationships with their sons.

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Michael Fassbender and his Mammy at the Oscars

3. It’s a completely empty tradition. As a result of point 1 on this list, your father has no power to say no, even if he really hates your intended husband. Not to mention, many men only do it because they know their girlfriends want them to. Probably because their girlfriends have told them many times. I’ll say it again: EMPTY. MEANINGLESS. So why bother?

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4. It’s impractical. Gone are the days of Irish people imitating salmon and returning to their native rivers to spawn. With the majority of our young population shipped off to Australia to look for work, when will your other half have the chance to ask your Dad? Over Skype?

5. It’s just plain immature. If you’re looking to get married I’m assuming you are at least a little more mature than a child. Grow up and stop looking for validation from everyone, particularly your parents. That’s a fast track to misery right there. Live your life for yourself and make your own decisions.

In this day and age women should be embracing their independence, not hiding behind their Dads. It breaks my heart to see my friends - educated, strong, intelligent women - falling for this tradition, and saying things like “oh he’d have to ask Daddy”. Unfortunately these women will pass the tradition down the line to their daughters, and so it continues.

In fairness, if I’m the only person who is insulted by the whole thing I suppose I haven’t got much of an argument. If it’s that important to you to send your boyfriend/fiancé over for an awkward conversation with your Dad then fire ahead.

However, if my own other half tries to pop the question to my Dad before he asks me, I know what my answer will be.

Buzz words are the bane of my existence

They might be a necessary evil in many situations, but I often wonder what our conversations would sound like without jargon and buzz words. 

I could do without the following words and terms in my life: 

- Language 

- Synergy

- Launch (STOP CALLING EVERYTHING A LAUNCH)

- Let’s push this thing forward

- Going forward

- Will revert when I get an answer (revert used in place of “reply” makes me grind my teeth)

- The leaving out of personal pronouns in emails. How much time did you really save by typing “Will” instead of “I will”?!

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- Feed that back to *name* 

- Engagement/Engage with *name*

- Drive this forward/Drive traffic to/Drive attention to (the only thing I plan on “driving” is a car)

- The *name* scene

- Tech (anyone who knows about it doesn’t need to refer to it as “tech” or say things like “talk tech” or “the tech scene”)

- Needless hashtags, particularly those printed on T shirts. 

Noted repeat offenders in using the above include: Paddy Cosgrave or anyone involved with The Summit, the Web Summit or whatever they’re calling it these days; Most PR agents under 40; Hipsters; Arseholes; Wankers.

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Forgive the expletives towards the end - I’m losing my temper just thinking about this. I can hear them in my head, chattering away, the conversation going nowhere and yet somehow getting them everywhere. 

I genuinely believe there is a way to communicate what you want professionally and eloquently without descending to such jargon. If I’m trying to get a point across, the last thing I want is the reader spending a few minutes reading and re-reading each sentence to work through the layers of buzz words and general nonsense before they get to the message.

Just a quick post to share some photos from the commemoration ceremony to mark the 98th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

The ceremony was short and sweet, with a quick prayer of remembrance and the laying of a wreath. There was a good crowd assembled to watch, with tea and snacks served in the GPO afterward. It was my first time covering the commemoration and I really enjoyed it. I had the chance to climb up to the roof of the GPO for some bird’s eye shots of the military getting into place, which was amazing.

The ceremony takes place every year on Easter Sunday, at noon. If you find yourself in Dublin next Easter, pop down and join the crowd.

Allies, not handmaidens

Jenny Wyse-Power. Elizabeth O’Farrell. Stasia Twomey. Mary Colum. Mary MacSwiney. Nora Connolly O’Brien. Dr Dorothy Stopford Price. Dr Ada English. Kathleen Clarke. Dr Brigid Lyons Thornton. Ring any bells? Hint: We’re talking Irish history here. 

A few of those names are probably more recognizable than others - Nora Connolly O’Brien, daughter of James Connolly; Kathleen Clarke, wife of Tom Clarke. In the main, however, and despite their extraordinary lives, these women’s stories were to a large extent left untold. 

We recently passed the 100 year anniversary of the foundation of Cumann na mBan, the organisation formed by Irish women to further the cause of Irish liberty in 1914. It wasn’t the first time women had come together to discuss their ideas and get involved in events that have now become pivotal historical moments, but Cumann na mBan is perhaps the most well known of those groups. 

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(Cumann na mBan convention, photo courtesy of the Military Archives)

That’s not saying much, considering the number of people I have met who had no idea of the extent of what these women did for Ireland and Irish society at a time of terror, violence and unrest. 

When I heard about the Centenary events, I was almost giddy with excitement at the chance to work on something that’s been a passion of mine for years. There was a full State commemoration ceremony at Glasnevin Cemetery attended by the President, a plaque was unveiled at Wynn’s hotel in Dublin to mark the first meeting of the organisation, and a two day conference was held by the Women’s History Association of Ireland.

Requesting and receiving the images in this post and more from the Military Archives and Kilmainham Gaol Museum made my week and I couldn’t stop examining them, imagining myself in them. What must it have been like for these women? Thrilling? Terrifying? Or was it just an essential part of life for them?

Friends and family members have sighed and rolled their eyes as they realised I was off on one about “the wimmin” again.

Seriously though, this shouldn’t be a niche interest - these women contributed to the formation of our state just as much as the next volunteer did, some of them more so. Anyone with an interest in Irish history should also have an interest in them. 

Being a bit of a history nerd and a feminist, I’ve always been fascinated by their stories. I’ve read several books on the women who took part in the numerous rebellions this island has seen - among them Sinéad McCoole’s excellent No Ordinary Women, or A Noontide Blazing by John Colwell, if anyone’s looking for recommendations - and I’m in awe of their bravery. 

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(Cumann na mBan members, “Mrs Ceannt, Miss Ffrench Mullen and Madam Markievicz”, photo courtesy of the Military Archives)

Women have often been just a footnote in the history of the struggle for independence, despite the fact that hundreds played a part in the 1916 Rising, and the War of Independence. There were women fighting on both sides of the Civil War, and throughout these years, across the country, women were providing safe houses, treating wounded fighters and risking their lives carrying messages between rebel groups (one carried messages in her plaited hair). 

As Mary McAuliffe, President of the Women’s History Association of Ireland, tells me in the video, women were at the frontline, and “they experienced that violence directly”. For women, expected to keep family homes together when everything was crumbling around them, there was no option to go on the run or into hiding. In a way what they did was braver than the men’s exploits. On top of that, they faced social backlash in the form of society’s disapproval of their actions. It wasn’t considered very ladylike to bear arms (and still isn’t…) and joining a secret organisation and learning to shoot a gun went against all of society’s expectations. 

Many of the women had family who were involved in the fighting, brothers or husbands or fathers. 

Countess Markievicz is about the only one of their number whose name found an unquestionable place in history. Hundreds, maybe thousands more simply faded into the background again once the war was over, never uttering a word about what they did. It wasn’t until historians and writers took a particular interest in them that their stories began to emerge. If you have the time and interest, delving into this forgotten corner of Irish history is pretty fascinating, and highly recommended. Watch the video for a taster!

Persistence of Memory

Our memory is a powerful, tenacious thing. It can bring us great pleasure or great sadness. It becomes particularly important when we lose someone.

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We often fill the empty days that follow loss with stories, attempting to conjure up our lost loved one from thin air, trying to keep a part of them alive even as we process their death. Our lost loved one’s character is suddenly amplified, as is our memory of them. We find a new appreciation for everything they gave us.

Something that came to light in the days and weeks following the death of my grandfather, John O’Toole, became the inspiration for this project. My grandmother Kit discovered he had preserved letters she wrote to him in the early 1950s, before they were married. I felt the need to preserve this moving piece of my family’s history, along with the true essence of my grandfather’s character.

Through interviews with my grandmother, and my mother and her siblings, I extracted a picture of John O’Toole seen through the eyes of the people who loved him the most. Of course, he was never “John O’Toole” to us. To us, his grandchildren, he was “Goggy”. To my mother and her siblings he was “Dad” and to my grandmother (“Nanny”), he was “Johnny”. 

Beginning with tender words from his soulmate, “My dearest Johnny”, and expanding to little details that were just as essential a part of him, that picture is represented here through images, audio, and one of his favourite things - jazz.

More pictures of Max and Jazz from a recent trip home. I’m still trying to get the perfect shot of Max’s slobbery, affectionate doggie kisses which he bestows on whoever he deems worthy. 

Liebster Award - Discover new blogs

My lovely friend Marese of Marese’s Pieces (check her out here ) has very kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award. This is an award for bloggers with less than 200 followers, and basically a tool for bloggers to spread the word about each others sites and discover new blogs in the process. 

Now, I think my followers come to a grand total of 3, so it’s safe to say I’m in desperate need of a helping hand from fellow bloggers like Marese. To be honest, I didn’t set this blog up with a view to attracting followers and I do very little promoting of it on social media, mainly because I’m a bit of a coward. 

I set up An Béal Mór to host the odd set of photos, article, video or rant as the mood strikes me. Posting has been at best sporadic and not usually on a coherent theme so I can hardly blame the good folk of Tumblr for not bothering to follow me. However, reading Marese’s blog and some of the other blogs she nominated has inspired me to make more of an effort to write about my life on here. 

So without further ado, here are the rules: 

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11 Facts about me: 

1. I was born in Stanford University Hospital, California. This fact leads many of my friends to refer to me as a "Yank" despite the fact that I grew up in Ireland and I along with my entire family hail from Kilkenny in the not so sunny South East. 

2. I adore food. My favourite dish is Pasta Alla Norma, but I’ll settle for anything Italian.

3. I love photography. I may sort of do it for a living but I still have a LOT to learn about it. 

4. I have a younger brother called Pierre. My parents just couldn’t settle for calling us Mary and John, they had to be different

5. I’m not a girly girl, but I’m not a tomboy either. I like to think of myself as straddling those two clichés. 

6. I love to run, but what I really love is martial arts. I have a Yellow Belt in Krav Maga, but my plan to be just like Chuck Norris is stalled at the moment because my KM gym was sadly shut down. I’m on the lookout for a new one, however.

7. I love music, but I can’t settle on any one kind of music. I love every type of music (with a few exceptions) and a glance at my music collection and playlists would lead anyone to believe I have multiple personalities. If I had to pick one genre though, gun to my head, it would be blues.

8. I’m a complete bookworm

9. I can’t.stop.talking

10. I originally wanted to be a vet, but changed my mind when I realised I wouldn’t have the heart to put animals down day in, day out. So I became a journalist instead.

11. I’ve been writing short stories and living in a world of my own since I was a child.

Next up, here are the 11 blogs I nominate for a Liebster Award: 

http://12monthsinestonia.wordpress.com/

http://thegreatbritishtakeoff.wordpress.com/

http://ornacunningham.wordpress.com/

http://eileenevans.blogspot.ie/

http://aislingorourke.com/?page_id=271

http://mrsmichaelmyers.tumblr.com/

http://cookiteatitloveit.com/

http://dermotswineblog.blogspot.ie/

http://daydreamingfoodie.com/

http://gwenscheeseboard.com/

http://aseaofneoncolours.wordpress.com/

Now, for Marese’s 11 nosy questions:

1. What made you decide to start writing a blog?

I had stopped writing in any creative way or even writing just for the pleasure of it, as the job and the social life slowly took over. I decided setting up a blog would give me a place to put anything I might want to write, and hoped it would give me a push to do a bit more writing!

2. Facebook/Twitter – share your link!

Twitter.com/Saschaotoole

3. If you met your idol, who would they be and what 1 question would you ask them?

My idol of the moment is Sheryl Sandberg. I’d ask her how to know what risks to take, both in life and in your career.

4. If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?

Try to spend at least ten minutes of each day NOT daydreaming. Also, exercise more, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

5. What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Check my email. 

6. Do you have any regrets?

Tons. Nothing life changing though, thankfully. Mainly I regret spending too much time regretting. 

7. If you could live off one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

PASTA.

8. I believe everyone is either a cat/dog/horse person. Which would you choose (or would you choose another animal?) and why?

That’s difficult for me, because I always thought I was a cat person until I got my dogs. Now I can only think of myself as both a cat and a dog person. Is that cheating? Ah well. The only animal there I can rule out is horses. I enjoy horse riding but I’m a complete beginner and still a little afraid of them.

9. Where is the best place you’ve ever visited?

Paris. I know, original!

10. Reading/Writing – which do you prefer?

It’s hard to say - I love both! I love writing and find it very therapeutic, but I’d probably have to go with reading.

11. What 3 things would you like to do in the next 10 years?

- Get a Master’s degree (don’t ask me in what, I’m still deciding!)

Travel to at least 2 new continents (the current plan is South America and South East Asia)

- Learn to drive

This was fun! Thanks very much for nominating me Marese, and I hope the blogs I nominated enjoy filling out these 11 nosy questions: 

1. What inspires you to write a blog post?

2. How often do you blog? 

3. Explain the name of your blog. 

4. What’s your pet hate on the internet? (it can be anything from abusive comments to spelling errors in tweets, etc)

5. What (if any) New Year’s Resolutions did you make this year?

6. Would you rather a) A brand new car or b) An all-expenses paid trip to a place of your choice?

7. Can you cook? If so, what is your go-to dish to impress guests?

8. Name three things you love about Ireland.

9. What’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you in the last year? 

10. Tell me about the last time a book, or a piece of music (song, album, etc) changed your life.

11. What is your favourite (non blog) website?

The Irish Coast Guard - Volunteers

These portraits are part of a project I’m working on at the moment to capture the members of our incredible Coast Guard teams around the country. These photos are of the members of the Skerries team. I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of people more generous with their time and willing to help. I have such respect for volunteers everywhere, but the Coast Guard in particular interests me. It’s incredible to think that the people who are available around the clock to help you if you’re in trouble on the coast, are actually volunteers with full time jobs to go to. 

While I was taking these portraits I chatted with the members of the team about how it fits in with their day to day life. Each one of them was very positive about it, and not one of them complained. I suppose if they were going to complain about getting up at 2am for a call out on a work night they’d hardly be part of the Coast Guard.

Oonagh Murray, who has been a member for 2 years, told me that the most difficult part of it is thinking fast:

"You learn so much. You just never know when you get the pager, what’s going to be going on at the other end of it. It’s really challenging. When you come on the scene, it’s figuring out what needs to be done. But when you have good team mates, you work well with the team and it’s grand."

Some of the members have been in the team for years, and others had just joined up. I’ve been pondering whether there is something that ties Coast Guard volunteers together, a piece of their identity that just motivates them to help people. There is in a lot of cases a family connection, a tradition. The Officer in Charge in Skerries, Vanessa, told me that her father had been a member before her. Her brother Stephen is also on the Skerries team.

"It can be trying at times, but that’s part of the game. It just goes to show  you the dangers out there," says Tommy Grimes, a retired County Council worker who has been a member for 6 years. 

Tommy admitted that at almost 65 years of age his time in the Coast Guard was “winding down,” but said that if he could continue past that, he would.

He spoke of the “buzz of getting a call out, the adrenaline”, and the fact that everyone has something to contribute, no matter their size, background, or experience. Every one of the team were happy to talk about their experience in the Coast Guard, and each one of them had such an obvious passion for it that I found myself getting a little jealous. 

The other aspect of being part of the Coast Guard is the social aspect - people of all ages and from all walks of life are part of it, and unlikely groups of friends have been made. It was clear from the few hours I spent with this team that they all have a great time together and are fairly close. 

These are the kind of people you want to be around, and I found myself pretty tempted to join up after spending the morning with this team. 

For more information on the team, check out http://www.skerriescoastguard.com. 

The National flag was at half mast at Government Buildings last week in honour of Nelson Mandela.

Since he passed away, I’ve seen many of Mandela’s very memorable and thought-provoking quotes being shared. This was my favourite:

"No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

An incredible man, who lived an incredible and inspiring life. RIP.