The Birds and The Bees, Victorian Style.

VictorianPostcardI thought I might post a fictional conversation that takes place between two of my youngest characters in the book I’m now working on. The setting is Victorian Ireland in the 1860’s and fourteen year old Mary-Anne is trying to get some sleep, in the bed she shares with her younger sister, Brigid, aged ten.

“Molly Sinnott told me that if you kiss a boy with your mouth closed you won’t get pregnant,” whispered Brigid, “I thought you had to do a bit more than open your mouth. I asked Ma and she said she would tell me when I was older. Then she made me scrub the bedroom floors for hanging about with the Sinnotts.”

Mary-Anne turned on her side to face her sister and spoke in a hushed voice. Neither of them wanted their younger brother to hear the conversation they were having, and the snores coming from the opposite side of the room indicated that he was fast asleep.

“Don’t mind what she says. She told me that her cousin got pregnant the first time she ‘did it’ with a fella and she wasn’t even fond of him.”

“No wonder Ma forbid us to go near that family. What do you mean by she ‘did it’? What exactly did she do?” asked Brigid. “I’m not really sure,” lied Mary-Anne, “But whatever it was, he told her he would have to do it again to finish making the baby. He said it would have no arms or legs if he didn’t.”

“Merciful heaven, and she didn’t even like him?” gasped Brigid. “Could she not have ‘done it’ with someone else that she was fond of?”

“Molly’s cousin asked the very same question and the fella told her that it had to be the same man or the limbs wouldn’t stick,” Mary-Anne glanced over to where Jamie was lying and listened to his even breathing before carrying on. “He told her that some babies were even born with no heads because the woman wouldn’t allow the man to finish making it.”

Brigid’s hands flew to her mouth to smother a gasp of horror. The image of headless babies would give her nightmares for sure but she didn’t want to finish the conversation. “I’ve never seen a baby with no head. I saw one with half an arm, though.”

“Sure if they have no head they can’t breathe or eat. That’s why we don’t see them crawling about, Brigid. Have a bit of sense, girl.”

The sisters covered their mouths with their hands to contain their laughter. Jamie coughed then turned over, temporarily silencing the two of them.

“Is that why you have to get married and stay with the same man? To make sure the child has all its bits and pieces – and a head,” whispered Brigid.

“No. You have to get married because it’s a sin to ‘do it’ if you’re not. But maybe that’s why God made it a sin, to stop poor unfortunate babies being born with parts missing. Now turn around and let me get my sleep, and don’t you dare repeat a word of what I told you to Ma, or she’ll have the both of us strung up. Do you hear, Brigid?”

Having assured her sister that their mother would be none the wiser about their conversation, Brigid turned her back to Mary-Anne, closing her eyes tight. Counting backwards from one hundred, she tried to dismiss from her head, images of partially formed babies but she knew in her heart that sleep would not come easily that night.

Jean Reinhardt 2014

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Inspiration From Images

The SmileI’ve been trying to write more poetry lately and for me the best way to get inspiration is through the use of images. Even when writing a scene for a book I usually see it play out in my head, almost like a movie. Looking through my collection of holiday photographs I came upon this one I took on the Algarve in Portugal, just as the sun was going down. I thought it a bit odd to be inspired to write about inner turmoil from such a calm, tranquil image. I’m not even having a bad day, the sun is shining and the weather is exceptionally mild for December. I didn’t analyze myself for too long, though, I was thankful for the inspiration.

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Strange Goings On

wpid-dsc_0355.jpgAn area just outside the county Cork town of Youghal has a sinister, eerie feel about it. It is situated along the banks of the river Blackwater in a remote, tranquil setting. There are lots of stories of strange goings on and ghostly appearances linked to this ancient outpost, known as Temple Michael and linked to the Knights Templar since the twelfth century. A ruined church, dating from 1825, stands on the site beside an old graveyard. Among the ancient, weather beaten headstones we came across one of polished black marble. It  stood in stark contrast to the rest, someone having replaced the original.

wpid-dsc_0374.jpgRecently, I brought some visitors to Temple Michael. As the light was fading on a particularly calm autumn evening, we took a walk  around the old church and grave yard. If you have the nerve, you can peer inside a crypt, I gave that one a miss. Quite a number of the graves belong to the Halroyd-Smith family, many of whom died in very strange circumstances. Five of them in one family, four brothers and a sister, on the thirteenth day of the month, each death years apart. The story is that they were cursed by a local woman during the famine years.

Sightings of an old man wearing a black trench coat abound, his hands clasped tightly behind his back. He has been known to frighten visitors with his unfriendly manner. A level grassy area near the river was used for duelling in the past, contributing to the sombre reputation of a serene but eerie landscape.

The location was used to film a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s movie ‘Barry Lyndon.’ As the sun was going down, the autumn colours along the riverbank became more vibrant but the camera on my phone did not do justice to the wonderful show that nature displayed. Fortunately, we never got to meet the grumpy old man in the black trench coat but we did witness a duel, of sorts. A fisherman, standing on the bank next to us, landed a very large cod. “Fish and chips tonight,” he said, which set our taste buds off. You can probably guess where our next port of call was – the local chipper. A satisfying end to a lovely autumn day.


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Front Line

Front LineWe have had some beautiful autumn weather here in Ireland, a bonus after an unusually long summer. As I walked along my local beach taking photos, the sound of the waves pounding on the shore reminded me of war for some reason – it may have been because it’s the anniversary year of WW1.

As I looked over my photographs later that evening the one above stood out and inspired some verse. I haven’t written any poetry in ages, it’s amazing the effect a walk in the fresh air can have on you. I’ll have to do it more often, I’ve been spending too much time indoors writing books. I’m dedicating this poem to my husband’s great-uncle, Michael O’Neill of The Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 8th Battalion, who died in the trenches in Loos, 29 April 1914, aged 20.

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Soldier Jennie – the Irish woman who fought as a man in the American Civil War

Jean Reinhardt:

I’ve just come across this blog. Very interesting reading on it and this particular post appeals to me, as a woman and as someone who comes from the same county as Jennie/Albert.

Originally posted on historywithatwist:

The life and times of Private Albert D.J. Cashier are one of those historic anomalies that make you scratch your head and wonder: ‘How the hell could that happen?’

Private Cashier served in the ranks of the 95th Illinois for three years – from their muster in on September 4, 1862 until they were discharged in August 1865.

Cashier was a member of the regiment’s Company G, and was present at hard-fought battles like Vicksburg and Nashville. A comrade later remembered Cashier as being the type of person who preferred their own company and who never took part in any of the sports or games that were organised by the unit.

So far so unremarkable, but the other distinguishing thing about Private Cashier was that the soldier was, in fact, a woman by the name of Jennie Hodgers

In his book, The Irish in the American Civil War, Damian…

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The Radical Choice of Militant Kindness by Malcolm Ivey

Jean Reinhardt:

Inspiring post by Malcolm Ivey.

Originally posted on Kindness Blog:

prison bars

The first lesson every young man learns upon entering the prison system is that aggression is king and violence is law. The traits that are valued in the real world — honesty, generosity, friendliness — are viewed as weaknesses in prison. Weaknesses that are pounced upon and exploited. Survival in this world depends on at least the perception of brutality and if you’re not particularly brutal, you had better be a damn good actor.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 22 years. Acting. Acting tough, acting hard, acting cold. Acting as if I don’t see the loneliness and sadness and brokenness that surrounds me. Why? Simple: Fear.

In 1992, a scrawny teenage version of myself looked around at the savage world of prison and said to my mind, “Help! I don’t wanna be jumped or stabbed or raped or beaten to death by abusive guards. I wanna…

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A Titanic Experience

 The Titanic Experience in Cobh, County Cork, Ireland.

titanic, cobh ireland, history

I recently paid a long overdue visit to the Titanic Experience in Cobh, not too far from where I live. Although not as big as the one in Belfast, it was well worth the trip. The exhibition is situated in the original building that held the offices of The White Star Line.

Titanic arrived in Queenstown (now called Cobh) in county Cork to pick up mail and 123 passengers, before setting out on her first trans-Atlantic voyage. There were over 2,000 passengers and crew on board as the ship left the harbour at 1.30 pm on Thursday 11 April 1912, bound for New York.


This is what the White Star Line building looked like on the day, pretty much the same as it does now. On the tour of the exhibition, we got to stand on the same spot as those you can see in the photograph just above the crowd of people gathered on the quayside.

The pier that the passengers left from still stands and was known as Heartbreak Pier. The tenders that brought them out to the Titanic, which was anchored off Roche’s Point, were called the PS America and the PS Ireland.

It was a very poignant moment, looking at the remains of the old pier.

titanic experience cobh corkOf the 123 passengers who boarded from Cobh, three were first class, seven were second class and the remaining 113 were third class or steerage. Only 44 survived, ten of those being from Cork.  When you receive your ticket for the guided tour you are given the name of one of the passengers who boarded Titanic from Cobh that day. At the end of the tour you find out whether or not you were among the survivors. The name on my ticket was that of Katherine Buckley, aged 22, a young Irish woman from county Cork.


As I was listening to the guide and experiencing what it was like to be in a third class cabin, as opposed to a first class one, I began to wonder about the young woman whose ticket I was given. At the time, a first class passenger paid £870/$4,350 ($69,600 today) and for third class the price was £8/$40 ($640 today). To find out more about Katherine, I did some research online.

Katherine Buckley was from Ovens in county Cork and lived on a small farm. Her half-sister, Margaret, had saved the price of her fare so she could join her in America. A job had been arranged for Katherine in the home of a wealthy Boston businessman but her family were opposed to her leaving. Her death led to a rift in the family, as Margaret was blamed for it. The sad fact is, that Katherine was not originally meant to sail on the Titanic, her ticket was bought for Boston. She was to sail on board a smaller White Star Line ship called the SS Cymric. When a strike ensued, she was transferred to the Titanic.

titanic exhibition cobh ireland

Katherine Buckley’s remains were recovered and returned to Margaret in America, the only Irish body to have been sent to relatives. For almost a hundred years she lay in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in West Roxbury, Boston. The family dispute over Katherine’s death has only been resolved in recent years, when in 2010 her final resting place was given a headstone. She is the only third class passenger to have a memorial and over a hundred people attended the ceremony, including relatives of Katherine. Sixteen of her descendants each placed a rose on her grave and two of her great-great-grandnieces unveiled the marker.


My next trip up north will have to include the Titanic Quarter. Although the exhibition in Cork is much smaller than the one in Belfast, it is very moving to stand on the spot where Titanic’s last 123 passengers left dry land to board her. You can find out more about the guided tour in Cobh here.


            Source 1 Source 2

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Francis Ledwidge Irish Poet and Soldier

A tribute on Remembrance Day, 2014

Francis Ledwidge (1887-1917)

francis ledwidge war years

Irish Poet, Francis Ledwidge, was born in Slane, county Meath, into a family of little means, the eighth of nine children. His parents, Patrick and Anne Ledwidge, gave their children the best education they could afford. When Francis was five his father died, forcing his wife and children to work in order to survive. Francis left the local national school aged thirteen, but continued to educate himself. He worked at whatever he could find, a farm hand, road mender, and mining copper. As a miner he was sacked for organising a strike for better working conditions, three years before the 1913 general strike. He was a trade union activist from 1906 and was appointed secretary of the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union (1913–14).

While working as a road labourer he won the patronage of Lord Dunsany after writing to him in 1912, enclosing copybooks of his early work. Dunsany was a well known a man of letters in the literary and dramatic circles of Dublin and London. His own start in publishing had been with a collection of poems and he promoted Ledwidge in Dublin, introducing him to W. B. Yeats, with whom he became acquainted.

Although a patriot and a nationalist, Ledwidge enlisted in the British army, in the hope that home rule would come about, due to the support of Irishmen in the war effort.

Francis Ledwidge died on 31 July 1917.  Having served in Gallipoli and Serbia, he was killed by a shell in the Battle of Passchendaele. He served with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

British composer Michael Head put some of Ledwidge’s poetry to music, one of the more well known songs being, “The Ships of Arcady.”

It’s only fitting to include one of Francis Ledwidge’s poems that reflect his experience and emotions of his service in the First World War. It’s called A Soldier’s Grave and is set to music.

Source: Merhlin’s Videos

Music:  Anúna

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Ahoy There me Hearties

I have just discovered Paul Elkins. I love his creativity and the ideas he comes up with. In this video he takes a trip on the water in the smallest wooden motor boat I’ve ever seen an adult sit in. Watch till the end if you want to see an array of beautiful houseboats. Some of them have been there since the 1930’s.  By the way, if you live there and your boat got scraped, now you know who did it. Enjoy.

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The Living Past in County Clare

During the summer my family and I explored the Craggaunowen, Living Past complex in county Clare. I hadn’t been there for many years and it was a bright, sunny day for this second visit. Craggaunowen recreates the way people lived in Ireland during the Pre-historic and early Christian eras. An adviser to Sotheby’s on Medieval art, John Hunt, came up with the idea and purchased the land, which was the site of a ruined castle. He restored the castle to it’s former glory and built a crannog and ringfort on it’s grounds. In time he gave the complex to the Irish people, hoping it would be developed further. Here are some photos that may give you an idea of what you will find there should you get the chance to visit.

The Castle


It was built by John MacSioda MacNamara about 1550, a typical fortified Tower House that the gentry of the time lived in. With the collapse of the old Gaelic order in the seventeenth century, the castle was left uninhabitable. Under the direction of Tom Steele (not the singer/actor) in the early nineteenth century, restoration work began. It was not until 1965 that the work was completed by John Hunt.

wpid-dsc_0011.jpgIf you look closely at the lady with the spinning wheel, you will see that eyeglasses were invented much earlier than we have been led to believe. ;)

On a more serious note, imagine trying to keep warm on an Irish winter’s evening with a fire that small. This is a photo of one end of a very large room.

wpid-dsc_0013.jpgThis is the other end. The king of the castle appears to be in full control of his subjects in this image. I think he’s calling for dinner to be served.


I take it this was the owner’s bedroom as it has a lovely view from the parapet through the open door.


This must be the guest bedroom – a bit more sparsely furnished than the one above. Notice the mattress, not exactly Memory Foam but a lot better than a hard floor. There was an electric socket on the wall at the end of the bed, proving they also had electricity in medieval times. ;)

The Crannog

During the Iron Age and Early Christian Period some Irish communities lived in lake-dwellings of this type. Even as late as the seventeenth century these crannogs would have been occupied. They were artificial islands where people lived in relative security (a bit like gated developments nowadays) The houses where made of wattle and mud and the area was surrounded by a timber fence. To get onto these islands you would need a dug-out canoe if there was no causeway or bridge to use.

wpid-dsc_0061.jpgThis reconstructed crannog has a bridge which is used to gain access. You can be excused for thinking it looks like a scene from Tenko (1980’s tv series about a Japanese POW camp).


Here’s an example of some of the real estate you will find within the boundaries of the enclosure. A solid roof and sturdy walls, what more could you ask for?


Inside the cabin there may have been one window opposite the doorway and a fire in the centre of the floor. The occupants slept around the edges of the room, possibly huddling together in the winter to keep warm. In the photo on the left, you will see an example of an Iron age clothes airer – only joking. It’s the packaging that the evening’s dinner came in and will either be worn or slept under, probably both. This was, of course, at a time when wearing animal skins was not frowned upon.

wpid-dsc_0130.jpgIn this shot you can see a typical Iron Age family having some fast food, (meaning any edible animal that ran quicker than thirty miles an hour). If you don’t believe that, then it’s my family having a picnic in a crannog around the communal fire pit. (Notice how the king has joined his subjects for the meal, dinner mustn’t have been served in the castle).


This is an underground passage called a Souterrain, used for a food storage area. It is well built, ventilated but draft free, and can maintain a constant temperature of about 4 degrees C or 38 degrees F, irrespective of how hot the day is. Souterrains were also used as hiding places in case of attack or as escape routes.


A rebellion being quashed by one of the king’s loyal soldiers. You can tell by the tee-shirt he’s destined for greater things.

The Bus Stop

wpid-dsc_0060.jpgWe looked at this construction for a long time, trying to figure out what it might be, as it was not on the visitors’ guide we were given. Although it appeared to be some sort of storage unit, we decided it was an Iron Age bus stop and duly waited for the number 26 to come along. (Science buffs will understand why it was a number 26).

wpid-dsc_0084.jpgIf the bus ever does pick you up, you can get off at the Portal Tomb. At first you might think this is fake, but apparently it’s the real thing. It is about 1.25m high and the cap stone is triangular, which makes it quite an unusually shaped chamber.

The Brendan Voyage


A famous Irish sailor lived during the Iron Age and it is very appropriate that this last leg of our journey should be about him.

At the end of the Craggaunowen trail you will come upon a pyramid shaped, glass building which houses a leather hulled boat. It was built by Tim Severin in 1976, based on a vessel described in a 9th century manuscript. This design is still in use on the west coast of Ireland. According to the story from the manuscript, St. Brendan, who died in 583 AD, was a navigator and the first man to discover the ‘Promised Land‘ across the Atlantic ocean. Severin and his crew proved that it was indeed possible for Brendan to have made such a voyage by using a similar vessel. They stopped off on the Aran Islands, Donegal, the Hebrides, the Faroes and they over-wintered in Iceland before finally arriving in America, having crossed the North Atlantic.

Their boat was made of oak-tanned hides that were sewn together, then stretched over a flexible frame of Ash. This made the vessel much more resilient than a wooden boat in the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic. When the hull was punctured by sharp ice in the ice-floes, the crew were able to sew a leather patch over the damaged hide, and complete their journey.

Craggaunowen, The Living Past complex, is near the village of Quin in county Clare.

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