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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Holding my Breath

I was trying to finish a chapter I had spent the morning writing, when I began to run out of steam, so I needed something to shake me up and get the juices flowing again. Where else would I find that only on Youtube. I never realized I could hold my breath for seven and a half minutes. That’s how long this video plays for. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery, too.

Danny Macaskill: ‘The Ridge’

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How to teach a young introvert

Jean Reinhardt:

Brilliant article, one of the best on social issues that I’ve read in a long time.

Originally posted on

See all articles in the series

What should we do with the quiet kids? A conversation with Susan Cain on the future of classroom education.

Susan Cain sticks up for the introverts of the world. In the U.S., where one third to one half the population identifies as introverts, that means sticking up for a lot of people. Some of them might be data engineers overwhelmed by the noise of an open-floor-plan office. Others might be lawyers turning 30, whose friends shame them for not wanting a big birthday bash. But Cain particularly feels for one group of introverts: the quiet kids in a classroom.

Cain remembers a childhood full of moments when she was urged by teachers and peers to be more outgoing and social — when that simply wasn’t in her nature. Our most important institutions, like schools and workplaces, are designed for extroverts, says Cain in her TED Talk. [Watch: The power of…

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How to Kill One of Your Characters

writing, characters death, novels,The problem with developing your characters and making them as realistic as possible is that when you have to kill one of them, you hesitate. I’m at a point in my latest book where I need to write a death scene for one of my favourite characters. This person has been with me throughout the first book and now, in the sequel, I must say goodbye. I’m not joking, it is such a difficult thing for me to do that I’m into another chapter and still haven’t done the dastardly deed. This has been going on for over a week and I have decided that this weekend it just HAS to happen. I know how, where and when to do it, but as crazy as this must seem, I keep putting it off. I even thought about scrapping the scene altogether but it’s a vital part of the story and leads to life changing circumstances for the other main characters. So (sniff, sniff) needs must.

Does anyone else have this problem? I’ve just finished a trilogy and in the third book, a character who had been there from the beginning dies, but I knew from the second book that this was going to happen – and I still got a little teary-eyed. Maybe I just need time to accept my character’s fate once I’ve sealed it. The plus side of this, is that I’m writing more chapters than I intended, by putting off the dreaded event. I have even added a twist that injects a bit of mystery into the story.

If certain words in this post get picked up by search engines on the hunt for criminal activity, I promise, it’s all in my head. Keeping the characters out of my heart is the problem.

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