Running for Office

The gong has sounded. The councils have nodded. The Election is coming.

It’s time for the presidential hopefuls to warm up in preparation for the starting gun. Canvassing is not for the fainthearted and any businessman/president/Senator worth their salt, who wants a place on the great podium in The Park, would be best to invest in some PT sessions. Or at the very least do a Couch 2 5k.

They don’t need to look too far for tips. The current batch of elected representatives in the Dáil have led with a greater example than the most influential of fitness influencers on the ‘gram’.  For, along with our so called ‘New Politics’, we now also have New Politicians.  And they’re partial to a bit of cardio.

Cigar smoking, silk shirted, ortolan eating chaps won’t garner much momentum on Instagram these days. A new and improved formula is being tested amongst the ranks of ‘Team Politics’.  And, if anything is to be learned from this new breed of politician populating the Dáil, it’s that anyone who intends to run for office might be best to do just that. Run.

Our current Taoiseach is leading by example. In fact, he started this fit approach to politics many years before he took poll position. He knew that the race to the top was a marathon not a sprint. Varadakar was doing ‘Hell and Back’ adventure races long before he took up jogging with Trudeau. One doesn’t simply just get up of a morning and go running with another world leader. There is a training plan involved. The last thing you want is to be out of breath when casually engaging in political chit-chat during a Park-Run.

Leo’s recognition of the value and importance of exercise in helping an individual become their best selfie is not one held by him alone. The merits of exercise have been extolled by Drs and scientific researchers for many years. There exists a wide selection of TED Talks online to support this view. (TED, for those who may be unaware, is a platform that allows academics and personalities of note to use their thesis to talk down to us in a light-hearted way.) But no research can make a greater case for the value of a good workout than the Taoiseach turning up to Brexit negotiations in his gym gear.

The next time you find yourself doing a mud run have a good gawk around. If you spot a presidential candidate scaling an 8ft wall before successfully dodging through ‘sniper alley’, they may be The One to watch. Maybe check and see if they stop to give someone a leg up or are they stomping a muddy foot on someone’s head to get over the wall first. And then decide which characteristic you deem to be more presidential.

As we all know there is no ‘I’ in team and Leo isn’t the only one promoting treadmill politics. Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, has also been known to dip is toe in. Last October, while Canadian Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, was in Ireland, Murphy brought her sea swimming. In fairness if you’re going to be discussing climate change you are probably best to throw yourself in at the deep end.

Fit politicians (the physically fit that is) are not exclusive to Ireland. The aforementioned Trudeau has a penchant for yoga along with his love of jogging with Taoisigh. The Telegraph has reported on Theresa May’s ‘gruelling workout regime’ stating that the PM uses “heavy resistance training, weight-lifting and squats” to keep her fighting fit.  While being interviewed on Australian radio show Triple M, Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnball, said he was partial to Pilates. (Slightly disappointed it wasn’t surfing. Can you imagine the ‘Insta’ hits you would get riding the crest of that political wave?) And, as we all know, Putin is partial to some bare-chested horse-riding. Tump enjoys a round of golf, but Newsweek has reported that “he prefers to take the golf cart between holes” as opposed to walking. The shortest distance between two points comes with a steering wheel.

Maybe we could do away with the idea of a Presidential Election altogether and replace it with a season of Irelands Fittest Family -The Presidential Special? The ‘Hang Tough’ session would be enough to identify who amongst them has any real staying power. And the bog run would be good for the giggles if nothing else.  The Go Pro cameras on their helmets giving you an insight into their true temperament-or even just a gawk at their nose hair

And, be honest, who wouldn’t love to see Davey Fitz screaming at Sean, Gavin and Joan to get up that hill, while we all secretly route for the resident President.



Not since Nama have four letters conjured up such a negative reaction in our collective consciousness. I’m sure even those involved in drafting and finalising GDPR policy have trouble suppressing their gag reflex. The real-life eyeroll emoji went into overdrive with every ping in people’s inbox. The little victory dance you did when it told you you had to do nothing, as opposed to the “grrr” that escaped when you had to fill in a questionnaire. The one where you un-sell your previously sold soul.

And even now, already late in the data protection day, my frustration has failed to fatigue with every “review your settings” request. Just let me read it. Why can’t the data hogs sell the information that I don’t want you to have my information to these companies? Repetition is only of use in poetry.

There is an upside to this “review your settings” hurdle. Now I really do think twice about whether I really want to know if people really are “all saying the same thing” about what Laura said on Love Island last night. Turns out I don’t.

While GDPR may be as annoying as that person who keeps asking questions at a meeting you know would have been finished if they had shut up 20 minutes ago, it is a necessary evil. We can all love to hate it safe in the knowledge that it is giving us back some control over our data. The giant data harvesting companies may snigger as they tower over the four little letters. But many a great war has been won by cutting off an armies’ food source.

Which then makes me wonder why the need for the new trendy trend of sending off your DNA to commercial ancestry companies? Have we decided that “they” may not have access to our marketing preferences but our genetic breakdown is fair game because it makes for a good “LOL” over a  craft beer and a pink gin and tonic.


Dad’s Hometown

MY CHILDHOOD SUMMERS were spent in Gweedore. Four kids (and sometimes the dog) packed into the back of a yellow Toyota Corolla.

We’d sit, giddy like goats, as we set off on our annual holiday to my dad’s hometown, passing the cows and the soldiers that didn’t smile en route through the ‘North’, to the land that smelt of turf.

I returned – my first time in years – expecting to see a landscape soiled by progression and the passage of time. Hitting the road, I put my rose-tinted glasses into their protective case.


Nestled on the northwest coast of Co Donegal, you will find Gweedore. You can approach Gweedore two main ways when travelling by road. The long way or the good way.

Take a left at the Blue Lagoon and follow the mountain road. It meanders through the distinct Donegal hills until you reach the stretch of road that divides Mt Errigal from Dunlewey.

Errigal provided the backdrop to my summers in Gweedore. You could see if from the golf course on return from the beach or bingo.  Approaching it on your way into Gweedore it appears as nothing more than a well walked trail. It is not until you pass and cast your eye back that it reveals its true presence in the Donegal landscape.

The first time I climbed it I did it alone in a bout of stubbornness that even a donkey would struggle to emulate. Halfway up I regretted my decision but I couldn’t turn back. So, I made friends with some random hikers by offering my services as their on site photographer.

The mountain doesn’t delay with a lengthy approach and between the bog holes and the scree you will be kept on your toes. And pay heed to the wind – while it may not be the tallest of our mountains,  it knows how to drop off at the summit.

From its twin peaks, you can see far below to the lakes and beyond to the Poisoned Glen. And as you catch your breath you will wonder why you haven’t climbed this beauty before.

The sun shines

The sun shines in Derrybeg, just like I remember. A quick stop to see the shipwreck – the cause of many a pirate-based daydream of mine. It remains still. Stuck in the sands, but losing its former glory as it’s shell surrenders to the sea.

But at least it has company in its final years- joined now by the abandoned hotel that looks down from on high. The Óstán Gweedore, now lies vacant and unwanted perched above the dunes of the beach.

The following morning, I awoke to find my glasses still intact and catching the ferry to Gola the tint turned turquoise. The sea was still crystal clear which leads me to think perhaps my memory can be trusted.

Gola Island

My Dad was born on Gola Island. He left it in 1961. We had returned over the years but this trip was different. This time, when my dad talked, I listened. And wished I had before.

He showed me the houses of the men who sailed with Casement on the Asgard. Described how my Great Aunt, Nora Joe, would run to the viewing point above the arches during the Emergency, to watch the splashes that came up as the German u-boats attacked the Americans convoys that sailed past.

The sea poured over the seaweed covered rocks while he pointed to the jut of land the cattle were exiled to graze upon. He laughed as he told of how they swam back (the cows that is) because they were lonely for the company of humans. There were tales of drownings on return from the mainland and he pointed out where ‘the Yank’ lived for a few months each year.

I envy the views

Walking through the ruins of Gola Island National school, now overrun with nettles and stingers alike, I can’t help but envy the view these school kids had. They had no playground or swings or interactive whiteboards but instead they had the sea. At break-time, they fished for periwinkles instead of playing tag or bulldog.

From the fallen down ruins of the old schoolhouse we walk through the fields to my father’s childhood home. It stands there still, looking out to the sea quietly contemplating the memories of the family long departed.

The island also tells the tale of Ireland’s more shameful past. Among the ghosts of the heroes and poets of this island, there lies a corner field walled in and marked only by a gate that says ‘Cliabhán na bpáisti’. A burial ground for the unbaptised children of Gola.

Gola does not cash in on its visitors. A €10 boat ride gets you there and back.  The only chance to part with your punt comes in the form of a cupán tae or a bag of Tayto served by Eddie Joe in ‘An Teach Beag’, the islands one-size fits all café.

The rest, the island is for free. I just wish I had cashed in on it all before now.

The Cliffs of Howth

Did I ever tell you about the time I met a ghost? I’m sure I did. It was a few years ago. Remember?

It was one of those days when I sought salvation in a walk. I do this all the time. I never find it. Will I ever learn? Stubborn as an ox walking the line around the cliffs of Howth.  It stops me from thinking, I guess. And the sea, well that’s good for your soul, isn’t it?  At least that’s what I’ve been told.

Departing from the Balscadden car park, with a brief nod to Yeats, I go to the cliffs as often as I can. Chasing its soul food- the watery dragon. I prefer it on a rough day. When the wind stirs things up. The sea stony grey with white creamy crests that dissolve upon impact. Again, and again with random repetitions.  Strands of stray hair fly free for a moment then stick to your cheeks, caught in a web of sea mist and salt. Pick them off but they cling back again. Best to leave them and carry on. And if you give it long enough you won’t feel the cold and forget why you went on your salvatory walk. Which is the point, I guess.

Perhaps I do learn. I’ll know soon enough.

Anyway, it was sunny. The day I met the ghost. The sea was calm and dappled with green and blue. Not a hint of grey. The birds glided on by, basking in the heat of the sun. He was just standing there as I turned the corner. His back to the Eye. By the golden gorse on the cliff.

The cliffs are covered in these bushes speckled with yellow and purple. Gorse and heather. And green of course, the green. The ferns that sprout out, as old as the hills. And through it all cuts a path of brown. A path that twists and bumps as it hugs to the cliff. Sometimes it narrows as the bushes crowd in on you, letting you know they are there. Hiding you from the sea. Sheltering you from the sky-whether you like it or not. They smother your senses and get right up your nose. There’s no denying it. They’re here and you’re there.

When the path gets wide it fills up your lungs as you breathe it in. And out again. The sea and sky and the horizon beyond. It’s a good place to pause. To see if you can spy what it is you came here for. A hope or a thought or a moment forgot. There far below or in the ocean beyond. The lobster buoy as it bobs orange, up and down, up and down. A solo sail that glides on past. And draws you to the lighthouse now. Silent and alone. Mrs Ramsay would be proud.

The birds are the wondrous thing. They hover there, gladly. Not preying, but resting on the wind. Giving themselves over to its highs and its lows. Above land and or the sea. Trusting it not to drop. Knowing they can leave at any time and fly their own course. But for now, they trust.

He stopped me for a chat. My friendly ghost. He loved to talk.  I’d never seen him before, which I thought was odd. And that’s how I knew. Knew he was a ghost. His snowy hair and contoured face told many a tale. He spoke of the hills that he’d rambled around, the people that he’d seen and the lump on his chest. And garlic of course. It got rid of the lump -or so he says but I can’t be quite sure. Wild garlic. It grows all around don’t you know. You will find it if you look. Just follow your nose.

He bid me farewell as he moved on. Up through the gorse and over the rocks towards the heather with his back to the Eye.

And I carried on.

Mindfulness in School


When the bell rings in St Patrick’s Junior School, the students don’t clamber to be first in line. They don’t fight the urge to talk to their best friend two places ahead in the queue or glue their finger to their lip in an effort to impress their teacher.

Instead, they breathe. The bell that rings out is a “breathing bell” and when it sounds, the students and teachers alike stop what they are doing.

It is just one example of how the school has been trying to tackle issues such as anxiety and behavioural issues through mindfulness.

Cian Cadogan, who has been using the techniques of “living in the moment” with his senior infants in St Patrick’s Junior School on Gardiners Hill in Cork for three years, has seen the benefits first-hand.

Children who may have struggled with anxiety or emotional outbursts are now using come of the calming techniques by themselves. “We’ve seen a huge difference in terms of conflict resolution in the yard from when they begin in junior infants,” says Cadogan.

He believes mindfulness comes has come its own in helping children who are unfamiliar with the emotions they are feeling.

“I had spent a year telling a student to calm down before, but I’d never shown her how,” he says.

Now, he uses visualisation and stories to familiarise the students with emotions such as anxiety, anger and worry because “the imagination is where you are going to catch them”.

He adds: “Mindfulness doesn’t just improve the children’s emotional regulation and resilience,” he says. “We noticed a huge improvement in their cognitive abilities, concentration and focus. You can’t argue with it: it’s plain to see”.

Mental health

The focus on mindfulness in the classroom is rapidly taking root in schools right across the State.

Schools face a much wider range of pressures than ever before. One in three children will have experienced a mental health problem by the time he or she reaches 13 years of age, research by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland shows.

There is a growing awareness that schools can play a vital role in promoting positive mental health and coping skills.

The introduction of “wellbeing” at junior cycle level in secondary schools is part of this change. However, many primary schools have been exploring a range of mindful activities on their own for several years now.

Anita Fennelly first introduced mindfulness to her sixth-class students in Heath National School in Laois three years ago. She feels it has given them new coping skills.

“Some might need it, some might not, but the beauty is that it is a life skill that they can call upon should they ever need it,” she says.

Along with “vision boards, mind jars, calm boxes, a wishing tree, a wall of gratitude and positive affirmations”, the students have also brought their research on the benefits of mindful activities to the annual science fair at held at the RDS.

Fennelly has noticed an improved focus in her class along with a more positive atmosphere.

“Sixth class can be a time when insecurities develop, but practising mindfulness has helped them to understand that all thoughts are not facts and to not let their negative thoughts consume them,” she says.

Her students are also enthusiastic. “I love the activities. They help me to stop stressing and to stay positive all through the day,” says 11-year-old Katie Lin Roe.

Not everyone is sold on the merits of mindfulness, however. Ruth Whippman, the US-based author of The Pursuit of Happiness – And Why It Is Making Us Anxious, argues that mindfulness is just a cost-saving measure to paper over much deeper problems.

“It is, of course, easier and cheaper to blame the individual for thinking the wrong thoughts than it is to tackle the thorny causes of his unhappiness,” she says.

“So we may give inner-city schoolchildren mindfulness classes rather than engage with education inequality.”

School culture

However, teachers who have implemented mindful techniques in the classroom disagree.

While mindfulness may not be the absolute fix for our children’s mental health issues, it can at least help give them the skills from a young age to develop their resilience, say many educators.

Alan White, a Cork-based secondary school teacher and author or Changes: 30-day Mental Wellbeing Challenge, has been practising activities that promote wellbeing for the past five years. He was motivated to get involved when he saw the struggles of students in the classroom.

White says the promotion of mental wellbeing needs to be part of the school culture to be most effective.

Although he would like to see the promotion of mental wellbeing introduced in all Irish schools, he feels it should not be too prescriptive.

“Little and often is the best way to approach it, I believe,” says the Bishopstown Community School teacher.

Many teachers agree that implementation is key if these techniques are to be successful.

At St Patrick’s in Cork, teachers across the school are involved since principal Anne O’Connell introduced it three years ago.

Cian Cadogan feels consistency is also important when it comes to practising mindful techniques. “You can’t predict when a child is going to be stressed and anxious, they are exposed to so much more than we ever were,” he says.

Parents have been involved in the promotion of wellbeing via adult yoga classes run by the home-school liaison officer and are made aware of the breathing techniques used in the school.

Cadogan feels a similar approach to other curricular areas should be adopted. “It needs to be spiralled the whole way, from primary right the way up through secondary,” he says.

The school’s approach to mental health, he says, is just as important as their approach to academic subjects.

“I cannot see how a school can promote themselves as developing the holistic needs of a child if they do not include mental health. It’s absolutely critical. It’s your job as a teacher to make sure that, no matter what is going on outside, their eight hours in school are the safest and happiest they can be,” he says.

Five ways to practise mindful awareness with your child

1. Talk to your child. Try not to ask leading questions, just inquire about how they are feeling that day. Maybe get them to jot down their feelings like a shopping list.

2. Practise a “mindful” check-in. This will enable them to tune in to how are they are feeling.

3. Practise the “pause-notice-breathe” technique.

4. Create a worry box. This is a great resource for your child to write down anything that is happening for them that day. They have the option of discussing it with you, and it can help to declutter the mind.

5. Create a relaxing space. Keep it simple: cushions, blanket and a worry box and calm box. Your child will gain something from using this space, and knowing that you created it for them can reduce their anxiety.

In conversation with Ann-Marie Ireland, director of ChillOut Ireland, which runs mindfulness workshops for primary and post-primary teachers and students throughout Ireland (

The Digital Bandwagon


The interactive pen has replaced the chalk and the smartboard has left the blackboard for dust. Technology lights up the classroom, but are we in danger of being blinded by its glare?

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has picked up the torch by suggesting coding be introduced into the curriculum at primary level.

For many people, this seems like yet another exciting advance towards the bright digital future. But, for those of us who actually work in the classroom, it feels suspiciously like a shortcut through a terrain that has not yet been properly mapped.

In short, we should look at fixing some of the bugs in our current operating system before updating it with a new and untested version.

A recent study on the impact of technology on learning found that while there was no doubt that technology engaged and motivated young people, it also found that “more effective schools and teachers are more likely to use digital technologies more effectively”. It’s the teacher that counts, then, not the technology.

A child may be learning algebra on an iPad but that doesn’t mean she has more chance of understanding it.

Yes, coding offers exciting opportunities for learning in schools. The truth is, however, that learning isn’t always exciting. Sometimes the only joy in the problem is in the solving. But we must be able to do our problem-solving without plugging in first.

One underlying difficulty that arises from Richard Bruton’s suggestion is the time it will take to train teachers and successfully implement it on a national level.


Primary school teachers are not strangers to updating their programmes. A new primary language curriculum was introduced in 2015. This is based on the languages teachers actually speak: English and Irish. Training is still ongoing – as it should be. Real training happens in real time. It involves whole school in-service training days, webinars and visits from facilitators.

The Department of Education envisages that this new facet of the curriculum will be up and running in all class levels, not accounting for possible and probable setbacks, by September 2019. That’s four years from the date it was first published.

Coding is a far more complex language than our mother tongue. Some teachers have already taken courses on coding and include it in their teaching timetable during or, more often, as an after-schools club.

“Scratch”, a coding course, has been available for many years as a form of professional development to teachers who have an interest in this area. This training has been a personal choice rather than a prescribed requirement. Those who want to code can, be they teacher or child.

However, not all teachers have the same interest in coding. For some it’s music or art or Irish that draws the crowd. And, while they might not want to be “that” old dog, for some learning how to teach coding may be a trick too far. Even if teachers lap it up like excitable puppies it will still take time.

Judging by the rate at which Apple releases new phones, isn’t there a chance that by the time we are all sufficiently trained, the coding world will have moved on and the training will be as redundant as your old iPhone 1?

The very foundations of the Irish primary school curriculum encourages us to embrace the different intelligences within the school community and to try to nurture them all. Coding is a specific area. A niche market in the classroom.

Ken Robinson, an English educational adviser, has stressed the importance of nurturing difference and creativity in education. He calls on education systems to “reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity”, to use the gift of the human imagination wisely by “seeing our creative capacities for the gift that they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are”.

In demand

It is possible to understand why the minister might see the sense in pushing for coding. Coders are in demand in the world of software employment. And seeing as Ireland is fast becoming the base camp for American companies such asGoogle and Facebook, wouldn’t it be nice if we could populate these companies with Irish employees?

Robinson argues that public education systems “originally came about to meet the needs of industrialism”. Are we now in danger of trading industrial for digital?

Some might reason that it would be splendid to have a population of skilled workers. Maybe. But do they all have to do the same thing? Not all children go on to pursue something they practised in primary school as their future career. Tin whistle is taught in school. How many professional tin whistle players do you know? Children create works of art from clay. When was the last time you made something from clay?


Our curriculum is formed by a wide network of subjects from the academic to the artistic. It takes as much skill to crack a poem as it does a code.

Allowing our children access to a rich and varied curriculum, taught by teachers who are as engaged as their students, is what will give our children the ability to decipher coding in the future – if they choose to. The point is not that coding shouldn’t be taught in schools but more that it shouldn’t have to be. Education should be driving the technology, not running on auto-pilot. So, before we jump blindly on this digital bandwagon, why don’t we first check if it’s going somewhere

A Healthy Addiction?

As I watched the Cork Marathon pass me by on Monday I had a pang akin to the one a dieter would get watching someone devour a doughnut. I was supposed to be doing the ‘half’ but my back had other plans.

My pelvis is currently so tilted I feel like a human Tower of Pisa.  It started a year ago and in that year I have had three serious bouts of back spasm. When this happens I cannot work and have been prescribed a cocktail of Valium, painkillers and anti-inflammatories.

But despite all the pain every time this happens the first question I ask my Dr and Physio is “When can I work out again?”

However, now that I have abandoned the painkillers and can finally think straight, I think it’s time to finally face the possibility that I may be addicted to exercise.  Or I am getting old? I really hope it’s not the latter.

So what do I do? I run once a week. I train with a Ladies football team- I say ‘train’ because I am an awful footballer but I love my club in Bishopstown and refuse to let lack of skill get in the way of a good time. I play tag once a week. I train in CrossFit Return three times a week. I do bootcamp once a week. I dabble in Hot Yoga when funds allow and I’ll climb a mountain if you ask me to. So generally I train 6 days a week and twice on one of those days.

I bet you’re thinking I must have the body of an athlete.

Nope. My legs look like coffee table legs-you know the ones that have the roundy bulge in the middle for the knee? I am also pretty sure I have ‘cankles’.

But like any addict worth their salt I don’t think I am an addict or perhaps even worse see anything wrong with my affliction. So I have my list of excuses to support my continuation.

Late Bloomer

I didn’t take to exercise until my mid-twenties. When I was of primary school age I tried Cross Country running but it hurt my teeth and I abandoned the idea. So ‘Kerbs’ and ‘Kick the Can’ formed the crux of my exercise.

Until I returned from Australia with the infamous ‘Sydney Stone’-and one or two from Melbourne and Brisbane too.

It was at this point my mother intervened. She gently nudged me through the door of the local gym for a ‘look see’. And that was that. I threw the stones away and began spinning my way into fitness. I went 5-7 times a week. But my logic is that I was- and still am- making up for lost time. So there you have it excuse number one. Fitness Benchmarking.


Social Status

I moved counties alone two and a half years ago. I knew not a soul in Cork. I wasn’t running from something. I didn’t leave a deep dark secret behind me. I just needed a change. Most of my working day is spent talking to 7 year olds so I unless I brushed up on my Minecraft knowledge I was making no friends outta them. Joining a gym was way to meet new people. Adults. So my fitness ‘addiction’ helped me defy the idea that you don’t make new friends in your thirties and as comfy as my couch may be it wasn’t great for the banter either. There are also some cute men in my gym and I’m not sure they’d talk to me in the real world. Excuse Number Two-Eye Candy.

No Kids

I have it on good authority that if I had kids I’d be running around after them all day. In fact most of the mothers I know say they’d love to workout as often as I do but just don’t have the time. So I’m doing myself a favour exercising if I plan on ever having kids. I’m going to need the stamina. And if I don’t, well all the mothers out there can take some relief in the fact that I’m not sitting down getting a pedicure. I’m running around just as much as they are. Excuse number 3 No Dependents.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt.

I may train a lot but I’m nowhere near elite status. You mightn’t pick me out of a line up if you were asked to pick out the fit person in the room. The only trophy I have won was in Ladies Football. It was for ‘Players Player of the Year’-that basically means I’m no good at football but I’m sound. I have medals and cups from half marathons and races-but sure everyone gets them. I don’t take protein supplements or eat turkey fillets for breakfast. I exercise because it’s fun and it breaks up the day It also keeps me sane. There’s a lot to be said for natural endorphins. I’d be an awful dose without them.

The latest bout of back spasm was also brought on while sitting down watching the TV. So I can neither confirm nor deny that it was my active lifestyle that actually did it. And I have yet to meet a Dr. or Physio that can explain what’s going on either.

A chiropractor did say he could help me but I think that was just because he saw his pension fund in my hips. So I passed on that option.

Excuse Number 4. Innocent Until Proven Guilty.



So if you don’t mind I think I might not kick the habit just yet. What’s the alternative? Becoming one of the  80% newly obese in 2020? Excuse Number 5. It’s Good For You.

Playing with Fire

2016 has been rung in and many of us have resolved to make changes to our lives. Some of us may be resolutely trying to find love-again. Thankfully there are a lot more avenues to choose from in 2016 than 1916. But the question is which route should you follow if you are hoping to find the “one” along the way?
Tinder? What is it about this ap that has over 150,000 Irish people playing with fire on a daily basis? What is it that Tinder can offer-apart from passing the time as you wait at the doctor’s surgery or queue for the bus?
It allows you do a “lap” of the bar-virtually- and swipe anyone who catches your online eye right. Everyone else can go to the left. It also spares your feelings by leaving you none the wiser as to who has dismissed you- it has a digital heart.
But aside from deciding whether you like the look of someone, what else can you expect from Tinder and how can you make sure you don’t get burnt in your search for a romantic spark?
First Dates
Bars and cafes alike provide us with the opportunity to watch people manoeuvre awkwardly through the motions of a first date. They are easy to spot and will be on the increase as people try to lock in love before the dreaded D-Day in February. There is nothing quite like a first date.
Tinder, while providing a platform for a lot of first timers, has slightly altered the DNA of the first date. They already made their first impression on you when you swiped right. The problem is the first date usually extinguishes that tinder impression completely. Your date is rarely who you thought they’d be. Which makes Tinder all the more entertaining. You will invariably find yourself on a date with someone who thinks that offering you a melted malteaser from their pocket constitutes a dinner date. Or feels that the fact that they don’t eat mouldy bread is one of their major selling points.
These dates are not to be scoffed at. The worse the date is the better. As you listen to someone detail the delights of eating raw onion you will, more often than not, resign to get yourself back into the real world-where you can vet the person before you have to spend a couple of hours trying to figure out your escape route.
You can also use it as first date training ground. Notch up as many as you can so by the time “the one” comes along you’ll have your dating technique down to a fine art. And it beats sitting in watching the telly.
Face Value
When using Tinder you can’t help but judge a book by its cover. Be warned though you may be looking at an old edition. People like to put their best foot forward when selecting the pictures they upload and some like to tell a photographic white lie. That attractive guy with eau de hipster may actually look more like an uncle of your third cousin when you meet. So practice hiding your disappointed face.
All Picture No Sound
Nothing can quite prepare you for how to deal with the “It’s me! The guy from the bar” scenario. So just be ready for the possibility that the handsome fellow you’ve been messaging may not have the accent to match. In fact there’s a chance you may not understand him at all-which may or may not be a good thing. This is a sound reason for meeting your flame as soon as you can. You may not fancy them as much as you thought if they sound like Rab C Nesbit- or maybe it’ll make them all the more endearing? So, if someone is saying all the right things online try and hear if from the horse’s mouth first before you get your hopes up.
Indecent Proposal
Before the era of digital dating, indecent proposals were confined mainly to the Hollywood screens in the guise of Robert Redford. But Tinder and other such dating aps can give you a taste of celebrity life from the comfort of your couch. The chances are that you will be sent a message inviting you to “swing” with other likeminded ‘tinderites’. But don’t worry you don’t have to go on every date you’re invited on (unless you want to) and these messages can be good for a giggle on a Sunday evening.
Keeping Good Company
Tinder is one of the few dating aps that ties in with the age old tradition of being set up by a friend-it just takes the friend out of the equation. You can see if you have any mutual friends with your potential flame and let that influence the direction of your swipe. Common connections can make going on that first date a little less daunting. Be warned though, if you are looking for the entertainment of a really bad date then it’s best to go with someone with whom you have no common connections.

If you are one of the many people contemplating using Tinder to put the spark back into your love life in 2016 don’t be too worried about getting burnt. There are plenty of fireguards in place-once you don’t take yourself too seriously. So forget the numbers-only 4 out of 100 tinder matches get past the initial ignition- and give it a can always delete it if you think you are get singed en route.

The Hand that Rocks the State’s Cradle

The Gender Quota Bill was introduced in Ireland in 2015-some 12 years after our Rwandan counterparts. But, even though 30% of our party candidates in the General Election must now be women, that doesn’t guarantee any increase in the 16% of women who got the vote in 2011.
Like the smoking ban, people are apprehensive about change- it seems that giving women more seats in the Dáil doesn’t sit so well. It’s not so much the woman’s fault- it’s the quota’s. Quotas can inadvertently bring out the rebel in us-Irish people just don’t like being told what to do. But before you make your mark on Friday, it would be best to examine exactly what women can bring to the government table.
The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, recently made his cabinet equally balanced with 50/50 men and women members. He has given portfolios such as Justice, Employment, National Revenue, Health, and Environment to the female members of cabinet. And why? “Because it’s 2015”. So perhaps the voters of Ireland need to move with the times in 2016 and increase the number of female elected officials from 16% to a more equitable figure.
The need for women in government transcends any quota based function-they are needed for more than just making up the numbers. They are agents of necessary change. We don’t even need to look at the Nordic Model just yet. The African one is a much better starting point.
Rwanda, a country that has suffered the trauma of genocide, introduced the gender quota rule in 2003 and since then the number of female representatives in the Rwandan parliament has risen from 18% to making up two thirds of the Rwandan parliament in 2015. This new strength in female numbers brought about the introduction of the Gender Based Violence Bill in 2003. In 2006 this saw 803 of the 1,777 reported crimes of violence and rape against women resulting in convictions. By no means is a solution to the problem but in a country where 2 out of 5 women report Gender Based Violence by the age of 15 it a step on the road to tackling it.
In Sweden, where 44% of those elected to parliament are women, parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave with 90 of those days reserved for the father. Compare that with the 45 days maternity leave allotted in the UAE. In America, where 19% of its parliamentary seats are held by women, the pursuit of happiness is a constitutional right-paid maternity leave is not.
The Federal National Council(FNC) in the UAE also recently amended the Child’s Rights Law by making breastfeeding mandatory for the first two years. Women who do not comply with this law could possibly be sued by their husbands. Four fifths of the FNC are men. Not so much ‘Nanny State’ but Daddy.
Why all the focus on maternity leave? Having children can impede a woman’s advancement in her political career just as much as in any other sector. A study published by Sarah Childs and Rosie Campbell in 2013 showed that 45% of all female MPs were childless compared to 28% of men. But, unlike other careers, women can affect change via electoral reform so that motherhood and career no longer has to be an either or option.

Perhaps some fear that a woman’s touch is too soft for the political world. Angela Merkal, the most powerful politician in the European Union-irrespective of gender-does much to dispel this myth. She has held the number one position on the Forbes ‘Most Powerful Women’ list for ten consecutive years. She also ranks 2nd on their list of the “World’s Most Powerful People”. Obama is 3rd.
And yes a woman’s hand isn’t always the softest one rocking the state’s cradle, but we can’t limit the number women in politics on the back of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. Instead let’s follow Trudeau’s and have faith in equity.

Funeral Etiquette..It’s not about you.

December is coming. People are trying not to mention the ‘f’ word. Attempting to hide it under tinsel and dazzle it with fairy lights. But, just like that tax return you recently filed, this ‘f’ word is a fact that is larger than life-especially in the winter months. Statistics show that the number of deaths that occur during the winter months rise by over 7per cent in comparison with the brighter summer months. In fact in December of 2013 nearly 800 more people shuffled off their coil than in August of the same year. And so, along with visiting Santa’s grotto, many of us will find ourselves attending a funeral in the coming months.

Not to worry. Apparently we Irish do them well. While our American counterparts find the idea of a ‘wake’ ghastly, we seem to wear the tradition like a badge of honour. Something that sets us apart. Something we excel at.

Ah yes, there’s nothing quite like an Irish funeral.

But are we just kidding ourselves? Does anybody really know how to act at an Irish funeral? (Before the whiskey starts flowing that is.) Have we confused “doing funerals well” with being drunk or even just slightly tipsy. Perhaps it’s about time we all had a refresher course in funeral etiquette.

Rule Number One. It’s not about you.

Who amongst us doesn’t feel the stage fright setting in as they join the procession of condolence givers? It’s not so much about forgetting your lines-it’s that you never knew them in the first place.

The generic clichés ride the carousel in your mind as you shuffle up. “I’m sorry”… “how are you?” keep whirling by. You dismiss them of course. How can you ask how they are? And everyone says they are sorry. But all of a sudden you’re up. And, under the spotlight and the glare of the congregation behind you, you hear your auto pilot self say- “I’m sorry. How are you doing?”. It’s the “I carried a watermelon” of condolences and you kick yourself just as much as Baby did. But remember. It’s not about you.

The person who’s grieving probably didn’t even hear what you said. They’re grieving. They just saw that you came and you cared enough to let them know that you do. What you say is irrelevant (within reason. Don’t go telling them about your holiday plans)-so just ignore the awkward funeral fear and say something.

Rule Number Two. Know when to go. It’s not about you.

The person, people, family, friend are exhausted. Your company is a welcome distraction but it’s not an episode of ‘Come Dine With Me’. They shouldn’t have to entertain you beyond the allotted time. Most removals will be announced with a start and finish time-and for good reason. What tends to happen is the opposite of the aforementioned tongue tied condolence giver scenario. It’s the mourner who doesn’t know when to shut up. Less is more. Say your piece. But more importantly listen. Perhaps the bereaved has their very own anecdote they want to tell. One that trumps the vague story you struggle to tell in an effort to avoid a grief filled silence.

Don’t suddenly ignore all the social cues you have learnt over your lifetime. If a person is yawing in your company-even if they are grieving- it means they are tired and you should go.

Rule Number Three. Out of sight.

Every funeral has them. The funeral version of the Bridesmaid or Groomsman. And we could all learn a thing or two from them. They are the organisers. Behind the scenes they help coordinate the food, clean the cups, talk to the priest and top up the wine. They do it all quietly and without fuss. They won’t let you know which cake they baked or ask for it back. You probably don’t even notice them. These people realised a long time ago- it’s not about them. We should be shadowing them instead of learning our lines.

Rule Number Four. Don’t pretend.

Don’t pretend you are only there to see the living and drink the tea. Pay your respects to the one who has passed. Visit the casket.  Don’t avoid it because you’re uncomfortable. You’re supposed to be. They are the mother or father that put a plaster on your grazed knee when you tripped over yourself in the rain. Or who let you take over their kitchen till the early hours to discuss men..or heartbreak..or men. Thank them now by having the courage to say goodbye. You owe it to them and the family.

Get over yourself-it’s not about you.

Rule Number Five. Come back.

There’s strength in the funeral number. For you. But, remember, it’s when the crowds have gone and the dust quietly settles in the weeks and months that follow, that the grief will truly start. It’s then that your company is really needed. Then, more than ever, that story you struggled to tell on the day of the funeral needs to be told- and heard.

There is no reason why the Irish funeral shouldn’t retain its reputation. It is, after all, a celebration. A celebration of life. A life. And it’s the living who celebrate.  Just remember- it’s not about you.


observations from a strange place