Almost ‘and back again’ – last day in New York

Day 6 – last of the ‘Little Adventure’ – Thursday, March 19th 2015

One last burst of exploring the city – left to my own devices and full of confidence, I returned to Grand Central station, and this time headed North.

So what was on my agenda?

Thursday was about research and…. a bit of a ‘business meeting’……..

Throughout my posts about my New York visit, I have commented very little about my writing/novel.  This day was being driven with both in mind.  Whether it is an idea for plot or character for the next book or if it is a whole new book for another time, I felt New York would give me inspiration.  But, again, I wasn’t choosing the usual tourist path.

images (1)

I LOVE history now- not the big stories per say, but more the stories behind the big stories.  I also find, that  from a writer’s view, when I hear a date,  I find my mind relating it back to Kylemore.   What was going on there at the same time?

So for example, when construction was underway at Kylemore Castle in 1867:  the International Exhibition was opened in Paris – Jesse James was busy robbing a bank in Missouri – Karl Marx had just published ‘Das Kapital’ – The widow Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the Albert Hall – the Medicine Lodge Treaty was signed between US/Native American Indians – the Fenian’s were organising a Rising in Ireland…….  Needless to say the list could go on.

Did you know that 1867  was also the year Charles Dickens gave his first public reading in New York at Steinway Hall?

Anyway, for research there was a few places I wanted to visit,  to ‘put my eye’ on the locations that I had read about and filed away.

New York is a pulsing  city today – what was it like during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s?

Here is what I did NOT get to see.

I had missed an opportunity to get to the Tenement Museum – note:  you can only visit here while escorted by a tour guide and that has to be pre-booked.  AND I also messed up on  getting to the Merchant House (it is open Thursday – Sundays)  AND with the week that was in it, Ellis Island was totally booked out! 😦 All/any of these,  would have been a fantastic opportunity to see how people lived (and died)  during the late 1800’s etc in New York.   I was very disappointed not to have been able to visit them.

I have promised myself to get to them on my  NEXT trip to New York!

We do have comparable tourist experiences  here in Ireland:  Living The Lockout, for the tenement side of things in Dublin, and our own Cobh Heritage Experience for the Famine Ships, Titanic and Lusitania stories, and of course we have our own fine examples of the Big Houses, Kylemore and Muckross House being two of them.

But would they be a similar experience?

I think not. ( I will endeavour to get to the Irish ones before the year is out)

I did get to seek out some places on my list for New York.  One was the Dakota building (built between 1880 and 1884) – I had recently finished a great time travel book (recommended by Stephen King) – Time and Again by Jack Finney,   where the Dakota was used in the book as the base for time travel – the building reportedly got its name from being built so far on the Upper West Side, that it might as well have been in Dakota.

 

The Dakota in winter c. 1890 - (image as appears chp 17 of Time and Again)

The Dakota in winter c. 1890 – (image as appears chp 17 of Time and Again)

 

Of course the building now sits nice and snug, blending in very comfortably with its’ towering neighbours….. I had great fun finding it, and then wondered what stories IT could tell.

Dakota Now,  2015

Dakota Now, 2015

 

On a side note, did you know that prior to establishing the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, that her torch bearing arm was first exhibited at Madison Square Park?  The story, as I understand it, is that the state couldn’t afford to build a base and erect the statue and so the arm was on display instead, tourists paying to climb up into the torch, while fund raising continued.

lending a hand of Liberty

lending a hand of Liberty

 

Lunch time soon snuck up on me and I had to attend my ‘Business Meeting’

For lunch I meet with a ‘Certain Someone’.  Now this person shall remain nameless as I do not want to identify them in this blog, until such time that they advise otherwise.  And as casual as it may have been arranged, it was actually a PR exercise for me to push the idea of my book and for ‘He who shall not be named’ to put a face and character to my name. In case you get too excited, they are not an agent/publisher or an author even, but they are in the industry and lets just say they were doing me the favour by giving me some of their very precious time.

On the surface it was all very relaxed and easy going, but I have to admit I was nervous and very conscious of not coming across as too cocky, or too wishy-washy either.  I had about 30 minutes to talk up my book and me, without appearing pushy and needy.

As a result the first 20 minutes we talked about everything BUT the books and my writing – and the last few I had my ‘window’ to try and capture the very essence of what I was all about and where I wanted to bring my book series ‘K-Girls’.  It was my first real ‘pitch’ without trying to make it sound too obvious that that is exactly what it was!

I think it went very well – not to any degree of signing any book deals but I certainly got some interesting feed back, picked up a professional tip or two.  I think they went away reasonably impressed, not just with my book series idea,  but with me too!  If they go away thinking this girl has some good ideas that go beyond the traditional, and they drop my name in their professional circles, then I would be very happy with that.

We shall have to wait and see what outcome, if any, comes out of that.

Meeting over, I sauntered for a bit near by and I have to say I was in my total element when I found this little Gem – not a building – but a book of buildings!

images

 

Fab imagery of New York back in its early days, with comparison shots from modern day – (hats off to author Marcia Reiss and photographer Evan Joseph)  I had great fun finding some of the buildings within and making my own comparisons.

As a result,  I walked miles around the city and felt I even did my own bit of  ‘time travel’  …….the weather was glorious and I got to walk across Central Park (where the pond was still frozen) and ‘popped’ in (how naive was I) to the Met Museum.   I would need a whole new trip to New York to get to see everything there.

Oh how weary was I by the end of it all – how wonderfully wonderfully weary.

At the end of the afternoon,  I made it ‘home’ to Mamaroneck with blistered feet and a very happy soul.

The next day was ‘Going Home’ day and so I spent it with my hosts, dear friends – and I will always appreciate those last few cuddles on the couch, from my beautiful and pixie-like god daughter ‘Berry-Boo‘.

It was a quick and sad good bye. (save having to go back to collect a forgotten purse!!!! – thank you AGAIN Rozzy)

I arrived home to Ireland in one piece – and I have to admit I was very happy to see the familiar patchwork green fields from Aer Lingus just before we set down in Dublin.

My trip was  – oh there is no denying it – AMAZING – as cliched as it sounds.

I would like to think that my one was one with a difference – I hope my  last few posts have caught some of that.

Looking back on the last year, it goes to show that you have to Put It Out There – whatever IT is that you want in life –

it might just come true –

After all

I got to New York didn’t I?

Little Erin stroll

New York- Paddy’s Day with a Difference.

17th March 2015 – Day 4 of my ‘Little Irish Adventure’.  It’s Saint Patrick’s Day!

IT’s St PATRICK’S DAY IN NEW YORK CITY!

patricks day in NYC

And my day was all the more special.

First thing in the am,  Roz and I got to read some Irish stories to children in Mamaroneck’s Montessori – this was tough- not because I am shy at reading in public (as if!) but it is so hard to find an Irish story where it doesn’t end in bloodshed and slaying, or at the very least,  curses or banishment.

I didn’t want to scar the little innocents for life!

So we stuck to fairy tales.

Parental responsibility over, Roz and I headed back into Manhattan.

Now, I am the sort of girl that likes to do things a bit differently.

So, NO,  I didn’t go to watch the Paddy Parade.

For those out there who expect floats and giant air balloons or acrobats….You would be disappointed – because those type of parades happen on  Thanksgiving.  (think of the movie ‘Miracle On 34th Street’)

New York Paddy’s Day parades are all about marching bands.

Pre Paraders

Pre Paraders

Roz and I walked parallel to the parades and took glimpses here and there – but to be honest, we were on a different mission.

By private invitation (cough cough) we were off to Pier 90, where the NYPD were having their own Paddy’s Day celebration.

Where?

What?

Who?

cat I could tell you

I will let the pictures speak for themselves….

held in a secure location……

NYPD cruising for a bruising

NYPD cruising for a bruising

NYPD keeping an eye on the Party

NYPD keeping an eye on the Party

and some amazing  music – I promise there WAS dancing

The in house entertainment

The in house entertainment

and lots of men in uniform

Cuchulain in the flesh!

Cuchulain in the flesh!

Who's got your back!

Who’s got your back!

Friends from San Fran

Friends from San Fran

Guardians of the Peace

Guardians of the Peace

best NYPD sandwich ever!

best NYPD sandwich ever!

And then we had our own private parade as the NYPD pipe band arrived……

 the pipes are calling

the pipes are calling

Short side view!

Short side view!

I never felt threatened or on constant alert (a natural feeling I get when surrounded by lots of testosterone) as these guys were natural minders.

True gentlemen  to the core!

We had a great laugh  – the NYPD gang were so welcoming and genuine.

And sure  after a couple of beers, I felt we both blended right in!

cagney and lacey

What an afternoon!

Roz and I were VERY tempted to stay on but,  we being good Catholic boarding school girls,  and not forgetting we are both married….

we took ourselves off out of temptations way…….lol

After resting some, and strolling  along the very pleasant Hudson river walk, in the sharp (and I mean very sharp) air…..

Riverside Rest

Riverside Rest

…..we linked up with Aileen (who had preformed at the fund raiser)

aileen

Aileen (pronounced ‘I-Lean’) has lived and worked for years in NYC -she currently is the Piano Artist Studio Manager working on a fab project Sing for  Hope – (she also is a fab musician/song writer) – note the plug Aileen!

Anywaaaays, I know Aileen as my old pal from Kylemore.  We have linked up over the years, and until this trip, always on Irish turf.

This was my first time to visit Aileen at her own base – and WOW!  If I ever had a ‘far away fields are greener’ moment – this was it!  City living is not for everyone but if I was without kids and didn’t own 3 dogs – I would gladly have what she has.  Aileen couldn’t live anymore central to the creative world that is the bones of New York.  As a writer I had little flashes of what my life  could be  like if I too lived somewhere similar…..how my writer’s world might be……..I wouldn’t give up my life now that as I have it….I have a fab husband and kids after all…….but if I lived in a parallel one?……..oh well, it might make a nice story someday.

We had a fab evening – it was lovely to see Aileen again, and have her show us a snap shot of what she is up to these days- I was tempted to take lots of photos of her super stylish apartment, but I thought that would have been just plain rude – but I did take a few to capture the evening – so I will let the photos speak for themselves!

When all was done and dusted – it was a truly amazing Saint Patrick’s Day – one I will never forget.   A huge thank you to NYPD, and Aileen,  for making it such a Paddy’s day with a difference.

Roz and I managed to get home before midnight, and not only that, but  managed to get home sober – ish.  As Roz  had an early start for work the next day (5am),we were both conscious of the late hour.

I too was keen to get some sleep.  The next day I was going to be flying solo and heading into New York again for some research.  I would be going in wearing with my writer’s hat

– but that my dears, is for the next post…..

New York – Day Three – putting the fun in Fundraiser

Monday 16th March: The real reason for my visit to New York!

As explained briefly in my earlier blog – ‘New York – There and Back‘, it was the fundraiser that kick started off my whole interest in getting to New York.

This fund raiser was an Irish concert to raise money towards the building of a new monastery for the nuns.  It took place  in Saint Josephs Catholic Church in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.  An evening of Irish entertainment was organised where supporters could purchase tickets, $100 (which included admission to the ‘reception’ afterwards and meet the performers)  or $50 for ‘just the concert’.

Having grown up with my brother performer/musician, I am old hat to sound checks and stage presence and no longer in awe of celebrities – I do not gush over the famous.  So while I appreciated the generosity of the wonderful line up that was the front stage for the concert,  (including class mate Aileen who, I was of course, very excited to see again) I was more keen on being part of the machine that made it happen.

For those that are interested to learn who was performing,  and seeing the playlist, here are the details below:

Program coverEabha McMahonProgam Page 2

But I am going to skirt around the event for now, and will report on the ‘pre’ evening that introduced me to the heart  of the community of ‘Greenwich Village’.

While this was my 3rd day in the U.S of A, it was to be my first to actually traveling into the ‘City’.  Roz  and I were going on a full day mission, and one of the Holy Orders kind.  This was no shopping or tourist trip.

I will admit that I was both excited, and nervous, about the day ahead.  Why was I nervous?  I always find strange city commuting daunting, and so I was relieved to know that Roz would accompany me on my maiden voyage.

For Roz, this daily commute and city hanging is a breeze for her.  It is all part of working downtown and living elsewhere.  For her, the late start to the day was a welcome lie in  to her usual 5am wake up and  express train to be at her desk for 7am.  Roz  makes this  daily sacrifice  to allow her to be able to enjoy the  lifestyle balance that is working in the financial district, and getting home to her hubby and small ones.  Hats off to Roz in managing it so that her family can live the dream.

hats off

And so I happily scurried along with Roz,  as we made our way  into the city. Tom stayed at home to mind his girls and to allow us ‘K-girls‘ escape and fulfill our promise as volunteers.  We got the train from Mamaroneck, which took us directly into Manhatton,  with a few stops along the way.

So we arrived and even at this stage, having witnessed the city come out to meet me, I still didn’t really believe I was in New York – Grand Central Station.

THE Clock!

THE Clock!

We left the station through one of the famous arches, and Roz led me along busy paths.  Before long we were at the National Library, with the Chrysler building in the back ground.

I am grateful to Roz taking photos or I might not have believed I stood there at all.

Spot the tourist

Spot the tourist

My mind kept wandering to familiar scenes of movies (King Kong, I am Legend, Day After Tomorrow…….take a look here if you are interested in a web site that shows you what was filmed where.)

Anyway, Roz isn’t one for hanging around and so a taxi is hailed and off we go past sky scrapers ‘downtown’ and before we know it we arrive at Saint Joseph’s –

St Josephs exterior

So the fund raiser,

well these things don’t happen by themselves.

As with all these type of events, there is great reliance on volunteers and the generosity of performers – it also involves a lot of  sweat and tears to boot.  The macro and micro planning that goes behind such events relies on a whole hive of busy bees.  And I got to be part of that.

So in typical volunteer style, Roz and I  skipped to the side entrance of the church, to find the office and where we met with Mary Reed.

Mary, bless her, was the producer and professional fund raiser/organiser, who was orchestrating the whole event – Roz in her official role was the Event Co-Chair along with Fr. John McGuire – and between them and the many volunteers at St Josephs – the whole event was unfolding before us.

Fr John, greeted us warmly,  and was impressionable in both size and manner.  He offered one big warm swoop of a firm handshake and met all the  attributes that go with the word ‘affable’.

Sr Magdalena, who  had traveled from Kylemore, Ireland , was due  to link up with us and along with Mary, we were to have some lunch before we rolled up our sleeves to volunteer.  How wonderfully strange it was to greet Sr Maggy on the steps of St Joseph’s instead of my usual encounter with her at Kylemore.

The plan was that we were to eat first.  ‘An empty sack won’t stand’ after all.  And then when re-fuelled, Roz and I would help with preparing finger food for the reception party after the fund raiser.

Father had a place booked,  a ‘nice little Italian near by’, and with Father’s bad knee and parking privileges, he drove us all there.  Less than 5 minutes later, call it a local miracle, but Father finds a spot immediately outside the eating house that is ‘Volare’ (147 West 4th Street)

It is in a basement and as we step down and in, it is dark and secretive looking – When my eyes adjust, I am surprised to see the walls  painted with colourful painted scenes of the half clad women.  In true Italian style, there are dining booths, and center tables dressed in crisp white linens.  The waiters stand to attention with long white aprons and polished looks.  You would think I had never been in a restaurant in my life but this was something different – I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I bet those walls could tell a thousand tales.

volare

Back in Volare, the Maitre D’ greets us with a strong accent and I am grateful that I am a guest so I don’t need to understand what he has just said.  Judging from his body language and the casual greeting, Father is a regular here.

Two hours, fabulous fresh pasta, and a very large glass of Chardonnay later and I realise that I have had my first New York dining experience in the company of a nun and a priest in,  decoratively speaking,  what could be a basement boudoir!

Only in New York!

Delizioso!

I ask Roz is it far back to the church; ‘could we walk off the overload’?  What a hoot to discover, when we walk around the corner,  there opposite us is St Josephs!

Saint Joseph’s Parochial House is impressive.  There are many floors and I was only privy to the kitchen and dining/sitting space that occupies a certain floor – but this was enough to see how lovely it must be for the traveling religious who stop and contribute in their way to the parish.

I was in my element, catching up with Sr Maggy, Roz and Fr, while getting to meet another K-Girl, Juliette, for the first time, and meet the many volunteers and some not-so-local (some as far out as the Bronx) kids who have come in to help out as well.  We set up a catering train as one sliced bread, another buttered, another sliced salmon and yet another was in charge of capers.  There were crackers, patés, cheese/pineapple sticks,  all sponsored by locals as their contribution to the fund raiser.  It was not long and the huge dining table was covered in plates of finger food that would feed the many $100 guests later.

It was never said out loud but I got the impression that Father is much loved and appreciated, that St Josephs is still the heart of this ‘village’ and is productive in its way of ensuring that the simple sense of neighborhood values are going strong.

A true village in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world!

Time ticks on,  and soon  we were assigned our tables at the church door to welcome paying guests.

Did I mention that TV crews were there? – the whole thing was recorded and news of it broadcast the following evening back home in Ireland.

It was a wonderful evening.  Of course the performers preformed beautifully – but I have to make a special mention of our own Aileen (pronounced ‘I-lean’) as a beautiful singer and I have to say a natural entertainer (not all could claim this skill) , and the headliner Eabha (pronounced ‘Aay-va’)  breathtaking while also a natural at keeping the crowd engaged and smiling.

At the end, we made it our way back to the reception where the fruits of our earlier efforts were being enjoyed by the masses – I think I was forgiven for turning it down, one can eat only so much salmon in the same day after all.  We mingled, pressed the flesh, chit chatted and all the while promoting the great cause that is building the Monastery for Kylemore.

I am grateful to those who took photos – I was so invested in the ‘here and now’  that I forgot to record those special moments.  Thanks to Mary Reed for being on the ball again there.

Pictures from March concert

It was over too soon, and like the fairy tale, Tom has Roz and I back in Mamaroneck before midnight!

Was it a success?  I certainly believe so – I will leave the money counting to Mary Reed et al – as for myself…..I would never have thought when a student back in the the 80’s,  that  30 years later,  I would be linked in arms in New York, all in the name of Kylemore –

for that alone, the whole trip to New York was worth it!

L to R:  Juliette, Aileen, Roz, Sr Maggy, Fr John, Peggy, myself, Jenny

L to R: Juliette, Aileen, Roz, Sr Maggy, Fr John, Peggy, myself, Jenny

putting the fun in fundraiser

putting the fun in fundraiser

New York – There and Back Again- a Little Irish adventure.

March, Friday 13th – an omen for some – but not for this lady.

Would you believe it but in July last year, I ‘put it out to the universe‘  to be able to go to New York for March 2015.

This was not a trip I could easily afford, time nor financially.

So it really was a case of ‘making a wish’ and hoping it would come true.

And it did!

Fast forward to Friday 13th  2015 and I was on a plane enjoying the great service of Aer Lingus and in-flight movies.

Amazeballs!

So what brings me to New York?

A VERY good and generous friend I have to say.

And why?

But of course, the Kylemore Abbey Fund raiser!

And wanting to see a very good friend who moved there in the last year or so,

And because of rellies who have been asking me for years to come and visit

And it was so close to Paddy’s Day……

What better excuses eh?

So the next few blogs will be a capsule of what I got to do while on American soil and hopefully you will enjoy, and perhaps learn a thing or two along the way……….

 

 

 

Perspective

I have found that at this time of year, there is a certain air of well,’ fed-up-ness’.  Unless you have had the fortune to have had a winter holiday, or some good luck find you, this time of year is usually the point when the most of us are simply F-E-D up with the winter and are seeking change.

Didn’t the pagans have it right idea to mark the Spring Equinox – celebrating equal day and night – the tipping point as such – the winter definitely over and they could all look forward to longer and brighter days.  Any excuse for a party.  The Irish never really need one.

Now I understand why St Patrick might have chosen this time of year to come to Ireland and preach the new word – the pagans being a bit more receptive perhaps to hearing some new slant on what might save them, or curious to learn what the stranger amongst them might have to say.  Sure if it meant walking to the cross roads and a beyond bit more,  to hear what the ‘foreigner’ had to say, and we meet a few new people along the way, we might  feel all the better for it!  Patrick certainly gave a new perspective on things – and all with the use of a shamrock!

 

st patrick

 

For some, the change in the weather is enough – for others it might be seeking a change in circumstances like a new job or moving house, or perhaps even a new relationship.  And don’t we all love to see the snow drops surface and the daffodils bob. I have taken to looking to the skies for the swallows (a bit early but  I still like to look)

In my years of acquired wisdom (and let me not fool myself, I will continue learning) I have found that when I can’t initiate the change – perhaps a new perspective is all that is needed.

 

change

 

Or then again, maybe it is not so bad what I have and that if I look at it from a different angle, I might see a brighter side?

My ever-the-wise brother, has always said

‘The man without shoes feels sorry for himself

until he meets the man without any feet.’

And he really means that when he says it (he is after all, physically disabled and unable to walk anymore)

 

When we were students in Kylemore, we would complain a lot this time of year.  The term between Christmas and Easter always felt the longest.   There wasn’t a whole lot to look forward to,  and so classes would drag on, the food would appear all the more bland, the days all that bit colder and our teachers all that bit more annoying.   We would all get a bit less tolerant of each other.

mallory towers

(scene from Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers)

 

 

There was many a girl that would escape the confines of the school walls to get out  and explore the estate within the acceptable boundaries for some fresh air, for a change of pace.

At some point I took it upon myself to vary my route – I probably bounced it off a few friends, lets go this way for a change, or how about we go up that way, but for one reason or another, maybe even by choice, I ended up discovering new places to walk on my own.

I followed a stream once, wondering how far I could stay with it – climbing up the side of the mountain, climbing over rocks and roots of trees, meandering around boulders trying to see if I could find its’ source.  That was when I discovered a nice nook on the side of the hill.  It gave a stunning view back towards the castle.  Facing West, I could see the tower of the Gothic poking through the trees, and the castle beyond, and the land sweep on to the Atlantic to the edge of the eye.    I later discovered that this resting point is called Lorenzo’s point – where the son of Mitchell Henry used to frequent.  It too, became one of my favourites.

Another of my favourite views, was the path that went up to the Mountain Lake.  During our time in school (the 80’s), it was a popular enough walk.  But I found over the years that less and less went there.   Some 10 years later, on a return visit to the school,  I raised the subject of the Mountain Lake with students, and asked if they walked that way at all.

They had no idea of what I was talking about.

‘Do you mean up by the Rock Pools?’

‘No, this  path that goes up along the side of the hill that over looks the walled garden.’ I explain.  You know if you were going towards Pat Neagh’s.

‘You mean the path up to the Statue?’

‘No, sure there is no lake up there. No,  this path is hidden near the Jam House?’ I say.

‘The Jam House?’  Where is that?’

‘You know, on the way  towards the Walled Garden, where the path splits, there is a tiny little house or shed I suppose really. That was the Jam House.’

‘That was a Jam House?’

‘Yeah – well not in our time but the nuns used to store and sell Jam there I think to the passing tourists at some point’  (I think that might be an urban myth but still, we called it the Jam House.)’

‘Gosh – and there is a path there?’

‘Well sort of, it is a hidden path – you would miss it if you were not looking.  It was the path the workers used to check on the pipes that came down from the lake with water to the castle and the garden.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Yeah.’

 

Anyway you get the jist of it.  They had no idea of where I was talking about.

For anyone going that way, the Jam House is now the old Salmon Spawning shed on the route towards the Walled Garden and the path is just beyond this to the right, the trees and creeping rhododendron hide it very well.  But if you follow that along, it brings you up the edge of the Duchruach Mountain offering an eagle view over the Walled Garden and if you have the energy to keep going, up to the mountain lake beyond with stunning views West to the Atlantic.

Anyway back to perspective – I thought I would share with you  what most see when they come to Kylemore and go visit the stunning Victorian Walled Garden –

Here is the view of the walled garden as depicted in the brochures and how most people see it.

 

walled-gardens-map

 inside the walled garden

 

And here it is from a different perspective.

 

 

Just sayin’

Plot – Story or Grave?

I went on a walk this morning,  took a turn up past the small cemetery that lies on the coastal town of Schull (West Cork, Ireland).   It slopes gently down to the shore, overlooking Schull harbour and the Carbery isles – in turn lying on the edge of the Atlantic.  It is a beautiful spot.  I find it very moving and inspiring.

It set me thinking of plot.

And the pun therein.

Any writer will tell you that every good story has to have a great plot.  And while I like to think that ‘K-Girls’, my book, has one, I have to confess that the whole idea behind writing my series starts with a rather basic, very sad looking plot.

I discovered it at the age of 12, and was struck by it from the get go.  But it would take me the guts of 30 years before I gave it it’s due respect.

Not many know this, but the whole plot behind K-Girls started with the actual plot, that is the grave, of Ruth Stoker who is a 14 year old who is buried at Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Co. Galway.

For any who have had the pleasure to visit Kylemore, you may remember the lovely walk to the Gothic Church that lies to the east of the Abbey/Castle?  I could say a lot about this cathedral in miniature, but I do not want to waiver from the topic that is, Ruth.  Anyway, under the shade of the Oak trees and watchful eye of Gothic gargoyles is a simple cemetery where in lies the remains of the Benedictine community that have passed on over the years.

In the midst of the simple stone markers for the nuns, there is a small standing celtic stone cross.  It is the maker of Ruth.  It simply states ‘In loving memory of Ruth Stoker who died on 18th December 1923 aged 14 years. RIP’

Ruth Stoker grave stone

When I was a student at Kylemore the myth was that she had died having fallen from the tower (the reason why the Gothic was locked up at the time) , or another, drowned in the lake (explaining why us students were never allowed to swim or boat on the mass of water).  I suppose many girls saw the grave and wondered for a moment, perhaps some didn’t see it at all.  But it struck a chord with me – why was there a girl buried in the nun’s cemetery?  And admittedly, the romantic in me thought how lovely to be buried at Kylemore – imagining that she must have had a great love for the school and her time there.  And that one day, as I have a similar love, that I too might be buried there – or at least some ashes scattered.

Now that I am 44 and married with my own teen girls, I see a different side  – that of the view of a mother  – and try and imagine what it must have been like for the mother of Ruth to have to say good bye to her little girl, and then to witness her being lowered into the ground?  Did the sun shine, setting the church lime stone alight, or did the Connemara rains fall gently dusting people’s umbrellas, or cloche hats and caps.  Was there a good turn out?  How many would have been stood around the small ope and scattered soil into the dark earth on that December day?

As a student at Kylemore, I did not consider a mother’s love, I was too preoccupied with who Ruth was and where had she come from?  How had she truly died?

Perhaps that is where the seed of her spirit was captured within me at the age of 12 and she grew as I did over my years at Kylemore and then, unbeknownst to myself – Ruth came away with me.

It was only the last 7 years that I built up the courage to start writing in earnest and contacted one of the older nuns (Sr Benedict, historian) about Ruth.  While Sr Benedict was not too familiar with Ruth’s background, she went to the retired elders and discovered that Ruth’s story was a foggy one.

A fire in the bursar office in the 50’s (that is a story in its own right) destroyed all student records and so little was remembered of her, only that the retired nuns remembered something about ‘galloping consumption’ and being ‘buried in Kylemore at the request of her parents’.

Oh! – now that put a different perspective on it – galloping consumption? – buried at the request of her parents? What did that mean?  Consumption, I understood was TB but what did galloping?  It did not bode well.  And Ruth buried at the request of her parents? – Where they there after all?  My mind raced with supposing and surmising.

And so curiosity took me down a road of research and censuses – all the while, Ruth stood at my shoulder, and I felt as if she was smiling enjoying the mystery that she had become for me.

Writers will tell you that characters become alive and when writing, they will so often lead us down a plot path that we never designed in the first instance.   I have found this of Ruth.

Ruth Stoker the actual teen who died in Kylemore  has her own story, and one I will gladly share in another post another time – her grave side remains simple and I visit it every time I am back at Kylemore.  I place a stone on the cross to mark my return, (some think this is a Jewish custom but it’s origins are pagan – the stone symbolising the permanence of memory)

It is nice to see that a other stones have been placed by mine.

But the Ruth of K-Girls, the one that lives in my head and manifests as a ghost in my writing, well she is having a ball within the pages that is K-Girls with  her new mortal friend, Alice.  Ruth is getting to live her teen life all over again – albeit in the 80’s  – and as Alice has a whole 6 years to go as a student of Kylemore.

The two of them will  have a lot of fun with plot;

and sometimes even losing it every now and then.

Diaries

My seven year old found my old school diaries.  Not that they were hidden for no one to find, just that it was the first time that he took an interest in them.

I have kept diaries, or journals, throughout my life – in fact, without them I don’t think I would ever have considered writing a novel at all.   And so I have a big box of diaries that span my teen and young adulthood years (I journal less now that I write as an author).

Only 2 actual diaries have sat on my writing desk for the last 4 years.  These two diaries were the background to the writing of ‘K-Girls’, and preparation for the sequel, ‘K-Girls Plus One’.   I would have written them in 1984 and 1985, when I was 13/14.

I have to confess, that most pages  are typical of a teens worries, thoughts and moans, with the odd love lost or crush.

All the same, for the most part, they are not suitable for a seven year old.

What I find interesting is that neither of my teen daughters ever took much interest in them, and so it came as a surprise that my seven year old son was not only fascinated with them, but wanted me to read them to him, and went so far as trying to sneak them into his bedroom to try and decipher my scrawl on his own.

As a parent third time round, I have learnt though, if you tell a child they can’t have something, they just want it all the more;  and so in an effort to stem his new curiosity, I  promised to read to him (that way I am in control) some of the pages within.

This has proved interesting to me.  Most of the entries are what I would call typical, simple, occasionally cringe worthy, and even funny,  on different levels. The best days are the one that, only for the diaries, I would have forgotten about them completely.  To a stranger they may not mean a whole lot, but to me the pages draw on distant memory banks, and allow me to dip into my past, raise a smile and reminisce on old times.  How cocky I was, how innocent, (and then again, perhaps not), how impetuous, petty, or immature, (some would say I haven’t changed much)

And then I think, hang on a second, is this what blogging has replaced?  And facebook?  Only as we are sharing our thoughts with the world, do we hold back on our REAL opinion for fear of judgement, ridicule?  With journals, the premise is that they are private and so we can CONFESS, without judgement.  We can truly speak plainly and openly.  OFF THE RECORD as such.

Wasn’t Wilde that said ‘I never travel without my diary – one should have something sensational to read in the train.’

I know certainly that I am trying to be more careful in my blogging, what to say, how to say it, who is possibly reading it, (if anyone).  My journals, they have a different sense about them – raw, as-it-is.  Warts and all.  There is a lot to be said about that I think – I can see that within the diaries, is the forming of my true writing voice – capturing the real feelings of a young teen girl, even if in the 1980’s.  Have teens changed a whole lot – you would think I would know having two of them but is the main difference being social media has perhaps indirectly created a censorship to a young person’s voice?

In any case, I thought to share with you my first page in my diaries as a K-Girl – don’t get too excited now, I know my seven year old certainly didn’t.

teen diariesdiary entry 1984

diary transcript

8-3-’84 – Lent 1st day

Dear Diary,

Since this is my first page I thought i might has well tell you that I most probably wont be able to write every night cause I’m not great at writing every night.  I don’t know why I decided to write but I said to hell and took this out and here I am writing this.  To-day is the 2nd day of lent and I’ve given up sweets and I have to try and keep it ’cause I usually break it.  

I’ve got to go to sleep now ’cause Miss Oakely is switching the light off now.

Good night

Sweet Dreams

Lydia

Speaking on Firsts

Considering the time of year, and being new to blogging, I thought it appropriate to speak about Firsts – or new Starts – they are connected are they not?

We all experience Firsts – blogging being my most recent!

But First’s appear to slow down a pace as we get older – or do they?  As adults do we forget to take off our blinkers and view the world differently?

Why not take a kids view on things? – the awe, the curiosity, the excitement, the in-the-moment concentration that they give a new discovery, be it a weird looking bug or tasting a lemon.

So in preparation of today’s post, and with the start to 2015 – I thought I would take a different look at MY view on the the new year – and look to my past Firsts, to perhaps prepare for some future ones – or for the adults out there who like to put a power word on it –  my 2015 ‘Goals’.

After all, isn’t a  Goal something we aspire to achieve (for clarification, I am not talking scoring between goal posts here) – and if it is a Goal, doesn’t this mean we have not done it before, and by consequence, it is a First.

I think Michelangelo is quoted somewhere as saying ‘I am still learning’ as he painted the Sistine Chapel.

But what about the small stuff, the bits that really only matter to us as individuals.

So for 2015 I am  not going to make any resolutions – as these are so often based on failures,  or trying to change the negative – I am going to revert to the past to go forward.  If that makes sense?

Not a bucket list – more an appreciation.  An appreciation of any Firsts that I may continue to experience, to recognise, and to celebrate them.  Even if I think I have done it all before, to approach it as if I have not – with awe, with curiosity, with excitement.

To that end, I am happy to share my first letter home from boarding school – written at the age of 12, back in 1983, having settled in a few days to Kylemore Abbey School for Girls, Connemara.  I don’t think it holds any life changing messages.  But I am happy to say that, thanks to my father’s archiving, that the letter remains (misspelling and all), as opposed to decomposing in some land fill – and I appreciate that, and it, on so many levels – my first letter home – the first of many letters that would follow, but this one capturing one girls’  mind set as a boarder, starting anew, making that fresh start to secondary school – and what was important to her at that time, in that moment when she took her new letter writing set and quickly penned a letter home.

I feel strangely reassured that, 30 years later, my needs haven’t changed much!

Here’s to yours for 2015.

first letter home page 1first letter home page 2

Transcript from letter:

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore

Co. Galway

Spet 1983

Dear Mum and Dad,

                                    It’s my second day here and its great fun. I thought I would be really homesick but I’m not (no offence).  By the^wayhow’s everyone, I’m just after remembering that I’ve left loads of things at home so would you please send the up the following:tourch, radio, cuddley toy, posters and some books and tuck Oh yah! And a picture of the family (scamp and shandy as well).  Say hallo the rest of the family and give Shandy, Scamp and Nillie a big X

 

I’ve made loads of friends so theres no need to worry.  Im sleepin in the farm house wle, which is great fun, one of my friends name is Jane and she’s very nice she sleep in the same bunck and bedroom as me.  I’ve got another friend whose very nice aswell she’s in 6th year and her name is (oh dear I’m after forgetting.)  I’ve got loads more to but I haven’t enough time sorry.  I’d better go now.

          Lot and lots of love

                              Daughter number 2

                                        (Lydia)

X a nice big kiss

P.S write back and don’t forget the things I need

Kylemore Abbey School – Crest and Moto

Pax et Nos Avi

Did your school have a school moto/crest?

I am not going to suppose that all of you do but if you did have one, is it something that you can quote and recall at a moment?

‘Kylemore Abbey School for Girls’ did – I can’t tell you how many of us ‘K-Girls’ would have seen this crest over the years.  Specifically the ‘Pax’ part remained with us –  Pax (‘Peace’) being the motto of the Benedictine order.

Our full school crest was ‘Pax et Nos Avi’ – but what did the ‘et Nos Avi’ mean?

There are conflicting theories of the true grasp of its essence as there appears to be no clear translation.

And so,  I contacted the Community at Kylemore,  and specifically the Abbess, Mother Maire Hickey, for more detail.

As it turns out, there IS no clear translation – and for good reason – the motto capturing the essence of what Dame Scholastica, the original Head Mistress at Kylemore Abbey School in 1923, first conceived for the new school.

For those not in the know, Kylemore Abbey School was founded by the small community of nuns that survived, having fled war torn Ypres in 1914.  I can’t imagine what the  ‘Irish Dames of Ypres’ must have experienced first hand in the battle torn city, and then the relief  to settle in Connemara’s bleak yet beautiful landscape.

Back to the crest.

I believe that ‘Pax’ couldn’t have been a more poignant and powerful motto at that  time.  But Dame Scholastica’s thinking I am told, was that something needed to be added for the new students that would be educated and excel at Kylemore.

And so, it has been suggested that the school motto incorporates both that of the Benedictine Order, and a reflection of what K-Girls, would carry forward,  that is  to inspire girls to seek peace, work for justice and peace, and commit ourselves to handing it on to the future population of the planet’ – Pax et Nos Avi – Peace is Our Heritage

And so, have we lived on to fulfill this?

I can only let others be the judge of that…………..

2013-06-28 17.32.00 School Blazer Crest 1984