The Munchies

We called them the munchies and they were different to us. They lived in the countryside and didn't understand how to do things properly. This was because they were always confused and not very smart. They lived apart from us and we were glad.

Across the border the munchies were even worse. We, as Catholics in Northern Ireland, were very careful to not be like any munchies, yet we pitied them - a wee ache in our hearts remembered a vague something sometimes, which we quickly pushed away. Anyway, their roads were terrible, and it was very important to have good roads.

The order was clear: at the bottom was the gypsies, then came the munchies, then us Catholics, then the Brits, which was broken down into: our protestants, the Scottish, the Welsh, and finally, at the top, was the English. We would never be at the top and that was OK, but we could try... we could try to be less like us and more like them.

Most summers I spent a few weeks away from home at the Gaeltacht school, in the…

The Path

The path is a soft, forgiving deep layer of pine woodchip, reflecting light up to plants that sit in beds marked by wood or stone. It's a gentle path to walk upon, and its saturation on wet days forces feet to take it slowly as the layer of plastic underneath can get slippery in parts.
All along the beds colours flicker, scents rise and fall, and butterflies, dragonflies and bees weave on air. The tallest, sturdiest plants are all purple flowering: at one metre tall clary sages sway in the wind proudly, at over two metres cynarda and teasels are so tall they topple their stakes and bow down to the butterflies, and the verbenas, back down at a metre, dance well into late autumn, perfume intact.
Lemon balm bushes thrive in each bed, as do feverfew, thyme, celery and chives. Here and there rudibekias flash black and yellow, lavender sits in calm, and sedum, confidently tough and pink opens itself to teams of peacocks and red admirals.
Now as we enter autumn, encircling hazels shake …

Oh Well

I walked off the path through the fields one day because I was sick of all the straight lines. I missed the disarray of Donegal, and longed for something wild to meet my eyes. In an expanse of green I spied a little entanglement of small trees and headed right for it. It was a hawthorn and an elder with a small holly on the edge. There was just enough space for me to crawl inside and sit. So I got down on my knees and wrangled my way in.
I sat there and cried, missing home so much, weary of the unexpected rigidity that surrounded me. My supervisor in the Buddhist retreat centre I had moved over to live and work in for a year was very politely bullying me, and I was devastated. So, I sat in that small cluster, that wild embrace, and let it all out. I cried bitter tears and felt righteous anger, and the trees held me without judgement. When the crying ended I meditated. It wasn't a comfortable position, but it was enough to permit dissolution into nature for a while. 
After meditat…

The Road

I had been walking back and forth to do some hand-weeding at a neighbours house and decided to bring Mighty and Halo with me off-lead. I wanted to put their years of training into action on our quiet country road. I wanted to trust them and me.

On the road they know to walk beside or behind me, yet every so often push ahead, because that is what is allowed on our daily walks through the bog woods. A sharp 'Back' brings them back in line and cuts off the merry trail towards adventure. Now is not the time for fun.

It's a five minute walk and we meet around four cars in all over the days. My ears are ever-wide open for that faint rumble of an engine in the distance. As soon as I hear it I call them to heel and they sit in front of me with their backs to the road, smiling and wagging their tails. Each time, cars full of tourists smile at us, delighted at this dog-human harmony.

We meet sheep and farmers, dragonflies and swallows, walkers and bees; the summer sun beams on us a…

Moss and Me

One morning I decide to lay my face upon a plump, wet mound of moss on a big rock in the woods. Being so close I can smell it deeper, so I close my eyes and let myself remember...

My mind had been silent, filled with swooshing birches and chatting birds. Then in popped one word: Microbiome, and I smiled with the realisation that this conversation, between moss and me, has been going on for a long, long time.

When did I first lay my head upon that pillow of wild kindness? When did I first invite these tiny forests to live within me?

It began with pudgy, little feet sinking into pools of multi-coloured mystery; toes descending slowly into moist trust. When my soles found the bottom, the soft, stable ground, my head was brought down to meet the mosses on their level.

So, we were together since then, moss and me, on the shores of Lough Neagh, on the edge of Cnoc Fola, and as I travelled to Paris, New Zealand, Thailand and Peru. The moss lived in me, and now I wonder did a part of me live…


There on the flat land of the lough shore we were told to stay indoors. The black cloud was heading our way and it could kill us if we breathed it in. I imagined flying up above the house, heavy heron wings sweeping the air. I could see that cloud in the distance and knew it was coming for me.

I thought hard on what had happened. There, in a far off country, was an explosion of something even worse than poison, even bigger than bombs: radiation, and it was coming for my eyes, my skin, my lungs. But it was too big to think about, too much to take in, so after a while I stored it away and forgot about it.

Thirty years later, I watch the new TV story of Chernobyl and learn things I did not know: that this accident could have been much, much wider in scope; even worse than making 1,000 square miles of the earth uninhabitable for 20,000 years...

I keep watching. I wonder when the two central characters, the nuclear physicists portrayed as the voice of reason and truth telling, are going t…

The Shops

We went down the shops every day after school. Inside, the shopkeeper was high up above glass cabinets full of colourful sweets like jewels. We each had our favourites; mine were refreshers and pink bon bons, but I liked everything really. Sometimes there was enough money for crisps too, and I always got salt n vinegar. I liked how they made my lips go numb and my eyes water.

We were housing estate kids of the 1980s, poor and traumatised by war, many dealing with equally brutal home lives. Sweets and TV were our soothers and we worshipped  them, relying on these Gods to make everything better.

Sometimes, when money was low, we took a spoonful of butter and dipped it in sugar til it turned white. The crunch of the crystals gave way to a melting creaminess that reminded me of licking the bowl at my mother's house. But here the cake never got baked, never filled the house with kindness; the bowl stayed in the cupboard.

I stand in the queue to pay for diesel and look around. The shop…