1. Quickly referred to the non-fiction feature article written by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (in week’s 1 handout) about her overpowering desire for another child:
My Ma is amazed that five of my seven pregnancies were planned. “We just got pregnant; we were glad of a miscarriage,” she said after my second loss. But I find miscarriage extremely hard to get over – apart from the avalanching hormones, there is the anger towards my body and what I have begun to refer to as “my rotten eggs”

I’m frozen – I cannot shake the cold from my bones. From my seat on the stage in County Hall I can see a slice of the sea. When my fellow reader is answering his interview questions, I focus on that wedge of water but, like a phantom, the scan image of the empty pregnancy sac floats into view. The black, black hole of it. And the sonographer’s words: “Blighted ovum”, words I have heard before. Words that mean this foetus was, most definitely, made from one of my rotten eggs.
2. ‘Quare Name for a Boy’ by Claire Keegan (in her collection of short stories, Antartica), a story about a woman who is unsure of what she is doing about her pregnancy and “comes home” to decide. She observes her relatives’ reactions and describes their routines (involving tea and potatoes) … their interest in how she making her way in life, in her clothes and how they fit her body. And then she meets the father of the baby she is carrying:
“The green wood hisses in the grate, the resin oozing out from the loosening bark. Lines of connecting sparks, what my grandmother called soldiers, march across the soot, but you say nothing. Whatever you say, I’ll manage. I will live out of a water-barrel and check the skies. I will learn fifteen types of wind and know the weight of tomorrow’s rain by the rustle in the sycamores. Make nettle soup and dandelion bread, ask for nothing. And I won’t comfort you. I will not be the woman who shelters her man same as he’s boy. That part of my people ends with me.”
‘Drink up,’ you say, gesturing to my glass. ‘A girl in your condition needs lots of iron.’
       And so I drink my pint of Irish stout [ALCOHOL], taking comfort in the fact that you’ve named the mineral hidden in the white stripe of its head.
3. ‘Emissary’ by Angela Patten: the cows, “mouths stained green with grass stubble”, remind the poet of a famine story and she wonders why, fleeing to the town and the pub [ALCOHOL]:
“It’s still potatoes and conversation,
the same trick of living between two worlds.
No part of this watery island is more
than sixty miles away from the sea.
The stories creep up like water in your lungs,
and you can’t breathe for choking on the past.”
4. I Could Read the Sky by Timothy O’Grady
What I couldn’t do.
Eat a meal lacking potatoes. Trust banks. Wear a watch. Ask a woman to go for a walk. Work with drains or with objects smaller than a nail. Drive a motor car. Eat tomatoes. Remember the routes of buses. Wear a collar in comfort. Win at cards. Acknowledge the Queen. Abide loud voices. Perform the MANNERS of greeting and leaving. Save money. Take pleasure in work carried out in a factory. Drink coffee. Look into a wound. Follow cricket. Understand the speech of a man from west Kerry. Wear shoes or boots made from rubber. Best P. J. in an argument. Speak with men wearing collars. Stay afloat in water. Understand THEIR jokes. Face the dentist. Kill a Sunday. Stop remembering.
Then he describes his father’s funeral, for which he has returned to Ireland, including the appearance of the men down the back of the church
“The heads are like the eggs of a giant bird balanced in a line along the back pew. The skin on their heads is dry and papery and white, some maybe with faint brown marks from age. You would only see this skin when the men are in church or in their beds for at all times they are in their caps…
“In the eyes of Sarah McCabe there is a look of awakening.”
And particularly the Protestant boy who learned the Irish flute from his father, travelling 11 miles by bus.
5. ‘The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks’ by Paula Meehan
“I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
from the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
a cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
and release from being the conscience of the town.

On a night like this I remember the child
who came with fifteen summers to her name,

and she lay down alone at my feet

without midwife or doctor or friend to hold her hand

and she pushed her secret out into the night,

far from the town tucked up in little scandals,

bargains struck, words broken, prayers, promises,

and though she cried out to me in extremis

I did not move,

I didn’t lift a finger to help her …”

6. ‘Long Distance’ by Belinda McKeon, about a woman who comes home to Ireland not long after the death of her father … It captures a new generation of Irish adults emerging from a family-based, largely closed community 
“… just one more thing on the horizon of things unbothered with; just part of the rainfall, part of the wind-gust, part of the pile upon pile of day upon day.”
The mother is NOT peeling potatoes but preparing roses.
” … They are all over the stems; they are all over … the parts fallen into sink and onto the floor; they look like a virus still thriving and still spreading; a virus of blankness and space.”
But “they” are ONLY the bites of leafcutter bees… “Sure you’d only notice them if you looked up at them too close.”

TAT card 12F.gif

William Carleton said, he wrote of:

“a class unknown in literature, unknown by their landlords, and unknown by those in whose hands much of their destiny was placed. If I became the historian of their habits and manners … it was because I saw no person willing to undertake a task which must be looked upon as an important one.”



Watercress Soufflé recipe from Regina Sexton’s Little History of Irish Food


Tamasin Day-Lewis, West of Ireland Summers

Pp 7-8.5




Caitríona O’Reilly’s Thin




by Victoria Kennefick


Sister, let’s unwrap Lent like a treat,

stroke the smooth chocolate egg beneath,

the one that we couldn’t eat;

the wafer, yes, but no ice-cream.

Little Jesuses in the desert for forty days

and nights, with no dessert.

The devil tapping on our flat-black

window pane before bed;

mother, cutting tiny slices of bread

in the kitchen corner, eating from doll plates.

She couldn’t be prouder of our ecstasy

of denial, little letter-box lips refusing

all the sins of the tongue.

Easter bells rattled the glass,

Christ has risen, Alleluia.

The Resurrection with chocolate sauce

made us sick and giddy, pupils

rising in our irises, yours

the most divine Holy-Mary blue.

We held hands, spun around,

fizzy-headed, falling down.

Open the chocolate box, sister,

see liquor-centred grown-up sweets.

Pillows of sin, full

with seven deadly tastes,

a menu read to us on waking.

In the Ordinary Time of your dark kitchen,

we drop tissuey tea bags into boiled water.

Rust whispers to transparency.

Peace blooms,

bleeding into molecules,



Nuala Ní Chonchúir: ‘I think about my 30th birthday. That was the day I had my first miscarriage – I bled out my honeymoon baby. I had my seventh pregnancy and fourth miscarriage last year at 45’



New world

The world is like a new place to be.

He has gone so far, he can’t believe;

So far, he thought he would never be;

So far, his old self could never foresee,

To a place so far from misery:

The world, they call Medicine Overseas.

The first time he touched down in Dublin, he couldn’t believe his eyes, yet everything was too vivid to be a dream. He had never been to any other country in his life, so it made him feel like the world was new.

And, on top of this, to be studying medicine after 12 years of school! This also felt like a new world to him. Every morning he woke up and still couldn’t believe he was in this new world.

His dream to study medicine overseas was finally real.

But why? Why he would actually want to study medicine? What makes him willing to sacrifice his life for this stuff? For money? There are lots of other less complicated jobs that would offer tons more money than medicine. For pride? No. For publicity? Nope.

The only reason that feels true to him is just to be a champion like his father. Seeing his father being so helpful to his community while he was growing up, has left him wanting nothing more than to follow in his footsteps. Throughout his childhood, he witnessed many heroic moments at his father’s clinic: people always seeking him out for help, looking to him for advice, thanking him. His father was just too good not to be a role model. That’s why he doesn’t care if it takes so much sacrifice, his whole life even, and why he doesn’t care about the voices of criticism about his chosen path. As long as he can be a champion for the people, just like his father.

And now, here he is, in a new world of medicine and Dublin, taking his first step on that path. Realising he has only just started the journey, and there is more then a thousand steps ahead to take, he doesn’t care: the most important thing is knowing that he is on his way in this new world.

One of the more pessimistic medical blogs that I read while trying to decide whether or not to stay in medicine defined it well – this course is Nerd Everest.  In my experience, the most rewarding things to study are usually the ones that seem to actively repel any attempts to understand them.  For a long time I hated learning piano, until one day it mysteriously clicked.  Studying physics for the Leaving Cert was the same – at some point the thing just stops kicking you in the brain, and decides that you’ve earned a shot at real comprehension.  Both required discovering a new way of thinking about the material, and I don’t think medicine is going to be any different.  Some day, what seems like a melisma of clumsily co-opted greco-roman, just a whole shanty town of syllables, may turn into something intrinsically meaningful and intuitive (I hope).
I can’t say I’m not disappointed at the lack of anything to just sit around and ponder, because that’s how I imagined college to be since I was old enough to imagine it.  A possible exception is ethics, though instead of meandering philosophical chats, it’s a case of playing at being lawyers for a few hours, since one traditionally prestigious career wasn’t enough.
Medicine gets stuck in my head to a much greater extent than any other subject I’ve ever studied, in a sometimes literally visceral way.  When I was on my way home at the weekend the moon was shining over the Suir as brightly as I’ve ever seen, and the first thing I thought about was how the texture of the river’s surface looked remarkably similar to that of the mystery hernia discovered at my anantomy table earlier in the week.
This year I live in the city, at the back of an old Georgian house with a view of a community centre from my bedroom window.  While I’m glad that I don’t get tormented by traffic noise, there are drawbacks.  This past week there have been exams going on in the centre, which have been giving me the fantods.  It’s an environment that’s getting more and familiar, comfortable even, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  So what if the only thing I’m good at anymore is taking exams (and even then, it’s hit and miss)?

(Lifted from McSweeneys  http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/openletters/30tumor.html in the hope they will understand the good cause I’m putting it to here!)


April 30, 2010

– – – –

Dear Inoperable Brain Tumor,

It is with a heavy heart that I write these lines to you here in the florescent light of the chemo recovery room, but I felt I just had do this—for both of us. I want you to know that I had high hopes for this relationship when we first met at the MRI. The romance, the drama—the prospect of certain death—all added a certain je ne sais quoi to what had been until then just a casual fling with another benign growth. And even though all my friends warned me that this relationship could go nowhere, I really thought with you it would be different this time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I tried to make this work. I really did.


(by oriordai)

Gabriel García Márquez was born in 1928 in Aracataca, Colombia. He studied in Bogotá, before working as a foreign correspondent for the newspaper “El Espectador”. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

  • Although “Love in the Time of Cholera” tells the story of the romance between Fermenina Daza and Florentino Aríza, our extract is primarily concerned with the man Fermenina eventually marries, Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
  • The introduction to Urbino outlines his meticulous daily routine, his perfectionism, and most interestingly, his hypocrisy. In the first paragraph we are told that he arises early in the morning in order to take the many different medications he prescribes himself, while at the same time we learn he “always opposed prescribing palliatives for old age”
  • This also contrasts to his scepticism regarding modern medicine “He thought…all medication was poison”. However, he saw his role as a doctor to “help [man] die without fear of pain”. But, as we learned from the first paragraph, Dr Urbino finds it “easier to bear others people’s pain than his own”.

In the course of four pages of the novel, we see how inconsistent and hypocritical Dr. Urbino is in his views. This arises from the elevated social status he enjoys and is the way in which Urbino abuses his position.

  • He achieves “a respectability and prestige that had no equal in the province”. This concept of prestige and how it is acquired is the overriding them in the extract. Dr Urbino is one of the only people who rides in a horse drawn carriage, and even among those that do, his is the most grand. He elicits a huge amount of respect from local people, not generally in medical matters, but in civic issues. He founded and funded the first medical society, organised construction of the first aqueduct, the first sewer system and the first public market. He was a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and a Commander of the French Legion of Honour.
  • Although Dr. Urbino had received many honours, we are told he “never accepted the public positions offered to him with frequency and without conditions and he was a pitiless critic of those physicians who used their professional prestige to attain political office”.  This also adds to the sense that the doctor is a hypocrite; he is almost incapable of seeing fault in himself in regard to his public persona.
  • Most interestingly Dr. Urbino receives much of his prestige as a medical doctor, yet at the stage of his life when we encounter him he “was only called in for hopeless cases”. Although he had little or no standing in the practise of medicine he continues to lecture in the university and to visit and treat patients.
  • This leads us to question why it is medical doctors command so much respect, particularly after they can no longer practise medicine. No reference is made to any previous excellence achieved by Dr. Urbino in any medical domain, he is known solely for his civic duties. But, why should he have been given the right to influence matters concerning local government as greatly as he has?
  • Perhaps at least in part, it is due to the doctor’s personal interaction with the patients- if someone would trust him with their life, surely they would trust him with the Dramatic Theatre? Questioning the position of the doctor in society is key to understanding what peoples’ perception of them is and what influence they can have over people.
  • A strong impression left by the book is the complexity of Dr. Urbino’s personal life, in contrast to his perfect public persona. He is married to a woman much younger than himself, from a lower social class who we see is not exactly as happily married to him as first appears. He lives in “nouveau riche” part of town, which is rather surprising, considering his social status.
  • The death of Dr. Urbino is extremely revealing about his character, if only in the insight we gain into his wife, Fermenina. The death causes uproar amongst the entire city, with people filling the streets for three days of mourning. However, Fermenina does not allow this to influence her own decision regarding the burial and even ignores orders from the President for it to be lain in state for public viewing. This strength of character of his wife reflects well on Dr. Urbino, and we gain a greater insight into their relationship through this event.
  • This extract was an interesting read as it raised many questions about the appropriateness of doctors playing roles outside their own field of work, and about what it is about them that draws them to these so called ‘civic duties’. It provides an extreme example of a doctor, who is far more involved in public works than a medical career yet still retains the prestige of it and questions the reasons for the important role doctors play in society.

Source: O’Connor Br Med J (Clin Res Ed).1983; 286: 772-773

Jane from a group photo of the Royal City of Dublin Hospital Resident Staff in 1925

“When my husband bought a practice in the Yorkshire Dales in 1933, our two children were very young so I did not intend to practise. Optimistically, however, we had my name put on the brass plate at the gate. The country folk had scarcely ever heard of a woman doctor. Worse, we weren’t even Yorkshire, but complete foreigners – it takes at least 10 years to become a local in those parts.

There were two surgeries a day, six days a week, initially with no half day, and fees were very low: a visit cost 3/6d; with a bottle of medicine it was 7/-, and a consultation in the surgery was 3/-, so money was not plentiful.

The Dales people were shy and reserved, but the women felt that they could talk to me and confide in me. By degrees a few came to consult me, and soon I was looked on as a family friend. The children always gave me a warm welcome, even when they had to have an injection.

The country people were good hard working folk who called a spade a spade. If they didn’t like someone they said so, and you knew where you stood. I did a week’s locum once in another dale even more remote than ours. My first visit there was to an old lady of 80 who greeted me with: “We did hear that our doctor was ill and he had a woman doctor doing his work, but we’ve got to be thankful for anyone these days.”

In the same practice a man aged over 70 with bronchitis asked “Are you married?” “Yes.” “Is your husband alive?” “Yes.” Oh well, in that case you can look at my chest.”

Before I learned to drive I walked to visit patients in the town and my husband drove me to any further away. My mongrel dog, who had one leg shorter than the others, hopped along after me everywhere I went and sat outside on the patients’ doorsteps.

Everyone knew Billy, so when I came out I would often find someone waiting with him with a message, perhaps just for a prescription but frequently with a request for a visit. Billy nearly overdid his waiting once. When I was on holiday he went out in the car with my locum, also a dog lover. On one visit the doctor went in by the front door and left by the back door. He didn’t miss Billy for four or five hours. He drove back the six miles and Billy was still waiting on the doorstep.

Jane's husband, Leo, from the same Royal City of Dublin Hospital photograph

When the Second World War started, my husband was still in the Air Force Reserve so he volunteered for duty. Then early in 1940, the first bad snowfall arrived, and the roads in the country became blocked. The day before my husband was due to leave he was called to a confinement and could only drive the car one mile. He and the nurse had to walk along the tops of the walls to get to the farm, where they delivered twin girls successfully.

I got a bad start taking over the practice just then, but everyone was very kind and helpful. I had to learn to drive the car but lacked for volunteer teachers. There was very little traffic on the roads, and the lorry drivers soon got to know my car and gave me a wide berth.

Driving at night with only sidelights, as required in wartime, was very hazardous. One night a farmer’s wife cycled in to tell me I was needed at a cottage near her – telephones were not plentiful then. She came back in the car with me and kept saying “this is a dangerous corner,” “sheep sometimes lie in the road here,” and so on. At the cottage a young girl, an evacuee, had had to use the chamber pot, to which she was not accustomed. It broke and cut her buttock, which had to be stitched by candlelight. She and her mother returned to the city next day.

A doctor had other uses in those years of petrol rationing. I took the daily papers to the distributors in some villages, and always took medicines – and even groceries – to outlying farms and houses. People were very considerate during those awkward years. There were very few non-essential calls, and I found out how good and kind everyone was. I got many gifts of food.

On one visit to a hill farm, two large rams tethered together at their horns rushed past me as I opened the gate into the farmyard, nearly knocking me down and bumping into the car in their haste. Some months later I saw early lambs at that farm and said to the farmer “You don’t usually have lambs so early,” and he replied “Those are thanks to you.”

When the war ended my husband came home, but about a year later he got a slipped disc, a rarity at the time, so treatment was on trial. He had to lie flat on his back for 10 weeks but this did no good and traction was tried. Still no relief. Then he had to live in plaster cast for three months, but the pain persisted. He insisted on an operation, which finally relieved the pain. That was the first operation of its kind in Leeds Infirmary.

The worst snowfall for many years was in 1947, when roads became blocked and impassable. One afternoon at the beginning of this I was called to an emergency in a village six miles away. I had to dig three times to get the car out of drifts and was rather shaken when I finally got to the house.

The husband of the patient offered to drive back with me but I said: “I may not be able to get home but you certainly would not get back,” so I set off alone. To my relief after a short distance I saw in the mirror the snowplough behind me. I pulled into a cutting that had been dug to allow cars to meet or pass, thinking I would have an easy run home behind the plough. But the plough itself soon got stuck in a huge snowdrift. As the men shoveled the snow out the blizzard blew it back, and things looked hopeless.

Then the men from the quarries began to arrive on their way home from work. They took shovels from their cars (everyone carried a shovel at that critical time) and fell to work cheerfully in spite of the adverse conditions. Eventually a track was cleared and the snowplough started. The rest of the cars followed slowly and carefully, taking the easier road back to the town. No car, no pedestrian, went up that road for the next nine weeks.

The railway was our lifeline for many weeks. All sorts of things went by engine – day-old chicks, then food and other feedstuffs, groceries. Sometimes the goods had to be dropped at inconvenient places, to be picked up by the locals. I had to be dropped once on top of an embankment and slide down it, carrying all my essentials in a haversack, as I had been doing all those weeks.

As I walked back from that visit the road was blocked by an enormous snowdrift so I climbed to the top of the wall and made my way along it. At one stage I put my foot suddenly wrong and was up to my thigh in snow. At the top of the hill I found the road had been cleared. A huge snowplough, making its first appearance in the district, was turning round to go back to Horton as it couldn’t tackle the drift that evening. A workman who lived nearby had just got off the plough so he heaved me up in his place and I rode to Horton at a high altitude, with a new view of familiar country covered in snow.

I had one very alarming experience about that time. A farmer’s wife was having weekly injections and had had three or four without a reaction, but on my fifth visit she collapsed completely and slid out of her chair onto the floor, apparently dead. There was no one anywhere near, but while trying to support the patient I managed to get a drug from my bag and gave her one, two, three injections, with no response. So I tried another. After two  injections there was a feeble flicker of the eyelids. I gave her a third injection, and the pulse began to return.

It seemed hours before my husband arrived to pick me up on his way back from another remote farm, and we could move the patient to a settee. I was more shaken than the patient, who remembered nothing of the emergency.

In a country practice, a lot of time was spent on the road. One afternoon I noted the mileage, 53 miles, but I had done only three visits and had been out three hours. Luckily it was beautiful country – harsh but beautiful – which made the long drives enjoyable, and the patients were all friendly and pleasant. So when the time came to retire and leave, there were sad farewells and tears.

Five years ago the brass plate with our names on it was still on the gatepost below the plate put up by our successor – and 45 years on the people of Settle still had a woman doctor looking after them.”

J.D. O’Connor

(My grandmother)

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