Lest We Forget

It’s not all fun and games, running and cooking here at the Hen House, you know. I like to indulge in a spot of old-fashioned study too.

November is the perfect month to indulge. Especially with all the war commemoration stuff on now.

Have you heard of MOOCs? They’re Massive Online Open Courses. Taster courses for universities, they offer you a few weeks of structured reading and online engagement with materials on a wide range of subjects.

Last September I engaged on a five week course on the history of Ireland from 1912-1923. This was delivered in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin and it was utterly fascinating.

This month I’m dallying around the difficult subject of trauma and injury inflicted in World War One.

Not the prettiest of topics, but timely and enlightening. It’s presented by the Open University and, with two more weeks to run on a three week course, you still have time to sign up.

Apart from the fact that they are free, MOOCs added attractions are that they draw on a wide variety of methodologies to engage the learner. So, one can download transcripts via pdf, for instance, or just follow the video clips. And the learner is also guided towards the best of online resources and to books to encourage one’s own research.

Discussion with fellow learners is also widely encouraged.  And, quite often, one can glean an enormous amount just from reading through the comments.

There are courses on everything. Not just history. I’ve signed up for a management one next year and am hoping they’ll run a journalism one again because I missed it last time round.

Nothing on running yet though. Or how to get one’s sad ass out there on a dark wet November morning.  Though my trawls through the trenches in this week’s MOOC have certainly put rain-sodden rambles into perspective.

Yes, no harm to think of those who have sacrificed so much for our comforts to-day. Lest we forget.

More information on futurelearn course here. 


If you have participated in a MOOC already, I’d love if you’d let us know about it in a post, or here in a comment.

Tom and Terry’s Tower


Tom and Terry's Tower Aug 2014

Welcome to the Tower House“, cooed the voice from the intercom.

Could it be..?” I thought  “probably not…must be the housekeeper…”

The electric gates inched open and Teengirl and I crunched along the gravelled driveway to Portrane’s Martello Tower.

As part of the British coastal defences against the bould Napoleon Bonaparte, Martello towers were copies of a similar tower built in Mortella, Corsica in the sixteenth century. Some amadán(though he was probably British) got the name a little muddled and so, Martello(Italian for `hammer`) stuck instead of Mortella (Italian for `myrtle`).

Napoleon obviously put the fear of God into the British. They swung into action building these massive towers all along the coast, and inland along major waterways of the British Empire. The fact that so many are still intact, is the ultimate tribute to the engineering and military ingenuity of that time. Though it is also a little amusing to think that, after all that effort, and considerable expense, Napoleon never landed here after all.

For defence purposes, Martello towers were built at the optimal junctures for spotting the oncoming enemy. This one stood out on its own promonotory to face Lambay Island, with the unsung glories of Portrane Bay  to the west of it, and a broad sweep towards Howth to the east.

Every tower has a set plan. And Terry Prone and her Tower caretaker, Bryan, were only dying to show us how that transferred into reality.

But first to Terry herself….

She is billed variously as a media spin doctor/PR guru/communications expert. If you were around in 1970s Ireland, you will remember her from her work with Bunny Carr’s Carr Communications. They specialised in teaching politicians how to present themselves in the best possible light. She was also known for marrying former priest Tom Savage-definitely a very brave thing to do back then. I can still hear my mother’s clucks of disapproval on that subject being left in no doubt that it was the bould Terry who led to the man’s ruin.

Since then, she’s been upfront and out there about her various adventures with plastic surgery, has penned several books in both fact and fiction, and writes a weekly column for The Cork Examiner.

The funny thing about writers is that they’re a reclusive lot. Yet, while they shun the world to pen their papers, they also take you right into their own heads. So you feel like you know them but that perhaps they’d really rather not know you at all. Which makes meeting them a tad unnerving.

Meeting Terry was even more unnerving. I knew from her most recent book “Coach” that her rampant wit could turn swiftly acerbic and that she didn’t suffer fools gladly. So where would that leave me?

Suddenly, I am standing in front of this famous face, gibbering like a schoolgirl on speed and disconcerted by the having my impressions of this woman entirely upended.

For a start, she’s much tinier than I’d expected, both thinner and shorter. A fragile little dove of a woman.  A shock of white, closely cropped hair frames a smooth complexion with wonderful cheekbones and wide set almond eyes.  After reading “Mirror, Mirror” it was difficult to avoid staring to see where nature and the surgeon’s knife had parted course, and impossible to put an age on her. That book winds its way through all of the cosmetic procedures Terry felt compelled to try and she even gives them a satisfaction rating.

Her eyes darted from one to another, taking everything in, seemingly interested in everything and everybody and having the same measure of respect for each person. And, of course, only dying to show us around her tower.

She laughed easily as she and Bryan recalled the torture of restoring the Tower in 2007.

“Bryan worked with the builders then and they left him behind. “

It was time to leave the gleaming kitchen then, and follow her up the couple of steps to the living room area.

I have a weakness for books. My dream home is lined with bookshelves from the second you enter the front door, and all along every room, to include a little shelf in the bathroom. Yes, I’ll have a Kindle along with that please, but I am not fashionable enough to ever want to off load my treasure trove of print on paper.

So, the tour could quite happily have stopped for me in her living room. While the kitchen had been a later addition to the tower, the living room is in the round, as part of the tower itself. And it is a shrine to books. Save for a small section of wall space just above the stepped entrance, the entire room is lined with bookshelves. Reams and reams of books, drawing the eye right up to the mezzanine area above, which, again, is lined with books.

It was difficult to resist the urge to pick up a paperback and curl up on the couch . But in the spirit of Napoleon’s foes, I soldiered on.

Terry was leading the charge, and was eager to tell us about the Tower’s original troops.  The officers had occupied this lower floor. Now partially timbered over,  a  large area-perhaps two meters square-is covered in glass revealing an enormous empty water tank.

Terry explained that it had supplied the water for the occupying troops.She pointed to the ceiling above, and the place from where a pipe had taken rainwater off the roof and channeled it into the well beneath the ground.

“The troops” she went on to explain, “were from Machester. Half-starved and chain-smoking, they didn’t grow to any great heights and could hop up and down the spiral staircase with ease.” 

This was Bryan’s cue to take over. Clearly, the spiral staircase was an object of great delight for him. It had been bricked up by a previous owner and Bryan himself, had had the great delight in chipping away at the masonry to reveal the original stairwell.

With that, he led the way along its narrow confines, and up to the mezzanine area. The thing about these towers is that they look massive from the outside. But most of that massiveness is taken up with the width of the walls, which are at least eight feet thick. So, the space within relatively tight. Breaking through those dense walls is necessary to create extra space and to allow light to flood the tower although, I imagine, this must also hack its way through any renovation budget.

In the case of this Tower, additions have been made at each compass point so that light floods in at all times of the day. And, of course, great views can be enjoyed from each angle. One window projects right towards Lambay Island, and splashed with sea spray from the waters below, one feels almost part of the sea itself, with the rest of the world left far behind.

And I expect, after a tough day dueling with politicians, that’s exactly the kind of escape Terry needs.

We followed Bryan up another set of steps to the roof itself. Now a decked area, it affords clear views over historic Lambay Island, and south over Ireland’s Eye and Howth, as well as the broad sweep of sea into Portrane beach and, to the west over St. Ita’s hospital. Bryan explained that the Tower’s cannon had been mounted on the roof and was capable of swinging around the 360 degrees should the enemy come from behind the tower itself.

This must be where Terry practises putting her head over the parapet. No stranger to controversy,  she often attracts well aimed volleys. And maybe that cannon with it’s 360 degree swing would be facing more landward, than seaward in her case.One must need the thickest of skins when swimming around in the political and media mire.

Nevertheless, she was still there to greet us warmly as we descended the stone staircase. This time she took us around the sunroom. Facing west, and of course, built along the outside wall of the tower, it’s warmth and brightness and the perfect counterpoint for the darkness of the library.

“That’s where I lost five thousand books” she said, glancing ruefully at the boathouse. They’d been stored there while the tower was being renovated.

Terry has taken bigger knocks in her time of course, and swiftly brightened up

“Tea or coffee?” she enquired.

May Need Renovation

And,so, after our grand tour, Teengirl and I were soon ensconced at the Prone-Savage breakfast bar, caught in the suspicious glare of her cat, while sipping our bevvies of choice. Terry did what she does best, and asked all the questions and, with an author’s ear, listening carefully to every response. Naturally, I interjected several times during our conversation to forbid from writing about me. Though it was not, I hasten to add, a reciprocal arrangement.

Delighted when I told her I always read her weekly Cork Examiner column, she handed me a crisp new paperback “May Need Renovation” by Pamela Rowan.  The book is about a woman’s quest to renovate a Martello Tower and yes, Pamela Rowan is Terry’s nom-de-plume.

We rambled around the gardens afterwards with Bryan, I remarked on the Tower’s machiolations. They’re projections over a front door from which missiles can be fired at unwelcome guests.  Every home should have at least one, of course, but Tom and Terry’s Tower has four.

Great coffee, great books, great history, a fine welcome and lots of ways to torture your enemy.  What more would you want in a home?



Tom and Terry’s Tower

Heritage Week Martello Tower Visit

Culture Night Dublin 2014

Culture Night Balloons


It’s  the annual autumnal equinox extravaganza: Culture Night Dublin.  This is a chance to ramble around the city as evening closes into night to do things and see things you may be tempted to revisit.

I’ve been going there for several years now. This year I took Teengirl along. She well used to our running forays so there would be no complaints on the rambling front. We only diverge on the little matters of taste and culture. So, yes, that matter would be a little more challenging.

Mansion House 

But she likes houses so we charged up to beat the crowd to see the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House.

Queues outside the mansion house

Mansion House Dublin

Well, it looks like the crowd got there before us.  That put a little dent in our confidence but we stood in line anyway, until the drizzle became a deluge and so we scarpered.

Oh well, maybe next year…

National Library of Ireland

Window NLI

Window National Library of Ireland

Plan B involved diving in somewhere that did not have a queue and the National Library of Ireland fulfilled this requirement perfectly. With face painting, a long-running Yeats’ exhibition, the Joly Café, and the Reading Room open, they were keen to appeal to a wide variety of people.

But it was the genealogical research area that appealed to me. The Find My Past database is freely accessible there and I was itching for some action on sleuthing for long gone ancestors. Teengirl, however, recalled an afternoon languishing under a desk at the National Archives “for hours” when she was three, while her mother indulged this fancy before. This time, she very wisely high tailed it out of the library before my notion took root.

Oh, but I’ll be back.

Instituto Cervantes, Lincoln Street


Tango in the Institute Cervantes, Lincoln Place

But Teengirl loves dance, and Spanish, so the Instituto Cervantes seemed worth a try.

There was a buzz about the place from the second we got there and it was straight to business with the fun. We followed a lady dressed in typical flamenco costume and soon had Tapas(Teen Girl) and wine(me) in hand. Meanwhile, two professional tango dancers were leading some left footed, but eager, volunteers around the dance floor to cheers and laughter from the crowd. There seems to be a lot happening in Instituto Cervantes, with films, concerts, discussions and workshops.

Definitely worth a return visit.

The Science Gallery, Trinity College

Weather Betting

Weather Betting

Film Science Gallery

Film on Tornado Deflecting


Tornado deflector

Tornado Deflector

The Science Gallery has free admission and Culture Night or not, is open on a Friday til 8pm. Situated in a corner of the Trinity College campus, it’s a great place to start exploring the delights of the city centre university.

Ours was a whistle stop tour. Tornado deflectors, weather prediction and global warming are of little interest to a typical fourteen year old girl. But it would be worth returning for the film alone and a guided tour of the exhibits.

Yep, I want to see this again.

Book of Kells queue

Book Of Kells Queue

We rambled around the labyrinthine hotch-potch of Trinity College buildings and followed sounds of babbling voices towards the queue for the old library. This snaked around the green in drizzly rain so we instantly crossed it off our list and soldiered on.

Arena’s Live Concert,Temple Bar

Temple Bar was our final destination. The rain, at least had kept the heaving crowds of previous years in abeyance, so we could ramble along the cobblestones at our ease. And again we followed the sounds, this time to an open air-but sheltered-concert as RTE Radio relayed their arts programme Arena live to the nation.


RTE Radio Concert, Meeting House Square

This was really good fun. It’s always so interesting to see behind the scenes at these broadcasts, from the frantic director hurrying the next acts on and off stage, to the grimaces of the live performers as they tweak their instruments nervously before going live. I didn’t feel time go by as we listened to traditional music, poetry, rap, and an actor’s frenzied monologue. The crowd lapped it up, as thrilled probably by the shelter afforded by Meeting House Square’s giant canopies as they were to be part of the live show.

Thrilled, that is, except for Teengirl. I looked at her bored expression and suddenly noticed that all around me were row on row of grey heads and bald heads, a sea of middle aged people, just like myself. The fact that the RTE concert orchestra was the next act was the final straw for her. And the look on her face was my cue to flee.

Oh well, there’ll be other times.

Ah, Gelato!

We ducked and dived out through the crowd, and scurried along with the ghosts and ghouls of the city down along the quays and over O’Connell bridge, past the GPO and across the street to a little place I had spotted earlier-Suso an Italian ice-cream parlour


Suso-Italian delights

The delights of Culture Night seemed all the richer with an Italian gelato in hand. I thought it best, however, not to ask Teengirl for her analysis of the evening. The creamy richness and flavour of the ice-cream could do that work of blending all the Culture Night’s delights into a very pleasant memory. It’s always better to leave anything with a good taste in one’s mouth.

And, so, perhaps, when I ask her along to Culture Night next year, she may decide to come back.









So Many Blog Posts So Little Time

Chocolate Mousse

I have a truckload of blog posts written since I last tuned in here. One is as witty and interesting as the next. And, of course, each has been finely honed to reveal what a high-minded,progressive creature I am.

The only problem is that they’re all in my head.

Oh, you know how it is. There you are, mid-way through your long slow run. Bored as all hell with the endless miles, the bodily aches, the negative thoughts. You hit upon a brief reprieve as you consider all the blog fodder you can create on your return home.

Each jogging mile brings another blogging possibility. Quality stuff like “Why I hate small dogs and long leads and their dumb owners” or “How blackberries beat the pants off running gel” Good enough to be Freshly Pressed? No problem. And spike those stats? Well, of course. The difficulty will be fending off the hosts of publishers who want to sign you up.

Arriving home, high on endorphins, low on blood sugar, you raid the fridge, have a shower, curl up on the couch with the laptop.

And fall asleep.

It’s not for the want of good blog topics this week, either.

There was that pretty decent ten mile run last Sunday, f’rinstance.

And the splendiferous chocolate mousse I made on Monday.

Tuesday saw me running again, and later on, enjoying coffee and a chat with writer, PR person, and Martello Tower resident, Terry Prone. I could get five blog posts out of that alone.

Wednesday I bagged another run amid return-to-school chaos.

Thursday saw me ironing my little hen heart out but since that has got to be the most mind-numbingly boring task on the planet, I’d rather talk about the murder investigation TV programme that got me through it.
Need I go on?

Well, I should I suppose.

Or at least return to one or two of those topics.

And I intend to.

But which would you rather hear about?

Over to you…