My Instagram Life

Ever since I’ve had an iPhone, I’ve been using its camera and extensive storage as a sort of memo-book, documenting through thousands of images the things I want to remember, or need to tend to, or just simply to hoard as a memory (I go through phases of hoarding various things. This one too will pass). As I sat nursing my son one afternoon not long after we moved to an old farmhouse in Wexford, phone in my hand, I accidently scrolled back to a series of images of the job I’d lost.

Shelves, boxes, stores, objects, archives, drawers. Jobs in course of arrangement. Everything I’d had to walk away from.

I scrolled away quickly from the office photos to my other images, and wondered if there was something I could do with any of them. I remembered a photographs App that my friend Mary had told me about. She’d said that I would like it.


I registered.

Instagram is a distinctive, simple and beautifully designed photo editing and sharing application (App) that makes attractive and interesting photographs amazing. It’s currently only available – free – for smartphones like iPhone and Android, because of its concept of instant capture, like an old polaroid. I’d known that it was a photo editing platform, with a select number of beautiful filters to render photographs, but I hadn’t known about sharing. I soon found my friend Mary and was blown away by her images. I saw that I could “like” her images by double-tapping them on my iPhone screen. Tap-tap, tap-tap. Hundreds of other people had “liked” her photos too. Mary is an Instagram hotshot (find her amazing gallery under her Instagram handle @sheckamecka). I began to follow people too, and they followed me back. I uploaded some photos and they “liked” them and left comments.

So Instagram is another social networking platform, I realised. But through beautiful, and often-times breath-taking photographs.

This was fun!

I’m not a photographer; but with a device in my hand all day that takes reasonably good quality photographs, I can record a moment in an instant, right when it happens. Like the time we were still moving out of our house in Dublin, and a walk back from the shops turned up the shot above with my kids and our yellow Bugaboo Bee chariot. Very soon I found myself actively seeking new adventures, phone in hand, to see what I could discover that day for Instagram; whether it’s walking through cornfields, or town, or visiting archaeological ruins with my family. Despite a Summer full of rain, I was there to get freckles when the sun did shine.

In an Irish Times article Instagram: Picture perfect or photo fad? Una Mullally interviewed Frank Millar, who said he was unconvinced. What was he waiting to be convinced about, I wondered? Instagram is full of wildly differing delights for every individual user. I’ve found a whole community of people taking photographs of doors. How ever would I have known I loved to snap and see glorious doors if it weren’t for Instagram – and if I had known, what better outlet for it? Now, with a child on my hip, and my iPhone in hand, on every trip to town I seek urban doorways to share with my new door-loving friends. In return, I discovered I love getting surprised by other people’s photographs of great big American barns.

Adrienne’s Doors

The following is my corn series.

First it was shiny and green.

Then it began to lighten and pop grain.

Then the corn turned golden, and was finally cut at the start of September. It feels like an official end to our Summer. In the last image, my daughter contemplates her first day at school. This time last year we had no idea she would be attending a country school in Wexford.

Quite the reverse of Una Mullally’s claim that “Instagram also makes photography truly disposable and utterly transient”, I’ve found myself taking the trouble to print out and properly archive photographs for the first time in years, almost since I first owned a digital camera. I know too that professional photographers are finding their love of photography renewed through their use of it.

Some of the people I follow, or who follow me, don’t speak the same language, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like a world without or before linguistics. Communicating by commenting and leaving feedback on images is certainly part of the fun – even just by using wordless emoticons – but it’s almost peripheral too, to the experience of getting to observe and share in other people’s universes, which so many of them represent with enormous beauty.

Marshall McLuhan refers to “the power that is in all media to reshape the lives that they touch” (Understanding Media: Extensions of Man). I didn’t reckon on a smartphone app being of assistance this past Summer while I grappled with new circumstances, but it has played a part. With Instagram, there is an opportunity to winnow out the sinister and irrelevant from what is beautiful and excellent in my day. More than any other electronic social media community I know, Instagram is instantly positive: using it can make for beautiful socialising, communicating, learning, thinking, and knowing.

My Instagram gallery can be seen online at


I bought the Snapseed app on the recommendation of another Instagram user. It allows me to straighten slightly askew shots, or adjust the brightness or contrast and enhance the colour. It also has its own range of filters, but I prefer the simple, quickly accessible range that Instagram (which is free) provides. I use Dyptic on my iPhone to create small collages like the ones above.

Posted in Kettle Thoughts | 7 Comments

44 Statements before Breakfast

My four-year-old daughter greets the day

I’m still asleep

I want to stay in my dream Mammy!!

He’s jumping on me!

My brother is jumping on my head and hurting me!

I won’t walk to the bathroom, someone will have to carry me

I’m going to lie on the floor until you bring me I’m going to cry now because I’m TIRED and I’m SAD

I’m thinking about why the steam from the shower sticks on the tiles but not the wall

I know the water comes from rain, I’m asking you how does it get into the taps

I need us to make a list of the things we will do today

I would like to open the curtains

I think it will be a beautiful day today.

Goodbye, nighttime stars and bats!

Hello, morning birds and sheep and cows and hills!

He’s closing the curtains!!

Make him stop closing the curtains!!

I don’t like the sleeves on that top, I won’t wear it

I know I liked that dress yesterday, but I don’t like it today

I don’t like those socks, the threads catch my toes

I will dress myself I can put this top on by myself

My top is stuck

Don’t help me!!

My top is the wrong way around. Don’t worry, I can turn it around.

Don’t help me!! I said I can do it myself!

Stop telling me to HURRY, this kind of thing takes a long time OK

I will wear a hat today

I’m cross about that there no hotels in space yet

I’m ready to go downstairs now

I need my toast cut into circles

I don’t want that kind of bread, thank you

I will put the butter on when it’s ready

That’s not my butter!

My sock is making me itchy

I would like my drink, I’m thirsty NOW

Not in that cup, no thank you

Yes in that cup please

I think we could go camping today

I don’t really like that cereal

Not in that bowl!! That’s his bowl not mine!!! Silly Mammy!

Mammy he took my spoon! MAMMY! That’s my favourite spoon and he has it!

He is hitting me with my own spoon now!

I can’t get off the floor, I’m sad about my spoon

I’m taking my socks off now

It’s not MY idea if he’s taking his socks off too!

I think we should go to Spain on a plane after breakfast.


I tweet my favourite sayings of my daughter at


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Recombobulating in redundancy

My family and I began to experience a time of turbulence last March when I learned that my contract at the National Museum of Ireland wasn’t going to be renewed. On paper, it shouldn’t have come as a shock – five years ago I signed a contract that said I was being employed on a fixed-term basis, for five years. But in total I’d been there for almost eight years, working on the same project, and I’d been convinced for various reasons that the position should never have been for just five years and that it would be saved.

But it wasn’t and I got my perfunctory “thank you for your service” letter in the post to confirm.

That evening I sat on the stairs and cried my eyes out. At that point it wasn’t for the fear of unemployment, or worry about the mortgage, or even how we were going to feed and clothe kids (I was the breadwinner then).

It was the awful feeling of loss.

My poor little babies howled back at me from the other side of the sitting room door, wondering what on earth was happening to me, until my partner had to let them out to me on the stairs. I cuddled them in my lap and tried to react coherently to the confusion. My four-year-old asked if I was sad that I didn’t have a meeting, and tried to reassure me she and me could have a meeting instead.

Talking to my sister later about it, I said that the confirmation of the job loss felt almost like grief. She pointed it that it was indeed a little bereavement. This was the emotional side of redundancy, as outlined on the Surviving Redundancy website. I was losing part of me that for nearly eight years had got copious levels of my passion, energy, knowledge, belief and care bestowed in it.

I had loved my work.

It’s not that it hadn’t been beset with challenges. It kept me away from my kids when they came along. There were days where I felt overwhelmed at the enormity of the project. And there were days where time-honoured systems meant I felt like I was in that scene in Alice in Wonderland (the 1951 movie) where everyone tries to dry off after the flood of Alice’s tears by cheerfully running in a circle in the tide wash.

That is to say, it was often infuriatingly frustrating.

But at all times I was appreciative of the privilege at getting to work there. I was the archaeologist for the Dublin excavations, the resulting project of the Wood Quay and nearby excavations by the National Museum in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was mostly dug before I was even born, yet I’d grown up in the eighties knowing about it. It was the sort of archaeology I would never get to dig first hand myself, and here I was getting to re-excavate its collected evidence to write its stratigraphic reports. I was also getting to write a thesis on its woodturned artefacts. This was wonderful. Returning to Dublin on Sunday evenings after a weekend away, I never went by Collins Barracks on the quays without waving happily in at the darkened windows and whooping “see you tomorrow, museum!”

(I’m a whooping kind of person.)

The job was arguably a worthwhile one, and its purpose hasn’t gone away. Justine McCarthy even mentioned it in her Sunday Times article Barbarians at gate must guard our ivory towers on 3rd of June 2012.

I know there is great spirit to revitalise pursuit of the project’s objectives. Meanwhile my job is a casualty of the financial crisis, a convenient discardment by the state in a national endeavour to cut costs.

There I am, doing my patriotic bit.


I generally take a glass-half-full Pollyanna kind of view of things, and I knew, sort of distantly at first, that there was much to be positive about, not least the award of getting to be with my kids. I got to explain to people a lot that things were very discombobulated right now (I love to say the word discombobulated). It wasn’t as though I expected an eleventh hour memo to swoop in from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and save the day, but still I struggled hard at being thrown out of a bubble of security and into the maelstrom of redundancy. Colm Rapple has a lovely line in the 2011 edition of his book Family Finance (p144):

“[redundancy] can be a traumatic experience even for those who can convince themselves as they should that it’s the job that’s redundant, not they themselves”

My Dad had the book left open on the book shelf at that page one of the weekends I was home in the initial days of my discombobulation. [I should also point out here that one of the lowest points of my situation was the regression to child-like state while my parents anguished for my future all over again.] I spotted it and slammed the book shut, muttering something about it not applying to my situation – my job was not redundant: a faceless they just wouldn’t let me do it anymore. My partner gently tried to point out to me, that if there was no more funding to pay me to do the job, then the job was indeed redundant.

At the same time, perversely maybe, the matter was compounded by a need to wind things down on the job. In the finish it became impossible to do that satisfactorily, due to the nature of the project’s challenges and the relatively short notice regarding my contract’s demise. I had to let our volunteer team go, which was pretty miserable. Add to it all the sickness I went down with in my last week, caused in no doubt by a depressed immune system tanked up with stress. I got tonsilitis and impetigo. I’m not even prone to tonsilitis. It was rotten. The impetigo was worse. It made my toenail fall of! I muddled through, struggling and morose and distracted and for a time a shadow of anything useful to my family.

And then, relentlessly, redundancy was upon me. Then it was really time to worry about the mortgage, or even how we were going to feed and clothe kids. My staff badge expired and I was ejected fearfully into the unknown.

Jobseekers benefit

The day in May that I walked into the Navan Road social welfare office I felt nervous and sad, but purposeful. The porter at the reception desk was helpful, and positively bubbly, and I felt encouraged. They renamed the dole jobseekers benefit recently, and I focussed on that to remind myself that there should be no stigma associated with receiving it, that I should feel no shame in receiving what is my entitlement, my own money pooled as PRSI for this very eventuality while I was still working.

But then I sat at a service desk windowed with thick Perspex, for fear I’d assault the staff, the cubicle etched with unkind grafittied messages. The unsmiling office clerks seemed to interrupt me to ask for my PPS number anytime I tried to speak. The civil servant who dealt with my claim did seem to try to soften her chirrupy manner when she noticed me blinking profusely to keep back tears. Archaeologist she said! What an interesting job that must be. And the Museum? That must be a lovely place to work.

More tears.

I found the social welfare aspect of redundancy decidedly contemptuous, even though I was claiming money that I felt was rightfully mine. I don’t think it needs to be that way. But I knew I needed to get away from it. Slowly but surely I tried to be more philosophical and proactive about things.


By now my toenail sacrificed to stress-impetigo is starting to grow back. Along with my ability to get on with things.

I got buckets of understanding and help from family, colleagues and friends right the way through. It was only when one of my kind supporters sat me down and said
Adrienne, you have kids, a mortgage, and unemployment. Consider your priorities”
that acceptance finally began to set in.
Why is it that “reality” in these situations is always associated with starkness or difficulty? The real world is always the “harsh” or at the very least, the “uncertain” world”. Reality bites. Things just got real.
It wasn’t as if I wasn’t aware of my priorities – but I think I just needed someone who wasn’t emotionally involved to help me see them in a detached, objective kind of way. The maelstrom began to slow down. I began to find hooks to grasp.

I made a resolutions chart, a la Gretchen Rubin‘s “The Happiness Project” which I started to read around the time my contract was finishing. It might seem random but it gave me focus. You’ll see that writing a blog is one of the resolutions. With this post, I consider it launched. TICK!

Resolutions chart

I withdrew from my PhD at UCD, which was intrinsic to the paid job and sponsored mainly by work. That was a very hard decision to face and I procrastinated about having to send back my student card, but it’s done now. UCD’s School of Archaeology were among those who were incredibly supportive and kind in the confusion.

My Museum colleagues gave me a lovely and generous send-off and I finally worked up the wherewithal to finish my project status documents and go back and clear out my office (resolution, finish up at the NMI. TICK!)

Together with my partner, I somehow managed to make the decision to enrol my daughter in a countryside school in Co Wexford and to dis-enrol her from the Dublin school she was listed to start in next September. (Resolution find a school, TICK!) My partner has already been working on a heritage project part-time there that he has to finish and maybe expand upon.

This decision was the clincher of all our decisions. It had to be made quicksmart, so that the school could put in its book list order. That book list forced us to resolve to officially leave Dublin, right now, and it has given us a fixed base from which to now look for new work. We have a place to stay in Wexford, if temporarily, on my partner’s family farm, as luck would have it a beautiful old cottage otherwise empty and forlorn. We spent my maternity leave last year there and a lot of weekends since while my partner worked on his project. My parents are grappling with the idea that we’re moving further away from them at home in Galway.

Here’s a thing, we had always said we’d leave Dublin for the countryside, somewhere, when our first child got to around school age. I had never considered my position a job-for-life, for three reasons:

  • The job role had a start and finish programme (it just wasn’t finished yet)
  • I didn’t want to live out the rest of my days in a city (even if it’s the best city in the world); I’m a country girl at heart
  • I never really got into a being a working mother. I was fortunate that I got paid maternity leave and an hour breastfeeding break a day which meant I could leave at 4PM, but being away from my kids for any length of time was a wrench, especially when my babies were younger (I went back to work with both when they were ten months) and still nursing a lot. When I went back to work the second time, it was easier that they got to be at home with their Daddy, who himself had undergone redundancy in 2010. But I feel the whole family lost out on me not only the hours I was away, but even in the evening when I came home bedraggled with a head buzzing with duties from the day’s work along with tasks coming up for the day ahead

So here we are, reality lumping us to our own devices yet somehow at the same time cruising us along a not-quite-forgotten original plan.

Not so harsh after all, huh?

We’re almost relocated to Wexford now while we get our Dublin house ready for rental. I’m keeping my eye on my resolutions chart and expanding on it.


Turning “fear of the unknown” into “freedom of the unknown”.

Posted in National Museum | 26 Comments

Lovely wooden bowls


I love wooden bowls. I became interested in them when I started postgraduate research on Viking age woodturning in Dublin, and started to accumulate this lovely eclectic assemblage soon after. I’ve had to stop the PhD research for now, and my contract at the project where I got to work with them wasn’t renewed, but meanwhile the bowls are fun to look out for. They’re attractive and hardy and best of all, I don’t just pile them in a corner or display them on a shelf. I like to make sure they get used.

We use the big ones for salads and dishing up hot food, and the small ones for snacks and dips. Wooden tableware just needs to be dried immediately after washing (not in a dishwasher, which our house doesn’t currently have). Some of them we just use for gathering small clutter, keyrings and allen keys and the kind of small toys shrapnel that seems to just materialise out of nowhere.

Beech beehive bowl

My favourite is the beehive-style beech one. I bought it from a Wicklow woodturner who was working on the Asgard ship conservation project at the National Museum of Ireland. It was relatively expensive compared to the others, but worth it. It complements any food, and strange as it may be to say, it has a lovely sound. It makes a soft resonating thud when you put it down or scrape it with a spoon. Using wooden bowls and plates makes for a much quieter mealtime than the more conventional ceramic tableware.

Another person I’ve known to refer to the pleasant sound of using wooden tableware is Robin Wood who turns beautiful functional bowls and plates on a a foot-powered lathe, Robin turns stylish but functional bowls and plates in the traditional way. I bought one of my other favourites from him online. It’s the dinky little bright one with lovely visible turning lines on it, the way medieval woodturners used to pole-lathe-turn their vessels. My daughter had her first solid food dinners in this bowl. I sent Robin a picture of her using it and he put it on his blog. Another, a small oak one, I bought from a gift shop in Dingle; the owner is also a woodturner.


I’m fortunate that many of my best bowls found their way to me as gifts. I have a nice spalted one that was made for me by a former colleague at the National Museum, who turns wood on an electric lathe in his spare time. One, the large dark one, was a gift from my brother. He picked it up for me in TK Maxx.

Ash bowl

The large low bright ash one came in the post, a gift from fellow researchers in Cornwall. The tiny honey pot was another thoughtful gift from a former colleague on a visit to Roskilde in Denmark (photo is below). It came with a tiny wooden spoon, which I swear is hiding in our house somewhere. The one in the centre of the photo at the top is actually a beautiful walnut vase, a gift from another colleague bought at a crafts fair somewhere in England. It’s stained inside from using it to store pens and pencils when it’s not being used as a vase.

Walnut vase

Others I got in charity shops, or even IKEA. The IKEA ones I have aren’t turned from a single piece of wood though: I can’t figure if that’s cheating, or economical. I can rarely pass a charity shop without nipping in to check their household wares shelves to see if they have any new turned wooden treasures. Phibsborough in Dublin 7 is a rich picking ground for good charity shops.

The picture at the top doesn’t show all of my collection, because my one-year-old kept swiping them to play with when I was lining them up to photograph. That’s another pleasant use for my lovely bowls: playtime. My four-year-old and one-year-old like getting them all down on the ground for their games, for putting their toys in or just simply for stacking.

Wooden honey pot

I have my own pole lathe, which I built on a course given by Eoin Donnelly over two different weekends. I don’t know how to use it yet and I haven’t had time to learn or practise. I also did a ten-week course in DIT using an electric lathe, which I did sort of get the knack of but it’s quite different to operate. I’m not quite intending to try to make bowls myself, yet; one doesn’t move straight onto making bowls when learning lathe-turning craft in any case. You start off on straight spindle items like chair legs and lamp stands.

Meanwhile I’m planning to gather entire wooden tablesets with wood plates and goblets for dinner. I’ve just wandered into the amazing virtual world of beautiful handmade objects that is It has nearly 3000 individual entries for wooden bowls. I may be some time …

Posted in Kettle Thoughts | Tagged | 6 Comments

RTÉ and the BAI : it’s reasonable to jeer breastfeeding

Back in January 2012, RTÉ’s Four Live show (now discontinued) aired a jarring live interview by Maura Derrane with Niamh O’Connell about breastfeeding “older” children. I complained, and I know a lot of others did too. “And My Baby” blogger posted her complaint on her blog. Niamh herself wrote about her experience of the interview on her own blog. 9 Crow’s shop owner in Dublin was moved to publicly denounce the interview on her business blog.  The show’s Facebook page received an unprecedented level of comments from upset people who found the interview offensive.

RTÉ dismissed all complaints, including mine. I forwarded it to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, who wrote to RTÉ, who wrote back to the BAI, who forwarded the response to me, and I wrote back to the BAI with a detailed rejection of the response, who responded that:

“The Forum found the complaint did not raise issues which required further consideration and accordingly, the complaint is deemed resolved”.

Dismissed. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I researched previous, unrelated complaints on the BAI website, and they don’t uphold too many in a given year. But the reason for rejecting this one is really strange.

This is why the BAI dismissed my concerns:

“The Forum found that the presenter raised relevant questions and although challenging in parts, there was no evidence of hostility”

BAI response to my complaint

Relevant questions

The ‘hostility’ I had referred to in my submission was the decision to read out an extremely harsh comment submitted by a viewer:

this picture is absolutely disgusting and as a woman myself, I find it offensive. The older child will be jeered because of this photo“.

The photo was a beautiful, candid image of Niamh tandem feeding  her two young sons in her home. The comment was read out without forewarning or apology to Niamh, who was clearly taken aback. Niamh handled the interview really well, despite what I perceived as Maura’s obvious distaste with the topic, but it was uncomfortable to watch. It was apparent to me that the interview itself was conducted in a jeering manner. Not very objective. That’s why I complained, under the fairness, objectivity, and impartiality requirements of the Broadcasting Act 2009.

However, RTÉ and the BAI have decided that it was reasonable to challenge Niamh by reading out the above comment. According to Niamh’s blog, her husband who was backstage at the time had to cover their three-year-old’s ears when it was read out. I was glad that my young daughter, who’d been watching  with me, had wandered out of the room at that point.

Do you not think though that he will be jeered? This was what the BAI have found “relevant”.

The word “jeer” was used a total of five times.

Adults are responsible for the cultural environments and the moral compasses of children. Are the decision-makers in RTE and the BAI egging on this country’s small protegés to jeer kids that are “still” nursed? Is that what it is “relevant”?

Supposing, instead, those decision-makers found some courage to over-ride their prejudices and learn something about the rights of breastfeeding women and children in this country under the Equal Status Act 2000 (Section 3.2a (gender ground) and Section 3.2c (family status ground).  They could learn that the weaning age is the business of the nursing pair, not a nose-wrinkling bystander like the RTE and BAI decision-maker.They can then pass this knowledge on to this nation’s younger generations, and teach them that jeering, for any reason, is mean.

Posted in Breastfeeding | 4 Comments

Ireland: the land that forgot breastfeeding

TIME magazine recently cashed in on a current, strained Western attitude to breastfeeding. They published a beautiful, quirky breastfeeding photograph on their cover and gave it what I would call a contentious caption. It brought enormous mainstream media attention to breastfeeding. Suddenly everyone was talking about breastfeeding: not just parents. This is good.

I’m at the stage where I can nurse my 18-month-old son with hardly a prior thought, but it wasn’t like this when my daughter was a baby and toddler. For one thing, she wanted to nurse much more than he does and for longer, anywhere, anytime without warning. She was just that kind of baby. On the other hand, when she was born four years ago I had hardly known anyone who breastfed and I didn’t know anything about it. I was learning from a strong online community, and they’re the reason I was able to continue to nurse my daughter until she was 2 and a half. They came from the parenting website and subsequently over email and then via Facebook. I still find support from the Extended Breastfeeding in Ireland Facebook group.

With my daughter in 2009. Photograph by Claire Wilson,

I desperately needed support and understanding from my ‘real world’ community too, though. It was a shocking experience to find that many Irish people didn’t really understand breastfeeding. I often felt a pressure to hide us, all through mine and my daughter’s nursing relationship, right from when she was a newborn to when we weaned. My family and friends got used to it, but I think it was a bit hard for them. Giving formula is a bit different to nursing, if you’re more familiar with it: babies are fed more on a schedule, whereas breastfeeding means a demand and supply relationship. Nursing also means much more than just food. It’s also for comfort, naps, and medicine. My daughter needed nursing or “boppy” as she called it as much for these things as for food and drink. So she was latched on to me a lot. I think people found that strange.

Feeling like I had to defend it all the time was unsettling. I got asked a lot about when I was going to wean, would I not give her a bottle. It started in earnest from when she was three months old. By then I knew how important it was to her. It was a revelation to learn from my online friends that I *could* keep nursing her through babyhood and into toddlerhood, that this was not only normal but good. I was learning about breastfeeding in a land that had largely forgotten how. In the early days, I didn’t know what I was doing, I tried to feed her on a schedule, my supply got messed up, I got blockages and mastitis and pain. Instead of the correct information and solid support to get us going, it seemed like nobody understood. The public health nurses and GP were sympathetic but wanted me to consider giving up. My family were at a loss to help. It felt like everyone thought I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself to breastfeed my tiny new baby, as though a bottle would do. Thanks to my internet support network, I found out about La Leche League, Cuidiú and a private lactation consultant and I finally got it right when my daughter was 5 weeks old.

Nowadays, my son has “boppy” mostly just for food. We nurse a lot less than me and my daughter did, and he feeds faster. He’s been like this since the day he was born. Efficient. I also nurse him a lot less “discretely” than I did my daughter – he won’t wait for me to cover up and he won’t tolerate any fabric tickling his face while he’s latched. More efficiency. He’s just that kind of baby. If any of my friends and family find it weird to sometimes see me sitting there a bit exposed, they don’t say so, and they’re respectful enough to look away for a few minutes. They are familiar enough with us nursing now that they don’t ask about stopping or weaning anymore either.

This helps a lot. It means I have acquired the confidence to meet my baby’s needs wherever, whenever. I never thought I’d squat on my hunkers outside Marks and Spencers on the busy Liffey Street in Dublin to breastfeed a baby. He was ten months old and starting to howl for some boppy. I panicked, trying to remember where the nursing room was. In an instant I recognised two things: nursing rooms can be horrible; and my son wouldn’t wait. Outside on the street, hundreds of people scuttered by. Only one cast us a passing glance. I nursed him for three minutes, one hand on my three-year old’s arm so she wouldn’t run off with the buggy.

The unwanted comments that knock breastfeeding confidence

I’m glad I have that kind of confidence now, but the pressure to stop breastfeeding or not do it at all still goes on for countless others in Ireland. I know how suggestions like “top up” “give up” “move on” corrode breastfeeding confidence. For me, that kind of environment, with these unwanted, unhelpful and discouraging comments, was like being in a constant swarm of mosquitoes, where the internet was my protective net to breastfeed my daughter confidently. It can be frustrating at best; debilitating at worst.

The media might not have exclusively created this environment where breastfeeding isn’t understood as normal by everyone. The reasons for why Ireland has a cultural amnesia about breastfeeding are the stuff of anthropological theses. But the media reinforces it now.

Every day on the radio, on TV, on the internet, in advertising, even in GP’s surgeries there is this sweet-talking, pervasive influence to “move on”. The World Health Organisation produced a wonderful Code to prevent this and protect those who want to breastfeed, but the Code is flouted every day by formula producers and distributors. TV and radio ads that idealise formula flout the Code. Baby clubs aimed at pregnant women to attract them to formula products flout the Code. I picked up a wad of leaflets for the Cow and Gate baby club at my local GP’s last month. A friend of mine joined a breastfeeding support website Mumslikeus which emails out unsolicited tips about stopping breastfeeding when your baby is six weeks old. It is run by Aptimel. The sugary facade of an underhand marketing practice is unnerving. And it is unethical.

With my son in 2012

Ireland is actually one of the friendliest western places to breastfeed: officially. We have rights (see Citizens Information). But they are being dogged by cultural attitudes that are reinforced by other interests. Irish health policy is supposed to fully reflect the Code, yet agricultural policy considers babies and young children a viable market for driving up profits for the dairy industry. This makes no sense. Does one governmental portfolio not talk to another? I’m interested to know how formula can be marketed appropriately and ethically without impacting on breastfeeding confidence the way it does now.

Posted in Breastfeeding | 19 Comments

Josie’s penguins

photo (1)

Plastic penguins


Two plastic sand-filled penguins live outside the front door of my home house.

They’ve been there since about the nineteen-sixties, part of my grandmother’s proud front garden. Some time in the seventies, my uncle-in-law Tommy hid one of them in the boot of his car for a few days as a joke. A search ensued. Accusations were made. These were some very important plastic penguins.

We moved to the house in 1994 and altered it significantly to suit a family of six. In conciliation, my mother painted a tribute to the old house, depicting a neighbour, Bob, stopping to chat, Grandad (Paddy) at the gate and my grandmother Josie (whom we never called Granny) cutting the hedge. Just outside the front door is one of the penguins, up on a little pedestal.

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The 1990’s rebuild made the house much bigger. The main body of the old cottage was converted into three bedrooms. My Dad gave his teenage and pre-teen kids a lot of say in the renovation and they (we) really wanted an upstairs. There was a more integral redesign option that would have preserved the layout of the old house better, and I remember being torn between that, and the view that a second storey was going to give.

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I’m glad of the view. My bedroom windows face east and south at the back of the house. You can see several different townlands of rolling green fields and stone walls, five ringforts and all the way to the group water scheme resevoir in Lavally. Me and the kids still love to wake up and open the curtains first thing, especially if we’ve arrived in darkness the night before. See what the weather is like, see what’s new since our last visit. Grass grown or eaten since the last time we visited. Leaves on the trees, or branches more bare. Cattle or sheep moved to different fields. Baby lambs. Corn growing on the hills. A horse. A painted fence. The house martens back to nest above my east window.

The penguins are still in the garden, moved to a rockery now. My Mam keeps them spruced up with fresh coats of paint. I washed them in the kitchen sink to see if I could see any brand name and found the word Selcol on the cap plugging the base of one (the other base was substituted with an old cap for a Ford car fuel tank).

I tried to research them a little, but didn’t come up with much. A quick search online only came up with the following “Selcol was an associate company to Selmer, who were displaced in late-1968 from their factory in Braintree, Essex in order to make way for the relocated Selmer amplifier production facility. Prior to being closed down, Selcol made plastic garden furniture and toys”.


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Is the kettle on the range boiled?

Kettle on the range

It was once remarked that the most repeated phrase in my home house at Carrantanlass, Tuam, Co Galway, was probably “is the kettle on the range boiled?” In a house where everyone grazes, the kettle is used a lot. Or do we graze because the kettle is usually boiled?

You could boil the electric kettle, but why bother if the one on the range is ready to go? You’ll get given out to for wasting electricity. Also, tea made from the electric kettle tastes different. Some will send the cup back if the tea was made from the *wrong* kettle.

So if it’s time for a cup of tea, or a hot water bottle for bed, just check with the kitchen at large if the kettle on the range is boiled.

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