Ode to the girl gang

My mother told me that she always wanted a sister, while my brother sometimes reminds me that when I was born he disappointedly asked my mother on the phone if I really was a girl.

There’s something in us that makes us flock to our own. In this day and age I probably shouldn’t say “our own”. People talk about genderless clothes and gender neutral toilets and all that’s grand, but I identify as a girl. I’m part of the tribe and I blooming well love it.

It’s about being apart of the girl gang and I don’t  mean the polished type of one that Taylor Swift cobbles together with her so-called celebrity “besties” every Fourth of July. I mean the gang of women you’ve known for years or at least feel you’ve known for a lifetime, when in reality it might only be six months, yet you know they will be there for you no matter what.

In primary school I always wanted a girl gang, the type that you saw on the Sleepover Club where the girls had each other’s backs no matter what, but in reality you’re plonked in with a bunch of children and sometimes all that really bonds you is your similar postcode, love for Home and Away (who knew Australian TV could have such an influence on a pre-teen?) and disdain of a particular teacher.

In secondary school I finally found the girl gang that I always craved and still count them as my best friends today- I’ve known one since nappies, am related to another, have lived with one and am currently living with the other. We’ve seen each other cry over stupid boys whose names we don’t remember, vomit in to handbags and fall on our backsides (I promise those aren’t all me!).

In college, this girl gang luckily extended its branches further and the seeds for some of the best friendships were sown over Snapchat (you know who you are), alcohol, Starbucks lunches, library breaks and cries of: “Does he like me?” thrown in between.

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My love for the girl gang began at home. My mother, sister and I are the three musketeers and the best friends anyone could ask for. Loyalty, kindness and seeing the funny side of a situation are only a sprinkling of what I’ve learned from them and hopefully they may have picked up a thing or two from me along the way .

When I think of women I admire, Mary Robinson, Maeve Binchy and Emma Watson are names that spring to mind, but they’ve never caught my hand when they notice me struggling in a pair of towering heels, or call me out when I’m being a brat.

The admiration for the women around us should begin at home and I know a lot of the time that’s not the case. Sometimes women aren’t blessed with beaming mothers or helpful sisters, sometimes it’s the women in magazines that are the best role models and that’s OK too.

My first teacher in school taught me how to read. It was the one thing I could do so easily from the very start. I didn’t have to try. “Hello”, “This” and “Is” were the first words I learned. She paved the way for me and where I am now, as did my two English teachers in secondary school.

I’ve the two best men around me- my Dad and brother and am friends with some lovely lads too, but for me when I’m stuck in a room with randomers at a house party, it’ll be the girl I’ll gravitate towards and say “Hey” to. We link our self-esteem so much to whether a guy likes us or our position on the career ladder or how high our college results are but I know If I had no girlfriends ready to ring at a moment’s notice my confidence would be dead and I’d feel so alone.

I live with two great ladies (and lad!)  work with some amazing women and have interviewed countless determined females over the last year. I’m proud to be a girl and believe so much in women power. On this International Women’s Day it’s about learning to cut out self-doubt and believing in ourselves more. It’s about putting your hand out to help your fellow female who may be struggling and it’s about coming from a place of love.

In the next few months we’re going to be tangled in the Repeal the Eighth debate. It’ll inevitably get nasty. Hurtful comments will be thrown like confetti on social media, comments that can’t be mopped or swept away very easily and that have the ability to cut deep.

It’s a topic that divides us and rightly so, but we need to respect each other as women and respect each person’s choice. So, in the coming months I’m asking you to hold on to your sisters and mothers and daughters and cherish the girl gang, it’s all we have. It defines us and sets us apart. It’s what makes us the powerful tribe we’ve always been.

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REVIEW: I, TONYA

Elation and desperation. These are the two of the most poignant feelings that the Craig Gillespie directed I, Tonya captures on screen and plants in the hearts of the audience.

Elation

Dressed in a teal coloured leotard, Tonya Harding, played by the wide-smiled Margot Robbie struts and punches the air in sheer ecstasy when she becomes the first American woman to perform the daring triple axel skating move on an ice rink. The same smiling and confidence displayed by the real-life 20-year-old Harding in 1991 when she wins the National Championships is evoked by Robbie, when she says: “I was the best figure skater in the world…at one point in time.”

i tonya 1991 Margot robbie

Desperation

Robbie’s declaration of ‘that point in time’ echoes in the air and foreshadows the downfall that lies ahead for Harding. Three years later clad in a sequinned, maroon coloured outfit, Harding desperately tries to smile but she can’t hide from the mirror and the crowd and she can’t hide from herself at the 1994 Winter Olympics. She fumbles with her laces and equally through her moves and crumbles on the ice rink. Life doesn’t stop for sport.

Told through a series of mockumentary style interviews the film gives a glimpse in to the tumultuous and downright unlucky fortunes of defamed figure skater, Tonya Harding and her connection to the attack on fellow figure skater,  Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 prior to the Winter Olympics.

Harding isn’t particularly likeable. She isn’t a glowing, all-American girl. She’s scruffy and clumsy and she’s a bit of a bitch. You can love her or hate her for constantly rushing back to her heavy-handed husband, Jeff Gillooly (Stan Sebastian) or you can laugh or cry at the scathing insults her mother Lavona Golden (Allison Janney) spits at her.

‘America wants someone to love but they also want someone to hate’- this is how Harding describes her situation and it has many similarities to the controversy surrounding the Irish swimmer Michelle Smith’s Olympic medals two years later in Atlanta following doping claims. Just like Harding, you either love Smith, hate her or are at least suspicious of her.  While 27-year-old Robbie playing the 15-year-old Tonya in the film’s early scenes is cringe-worthy and her 5ft 5 inches stature isn’t representative of the pint-sized Tonya Harding, the film will make you feel something and will have you googling the name Tonya Harding on the car journey home.

The grandmother I never knew and the vote

The grandmother I never knew was born in 1916. For most people, when 1916 is mentioned, images of men shelling bullets in to the walls of the GPO, and indeed, at each other, lurch in to mind. For me, the year reminds me that my grandmother was born without the right to vote.

While recently Ireland and the UK celebrated the centenary of suffrage- giving the vote to women over the age of 30 and men over the age of 21- it wasn’t until 1928 that women received the same rights as men to have the right to ink the ballot paper at 21 years of age.

Until the age of 12 my grandmother grew up in society that wouldn’t allow her to fully take part in that society or permit her to give her opinion.

They quietened her. They kept her down.

I often wonder what message this would have sent my grandmother, Mary. She was only 12 when the law was changed. Maybe she wasn’t aware of the law at all or perhaps she didn’t care. She wasn’t going to get a push notification on her phone from Sky News of: “Women get the vote” on her smartphone. There weren’t any televisions. They would’ve been lucky to own a radio.

My grandmother died in 1987. She wasn’t alive to witness her fellow Mary, Mary Robinson “rock the cradle” in 1990 when she stood in the centre of  a sea of men dressed in black, clad in a purple suit to receive her seal of office for the Irish presidency.

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She similarly didn’t see her other namesake, Mary McAleese from north Belfast take up reign in the Aras in 1997.

From the snippets I know of Mary Fox. I know that she was part of an Irish Countrywomen’s Association team in north Cork that won a debating final. I know that she did the crossword in the Irish Examiner every week.

She even got married in a double wedding ceremony in 1944 with her sister- if that’s not ahead of it’s time, I don’t know what is! She was 28 too. Unlike her friends and neighbours, she didn’t rise to pressure and marry in her late teens. She lived her life.

Last week I listened to a podcast which featured Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, the grand-daughter of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Ireland’s leading suffragette of the 1900s.

Micheline said on the show that she wondered whether her grandmother would be disappointed that we still have haven’t had a female Taoiseach.

I too wonder would my grandmother feel the same. She was forward thinking after all and may have been disappointed that we haven’t moved faster, when the likes of the UK, Germany, New Zealand and Northern Ireland all have female leaders.

Then again, she was of a gritty generation who didn’t sweat the small stuff and who were doing their best just to survive day-to-day, milking five or six cows and tending to some hens and pigs.

For Micheline and I these thoughts will only ever be wonderings on the wall of imagination. We can only keep fighting the good fight.

It is frustrating that we haven’t moved faster and that we haven’t had a female Taoiseach. I can only hope that in 100 years time, that an ancestor of mine won’t be wondering or musing like myself, that she’ll be saying we had not just one female Taoiseach, but numerous successful women leaders who held out a hand and let down the ladder for others women to follow in their path, that’s the only way things will change.

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a blog

What kind of blogger am I? Am I even a blogger?  Are those my feet? These are questions that roll through my mind most days (ok, the latter question is a Father Ted reference, but whatever).

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For those of you who keep an eye on my blog and matching Instagram and Twitter accounts you may have noticed that much like its owner, it’s very mixed up and a bit confused.

One day I could post a blog raving about my favourite book and the next I could be uploading splattered images from the Ploughing Championships.

I haven’t nailed down my blogging brand yet. I know it’ll never have anything to do with fitness because gyms freak me out and I conveniently forgot my towel the two times I ventured to the Mardyke gym during my three years in UCC.

Meanwhile, in the mornings I can barely manage to put BB cream on my face, so beauty posts are definitely out of the question and don’t interest me anyway.

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A sample of my mixed up blog posts on Instagram @clairefoxwrites

These days everything needs a label, everything has to sit neatly in a clear category, but my personality has never been like that, so why should my blog?

I can’t solo a football to save my life but would put up a good fight against any so-called sports fanatic to name the All-Ireland winning Cork team of 2005.

So, for now my blog is going to continue to be a confused bundle of madness, just like me.

Anyway, I’m a human being, I’m not a commodity or a brand that needs a unique selling point and call me naive, but I don’t think my blog needs one either.

There’s going to be farming references because I’m from the countryside and it’s part of my job.

There will be fashion bits and bobs because although some days it may not look it, I do have a dangerous love for spending money on clothes.

There won’t be posts with me telling you to eat six cashews with your protein-filled porridge every day or ramblings about free green tea that I got from a hidden gem herbal company (I don’t get free things).

Recently I’ve been thinking of dipping my toe in to the whole video/blog thing. There’s a phrase out there: “If you can’t stop thinking about it, you have to do it”.

Ok, even though you can’t stop thinking about indulging in a lie in from work or murdering your noisy neighbour who smokes weed 24/7, I don’t think that’s what this phrase is trying to communicate.

It’s telling you if there’s something in you that sparks a light in your stomach or an idea that gets you riled up then maybe you should just go for it. Stop imagining yourself doing it, stop dreaming about saying something. Just spit it out. Do it.

Forever Ms Procrastination, I decided to inform my mother and sister of my dilemma.

“What if I come across as a gom?” I winged to my sister.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the word “gom”, it’s regularly trashed out in my household and amongst my friends from home.

It has a similar meaning to eegit and idiot and while we could just as easily use those words, sometimes there’s certain situations where only “gom” will suffice.

“Sure there’s plenty people making goms of themselves on the internet, if you get abuse you can stop,” laughed my sister.

My mother not-so helpfully added: “Maybe you could do it under a different name.”

“The blog is called clairefoxwrites, Mam,” I sulked.

“Oh yeah,” she said.

While I’m still none the wiser, I know they meant well with their advice and always do.

When you upload anything on the internet you’re opening a door to a world of people ready to judge, however with videos it feels to me like forgetting to close the door and unwittingly inviting the entire cyber universe armed with opinions in for tea and a biscuit.

Or maybe Clarke Gable in Gone with the Wind was right- nobody does give a damn. So just do what makes you happy and forget about the rest.

 

Some like it hot chocolate

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact memory of when my love affair with hot chocolate began. The first time I even realised that hot chocolate existed was when my brother boasted to me that he and my mother had indulged in a creamy hot chocolate for breakfast before a match in Old Trafford in 2000. For a five-year old who hadn’t even been abroad, this concept was too much for me to handle and something young, curious Claire would have to investigate further.

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Enjoying a hot chocolate at Doneraile Cafe, Co Cork

 

I do remember moments at aged five or six scuttling in to the kitchen behind my Dad between the end of Emmerdale and the start of Coronation Street and watching him spoon contents from the purple Cadbury’s tin into a mug for me. I’d be allowed to stir in the milk and he’d place it in to the microwave.

 

I’d do the very unsafe but child-like thing of pressing my head against the glass and watching the mug twist around inside the machine and work its magic.

 

“Leave it cool,” my dad would warn me as he placed the cup on the kitchen table.

 

Of course I never would and I’d often scald the tip of my tongue, but that would be a problem I could whinge to my Mam about later on. I’d take pleasure in swirling the brown and white mixture with a spoon and in watching chunks of chocolate travel to the top of the cup. I’d then settle down for the evening playing with my Barbies, as Ken and Deidre Barlow yelled at each other on the TV in the background. Bliss.

 

My affection for hot chocolate probably stems from the fact that I was never a fan of tea. Many people are surprised to hear this as my granny accent coupled with my farming background would usually spell out “TEA FANATIC” in bold, capital, neon-light, flashing letters.

 

It doesn’t matter how many spoons of sugar I add or churns of milk, tea does nothing for me. It’s like seeing Christmas decorations in October- no emotions.

 

Sighs from friends arriving home from work of: “Oh I can’t wait for tea” always amaze me and questions like : “But don’t you find it comforting?” are something I’ll never understand.

 

While there was a time I would never even slurp it and would look on in complete disgust when a gran-aunt in a dark house would push one in front of me on the checkered table cloth, these days I’ve become more polite and can drain a cup on request if I have to.

 

Nowadays everyone’s a coffee lover, and as a journalist you’re almost an outcast if you don’t resort to a piping cup of caffeine to deal with all the deadlines racing over your head. I tried some recently when the schedule was mounting but the headache that ensued just wasn’t worth the mediocre taste.

 

Hot chocolate goes hand-in-hand with some of my most beloved memories. Most weekends when I’m home I go to a café in a nearby town or village for a cup of the chocolate stuff with my mother and sister for a cosy catch up. While they sip tea, I always order the fluffiest and foamiest mug of hot chocolate on the menu.

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A splendid hot chocolate from Cork Coffee Roasters

 

Every Friday after school my friends and I had the tradition of marching down from the old convent gates to the nearby coffee shop. With a roasting hot chocolate in hand we’d natter about homework, nagging teachers and laugh at the lack of boys in our lives.

 

In college, I became overly acquainted with the ivory Starbucks cup which would always become splattered in a mixture of chocolate milk and lip gloss as soon as my mouth hit the lid. It was a great place to doss the day away with the college magazine and arts crew, while we contemplated what masters we would do, would we even do one, or should we just sell our souls to the business or IT world altogether?

Mini-life crises over and done with for now,  I currently find myself living in Dublin and I’m yet to discover a hot chocolate in the capital that even mildly compares to the creamy, smooth cups that Cork has on offer on almost every street corner. In Dublin, while I’m often greeted with magnificent platters of hot chocolate-come-ice-cream-cone combinations, the taste of the presentation never lives up to the one that reaches the mouth.

Then there are the places that serve you up a boring Lidl blend with stale marshmallows and they still have the cheek to charge you close to the fiver mark. Or, in some cases, cafes provide you with tiny shot glasses of chocolate buttons, marshmallows and cream and expect you to mix in the blend yourself-  sorry now but if I’d wanted to do that I’d have stayed at home.

In Cork, there’s a hot chocolate for whatever mood I’m in. If I’m feeling the need for an artsy mug of magical hot chocolate and want to sneak in an Instagram story, I’ll head to Alchemy on Barrack Street. Some days if I’m not about the marshmallow and cream life I venture to Cork Coffee Roasters on Frenchchurch Street. This rustic red cup of brilliance offers a tasty treat without all the trappings and somehow tastes just as good.

Doppio on College road speaks to my sweet-tooth heart like no other. In final year of college in UCC, as if heaven sent, it opened only five doors down from my freezing college house. Its heavenly mugs contained the perfect combination of sugar, chocolate and cream and offered refuge from the sub-zero living temperatures of a winter’s evening.

 

While hot chocolates have developed from the plain mugs of Cadbury mixes I was accustomed to in the early noughties, the New Zealand Rugby team’s KISS mantra (Keep It Simple Stupid) is what I advocate when it comes to enjoying a truly perfect cup of hot chocolate. Forget the tray with chocolate and strawberry sauce at the side or the stir-in chocolate spoons. Please hand me a cup of warm, sweet chocolate with a sprinkle of marshmallows and a hefty dash of cream and I’ll be more than content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Booked Out

DISCLAIMER: The above image is how I imagined I’d look when I did the the not so clinically proven: “wash-your-hair-and-plait-it-the-night-before-school-so-it’ll-be nice-and-curly-in-the-morning” trick as a teenager. Needless to say at the age of 16 I woke up to a fuzzy mesh of hair, not quite unlike a cat’s fur sitting on my head, a world away from Hermione’s lingering curls.

Anyway.

I’m currently reading Rachael’s English’s American Girl. I bought it a month and a half ago but between  suffering a yogurt spillage in my handbag and encountering  a prolonged bout of laziness after it had dried out, I only managed to pick up the book again yesterday.

This is nothing against the said book, it just shows how even someone who would go as far as calling  themselves a “book-lover” on their Twitter bio suffers with procrastination and is prone to getting dangerously distracted by Mad Men.

This isn’t a book review, why? Well, I haven’t finished the book ,so I don’t think that would be fair or do the author justice. I’m just musing as to why I take incessant prodding to do an activity I actually enjoy. It’s probably because reading requires a level of concentration that many of us aren’t used to exerting since leaving school or college.

In school, Snapchat didn’t exist and I kept my block Sony Erikson buried in my schoolbag or stowed away  in my locker, depending on how nerdy or scared s***less I was feeling on the day.

Every night after I’d finish my homework I’d unleash my inner Hermione Granger and alternate between reading a Jane Austen novel or a Bronte one.

Most of the time they were a struggle but sometimes there were glimpses of humour and “daring” hand-holding love scenes that spoke to my 16-year-old self.  I’d tuck myself up with Emma or Wuthering Heights, along with a dictionary and log new words I didn’t understand into a battered Aisling copybook and duly record them. Just in case I ever wanted to use words like “insipid” or “sage” in my daily life.

I’ve earlier memories of my dad and brother reading to me when I was small. Funnily enough they both had the same tactic of exaggerating what happened in the Mr Men’s books, so much so that I’d be bowled over on the couch chuckling and aghast at their more entertaining albeit ruder versions of the classic tales.

The first real book I read on my own was Song of the Sea by Don Conroy. I got it as a birthday present from a girl in my primary school. I was determined to read a proper book, with no pictures, on my own and to the end.

To be honest I couldn’t tell you what it was about and don’t even think I  understood what was going on, I was  just stubborn but nevertheless it led the way toward a slew of Animal Ark books and the entire troubled, Jacqueline Wilson family building their way along my  shelf like a row of misshapen building blocks.

I blame college for making me a lazy reader. Sure as an English student wasn’t I “always reading”, except for those days  where I’d spend hours in the campus coffee dock and  nights where I’d crawl out of Bodega or the Brog or the Bowery or whatever club du jour beginning with a B was the “in place” in Cork at the time.

Bible heavy copies of Beowulf and 18th century anthologies never thrilled me enough and it was only at Christmas time curled up on the chair to read a cosy Maeve Binchy novel that I’d rekindle my love for reading again.

Last month I read the most gripping novel I had come across in a long time. The Nightingale by Kristina Hanna has everything I like in a book- love, drama and a dash of murder. Also it’s about sisters and since my sister and I are so close, even though we are not particularly close in age, it’s a a relationship that fascinates me.

I read the book at my own pace and didn’t rush myself and enjoyed it all the more. Before I tried to be  strict with myself and say: “I’ve to finish this in 5 days”, now I give myself a month and if I haven’t finished it in that time-frame I  just forget about it.

Next week I’m enrolling myself in a creative writing class. I feel I’ve a story in me but like reading I need the discipline to do it and to not just attempt it whenever I get a half-hearted notion or  decide to fill my diary with tears whenever a boy is “mean” to me.

There’s bundles of excuses I could use not to go like:  it’s on for two-and-a-half hours or I’ve been feeling tired recently or it’s straight after work, but no. I’m going. I’m going to drag myself from Talbot Street to Harcourt next week for two-and- a-half hours to do an activity that I enjoy.

I’m going to be like that seven year-old reading Song of the Sea– I’ll finish it, to the end, even if I haven’t a foggiest idea of what’s going on. Sure, isn’t that life?

A Woman’s Art Series: Wonder women in charge of Cork art scene

 

I met with four remarkable women making their mark on art in Cork.

Mary McCarthy, Director of the National Sculpture Factory

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Mary McCarthy, Director of the National Sculpture Factory located on Cork’s Albert Road.

Mary McCarthy has been Director of the National Sculpture Factory on Cork’s Albert Road for two periods – once from 1996-2001 and returning again in 2009 where she has been Director ever since. During these two periods Mary took on other roles, such as Director of Programmes for Cork’s stint as European Capital of Culture in 2005 and Executive Arts and Culture Manager for Dublin Docklands Development Authority from 2005-2009.

The National Sculpture Factory may look like a regular red brick building from the outside but within its walls is a large and unique studio space custom-made for sculptors to build their projects. The factory also provides training and support to artists and hosts exhibitions and events.

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The exterior of The National Sculpture Factory, Cork.

While many associate the heavy lifting that comes with sculpting as a ‘boys’ club’, Mary informs that currently the ratio of men is to women on their studio floor is equal. “A lot of the work we do is quite large and physical. Sometimes it can be 70% male but right now it’s about 50/50 in the studio. It varies and it’s project by project and because people rent the space we would have less control over them but in our own programmes we would pay close attention to gender equality,” says Mary. “Our staff is balanced and is 50/50 precisely and we would be very conscious of this.”

Mary studied a postgraduate degree in Arts Management in UCD in 1993. She credits this course, as well as the determination of current Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, to ensure an increased number of women are present on arts boards, as the reason why Cork is leading the way in terms of female involvement in the arts.

“Minister Humphreys is really pushing that every organisation has a gender policy. I think that’s really important. Sexism in arts is so subtle and predominately happens on boards that are male and chaired by men. The Minister has an extraordinary record of making women chairs and that is important as it’s redressing a balance,” says Mary.

Mary is also Chairperson of Culture Ireland, an organisation which promotes Irish arts and culture abroad and she is a board member of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). Before being elected the new leader of Fine Gael, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated that he planned to double the funding of arts over the next seven years, does Mary see this as becoming a reality or is it just another empty manifesto promise?

“It would be very welcome. It’s good to see Fine Gael having an ambitious policy for arts and culture because the party’s policy when they got elected would’ve put up some challenges for the cultural sector. There were funding cuts and some organisations were at risk.”

“I think, like everywhere, the last few years have been really tough on everybody,” continues Mary, who has seen Cork come out the other side of the recession in the last nine years. “Cork had to redefine itself in some ways in the cultural sector because the recession was hard and everybody was very hard hit and on 30-40% less funding than they were before, so that’s a very significant decrease of public funding. I think Cork is well placed to capitalise from the next economic period of stability.”

Angela Fulcher, Artist at the Cork Arts Collective

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Angela Fulcher, artist at Cork Arts Collective

For sculpture and installation artist, Angela Fulcher, the phrase ‘full-time artist’ is a contentious one. Being an artist isn’t a nine-to-five job with steady income and a lot of the time, the amount you are paid doesn’t reflect the hours of painstaking work put in to a project.

“I had a show in the Galway Arts Centre called Unbounded and one of the works in there was called Belt. It contained about 180 belts all stitched together by hand,” recalls Fulcher, who is originally from Dorset in England. “That’s three months full-time work. The struggle for artists is getting their time paid for, whether it’s for a gallery or a project. You have to include a fee in your application but it’s never representative of the time put in.”

When Fulcher was a child her mother owned a jewellery shop in London, with such an early immersion into the world of art and creativity, it is hardly surprising that Angela too went down the artistic route.

 “It was a really creative space. I would’ve spent a lot of time in there at weekends and after school,” remembers Angela. “She did glass engraving by hand, so she often took photographs of people and their pets and put those she’d engraved by hand onto the glass. She would’ve done life drawing too and I would’ve posed for her for portraits.”

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One of Angela’s sculpure’s

Based in Cork since 1998, Angela has a studio located at the Cork Arts Collective on Dean Street within the walled gardens of the iconic St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. The Collective began in 1985, providing studio space for artists and residency for visiting artists at their guesthouse on Chapel Street. For Angela, the Collective symbolises how Cork provides a great support system for its artists.

“Cork is a really supportive network to emerge into from college. There’s a good cross- section of everything with emerging artists setting up and there are established artist institutions which are all accessible and I would say that it’s very easy to move around on that scene. Everyone knows everybody. Ireland in general is like that,” smiles Fulcher, who holds a degree in Fine Art from the Crawford College of Art and Design.

With commissions for sculptures notoriously going to men, I ask Fulcher whether she feels this is sexism or are there just more male sculptors than female ones?

“It’s traditional that the people who lean towards working with heavy materials are men. I wouldn’t say that women in this day and age are discouraged from doing it. I did welding but it’s more physical and it’s tough and demanding,” explains Angela, who specialises mostly in indoor projects. “You have to find ways to constantly get around doing things that physically you can’t do. Whereas, if you are a 6ft male who’s 13-stone, you can do it. I wouldn’t say that it’s sexism.”

Anne Boddaert, Curator at the Crawford Art Gallery

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Anne Boddaert, curator at Crawford Art Gallery Cork

While most consider Paris the capital of art and culture, Anne Boddaert has swapped her native France for Cork’s Crawford Gallery since 1999. She was given the official title of curator in 2005 and is now in charge of organising educational programmes for the Emmet Place gallery.

“The education programme is something I always wanted to push and I worked and developed programmes both to do with particular exhibitions and then some more general art classes,” begins Anne, sitting in the gallery’s private library. “I organise and let artists do the teaching and that’s one of the things I’m really passionate about – that it’s qualified, professional people who run workshops and not just anybody.”

For Anne, the real challenge within the arts is funding and trying to justify money being given to the arts when it could be distributed to arguably more vital public services, such as health and education.

“Art isn’t always valued and there are always comments like, ‘Why are we putting money into the arts when we can build an extra toilet in that school?’ I think that’s a very narrow way of looking at things, however, sometimes the bigger picture is just not there,” sighs Anne. “It’s hard to earn an income from art too.”

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Crawford Gallery Cork

With this struggle of earning a regular income in mind, Anne ponders whether it is more difficult for women than men to succeed in visual arts as they often have to balance a family, as well as make a viable living. “There is no doubt that if you want to pursue a career things have to take second place. The provision of childminding is hard. It’s not impossible but very difficult and there’s very little help,” says Boddaert.

Boddaert points out that she endeavours to feature female artists in every exhibition, but admits it’s difficult to do when curating historical works as women were often left out of the artistic canon. “There probably were as many female artists as male but they just weren’t collected by national institutions or by museums, or they might be in private collections and not cared for and have aged badly. The historical balance wouldn’t be there at all unfortunately and again it’s not because they didn’t exist, it’s because they are lost and that’s the big part to be very sorry about. It would be easy to say, even in literature as well, that women didn’t write but it’s not true.”

Catherine Fehily, Head of the Crawford School of Art and Design

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Catherine Fehily, Head of the Crawford School of Art and Design

Two years ago Catherine Fehily left her job as Faculty Director for Arts, Media and Design at Staffordshire University and returned to Ireland to become the Head of the Crawford College of Art and Design. Apart from missing the lush Derbyshire countryside, Catherine is enjoying her new role. Her route to academia was an interesting one, as she first began taking photographs while she was a tour guide in Amsterdam.

“I was working as a tour guide for an American photographer in Amsterdam, and they had a photography club and I learned how to use their dark room. It started as a hobby but in time it was something I realised I could pursue more seriously. I applied to study in Derbyshire when I was 25,” says Catherine, who quickly fell in love with the academic way of life.

Crawford College has 800 students and while it is smaller than most other art colleges in the country, Catherine feels that it provides a unique experience for students. “I think we offer the real art college experience. Staff know all the students really well. Our students are very well looked after. Their work is very ambitious. They’re really challenged to push themselves.”

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Crawford School of Art and Design,Cork

The Crawford’s 800 students are in the majority female, yet Catherine feels that this majority will shift and that working in visual arts is challenging regardless of gender.

“I don’t think the job of feminism is done by any means but in the arts world it’s tough for everybody,” continues Fehily. “For those who want to make a living from practising their art, it’s the hardest path of all and it’s a personality thing, rather than a gender thing. I think those who are really driven to do it, do it, and our students aren’t under any illusions as to how tough it is.”

 

 

 

Mother and Baby Home: A Survivor’s Story

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“She was brought in 4 weeks before I was born and I was taken straight away. The women were given no painkillers and were not allowed to scream, they had to give birth in silence. There was a room with a mattress, they’d throw that at you if you screamed, it was called the screaming room”

Paul Redmond was born in Castlepollard Mother and Baby Home in 1964 and is recalling the struggles of women who spent time there to give birth to their babies. Although he only spent the first two weeks of his life at the home, the experience of him being separated from his mother in such a harrowing environment affected him for the rest of his life.

“You’re always conscious of it and you don’t quite understand it, but you’re aware that it’s something slightly shameful and it leads to emotional symptoms”, explains Paul who was transferred to St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on 21 December 1964 and adopted to new parents. At a mere two weeks old, this was the last time he saw his natural mother.

“I was brought to St Patrick’s on the Navan Road and my mother was made to wait outside on a wall where her father collected her” says Paul whose mother’s parents had paid £100 pounds which is now the equivalent of “8 or 9 grand” for her to give birth to her son in Castlepollard.

Searching for his natural mother

Paul was always aware that he was adopted as a baby and in fact believes that if you remember when you out found that you were adopted that you found out too late. At the age of 15 he decided to go looking for his natural mother, a search that would last for over 30 years.

“When I was 15 I went actively looking for her. I knocked on the door of the Adoption Board in 1979. I was treated badly, they were ignorant and disproved of natural mothers being reunited with their children”

This was the first of countless times Paul was turned away and ignored by the state who would “do anything to shut him up”. Paul’s experience with state social workers was complex and frustrating, with one case leading to his solicitor getting involved. For Paul the many social workers that he dealt with were against natural mothers and their children being reunited.

“I had 9 social workers but three main ones. The third one was so ignorant. She took action on my case without even meeting or talking to me and made a complete arse of it. I ended up getting my solicitor involved and got a letter of apology with the word “apologies” used three times but to say at the end of the letter that she’s still there working as a social worker. It couldn’t go to court despite all the lies.These were state social workers and a lot of them had their own ideologies and rejected natural mothers and their children being reunited”

The dawn of the internet, social media and in particular Facebook was “the best thing that happened to the adoption community” says to Paul who took advantage of this huge data bank to escalate his search. After years of making slight progress with social workers and even hiring a private investigator Paul was able to make connections to his natural mother on Facebook, who had tried her best not be found.

“The internet helped make huge advances. A lot of the time the mums don’t want to be found. My mother had a different surname and changed the spelling of her first name which made things difficult. I started to trace other members of the family and to look at it from there”

After coming across uncles, Paul eventually found his mother but she wanted no contact with him. She finally agreed to a forty minute phone call with him where he discovered that she had totally blocked out the six weeks she spent in Castlepollard from her memory, a trend which is common amongst survivors of Mother and Baby homes and women who were forced to give up their children.

“The vast majority of them block it out. They never truly get over it. They’re not allowed grieve but yet their baby isn’t dead and they can’t get closure. They’ve nightmares and fears of bonding with future children. They have to say they had two kids even though they know in their hearts they have three.It bites into people and they carry their secret. Many nuns told them that if they looked for their children that it was a mortal sin and that they would burn in hell for all eternity or that it was a criminal offence” explains Paul whose mother had two children and a husband after Paul.

While Paul’s mother’s decision to not have contact with him is painful, he admits that he is one of the lucky ones in that at least he got to talk to his mother, unlike so many of his counterparts.

“You’ve to stay positive, I was lucky that I had a conversation with her. Some people never even get a name. Their mothers are just these faceless entities that haunt them for the rest of their lives”

While speaking with his natural mother on the telephone, she was adamant that she did not know who his father was, an explanation which Paul knows to be untrue but believes he has little chance of ever finding out who his natural father is.

“My mother claims to not know who he is even though I know through my research that a Dominican nun told him to stay away from my mother. You can do DNA tests and hope you’d bump into him or a brother or a cousin but the hit rate is very low and there’s a lot of loose ends. It’s not like a film where everything is tied up in an hour. We live in grey areas”

Reaction to Tuam Findings

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The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors which Paul is Chair of weren’t shocked when the findings of 796 bodies at the site of Tuam Mother and Baby home were made public two weeks ago, they were angry. They also believe it is not a situation in isolation.

“We weren’t shocked, we always knew they were there. We’d known for years; we were angry. I knew Catherine Corless for years and I never doubted her.We’re angry at the deniers who said it never happened and who are still saying it. They make me sick and they still can’t face up to it. Shifting the blame onto society is wrong. People were forced into these homes”, says Paul

Paul blames the nuns for forcing women to work as unpaid slaves and “dress their babies up as part of punishment and see them being adopted to new families”, yet he believes that no criminal investigation will ever take place.

“The vast majority of nuns are all dead and the surviving ones will have the best solicitors to defend them or play the old and senile card the way the priests did a few years ago when the abuse reports came out. Gardaí told me years ago that they can’t prove it unless I have an eye witness account of a specific nun killing a baby”, explains Paul.

With little hope of a criminal investigation coming to being, Paul and the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors are campaigning for the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill to be passed which will allow those who were adopted to seek information that was previously unavailable to them. Paul wants “full inclusion” of children taken from private homes and illegal adoptions as well as those born in Mother and Baby homes.

“100,000 women lost children in Ireland who were adopted or hired out or illegally adopted. This was the official policy of the state who considered single women to be unfit mothers”

Paul’s experience with Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has been less than satisfactory, with Paul remarking that she had “zero interest” in their cause during their last meeting.

“We mentioned in the agenda that we wanted to ask where were the memorials that we were promised would be built, to which she replied “What memorials?” Her people asked could we prove that memorials were promised. They basically ignored and insulted us” says Paul who has yet again been met with another obstacle by the state.

With the former nuns who ran the Mother and Baby Homes being worth according to Paul 2.3 euro million each he believes that “money is their god” and recalls stories of women who stayed in the Mother and Baby homes until they died working as unpaid slaves.

“I blame the nuns they were largely autonomous and milked the mothers as slave labours. Castlepollard never employed a doctor or nurse. They employed a midwife to work the night shift and day shift later on but a lot of the time they were hard faced fucking bitches. The delivery rooms were literally just beds. Some women never left and stayed there for years and were institutionalised and unpaid slaves”

Dublin: A vintage city

I recently went on a trail around Dublin’s streets  to visit some of its best vintage stores and to chat to their style loving owners. I documented my journey on Instagram. Here’s some of the images and musings I got from my trip around Dublin’s cobbled streets. Visit my Instagram @clairefoxwrites for more images from Dublin’s vintage stores!

Siopaella

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Lucy’s Lounge

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Carousel

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OM Diva

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Folkster

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The most feared Meningitis

 

meningitisI remember going to the doctor as a child with complaints of a sore neck. My doctor examined me as my mother held her breath. “Don’t worry, it’s not meningitis” the doctor confirmed. My mother breathed again and squeezed my arm as colour returned to her cheeks.

 Even as a nine year old I understood that meningitis was the deadly one and a disease that caused parents’ hearts to leap at 100 miles a minute. Although the rate of people dying from meningitis has diminished in the last number of years, it is still feared as it can attack anyone at anytime

Charities and people who have been affected by meningitis are urging the public to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the illness following the death of a UCC student in February.20 year old Arts student Grainne O’ Donnell from Cahir, Co. Tipperary died following a short battle with meningitis.

Meningitis Research Foundation (MSF) and ACT for Meningitis are urging parents and students to be aware of the symptoms of the dangerous illness which is often fatal if not detected early.

 

What is meningitis?

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Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining around the spinal cord caused by a bacterial or viral infection. According to Caroline Krieger, Medical Officer of the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF), meningitis often occurs with septicaemia which has a higher fatality rate. 

 

“Meningitis occurs when toxins get into the immune system but when these toxins get into the blood they produce septicaemia. 1 in 10 people will die if they develop septicaemia while 1 in 3 survivors will be left with life-changing side-effects such as limb loss” says Caroline.

 

Symptoms

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While a stiff neck and rash are the symptoms people normally associate with meningitis, many symptoms are shared with common, everyday illnesses which makes it more difficult to detect. According to Caroline it is important to be aware of the more specific symptoms that trigger meningitis in order to catch it early and that often no rash occurs until it is too late to treat it.

 

“Severe vomiting, fever and headache or dislike to bright lights are some of the symptoms that meningitis produces or becoming very vacant or confused, along with uneven breathing”

 

“Septicaemia produces muscle pain and often the sufferer has cold hands and feet but their torso is warm. A rash doesn’t appear until late and sometimes people are already being treated in hospital for meningitis before septicaemia develops” explains Caroline.

 

 

A Survivor’s Story

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In April 2000 Ann-Marie Flanagan was a third year student studying in Sligo IT when she developed meningitis. Already a sufferer of migraines, Ann-Marie wasn’t particularly alarmed when she developed a severe headache during her Easter Break. Her brother was also enduring the effects of the vomiting bug so when Ann-Marie began vomiting she believed that she had caught her brother’s flu and didn’t suspect meningitis until her symptoms rapidly deteriorated.

 

“Everyone told me that I had the 24-hour vomiting bug and that I’d just have to sit it out. I could feel it getting worse. I was getting weaker and more tired and had a sore neck. By the time I got to Ballinasloe Hospital I was totally disoriented and in and out of consciousness. I’d an excruciating headache and my legs were like jelly” remembers Ann-Marie.

Although Ann-Marie managed to survive without any physical side-effects, the aftermath of her battle with the illness took an emotional toll on the young woman.

“In hindsight I probably went back to college too quickly after it. It was definitely a year of panic attacks and anxiety after it and not retaining information” explains Ann-Marie who has been working full-time with meningitis charity ACT for Meningitis since 2013.

A Parent’s Story

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In November 2012 Mags Smart dropped her six month old baby Ruairí to crèche. She was planning her family trip to England which was due to take place in the coming days, yet when she got the phone call that Ruairí had not eaten his lunch she was taken aback as he was always “a big eater”. In typical meningitis fashion Ruairí’s symptoms didn’t appear until it was too late to act.

“He became more lethargic so we brought him to the hospital where the team acted really swiftly but it was about 9 or 10 o’clock that evening that Ruairí deteriorated. Wexford General didn’t have an ICU so he was transferred to Temple Street the next morning, but died later that day” says Mags.

Ruairí’s form of meningitis wasn’t covered in the vaccination scheme, a fact which surprised Mags at the time as she thought all strains of meningitis were covered.

“92 strains are covered but Ruairí’s wasn’t covered. You think your kids are protected but you don’t realise and you like to think you’re educated so there was that feeling of stupidity afterwards. To me meningitis was an old disease because I thought the vaccines covered everything”

According to MSF meningitis is the biggest killer of under five year old’s in Ireland and is not surprisingly the most feared illness amongst parents of young children. Although a vaccine was introduced by Minister Simon Harris in 2016 to protect against meningitis B for infants born on or after October 1 2016, Siobhan Carroll of ACT said that it is not fair that some infants in a family will be able to get the vaccine but their siblings may not.

Know your instincts

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Siobhan Carroll set up Act for Meningitis in response to her daughter Aoibhe dying of the illness in 2008 at the young age of four. The charity promotes awareness of the condition and launched a beermat campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms amongst students.

There’s not one person in the world that doesn’t need to know about meningitis and you can get it more than once. It presents as the worst hangover in the world. You know your own body, be assertive and if ringing a doctor tell them that you suspect this person has meningitis” urges Siobhan.

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ACT provides support services for people who have been affected by meningitis including counselling, family days, play therapy and home visits. Siobhan explains how she never wants a parent to suffer the same turmoil that she and her husband have experienced following the death of their beloved daughter.

“Within six hours of being sick my little girl had gone. If we had more information my husband often wonders if Aoibhe could’ve survived. We are not here to scare people, we just want to raise awareness that it can strike at any time, so know your instincts”