Monday, March 29, 2010

Our New Bread-Maker - a Paean to Culinary Revolution

Last week Lidl - that bastion of bargain-basement German discounts - had a bread-maker for sale on its deals of the week and as usual I saw it in the weekly flyer a few days before it went on sale. I'd never had a bread-making machine before, always priding myself on being the ultimate bread maker and baker since I'd had no choice in the matter during our years abroad where fresh bread was only feasible when it was home-baked. So it was time to embrace change and go for the techie option.

I think there was a certain element of grandstanding and a little snob value attached to being a slave to the kneading and proving and re-kneading and re-proving and getting a great result wasn't always guaranteed. Certainly in the tropics a lot depended on having quality ingredients which wasn't always a given.

We had flour from wheat that grew in Njombe in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania and a 90kg bag would be brought home whenever we had the chance to visit our Concern friends there in the early '80s (we were then with the Lutheran World Federation in the Burundi refugee settlements in Rukwa Region of Western Tanzania). This sack of wheat had to be sun-dried to rid it of the weevils that invariably invaded the grain. Then it was brought to the local maize mill to be ground into coarse wheatflour. We tried to battle further weevil infestation by milling the wheat in small 5 or 10 kilo batches, and keeping it in the chest freezer. As this freezer tended to chill rather than freeze, as we only had electricity generated for 9 out of 24 hours, it was more a chest fridge than freezer, albeit erratic even at that!

It did keep the flour dormant - or the creepy-crawlies! Nonetheless, we had to sieve the flour prior to making bread or cakes, as there was always the possibility of few rogue larvae camouflaged in the flour. Logic allowed us to eat the bread undisturbed by its parasite potential as we figured it was a) well cooked at high temperature and b) the extra protein couldn't be too bad, and c) lots of people were happily eating such "bush tucker" with no ill-effects and some had a certain cachet in tribal circles - such as the "ssenene" or grasshoppers that were a delicacy ranked with the flying termites in haute cuisine circles.

But I digress - this was supposed to be a post on our new bread maker. Well hubby Jan has taken to it with enthusiasm and it looks like we'll never want for fresh bread again, with all the delicious loaves he's made since Thursday last. I am delighted, as I was always a bit skeptical that a machine could equal or even surpass human endeavour. Here's one big climbdown from this convert - with all the attendant zeal of the convert I am happy to say that I love the bread maker and its produce!

I have watched in amazement at the different through-the-looking-lid stages of the process and it is basically the same stages as human endeavour with all the elbow grease removed. A standard loaf takes about 3 hours to bake from scratch, and includes two or three provings with plenty of kneading; and to my surprise and delight, the wonderful yeasty smell of the rising dough and the baking bread aroma wafting through the house is enough to send any estate agent staging a house for sale into ecstasies!

The machine is programmed to deal with 12 different functions including every imaginable bread type - white, brown, French, gluten-free, sweet, buttermilk, dough, pasta and cake - and then to cap it all it makes jam! I haven't even gone down that route yet but it promises to be great fun trying out all the permutations.

Any of you readers who have bread makers will be familiar with all this magic and have a good laugh at my naive wonder at the scope of our new toy - but I have been enjoying the end results for the past few days, and so too has our old friend Tandy who's visiting from London and Papua-New Guinea for a few days while we bridge the past 16 years since we last met in Tanzania.

She and I (me?) were dab hands at bread baking for all the years it was a necessary task in Africa in the absence of any bakeries in most places, while half-decent bakeries in Iringa were thin on the ground. We had one Greek bakery which made a dense white bread, whose shape was the only resemblance it bore to a baguette. It was nice bread only on the day of baking and didn't reach our exacting standards so our own bread won the day hands down.

Bread is such an emotive food - across religions you have unleavened and leavened bread, Communion bread, bread of life - it epitomises so much and is a food common to all cultures, from the chappati to the tortilla, soda and yeast bread, and breaking bread is a universal gesture of acceptance of the stranger in our midst. Long may it continue to symbolise hospitality and the Céad Míle Fáilte in our house.

The photos show the machine before and after operation, the end product both in and out of the tin and being enjoyed with the ubiquitous cuppa tea, the control panel and the packaging

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Devonshire Day 2010 in Lismore Castle - can Spring be this far behind?

Last year I posted about Devonshire Day 2009 and had some wonderful photos of the spring gardens in Lismore Castle. This year couldn't have been a greater contrast. If you link back to the 2009 post you'll see what I mean - we had a beautiful day for the garden tours and the gardens were a blaze of spring colour with daffodils and crocuses, magnolia, camellia and rhododendrons in full bloom. By contrast, this year was a monochrome of dull khaki green/brown all over the gardens, a legacy of the "Big Freeze" of the winter of 2009/10. We are still reeling from the impact of the cold, in that the gardens of Ireland (and I'm sure further afield) are about a month behind their normal growth, and many plants will have been killed by the sub-zero temperatures that are so unusual for our normally temperate climate.

The Gulf Stream seems to have abandoned us this past winter and the coldest temperatures on record were reached, practically tropical by some of your standards - like minus 15 degrees Centigrade in some places - but this was more than enough to wreak havoc with our sub-tropical palms and grasses.

In our own garden a nice palm in a pot has been destroyed, along with a couple of palms that can survive minus 5 degrees Centigrade but won't make it through the summer. Our banana plants may well make it as they are supposed to withstand cold (in the roots anyway, as the foliage and stalks die off every year at the first frost and it's lovely to see them grow as the summer kicks in - even if it's only nominal like 2009 "summer" - the monsoon rains certainly encouraged the banana to grow even if nothing that should have grown didn't - like our apples!)

So I will show you some of the photos of Devonshire Day - gardens, farmers' market, Pugin Room, the Yellow Jackets, Shayne & Jany and Sofia, and Paxton's greenhouse/vinery and you can see for yourself the difference between last year and now. The magnolia buds are out but tightly closed, and the camellias are likewise. No daffodils are yet open - not sure what the Welsh kids did on March 1st as on St. David's Day everyone is usually festooned in leeks and daffodils, as were our kids when we lived near Swansea over 20 years ago. This year must have been the year of the Leek!

For those new to this blog - Devonshire Day is an annual fundraiser for the Immrama Festival of Travel Writing to be held in Lismore in mid-June. The Pugin Room of Lismore Castle is the venue for a lovely Devonshire Cream Tea served up by the butlers of the owner, the Duke of Devonshire (who lives at his main gaff at Chatsworth in Derbyshire but whose son William, Lord Burlington, is now the main man in Lismore Castle. They have another place at Bolton Abbey.)

There are five groups of about sixty people who come for the tea and a guided tour of the spring gardens, hosted by the head gardener, Chris Tull. Chris is a mine of information on all things horticultural and arboreal, and he gives a talk on the history of the Pugin Room and the gardens with the Joseph Paxton greenhouse in the context of the castle today where it is an income-generating posh B&B - if you have to ask how much, you probably can't afford to stay here - but for those who ask, it's about €30-35,000 for a week for a party of 12. So now you know - get booking! There are talks on the history of Lismore and the Castle also from Bernard Leddy, the current Mayor of Lismore who's also the Chairman of Immrama, and Peter Dowd, the President of Immrama, both of whom have a store of knowledge of local history and the captive audience are generally captivated and enthralled by the wealth of information they get while they enjoy their cuppa and cream scones.

As my role in the proceedings is to don a Hi-Viz jacket and wield a First-Aid kit, and be the Health & Safety person who accompanies the groups on their walkabout, ready to minister to any who fall by the wayside, I get a lot of photo opportunities and also chat to a lot of people who come from amazingly far and wide for the day, which by now has attained notoriety and fame. Every session (at roughly hourly intervals) except the first (too early for some!) was fully booked and a number of punters were turned away disappointed as the castle couldn't accommodate more than around sixty per group. Hubby Jan as Immrama administrator is one of the main organisers of the event and does duty (also tastefully clad in yellow) at the gate.

The day marked the inaugural day of the Lismore Farmers' Market which will run each Sunday until November. It is held in the Castle Avenue before the Riding House, a spectacular venue for a Farmers' Market as it is really beautiful and has a very French feel to it, and the variety of stalls increases every year, from Ballycotton Fish to handcrafted cards and soaps to home-cooked produce, baked and jammed and grilled - delicious fast food in the Naked Lunch van which does Spicy Lamb burgers to die for - and terrific plants and shrubs from the gardening stalls. Many of these stall-holders do the rounds of the markets and can be found in Dungarvan Square on Thursdays, but Lismore can't be beaten for location!

Despite the late spring's impact on the gardens, the feedback from the day from the punters was incredibly positive; most people were delighted to have tea in the Pugin Room which is normally closed to the public, and the guided tours are beloved of the gardeners among the visitors. There are numerous sculptures in the gardens including one of Antony Gormley's ubiquitous body sculptures of himself.

The ticket includes entry to the Lismore Heritage Centre which houses the Robert Boyle Museum Room, he of Boyle's Law fame (no I don't quite get it but I gather he's called the Father of Modern Chemistry for it) and he has huge castle links as it was the Boyle-Cavendish union that resulted in the castle being in the Devonshire estate.

Another point of interest this year was the link with the Hollywood blockbuster "The Duchess" with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, about the life of Georgiana Spencer (yes, an ancestor of Lady Di Spencer - what convoluted webs the aristocracy weave!) who was a former Duchess of Devonshire, an inveterate gambler and unhappily married woman who bore more than a passing resemblance in beauty and lifestyle to her illustrious descendant.) Also, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey for ITV was filmed in the Castle; all the scenes of the Abbey were filmed here, and locals have great fun identifying the places shown and the extras from the town!

I hope I've given a sense of the day - even though I wrote about it last year, this is so different it warranted a post of its own. The castle features in a lot of the events of the town, as the owners are keen to be involved in the area and make it available as a community resource quite often, as they do for Immrama, and for various charity gigs, like the annual fashion show for West Waterford Hospice, and a classical music concert for the local primary school to be held in April. The launch of Immrama has been held here, as was the launch of the Waterford Festival of Food, and an annual Carol Concert series is held every December, another charity event.

The gardens and Castle Arts gallery are open until October and the main exhibition in the Gallery will be opening in April or May. I see Sotheby's Irish Sale Preview will happen again this year as it's a great chance to view some classy art in a wonderful setting, even if it'll never grace my own walls - I can enjoy the visit and hope the works will end up in an Irish gallery for everyone's enjoyment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Buns - Irish Style: Variations on a Theme

I've been meaning to get back to blogging baking recipes again lately but what with all that's gone on in my life recently it's only now I am getting down to blogging again - I find it relaxing and there's a certain therapeutic quality to sitting down writing something even as mundane as a simple recipe.

I always find the act of baking therapeutic in itself and even made a batch of buns the day after my mother passed away, just to do something "normal" as well as to have them in the house for the visitors who called over the weekend.

I made more buns yesterday and wondered what exactly they were - I use the term buns advisedly - in Ireland it's almost a generic term that covers all baked sweet small individual cakes. (I came across this link which seems to have a greengrocer's apostrophe crisis with its "bun's" - maybe they're being ironic and I'm missing the joke or just being a grammar pedant again!)

The photos show the finished products on the plate before and after icing the plain buns, how they looked before baking, and my infamous silicone cases.

What I did - Ingredients and Method

I made a batch of standard Victoria Sponge mix thus:

8ozs/250gm vanilla sugar (I keep a Kilner jar with a few Vanilla Pods inside topped up with sugar),
8 ozs/250gm flour (Self-Raising or Plain with added Baking Powder - 3 teaspoons) and
8 ozs/250gm softened butter,
4 eggs -

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a hand mixer or a stand-mounted mixer - or by hand if you have time and energy!

I used ordinary Fairy Cake/Cupcake tins with paper cases. (I have a number of colourful silicone cupcake cases but after Ben the dog ate 3 of them some time back -he was after the buns inside but didn't discriminate as he always ate the paper cases without incident - and the silicone took 3 days to be thrown up (apologies for the graphic detail) it's made me extremely cautious about using silicone anywhere within his range again!!)

Then it's time to get creative with this basic recipe.

1. I made one plain batch of Fairy/Cup Cakes for Dear Sons who adore them with lashings of thick plain glacé icing (frosting for those readers across the Atlantic!) and sprinklies (Hundreds & Thousands) - a throwback to their childhood birthday parties in Africa and Asia which always featured plates piled high with such cakes.

2. Another batch I turned into Madeira Cherry buns by adding a bit more flour to the mix and a little hot water to maintain the consistency at soft dropping from a spoon. I spooned this into the cases and stuck three glacé cherries on top. When they bake, the cherries sink into the mix which make for a bit of fun as you're never sure if you're eating a plain bun or will bite on a delicious cherry!

3. To the final batch I just added another tablespoon of flour and some milk to give a muffin-y mixture. I mixed in a handful of chocolate chips (plain or milk according to taste) and then sprinkled some more on top.

4. Other options for the basic fairy cake would be
a) to add dessicated coconut and spread strawberry jam and some dessicated coconut on top - delicious!
b) to make Butterfly Buns - slice off top of bun, cut in half, put a dollop of strawberry jam and whipped cream on cake and top with the "wings" cut from bun top
3) to make Mini-Bakewell Tarts - follow this recipe I blogposted last year.

Everything was baked at 200 degrees Centigrade for about 10 minutes, turning down the heat to 150 degrees for about another 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on them if you have a glass doored oven as they can burn in a heartbeat and it really ruins them so these times are fine for my oven but check yours as it may be a bit temperamental.

Enjoy the results with a nice cuppa tea - or coffee or your favourite beverage - ideally in front of the fire with a good book or watching some guilty pleasure on the telly - Desperate Housewives anyone?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Celebrations - Past and Present

I know it's a few days after St. Patrick's Day and I don't really have a lot to write about it as I posted last year also on the National Holiday - suffice to say that this year I went to two parades - one in Cappoquin, which is fairly new to parades, and Dungarvan which has been running forever and is very similar year after year. Cappoquin has only been running parades for the past year or two so it is still in its infancy and there's great credit due to the organisers for such great enthusiasm.

The parade was on at 12.30pm and teen daughter was in the Lismore Foróige Club group - that's the National Youth Development Organisation, which runs Youth Clubs at local level and provides training and leadership skills to young people and the club leaders. So they were all kitted out with logo-ed T-shirts and marched through Cappoquin. I took some photos and videoclips and hope they give a sense of the day. As Cappoquin is twinned with a French town, Chanat-la-Mouteyre, they had a French element in the parade and these "French" folk gave out free French Onion Soup and yummy cheese and baguettes to all comers - a lovely gesture that beat the free cuppa tea in Dungarvan!

You may wonder where's the spirit of St. Patrick? As most of you who know the way these parades go, they are a celebration of things local and Irish, a showcase for all kinds of local talent - bands, Irish dancers, community groups and clubs, as well as local sponsors of floats - so it can be quite a hotchpotch of displays and groups on the march.

The best float (which was in both parades) was the Tiger Woods PGA Tour - you can see the photo of the car crash on the flatbed truck here - it was very funny and was done by a group from Melleray who always excel at creativity when it comes to floats and fancy dress. The PGA in this instance bears no reference to golf in the acronym if you can read what's on the photo!

There were some lovely set dancers from Cappoquin and I have a video clip which I will add here, as well as a clip of the parade.

There are usually a selection of local dignitaries on stage - which is often a mobile stage in the town square (in the past it was often a trailer or the back of a lorry but these days they tend to be purpose-built mobile units, albeit on the back of a lorry!) In Cappoquin the County Mayor was at the parade, as she is from there, and this year the County Councillors made a great show of not going to New York as they had done in more boom times, given that these trips were generally roundly condemned as worthless junkets by the taxpayers and electorate of the county.

Nationally there are huge parades in the main cities, with Festivals lasting up to a week in Dublin, where there are spectacular Skyfest fireworks displays as well as the trad parade. I used to love the Dublin parade when the kids were small and we went whenever we were in Dublin on the day.

Of course Paddy's Day is a much bigger event for expat Irish and when we lived abroad we celebrated with great gusto, with Embassy bashes and black-tie balls in Dar-es-Salaam, while Concern seemed the natural organisation to lead the partying in any other workplace, like Iringa in Tanzania and Vientiane in Laos. In our early days in Bangladesh Concern always hosted the official Paddy's Day party while the British High Commission put on a formal evening around the actual day to mark the occasion as we had no Embassy in Dhaka and were under the protection of the High Commissioner (for those who don't know, the High Commissioner is like the Ambassador but only in the Commonwealth Countries - so that included Bangladesh and Tanzania.

Of course the Irish do know how to party and my most memorable Paddy's Day has to be the one we hosted in our home in Vientiane for everyone or so it seemed - we had a wonderful garden for parties and it was swelteringly hot and humid, we had a band and green beer, and lots of Irish Dancing which became increasingly rowdy and most un-Riverdance-like as the night wore on. At another Lao Paddy's Day party I remember coming home in a Mini with 10 people including a number of children standing up with their heads out the sunroof! Not something to contemplate in this day and age, but that was another time and place.

I hope you all had a great day wherever you were celebrating - it seems like a lot of blogposts have been written about the day so this reflection is just a tad late. I seem to be running to stand still these days!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blog Awards 2010 update - I made the Shortlist !

For those who remember my delight some time ago when I was nominated in two categories for the Irish Blog Awards 2010, I can tell you how pleased I was to see that I made the shortlist in the same two categories - Best Food & Drink and Best Personal Blog. Thanks a lot to all the sponsors, particularly of both "my" categories - Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) and Microsoft Ireland's Developer and Platform Group which seems to be a very techie blog.

I really was surprised as I think there were over a hundred nominees in the Personal Blog Longlist, so it's a great buzz to make the final 25 in the shortlist, and likewise with the Food &Drink category. As mine has a pretty eclectic mix, and is not strictly a foodie blog, I had to self-select which category to stay with "going forward" (my most hated jargon phrase if I was to name one - I abhor it and its use here comes with a Reader Guidance - Irony Advisory!) if multi-category-nominated, so I selected the Personal Blog one.

I have no idea what happens next, but I would be very surprised to get any further, as I presume many multi-category bloggers will gravitate towards the Personal list which must result in more thinning out. In any event, I was very grateful to have been longlisted, let alone shortlisted, so my ego will cope fine with such an accolade even if it marks the end of the road for this blogger's debut into Oscar territory.

The fact that the awards ceremony is held in a posh Galway hotel really raises the bar - as well as so many questions - does one have to be physically present at the awards? Or is it acceptable to be a virtual presence? Is a speech mandatory for the tearful winner? Is there a cringe factor for said speech? Like a 45-second time limit? What about the anonymity factor beloved of so many bloggers? Do they have a virtual bag over their heads or a type of Venetian mask if they are called on the night?

Answers on a (virtual) postcard please - or just in the comments below.

Oh - and the nominees in the two Shortlists are:

Best Personal Blog

– Sponsored by Microsoft Ireland’s Developer and Platform Group

Best Food/Drink Blog

– Sponsored by Bord Bia

Go check them out - it's well worth the effort.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Returning to a kind of normality...

After my last posts about my mother's passing I am slowly getting back to some kind of routine and normal life again - does that sound cold? It is certainly not meant to be but the last few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster, with Sofia's birth and Ma's death in the space of a month, and now after a week of bereavement leave from work I felt ready to go back. There are good things about the public sector besides job security - the 5 day leave for a parent or very close relative is so needed - I wouldn't have been able to cope with going back any sooner.

Yesterday was the hurdle I was most dreading - what would I do with my day now that the focus of visiting Ma in my lunch hour and after work was gone? I braced myself to visit the unit where she'd lived out her last three and a half years in St. Joseph's Hospital in Dungarvan and it was not as bad as I'd thought - the staff were so welcoming and genuinely warm, and they made collecting her trinkets so much easier than I'd anticipated.

I will treasure these - a family photo and presents we brought from our trips to Spain in recent years, including snow globes of the Black Madonna of Montserrat and La Sagrada Familia, and her flamboyant beads - she loved costume jewellery and always festooned herself with colourful necklaces. There are great memories and we'll always be grateful for those - and bereavement is a long slow process that can't be hurried - I know it'll be easier to manage with all the support and love of my dear hubby and the family - where would I be without you all?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Farewell Tribute to my Beloved Mother

Last Friday, March 5th, the day I had been dreading my whole life came when my beloved mother passed away - after lingering on for two weeks from the first call from the hospital to say that she was slowly slipping, she finally and peacefully breathed her last, and I was glad to be there in her final hours. She was a great age, in her 90s, and she had lived through so much that I think anyone would be challenged to deal with all she had to cope with in her life. It was great that she lived to meet her great-granddaughter Sofia and this photo, taken the previous Saturday, is one we will always treasure as the whole family surround her for what we knew in our hearts would be a final farewell from our children and Sofia.

I won't go into minutiae here but in a nutshell, she was born during Ireland's colonial era, in the year before the Easter Rising, and she was a child during the struggle for Independence and the Civil War years. Her parents came from Tipperary and Kerry, and my grandfather was a master tailor who had a business in Lismore, to where he moved in 1909. They knew tragedy as they lost their firstborn child, Jack, before his second birthday, a few months before my mother was born. They later had another child, Paddy, who died in 1984 in his late 60s, much too young. My mother was so lucky to live into her 90s and as she was well and active up to her late 80s we have few regrets. She had dementia in the last few years and barely knew me or the family in the past year or more, which made for a long goodbye, and it is difficult now to recall when she started forgetting who we were, it was so gradual a decline.

She married relatively late in life, and was widowed only four years later, when I was nearly three. She was then pregnant and my baby sister also died at a few weeks of age, which was a double whammy for her. She'd lived in Dublin when married, but moved back to her family home here in Lismore to take care of her widowed mother until her death some years later. So there was only Ma and me for most of my life, which made us extra close. Of course in my teenage years that level of closeness was claustrophobic in that she kept far too close an eye on me, keeping my wings clipped beyond what I felt was justifiable - as a mother of a teenager now I can totally empathise!

She was extremely unselfish without being a guilt-tripping martyr, as she gave me her blessing in most of my wayward ventures over the years. It can't have been easy for her to see me leave home at 17 for nursing school in Dublin, and even harder to see me leave for Bangladesh five years later. Communications weren't what they are now, with email and blogging and Facebook, so we probably had three or four phone calls home in that two year period, each of which entailed pre-booking the calls a couple of days in advance. On the plus side, we have a wonderful archive of letters as she kept every one of my letters, as I did hers, which give a great narrative of both our lives as she was a wonderful letter-writer. I owe her for any skill I have in that line, even though I rarely write letters nowadays, having diversified into email and blogging, with the odd bit of memoir writing along the way.

I returned to Ireland with a Dutchman in tow, and she welcomed her future son-in-law as the son she never had, despite the misgivings she must have had before meeting him. They remained close right to the end, a period spanning almost three decades. Jan wrote a beautiful eulogy which he read after her funeral Mass and which moved the congregation to tears and laughter in equal measure. He's agreed for me to post it as a permanent memento to Ma, and I hope it conveys what he intended it to be - a fitting tribute to a great lady. I will post it in a separate post as it deserves its own space.

Her four grandchildren and her brand-new great-granddaughter Sofia are her legacy and I know our children loved her as she was an indulgent and loving granny who wasn't beyond telling me how best to raise them. She must have had lonely days as most of our lives were spent overseas in development work, yet she had a generous and kind heart and was very proud of our work for the less well-off. We came home every year from Africa for a month or more, so she could see her grandchildren growing up, and she was delighted when we moved to Ireland for good in 1997. She spent a lot of time with us between Lismore and Dublin where she went back to live in 1978 when I went to Bangladesh, as she loved the buzz of life in the city. She lived there until 2002 when she moved back to assisted living in Lismore and gradually as she got more frail she moved into increasingly dependent care, and ended her days in St. Joseph's Hospital in Dungarvan, where she had excellent loving care right to the end from the wonderful nursing and care staff, all of whom I am proud to call colleagues.

"May Quinn was a lady" - that's what I kept hearing over the days of the funeral - in the typical Irish tradition it took place over three days. It was a traditional Catholic funeral for a woman to whom her faith and religion meant everything over her lifetime, and she would have been delighted to see all the old-timers who came to pay their respects. Not that there were too many of them as she had outlived most of her peer group, and we often laughed about that together in her good days. She was a very stylish lady indeed - she loved her style in clothes and make-up, and often despaired at my total lack of interest in clothes and style as she saw it; jeans were anathema to her and she always wanted to give me a makeover, about which we had many a laugh. She was struck with the odd pangs of Catholic guilt for what she said was her vanity, but thankfully it never lasted too long!

For those who aren't familiar with the Irish funeral ritual - she was brought to the funeral home where Rosary was said the first night, and then the Removal to the church took place on the second night, when people came to pay their respects to us all. She remained before the altar until the Requiem Mass on the third morning, after which she was buried in the local cemetery with her beloved parents, on a beautifully sunny, cold and cloudless spring day . When I sit in our sunroom or on the patio I can see the yew trees of the graveyard behind our house, separated by a field from the end of our garden.

So while it is a sad time for me and all the family - it's been cathartic to write this as I am at home on a week's bereavement leave from work - and I hope she is looking down from her heaven on all her family and loved ones, and continuing to give me her blessing for these few words in her honour. I am proud to be her daughter and to have known such a wonderful mother, and I know the rest of the family will miss her as I do and we will long treasure the wonderful memories she left us.

Thank you Ma - we love you and will miss you always.

Jan’s Eulogy for my Mother, at her Funeral Mass on 8th March 2010

In September 1980 I was on the bus into Dublin having just arrived from Holyhead and on my way to meet my future mother in law for the first time. It was way after midnight as the boat had been delayed. Catherine and myself had met some 18 months previously in Bangla Desh both of us working for Concern. Catherine had returned home some 4 months previously and I was going to join her in Dublin, but I had never met Ma and I doubted whether arriving at 2 or 3 in the morning would be a good start. I shouldn't have had any doubts because Ma received me with open arms and treated me then and after that as her son. Looking back at that, it must not have been easy for her, Ma was a deeply religious person and her church was very much her guide in life. The Catholic Dutch at that time were considered a very liberal lot not to speak of the Dutch Protestants.

Ma lived in the house in Dublin she and her husband had moved into at the start of their marriage in 1954 which had been so short-lived when after barely 4 years her husband passed away. She shortly thereafter also lost her second child. Times were not easy and Ma decided then to return to Lismore where she was born and where her mother still lived. Ma moved back to Dublin in 1978 when Catherine started working with Concern and loved living in the city and being close to her favourite church in Gardiner street, which she visited twice daily.

Ma was a very private person and above all a lady and was very proud of her appearance and looked years younger than her actual age. This was one of her big secrets and it took me a considerable time to find out her real age. The way I found out was typical of Ma, she just informed me she had a buspass, and I had to ask Catherine what that meant.

For us though, Ma had also a caring side, it was only recently we found out that while in Dublin she was in the Legion of Mary, going around the flats in North- Dublin in the eighties was not an easy thing to do. Ma was receiving a non-contributory pension and lived very prudently and was satisfied with the basics in life and little luxury, she was very fond of her television and specifically Coronation street and Eastenders. With her generous heart, when there was the Ethiopian famine in Africa she gave everything she had then to Concern, because as she said the people in Africa needed it more than herself.

Ma had also a fun side like the day she when, already well into her eighties, she decided to have a go at the swing in the garden. And she did, not a gentle swing as one would expect from a lady of her age but gave it a real go.

Sometimes though times would catch up with her and when she told us that drivers in the cars were shouting and honking at her, we had to gently remind her that that was not because of her young appearance and good looks but that the yellow boxes on the street junctions were not pedestrian crossings.

Thank you Ma, Thank you for your care, Thank you for being part of our lives and Thank you for the memories which we will treasure forever. We are sure that you are now where you hoped your faith would bring you.

We all will treasure these memories and we are sure that Ma is now in the place she hoped her faith would bring her.

I would like to thank Father Cullinan for his lovely service, the altar boys and girls for their lovely assistance and Pat and Kevin Ryan for making all the arrangements, all of you made this difficult day a little bit less difficult.

A special word of thanks for the staff of St. Cathages home and Conna nursing home for their care of Ma when her health started to decline and a very special thanks to the staff of St. Josephs Hospital in Dungarvan specifically the Sacred Heart Unit, where Ma spent her last few years. Your care and compassions went way beyond your duties and I have often remarked to Catherine that Ma must have felt to be in heaven already especially when you gave her chocolate, because she loved her chocolate.

Finally I would like to thank you all for your support and compassion in the last few days and would like to invite you all to Ballyrafter House Hotel after the burial.