Mary Kenny: Dublin in the rare auld times
What would our modern visitors think if they could travel back in time and visit Dublin 60 years ago? Well, I've just happened upon a guide to our capital city published in 1957, by an Anglo-Irish writer...
What would our modern visitors think if they could travel back in time and visit Dublin 60 years ago? Well, I've just happened upon a guide to our capital city published in 1957, by an Anglo-Irish writer...
Many writers have featured cats in their prose (or poetry): T.S. Eliot, Colette, P.G. Wodehouse, and a beguiling little cat appears in the first pages of Joyce's Ulysses. But maybe the most chilling feline story was written by the Gothic novelist Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat. It is a truly terrible tale -...
Have you ever considered walking out of your marriage or relationship? Have you ever had a career crisis where you thought "I've missed my vocation"? Have you ever asked "what should I do with my life?" Most people probably have.
Ever since I was made aware that folks from the city on the Foyle favoured different names for their home town ("Do you come from Derry?" "Yes, I come from Londonderry") I have believed that people should be called whatever the heck they like. So I have no problem with the transgender...
I felt sorry for Theresa May during the turbulent month of June because she was so widely blamed for having the wrong kind of personality. The British prime minister had a bad election campaign, seeming arrogant, aloof and unable to connect with people - so unlike her Labour rival, Jeremy Corbyn. She was savaged for not responding more spontaneously to the dreadful Kensington inferno at Grenfell Tower - while Mr Corbyn knew, instinctively, you just go to suffering victims and hug them. It's not Theresa's way. She can't.
An animal charity in Britain, Spana, has found that half of adults over the age of 50 think that life was better in the past - only 19pc like it better today. But there are pros and cons in this debate, surely…
Since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, London's Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is seen as a "metaphor for inequality". There's always been a posh element of London W8 and London W11, but extremes of health and deprivation have undoubtedly intensified since I lived there, first in the 1960s, and then the 1980s and '90s.
In the latter years of his life, my husband used to greet breathless announcements of new developments and events with the philosophical words: "'Twas ever thus!" In old age, you see the same themes of life returning as if in a cycle.
Ah, Dún Laoghaire! It seemed like a glittering jewel from the Côte d'Azur in our childhood, whither we would travel on the CIE train, which preceded the Dart, to swim in those fabled Dún Laoghaire baths, and afterwards to partake of an ice-cream at the immortal Teddy's, served by the very dapper Teddy himself. On Sundays, it was my mother's pleasure to walk the length of the Dún Laoghaire pier, there to look out to sea mistily, pondering on the oceans further away, just as in the opening pages of Ulysses.
Mothers and daughters: daughters with their mothers: that was one of the most striking images that emerged from the terrible Manchester atrocity. Ariana Grande's concert attracted, overwhelmingly, an audience of young people - which turned a wicked massacre into a tragedy of even greater dimensions - but it was evident that the family attendance was inter-generational.
Laura Bates's Everyday Sexism Project is a mission to document the varieties of sexism to which women are subjected in many countries. She's had an enormous response online and the book she wrote about the humiliations endured by respondents makes for depressing reading. Her reports on 'street harassment' alone make you wonder if the Victorians weren't right in providing chaperones for young ladies.
Feuds between sisters are well enough known: the movie stars Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland maintained a sisterly quarrel all their lives. The writers Margaret Drabble and her sister A.S. (Antonia) Byatt only meet - acknowledging each other with a formal nod - at funerals, never...
It's a sad fact of life that the older you get, the more likely you are to fall. And not in a good way, like falling in love, or falling (as they say) pregnant. I mean tumbling to the ground because you've lost your balance.
Feminists all over the world clamour that "more women's voices must be heard". More women's voices in science, on business boards, in academia, in the media, and, above all, in politics. However, no feminists I can trace have praised the French Presidential candidate Marine le Pen as representing an advance for women's voices in politics. As Marion Anne Perrine le Pen has led the National Front party, and thus "the extreme far right", she is never seen as a role-model for women and she is not supported by feminist groups.
When I open my email these days, I find it flooded with various commercial offers. Especially around cannabis products. Now is the right moment, I'm informed, to invest in cannabis. It's getting legal everywhere! It's a profitable product -and, besides, it helps with a range of illnesses "including chronic pain, anxiety, arthritis, diabetes, PTSD, strokes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer".
It's almost a cliché now to describe Theresa May as "the vicar's daughter": but it's an essential element of who she is, and she has frequently referred to herself in that way. The key to her character and formation is, indeed, the Church of England: Michael Gove has even referred to her as "Britain's first Catholic Prime Minister" because her background was High Church (and she also attended a convent school for a time).
Matchmaking today is done often via the internet - often successfully too - but previously, it was the job of the matchmakers either in person or through "marriage bureaux". London's best-known - and first official - marriage agency was started by Heather Jenner and her business partner Audrey Parsons in 1939 and the archives they left behind are a priceless record of how men and women looked for partners over the next decade.
If anyone plays Frank Sinatra's My Way at my funeral, I'll be mortified in more senses than one - the embarrassment of anyone finding out that secretly I rather loved this mawkish, self-pitying and self-justifying song, composed just 50 years ago. It's shamefully bombastic as it boasts and brags of the ego's achievements in "planning each chartered course", sometimes biting off "more than I could chew": but always standing tall and doing it "my way". It's been called "shamelessly self-mythologising" and "lamentable" by music critics. And yet, I have to admit, it gets to me every...
I was in Paris on the day that British Prime Minister Theresa May started the procedure to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union - the famous "triggering of Article 50" - and the air was thick with discussion among the political classes. The theme of 'perfide Albion' came up more than once, though no one quite recalled that General de Gaulle predicted Britain would never fit into a continental club anyway.
A young man came to see me recently for what I thought was a business meeting. When I saw that he was wearing track suit trousers and a T-shirt, I knew the deal was off. If he was serious about the project he'd have been less casual in his semiotics (the study of signs and signals and their interpretation).
There's a contemporary adage about political debates that whoever first brings up a Nazi comparison in an argument, loses the argument. Nothing compares to the Nazi crimes and anyone who tries to inflate their talking-point by doing so seems absurd and insensitive.
Honestly, I do wish Prince Harry would hurry up and get married. I'm not that fussy who he marries - this Meghan lass seems to be his heartfelt choice - just so long as he provides the world at large with the general spectacle of a royal wedding.
Arlene Foster certainly broke a political glass ceiling in Belfast when she became the first woman chosen to lead the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in 2015, a movement whose founding father, Ian Kyle Paisley, seemed the very epitome of an Old Testament patriarch.
Our St Patrick's Day duties could be more onerous this year: a personal fáilte is surely due to the many individuals who have chosen to become Irish over the past nine months. I'm talking about those people who seldom previously thought of themselves as Irish who have applied for an Irish passport since the Brexit vote on June 23, 2016.
Here's a blinding flash of the obvious: a study carried out at the University of Edinburgh has found that people change over the course of their lives. Between the ages of 14 and 77, profound shifts of personality occur: individuals alter "beyond recognition", according to the Scottish project - which was led by Mathew Harris, an academic brainbox, and examined the mental health of Scots over six decades.
Where would we be without a little hypocrisy?
Jasmine works in a supermarket where she has the responsible job of checking that the items are always correctly priced. She is in her 30s and has been living with her boyfriend for a few years now, and to her great delight, in May of this year, they'll be getting married.
Developments in contraception are constantly in progress, and the boffins seem optimistic with the latest breakthrough in male contraception - the "reversible vasectomy".
The smart advice used to be: "Never apologise, never explain". Apologies and explanations may only remind the offended party of the offence taken, thus re-inflaming the wound, and so make things worse.
There's one set of liberals who should be pleased - even jubilant - about the ascent of President Donald Trump: those who uphold and champion the benefits of divorce. During our several divorce referenda, liberals advanced the claim that divorce could be good (as against defenders of traditional marriage, who said it broke up families).
Every month I experience the "Common Travel Area" between Britain and Ireland which is now - rightly - upheld as such a necessary part of trade and economic relations.
That venerable national treasure, former senator Professor John A Murphy, has expressed concern we are moving into a new age of puritanism. This worries him, since he is old enough to remember the old puritanism when the word 'breast' could get a book banned and a Doris Day movie which contained the expletive "darn!" was registered as indecorous, if not actually shocking.
Apparently, Irish people are the slowest in Europe to switch banks. Even though "banksters", as they're now called, are often seen as baddies, there's a loyalty to our own bank. This could be a bit like the relationship with the Catholic Church: people rage against the "institution" and the hierarchy, but they often like their own neighbourhood priest and he's the first they turn to when there's a local tragedy.
The people of Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, surely deserve a round of applause for the way in which - so far - they have welcomed the prospect of 240 Syrian refugees being placed in their small town as an emergency measure.
It was the year that ushered in the word "surrealism" - coined by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. It was the year when Benito Mussolini, recovering from a war-wound, developed a special theory of populism: "a country needs, at its head, a man who knows the people as a friend, but directs and guides them".
My mother, though always courteous to individuals, didn't have a high opinion of the ordinary Englishman (or woman). She considered them a "dull" people, ground into cogs in a wheel by the industrial revolution, which required people to be dullards serving Mammon and master. This was in contrast to the imaginative and poetic Irish.
It's the story of the Cavan boy's picaresque adventures and it made me laugh more than anything else I read during 2016. I shrieked with merriment at some of John McEntee's stories as he went from apprentice on The Anglo-Celt newspaper to earning £100,000 a year as a London journalist when he "often woke up blinking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, thinking the champagne-fuelled carousel had finally stopped…
The woman's face was vaguely familiar to me as she hove into sight among the party's throng. "Ooh…..darling! Kiss, kiss, hug, hug!" she slurred. Oh dear: so early in the evening and she's already drunk. I'll never get a word of sense out of her, I thought.
Christmas is supposed to be about families - and of course it is. But it should also be about friends and friendship. The nice thing about all those Christmas cards - from the impressive and tasteful to the glittery and gaudy - is that they express friendliness, and often a desire to keep friendships alive.
When I was born, back in the 1940s, friends and family took pity on my mother, who was 42. "Poor Ita! Imagine having another child at her age! A dreadful burden!"
Women artists have often been overlooked - or under-rated - by history, so it is good to see the inspiring paintings of Lady Elizabeth Butler in the exhibition currently at Dublin's National Gallery, 'Creating History'.
So, as 2016 enters its last month, I ask myself - what did I learn this year?
A small, poor, fledgling state which has just defied the world's greatest empire needs all the friends it can get. No, I'm not referring to Cuba's defiance of the USA - though there are parallels - but the Irish Free State in 1923, after its separation from Great Britain, which at that time was an empire holding sway over a quarter of the globe.
What should you wear if invited to go shooting game in Scotland? Should a host give a tour of his stately home before sitting guests down to dinner? How much should one tip the servants after spending a weekend with friends in the country? I don't know anyone who is much disturbed by these questions, but the world of toffs is filled with anxious sorts who turn to Sir David Tang for nervous guidance on social matters and his advice has become renowned.
We all adore the wonderful Michael Fassbender: and I particularly adore him since he actually performed in a play of mine at Edinburgh. High point of my life. But do I want to take my "rules for living" from the adorable Fassbender? Probably not. I think I might pay more attention to Nietzsche ("Live dangerously!") or Wittgenstein.
Should we be sorry for Prince Harry? The 32-year-old is never going to be short of a few bob, and his life is unlikely to be troubled by anxiety about procuring a mortgage. On the other hand, he's always had to play 'the spare' to 'the heir'.
Do you have any old letters in the attic? Don't chuck them, keep them: they are social documents. They are voices from the past which may impart many lessons - some of them possibly embarrassing - but striking, just the same.
It might be a fun idea to be in London for a pre-Christmas shopping trip: what with the pound sterling almost heading for parity with the euro and all that...
Most commentators seemed to believe that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for the American presidential election in 2016: but the first doubt was planted in my own mind after a conversation in New York in the spring.
The Irish nationalist tradition has seldom favoured the ritual wearing of the poppy in November - it smacked of imperial militarism - so it is somewhat ironic that the 1916 commemoration emblem should now be inextricably linked with the right to wear a November poppy.
Does Bob Dylan merit the Nobel Prize for Literature? Is he really up there with Yeats, Hemingway, Solzhenitsyn, TS Eliot, and Heaney? The Swedish academy gave the award to the American balladeer "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition".
Dublin is a dynamic city, with new tram-tracks being laid, buildings going up and buildings coming down. And it's gratifying to think that a major building which will soon be under the wrecking ball is one voted by environmentalists "the worst building in Dublin", "an eyesore", and "a monstrosity". This is the concrete tower block already half-decayed and propped up with scaffolding, in Hawkins Street, adjacent to Poolbeg Street and the Liffey, which was once the site of the Theatre Royal.
Everyone seems to love Bridget Jones. The cinema was full - 98pc female - and the audience laughed, clapped and empathised with Bridget (the fabulous Renée Zellweger) and her zany antics. She drinks a bottle of vodka at a rock concert, falls on her face in the mud, and then falls into bed with a hunky stranger in his yurt.
A teenage mother was telling me she had two pregnancies before the age of 15, and I then ventured to ask if there had been any sex education at her school.
Both main contenders for the American presidency have faced fierce criticism - and there will be more of that this week for the TV debates. But let's give both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump a round of applause on one count anyway: both of them are past pensionable age and have at least shown the world that oldsters can cut the mustard on the campaign trail.
When older feminists get together, they will sometimes discuss "what development was the greatest benefit to women in our lifetime". Some name the Pill, some the motor car, some choose better education and career opportunities, some nominate equal pay: I would like to suggest that modern dentistry be added to the list.
Fans of Terry Wogan - or, as he is now described on this side of the pond, Sir Terence Wogan KBE DL - may set their diaries for September 27, when the great Limerick broadcaster will receive the final accolade that a nation's establishment can bestow: a formal memorial service at Westminster Abbey in London.
The doors of the old church were open, and you could see, even from outside, a blaze of candles by a side altar. I'd been told about the prayers and candles offered before the statue of St Rita, an Italian woman of renowned holiness (born in 1381), venerated in this seaside resort in Brittany. And between two stands of candles (the tapering kind, for €1, the longer-last candle, in a jar, €2), an open book of prayer requests.
World-wide, ever more people are against the death penalty - in America, state after state is removing execution from the statute books. But 70 years ago this autumn, the judges at Nuremberg - where 'crimes against humanity' and 'genocide' were first properly defined - unanimously decided that a dozen of the top Nazis should be sentenced to hang. Twenty four were tried, but 12, most famously the mad Rudolf Hess and Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, got custodial sentences.
Like so many Irish exiles, I always thought I would eventually return to live in Ireland once I was free to do so. My English husband was severely disabled for a long time, and, I thought, if he pre-deceased me, I would probably go back to live in Dublin. The latest statistics show that many of the Irish diaspora are indeed doing that. Conor Cruise O'Brien always spoke about the "pull of the...
'Yes," he says, "I am married, but sort of re-married, in a manner of speaking." He was a man in his 60s and he explained that he and his wife had been married, first, in their 20s. They'd had two children, but the marriage was turbulent and became hopelessly adversarial. So, in their middle 40s, they separated. They didn't get divorced because neither of them was looking to marry anyone else. Also, the husband had religious feelings and didn't want to embark on a divorce unless his wife demanded it, which she didn't.
One of the most enduring and iconic female novels of the twentieth century is essentially about an impressionable schoolgirl who, infused by the ardour of her teacher, runs away to join Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. And, indeed, the poor girl dies for her foolish and immature idealism.
Digs! There was a time when all students - and nearly all young people migrating to the city - went to live in "digs". And now, to relieve the dire shortage of accommodation in Dublin and Galway, the college authorities are recommending that students return to the system whereby they became lodgers in a family house. Back in the day, digs were run by a bean an tí - the landlady - who usually exercised a matriarchal discipline on her young tenants. There were rules and regs, and certain guidelines about morals and decorum.
Everyone loves butterflies - but moths? We tend to think of moths as our enemies - we buy moth repellent to kill off moths and their eggs, so that our winter woollies (they love cashmere) are protected from their depredations.
It's the ordinary Catholic in the pew you'd feel for, hearing about the alleged carry-on at Maynooth, learning, perhaps for the first time, that there is a "gay dating app" which trainee priests were allegedly in the habit of availing; and that the usually liberal Archbishop of Dublin seems to consider St Patrick's College - once the powerhouse of Catholic Ireland - such a worry that students have to be despatched to Rome to acquire their pastoral and theological training.
The best-known quotation from the economist John Maynard Keynes was: "In the long run, we are all dead." Critics of Keynes's more left-wing approach to capitalism have claimed that he said this because he was childless. A man with children and grandchildren would not have dismissed the long perspective so easily: he'd have been thinking of his descendants.
There will be many experts with many analyses of just why France is now the main target for Islamist atrocities, like the horrific event that occurred in Nice last Thursday night. But one theory advanced by the BBC's experienced security expert Frank Gardner is that the banning of the burqa - that full-cover garment some Muslim women wear - is a focus of alienation among France's five...
A few years ago, I spent an afternoon with David Davis - the new British Minister in charge of conducting the Brexit negotiations - and I thought him one of the most optimistic, grounded and positive politicians I have encountered. The optimism was particularly striking given his background. He was born to a single mother, Betty Brown, in York in 1948. His natural father abandoned...
Everyone seems to have a "bucket list" of goals they want to achieve and places they want to see before they die (or "kick the bucket", in the vernacular) but, necessarily, it grows narrower with age. "I don't want to travel just for the sake of going places," said the old chap next to me at a lunch. "I only want to go where there are people I know. Or that I have some connection with."
There were ructions all through last week after the Brexit referendum vote: I'm not talking about the politics but flaming rows between families, friends, colleagues. Last year, after the same-sex marriage referendum in Ireland, some anecdotal stories emerged about older people being put under pressure by their adult offspring to vote "yes". In the UK, it was something similar. One friend of mine was distressed when her son told her she had sabotaged his career and the prospects for her grandchildren (by voting Brexit) and he was never speaking to her again.
What would it be like if women ruled the world? The proposition has been made both as an ambitious feminist dream and as a misogynistic nightmare. There used to be at least one running joke about the dangers of a menopausal female head of state hitting the nuclear button in a hormonal bad mood.
Whatever our political views, surely any Irish person with a scintilla of the rebel streak must have some respect for the sheer cussedness, stubbornness and defiance of the almost 52pc of the British electorate who voted to leave the EU - despite all the big cheeses who tried to boss, bully and nag them not to do so?
How wonderful to see those happy, smiling Irish football fans in France for Euro 2016. A hundred years ago, how many similar young lads would be setting off for the killing fields of Flanders, to be slaughtered in their thousands at the terrible Battle of the Somme?
Did you see those lovely wedding pictures of happy, smiling Jerry Hall with her new groom, media magnate Rupert Murdoch? Apparently, the marriage is blissful and it's halcyon days for all concerned.
Fertility can be unpredictable. My mother married at 23, had a miscarriage at 25, a baby at 26, two more babies subsequently, and then (without recourse to contraception), 10 years of what she called "normal married life" without a pregnancy. Then, in her 40s, she surprisingly - and to her great annoyance - conceived again. That was me. My father was 67 and delighted. Ma could never figure out why she could go a decade without a pregnancy, and then it happens.
It is evident that someone will have to brief Pope Francis before he comes to Ireland, north and south, probably in 2018. So I've taken it upon myself to outline some of the pitfalls - and treats - that may await the Argentine Pontiff. The point has been made that it won't be a re-run of 1979, when John Paul II visited Ireland. That was the last hurrah of old Catholic Ireland, which is dead and gone. And, Papa Francis, be aware that a lot of folk think that's all for the best.
It was the feminist movement that coined the phrase "the personal is political", and when it comes to the looming Brexit vote in just over two weeks' time, the personal will indeed be political as I enter that voting booth (where I have a vote, in deepest Kent).
Three times in my early life, I was rescued by a stroke of luck. When I was a very young child, I very nearly choked to death on some small edible object, it might have been a nut. I was just turning blue when a young man walked into our kitchen who happened to be a medical student. He quickly turned me upside down and thumped on my back until the object was disgorged. Had he not chosen to visit at that moment, little Mary might have demised.
Yes, just like Napoleon, I did remember my First Holy Communion during the month of May. The Emperor, though not a believer in his later life (although he admired Islam as a warrior religion) still venerated the day of his First Holy Communion. Not everyone venerates the occasion. It sometimes shocks Protestants the extent to which Catholics can bring a carnival scene to religious ceremonial.
Golfers often seem nice people - the Padraig Harringtons, Christy O'Connors, Rory McIlroys - so it would appear mean-spirited to disparage the sport. But I laughed when I heard someone describe the game as "a good walk ruined".
Imagine a schoolgirl today, aged 17 or 18, about to do her Leaving Cert next month: now think of her fast-forwarding the years to 2071, and meeting up, once again, with her classmates of 55 years previously.
The hills are alive - all over Europe - with complaints about adult offspring still living with their parents. A survey of 28 European countries found that on average, 48pc of those between 20 and 35 are still living in the family home: in Italy, it's an extraordinary 65pc (and has been up to 79pc in recent years).
Diversity is the new politics. Not just in Ireland, but everywhere, it seems. Diversity in every direction too: Independents, Greens, Sanders socialists, Trumpiteers, Brexiteers, ScotsNats - you name it, change and fragmentation of the political map are everywhere.
More than 100 studies in America have shown that older people who have some involvement with the arts have improved wellbeing, better medical outcomes of care, and a reduced likelihood of depression.
It's years since I'd been on a diet. In fact, I'd given up dieting, rather scornfully boasting that life is too short not to enjoy whatever food takes your fancy - and look at Catherine Deneuve anyway.
William Shakespeare was much celebrated around the world over the weekend - it being the 400th anniversary of his death - and many would nominate Hamlet's soliloquy as being the best-known of all time: "To be, or not to be: that is the question." It's been rendered in hundreds of languages, including text-speak (2B R nt 2B…).
There are many accounts of sons being favoured over daughters, and daughters' lives being obscured by the brilliance of their brothers - Mozart's sister is thought to have been as musically gifted as he, but she did not get the same chances, perhaps, to develop. Fred Astaire's sister, Adele, was once the more celebrated dancer - but Fred is the Astaire who is remembered.
For a younger generation of Irish people, at ease with perusing fashion pictures of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge on tour, or reading about Prince Harry's latest japes (or even his most recent charity gig), the notion that such pictures of the British royal family might be prohibited is absurd.
The writer Nuala O'Faolain used to say that as soon as any woman stepped onto New York soil, she immediately dropped 10 years in age. Was this because, in New York, older women don't feel as invisible as they sometimes feel on this side of the Atlantic? Or because there's an energy about New York that is in itself rejuvenating? Either way, it's a great place to be in the spring.
The forthcoming census - on April 24 - will offer residents of the Republic a nice menu of 'religions' to choose from. You can identify yourself as Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Islamic, Presbyterian, Orthodox (Greek, Russian, etc), any 'Other' religion or 'No religion'.
Since the Republic of Ireland doesn't award national honours, other ways have to be devised to honour those who have shown themselves to be an adornment to the nation. And so, there's to be a gala evening of tributes to the writer Edna O'Brien at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre on April 24: a fitting tribute to a person whom the writer Philip Roth has described as "the most gifted woman now writing in English".
'Isn't it interesting," said my elder granddaughter, Kitty, "that so many people in our family are journalists?" She named parents, grandparents, great-grandfathers, uncle, great-uncle. "Well," I said, "that often happens in families. You often see it with doctors, lawyers, plumbers, traders." But then I began thinking about the number of trades and professions which are predicted to disappear or diminish with the onward march of computers, robots and artificial intelligence.
The thriller writer Frederick Forsyth has quit writing novels, or books of any kind, to dedicate himself to a cause. "I want my country back," he says. "I want to re-claim our sovereignty." Mr Forsyth has found his inner Sinn Féin - you could call it Ourselves Alone - in his vigorous campaign to wrest the United Kingdom from the clutches of Brussels.
Easter and the pleasures of food, after the privations of Lent! That was how it used to be: now we have a foodie culture all year round. The father of the classic art of French cuisine, Antonin Carême, would not have approved. He believed that food should always be eaten according to season. Well, he lived before the era of refrigeration - born just before the French Revolution of 1789.
My sister-in-law Louise Kenny died last month, aged 86, and at her very nice, peaceable and simple funeral at Mount Jerome I learned about aspects of her life that I had never known. This sometimes happens at funerals, which is why they make good openings for stories or drama.
Au pairs, according to a ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission, (WRC) are employees, should be paid the minimum wage and be awarded all the rights of employees, from social insurance to holiday pay.
There's a remarkable maths teacher at a London school called Colin Hegarty. Mr Hegarty's parents are Irish - his father was a building site worker and his mother a home help, and his background was "modest". But he's been nominated as one of the world's best educators because of his brilliance in teaching maths.
Feminism, like many "isms", changes with each generation. And so it should. Change is a sign of development, adaptation and survival.
An endorsement from a British prime minister for a Taoiseach seldom wins hearts and minds with the Irish electorate (with the possible exception of Tony Blair's backing for Bertie).
I was in provincial France recently, and my kindly host allowed me to drive his impressive-looking car sitting in the driveway. It was one of those people-carriers with all the latest mod cons, and as I'm always game for a driving adventure, I was delighted with the idea of powering through Provence in such a fancy vehicle.
That formidable queen of world fashion, Anna Wintour (Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada was based on La Wintour) has been musing on whether she made a mistake in not going to university when she was 17, instead of plunging into the couture world.
Twitter was soon responding with customary satire: "Vatican Issues Angry Denial That Pope John Paul II was Heterosexual" tweeted one wag. And cartoonists were quick to see an angle. Lonelyheart bloke: "I need to go on a date. There have been popes who have had more success with women than me."
I hadn't seen Gemma for a few years - we had both grown up in the same part of Dublin - so it was nice to catch up with her again and chat.
Why is it that a couple of Japanese books about TIDYING have swept the western world, and their 31-year-old author, Marie Kondo, has become an adored guru?
I had encountered Terry Wogan a couple of times over the years, and towards the end of the 1970s I suggested to the late Editor of the Irish Independent, Vinny Doyle, doing a special interview-profile of Wogan.
Trees: how often do we think about them? Perhaps when suddenly they make a difference - when a line of newly planted trees appears on Dublin's O'Connell Street you notice that it does enhance the main boulevard of the city's capital, although alas, cannot quite rescue its squalid ambiance. Climate change has made us more aware of trees: the loggers in Canada and Brazil are damaging the environment when they cut down forests. And those who fly a lot, may, in the future, be asked to plant more trees in Kenya (Africa is short of trees) to offset their carbon footprint.
400 years after Shakespeare's death, 15 facts about the Bard.
So, two high-profile deaths within the space of a week; the much-lamented David Bowie, and the widely mourned Alan Rickman (who, among other achievements, produced the best screen interpretation of Eamon de Valera, with a peerless Clare-Limerick accent, in 'Michael Collins').
January was once, almost officially, courtship month in Ireland. Back in the mists of time - the 1950s, when my older sister was a lass - there was an event called "the dress dance".
Twenty years ago, in 1996, it was predicted by an American political scientist, Samuel P Huntington, that the prevailing theme of our age would be the "clash of civilisations".
Is emotional abuse on a par with physical cruelty? Some people might say it is, and I can see that point. For example, I was never smacked during my schooldays, but I can still remember stinging sarcasm from teachers.
There seems to be a growing body of opinion that national school admission regulations should simply be based on location. Minister Jan O'Sullivan has expressed her support for this view. You live in a certain neighbourhood - your child goes to the local school. No special priorities or exclusions on the basis, say, of religion, or any other consideration. You're in the catchment area and that's that.
Hands up anyone who's quitting alcohol for the month of January? Oh, yes, I can see there are quite a few. It's a fashionable practice among the young crowd - post-Christmas is the new Advent, you might say. Give the liver a month's rest. And it's proof you aren't an alcoholic.