Wednesday 13 December 2017

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mary Kenny: Postcards from the past 

It's pleasing to see shops in Ireland still display and sell pretty picture postcards. I hope that visitors are buying and sending them, but the postcard is not a thriving business, worldwide. The American postal service has been charting a progressive decline in postcard sending since 2010. Last month, in Britain, the oldest postcard publisher, J Salmon of Sevenoaks, announced its closure - put out of business by changing holiday habits and the instant gratification of social media. It's reckoned there's been a 60pc decline in the picture postcard over the past 20 years. People are taking more...

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mary Kenny: Diana's tragedy 

It would be an exaggeration to say that I knew Diana, Princess of Wales, but I met her, and it later transpired that she read what I wrote. Or maybe she just read the reports about herself: for she said to the editor of The Daily Telegraph (as he recounted subsequently), "Why can't you write nice things about me, like Mary Kenny?" I suppose I did write positively about Diana because she was a very winning personality, and seemed so unstuffy: she spoke rather simply to me about how she really would have liked to be a nurse, and how rewarding it was to look after people who were...

Mary Kenny

Don't shy away 

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.

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mary Kenny: The town of kings 

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.

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mary Kenny: Soul sisters 

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 having patched up a family difference. Among the notorious Mitford sisters, Jessica was a Communist and Diana was a Fascist (and the mother of Desmond Guinness, who saved Georgian Dublin from destruction): throughout their adult lives they were not "on speakers".

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mary Kenny: Vive la feminism 

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.

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mary Kenny: Your funeral, your way 

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...

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny: Royal old times in Dublin 

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.

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny: Hanging 'em high? 

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.

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny: The platonic remarriage 

'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.

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny: The landlady's return 

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.

Pope Francis Photo: AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

Desire for changes in the church won't stir Holy See any time soon 

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.

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny: Hope should spring eternal 

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.

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny: The drama of fertility 

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.

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny: A spot of pontificating… 

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.

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny: a spanner in the workers? 

'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.