Category Archives: Life

Thomas Kent & what he means to us all

I paid my respects to Thomas Kent tonight.

A name confined to Irish history books until his remains were uncovered in a shallow grace in Cork prison earlier this year, it was simply something I felt compelled to do.

I loved history as a subject in school by my class didn’t study the 1916 Rising in detail because the Leaving Cert exam questions around that period of Irish history were considered to be ‘unpredictable’.

I followed the entrance signs, climbed the small incline up to the chapel within the ground of Collins Barracks and as I signed the Book of Condolences, a changing of the guard begin. An immediate hush fell on the crowd still gathered in clusters around the church. 

It’s fair to say we are generally unfamiliar with military guards of honour and procedures in Ireland but there was something touching, and sad in the deliberate motions of the defence force members that filed away from Kent’s coffin, only to be replaced by four colleagues moments later.

The four men that entered from a back hallway were impeccable dressed. They were armed and by the time their commanding officer was finished with his commands, their heads were bowed in an intensely sorrowful way.

At that moment, I couldn’t help but think of Thomas Kent himself. While awaiting execution for armed rebellion in Cork 99 years ago, could he ever have imagined such a scene?

And what would he think of Ireland today? A country were people sleep homeless on the streets, where families are losing their houses because of mistakes made by the now-forgiven banking industry, where the opportunity to make money seems to trump any morals or ethics we as a nation might have. Where one in six people born in Ireland now live overseas.

“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally…”

Thomas Kent also made me think of my own grandfather. I was lucky enough to know all of my grandparents very well during my early lifetime. They each gave me something different and for my ‘country’ grandfather, Ireland and its history were very important.

Fourteen years ago, and a few months after I had started college in Dublin, he came to visit with my grandmother and mother in tow. Once my cousin & I were duly fed and watered, he wanted to pay a visit to the GPO on O’Connell Street.

Grandad was short and stocky, never afraid to speak his mind and was very much a country gentleman visiting the big smoke that day. As we stood in the centre of a packed GPO, he gave a rather colourful version of James Connolly’s demise – collecting the attention of more than a couple of interested tourists along the way.

For several years after he passed, I would often nip into the GPO as a reminder of those now precious moments. When the portraits were removed, I was disappointed to learn that they were no longer deemed ‘appropriate’.

It often strikes me that the only people ashamed and unfamiliar with Irish history seem to be Irish. We cannot understand Ireland today without knowing our history. For me, it’s that simple.

Attending a friend’s wedding a number of years ago, I was asked to give a lift to an older American couple that needed a way to travel from the church in Mayo to the reception in Sligo.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that the gentleman had previously been the White House correspondent for a major US newspaper. After asking him what Barack Obama was really like and to nominate his favourite president of all, this former scribe spoke at length and in great detail of his admiration for the economic policies of one Michael Collins.

His knowledge and insight was incredible. I have always had an interest in Collins myself but it paled in comparison. Why is it that it takes someone looking in from the outside to make us realise how much we have and how lucky we are in many ways?

For most Irish people, the 1916 Rising is something they connect with school and the distant past. It’s considered irrelevant to life today. The people of Cork and Ireland – on September 17 and 18, 2015 – will have had an opportunity to pay their respects to someone that gave their life to try and create an Irish Republic 99 years ago. It doesn’t seem a stretch to use the ‘once in a lifetime’ phrase about now.

When we go to celebrate the centenary of the Rising next year, I hope common sense prevails. It should be a solemn moment of respect to the men and women that gave their lives during that period, and not a money-making opportunity dressed up as a ‘celebration’. We owe at least that much to ourselves and the people involved 99 years.

Thomas Kent: Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

‘Gluten-free’? Let them eat cake…

I read a series of articles in the Irish Independent over the weekend about coeliac disorder and how the ‘gluten-free’ trend in food right now is having an impact on the lives of those who can’t (rather than doesn’t want to) eat gluten.

I first started having problems with my stomach in my late teens. I was tested for coeliac disease amongst other things, and every test came back clear. I would inevitably be put on some course of tablets or other, which would settle things down for a little while, only to suffer another flare up once again before too long. There was even talk about more serious procedures if I couldn’t find a way to manage things through my diet.

By ‘flare up’ I mean feeling absolutely ill and like you needed to be sick after eating too much gluten in one sitting, or too many smaller quantities in close proximity. I don’t mean feeling ‘full’ or ‘uncomfortable’ after eating white bread like I hear so many people complain about; I mean a swollen, painful stomach, intense reflux that could last a day or two and cause restless, sleepless nights. I mean cramps and gurgling noises that suggest you haven’t eaten in a week. All of which can be acutely embarrassing when you’re around people not in the know.

I haven’t always been very careful about what I eat, but – for the most part – keeping a decent eye out on things and having the odd crisp sandwich or biscuit is enough to maintain a relatively even keel. I know when there’s trouble brewing, and I’m experienced enough with it now to know that I need to avoid the temptation of fresh bakery aisle in Lidl!

I attended the Allergies Expo in Cork with my Mum, who had gone to great lengths over the years to help me, late last year. It was amazing to see all the new allergy-focused brands springing up around the place, and it’s great to see that some of these were founded and are based in Cork too.

I’m lucky that I live close to a great Supervalu at the moment. Their range of gluten-free product has never been better and Dunnes, Tesco and others have been making great strides too. Like the people featured in the Indo articles, however, I find there has been a downside to the latest gluten-free drive.

If you eat well – meat, fish, fruit and vegetables – then you should have the staples of a very solid and nutrient-rich diet. The growing number of friends and acquaintances that have professed themselves to be eating ‘gluten-free’ now surprises me. I don’t believe it’s a healthier lifestyle choice for the individuals involved, and I really and only smile and nod when they share their ‘advice’ on how it works for them.

The reality is that gluten-free products usually cost significantly more, and staying or eating with friends is more than a little awkward. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve rolled up to a friend’s house only to be presented with lasagne for dinner or some variety of pasta or other. I’ll always eat away – manners can be a terrible thing – and I feel even worse when thoughtful friends go to the trouble of getting in gluten-free food while I’m staying and I feel obliged to tuck in even though it’s easier (and cheaper) to abstain for a couple of days.

Like all trends, I’m sure people will move on to another area of focus in time. ‘Gluten-free’ products still contain grains, flour and other items that people might like to avoid – they’re just different ones, ones that don’t elicit an ugly response for some of us.

Speaking to a nutritionist recently, she explained that one of the biggest difficulties with diagnosing coeliac or gluten-intolerance is that in an attempt to make a connection, we often reduce foods in a certain category (gluten, diary etc.) and when we feel better for having done so, we go to get medical confirmation of an allergic to a substance we have actually removed from our diet anyway…

Excluding any readily-available food element from your regular diet is never easy, no matter what, so if people want to do it for their own personal reasons, off with them. However, for those of us that need to be strict with our diet rather than preferring to be strict, we’re suddenly being lumped into the fussy eaters club when most of us would love nothing more than be able to eat pizza, or bread, or beautiful freshly-made penne pasta covered in a fresh pesto dressing*.

*begins to drool just a little

So, next time you hear ‘gluten-free’, remember: it’s not a choice for some of us!

A life beyond allergies

Original article appeared in the Evening Echo (@CorkEveningEcho). Image: My Own

Are you someone that never ventures outside the door without a wad of tissues stuck in your handbag or jacket pocket? You’re far from alone and that was my daily life two years ago – forever accompanied by Kleenex, a stash of antihistamines and eye drops.

I was a ‘hayfever sufferer’ like many across the nation, except that my suffering could last for over a week and occur at any time of year. People sometimes mention hayfever after a couple of sneezes in the summer but I mean a constant drip from my nose, streaming red eyes that feel like they’re full of sand grains, being utterly drained and unable to think clearly all the time and regularly having an upset stomach because of all the sneezing.

I took at least one type of antihistamine every day. I changed around brands in the hope that I could come across something more effective. I went au natural for a little while too – to no avail – and was at one stage cleaning my house wearing a construction mask and goggles, though I would inevitably suffer for a day or two afterwards regardless. That was my life – completely dominated by ‘hayfever’ and the only successful cure was to try and sleep it off and hope for better the next day.

The turning point came when I took some non-drowsy Sudafed in a moment of desperation in the height of the summer – I told the pharmacist I needed something to stop me sneezing as I was en route to a wedding – and not only did it clear everything right up, it did so in a relative short period of time. Commonly used for colds, Sudafed can also be used to treat the symptoms of allergies and the result was enough for me to venture to my GP.

I was looking for a breakthrough; what I got was: ‘You’re just allergic to lots of things unfortunately’. He also insisted there was little point in doing an allergy test as there were ‘hundreds of things’ to test for. Thanks Doctor – here’s €55 for your efforts…

Irritated but unperturbed, I tracked down a Medical Herbalist who, for not much more than the cost of a regular GP appointment, spent an hour and a half going through my entire medical history as well as that of my immediate family. I had always had trouble with my stomach but having been tested for coeliac disease, it was something that flared up from time to time rather than being a daily impact on my life.

The herbalist quickly established that gluten was a huge trigger and possibly also dairy products. It was also clear that chemical products, dust and anything highly perfumed were an issue. To my friends and family, I had good skin and could eat most things; in truth, I was constantly itchy, covered in hives and bloated while feeling fatigued and unwell.

The changes:

Diet

I initially avoided gluten and dairy products, though I’ve since discovered (with the help of a food diary) that I’m actually quite tolerant of the latter. I left the herbalist’s office with an extensive list of the best gluten-free brands to look out for, including recommendations of which were easiest to cook with and some of the shops and stores in Cork that carried everything mentioned.

I’ve since found a brilliant fruit and veg shop, Super Pack in the Hazelwood centre in Glanmire, that receives FRESH, gluten-free bread on a daily basis and uncovered hidden treasures like Natural Choice in Paul Street Shopping Centre and Health and Home in Douglas Village Shopping Centre. The goods of Cork bakery Delicious are becoming more widely available and all the major supermarkets now carry a decent variety of products. I’m also careful of eating too many refined sugars, which are also known to suppress your body’s immune system.

Housework & Bedding

One of the most vicious circles when it comes to allergies is cleaning. You need your home, workplace and car to be dust free so you can have a more comfortable existence but to keep it dust free, you need to tackle and use the very things that cause a huge reaction in your body!

Out went all the regular cleaning products, goggles and masks; in came a range of eco-friendly products (including Lilly’s Eco Clean and EcoCover) and a stricter cleaning agenda. I change bedding at least once a week now, replacing pillows and duvets with new non-allergic bedding every six months. All bedding, towels and soft furnishings are washing at 90 degrees and hung outside if possible (not for the fresh air, but for the UV light).

I once laughed out loud at a friend who told me she had hired a cleaner as her boyfriend (now husband) had allergies, but I can see where she’s coming from! Cleaning a room every week means hoovering, wiping down all surfaces, ledges, window sills, lights, fixtures and fittings with a non-chemical cleaning product. I can tolerate some candles and not others, generally no air fresheners and, most definitely, no cigarette smoke.

Skincare

One of the toughest areas to tackle was skincare. Girls love their make up and I wasn’t any different even though it was causing various different reactions with my skin. Research led me to the Dr Hauschka skincare range as well as Origins, as both were available in Cork.

Both are relatively expensive and I didn’t personally like too many of the Dr Hauschka products. I have fared better with Origins, at least in terms of make-up; however, it can be difficult to get my specific foundation each time as stores do not tend to carry a huge amount of stock and some lines have changed over the last few months.

The biggest breakthrough came just before Christmas though when I uncovered a new handmade natural brand called Bia Beauty, which is made right here in Cork and is absolute bliss!

Shampoo, too, has been tricky. One ‘98% natural’ brand made me itch like I had fleas but I’ve since uncovered Weleda, which has a range of options and is available from most health stores.

So life’s peachy then… almost

I understand that GPs are under more pressure today than ever, but my life would most likely still be dominated by allergies had I not sought out alternative treatments, products and supplements to tackle what is a permanent and ongoing issue for me.

My body was so overloaded by having to react to so many different substances that I didn’t know the difference between eating something I was intolerant to and something I was not. Hard, itchy hives on my face had become something I lived with as opposed to finding a cause and solution, and I suffered all this while being lumped in with regular ‘hayfever’ sufferers.

I still have days where I long for a pizza, my make up and cleaning products are rarely, if ever, on sale and I will always be tarred with the cider drinker’s brush. However, I no longer pop pills on a daily basis, I can now prevent an ‘allergy day’ more often than not and I even bring home the odd bunch of flowers and have plants in my home.

My advice? If you’re a ‘hayfever sufferer’, it’s time to start listening to your body and asking questions!