Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nollaig Shona Daoibh!

This is a bit late but it has been HECTIC this past while what with the book launch, book promotions, organising my mum's 90th birthday dinner, a dose of flu, and the usual running around like a headless turkey getting presents (no Kris Kringle nonsense in my huge family!). So I hope you all had a wonderful one and may I wish you -- with better timing -- a very happy new year. Irish-language garda note: I've used the plural "you" for the best wishes at Christmas, unlike the Grafton Street sign which is using a singular pronoun for everyone which simply isn't right (and I'm pretty sure it's dhuit, not duit). That's Dubliners for ya.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Article in the Irish Independent's Halycon Magazine

Was thrilled to see that the article I wrote for the Indo was given a two-page spread with a huge photograph taking up one whole page! That's Rinpoche and myself with a nomadic family in the Gobi.The other photograph is from my naval days. The title of the piece is "ALWAYS READY FOR A BIG ADVENTURE" and it was published December 12. You can read the full text online here: There's a funny story about me involving a sand dune, a camel and a vulture.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

A light has gone out on our planet. I'm reminded of a drawing that marked Albert Einstein's death. It was an image of the Earth with a plaque attached to it. I'll change what the plaque said and put "MADIBA LIVED HERE." Whenever I am asked who are my heroes, I have always named him first. How any human being could remain kind and forgiving after 27 years in a hell-hole of a prison for attempting to free his nation and his people from an oppressive regime ... it would be unbelievable except that he did it. I suspect he was a saint. At any rate, our world was blessed the day he was born into it. I'm so glad he lived so long and so sad that he is gone.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Book Cover Soaps!

Here's a funny little synchronicity. I presented a copy of my book to my friend Kate who makes her own hemp-based soap and she let out a gasp and presented me with one of her soaps which bore a distinct resemblance to my cover! I've shown it here on both sides, first in the upper left-hand corner of my book and then in the lower right-hand corner. Astonishing. And here's a link to information about her soap-making: (Photo credit: F ní Fhaoláin)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Stand with Tibet

Please go to this site and sign the petition that calls China out on its human rights abuses in Tibet: Now,shortly after this is posted my webmaster will contact me and ask "are you writing about Tibet again? You're under cyber-attack from China." It's always a petty onslaught and doesn't get past the firewalls, but proves the general suspicion that China employs a vast number of poorly paid personnel to trawl and troll the Internet as it tries to clamp down on any criticism of its regime. Totalitarian capitalism - short of Naziism, the world's worst nightmare. And of course the West is too busy kissing China's financial butt to stand up for what's right. There are fewer than 20% Mongols in the population of their homeland, Inner Mongolia, after Chinese invasion and settlement. Mongolian language, culture and religions (Tibetan Buddhism and shamanism) have been all but wiped out. Tibet will suffer the same fate if the world does nothing.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Me and a Temee (camel)

Well, as you can see from this first pic I wasn't quite sure I had the courage to get on a camel. It was Steve who basically told me to suck it up and do it. He had the right tone of voice despite no command background in the armed services, lol. I was really lucky to be able to join him and his wife, Annie, on their three-day expedition to the ancient site of Kharkorum which included staying in a ger camp for two nights out under the Mongolian stars (still dream about that), loads of time to explore the ancient monastery of Erdenzuu and then this mad attempt to ride camels into the sand dunes with little or no help from our camel guide!!! Canadian Annie is married to American Steve and they live in Colorado. I have added them to my list of enviably-happily-married couples (it never seems to exceed 10, includes one gay couple, and shrinks or expands depending on the inevitable vicissitudes of connubial life). Photos taken by either Steve or Annie.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gifted Musician

Here's a gifted young man who should be better known: Michael Christian Durrant. Last week I heard him playing the exquisite Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) at my two friends' wedding anniversary bash held in the beautiful Dunsley Hall Hotel near Kinver, in the west midlands of England. If I get a book launch in London, I'm requesting him!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Mongolian Food

There was a giant tongue on the table yesterday, only the second time I've seen such a thing. The first time was two weeks ago in Choer on our way to the Gobi. I've managed all my life to avert my eyes in butcher shops not to see the glossy heaps of internal organs and the neatly folded pink tongues, but these lads could not be avoided. Having already eaten my body weight in meat here, I am reverting to my vegetarian default setting. This baffles Mongolians who, like Spaniards and Tibetans, are raging carnivores. We three Irish got very excited about the potatoes yesterday, served for the first time. (You can't help your background.) Mongolian spuds are indeed delicious. Not floury, but tasty nonetheless. I have also observed something else. Mongolian people can be horsey-looking - brown, dark eyes, long features, black manes - and many Irish people do look like potatoes.

Friday, August 30, 2013

In the Gobi

As is the tradition in Mongolia, as we reached the borders of Undershill - out in the middle of nowhere from my urban perspective - we were met by various villagers who offered a silver bowl of sweet goat's milk wrapped in a blue khatag (offering scarf, they use white in Tibet, blue in Mongolia). Everyone took a sup, starting with Rinpoche of course. Here I am goofing around with my pal Enkhtuya, the Asral cook who accompanied us. Rinpoche travels with a small entourage - his "team" he called us when speaking to the local governor. [all photos by me - more to be posted over on my Book Blog]

This is where we slept - the back room of the MIM (Made in Mongolia) Gobi factory - Enkhtoya the cook, Nyamsurr the social worker and myself. Two nights. Very comfy actually. Slept like a log.

And this is where we ate. Also hung out, drinking suutei tsai (milky tea) or norguun tsai (green tea). Traditional and regular Mongolian country home called a ger.

Beautiful Mongolian child - daughter of the Undershill cook - at the teachings Rinpoche gave in the community centre hall.

Inside the circular temple where the villagers were chanting a billion om mane padme hum's (takes three hours) for Rinpoche after he gave a teaching in the community centre hall to a packed crowd.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Heading for the Gobi

No time to post in detail as I have a report to write! However, here's a glimpse of the Mongolian countryside - altan nytag - as we head for the Gobi.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Off to the Gobi Desert Tomorrow!

Here's a quick pic of me in front of the Chinghis Khan statue that dominates Sukhbaatar Square in the centre of Ulan Baatar, the capital city of Mongolia. I got the day off to visit the National Museum - fantastic - and wander around the city in the sunshine. Still trying to recover from the fact that I deleted all my photos from the giant horse race, including a shot of me on a horse for the first time in my life! Must finish packing and get to bed. Early start tomorrow.(Photo credit: unknown Mongolian teenager who kindly obliged my request despite ribbing from her pals. "Speak English!" they called out, all giggling.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mongolian Women

Not quite. The only bona fide is Utleya in the middle. That's Stephanie on the left, Canadian-born Singaporean recent graduate of Cambridge (brains to burn) who is a volunteer English teacher for ASRAL, my lama's charity, and that's moi on the right. If you think we are being typical westerners dressing up like this, you're wrong. We were the only two westerners in sight amongst up to 10,000 people, maybe more. Everyone else getting into the costumes to be photographed was Mongolian. This was part of the great craic going on the day Mongolia went for the Guinness Book of Records largest horse race ever held in the world (August 10). There was one more westerner in the vast crowd. The representative from Guinness. (Didn't get her name alas.) And that's a gorgeous live falcon in front of us. Falconry is one of the national sports of Mongolia along with wrestling, archery and horse racing. The amazing thing about the headdress I am wearing is that it not only shows where Star Wars got Queen Amidala's style but also, some of you may remember, Pauline Bayne's illustration of the Queen of the Harfang giants in CS Lewis's The Silver Chair. (Photo credit: Stephanie Ng)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Arrival in Mongolia!

Well, here I am at the airport near Ulaan Baatar, the capital city of Mongolia. You can see the Bogd Khan mountain range reflected in the window. They are sacred, the first protected mountains in the world. I'm listening studiously to my lama as he is being interviewed by Mongolian television after a l4-hour trip (?maybe more - quick stop in Bishkek, Kurdistan) from Dublin to Istanbul and on to UB via Turkish Airlines - Business Class, ooh la la, the only way to fly! Beside me is a young monk and to my left is a translator monk (who translated for H.H. the Dalai Lama when he came to Mongolia) and the abbot of Lam Rim Monastery, UB. I look well after such a long trip, no doubt due to excessive comfort. The food was only gorgeous. Would highly recommend this airline. More pics on Book Blog. (Photo credit: Ueli Minder)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

No Incentives in Ireland to Use Wind Energy

One of the fascinating things about this short documentary is the news that Ireland fails to support a cheaper, more energy efficient and environmentally friendly source of electricity despite the fact that we are the best country in Europe geographically to exploit wind energy. The expert here points out that the biggest supplier of electricity in Ireland - the semi-state body ESB - uses fossils fuels, in particular, expensive, foreign-bought heavily polluting COAL to produce electricity! Having recently done my income tax, I can tell you that my electricity bill doubled from last year to this, despite the fact I was working 5 days a week away from home!!! The documentary points out that Ireland has refused to offer any kind of incentive such as grants or lower tariffs to those using wind turbines. Does this make any sense? No. (Film by Kathleen Weir)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


In keeping with my tradition of discovering things long after everyone else, I've just finished watching the complete series of LOST. Watched the ending twice. Wept buckets twice. Not since Star Trek (all of them), Buffy the Vampire Slayer and House MD have I been so captivated by a television series. I was prepared to go anywhere with them - into the past, the future, sideways, crazyville, schmaltz, wherever. Loved every minute. Favourite things included: every moment involving Terry O'Quinn (aka John Locke and the Smoke Monster), strong women characters, people talking Latin (linguam latinam dico), Hurley, constant headwreck surprises, Bernard and Rose, Vincent, multilingualism, Ben's incredibly complex character, the fact they had an attractive - in every way - Iraqi character (but we're supposed to believe that Said would take that blond bimbo instead of his brave, beautiful wife into the Hereafter?!) , the big Egyptian statue, the weather (I am convinced the island was somewhere off the west coast of Ireland, where else does it rain so much?), priceless one liners such as "I don't believe in a lot of things but I believe in duct tape," and of course Sawyer's nicknames for everyone, his relationship with Juliette, his detective role, his comment on Lapidus being "out of a Burt Reynolds movie" - oh what the heck everything about Sawyer. Things I disliked: seems the chief role for women is child-bearing while men alternately ruin or save the world, Jack tearing up at every moment (I'm on for men showing feelings but even a woman tearing up that much would cause me to say "suck it back, wuss!"), Jack being the main hero of the show (my LEAST favourite self-righteous self-tormenting royal pain in the ass character), the mythology of the island - seriously lame including that hokey golden well of light, the fact no one seems to think just killing 'the bad guy' - who was much less of a prick than Jacob - is the answer to everything: why not redeem him? why not 'fix him' Jack? Smokey had very good reasons for turning out like he did. His fake mother killed his real mother and his real mother's people, and then his horrible brother threw him into the golden well and turned him into a monster. All he ever wanted originally was to leave the island! What really struck me throughout the series was how mindlessly brutal most of the people were - the Dharma Initiative people, the Others, Widmore and his people, the fake mother of Jacob, and Jacob as well as his brother. The only people who seemed capable of any real or consistent human kindness and compassion were the flawed people of Oceanic 815. Weird.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Heat Wave in Ireland!

The country is in happy shock and everyone is delighted with themselves. A man texted into a radio station that he was working on the roads in a digger and got so hot he stripped off and was working naked. A flurry of texts from women followed demanding photos to be posted on the web. You gotta love the Irish. There is no other nation that appreciates good weather the way we do. And of course everyone ran off to the beaches and got burned. I never saw so many red people in my life!

Monday, July 08, 2013


I realise people have been returning and I haven't written anything new but I am up to my eyes at the moment. Having temporarily finished working at my Tibetan Buddhist Centre - see - I completed the first pass of the final proofs of my new book late Saturday night. Now I've got an arts grant proposal to complete as well as preparations for my upcoming journey to Outer Mongolia (!!!). More about that anon. Back shortly.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek As Gaeilge!

It doesn't get better than this. Maith sibh, a bhuacaillí! Go h'iontach! Agus an-greannmhar. I just heard it on Radio na Gaeltachta and couldn't believe my pointy ears. The young captain does a lovely Ulster accent. Oddly enough, so does the young Mr Spock on the extra features of the first DVD (when he is being quite bold, I might add.)

Friday, May 17, 2013


As with books, I tend to find great films long after everyone else. Hey, I march to my own drummer. Just watched this one last week and kept texting Finn with "omigod I love this movie." Of course it got panned by the critics. (So did The Bodyguard when it first came out, though everybody seems to have forgotten that. I remember because I loved it from the get-go and couldn't believe the negative reaction to it.) Now I'm not saying that my naval background didn't have some influence on my utter enjoyment of it. Men do look so good in uniform, especially dress whites. Rihanna was also cute as a button and downplayed her role beautifully for a big star. Couldn't understand what the leading man was saying half the time in his sexy gravelly voice but who cares. Is his name really 'Kitsch'? (you couldn't make this stuff up). But BEST OF ALL were the real-life  war veterans. I thought I was going to cry. They looked so proud of themselves and they walked so proudly right into that film, it was great. As far as I can tell, each wore a cap naming the ship he served on and the war he survived. Kudos to the director for such inspired and inspiring film-making in the middle of pure entertainment. And all the visual references to the game, including the weapons the aliens used, were absolutely hilarious as well as ingenious.If you can make a blockbuster from a Las Vegas attraction - Pirates of the Carribean - why not a classic board game? God, the poh-faced critics ... Drop some lead on them, Skipper!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

International Day of Forgiveness?

I was thinking this morning about how I like to hold on to a grudge or a resentment, even a jolly good hate. It takes a huge amount of effort to change my mind, to stop demonising the other person, to try and understand why they are like they are or just to let them be that way and move on. It always strikes me that while I am refusing to change, at the same time I wonder why the world is such a mess and why our leaders have to react, retaliate, invade and war. But how can I expect others to change when I won't? Is it possible that the amount of aggression each of us individually nurses in our heart is adding to and even feeding the amount of aggression on our planet? Is it possible that by resenting our parents or children, keeping that grudge against ex-friends and ex-partners, holding that resentment against neighbours, employers or employees, colleagues, the unhelpful guy at the counter ... we are actually aiding and abetting the massacres, the bombings, the genocide, the wars?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I don't usually jump on bandwaggons but I'm happily clambering onto this one. Firstly I saw the film. Absolutely brilliant piece of work. Deserved the Oscar it won this year. The graphics are exquisite, the true story is inspiring, and most of all the man himself is a joy to meet. A gentle soul, a boddhisattva. Those scenes of him walking through the snow in Detroit ... And then there's the music. I've bought both albums Cold Fact and Coming From Reality and I listen to them compulsively. Caught myself singing "I Wonder" a few times. He's the real McCoy. Unlike so many 'of the people' folk-singers who were really middle-class kids who never did a hard day's work in their life (Bob Dylan comes to mind), Rodriguez worked at hard labour for most of his life. Aside from America's failure to recognise his talent - I put it down to his Latino name, he wouldn't have been considered 'a true American' at the time - there's also the question of where his money went given that he was a major star in South Africa and very big in Australia as well (unbeknownst to himself!)That's the music industry for you. Like the publishing industry these days, they eat their young.If you haven't seen the film or heard the music, you are missing something wonderful!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My Sister's Art and Art Gallery

One of my darling sisters - I have seven, plus two darling brothers! - has opened her own art gallery in Toronto. As well as being a well-known artist (she was listed among the top ten best upcoming young artists in Canada), she has curated exhibitions and directed galleries before starting up her own just last month. This is one of her works and here is her gallery website: Do drop by! Btw some of you may recognise her as one of Dana's mad artistic aunties in The Book of Dreams.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Jampa Ling as Gaeilge

The Tibetan Buddhist Centre where I am working at present - helping to run the place! - has been featured on TG4, the Irish language television station here. The programme is about WWOOFers, which meant "Willing Workers on Organic Farms" in my day (I worked on a goat farm in County Clare, my experience ending up in The Hunter's Moon) and now means "World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms" as the whole set-up has expanded. Here's the link: It's only good for 30 days, I believe. I was away in Canada at the time, so I missed the shooting of it. But the place looks great and you will see the wonderful lama who is our spiritual director: Panchen Otrul Rinpoche.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

St. Patrick's Day Parade - Ballinamore

Well, it all started with an invitation to go down to the Cultural Quarters in Ballinamore and put on fancy dress and join the St Patrick's Day Parade. The Cultural Quarters or CQ for short is the old police barracks turned into a nexus of alternative art and culture by an amazing Glaswegian woman, Tracey, who is a tiny bundle of power and energy. There's a vintage clothes and knick knack shop, theatre space upstairs for comedy, concerts and plays, rooms for yoga and tai chi and dance and music lessons and whatever you're having yourself. Tracey also runs the Ballinamore Fringe Festival out of the CQ. So off I went and dressed up as a pirate - HAR - and got in line in the parade. We were behind the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) float which was making a historic first appearance in a provincial town. But our signs were apparently out of date showing the wrong website, so we ended up helping to carry the rainbow flags instead and next minute I'm marching down the main street of Ballinamore in the St Patrick's Day parade with the LGBT group! (I'm having a very interesting 60th year, ending up in the oddest of places.) Generally speaking it was hilarious. We got a lot of cheers and laughs, but there were also some seriously scary looks: I can't really describe them, but they leave you feeling cold and dead inside, like you're not a human being, or your existence is wiped out in that gaze. The great news is that we got a prize - for being the most colourful and humourous group! A benign act of good will, I felt, on the part of the Ballinamore committee. Here's a pic of some of us looking daft as a brush.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beannactaí Lá Phádraig!

Mixing business with pleasure. Here's me displaying wonderful green (leprechaun?) slippers made in Mongolia by amazing women who live in a town at the end of the Gobi Desert. You can order their hand-made felt goods including these slippers online at Their felt factory was set up as a charitable project by the Venerable Panchen Otrul Rinpoche, the high lama who lives in Ireland at my favourite retreat centre Jampa Ling. (See And guess what. I'll be visiting them this summer when I travel with the lama to Outer Mongolia. Yes, indeed, I'll be crossing the Gobi Desert, in the shadow of Genghis Khan. Very exciting. Meanwhile, though, have a great St Patrick's Day wherever you are. I'll be marching, dressed in costume, in the parade in Ballinamore. Hope to have some pics of that to be posted soon.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sailing To Byzantium

First heard some tracks from this album on RTE Lyric fm, including poems read by Gabriel Byrne. While I liked his readings - he has a fabulous voice - I reacted negatively to Christine Tobin's arrangements. The album is her concept. She sings Yeats's poems in a kind of 50s jazzy lounge music style, breaking out from time to time into modern and even experimental jazz. I was a tad horrified. Shouldn't the poems be sung to traditional Irish at best or tunes like Moore's Melodies at worst? Then I remembered my initial reaction to Kate Bush. I have my own theory of aesthetic philosophy that anything truly original or unique causes automatic aversion and even revulsion. It's animal instinct. The hackles rise at the unknown; it could be dangerous. So I bought the album. The more I've played it, the more I admire and enjoy it. You can go on her website and have a listen: Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sad Then Happy Tail(s)

This little cat and dog were found wandering lost and wounded in Tralee around Christmas time. They had both been deliberately scalded, according to the vet. The dog kept licking the cat's wounds. The two were brought to a wonderful rescue centre/farm called Animal Heaven Animal Rescue (AHAR) - see and also Facebook. When anyone tried to separate them, they screamed blue murder so the vet had to examine them together. They've been called Bonnie (the cat) and Clyde (the dog). At first AHAR couldn't get them adopted because no one wanted a cat and a dog and the centre had decided they had to go together. But now, after coverage in the Irish media - front page of the Irish Examiner - offers are pouring in. So happy ending! (And we won't even think of what kind of cretins would injure animals and abandon them like that. Monsters walk the earth in human form.)

Friday, January 18, 2013

The New Poor in Ireland

Video: Film-maker reveals Ireland’s new poor relying on soup kitchens via @independent_ie

So much for the government's propaganda that things are improving. "A soup kitchen in every town and city" is our future, says this humanitarian. Thanks to our politicians, bankers, developers, the IMF and the Central Bank. Sad indeed.  

Monday, January 07, 2013


Wishing you all the best for a great 2013. Only three resolutions this year (I'm a believer in such things): 1) no chocolate for the month of January - nearly caved a few days ago and was saved by the fact that the last of the orange chocolate segments in the fridge had been eaten by Finn who has made no such resolution as she still has her waistline 2) NO MORE LOTTERY TICKETS - I announced this at the customer service desk of Tesco after being told my last two tickets had won me naught. People around me cheered and jeered, the manager looked cross (do they get a commission?) and I was heard to quote that I call it a tax on the poor and a friend of mine calls it a tax on the stupid 3) a walk every day - little or long - along with Chi Gong and yoga stretches. Patchy to date but nonetheless in evidence which is a good start. Good luck all of you with your own resolutions if you have them. Sure why not, test of character and all that. A radio dj announced proudly he had managed to get through the day so far without a bag of crisps (potato chips for you North Americans)and you had to feel for him. Meanwhile, here's a pic of me at the Gateway of India in Mumbai (formerly Bonmbay)not long after my 60th birthday last month. I was in India for three weeks over November/December and arrived back on the 17th in time to hurl myself into Christmas. More about that anon.