Into the Shock of It

Last summer I started swimming in the sea, something that I’d never been particularly fond of as a child. Although I loved to swim I grew up a good 2-hour drive from the coast and I didn’t enjoy the way the waves seemed to pounce, making me cough as I inhaled sea water, eyes stinging as I spluttered. But in coming back to it as an adult, I’ve learnt to love it. As summer slipped into autumn and gradually gave way to winter, I continued with my swims and became a convert. There’s something wonderful about being at eye-level with the water, literally submerged in something that you’re usually on the fringes of. So, just over a year since I penned my first love-letter to Ireland, I offer this little ditty in appreciation of this lovely country and its surrounding seas.

Into the Shock of It

I wade out into the water
the coldness creeping
up my body with a prickle.
Sand shifts under my soles
and I let my hands hover
stretching out time
like e l a s t i c, 
putting off the plunge.

There is no thought,
only motion.
Forwards. Inwards
against the frothing waves,
leaving behind the sigh
of sea on shale
and the gentle bubble.

Then eye-level, all at once
water rushing
numbing my neck as I 
let go,
thrash out
into the shock of it.
Swear. Chatter.

Five minutes of ebb and flow, 
then I find myself again, 
flip over skywards,
lift my legs and lie
basking in blissful content.

My body hums on a cellular level.
Nose pressed up to nature,
sea-salt-coated, sublime.

Suddenly a cormorant surfaces,
silver fish clasped in its beak,
eyes alertly aquamarine,
black feathers sleek before it
back down
leaving but a ripple in its wake.

Seconds stretch,
minutes lose meaning as I 
make my way back to the shore.
Getting out is grimmer than the in,
my body now as reluctant to leave
as it was to swim.

A Matter of the Mind

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day on which we pay particular attention to the mind and recognise that it requires the same level of care as our bodies. But even if we acknowledge that society is getting better at addressing mental health, there is arguably still a degree of unconscious bias that can make it feel awkward to talk about. Yet every day is a mental health day. This year, as we face a pandemic and the many challenges it poses, it feels all the more important to be open about what we’re going through. For what it’s worth, these are my thoughts, which I share in the hope that they may resonate with others.

When the Covid situation started to unfold and the country went into lockdown in March, I didn’t think that we would still be in such dire straits 7 months later. Perhaps if I had been a scientist I would have been less naive, and maybe the knowledge that we were in it for the long haul would have prepared me for what was to come. But, honestly, I was not prepared, and based on my conversations with others, I’m not alone in that.

At first, there seemed to be a prevailing sense that we all just needed to knuckle down and get on with it. Once the initial panic had begun to subside, we had to try and return to some degree of normalcy. Go about our lives, cook real food, continue to function at work, care for children/relatives etc. We were expected to approach being shut up in our homes with a stiff upper lip, to just accept things for what they were and cope with it.

In the short term, maybe we could have done that without too much difficulty. We could have been resilient and stoic and all of the other qualities that one is expected to assume in a crisis. And maybe some people are still in that frame of mind and have able to sustain it. However, suppressing all of the feelings that arise when the world is (both literally and metaphorically) on fire can have a really negative impact on your mental health. It’s stressful to have to put on a front, to be fine when you’re not, to function when you can barely get out of bed because you feel buried under the weight of your feelings.

The other day I read an article from Aware NI entitled Navigating the ‘New Normal’. I struggle with the concept of the ‘new normal’ because there is nothing normal about our present state. It’s also a flat-out rejection (on my part) of the idea that this situation has no end; if something becomes normal then there’s the implication that we accept it, and I do not accept this half life I’m currently living.

Title aside, the article was a helpful read. I appreciated the following segment in particular:

Good or bad, change requires an adjustment of some kind. This takes energy. If the demands are too great, it can drain you and create stress. Unmanaged stress can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression including:

– An unusually sad mood that doesn’t go away
– Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
– Loss of confidence or poor self-esteem
– Feeling guilty when not at fault
– Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
– Physical symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, lack of energy, weight loss or gain.

I looked at that list and nodded to myself. I reflected on the sustained periods of sadness and loneliness. I thought about my lack of desire to do activities that usually pleased me, the comfort-eating and the weakening of my already paltry confidence when I inevitably gained weight. Headaches, tiredness, insomnia, and an overall lethargy that sapped me of energy and took away my motivation. Lastly, the overwhelming sense of guilt. Guilt for being needy, for feeling sad when others were coping with so much more. Feeling guilty that I didn’t want to immediately move back home to my family, even though I loved and missed them. Guilt over having days out (alone) when maybe I should’ve stayed inside. Guilt over my anxious brain misinterpreting messages from friends and sending me into a spiral of worry, internally questioning our friendship and irritating them in the process…

To deal with all of these things on top of the daily grind is a lot. It takes its toll and, in my case, brought out characteristics that increased the negative feelings I had towards myself. I was (am?) cross with myself for struggling and frustrated that my mind was causing me to feel like I was unravelling. I share these truths not to gain sympathy but in the hope that if you look at that list and nod to yourself, you don’t feel so alone. In a year marked by isolation and loneliness, connection is ever more vital.

The article saves the most important idea until the end, urging people who are struggling to reach out. As a friend once remarked to me, the dark days when you want to shut yourself away and hide from everyone are usually the days when you most need contact.

Now, more than ever it is so important to keep connected to others. If you are struggling, reach out to someone you trust and let them know how you’re feeling. They will not judge you and may be able to offer a different perspective. Knowing there is someone there who will listen will really help you process any negative thoughts and help you cope better with what you are going through.

If you feel you have no one to turn to, know there are people who are trained to listen and help.

Talking to people has been the only way that I have been able to get through this year. Sometimes, when you’re at your lowest, you might not feel like there’s anyone there to talk to. Perhaps you’re afraid of burdening friends, of feeling like a stuck record, or of being knocked back. But if this year has shown me anything, it’s that it’s twenty times harder to get out of a dark hole on your own. Sometimes you need someone to reach down and pull you up, back into the light. Someone to tell you that you’re ok, you’re loved, you matter, you’re missed. And, if you find yourself wondering whether it might be worth talking to someone more qualified than those who love and know you best, don’t be afraid to seek them out.

We’re in this together and together we’re stronger.

Take care. 🧡

P.S. There are a lot of sites out there that will give you advice on how to deal with stress, anxiety, or depression, but I thought I’d share a few things that have helped me during the pandemic:

  • Set up a routine and try, as much as you are able, to stick to it
  • Text/email/call a friend, even if it’s just a ‘Hello’ / ‘Happy Tuesday!’ / ‘Love you!’
  • Factor some exercise or outdoor time into your day
  • Try and set up a couple of scheduled Skypes during the week with friends. Having these loosely fixed catch ups gives you something to look forward to
  • Be mindful of the amount of time you’re spending on social media
  • Consider keeping a journal or diary, even if it’s just somewhere that you offload your feelings about the day (think Dumbledore’s Pensive, if you’re a HP fan.)
  • Teach yourself a skill/new hobby, like how to knit or paint, as positive distraction. (Youtube will be your friend here.)
  • Send a card or letter to someone
  • Read, listen to music, have a dance
  • Batch cook nice food for days when you can’t be bothered to cook
  • Be kind to yourself (this one’s hard.) Take one day at a time. Accept that there are days when you just cannot push yourself and just need to eat carbs and watch Netflix.

A Bit Too

Another midnight poetic musing, dedicated to anyone else currently feeling a bit too…


I am a bit too. 

Too needy.

Too afraid.

Too emotional.

Too expressive.

Too many words.

Too many thoughts. 

Too much overthinking.

Too many times expecting more.

Too many times pushed back, no.

Too much love in my too big heart.

Too much time to feel the space.

Too used to lying wide awake

To try and work out a way

To feel, to say… less.

To stop being

A bit too.

Springtime in Dublin

It is April, the month of becoming. After a windy, grey winter, Dublin is awash with colour. The tentative daffodils, bringing the first promise of Spring, have been joined by bright red tulips and grape hyacinths of vivid blue. Silver birches are sprouting the smallest, greenest leaves, and cherry trees droop under boughs heavy with blossom. These tender petals range from the palest, creamy white to bold and blousy pink, and contrast with the dark bark. Likewise, the apple blossom is opening; deep fuchsia buds unfurl to reveal a few smudged-pink petals and bright yellow stamens. The bees busy themselves, collecting pollen on their downy underbellies.

Shades of yellow seem to dominate the landscape in this early stage of Spring. Bright yellow flowers emerge, confetti-like, on the spiky gorse. These hardy shrubs bloom throughout the year, but after the muted shades of winter, the lemony hues are particularly warm and welcome. The flowers smell of coconut – a surprise for the unsuspecting walker. Elsewhere, the yellow can be found on the variegated leaves of vinca or periwinkle, creeping easily across borders with starry flowers of purple or white. Heavy-headed cowslips, too, are often found in front gardens or mixed in with the daffs and tulips on roadsides. Pale, buttery primroses push up in unsuspecting places, and their garish cousins are a favourite for filling tubs or lining pathways. Forsythia, broom, buttercups… the list goes on.

The trees, our gentle giants, are slower to show their shades. The leaves of the horse chestnut are fragile, hanging limply groundward. Beech trees offer dainty, crinkled foliage in the brightest lime green, or dusky pink in the case of the copper beech. The colour transformation that these trees undergo over the course of the year is wonderful and awesome in the most literal sense. And one of the most stunning trees at this time of year has be the magnolia. Their unassuming, velvety buds belie the beauty within. Elegant petals in pinks and whites adorn the branches and open to reveal a sturdy stamen, which seems representative of the tree’s hardier-than-we-look character.

Spring is my favourite season, and this is my first in Dublin. The lockdown restrictions mean that we can only venture 2km from home for exercise, but this has made me more creative with my run routes. The weather since the restrictions were put in place has been fair – mostly dry, sometimes cloudy, but increasingly mild and sunny. As a result, Spring seems to have come on leaps and bounds in a few short weeks, and every day it feels like new things have emerged since I was last out. I feel so grateful for the weather and to live somewhere so beautiful, where Spring has space to unfold. And while I tend to think of myself as someone who notices nature, and takes a huge amount of joy from small beauties, having a little more time means that I am noticing more.

This week I found bluebells, which seems early. My first alma mater was set in glorious woodland and the bluebells gave me hours of pleasure in late April and early May. But perhaps the bluebells open in Dublin before they do at home. And just this morning I stumbled upon a patch of forget-me-nots, which transported me back home to my parents’ garden, which is full of forget-me-nots, bluebells, and other flowers that I collect for posies come Spring. While I wouldn’t trade my Dublin-home for my Shire-home during the pandemic, I do miss the garden. But having such a wealth of flora on my doorstep definitely keeps the spirits lifted. I am eager to watch the season progress and blend into summer, when hopefully we shall be safe and free to enjoy nature’s gifts with others. Until then, I wish you all good health and happiness. Be kind to yourselves and others; in the words of Sinéad Gleeson, be the goodness.

6 Months in Ireland

This weekend marks 6 months since I moved to Ireland to begin my PhD adventure! It’s not quite how I expected my six-monthiversary to look. As of Thursday 12th March the country is on lockdown because of Covid19; schools and universities have been closed and I’ve spent the week working from home. I’m definitely an introvert but even I am pining for some social interaction. But, this post is more of a reflection. How did I end up in Ireland? Why did I choose to study here? Why do I love it? If you’re interested, read on…


After falling head over heels in love with the country on my first visit in 2016, I began an annual trip to Ireland. I felt a weird and inexplicable kinship with the place. I loved the rolling mountains and all of the green. The people were so friendly and warm. Dublin felt like a big town rather than a city, and I enjoyed exploring its streets, getting lost and finding myself again. I’m a country girl and have always lived in the middle of nowhere, but Dublin felt like somewhere I could settle. As soon as I left I’d be plotting my return, thinking about where in Ireland to go next. The welcoming feel of the country turned me into a solo traveller; before my trip in 2017 I’d never been on holiday on my own before. The freedom was liberating, and the country became somewhat symbolic of that sense of freedom and provided an escape from the narrow confines of my world.

When 2019 rolled round I was completing my MA in Music at Oxford Brookes University, trying to pull the threads of my academic interests into a coherent dissertation topic. A wonderful conference in sunny (or not so sunny, as was the case) California in early February spurred me on with my proposal. And on the fringes of my mind my PhD notions hovered, shuffling about uncertainly. I was crippled with indecision, constantly exploring different avenues, creating and then discarding plans. At the back of my mind there was this chasm full of what ifs and doubt and worry for the future. After the MA I didn’t have a next step in place. I’d left my job and was doing temporary supply work, which I really wasn’t enjoying. There was a lot of low-level panic and soul-searching in those months.

Fast forward to early summer and the arrival of an email advertising a fully-funded PhD scholarship at Dublin City University. Too good to be true, right? A frantic fortnight followed, life was put on hold, and a PhD proposal was wrestled into being. I desperately wanted to be successful. I wanted to continue with my academic trajectory, and where better to do it than in my favourite city, supervised by a stellar academic? I hit send in June, attended a conference in Ireland later that month, and was invited to interview in early July. A friend kindly did a mock interview with me, told me to stop searching for the problems in every question asked, and pulled me back from the precipice of self-doubt. I could do this.

Needless to say, I did the interview and was awarded the scholarship. I was stunned and thrilled; it felt unreal to be getting my wish. After a summer of dissertation writing and accommodation hunting I trekked across to Dublin (via the ferry) and moved into my new home on September 15th. It was grey and damp, a soft day, not quite the Ireland I wanted my mum to see on her first trip to the country. Over the next few days she settled me in, I gave her a whistle-stop tour of the city, and then I took her to the airport to head home. I felt intensely guilty waving her off, as if I was abandoning her in my desire to flee the kingdom, and there’s still a little pocket of mum-related guilt in my heart.

That said, my first six months in Dublin have been great (Covid19 aside). I live by the sea (an unexpected joy), I’ve joined a choir, made new friends, taken a German course, explored and walked my legs off. Added to this, my research is going well, I’ve given papers at two conferences (and ‘presented’ in-absentia at a third!), and my supervisor is brilliant. I feel luckier than I can express. The me of 12 months ago would have laughed you out of the room if you’d told her that by September 2019 she’d be living in Dublin. I spent the first half of that year feeling hopeless and directionless. I did a shameful amount of moping and hand-wringing and feeling sorry for myself. Fortunately, I have good friends who helped pull me out of that rut and gave me a well-meant kick up the behind. I am blessed indeed, and grateful for their continued support from across the seas, particularly during these more stressful times.

So, to wrap up, here’s a little ‘poetic’ musing inspired by all of those people who look a bit puzzled when I express my love of Ireland, explain a bit about how I came to be here, and why I hope I get to stay post-PhD.


Why Ireland?

Why Ireland? they ask.
Because I fell in love, I say. 
With a feeling, not a face. 
A land and its people, the place. 

What do you like about it? they ask
So many things, I say.
Living by the sea,
finding a home away from home,
realising there’s a place for me. 

The hihowareye, all one word,
And though all the pharmacies seem quite absurd,
the people are kind,
telling you often to mind
yourself now. 

And sure look, it’ll be grand,
who can’t be happy with their feet on the sand,
watching the sun get out of bed,
and peep around the top of Howth Head.

Also, the mountains are there,
looking in the distance all etched and bare,
calling quietly for you to come and see,
to spend an afternoon amongst rock and tree.

From the Fairy Castle of Ticknock,
to the deep lakes of Glendalough,
the Wicklow garden is only a drive.
A hop, skip, jump to feeling alive,
and small price to pay to watch the day
unfurl beneath clouds of grey,
or maybe under hues of blue.

Then there’s the culture. 
All those lovely galleries,
so often free. And the libraries,
with books aplenty just for me
to leaf through, browse, and borrow.

And to top it all, the cherry on the cake,
I’ve been blessed enough to make
new friends to add to those I’d had.
Planners, shakers, and all music makers.
Folks who’ll FaceTime when you’re feeling down,
people to meet and show you the town.

So you’re happy there? they ask.
As happy as can be, I say.
I came to Ireland on holiday
and found a place I wanted to stay.

I’ve six months under my belt,
And in that time I’ve never felt 
the wish to be gone.

So Éire, thanks a million.
Let me see what six months more
will have in store.