Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Happy Birthday Dad

From the Editor.

Today, Dad would have been ninety four.

As most of you know, Dad died on Friday July 1st. He had a wonderful and lucky life and made the most of the many talents he was given (and probably a few he wasn't). He died peacefully at home, surrounded by Louise and his family and for that, we are forever grateful. He often spoke to me about writing a special blog to be published after his death but we have searched his computer and have yet to find it - perhaps it will turn up one day. At his funeral and afterwards, a few of us spoke about him so we thought it might be fitting to put our words onto the blog. He would like that. I should say that although Dad was a very good and keen Irish speaker, we, his children are not (hence there may be some spelling mistakes which I think he would have forgiven - at least we tried)

Five of us spoke but I do not have David's speech as he is off on holidays in west Kerry, a place Dad loved from his childhood days. Barbara did not speak but her thoughts are forming and, as we said, it's OK to take your time at moments like this.

You might find there are more grammatical and spelling errors than normal as it is not Dad who is writing this but I think, under the circumstances he would forgive that too.

From Richard:

A Uachtarán, A Dhuine Uasail, Taimid an sasta go bhfuil sibh anseo inniu chun onóir ár n-athair.
On behalf of myself Richard, David, Hugh, Tina, Barbara and Lisa, we would like to thank you for coming to honour Risteárd today.

Our Dad lived an amazing life. He was to us what I would imagine any father would be to their children – our hero, our pillar of strength, our teacher and our no-recourse financial lender!

Born into a prominent family – his Dad Richard Mulcahy played a vital role in setting up the Army and maintaining stability at the embryonic stage of our fledgling nation. His Mum, equally involved in the formation of our State took a backseat role and looked after Dad and his 5 siblings - two of whom I am delighted so say are still with us; Elisabet and Seán. 

Dad had an uneventful life growing up - he always described it as devoid of any material trappings but having a great  sense of belonging. It was at this formative stage that he picked up the many skills that were to Maketh the Man.

In 1939 Dad decided that for no particular reason, other than knowing Latin and Greek, he would try medicine in College. It was a decision that many thousands of people would benefit from throughout his career. In 1954, after a whirlwind romance of 3 months, he married our Mum, Aileen Hanton. In the following 8 years, the six of us were born – poor Mum! Dad had been a late starter but he sure made up for it.

In our earlier years, we saw little of Dad – mainly at breakfast when he would regale us with stories of the latest hospital drama - how someone had swallowed a wasp and died, a patient’s head having to be sowed back on after a terrible accident. Dad was our hero then and, as we grew older, we saw him less and less – in fact, we probably saw him in the media more than anywhere else. 

Just like any other normal children, we rebelled against our parents. Dad was on the Late Late Show one night and Gay was commending him on getting the nation off of cigarettes – there was a “hear hear” from our sitting room as Mum and the six of us sat puffing cigarette smoke at the TV!

It was a sad time for Mum and all of us in 1974 when Dad left home. Many people tried to intervene but when Dad made up his mind to do something, there was no stopping him. 

In 1977, Dad was to meet and fall in love with Louise. As an extended member of the family once said “wasn’t he the cute fellow to get a nurse 24 years younger than himself to fall in love with him!”. They had the perfect yin yang relationship. For us, having a stepmother was difficult at first but you could not help but love Louise. So much so, that even Mum eventually, with great grace, accepted Louise into her life and they became good friends. They both loved the same rogue to the end!

Apart from saving the world, Dad had time to pursue other activities with the same gusto. He was captain of Milltown Golf Club at the age of 32, much to the chagrin of the Reverend Mother in St. Vincent’s  who said she did not want professional golfers on her staff.  He became an avid squash player in his 40s and 50s and took up running at the age of 60. While training for his first marathon, Dad ran from Leeson Park to Sutton. Exhausted, he decided to get the bus back in to town. The 31A stopped at St. Fintan’s Cemetery where Dad clambered on the bus wheezing and sweating profusely – even back then, he looked emaciated. The bus driver slowly eyed Dad up and down and then asked him where he was going. Dad said he wanted a ticket into town. The driver considered the request for a moment, took a long look at the cemetery, looked back at Dad and said “do you really think it’s worth your while going home?” Dad went on to complete 4 marathons over the following 7 years. 

After his hospital retirement at 65, Dad took up golf again. It was always a source of irritation that up to age 89, he still took money off myself and my two brothers on the golf course.

As exercise, cycling began to feature heavily in Dad’s life in his early 70s. Not content to just ride his bike, he had to turn cycling into a crusade. Writing to politicians and county councils about bicycle lanes, the state of potholes on our roads, writing books about exercise where cycling featured. Eventually, at 91, he decided to stop cycling – he felt it was getting too chaotic on the roads for a middle aged man like himself! 

He still had walking which was like a drug for him and he would invariably walk every day with Louise or scoot off into town on his own to see if his books were still on sale in the few remaining bookshops. 

In his later years, we, his children had much more time with him and he embraced this with each of us in different ways. Although originally more focused on us boys, he grew to depend on the girls in later life, setting up his blogs, doing all his typing and secretarial work, dealing with his ongoing Kindle issues or just shooting the breeze with them or his grandchildren.

2016 was a special year for Dad. For the last few years, he had been getting more and more anxious about how mankind was destroying our precious planet through over-population, consumerism and climate change. Instead of just talking about it, he wrote a 10,000 word pamphlet called “The Survival of Humanity”. This was launched by his friend, Marie Louise O’Donnell in March and I remember clearly what she said about Dad “Risteárd may very well be the first man to live for ever.

In April he was invited to Ashbourne to celebrate the only real victory in 1916 by the rebels which was masterminded by his father. He was so proud to be there and to know that his father was getting the recognition due to him.

In May we met with the Chief of Staff of the Army to try and finally set the record straight about Dad’s father. General Richard Mulcahy was appointed the first Chief of Staff of the newly formed Irish army in 1919. We believe that the Army is the most disciplined, loyal and integrous body serving the State and that Richard Mulcahy had his part to play in that. Also in May, through the generous partnership of Wexford County Council Dad and family members attended a meeting where it was agreed that an 18 acre park would be built for the people of Wexford and named in honour of Dad’s mum, Min Ryan, who also played a prominent role in The Rising and the foundation of the State.

One would have to ask oneself – with all these activities – how did Dad actually have time to die?

Dad’s final days really only started last Wednesday week when he had a mini stroke. Last Monday I was sitting in his garden enjoying one of his favourite pastimes – having a Gin and Tonic, and despite a slight slur in his speech he was still able to bang on about the stock market and the world population problem!

He went to bed on Tuesday with the expectation that he was going to die, but at 6pm when Louise whispered in his ears if he would like a Gin and Tonic his eyes binged open and the drink was polished off with relish. Later that evening we had the pleasure of Abbot Mark Hederman no less to give Dad a blessing (this I might add was a request directly from Dad which was a first in our eyes since he had been agnostic most of his life). The blessing and especially the sprinkling of the holy water over Dad’s head went off without a bolt of lightning coming through the roof, much to our relief!  

Dad spoke a couple of words to us afterwards but then slipped into a deep sleep never to talk again. On Friday morning at 9.30am surrounded by a number of us touching his lovely face and hands, having created so much turmoil and hullabaloo in his life – he quietly exhaled one last time and died.
What a legacy Dad has left – words cannot capture his achievements, the lives he saved, the people he touched, his deep concern for this precious world we live in, his childlike curiosity for everything new, his deep rooted need to honour his parents, his outspoken views of modern day politicians compared to the founding fathers of this amazing Country.

Above all Dad, through leading by example, instilled in the six of us a sense of social responsibility, a good work ethic, a love for the environment, a deep rooted loyalty to family and friends, the gift of generosity and a pragmatic approach to life’s ups and downs. For that and much, much more we thank you Dad. I would like to end off with a quote from one of Dad’s books 

“Despite the ups and downs of our lives on earth, surely this life is better than facing the meaningless immortality of the Gods”
“D’fheadfadh a chuimhne a bheith ina beannacht” – “May his memory be a blessing” 

From Tina:

Uachtarán, dear friends and family.

I am Tina, Dad’s eldest daughter and today I would like to say a few words on behalf of Louise.

Louise would like to extend her most profound thanks to each and every one of you here today, those of you who have come from far and near.   She also thanks those friends that could not make it today.   The love and friendship that you have given to Louise and Dad have made a major contribution towards making their life such a happy one.

Over the last months my Dad and Louise were able to live a normal life largely because of their neighbours and friends precious help. 

It is not possible to thank everyone by name but Louise would like to mention a few people:

·      Diarmuid O’Shea and Tony McDowell, Dad’s personal physicians and close friends;
·      The staff of St Vincent’s University and Private Hospitals and the Hospice in Blackrock for their care;
·      Jess Ryan, Maria Fe and Lusia for their love and care;
·      Fr. Tony Coote and Dom. Mark Patrick Hederman for their spiritual guidance;
Today my siblings and I are technically orphans.  However Louise has made it very clear to us that this will never be the case as long as she is around.  For this I am eternally grateful.

Louise has also asked me to present Dad’s stethoscope to David.  He must be guardian of the stethoscope until one of the eleven grandchildren decides to become a doctor.

I would like to finish with a personal reflection.  I have been working in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg for 35 years.  Europe and the world are faced with many challenges and difficult times in terms of solidarity towards our fellow human beings.  

Perhaps Ireland is not a perfect country but when I return here I continue to be heartened by the strong sense of community and solidarity.  I see this within my own family and I see it in wider society.  

This makes me very proud to be a Mulcahy and very proud to be Irish. 

Thank you

From Hugh:
Richard, David and Tina have talked about Dad’s professional and personal lives and also mentioned some of his essential characteristics. He was both adaptable and solution based, but this brought him into conflict with authority with whom he had a love hate relationship. Richard, David and I brought him over to Scotland in September 2014 to visit his uncle Sam’s grave in Nunraw in Scotland. Sam, with a number of other Monks from Mount St. Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, had founded the Abbey in 1946 and Dad had never visited the site before. Arriving in Dublin Airport, we queued for the security check and, as you can imagine, Dad hated queuing. Arriving at Security, a young woman asked him to empty his pockets of coins, pens, keys and the other paraphernalia that a 92 year old carries.

Do you have a watch? Yes. Well, please take it off and place it in the tray.
Is that an identity Bracelet? Yes. Please take it off and….
What about your bow tie, does that have any metal in it? Probably. Well, please….
Your monocle will also need to go in the tray………and your belt.
Dad was so frustrated at this stage that he replied “look, young lady, wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if I just hopped up on the conveyer belt and went through the machine myself? To her credit, she just laughed and let him pass on.

He also had a love hate relationship with golf. He took up the sport in the late 1930’s with his brother, Padraig and sister, Elisabet and used to catch the 14 tram to Milltown and walk the short distance to Milltown Golf Club where the Mulcahys seemed to be ever present and his handicap rapidly fell to seven. He became Captain in 1954, an astonishing 62 years ago and, indeed, was Captain before most of the recent Captains were born. His brother Padraig was  Captain in 1964 and his sister Elizabeth in 1973. He was also a member in both Rosslare for a period, and in Portmarnock for most of his life.

Dad was a serial golf giver upper. He first gave up golf at the age of 37 during a particularly bad Winter when snow prevented all play for a period of two months. At this time, he took up squash, which he played until his late 50’s when he took up marathon running. He returned to golf at 65 on his retirement and played a regular fourball with friends every Tuesday in Portmarnock. He gave up golf again at 80 when his partners began to die off, but took it up again at 82 when he found a new and younger set to play with. He finally gave up competitive 18-hole golf at 89 when his younger partners began to die off and played his last competitive game at the age of 92 – a three hole competition with his grandchildren.

Apart from this, he had an enforced layoff for three months in early 1994 when he had undergone a hip replacement. Never one to miss an opportunity to profit from misfortune – even his own, he wrote to the Chairman of the Handicap Committee in Milltown:

Dear xxx
Re: Golf Handicap
Playing off a handicap of 14.2, I have recently undergone hip replacement surgery. This has necessitated a lengthy recuperation period and has had a negative effect on my golfing ability, predominantly affecting my driving and long iron play. I should also note that, while surgery was generally successful, the surgeon misaligned my hip joint by about 5 degrees, so that I now consistently miss my putts to the left side.

I would be grateful if you would you would review and adjust my handicap accordingly.

Yours sincerely

Risteárd Mulcahy

The Handicap Secretary wrote back:

Dear Risteárd,

Re: Golf Handicap

Many thanks for your letter. I’m delighted to hear that you have made a generally good recovery after your recent surgery. Following review, I am pleased to inform you that the Handicap Committee has adjusted your handicap to 18 with immediate effect.

Finally, Risteárd, I would be grateful if you would forward the name and contact details of your orthopedic surgeon to me. Although my hip joints are normal, I have suffered from the yips for many years, unfailingly missing my putts to the right.

With kind regards

However behind every great golfer there is a caddy, just as behind every great woman there is a man and behind every man a woman.

Da had many women in his life. Maura Mulcahy and Chris Doherty, his private secretary and nurse. Nancy Grogan, his secretary in St Vincent’s and a huge group of nurses in the Coronary Care Unit in St Vincent’s. My mother Aileen, who had six children in the space of eight years and who, if I say so myself, did a very respectable job of bringing the lot of us up. Finally, Louise, whom he married in 1997. Louise was everything to him in his later years, finally nursing him through his recent final illness.

So what would he have wanted to say to you here today? Plenty probably. When I look around here, I see many of his friends and many older people. I have the privilege to work in St Vincent’s Hospital and frequently care for patients in their 80s and 90s. I am often struck by the bravery and courage of our elderly patient population who bear the indignities of old age and the embarrassments that hospital life throws at them every day. I am also occasionally appalled by the attitude of some of their children who assume that failing eyesight or hearing equates to a failing intellect and who consequently treat their parents as if they were nothing more than stupid or naughty children. Dad had failing eyesight and hearing, but he never lost his intellect nor allowed us to treat him as anything less than the head of his house, and for that I am thankful. If he were to say one thing to his elderly friends, he might say “Never lose your dignity, nor sense of destiny, for they are yours, and yours alone, until the day you die.”

Thank you.

From Lisa:

As many of you are aware, Dad did a weekly Blog called The Font of Knowledge which I had the privilege to edit. Each week we would post up a review he had done of a book he had read. This had become a custom of his, some years back when he had retired and was keen to keep an active mind. The subject matter of the books he read varied greatly as he had so many interests and so much curiosity that needed to be satisfied.  We posted the first blog on March 10th 2013 and the most recent just over four weeks ago on May 30th. In total, he posted 153 blogs – mostly book reviews but more recently, personal memories of his youthful activities and experiences. Dad loved the Irish language but he loved English too and was, to my mind pretty masterful with it. When I call myself an editor – I really didn’t do very much because there was nothing for me to do. My main job became finding or taking photos that would compliment or comment on his words.  I learned so much, not only about the world and history and nature but also about Dad because he so brilliantly weaved himself into his reviews. He had a great command of the language and I spent many hours looking up the meanings of the words he might use that I was not familiar with. He was very particular about punctuation. I made a dreadful error early on in my capacity as editor – I used the spell check. As well as checking spellings, it also checks punctuation and like the fool I was, I did its bidding and made various amendments. I received a call very early the following morning after Dad had reviewed the blog online. Suffice to say, I never used the spell-check again and I learned that punctuation can be very personal.

As others have said today, Dad was very funny and in my mind, forever young. He had a brilliant way with words.

To end, I would like to read some email correspondence between us a few years ago when he was a rather childish 87 years of age.

From Dad -

Dear offspring,

Greetings for the August bank holiday. Just to let u no that I have moved into the 21st Century by becoming the proud owner of a 2nd hand mobile phone thanks to the generosity of my spouse who has moved prematurely into the 22nd Century. It’s purpose is for emergency calls only!  It is not intended for idle gossip nor 4 the transmission of bawdy or raunchy jokes (Martha please note!) nor do I need any racing or stock exchange tips. I simply want  to be left alone 2 write books and 2 practise my golf swing. For meaningful communication & sapient and efficient verbal intercourse without excessive circumlocution (I had to look that one up – it means  the use of many words where fewer would do,) please avoid prolixity (unnecessary or tedious length) by employing text language only.

With much love, Dad.

A short while later, obviously after some considered contemplation on his part he sent a follow up email –

Dear offspring,

Just to confirm that my mobile can only be used for emergency purposes but texts are now admissible as long as they are not too long-winded.

Le beannacht agus mór gradh, R.

My response to him  - 

Excellent - perhaps soon you might feel brave enough to tackle driving a motorised vehicle powered by what we in these modern times call the 'internal combustion engine?' Shouldn't a man of your age be asleep tucked up with your nightcap ( and I don't mean a drink...)

Your most devoted

His response -

Thanks my lovely one,

I only got the latter end of your email but I enjoyed your quiet banter. I should remind you that drink was not my favourite bed-fellow. You  owe your petty existence to the fact that there were much nicer things to be enjoyed in the bed! I look back on a life fulfilled by the joys of the couch and its many co-occupants, and of an equally exciting future.

Le gradh agus beannacht, Daidí.

I will miss his words.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

Monday, 30 May 2016

Adventures in Brighton and Paris

In the innocent, halcyon days....
The six years at UCD brought me in contact with many people, not only those who were in college with me but also those who had preceded me in the college.  Most of my friends were medical people - very many were related to the rowing club and during my post university period whilst I was in London and then back in Dublin I remained friendly with quite a number of these colleagues.  They were scattered around the world during and after the war.  Some joined the war itself and our most popular and most admired captain of the rowing club was killed by the Japanese early on whilst in a prisoner of war camp.  During the war, because so many British doctors joined the armed forces, many Irish doctors, including some of my friends from UCD, replaced them in Britain as locum general practitioners.  A few of these were in London as was I, and several others were scattered around England.  I need hardly say that we were very busy but from time to time we went to meetings and thanks to these occasional meetings we had our moments. 

The Cumberland Hotel
Times were hard in London with great difficulty getting cigarettes and beer but that did not deter us from enjoying ourselves occasionally.  On one August Sunday, four of us met at the Cumberland Hotel to drive to Brighton.  We left the hotel at midday and after a few unscheduled beer stops on the way; we arrived in Brighton at about midnight.  We were to find that all the hotels were booked up and it was impossible to find accommodation of any sort, let alone an open pub.  We were obliged to leave Brighton and travel out the coast road towards Hove searching for accommodation but without any success. 

The fun we could have had,
After some miles we spotted a large grass area, which appeared to be suitable for parking the car and spending the night.  I slept in the front of the car whilst one of the others slept in the back.  The other two slept outside in the open as it was a balmy, warm night.  Hardly were we asleep when there was a terrific outburst outside of the car.  Four or five gentlemen dressed in the finest livery were shouting and abusing our companions.  The gentlemen were appalled by the sight of us and our car.  We found ourselves parked on a beautifully manicured cricket pitch, surrounded by perfectly mown tennis courts and overlooked by a magnificent hotel.  It was a very embarrassing experience but we managed to talk them out of our dilemma because of the failure to find suitable lodging for the night and we parted on surprisingly happy terms which I am glad to say I always found was achieved by the high respect we always showed to our English hosts!

The first experience we had with continentals after the war was in the early 1950’s. The same four people were involved.  We traveled over to France for a week’s holiday. We planned to spend a few days in Paris and then drive to the South for  rest of the time.

Paris, Je t'aime.
There were strict rules upon the British at that time that for fiscal reasons, no more than twenty-five pounds sterling could be exported to the continent. The four of us arrived in Paris with our twenty-five pounds and we booked into a hotel at a pound a night. We were excited by being in that great city for the first time and visited a famous local brassiere on the Left Bank where we met with a very happy and enjoyable group of locals who had not met any Irish people before. The French lads appeared to me to be just as intrigued by meeting us as we were about meeting them.  A singsong started. The music and song was quite interesting - many Irish songs were sung and some French.  The French were fascinated by the unaccustomed singing and despite the different languages, we appeared to have little problem understanding each other. We were refreshed by the fact that there was no such thing as ‘closing time’. At about 8.30 in the morning, we were eventually ejected by the cleaners.  We had left our luggage in the hotel where we were to sleep that night and we went to the baggage room to collect it.  I’m not sure if we paid for our rooms but we got away safely with the English language as a source of confusion and consternation and with the  Mother and Father of all headaches.

When we had sobered up enough to appreciate our situation we found that we had spent exactly 50% of the allowed £25 pounds.  We were left with £14 per head to get us through the rest of the trip.  The hotels we knew would cost £1 for bed and breakfast, the other costs would include travel, petrol, food and various other expenses.  It was clear that the expenses facing us exceeded the amount that was available to us at about £30 in all.  By putting aside a limited amount for travel and for the payment of the hotel, we realised that we were seriously short of money. We had to maintain the strictest control of our expenses.  That included food at the cheapest possible price and the liquid material of the cheapest sort too but it was sufficient to satisfy our needs!  We found some of the publicans generous to a degree in that they allowed us to absorb some of the ancient bottles on the top shelf which they had failed to dispose of in the past. Our paucity of cash did not appear to interfere with the enjoyment of our trip which included mixing with some of the local people including females and visiting the local “sheebeens”.

Simply not cricket.
We were keen to participate in such entertainments as dancing where numerous opportunities were available for the single male including us Irish oddities but I am sorry to say, looking back, my only memory of a dance I attended was leading my partner home and up the steps of her house where I made to give her a kiss. I still remember the horrified look on her face as she fell back in a panic and she put up her hands and said “Tuberculose! Tuberculose!”  That put a rapid end to my romantic affair!

Our travel home from the Mediterranean to Calais was carried out without food and, even more tragic, without alcohol.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Andes and the Amazon

The Andes and the Amazon; across the Continent of South America.  By James Orton. New York Harper and Brothers publishers 1870. Read on Kindle.

Written on January 26th 2013 

This is a long book describing a scientific expedition to the Equator, the Equatorial Andes and the river Amazon and its tributaries. It extends from the Western shore of South America to the mouth of the Amazon in the East. The expedition took place about 1867. After spending some time in Quito, the capital, and other towns and areas in Ecuador, we are provided with the experience of the writer and his companions travelling across the Andes to the tributaries of the Amazon and to the river as far as the Atlantic Ocean.  

It provides a great amount of detail about their travels over these 3000 miles. We are reminded of the hardship of the long trek, first crossing the immense heights and the extent of the Andes, and later the overpowering influence of water, dense forest, wilderness, the thin scattering of primitive tribes and of little animal life in the vast area of the Amazon and its tributaries.  Living as we are in the 21st century with the modern convenience of travel, clothing, equipment and comfort, it is hard to imagine how these early pioneers, deprived of such luxuries, survived the hazards of exploration.

Siesta - an illustration from the book
The book is really not suited for reading on Kindle because of the need to have a detailed map to follow and to appreciate the immensity and the topography of the journey. It is also somewhat tedious reading where one’s interest is less maintained because of the long descriptions of the enclosing density of the forest.  According to the author the maps of the Amazon basin had previously been drawn with great care following the original observations and surveys of earlier explorers such as Humboldt and Wisse. 

Quito illustration.
The first few chapters relate the nature of the society and circumstances of the citizens of Quito and other towns and settlements of Equator,  the general poverty, the intense mixture of colour and race, and the dominance of the Catholic Church as a primary source, not only  of morality and of spirituality but also of political power.

The history of South America from the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century to the present day is a major challenge to the historian. One striking feature of the Spanish conquest was how quickly the major Spanish areas, Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina, were overcome and the little resistance the local tribes had to their arrival. Perhaps the Incas of the north eastern part of the sub-continent alone had the ability to resist the invasion because of their sophisticated and better organised traditions but they had little opportunity of resisting the armour, horses and cruel dominance of the Spanish invader. It was a time in the world’s history which reminds us of the rawness of life, the cruelty which was part of the disturbance of the native inhabitants and the ambitions of the Spanish conquistadors, an ambition which from the time of  Christopher Columbus at the end of the 15th century was largely based on the obsession among them of seeking for gold, an ambition which proved to be as illusory for the Spanish as it was to be destructive to the local population.

If I were young again, I would remain committed to my medical profession but, if I had the interest in history which I was to find in my later years, I would learn Spanish and become devoted to the history of South America in my spare time and so become aware of the characteristics that make up the failures of the conquistadors, failures based on greed and inhumanity, cloaked as they may be by courage, patriotism, fidelity to one’s sovereign and one’s God.  

Information about some aspects of the expedition is contained in a lengthy summary at the end of the book.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Bow Tie (or more vulgarly described as the Dickey Bow).

A few from my collection.
The Bow Tie was rarely worn when I was young in Dublin, only on special occasions such as dances in the Gresham and the Shelbourne Hotels. Modesty forbade me to wear one on other less formal occasions. It was seldom seen in the streets or houses of Dublin at the time but I admired its tidy shape and its many variety of colours.

I pick a favourite
When I went to London to the National Heart Hospital in 1946 as part of my post graduate training, I met another Dublin man older then myself. He was Walter Somerville who came originally from the North Circular road in Dublin and I first met him when he had returned from the war and had been appointed a junior consultant in the National Heart Hospital. He always wore a bow tie and he had a clean and open shirt appearance and his apparel had the effect of attracting a second look. As a physician, or one in training, it was customary to dress well and formally when dealing with patients – nowadays of course, one wears “scrubs” for hygiene reasons.

Raising the collar...
When examining patients it was necessary to examine other organs as well as the heart and chest. At the time I was opposed to the use of the waistcoat and I found it was embarrassing to be wearing a loosely fitted tie particularly when dealing with young females, as it interfered and touched off the patients abdomen. It occurred to me how efficient the bow tie was under these circumstances. So almost from the day I met Walter, I began to wear a bow tie, and I rejected the long and dangling loose tie. It is perhaps surprising that since that time I never wore an ordinary tie except at a funeral, and fortunately these were rare occasions.

Milltown Golf club centenary bow tie.
Learning to use a bow tie is not easy, and is certainly a good reason why they are not in more popular use. There are different types of bow ties, those that are made up from scratch, tied in the front, and tightened from the back – the “real” bow tie – this tie has to be dealt with carefully and skilfully and in most circumstances is slightly imperfect in shape but all the better for it. 

for the "cheats"
Then there are those that have already being made up and are clipped at the back.  This tie is easily recognised by its almost false tidy sharpness – the “cheats” bow tie - and finally there are those that are already made up and clipped to the shirt front  -  the “blasphemers” bow tie – they have few friends!

Against the clock...
On a slight aside, on one occasion at a bow tie competition, the winner took exactly 12 seconds to complete a “real” bow tie – an odd coincidence because it was also the exact same 12 seconds required after a regatta, for a young Trinity student to finish a pint of Guinness without spilling a drop from lifting the full glass until he put it empty back onto the table!

The Royal Society of Medicine
The Bow Tie was also valuable as a marker within the professions as well as elsewhere. Some organisations/clubs had bow ties with the club crest on them and there was a certain satisfaction in being recognised as a member of the organisation concerned. The Royal Society of Medicine had a fairly small and neat bow with the letters of the logo of the organisation clearly visible. Thus it was easy to meet a colleague and to feel a close interest in the membership. 

For many years in London, that bow tie was well known and regarded but sometime in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s I got wind from a friend that The Royal Society of Medicine intended to do away with the tie. With this information I visited the headquarters of the organisation in Harley Street and I enquired about the availability of the bow tie. They confirmed that they intended to discontinue its use. They were in dark green or dark red. I asked about the continual availability of the tie and on searching the drawer they stated that only five green and one red were still available. To the girl’s surprise, I bought the lot so that they were clear of further bow ties.

The bow tie when properly tied will exist for many years if correctly looked after. I still have many bow ties available to me.  My son Hugh had some stitched into a counterpane, providing a rather wide and perhaps bizarre picture in the bedroom. I continue to use a bow tie on my less occasional visits and meetings outside the home. Recently I was surprised when visiting my Milltown annual dinner that I had some difficulty in tying it properly. But I eventually achieved that nice, casual, carelessness which is a feature of a properly tied bow tie.

It was certainly well identified as one of my peculiarities in my early days but I overcame the embarrassment of being a perpetual bow tie wearer. In fact, it might have become a source of comment to others if it was missing during ward rounds and/or other areas. It is true to say that there are few people with the patience and the capacity to learn the skill of making the bow tie and therefore we shall continue almost certainly to be a rare breed indeed.

Friday, 22 April 2016

The woods today.

Stopping by Woods. A Guide to the Forests and Woodlands of Ireland. Donal Magner.

This review was written on July 7th 2012

(today's blog is illustrated with some of the Editor's favourite 'creepy' trees to be found in Wicklow woodlands)

I borrowed this book in the RDS and decided to order a copy for my son Richard. The book is not intended for reading and is more a reference source for those who are enquiring about our forests and major woodlands and who may wish to visit them. It is divided into 32 short chapters dealing with each county in Ireland in alphabetical order. Maps are provided for each county and there are numerous short maplets of many forests with numbers marking points of special interest.

The contents pages list each woodland and forest according to county. It would require most of a lifetime to visit all the areas included in the text.  The preface provides information about all our important trees, divided into native broadleaves and conifers, European natural broadleaves and conifers, and exotic trees outside Europe. A design of each of these trees with their characteristic leaf and fruit is provided. The author also provides a note on the recent revolution in forestry which has occurred in Ireland.

This is primarily a reference book and should be in every library access to all of us interested in our native silviculture.  For the tree alickadoo it would be useful in his or her library and for the forester and those with a keen interest in our woodlands it might be needed in the car.

When I first went through the book I took the opportunity to congratulate the author – I had known him well when I was a member of the Irish Timber Growers Association. I added a note about the paucity of ivy in his many photos and I sent him a copy of For Love of Trees with the 2012 rider.

Dear Donal,

I have been looking through your Stopping by Woods with great interest and I felt I should write to you to congratulate you on such a valuable addition to my library. It is a long time since I was active in the ITGA but my interest in trees continues and has been passed on to my son Richard who has planted 140 acres of trees (of which 20% are hardwood) at Kilmichael on the borders of Wicklow and Wexford. He has also taken over my 30 acres of Sitka and Japanese Larch in Johnstown in West Wicklow.

I expect I sent you a copy of the enclosed monograph on ivy some years ago. I was interested to find that none of your trees had ivy apart from on ash on p.354 and a beech on p358. You were of course dealing largely with woodlands and forests where ivy is much less evident. But it is widespread in our hedges of hawthorn and hedgerow trees and in small woodlands, and has received little attention from farmers and landowners.  I am sending you a copy of the original book and a rider I added last month to bring the subject up to date.

I apologise for intruding on your valuable time but you must understand that in retirement over 24 years I have little else to do than  interfere into the lives of others.