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Joys of Joy – A True Joy to Read

A couple of weeks ago I had just returned home to Kilkenny after a long working week in the Capital.  I settled comfortably into my nan’s sitting room, ready for the Late Late Show, our customary Friday tradition. The tea was brewed and our feet were up. First up Ryan informed us was a former Mount Joy prisoner, Gary Cunningham. I don’t know why, but almost immediately something piqued my interest. I just had an instant feeling that this man was going to have an incredible story, and boy god did he!

I was so drawn to Gary’s infectious positivity that night, that I couldn’t stop thinking about his story for a long time afterwards. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his book! It took me a while to track down a copy mind you (it was flying off the shelves), but I was thrilled when I finally managed to get one, ( a signed one at that!).

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I flew through the book over two days, I was so moved by Gary’s story, I felt it only natural to blog my response!

Let’s be honest, every one of us has a preconceived attitude when it comes to criminals and prisoners. More often than not our immediate reaction is one of disdain and disgust. Sure they are all only vile scumbags who deserve everything they get right? No. Not always. What I love most about Gary’s story is that he reminds us that we are all only human. We all makes mistakes. Every single one of us. Granted, some make bigger mistakes than others, but none of us are absolved. Now I am not condoning  or making excuses for any sort of criminal activity,  nor is Gary. On the contrary, it’s about highlighting all of the good that can come when you own up to those mistakes.

A few years ago Gary was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison. He was caught by the guards with a supply of cannabis he was collecting for a ‘friend’. Gary was on a dark path and by his own admission, spiraling out of control due to alcohol and substance abuse. His time in prison was to become the life changing experience he so desperately needed. Instead of facing his time with intense negativity, Gary embraced his sentence and owned up to his mistakes. Many times throughout his book Gary talks about how his struggles with drink and drugs had rendered him an extremely selfish and destructive person. He was destroying his relationships with those closest to him, and caring for no body but himself. Little did he know that prison would become his saviour.

It was so refreshing to read a tale so brutally honest, yet so immensely uplifting. The story doesn’t glorify prison life at all. It doesn’t detail the horrors we have come to expect from TV Shows and pop culture, rather it gives a heart warming account of change and so much achievement.

While inside Gary coined the phrase ‘it’s not the time you do, it’s what you do with your time’, and did he do a lot with his time indeed! It was in prison where he discovered a love of writing, penning romantic poems for the girlfriends of fellow inmates, winning two Prison writing competitions and compiling the pages of the very book on our shelves today. Not only that, but Gary went on to set up a successful rock band, The Off#enders, recording many songs and putting on performances in other prisons.

The camaraderie that is brought to life in the pages of Joys of Joy is nothing short of incredible.  Particularly the special bond formed between Gary and his best friend ‘Fitzer’, who we come to learn has an absolutely incredible voice! I’ve since heard one of the band’s covers on Youtube and I can testify to this.  It really shows that there are decent men in the prison system who are willing to work hard to reform themselves and their past mistakes. Rest assured, Gary didn’t stop there, he went on to set up Ireland’s first ever Prison Committee, which became a vehicle for change and a way for prisoners and staff alike to voice their concerns.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Gary was a big inspiration to many of his fellow inmates, whether he realised it at the time or not. The friendships depicted in this book will honestly make you laugh and cry! It’s written in a very casual and conversational tone, which I love. You can almost hear the lads and all their ‘Dublingo’ in your head as you read, and this only adds to the honesty.

Aside from the other inmates, Gary met many more remarkable people in the form of the Prison officers and Teaching staff. Prior to reading this book, I was always under the impression that the staff in prisons just didn’t give a shit about the inmates. (I suppose that’s down to the copious amounts of ‘Bad Girls’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’ I’ve binged watched over the years!). Now while there were some of that nature, I was surprised to find the majority of staff Gary encountered were in fact, the very opposite.

It was really comforting to know that there are some great staff in the IPS who genuinely want to help men and women like Gary, in their quest to better themselves. The bonds Gary forms with his teachers is amazing. We should applaud this people, because they are doing wonderful things and making such a profound difference. It’s not something we hear an awful lot about, and we should.

I don’t think we should condemn our prisoners. The truth is not all of them deserve to rot in a cell. I am sure there are many who disagree with me, but I urge you to have a little empathy. You only have to read Joys of Joy to see that so many Irish Prisoners are working so hard to be better people.  As I said before, we are all only human. Joys of Joy is raw, it’s real, and every single one of us should read it before we are so quick to judge.

 

** You can purchase Joys of Joy from all good bookstores nationwide, or alternatively you can order it from the Liffey Press here **

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Repeal The 8th- Without the hate!

This is probably going to be one of my more controversial posts, of which there are few, but I feel I can’t stay quiet on the issue for much longer. It seems as if everyone and anyone is giving their two cents worth on social media these days, so I thought why not give mine. People are going to jump down your throat either way.

Repeal the 8th. Lets talk.

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Firstly let me make clear that personally I am pro-choice. I have always been pro-choice. I believe that every single woman should have the right to choose. But for goodness sake ladies what happened to respecting one another’s views, morals and beliefs? The fact of the matter is both sides of this campaign need to stop vilifying one another. The funny thing is, (and I did not expect this) but most of it seems to be coming from the pro-choicers. Which not only makes me sad, but ashamed of the turn this campaign has taken.

Over the last number of weeks I have been appalled at the amount of people I’ve seen shot down, shouted over, and dismissed simply because they are not pro-choice. What happened to engaging in mature debate?

Girls; I understand you’re passionate. I understand your drive for change, and believe me I understand you’re angry. But the way some (not all) of the campaigners are handling it is just largely counter-productive. Telling Sally she is a “backward bitch” because she is a strong advocate for pro-life isn’t strengthening your cause. That is something I’ve actually seen. A long with “old fashioned views” “catholic propaganda” and so on and so forth.

We need to be able to participate in dynamic discussions with people to make a real change. Oh and another thing? (you’re all going to hate me for this), But men matter too. Yep. They have an opinion on this too, and just because they don’t have ovaries does not mean they should be treated with any less respect. It takes two to tango, so why shouldn’t a man be able to have an opinion when it comes to the issue of abortion? It’s not as simple as a women’s bodily rights. Scream at me all you want, but it isn’t.

Sure it’s the woman’s physical body, and she absolutely 100% deserves to have full control over what happens to it. But the life inside of her doesn’t belong to just her. So forgive me when it makes my blood boil to see other women dismissing men whenever they try to engage in this issue.

There are so, so many elements of it to consider that are just continuously being overlooked (by both sides), to suit their own agendas. The mob mentality is growing on social media and it needs to stop. I have many friends, that for their own reasons are very much pro-life, but I would never dream of jumping down their throats in the manner in which I’ve seen.  Myself and my friends have had a number of discussions on the matter, in which everyone’s points were listened to and taken on board. You’d be surprised at how much you could learn by just shutting your gob for ten minutes and respecting what someone else has to say.

You don’t have to agree with it, but you have to accept that this is an extremely complex and sensitive issue, you aren’t going to convince everyone. Stop belittling those that are just as passionate about something as you are. Change isn’t going to happen via condescension.

Yes I would love nothing more than to #RepealThe8th, but in a manner which is considerate of the beliefs of my opponents.

Rant over.

 

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Leaving cert memories we would prefer to forget

Once again that time of year is upon us. And while I’m glad I never have to go through those tedious two weeks again, I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic and slightly sympathetic for all the little duckies sitting state exams at the moment. It’s true while most of you are praying Sylvia Plath or some other elusive poet comes up on English Paper 2, the rest of us are praying for the glorious exam weather that we all had to suffer through. But don’t worry, you’ll have your time to be smug. That’s not to say elements of the leaving cert won’t haunt you forever. Seeing as the good weather hasn’t surfaced yet, I’ve decided to compile a list of things most of us would rather forget about the old LC..

1. Poetry

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Oh the agony over those pesky poets. Do you take a chance and just learn the women? Sure you’d be grand then they always put a woman on it. Or should you just learn the recommended five? But that’s like a million poems…maybe you should just place all your bets on the predictions? Yeah Heaney hasn’t come up in five years.. Heaney it is so.

2. An Trial.

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A story about a young girl banished by her family for having become impregnated by the local primary school teacher. The girl then pulls a Sylvia on it and sticks her head in the oven killing herself and her child. Oh and the best part? It’s all as gaeilge.

 3. Maths and all of the horror that came with it

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I can’t be the only one who just drew what I thought the graph should look like sans actual figures…. still having Venn diagram statistical nightmares.

4. The Infamous Irish tape test

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Léigh anois go cúramach ar do scrúdpháipeir  na treoireacha agus na ceisteanna a ghabhann le cuid Á.

How could we forget that musical beeeeeeeeeep and the soothing sounds of Áine agus Sinead telling us about their trip to see U2 An Seachtain Seo Caite.

5. Seeing the “do gooders” ask for more paper

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What could they possibly be writing?! You’re struggling to fill up your little answer booklet as it is. Are they just purposely trying to freak everyone out? Maybe they’ve just ruined all of their previous paper with tears…

6. The dilemma over going to the toilet

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Do you sacrifice the whole two minutes of writing time it’s going to take you? Or do you suffer on and risk wetting yourself out of panic? Then there’s the whole ordeal about the adjudicator having to write on your paper that you’re going to the toilet and  feeling like a hardened criminal by having someone escort you there and back.

7. When you think you have “one down” but really it’s only “half of one”

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was there anything worse than coming out of an exam, feeling like you have one less to do, but then realising it was only the first part of ONE exam. The cruelty. You still have paper 2 before you can tick it off the list and be done with it forever.

8. The smell.

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Yes there is an actual smell. Fear mixed with tears, panic, sweat  and the old school gym. Someone should bottle it really..

Au de Leaving Cert.

9. When the supervisor was given tea and sandwiches right under your nose

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As if you weren’t going through enough during this grueling 3 hour exam. Your tummy is rumbling and then all of a sudden those smug TY Volunteers enter the exam hall with tea and sandwiches for the poor hard done by supervisor who’s getting 50 quid an hour. The audacity.

10. The panic before you turn over the paper

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Are your gambles going to pay off? what if there’s a question you haven’t learned? Why are they taking so long to give out the rest of the papers? you need to know!

11. The dreaded exam post-mortem

“What did you put for part 3 section C, Question 1?”

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If you learn anything from your leaving cert it’s that you should never ever partake in the post exam digest. Not only will you realise that Sally is a bitch because her answers were definitely better than yours, but you’ll drive yourself into a frenzy irrationally wondering if you answered all the short questions or if there was a section you forgot and so on. Just don’t do it kids. Ignorance is bliss. Until August at least.

12. The nightmares

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The night before the exam dreaming that you’ve slept in and missed the entire thing. Even still months after it’s all over and done with youl’ll still be dreaming that you’ve lost your biology folder. Christ, even 4 years down the line I’m still having nightmares about the whole thing.

Despite all the stress, tears and panic the leaving cert is actually one of the best years of your schooling life. You’re all in the same boat, about to head your separate ways so the craic and solidarity during the final year is mighty. Even though it will all be over in a couple of weeks you’ll still remember everything about it. Years down the line you’ll be ushering the usual reassurances to your predecessors:

“Ah it’s not the be all and end all”  “There’s ways around everything”  “Sure no one will ever ask you about your points when you get to college”. In all seriousness best of luck to everyone doing the exams, may the odds be ever in your favour.

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Being Irish

So most of us have probably already seen the #IrelandInspires video that’s doing the rounds on Facebook, I saw it this morning and it inspired me to write this blog about what it really means to be Irish. Granted we are probably the biggest nation of complainers, and the minute something goes wrong, or the government fucks up (again) we’re ranting and raving. But despite that, what the video clearly points out is our passion.  We have a lot more to be proud of than we probably even realise. It’s easy to forget the little things that make us inherentiy ‘Irish’ when we’ve become so preoccupied with the recession, job loss, the government and all that jazz. Which is why ahead of Paddy’s day, and in the spirit of #IrelandInspires I decided to compile a list of 10 things totally Irish to remind us just how deadly we really are. I realise we’ve probably all seen these a million times before, but sure it’s great to basque in our own glory 😉 Anyway here we go..

1. Talking about the weather Irish people love the weather. It’s literally one of our favourite and most frequented topics of conversation. Go back 2-3 weeks ago when we were hit by “The great Storm Darwin” and the whole country was in chaos. Trees were falling, streets were flooding and sure we were only loving it. Twas great craic. TV3 even did a 2 hour LIVE weather update, god for bid we missed any of the action. Fast forward a couple of weeks, the sun peeks out and the excitment hits another level. Never mind that it’s still only 10°c there is sun, so it’s acceptable cider and beer garden weather.

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2. Mass Lets face it, there is nothing more Irish than mass. Now I know outsiders might say “but people go to mass all over the world..” Ah yes, but not in the shtyle of the irish. Lets face it though, the only reason you ever went as a child was because 1. your mammy made you, or 2. You knew you’d get to go to the shop afterwards. For me it was the latter. You’d sit there for the half an hour feeling like it was never going to end. Dreaming about that glorious moment of  “mass has ended, go in peace,” so you could make the run ahead of the rest of the congregation to get to the shop before the queues. Indeed there are many components to an Irish mass. Christmas eve mass may as well be renamed “the annual fashion show”, because everyone and their mother are out to show off their new christmas gear. Then there’s the gathering outside where everyone chin wags as if they haven’t seen each other in years. Ya gotta love it.

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3. In light of the above meme… Father Ted. This one needs no explanation. It was funny then, it’s funny now. It will never not be funny. It’s one of those shows that will always be associated with Irishness. And we lovee it.

4.  The Rose of Tralee: Ah the annual Rose of Tralee competition, love it or hate you still probably watch it, even if it’s just to give out about how shite it is. The best thing about the rose is ranting about how virtually none of them are actually Irish. The horror. The Darwin Rose comes out, she’s primed and ready. Then Daithi asks the all important question, it’s the one you’ve been waiting for.. “So Molly, tell us about your Irish heritage?”  Molly bodly responds, “Well my great, great, great grandfathers cousins, uncles, dog emigrated to galway 700 years ago! I’m so proud of my strong roots, and even though it’s my first time here, I love Ireland!”  The cheek of her. You’re fuming. You’d rather watch winning streek at this stage. But you continue watching, because it’s the Irish thing to do.

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5. Tea. We have an obsession with tea commonly known as “tae”. We love it so much it’s probably in our veins. 5 cups are just not enough…

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6. The following phrases…

“Be graaaaand” (It probably won’t, but we say it anyway)

“Penney’s, 5er”  (Yes, my amazing top was in fact bought in penneys, and now you’re begruding me)

“Fuck off!”         (I don’t actually want you to fuck off, I’m just expressing disbelief)

“Yer wan”          (Some bitch)

“G’luck”             (Fuck off)

“Yeaaaah right”  (No way)

“Jaaaysus”        (another expression of disbelief)

“Dry shite”        (You are the epitome of boring and I do not want to spend any time with you)

“Langers, Fluthered, Scuttered, buckled, in the horrors, fucked”   (Intoxicated).

7. These bad boys. Tayto. If you’re abroad chances are your mammy has sent you a couple of boxes of these to keep you going. Now all you need is a fresh slice pan..

index8. The following people:

Bono & the national begrudgment that comes with him.

Sharon Ní Bheolain, sure isn’t she lovely.

Marty Whelan, what would eurovision be without him?

The guy that fell on RTÉ during the “big freeze” (He’s a national celebrity)

Hector.

Dustin the Turkey.

9. Irish Discos. Looking back is there anything more horrifying? Spending the night in a sweaty, cheaply lit, community hall with 50 other 13 year olds all desparately looking for the shift so the night is complete. If you were bould enough, you’d have downed a naggin around the corner before heading in. Or if you were a complete badass you snuck it in with you in your ugg boot. Oh there was no stopping you then.

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10. GAA perhaps the most Irish of it all. Nothing fuels the emotion and passion within us more. The thrill of going to croker on an All Ireland Sunday, the highlights of the Sunday Game, the friendly banter and rivalry between counties… or in some cases pure hatred.. 😛 Nonetheless, the GAA is distinctly ours and is the embodiement of Irish Pride.

So there ya go. The #IrelandInspire video draws attention to some of our more significant achievements and advancements in recent years, but it’s nice to be reminded of some of our most well known traits. Aside from our stereotypical ginger hair, leprachaun loving, guinness drinking alter egos 😛 I hope that wherever you are this Paddy’s day that you’re surrounded by good friends, and you really make the most of a day dedicated to us wonderful eejits 🙂