Monday, May 1, 2023

Irish Eyes


By Mattie Lennon

Proverbs, A Harper, and A Death-Mask.

“ Proverbs are not only for ornament and delight , but also for active and civil use; as being the edge tools of speech which cut and penetrate the knots of business and affairs. “--Bacon.

Who could argue with Bacon? And has anyone made better use of proverbs than Dubliner Fiann Ó' Nualláin? 52 Proverbs to Build Resilience against Anxiety and Panic - An Experience in Irish Holistic Wisdom which was published on 28th April is the latest work of Fiann who is a well known author and media person. This author an award-winning garden designer, who is has been involved not only in therapeutic horticulture but social and outreach therapy for more than twenty years. He is the author of mindfulness manuals and regularly contributes to wellness segments, TV, and radio panel discussions. Proverbs, or Sean-fhocail in Irish, are made up of the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors through generations. Like fables and parables Irish proverbs and the accompanying exercises in this book would help chart a course through life's obstacles to find greater happiness, calm, and meaning for us all..

I asked Fiann what prompted him to white this useful and beneficial work. He told me, “My background is in social and therapeutic horticulture and medicinal botany. The medicinal botany led me to write about herbalism and growing your own foods and medicines for the Irish examiner and to doing some slots on morning television with RTE and TV3 about gardening for health which all led to a few books as ‘the holistic gardener’ with Mercier press.; first aid from the garden, beauty treatments from the garden, natural cures for common ailments.

But in all that time I was working a day job as a social and therapeutic horticulturalist with Dublin city council, the HSE and other agencies – and that was about creating gardens and allotments to help people rehabilitate form illness (like a natural physiotherapy) or get distracted from their life woes and worries (as part of social prescribing and nature therapy). And as over the years the client base grew more on the psychological side so I retrained in mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapies, sociology and addiction studies to better understand the problems of the clients and better work ways of how to support, so while the tai chi and the yoga got introduced along with the aromatherapy and herbal tea cultivation so too the positive psychology and journaling came into play. A lot of those exercises that worked for many clients made their way into this book. Not as holistic gardening but as the pure life skill or mindset methods.

The book was written during the first pandemic because the allotments and clinical centres were closed down and I was scrambling to keep people toped up by phone and zoom and fire fighting surges in anxiety and desperation, and I was often using a proverb or technique as a starting point. Also, I had my own experiences with negative psychology as a teenager and all the methods I had put in place to stop that breaking into behaviour over the years seemed to be the opposite advice during Covid where panic and hypervigilance was the atmosphere if not order of the day, and the book was both my way to regain control and stay grounded but also to contribute something that I know will be helpful to many as the new normal seems to include a lot of uncertainties and stress triggers.

I had been thinking a long time about a book about gardening and mental health, but this book seemed more appropriate. The proverbs are what we have passed from generation to generation through all sorts of crisis, including invasions, famines, wars and mass emigrations – they hold such power, I just felt if ever they were needed its now and yes the pandemic is over and we are all recovering best we can but anxiousness is still palpable, and worse it is part of the daily now, from fomo (fear of mission out) to how we are marketed everything from toothpaste to soap operas, don’t miss out, you need this, pay attention, don’t make the mistake of not.

We live in a high alert world, and not every tension is necessary. I hope the book can help reset some of that, or at least equip with the skills to short circuit any negative reactions to all the triggers.”

Fiann dissects each proverb and finds hidden meanings and food for thought in each one. I’ll give you couple of examples of what he could find:

Chíonn beirt rud nach bhfeiceann duine amháin
Two people see a thing that one may not
“This proverb echoes the idiom ‘Two heads are better than one’; that a problem shared, whatever about its load being halved becomes a problem more easily solved. Two perspectives are better than one on seeing the bigger picture, on triangulating the problem, on working out an answer. We as individuals can not only be so caught up in our panic and distress, and not on top of our solution-finding game – distracted from the focus and awareness re- quired to be match fit but we can also be trapped in our assumptions and prejudices and so truly need some balance to our biases. We may need some coaching, or just a half time pep-talk to get our perspective and gameplan back on track.

The chemistry of stress in our system is responsible for brain fog and difficulty in decision-making, it is not admitting defeat to get help, it is the wise move. So yes, talk to a friend, mention your woe to a family member, ring a help line, join a support group, see a counsellor. Get that extra head on the case.Caveat – people are often well meaning but not necessarily well equipped, so be selective before you recruit shoulder to cry on or an ear to confide in. Not every friend or family member will understand where you are coming from or what you are trying to achieve. Some may want to soothe your hurt and so say all the right things that make the pain go away temporarily – generic pacifiers such as ‘it’s not your fault’, ‘you are doing great’, ‘it will pass in time’, ‘don’t worry about it’. That may soothe, but does it solve? Sure, some emotional comforting is good but pulling out the bullet is better. . . “

Ní dhéanfaidh smaoineamh an treabhadh duit
You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.

“We may well need to think some things through, but we also need to address and rectify errant thinking, future apprehension, rumination and procrastination – and we do achieve that by doing. By engaging with more mindful and CBT practices – putting the work in. CBT is not just talking about problems; it is problem-solving. Mindfulness is not just emptying the mind of negative thoughts; it is experiencing positive actions. Positive psychology is not just feeling good while ploughing the field, it is knowing how to cultivate a better existence. . .”

Fiann Ó' Nualláin

If you suffer with anxiety or any of the allied disorders or just looking for practical guidance for living a more fulfilling life and consequently contributing to the fulfilment of others , Mercier Press and this experienced and inspired author has brought you a valuable resource. A blend of ancient Irish wisdom and modern techniques, a valuable tool for anyone seeking peace and calm in mad, mad, world.


* * * * *

Patrick Byrne

Féile Patrick Byrne consists of traditional music, dance and singing workshops plus concerts, sessions, a sets céilí, historical walk and lecture. The event honours Patrick Byrne (c.1794-1863), the last noted exponent of the historical Gaelic harp and the first Irish traditional musician ever photographed.

A traditional music festival held annually on the Palm Sunday weekend in and around Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan and organised by the Carrickmacross branch of Comhaltas, the Féile was set up to act as a flagship event in the promotion of Irish traditional music in the locality.

The aim of the festival is to provide high quality tuition to local musicians; to expose local audiences and players to the work of leading exponents of traditional music and to develop an audience for traditional arts using the heritage of Patrick Byrne who was born around 1799 in Magheracloone. He lost his sight from smallpox as a child and was known as Pádraig Dall O Beirn. He died on April 08th, 1863. This year’s Feile began on March 30th and the opening address, titled “The Harper that Once,” was given by Carrickmacross native and great-great, grandnephew of Patrick Byrne, Frank McNally.

Frank is a popular, globe-trotting journalist with the Irish Times ( ”The paper of record”) and a leading authority on Myles na Goplainn/ Flann O Brien/Brian IO Nuallain and Patrick Kavanagh. Speaking of which, Cork sculptor Seamus Murphy RHA is known to have made only three death masks in his lifetime, Patrick Kavanagh mask being the second. Kavanagh died on the early hours of the 1st December 1967 in the Merrion Nursing Home. Seamus Murphy the sculptor took the mould for a death mask later on the same day. Murphy a contemporary of Kavanagh's had first met him in Cork 1943. He has made a significant impression on Kavanagh who admired the intensity of his personality.

The present mask, went under the hammer at Adams Auction Rooms, Dublin on April 28. The expected price was €6000 - €8000 but as far as I can gather it was unsold. It was believed to have at one time belonged to Joan Ryan of whom Kavanagh was very fond, having proposed marriage to her when she was already dating Senator Eoin Ryan who later became her husband. Signed and dated by Seamus Murphy this death mask constitutes an iconic image of one of Ireland's greatest and definitely most popular poets.

See you in June.

Click on the author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
This issue appears in the ezine at and also in the blog with the capability of adding comments at the latter.


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